It’s winter and time for a ride. Enjoy this short bit of downhill excitement with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra playing Darren Fung’s “Toboggan!”
I’ve recently added a new bit—a very old magical idea, actually—to my children’s/family show. Allow me to introduce Woody, my pet block.
Isn’t Woody cute? Such a shiny coat. And a beautiful leash made of rope. Awww.
And smart too. Woody does tricks.
“Sit Woody! Good boy!”
But wait, there’s more.
Woody can climb and jump.
And even though Woody can escape any time he wants, he’s a good boy, and only slides out of his leash when called.
No deep thoughts, just pure unadulterated joy.
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
Yes, it’s a real thing. A really awesome thing since the mid 1980s. And they play all kinds of great stuff. Surprisingly strong musicianship and an incredible sense of fun and the pure joy of music.
Sometimes as we discover the most amazing things we discover that we could have, should have known them long ago.
Canadian rock and roll icons The Tragically Hip released the song “Bobcaygeon” way back in 1998. I heard it from time to time without knowing the name of the song. It wasn’t that long ago that I managed to place the sound of the title “Bob Cajun” to the tune, but I never bothered to listen closely.
Perhaps it’s because I was old enough, and busy enough with raising a family in 1998 that I simply didn’t pay attention. Or maybe I wasn’t ready, and knew somewhere in the back of my mind that patience would be rewarded.
Just this week I learned that Bobcaygeon is a small community in cottage country north and west of Toronto. And when I learned that, I decided to give the song a closer listen. And was rewarded by a delight hidden in plain view.
The tune I’ve always found catchy. But the lyric!
The song touches a deep place in the Canadian heart. The latter half of the 20th century saw Canadians abandon the rural life and move to the cities. Yet part of our hearts, part of our imagination of ourselves is in the country. No, most of us will never leave the city, but our mythological universe sees us in canoes under the dancing auroras.
Bobcaygeon encourages a look into our rural hearts from our urban realities. Makes us yearn for the quiet solitude that makes us whole. The city is simultaneously homogenizing and dividing. We yearn for freedom, but also for order. And we are torn.
Gordon Downie / Johnny Fay / Joseph Paul Langlois / Robert Baker / Robert Gordon Sinclair
I left your house this morning,
‘Bout a quarter after nine.
Coulda been the Willie Nelson,
Coulda been the wine
When I left your house this morning,
It was a little after nine
It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves, one star at time
Drove back to town this morning,
With working on my mind
I thought of maybe quittin’,
Thought of leavin’ it behind
Went back to bed this morning
And as I’m pullin’ down the blind,
Yeah, the sky was dull and hypothetical
And fallin’ one cloud at a time
That night in Toronto,
With its checkerboard floors
Riding on horseback,
And keeping order restored,
Til The Men They Couldn’t Hang,
Stepped to the mic and sang,
And their voices rang with that Aryan twang
I got to your house this morning,
Just a little after nine
In the middle of that riot,
Couldn’t get you off my mind
So, I’m at your house this morning,
Just a little after nine
‘Cause, it was in Bobcaygeon
Where I saw the constellations reveal themselves
One star at time
And as the constellations revealed themselves one star at a time, I found the video for the song.
It’s hard not to see Bobcaygeon in the context of today’s continuing struggle with race, with exclusion, the tensions between civil order and freedom.
Monday, August 21, 2017, an enormous part of the USA will have the opportunity to see a total solar eclipse.
Not a partial eclipse. We get those pretty frequently. The total is special.
Consider this: we have special eclipses on earth. The apparent sizes of the sun and the moon are almost exactly equal. No other planet in our solar system has this lucky configuration. For some planets/moons, the sun appears much bigger, so every eclipse is partial. For others, the moon appears much bigger, so their eclipses are total, but lack the drama.
Ours are perfect.
Which brings me back to Monday.
I’m in Canada, and only 70% of the sun will be covered by the moon. This means a two things. First, it means that I regret not taking a vacation to be in the totality. My bad.
Second, it means that the day will not get darker for me. In fact, if I didn’t know there was an eclipse happening, then I’d never notice. Still, for those of us out of the path of totality, we can still observe the eclipse either directly or indirectly. Indirectly is easiest. Take something solid, say, a piece of cardboard, and poke a hole in it. Stand with your back to the sun and focus the sun’s image through the hole onto a wall, or a sidewalk or other convenient spot. The eclipse will be perfectly visible. It’s really awesome. If you show anyone, they’ll object and say that the black spot covering part of the sun is due to the imperfection of the hole in the cardboard. Calmly rotate the cardboard to show that the spot doesn’t move. For kids, it’s a good idea to take the whole box and poke a hole in one end. Then the child puts the box over her head and stands back to the sun. The box is adjusted until she has a perfect little cinema inside. This prevents any risk of her looking directly at the sun in excitement.
You can watch the partial eclipse directly through welder’s glass, or through a properly filtered telescope. I’ll be out with my scope and filter.
For everyone who can experience the total eclipse, this is not something to be missed. Yes, I’ve heard a few soulless cretins complain that the eclipse is overrated. Don’t listen to them.
If you’re in a city, go to your local planetarium, science centre or astronomy club site and take the experience in with others. There will be telescopes, big screens and people who know what they’re talking about. Take advantage of this. (BTW this also applies to those experiencing the partial eclipse.)
But if you can get to a more natural spot, you are in for a special treat. Observe the coming eclipse, following appropriate safety measures. And BE QUIET. At the anointed hour, as the moon completely covers the sun (for between 30 seconds and 7 minutes, depending on where you are), feel the change in heat on your face. See the world plunge into an eerie darkness, rather unlike the night. Listen to the reactions of the birds.
Experience the wonder of the world experiencing our planet’s special treat.
November 11. Remembrance.
November 11 is a somber day for many. In Canada, we call it Remembrance Day. There is much to remember.
I was born in 1960, and my country was continually at peace until I was in my 30s. My children have grown up in a period of nearly continual war for our country, with our soldiers seeing combat in the Gulf War, Kosovo, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Growing up in Calgary, my home was nestled between two military bases, called at the time Currie and Sarcee. Soldiers were part of everyday experience on the streets. Military vehicles and helicopters were an everyday sight. We even played on a pair of WWII tanks that were displayed at the entrance to Sarcee Barracks.
Although we were at peace, war was still in the air.
My father, like many of the fathers in the neighbourhood was a veteran of the Second World War. A few of the younger men had served in Korea. There were two seniors’ homes nearby; many of the residents loved to tell their memories to eager little boys like me.
How odd that my childhood was full of memories of war, with games of war with other boys, with the very real presence of soldiers and equipment, and peace. Glorious peace.
One small memory before I search for a way to conclude this piece. In my early teens—sometime in the early to mid 1970s—a couple of friends and I cut through a corner of the Sarcee base, on our way to trout fishing in the Elbow river. There was a firing range and a few out buildings in that corner. If there were no shots, we knew there was no one around to interrupt our shortcut. We walked past a small storage building and looked inside a screened window. The building housed hundreds of WWII targets: squint-eyed Japanese soldiers, crouching while holding machine guns. Every target identical, and every target the size of a small man. For the first time, I felt the violence of the long passed war. I felt the reality that these men I knew had been taught to shoot at a de-humanized caricature of men, so that they could one day shoot at the real thing.
I don’t know if they were still using these targets, 30 years after the conflict ended. It must’ve seemed cartoonish and comical to the soldiers if they did.
So what does this all add up to? I don’t know, really. November 11 is a day of remembrance. And I remember. I mostly remember my father, even though he found his wartime experiences to be rather uninteresting, so far as I could tell. I remember the men who smelled of pipe smoke as they told me stories that seemed unreal. I remember that November 11 was very important to them. And I remember that it is only by luck that I was not required to serve in similarly dehumanizing circumstances.
I’ve been away for a while. I promise to add some words, images and videos this week. I’m trying to wrap my little noggin around the notion of Big History. Let’s take a week or two to work this stuff out.
My apologies for the media silence for the past month.