Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snow from afar

The daffodils may not be blooming yet, but compared to what most of the rest of the northern hemisphere is going through, it's springtime in Victoria. I should not be smug, though. Winter has just begun and anything can happen. In fact, I'm a little afraid we have entered into a new mini ice age, like the one that wiped out the Viking colonies in Greenland. It's hard to believe that anyone ever fell for that global warming gag. If only it were so! If the world were in a warming phase it would be a much better place to live. Warmer air would hold more moisture, bringing rain to dry areas. Since hurricanes and other violent storms are caused by sharp contrasts in temperatures of air masses as they come into contact, they might be less frequent and not so devastating. More greenhouse gases? Of course. Plants love carbon dioxide. If we had more of it in the air, plants would grow in more abundance. Alas, I doubt if such a thing will happen. We are still in an ice age that's been going on for an estimated 10 million years and there is nothing to indicate that it is over. It's just in remission and it will come back. Those might be the kind of interesting times I would prefer to miss.
We've had no recent snow in Victoria, not even in the Sooke Hills or on Mt Douglas. So when I looked around from King George Terrace Rd, I was surprised to see a hillside across the water covered with snow. As nearly as I can figure out on my inadequate maps, it can only be the west shore of San Juan Island on the US side of things. How they got it and we didn't goes beyond my meagre knowledge of meteorology.
I will say this about snow. It's nice to look at from afar, from a safe distance, not requiring heroic and perilous driving feats to view. Vancouver Island's main ski hill is at Mt Washington near Courtenay and apparently they have record amounts, to the delight of those who enjoy sliding around on the stuff. In fact, they say it has the most snow at middle elevations of any other ski hill in the world. I don't know exactly what that means, but up yours, Whistler.
As for me, when "the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful..." Listen to Dean Martin supply the tune. But my favourite winter song is Baby It's Cold Out There, and nobody did it better than Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Christmas Greeting

Solstice- from Latin, sun+stopped, ie, the day the sun stops
Today is the first day of winter- which means the earth is positioned where the suns rays are perpendicular to the tropic of cancer. After today the earth will gradually tilt the other way so that the sun's rays begin to creep northward again. This was a big day in Neolithic Europe if the theories concerning Stonehenge and numerous other monuments are correct and they were constructed to be giant calculator/observatories to pinpoint the exact times when the seasons changed. They were the pinnacle of Neolithic lore, representing an acute knowledge of the movements of the stars, possibly even of the precession of the equinoxes. Constructed by people living four or five thousand years ago of wood and massive carved stones, they are as old as the pyramids. It's possible that traditional European fairy tales contain faint echoes of those distant times. Theories abound about the meaning of these traces.
In a collection of Welsh tales called the Mabinogion, is the Song of Rhiannon, wherein King Pwyll decides to sit on a magic hill one night. He sees a beautiful woman riding slowly by and sends one of his servants to catch up to her and ask her to stop. But no matter how fast the servant rides he cannot catch up to the woman. The next night another servant on a faster horse tries again, with the same result. Eventually, the King rides after her himself on his fastest horse. But as fast as he rides he keeps falling further and further behind, until at last he calls after her to wait. And then she stops. Of course, he falls in love with her, and goes with her to rule her realm. A few years later, he decides to go home, but when he arrives all the people he used to know are either dead or very old. If I remember right, that's how it goes.
Folklorists speculate that in the original version the king was sacrificed, his soul going to the underworld. The solstices were especially propitious because the underworld and our world were closer together than at other times of the year. But who knows for sure?
Some with fertile imaginations jump to the conclusion that because Christmas is close to the solstice, and that Christ was sacrificed on a tree near the other solstice, that our Christian tradition was just a newer version of an older, pagan mythology. I don't really believe that. There is much that is beautiful in the various pagan traditions, but Christianity was a complete break from the past.
Still, I can understand how someone could be enraptured by Celtic and pre-Celtic mythology. I visited Stonehenge once, and it is a decidedly spooky place, just as spooky as the unearthly beauty of Celtic poetry.

There comes a host across the clear sea, to the land they display their rowing. Then they row to the bright stone from which a hundred songs arise,
Through the long ages it sings to the host a melody which is not sad. The music swells up in choruses of hundreds, they do not expect decay or death.

This otherworldly character persisted into the Christian era.

Delighted I think I might be in the bosom of an isle, on the peak of a rock, that I might often see there the calm of the sea.
That I might see its heavy waves over the glittering ocean, as they chant a melody to their Father on their eternal course...

Rather than viewing the living world as an endlessly repeating cycle, Christianity teaches that there has been, and will be, only one creation, a creation which will play itself out in a culminating event at the end of history. Christ came to show those who were willing to listen how to keep from having their souls destroyed when time comes to an end. The feast of Christmas commemorates Christ's entry into the world, and focuses on the miracle of birth- not just his birth, but everyones's birth. Coming to be is a miracle to be celebrated, and the goal of a life is to be worthy of attaining an eternal life of bliss. I have yet to encounter any other religion with teachings remotely like this. I have read extensively about old mythologies at an earlier stage of my life, and when I came around to look again at the Catholic teachings of my youth I was very surprised to discover how unique and unlike paganism Christian beliefs are. I'm a little sorry that I wasn't taught in Catechism about those older beliefs. If I had been I might have been less inclined to be impressed by their novelty. What is the truth? It's for each of us to decide, but according to the Church, there are serious consequences for deciding wrong.
In our age it's especially important to celebrate a day that makes birth and childhood sacred. It's such an ordinary thing for a child to be born that it's easy to forget that nothing could be more miraculous. And in the dark cold days of winter, that's something worth remembering. It's in the winter that the year dies, but also it's after the solstice that the sun begins to resurrect itself. Spring, and new life, is on its way.
My favourite Christmas poem was written by Thomas Hardy. It may be a little corny but I don't care. It's called The Oxen.
Christmas eve, and twelve of the clock.
'Now they are all on their knees,'
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
'Come, see the oxen kneel

'In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,'
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

The tide was high when I went by Clover Point today and the wind was driving the waves against the breakwaters and berms. Not as spectacular as during a real storm, it is nevertheless always impressive to feel the weight of the Pacific Ocean pounding the beach. Even at noon the sun is not far above the horizon and its light feels weak and pale, but it's all the more beautiful for all that.
May we all be blessed on Christmas and throughout the New Year.

Monday, December 6, 2010

December Blues

It's getting close to Christmas, not my favourite time of the year. Too many painful reminders of my wasted youth. Too dark. Cold. A time to endure until the days get longer again. At the same time, those gloomy reminders are a necessary spur to think things over yet again. I whole heartedly agree when somebody once said, that without music life would be a sad mistake.

Accordingly, I encourage anybody reading this to click here and watch the video. Often I feel pity for anyone who grew up during the age of rock and roll. They may never have heard real music. This is a true deprivation, a malnutrition of the soul, and perhaps worse than the more easily measured malnutrition of the body.

A 'flash mob' is a fairly recent invention, made possible by instant messaging and cell phones. A flash mob is a group of people who spontaneously arrange to gather someplace, say a subway station, a street corner, or any well-populated public space and put on a show of some kind. Naturally, considering the age we live in, the show is of an obscene or outrageous nature. Strange outfits, nudity, shocking antics are the usual fare. No strange outfits on display with this flash mob. Just an assortment of normal looking people. Young, old, in between, male and female, but refreshingly wholesome and smiling. It takes place in a public location, a food court in a mall. The camera surveys the scene, Arbys and other outfits in the background, parents and children having a bite to eat. Suddenly an attractive young woman stands up and starts to sing. She has a fine, clear voice, and the opening bars of the Halleluja chorus ring out. Soon she is joined by another singer in another part of the room, then another, and another, and at last a whole choir is giving voice. Oh, if only such a thing would happen in Victoria… although all those references to God and Jesus might lead to their arrest for disturbing the peace. Click here to see it.

What I like best about it, though, is not so much the singing as the astonished expressions on the faces of the young children who had the good fortune to be there. Rapturous would not be too strong a word to describe some of the faces. It may have been the first time in their lives that they heard real music. Hopefully, like an inoculation, it might give them some protection from the ravages of our pervasive pop culture, the which is a disease of the soul that has sucked away the lifeblood of our culture.

This is Victoria, so even in the winter not every day is gloomy, and when the clouds go away the air is brilliantly clear in a way that it never is in summer. When the warm weather is here there is always a haze, often only noticeable because it's hard to see the mountains. On a clear winter day they always seem closer and more vividly real.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Snow in Victoria

Victoria is in crisis today, a crisis of whiteness. Paralysis may ensue, depending on how long it lasts, on how deeply it blankets us. I well remember the snowfall that fell between Christmas of '96 and New Years… all five feet of it. It snowed starting on a Thursday night and continued without let up until Saturday. And on Saturday night it redoubled, going from knee deep to chest deep by the next morning. Then it stopped. The landscape was unbelievable, strangely, awesomely beautiful. And hushed. Nothing moved. You would have to go back a century to hear such an absence of sound in Victoria. You would have to be a century old to remember the last time it snowed that much in Victoria. Ever since then whenever the snow falls heavily as it does right now, I think of that year.

There has been some discussion in the blogosphere about a phenomenon known as the Maunder Minimum. In brief, it's a term for a certain phase of sunspot cycles. Sunspots grow and diminish according to a regular series of cycles, and there is strong evidence that these variations correlate with variations in the earth's climate. When there are a lot of sunspots the earth's climate is relatively warm. The Maunder Minimum, meaning a period of little or no sunspot activity, occurs every few centuries and is strongly associated with drastic cooling of the earth's climate. The last time it happened Europe and Britain suffered from widespread crop failures. During the winter of 1779-1780 the Hudson River was frozen solid for five weeks. Severely cold winters alternated with short, cool summers. We may have entered a Maunder Minimum. You can find the details here.

I think it would be a fair bet that very few have heard of this potential scenario. Perhaps it doesn't matter, because there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. But if it transpires the public might be forgiven for being extremely angry at the politicians and con artists who have been peddling the global warming nonsense. They might wonder why we haven't been exploring for more energy sources, and what 's worse have actively forbidden it.

As there is not much I can do anything about it except enjoy a white chocolate mocha by the fire.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Victoria election day

It's an election day today in Victoria. One council seat is open and that was combined with a referendum on whether or not to build a new Johnson Street bridge. I have done my duty, although I confess that I wasn't sufficiently diligent to really know the details of what was at stake. I'll have to do better next time. I have been asking the other residents of my building whether they planned on voting, and I'm sorry to say most of them had no interest at all. I think many of them feel rather helpless and fatalistic. What good does my little vote do, since they are going to do what they want anyway? Well, OK, if that's the way you feel about it then you have no cause to complain when something happens that you don't like. But then it is a fact that it's easier to find out what's going on in Afghanistan than in the local political scene. Maybe that's why it's so easy for total idiots to get on the local ballot. It only takes 100 bucks in Victoria and you can be on it. Maybe I'll try it next time. But no. My idea of hell would be a series of meetings stretching into eternity. I'm pretty sure I would prefer hellfire.
I'm a little embarrassed to say that I only spent about an hour researching the candidates. However, it didn't take long to figure out that at least six of the eleven contenders were certifiable morons.
Of the remainder, only one stood out as opposing the insanity of needle exchanges and she got my vote. And the bridge? It doesn't take an expert to see that the present bridge is inadequate for Victoria's future needs. To those who extoll its heritage value, I say fine. I like it too. It's a pretty bridge. But I hated riding my bike across it. Let's sell it to a bridge museum. Or maybe there's a smaller city along the coast that would like to buy it. But as a useful facility in Victoria its day is done. The next thing to think about is what bridge. There are those who say that the proposed bridge is too expensive and worse, that it's an unproven design. I am a little leery about the design, but it does address many of the deficiencies of the present structure. Access for pedestrians and cyclists will be much improved and that silly little blind curve will be eliminated. I guess it will take a little while to pay it off, but at least those future generations will have something useful and lasting. I decided to trust the city engineers and hope the politicians aren't screwing it up.
The polling place I went to is in Cook Street village. I was glad to see that it was quite busy.
Our first snow of the season blew into town last night but only in the hills has it stayed. That's a good place for it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Vic West and the E&N rail line

I was thinking this morning that there's a fair to middling chance that I am taking more pictures of Victoria than anyone else currently. I don't think of myself as a "photographer," and I make no claims as to the merits of the pictures, I just like taking them. Like an alcoholic I can't stop. This morning, for instance, all I wanted to do was get a few up close shots of the E&N Dayliner trundling through the rail yards I had photographed the day before. This morning was cold and very damp with a heavy mist. and I was going to just take one picture and then get back inside. Then there was one more, and then another, until fifty pictures later I was almost in Esquimalt. Even in the dampness Victoria's face is as lovely as ever, as if she is just come out of the bath. The moss-covered rocks jutting from the sea, fissured and abraded, give off a subdued but vivid glow. Victoria is named after a queen, and men know how it is with a beloved woman. If you don't love her in her changing moods you don't love her at all.
Vic West is not very big. You can walk from one shore to another at its widest point in twenty minutes. And yet in that twenty minute trudge, you will traverse areas of million dollar condos, run-down industrial areas, narrow jumbled up streets, social housing, and small bungalows from the early years of the last century. Through it all winds the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway.
Not much is left of this relic of days gone by. Once, and not that long ago, the whole foreshore of Vic West was covered with rail yards. It must have been a sight, rows on rows of steaming locomotives amidst the reek of burning coal. That was before our industrial base started moving to Asia. Now all that's left of those days are these semi-derelict brick structures in a setting of weeds and rusty rails. But the Dayliner still wends its way up the Island to Courtenay every day- at least when it doesn't break down. I have yet to take that trip. If I'm going to do it it will have to be soon, before the money-losing operation is cancelled.
There's lots of talk about modernizing it and turning it into a commuter service. It sounds like a good idea, but experience all over the continent indicates that the costs of such rail schemes are always underestimated while ridership is always overestimated. I have lived along this line most of the time I have been on Vancouver Island going back to the '70's and I can tell you that the tracks and crossings are in very bad shape. It doesn't take an expert to see that trains capable of higher speeds would necessitate a complete rebuild of the entire route. I would like to see a convenient and inexpensive travel and commuter option. I would love to hear the chuffing of a steam train carrying visitors back and forth every day. But one has to look at costs and weigh them against the benefits. I will say this. People who think that a commuter train from Langford would reduce the traffic on Highway 1 are seriously deluded.
And then there is the curious fact that the same kind of people who advocate big projects like these are the same people who object to projects that would bring in more taxes to help pay for them. As for example, the proposed megayacht basin in Vic West. This project would bring money into the city in the form of taxes, and tourist spending from visitors with very deep pockets, who might want to resupply here or put in for repairs or maintenance. Recently our Mayor Fortin remarked that we just did not have enough of a tax base to pay for all the services Victorians demand. And yet he has no trouble turning up his nose at an addition to our tax base, and an addition to our economic base.
I'm not saying I'm for it, but if I understand right, the developer jumped through every hoop required of him. The zoning was in place, all the environmental considerations were met. It was ready to go. Lots of construction jobs would come on stream at a time of a building lull in the city. Contractors would make money. The city would have more money to spend on services. Where is the downside? Well, you might say that the megayachts are ugly, and I would agree. Those acres of white fibreglass leave me cold. I would much prefer to look at the homebuilt liveaboard I posted recently. It has a certain homely charm. I have always detested tasteless ostentation- those ugly megacondos that line the shore, for instance.
But the developer did follow all the laws and regulations, didn't he? Did he not in good faith spend large amounts of cash complying with those rules and regulations? What legal or moral grounds does the city have to refuse to allow him to build? Is there some suspicion that tons of illicit drugs are going to be smuggled in? What are laws for? Are they just put into books for their looks? Are they not to be taken seriously? Are they to be changed- retroactively- when the outcome doesn't suit us? If that's the case then we live in a lawless society. And, word gets around. Investors who are hurt by the capricious behaviour of city officials will tell their friends. "If I were you I wouldn't put any money in that city. Beautiful place, but it's run like a third world country."
Plans to turn the ancient E&N line into a brand new spiffy commuter rail may be deferred to an indefinite future date, but crews are already at work building a cycling and pedestrian route along side of the tracks. I do like these things even though I don't bike anymore, but I will mention one problem that is never properly addressed when facilities like this are planned, and that is law enforcement and safety. I can tell you from personal observation that parts of the existing Galloping Goose trail are already being well used by drug traffickers and hookers. We can't forget that there are bad people in the world and that bad people are not necessarily stupid. They can spot a new opportunity as well as anyone. I don't doubt that a dedicated trail patrol should be included in the plans for these types of facilities. Victorians rightly love their trails and walkways. We have lots of swimming pools, playing fields, skating arenas, but many of us just like to be out of doors enjoying Victoria. I think it's a pretty good use of our tax dollars. We just have to remember where those dollars come from, and we have to remember that once built it will have to be maintained and policed.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


It's November and rains are only to be expected when you live next to the Pacific Ocean. It's not that Pacific, actually, so much of the world's weather seeming to originate in its vastness. The daily weather report looks to the Pacific to see what's coming to our shore next Often you just have to find a high point and look out to the west to get a good idea of what tomorrow will be like. But the masses of cloud that billow to the west often take a detour around us, going north or south. That seems to have happened today. We were enveloped in clouds yesterday, but today the clouds have parted. There are clouds to the north, clouds to the south, east and west, but blue skies open a pathway for the sun so Victorians can enjoy their walks along the beach.

It's in the winter that our grass turns green. During the dry days of summer our rocky soil loses it's moisture rapidly and our lawns turn brown. Watering restrictions come into effect out of concern for our water supply. Or so they say. But I 'spect an element of anti-human ideology creeps into it. Eek, people like green lawns! We can't have that.

The seasons come and go and I just get older. It's not fair.

History has its seasons, too. The elections in the US turned out pretty well for us conservative types. The Pelosi winter didn't last long. Still, I was vaguely disappointed. That could be because California, my favourite state, hasn't shared in the return to sanity that most of the rest of the country is enjoying, California, once a model of how to attain prosperity and high living standards, now has one of the highest unemployment rates of any state. The unions are sucking the lifeblood out of California with pension plans that will be impossible for the state to make good. We're sort of a junior California in BC. The governing party started out well and for the most part has kept us solvent which encourages investors to bring their money here. That's how prosperity happens. Without it everybody goes broke and there's no money for the pensions. As a pensioner myself I am highly interested in seeing the economy produce enough to support me. Alas, the Liberals, though vastly more competent than the silly NDP socialists, have been losing sight of what they were elected to do which is leaving the door unlocked for an NDP return. I don't know why politicians, when they are voted in on conservative platforms, habitually drift to the left. Alas, we don't even have a Conservative party in BC, never mind a Tea Party.

That perpetual drift to the left shows that it isn't enough to merely cut off the tops of the big government dandelions. You have to dig out the roots or they just grow back. The idea that big government can be the source of a people's well-being is so thoroughly disproven by history it's hard for me to understand how so many still believe in it. What is the answer? Obviously it's to be found in the workings of our major institutions, especially where they influence the thinking of upcoming generations.

We have a fairly large educational establishment in Victoria. We have the University of Victoria, Camosun College, and a number of private schools that cater to foreign students. St. Michaels used to be a boy's school but some years ago the feminist hurricane came by and decreed that there could be no more boy's schools so now there are girls at St Mikes. Curiously, girl's schools were unaffected. Boys schools had to let girls in but girls schools didn't have to let boys in. St. Margaret's is still an all girl school. I often wonder why, but it does put me in mind of a comic book published when I was at the comic book stage of my reading. Little Lulu was the title. One of the recurring plot lines had to do with the boys of the neighbourhood who had a club with a sign tacked up, "no girls allowed!" Little Lulu, naturally, was always plotting to find out what was going on with those nasty boys. I think that's really all there is to that facet of feminism. Boys off by themselves having fun. Can't have that. The trouble is, once girls are allowed into boys' spaces then boys are no longer comfortable doing the things they like to do that don't involve girls. In order to get by under the new dispensation boys no longer had places where they could go to learn how to be men.

The result has been an emasculated society that now seems unwilling to defend itself against enemies who want to destroy it. The feminist wave wasn't the cause of a societal revolution so much as one of the consequences of a long term, multigenerational evolution. These things have their seasons, too.