Adventure is all around us

In the summer of 1992 we pushed off from shore late in the afternoon of a long early August day, and paddled down the Columbia. Myself (about 9), my Brother, and Dad in one canoe, and our neighbour GG and his son CG in theirs. We started down the Lake, in the light chop of boats, past the last of the cabins and Pete’s Marina. At that point the mouth of the River started to draw us along and the paddling became easier. Around one bend, the sound of boats and cars was no more, there was just the river, a baking hot day, birdsong from the wetlands on either side.

A beautiful bald eagle high up in a mighty fir on the right bank, that may have been the first bald eagle I had seen, on that trip I remember counting three, the Columbia wetlands were then, as now, a superb habitat for birds. The water that flows from the lake is clear and warm, but I remember the water getting muddied with grey silt starting right at the where Toby Creek flows in, cold, freshly melted and unsettled.

We needed somewhere to camp. The River is mostly bordered on both sides by wetlands that don’t afford much in the way of a high and dry spot to pitch a tent and have bunch of kids run around. It was getting time to camp, and we charged up the churning Horsethief Creek. I remember pulling hard on the paddle at my Dad’s urging as we follows the G’s canoe onto a sandbar some ways up the Creek. We parked the canoes and waded across the kneedeep water to check out the wetlands on the North side of the Creek. The bugs were instantly all over us, that would be no fun for camping. However, the sandbar, having no vegetation or standing water near it, was bug free. We decided to make camp.

The first thing we did as kids was dig a latrine. This we did on the narrow upstream point of the sandbar, which was perhaps 80 feet in length, and fanned out towards the downstrem end. The Dad’s set up the tent, a big blue wall tent, in the middle of the sandbar. We shot the bb gun and made a fire. Then we went to sleep.

When I woke up in the morning, the sand was dark and wet and the sandbar seemed to have a slightly different shape to it. Apparently, we had to get up three times in the night and drag the tent to higher ground. It was touch and go and we almost had to bail into the canoes, as the glacial melt of the day had reached our point in the creek in the middle of the night. I was so zonked from the long day on the water that I didn’t even know about this until years later, without exaggeration I was sleep walking moving the tent in the middle of the night with everybody else.

We ate breakfast and left the sandbar, the current of Horsethief Creek giving us quite a push back into the main stem of the Columbia, which was further silted and cooled. I remember behind approximately Dry Gulch, where old cars had been run down a steep hill for kicks and abandoned to rust out. Nine year old me thought this was the best thing ever. I think a few old wrecks are still out there like that, though people don’t really do that so much any more. This was back in the time when the dump wasn’t open sundays and there was a tippage fee, so people would shove old refrigerators and couches of the hill at the back of town, out of sight out of mind, back when there was a shanty town up the Toby beyond the industrial park in Athalmer, where people lived in tiny shacks made of whatever they could put their hands on, we called it ‘Hillbilly Heaven’ and it brought an odd sort of wonder and incomprehension to a young lad.

We made it to the bridge across the River at Radium where we were supposed to meet our ride. I remember waiting there and shooting a fishing spoon that was tangled up in telephone wires above the river. I still remember connecting with that lure, a shimmering bluish white with a red streak. We drove back and stopped in Radium at the grocery store. GG went in and said, I’m going to get you boys a treat. We were famished from the camping and paddling, and my mouth was watering at the thought of a Mars bar. When he came back he had green apples for us, and said this is a real healthy treat. I remember being disappointed at the sour taste but taking the underlying wisdom and humour to heart.

This is a trip I look back on often. When you are young there is adventure around every corner. I remember coming back from a movie in town in the Winter, and looking up at the infinite stars, the cold winter night quiet, across the Lake, the vast forested Purcells, where I believed wolves lived. Back then, it felt like a new frontier, we saw nobody on the river. Now that’s an easy afternoon trip. The Purcells, the mountains, I have been deep into on foot, I know where the roads are, have been to the ghost towns, the old mines, have been to Jumbo Pass, have climbed, camped, skiied and scrambled, have been to the other side of the pass, Kootenay Lake, and so on. Exploring the world in some ways closes off the frontiers with understanding, maturation, a sense of your abilities and the demands of the world. You look across the Lake and know there is a road, know that there is a ski resort on the other side of the mountain, on the far other side of the pass, a road, a town. In some ways there are no frontiers left, striving to find them means risking death and is really a job for a youth that is already slipping from your fingers. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still feel the adventure if you look with the right kind of eyes.

More San Pedro de Atacama

This is a photographic recollection of a trip I took in 2013. Remember when people used to have slide shows? Think of this like that. There’s no deeper commentary, other than exploring some surreal and powerful territory in the Southern Hemisphere with a friend. Now you get to ride along. A mood. You take an early morning bus from San Pedro up to El Geysers del Tatio, as the best viewing is at sunrise.

A random little town on the way back from the geysers. I think Machuca.

Bolivian winter. Cool and damp high up in the desert. A very peaceful mood, nothing stirs.

One of the odd little streams up high. Further down there were men netting small fish out of this trickle, it looked like for a research project.

This is the view looking down on Termas de Puritama , a magical little oasis in the desert.

The Termas themselves are composed of one or two concrete pools, plus a number of other pools where the water spills on down the way

On the way back in we listened to a classic Chilean folk song ‘Gracias a la vida’. Truly, how could one not be.

Toconao, my friend Enrique who was kind enough to play tour guide for this trip. These little towns often had the feel of a 60’s western town, like in the Wild Bunch, plaza with a foundtain, church, some nice trees, quiet, desert all around.

Every little trickle out of the hills is terraced into fields, mostly corn. You can see on the other side of the valley unused terraces, how ancient they may be I do not know, however I recall that the Incas brought corn here from the North. It made an impression, that in a world not far from the airport at Calama and the metropolis at Santiago, a thread ran still to the way things were done before europeans even dreamed of Chile, on the edge of the driest desert on earth the secret of life was kindled still.

This was about as far as we got to the East, fairly close to the Argentina border, a salt lake, shallow, we broke through the crust walking towards the briny water.

Piedras Rojas, an ancient lava flow, smooth as asphalt. We drove down onto it and explored this incredible, desolate terrain

Perfectly camouflaged, a vicuna, it’s a miracle we didn’t hit one, they don’t seem to be bothered too much by cars in their desert.

This is at the Salar de Atacama, a large salty lake in the centre of the Atacama proper. Flamingos are eating whatever little bugs or maybe little fish live in the saline water. There were wonderful little lizards that had evolved skin with the white tones of the evaporated sand. DSCN0156 The Salar is best viewed at sunset they say. A wind picks up as the sun drops and the earth cools, a fresh desert wind blowing across miles of precipitate, brine and dust.

You Must Write

‘Modern culture feels disengaging to us because it isn’t designed for us anymore. The truth is, we just aren’t the target market. The culture is engineered to appeal to other demographics in order to integrate them into the system. If we’re to have a culture, we must create it.’

The author of this tweet has expressed most clearly something that we have touched on here before, whether it’s in articles on Hollywood or more broadly. This is one of the reasons I wrote a book. If you don’t see what you want to see you have to make it, and support the efforts of whatever else you can find that speaks to you. Every time you opt out of watching something not designed for you and find something that is designed for you, you win. There is already a new canon evolving in the internet literary world, a canon of works outside the official narrative, no longer out of print, published anonymously, and a new language, a new world of references has already grown in the shadow of multinational publishing houses, one that is vibrant and actually worth reading.

Big budget movies are now made increasingly generic for an international audience and whatever hangers on they can muster domestically, this means you fanboys. If you’re reading this, they’re not designed for you, it’s overly broad and blandified into oblivion. On the other extreme Canadian literature and global literature more broadly. is dominated by a set of narrow academic tastes. A huge success gets the right praise from the right people, sells as many copies as the grant paid for and, any more praise or sales is too mainstream for true critical appreciation The poetry is terrible, the fiction is sterile and hums around approved topics. Is this generalizing? Yes. But grab a recent canadian poetry book off the shelf at your local library and get back to me.

The solution is writing what you want to read. The beauty of writing is that it’s incredibly cheap to do, compared to producing a film. It requires one person, and no budget to speak of. You can publish in no time at all on amazon and market it as hard as you want. If you write what you want to read, you will have at least one happy reader: you. And any other readers that you find are an added bonus.

But Sean, you say, I don’t know how to write – I haven’t done a creative writing degree at a prestigious program. Even better, nobody has got to you, you’re not writing with anybody else’s critical voice in your head, you’re not shaped by the forces that churn out generic literary authors and have surrendered almost all the influence that the novel once had on the culture at large in a race to be pleased with themselves. Also, I have news for you: you can make your friends laugh around a campfire. You can write. You can win. You can beat the critic-pleasers. But it takes the time to sit down to work and put your heart into it, without being concerned with what the genericizers might think.

They are coming from a place of constraint. You are coming from a place of freedom. You will win. But first, you must write, you must build.

A good life, at the end of summer

In early September my Wife and I stopped by at the farm where I used to work. We looked through the fence and I pointed things out to her. When I stepped back it struck me how big a row of blue spruce trees had grown. The first summer I worked there I’m not even sure if the trees had been planted, the first I remember of them they were maybe three feet high. We planted a row of raspberry bushes near them too, these were long gone. Now the trees were 15 feet tall, with thick grey trunks.

Visiting the farm, and touring around Windermere, got me in a melancholic mood, and nothing more so than those trees. I’m not that type of man as a rule, but there you have it. The golden summers I spent out there suddenly felt distant, the friends I had made distant, I can barely recall their names, they all have their families now too, just as I do. In their place, my Wife. In place of the farm and the Lake, there is now the office, the home, the land my Wife and I want to buy to make our own place.

Some things don’t change, the smell of the forest all around, the smell of the Lake nearby and you feel that nothing has changed when you stand there. And then you see the trees and know that 15 years have gone by. 15 years in which you went to school, cut your teeth in a profession, quit drinking, made friends, lost friends, lived in different cities, went to Easter Island, climbed some decent mountains, welcomed nephews and a niece and watched them grow up too, and most importantly fell in love and got married.

In some way you are both that late summer smell of the forest, swelling with life and the trees, barely recognizable, tall, solid, where a little christmas tree once was. We missed the summer this year. We were busy getting married, busy getting busy, in the office work work work, looking for our own little slice of the world, putting a coat of paint on what we have now.

The trees are still young but you know they aren’t going to be there forever. They are crowding each other. 15 years have gone by and you realize that that’s a tree growing up – and there isn’t any other direction.

Back then, in the golden summers, I used to judge my own friends and look down on them… imagine, my own friends, for what I perceived to be their failings… this one got fat, this one has an addiction, this one is not all the athlete they could be, this one took a decade to flub through high school, this one is not ambitious as I think they should be, this one has a crap job. As if I was the arbiter of everything, and my eyes set the standard, and nobody could ever look at me in the same cold way. And on the other hand I felt a jealousy when other friends had what I wanted, a choice job, a good looking girlfriend, a nice place, money. It’s not a good way to look at the world, it tears you apart glance by glance, even as you plough forward on your path.

In the meantime, I have seen so many go away forever, drugs took more than they should, but some went by the cosmic roll of the dice, a plane crash here, a cancer there, some just plain went. Now when I see an old friend I could care less what of that superficial shit you could tag them with, I am just glad they are still here. It fills me with warmth just to say, ‘good to see you, you look well my friend’.

We don’t have all that much time, it hits you, when you see those trees. Some have less than others. It’s cliche but you could go any day. And that’s not an invitation to dip into some carpe diem hedonism, but it is to use your time wisely, please. As amazingly robust as we are, there’s so many damn things that could go wrong, and then we look so weak, so helpless.

Think on the good things. Reading a book with your niece. A row on a quiet lake before dawn. Your wife’s hand squeezing yours. Yes we all have to suck it up and go to work to make it happen, that’s part of the bargain, that keeps those moments pure. But the time wasters, the drinking ‘buddies’ you will never miss, worse, the time wasters from within, the envy, the feeling of inadequacy, the fears. They gotta go.

The hidden lives of birds

For the last three weeks, Sunday morning we have gone to the same place to walk and take in some nature. The birdlife was impossible to ignore, and it has become the centre of these walks. The first Sunday I went on my own, drawn by the call of the wild. The next two I went with the woman I am going to marry next month. Doing this sort of thing together has been one of our great pleasures ever since we met, spending time in nature together, walking hand in hand, showing each other things, talking, being silent, exploring. It’s a funny thing, but a friend of mine, a wise old salt from up North once told me about finding the one for you ‘it’s important to have someone you can birdwatch with’. I took his meaning generally, but did not think that I would literally find someone that I love to birdwatch with!

Trust me there’s a whole lot of birds out there. A better camera would get the point across

Every time we see a bird we don’t know, we observe closely then look it up in a book at home. We were watching some big white birds, trying to figure out what they were. I asked my fiancee to see if she thought whether they had black on their faces. We looked real hard through the binoculars, trying to get a good look. They did have black on their faces. We looked them up in the book, and decided they were tundra swans (that seemed to fit better than trumpeter swans). Turns out the tundra swans are on their way through from wintering grounds in the western states to summer on the arctic ocean. The buffleheads are heading to the boreal forest from wintering on the Pacific coast. The first Sunday, there were a lot of buffleheads, a few mallards and a few seagulls. The second Sunday, the buffleheads were still strong, but a lot of coots had arrived. This week, we saw the first swallows, hundreds of them, zipping over the water singing their songs. The buffleheads and coots had largely moved on. We saw the tundra swans and Bonaparte’s Gulls. Out in the delta, a golden eagle sat. It looked like he had something in his claws and was eating it. Maybe he had raided a crows nest because a handful of crows caught up with him and were harassing him where he sat out in very shallow water. It didn’t seem like the other birds were too disturbed, as though he had caught a coot.

If you just saw one of these buffleheads sitting there you might think, hmm a duck, with no idea of this odd passageway that is somehow bred into it, this ebbing road that its species has staked out over the ages, and that it has a different path from the mallard, the swan, the swallow, the gull.

Yet they are all looking for the same things, to reap the bounty of summer, to breed, nest and raise young, to not be eaten by eagles, and to retreat from winter. When we go next week no doubt, some will remain and some new birds will have arrived, playing their part in this journey.

If people knew that, just by stopping and looking they could touch the mysteries of the universe, we wouldn’t have weed shops on every corner. Why would you want to escape this wonder, to dull your senses to this world? In your hand is your lovers hand. The sky is filled with birds on their way.

Grey Sunday

Last Saturday it was pushing 20 degrees Celsius. We were outside all day, and our skins started to tan up. We bought flowers to plant, and I played basketball in the afternoon sun while my fiancee rode her bike. Glorious.When we woke up Sunday morning two inches of snow had fallen and you could hear the wind buffeting the walls of the house. I bundled up and walked over to Francesco’s to get coffee. My face felt the cold wind, the sleety snow – and yet I went for an extra lap of the park on the way home to soak up the feeling. The grey, stormy mood of the day got me. I checked on my fiancee. She had gone back up to bed. I was drawn irresistibly to the Glenmore reservoir. I could picture it. I had to go. I texted her that I was heading out for a walk. A man possessed by a vision of what the lake would be like.When I got the reservoir, almost nobody was there. This is particularly noticeable as it has been busier than ever since covid began as people look for ways to socialize, which is only intermittently legal outdoors, and exercise, which is more or less illegal indoors. The day was quiet, no people, hardly any cars on the road being a slick wet snowy Sunday, any human noise was tamped down by the smothering clouds and the sound of the wind from the North. I made a beeline for the water. I started from the Rowing Club and walked South. The lake still had its last ice on, starting to candle and get a blue watery colour, save for where patches of granular snow remained a worn out white.Most of the hikes I have done over the last year or so have been with my fiancee. It’s been such a blessing to share our favourite places with each other, and to discover new horizons hand in hand. She is fit and fun and the ultimate companion on and off the trail, we love each other deeply.Sometimes however, you hear the call and must answer on your own. She is in the nice warm bed and your face is reddening up in fierce blasts of icy snow. This is as it should be, there is the yin and the yan.I turned to the West and was sheltered by the bank of the reservoir. The ice gradually petered off under pressure from the inflowing Elbow River. Along the edge of the ice was a tremendous flotilla of waterfowl, mostly buffleheads, small diving ducks with brilliant white and black to purply plumage. There were also a few seagulls that seemed to like to stand on the ice, and a smattering of mallards. I stood and listened to the calls and chatter of the various ducks. Watched them dive, preen, assert territorial claims, and possibly try to pair up and mate. I was absorbed, and watched, walking on and stopping occasionally, trying my best not to disturb them. There was nobody around, it felt like I had an arctic lake all to myself.Further on was another group of ducks. I watched some more, enthralled at their splendid show. A few gusts of wind found the water from the west, nothing like the blasts coming out of the North. I wandered back, and then did a loop of North Glenmore park, walking through the snow, looking at the wonderful trees, before it was time to head in.

My craving for the ice, the water, the cold wind, the solitude wild ducks stopping off on their way North, had been satisfied, and within the city no less.

On ‘boxing’

I’m going to be brief on this. I’m not going to name the people involved, I haven’t been clicking on links or giving this any attention, but it has been hard to escape, the topic was just on sports radio. I will weigh in here now to get it off my chest and then leave it alone.

I don’t mind spectacle. When Floyd entered the ring with Bieber, I laughed. When Conor fought Floyd, I had reservations but I watched. I watched this guy fight a basketball player. Neither of them could box, it was ridiculous. I decided that was the line for me. You have to be able to box. Floyd could box. Conor could sort of box. This guy could not go the distance with the number 600 ranked cruiserweight, anybody in the top 20 – that fight wouldn’t get sanctioned because he could get killed, literally killed, or hurt real bad.

I’m not interested in watching people that can’t box, ‘box’. Everybody should move on.

I don’t really care that people are watching and they are making money. It’s not worth it. If other people want to spend their money on garbage, it’s their money, but make no mistake, it is garbage.

As for the opponent, I had a great deal of respect for him based solely on his wrestling bona fides. That respect is long gone, and he is making the sport look bad with these performances.

I will continue to watch actual boxing and mma with people who are skilled and show the sport respect.


A good life in a world off balance



9/11 happened in my first week of university.

Our history professor told us that it was an event that would shape our lives, a truly historic day. I reflected on that. Would I be getting shipped off to fight a war? My track friend had signed up for the US Marines and was going to boot camp at the end of the month, I was almost 18, mentally malleable and physically fit, prime soldier material – nobody knew what was going on.

I didn’t know quite why but my back was up the months and years that followed. There was an immense surge of patriotism that swept across the world, particularly the USA, herd dynamics at its biggest and least predictable. Remember the support our troops bumper stickers? That feeling morphed into a rote ‘support our first responders’ sentiment and now… now an anti-police ‘defund the police’ wave has swept across America. Back then the enemy was suddenly foreigners, Taliban in caves, the amorphous Al Qaeda, and now, the enemy is domestic, hapless supporters of the Poochy President. The pendulum always swings back, sometimes wilder and wilder until something breaks.

I remember watching the American budget explode with the Forever Wars and the euphoria of the housing boom, the bust, the bailouts of the connected.  Presidents and Congresses never really stopped spending, and the debt kept growing at a steady rate regardless of party, Bush, Obama, Trump and now Biden, enabling too big to fail parasitism at the highest levels. The end result is that nobody believes in government debt, nobody believes in company valuations, if enough people will Tesla to be worth what it’s worth, then that is what it will be worth. A war for control of the planet simmers below the surface using anything but bullets, and you, you have nothing to say in these matters, these forces are beyond your control. An average citizen with some wealth, your wealth is being diluted every day, your vote is melting and twisting every day, your voice is policed into narrower channels every day.

So what can you do about it?  Do you take a ‘Last of the Romans’ stance, holding onto your principles, knowing that you are a man out of time, and will be swept away by tides of history? Do you die for your principles? What are your principles? What if the stand you take hurts others around you? Do you blend in and go with the flow, a chameleon, hoping that you can stay one step ahead of the inevitable? Do you bide your time and hope the forces arrayed against you run their course, self-destruct? Do you flee into the abyss and hide? Do you find a select group and create your own community and hope to escape notice, or to find protection in a critical mass of similar people? How do we see clearly ahead?

How do you answer these questions? For me it’s a trip back to Philosophy 101, what is the good life? People have thought on these questions for millennia, while at the time I thought the question was quaint (‘what is good?’) as I’ve grown older I see that it is a question worth asking, and that yes, some things are ‘good’. Plato’s Myth of Er is the story that stuck with me most, and which over the years I used to view my own life. The Myth (read the original if you haven’t and accept my coles notes version in the meantime) is a vision of the afterlife, in which downtrodden slaves become sinful kings as reward for their meekness, and sinful kings are in turn punished with slavery. Meanwhile, cunning Odysseus chooses for his next life something of a middle path, the life of a craftsman, not famous, not powerful, but not starving or exploited. I took that to heart in choosing to become a solo lawyer, essentially a trade that can be practiced anywhere, neither overly glamorous nor neglected. Plato was no stranger to war, currency fluctuation, tyranny, democracy, slavery, famine, plague. Perhaps we can learn something from him.

That’s as good a starting point as any, for me, and perhaps for you?




Hollywood decay, and why I care

You can argue that film is the central art form in our global culture. Hollywood stars are the most recognizable people on earth and the size and reach of the business is second to none, (well at least as great as the music industry). As such you would expect it to drive and define our culture in ways arguably similar to the epic poem in Ancient Greece or theater in Elizabethan London. And maybe it still does. But I noticed something over the last twenty years or so. I noticed that every year people care less and less about the movies. We go to them and find them forgettable, like the Avengers, they leave no impression, a few kicks and you’re back in he sunlight.

There are a number of plausible explanations for this trend. Internet culture, with its immense and difficult to categorize garden of forking paths, is the most likely suspect. Some would say tv, but I lump junk like Game of Thrones in with the rest of the traditional movie tripe that is being made, empty calories. That’s not a bad thing in limited quantities.

I’m not under any illusions. Film has been a spectacle and entertainment since the very beginning. There is value in that. But there is also value in making films of substance and merit, that last through the ages, inspire people, change minds, and nurture souls. I’m sure these films are being made, every once in a while you will stumble across one like an oasis in the desert. Its hard to see them or feel their touch. They’re buried by the Marvel/DC/Star Wars/Star Trek/Harry Potter/young adult novel adaptation du jour/Game of Thrones onslaught. The prestige pieces that are elevated for praise are so often forced and sterile, for instance Crash, Spotlight, Birdman, and forgotten as soon as awards season is over.

I think Hollywood (I include Netflix, etc in this term) is in the middle of a historic lull, where very little of originality or substance is being made. Others have noticed this trend, and written ably about it, such as in this piece by Steve Rose which is spot on. I won’t go over ground covered by others but share my own approach.

I have a few criteria I use to evaluate a film. The first is, what our film prof told us, ‘how do you feel after the movie?’ This is very simple. If you feel tired or junky after the film, it was probably bad. You might not be able to put your finger on it exactly, but you don’t need to. If you feel revived or stimulated after, it was good. Simple.

I have a general distaste for films that take themselves too seriously or are too pleased with themselves. See for example ‘Spotlight’.

Oh please.

I like movies that are made with a spirit of fun and adventure. Even objectively bad movies like Return of the Living Dead III are redeemed by the fact that nobody took themselves too seriously and they tried to make the weirdest creature effects that they could. The paradox is that its easier to make a film than ever and harder to get industry backing and scale traditionally than ever. As such great filmmakers toil in obscurity and talentless hacks are elevated to the highest heights.

So you’re saying, Sean, what’s the point, why do I care? Everything was better back in my day right?

I care because I would like to see the talentless and the talented find their proper place, from a sense of justice. I care as an approximately weekly viewer of movies who would like to see something contemporary that both speaks to me and that I could speak to another human being about. I care intrinsically about the movies as someone who has seen quite a few and given them a certain amount of thought over the years.

That is all.

Do I have any solutions? On a micro level, guard your time and use it wisely.

opioid crisis

Today I learned that another friend of mine had passed away in the prime of life. It hit me right in the stomach. I don’t know the details but I have seen too many friends pass away in their 20s and 30s in recent years. Some I know are from opioid overdoses. Others, you know less and are left wondering. It’s not really our business but when you hear shocking news about a friend, naturally the first thing you think is ‘what happened?’ It’s not in the nature of things for so many young men to die at this age.

I understand why families are reluctant to say in an obituary that the cause of death was an overdose. Recently, I saw in an obituary where the family did say the cause of death was an overdose, I think that was part of recognizing that this is a bigger problem than one person, and something that other families are touched by.

I don’t know the solution. I think that the decriminalization of marijuana is a net positive for society, but I don’t view it as a cure all or something that doesn’t have side effects. I wonder how we can be as progressive as we ever have been in terms of decriminalization of substance use, at a time when the danger from certain of these drugs is higher than ever. Will there be a breaking point? Or will we just watch our friends disappear year after year.