If you like words, you like to have a big collection of them.

You need that big collection because a lot of words – most of ‘em – have a very specific purpose.

… like ineluctable, meaning unable to be resisted.

Some words are so ineluctably beautiful that you look for occasions to use them … like ineluctable, meaning unable to be resisted. Two years ago a batch of words went into high rotation in our collective vocabularies, words like fomite, unprecedented, and variant.  The differences between epidemics, endemics and pandemics were burned into our minds.  

Getting it right mattered. 

But words always matter. 

Just as a Robertson screwdriver won’t work on a Phillips screw head, you need the correct word for a job. For example, there are considerable differences between the terms poisonous and venomous. Were you to find yourself on some weird game show and have to choose between the two – trust me –  go with the venomous. Poisonous things get you because they’re capable of causing harm simply through exposure. Venomous creatures have to sink their fangs into you – a far bigger commitment. Venom is a mixture of large and small molecules and those molecules need to enter the bloodstream. The best way to do this is via a puncture wound. Poison ivy, however, requires only an uninformed walk in the woods to deliver its itchy, red nastiness. The venom in a venomous snake, however, stays nicely put, if you, too, stay nicely put.

… how we feel following two years of relative isolation.

I’ve been poking around in the word bin looking for things that fit at this particular post-pandemic juncture. Most of us seem to be a bit short-handed at how to describe how we feel following two years of relative isolation. We’ve changed, our friends have changed, and our expectations have changed. It seems to me our vocabularies require an infusion of fresh implements so that we can better express these new realities. 

… saudade. Its meaning flutters around the idea of a yearning for a happiness that perhaps never even existed; …

We’ve entered into a sort of détente with the pandemic and most of us are dying to re-engage with what the Arabs call samar, staying up late in convivial conversation with friends and family. In Spain, the same idea goes by the name of sobremesa, a warm, extended conversation around a meal. We are fed up with being forplaintive, an old English word meaning to be weary of complaining.  To expunge the feeling of emporte, a word with its roots in France and meaning to be irritated beyond self-possession, we need to embrace the Portuguese word, desbunder, meaning to shed one’s inhibitions so as to have fun. At the centre of the Portuguese language lies the word, saudade. Its meaning flutters around the idea of a yearning for a happiness that perhaps never even existed; a melancholy, or a wistful desire. People are enchanted by the idea of saudade and are always trying to pin down a precise translation. I think a loose equivalent might be ‘before times’, the carefree years before the world shut down to forestall a raging pathogen. It doesn’t roll off the tongue like saudade does, but it sums up the luxurious time of taking things for granted. 

Phot from Casa Iberia

We’re creeping back into theatres and galleries and restaurants accompanied by a strange sense of nakedness without the masks we’ve grown accustomed to. The awkward three man dance outside an elevator is fading away. We no longer line up on the tape marked spacings in a grocery store.  We might go wide when encountering someone on the sidewalk but at least we’re no longer crossing the street to establish a safe distance. Friends tell me that they think it will take some time to ‘get back on the horse’ and feel like their old selves again but luxuries once sampled soon become necessities. It won’t take long.

Because the simple beauty of human company is … ineluctable.

We’re hungry for the ‘before times’.  Because the simple beauty of human company is … ineluctable.

This week’s question for readers:


Now, in return, will you do something for me? Will you sign up for The Plain Jane, my newsletter? You can ignore it, if you want, when it shows up in your inbox every few weeks, but my rotten kids will think I’m a star if I have a decent subscriber list. 

Here’s further incentive to sign up: PRIZES!!!

Submissions to last week’s question:

What do you feel about litter and illegal dumping? What do you think ought to be done about this problem?

My house is across from a park and when my grandson comes to visit, I get him to help me with my daily cleanup.  When he started kindergarten, he told his teacher, “I help my Grandma pick up beer cans in the park”. To his delight, she put him in charge of teaching recycling to his classmates. She got it right – start them young.

Janis Hall

FYI those mostly full bottles of Mountain Dew and Gatorade are not mostly full of Mountain Dew and Gatorade. They are probably mostly full of urine. It’s an old truck driver trick.

Glen Taylor

Warm regards to Mr. Reitmayer and others who help keep our communities looking good. Since the pandemic started, I’ve taken a 45 to 60  minute walk I call my Tour de Steveston. To add to my exercise I have made it a point to pick up and dispose of Covid face masks. The municipality does a very good job of spacing trash containers in downtown Steveston and on the trails that I walk yet I often pick up masks five meters from a trash can. What to do to improve some people’s habits with regard to trash? I really do not know. We can hardly make it easier to dispose of such things. On a larger scale, there are many farm roads that get midnight truck-loads of debris left behind for the city to clean up. Some folks will go a long way to avoid the effort of going to the proper dump site and paying a small tipping fee. We need more community awareness and more reporting of license numbers and stiffer enforcement with publicity and personal identification of those found guilty. 

Eric Sykes

It was September of 1965, my freshman year at The University of Western Ontario in London. I was walking up the sidewalk across a vast lawn in front of University Hall, the centrepiece of the University at that time, when I cavalierly discarded a gum wrapper onto the beautiful lawn beside the sidewalk. A stern female voice behind me said “Hey, you can’t do that. That’s disgusting!” As I turned, a tall attractive woman in her mid-30’s strode by me, glaring all the while. Now sheepish, I stopped and picked up my trash and never forgot that brief encounter. Fast forward 20 years – I was running along a trail beside the Rideau River next to Carleton University when two men in suits in their 30’s ahead of me threw soft drink cups and hamburger wrappers beside the trail. As I passed, I repeated the words said to me 20 years earlier, but they ignored me and walked on. Outraged, I turned, ran back past them, collected their litter and continued on my way. Sadly, some folks just don’t care.

Greg Poole

My route is Deer Lake and environs.  It bothers me that all this plastic and foil end up in the lake, the stream, the river, the ocean.

There are easy fixes:

1. Schools (definitely the worst offenders) – once a week, a designated class should pick up litter on school grounds and nearby sidewalks.  Make it fun – a prize for weirdest piece of litter, litter becomes art…?

2. Parents – make your children bring their wrappers home if a granola/candy bar is wanted again the next day.

3. Smokers and gum chewers – carry a small tin to put your butts and gum in.  Empty whenever you see a garbage can.

4. Everyone – take pride in your community.  Make sure all your garbage is recycled or put in the garbage.

It seems to me that litter begets more litter.  It’s as if it’s okay to toss litter if litter already exists.  It’s not!

 Bonda Bitzer

Salute to Gary Reitmayer for picking up litter! I too get very upset when I see the amount off garbage in the parks roadsides ect. I walk the trails with my dog every day and can’t believe what people throw out – what is wrong with them?

I think we should put up more cameras and not tell them where they are, then serve litters with a big fine or make them do  community work, work like picking up garbage!! And for those people that toss their doggie bags in the trees, why bother picking it up! Get the media involved and let people know that the bylaw is going after them with big fines for illegal dumping!!

A. Fox

Your recent article on litter really hit on my pet peeve. My wife and I live in the Silver Valley area of Maple Ridge close to Golden Ears provincial park and seven days a week we do our five km morning walk along the South Alouette River and two city parks. We always carry garbage bags as although we cleaned up the usual litter the day before – Tim Horton’s, MacDonald’s, A&W, and Dairy Queen along with assorted empty alcohol containers – the next morning there they are again on our same walk. I take all the assorted recyclables and alcohol containers to our local recycling society at least every ten days.  We also belong to a local environmental group, The Alouette River Management Society, where we have an Adopt-a-Block program and go throughout Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows doing organized cleanups. 

I don’t understand why people litter and it really brought it home to me when a few years ago we did a month-long driving holiday in New Zealand. We immediately noticed the cleanliness of the country. You just don’t see litter there. In Parks, there aren’t  many litter barrels but signs say “Pack it in, pack it out.” Kiwis obviously take pride in their country and to me that’s the answer, changing people’s attitudes but I’m at a loss as to how to achieve that. 

Doug Stanger

Let’s bring back the Garbage Gobbler.

An early memory of mine, probably 1959, was asking Dad to stop the car as some viewpoint pullout on the Fraser Canyon so my siblings and I could feed the Mythical character, a provincial initiative of the KEEP BC Green campaign. These friendly looking beasts were built to place over the garbage cans. So many benefits!  They kept our holiday car clean of sandwich wrappers made from wax paper, started a habit of putting trash in a container and helped keep our world clean.

Communities should spend twice as much on keeping rubbish cans emptied so they aren’t spilling over.

To help Gary Reitmayer, pick up one piece of discarded trash everyday. One million pieces per day would make a difference to our sliver of the world.

Dave Watt

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