I’ve lived in Ladysmith for over a decade and have always resisted the local signature event, the annual turning on the Christmas lights. People come from miles around to watch this moment, when the community defies its own ‘Think Green’ mantras and begins to suck a gadoggle of extra kilowatts off the grid. The lights will all gleam brightly for the next few months. Volunteers have been out on weekends stringing endless wires of lights everywhere and tonight’s the night they flip the switch. We’ll be seen from space! This little municipality talks the enviro-talk and does things like growing vegetables in the little round flower beds on the lawns of the town hall in front of its mossy and black-moulded garden-slug-green walls. (The first thing I’d do if crowned mayor would be have the town hall painted a living colour and make it look like someone really cared.) They do manage to maintain the paint on the old mine pump beside the hall and the old tractors on main street.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I am a grinch, a scrooge, and a grumpy old fart who left his Christmas spirit in the ditch years ago. Actually that’s not true. I object only to the loss of the intensity of Christmas. I’ve told folks that if they have their radios on all the time music eventually becomes just noise. When walking by homes in the neighbourhood I can that seen some folks already have their Christmas trees up in November and gleaming like Las Vegas.
When Christmas begins in September, it gets worn a little thin by the time of the real day, a quarter-year later. I’d love to see the season stay under wraps until mid-December and then the next two weeks could be YEEHAW time. By January 2nd, everyone would be yeehawed out, the Christmas trees can go on a communal New Years bonfire (If enviro cops approve of course) and people can enjoy hot chocolate and turkey soup, then get on with their New Year. Come to think of it, folks could toss their credit cards into the flames as well. How’s that for a religious ceremony?
Today is crystal clear and crystal cold. It is only -4ºC but that has dried the air out and there is no frost on the windows. There’s no snow on the ground which means the frost is sinking down, down toward pipes and sewers but I’d rather have frozen mud than squeaky snow. By 09:30 this morning, municipal workers were out tacking up signs telling folks where they cannot park after 3 pm. There are stacks of barricades ready to plonk across streets and alleys. Ever notice that you can’t have a grand event without someone telling others what they can’t do?
There are also portable plastic toilets now plonked in obscure locations for the evening festivities. Our town is not yet cosmopolitan enough to have built a public washroom near its core. (Tiny neighbouring little Chemainus has two within three blocks in the heart of the tourist section) We just have signs in shop windows that say the equivalent of “About to piss yourself? Tough! Not here.” This morning, before sunlight hit the streets, there were already gaggles of folks wandering and wondering in their deep Arctic gear, coffee in gloved hands, all of nine hours before the magic moment. By the way there is, to me, a winter-tog mystery. What’s with the dudes in full winter gear, parkas, mitts, wool caps, hoods and shorts? There is an aspect of manliness I don’t get. It seems prevalent among older guys, the ones who are starting to get achy bones. There they are bundled up like Quinn the Eskimo but with their knobby red-raw shanks exposed. My British heritage regarded the move from shorts to trousers as a graduation from boyhood. Dunno! And yes, there is the odd styler out there in his kilt.
I am actually contemplating packing my video camera downtown just to see what I’ve been missing all these years. I’ve always had a hard time in dealing with the lemming mentality of people in large groups but maybe there are some moments I should add to my video files. Jack is too hard of hearing now to be upset by all of the sirens and fireworks which accompany this event so he’ll be fine home alone for a while. Volunteer Fire Brigades, the world over, seem to love their sirens and our gang is no exception especially tonight. First the air raid siren howls its piercing dirge and then the whoop-whoops begin… and don’t end. Last year, one snow-slimey morning I heard strident hooting of our biggest fire engine slowly approaching. Eventually it appeared, tip-toeing down the hill toward the highway immediately behind the snowplow/sand truck. All the volunteers make life much, much better but they do like their just attentions.
If I do go to check out the mass mania, I must remember that this is the town where I ended up in handcuffs when I went to check the mail earlier this year. Constable Overzealot may have been moved on but there’ll be someone else in a police costume who doesn’t like the cut of my jib. Maybe there’ll be a water cannon for crowd control! Little towns love to do things in a big way. If you are not having fun correctly, well…!
Later in the afternoon while again out with Jack I realized that I wouldn’t be hitting the town tonight after all. My hernia issue reared its ugly self and I painfully plodded home up the steep hills, Jack ahead of me for once. There was already some goon blathering aware on a PA system we could hear from blocks away and then a horrible cacophony of musical din began to blare and echo over the town and across the harbour. There was nothing about Christmas in the air other than a biting North wind and I imagine, deer trotting up the mountains to escape the mounting hubub.
Folks were abandoning their vehicles everywhere and rushing up to where a parade would pass in several more hours after darkness fell. Two medical emergencies delayed events and eventually parents just gave up and began prodding their hypothermic children back to their vehicles. Unfortunately the elfs in orange vests had many streets blocked and getting out of town must have been a challenge. They even managed to partially blockade the main highway through town. By 9pm fireworks were blazing over the harbour and from ten blocks away it sounded as if several rock concerts were in full swing. Jack and I lounged peacefully by the fireplace. Peace on earth eh!
The link below was sent to me by a friend. It reads to me as a well written and researched article on our modern culture and economy, discussing why so many people are in the financial outback and how it’s not their fault. If you read only one article this year, this one is worth the insight. I printed it for future reference, all twenty pages.
By the way, while sitting in doctor’s office I found a local magazine which highlights local points of interest. Two leapt out at me. ‘The Shelter Point Distillery’, which makes single malt whiskey from locally grown barley and ‘The Hand Of Man Museum’, nestled in tiny nearby Maple Bay. It’s a private museum with admission by donation. It hosts an eclectic collection of natural history and cultural artifacts including first nations items and several skeletons including a complete mammoth frame. WOW indeed! I knew of neither. You can find them online.
Isn’t it cool when you find something local that you didn’t know about? The Duncan area has a living, flying raptor museum and a forestry museum with a working steam railway. There are several vineyards with tasting rooms, an amazing collection of fine restaurants and a vibrant farm market every weekend. They are all within about a half-hours drive inside this valley. Victoria lays further to the south and there are very many other wonders along the way. Then we can go north to all the wonders it holds. This is all encompassed by spectacular ocean, woodland and primal forest, pastoral and mountain scenery. No wonder we have an invasion of newcomers wanting to retire here. And, I already live here!
Sunday morning, December first, Jack and I headed out on our morning excursion. It was a biting raw day, the damp cold penetrated to the bone. I wondered whatever happened to a certain young punk who was the toughest in the Great White North and how one pays for their foolishness forever after. Back home, I joined Jack in his hibernation. He’s warm. And he’s clean. Yesterday he found himself a dead fish to roll in and so endured the ubiquitous after-bath. Today both of us have all the ambition of a garden hose. My mobile phone shows randomly selected weather locations. One I chose is Ajo, Arizona which is the navel of my desert world down there. 16ºC, clear skies.
So, there’s only one more thing to say, “BUMHUG!”
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Dalai Lama