On the subject of Mussels

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A couple of days ago, I had an interesting experience that I thought I should share.


So, in case you don’t know, right now I’m staying at my family’s cottage in Ontario. It’s a beautiful old wood log cottage, right next to a beautiful lake. the kind you see on postcards. So, as a family, we like to spend as much time up here as possible. I’d like to highlight all of my family, but for the purpose of this story, the most important person is my Uncle Rob.


Uncle Rob is an aquatic ecologist, meaning he knows a lot about lakes and spends a lot of time in them. He was snorkeling around in the lake when he found mussels. A lot of them, in fact. So, he decided to harvest some so we could try eating them. After a quick google search to make sure we weren’t going to get poisoned, we started to prepare them. And as the mussels cooked, Rob told us about something happening in one of our neighbor lakes, Lake Simcoe.


You may not know this, but mussels place in nature is that of the cleaner. Mussels eat algae, too much of which makes lakes dirty. They do a pretty good job of it too. And because of their hard shell, not many predators try to get at them. But their biggest worry (at least in  Lake Simcoe) isn’t predators. It’s invasive species of mussels, the Zebra mussel, and the Quagga Mussel.  They came into the Great Lake system in the bilge water and on the bottom of boats from Europe and Asia. These new mussels quickly began forcing the indigenous mussels out of their own habitat. Also, these mussels filter water at a much quicker rate. And while that might seem like a good thing, algae is an important part of the ecosystem, as it is food for fish as well. All said, they caused massive damage to Lake Simcoe. Luckily, as far as we know there are no invasive mussels on our lake.
As Rob wrapped up his story, the mussels were ready. Within minutes, we were all at the table, ready to dig in on our delicious meal. Expect not quite. The mussels were not good. They were plain, chewy, and left a strong muddy aftertaste. Not great. We soon figured out that the mussels from our lake tasted like, well, our lake. And the conversation quickly evolved into how to make our lake cleaner. Without the invasive mussels. I’ll keep you posted.


Harry Reads: The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account Of Native People In North America

theinconvientidianOk, this week I began reading The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account Of Native People In North America by Thomas King. As of writing this, I have yet to finish the book, so this will probably be part one of two (or more) writings.


The first thing to know about the book is that, while covering a lot of historical ground, the book is not a history of native people in North America for a reason. Kings says in the prologue that if he were to write a history, he would “be obliged to pay attention to the demands of scholarship and work within an organized and clearly delineated chronology”, and while that might sound like a copout, I find that removing the need for a chronology helps with the structure more. You see, chapters in this book aren’t written events-first, they are written topic-first. What I like about this is mainly the chapter names. For instance, the prologue is titled warm toast and porcupines, referring to how he finds writing fiction “is buttering warm toast” and how writing a history “ is herding porcupines with your elbows.” All of the chapters have similarly mystifying titles that remain so until you actually read the chapter and think about what it means. A smart way to get people to think about what they just read.


The book is written very captivatingly. Richard Wagamese, writing for the Globe and Mail, compared him to Mark Twain, and I have to agree. History, like every subject gains, or loses, a lot of its potency depending on who’s teaching, and Thomas King really is great. He’s witty, interesting and smart, and his anecdotes throughout the book truly make it worth reading. He sums up what I just finished writing quite beautifully with “Mind you, there is a great in The Inconvenient Indian that is history. I’m just not the historian you had in mind.”


Now, I’ve left probably the most important bit for last, which is the subject matter of the book. Put simply, it’s in the title. Specifically, the bottom line. However, the subject matter is anything but simple. This book delves hard into the history of native people. The first historical event that he brought up was so outrageous that I had to check it out.


The Almo massacre is set in Almo, a town you probably have never heard of, as the first time I tried searching for it, Google would just autocorrect me to the Alamo. It’s not famous for anything and seems to be one of the many farming communities that never grew into anything else. As far as I can tell, the only thing the town is famous for is the massacre. And the massacre is famous for good reason. According to the plaque erected in Almo for the pioneers, in 1920, 300 settlers were  headed east, when they came across only 5 survived. If so, that would make it the second largest massacre ever.  


One teensy problem, though. The Almo massacre never happened.


You might think “Oh, maybe there was a smaller incident, and it was blown out of proportion.” And I was thinking the same thing at the time, but no! The Almo massacre is straight fiction that was somehow regarded as fact. It wasn’t until 1993, when the Idaho Yesterdays, an academic journal, finally set the record straight. The main point disregarding the Almo massacre is that news of Indian attacks was highly publicized, and nothing can be found on the Almo massacre until far later. Strange considering that it, again would have been the second largest massacre ever.


Now, I’d love to send you to the original piece in the Idaho Yesterdays, and while it looks like the paper was digitized at some point, the link is no longer maintained and I don’t have the time and the resources to get to a proper university library to validate something for a blog post. Sigh, where’s open education when you need it? The best i can do is send you a few sites that do little but prove I haven’t been making this up. Sorry about that.
I’d say that’s enough to conclude my first blog post on this book. My early impressions have been very good, and I look forward to continuing reading. Stay tuned for part two!