English: obviate

Self-tutoring English: the tutor mentions a word he noticed.

Obviate means to relieve from need or from peril. Finding your own pencil can obviate the requirement of borrowing one. As well, one can obviate holiday panic by starting their Christmas shopping in September.



Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Nature: three spruces

Self-tutoring about spruce on the East Coast: the tutor recalls….

Living in the Atlantic provinces as a kid, I encountered three spruces: white, black, and red.

White and black spruce thrive below the tree line. They are hardy species that live in areas with short growing season and poor soil. The white typically gets bigger, while perhaps the black can look a little more ragged. The black grows in boggier settings.

In Canada, the red spruce is confined to the Acadian forest: Nova Scotia, PEI, New Brunswick, and perhaps southeastern Quebec and Ontario. Therefore, it seems to prefer better soil and warmer temperatures than the black or white spruce.

Where I lived, the red spruce was rare, but I know of at least one. It stood at the end of a path in the woods that led “nowhere” except to that tree. Near a red spruce, you can sense there is something different and special about it; I wonder if neighborhood kids, sensing as much, walked that path to that one.



Brockman and Merrilees. Trees of North America: A Field Guide to Identification. New York: Golden Press, 1968.

English: Homonyms: syntax vs sin tax

Self-tutoring about English: the tutor notices another pair of homonyms…

Calling syntax and sin tax homonyms might be a stretch, since sin tax is two words. People might hear them similarly, however.

syntax: the rules of order and construction in a language.

sin tax: tax on items considered best not to consume. Alcohol, cigarettes, and even gasoline can be examples of goods whose price includes sin tax.



Barber, Katherine et al. Oxford Canadian Dictionary. Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Yard work: morel mushroom

Self-tutoring about wild plants and fungi: the tutor mentions a find.

Visiting the compost today, I noticed a shiny black thing with numerous odd-shaped lobes. Nearby, a second one presented. I bent down to examine one.

I assumed it a mushroom by its wide, grey, buttressed stalk. The whole thing looked gross. I’ve seen nothing similar.

Apparently it might be a morel mushroom, Helvellas type. It’s proximal to a Douglas fir, which is a habitat they’re meant to like.



Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Sports: Wrestling

Self-tutoring about high school sports: the tutor opens a new chapter….

A few weeks ago, somewhat suddenly, my grade 12 son joined high school wrestling. It’s a sport I know little about, although, in grade 5 PE, I did do some ground wrestling.

We went, yesterday, to Vanier in the Comox Valley to watch his first tournament. I soon acclimatized.

The setting was informal, with freedom to walk around and watch a match from beside the mat, if you preferred. The bouts started standing, with each trying to “take down” the other. Wrestling is wide open: once the match starts, it’s all “up to you.”

I was pleased to discover the agricultural tendencies of the crowd. Wrestling seems to attract farmers, and I grew up around farmers, so I was very comfortable there.

When I next have a chance to attend a wrestling tournament, I’ll be happy to do so:)

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Canadian identity: windshield scraping

Self-tutoring about Canadian identity: the tutor comments…

My wife is from Northern Ontario, and arrived here possibly around age 8. I’m from the Maritimes, and arrived on the west coast at age 16. We both know winter.

Recently I’ve shown my sons how to scrape ice from the windshield: neither knew how. They held the scraper almost parallel with the surface.

Of course, an easterner probably knows to put some angle behind the window scraper so it can bite the ice. I demonstrated, then my son tried the technique.

“Good,” I said: “now you look like a Canadian.”

The west coast is amazing and beautiful, but somehow you might not get the full “Canadian experience” unless you’ve lived somewhere east of the Rockies.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Bird watching: LPP Birds of Canada

Self-tutoring about birds: the tutor mentions a new-found resource.

Amidst the bustle of summer, a copy of Lone Pine’s Birds of Canada appeared on a shelf here. I’ve noticed it a couple of times but haven’t had time to examine it until today.

I loved Lone Pine’s Plants of Coastal British Columbia, so I expected to like Birds of Canada, which I do. In five minutes it’s already taught me something: trumpeter swans winter here.

On Vancouver Island, seeing geese and swans in cultivated fields is common, especially in winter. However, I’d heard the trumpeter swan is rare and sticks to a very limited range both in winter and summer. Perhaps less so today: around 10,000 are said to winter in southwest BC. Doubtless I’ve seen some from the car, too far away to realize their true size.


Hoar, De Smet, et al. Birds of Canada. Edmonton: Lone Pine Publishing, 2010

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Retrospect: the paths, case 0

Self-tutoring about childhood memories: the tutor shares….

I lived on a military base from ages six to ten, then moved off base to a farming village.

On the base, everyone rented, so no yards were fenced: “private property” didn’t exist within the civilian real estate. The military side was fenced, of course, with warnings posted that you couldn’t enter.

To a kid, though, the civilian side was free domain: you could cross any yard, for instance. I recall my quickest route to school involved cutting between two houses across the street, then taking a diagonal route across the southwest back lawn. Occasionally I would change the route, crossing between two different houses.

The small village I moved to from the base was immediately different: people’s yards were private. I became aware that you had to take the road somewhere rather than just cutting through yards. Yet, interestingly, a few yards had paths across them that everyone used.

One such lay alongside a road that exited a nearby village’s opposite side whence I lived. Its house was small; the yard was plainer and neater yard than most. Forward past it lay a perpendicular patch of woods people would traverse to a subdivision. The sidewalk, in another fifteen yards, would take you to the woods. Yet, a path veered from the sidewalk, curving through the yard to make a shortcut to the woods.

The path was well worn to bare earth through the dense surrounding lawn.

When I first started going to that area, a few miles away from where I lived, I’d met friends there and it was an exciting place to be. The house with the path was an important “last milestone” before I reached my friends, so I had good feelings about it.

As time went on, some of the friends moved, and some of the friendships went stale. I came to use the path less often, and its presence through the yard came to confound me. I stopped using the path even when I was there, opting to go the long way through the woods to the sidewalk.

I recall looking at that house a last time. A great tree stretched across its yard and over part of the path. From the sidewalk I looked under the branches across the yard; the house perhaps seemed melancholy. The path lay there, as clear as ever…I wonder if it remains today.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

School reflections: Larry

Self-tutoring about a smart man I met when we were both children.

I met Larry when I became his project. I was new at the school, grade four, just at the start of spring.

“We need to get you set up for your expo,” he said. “Come with me to the office.”

We hadn’t “expos” at the school I’d come from. Larry asked me some questions, then handed me off to the vice principal at the office, who wrote me in to the expo Larry recommended.

Surprisingly, Larry wasn’t an administrator or teacher. He was a kid in grade four, in the class I’d recently joined. How he could bring me to the office and recommend my expo to the staff, who would go with his advice, seems unbelievable now. Then, though, it made sense. Larry had a bearing you just accepted, no matter who you were.

Larry knew, logically, that I wouldn’t have friends at the school, being new. No problem — he became my friend, hanging out with me at recess. Lunch he often disappeared somewhere, so I was on my own. Gradually, though, I met other kids: part of being elementary-aged is that meeting other kids is easy. Kids don’t understand the barriers that will separate them as adults.

Larry tapered off, spending only a couple of recesses with me per week. By then I had other acquaintances, so perhaps didn’t need his intervention. I wonder if he sensed as much, which was why he spent less time with me. Yet, I could always find him when I needed to.

Larry’s interests were very different from mine. He loved horror and action movies – ones I wouldn’t be allowed to watch for years to come. I eventually did discover what he did at lunchtime: he sat with kids I didn’t know, exchanging gross stories about people barfing, etc. Larry could do so without losing his appetite, but I couldn’t, so I sat elsewhere.

Grade four ended and summer came. That fall I returned to school like I belonged there, happy to start grade five and see who would be in my class.

The school where I met Larry was a big elementary school, with 700 or so kids. Therefore, it had places a given student would never go, and many events each week that you’d only hear of. I would realize as much because in grade 5, Larry was in my class – or was he?

I’d say that certainly, for the first week, Larry was in class. I believe he sat in the far right row, second from the front. Our teacher was ethnic Anglo-Saxon; her family had been United Empire Loyalists, up from New England after the Revolutionary War. She liked hard work and order. She had taught for decades and was nearing retirement. God bless her, she seemed unprepared for Larry.

When Larry was around, he attracted attention, not even meaning to. More and more, though, his seat was empty: the class would drone quietly on, the kids taking notes or working from their textbooks, without Larry among us.

Larry would show up in the morning, but find a way to leave class and not return. To my knowledge, he lived miles away; he couldn’t likely just leave the school. Yet, he found daily adventures that kept him from the classroom.

A typical scenario might play like so:

Friend: Larry…where were you this morning?

Larry: I met a kid in the hall who’d lost their colouring picture…I had to help them find it. We went to the boiler room, in case it had been thrown out by mistake….

I had been one of Larry’s many projects. He found more all the time, so attended class “less”.

I began to wonder if Larry had really been in my grade four class, or just seemed to be. Apparently he could enter or leave a classroom at will, and go places in the school – with staff support – where no kid was normally allowed.

Such is the genius of Larry that he could move so freely in a regimented environment. Lots of other kids wanted to leave class and wander around, but were stuck there. I never saw Larry get in trouble for his absence from class, or even get asked about it by an adult.

I saw one creative writing story by Larry, whose subject matter was much beyond what I conceived then. He read (horror books). I can’t recall his mentioning anything about math. When Larry did appear, he’d be cheerfully chatting about his latest adventure, or the movie he’d seen the night before.

Larry’s absence became the norm, and kids accept reality pretty fluidly: only as an adult have I thought back, and marveled at, Larry’s ability to shape the school’s rules.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Lifestyle: “Only one month until Christmas….”

Self-tutoring about anticipation: the tutor reflects….

When I was a kid, looking forward to Christmas brought endless pleasure from about this time of year. The holiday lights, the store displays, colouring Christmas scenes, the specials on TV…it was wonderful.

Married with two teenagers, I’ve seen the other side of Christmas…how one can be overtaken, and quite suddenly. My wife and I brainstorm about Christmas gifts in late summer, to take the edge off December.

Yet, there must be a “sweet spot”, when Christmas – and events in general – happen without anticipation, and alike without hurry. That would be life’s “perfect pace,” would it not?

Most adults find they’re in a hurry much of the time, yet kids often find life lacks the excitement they wish, so they look forward to special events. I heard a lady , maybe age 30, once reminisce that, at age 14, she had her best summer ever. Had she, at age 14, reached “perfect pace”, so that life just fell into place every day that summer?

People take on more as they grow up and can perceive the advantage of accomplishment. They imagine a “perfect Christmas”, a “perfect vacation”, or what have you. Yet perhaps that lady, back as a girl of 14, managed a near-perfect summer, just by living her life. I’ve often wondered how many others enjoy a similar time in life, and how they feel as it slips from them.

My first recollection of “it’s x months till Christmas” was an absurd joke: it was said to me on a hot afternoon, July 25, in a retail parking lot. I laughed out loud. None of us had kids then, so we wouldn’t think about Christmas until December. The receipt just happened to say July 25, so my friend made that hilarious connection.

Now, with one month until Christmas, some can’t wait, while others might feel overtaken. Some may not even notice: perhaps they are the ones at “perfect pace”, who will think of Christmas in good time:)

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.