Saturday, April 28, 2012


Apologies for starting with a complaint, but blogger has a new look, and I'm finding it very off-putting. Or maybe any new look, like the recent revision of Facebook, is disturbing. We like our tools to stay comfortable. Any change forces us to think anew about things and be uncomfortable until we are accustomed to it. But I'm not here to complain about online stuff. It all feels so small-beer compared to the vast and glorious diversity of the natural world. Yes, I'm burbling on, once more, about the wonders of mother nature.

I've just returned from a quick car trip to Ottawa to see various friends and go to a public session about Burma. As I whizzed along up the highway the leaves of Toronto gave way to a pre-leaf blur of green on the trees by the road and along the fence-lines in farm country. And by the time I was driving back two days later, despite unseasonably cold weather, the sunshine had worked its magic and the trees were yellow-green, definitely more in leaf, and brighter altogether.

 As always when I go to Ottawa I am aware that life IS time-travel. I grew up in Ottawa and any trip back reminds me of places and events and people from times past, like flipping through a photo album, but with a more impressionistic and less linear feel. And seeing my aged aunt, in full-blown dementia, but still polite and nice to people helping her, and saying "I don't know what to do" (quite true) or "I don't know where I'm going" (also true) is time-travel of another kind.  Exchanges with her have a super-real quality or super-true, kind of drug-trippish. I choose to read them as reflecting some larger truth. For her, who knows? They may be just fragments without deeper meaning, or they may be deeply intended, things she didn't dare say when she was concerned with decorum and privacy and in control.

 And that's the other thing: old age potentially robs us of dignity, and of privacy, as does illness. We're all heading there sooner or later. How do we cope? How should we prepare? Or should we just dance and sing while the going is good, and then leave it to others to worry about our care when we decline? I am sure that we shouldn't worry. Worry is a waste of time. But it's worth thinking about these things.

I feel so fortunate to be able to time travel in my mind's eye, visualising people and events from earlier days. I like reconnecting with old friends and reflecting on where we find ourselves now, how little we imagined the world that we now find ourselves in. It's fun, and diverting, like watching reruns of films and getting a deeper or different understanding of them second or third time round.

 Today as I sat in the bright sun at my cousin's place watching finches and wrens, a hairy woodpecker, and other birds I can't name, at a bird feeder, my cousin said something to the effect that we spend all our lives trying to understand how things work and how to do things, and just as we get some clarity and wisdom, it's the end. hmm But that insight doesn't have to be a sad or depressing picture. We can just accept that life is about exploration, and to be enjoyed while we're able.

 I'm loving life these days, happily focussed on the now: the BURMA book is at third galleys stage, headed to the printer later this week; my two grown kids are flourishing at their university studies (yes, some people do flourish in the hothouse of Ancient Greek, or philosophy); the garden is freshly dug up and waiting for seeds; and summer is coming, with trips to the Kneading Conference West in September and to the Oxford Symposium in early July, and visits from friends promised here and there.

And before that travelling I have some teaching to do: a course called Foods that Changed the World, at the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. I love preparing for the six weeks of lectures, two hours every Tuesday. It's made me do time travel of a different kind, as I reflect on the movement of foods and food ideas around the world. The first session is about Salt and about Sugar, essentials and seductions you could say. There's trade and preserving and slavery too, as well as photos I've taken over the years: salt in Ethiopia, Burma, Thailand, and Senegal...

 Happy end of April to you all.

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