Doors of Few Words

Shopping for hiking gear at a large huntin’ and fishin’ supply store, I am interrupted, appropriately enough, by nature’s call.  Tracking the wily restrooms through the tangled undergrowth, I come upon doors labelled Bucks and Does.  But the doors also carry the more-or-less standard male/female pictograms and the English words: Men and Women.

Irritated, I stop to glare at this mish-mash.  How redundant.  How inelegant.  Does no one know when enough is enough, any more?    Continue reading


Filed under Language & Communication

In Position to Make the Call

We question your visual acuity.

Thus does the crowd make its concerns evident.  The two-and-one count on the home team’s clean-up hitter has just gone to two-and-two on a ball—excuse me, on a pitch, its ball-ness being exactly what’s in question—that the crowd is supremely confident was well outside the strike zone, no matter what the umpire saw.

The next ball—excuse me, pitch—is in the strike zone for sure.  Sure enough, in fact, that the batter swings and connects.

The resulting line drive roars down the third-base line.  That umpire spins around to watch it land.  To the crowd’s dismay, he waves his arms left.

Foul?!?  The crowd is consternation personified.  It was on the line for sure!

We question your spatial perception.    Continue reading


Filed under New perspectives, Sports

Bitter. Sweet.


Off to my left, four mourning doves explode from cover and I jump involuntarily.  My heart pitter-patters from the unexpectedness of it all.  As they flap awkwardly off to what they evidently see as better cover, I mutter a bit.  After all, I hadn’t even seen them before they exploded.  Just how exposed were they?

Tramping across the undeveloped piece of land that borders four Town of Gilbert water reclamation ponds, I am, of course, watching for birds.  Northern harriers alternately soar overhead and swoop low over bushy patches.  Killdeer scold, practically at my feet.  Yellow-rumped warblers and house finches hubbub in low, scrubby shrubs.  Unidentified hummingbirds sway in the breeze atop the highest branch of mesquite bushes.  Kestrels perch all still-like in trees: Go about your business, little lunch-size creatures.  There’s nobody here but us chicken(hawk)s.

Usually I am entirely relaxed on this walk, allowing for small intervals where those stealthy doves practically make me swallow my tonsils.  But today, some part of my brain is anxious, regretting the impending end of these morning walks.     Continue reading


Filed under Aging & death, New perspectives


Are we driving beside water?

Straining my neck to see the GPS device atop the dashboard, I find that the sun glare makes the screen all but unreadable from the back seat.  Certainly I can’t see whether it shows that ribbon of blue it uses to denote a body of water, still or flowing.  The Big Guy and the other big guy riding shotgun look at each other in some surprise, but check the screen to confirm what they already know.

Nope.   There’s a slight pause while they decide, with that inscrutable, silent communication between brothers, which one will pursue it.

Why do you ask?  The Big Guy has stepped up.

I gesture left, down the hill, at the ribbon of green more or less paralleling the highway.  

That’s why.    Continue reading


Filed under New perspectives


My season sensor spins, trying to settle on a selection.

Some trees sport the distinctive green of new leaves.  Spring, the sensor concludes happily.

Newly mown grass and purple alyssum scent the air.  Summer, it says reasonably.

Dead leaves drift in the gutters and crunch underfoot.  Fall, it opines judiciously.

Some trees are stark, bare silhouettes against the sky.  Winter, it decides reluctantly.

Boy birds chase girl birds.  Spring?  Less conclusion now than conjecture.  And around it goes.

Yup, it’s busted.    Continue reading


Filed under New perspectives


Panting just a bit, I clamber out of the final desert wash and straggle down The Trail to the ramada, whence I launched 2½ hours ago.  The breeze that cooled me as I left, just before nine o’clock, is now overheating me.  The temperature has climbed 15 or 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and my single bottle of water has been empty for a while.

I can feel muscles whose name I don’t know.  What’s that one that runs down the outside of the hip?  Well, both hips, actually, and who voted for bilateral symmetry anyway?  My two-of-everything ache: knees, ankles, bottoms of feet.  Damn it, even my toes—protected by heavy-duty hiking shoes—are sore.

According to my map, I have walked 5 miles at most, which doesn’t sound like much; according to my new activity-tracking toy, I have simultaneously climbed the equivalent of 82 flights of stairs, and that’s leaving out any ups-and-downs that involve less than 10 feet of continuous climbing.  On reflection, I’m not sure there’s an entirely level stretch on the entire stretch I was on.    Continue reading


Filed under New perspectives

There’s An App (er, Site) For That

Injured in a hotel?

If a billboard can blare, this one does.

Injured in a hotel?

All acid colours and blocky lettering, it looms loudly above the Vegas strip, ‘drawing focus’ as they say in dramatic circles.  Hard to ignore, impossible to miss, it is, of course, advertising a firm specializing in personal injury law.  I know this area of the law the same way I know all law: from watching TV.  Commercials, in this case, rather than the crime-and-punishment dramas that have formed the core of studies.  But even with my in-depth background, this sub-specialty of hotel injuries is new to me.    Continue reading


Filed under New perspectives

Exactitudes & Estimations

In 2013, 39,668,211 people visited Las Vegas.  That’s according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which might have an understandable interest in not undercounting visitors.  But for our purposes here, let’s take that at face value.

Now, I’m usually all right with big words, like ‘marmalade,’ but have trouble really getting big numbers.  So I look for some sort of meaningful benchmark.

With the Olympics on, my first thought is of my country.  The last time I checked, Canada’s 2013 population was 35,158,300.  Stats Canada reported this figure as an estimate, thereby exhibiting an admirable commitment to ‘transparency in government’ (that would be ‘honesty’ for anyone over, say, 55).  In any event, the use of two final zeros might have tipped us off that this figure is not an exact count, 2013 not being a census year.   Continue reading


Filed under New perspectives

I Know Just How you Feel

Sometimes, life intervenes.  I have no new blog this week.  Instead, I offer an op-ed piece I had published after the Australia Summer Olympics but not previously seen in this space.  The players may have changed; the game, not so much.

You, with the pen, stop right there.  I know what you’re doing.  You’re writing your MP, proposing an increase in funding for amateur athletes.  Mesmerized by the undeniable beauty of all that faster, higher, stronger activity, you want more Canadians on the podium in four years.  You think we’ve been letting these kids down with inadequate and inconsistent funding.  I know just how you feel.

And you, over there, I know about your letter, too.  Dismayed by reports of continued drug abuse and allegations of judging improprieties, you think we already spend too much on activities (many can hardly be called “sports”) conducted under the auspices of an organization that has a world-class reputation for corruption.  I know just how you feel, too.

Before we act on our feelings, either way, let’s think about what we’re trying to achieve.

Let’s start by looking at what the Olympics have become.  In modern times they started as a celebration of amateur sports, but today, as one TV commentator said, “The only amateurs in the Games are those running the show.”  Some level of professionalism is now required to compete credibly, never mind successfully.

If the Games are not an amateur sporting contest, what are they?  In ancient times, historians tell us, they were a surrogate for more active and nasty forms of warfare.  There is a good case to be made that the modern Games, too, have become a proxy for war.

Some commentators seem as devastated by Canada’s poor showing in medals and personal-best performances as they would be by a military defeat with territory or sovereignty at stake.  They see sporting performance as a matter of national pride.  Australia has shown how to prevail on this battlefield: dramatically increase funding levels and recruit foreign athletes as mercenaries.

Some athletes seem to value victory more than their health, physical or mental.  The taking of drugs by a few raises the competitive bar so that chemical use becomes the price of entry for all.  Even without drug-enhanced performances, the level of competition is now so high that many athletes put their lives on hold to train, because nothing less will produce success.  Sacrifices like these might seem appropriate, might even be expected, in times of war.

Some countries treat their athletes as sport’s equivalent of cannon fodder.  China is reported to be well-advanced in its preparations for the Beijing 2008 Summer Games.  The prospect of Olympic triumphs apparently justifies six hours of daily training for child gymnasts aged 3 to 10, with parental visits limited to once weekly.

If Olympic competition is war, are we in or out?  Will we engage in the equivalent of an arms race, spending whatever it takes to secure podium positions?  Will we subsidize individual athletes’ decisions to sacrifice everything in the pursuit, not of excellence, but of victory?  Will we conscript children into athletic programs, churning out little competing machines for the glory of the state?  I hope not.

If we want to reject the war model for sport, we can choose to treat the Olympics as entertainment.  Professional athletes, like those in the PGA, NBA, and NHL, are entertainers; we pay to see them perform.  Golfers, basketball stars and hockey players earn more than curlers because their games make better TV.  Tough on the curlers, but there it is.

By and large, private money supports the entertainment business, through corporate sponsorships and the sale of tickets and TV rights.  Let Canadian athletes who have the will and the capability to compete at the world level get private funding, as other entertainers do.  If the entertainment value of their sport determines their funding—if our gymnasts and swimmers can find sponsors but our badminton players and javelin hurlers cannot—then so be it.

And what of public money?  Which letter shall we write to our MP?  Oddly enough, maybe the principles of war can guide us here.  Students of war learn that its first principle is “to establish and maintain the aim”; it applies equally to any human endeavour.  To be successful, we must decide what we’re trying to do and then keep at it.

Public money is for the public good, so that should be our aim in spending it.  Let tax monies go to programs to encourage children to participate in healthy activities, and to encourage an increasingly sedentary adult population to get up off the couch.  Many Olympians tell of being inspired by another Olympian.  It seems that, for the rest of us, something other than Olympic gold is needed to get us up and moving.

It won’t be easy.  It will likely mean fewer Canadians on the podium.  But maybe we will all become a little faster, higher, and stronger.  The next time we hear an athlete describe the thrill of achieving a little piece of perfection with an imperfect instrument—the human body, mind and spirit—maybe more of us will be able to say, “I know just how you feel.”


Filed under Life Lessons, Sports

Is It a Bird? Is It a Plane?

A foot-high ridge of overturned soil spans a green field filled with something that is, presumably, a tasty treat for the cattle at the adjacent barns.  Atop said ridge, about halfway across the field, is a hawk-shaped lump, a bit blurry across the intervening hundred-plus yards.

This lump sighting isn’t accidental: I was watching for a hawk in this field, having seen one near the road as I drove up.  Scanning the field, I have my right hand cupped around the binocular eyepiece to reduce the glare.  At not quite 0900, the early-morning sun is just on the edge of warm enough to make me wish I’d worn my desert vest (light-gray nylon) instead of my mountain one (black fleece), but well into the range of too bright to look at or anywhere near.  Seemingly unbothered by the glare, though, the hawk-shaped lump is facing south, watching for its own tasty treat of the moveable feast variety.

I wait for a few minutes to see if the gods of bird watching will grant me a better view for identification purposes, but today, as so often when hawks are involved, they find me not worthy.  Sighing, I tug my point-and-shoot camera out of my vest pocket and prepare to zoom.    Continue reading


Filed under New perspectives