Archive for October, 2009

New Rain Gear


We had some lovely weather in September, a sort of consolation prize for putting up with a very wet summer. October has seen a return to the rainy weather of the summer, however. I don’t worry about the horses getting damp when it is warm out, but as the temperature has been dropping to close to freezing, it is more of a concern. They have a shelter they can take cover in, but when an all-day drizzle sets in, they seem to become restless after a while and venture out into the damp.

Czarina had a nice, green rainsheet from last year, and I was able to dress her for the weather. She seems quite pleased with it, and posed in a traditional stance to have her picture taken, above. Mousie and Louis, however, had only winter blankets, which are still too warm for all-day wear, so this week I invested in rainsheets for them too.


Here’s Mousie in her new raincoat. It’s gray-black, with coral lining and piping, very stylish.


Check out the snazzy snap closures on the front, the front gusset, the reflective logo (WeatherBeeta), pretty cool, eh? It also features wither padding, full wrap tail flap, triple weave strength, and is waterproof and breathable. Or so the tags say.


Here’s Louis in his new mint and royal blue rainsheet. Unlike the horses, he grows a long, furry coat that helps protect him from the rain, but even he begins to feel the cold of an all-day drizzle.


I got everyone suited up in their new gear just before supper. They can enjoy their meal in comfort and settle down for a cozy night.


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Upper Canada Village is a 60 acre re-creation of pioneer life, set on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, east of Morrisburg, Ontario. The forty heritage buildings are populated by a host of costumed interpreters who offer visitors a glimpse into Ontario’s past. One of the houses is called the Physician’s House, pictured above.


The house displays equipment typical of the early days of medicine in 1860s Ontario, when the treatment of patients was limited and crude by today’s standards. Compared to the more humble homes of other community members, such as the shoemaker, the physician’s house is quite comfortable.


One of the prettiest features of the house is the oval window in the front bedroom. The house style is recorded as Neo-Grec, a form of neoclassicism that replaced the rounded, Italianate features and flowery details of earlier Greek Revival buildings with a squarer, more geometric form.

The house wasn’t a doctor’s house in its former life, however. It was originally the home of Michael Cook, and was moved to Upper Canada Village from its location in Aultsville at the time of the Seaway expansion. Aultsville was one of the “Lost Villages” that were submerged when the St. Lawrence Seaway and International Hydro Electric project required the flooding of the region.


The former owner of the house, Michael Cook, was a man of note. A prosperous farmer in the region, he is remembered now with a marker at the Upper Canada Bird Sanctuary, near the former site of Aultsville. His achievement? In 1881, he imported the first Holstein Friesian cattle into Canada.


In 1981, the centennial of the event was commemorated on the same marker. The plaque notes that the cattle from this shipment formed the foundation of the Holstein breed in Canada. Today, about 90% of dairy cows in Canada are Holsteins.


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I recently noticed this little tree standing by the roadside. It caught my eye because it appeared to be decorated with round balls at the ends of its branches. Very odd.

The little tree had already lost most of its leaves, but the few left clinging to the top branches suggested it was an Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides), a member of the poplar genus.


Upon taking a closer look, I found that the balls were actually crinkled masses of some sort of black material. It felt solid to the touch, firm but not rock hard. I looked at the other trees in the area, but only this one seemed to be infected by…whatever it was! My first thought was that it was some kind of fungal infection.

I took a few photographs and later shared them with Birdgirl, who found the answer for me. (It’s good to have a zoologist daughter!) I wasn’t looking at a fungal infection at all. The odd misshapen clumps are the galls of the Poplar Vagabond Gall Aphid (Mordwilkoja vagabunda).


With a bit of research on the internet, I found some interesting information about the tiny insects that cause the galls. Their life cycle is complex and not fully understood. The tiny aphids, ranging in size from 2/100ths to 18/100ths of an inch, can be winged or wingless and pale green to dark brown in colour. There are multiple generations in a year and they can vary in appearance and habit from one generation to the next.

The aphids overwinter as eggs inside old galls and bark crevices. These hatch in the spring and the wee nymphs gather at the tips of the new shoots, where they pierce the new plant tissue and suck the plant juices. This feeding transforms the emerging leaves into twisted, bladder-like galls. The gall encloses the nymphs, which mature rapidly and the young aphids quickly produce hundreds of offspring. As their gall home matures, it becomes brown and dry, splitting to allow new winged generations of aphids to exit and migrate to their unknown secondary host, possible the roots of grasses, where they continue to feed and reproduce over the summer. In late summer, winged aphids return to the dried, brown galls and lay the eggs that will become next spring’s new generation.

As the galls grow older, they change colour from an initial green, to dark brown, to black, and hang on the tree after the leaves have fallen. Although there may be many galls on a tree, they cause little harm to the tree. Since the aphids return to the same galls they left in the spring, the same tree tends to be infected year after year, while nearby trees remain uninfested.

Sleep tight, little aphids-to-be. Enjoy your long winter nap.


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We have had a wonderful display of fall leaves this year. Fall leaf colour is the result of leaf senescence, the process by which trees recover valuable mineral nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen from leaves before winter. Leaves change colour when chlorophyll synthesis stops and the current chlorophyll degrades, revealing the yellow carotenoids in the leaves. Anthocyanins, which are produced in some leaves as the chlorophyll breaks down, give red and purplish tints. Dry, sunny days and cool nights promote the formation of anthocyanins.

The forest is beginning to open up as the leaves drop from the trees and the undergrowth dies back. The dense green forest of just a month ago has been replaced by the bare branches of trees and a carpet of colored leaves underfoot.


Not all the trees in the forest are bare. Some tree species hang on to their leaves a bit longer than others, and the copper leaves that now stand out in the forest make the American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) trees easy to find. Some beech leaves will persist through the winter. The dead leaves that are retained are termed marcescent, and are most common on beeches and oaks. For more on marcescent leaves, see Dressed for Winter


The leaves of some of the smaller beech trees were yellow, rather than copper. It is usually the youngest trees that retain dead leaves, so perhaps this difference in marcescence is reflected in the different leaf colours. Thanks to Birdgirl for this suggestion!

Beeches are trees of the climax forest, often found growing with larger trees like sugar maple, red oak, white ash and white pine, where they thrive in the shade of their bigger cousins. They are slow growers, but can live to be 200 to 300 years old. Beech trees often re-propagate by producing a colony of clones that sucker from the roots of the adult tree.


Like other species such as the White Elms (Ulmus americana), which were decimated by Dutch Elm Disease as the result of a fungus imported from Europe, and the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata), nearly wiped out by an imported Asian bark fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica), beech trees have also been attacked by a foreign invader. The beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga), a tiny insect with formidable piercing and sucking mouth mechanisms, arrived in America with an imported European Beech and, along with a companion fungus, has laid waste to beeches across eastern North America.


Beeches have beautiful, smooth grey bark. They make an inviting surface for initial-carvers, but the wound inflicted by this destructive practice can provide an entry point for disease. Below, the bark of this Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata), growing close to the beech tree in the opening photograph, provides an interesting contrast to the smooth beech bark.


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Frosty Morning


When I went out to the barn on Monday morning, I was greeted by a sparkling world. It was a beautiful start to the day. The sun, of which we have seen precious little of late, was shining for all it was worth. The wind was nowhere to be found, and in spite of the frost coating every blade of grass, the day felt comfortable and inviting.


My first stop is at the barn, where I dole out the morning ration of grain, just a handful, to Mousie and Czarina and Louis. It’s such a small amount, it’s little more than a token treat, but they wait anxiously for this little goodie each morning. Lately, I’ve been able to supplement their usual tidbit with an apple or two, windfalls purchased in bulk for the animals from the local orchard. Apples are Mousie’s favorite treat.


Apples, carrots, a bit of grain, it’s all good with Czarina. She seems very content these days, less fractious than her old self. Maybe old age, or at least maturity, is mellowing her.


Louis much prefers corn, but corn season is done for another year. He likes apples better than carrots, if that’s all that’s on offer. Soon everyone has finished their little treat and they have settled down to a pleasant morning nibbling on their hay.


I leave the horses to their breakfast and walk out to the field to admire the frost. Already the sun is melting it away.


For just a little while longer, though, every stem of goldenrod, every patch of clover, is daintily etched with frost.


Down by the pond, the morning is still, quiet and calm, and peaceful.


Finally, I head back inside for my own breakfast. Momcat is stretched out on the windowsill, enjoying the sunny morning too.


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The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams. Harper & Row, 1986.

Halloween is celebrated on October 31st. When I was young, it was mostly a childrens’ celebration, a time when youngsters dress up in costumes and go door-to-door after dark, collecting candy and treats. Halloween celebrations have been expanding in recent decades to include increasing numbers of adults, who also don elaborate costumes, decorate the house and enjoy a party.

A central theme of Halloween is that it is a night for witches, ghosts and goblins, and all manner of (mildly) scary ghouls. It’s fun to be scared, just a tiny bit. We seek out the thrill of horror movies and enjoy being creeped out, all the while knowing we are perfectly safe. At this time of year, even preschoolers can enjoy the thrill of a scary story. A good starter for small fry is The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything.

After a day of collecting nuts and seeds in the forest, the little old lady returns to her cottage through the dark woods. Soon she comes across a pair of big shoes. The two shoes follow her, CLOMP, CLOMP! Farther down the road, they are joined by a pair of pants, WIGGLE, WIGGLE! And so the story continues, as a long procession forms behind the little old lady. This cumulative tale offers little kids the fun of repeating the chorus as each new item joins the parade, clomp clomp, wiggle, wiggle, shake, shake, making it a perfect story for reading aloud to children. The surprise ending is the perfect antidote to the rising tension of the story and wraps up the suspense perfectly.


The Tailypo: A Ghost Story by Joanna Galdone. Clarion Books, 1977.

For primary children, The Tailypo is a surprisingly scary little picture book. My adult offspring still recall being scared stiff by The Tailypo. The story is simple: An old man chases a mystery creature that has crept into his cabin and is just able to cut its tail off with his hatchet before the varmint escapes. That night, he is haunted by the creature, who comes scratching at the cabin walls, whispering “Tailypo, tailypo, all I want is my tailypo!” You’ll have to read the events for yourself, but if one night you find yourself in the deep, big woods, listen for a voice in the wind: “Tailypo, tailypo, now I’ve got my tailypo…”.


The Half-A-Moon Inn by Paul Fleischman. Harper & Row, 1980.

I recall a neighbour bragging to me once that her preschool son had seen a Star Wars movie on the big screen and hadn’t been frightened at all. “Good for you, getting your son desensitized to violence at a tender age!” I thought, but didn’t say. The Tailypo is a good example of how a story that allows children to use a bit of imagination can be way more scary than anything you see on the screen. Another good example is The Half-A-Moon Inn. Written in an easily-accessible style with a simple vocabulary, The Half-A-Moon Inn is the story of a mute boy who goes searching through the forest for his mother after she fails to arrive home from her trip to market on time. He is soon lost and comes upon an inn. The old woman innkeeper takes him in, but he quickly finds that, far from being saved, he is being held prisoner. The innkeeper hides his shoes and coat so that he can’t run off into the wintry forest. He can’t speak, and finds that the people who visit the inn are illiterate, and can’t read his written messages asking for help. How will he escape? Every child’s nightmare, the tale is given life by the reader’s ability to put himself in the captive’s shoes, not by the language of the story or by gruesome events. The story is happily resolved in the final chapter.

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Climate Action Day on Saturday, October 24th, was a cool, rainy fall day, but it didn’t dampen the spirits of the many young people who came to Parliament Hill to show their support for action on climate change. A video clip of the event is posted at Cday.atypical.ca.

Elizabeth May, Green Party leader, with admirers.

Elizabeth May, Green Party leader, with admirers.

Nobel Prize winner, Dr. John Stone, speaks of the urgency of action.

Nobel Prize winner, Dr. John Stone, speaks of the urgency of action.

Tzeporah Berman, co-founder of ForestEthics, addresses the crowd.

Tzeporah Berman, co-founder of ForestEthics, addresses the crowd.




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Sunday Snapshot: Evening

Evening Light

Evening Light

Evening Road

Evening Road



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If you go into a modern supermarket, you can find a stunning array of food. The choices available to modern consumers are incredible when compared to the pantry of a pioneer home. On the other hand, modern practices have actually worked to minimize, not maximize, the variety of goods in some instances. Take apples, for example. In my local supermarket I can count on finding McIntosh and Delicious apples, and probably a few others such as Empire or Ida Red. Consider that in the 1800s there were thousands of varieties of apples grown in North America. One estimate stands at over 7000. The varieties of apples you find at the supermarket were chosen in part for their ability to stand up to shipping and resist bruising, so they look good on the grocery shelf. If you are adventurous though, you might want to experiment with other apples.

A number of heritage apples, and less well-known modern varieties are still available at local orchards across the country. You can grow your own, too. Nurseries such as Siloam Orchard in Uxbridge, Ontario, offer many different varieties to growers. The All About Apples website has good information about many varieties. Some of the names are very enticing. Who wouldn’t want to try a Glowing Heart (described as looking like a beet, inside and out) or a Seek-No-Further apple?

I recently visited Smyth’s Apple Orchard store and purchased a few different varieties to taste-test. Railguy and I sampled these three heirloom varieties for dessert one evening.

Snow apples

Snow apples

Snow apples, also known as Fameuse, are a very old variety. They originated in Quebec in the 1600s, likely from stock imported from France. Snow refers to the pure white flesh of the fruit. Trees are reported to be long-lived and hardy, and this variety is probably a parent of the more famous McIntosh. The fruit is small to medium-sized. We found the flesh of the apples to be rather soft, lacking the crispness of some other varieties, while the flavor was mild and pleasant.


Greening apples

There are a few different kinds of Greening apples: Bottle Greening, Rhode Island Greening, Northwest Greening, Patten Greening and Lanark Greening. These were labeled simply Greening. The Bottle Greening was a chance seedling found growing near the border of New York and Vermont in the early 1800s. Work gangs in the area used to stash their bottles in the hollow trunk of the original tree, and it was thus named the Bottle Tree and later the Bottle Greening. The Rhode Island Greening is one of the oldest historic apple varieties in America, originating near Newport, Rhode Island around 1650. It produces quite large, light to dark green fruit and has long been prized for pie-making. The apple we sampled was noticeably more tart than the other two varieties recorded here, though not unpleasantly so, and pleasingly crisp.

Winesap apples

Winesap apples

Winesap apples originated in New Jersey and are recorded as popular cider apples by 1817. The apples are good “winter-keepers” and they remained very popular across America until availability of commercial storage allowed other apple varieties to be widely available. The flavor of Winesaps is often described as spicy and it is said a slight wine-like aftertaste is the source of their name. Railguy and I agreed that while the Snow apple was a bit bland, and the Greening a bit tart, the Winesap was just right! It had a nice crispness and good, sweet flavor. Rather than wine-like or spicy, we both described the flavor as fruity. For the final word, you’ll have to try it for yourself.

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Scientists say that 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity. We're at 387.

As the UN Climate Summit to take place in Copenhagen grows nearer, people around the world are uniting to show political leaders the we’re ready and able to deal with climate change. Saturday, October 24th is International Day of Climate Action. At 350.org, you can find the location of an event near you. If you find yourself near Ottawa, Ontario, you can join the Fill the Hill event.

Canada’s political leaders made it clear that they need to hear from Canadians who care about the future of the planet, as the Liberals joined forces with the Conservatives to vote down the Hyer Bill, Bill C-311. The bill would have allowed Canadians to go to Copenhagen with some semblance of integrity intact. Here is a news report about the lack of progress on Canada’s Climate Change Accountability Act. The news report is reproduced in part below:

OTTAWA – Liberal and Conservative MPs today joined forces to stall the only legislation addressing climate change before the House of Commons. Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, is MP Bruce Hyer’s private member’s bill that commits Canada to firm science-based greenhouse gas pollution targets. More than 40 Canadian conservation & environmental organizations including Nature Canada, the Jane Goodall Institute, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Council of Canadians sent an open letter yesterday to all MPs urging against delay.

It is feared that without passage of C-311 before the Copenhagen global climate treaty negotiations this December, the Conservative government would be free to arrive on the world stage without a plan, and hold back a climate agreement from being reached. “Adopting this bill will not only reflect the sentiments of the majority of Canadians who are deeply concerned about climate change, it would also signal the commitment of Canada to do its part,” said Bruce Hyer, the New Democrat Deputy Environment Critic. “Today’s vote was a chance for Liberals to join the rest of the opposition to direct the government on Canada’s stance for Copenhagen. Instead, they have chosen to side with Conservatives and delay action.”

The vote comes on the heels of testimony by leading climate scientists at the Environment Committee, who voiced strong support for the Bill’s science-based greenhouse gas pollution targets and urged the passage of the Bill in advance of Copenhagen.

Canada’s “leaders” seem determined to reduce Canada to third-world status. I can understand that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is obsessed with winning the next election, no matter the cost. What I can never understand is why he doesn’t care about the world his own children will inherit.

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