I expect to like the people I meet, and I am always surprised when they do or say something that makes me re-evaluate. Last night, however, I met a man who took an instant dislike to me for no obvious reason.

He was at least a decade older than me, and overweight. Loneliness rolled off him in waves, and most of his conversation was self-centered and querulous. We were the first of a party of half a dozen to arrive at a restaurant, so while our table was readied, I sat down beside him near the entrance, ready to make conversation.

I didn’t exactly get grunts in reply, but I might as well have. The conversation, as P. G. Wodehouse once wrote, flowed like cement. After I made several efforts at conversation, he started talking about how our table would never be ready in time, because all the large tables in the restaurant had just had people seated at them. I could have pointed out that diners were just leaving one, but instead I shrugged and said we still had some time.

From his reaction, you might have thought I had sworn at him.

Giving up, I stood and went outside, preferring the sub-zero temperature to the chilly reception I was getting from him. When our party arrived, he started complaining about the prices on the menu, although all except one were modest by local standards. Thinking to help, I pointed several of the cheaper items, and he glared at me as though I had just vomited on his shoes.

After these preliminaries, I made sure to sit as far away from him as possible. Fortunately, the group was large enough that there were usually several conversations going on at once. However, he interrupted everyone to complain about the prices again, and to tell a long, rambling story to explain the difference between winter tires and snow tires.

That story segued into how he had got his tires installed for free. If his luck gave him any pleasure, it never showed on his face. Later, while everyone was exclaiming over the food, he complained that his burger was dry and the rest of the mean was inadequate while the rest of us were exclaiming in delight.

To increase my already low standing with the man, I had to interrupt several of his stories so the overworked waitress could give us some advice, and later take our orders. At each interruption, I was treated to a glare hot enough to melt wax.

Despite my puppy-dog assumptions, I am old enough to know that I can’t please everyone, and usually I don’t worry too much if someone takes exception to me. Yet in this case, his reaction puzzles me. We had never met or talked, and, so far as I was concerned, nothing was at stake that was more important than fine dining and getting to know new acquaintances.

Did he resent that I was relatively younger and – to a casual glance – in better health than he is? That I was playing the extrovert that evening, joking and trying to draw people out? Could I possibly remind him of someone – perhaps someone who had deep-fried and eaten his cat when he was a boy?

I doubt I will ever have answers to these questions, and no great loss if I don’t. Still, I felt like he had cast me in a play without bothering to offer me a script – and projections like that make me distinctly uneasy.

I don’t mind if people dislike me, but I do prefer to know why. Usually, people don’t take such a dislike to me unless I have set out deliberately to insult them.

Cody LeCoy is a young First Nations painter. Mentored by Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, he favors a surrealist style that has given him some mainstream success. However, to my eye, his painting are at their most original when he applies surrealism to First Nations tradition, as he does in “Mouse Woman, Keeper of the Neighborhood.”

Mouse Woman is a figure that has young artists today are fascinated by. The truth is, however, is that little is known about her, not even how she was depicted traditionally. What is known is that she is the helper of heroes, often meeting them on their journeys as a mouse in need of assistance, then re-appearing as a woman of high status who gives them shelter for the night and wise advice to take away with them. I think of her as the opposite of Raven, a guardian of the community against his individualism, a force for order as opposed to his chaos, and a preserver where Raven is both a creator and destroyer.

“Keeper of the Neighborhood” was hanging at a pizza parlor when I saw a picture of it in LeCoy’s mail out. I immediately arranged to meet him there, and arrived early, sitting next to the picture while I waited, as though to ward off any other potential buyers. I came home with it wrapped in garbage bags, during a break in the rain, getting it indoors again just before the rain returned again.

According to my interpretation, the painting is based on the idea that Mouse Woman continues to watch over the community of the First Nations, even when most of it is living in the city. In the upper left corner, she appears in her mouse form, looking fierce with hunger, and nervous. Her other form dominates the painting, her dual nature suggested by the difference between her right and left eye and her narrow, bony fingers, which holds a sphere up where she can view it more clearly – a sign that she is still a protector of her world.

Technically, what I admire about the painting is that it is painted on plywood. The color of the plywood is blended into the painting so well that, until I saw it up close, I had no idea that the brown of her face was actually the bare plywood. The rest of the painting is full of bristly strokes that appear layered from a distance, and add a sense of restlessness that fits into the concept of a guardian from the past uneasily continuing to carry out her responsibilities in a very different cultural setting than the one where she began – one that is perhaps potentially dangerous, and where she does not naturally belong, except that her people have moved there.

Just as in”Ridicule Mask,” the other painting by LeCoy that hangs on my wall, “Mouse Woman, Keeper of the Neighborhood” takes a traditional theme, and applies it to a modern setting, using a non-traditional style. I admit to a weakness for surrealism, but in these paintings, LeCoy produces a sense of tension and restlessness all his own. I look forward to watching where his talent takes him next.Mousewoman.JPG

I always keep a close eye on the statistics for my blog. I’m not very concerned about sheer numbers, but I am fascinated by the location. Looking at the maps of recent visitors, I can see very clearly the divide between North and South. Sometimes, I can guess from the locations that one of several friends has stopped by, and other times, I wonder who is reading from Iceland or the Canary Islands. But there is one frequent visitor who intrigues me most of all.

This visitor drops by at least half a dozen times each week. Sometimes, they visit several times a day, and once they visited fourteen times in the same day. They prefer my blogs about Northwest Coast Art, although occasionally they will read more personal contents.

As much as I take pride in my writing, I doubt that anyone could impersonally admire it so much (or, perhaps, sneer at it). Surely, the thought keeps occurring to me, they must have some personal connection. Whenever their visits in a single day mount up, I start wondering if I am about to hear from them, yet they have never left a message, and I am starting to be convinced that they never will.

Perhaps they are too shy, or too uncertain of how I will respond? One way or the other, they seem to have strong feelings about me.

I have considered various people who could be the visitor. One person in particular seems a strong possibility, because about the same time that they visit my blog, they are often posting on Twitter as well. The times they don’t visit often correspond to when they are out or on holidays. I have been tempted frequently to phone them and satisfy my curiosity, but I am not completely certain of their identity, and the person I suspect has not acted as a friend, so I would add to their grievance if I did.

Still, I imagine a conversation with them, tentative at first, then increasingly relaxed as each of us explains ourselves, until at last we hang up friendly acquaintances. Yet while I am romantic enough to believe that former enemies can sometimes come to mutual respect, I am also realistic enough to know that seldom happens, and is so unlikely in this case as to be impossible. At any rate, I have promised myself that I will not approach them first.

This situation is not a great tragedy of my life. All the same, it has nagged at me for several years, and I would be glad of a resolution. However, if I’ve identified the visitor correctly, I know better than to ever expect one. So, whenever I am tempted to make contact, I force myself to wait, convinced that, by doing so, I am condemning my curiosity to remaining unfulfilled.

So if you are my phantom visitor, go ahead and contact me. I promise to be cordial (if wary) but I don’t promise to be waiting up to hear from you.

Justin Trudeau’s announcement that half his cabinet will be women has misogynists creeping out of their closets all across Canada. Their concerns are as predictable as their intent is obvious as they mask their sexism with a facade of concern and pseudo-logic.

Some of the point they studiously avoid include:

  • Their assumption is that most men become cabinet ministers based on merit. While they will acknowledge that nepotism and politics play major roles in cabinet, they immediately go on to talk as though merit was the only criteria.
  • Their assumption is that most women will be hired because of a quota, not because of merit. This is a common complaint against affirmative action, but it ignores the fact that Trudeau , like any other boss would be rash to hire someone who lacked any qualities that made them fit for their job.
  • The only people who could unreservedly be said to be qualified to be a cabinet minister is someone who has held the position before. Obviously, though, there has to be a first time for all cabinet ministers.
  • No one complains seriously about nepotism, political favors, regional representation, or any of the other considerations that go into putting a cabinet together. Even the tainted considerations are simply accepted as the way things are done. How is affirmative action is supposed to be any worse?
  • Cabinet ministers, no matter how qualified, depend on staff and deputies, especially when they are first sworn in. So long as they listen to to all this experience, cabinet ministers have trouble being completely incompetent.
  • If cabinet minsters prove unsuitable for their position, they can be asked to resign, or cabinet positions can be canceled. It’s not as though there is no precedence for dealing with incompetence in cabinet.
  • No concrete set of criteria exists for being a cabinet minister except that the prime minister is willing to work with someone. Therefore, it is nonsense to talk about whether anyone is qualified for the position or not.

Anyone who is really concerned about fairness should be advocating ways to guarantee fairness, not sniping at the idea of more women in cabinet. As things are, their choice tells us all we need to know about their motives, and why we shouldn’t take them seriously.

In-between the end of summer and the start of winter, I often wear my Dorothy Grant jacket. It’s a casual but elegant piece of clothing, black with a gold eagle on the back in the Haida style and a gold wing down the left arm. It’s by far my favorite jacket, and I wear it as often as I can without freezing myself to death, which is why I was surprised at the reaction it received a few days ago.

I was leaving after a visit with some acquaintances, the first of which I have close ties with, and the second of which I tolerate mostly for the sake of the first. The second one has a tendency to argue with half of what I say, and to derail the other half with irrelevant puns and feeble jokes.

He seems to think, too, that he can advise me and I will follow his advice, even though I have shown no signs of doing so for decades (if I ever did). The truth is, his view of me has so little connection to the reality that his advice usually strikes me as outlandish. Usually, I hear him out, then thank him for his opinion before going ahead and doing what I intended before he spoke to me.

I was putting on my jacket when I saw him frown and make motions as though he wanted to talk to me in private. Doing up the zipped and adjusting the collar, I reluctantly went into the corner, already anticipating an embarrassing scene.

“You can’t wear that,” he said. “People might think you are an Indian.”

I thought I was prepared for anything, but the comment took me by surprise. I had the sense that he thought I needed saving from myself, that I was so naïve I might unconsciously cause trouble for myself by wearing the jacket. In his world, I sensed, being mistaken for First Nations was one of the worst things that could happen.

I don’t think there is much chance of me ever being mistaken for First Nations, considering my features and hair color – although I suppose I might be mistaken for one of the many these days with mixed ancestry.

More to the point, I considered myself well-dressed. To me, Dorothy Grant is an artist in cloth, and although I can only afford the cheaper of her designs – and even then only when they are on sale – I consider wearing a jacket by her a privilege. It is so obviously a work of art that I regularly receive compliments when I wear it.

Yet in his racist world view, being mistaken for First Nations was something to avoid at all costs. Where I saw art, he saw something tacky.

After I had left, I thought of all sorts of comments I might have made, but at the time I could only mutter, “Oh, you think so?” and make for the door faster than I had intended. I wonder, though, if he had any idea that all he had done was make me think even less of him than I had before.

Sheldon Steven Dennis is a Tahltan artist who graduated from the Freda Diesing School in 2010. He’s been on my short list of artists to buy from ever since, and a few weeks ago I finally bought copies of what I consider his best work, “The Dance of the Bear Dog.”

The print honors the Tahltan bear dog, which officially became extinct about fifty years ago. Dog owners are now trying to recreate the species from crossbreeds. Whether this effort is an honest effort or a scam is a matter of dispute, but you can understand why the idea captures people’s imagination.

About half a meter high, the Tahltan bear dog was mostly black, with erect ears and a tail that has been described as a shaving brush. Double-jointed, they were able to move quickly through the forest.
Hunters carried the dogs in packs on their back, releasing them to surround the bear and distract it with their yaps and attacks until the hunters caught up. At home, they were known for the gentleness as well as their loyalty and intelligence.

Dennis’ print shows the moment when the hunters and the dogs have surrounded the bear, which is huddled in the middle of the design, its claws bristling and red, as though it has drawn blood, but its open mouth and lolling tongue suggesting that it is tiring. The human faces are set in grimaces of exertion, while the dogs are crouched low with an intentness as though they are keeping close watch on the bear and are ready to leap out of the way if attacked.

The design is striking for its limited use of red as a secondary color, which makes its uses on the mouths and the bear’s claws all the more striking. It is a darker red than is usually seen in northern designs, suggesting the blood being shed by all those involved in the hunt.

The form lines, too, are particularly interesting, with the thin lines of the hunters’ chins suggesting vulnerability in contrast to the thick, powerful lines of the bear’s body. By contrast, the strength of the dogs’ bodies is suggested by two thick ovoids, while the relative thinness of the legs suggesting agility.

However, what makes the design so effective is the crowded, concentric circles of action. Many northern designs, especially modern ones, are defined as much by their white space as the design, but Dennis has chosen a busy dance that reflects the chaos of the hunt. This chaos is suggested even further by the way that the outer abstract ring gives way to to the second ring of hunters and dogs, which in turn gives way to the asymmetrical design of the bear and hunters that spirals down as though descending into a drain.

Dennis’ accomplishment is to suggest a rarely seen sense of movement and action while using nothing but traditional forms – a combination that makes the description of the moment as a “dance” a precise choice of words.

Dennis is not a prolific artist. The fact that much of his work is apparently for family and ceremonial  purposes makes his works for sale even rarer. As a result, the pieces available for sale are relatively few. However, on the strength of “The Dance of the Bear Dog,” I will be watching eagerly for more to buy.




My new furnace has a start button that starts the pilot light with a burst of heat. It is an unexpected bonus, but I appear to have lit my last pilot light – and my sigh of relief sounds like the whoosh of sound as the new furnace kicks into action.

The old furnace, you understand, was installed in 1974 when the townhouse was built. That is not so bad as you might think, because my townhouse has enough passive heating that I usually only need a furnace for a few months each year. Still, the old furnace was not quite on the cutting edge of technology or efficiency.

The pilot light, in case you have never seen one, needs to be started for the furnace to work. The problem was, in the old furnace, it was five centimeters off the floor. To light it, I had to put my face to the floor, and thrust with one hand a long match in the general direction of the pilot. Meanwhile with the other hand, I depressed a button, then, when I saw the flame leap up on the pilot like a miniature gas burner,  keep the button depressed for at least a count of thirty, carefully avoiding contact with the nearby wires. Finally, I would slide the button to the On position, and, wait holding my breath until it seemed that the pilot would stay lit.

That was not be the most convenient maneuver under any circumstances. Often, the match would burn out or burn through, and I would have to move the button to Off, wait for the gas to clear, and try again. If I improvised the long match with a match from a booklet taped to a chopstick, two times out of three, the head would fall off before it reached the pilot.

It didn’t help, either, that the furnace was less than half a meter from the hot water tank, and the furnace room was often piled with boxes waiting to be given away to whichever charity would pick them up. Often, I had to twist sideways while lowering myself down the side of the furnace – and, worse, repeat the movement to pull myself upright, avoiding touching the water tank on both the descent and the ascent.

Usually, too, I was relighting the pilot in the middle of the night, and awkward from sleep.  Most times, high winds had blown the pilot out, and I would no sooner drag myself upright and be leaving the furnace room than I realized that the pilot had blown out again.

Did I mention, too, that with my face so close to the pilot light, all the while I was trying hard not to imagine the flame exploding and giving me a facial massage, or my hair catching on fire? Over the years, I learned the process and overcome my fears, but, for the first few years, I was often visibly shaking as I went about the task.

Sensibly, the new furnace faces away from the water tank, where there is plenty of room, and its pilot light is at chest-level when I sit cross-legged on the floor. However, the manual warns of dire consequences if you try to light it with a match, so I am not about to experiment to see what happens. That seems just like technology – just when a task is made easy, it becomes unnecessary.


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