On your own time,,,

Shortly after one o’clock this morning I accepted that I could no longer sleep.  I was never one for a deep or long slumber.  What I recall more precisely is going to bed late and getting up early.  The routine was normally bedtime after 1:00 am then arising sharply at 7:00 am, at least that was when the clock radio alarm went off and I conditioned myself to haul myself out of the sack onto the floor.  In the days when I had my little French bulldog Monroe we would lie on the floor in the television room, my head on a pillow, Monroe cuddled in my arm, as I flipped channels.  When at last it came time to go to bed I’d let Monroe out the front door to void his bladder, then we’d go back upstairs, each to his own bed.  In the morning the same ceremony was repeated and the day began.

Now there is no Monroe nor any employment imperative.  Nonetheless I have always got something on the go, something I feel I must do or accomplish.  This morning’s essential for example was to listen to a recording of “Hard Travel: 6000 years up the Ottawa River and into the West” narrated by

Richard Van Loon

Richard Van Loon is past president of Carleton University and past chair of the Council of Ontario Universities. He holds a BSc in chemistry and an MA in political science from Carleton and a PhD in political studies from Queen’s University.


Almonte Lectures

Some time ago I had expressed an interest in the lectures which I understood were organized by Learning in Almonte:

The Learning in Almonte series of lectures was originally conceived and founded by Dr. Don Wiles, Professor Emeritus at Carleton University in 2008. The program is now managed by Marny McCook and Glenda Jones, providing lectures for a senior audience from September to April. Each series consists of 6 weekly lectures and  have covered a wide range of popular topics.

Learning in Almonte

However, the 2020-21 program (normally held at the Elizabeth Kelly Library in my experience but I understand also at the larger space in nearby United Church on Elgin Street) was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  In its place the Almonte Lectures have appeared – retailed as a Zoom foregathering. I received an email inviting me to participate. However when I tried connecting to the first Zoom lecture I had no success, defeated by frustration more than anything.  I subsequently learned by another email that the lecture was recorded and could be viewed later – which is what I did a couple of days ago.

Early this morning – I fed my burgeoning sleep anxiety by watching another Zoom recording that I had dismissed because I did not like the 7:30 pm original “live” production. I am very pleased to have viewed both lectures not only because of their obvious educational value but also because of my own family connection with the fur trade in Canada.  My paternal grandfather was notably a silver fox rancher in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

In the richness and beauty of its splendid fur the silver-grey Fox surpasses the beaver or sea otter, and the skins are indeed so highly esteemed that the finest command extraordinary prices, and are always in demand.

— John James Audubon, quoted from The Imperial Collection of Audubon Animals, 1967


The greater tale naturally is that of the First Nations and their association with Europeans. As well the geographic detail is fascinating especially when so much of the information is as close by as Pembroke and the Ottawa River.  Linguistically I was amused to learn that the expression “Mississippi River” is redundant because the Ojibwa “mshi” means “big” and “ziibi”  means “river”; hence the appropriate term would simply be the “Mississippi” much as “hoi polloi” means “the masses” contrary to the common demonstration of “the hoi polloi“.

Since hoi polloi is a transliteration of the Greek for “the many,” some critics have asserted that the phrase should not be preceded by the. They find “the hoi polloi” to be redundant, equivalent to “the the many”—an opinion that fails to recognize that hoi means nothing at all in English. Nonetheless, the opinion has influenced the omission of the in the usage of some writers. Family-owned businesses that select their CEOs from all family members fare no worse than companies that select talent from hoi polloi. — The Wilson Quarterly But most writers use the, which is normal English grammar. A third, more readily acceptable innovation, was the new taste for whiskey as a drink, first for the hoi polloi and ultimately for the gentry. — Jacques Barzun … rented mainly to corporations to allow their VIPs air-conditioned splendor high above the hoi polloi. — James B. Twitchell . A number of critics also warn against the use of hoi polloi in sense 2, a sense that directly contradicts its original meaning. The sense is not commonly covered in dictionaries, but it does appear—albeit rarely—in published, edited text, as it has since the mid-20th century. … I could fly over to Europe and join the rich hoi polloi, at Monte Carlo. — Westwood Pegler Most of the hoi polloi and VIPs who move and shake New York went first to a book party for Time’s former headman, Henry Grunwald, in the New York Public Library. — Liz Smith . We first heard of this sense in the early 1950s, when it was reported to be well established in spoken use in such diverse locales as central New Jersey, southern California, Cleveland, Ohio, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Several members of our editorial staff at that time also testified to its common occurrence, and evidence in the years since strongly suggests that this sense of hoi polloi continues to be frequently used in speech. We do not know for certain how this new sense originated, but one possibility is that it developed out of the inherent snobbery of hoi polloi. In its original and primary sense, hoi polloi is a term used by snobs or—more often—in mocking imitation of snobs. Even its sound has a quality of haughtiness and condescension (much like that of hoity-toity, a term that underwent a similar extension of meaning in the 20th century, from its former sense, “frivolous,” to its current sense, “marked by an air of superiority”). It may be that people unfamiliar with the meaning of hoi polloi, but conscious of its strong associations with snobbery, misunderstood it as an arrogant term for the haves rather than a contemptuous term for the have-nots, thus giving rise to its newer, contradictory sense.

The early morning emails revealed a number of things.  First, certain communications have revived hitherto dormant connections; second, people whom we know are sick or dying or dead. It is never easy to face the dreadful subject of death. I can only imagine that I will cure my distaste for death if and when I am physically distraught. Otherwise I find it unendurable to promote any intellectual recipe for the matter. Unlike my First Nation relatives and any current religiosity, I haven’t any truck with life after death. My hopeless and dedicated materialism continues to inspire me to do what I can to reap the resources of my present circumstance. It is as much an artistic expression as any post mortem.