Friday, July 29, 2011

Oh the past, the past...

Before we go any further into my most recent brain meanderings, a little update on Chester's Journey. Our boy was asked to be one of the stars of the 2012 ACTSS calendar. This is the wonderful society that has assisted in financing Chester's (and many other fur kid's) chemo treatments. I'm not sure yet what month he will be but we took him to the photographer yesterday to do his "photo shoot". He was great...wanted to kill her toy horsie. I implore you to please purchase one (or five) of their calendars when it comes out. It has given us the gift of the boy's life and that has been so precious to us. These people, especially Dr. Stelfox, have been heroes! There is actually a story in the Examiner about Doc Stelfox and ACTSS this week. I have a few copies if anyone wants one. I'll let you know when the calendar comes out. Chester and his story will be in there. And let me tell you, he looks pretty danged handsome. Got a bath for the occassion and everything.

What I want to talk about today has had me thinking for some time. I've written various pieces over the years about this subject and I find it still confounds me...perhaps more than ever. It's..."The Past". I know so many people who are absolutely wigged out about the past...either their own or the distant past. I'm going to give you a number of examples that I want to look at. I have belonged or worked with several groups who are re enactors. I get that. It's fun to pretend. History is amazing. It is what has made us who we are. We can only know the tiniest fraction of what the distant past was like and what actually happened. Our ideas and theories are constantly being challenged and revised because a new piece of information comes about and forces us to re-examine everything we believed. I'm going to give you a couple of examples of that. The first is the idea that the general public has about Cleopatra, the last Egyptian Pharaoh, and one of only a very small number of known female Pharaohs. There is this myth about Cleopatra that has her as a great beauty and seductress. The Roman version of history (which, by the way, is always suspect) has her as thus. We do know she was quite young in our understanding of the word. We do know she had a penchant to be ruthless (it is believed she had her brother, a competetor for the throne killed). But the truth about Cleopatra is quite different than the portrayal given by Liz. She was hardly a great beauty and she was hardly a brainless bimbo. She was a brilliant statesman and leader who, like so many before and after, fell to Rome's greed.

Another more personal example is through my own research. In the eighties, when I first began teaching, there was a wide-spread belief that there was a time in prehistory that was ruled by matriarchal societies. They were believed to be peaceful, egalitarian societies that were eventually destroyed by violent patriarchal groups. The matriarchal societies worshipped a Mother Goddess and Her horned consort and it came to be known as the Old Religion. There was, of course a great deal of nonsense that was built up along with it but that's it in a very brief nutshell. Along came the nineties and researchers who set out to set the record straight. Much of the Mother Goddess idealism came from an anhropologist named Marija Gimbutas. She wrote such seminal texts as 'The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe'. There were many who were enthralled by this information, including myself. This idea that our history went much further back than previously acknowledged. But there were certainly people who didn't agree with this theory and they wrote quite a lot of very well researched information which I felt was my obligation to pay attention to. And they were right. Ms. Gimbutas and many others had seemingly jumped pretty far between verifiable research and conclusion. When challenged, the claim of "I know it or I feel it" doesn't hold much water...not outside of the spiritual community anyway. And I like to think of myself as a very spiritual person with my feet very much rooted in science. So, as difficult as it was to rearrange a belovedly held belief, I had to adjust my thinking and teaching. At least, until further research could prove otherwise. And so for many years, through many courses and classes through many schools and institutes I have taught what was known about history. Not what was wished for or intuited, though my own intuition said there was more to it. I believe it is irresponsible to paint history with a pink paintbrush, as it were, to make things what one wishes it were. The same held true for the idea of the Great Witch Hunts that are a blight on western history. There is no denying that they took place. However, many wanted to claim this disgusting period as a sort of spiritual-political emblem. I cannot begin to count the number of women I have met over the years who would fall into a sort of deep melancholy over a remembered life where they were burned at the stake. It was written in countless books over the years, touted in dozens of movies, etc, that millions of women had been burned at the stake. The number of 9 million became the sort of stand by number. Research and evidence (in other words, solid proof) speaks otherwise. If one does even a small amount of research into the actual history of the Witch Hunts in Europe, one finds a much different, though equally disgusting, story. The Hunts varied wildly from country to country and were far fewer in number than reported by the Neo-Pagan community(by about 8.5 million conservatively). In Ireland, perhaps one or two witches were killed. In Scotland, vast numbers died. Witches were not burned in England. They were hung. They were indeed burned on the continent. The greatest persecutions happened along border regions and in small secular villages. The Church, which is often the demonized party in the whole mess, was more interested than not in having a confesson rather than the cost of a trial and execution. Often, if you confessed, you got off on some (admittedly harsh) bread and water pennance. Look at it this way: A dead witch could not pay a tithe to the church, now could he or she? A very large number of men (in Iceland it was more men than women) were killed. The myth that midwives were the target is pure silliness. If anything they are under-represented in the totals of the killings and were often found to be assisting the persecutors. And in America, witches were not burned, they were hanged, with the exception of Giles Corey who was crushed to death in Salem in 1692.

My point here is that history on a personal level is often not what it would seem. And an open mind has to be maintained. Recent evidence now is suggesting that indeed, human civilization goes back far further than we have imagined and there were indeed instances...faint traces...of matriarchal societies. Should I have followed my intuition in the first place and just kept on teaching based on guess work? Certainly not. Or on my emotional attachement? Absolutely not.
This, in a long winded way, brings me to my original point. I seem to be running into the idea an awful lot of the time lately, that somehow, if one could go back to the past or relive it, things would be a lot better. Or if things were like they were then..."In a simpler time", it would be great. Here's my take on "The Past"
For those who want to go back to (I'm going to go into a bit of ancient history squashing here) ancient Celtic times, Medieval times, Dark Ages, Renaissance ages, or even Victorian times, please sit and have a think about the following (I want to say here that yes, my profession is based on art and ideas taken form my study of history. It doesn't mean I want to live there). In pretty much any of those ages, me and everyone I know would have died of old age long ago. I actually would have died along with Twyla in childbirth. As would my sister in law. As would my brother. Both of my brothers would be dead, actually. And my sister, from complications after the birth of my niece. Any of you in Twyla's age group would certainly have at least one child by now or be considered unmarriageable. You would likely all be hungry (I don't know very many nobles) and you would be malnourished. The smells then would likely kill us now. If age and childbirth didn't kill us, war or disease would. You would work like a slave each and every day of the year and then you would suffer the indignity of dying of illness. Many of you would have watched at least one child succumb before their first year. If they lived beyond that, common childhood illness would take them before they were ten. Until the advent of penicillin in the early part of the last century, death could come from something as innocuous as a mosquito bite (Lord Carnarvon, who funded Howard Carter's career likely died of shaving an infected mosquito bite on the cheek) or a scratch in the garden. More people died of infection during WW1 than as a result of direct injury from weapons. Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, died of Typhoid in his very early 40s. Even the monarch of the English Empire was not immune, though he likely had the wealth of the empire to save him.
Why would you want to live there? Then there are the modern mourners for the past, specifically their own. The term "back in the day" absolutely enrages me. Ask Twyla. Whenever someone utters the dreaded phrase, she almost cowers. And for a reason. I've listened for years to my sister grapple with her love-hate of The Past. To the point that, I hate most music from my own past. I feel like I am in the witch's torture chamber myself whenever I have to hear Culture Club banging out Karma Karma Karma yet again. Or Cindy Lauper or Madonna. It seems like I hear more of it now than when I was a teenager watching it on Video Hits after school. The thing is that I don't know anyone that had the time of their lives in the eighties. I don't. We had some fun but it was usually shit (especially in my family). I never heard anyone go "God, I wish the eighties would last forever!" We had Reagan. We had Ethiopia. We had the USSR. We had AIDS. We had to wear silly rubber bracelets to be cool (yeah, thanks aLOT for that one Madonna, you idiot).

How about the seventies. The ugliest clothing EVER conceived. Everything was in shades of A & W, fercrissakes. We had the USSR. We had Three Mile Island, Watergate, Vietnam, Kent State. Canadians were uber nerds. We had a plethora of stupid folk music. You couldn't pay me to go back there. I'd rather eat a bowl of lizards than have to pull brown polyester pants over pink polyester leotards ever again.
Then there is THE SIXTIES! Like every era, there were some good things. But like any era, I think the good things landed on more of a personal level in moments rather than over the decade. You can't point to a few good Beatles tunes and go "this was the decade to live in forever." Pass. The sixties treated women like garbage. JFK was blown away along with MLK & Bobby Kennedy. A lot of people cite the music as evidence that the sixties were the best. I cite all of the musicians that died of substance abuse, Janice and Jim. Every decade has had it's share of fabulous music. It is no secret how I feel about drugs and drug culture and the sixties seemed to be the real start of glorifying that whole mind set, the Victorians chasing the dragon not withstanding. There is nothing glorious about it in any way. I think that if most people could see how they behave when they are under the influence they would have some serious second thoughts about their decision making. Ask Amy Winehouse. I'm sure she thought that she looked pretty effing awesome in Serbia, when she looked like fool and now she's dead. A waste of youth and talent.

The Fifties, where most conservatives seem hell bent on reverting us to, were a post war backstep to roping women back into the house and consuming as much as possible. It was the beginning of turning the world into a fossil fuel guzzling plastic nightmare that is killing us today with consumer greed and corporate madness while painting a whitemeat Protestant-Christian version of what is acceptable in the bedroom, in the classroom, in the temple and in the marketplace.

I don't think I have to say much about the fourties other than Hitler or the Great Depression of the thirties.

The point here is that, yes, I have great memories from each and every decade in which I have lived. Cool stuff happened. There were good times. They were little islands of happy amidst a sea of not very good things going on in the world. Each of us had those. Should we revert back to that era because of it. No effing way. Our only hope is in the future and what we can make of it, whether it is filled with rennaissance clothing and lutes or drug free flower children singing...well, hopefully not folk music. Yuck! Or maybe it should just be something entirely new. Because the things that created all of that stuff were the harsh realities of those times. We have harsh realities now and they are far and beyond what any of those times could have ever imagined, save perhaps those swimming through the shit storm of WW2. We must create a Utopia that is for our time, the one that each and every one of us is living in right now. We haven't got a hope if all we can do is moon about back-in-the-day. It is useful to study the past and even honour those who lived in it that gave us the stepping stones to go beyond their mistakes. So far, all we seem to be doing is repeating them. Let's look at the past for what it really was. Let's look at it without all of the romantic silliness. Let's take what was wise and progressive and just let go of the rest. Because you can't drink, smoke or wish your way back to a few good times. You have to look straight ahead and plan for a whole different reality if there is going to be a future to look back on.

Whats on the Menu: Vietnamese Soup

Listening to: The Carolina Chocolate Drops

Reading: "Lords of Battle: The World of the Celtic Warrior" by Stephen Allen

Goals & Viewing: Cowboys and Aliens tonight! Yee Haw!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Harvest Begins...

We've just spent the morning in the potato and raspberry gardens pulling about a month and a half worth of thistles. Needless to say, I am hurtin'. I requested that I have enough clear weather this morning just for that job and I was much obliged to receive it. And it was a helluva job. With all of the rain, pretty much constant with a very few scortching, hot, muggy days here and there, the garden has suffered from my not weeding. I personally like the rain and overall I'm not that concerned with having it overcast or even marginally cool. I don't do well in the heat, usually ending up with a headache and little desire to do anything useful. I have been dismayed to hear all of the complaining and whining about the rain. How quickly it slips from people's minds how dry it has been. How the lakes and waterways have been literally disappearing. How many gardens didn't grow at all last year but the grasshoppers did. And they made short work of what was left. I personally am grateful for all the moisture replenishing what has been lost. We are not suffering from record shattering heatwaves, massive wildfires or killing drought and dustbowl type storms here right now. I've not seen it this green and lush for a long, long time. The frogs are in ecstasy and there is a bumper crop of them. I'm not saying that there aren't drawbacks to all the rain. But overall, the pros far outweigh the cons at this point. I know, I know. Mosquitoes. A tablespoon of applecider vinegar every day (put it in your tea or just straight up) and a blend of lavender-eucalyptus and teatree (20 drops of each) in 1 cup of water spritzed on is very helpful. At the farmer's market, Twyla and I just apply lavender oil neat and we really aren't terribly bothered. Apply the same to bites and the itch is gone.

So the potato patch isn't perfect but it isn't a sea of thistles. We harvested raspberries and rhubarb today and the saskatoons should be ready within a day or two, though keeping those hooligan waxwings off them is almost impossible. The rotters dig their beaks in, take one bite and leave the rest to rot. It makes me furious! Take what you want but eat what you take.

Onto the news. We've had a bear messing around the area. Twyla and I stumbled upon him while walking to get mail a few weeks ago. We had been seeing something monkeying around near the greenhouses for awhile and thought it might be a bear, but you sort of go "naaaahh". It would seem that our ursine friend has been stampeding the livestock of our neighbours or at least something is. We did call the fish cops to see if it could be dealt with before some gun happy jackass decides to just kill it or us (something we do not want to happen) but Officer Unhelpful basically treated me like I was some imbecile female type in heels and a beehive, wearing a party dress to do the dishes. I was told to visit their website to learn how to deal with a bear if confronted. I was told that humans and bears have been living beside each other for hundreds of years. I was told that when he was in Calgary he would get hundreds and hundreds of calls every year because people had bears in their yards ( at this point I wondered if he'd been posted in Calgary in 1898 maybe). I was told that people live with bears every day in Jasper and Banff (I didn't bother pointing out that they also have the garbage cans that lock and rangers who deal with encounters). After the marathon condescending lecture, I asked him at what point the bear would be considered enough of a problem to be dealt with. He said "Well, if the bear is trying to come into your house or if he's trying to get into your car while you're in it, then we would consider that a big problem and 'we'd' come out and get it." Upon hearing this, Twyla wondered, well what if the bear is just sitting on your doorstep and not actually trying to get in the house. Is that a problem? Or how about if the bear is trying to get into your car but you are not in it, is that a problem? Or what about the kids on bikes that ride up and down the road. If the bear tries to get up on their bikes with them, is that a problem?

It was so stupid that if I wasn't so pissed I would have laughed at the arrogance of the guy.
Anyhow, the bear is still apparently out there and we all just take a few precautions when we go out.

I finally got Twyla's grad pictures back. The strike delayed everything, but they are here and they're awesome. They turned out really well, but holy expensive, Batman! Yeesh!

Chester is doing great. He had his check up this past Monday and the doc is absolutely astonished at how well he's doing. He has a silky fluffy coat now and looks nothing like he looked before chemo. He used to look like, I don't know...a small sasquatch or something. Now he looks a little like a small bear. All the other critters are doing fine too, though little Poppyseed the gerbil finally crossed the Rainbow Bridge after an extremely extended life...for a gerbil. May he find the sweetest seeds and the greenest grass to play in.

The rest of the past month has been spent on the new website and putting it all together. You can finally actually visit the site at

It's a work in progress as we haven't got the catalogue set up yet. The Etsy store is where you will be directed for product until the site is all done and has the bugs worked out. We've just set up a Facebook page. We'd appreciate a "like" if you get the chance to go there. Have a look and let us know what you think. There is also a blog for The Ragged Rose that you can link to on the site. We're having a lot of fun with designs, especially the clothing and bags. We just finished a new bag last night actually. We'll be putting it up sometime today.

Now, there are actually a few golden leaves peeking through the green on the trees. The apples on the tree grow daily. I always begin to look forward to Fall at this time of the year. It is more than my favourite season. It is in me. It is me. Perhaps that sounds a bit odd, but so many things pull at my heart in Autumn...haunted Samhain nights, Harvest feasts and bonfires, frosty mornings and shivery kisses and walking hand in hand through the rattling grass, cloaks trailing behind as the harvest moon hangs low in the sky. Perhaps those days are not lost but awaiting resurrection. Perhaps.

Enjoy the rain and the wet earth and the glory of the green. Light a fire on the hearth and pull on a sweater if need be. Things are changing and strange days may be ahead for all of us.

What's on the menu: Turkey soup and rhubarb cobbler

Listening to: the wind

Reading: New Charles DeLint ... a compilation of Newford stories

Viewing: Beastly tonight

Goals: Hah! Little of everything.