Monday, November 9, 2015

This Spring I Lost Two Trees

It's not like they just pulled up roots, wandered away and then got lost. 

So then, how did I lose two trees?

Appearances are deceiving. The tree in the center of the yard was half dead by the time the leaves disappeared last fall ahead of winter. The larger tree on the left, the entire tree that is, had abnormal, severely stunted barely alive leaves and provided no shade through summer 2014. 

With thanks to that uninvited and unwanted pest, the Emerald Ash Borer, neither tree would see another summer.

On March 31, 2015, the two diseased and dying ash trees in my backyard fell in a hail of sawdust and disappeared almost as quickly as a puff of smoke. 

A third smaller ash tree will have to follow in the same way. Last year it was healthy. This summer the leaves were stunted and some branches dead.

No fear! The tree removal guys quickly brought down large parts of the tree.

One tree already down and hauled away and then the trimmed trunk of the second follows.

Losing these tall ash trees really bothered me. On hot summer days I enjoyed sitting in the shade beneath them and occasionally enjoying fresh watermelon pieces that Kie would bring out to me.

As the following reveals, I'm not the first person to be annoyed over losing shade trees... but I was nowhere near as angry.

"Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left - and also much cattle?”
(Jonah 4:6-11)

Yes! The same Jonah who was swallowed by the great fish was angry about losing a shade providing plant.

About an hour later... pieces that did not end up here in the wood pile were very efficiently chewed into chips.

Free very good quality firewood for the taking. 

During the day passing vehicles would simply stop, load up with a few choice sticks and then drive away. That was the purpose for placing the wood there.

Every piece had disappeared within 24 hours.

This image was recorded more than 20 years ago and shows a then recently cut healthy ash tree.

On this subject of very good firewood...

This ode to firewood favouring ash was in a display at the 2015 Farmington Fair.

The display at the Farmington Fair highlighted the plight of the North American ash tree. A deadly plague caused by that trouble-causing, illegal alien known as the emerald ash borer. 

Ash trees are dying off, much like native chestnut trees first and then elm trees did more than a century earlier.

Will the common ash tree be able to survive?

The Oddblock Station Agent

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Futility Room

About thirty years ago the Futility Room was first introduced to me by the late James Dick.

In spring 1985 Kie and I visited Mr. Dick at his new home near Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, and he gave us the grand tour. We came to the doorway of one room that he called the Futility Room, which was actually the laundry room; he had moved his exercise bicycle and equipment in there. This said, I was never certain if he gave the room that name because there is always one more piece of laundry to be done or if the time spent on a treadmill or exercise bicycle never took him anywhere.

In retrospect, I think we all have a Futility Room; it's that place where we spend countless hours doing activities that really do not take us anywhere but we persist in doing those activities nonetheless. We know this already... but buried inside us is that innate drive to keep going.

My father spent many years on his stamp collection; he had taken over the collection after his father had passed away. From the occasional comment he made through the years, my father was always hoping one of us (his children) would take over and continue the collection. My father's wish has not been fulfilled and is not likely to be.

But don't be sad if you reading this post!

I too persist in a similar way but with a completely unrelated activity, and I have been for several decades. I write these pages that have become several volumes, hoping that one day in the future after I am gone someone may actually read them.

These pages record various scenes from my journey through life and admitted struggles with my faith and beliefs, but the cold hard reality that I know already is that no one will be interested. I clearly know this but I continue writing anyway. Now you understand the futility part.

Let's face it!

No one cares what the weather may have been on April 3, 2002... even I don't care, but I may have recorded it on that date.

The old people I have briefly written about are forgotten strangers who are long gone as I too shall be one day. But I persist in writing about them anyway... perhaps because as I look back at the lives and influences of those older people, those earlier generations of my family, I discover that I don't know much about them. They were a part of my early life in their special ways but sadly I repeat; I don't know much about them. They didn't write things down for those of us following to read about later. 

Buried in bits within these pages, I have recorded vignettes of family history that are, admittedly, very limited; and for two reasons. First, because of limited details and second, because of my failures to have listened attentively years ago coupled with my own fading memories of today. Trust me: the unbelievably unforgettable does become unbelievably faded and then forgotten over time, maybe even within our own lifetime; I really hate to admit this.

"For of the wise man as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing in that the days to come all will have become long forgotten. How the wise man dies just like the fool!"
(Ecclesiastes 2:16)

Who we are and what we have done is never intended to endure here on earth.

Knowing this and for whatever reason, the Futility Room does seem to offer some degree of comfort.

"For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart."
(Ecclesiastes 5:20)

Keep pedalling anyway!!

The Oddblock Station Agent

Monday, October 19, 2015

One Good Reason Why the Stones Get Softer

Rediscovered this morning: a timely message from Kimberly for my 56th birthday.

This was Page 1 of an empty journal and I have since filled all those pages plus 3 more volumes.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Another Stone

From the files of information overload in this age of instant everything off the internet. 

Life is certainly different from what it was decades ago.

This kind of reflective writing is what happens when one discovers that the clock has never stopped ticking and time has run away.

For most of my life I have lived much of that time being afraid of what other people might think, only to discover after too many years later that what other people would think is none of my business and in the end does not really matter.

I wish I had discovered this fact decades sooner.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mom's 81st Birthday


Another year has passed and today, August 13, 2015, Mom is celebrating her 81st birthday. 

The sad part is that Alzheimer's disease has robbed Mom of knowing that today is her birthday. 

Mom may not be able to remember, but we are still able to.

Mom outside enjoying a warmer spring day.

Mom enjoyed life and did not ask for much. She valued the treasures that God gave her; those that even a Warren Buffet could never be able to buy.

Mom always wanted to take pictures to record what people were doing. Following are a few images from events in her life that were dear to her with people who were dear to her.

Milan, Quebec, June 20, 1953. Mom and Dad and their modest wedding reception held on the front lawn, a practice so typical of the descendants of the Hebrides.

Mom recorded this scene in Milan outside the "George D.A." home in summer 1967. That was the summer Aunt Shirley came east from Vancouver to see Expo 67 and to visit her family after a 14 year absence.

April 1970 in Scotstown, Quebec. Mom had arranged to celebrate her parents' 50th wedding anniversary in the Presbyterian church hall.

Mary McLeod (left) and Grandma (Mom's Mom) enjoying a laugh in summer 1973 on the beach once known as Jim Grant's Pleasant Point just outside Megantic. That was the summer when Monica came to visit and this was an outing Mom had arranged.

"Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this."
(Ecclesiastes 7:10)

Addendum March 24, 2016

On Saturday evening, March 19, 2016 at 21:56, Mom quietly stopped breathing and passed away.

Mom on November 04, 2015... Alan captured one of the last really good images of her.

Mom on March 14, 2016. All may seem to be okay but appearances are deceiving. Dysphagia brought on by late stage Alzheimer's disease suddenly robbed Mom of the ability to eat or drink anything.

Mom on March 16, 2016 afternoon... appearing as if she was sleeping peacefully... but unable to tell us that she was hungry and thirsty.

Kimberly holding Grandma's hand on March 16, 2016.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Highschool Ramblings of an Old Man

Neglected reminders of unwanted memories about forgotten years are recorded in this faded, dust-covered and slightly mildewed hardcover high school year book that was sitting in a basement for 40 plus years.

In our eyes of youth this great monument about us was almost immediately forgotten and quickly became neglected; an unimportant boring history book, no, not even that much, merely a meaningless minuscule footnote of history that has found its rightful place in obscurity. 

And rightly so! 

Those who are following us do exactly the same and shall continue to do the same.

Such was typical; a volume containing high school scenes diligently recorded that would, decades later, offer glimpses into an out of date way life that once was but no longer is. Once in a rare while a few may be curious but no one is really interested in...

Faded reminders of strong friendships that were formed...
       and also of bitter rivalries; both long gone and now meaningless.

Awkward first romances expected to last forever blossomed, well, unexpectedly...
      and the cold hard lessons of confusing painful heartache that quickly followed too.

Sincere but foolish beliefs that we would undoubtedly change the world...
      like no other generation ever wanted to, did or could... and then we did nothing different.

That in fact we were too ignorant to perceive our world was changing regardless of us...
      in radical ways we could never have imagined or conceived.

Naively thinking the future was ours and ours alone, yet today...
      we look back at decades that have passed and wonder... 

Where has our time gone and what does it all mean?

"Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven." (Luke 6:37)

This timeless, changeless truth was conveniently forgotten or willfully set aside at the expense and hurt of others in that vain self-obsessed pursuit of just wanting to understand and desiring to belong and fit in at almost any cost.

In that pursuit through those high school years I witnessed senseless hurt and harm done to others; that same hurt and harm was done to me, and worse still, I was equally guilty of hurting and harming others while in my self-delusion was claiming I was better and not the same as others.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Birthday Remembered

"There is no remembrance of former things nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to happen among those who come after."
(Ecclesiastes 1:11)

Helen and George Macdonald on June 20, 1953, in front of their home in Milan, Quebec. The occasion was my parents wedding in Milan. The modest wedding reception was held on the front lawn, so typical of Hebridean culture that was transplanted into Canada.

George Macdonald was born in Milan, Quebec, on July, 24, 1888. 

When my brothers, sister and I were growing up, Mom always made certain we were visiting in Milan to celebrate Grandpa's birthday. I am grateful she did and thankful for those days of life that we enjoyed.

Few of us remain who can remember and when we are gone; no one shall remain to remember. In time the same truth will be the same for me.

"A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever."
(Ecclesiastes 1:4)

The Oddblock Station Agent

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Race is Not to the Swift

"Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to the men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all."
(Ecclesiastes 9:11)

This item was clipped from the January 24, 1996, edition of a local newspaper. Today I can only wonder how many participants can even remember or recall this event.

Kimberly didn't win the event but she was the one whose photo ended up in the newspaper. This in itself may have been the real prize.

The other story the newspaper didn't know about to report was that in Autumn 1995 Kimberly was in and out of the hospital with a strange illness that eventually culminated in surgery... after the medical experts figured out the problem. 

Just being able to return to health and participate in this public speaking event was the real victory.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Monday, June 1, 2015

An Amtrak Vignette

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
(Hebrews 13:2)

Abstract from Amtrak's public timetable effective May 15, 1975

For a brief time my Saturdays had become "Amtrak" days. An Amtrak Day to Seattle was long; four and a half hours of train travel to get there, seven hours there and almost five hours to return. Travelling alone and spending a rainy day in Seattle was depressing. 

Daily I prayed to God and begged for a miracle to change the circumstances in my life, so that doing crazy things such as going to Seattle to send letters and hopefully receive mail from her would not be necessary, but nothing changed. I felt as if the louder I shouted toward heaven, the more God seemed to ignore me.

Early afternoon and more than four hours remained until train time; I was using up those hours sitting in Seattle’s King Street station and sporadically reading. A panhandler was shuffling around and searching through the station’s garbage bins. Eventually he stopped in front of me but I did not look up from what I was doing. 

“Do you have any money you can part with?” he asked.

That was a strange way to ask for money because all money was money that could be parted with in one way or another. 

“Here!” I eventually answered and handed him a few dollars, hoping he would go away.

“Thank you.” he replied, sounding very surprised.

Instead of wandering off, the vagrant sat on the bench and began to talk to me. “I haven’t always lived like this.”

I did not say anything. I did not know what to say to him. Truthfully, I did not want to have to say anything to him.

“Where are you from?” he questioned, even though I had remained silent.

“Canada.” I finally answered, trying to avoid a conversation.

“What are you doing down here?” He continued.

"Just visiting from Canada.” I revealed.

“I’m from Mississippi.” He announced.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, aware that Seattle was far from anywhere in Mississippi.

“Couldn’t take it anymore.” He stated, now sounding somewhat agitated.

“Take what?” I wondered.

“All the nonsense, the lies, the crap. I had to get out.” He continued, sounding as if he was repeating to me something that he thought I should have already known.

What he said did not mean anything to me and I did not ask for more details. I really did not want to know any more.

“I quit university.” He added, and then continued, “I’ve been drifting around and trying to find a purpose in life.”

He went on to inform me that his father owned a fishing and hunting resort in Kenora, Ontario, and then began to tell me about the resort and then abruptly stopped and asked, “Have you ever heard of Kenora?”

“Yes, it’s near the Ontario-Manitoba border. CP Rail’s trains roll through there.” I stated authoritatively, certain of this latter fact.

“Yeah, you know it.” He confirmed. 

He then handed me a folded slip of paper with the name and address of a resort in Kenora and while pointing at the paper said, “If you ever visit Kenora, go there and ask for my father. Just tell him I told you to ask for him.”

He wished me well and wandered away and I wondered why he had stopped to talk. I looked at the name and address on the paper and thought, “Why would I ever go to Kenora?”

His comment about quitting university and finding a purpose in life stirred me though and compelled me to question why I was coming here to Seattle every Saturday. Fighting off desperation was my reason. But what was my purpose?

From the internet: Amtrak's Pacific International circa 1976

Amtrak’s Pacific International was a four-car train outfitted with worn-out, hand-me-down equipment from Union Pacific and Great Northern. A dome-observation car on the tail end gave the train an air of importance; not every passenger train included a dome car. Unlike CP Rail’s Canadian, which offered coach seating in their dome cars, Amtrak had turned the dome into a dining area and served meals up top. 

During the return trip I sat in the rear of the dome car and from the curved back windows watched the track racing away into darkness. Occasionally I would puff away on my pipe when the lounge area was deserted. My mind wandered aimlessly as I stared out.

“A smoldering, half-smoked cigarette has been left in the ash tray.” Holmes pointed out after making a cursory inspection of the immediate area.

“Is this a clue?” Watson asked.

“No.” Holmes responded immediately, having already dismissed the cigarette as irrelevant.

“What makes you so certain?” Watson challenged.

“Left by a woman, you will observe smudges of lipstick on the end.” Holmes pointed out.

“Ah yes, but what if our quarry's not alone?” Watson suggested.

“The young lady who left this here was quite alone.” Holmes replied.

“How do you know?” Watson challenged.

“We passed her only moments earlier but you most likely looked at her rather than observe her. She was wearing the same shade of lipstick, slightly smudged as if by…” Holmes started to explain.

“A cigarette against the lips.” Watson interjected.

“Exactly!” Holmes stated, almost sounding like a teacher who had been explaining the solution of a problem to a student.

A yell came from the galley, abruptly awakening me from my mindless daydream.

“What? Another murder?” I asked aloud mindlessly.

“No. Cook fried some fingers on the griddle.” The Amtrak steward replied, having heard my silly question.

A half-smoked cigarette in the ash tray on the empty adjacent table was still smoldering away, and sure enough traces of lipstick were visible; but I couldn’t recall who may have been sitting there moments earlier.

After 41 days without mail the strike ended and Canada’s postal services resumed.

Two weeks later I made my final trip to Seattle to close the mailbox and hopefully, to find a letter or two from her waiting for me...but in spite of my desperate denials, somewhere in the back of my mind was that unthinkable truth, she was slowly slipping away from me.

My Amtrak days were over... and so too were a few slowly dying dreams.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Friday, May 22, 2015

Life Approaching Mile 20

"... for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
(Luke 12:15b)

As that song goes: Playing Solitaire till dawn with a deck of fifty-one... well not quite. Whether or not I was playing with a full deck at the time is debatable, however, my deck had all 52 cards and the odd time I actually played Solitaire did not even last until midnight.

March 1974 Vignette

Shortly after moving into the three-room closet that had become my very first home on my own, my first major purchase was an inexpensive stereo. Having managed to save some money out of the little that was left over after paying the bills, again being able to listen to Beethoven, Mozart and others was a joy. Music was also some relief to lessen what often seemed like endless silence that came from living alone. 

My purchase required a rearrangement of some of the furnishings in order to find a place to put the stereo. The folding table and chair were moved out of the kitchen into the living room and set up to use as a desk. The lamp from the end table was placed on a corner of my new desk. The end table was just the right size for the stereo and speakers. The now empty leftover carton was turned upside down to become my coffee table. 

In the process of moving things around, I gave up sleeping in the bedroom and permanently made the couch my bed so I could listen to music at night. The move was a wise choice because the couch turned out to be more comfortable than the bed. The bed in the bedroom became my place to spread out books, sort and file newspaper clippings as well as any and every other piece of paper that was of an esoteric value. 

In other words, the bed was soon buried with junk.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dinner in the Diner Dreams

Perhaps the most famous of dinner in the diner scenes

"He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favour from the Lord." (Proverbs 18:22)

April 2015 and heading west to Vancouver on Via Rail's Train 1. Somewhere west of Winnipeg, seated in a quiet dining car and contemplatively recalling a few scenes from 41 years earlier.

Flashback to April 1974...

Somewhere west of Winnipeg on April 2015 and heading west toward Vancouver on Via Rail's Train 1. Seated in a quiet dining car and watching the miles roll by while contemplatively recalling almost identical scenes from 41 years earlier.

Calgary, my destination this trip, was still 600 miles and 20 hours distant, and as I stared at the telephone poles flashing by outside, for a moment I questioned my being here on the train, "What am I doing?"

As a recent hire that successfully passed the probationary period, I was making my first ever journey on the train using my just-issued CP Rail employee pass and thus fulfilling a dream; just a weekend ride on the train to Calgary and back. That expected satisfaction was absent. Something was wrong. I was making this journey alone and a part of me still ached for her... that special one I had yet to meet.

Twenty miles later the steward made his second call for dinner. Hungry, I headed back through several cars to find the dining car. 

While it appeared to me the train had a considerable crowd aboard, the dining car was nearly empty. The steward seated me at one of the vacant tables which had been set for four. He must have been more optimistic than I was prepared to be, however, the other three seats remained unoccupied the entire time. That fantasy of a life-changing chance meeting was not going to unfold here. Naturally! This train was not the 20th Century Limited in Hitchcock's North By Northwest. 

As with all the other waiting tables, mine had been set true to the railway's high, exacting standards. The chinaware and silver plated utensils were perfectly arranged on top of a spotless thick white linen tablecloth adorned with a perfectly matching serviette. Every item bore CP Rail's name and distinctive multi-mark logo.

Shortly after I was seated, a waiter presented me with a menu and an order form together with a freshly sharpened short pencil. Railway waiters were prohibited from taking verbal orders therefore patrons were obliged to write down on the forms any items for dinner they desired from the menu. This practice was one of those curious oddities unique to railways. Writing while the train was in motion was difficult at best and I am not certain how the waiter managed to read my list. Perhaps years of reading illegible orders made these men experts at deciphering anything. As I waited for my dinner to arrive I was treated to occasional tantalizing whiffs of broiling foods.

While enjoying the delicious and well-prepared dinner, I watched the scenery outside pass by as the waning daylight faded into darkness. The train had entered the famed Fraser River Canyon and the pace was very subdued. In spite of the slow speed though I constantly felt a need to lean left or right to compensate for the train's lurches and tilting through a seemingly never ending series of sharp curves followed by reverse sharp curves. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my dinner in the diner and watched with fascination the erratic sloshing of the coffee in my cup. The cup was seated upon an expertly folded napkin placed there to catch the dribbles of coffee that spilled over the edge. The napkin also prevented the cup from rattling and moving around on the saucer.

Watching the waiters flawlessly and unfailingly deliver trays of plates loaded with meals to the few other passengers was the evening's entertainment. Regardless of lateral movements induced by curves or the varying speed of the train, the waiters never fumbled or lost their balance. Their ability was an art.

After dinner while finishing either my third or possibly fourth cup of coffee I studied the features of the dining car and wished that one day I would be able to take that one special someone out to dinner... in a dining car... here on the Canadian. Perhaps an unusual choice of restaurant but one certainly refined and steeped in a tradition of romance. I made the dream my own and promised myself to fulfill.

Blunt reality though was that I had no one special in my life to take out, not even to a greasy spoon joint back in town, never mind a first class dining car on CP Rail's premier train

Returning to the present...
Stopped in Edmonton and checking for messages from home.
This April 2015 scene of Kie in the dining car was taken the following morning; she is the one who recorded the image of me atop this entry.

Yes! I know! 

The passing of a few years were required to fulfill my dream of having dinner in the dining car of "The Canadian" with that one special person of a lifetime for a lifetime... not on CP Rail and not travelling on an employee pass... but some things in life are truly worth the wait.

"A man's mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." (Proverbs 16:9)

Deo gratias.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

January 21, 2015

Happy Birthday Alan!

A birthday celebration in Vancouver, August 1964.

You said this earlier; reaching 52 is the "playing with a full deck" number. 

After this, I don't know.

Anyway, the scene recorded was Terry's 12th birthday, however, the 7th person, front left, was you Alan.

Summer 1964 was that time Mom made her first visit to Vancouver to visit Aunt Shirley. You went with her. As you can probably guess, the rest of us ended up in Milan those weeks Mom was away.

More than half a century has passed since and it took me a while to remember and figure it out.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


The Highway - busy enough but nowhere near as busy as it could be and often is.

Highways are those hideous open wounds; battered asphalt slashes across the face of the earth festering with a never ending noisy chaotic rush and clash of vehicles. Call it modern day jousting, if you will.

So who says good manners, chivalry and knighthood is dead?

I do!

Just go out and drive the highways if you dare.

Driving is nut-hood today. After all, who is that nut sitting behind the hood of that other guy's car? Then again, who is the nut occupying the driver's seat of your car?

Highways are an integral part of what we wish to delude ourselves into believing is a part of "civilization" however; highways have also become North America's longest wildlife cemeteries that dispense with the formalities of burials. 

Highways are not very civilized, are they?

Wildlife is not the only road-kill casualty.

Yes, I concede that highways are a necessity for getting us and other stuff from here to there, but how much of the getting from here to there is really a necessity?

So tell me, what is "there" that is not "here" to make it a necessity to go "there" in the first place?

I do not know and I do not need to know, and given a choice I would rather not go. If I must go, then I would rather take the train... but the train does not go "there" anymore.

Written in summer 1994
The Oddblock Station Agent