Pot Luck January/February 2014

Kicking the inuksuk
    There is a heavy wet snow falling tonight, pulling down trees and the power along with them. We’ve candles and a kerosene lamp and LED flashlights of various configurations to keep us going. My only concern is for the bread rising and ready to bake in a gas oven that is electrically lit and controlled. I could fire the wood range but it would be a week or two before I had the oven up to a temperature to melt a snowball. 
    All this is a minor inconvenience compared to what many had to cope with after Christmas. A week without power was not unusual. We heard about the hellish situation on New Brunswick’s Kingston Peninsula only after a resident phoned Stan Carew’s Weekend Mornings show on CBC to tell listeners what it was like living in an ice cave. In the aftermath of calamity, natural or otherwise, the plight of country dwellers frequently takes a back seat on the media attention bus.

    Next morning. The day dawns overcast, gray, and dull. Had there been even a glimmer of sunlight the snow-encrusted landscape would have been stunning to see. The power is back and the loaves of bread, re-shaped and allowed to rise overnight in the cool kitchen, are baked and none-the-worse for abusive treatment. The third rising was nothing like realizing last night after first punching down the dough that I’d forgotten salt and some olive oil – as called for in the Speervile Mill recipe I was supposed to be following. What to do? I sprinkled the salt over the dough, drizzled oil o’er top, and kneaded some more. No one would know, for texture and flavor are fine.

    The cold snap at the first of the year had to be a boon to trappers. It was certainly so here in the house. Over one week a single Victor mouse trap located just inside the door to my Fibber McGee’s closet of an “office” nailed a Northern short-tailed shrew, a Deer mouse, and a Least shrew. The shrews are not as destructive as mice or squirrels and were it not for the short-tail’s offensive smelling musk I’d as soon have them around catching spiders, silverfish, and the like. I seldom see evidence of their presence on counters or pantry shelves. Odd, considering the shrews’ appetite for insects, Cheddar cheese alternating with peanut butter appears to be universally attractive to my four-footed invaders.
    There is no better trap than Victor for small vermin control. The path to the factory that builds them in Lititz, Pennsylvania, must be well worn as Ralph Waldo Emerson predicted. The Victor trap is versatile. It is excellent for training dogs to leave trash, compost bucket, and kitchen counters alone. In dog training, after the first startling snap or two the traps need not be set. Their presence is enough to keep noses from nosing where they’re not welcomed.
    They can be a teaching aid. For a wildlife management course learning about the habitat of small mammals, we students were each given two dozen Victor traps with peanut butter for bait. Our task was to set them out around the campus and see what we might catch. Jane, a diligent classmate, baited and set every one of her traps and carefully placed them side-by-side in the bottom of a large cardboard box. Ever so gently she picked up her box and headed for the door. One step, two steps, but not three before the first trap suddenly snapped. Jane jumped. That was it. Snap, snap, snapity-snap! Every trap was sprung. Peanut butter flew in all directions.
    I’ve tried other traps over the years but keep coming back to the standard spring-bale trap with a copper bait pan. With rare exceptions they kill instantly, which is a good reason to stay away from sticky foot traps, a demonic invention that must lead to a slow and agonizing death. Not a pretty sight.

    Sticking with what is pretty? Is it only in the eye of the beholder, or do we as a society have some ideas in common about what we like to look at and what we don’t? Take away money as an incentive and would people prefer to look at nearby hills as they have looked for centuries, or at the same horizon topped by ranks of wind generators with infernal blinking red lights?
    Canals in the Netherlands were once lined with windmills pumping water and carrying out numerous other essential chores. And if wind generators lining the skyline were essential for power maybe they would become as welcomed a sight, even as beloved an icon, as the windmolen. But they are not essential. They generate some power for some people and make some money for some others. Generally, we would benefit more from conservation efforts.
    “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,” Joni Mitchell reminded us in her “Big Yellow Taxi.” What’s going fast is natural landscape changing with the light, the weather, and the seasons. Transmission towers, wind generators, and all the rest that is man-made – including inuksuks below the arctic circle – only change with the next layer of something man-made while driving what is natural deeper into oblivion.
    Transmission towers should be limited, government owned, and shared. So-called “wind farms,” when and if they become essential, should be concentrated on public lands in wind parks and not spread over all creation. 
“Community-owned” is a toe-in-the-door way to get around local opposition to wind generators. Five years down the road when the shine is off the apple they will be gobbled up by the large consortiums. Remember the buzz around community channel television stations? How many that were created are independent, community-owned operations today? Not many. 
    Preserving natural landscapes deserves more than lip service. Think about it, and do your part. Kick over the next south-of-66 inuksuk that is, after all, nothing more than the human equivalent of a dog lifting its leg. DvL

And the November winner is. . .
    Reader survey participant George Murray of Bunbury, P.E.I., is winner of the November draw for a copy of “Getting Rid of Alders,” stories from Rural Delivery’s first 25 years. Murray tells us he has a big garden, raises dozens of bedding plants, grows most common vegetables, and feels the greatest need in the country is to “save the country” and “rural way of life.” Our thanks to Murray and to all who took the trouble of filling out a survey. (See page 7 of this issue.)