A Chinook Wind

Back when we lived in Moose Jaw, I awoke one morning and noticed right away that the air had an unusual scent. I took a deep sniff and smiled. A chinook was blowing.

This weather pattern is born in the air currents moving from northwest to southeast across the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Winds suck up moisture from the water’s surface and carry it along in billowing white clouds until the air mass crashes into the North American coastline. And there the air-land temperature difference causes the clouds to dump their payload on the hapless residents below.

In western Canada this means the British Columbia coastline, including Vancouver Island and the city of Victoria. Terrific rainfall ever year! But then the now-lighter air mass rises upwards over the mountain range leaving the clouds behind to dribble onto the coast. The interior of British Columbia is desert-dry a lot of the time.


L to R: BC, Alberta, Sask, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime provinces

These air currents climb the mountain peaks and pick up speed sliding down the other side into Alberta. Still warm from the Pacific this air blow across the southern prairies. The Indians called these winds chinooks. If it’s winter here, a chinook can melt a lot of snow in a day, picking up the resulting moisture and carrying it along at almost ground level until the wind plays out.

Under the map of Canada above I’ve listed the southern provinces that border the US. The Rocky Mountains, for the most part, follow that squiggly line between BC and Alberta. Because of the way the Rockies angle as they run along the border of the two provinces, the southernmost chinooks sometimes blow as far east as central Saskatchewan. Moose Jaw, dead center in south SK, gets the tail end of some, whereas Regina, 44 miles east, rarely ever feels a Chinook wind.

When one is blowing, we get that classic “chinook arch” along the western horizon. Our sky is clear except for an arc of grey cloud hovering at the western edge of our world.

It was this warm, moisture-laden air I got a whiff of that morning. In the dead of winter a chinook has a pleasing smell to it! Later, when I was outside, I saw the accompanying chinook arch. A chinook means a sunny day, a rise in temperature, melting snow. We get a tiny respite from frigid winter’s grip. We prairie folks love our chinooks.

Word Press daily prompt: Interior


Martyrs to the Net?

A Martyr to Pain

I find it intriguing how the older English books use today’s Word Press prompt, martyr, in a rather unique way. Unique to folks in this part of North America, that is.

“My wife wasn’t able to come today. She’s a martyr to headaches,” the character in one book explained. Someone else may be a martyr to back pain or varicose veins. We here in Canada tend to phrase this type of affliction as, “She suffered from chronic headaches or back pain.”

Can’t you just imagine them lying in bed, moaning in pain? So why doesn’t this bring a rush of sympathy to my heart? Because the word martyr, while it has a legitimate sense of suffering unjustly, also carries the sense of someone putting on a show of suffering. Letting the whole world know about their grief or pain to gain sympathy. My folks called this “putting on the dog” and had no patience for that.

Got Your Martyr Pin?

When I was young, volunteering to suffer, and usually letting everyone around you know about it to gain sympathy, was called “putting on your martyr pin.”

A martyr pin can actually turn into a much-admired fashion accessory. “Judy has to slave away all day long because her husband and children expect so much of her and none of them will lift a finger to help. What a hard worker she is — and so brave about it! I’d have laid down the law to my family long ago.”

A martyr pin may be the only thing holding some people together. I remember reading the account of the poor abused wife of an alcoholic. When her husband had a serious accident and subsequent encounter with God, he was convicted of his erring ways and gave up boozing. He quit beating his poor wife. Was she thankful? No. She’d lost her moorings, her role in life. So she kept taunting him, trying to make him hit her again, telling him he wasn’t a man anymore. Sad.

A Martyr to Blogging?

But back to chronic suffering. I could say my housework is a martyr to my blogging and/or writing. The house suffers constant neglect while I’m off on a cyber-voyage around the globe, or editing my latest WIP. Just this morning I woke up enthused, ready to give something a good cleaning, but got lost on a ramble around the Internet instead.

Oh, well. I met two nice Irish gentlemen on my travels. The one, Niall O’Donnell has a blog about the joys and confusions of our beloved English. Among is posts is one about one of my pet subjects, the SEMICOLON. Read his post here at English Language Thoughts.

The other, Robert Doyle, is an enthusiast of music and photography. You’ll find him at Soundtrack of a Photograph. We discussed his photo of Halifax and my great-great-grandfather’s arrival there back around 1850.

A Martyr to the Press Gang

I could say my great-great-grandfather was a martyr to the English navy, like many young men in his era. He suffered much at their hands, losing every connection with his family. The roots of our family tree stop at him.

John was a nine-year-old lad on the streets of a large English city — he thinks it was London — when a navy press gang got hold of him and dragged him on board a ship, forcing him to serve as cabin boy. One can only imagine what all he must have endured. Seems he must have been a husky lad for his age; surely they wouldn’t have taken a puny little thing? Was his name actually John Smith, did the sailors dub him that to make it harder for relatives to find him, or did he not even know his last name?

At any rate, they kept him aboard, never allowed on shore, for over four years. At age fourteen, while his ship was docked in Halifax harbour, he managed to escape. The sailors saw him and turned the ship’s gun on him, trying to shoot him down as he fled, but he escaped by hiding in the woods. From Halifax he made his way to Ontario, married Ruth Dobson in Oxford County, and settled down on a farm near Listowel.

How We Suffer!

Someone has said that we in North America today have so much more going for us than people ever have had, yet we’re the most discontented bunch ever. We are freer than any other people ever have been, but get so bogged down by all our options. We expect life to deliver more goodies than any other people in history ever have.

Personally, I think folks today suffer much from not knowing history. Perhaps if we studied history more we’d see just where we fit into the big picture. And we’d realize just how good we have it. When I get to feeling like I suffer from a lack of life’s little pleasures, or haven’t been treated very well by my peers, I try to remember what John Smith had to endure.

A Panoply of Gray

Our Word Press daily prompt word today is panoply, one I am familiar with, but will probably never have a use for. Unless I talk about our personal panoply of books (as in impressive or complete collection.) However, we’re not the Library of Congress yet. Now that place can boast a panoply of books!

The word immediately brings to mind the old hymn, “The Promises of God”, with the one verse ending… “but with panoply and shield and the Spirit’s sword to wield, I have conquered through the promises of God.” An inspiring thought.

Maybe I could use it to describe our gray heaven above. A panoply of cloud (full suit of armor) has protected us from the piercing rays of the sun all week. One day we had just a faint white streak on the SW horizon where the sun was obviously favoring the next country with a polite visit, but we haven’t seen it here for so long. We’re not in Saskatchewan anymore, Toto.

On the other hand, it’s not snowing. Our ground is bare and so far the temp has stayed above freezing in the daytime, dropping just below at night. The weather man says this is going to change next week and we’re going to KNOW it’s December.

My husband and I haven’t been as well protected from germs as we have from sunshine. Bob’s been fighting a sinus cold for a week now and my own throat was sore this morning, too. Now I have a headache. I may wake up with one occasionally but they’re a rare daytime occurrence for me.

For the past few days I’ve been working on a story I wrote three NaNoWriMo’s ago. My grandson wanted me to write a story similar to the Hardy Boys mysteries so I made a stab at it as my 2013 Nano project. I finished the first draft, then left it sit, my health issues occupying the center of my attentions since then. Now I want to get back at it, get it polished up and ready for the grands to read.

I have four chapters done and ready to go, but have the awfullest feeling I’m going too have to delete two of them. The experts say you must plunge your main character into trouble practically on the first page. My story hints at trouble right off, but the characters aren’t being tossed into the soup pot yet.

I’ve been told the main character has to be in Terrible Trouble by page 2. A 95% chance of being fatal-type situation. “Hanging from a bridge by his fingernails,” says Jerry Jenkins. (This better be a him; these days girls with their glued-on nails would have no hope at all.) With the villain pacing up and down the bridge, releasing the safety on his gun — and the crocodile below filing its teeth in anticipation.

Or a romance where Act One opens with Trish and her sweetie walking down the street and he’s just starting to propose. Suddenly this drop-dead gorgeous thing, jumping back from a speeding car veering her way, throws herself into sweetie’s arms. And he says, “Well, hello! Where have you been all my life?”

You get the picture. Dire Distress.

I’ve been feeling a lack in my writing life lately. I’m a moody person by nature and my muse is even more so, plus I’m having a hard time keeping her enthused when the skies are so dull and gray. I have lots of stories I’d like to write, both short and long, but for some reason I just can’t seem to get motivated.

Would the discipline of a group help, I wonder? The pressure of needing some new work to present every week? I started searching on-line for a writers’ group where participants exchange writing samples and get feedback. Do any of you readers belong to a group like that, or are you interested in joining one? Is anyone interested in reading and giving some feedback on a story for teen boys?

On the up-side, it’s December and we’ve already gotten a few Christmas cards. Last night we went to Bob’s office Christmas supper. He actually only works at this office one day a week, doing book-keeping for a local veterinarian, but we get an invite to the feast. Everyone’s friendly and the meal’s a tasty one — the last couple of years it’s been a potluck. They draw names for gifts and the exchange is done after the meal.

Have you all got your plans made for the holidays and your Christmas, Year-end, or New Year’s greetings written up, ready to send? Since we’re both retired it’s needless to plan for “holidays,” especially with only one child and her family to arrange a meal together with. I’ve always had it easy this way — no big crowd to arrange for. And a lot of our gift-giving these days can be reduced to gift certificates.

No Flames For Us!

Our Daily prompt word today is Flames, something we rarely want to see around here. In the fire pit and supervised it’s okay, but otherwise…

We live on an acreage, a small piece of land sliced off the next-door farm yard when our farmer neighbour’s son got married. The son moved away and we were able to purchase the trailer he’d set up on this lovely little property. The land itself still belongs to the farmer, who kindly lets us continue this arrangement.

A small woods lies between us and our neighbour, large enough to give us privacy and yet narrow enough that in summer we get glimpses of each other’s homes through the trees. Once the leaves are off the trees we can see the farmer’s house quite well. This woods was planted over 100 years ago when settlers first came, so many of the trees are old and quite a few have toppled. Sad to say, this woods has been quite neglected; neither of us have the time or energy to mess around with cutting up fallen trees.

It’s sad, really, because the large old willows come down, they fall on the saplings that have sprung up, crushing and/or deforming them. In normal forest situations, lightening will strike one day or the forest floor mat of decaying leaves will get hot and combust. Then you have a raging inferno that burns the whole lot and the forest starts again with new saplings or new growth springing from the roots of the old trees. It’s natures way.

We don’t want to let nature have her way here. Neither we nor the farmer and his wife want an inferno raging between us. He’s very particular, in dry seasons, that no fires be started, outside of the occasional fire-pit BBQ on a calm evening.

Along with the dead trees and tinder-dry broken branches and twigs, in fall there’s the added fuel of dried leaves and the dried grasses along the perimeter. We know that a lit cigarette, tossed from a passing vehicle and landing amongst this potential kindling, could soon ignite a roaring good blaze that would endanger both our homes. Of course there’s lightening to fear as well — but we rarely get lightening strikes here — and they almost always come with rain to help put out any fires that start.

Grass fires have always been a threat here on the prairies as well, as this story, based on a true incident, illustrates. Perhaps there’s an inborn fear of fire in prairie folks. I know I have it and always watch closely whenever we’ve got a little fire burning.

Wild Honks, Ferocious Edits

I’ve chosen a new Header photo, this one being very seasonally appropriate for us, since thousands of snow geese are passing through our area right now, loitering in the fields en route. Traveling in flocks of hundreds, the birds make cloud-like smudges in the sky as they approach.

Coming home from the city one day my husband and I noticed a grey, trailing cloud above the trees of a woods a couple of miles away. As we got closer we saw the constantly milling, shining forms of snow geese and guessed there must be close to a thousand birds in that one flock. Fifteen minutes later we passed a field with a big white patch — another few hundred snow geese. And our area is just one small stream among their many migration lanes through the prairies.

As most of us know by now, Nov 1st kicks off another NaNoWriMo. Seems so many bloggers mention the event, for better or for worse. Different sites like The Write Practice and Live Write Thrive are giving out advice, encouragement about how to stick with it, some are even offering plotting kits.

Are you joining the Nano writing frenzy this year? I’ve participated a couple of times but now I should rather dig out the rough draft I churned out in 2014 and edit it properly. Ferociously, even.

My husband recently joined the Jerry Jenkins Writing Guild, a course that offers a number of webinars on how to write and edit. I’ve watched several of the “How to become a ferocious editor” lessons where he takes a first page of a story — any member can submit their first page and he’ll pick one or two to use as examples. He shows you the original, then butchers abbreviates it. He’s merciless, but offers explanations all along as to what should be deleted and why. Part of me is very curious — and part of me shudders — to think what he might do with one of my compositions. I have much to learn!

The trouble is, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Once you learn something about editing you can’t help doing it as you read others’ books. Soon you’re saying, “This should have been cut…this should be reworded…this is telling…this is too repetitive,” etc. Why, I was even editing Agatha Christie yesterday! (I enjoy her Tommy & Tuppence mysteries.)

Have you ever taken a writing course you’d recommend? Do you find yourself doing a lot of editing as you read? Have you ever bought an e-book that IYO needed a major editorial overhaul?

Carl Was A Curiosity

Continued from yesterday…

One day an ambitious little spider made its way down from a ceiling, slid down a wall, crept over an old fashioned roller blind, then down the cord one might use to pull the blind down or up. But this blind, hanging in the living room of an old red brick house, was never pulled down or up. It had hung part-way down for a decade or more and no one moved it. No one removed the spider, either.

Sensing itself secure, the spider began to make its web. Swinging from the end of the cord toward the nearby window frame it attached one of its silky threads to that. Then it repeated the process until it had completed its web. And this web, as it was fashioned, eventually pulled the cord sideways.

Neighbours going by smiled when they saw the cord hanging at an angle. This was Carl McNeil’s house and we all knew that, though he kept his garden in good order, he wasn’t bothered with housework. He occupied two rooms, his kitchen and his bedroom upstairs. Since he never invited anyone into his house, no one really knew what it looked like inside but we judged a lot by that one cord hanging crooked for years — and the fact that the half a bucket of water Carl got from Giff Pomeroy’s pump once a week wouldn’t be cleaning very much. That was Carl’s bath water.

Carl was a faithful attender of the United Church in Fullarton. Town folks said it with kindness and a smile, but they admitted it took an extra bit of charity to sit near Carl on days when the church building was especially warm. Soon Marguerite would be telling him, “Carl, it’s time to send your clothes to the cleaners again.”

At the end of October, as the town children prepared to go trick or treating, Carl would go down to the store to buy a bag of treats to hand out. For years he bought a bag of marshmallows and gave one to each of the children that called at his door. Then one year he discovered mini-marshmallows so he bought a bag and generously gave each child several. Since this worked so well, he continued to shell out this way. Was he such a miser, or did he think most children at the time were getting enough sweets?

Carl’s only known health problem was his need for a pacemaker. The first one installed did him for years but when he was 85 the battery needed to be changed. As I recall, he was feeling odd for a few days, so a neighbour took him to a hospital in London, ON, where he had the procedure done. He was supposed to stay there for a couple of days and properly recover after the surgery. However, he wanted to be home, so the next morning he signed himself out, walked downtown to the bus depot and caught the bus for home.

He got off the bus at Russeldale, a village along the highway and the nearest stop to home; from there he walked the three miles to Fullarton. But when he got home he found his neighbour had locked the door and Carl didn’t have the key with him. So off he went to Giff Pomeroy’s shed and borrowed Giff’s long wooden ladder, which he carried to his house and set up to reach his second-storey bedroom window. He climbed up, pushed his window open, and crawled into the bedroom. Then he went back outside and returned Giff’s ladder.

Carl rarely left his home, but once or twice a year he took the bus to Kitchener, a city about an hour away, for the day. Of course it gave the villagers lots of opportunity to speculate on what he did there all day. Once an acquaintance saw him being met at the Bus depot by a young woman, which gave rise to even more speculation. He had no known family other than MacDougald cousins. A bit worried in case Carl might be victimized somehow, his friends raised tactful questions but Carl was secretive about those trips. Perhaps he simply liked to have a bit of mystery about his life, something to keep folks guessing.

When Carl died and his will was read, he made national news. He’d calculated what each citizen’s share of the National debt was and had bequeathed the government of Canada a check to pay off his portion.

John Richardson, MP for Perth-Wellington-Waterloo, praised Carl’s actions in the House of Commons with these words:

“Mr. Speaker, today (Oct 31, 1994) I was fortunate to take part in a presentation ceremony during which a cheque for $37,634.61 from the estate of Carl McNeill was presented to the Government of Canada.

Mr. McNeill was a 100-year old resident of my riding who was worried about the legacy of debt that had been left to the younger generation. Mr. McNeill left specific instructions in his will that the money be given to the federal government in order to pay off his share of the national debt to ensure a better future for others.

Walter and Marian MacDougald, long time friends and neighbours of Mr. NcNeill, presented the cheque to the Minister of Finance this morning. In addition to Mr. McNeill’s donation to the government he also left a substantial amount of money to the University Hospital in London and the Salvation Army.

Carl McNeill set a tremendous example of the kind of patriotism and national loyalty for which all Canadians can strive. I thank him on behalf of all Canadians for his generosity and concern for our great country.