Archive for August 17th, 2009


On July 5th, Japan’s Emperor Akhito and Empress Michiko visited the Mer Bleue Conservation Area as part of their eleven day tour of Canada. The protected area encompasses 33 square kilometers southeast of Ottawa. It’s main feature is the Mer Bleue wetland, about 50% of which comprises a sphagnum bog, rare this far south. It was designated as a Wetland of International Significance under the Ramsar Convention in October of 1995.


The name, Mer Bleue, is French for Blue Sea. It is thought that the name reflects the appearance of the bog when it is shrouded in an early morning mist. RailGuy and I took a walk on the boardwalk trail on the weekend. The trail is 1.2 kilometers long and begins on a sand ridge that overlooks the bog. The boardwalk leads first through an area of marsh and open water, home to beavers, muskrats and other wildlife, and then enters the bog.


Near the point at which the boardwalk enters the bog from the marsh is an interpretive sign that outlines the acidity level of the bog.


Water in the bog has an acidity level, or pH, of 3 to 4, making it up to 1000 times more acidic than milk. The sign shows the standard acid/ base scale that runs from 0 (very acidic) to 14 (very alkaline). Each increment on the scale represents a 10-fold increase. That is, 3 is 10 times more acidic than 4.


The high level of acidity is the result of poor drainage. No running water rinses the acidity from the bog and a specialized plant community that can cope with the high level of acidity develops. This includes larch and black spruce trees, Labrador tea and leatherleaf shrubs, and cottongrass and sphagnum moss.


The webs of spiders, glistening in the sun, could be seen ornamenting the sphagnum and low vegetation, including this funnel web.


While walking along the boardwalk, one tree caught our eye. It had a large, round globe-shaped growth situated conspicuously near its tip. A witch’s broom! I only recognized it as such because such a growth was recently featured on Birdgirl’s blog, The Marvelous in Nature.


Two beaver lodges were located near the boardwalk. One showed little sign of activity. The second, however, had gnawed branches floating nearby, suggesting it was in use.


Passages through the marsh connected the lodge with open water.


It was a very hot day, and the boardwalk leads through an open expanse where you are exposed to the bright sun. The trail returns through the marsh and then enters a final section of forest. Part of the forest was natural, while the remainder was an old pine plantation. The shade of the trees was a welcome respite from the heat of the sun.

For a visit to another bog, see this post on Alfred Bog.


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December Heat by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. Henry Holt and Company, 2003.

I follow a few different detective series and am always on the lookout for someone new and interesting. I read about Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa mysteries in a book review in the Globe and Mail, and thought I’d give him a try. December Heat happened to be the title available at the local library, and the exotic-sounding title appealed to me. Heat in December, certainly not something Ontarians expect. I like the cover photograph as well, the city of Rio de Janeiro at night, as seen from the beach.

Garcia-Roza’s Inspector Espinosa, a middle-aged man, certainly has a great deal of company in the ranks of detective fiction. Even on television there are any number of entries in the division. In British series currently available alone, Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby of Midsomer Murders, Inspector Morse, and Jack Frost of A Touch of Frost spring to mind. Given Garcia-Roza’s setting, I was expecting something more like an Italian series, Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti, maybe, or perhaps Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano.

Sadly, Inspector Espinosa is no match for either of those great Italian detectives. The character of Espinosa is not well-developed. We learn very little about him, although it is possible that Garcia-Roza fleshes out his character over the course of several novels. In this investigation, Espinosa falls for a young woman showing her art work on the street and their relationship and that of an old, retired policeman with a young prostitute seemed to enter into the realm of male fantasy.

The story begins with the murder of a prostitute and the loss of a wallet containing a retired policeman’s ID. Garcia-Rosa takes a brief look at the lives of street children, as one such youngster, who witnessed the theft of the wallet, is threatened. Espinosa’s investigation seeks to link the initial death with subsequent events. In the end, the author takes the easy way out: it seems the murder isn’t linked to the theft at all.

I did enjoy some elements of this story but probably wouldn’t seek out sequels based on this entry in series. On the other hand, I could see the story benefitting form the visuals of television. Inspector Espinosa might make a better detective on TV than he does in print.

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