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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Recent Reading

I have been recently re-reading this cherished book, given to me years ago by a friend who shared my interest in this kind of literature.

I guess it is an occupational hazard: I enjoy reading inspirational literature. As a cleric I have even written some when just the right one could not be found for a special occasion.

This passed weekend I travelled to Mississauga, 300 miles south, on the bus and two day later, return back on the train. An inspirational book is a good travel companion as you are alone with your thoughts, read short passages and occasionally look out at the passing natural scene. This book with readings on Nature and our relationship is always a pleasure to read and reflect on.

One early reading that caught my fancy is one that makes reference to "river" and "peebles" which struck my fancy as these related to my blog's title as a metaphor.

Clouds are flowing in the river, waves are flying in the sky.
Life is laughing in a pebble. Does a pebblle every die?

Flowers grow out of the garbage, such a miracle to see.
What seems dead and what seems dying makes for butterflies to be.

Life is laughing in a pebble, flowers bathe in morning dew.
Dust is dancing in my footsteps and I wonder who is who.

Clouds are flowing in the river, clouds are drifting in my tea,
On a never-ending jouney, what a miracle!

Eveline Beumkes

In the early morning hour the bus passed through Barrie, Ontario. There was new snow on the ground and clinging to the trees. With just enough light to read by I opened the book, by chance, at this poem.

Praise wet snow
falling early.
Praise the shadow
my neighbor's chimney casts on the tile roof
even this gray October day that should, they say,
have been golden.
the invisible sun burning beyond
the white cold sky, giving us
light and the chimney's shadow.
god or the godds, the unknown,
that which imaginedus, which stays
our hand,
our murderous hand,
and gives us
in the shadow of death,
our daily life,
the dream still
of goodwill, of peace on earth.
flow and change, night and
the pulse of day.

Denise Levertov

It is always a delight when a poem or inspirational prose passage strikes a response within you. This is why I enjoy reading inspirational writings from all cultures and religions.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Doing Wood

I am busy "doing wood" these days. This involves felling trees, skidding the tree length logs out of the bush, cutting it into blocks, piling it so it can cure in the heat and wind and finally moving it into the basement of the house.

Better late than never this year. I should have done this in the Spring. I will have to buy some properly cured wood for the early Winter. What I am cutting now is green and may cure by late Winter if I cover it and keep it dry.

Not getting your wood cut, stacked and cured before Winter is an unforgivable sin in the country. I will pay this Winter with some low grade heat. Shame on me.

This is my friend Dave. He died last year. He was a local who lived and worked in this area all his life. He raised 10 children. NO! he was not a sex fiend, he was a Catholic. :) For his generation 10 children was not an outrageous number. Some had as many as 20 children in French Canadian Catholic families. Life was hard and many hands made light work. . .or so they claim.

Dave lived with me, with his second wife June (his caregiver), for four years. He enjoyed helping with the wood. He piled split faggots of wood on his walker and wheeled them to the pile and added them to our growing woodpile. We joked about this as I call him the trucker. He made a difference in the work load (slow and steady) and I enjoyed his company. He is missed.

This is the business end of a skidder for those unfamiliar with logging. The chocker cables you see hanging from the arch are attached to a mainline steel cable attached to a winch. The mainline is dragged out and the chockers go around the tree length logs and the bunch of logs is winched up to the skidder until their butts are off the ground. Then they are dragged out of the bush.

My friend Leo has only five chockers on his skidder. On the skidder I operated ,I had as many as 15. It was a bigger skidder and I could skid a bunch of mixed sized logs out of the bush at a time.

We skidded out some trees I had cut. What is here is about 1/3 of what I have down in the bush.
This will get me going for now.

(click on the photo to enlarge)

Here is my effort so far. (Don't you just love the late afternoon light). I build three piles at a time. Every 8 feet is about one cord (128 cubic feet of wood and air) or three face cords. I need 20 to 30 face cords of split stove wood. So I have a way to go.

I like spitting wood by hand with a maul. I think of it as the "zen of wood". It is a kind of meditation, requiring both concentration, study of the wood and it's splitting lines and the physical effort to strike the perfect blow so the block splits artfully. I know. . .you think I am nuts! Could be! I turn down the offer of mechanical splitters.

In a week or so the effort will not leave me with painful shoulders and back. I will be humming along by then. It give one a great deal of satisfaction in the Spring to have a lovely pile of wood knowing that you have quality fuel for your Winter heat. I shall miss that as I stuggle with less than perfect wood this year.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Even I Am Surprised!

Pleasantly surprised, for sure. I may have to change my opinion of Calgary. The people of Calgary have just elected their first mayor who is a Muslim, Naheed Nenshi.

Calgary is Canada "Houston". It is the center of the oil industry. Alberta is also cowboy country. You might say Alberta is Canada's "Texas". Ever since the Trudeau governments, national energy program, a Liberal, or liberal, has not been able to buy a vote there. In short, Calgary and Alberta is conservative and Conservative country. It is the base of our present Conservative government lead by Stephen Harper. If there is one part of Canada that might welcome joining the United States it is Alberta, our most American -like province.

Now the first Muslim to be elected as Mayor of a major Canadian city is in Calgary. Who would have predicted it.

For a while, I have been interested in Muslims in Canada and how they are becoming part of the ethnic mix at all levels. I used to write to a Muslim woman blogger from Bahrain. who was studying at the University of Toronto, that the day will come when a Muslim woman, wearing her hijab would read the news on TV, and no one would comment on it. This has yet to happen. She was sceptical and did not think Canada would change Islam in any way or that Canada would be changed by Islam. For her Muslims would always be outsiders. It will happen. Such is the story of every ethnic and religious group in Canada. By the first or second generation of immigrants born in Canada they will have found a place as part of the cultural mosaic and become "Canadian".

I experience this myself. My grandparents came for England. My mother was born here and had a deep attachment to all things British. At a point I had to tell my mother I was a Canadian and not as interested in all this British stuff. I think she was a little disappointed in me. While my grandmother found great comfort in being part of the "British Empire". (An attitude she told me I should take comfort in whenever I felt down). I did not even think Canada should necessarily jump to Britain's defense in time of war.

I only recently was surprised (after improving the rabbit ears on my TV and getting a
network station I seldom could listen to ) when I watched a reporter with the last name of Housain reporting on a story, (How nice I thought. I bet she is a Muslim.) At the end of her piece she said, "Back to to you Mohammad." ( I didn't expect that.) The times are changing and I find myself (one who think he is progressive and on top of issues) trying to catch up.

In Canada, I find there are more visible ethnic minorities represented on radio and TV news and commentary shows, than in the United States. On radio, my favourite shows are hosted by first generation Canadians of Chinese and Iranian heritage, respectively. I think little of it until they occasionally talk about their immigrant families, or in the case of the Iranian,
Jian Ghomeshi, who identified himself as "not white" which could have fooled me. He sure looks white to me. It was his way of saying he did not identify first with Canadians of European stock. I don't doubt for a moment that he is Canadian, every bit as Canadian as a David Suzuki and any other prominent Canadian.

And now we have a Muslim mayor. Good for Calgary. In fact, he was not a Muslim seeking the office of Mayor. He is a Canadian citizen of Calgary who happened to be a Muslim seeking the office. How Canadian is this!. In Canada, a person's religion is not an issue in politics. Apparently, when it came up, as an "issue" in Calgary it was largely dismissed. In one Calgary paper they wrote it only became an issue when the media tried to make it one and people objected. There were some ethnic incidents but they were largely dismissed and ignored. In fact, it is hard to find anything in Naheed Nenshi's political literature any reference to him being a Muslim.

I tried to google more about his religious affiliation. I suspect he is an Ismaili Muslim, which is a shite group that is lead by the Aga Khan. This is perhaps the Muslim group which most easily can integrate in a culturally mixed society. They have a long tradition of being shop keepers and small business people in may countries they settle and adapted. Canada took in a large number of Ishmaili Muslims when Adi Amin forced them out of Uganda. They fulfilled this mercantile class role in that country. In my home town the local Unitarian Church made space available for the Ismaili communities mosque at the time and for several years. The Nenshi's came to Canada from Tanzania. Perhaps, Nadeem Nenshi is Canada's first African Canadian mayor, also.

To Calgary's credit they elected their mayor on the basis of his qualifications, knowledge of how cities work and should work, his vision of what Calgary could be, his specific criticism of the city administration and how it could be fixed. He is an intelligent, articlulate and charming person.
Here he is explaining his campaign.

Here is another video by his sister where she speaks of her brother and their family.

Congratulations to Calgary for having a young exciting Mayor with a vision for the future of their city. I hope he serves them well and successful so some day we might see him in national politics, where I might vote for him.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Our New Governor General

Two weeks ago Canada witnessed the swearing in of our new Governor General, (the Queen's representative) David Lloyd Johnston.

I shall miss Michaëlle Jean for I found her an attractive and effective Governor General. The government saw fit to not renew her appointment. She, like her predecessor, Adrienne Clarkson was an immigrant to Canada, Haiti and Hong Kong, respectively. They both came from a background in media, and as effective communicators put their stamp on the office.

Michaëlle Jean will go on to be a special representative for the United Nations to Haiti, where we all hope she can make a significant contribution to the relief work in that country that is still suffering from the effects of the earthquake.

David Lloyd Johnston has had a career as an academic and university administrator. He was most recently the president of Waterloo University. He is a northern boy who made good. He was born in Sudbury and raised in Sault Ste. Marie. His family were not well off and yet he got was able to study for his first degree at Harvard University. I suspect that besides being a bright student he got some scholarship help as a athlete, he captained the Harvard hockey team while there. Now after a remarkable career in academia and public service he will have an opportunity to service our country in this high office.

Besides having a remarkable academic career he is a loving family man, marrying his highschool sweetheart and raising six daughters, who have given him several grandchildren. He is not shy to express his great affection for his family. During the ceremony he and his wife where openly affectionate with each other and his grandchildren rode in the horse drawn carriage with him. They call him "Grampa book", I assume books are his constant companion. His is a lovely family.

He spoke at his swearing in ceremony of his view of his unique contribution during his tenure as Governor General. His address laid out in simple language is plan that very much reflects his life. He sees Canada as a "smart and caring Nation" which he would strengthen with a focus of his activities in three area, "To support families and children", "To reinforce learning and innovation" and " To encourage philanthropy and volunteerism". It is a lovely speech, straight forward with a personal touch. I encourage everyone to read it.

His Excellency the Right Honourable David Lloyd Johnston. Governor General of Canada.

All of Canada look forward to his tenure as Governor General. I expect this will be one more accomplishment in his life as he serves our country with distinction.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Our Canadian Thankgiving is held at a more sensible time of the year than that of our American cousins. It is farther away from Christmas. It is closer to our harvest season. The weather is warmer and the leaves have changed to their brilliant, reds, gold, and browns. It is also a reminder that our Thanksgiving Celebration is not just a carbon copy of that of the American's which is wholly focused on the celebation of the Pilgrim's early Thanksgiving recorded in Governor Bradford's Journal. "Of Plymouth Plantation". I try to reread this accounts of the "First Thankgiving" each year and think on the lives of the participants: the generosity of the Native Americans and the ability of the Pilgrims to find reason to celebrate in spite of the fact that the first year of their lives in this wild land cost them the lives of half of their numbers. How powerful is that Faith!

Canadian Thanksgiving has many elements of the American celebration thanks to the United Empire Loyalists who fled to Canada after the Revolutionary War, bringing their traditions with them. But Canada's Thanksgiving has other origins, such as the connection to Martin Frobisher's first Thanksgiving and that of the early French settlers, which makes it easier for Canadians with so many different ethic and cultural roots to celebate Thanksgiving in their own way adding different foods and customs to our familiar North American celebration. I like this in spite of the fact that I am personally very attached to the American celebration as a result of my many wonderful memories of living in New England and sharing Thanksgiving with my American friends.

This year Thanksgiving has been very low key for me. There has not been any of the usual customs of sharing the traditional meal with family and friends. In spite of this the holiday has never been far from my mind and the exquisite weather and been a reminder of the glorious gifts of Nature and our humble place in it. I have had the pleasure of my friend Lynne being here to share it with me. We went out for dinner a couple of times as a celebrated our time together. She is a blessing for me and I trust, I, for her. It has been a year since we reconnected after a lifetime of being memories of each other from our youth. Such a wonderful magical instance of serendipity. This alone is worthy of thanksgiving.

I do not have to look for reasons to be thankful. (see previous post). The recent successful and safe thru hike of the Appalachian Trail by my brother and his wife is one. My sister is still on the famous
Comino de Santiago Compostela pilgrimage across Spain and from her letters she is enjoying herself and finding meaning it her strenuous trek. It has been over a month now. She has shared part of it with her husband and part with her daughter but much of it has been a solitary journey along with other pilgrims.

It has been years since I have participated in a Thanksgiving Worship Service. I may be getting old and sentimental but I miss participating in such a community activity, particularly in singing with others some of those familiar hymns. "All Things Bright and Beautiful". " We Gather Together to Ask the Lord's Blessing" "For the Beauty of the Earth" etc. What is your favourite?

(click on photo to enlarge)

Here is a fun photo. See if you can pick out the Canadians whose faces have been added to the work of art, making is a "Canadian Thanksgiving". "My apologies to my American friends and the artist, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, of this depictions of the First American Thanksgiving).

I trust everyone is enjoying the season and have deep felt reasons for Thanksgiving.

Once again!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Appalachian Trail Trek Completed


My brother, Richard and his wife, Carol, have just finished hiking the Appalachian Trail,
all 2,179 miles of it ( 5,000,000 steps appox.). They began last March 17 at Springer Mountain, Ga and ended October 5, climbing Mount Katadhin in Baxter State Park in Maine. This was a remarkable feat for a couple of people in their mid 60's. They were often the oldest on the trail although they were occasionally inspired by someone older they met along the way.

There's was a thru hike, taking the most direct and often challenging route. They resisted detours that would be easier or assists in moving forward. They carried their packs all the way never having them taken forward to the next stopping place by anyone else. There's was a test of their character and fitness.

They had both been long distant runners in their younger days. I can remember Carol when she lived in Mississauga, getting off the streetcar in Toronto and running home the last 15 miles so she could get in her daily run. This after working a 12 hour shift at the Hospital for Sick Children. She found running relatively easy. Richard on the other hand was not a natural runner. He was determined and worked hard at it entering many marathons and even some longer runs. He paid the price when he got older. He hiked the trail with an artificial knee and and a artifical hip. A couple of years before the trek he lost 50 pounds, determined to get back to his running weight.

He and Carol spend the year before the trek getting into shape and planning. They were well prepared for the challenge.

Richard and Carol, at Hog Pen Gap, Georgia, early in the adventure.

Here Carol is sitting with Carolyn, a trail angel. Carolyn is a blogging friend of mine who lives close to the Appalachian trail in Tennessee. She wanted very much to meet up with the Canadian Geese, ( the trail name earned by Richard and Carol). She thought she had missed them due to some missed communication. She took a chance and managed to intecept them where the trial crossed a local road. She has been among the keenest of followers of their adventure.

It is traditional along the trail for local people, individuals, families, church groups, former hikers of the trail ,to offer assistance to current hikers: hence, known as trail angels. They most often offered food and drinks to the hiking strangers passing through. Carolyn supplied a lovely spread for Richard and Carol and several other hikers passing by. Sometimes angels left food and drink at point on the trail anonymously. Most often, people enjoyed the brief encounter with strangers and learned of their lives, where they began and how far they were going.

My brother often wrote in his Trail Journal how much he enjoyed the people on the trail, the fellow hikers and the trail angels. He feels he discovered the real America where strangers are welcomed, offered sustainance, accepted and enjoyed. (even if they often smelled bad). He more than once wrote about this.

Here is a memorial to the WWII war hero, and actor, Audie Murphy, who died in a plane crash near this spot. The trail has lots of historic sites and monuments along the way. There were other surprises as well. One that impressed me were the wild feral ponies along the trail in Virginia.

Richard and Carol in the Presidential Range in New Hampshire.

The trail is a series of mountains to climb above the tree line and then down again into a valley, a gap, in the range. The highest mountain was Lingman's Dome in Tennessee, 6,625 ft while the lowest spot was in New York state at 124 ft above sea level.

On thing that surprised me is that the trail is quite rugged, while it has been cleared and marked there are many places where the ground is very rough and rock climbing is required. Accidents can happen. Richard on more than one occasion over extended his artificial knee which was painful. He fell on a few occasions. At one point he cut his head. Luckily, his nurse was with him.

The Trail Journal they kept can be read here. It is an interesting and personal read. In the side margin you can click on "photos" and see some of their many photos. Also in the side margin you can click on "List" and locate a particular section of the trail.

I am very pleased for my brother and sister in law for their accomplishment. They will have years of memories to share between themselves and with their family. They made friendships along the way which might endure. They have every right to feel a deep sense of satisfaction on their accomplishment.

I have followed Richard and Carol adventure faithfully. I think it is possible to see the Appalachain Trail as a metaphor for Life, a life journey. It began with a vision,. . . . . to do the thru hike. Iftrequired planning, training, mustering resources and deciding to actually do it and to see it through to the end. Along the way, as in the Canterbury Tales, there were encounters with people and stories to be shared as well as miles shared together. There were also historic sites to see. And of course, there was nature, close and occasionally wild and raw. They saw the flora and fauna, in deep forest., open field,, alpine meadows and rocky outcrops. They also had to cross many a river, some by scenic bridges but many crossed on makeshift logs or hopping stone to stone. Some required just wading through.

The trek had wonderful sunny day with great vistas to behold. But there were days of dark and wet conditions that required great determination to continue. Some stops along the way allowed for comfort in an inn with lovely food but at other times it was a rude shelter or tent and cold and basic food before falling to sleep exhausted. Such is life.

In the end, Richard and Carol, accomplished what the set out to do. There final test was to climb Mount Katahdin and look out over the vast Maine landscape. It was an emotional moment to be relished.

Now is their time for rest and reflection. May that enjoy these moments of deep satisfaction in theire accomplishment, they so much deserve.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Religion in America

To understand the history and culture of the United States you need to know and understand the role of religion in their society. It is a complex relationship between religion and the political society throughout it's history. My years in the United States made me realize that it is important for Americans that you belong to a church, any church will do. They are suspicious on anyone who opening declares they do not have a church. I wonder if that is still the case.

American's have long felt their country is an exceptional one: one with a special relationship with God. This is the national founding myth. In many ways, they feel they are a chosen people. While this view was fostered with the early settlement of communities seeking religous liberty from European religious persecution. In New England, they developed a theocratic community where their was little difference between the church and the parish. One needed a church to found a town. The New England Meetinghouse served both as a sacred space and a political space for town meetings.

By the time of the American Revolution the leading figures which shaped the new Nation were the religious progressives of their day, deists and free thinkers. They designed a politcal system which was secular with separations of church and state. There has been a tension between the two ever since.

This is the First Church in Roxbury (Unitarian), Ma which I served as a minister for a couple of years while I was finishing my theological education. It is a magnificent meetinghouse. I love these churches that are the centerpiece of so many New England towns. New Haven, where I lived for several years has three on it's village green. It is the fifth meetinghouse on this site, built in 1804. The church was founded in 1632. I actually had a family in the church that traced their family back to the beginning of the church (13 generations) as members of this church. It is an establishment church, abandoned to the inner city. It is in the heart of the Boston area's black community. It is now the focus of an Urban Ministry which allows some 50 Unitarian Churches in the area to help with progams in the black community.

John Eliot was the first minister of this church. He translated the bible in the Algonquin language. The first book published in America was the Algonquin Bible, by this Apostle to the Indians.

The centrality of religion in the life of communities in the New World saw the tension between religion and the state worked out in other States: Rhode Island, Virginia, Pennsylvania, often starting out to claim religious liberty of themselves while discriminating against others. In time, a wide variety of religous groups came to add to the mix and make their claim for religous liberty. Among them were some uniquely American religions like Mormonism and Christian Science.The two groups that merged to become my denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association can also be considered American Religions. They represent the liberal religious tradition, the ancestors of the deists and freethinkers of the founding fathers. They along with liberal Quakers and Reformed Jews have been called America's Fourth Faith along side Protestant, Catholic and Jew. For religious liberals, like myself, we find the claims of the religious right to speak as America's religion is wrong and audacious. They seem to have failed to study the history of American religion.

The United States has been largely shaped by Protestant groups. Catholics were looked upon with suspicion, until President Kennedy was elected and the Catholic church had the Second Vatican Council. Jews were outsiders until recently, in spite of the fact the George Washington welcomed the first Sephardic Jewish Community in America in Rhode Island and offered them protection of the State. Other religions are latecomers in America. Now, of course, Muslims have come in large numbers and will help to shape the American Religious and political reality in the future just as others have done before. Conversely, the American culture and values will shape Islam as it has Judaism and Catholicism in the country.

Canada has never been as religiously vital as the United States. The French had the Catholic Church. The English brought the establishment Anglican Church. The United Church was formed in the 1920's out of the Congregationalist, the Methodists and half the Presbyterians. (Other smaller groups have since joined the United Church.) These three groups each laid some claim to be the established church. They dominate to this day the religion of Canada. Other groups have not been as dominant. Canada had lived with Catholics from the beginning so we were not as fearful of them as was the case in the US.

Religion has not had a dominant role in politics in Canada, with the exception of the Catholic Church in Quebec. In Canadian politics a politicians personal life, from religion to sexuality is not open for political discussion. This is not to say religion has not played a role. Some of our outstanding politicans have been clergymen. It was through their efforts that Canada developed social programs and the idea that the State should bring services to the people.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently published a study of religion in America. It has some interesting results such as Mormons and Jews know more about Christianity while atheists and agnositcs know the most about religions. Its results are worth a look. You can go to the Pew Forum site and take a 15 item questionaire and see how religiously knowledgeable you are. It is interesting how you knowledge compares with the countries and groups within the counnty. I got a perfect score. It is largely general knowedge in a multiple choice format.

All that I have written so far in a way to pointing out that this month there is a program on the TV on religion in America, God in America It is on PBS beginning October 11. I imagine it will be very interesting and offer some insights into how religion shapes American culture.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Autumn Leaves

It is definitely feeling autumnal around here. The leaves are at the peek of their changing colours, it is must cooler (we are having a weekend clear but cold: 1C this morning), I am cutting wood and last week my neighbour brought his cows home from grazing all summer across the river.

This is the time of year I find myself humming the tune "Autumn Leaves". Here you can enjoy Edith Piaf singing it.

Some of my wood cutting gear. I always wear my hard hat with the screen to protect my eyes and the ear muffs to protect my hearing. Having been hit twice in the head with a falling tree, I do not need to be reminded to wear it. I also have safety gloves and safety chain saw boots. These are also essential (take note you weekend wood cutters. The boots did not even protect me fully as I cut through a boot and half way my big toe on one memorable accident. I do admit I do not have my chain saw pants on. I think I threw them out a while back as they were shredded from my resting my idling chainsaw on my thigh. I am using a lighter saw these days and I am very aware of my risk at cutting my thigh in a careless moment. Having worked as a professional wood cutter (un bûcheron, en française) I came to appreciate the safely gear.

The yellows leaves of the poplar and birch among others are lovely.

Here is a young maple on the way to my wood cutting site.

Another sign of the season is some of my neighbours cows being herded home after a summer of grazing on our property across the river. They have been nursing their Spring calves. This always reminds me of how much I miss having cows. One cow I had for 18 years and she every year had a lovely calf and raised it well. How hard it was to see her along with others loaded and shipped off to a deadly fate. There is always a big Fall auction of cattle that will not be overwintered.

This year, my thoughts are with my brother and his wife as the are finishing the thru trek of the Appalachian Trail about this day. They should be near the end of the 100 mile wilderness section in Maine which bring them to Mount Katahdin, the terminus of the trail. No doubt they will want to climb this rugged mountain to be photographed with the famous sign.

Here is a video of what the 100 mile wilderness trail is like. I chose this one for it's images and not the German language, although that is interesting and reminds us that the Appalachian Trail is a world class trail to hike.

I am sure that they are enjoying the New England foliage. I suspect they are wet from the weather that has passed through recently. They may be cold. I know my brother is in pain. He has been complaining about his artificial knees hurting him for a long time. Trek on bro! you have almost reached your goal. This is the day you said you would finish.