Category Archives: Society

A Lady Byrd Story

An owl perching
image from Canva.com

Superb Owl Day

For the first time, fearless Amanda Byrd must mind her turbulent grand-niece while on a special birding excursion, on the day of the SuperBowl.

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Our sharp-eyed guide pointed silently towards one of the husky, snow-powdered spruce branches. There, its mottled cream and caramel-brown plumage almost invisible against the tree background, its pale heart-shaped face marked with the dark marbles of its eyes, was a discreet nocturnal bird doing its best to avoid the sharp daylight.  

You rarely got to see a Barred owl from such a close distance, in a cold February afternoon, a meager dozen feet from the trail our small gaggle of birders was following. I didn’t even need my 8×42 Bushnell binoculars to take in its 22-inch long body from head to tail. I felt I could just stretch an arm to brush the fine down on its roundish head.

Well, not that I would do such an impolite gesture in front of my small niece. But my sister’s first grandchild had no such qualms herself.

“Hooo, hooo!” Mona said, her bright red mittens cupped in front of her mask, her brown eyes full of glee.

The owl’s neck moved like a tank turret to investigate the disturbance, one abyssally-dark eye blinking under a fluffy cream eyelid.

Most owls had gaudy-colored irises, orange or gold, framing round pupils; Barred owls had obsidian eyes, like black glass, the irises indistinct. Owl’s eyes were not slitted like cats’ to minimize incoming light, so the nocturnal bird protected its sensitive retinas.

Its downy eyelids, lowered at half-mast, gave him a perpetual air of either wisdom or sleepy annoyance.

Some owls’ tufted feathers reached out in points, like the Great horned owl, but this owl’s tapered along the round head.

When the owl’s head moved, Mona hooted happily.

“He looks like caramel ice cream with nuts!”

Count on children in the dead of winter to talk about ice cream, I thought, shivering.

The bird’s colors rather reminded me of an ill-fitting wool pull one of my own “aunties” had knitted for me (forgetting that teenage years were also growing up years) with a pattern of creamy whites and spatter of light brown stitches, at odds with the gaudy colors the sixties era favored.

I wore it for a time, to please my aunt, and as a camouflage to observe birds, Eventually, the mites found it. My mother unraveled the pull and knitted a warm scarf with it. Now that scarf, decades later, I wore in my winter bird watching, those muted hues being less aggressive.

I breathed in the cold air through the scarf and my thin face mask. The low temperatures prevented me from getting the scents of pine and fresh snow, but the odor of old wool impregnated with my mom’s patience remained present. I wore a heavier daypack with a thermos and collation.

But at least, it was a rewarding activity to go birding on the ‘Superb-Owl’ Sunday, as birders called this day. The name had been coined by a passionate birder in the 90s, and since then, many bird-lovers found out, in cities and woods alike, how quiet that peculiar Sunday was. The usual troves of weekend hikers also dried out on that day.

At this moment, my nephew, along with half the United States population, was lounging on his living room couch watching football players as colored as birds disputing a spectacular waste of money. (I’m told the commercial spots alone cost several millions.)

Meaning that, on Superbowl day, our small group of dedicated birders had the huge park near Albany, NY – and all its birds– to ourselves.

Including our own elusive, superb owls.

“Hoo, hoo!”

That is, if one of us did not scare said birds away with her bubbling enthusiasm.

“Hush,” I said, putting one gloved hand on her shoulder. “Don’t disturb the dozing bird.”

Using a low tone, I reminded her that owls were sleeping in the day, and would she like to be waken up all night by noisy adults?

Mona’s bright eyes misted as soon as she realized her mistake. Of course, this was her first winter birding trail, and also the first time she actually saw in flesh and feathers a full-sized adult owl. She could be allowed a few beginners’ blunders.

“I’m sorry auntie,” she said.

My niece and her husband were staying with an ailing relative, and had left this small bundle of joy with me for the month. (Both of us had been tested as clear from the bug.)

Mona’s presence at home had disrupted my usual routine, scaring Miss Blue off her favorite spot on a corner of my desk. Gaudy-colored plastic toys and Wonder Woman figurines added new obstacles on my way to the bathroom or to the kitchen. But I had kept little Mona’s teenaged mother a long time before. Soon my grand-niece had learned to avoid leaving her toys in the hallway and pulling the cat’s tail, and she helped me dry the dishes after dinner.

Imitating the adults around us (who had heeded the guide’s signal), Mona raised her green plastic binoculars, a meager 7 by 25, to her eyes. She squinted as she adjusted the focal with her mittened hand. (For me, the bird was too close for the strength of my 8×42. I should have taken my geek nephew’s advice and bought a lightweight digital cam.)

Adjusting a focal was hard work with mittens, but I knew the exact moment her field glasses gave her a clear outline. Mona’s lips moved under the mask, parted in a wordless ooh, the air whishing in a low whisper, as she beheld, for the first time in her life, a live, real owl.

Owls had fascinated my little niece no ends, even if she hailed two generations after the first Harry Potter movie.

The bird bug had not taken in my part of the family: my sisters were immune to it, and their children, my nieces and nephew, were, too.

But this small pumpkin had erupted into a volcano of curiosity at the first sight of my bird feeders. She had opened all the books in my living room bookcase, staring at the pictures. She had nagged and nagged to be able to accompany me on this bird observation excursion (the park was not too far from my place).

Presently Mona pulled down the rim of the coordinated red knitted cap that went with the mittens, to cover her ears. (My sister had not gotten the bird bug, but she had inherited mom’s knitting skill.) That was a fault with those fancy ensemble, that littles ears were not protected against the icy kiss of the winter.

“You’re right,” I said, keeping the owl in sight. “It’s cold.”

It was about minus ten centigrade, with was nothing, especially in the sun. But the light breeze added a chill factor that brought the temperatures around minus sixteen. The owl’s voluminous layers of feathers and down would protected its gangly body from the cold. The spotted neck feathers gave the illusion of a scarf wrapped over the shoulders, while longer feathers created a pattern of bars on the chest.

Speaking of cold, I unlatched the convenient ear flaps pinned to my own layered cap. They flopped down, to my small niece’s squealing delight.

“Hah, Auntie! You look like Sherlock Holmes!” she said, giggling.

One bundled up birder a few feet up our trail sucked in his breath in an audible gurgle. I turned, my nylon parka rustling, feeling as awkward as if I had been the one noisy. The habit of getting up in the early-morning hours had made me equally reverent of the moments of silence.

It was a thirty-something man, his thick frame wrapped in a gray Canada Goose coat with a raised collar, and a striped seaman’s cap that could hide a bald spot.

The optics he was fingering were topnotch: a Nikon camera with a canon-sized objective, that warranted weight-distributing frontal harness. And in those large coat pockets would be a notebook and pen to record his sightings, unless his cell phone had the Audubon application.

(My geek nephew tried and tried to make me adopt the app instead of lugging my field book. I had humored him by exchanging my brick-sized Sibley Guide to a lighter pocket-sized edition that was easier to carry. By with my years of birding, I rarely needed to consult the book for myself.)

His age was difficult to pinpoint under his mask, because his face hesitated between a teenager’s chubbiness and an adult’s sharp planes. You could make a Hollywood career with those dark eyes and cheekbones.  

But for now, those expressive eyes had locked on my niece, as if surprised to find a child here, before veering back toward the object of his curiosity, the 22-inch long Barred owl.

I recognized that kind of eager look. I prepared some apologetic words, but he had already positioned his eye to the funnel-shaped rubber ocular.

Most of the avid birders went to great lengths to spot a life bird, a bird they had never seen before. The corollary was, a genuine impatience towards beginners, or anyone susceptible to scare their prize bird away.

Which was exactly what happened a second later.

#

Whether because of Mona’s giggle or the man’s sucking in his breath, or else because another, unseen movement from another part of the woods had alarmed it, the barred owl decided that retreat was the better part of valor. He leapt off the branch and beat silent wings through the brush, in quest of a better resting place.

Owls had to be silent, because they could not soar like an eagle on windless, thermal-less nights, so they had to beat their wings. They had special fringed feathers that muffled the air flow noise. The special thing was, they needed to be silent not in order to surprise their rodent prey, but to be able to hear the tiny noises of a wood mice burrowing under a few inches of snow.

I followed its wavy flight through the wood until the owl settled on the highest branch of a distant tree, with too much interference to get a clear shot. It melted in the décor so well the eye lost its shape once I looked down.

I mouthed a silent sorry to the eager one.

“Ah, geeez”, the man said, pronouncing words with a raspy voice that made me wince in sympathy with his vocal chords. “And I came all the way from Toronto to get my first Barred owl!”

He was making it look like a rare bird, but Barred owls enjoyed a wide territory. He could have observed one closer to home if he had bothered.

Now, if the sore-throat man had seen a spotted owl, I would have commiserated more. The spotted owl had shared the same range, as the Barred owl, living a forested habitat feeding off arboreal mice, before man razed most forests to make place for fields. They were almost extinct here, in the east. Identifying one would bring a hoot from the birder community. 

He blinked, red-rimmed chestnut eyes that could have been from jet lag or too much drinking. That was the other problem. His rasping cough, that would have sent anyone scurrying for cover, brough my attention back to him.

“Auntie, do you think he had the corvid?” Mona asked.

The pumpkin had never pronounced the name right. The horrid Covid pandemic would be slowly receding in the background once more vaccines seeped through the population, but we were not there yet; many shrank from a coughing stranger.

I expected the birder to recoil, but he just shrugged. As we all kept our distances in the wild, he was not currently masked.

“Just the sore throat,” he said.

He hoisted his heavy cam to catch up with the guide and the core knot of dedicated birders.  

On the ‘Superb Owl’ day, women composed most of our group, either Superbowl ‘widows’ or real widows, like me. Or bachelors like Elaine Morris, our guide, a veteran who had found in the bird-filled woods a gentle way to heal from the traumas she endured in her tours of duty in Afghanistan.

Birders in a given region tended to aggregate, so I knew most of the others by name or by sight. Except the sore-throat foreigner, who was the sole man among us.

So we were threading the park for owls, of course, but if one failed to present itself to our gaze, there were a ton of other species wintering in the area. Sharp yellow grossbeaks, the Christmas-themed northern cardinal, gray Canada jays, blue jays provided our entertainment, along with snappy red squirrels.

As we followed the well-marked trail, Mona soon got enthralled with a playful band of black-capped chickadees, their chirpy see-mee and sudden tlocs. The seasoned birders among us ambled past her and me, because they were on the prowl for a more elusive citizens. Only the man lagged behind.

“Do you think we’ll see another barred owl?” the stranger asked.

His too-gravelly voice, a few decibels over the chickadees’ twirps, attracted my grand-niece’s attention.

Keeping my voice under the background threshold, I explained that owls, being predators, needed more space to collect their food.

“Sometimes, they need several kilometer-wide areas to roam,” I said.

“So we might not see another one?” the man asked, looking crestfallen.

Defeat added more gravel in his voice.

“Not necessarily,” I said. “This conservation park covers more than thirty square kilometers of wood and lakes, so we might find many other owls.”

Beside the huge barred owls, there were smaller species that occasionally visited the park, like the sharply contrasted boreal owl and the northern saw-whet owl, its chest marked with vertical brown and white stripes. If not, the reddish eastern screech owl was a full year resident, and the most likely to be seen in those woods.

As I mentioned the other species, he suddenly he pivoted to clear his sore throat. My ear caught the weird gurgle, again. I wondered if he was in the throes of a bad flu virus, or the “corvid”. He didn’t look red in the face nor feverish, but the knots at the corners of his mouth.

#

“Is there a problem?” a voice said.

Elaine had retraced her steps as soon as she heard the man coughing.

She was sturdy and broad-shouldered in her ivory goose feather coat, the straps of a heavy camping pack biting in the coat, the rim of her hood framing her square face. She had had a good marriage until after her Afghanistan tour, when one PTSD crisis landed her in a vet’s hospital.

It had been years ago; Elaine had told me it was better this way, for her loved ones. She stopped at the six-foot distance.

“Are you OK?” she said, her voice barely less raspy than the man’s.

The Canadian looked up at her, reddening.

“It’s, it’s not it, not at all,” he said. “This’ my (cough) normal voice. Now.”

“Take some water,” Mona said, earnest in her helping mood. “My auntie has a gourd.”

But the man shook his head.

“Can’t. It’s worse.”

“Why?” Mona asked, her fluted voice making her sound like a whining mocking jay.

“Because, er, it’s like having ice cubes wrecking the soft cushions inside my throat.”

Elaine raised a gloved hand to her neck, her concerned eyes peeking over her Birds of NY State green mask.

“You hurt your voice, didn’t you, Al?”

Of course, she had taken the names of the group, five bucks each (which was a really nice-price for a birding excursion in Covid times, that complemented her army pension.)

He nodded, not trusting his voice. Those ‘soft cushions’ would be his vocal chords. From the depth of the wood, a Blue Jay called, its voice was nasal and raspy.

A silent look passed between them, at this moment.

Not love, or anything sappy.

Elaine couldn’t do sappy anymore, not after seeing two members of her unit blown up by an improvised bomb meters from the truck she was driving. Not after lying awake so many nights after, jumping at the least noise and scaring her daughter and husband away.

Only birding had brought her back from the abyss. As for the foreigner, he clearly had his own demons.

“Look,” Elaine said. “I have a thermos of hot chocolate. We’ll pause in at the table a half kilometer from here.”

I knew the rest stop she spoke of. (There was also a coarse restroom and a bear-proof waste bin.)

“And,” I added, “if we’re lucky, we should meet some life birds for you there.”

Ah, birders! His eyes cleared in a moment, as if the sun had just risen.

#

“So, mister Al, what happened to you voice?” Mona asked, sipping from the hot cocoa mug.

We had taken one of the two tables, minding the spaces, and shared the two thermos (I always brought one hot tea thermos in winter excursions, with metal cups).

“Did a bad witch stole it, like the little Mermaid’s who couldn’t sing anymore?”

I winced. That had been one Disney movie too many. The D channel was a good babysitter, letting me go about my things, but not for extended period.

Al closed his eyes as he swallowed tiny sips of hot chocolate. Then he clacked his tongue.

“No witch stole my voice,” he said. “I did it to myself.”

Elaine tipped the thermos at arm’s length to refill his cup.

“What do you mean?” she asked, taking a sip from her own cup.

The sun played through the towering pine’s needles, covering us with bright and shady spots. The birder friends were chatting amiably at the other table.

He winked at Mona.

“I had one thing in common with the little Mermaid,” he said. “I sang, before.”

“Oooh,” Mona said, so excited she almost upset her hot cocoa cup.

It was a perfect hoot, but no barred owl answered her call.

However, Al did.

#

“I loved music since I was a tot, and singing, but my parents could not afford lesson. So I mostly learned by listening to radio. I grew up, work small waiter jobs, played guitar, until I met comrades from the college who were forming a hard rock band.”

“Which one?” Elaine asked.

“Boys Meet Girls,” he said.

Our guide rose an inquisitive eyebrow.

“I know, it’s a stupid name,” he said. “I was the lead singer in the band, and we managed to self-produce one DVD. Then we signed with a producer who put us on the road. Our brand of sound was wildly popular. But I sang without method, without training my voice, and that was, let’s say, hard on the vocal chords.”

Elaine’s hand went to her own throat.

“I had some throat irritation, but I thought that it was fatigue from the tour. Then, two years after, one evening in Las Vegas, my voice crashed, in the middle of a song.”

“Oh,” Mona said, rapt. 

“But, didn’t that producer of yours monitored your voice?” Elaine asked.

He shrugged.

“I guess I never asked, or he never asked. He gave me a week, but I was not even able to speak at the time. The doctor who examined me told my vocal chords were finished. As per my contract, as I wasn’t getting back, the producer found a replacement. They are still active nowadays, doing the circuit.”

“Did you get another doctor to look at you?” Elaine asked.

“Yes. Three years after I was let out of the band, I was living at my parents, finishing an accountant’s formation. My mom’s insisted I saw a doctor. He found, well, polyps on one, like a peanut-sized bulge on one chord.”

Hurray for his mother, I thought.

He took another sip, because his voice, in there telling had gone more and more rash.

“And did he direct you to the proper service?” Elaine asked, indignation in her voice. “In Canada, you do have a public health care, don’t you?”

He lifted one hand.

“Yes, but there’s a waiting time, My operation was scheduled in Montréal, but then, 2020 happened. Every non-essential surgery was postponed to make room for Covid patients. The polyp’s till here.”

He let out a sigh, then pursed his lips.

“Not ever being able to sing again, that was a nightmare. My life was over.”

“You can’t say that,” Elaine asked.  

“You see, I wasn’t even a composer,” he said. “Just an interpreter. So, really, without my voice, I didn’t know what to do.”

The pine boughs rustled over our heads. I raised an eye. Blue jays perching. Then gone.

“So you found the birds,” I said, squinting to follow the blue tinged flight of Jays.

He nodded.

“Yes, after I got busted from the band. I had been depressed and ill, and was resting on my parent’s patio. My mom had three bird mangers, close to my long chair.

Decidedly, I would look up his mother in Montréal.

“And she put some grains in my hands. And the birds came, and more birds, like I was like a Francis of Assisi!”

Mona let out a sigh, fingering her binoculars.

“This is so cute!”

Al smiled at her.

“Yes, and I wanted to know their names. More than their names: where they went, how they lived. And I wanted to listen to them.”

How variously we came to the love of birds!

Elaine’s eyes were misting.

“Yes. I did find the birds, after Afghanistan.”

He raised his eyes in surprise.

“What happened to you kind of happened to me, in the army,” she said. “Barking orders in the dry desert climate will mess up your voice fast. Sergeants are no doctors, so they bark and bark until they are hoarse. And then they bark the next day.”

He blinked.

“You were a sergeant? But, you do have a fine voice,” he said. “Just a bit rough on the edges. Not like, wasted like mine.”

“Your producer was a miser,” Elaine said. “There are, in Canada and here, very good specialists who could help you like they had helped me (thanks to Uncle Sam).A surgery, and special exercises, some voice training, so the damage to my own chords were repaired.”

She put her gloved hand on her throat.

“I’m no mermaid, however,” she added, winking at Mona.

My grandniece piped in.

“But maybe you’ll get yourself a prince, one day!”

Oooh, that child! I felt my face heating up, flushing red like a northern cardinal.

But the former sergeant and the former rock star burst out laughing or, rather, hissing softly in the case of Al. The two looked quite at ease around each other, like old friends.

This time, when the pine needles rustled nearby, we looked in time to see the red mottled beast perched on a mid-level branch. It was twice as short as the Barred owl, but this Eastern Screech Owl made it up with its round yellow eyes fixed on us. Mona contained a squeal when she saw the Harry-Potter-quality tufted horns prolonging the eyebrows.

“There, auntie! The Superb Owl!”

And, maybe by fortune or because the sergeant and the rock star were busy checking if they were prince or mermaid, the red-feathered owl stayed to accept our reverent gratitude.

THE END

Ho-Ho-Ho!

Hoping all of you stay well!
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Be well…

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And keep your distances, like those two birds sitting in the cold.

Let your thoughts travel faster than light, if your bodies can’t.

Humans are not like birds, they can’t survive picking up seeds or buds

So remember to share in the joy, and to share, whatever and whenever  possible.

***

Brave new Worlds

BraveNewWorldsboxset

Worlds on the brink of apocalypse, or already there.
Nature’s wrath and dominion over humanity, and humanity’s folly incarnate.
Dark magic, terrifying tech, greed, ravaged environments, rare courage and grim hope in lost cities and fallen worlds.

Brave new worlds or last best hopes — Dare you glimpse the future?

Here Be Brave new Worlds – 13 SF & fantasy futuristic stories, novellas and novels, collected by U.K. author A. L. Butcher. I have read some stories by J.D. Brink, Rob Jeshonek and Leah Cutter previously, and their stories are a fine level.

My contribution is the dystopian story Ice Monarch. 

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Come and get it, on the main platforms!

 

 

I fell down a rabbit hole… (The joy of researching)

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I did it again!

I am researching for a SF novel in preparation (the specifics I keep to myself for now) and, one interesting site after one fascinating site, found out that time compressed itself and most of the afternoon had fled down the rabbit hole!

I do not know if my scientific formation aggravates this time-sink habit. I hold a Master degree in geography, and so many aspect of macro-ecology do hold my interests!

Plus, even the very day-to-day concerns penetrates my Serious Writer mode.  From the over-usage of single-used plastics that keep turning up in the remotest places or the oceans, to the waste of my own pens and stylus, to the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count, and my own, heart-warming geek love Valentine day short-story…

So, all those tiny bits cluttered like a planet aggregation process, dissolving my focus. Already 16h00?

As I mentioned previously, most of what I ‘m noting right now won’t ever make it to the novel you’ll read somewhere in the next year. Some of those, if I can’t place it in the novel, will turn up, greatly compressed, in one or two exploratory short-stories, set in the same universe.

What I will NOT do is integrating all that painstaking-ly gathered tidbits into the novel itself, under the form of some extra-large infodump, (or a rather lengthy explanation by a secondary character that will get killed in the next chapter).

Research as an iceberg

See research as the hidden part of the iceberg. What floats if what the reader experiences. If you tried to pull more of the iceberg over the water level, like I did in my first books (fortunately Daniel Sernine, my editor of the time, detected it) you would end up with an indigestible lump of details that weights down the storytelling.

Yes, I was one of those very interested in sharing all those cute details!

Yes it is soooo tempting to have your characters stop on a ridge and describe the wondrous landscape in excruciating details, over two or four pages! It is more palatable if the description is shorter, and punchy, like this one from a WIP:

The dunes went on and on, a pale sandbox barely contained by a row of angry mountains, each chipped and corroded summit vying for predominance.

Most of the research iceberg must stay invisible!

Solution is not dilution!

To keep our focus, it’s good to set limits, to avoid diluting our attention.

One solution in time management is to do the research after you complete writing a certain set number of words for the day. This is Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s method to limit the time spent in research. She also manage to get her research done before writing the novel, while she’s finishing the previous book.

Not the way of Dean Wesley Smith, who does his research as he writes, because some cool factoids will influence the story telling. I know it happened to a short-story I was researching for.

One obvious solution is to restrain the time passed on the social platforms. Or retire completely from social media in a period of rush. Julie E. Czerneda mentions it.

My own is setting a timer. Sometimes the amount of time is not enough and I prolong the time. Still work to do.

Or I use this experience to write a blog entry.

 


TL;DR : I lost time surfing the web for my research. Some remedies may apply


Flash news:

I had the joy of discovering that my last published SF story in Galaxies 60 (in French!)  is on the selection for the Grand Prix  de l’Imaginaire 2020.

A Delectable Issue of OnSpec

I’m late! I know…

Magazine Data File

Although I regularly miss the submission deadlines at On Spec, I do recommend this Canadian magazine published in Alberta.
I appreciate the work of Diane Walton and Barb Galler-Smith, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting at Canadian conventions, but many others writers, artists, editors are dedicated to making this magazine a success!

I read from one cover to another this number 109.

Sinkhole by Al Onia, takes place in Australia on desert background, where a meteor absorbs all the matter around, creating a hole. The story waves its way between the points of view of the scientists summoned there and Allan, an aborigine working at the cultural center built near Uluru Rock, who trusts in his spiritual traditions to ward off the threat.

Konstantine Kaoukakis’ non-fiction article To boldly go where no teacher has gone, gives a perspective from an English teacher who integrates fantasy and SF reading in his classes, genres that fascinates students who would otherwise be bored. And what efforts to get this new course accepted!

My favorite story, Joyhound, by Calder Hutchison, is a jewel of SF and black humor in a mafia setting, fedora hats included.  Imagine a werewolf who emits pheromones that make him so irresistible, that his prey, bathed in an ineffable happiness, strives to be eaten… In addition, the predator’s saliva is a painkiller. What a sublime treatment, what a heroine in shades of gray! And what link with the murky underworld of mafiosos? Read on and be happy!

Another story, “Two from the Field, Two from the Mill“, by Geoffrey Cole, who loves hockey a lot! Imagine that one night, all the dogs ascend to the sky and disappear, in a “rapture” way. Dogs, these devoted beings, left a big hole behind them, which even Christians seek to fill. A professional female hockey player (we have a visionary author there!) who also lost her dog, must manage the situation in her small town before it turns sour. I had read two stories from Cole, and I appreciate his humor and sport settings. The title hails from a biblical quote (Matthew 24, 36-42).

The other stories are Lee Chamney’s When they burned my bones, in which ghosts experiments such a difficult after-life, but it’s better than nothing! Fear and zen, then.

Spirits’ Price, by Van Aaron Hughes, a fantasy story, where you can get your desire with a well-told tale that appeals to spirits, but there’s a price tag to this. And what is the price of passing on the gift to your descendance?

Death is a Blindfold, by Rati Methrota, a story of encounter of the second type that leaves the witnesses a lasting impression. But if no one believes them and the ET never come back, why stick to it? This author, interviewed in this issue, has been inspired by reports of UFO sightings.

Two interviews complete the issue: Toronto-born Rati Methrota, a resident of Toronto, and René Martinez, the Cuban-born, Toronto-based cover artist who produces colorful and generous illustrations worth of Gaudi.

The prologue by Brent Jans, the organizer of Pure Speculation is worth the detour: “Everyone deserves to be Conned. Brent realizes that his event, which rolls very well, lacks diversity. He will fix it, even if it means skipping a year. The best sentence:

“I struggled with the idea that I was somehow to blame in an SF culture that could somehow accept aliens and elves, but passively and actively made it unsafe for women, people of color. LGBTQ2S, our Indigenous population -basically, anyone who was not me.”

We do not often get the point of view of an organizer, and his efforts to make his event accessible (like what I witnessed at the Utopiales in Nantes, who have sign language interpreters, and the first two rows of seats reserved for deaf people.)

By moving the premises and cutting the entrance fee, Brent made the Pure Speculation Festival accessible to wheelchairs, and for many low-income fans. And no, he did not regret it nor di he get bankrupted. Those are very encouraging words to read these days.

 

I’m Rich, so let me Out! (In Defence of the Peel Region)

Some times, the outer world impacts a lonely writer.  And the writer must leave her desk and gives her view on the debate. The Ontario Con governement is reviewing the Regions to slash some money. (I missed two meetings, but better late than never.)

Each governance level responds to specific needs that neither individuals themselves, or lower-tier municipalities can assume.

Thirsty?

A coda to the yesterday entry... and a new solution to a old riddle?

“Hey, I took the water from a pond and filtered it myself!  Would you drink it? “

I love my City: the cultural life is vibrant, the library services are stellar, the parks fabulous. There’s been a fantastic development of public transit system, and one express bus can get me to the Toronto subway in fifty-five minutes! Nothing to argue about my City’s work: at the moment, public transportation and affordable housing are very important priorities of the City of Mississauga.

I love my region for the incredible, and accessible services: the drinkable water filtration, the wastewater treatment, the recycling and composting and garbage pick up, the police, and other services you generally can’t do for yourself.

For instance; water treatment and waste water management services incur high cost that cannot be assumed by a lone municipality.

Then, this cry arises from Mississauga, the third most populated city of Ontario :

I’m rich! Let me outta here!

In every country on Earth, you will find this claim from richer provinces or states, declaring that they “pay more than their fair share” and “why should the others benefit from our labor?

It has been the case for Québec province in 1980 and 1995, it has been the case for Alberta, for the Penjab province in India, for the Congo it was the Katanga province (for a while in the 60s). But fortunes change with time.

I read the Mississauga City Q&A PDF documents about the independance, and it is clear they don’t have a clue about the real financial upheaval they will reap. They can’t even make previsions, and count on the Provincial, or the Federal level for help!

I’m richer than they are, so why shouda pay for’em?

Which is a bit of an arrogant stance.

Mississauga’s crusade to leave the Peel region aims to save a measly 85 million “lost” to the Regional budget. I wonder where is the real percentage of the Peel Region budget this 85 million represents. The fact that nowhere on the City website I can find this number is telling.

So I had to get to the Peel Region website to find their budget. Here it is for 2018: a whopping 3.1 BILLION! 

So 85 million divided by 3.1 billion (3100 millions) makes… a meager 0,027 – 2,7% !

(Projected costs of the options for Peel region from the Deloitte report, 2019)

As Mississauga is the largest population of the region with 721 000 residents, followed by Brampton, it is only a normal fluctuation.

The dissolution of the Region of Peel would have long-term consequences, and  I can guarantee that the cost will rise high over the meager 85 millions our city is rambling about.

Here is another rambling, for the road maintenance.

Oh, but Caledon has so many more roads than we do!

2004 Water Quality Summaries - Location Map

Have you looked at a map recently?

Caledon is a greater and less densely populated territory, with more kilometers of roads per resident. Those roads do require maintenance.

The consequences of leaving the road repairs costs to a smaller city will be a dramatic hike of the taxes on the farmers and remote residents of Caledon. Some farmers, hit with this hefty tax hike, might not be able to pursue their work, and sell their lands for developers, (more urban spread, loss of food autonomy).

Not two cities are exactly the same, in population or size, or economic activities. The region can moderate the needs.

Water, water !

(Image credits: Peel region)

I studied and consider myself knowledgeable in the field of water treatment and waste water management. The treatment processing facilities entail a cost that cannot be assumed by a lone municipality. Drinking water is among the essential services no one can skimp. Waste water treatment is a staple to preserve the fresh water bodies around.

Just building, and updating those utilities carry on a great financial charge. If Mississauga, being closer of the lake, takes full charge of its facility, at what price will it sell the service to the two other cities?

(A water treatment plant tour is organized on Saturday May 11th, between 10h and 18h.)

For those reasons, I would think twice before breaking something that is in working order.

Many services

The region of Peel is quite efficient to communicate the informations on new programs. Especially in the environmental protection of green areas, and for our sustainable gardens. They maintain a constant presence in farmers markets. The environmental services are stellar and I am counting on them.

Besides the clean water, the solid waste management is improving. The Peel police is a constant presence. Emergency srvices, shelters, waste collection, recycling centers…  Below is an overview of the areas of service.

(From, Region of Peel, 2018 budget)

In case of dissolution, many  services will be disturbed, or scattered. Just building, re-building, updating those utilities carry on a great financial charge. The solid waste treatment processing facility is located in Brampton… who will have to enter a service delivery agreement with Mississauga and Caledon.

As for the environmental protection, a region can be more difficult to subvert than a small, underfunded city. I fear the smaller cities alone won’t stand a chance against well-funded promoters and their bulldozers.

Decision making should be improved by more consultations with the Region and the public.

The Region functions can be recalibrated to satisfy its composing Cities, improving adequacy and eliminating redundancies, so that no city is left in the water.

Take the Regional government review survey

The Survey: Regional government review, closes on May 21, 2019.

Share your thoughts on governance, decision-making and service delivery functions in these regions.

Most questions are over-worded. Like this one:  Be prepared to elaborate on a simple yes, or no.

Are decisions in the upper-tier municipality made in a timely and efficient manner? Please explain.

“Please explain” : seriously?  Do you think that the average citizen has the free time to explain in details this “timely and efficient manner” ?

How exactly am I supposed to convey my satisfaction with my region (upper tier municipality) services without writing a PHD thesis?

 

 

Wonders of Vegas (2)

One hidden treasure of Las Vegas I discovered in March is a fine vegan restaurant, recommanded by my SF writer colleague Kris Rusch. Vegenation is an small, quiet space with a very convivial ambiance. !

The visitor is greeted by a profusion of green plants and quiet music.


Flowers (real ones) adorn each table, adding to the joy of eating. I ordered that specific, jar-contained meal at least three times!

Of course, the fact that the cutlery is metal and the glasses are reused Mason jars holds its charm! (Like the Panthère Verte restaurants in Montréal.)

It had been a looong time since I ate so well in a restaurant. Usually, my vegetarian choices are dim.

And do NOT start me on the plastic utensils and cups most budget-savvy places offer…

So I came back to the Vegenation not one, but four times, for a more excellent, fruit-filled breakfast. Here… everything was good! The meals were filling, generous and respectful of both animals and my budget!

And the meals were so satisfying, even the “meat” and “cheese” ingredients were 100% plant-based.

I was so happy of this discovery (and I am NOT a food/restauration reviewer) that I talked to a fine young man working there and asked a few questions.

Travis Schwantes, at the Vegenation. Travis was busy directing some redecorating of the restaurant, but he took the time to answer my questions.

Where did you grow-up, come from?

I grew up in Southern California and I lived in New Jersey for 15 years. My wife and I moved to Las Vegas 9 years ago.

What is your specific education ?  I have a bachelor in arts and Spanish literature.

Since how long does the Vegenation exist?
Since 2015.

How did you discover your vision, how did you came into the picture?

I met the owner, chef Donald Lemperle, who told me of his vision and I wanted to be a part of it. This was seven years ago. I have taken the tasks of manager since 1 year and a half.

What event did propel you towards the vegan lifestyle?

15 years ago I started at thinking about being a vegetarian. At the time  I got food poisoning from meat. At the time I was 22. Since then, I started meeting vegan people, and came to work here, and became inspired by all the people here. I started to watch documentaries, after watching a few, one day one day, my wife and I look at each other and decided let’s go vegan!

Any projects or  expansion in the foreable future?

I want to help lead this food revolution. To do that I am helping chef Donald achieve his vision of creating the first successful chain of plant-based restaurants. So that we can bring more positive changes to the communities.

Charming detail: non-binary bathrooms!

All in all, if you ever come to Las Vegas, step out of the Fremont Experience and turn your feet south. This nice little restaurant is on Carson av

To know more about this restaurant: Vegenation in Las Vegas.
WHERE? 616 e Carson ave, suite 120, Las Vegas, nv 89101

WHEN: opens everyday at 8am — closes at 8PM (Sunday-Thursday 8am) and 9 PM (Friday and Saturday)

HOW MUCH? reasonable: 8-15$ for a meal.

MY FAVORITE: the organic, fair-trade coffee… served in the pot, so it makes *four* good cups!

 

Wonders of Vegas (1)

Las Vegas has a Mayor, Carolyn Goodman, since 2011! She has succeeded her husband Oscar (deceased) and pursues progressive policies. Public transit is well developed, among other things.

Une vue iconique de Las vegas! Face à la Fremont Experience

An iconic view of Las Vegas, facing the Fremont Experience

I went there for a writer’s workshop. However, I discovered other less known and very positive aspects.

Murals

This week, I open with murals. In every city I visit, I try to capture the mural art. And Las Vegas has some amazing art.

This is behind the restaurant Vegenation, which I will talk about soon.Une murale qui anime un triste stationnement!

A mural that animates a sad parking lot! Near 6th Avenue

2019-03-04 11.32.11muraleAllongee

Another colorful mural, surrounding the same parking lot.

2019-03-04 12.26.53muraleAstronaute

The Astronaut and Unicorn hidden mural, visible from a back alley!

2019-03-04 17.42.48muraleGeante

Here, a very well sponsorised giant mural

2019-02-28 14.50.23trompeloeil

A well-thought illusion featuring a place long gone.

2019-02-28 14.52.49

A museum mural. Wheter the red splurt was designed or not to symbolize the fragility of wild life  reminds to be seen.

Rebellious murals

Corporate Welfare? Not a taker!

Some very unconventional murals surprizes the visitors!

2019-03-04 12.30.17muraleFemmeRose

This young pinkish girl seems to mock us!

2019-03-04 12.26.29murale

Another rebel graffiti. The woman’s face extends below on the asphalt, a mark of the artist’s craft. The other graffiti artists have (for the most part) respected this image!

2019-02-28 14.49.46muraleHommeChapeau

You can guess the hope and apprehension in this man’s eyes. (My other angle without the post was too sun-drenched to show.)

2019-03-04 11.27.40muraleFearNoFate

This dignified face may be a publicity stunt, but the Fear no Fate text looks like Fear no Hate, all in all a good message for me.

2019-03-04 11.31.33murale

As a science fiction writer I can’t ignore that one.

La plus belle murale de Las Vegas, selon moi

That dreamy mermaid closes this review.

Music and Readings for the Afflicted

Photo prise hier soir par Mathieu Allard, ICI Ontario

When a dramatic event dripping with human stupidity happens, like the people killed in Toronto, the medias will take days to repeat the same words.

To help each other, here are some personal choices of readings and music to appease the sorrow mounting inside us and alleviate those moments when we doubt humanity.

IMG_0451 ClematysWeb

For those of you who stand near a empty room, my heart goes to you. May you live through this mourning knowing that you are not alone. May life bring to you hope and compassion.

*

My music and reading list to appease and heal those who are grieving :

Classical:

Albinoni Concerto, Adagio in G Minor (Albinoni) (Youtube here, still landscapes pictures)

The Foor Seasons by Vivaldi (Autumn)

Borodine – Prince Igor, polovtsian dances, (Youtube version with a female conductor, Sylwia Anna Janiak  Poland Symphony Orchestra of the Felix Nowowiejski Music School in Gdańsk, Poland; Note: very dynamic!

Glazunov, The Seasons, op. 67 – Autumn : Petit adagio played by the Philarmonie jeunesse de Montréal. (A little StarWars theme part near the end!)

Ave Maria by Schubert, interpreted by Andrea Bocelli and by Luciano Pavarotti (for the nostalgics, year not mentioned)

La Moldeau by Smetana (moody and beautiful, orchestra on Youtube, directed by Nejc Becan)

 

More modern:

Pierre Lapointe, Sais-tu qui tu es? Heard this morning (Video Youtube)

Enya (The Kelts) ballads

Soundtrack from the movie « Out of Africa », du grand déploiement – 14 minutes. Composé et dirigé par John Barry.

Any musical theme from a movies you liked.
(Wonderful movies Soundtracks – Youtube, still pictures, 1h23min)

Music of celtic inspiration (Youtube, images fixes, 2 heures!)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzodaO2nwUw&t=3540s

A musical application, including a « safety plan » for people dealing with depression and sorrow. http://www.moodtools.org/   (I do not guarantee results, but it looks interesting!)

 

Readings

Reflexions and contemplation

Hubert Reeves/ La Plus Belle Histoire du Monde

Ursula K. LeGuin No time to Spare (réflexions)
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33503495-no-time-to-spare

 

Inspirational novels

Flight Behavior, par Barbara Kingsolver.  The Great American Novel has been written. A story beginning with a butterfly… 464 pages.

Ronnie Roberts, her Poet, Oregon series: four short romance novels featuring endearing, modern characters.
The author doesn’t refrain from tackling social issues like homelessness in Fixer Upper, handicap and mental health in  Carolyn Explains, familial violence and cancer in Nailed it, which I am reading. Despite trials and disagreable opposants, her stories give back hope in the human gentleness.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27470552-the-fixer-upper
Page de Ronnie Roberts

 

Rebellious Mourning: Wait three month before reading this collection of hard accounts. This intimate, moving, and timely collection of essays points the way to a world in which the burden of grief is shared.  This collective sharing helps to walk towards a liberation.

Inspirational blogss

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings . This blogger collects reflexions from a variety of works. http://brainpickings.org

The blog of Ursula K. Leguin, still present. The annals of Pard, the domestic universe seen through a cat’s eyes.  http://ursulakleguin.com – go to « Blog »

Zen Pencils is an illustrated blog, featuring philosophical reflexions put in pictures.

 

At last, this fog bow (a white bow), a special encounter at dawn …

Extrait_EnCourant_ArcEnCiel