Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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21

Aug

2019

Community picnics, past and present

Author: Jim Taylor

Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but as summer scrolls towards a closing, I miss community picnics. 

            I seem to recall when every organization had a company picnic, a Sunday School picnic, a team picnic. 

            At times, I’ve been put in charge of these events. I have fond memories of planning games and activities that would build a feeling of family. Softball games, where it was okay to strike the boss out. A tug-of-war. Foot races. Egg and spoon races. Three-legged races. Sack races. Water balloon tosses… 

            At one church picnic, I set up a potato-peeling challenge: the winner had the longest unbroken potato peel. 

            And at a company picnic, I remember teaching people how to make s’mores around a campfire. The most common s’more consists of chocolate and partly melted marshmallow sandwiched between two graham wafers. But even better is chocolate and marshmallow, sealed into a cavity sliced out of a partially peeled banana, wrapped in aluminum foil and roasted in the embers of a bonfire until the whole thing is a drippy gooey mess. 


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14

Aug

2019

Listening to my inner voice

Author: Jim Taylor

I didn’t read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Lovewhen it was a bestseller. I waited ten years.

            When I finally read the book this summer, I was interested in the conversations Gilbert had with God -- or something -- by writing out her pain, anger, depression. And something told her hand what to write in reply.

            Psychics might call it “automatic writing”; charismatic Christians might call it “writing in the Spirit.” Whatever it is, it gave Gilbert the assurance that she was okay, she was loved, she mattered.

            One day, I didn’t want to do anything. I had a “to-do” list about a page long. But I felt utterly unmotivated.

            I wondered what would happen if I applied Gilbert’s process myself. I started by typing, “I’ve wasted the whole day.”

            Almost immediately my alter ego, or something, interrupted: “ What do you mean, wasted?”


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7

Aug

2019

A time to live and a time to die

Author: Jim Taylor

My pea vines have died. Despite getting the same water and sunshine as the rest of the garden, they seemed to know, somehow, that they had accomplished their mission. Now it was time to go to The Great Compost Bin in the Corner.

            Like salmon, they produce their next generation, and then give up living.

            All living things seem to recognize when their time is running out. Pea vines live less than one full summer; some trees will live thousands of years. But they all die, eventually.

            And so, interestingly, do their individual cells. Cells have their own life spans. Human skin cells die every few days. So do the cells in the toxic environment of your digestive system. Sperm cells survive only a few hours.

            Indeed, without cell death, we wouldn’t be human. A human fetus has webs between its fingers and toes -- a throwback, perhaps, to our  amphibian ancestors -- and those web cells must die so that an infant can be born with recognizably human hands and feet.

 


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24

Jul

2019

Ode to a lowly garden snail

Author: Jim Taylor

On a morning walk, I almost missed seeing a small garden snail crawling across a paved road.

            Garden snails don’t belong on pavement. They’re too vulnerable. They carry a shell with them, but it’s no more protective than an eggshell. A car tire, or my foot, would crush it instantly.

            I took a break to watch the little creature.

            Its body was almost translucent. Its front end kept reaching forward; its hind end hung back, until it had to let go and suck itself back underneath that shell.

            I wondered how the hind end felt about being dragged along to an unknown destination. Did it scream, “Whoa! Stop! Where are you taking me? I don’t want to go there!”

            And did the front end, in fact, know where it was going? Can a snail possibly know in advance that lush green dewy grass lies on the far side of a paved road?

           In my fascination with the snail’s mental processes, I failed to note whether this particular snail’s shell was left- or right-handed.


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17

Jul

2019

Encounter with a crashing boar

Author: Jim Taylor

The trail that leads down to the shores of Okanagan Lake clings to a steep hillside. One side of it goes up like a cliff, held together a network of  juniper roots. The other side of the trail is a tangle of thorny wild blackberry bushes that not even Peter Rabbit would welcome being thrown into.

            I was going down the trail when I saw something with its head in among the blackberry canes.

            Then the animal pulled its head back to glare at me. It was a boar. A wild boar. A very big wild boar. With vicious tusks.

            It came charging up the hill on its spindly legs.

            I tried to back away. My feet slipped. I landed on my back. The boar was almost on top of me. I started kicking frantically to keep the beast away.

            That’s when Joan shook me awake.

 


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10

Jul

2019

Too few, enough, and too many

Author: Jim Taylor

A few weekends ago, I spent a morning disentangling barbed wire.

            Cleaning up the old rusted wire was not easy. Long grass hid it. Bushes had grown around the fallen wire. Fence posts had fallen, sometimes backwards, sometimes forwards. The multiple stands were twisted together. Where previous workers had dragged sections of fence away from the trail, the wires were literally tied in knots.

            So we set to work. And I was reminded again of how well humans can work together in small groups, when we know clearly what our task is.

            Someone, somewhere, must have done a study on the ideal size of working groups. In our small groups of three or four, we solved problems without supervision. We didn’t need a management hierarchy. Or a policy manual.

            But as groups get larger, factions develop. Different people have different ideas on how the job should be done. Or shouldn’t be done. Some members try to dominate others.


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3

Jul

2019

Does God control natural disasters?

Author: Jim Taylor

Every time there’s an earthquake, a tsunami, a landslide, a flood, a volcanic eruption -- any natural disaster that kills hundreds or thousands of people -- someone asks, “Why would God do this?”

            Or, more personally, “Why would God do this to us?”

            It’s easy to find someone to blame when a truck runs amok down a sidewalk. When a shooter fires into a crowd. Or when an industry poisons a river. It’s harder when a child dies, when cancer strikes.

            But who can you blame for natural disasters?

            The question, of course, presupposes an answer. It presumes that someone, or something, must be responsible, somehow, for everything that happens -- whether it’s the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago; the origin of life 3 billion years ago; the apple that fell in Newton’s garden in 1666; or the mosquito that bit me yesterday. 

 


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26

Jun

2019

There’s more to life than weeds

Author: Jim Taylor

Last Friday was the longest day of the year. The sun came up at 4:49 a.m., and didn’t set again until 9:10 p.m.

            I was out in my garden pulling weeds, on my hands and knees, head down, nose near the earth, when I realized that half a year’s worth of daylight had passed me by.

           When I look back, I can remember the cherries in our neighbouring orchard coming out in blossom. Then the peaches, then the apples. I didn’t pay attention. 

            A little later in the year, dark red rhododendrons marched down our north fence. Near-fluorescent azaleas adorned our driveway -- orange, white, yellow, even purple. Our flowering dogwood stood as tall and white as a wedding dress. The catalpa exploded in creamy white petals like popcorn. Peonies were burdened with bloom.

            I saw them all. But I didn’t really pay attention to the beauty around me. Because I was too obsessed with weeds.


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: weeds, beauty

19

Jun

2019

Confused about winning and losing

Author: Jim Taylor

Last Thursday night, the Toronto Raptors won their first-ever NBA Championship, defeating the Golden State Warriors. Canada went wild. Even parts of Alberta cheered.

            This whole business of winning and losing leaves me a little confused.

            Because the only thing for the Raptors can look forward to now is losing. They can’t stay on top forever. Sooner or later, some other team will de-throne them.

            Like reaching the summit of Everest, the only place left to go is down.

            Years ago, when I was still a wannabe writer, I took a night-school class from Raymond Hull, co-author with Lawrence J. Peter of The Peter Principle.

            Hull taught that literature really had only three plots. 


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12

Jun

2019

Attitudes that are NOT welcome

Author: Jim Taylor

A couple of Sundays ago, Bob Thompson, our minister-for-the-day, talked about what the United Church of Canada believes, or doesn’t  believe.

            He said, “I often hear that the United Church is tolerant. I don’t think it is. Like Coventry Cathedral, we do welcome ‘pilgrims, tourists, seekers, doubters – and you.’ But when you come in our doors, you need to know that we are not tolerant of attitudes that dismiss or demean others... 

            “If you are racist, misogynist, white supremacist, anti-gay, anti-Muslim, or anti-immigrant, you are still welcome to come in. But don’t bring those ideas with you, and don’t expect them to be welcomed.”

            I like Bob’s distinction. Many religious communities have Statements of Faith – things you MUST believe if you want to belong. Anything else you want to believe, beyond that official statement, is up to you. 

            Sometimes it’s equally important to state what you may NOT believe. 


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