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The 2012 Fox Report 

This newsletter is much longer than usual, so get a coffee and put your feet up!

“Imagination is funny. It makes a cloudy day sunny.  Makes a bee think of honey, just as I think of you.  Imagination is crazy.  Your whole perspective gets hazy.  Starts you askin’ a daisy what to do, what to do…”  That comes from the jazz standard Imagination, with lyric written by Sammy Cahn.   2012 kick-started my imagination. 

There we were watching the movie with me all curled up in my blanket. The music started that dark passage.  You know the one that tells you the bad nasties are coming after the nice girl. My breathing gets shallow.  My heart rate is up.  I hold up the blanket. I dive to hide behind Don.  I can’t look.  “Is she ok?” I ask.  He replies, “Dawn, they’re tomatoes!  We’re watching Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.  It’s a spoof!”    I realized at that moment that my imagination is hyper-active.  I scare myself! I imagine scenes much worse than the movie will show.  I’m really good at it, too.  If I don’t give it something creative to do, my imagination will turn self-destructive.  

One of the first tasks I gave my imagination was a writing project.  I have always loved lyric ballads, short stories told in rhyme - like Coleridge’s epic Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  I started writing my own years ago but set it aside because I found it too difficult to both tell a good story and make it rhyme.  I’m “spun” to tell you that 4000 words later I’ve finished The Inn at Haunted Hollow.  It’s not creepy, but it does have a touch of “mystery” and “unusual” that I think keeps the interest. There is no music.  It is spoken work art. I recorded myself reading it and it takes about 30 min to hear.   I had a blast writing it!  Now, what to do with it?  I’m not keeping it a secret – just not ready to publish. I plan to enter it in some writing contests that require unpublished submissions.  If the stars align, I’ll earn a writing award which will make self-publishing easier, and maybe less of a money-loser!  If you’re burning inside to hear it, let me know.

Another task for my imagination was trying to make my voice sound like someone else’s, as if impersonating them.  This involved listening really hard and matching the breath, phrasing, tone, inflection, and space around the notes – everything I could hear.  Why? We got asked to perform at a special memorial.  The family rented a large tent, as they were expecting 200-300 people.  The deceased was a lover of country music and they wanted 4 songs.  We don’t do country, so we provided names of colleagues, but it turned out they were either unavailable or felt too emotional for this one.  It seemed all wrong to leave the family with canned music, especially when the deceased was such a supporter of live music.  Don agreed to accompany but he drew the line at impersonating Elvis.  So there I was with a day to learn to sing like Patsy Cline.  Don overheard me practicing … “I fall to pieces ….”.  When I finished the tune he said “oooo – that’s scary”.  My heard sank. Just as a tear was forming (I suck right?) he finished the sentence, “You sound exactly like Patsy Cline”.   They tell me I did a good job at the gig but I never got to hear myself because the funeral home director, so involved in making everything perfect at the service, forgot to turn on the video camera!

There was more music imagination.  This year we picked up about a hundred pounds of sheet music willed to us by Don’s late father, who was a dance band leader for 60 years.  I was expecting song books and photocopies but his library was all hand written sheet music! The earliest are tunes from the 1920’s, written in a fine fountain pen hand on heavy stock manuscript paper, with the date of the transcription (1940’s) and Wally’s initials.  I’ve been reading through these obscure tunes imagining the feel of the times when they were first written.  Most of the music is for a dance band, from the 40’s and 50’s: 90lbs of waltzes,  8 lbs of two-steps, foxtrots and schottisches and 2 lbs of polkas! Is there a market for “polkas by the pound”?  It occurred to me that we might be famous for something in music yet.  Can we can get in the Guiness Book of World Records for the heaviest collection of hand-written waltzes?

We had a great summer.  We decided not to work on the house (imagining that it was all finished) and have fun with music and art, instead or cursing our way through another renovation project.  We caught a big wave of inspiration as performers for the 1st annual Wounded Warriors Weekend, hosted our little community of Nipawin, SK.  The weekend made international headlines and brought hundreds of people together for an amazing weekend of healing, personal growth and inspiration.  At the centre of the weekend were 200 veterans from Canada and the US, dealing primarily with post-traumatic stress.  There were all sorts of activities planned from fishing and golfing to shopping and manicures, and several events where musicians performed.  I was amazed at the number of musicians from across Canada who came to donate their time and art to help these people heal.  Don accompanied a very polished Nashville-based songwriter, and they hope to do more work together.  She now writes for film, an area that has interested Don for years. We plan to take a trip down there to build some relationships - nothing happens without a network.

After 8 years with the College (and on the road every week), I’m facing a year of downsizing turmoil.  I’m getting laid off in May for the summer, back Sept-Dec, then a big layoff Jan-Aug.  They plan to have me back full-time again in Aug 2014, with a 4 year plan of steady work after that.  I’m taking the layoffs as an opportunity to rest and renew. I’m looking forward to being at home every night, not driving in blizzards and having time for art again.  I might fuel my imagination with a creative writing course. I work best under pressure and courses impose deadlines. We also plan to bring our duo back up to performance level, and book some gigs.

Talking about performing again …. I read that public speaking is the #1 fear in the U.S., ahead of dying?  In the UK the number 1 fear is spiders, followed by public speaking.   I’m thinking if those poor people had to speak to a room of spiders, it would really be a gig from hell.    Although I have no hard data, I’m guessing the number 1 fear where I live is “moose in the headlights”.  It’s going to total the car and it’s really going to hurt.  Moose are dark and their eyes don’t shine like deer.  You don’t see them until you’re right on top of them, or more accurately, skidding into the black mountain.  A bull moose stands about 7 ft (on all fours), with a body 10 ft long, weighing 1500 lbs with antlers spanning 5-6 ft.

Moose are primarily found in Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia and Russia. They eat all the time.  An adult needs to consume close to 10,000 calories/day, about 70 lbs of grass and bark! They have very sensitive, prehensile lips, which allow them to grasp and strip bark easily. They hang out in water to eat aquatic plants for the sodium.  Unlike the rest of the deer family, moose have a complex snout designed to allow them to dive and feed underwater. In winter they unfortunately get lured to roads to lick salt. Mature males shed their antlers after fall mating to conserve energy during the winter, but they grow a new set in about 5 months.  Bulls that are castrated (by accident, chemically or in a fight) immediately shed their antlers and grow a new deformed set, that they never again shed – like a notice to all females that this one isn’t working right! Occasionally females grow antlers, if their hormones go haywire (see, it could be worse, girls!)

Moose are generally solitary animals, so it was quite surprising for us to have a moose family around our property all year – giant bull, big momma and a calf.  Bulls get crazy with hormones in the fall (the “rut”) and are really protective of their mates. Statistics show that moose attack humans more than bears and wolves combined.   Worldwide, only hippopotami cause more injuries to people.  One morning I met the moose family on my way to work.  The bull walked out and blocked the road in front of me, with the cow lying beside the road with junior, munching grass.  He took an aggressive pose: he maintained eye contact, with laid back ears and a lowered head. My 1988 Toyota Tercel came about up to his knees! I’ve been told not to honk or flash lights because that just pisses them off and they have been known to charge a vehicle and roll it over a few times. I backed up and waited.  About 5 minutes later momma got up and walked off into the bush with junior following.  Then the “old man” got off the road and let me pass. In Saskatchewan, it is a perfectly acceptable excuse to be late for work because a moose blocked the road.

Don has been exploring his maternal Romanian ancestry, which came from the Carpathian Mountains, not very far from Dracula’s castle.  This explains much about Don: nocturnal habits, the preference for rare, red meat and the restlessness that comes with the full moon.  It’s amazing how closely he resembles some of the pictures, sketches and descriptions of people presented in a book we have on Romanian history. There was a group in that region called Dacians, who were of medium height with long, blond hair and blue eyes.  They were mountain-dwelling horsemen with a passion for archery.  Sound familiar? The photo we have of the stone relief of their King Decebal (circa 103AD) is so close to Don’s profile it’s creepy. Decebal was a great warrior until he was beheaded by the Romans who saw him as a threat to their empire.  Let’s not follow in those footsteps!

Don and I are about to be anonymous celebrities.  We are being interviewed, photographed and filmed for a book and DVD documentary on living off-grid in Canada.  The researcher wants to report different levels of off-grid and the lifestyles associated with each.  Ours will be one of the smallest, most hands-on power systems, and in one of the harshest climates.  The researcher is not very familiar with winter and is looking forward to visiting us with some romantic notion about snow.  He tells me he’s all prepared to drive around rural Saskatchewan in February - he borrowed a parka! Perhaps that statement is only hysterically funny if you live on the prairies.  Here’s why. Recently, Don called me at work for a discussion on whether I should try to drive home.  We had a storm, the road was drifted over and the ploughs could not get to us for 2 days. We decided to chance it. CCA towing services the area and most of the drive has good cell coverage.  It was Friday and not too cold, only -25°C.  (That’s not a joke. At this time of year we can easily get -40, with a -50 wind chill, when exposed flesh freezes in 10 minutes and the 6 hr wait for a tow truck could kill you.) But like I said, it wasn’t that cold.  As luck would have it, I was followed down my road by a stranger in a 4X4 truck (turns out he will soon be our new neighbour – he was out trying to get a look at the property he was buying).   I stopped to ask him if he wanted to lead us down this invisible road and he said “no way – you’re doing great!” I hit the ditch 5 minutes later and the poor guy had to pull me out! We waited for Don to walk 2 miles to meet us so we could see where the centre of the road was.  As soon as I could make out Don’s figure down the road, I started driving straight towards him. Winter on the prairie is solid white and bearings can be impossible to establish.  The road isn’t deep with snow but you can’t see where the road is. Even Don found himself veering off the road – you know you’re off the road when you suddenly sink in up to your hips. We drove the rest of the way home down the centre of his zip-zag footprints.

That story reminded me to visit the Darwinian Awards website to see who has done humankind a great service by taking themselves out of the gene pool by doing something stupid. I can’t believe the population has been culled of Darwinian award candidates, but the website has only 1 guy up for 2012.  This 32 year old died suddenly after first losing a worm-eating contest (he ate a plate of mealworms) then winning a cockroach eating contest (he ate a pail full).  2011’s winner turned out to be Angry Wheelchair Man. This story was authenticated with a surveillance video.

                Nothing symbolizes the downfall of the human race like an actual down fall … It began with simply missing  an elevator, the proverbial straw on the camel's back. With stressed-out rage, Angry Wheelchair Man  rammed his chair  [three times] … against the lift doors … breaking through and falling down  … the  elevator shaft to his death … Stress kills … Gravity kills, too. <>

My interest in creative writing has also led me to read about where sayings come from.  There is an old Pub in London, England which used to have gallows adjacent. When prisoners were taken to the gallows, the guard would stop outside the pub and ask the prisoner if he would like ''one last drink”.  This was referred to as “one for the road”.  If he declined, the prisoner was “on the wagon”.  They used to use urine to tan animal skins.  People would collect their urine and sell it to the tannery. People who relied on this as their sole source of income were "piss poor".  Years ago, houses had roofs made of thick straw, piled high.  Cats and other small animals lived on the roof because it was warm. Rain made it slippery and sometimes the animals would slip off the roof, creating the expression, "it's raining cats and dogs." Gruesome as it was, occasionally people were buried alive. They used to tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up to a bell above ground.  Family of the newly buried would tend the grave all night, called “the graveyard shift”, and listen for the bell.  If undead, their loved one would be ''saved by the bell'' or be called a ''dead ringer''.

Creative writing has also rekindled my staunch belief in freedom of speech and expression. I heard a hilarious interview with a fellow who has started the International Society of Blasphemers.  You simply decide you want to be a member and you’re in.  It’s free and open to all races and religions.  You are expected to commit blasphemous speech or action in a religion of your choice, all in support of free speech.  It could be as simple an act as swearing, or in my case, writing a short story with an alternate view of hell.  A more militant action was taken by a group of students in Reading, England.  They put the name tag Mohammad on a pineapple and propped it up on their table at a public gathering.  Islamic fundamentalists asked the British police to have the name tag removed because they found it offensive.  The police said the students were breaking no law and refused to intervene.  The fundamentalists overwhelmed the table and removed the name tag, and then the police intervened to break up the conflict.  It’s a slippery slope and if we all don’t stand up for freedom of speech, we will lose it.   International Blasphemy Day is Mar 14, so mark your goddamn calendars!

While I’m on the religious theme, I’ll close with a little joke.  There was this monastery with monks busily copying ancient manuscripts.  A visitor asked if they were sure they were copying correctly. One monk decided he better go down to the secret vault and look at the original to be sure. He was gone for some time, so the others went to check on him.  They found him banging his head against the stone wall shouting “R, R, we missed the R! It’s celebrate!”

We love to hear from you.  Keep the cards, letters, emails and phone calls coming.

Take care,

 Dawn and Don