Giving broccoli another try

A dear friend of mine recently commented that she didn’t usually “get” poetry. I’ve been pondering that statement from several angles.

I’ve known more than one person who has said either that they didn’t understand poetry or that they didn’t like it. I’ve loved poetry from when I was a very small child, and while there was, and always has been, some poetry that I don’t like or don’t understand, I find most of it enjoyable, one way or another.

So why, I ask myself, would anyone who is reasonably intelligent and reasonably literate not understand poetry or see it as the broccoli of the literary world? I’ve come up with some ideas.

First, it’s possible that these people haven’t met the right poetry. I read widely; I like Ogden Nash and Shakespeare and Gerard Manley Hopkins and Christina Rosetti and Mother Goose. I like sonnets and nonsense and love poetry and nature poetry. I don’t like everything I read, and some of it I don’t re-read – but sometimes even stuff I didn’t think I liked sticks with me, and so I give it a second chance.

Second, I think many people get a bad introduction to poetry. They meet it at school, and they have to memorize it and dissect it and analyse it before they get a chance to sit down and have a coffee with it. Tell me how many potential friendships could survive that kind of a start! My introduction to poetry was my mother either reading or reciting it to me. It was clear she enjoyed it, and her enjoyment became mine.

Third, there’s also some really, really bad poetry out there, and some rather difficult stuff. If you were to start with Robert Browning, for example, who happily twists his sentences into corkscrews to make the metre and rhyme work, you could be forgiven for being confused and even repelled. Emily Dickinson’s eccentric rhymes and unique worldview are probably an acquired taste. (Dickinson never wanted her poetry to be published, and indeed requested that it be burned upon her death. You can, if you wish, sing any Dickinson poem to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas”. It gives a new angle on “Because I could not stop for Death / He kindly stopped for me. / The carriage held but just ourselves / and immortality.”)

Finally, I believe that poetry, as any other art, is a way to communicate. Whether it’s Shakespeare’s cautionary tale on over-thinking and indecision (Hamlet) or Nash’s “Reflections on Ice-breaking” (Candy / is dandy / But liquor / is quicker.), poetry is a way for one person to speak to another.

Sometimes the speaker gets so wound up in what they’re saying that the meaning is lost on her or his audience. An inexperienced or uncertain reader may be put off poetry by an early experience with such a poem. (On the other hand, nobody really knows what the lyrics to “American Pie” mean. It doesn’t stop millions of people from enjoying the song.)

This is like being put off movies because you started with “Emma” or “The Fountain” or “Die Hard” and didn’t like what you watched. My advice is to do with poetry what you would do with movies – try something different. The advantage is that you seldom have to spend two hours with a poem to discover you don’t – or do – like it.

If you’ve been intimidated by a poem, or a poet, and want to try again, anthologies are a good place to start. They’re essentially samplers of many different poets. One of my favourites is the Golden Book of Poetry, edited by Louis Untermeyer. Another is An Anthology of Verse edited by Roberta Charlesworth and Dennis Lee. (Yes, “Alligator Pie” Dennis Lee!)

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Travels with Dr Fox – Day 21

Home again, home again, jiggety-jog. We had a long drive yesterday from Thunder Bay to home, but a day that was not without its pleasures as well. We stopped to eat, to take photos and to enjoy the view, and to buy postcards. My faith in the future of deltoidology is renewed – I have a stack of postcards probably 4″ high, in addition to the ones I sent people.

We stopped in Wawa to look at the refurbished goose and check out the visitors’ centre, where there were some very cool things to look at. Dr Fox had his picture taken with the goose.

fox & goose

We also realized that we had returned to the land of big water. There’s a lot of water in the Rockies, a lot of lakes, but there’s nothing like Lake Superior kicking up her heels and fluffing her petticoats in a stiff breeze.


A few miles later we saw a rainstorm happening out in the lake, looking so beautiful!

big water

We made a quick stop for gasoline at the Canadian Carver, and had supper at Bobber’s. Our friend Sam happened to be there, communing with his coffee, and the first words out of his mouth were, “Where the hell have you been? I haven’t seen you in ages!”

We unpacked the car this morning, picked up Sky and Pharaoh, and the mantle of the familiar is settling back on all of us. The chickens and koi are fine, thanks to our world-class chicken-sitters, Cassidy and Lily. We have a thousand pictures, a million memories. And although we thought this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, we realize that Dr Fox’s travels have probably just begun!







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Travels with Dr Fox – Day 20

Our vacation is drawing to a close. Today we crossed back into Ontario, and into the eastern time zone, as well, both in the rain. Dr Fox declined to have his picture taken in a heavy drizzle, but agreed to a shot through the front window of the Yaris.


It was a good-coffee day today. When we went out for supper last night in Morden, I noticed a cafe called Coffee Culture. This morning when we left the motel, we stopped by the cafe so I could have my first latte in three weeks. Turns out they do some great breakfast sandwiches. The latte expanded to two asiago bacon-egg-cheddar ciabattas, a cinnamon scone, a chocolate croissant and a strudel. Yummy!

coffee culture

We didn’t see any signs for Crater Lake (or possibly Meteor Lake) before we crossed from Manitoba into Ontario, so of course we didn’t go to see it. Given the drizzly day, it’s probably just as well. Another time. We’re beginning to realize that we may have to go back out west again.

When we were ready for lunch, we found a little restaurant called the Comfort Table Bakery in Vermillion Bay. The same location is also the Middle of Nowhere Coffee Roastery, and their house blend was delicious. Also, when I ordered, they asked me how strong I wanted the coffee and made it to my request. Their meat pie was just a bit peppery, delicious and satisfying, and David said his burger was really good.

Dani, the staff member running the till, agreed to let Dr Fox have his picture taken with a bag of coffee and one of biscotti.

middle of nowhere

We crossed into the Eastern time zone and set our clock ahead one hour. We arrived at our hotel in good time to get a long night’s sleep before the final leg of our journey. Tomorrow we return to Wharncliffe after three weeks away. Our chickens and koi have been well cared for by Cassidy and Lily, and Sky and Pharaoh are in the capable hands of Pam at Kennel by the Creek.

It’s hard to believe, but Dr Fox ends his travels tomorrow.










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Travels with Dr Fox – Day 19

We got up early-early this morning and, after a quick breakfast with Daphne, Kevin and the dogs (and cat) we were off to Morden, Manitoba and our last museum, the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre. This is a small museum housing the largest mosasaur on display anywhere in the world. They call him Bruce. I believe someone there is a Monty Python fan, but I can’t prove it.

On the drive, we of course found photo ops. David saw a heron and we turned back so I could photograph it.

It was a long drive to Morden, but the museum was well worth it. Peter Cantelon, the executive director, was manning the counter, and was a goldmine of information about Manitoba’s fossil beds, about Bruce and Suzy (the other, smaller mosasaur on display) and about the museum itself.

The museum is perfect for someone with limited knowledge of fossils, planetary history or geology, because it summarizes everything from the Big Bang through geological layers and radiocarbon dating to putting a plaster jacket on a fossil. If you know this stuff already, it’s a good refresher. And there are lots and lots of fossils, many set up in dioramas.

And then we saw Bruce. Dr Fox for scale.

Dr Fox, despite his T. rex-wrangling credentials, was a tad nervous sitting this close to Bruce. Bruce is a Guinness World record holder for largest mosasaur on display in the entire world, and has a certificate to prove it. There was nothing on the certificate about the number of foxes he’d eaten, even accidentally.

I was also really happy to see they had a fossilized squid. Cephalopods generally don’t fossilize because they are almost all soft tissue. With ammonites and orthoceras, what is fossilized is the shell, not the innards, as a rule. So this guy really beat the odds – although, being dead and fossilized and all, he probably isn’t all that thrilled about it.

In short, a great little museum to end on. And, bonus, they also do several fossil dig programmes, which allow you to go out to a real fossil dig site and help. I’m probably going to have to come back!

Tomorrow, on to Thunder Bay, another time-travel experience in the lose-an-hour direction (we had one of those today, too!), and possibly one more palaeontological stop before we get home.

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Travels with Dr Fox – Day 18

Today was a travel day from Drumheller to Regina. It was a good day, starting with waffles and strawberries and whipped cream in the breakfast room of the Super 8 in Drumheller. Then we did a short tour around to catch a few more roadside dinosaurs. It was a frosty morning, and the petunias of Drumheller were looking wilty and unhappy. The dinosaurs, however, were doing fine. Dr Fox captured a T. rex and rode it, which, after so many herbivores, did a lot for his street cred as a dino wrangler!

fox & trex

Then we were on our way to Regina. No time travel this time, as Saskatchewan does not observe daylight saving time. We didn’t lose an hour, although we will when we go across Ontario.

On the way to Regina we saw some wildlife and got a chance to take photos. We saw snow geese several times, once quite close to the road. They were grazing with Canada geese and another goose we have not yet identified.

snow geese

And we also saw pronghorns three times – twice in Alberta and once in Saskatchewan. The first two times were each a single buck with a harem of does, and the last time was a buck alone. We think he was an older buck, past his prime, as he had no harem but a decent set of horns. He was also very calm; he didn’t spook when we stopped the car, and he allowed David to walk fairly close to him, taking pictures. Eventually he started sidling away with every step David took in order to keep the distance between them, so we left him to his grazing and went on.


We had supper with Daphne and Kevin, and a bit of a visit before bedtime. Tomorrow we leave for Morden, where we will see Bruce the mosasaur.








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Travels with Dr Fox – Day 17

Source: Travels with Dr Fox – Day 17

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Travels with Dr Fox – Day 17

Today I put on the T-shirt I bought at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. It shows the skeletal back end of a T. rex and a chunk of fossilized poop, and says “Coprolite Happens”. What fossil geek could resist that?

We drove to the Royal Tyrrell from Edmonton, about three hours of driving and half an hour of David looking for Opuntia fragilis, a native cactus, in spots ranging from sorta-likely to pretty likely, all of which refused to produce a cactus. David had a dino site walk at 11:00, and I signed up to make a fossil cast. Here’s my cast – a replica of a stegosaurus plate.


It still has to be trimmed and painted, but I’m very happy with it! Dr Fox renewed his acquaintance with the herd of pachyrhinosaurus outside the museum proper.

fox & pachy 3

I spent some time drawing. As usual it was absorbing and fun, and at the very end of the day I tried out something new – working strictly with white on black paper. Was it successful? I’m not sure – but I enjoyed experimenting.

Late in the day one of the staff members, Sara Beth, told me she liked my T-shirt. Then, a few minutes later she caught up with me and said, “Just because of your shirt, I had to show you this.” She held a plastic case, padded with foam, in which was a little roundish dark rock. Then she opened the case and handed me the rock, and I saw it was an actual coprolite, a beautiful little piece of fossilized dromeosaur poop. I knew from being shown some fossils earlier that day that small things are usually handed around for viewing in their closed cases, so I felt honoured that she had trusted me to hold this irreplaceable piece of prehistory. And all because I could appreciate a paleontological poop joke!

I had one final surprise today. We went looking for a place to buy fossils, because David had admitted that if he had seen a dino claw in Dinosaur Provincial Park, he would have been sorely tempted to filch it. I wanted to see if we could find one for sale, and what the going rate might be. Well, we didn’t find one, although we did pick up a few beautiful little pieces. But in the lower floor of The Fossil Shop, we found – for sale – a triceratops skull.

me & trike

When we first began to plan this trip, I joked about bringing home a Triceratops skull, and David’s response was that it wouldn’t fit into the Yaris. I never in my wildest dreams expected such a thing to be more than a joke – but here was the skull! When we told Gloria, the proprietor, about our joke, she told me to go and take a photo. Bless her little heart. So here am I with my Triceratops skull – which we considered, but which would not fit into the Yaris.

Tomorrow, back to Regina and a brief visit with Daphne and Kevin before we go on to Morden, Manitoba, for our last museum.


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