Nobody Counts On Dying

Just in time for summer reading, my latest novel, Nobody Counts On Dying, is available for a free preview, or purchase.
Dying Cover Blurb
This gripping tale, intended for a mature audience, carries on the traditions of compelling storylines, wonderfully-believable characters (some admirable, some less so, all of whom will attract and captivate you), and the true-to-life dialogue that distinguished the earlier books in my mesmerizing crime/thriller series.
 
You can find the book, together with the earlier novels in the series, at this link—http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/precept
 
There is a special introductory discount of 10% for those who order a copy during the month of July.  I hope you will visit the site to have a look.
 
You will also find all my books listed under the My Books header in the menu at the top of this page.

The Great Rivers

Rivers of all sizes have always beguiled me, captive on the shore, watching their waters flow endlessly past—waters bursting from far-distant sources upstream, rushing inexorably downstream to distant lakes and oceans.

As a boy, I sometimes wished I could float away on their currents to discover what lay beyond my sight.  And just as often, I wanted to journey against their flow, longing to view what those rivers had already seen.

Those daydreams were continually thwarted, however, by my greater desire to be home in time for supper.

The first great river I learned about was the mighty Mississippi, described so lovingly in the first two novels I ever read, written by Mark Twain—Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  I think my first hero was Tom, although I couldn’t imagine getting into the scrapes he did.  But it was Huck—as fine a character as you’ll find in the literary canon—whose presence stayed with me as I morphed into adolescence.

It was the Mississippi, though, that I truly focused on, that immense receiver of waters from its many tributaries—including the Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, and Red Rivers, each collecting water from their own tributaries—draining more than forty percent of the continental USA into the Gulf of Mexico.  In my youthful imagination, it was a river of romance and song, a gateway to the future.

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In time, I came to know of other great rivers, and snippets of their history:

  • the Nile, for example, and the tales of derring-do by British imperial forces at Khartoum that fired my imagination;
  • the Amazon, with its claims of pygmy head-hunters, and Theodore Roosevelt’s near-fatal trek on one of its tributaries, now named for him;
  • the Danube, so blue in my boy’s mind, the inspiration for one of the greatest Strauss waltzes;
  • the Yangtze, summoning images of the mysterious east, and Marco Polo’s exotic adventures;
  • the Ganges, that sacred river emptying into the Bay of Bengal, worshipped by devout Hindus as a goddess;
  • the Zambesi, which tumbles 108m at Victoria Falls, evoking heroic stories of Livingstone and Stanley in the darkest regions of Africa; and
  • the Volga, Europe’s longest river, conjuring romantic visions of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, and their czarist empire at its height.

Given this rich history and my romanticizing of the world’s great rivers, imagine my shock when I read recently about what some of them are doing now to our environment.

According to a study completed in 2017 by the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, and first reported in Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed, scientific journal covering research in environmental policy, a staggering eight million metric tons of plastic pours into the world’s oceans every year.

Of that amount, several of the world’s great rivers are responsible for up to 2.75 million metric tons.  Ninety-three percent of that volume emanates from ten major rivers, all in Asia and Africa, including some of those mentioned above.  The Yangtze alone dumps as much as 1.5 million metric tons of plastic waste into the Yellow Sea.

Every.  Single.  Year.

plastic

Credit: Amanda Montañez; Source: “Export of Plastic Debris by Rivers into the Sea,” by Christian Schmidt et al., in Environmental Science & Technology, Vol. 51, No. 21

There are clean-up attempts underway, of course, and new technologies to assist them emerging all the time.  But is it already too late?  With the flow of waste only increasing around the world, can any effort match the magnitude of the task?

The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch has an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of floating plastic, which by the end of last year had coalesced into a field of debris twice the size of Texas.  But that may be just the tip of the waste-berg, so to speak.

Micro-particles from plastics used in consumer products such as disposable bottles, packaging, and textiles have been found beneath the ocean’s surface, even in the Mariana Trench (estimated depth, 11,034 metres below sea level).  These particles are being consumed by animals on the lower end of the food-chain, which in turn are eaten by those higher up the chain—and eventually by humans, the apex predators at the very top.

According to a current World Wildlife Fund study, each of us is now inadvertently consuming about five grams of plastic a week on average, the equivalent of a credit card’s worth of plastic.

The cause of the problem does not lie with our great rivers, of course.  They are simply doing what they have always done—draining and flushing the land surrounding them, carrying the detritus out to sea.  It is the producers, consumers, and disposers of plastics who are at fault.  In a word, us!

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But I must confess, I no longer look at rivers with the same romantic eye I did once upon a long time ago.

We have ruined them.

The Ins and Outs

Some friends were chatting recently in the park about the ins and outs of aging, a not-unusual activity for a group of greying septuagenarians, I suppose.  After listening for awhile, I excused myself from that rather depressing conversation, preoccupied by the thought that there seem to be far more ins than outs as one grows older.

Warming-the-Bones

It’s as if the in-words are in, and the out-words are out.  In roughly alphabetic order, I’ve identified some of those nasty in-things we were talking about.

The first was the inability to do many of the things we used to take for granted—running up the stairs, for example.  It’s more likely now that we’ll fall down those stairs.

There is the foreboding spectre of incontinence lurking, an affliction that has already befallen some of my comrades—leaving them, to their chagrin, in-diapers.

Ailments such as that—and others too numerous to count—can be the source of a profound sense of indignity unless one is possessed of a massive sense of self-worth.  We are lessened, somehow, when we lose our pride in self.  As we read in Ecclesiastes, Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!

With some of us (and I do concede for me, too), there can be a greater tendency toward infantile behaviour as we age, particularly when we don’t get our way—in a domestic disagreement, perhaps.  Whenever I discover I am moving in that direction, I try to remind myself that my wife is not my mother, and so I should abjure childish behaviour.

temper

That’s not always easy.

In many such situations, I find myself adopting a gratingly ingratiating manner in order to convert, or perhaps cajole, my wife to my way of thinking.  Prostrating myself, as it were, to attain my desires.

Hah!  Never happens.

So, when it doesn’t, and because I have fewer inhibitions now about my deportment, I occasionally fall into a visible funk, sink into a sulk, and refuse to talk further.  I just clam up.  But my silence, I’ve found, is always more appreciated by my wife than by me!

However, I am never so injudicious as to remain non-communicative for very long.  Dinner-time inevitably rolls around, and my wife—the head-chef to my sous-chef/clean-up guy—is long-past the stage of guessing what I’d like for supper.  If I don’t speak up, I could well be fasting ‘til dawn.

That possibility is at-all-costs to be avoided, for during the course of my seventy-plus years, I have learned that failure to eat leads my body to a virtually inoperative state, placing me indeed in-peril.

Despite all these puerile behaviours, I am quite a nice person (or so I’ve been led to believe by folks who are still my friends).  Therefore, I try not to present as insufferable to those around me, lest they will no longer be.

Intransigence on my part—on any subject, at any time—is more likely to lead to a parting of the ways with my friends than to any kumbaya coming-together.  So, I make every effort to remain amenable and open-minded.  It kills me sometimes.

lonely (1)

Perhaps the most difficult of the in-words as one ages is the realization that we risk becoming ever-more invisible—overlooked by the younger generations as they rush pell-mell through their daily routines.  No one ever wants to think (s)he has become unimportant in the world we still inhabit, but many of us come to fear it is so.

Anyway, the next time I’m chatting with those same greybeards whose conversation prompted these gloomy contemplations, I think I’ll try to present them with some out-words that might lend a more optimistic tone to our stage of life.

Words like—outgoing, outlaughing, outliving, outplaying, outspokenness, outstretching, outperforming, outworking.

And outrageous.  We greybeards need to be more outrageous.

We need more outs than ins!

Toot Your Roots

I was told once upon a time by a spinster great-aunt who disapproved of my adolescent exuberance (and, perhaps, my apparent irreverence for traditions she held close) that in our vast family-tree, with its roots stretching back to highland-hills across the sea, I was surely the sap running through the branches.  The sap!

I probably smiled gamely, unsure about the implications of the comparison, although doubtless certain I’d been disparaged.  But, interestingly enough, her comment did prompt me to find out more about my family-tree.

roots 3

That lady and her sister, my grandmother, were first-generation Scots-Presbyterian, born into a family of nine to an austere, eastern-Ontario farmer and his wife—my maternal great-grandparents, dead long before I appeared as a bud on the tree.

Sometime in the early 1900’s, my grandmother married a Catholic suitor with a French name, whose family had emigrated to Canada from Ireland.  From the time I first learned to speak, I was told not to address him as Grandpa or Grandfather, not Poppa or Gramps (my preferred sobriquet now with my own grandchildren), but instead by his first name.  So, I did.

This worthy couple had five children, my mother being second in line.  She—in concert with my father, of course—eventually had five children of her own.  One of her siblings had one child only, the others none at all, so I and my sibs grew up with one first-cousin on the maternal side of the family-tree.

My paternal grandparents—he born in Canada to English émigrés, she born in Canada to parents of Irish descent—had three children, only one of whom, my father, had children.  Thus, I had no first-cousins on that branch of the tree.

family 1

Interesting, at least to me, was the discovery that, after my grandfather had married my grandmother, his brother had wed her sister.  They also gave birth to three children, so my father and his two sisters grew up with three double-double-first-cousins—a somewhat unusual occurrence on a family-tree.

Long after my disapproving great-aunt had passed to greater glory, I married a young woman whose family had similar roots to mine—Irish, Scottish, and English.  My wife has three siblings, and two first-cousins.  Her sibs have produced five children who are first-cousins to our own two daughters.  Our girls also have ten first-cousins on my side of the family, the children of my sisters,  for a total of fifteen!

As I delved into the history of our family-tree, I learned about the nomenclature and relationship of cousins—considered complex by some, incomprehensible by others.  I think it’s straightforward, however, so let’s see if I can explain it simply.

cousinsThe children of my first-cousin are my first-cousins-once-removed, as are my children to her.  Her children are second-cousins to mine.  That pattern is repeated unto the third, fourth, and all subsequent generations of cousins.  Easy, no?

We are now at the stage in our extended family where second-cousins (great-nieces or -nephews to me) are just beginning to have children.  Eventually, I expect this will lead to multiple sets of third-cousins, most of whom (due to constraints of time and location) will probably never even meet one another.

Two generations on from me, two of my five grandchildren—each with her own maternal and paternal branches of a family-tree—have a total of five first-cousins from both sides of their family.  The other three of my grandchildren, likewise growing from two branches of a family-tree, have two first-cousins.  None of those cousins has, as yet, had children.

Years ago, a good friend of mine, an artist and out-of-the-box thinker, developed a prototype for what would today be marketed as a family-tree app, which he called Toot Your Roots.  It didn’t catch on, although the digitized world we live in now might make it a feasible product.  As I recall, it had spaces in which to enter surnames in flowing script as each new family-tree melded with the others.

roots 1

If I were to attempt entering those names today—back to the time of my great-grandparents, forward to my great-nieces and -nephews, including both my and my wife’s branches, and those of our daughters’ families, and the families of their cousins, and so forth—I confess I could not do it.  Not without a lot more research.

Even now, having benefited from the endeavours of like-minded extended-family members, I can list only twenty-five surnames.  Descending across the years, they are:  Burt, Thompson, Smythe, Duck, McKinnon, Roche, Colquhoun, Fife, Dunleavy, Eaton, Eckert, Cherry, Rowsell, Whittington, Wigglesworth, Lansi, Moss, Curtis, Sweezey, Tiller, Tucker, Dunn, Fiorino, Guthrie, and Grant.

Given this partial list, and aware there are many more surnames I do not know, I envisage my family-tree looking like one of these—this dragon-blood tree on the island of Socotra (left), or this large banyan tree in Florida (right), one tree at root, despite its many appendages.

 

The thing is, I’m not sure where to look for myself on either of them.  My family-tree is just too vast, its roots and canopy too extended.

But I do know one thing for sure.  I am not the sap!

Being the Same

The highlight of the last spring-break holiday for two of our granddaughters was, unquestionably, a week-long visit from a friend of theirs.  They hadn’t seen each other since her family moved from their old neighbourhood more than two years ago, to one of the middle-east oil states where her parents are both employed.

Iraq oil facility AFP

The visit had been arranged months in advance—a period of time which passed like centuries, I’m sure, for our granddaughters.  During the weeks leading up to the arrival, the girls became quite concerned about something, and it simmered inside for a while.  Nana and I happened to be with them when they decided to talk about it.

“Gramps,” the youngest began, “do you think when Susie gets here, she’ll be just the same as she was?”

I tried to respond honestly, but without causing undue concern.

“No, I don’t think she’ll be exactly the way you remember her, because she’s been gone for quite awhile.  She’ll probably be a little different, just as you guys are a bit different than you were then.  You’re older now, you’ve experienced things without Susie, and all of that has changed who you used to be.  And remember, she’s had a whole lot of different experiences, too, since you last saw her.”

“But, Gramps,” declared the eldest, “I don’t want her to be different!  I want her to be the same!”

It’s an old dilemma, one I recognize from my own life.  I often find myself wishing something could be the same as it used to be.  Usually, it’s something nostalgic, and generally, I’m remembering it more fondly than I should.  The arc of the universe, for me, seems to curve towards rose-coloured glasses.

nostalgia 2

My memories frequently play tricks on me, and I tend to believe things were better way back when.  But in fact, I probably had more things to worry about, and not as many blessings to be thankful for, as I have at present.

“Why don’t you wait ‘til Susie gets here,” I suggested to our granddaughters, “and see for yourself if anything’s changed with her?  I bet you’ll find everything’s okay.”

Their apprehensive faces told me they weren’t feeling reassured, but they gamely accepted my counsel.

Well, the big day finally arrived.  According to their mother, our granddaughters’ worries seemed to evaporate in the heat of joy and excitement when they met Susie and her parents at the airport.  There was a good deal of kissing and hugging, some surreptitious sizing-up on the part of all three girls, and a great deal of nervous giggling.

Their first few hours together were spent asking and answering questions—the questions tumbling out almost more quickly than the ensuing answers.  My daughter told us later that, at first, the questions appeared to focus on similarities, the things the kids still had in common.  Only later, after these had been confirmed—a comfort level established—did the questions turn to what Susie’s new home was like, what was different about her school, and who her new friends were.

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By the second day, apparently, they were thick as thieves, just as they had always been.

The next time I saw our granddaughters, I asked how the visit had gone, and how they felt, now that they’d seen their old friend again.  I wondered aloud if they felt their fears had been warranted.

“You were right, Gramps,” the eldest replied.  “Susie was different than she used to be.  But she was sort of the same, too.”

“Yeah,” her sister chimed in.  “And she thought the two of us had changed, too.  But, that’s okay.”

“We figure it’s like this, Gramps,” the eldest said.  “Always being the same isn’t so important when you’re still friends.”

I liked that observation.  And I told them so.

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