Winter Miracle

Winter Miracle

Miracle, “an amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something.” just one of several definitions of that oft overused word.  However, in the example of fish surviving the hostile, brutally cold environment of life under a sheet of ice for a period of up to 6 months, that surely must qualify as miraculous.  I have a small pond in our garden. Each year, for the past 12 years, I have tried to keep alive a collection of gold fish.  I use the word ‘tried’ because my success rate has been somewhat less than spectacular…until I finally realized the error of my ways.  Over the years I had tried a number of natural as well as unorthodox methods of defeating the cold of winter to keep my fish alive.  I have stored them in the basement in large plastic tubs and aerators, lights and constant feeding.  It worked, but was messy and required a babysitter when I was not home for a few days.  The fish survived and  grew, but each spring I had the messy task of removing them from the tubs and relocating them to the pond.  Not a lot of fun, and very unsettling for the fish.  Then I came across a floating heater ring that had to be plugged into a 110 v outlet.  After delivering electricity to my little pond, I finally had the answer to successful fish survival for the winter months—or so I thought.  After a brutally cold winter, the water froze, the fish died in spite of the heater ring, and I had to go back to the drawing board.  Just a short digression here to explain the physiological facts of winter survival under the ice.  No matter how low the temperature, the fish will survive in a state of semi hibernation as long as there is a source of fresh oxygen reaching the water supply of their home.  In a very large pond that is not a problem, since there is sufficient oxygen suspended in the water, and a few fish will not use it all up before the thaw.  In a small and contained pond, such as mine, it’s a different story.  Two things happen when the pond freezes from edge to edge. One, the fresh air supply is cut off, and two, any plant matter still present in the water will rot and poison the environment…fish die.

What was the solution?

I had heard that the crossing on the St. Lawrence river, from Kingston to Wolf Island, was kept open by a constant flow of air bubbles.  Three years ago I connected an aerator to the pond and my fish have been happy ever since.  No more chasing and capturing them in the fall and spring, no feeding, since they must not eat while their system is running on super-slow-mo, and no more feelings of guilt for dead fish in the spring.

Of course, none of the interventions on my part will negate the miracle of survival of these beautiful gold fish in an environment that would kill any one of us in seven minutes or less.  Nature has equipped these fish with a survival system that is the envy of every scientist working on improving cold water survival rates of humans.

Below are two pictures of my gold fish, one through the net that keeps out leaves and stuff, the other through the ice.  Hang in there little buddies, spring will soon be here again.


Snow, snow, snow.

Well it finally came. This part of the world is not known for its green Christmas days or balmy temperatures in winter. We are normally buried under several feet of snow by the end of November, and have developed considerable arm muscles by the end of December from all of the shovelling. It is a bit of a shock though when it comes all at once.  This morning we were dumped on, as the saying goes. Better than a foot of snow covers everything in sight. As I look out of my window I see clean white mounds of snow and a clear blue sky. How can anything be more beautiful than this.

The swimming pool sports two new islands of snow thanks to the inner tubes under the protective cover.

The bench that I forgot to store away in the garden shed, is piled high with the white, fluffy snow.
Now all of the familiar winter tools come out to clear paths and drive-ways. Winter is finally here, and we busy ourselves with all of the activities that define us as people of the snow country, Canada.

Economics 101- A guide to what went wrong

A canoe tripping buddy of mine, former bank manager, sent this to help me understand just what went wrong. Pour yourself a good stiff drink and carefully read this tale.

               A guide to what went wrong.
              Helga is the proprietor of a bar.
She realises that virtually all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no longer afford to patronise her bar. To solve this problem, she comes up with a new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay later. Helga keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers’ loans).Word gets around about Helga’s “drink now, pay later” marketing strategy and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Helga’s bar. Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in town. By providing her customers freedom from immediate payment demands, Helga gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially increases her prices for wine and beer, the most consumed beverages. Consequently, Helga’s gross sales volume increases massively.A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognises that these customer debts constitute valuable future assets and increases Helga’s borrowing limit. He sees no reason for any undue concern, since he has the debts of the drinkers in Helga’s bar as collateral. Helga, flush with borrowed money, gives in to the increasing demands from her employees and dramatically increases their rates of pay and installs what are the community’s best working conditions.At the bank’s corporate headquarters, expert traders figure a way to make huge commissions, and transform these customer loans into DRINKBONDS. These “securities” then are bundled and traded on international securities markets. Naive investors don’t really understand that the securities being sold to them as “AA” “Secured Bonds” really are debts of unemployed alcoholics. Nevertheless, the bond prices continuously climb, and the securities soon become the hottest-selling items for some of the nation’s leading brokerage houses.

One day, even though the bond prices are still climbing, a risk manager at the original local bank decides that the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by Helga’s bar. He so informs Helga. Helga then demands payment from her alcoholic patrons, but beingunemployed they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Since Helga cannot fulfil her loan obligations she is forced into bankruptcy. The bar closes and Helga’s 11 employees lose their jobs and all their accumulated entitlements.

Overnight, DRINKBOND prices drop by 90%. The collapsed bond asset value destroys the bank’s liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans, thus freezing credit and economic activity in the community. The suppliers of Helga’s bar had granted her generous payment extensions and had invested their firms’ pension funds in DRINKBOND securities. They find they are now faced with having to write off her bad debt and with losing over 90% of the presumed value of the bonds.

Her wine supplier also claims bankruptcy, closing the doors on a family business that had endured for three generations, her beer supplier istaken over by a competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 150 workers. Fortunately though, the bank, the brokerage houses and their respective executives are saved and bailed out by a multibillion dollar no-strings attached cash infusion from the government.

The funds required for this bailout are obtained by new taxes levied on employed, middle-class, non-drinkers who have never been in Helga’s bar.

That clears it up.

A girl’s best friend

My last post was prompted by a chance hearing of a song I had never heard before.  ‘Always trust your cape’ by Guy Clark awoke a memory of my son’s failed attempt at unassisted human flight.  Another video this morning helped me recall my daughter Tara’s early life with our dogs. I guess at my age these little nudges to boost memory are as welcome as…what was it now…oh yeah, ducks in May.  Tara was just about two years old at the time and very tiny for her age. I have read somewhere that, up to the age of two, children and dogs can communicate on a non-verbal level that can be quite amazing. We had two dogs at the time, a beautiful German Shepherd by name of Senta, and a Basenji named Isis. Two dogs with personalities that have as much in common as a fish and a bicycle.

Tara, at the age of almost two had developed a relationship with the Shepherd that was as close as a human and an animal can become. When she walked around the house with dog in tow, one could almost hear them talking to each other. Tara did most of the talking, while Senta grunted now and then…in approval I think. One morning something woke me early, around 6 am. Somehow, it was too quiet in the house. Usually Isis and Senta were up, chasing each other and having their first morning slurp of water. All noises I was used to as they usually helped me grab that additional 30 minutes of ‘dozing time’. Why was it so quiet in the house? Something was not right and I had to find out what was going on.

When I rounded the corner into the dining room there was the answer to my question. Tara’s mom had purchased some new dog treats the day before and had left them within Tara’s reach. I guess Senta told Tara to get them and start sharing the wealth with her. Now, unless you have had a close relationship with a German Shepherd, you may not fully understand the intelligence of these dogs. They can be very gentle, and their first instinct is always to serve us. Tara had poured some of the treats into a bowl and had seated herself between Senta’s front paws. With great enthusiasm and care she was feeding the dog, one treat at a time. “Open Senta”, Senta would open her huge mouth full of shiny white canines, Tara, delicately holding a single treat, would stick her toothpick size arm up to the elbow into Senta’s mouth, whereupon she would deposit the treat, withdraw her arm, and repeat the procedure.

Very quietly I watched for a minute or two, being careful to not surprise the dog or Tara. When I made myself known to them, the magic spell was broken. Both jumped up and ran over to greet me.

Tara was brought up with Senta and saw her as just another, if somewhat hairy, human being. When we brought her home from the hospital I showed her to Senta and Senta showed her approval by licking her tiny face. Tara’s love for dogs has never changed, but that early bond between human and animal is no longer there. The price we pay for being human. Enjoy the video.

“Always trust your cape”

Like so many other fathers, I have a son who can be the bane of my existence. Don’t get me wrong, I love him and really care what happens in his life, but he does make it difficult sometimes. The strange thing with him, when he was in his teens, was that he never gave any hint that he wanted to break out, leave the nest and head for greener pastures. As a matter of fact, he stuck around and stuck around, and even when he left he kept on coming back. Well, finally I guess his inner voice told him to get the hell out and live his life somewhere far away from the safety net of Ol’ Dad. He ended up in Chile of all places, without a job and without money and without any real idea of what might come next. We lost all contact for about four and a half years and all but gave up on ever hearing from him again. Wouldn’t you know it, his sister found him and we reconnected. Will he come home? “No”, was his definitive answer. “I love it here, I love the people, I am learning Spanish, I am a chef in a great restaurant, and life couldn’t be any better.” Well, it relieved me to know that he was all right and had found what he had been searching for. I miss him, but with Skype and Email we can chat from time to time without causing him any discomfort. He’s a grown man now, no longer the kid I once knew, and he has made that ‘leap of faith’ we must all make if we want to take a hold of our own destiny. If it works out…great…if it doesn’t, you have only yourself to blame.

But I digress, let me step back a few years, almost forty now. The stairs going to the second floor of our house had a landing part way up, and the last set of stairs, about 10 of them, ended on the final landing, about a 4’x4′ pad. Young Fred loved Superman, and was very fond of wearing his official superman uniform, complete with cape. One day I heard him talking to himself at the top of the stairs while he was pacing around rather restlessly. I quietly sneaked into the hallway to see what he was up to, when I witnessed the final act of his experiment with flight. Trusting in his cape he took off with a great deal of energetic enthusiasm and became airborne. Yes, he flew all the way down those 10 stairs, all the way to the landing. Well, it wasn’t altogether a landing, so to speak, it was more like a crashing, if you get what I mean. There was no victory cry, just a blood-curdling scream as his head met the wall and he thumped onto the hardwood floor. I ran to his side to console him and to make sure that he hadn’t done himself any serious harm. Six year olds are like rubber ‘Gumbies’, they bounce, and he was OK. Thank goodness, he never tried that again, but somewhere in his psyche he retained this notion that, if he had to, he could fly. I guess we all do to some extend, some of us succeed (we call them entrepreneurs) others fall flat on their faces and must Continue reading