Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Tale of Two Turtles

The next time we passed the spring flood turtle pond, the entire pair was in view. This has to be a sign, I thought. But of what? And what aspects of this possible symbol are the key? Is it the two-ness, as in "Two heads are better than one?, or is it the fact that their backs are such a dull, mud, gray, while their undersides are so colourful?
I had recently learned, thanks to the appointment some months ago of our new, Capuchin bishop, that the original colour of the Franciscan habit was gray, the colour of undyed, therefore the cheapest, wool cloth from which these monks made their habits. Thus Greyfriars, of medieval Oxford and John Duns Scotus. I had assumed that Franciscans had always worn brown and wondered if Greyfriars had indicated Cistercians or some such order.
Anyway, it was neat to see both the turtles, because this year, for some weeks, we had wondered if we were going to see any at all, thinking that they might have been scared off by the regularity of the dog traffic. We had in fact noticed a few dogs nosing through the trees and shrubs around the pond this spring, whereas we had not seen this in previous years.
Might it mean I had to be more patient with my stump? Well, cross that one off, because one of my long term neighbours, who over the years has often turned up with help without my even thinking of asking him, this time came through my gate with a power saw. Two sessions with that instrument, making strategically placed cuts, and the principal massif is now gone. The saw is a personalized model, meaning only he can get it started, but it still felt good to hold one of those effective little beasts in my hands and remember the mighty Douglas Fir I dropped across the raging gray foam of Moseley Creek the same summer I discovered Saint Thomas. Our particular spruce stump, because of the way the main roots have somehow grown, has a strange grain, horizontal rather than vertical for two-thirds of the eastern side, which meant there was still a lot of work to do with sledge, wedge, axe, and crow bar. I'm still only good enough for a half-day's work, and at that I don't think I've done more than two days in a row, but I have that feeling dear to every man who's known it, of sensing the growing strength in my shoulder girdle and other muscle systems in my upper body.
Will I be able to keep this happening when the stump is done?
Yes, for a week or so longer at least, for this morning over breakfast MT informed me that our yard's plentiful supply of large rocks will need attention because of the new rock walls she intends to build once the stump roots are gone and the area is filled up with the extra dirt she needs for the new garden beds.
Oh, goody, and fond memories of the really big rocks the 12 pounder was originally bought for, back in 1995. My neighbour to the west asked me if I were in training for a chain gang. That was another nice work out session, and certainly a valid symbolization of turtles, for busting granite boulders as big a championship pumpkins need as much patience as it needs strength and a heavy steel hammer. I'd never done such a thing before and I think that on my first rock I was just about ready to give up when I saw the first crack begin to open.
Ah hah. I think the meaning of my little pond friends is beginning to open up. Between 95 and 08 lies a quite useful period of events for analyzing my search for the fitness attitude prescribed especially for me. A nicer mixture of trial and error, success and falling away from success, useless or even harmful false assumptions, hope-inspiring corrections, and finally some events, some study, and some coaching that seems to be bringing it all back home.
After the sledge-swinging episode, torso training fell off. I still owned dumbbells, but I had never grown into a good working knowledge of how to enjoy using them, although I had managed to annoy some little muscles along my left ribs. So the main pursuit of science went in the direction of running, which still did not produce any of the exceptionally long runs I had once assumed I would make, and finally, in 98, actually began to refuse to produce the old regular schedule of even moderate jogs, of from 5 to 8 miles. I think I did fairly well in the spring, but July and August were not good months, with up to ten-day gaps between outings.
Then, as the young were preparing to go back to school, so did I. I was suddenly inspired to change my attack. Instead of trying to make the most distance out of three or so runs a week, I decided to limit myself to as short a run as I could justify and try doing that lesser distance every day. I was astounded at the results, and the shortness of time it took to bring them about.
Twelve laps around the old civic track was a little less than three miles, taking me just under a half-hour. At that distance and that pace I could feel myself recovering in a day and I could feel myself getting nimbler. I might even have done my calf stretches more correctly than became my later, lamentable, habit. By the end of two weeks, with no more than two days off, I knew I was making real progress, and I realized that I had done it in exactly half the time I expected to. I had "reasoned" that because I was 62, it would take me twice as long to limber up as used to happen when I was 19 and faced with army camp phys ed after a winter at university.
But the winter and the following year were undistinguished by any further excursions into prowess, and looking back I think of that fortnight of illumination as the providential precursor to the day I would go to the gym, in 2000, and find John Douillard's "Body, Mind, and Sport" and thus begin to get smarter via the older, wiser, understanding of Asia.
And speaking of 2000, that was the year in which an old Ubyssey acquaintance published her autobiography. This was/is Pat Carney, recently retired from the Canadian Senate, and the book is her autobiography, "Trade Secrets". I think I have mentioned earlier that my usual approach to reading a book is in bits and pieces, often spread over years. I have done much to keep the manufacturers of book marks in the black. But every so often I find a text I am happy to plunge into like a rider urging his horse through a powerful river, and Pat's book is one of these.
Pat is not only a former member of the Pub Board and part of my youthful formation, but she and her twin brother Jim spent their last years of high school in Nelson. They were both emphatically musicians, as at that age I was most emphatically not, except by desire, and my wife-to-be had actually sung with Jim's band, the Campus Kings.
I think I knew about the book when it came out, but I did not then read it, and for very good reasons. My researches into music and fitness were by no means concluded - in so many ways they were hardly begun - so there were so many books in those areas I had to try to digest and analyze. And furthermore, while I had forgotten few of my university acquaintances, especially the writing ones, various contacts I had tried to reestablish for practical reasons had never amounted to more than a recall of fond memories. My only real working relationships with forces outside Nelson were entirely ecclesial, and at a level no journalist or politician I had ever known could discuss intelligently, with one exception of a Nelson Daily News reporter who wrote a very long piece on me and then went back to Toronto and the more leisurely pace of a bi-weekly. Pat and I would have had a very good time swapping memories, but my perceived missions of the moment did not allow such luxury.
But now I have both luxury and satisfaction for the work ethic, since a few days ago when my wife spotted the book in Nelson's unique cafe, record, and used book store, Packrat Annie's, and I realized in my occasional Machiavellian fashion that a retired senator and member of parliament might still know people who were interested in Ontario's new found respect for something the medievals took for granted. Moreover there would be notes on the town she left and I adopted, as well as a big study of the journalists we both knew at UBC and the Vancouver press. These are not areas I have yet written much about, partially because, as I can see now, I needed her book to help me do a proper job. As Saint Thomas says, there is beauty in honesty, and Pat's book is nothing if not honest.
But there also a very pleasant surprise. I knew Jim was a musician, a trumpeter, because he brought his shiny axe to the first Ubyssey party I attended, in the autumn of 1953, and jammed with a pianist and maybe a stand-up bass player. I did not recall that the female twin was also such, a clarinetist. But the government of Ontario no doubt knew this, because one of its prime arguments for making music compulsory are the statistics that show that so many successful people have had music training in their background.
I had put down the book an hour ago, so I could finish this entry, just where Pat had left off paying her dues to the high school band teacher, Don Cowan. I'm done with these notes for today, so now I can go back to Pat's book.

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