Thursday, October 29, 2015

Settling the Frost Centre Ghosts

Each Hallowe’en I perch on a rockcut across from the Frost Centre, watching for the ghosts to appear. They always do.

I see their excited faces as they step down from arriving school buses. I hear their laughter echoing in the dormitory hallways. I feel their presence as they hike the trail to the old ranger cabin.

The ghosts are my memories. Unsettled memories of when kids came to the Frost Centre to learn about nature and experience the health and joy of the outdoors.

One of my favourite memories is the Spirit Walk staged one Hallowe’en week in 2002 by Frost Centre staff and others.

We walked the darkened grounds beside St. Nora Lake, unexpectedly meeting ghosts from the past carrying lanterns and dressed in the fashions of their times. There was a dynamiter who had worked on Highway 35 construction in the 1930s. And a log driver for lumber baron J. R. Booth in the 1800s. And a settler come to Haliburton County to build a life in the bush.

Each talked about the events of their times. It was a fascinating evening and we learned much about the lives of the people and the history of the area.

Another special memory is of following children through the Frost Centre’s sawmill and sugar bush area behind Sand Lake. The kids saw how logs were milled into building boards, then how maple trees were tapped and the sap cooked to become maple syrup spooned onto fresh snow for them to eat.

These were paid attendance events put on by staff and Frost Centre friends who understood the importance to children, and adults, of learning our history and heritage.

All that ended July 9, 2004 when the McGuinty government closed the Frost Centre. David Ramsay, then Natural Resources minister, said education was not a core service for his ministry. The money spent on the Frost Centre operation could be better used improving health care, he said.

The government then proceeded to squander millions of taxpayer dollars in the outrageous EHealth and Ornge air ambulance spending scandals. The money lost in these mismanagement epics could have funded 10 Frost Centres for many years.

Meanwhile 35 people lost their Frost Centre jobs and the local economy lost an estimated $700,000 a year. We all lost a priceless resource for learning about and understanding nature at a time when environmental disasters threaten our planet’s existence.

Ramsay said the Frost Centre presented a great opportunity for private development. The government could sell it to private enterprise for developing into a resort.

The last thing Ontario needed was another struggling resort. Eleven years have passed since the closure. The Frost Centre sits empty and rotting, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for heat, electricity, maintenance and security.

I‘m told that vandals have done a number on the demonstration saw mill and the sugar shack. I haven’t been there myself because of the No Trespassing signs.

Someone is using the old police and conservation officer gun range behind Sand Lake. Every weekend there are explosions of gunfire from there. Some of it sounds like heavy caliber, automatic gunfire. On two weekend occasions there have been explosions loud enough to be dynamite or hand grenades.

There’s no use wailing any longer about the Frost Centre closing. It is history and more weeping and gnashing of teeth will not change it.

It is time for a new approach. The Frost Centre should be dismantled. Local people should be given contracts to take down the 21 buildings and reclaim and recycle any useful parts. It is a project that should be managed by local government and local organizations. Certainly not by the Queen’s Park elite.

Take down the buildings. Plant more majestic white pines. Create a roadside park beside the lake. Or an expanded wilderness canoe/camping launch site.

Perhaps build a small museum, or at least a historical cairn, that will help people remember and honour the important history and contributions of the Frost Centre and its surrounding area.

Maybe then the ghosts of the Frost Centre will be settled.

Email: shaman@vianet.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Yellow Jackets and Health Care

It was plenty late arriving but Sunday’s first hard frost fell from the sky like George Bush’s shock and awe campaign in Iraq. It hit fast and hard and completed autumn’s Job One.

Job One in autumn is putting to sleep every yellow jacket in the county. Jack Frost got it done Sunday. He knocked all the wasps onto their backs, frostbitten stingers pointed skyward. Deader than the falling leaves.

So that’s it for another stinging insect season. The one just past was particularly nasty, starting early and lasting longer with wasps seriously aggressive in September and the first half of October.

Wasps are especially noticeable – and especially aggressive – in the fall because they are on vacation. Spring and summer they toil non-stop gathering food for their colony’s young. In late summer and early fall the queen wasps stop laying eggs and the workers are free to go about looking for carbohydrates and sweets, such as rotting fruit, to feed themselves.

More free time to roam usually means more encounters with humans. When they sting they don’t leave behind the stinger, therefore one wasp can sting multiple times.

I had two wasp encounters this fall. The second encounter, on Thanksgiving Weekend, landed me in a hospital emergency room. Two stings from a lone wasp left me looking like Pumpkinhead, my eyes swollen almost shut.

Three little bags of intravenous cocktails started to put me back in shape. No real damage done but it was a good reminder how dangerous these critters can be. And, another reminder of the contradictions in our health care system.

Allergic reactions to wasp stings can kill. Deaths from wasp stings are rare in Canada but anyone spending a lot of time outside, especially in the fall, is wise to carry a couple of antihistamine tablets. They will slow down an allergic reaction, if you happen to develop one.

Allergic reactions occur sometimes even if you have been stung before and have not reacted. Also, wasp stings can react with some medications, like blood pressure pills.

Going to hospital because of a wasp sting had a positive side. Once again I got to see the dedication and professionalism of medical staff who perform miracles in spite of the cancerous government bureaucracies that control their work.

The growth of health care bureaucracies is shocking and people need to rise up and demand a stop to it. Ontario has 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) each with a CEO earning an average annual salary of close to $300,000. Then there are the COOs, CFOs, Chief Communications Officers and on and on.

Search the Internet for LHIN salaries and you’ll find eight screens of the names of LHIN employees earning the big bucks. Big buck acronyms sucking up dollars that should go into direct care for patients.

Ditto the 14 Community Care Access Centres (CCACs), which govern home care. 

Executive salaries in these questionable bureaucracies have been soaring. Meanwhile, the salaries of people who do the real work helping patients have fallen behind.

Bob Hepburn, a Toronto Star staffer, reported last year that only 40 to 50 cents of every tax dollar earmarked for home care actually reaches the health-care professionals who deliver services to patients. Guess where the rest goes? Executive salaries, administrative costs and corporate profits.

Meanwhile, back in the bush the frost has killed all the worker wasps but the queens have survived. They will hibernate below ground until spring when they will establish new colonies, build new nests and the cycle will begin again.

There is no such cycle in the health care system. The real workers survive the bureaucratic hard frosts and continue to help people with their afflictions.

Their big buck bureaucratic bosses, however, do not get to hibernate like the queen wasps. They continue to shuffle paper, improve their media relations and lobby politicians for more money and more power.

Wasp stings can be neutralized by drugs. Too bad there is not a drug to relieve taxpayers from the pain and swelling of health care bureaucracies.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Tough Way to Earn a Buck

New book releases are tumbling into book shops, book sites and libraries this fall almost as fast as the falling autumn leaves. As many as 20,000 to 25,000 new titles could be released in the United States during this fall’s book season.

The flurry of new books is so great that it is difficult to decide on a list of books  you might want to read, let alone an individual book.

The sheer numbers leave an impression among some people that authors who write them are taking in major dollars. Not exactly.

The big names like Stephen King, Nora Roberts and James Patterson continue to pull in millions of dollars but the lesser lights are seeing diminishing incomes.

The Authors Guild in the U.S. surveyed more than 1,400 full- and part-time writers this year and found that more than one-half of respondents earned less than $11,670  a year. That figure just happened to be the U.S. federal poverty level in 2014.

"No one likes to see the word 'poverty level' on a survey that has anything to do with people you know,” says Roxana Robinson, Authors Guild president. “You used to be able to make an absolutely living wage as a writer. You wrote essays and you published them in journals. You wrote magazine pieces and you got paid very well for those. And you wrote books and you got good advances. So being a writer, it didn't usually mean you would be rich, but it had meant in the past that you could support yourself."
The Guild survey reported that the average income of a full-time writer has dropped to $17,500 a year, down from $25,000 in 2009. For the average part-time author the figure was $4,500 a year, down from $7,250 in 2009.

The numbers for authors who win major book awards also are shocking.

The Man Booker prize in the United Kingdom released its short list of nominees for the prize last month. Two of the Man Booker finalists each have sold only 15,000 to 20,000 hardcovers each of their books. One other finalist has sold 3,600 copies in the U.S., another only 3,000.

Those numbers mean meagre money for authors who spend countless hours researching and writing these books. At least getting into the finals does provide more. The Man Booker winner gets $75,000 Canadian, while the runners-up get roughly $3,800 Canadian.

Canadian writers’ book earnings in most cases are small. However, they also receive small payments from the Public Lending Right based on how many libraries are carrying their books. The more of your books in the library, the higher the payment.

Also, Access Copyright pays writers money from a fund collected from institutions that use writers’ copyrighted work. The federal government passed a new copyright act not long ago which screwed writers out of an important source of income. Schools and other educational institutions, and even some government departments, now say they don’t have to pay into the copyright fund for using writer’s works anyway they wish.

E-books have created new earnings opportunities for writers. More and more writers are self publishing digital books. There have been success stories.

British author Mark Dawson is pulling down six figures a year from his series about an assassin published through the Amazon Kindle program.

Self publishing through a digital platform is a simple way to get a book out. But the majority of those books go nowhere because moving the books to make some money is all up to the author. Hundreds of thousands of books are self-published and getting one noticed in that ocean of publishing is difficult no matter how good the book.

The writer has to become an entrepreneur, which means weekends at flea markets, fairs and days and nights speaking to book clubs and any other groups willing to listen. Promoting, marketing and selling the book leaves little time for more writing.

I mention all this because Haliburton County has a sizeable population of writers. They work hard with varying degrees of success and we hope they will continue and someday we’ll see some county names on those lists of awards and bestsellers.