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The Heart of a (Formerly) Nervous Flyer on the Canadian Prairies

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For about 15 years I was a scaredy-cat white knuckle flyer…. nervous as a perilously plumped tom-turkey in December.

My heart would thump wildly like an African drum when any plane I sat in took off or landed. I would try to look calm on the outside while my insides flipped and turned like Olympic trampolinists. Were we really meant for reading, sleeping, talking and eating at 35,000 feet while floating weightlessly suspended miles above the ground we walk on? My inner child wanted to cry out for my Mommy…

I know I wasn’t alone in my fears here.

I only have to quickly glance around the cabin of any aircraft to spot the anxiety-ridden face of a passenger whose fingernails are leaving indelible crevices in the armrests. White-knuckle flyers abound.

We all know it’s irrational thinking, but that doesn’t hold back the cold sweats for some. Mind you, it’s possible I could be misinterpreting. I can imagine myself reassuring the person in the aisle seat next to me as a small bead of sweat trickles down their forehead:

       -No need to be nervous, those are just normal sounds the plane makes when the flaps are being extended to slow us down. 

       – It’s not that… people were staring at me when I came back from the washroom. I think all the passengers have figured out that my girlfriend and I just joined the Mile High club. 

Ohhh…THAT! I should never presume to know the back stories to my seatmates.

Airplane!_movie2

“…Just sit back and relax, folks…” Are you kidding me?

My flying life began years back in a nonchalant and calm way. But then came some flights I took in the Northwest Territories in the late ’70’s that struck near-terror inside. I probably could have used a fresh set of adult diapers on some of those roller coaster rides through the cold, dark Arctic night. I wasn’t sure what would be worse, being torn apart in a ferocious fiery crash, or surviving the impact and freezing to death in the bone-chilling -40C temperatures of the tundra.

Thankfully, after toting my young kids along who could distract me from my airborne fears by crying or vomiting, and after dozens of smooth, carefree flights, my adrenal glands have gradually settled and I take to the skies once again with gusto and anticipation… hallelujah!

At this time of year many winter-wearied Canadians, Americans and Europeans alike turn their backs on the snowy winter gifts surrounding them and pile into squishy, tetris-like airplanes that transport them to places with exotically familiar names such as Puerto Vallarta, Maui, Ft. Lauderdale, or Sevilla.

But, unlike earlier years, it’s no longer only for the affluent. Hell, newborn babies collect enough cash in their monthly government cheques to fly south for at least a week or two each year.

This is the beauty of travel in our 21st century world. Winter one minute, summer the next. We have an ability to chart our own seasons with the flick of a boarding pass.

BUT… travelling “down” to “up” the degrees was not for me this year … no sir.

Last week it was “across” … VANCOUVER TO SASKATOON … Tulips to Igloos!

The jet arced from mild, coastal Vancouver to snow-bound, prairie Saskatchewan like a long-bomb football pass from a great quarterback. It soared upwards effortlessly defying gravity before gracefully drifting down into the arms of the runway receiver. A friendly family visit in early spring was the game plan.

After settling down to ground, I hopped into the grey 2003 Honda Civic borrowed from my kind brother Robert. Motoring from small city Saskatoon to smaller town Kindersley and then even tinier burg Dewar Lake, I knew I was in new pastures when I came to the intersection of BuffaloBerry and Toad Roads. This is W.O. Mitchell territory.

Here I was steering the flat, straight ribbons of blacktop in late April where great white smooth oceans of snowy fields awaited their overdue seeding of wheat and peas and canola. Peering out for miles over the ivory sea, there were isolated copses of clumped trees in the distance looking like ocean barges or sea freighters carrying their loads across the great expanse.

Snowy Sask

This is the Canadian prairie heartland.

For more than 100 years, huge swaths of golden grain have stood tall and swayed in the swirling winds of this vast area. Dwindling numbers of soldier-straight grain elevators store the wheat that is then finely ground and made into bread and pasta to nourish the world.

Pinning the fields down to the earth at regular intervals are oil pump-jacks, bobbing and bobbing, sucking oil and gas upwards from the depths. These nodding cranes pour thick, black, regular cash flow not only into the mega oil companies bottom lines but also into farmers’ bank accounts for the lean years when weather and insects decimate harvests.

Oil-jack

This is not a land or climate for the weak or frail. It’s a life of isolation and challenge. The simple joys of curling and Saturday night dances and jellied salads. And despite the apparent simplicity, I don’t think this is a place for me to live or to fully understand.

.

That Saskatoon moon

Is calling to me

It rises so bright

In my memory

I long to see it shine

On the river below

And walk arm in arm

With this sweetheart I know

                                                                                                                                                                                                         Connie Kaldor

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My wife’s brother-cousins farm an enormous plot of land covering 2700 acres (almost 11 square kilometers) under the expansive skies. This is major ranch-size farming in most Canadian provinces, but here on the plains, it’s just a small chunk by today’s grain farmer standards.

Cousins Cliff and Don are typical of the European settlers who have grown grain here for generations- warm, good-natured and stoic. They love the land they live on and farm, and accept all that it throws their way.

They talk in a farmer’s unhurried cadence with acceptance of whatever happens, happens. They have rough, weather-worn hands from fixing combines and seeders on days of freezing cold winds and blistering sun. And then there’s Cliff’s wife Barb, the effusive and optimistic glue that holds the home, the boys, the kids, and the operation together.

This year their acreage will be split into equal portions: wheat, durum, peas, canola, and fallow (rest). There is little to no tillage anymore to avoid worries of erosion that plagued the prairies in the dust bowls of the 1930’s.

They’re high-tech, knowledgeable farmers with expensive and complex machinery equipped with air-conditioning, stereos, gps’s and internet connectivity that allows them to oversee and seed a huge patch of dirt.

And like any farmer, some years produce abundance, others disappointment. Cliff matter-of-factly tells me of last year’s pea crop that was decimated by hail and fungus. All part of the chess match of farmer versus nature.

The landscape of the prairie appears simple. I encounter people who feel little or no affection for the prairies, describing them as barren, empty, and devoid of interest. I look around and I can see how this impression would be easy to fall into.

But just because the land is flat, doesn’t mean it’s empty. There’s a great sublety to the plains that needs a sharper eye and ear to understand its beauty. Animal life is craftier in hiding to protect itself. The rabbits, the squirrels, the prairie dogs covertly rustle about while pronghorn antelope and white-tailed deer shyly graze in the distance. Owls, sandhill cranes, ducks, orioles and hawks frequent the sloughs. And yes, summer heat brings out the oppressive mosquitoes and grasshoppers.

pronghorn+antelope+on+the+Prairies

Pronghorn antelope

We said farewell to the farm in its windy, spring freeze. But the visit left me feeling a warm connection to something that strangely makes me feel more Canadian, like listening to Peter Gzowsky on CBC radio in the 1980’s. This country has a tapestry of climates and geographies and people that define who we are. We’re more than the stereotypical beer-swilling hockey players with toques that say “eh”!

The Prairie farmer and the Maritimes fisher and the Bay Street banker are a part of who I am as a Canadian.

Sitting in the small jetcraft, it was time to wing my way back to the west coast.  I stared at the scuffed, grey leather seat-back inches from my face, sipping clamato juice in a small, clear plastic cup, snacking on butter-flavored pretzels.

I glanced out the rectangular plane window. The skies were bright and clear – I could easily see the gradual changes in the land below…the flat patchwork-quilt prairies melded into the budding foothills and then the Rocky Mountains and then the Pacific Ocean.

I really have shed my old days of fear of flying.

It’s a good feeling.

view form plane

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Do You Remember Your First Time?

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It was the first time I had seen a bloody, mangled body with my own eyes.

Not the first dead person mind you, but one so violently traumatized.

I was working in William’s Lake B.C. in the early 1980’s and the jarring ring of the phone in the middle of the night woke me from a deep sleep. Of course I was semi-comatose and incoherent when I mumbled hello into the phone… the woman’s voice on the other end of the call said I should come into the lab to cross-match blood for a victim in a Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA).

William’s Lake is a small, valley town in the interior of the province surrounded by enormous cattle ranches, fishing lakes, and the occasional mine site. The blended scent of earthy straw mixed with horse and cow manure is a simple rural joy to have wafting through your window on an early spring morning.

You would almost look out of place if you didn’t wear a cowboy hat and drive a pickup truck. Although I owned a cowboy hat, I only wore it occasionally (like once a year for the annual town rodeo), but I had purchased an old, green C10 Chev 1/2 ton pickup truck. I bought it used and it had a CB radio that I could call out to other cowboys and say “10-4 Big Buddy”. I fit right in.

Williams Lake Stampede

I got out of my pickup in the dark and entered the unlocked side door to Cariboo Memorial Hospital, in the days before security-above-all meant you locked doors to hospitals. The lab was just inside the entry to the right and the Emergency Department was directly opposite to the left. I could hear hurried scuffles of activity going on in the ER as I retrieved my lab coat and blood collection tray from inside the lab.

I traversed the linoleum hallway bridge between the lab and ER where the relative serenity of the hallway broke into a din of urgent voices and trundling stainless steel carts loaded with medical supplies and equipment. I strode to the main circular desk in the ER amid the bedlam and within seconds, multi-coloured paper lab requisitions were pushed across the counter at me by Linda, the head ER nurse. Normally jovial and friendly, she barely looked up. Mayhem was on the verge of breaking out. I scanned over the lab orders and then gathered up the forms.

Where will I find this guy Linda?

–He’s in the back utility room. He’s bleeding out fast. We might need the blood unmatched.

...it was a bit like this...

…it was a bit like this…

I hated cross-matching blood. Little errors could cost a patient’s life. Very simplistically, you mixed patient blood with donor blood and then looked under the microscope for little signs of agglutination (cells sticking together which indicated incompatibility). No stickies and the blood was good to go. But the differences could be so slight. I never slept well after doing cross-matches in the middle of the night. Dead patients with clotted up arteries and veins inhabited my fractured sleep.

All of the curtained areas in the main ER area were filled with MVA victims — the curtains swayed with views of nurse-pastel-uniform-coloured legs and linen-suit-doctor legs running about beneath.

I walked quickly towards the back room where supplies were stored, items cleaned, and occasionally, patients kept. There was a “Y” entry of two rooms once you entered. I could see figures on stretchers on both sides. A strong odour of chlorine antiseptic confronted me as I headed into the right side room of the Y.

Strange, no staff milling around this one. No sheets or blankets covering him to keep him warm.

As I moved closer, I began to sense why no one was paying care to this poor fellow.

He was solitary and quiet.

There was no movement, no sign of chest breathing. His skin tones were grey and uneven.

A black leather jacket was splayed and ripped open leaving much of his arms and torso easily visible. His hair was wetly matted in a flurry of directions around his head and face. There was a strange and unnerving juxtaposition of limbs heading off in unnatural directions. Heavily tattooed legs stuck off the edge of the gurney. A glistening leg bone stuck out of one lower leg like a tree stump that had been blown from the earth in a hurricane. I could see little red river trickles of dried and drying blood snaking down his multi-coloured forearms — multi-coloured by the large array of tattooes blending roughly with red and blue and black bruising from the trauma of being torn apart in a motorcycle crash. Soon there would be painful tears shed somewhere.

It was horrific and mesmerizing and fascinating.

motorcycle-accidents

Police and emergency workers come across this sight all too often in their day-to-day jobs. Over time, they grow immune to the horrors of what can happen in high speed crashes. No one wants to feel numb, but how else to cope?

I’ve seen lots of blood too but it’s mainly contained in glass tubes and bags for transfusing. It has no real human connection, kind of like the few autopsies I’ve sat in on where there is no sense of a real person laying on the cold stainless-steel slab so long as the face is covered with a towel or sheet.

It’s like the distinction between a house and a home. When there’s no face visible, it’s just a lifeless, uninhabited “house” with no warmth or connection to anyone. But unveil the features of the human face and all of a sudden the house undergoes the transformation into a “home” where people live and share their smiles of joy and tears of sorrow.

This guy laying on the gurney was a HOME. I took in the vision of this former living being for no more than 10 or 15 seconds – after all, a barely living patient in the adjoining room needed replacement blood and fast. It all happened so quickly.

I didn’t know his name. I didn’t know his story. I didn’t know who loved him, or who hated him.

I only knew that it all ended here in this very surreal and still moment in this small-town hospital Emergency Room. The memory and sight of this trauma locked itself indelibly inside my head, unlike so many other scenes that have long melted away like burning candle wax in the cold of a William’s Lake night.

memories2

It’s Possible I’m (In)Famous

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YK Handcuffed  2

“Arrested” by RCMP years ago in Yellowknife for not showing up at a CAN CAN dance rehearsal…

One day, years ago, I pulled out a knife/gun/credit card and committed a cold-blooded, evil felony.

Certainly the border guards at U.S. Customs think so. Every time I try to cross into or through the States, I get yanked out of line for a half hour or so in order for them to gawk and ask probing questions of me, the infamous rapist/axe murderer/corporate scam artist who thinks he can just waltz into their country sans hassle.

My name is pretty common which means there are tens if not hundreds of Larry Green’s out there committing God-knows-what-foul-deeds and leaving my moniker fingerprints behind. What this means is that for a half hour once or twice a year, I get to have my proverbial 15 (er…30) minutes of fame…er infamy!

I’ll take it where I can get it.

When I was a teenager, I had dreams of becoming the next Elton John…musically, not sexually or personality-wise. I wanted to be a songwriter/singing star. I hoped to triumphantly stand on world stages and bask in waves of acclaim and celebrity. Dreams…wants…hopes…

elton-john

I fell asleep at night dreaming of my face pasted on top of Elton’s!

It obviously wasn’t a burning desire because I didn’t throw myself into the scheme wholeheartedly. I didn’t drip rivers of sweat until the wee hours of the morning honing my craft. It was what you might rightly call a pipe-dream. A plan without a process. Kinda nice to have so long as I didn’t have to dedicate the now familiar 10,000 hours to mastering the basics.

I sat in the apartment my sister Betty and I shared and tried penning a few songs in the style of my musical heroes of the time eg. James Taylor, Bruce Cockburn, Elton John, Carole King. But I didn’t have the skill set, life experience, or confidence to push forward. My limited attempts could be summed up as C.R.A.P.

I was basically lazy…I wanted fame and fortune, I just didn’t want to pay the price of working for it. Sounds like a normal teenager, right?

I would be a total liar if I said that when I write this blog, I didn’t have this little phantom voice saying, “Someday, millions of people will miraculously discover your writing and fall in love with your remarkable style and insight. Money will flow like fresh springwater into your hands and bank account.” It’s narcissistic and ego-driven. It doesn’t fill me with pride. It’s not very sophisticated or adult-like thinking, but this is what my mind does when untended.

Fortunately, I get plenty of satisfaction from writing words down and trying to discover my inner thoughts on various topics. Some think I just do it so I can write about boobs. Maybe they’re right. Anyway, I can feel pretty content in just pursuing the process. I think better in writing than I do in verbalizing. I find ideas and opinions become MORE solidified for me through tapping my fingertips on a keyboard than through exercising my tongue.

blogging deathbed

…and now this is where I’m headed…

I’m willing to bet that a large segment of our population – maybe even you? –  would feel gratified by some measure of fame, and hopefully accompanying fortune. Our society is mesmerized by the fame of others…we even make some famous who have absolutely no basis for accolades. Do the Kardashians or Paris Hilton come to mind?

There is a dream held by many of us that if we make a multi-million dollar discovery, or score 50 goals, or if we become idolized by a billion of our peers in whatever field we choose, we will rise miraculously to the peak of Maslow’s hierarchy, becoming self-actualized and instantly happy for the rest of our days.

There are a rare few who actually reach skyward to that mountainous peak and feel entirely fulfilled. After winning a huge lottery prize, or entering the dirty world of politics, they find a way to hold onto the person that they began life as, and enjoy the positive fruits without letting the sweetness of the transformation turn sour. I tip my hat to those stalwart souls. Their’s is a strength of character that most can only aspire to.

Fame brings enormous pressure to bend and transfigure. Coal can be made into diamonds, but some diamonds don’t make the grade. Justin Bieber is just one recent case file of caving under the weight of his own (supposed) greatness.

The honest truth? I think if I became famous, I’d quickly turn into a monster.

I’d yell at nice people who didn’t deserve to be abused and eat tons of greasy junk food and buy fancy cars. I’d kick small animals. I’d slurp Dom Perignon champagne straight from the bottle at breakfast. I’d have a magisterial throne built for me in my living room. I’d hire staff to polish my guitars and keep them tuned 24/7. There would be sexy, sultry ladies seductively placing peeled grapes into my maw.

Seriously, it wouldn’t be pretty. It just wouldn’t be pretty…

I can’t trust myself with too much money or too much fame.

KNOW THYSELF, I say.

Anyway, as I age, I’m re-dedicating myself to my musical craft… returning in a bigger way to my music. I feel the inner innocent teenager stirrings once again. Maybe I’ll become a senior-citizen folk-music star. The headlines would read;

“SONGWRITERS BOB DYLAN AND LARRY GREEN MAKE MAGIC ON STAGE TOGETHER” Just two old fogies making great harmony. Oops, I’m getting carried away again!

Ah hell, who am I kidding, I don’t want to be famous.

It’s enough to be fawned over by Border Guards for this Fame-Whore!

famewhore

This is where it all begins…

Is that A Pimple or a Tumour?

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This is likely my last blog post as I’m sure I’ll be dead soon. MAYBE

Remembering-that-i-ll-be-dead-soonsteve-jobs

I grew up the youngest child in a family of fairly elder parents (Mom – 45 years at my birth, Dad – 50). During my childhood I passed through the disquieting front entry doors of funeral homes more often than might normally be the case for someone of my tender young age…uncles and aunts and then my Mom and Dad were taking turns stepping through the eternal revolving door of the Pearly Gates to the point where I began to enjoy the company of a beautiful cemetery.

My all-time favourite cemetery is a lush, pastoral country one called Huxley Cemetery in Hillsburgh, Ontario. This is where my maternal grandparents, William and Margaret, and many other relatives have been laid to rest over the past 100 years or so. The lush, green lawns; the big, graceful shade trees; the sweet blossom-perfumed air; the weather-worn headstones with their sometimes religious, sometimes personal inscriptions; and the trilling songbirds’ calls almost make one wish they could bring their life to an end sooner, just so they could spend more time in this peaceful garden.

There’s nothing quite like a quality cemetery.

Huxley Cemetery

In the past 20 years or so, I’ve entered periods of my life where it feels like every second person I know is dealing with cancer, which quite often means I’m attending another funeral and visiting another cemetery. I feel sad thinking that I’ve been a funeral pallbearer more times than I’ve been a wedding ringbearer.

Just as an observation of interest, the funerals I went to as a child were invariably the result of failing hearts or plugged-up arteries. But the memorial services I go to now are almost always cancer-related. You might wonder if this is significant –  I believe it is.

When you read my blog posts, I hope you occasionally find a golden nugget or two that draws you in and brings some personal meaning or recollection into your head. So it is that I attend funerals and find messages floating in the air, drifting downwards into my consciousness from above. Personal thoughts … eulogies … benedictions. How can anyone attend a funeral and not find themselves absorbed to some extent in what their own life and mortality means?

And a good part of these thoughts revolve around, “How can I avoid this fate for as long as humanly possible?” It’s only natural, we want to live. Not breathing and pumping good, red, oxygenated blood is just not an acceptable option.

And so the little voice inside, my own NASA computer, monitors every pain and itch and unknown glitch that befalls me.

It’s like the strange sounds we hear on airplanes that make us wonder if these are the final rumblings and creaks of a failing engine…just before we plummet to the ground in a fiery explosive ball of flames.

I know this sounds so neurotic, but I’m sure it’s a fairly common thought process. Is the bit of red on the toilet paper normal (-ish) blood or something more? Is the dull pain in my gut just a bit of standard indigestion or a swelling ball of malignancy? And that pimple-like growth that won’t go away?

And so some mornings begin like this: With a great ego flourish, I check myself out in the mirror…hmmm…more tummy than I want…a lot less head hair than I want…a few more wrinkles, damn…but what I really want to see is the state of my tumours. I have a few that I’m keeping an eye on to determine when the spots turn from black to blue and red…pencil size to dinner-plate size. Is this a basal cell carcinoma or a melanoma forming?

My skin is a spotty fright

and now it keeps me up at night

the moles and spots land like cormorants on the lake

will they be gone when I awake?  Unknown

honesty-cartoon-honesty-tumor-cancer-funny-lol-demotivational-poster-1206471526.png

And so, about once every year or two I haltingly toddle off to the doctor’s office. Inside my head there’s that little bastard voice telling me that these are the last few moments where I’ll have the freedom and solace of not knowing the source of my impending doom. Five minutes in the medical suite and my life will be transformed forever by the news of a certain death sentence. I can hear the high blood-pressure sound of my own heartbeat in my ears.

Hmmm, what songs do I want played at my funeral?

Then, like most things we imagine and worry about in life, it turns out I have Seborrheic Keratoses or other “normal” growths that occur naturally and are not a worry. Phew, the Grim Reaper has been delayed once again. Good news and my anxiety attacks recede for another year.

But … one day, maybe next year, maybe 25 years from now, the news won’t be as positive. No amount of plastic surgery trickery will obstruct the inevitable.

TEMPUS FUGIT…time flies.

We all wander the halls of life. It is a narrow, one way passage. No one can decide in a moment to turn around and go back. Time doesn’t work that way. So, just as if we were in an airport, we continue to stroll forwards on the moving walkway. Even if we stop to observe the beauty of a moment, the walkway keeps advancing us slowly forward, unceasing. Something I’m learning too as I grow older is that the walkway picks up speed as we move further along. Minutes feel like seconds, years like days.

So I’m trying to celebrate the idea that there are many wonderful moments in this passage, mixed in with the inevitable sorrows. When I do reach the end of the hall, I can hopefully turn and look back and treasure the gold I unearthed in myself, in my friends and family, in the moments of quiet solitude and beauty, and in the moments where I’ve suffered pain or experienced jubilation.

     The sun, the rain, the sweet despair,

     Great tales of love and strife.

     And somewhere on your path to glory

     You will write your story of a life.

……………………………….Harry Chapin

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