Goodbye to a champion
The dark months take a toll on our spirit, and on the lives of friends. So I see the leaving, on March 4, of Oliver Murphy, three-time champion “chair mower” at the annual Maritime Handmowing Championships at the Ross Farm Heritage Museum in New Ross, N.S. He’s the guy who grew up playing with dynamite on the family farm in West Chezzetcook, as recounted in Rural Delivery last November (“Ways of knowing,” pg. 8).
From days of play, Oliver become expert at blowing up rocks, and it is fair to say his life exploded from there in many directions, touching the lives, and deaths, of thousands up and down the province’s Eastern Shore.
His obituary in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, I suspect written by his devoted wife Heather, is far from dry or mournful. “He dug his first grave at age 14,” it informs us, “and over a period of 53 years he estimated that he buried about 3,000 people.” We learn that Oliver chose interment in the Lake Charlotte Union Church Cemetery in Clam Harbour because “it is one of the best graveyards to dig in, not many rocks, lots of sand, with good drainage, and not much water.”
A practical man, generous, and fun to be with. Rest well, Oliver. See you on the other side.
THE SENSE OF AWE
Dark days, yet not without brilliant interludes – sights that, like a fine turn of phrase, stop us in our tracks. Why is that? We don’t have to be art connoisseurs or nose-up culture snobs to find ourselves suddenly overtaken, awe-struck, by the sparkle of sunlight off choppy waters, snow-encrusted tree limbs etched against a blue-grey sky, or the startling aftermath of an ice storm come dawn’s early light. Diamonds take the rumble seat in comparison.
Let that beautiful ice build up, but only so far before beauty becomes beast. A March ice storm around the time Rural Delivery was born glazed the world to the point my son Wim, then three or four years old, was able to sit on top of the Marram grass behind Sandy Bay Beach. We lost power for a week – yet for all of that, I’m reminded of the Quebec storm that brought down transmission towers, and some years later the ice that flattened maple sap lines in New Brunswick. Pretty awful.
By coincidence, the day after these remembrances came to me, Bob McDonald, host of CBC radio’s “Quirks and Quarks,” devoted the better part of his show to this topic. Titled “Exploring the powerful emotion of awe,” the episode peered inside the skulls of people experiencing the death-defying high-wire acrobatics of Cirque du Soleil performers to see what parts of the brain lit up. From there, researchers theorized what our response to awesome good, or bad, might mean in terms of human evolution. Fascinating. (The entire episode is on the www.)
Perhaps not in the realm of awesome comes good news on the medical front with the announcement that a small, hitherto little-known research clinic in Alabama has come up with a vaccine to prevent nosebleeds. Although seldom fatal, bloody noses cost the North American economy a great deal in lost time on the job, and in laundry and dry-cleaning bills, according to EcoCal Data Analytics, based in Calgary.
As happens not infrequently, the discovery was serendipitous. The Snodding Institute for Medical Research stumbled on the vaccine in the course of an entirely unrelated investigation of navel lint and toxic shock. Having gathered thousands of samples, the research team, led by Dr. Fritz Smelling, discovered an entirely unexpected correlation between nosebleed and the accumulation of white cotton lint: the more lint, the lower the incidence of nosebleed.
This unexpected association, far greater than that between nose bleeding and chronic sneezing, drove research that uncovered the lint link – a unique community of bacteriophage. Through a complicated – and patented – process, a phage serum extract is derived and treated to create a killed vaccine found 100 percent effective – and efficacious – in the prevention of atraumatic, or spontaneous, epistaxis.
Although the vaccine is not expected to be commercially available for several months, already the CDC in Washington, and Health Canada in Ottawa, have given a green light to the manufacture and delivery of this new agent. Meanwhile, there is growing demand to make vaccination mandatory, which, in turn and not unexpectedly, has anti-vaxxers up in arms.
Well, the dark days are on their way out. Daylight Saving Time has begun. Saving time for what? Starting the vegetable garden, of course, in hundreds upon hundreds of south-facing windows across the land. Hope springs eternal with every seed. Happy gardening. DvL