news, or a magpie’s garden


There are things I want to set down, to give them a permanent place in this record of my life.

1. When you have a son who is a mathematican

2021 Prize Winner:  Brendan Pass

Prof. Brendan Pass of the University of Alberta is awarded the 2021 CAIMS/PIMS Early Career Award in recognition of his contributions to the study of optimal transport problems. In particular, Dr. Pass has worked on multi-marginal optimal transport problems, Wasserstein barycenters, and optimal transportation between unequal dimensions. These problems have many applications including in economics, physics, and quantum chemistry.

2. When you have a son who is a historian

An “Epidemic” of Fake News a Century Ago

Vaccines work. Yet vaccination opponents have long questioned their effectiveness, in spite of overwhelming evidence. A century-old pamphlet in Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collection illustrates how unreliable sources, deliberate misinformation and outrageous conspiracy theories have been used to promote vaccine hesitancy. Reading historical anti-vaccination propaganda with a critical eye can serve as an “inoculation” against misinformation today.

(to read more, go here)


3. When your last book gets a wonderful review

Kishkan’s striking engagement with Wilson’s Hetty Dorval and Swamp Angel (1954) and Watson’s The Double Hook (1959) makes this beautiful meditation on mourning and landscape also a work of creative literary criticism. The novella exemplifies its own theory of feminine cartography. In the pine forests where Swamp Angel’s Maggie Lloyd escapes an abusive husband and finds a new life, the narrator is consoled by “the ordinariness of birds and pines” that overcome “the sorrow of life without … James.” Here, the map carries multiple memories, literary, affective, and familial. To mark the resonances of the location, the narrator “note[s] the date, the location, and dr[aws] a little pine to remind [her] to look up the passage in Swamp Angel,” dropping in the process some pine resin on her map, a symbol of the map’s creative stickiness, the way it picks up and is changed by the stories of the land.

(The entire review is available here.)

4. When an idle google search solves one tiny part of a riddle you’ve been puzzling through for at least 5 years.

Calgary Herald (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) · 9 Jun 1931, Tue · Page 4

Drumheller Home Is Destroyed By Fire (Special Dispatch to the Herald

Drumheller, June 9

The home of John Kishkan, situated on the Midland road, was razed to the ground by a fire of an unknown origin on Monday afternoon. Mrs. Kishkan had just left the house to feed the chickens in the barn, which is a short distance away, and while doing so noticed flames coming from the roof and immediately raised an alarm. Jack Young, a neighbour, rushed to the scene and attempted to extinguish the flames which had gained ground as the seasoned structure became the prey of the flames.

Other volunteer helpers did all in their power but were handicapped by the fact that water had to be carried in buckets for more than 100 yards, and finally had to stand helplessly by and watch the building being reduced to ashes. There was no time to save household effects and they too were reduced to ashes. The loss, which is estimated at $2,700, is covered by insurance.

One of the essays in my forthcoming Blue Portugal (due out in Spring, 2022) is called “The River Door” and it’s an attempt to find actual evidence of my grandparents in Drumheller after their marriage in 1920. My grandmother had been married before and her first husband died in the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918. I’ve tried to locate them in time and geography, using cryptic comments and notes on the back of old photographs. One photograph shows a rough wooden house behind a group of mourners who surround a small casket with the body of Julia, the first child my grandparents had together. Julia died of tonsillitis in 1923. In the census of 1926, there were 10 people in the household–my grandparents and the 8 children from my grandmother’s first marriage.  A number of those children were grown and I don’t know how many were living there in 1931 when the house burned but my father would have been 5 years old. In this photograph, taken at the old house in 1928 or 9, you can see the washtubs, which makes me suspect there wasn’t running water in the house. Did they have a pump? Where was the water source for the buckets carried 100 yards? I don’t know that but I do know now when the house burned and why my father talked about the old house and the next one and maybe even why he was back and forth to his sisters in Beverly during the 1930s, showing up on school records in both Beverly and Drumheller, even winning prizes for his singing! And I have another name to search for when I look at property records. If Jack Young was the neighbour, maybe that will bring me a step or two closer to figuring out exactly where my grandmother fed her chickens and washed her family’s laundry in those tubs.

dad in metal car

5. When you remember the old rhyme and ponder its wisdom

One for sorrow,
Two for mirth
Three for a funeral,
Four for birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the devil, his own self

Or its alternate version

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told

You can think of the rhyme as the roses cascade over your bedroom window, a secret never to be told, while inside, like Sleeping Beauty, you are safe from the devil, his own self.


6 thoughts on “news, or a magpie’s garden”

  1. lovely to gather some events worth great celebration! I used to keep a good news folder to turn to when feeling down-hearted.

  2. How wonderful that you have your own great successes to celebrate along with those of your sons. Quite a stellar group, the Pass/Kishkan family!

    1. I’m so proud of them all, Beth, and although I hear my mother’s voice telling me tersely not to blow the family horn, I want to celebrate their accomplishments, esp. now that there’s so much that causes sadness, anxiety. I’m proud of my daughter too, for her ongoing kindness to us and her commitment to fairness in her workplace and for her own beautiful intelligence,, even if she hasn’t won any awards lately! (Though she has in the past!)

  3. Oh my gosh. I’d be setting these down as well. And a big congratulations to your son on the award. I remember in a previous post a mention of his nomination.

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