Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Experiences with Homestead

The word "homestead" stirs up shameful memories for me now that I've become aware of what the creation of "homesteads" meant to the people who already lived here.

Growing up the word meant "deprivation", "hard living" - my grandmother and father lived for two years in a 12 by 12 foot hole in the ground with his brother. They worked long hours to "break" the ground. All four grandparents were already second or third generation residents on Turtle Island; and moved West to the prairies following the promise of the federal government in 1880. They were not really adventurers although perhaps the Dewar side was moving away from a family that disapproved of the marriage. The Ward side simply had too many children and someone had to move out.

My father and his sister became a little aware of racism in the 1950's. Dad found out that the hired men could only cash their cheques through the Indian Agent; he was extremely annoyed because he really disliked the "drunk swaggart" - it was bad enough, he thought,  to have to go through the agent to hire the guys in the first place! His sister and brother-in-law were undergoing the stirrings of awareness as well.

Awareness moves onto the next generation, amplified.

"Homestead" however antedates North America. It comes from an old English (some argue Scottish) word, "hâmstede", used before the year 1000 CE. "Hâmstedes" were owned by people who were not well off and often struggled for their sustenance - but could call a place that included a lot of land out outbuildings their own. This distinguished them from peasants.  As British common law transitioned into a formal legal system, the "homestead" was often exempt from forced sale.

Bill Curry, my partner, was of the first generation born in North America on both sides of his family. In 1985, the Curry/Dewar's visited his Curry relatives in Ireland. We discovered that they considered themselves living on a homestead acquired in the 1680's. Their ancestors were Scots that moved to Ireland across the Irish Sea. From the 1680's through the 1700's, Scottish peasants were unhappy with opportunities in Scotland and formed the Scottish diaspora to Australia, North America and many other places. It is rumoured that some men and women even committed minor crimes so that they would be jailed and then shipped to "the colonies" at the government's expense! Later, in the 1700's, big land owners in Scotland, usually various nobles, "cleared the lands of peasants" so that great herds of sheep for wool could be raised to feed the newly industrialized fabric industry; the largest Scottish invasion of North America occurred at this time..

(Experiencing the "clearances" might explain why so many Scots became allied with First Nations. It does not explain John A MacDonald, a lawyer that rose beyond his level of competence  He drank heavily and many of his decisions were controversial in their day - including the execution of Louis Riel and the starving of the Cree in what is now the North Battleford area. That he rose to prominence is a warning to those who think that our "democratic" process is failsafe. That we can weed out sociopaths - they are often great manipulators and brilliant charmers - or outright psychopaths who lack empathy and promote violent solutions at every opportunity.) 

The word "homestead" moved across the Atlantic and came to mean "a lot (quantity) of land adequate for the maintenance of a family". Not specified but understood was that only white men and families need apply. No one with black, yellow or red skin could apply. Furthermore, the 160 acres could only be "developed" using rather strict European farmer/peasant cultural expectations. In 1872, the word "homesteader" was first used.

The notorious "Homestead Act" in the United States was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln in 1862.  Almost ten years later, Canada in 1871, "negotiated" Treaties 1 and 2 with First Nations. This made way for the "Dominion Land Act" in 1972. The provisions of the treaties were never fulfilled; the federal finances did not have enough money to fulfill the financial agreement. John A then proceeded to solve the "Indian problem" by eliminating the people themselves. He became renowned for bringing about his vision of a country sea-to-sea. He was a drunken sot will delusions of grandeur.


Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Story of Pain #1; Chronic Back Pain

I broke my sacrum in a freak accident at the age of 18. I could not sit comfortably and often rode on my knees backwards in the seat to travel. I whined, griped about back pain and took pills that upset my stomach, pills that caused annoying numbness around my mouth and nausea and indulged in a variety of legal and illegal non-prescription drugs.

Through the years, I also travelled, climbed mountains, Scuba dived, taught school, roller-bladed, skied and had adventures generally allowing the energy of youth to keep me moving. I developed osteoarthritis in my knees while interning in Saskatoon.

My mother was a good example; she had osteoarthritis and believed that exercise was, not a cure, but a key to staying active. She was 70; in 1989, now 45 years old, I couldn't see myself getting that old. In fact, I decided that I wanted to live longer with less pain. I sought the advice of a physiotherapist and started the exercise program that he prescribed. It was May, 1989.

Exercising was boring so in order to do it faithfully, I combined it with watching t-v – first with our middle daughter as we watched Degrassi High and later with our youngest watching Star Trek. I became so accustomed to exercising in the living room that even our guests would be exposed to my routine. In September, 1990, I returned to the physiotherapist, saying “I feel better, I feel stronger, but my back still hurts a lot”. He poked me in my soft jelly-like abdomen. “What are you doing about these muscles?” he said. I replied, “I don’t like sit-ups”. (The mere idea of a “six pack” was a total turn-off and I had a lifelong hatred for the idea of a small waistline.) He gave me non sit-up exercises for my core. In the third week of April 1991, I experienced a pain-free week.

It didn’t always remain pain free. I learned to change many of the ways that I did things – I changed position a lot, I stopped the car every hour on long trips, I put a foot bar in front of counters and desks, I lost ten pounds of weight, I used heat and saunas. I did not stop exercising – in fact, I added a yoga routine in order to increase both strength and flexibility. Sometimes I took naproxen, a non-steroidal pain and inflammation reliever. Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease and exercise didn’t “cure” it. Exercise does, however, make our bodies release endorphins which are natural pain-killers. This seems to be a good thing.

In November 2011, I fell on ice and severely jarred my pelvis and lower back. I struggled back to mobility with the help of my physician, the physiotherapist and a chiropractor. I had to severely modify the exercise program at first but by March 2012 I was well enough to go to Mali with a medical team. Unfortunately, a military coup with tanks going down the street occurred and in our rush to avoid them, I fell again on uneven pavement. When I eventually was able to walk and return to Canada, I made appointments with the physiotherapist, my physician, the back institute specialist, the chiropractor and a mental health counsellor (for PTSD prevention).

The back specialist insisted upon reviewing my back x-ray with me, practically rubbing my nose in it. The radiologist had read it as having “osteoporosis, severe osteoarthritis and a 60 degree roto-scoliosis”. In short, a very bad back. And he emphasized that it was going to get worse!

I was using two canes, doing modified exercises and saw myself as an invalid. All I could see in my mind’s eye was the severely misshapen back. The view from there was dismal. I was depressed.

A month later, my eldest daughter chided me, “so which of these things is acute? Aren’t they all things that you have had for years?”
She was correct, of course – in fact, the scoliosis had probably been present since my teens. It was largely my mind that needed to change.

At yoga in June, the instructor asked that each person “create an intention” for the class. I determined that I had to “see my back from the outside” instead of from the x-ray view. During that session, I was able to have a glimpse of a better back but only a glimpse. There was no miracle cure. I had to consistently and mindfully re-envision my back.

Meanwhile I was learning more about backs. While I was recovering enough to fly home from Mali, my partner was collecting written material on backs. A foot high stack of literature was sitting on the living room table. I found new and sometimes non-back exercises that helped backs. Stride – who knew that a long stride was hard on the back? – I modified my walking.  I became stronger and soon there was only one cane and then often none!

But the real epiphany – and the reason that I’m writing this – came in the summer of 2015. I returned from seeing my family physician in Saskatoon. He had asked me how much pain I had – I had replied that it was almost always a 2/10, sometimes a 6/10, never 0/10.

Two out of ten all the time? This didn’t make sense to me. I decided that a re-set was in order. If I was always 2/10, then 2/10 was my zero. Using Melzack’s gate theory of pain, I reasoned that a person should be able to simply re-set the “gates”. While I could not change the abnormalities in my back, perhaps I could change my perception of the pain. I have used distraction, music, movement, and eating to decrease my awareness of pain so now, every time I became aware of the pain in my lower back I mentally “closed the gate” just above the painful area. At first this was quite tedious and took quite a bit of effort.  

But in fact, the process took less than six weeks! In mid September I realized that the gate seemed to be permanently closed. I had no pain. It was so hard to believe that I told no one. Today I remain pain-free!

Not that I have quit exercising, weight control and all of the other good things including moving around – even at meetings, I get up and walk to the back of the room.

On my way through an airport, looking for something to read, I picked up Norman Doidge’s “The Brain’s Way of Healing”. Explaining how what I did works, not just for me but others as well! I heartily recommend it.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Manner of his Passing

After a lovely Thanksgiving weekend at Shekinah Retreat Centre which was special to Bill, he delivered me to the Saskatoon airport. Our time together was becoming more and more precious as we felt our age and mortality - probably normal for people in their 70's. It was getting harder and harder to part. When I waved at him after passing through security, I wondered how much longer I would be able to say goodbye at an airport. This was not how I thought it would end.

I was in the North in Kugaaruk (Pelly Bay) for work when I called a neighbour to check on Bill because I hadn’t heard from him for 36 hours. The neighbour told me "it looked as though Bill just went to sleep and forgot to wake up”. The nurses helped me organize to leave immediately.

One of the advantages to traveling for two days to get home was that by the time I had reached home on Friday, Oct 16th, I knew what I needed and wanted to do to mourn. Within six hours of reaching home (his body was in a cooler but we couldn’t wait indefinitely - it was likely that he died during the Monday 12th night) - we met with the funeral director. As he started to roll out the sales pitch for his pamphlets, we were able to inform him that we wanted to fulfill Bill's wishes of a green burial. In fact, Bill wanted to be placed in the compost pile so we did have to make a compromise! I wanted to prepare his body - the thought of any one else handling his body upset me - it turned out that the girls wanted to share as well. We also sewed a shroud and tested a means of lowering. (For those who seem concerned, his modesty was preserved; the undertaker and I put him into his bathing suit). We washed his body and cleaned his fingernails to Mavis Staples’ music and sewed the shroud to our own singing.

On Sunday, my family came and they plus four special friends sat in worship on Sunday morning - those that had never been to a Meeting for Worship caught on real fast. We followed the hearse to the little country cemetery where there was a viewing of his face for those who so wished. Bill’s body was lowered into the consecrated grave as a group effort and to the beat of a drum played by a Dene friend who also provided sweet grass for a fold in the front of his shroud. Three eagles circled us at the farm and followed to the burial. My brother-in-law brought compost to add, that followed by the closing of the grave as a six-shovel participatory act.

And then on Monday, the 19th - we quipped that you could come to vote, attend the memorial service and then get your flu shot - Bill would like that it was efficient!

One of the funeral attendees blurted out, "That's the best funeral service I've ever been to" and then put his hands across
his mouth, clearly embarrassed. We thought that it honoured Bill as much as we could in our sorrow - some weepy, some uplifting with great music.

The church was decorated with Bill's garden produce - tomatoes in baskets, pumpkins, squash, calendula, a sheaf of grass. (I filled the back of the truck with stuff - Erin (Beth's partner) and a friend, Shayna, mostly set up the tasteful tableau). Elizabeth had chosen a playlist of his favourite music for the settling as people came into the church. All great choices but mostly not the usual funereal music. (Available for sharing).

From Saskatoon - Frank, Sharon, Jessica, Isaac, and Ahren Klaassen-Wright - led the singing of the songs: Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Galway Bay, I will fly Away, Amazing Grace. The audience really did participate as did we - that Unitarian church, I’m confident, had never had its roof lifted like it was on the 19th. Quaker Friends came from Saskatoon and Regina, also participating were Elizabeth’s music friends, the girls' high school friends from the community, my former patients, friends and co-workers.

The celebrant (from the funeral home) led the service and wove Bill’s eulogy around the music, the poems, and the Bible verses. Ntara read the Hafiz poem, "Love is a Funeral Pyre", Sharon Wright read the scriptures (Bill and she had shared a very special time at Western Half Yearly). His girls, Shauna, Ntara and Elizabeth, went to the front and said/read “Baba Bishmaya” - the Lord’s prayer in Assyrian which was followed by the same prayer in English by everyone. Bill must have been leaning over the celebrant because she chose two of his favourite e. e. cummings poems. 

All in all, it was a pretty ordinary service done in a remarkable way for the fascinating guy that was my partner, friend and lover. 

There will be a special celebration of his life at the farm on July 31st, 2016 starting at 2:00 pm. Hopefully we will be able to host friends, family and Quakers from far away. 

Love, dale


Love is the Funeral Pyre

Love is
The funeral pyre
Where I have laid my living body.

All the false notions of myself
That once caused fear, pain,

Have turned to ash
As I neared God.

What has risen
From the tangled web of thought and sinew

Now shines with jubilation
Through the eyes of angels

And screams from the guts of
Infinite existence

Love is the funeral pyre
Where the heart must lay
 Its body.

- Hafiz

Psalm 121: 1-8
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whereon cometh my help.
2.  My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
3.  He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
4.  Behold, he that keepeth Isreal shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5.  The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
6.  The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
7.  They Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
8.  The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

Habakkuk 2:3
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end – it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay

Isaiah 40:31 
“…they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Memorial Music Lyrics (in order of service):

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

I was standing by the window
On a cold and cloudy day
When I saw the hearse come rolling
For to carry my mother away

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by?
There's a better home a-waiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky

Lord, I told that undertaker
“Undertaker, please drive slow
For this lady you are carrying
Lord, I hate to see her go”


I followed close behind her
Tried to hold up and be brave
But I could not hide my sorrow
When they laid her in the grave


Went back home, Lord, my home was lonesome
‘Cause my mother, she was gone
All my brothers, sisters cryin’
What a home, so sad and alone


One by one the seats were emptied,
One by one, they went away
Now the family, they are parted.
Will they meet again someday?


Galway Bay
If you ever go across the sea to Ireland,
then maybe at the closing of your day,
you can sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh,
and see the sun go down on Galway Bay.

For the breezes blowing cross the sea from Ireland,
Are perfumed by the heather as they blow,
And the women in the uplands digging praties,
Speak a language that the strangers do not know.

Yet the strangers came and tried to teach us their ways,
And they scorned us just for being what we are,
But they might as well go chasing after moon beams,
or light a penny candle from a star.

And if there's going be a life here after,
And somehow I'm sure there's going to be,
I will ask my God to let me make my Heaven,
In that dear land across the Irish sea.

I will ask my God to let me make my Heaven,
In that dear land across the Irish sea.
In that dear land across the Irish sea.

I'll Fly Away

Some bright morning when this life is o’er
I'll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I'll fly away

I'll fly away, Oh Lordy,
I'll fly away (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I'll fly away

When the shadows of this life have grown,
I'll fly away
Like a bird that prison walls have flown
I'll fly away


Just a few more weary days and then
I'll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I'll fly away


Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I'll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I'll fly away

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

When we've been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Tick Talk

Wood Ticks

How introduce ticks to visitors without creating mortal fear? Everything our visitors knew, or thought they knew, about ticks was really terrible – rocky mountain spotted disease, lyme disease, they crawl under your skin and get to your liver, unusual and special techniques are required to remove them or you can’t even remove them and the bites get infected.

Neither rocky mountain spotted disease or lyme disease is carried by Saskatchewan ticks – yet. Climate change may alter the spectrum of types of ticks and disease that they carry.

Eliminate such bizarre stories as migrating under the skin, heads breaking off under the skin and serious infections. The head of a tick is actually quite difficult to remove. In the thousands of ticks that we’ve removed in our house, the head has never been left behind. Sometimes a small scab could be mistaken for a head.

The tick latches onto skin and injects a slightly anaesthetic blood thinner. It then proceeds to suck blood through two small puncture wounds in the skin, its abdomen swelling with the blood. If it is not noticed, it can swell to the size of a bloated raisin. It looks utterly gross.

Most ticks are found on people before they become attached. In tick season it is recommended to have a nightly “tick check” in front of a mirror or with a friend. Ticks seem to survey the territory before settling on a site so usually picking it tick off is all that is needed. If it is attached to skin, the most effective method is to simply use thumb and forefinger like a pincer and pull it off – usually with a small quick jerk. It is extremely rare for the head to break off but when you run water and/or antiseptic over the bite, you can look closely at it*. This method works even with bloated ticks.

Bites rarely get infected. The itchiness of the bite might cause scratching and introduce germs so cover it or use calamine or benadryl on it so that you avoid scratching. Depending upon the sensitivity a person has to the tick blood thinner (the stuff injected by the tick), the swelling can be quite extensive. If there are red streaks extending from the bite, you have a fever or the swelling continues to spread beyond a few centimetres, see a trusted health care worker.

If the idea of picking a tick up between thumb and forefinger turns your stomach, you might like to try something more complicated. Eyebrow tweezers are awkward but can be used. Applications of vaseline, oil, vinegar, salt, or rubbing alcohol might be put onto the tick and after a period of waiting (five or ten minutes), with a tissue between your fingers and the tick, it is dislodged more readily. Don’t use cigarettes or matches or anything that might injure the victim.

Prevention involves pulling socks high over the bottoms of pant legs, cuffs on shirts and head gear that protects the hair and neck (a good place for hejab) would be useful. Insecticidal spray is not 100% effective. Of course, staying indoors prevents tick accumulation almost entirely – but it makes for a boring life. Prevention is helpful in tick season but still don’t forego the “tick check”. Ticks are annoying but rarely life-threatening.

*Since I have never been required to remove anything left behind, my advice would be to either use a sterile needle to pick it out as you would a sliver or leave it in place, disinfect and cover – the body will usually make a pustule around organic material and then you squeeze it out.

Sunday, 14 December 2014


I have always been a risk-taker. I climbed the tallest trees and crawled out onto the ends of branches so that I could make the tree sway. At 63, I rode bareback and raced with my 14 year old friend across a farmer’s field. In all fairness, we - our family and many others - grew up with risks – as a ten-year-old I was sent to look after my siblings at the creek, we rode on tractor fenders and in combine hoppers, we played unsupervised for hours climbing into lofts, walking on rafters and jumping into grain bins.

Today, I wonder about extreme sports and risk-taking.  How much right does one have to engage in extreme sports? – like base-gliding, mountain-climbing, back-country skiing, running rapids - some of you wouldn’t think of these as extreme sports but hear me out. Is it ethical? Moral? What of the social responsibility of the rest of us? Are we required to bale the participants out when they are lost or seriously injured?

These types of sports not only depend upon a host of suppliers – food, equipment, maybe support teams – but also for the individual, time-consuming practice and often expensive equipment. It means that most of the people engaged in these sports are monied and that a lot of resources are devoted to their sport or, as some say, obsession. Often the honours go to the individual.

The human race metamorphized, developed over some 100,000 years. During that time, people used extreme skills merely to survive. For some, maybe even many today, their survival depends upon their skills.

Are extreme sports the result of a bored dis-connected human race? So far from involvement with the natural activities of daily living that Nature is merely an adversary against which to pit technological gadgets.

What would people have done in eons past? The kinds of back-country white water trips that we have taken on rivers would simply be travel between places, sometimes looking for game or fruit, and the occasional lone or paired vision questers.

Is it ethical or moral to commandeer such a range of resources for the selfish experience of one person? Does the lost back-country skier get hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on him while the woman missing on a city street gets nothing? Is his value greater because he is male or because he is heroically pushing his limits? Worse, is his Everest conquering experience there for all of us to experience vicariously while no one wishes to share the experience of Syrians in refugee camps.

I'm only asking the question, a question about values.

About myself? I now consider consequences – at the time of the horse race, I briefly considered, in mid-gallop, the possibility that I might fall off the horse. I couldn't indulge in fear because I needed to focus on the business of staying on the horse’s back. I dredged up fifty-year old skills and we made it, a mile of stubble later, laughing and breathing as loudly as the horses, to the edge of the field.  By common unspoken consent, we never raced bareback again for that distance.