Archive for March, 2012


I’ve always loved spring. It’s my favorite season. Oh, I know, the t-shirt days of summer are wonderful, and fall brings some of the most gorgeous days of the year. But spring! The rebirth of the world after its long winter sleep, what a miracle. I used to watch for the greening of the trees, the bright, alive green that you see only in spring, truly spring green. But now it is the first colouring of the maple trees that intrigues me.

Maple trees are well-known for their brilliant show of autumnal leaves. Their spring show is more subtle, delicate, the first blush of the new growing season enlivening the forest. As you look across farmers fields and pastures to woodlots and forests, it’s not green that captures the eye, but a muted red. There’s none of the bravado of September leaves, just the quiet promise of new life. it’s a sight to feed the soul.


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Well, it’s been two weeks since I planted my tomato seeds and most of them are coming along nicely. They have just started putting out their first amazing petite tomato leaves. So cool!

I plan to expand my vegetable garden a little bit this year. I’ve got snap pea seeds to try, and another few green delicacies. How about you? Are you planting a few vegetables this year? Or maybe a lot?

Roger Doiron is looking for revolutionaries to join his Subversive Plot. His Plot looks like this:


Roger Doiron is the founding director of Kitchen Gardeners International, linked here. In his funny, entertaining TED talk, Roger outlines some of the challenges our world food supply faces in coming decades. In the next 50 years, more food will have to be produced to keep up with the growing population than was produced in the previous 10,000 years!

Local food can be part of the solution. Roger’s talking really local. Like your own backyard. Oh, you don’t have to have a lot of space to grow a few vegetables. There are lots of creative ways to garden.


Small gardens really can make a difference. At the peak of the Victory Garden movement, small gardens were providing 40% of all produce. Of course, not everyone has the time or interest or space for a garden and incredibly, there are places where growing vegetables in your front yard is illegal!

But things are changing. In Maine, the town of Sedgwick unanimously passed an ordinance giving its citizens the right “to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing.” It’s a bucking of state and federal laws. The town government added: “It shall be unlawful for any law or regulation adopted by the state or federal government to interfere with the rights recognized by this Ordinance.”

Roger offers many interesting points worth pondering. Here’s Roger Doiron:

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Here’s Teddy, washed with the soft light of morning, sleep still clinging to his coat.

Do you ever wake in the morning with sleep in your eyes? Sleep is actually rheum, a thin, watery mucus discharge that during the day is wiped away by blinking. At night, a small amount of rheum may accumulate at the corners of your eyes and dry. Sleep is especially common in childhood and led to the sandman myth. The sandman is said to sprinkle sand or dust on or into the eyes of children at night to bring on dreams and sleep.

When I go out to the barn in the morning, I often find that the donkeys and horses have little bits of shavings in their manes or stuck to their coats. The shavings are evidence that they spent a restful night, lying down comfortably in their stalls. The shavings always seem to me to be the equine equivalent of sleep, a vestige of the night that is shaken off as they begin their active day outside.

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Ring-billed Gulls

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When Railguy and I were driving down a country road yesterday, we passed a marker indicating a turtle crossing area ahead. The road bisects an attractive swamp and marsh, something that could only happen in a crazy world, so it’s not too surprising that turtles would be seen there.


Sure enough, there at the edge of the road was a turtle, making its leisurely way to the other half of the swamp. We stopped the car and I got out to give him or her a hand.


It was a Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata), easily identified by the orange-red pattern at the edge of its carapace, or upper shell. It quickly withdrew its head and feet when I picked it up. I asked Railguy to hold it while I took a frontal photo.


Then I settled the turtle at the edge of the water that it had been heading towards.

There are eight species of turtles in Ontario. The Painted Turtle is the most common and widespread species. Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are still present in significant numbers but are vulnerable in some areas where populations were once stronger. The remaining 6 species (Blanding’s, Musk or Stinkpot, Map, Spotted, Spiny Softshell, and Wood) are all in trouble, listed as threatened or endangered. Threats to turtles include the loss of wetland habitat, road mortality, pollution, collection as pets, and predation. These pressures may soon overwhelm these important wetland ecosystem members.


But wait! That naughty turtle! The sign clearly indicates that turtles are to cross the road between May and September, and here it is only March! You can report miscreants to the Ontario Turtle Tally linked here, and help them keep track of these poorly-behaved individuals.


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Today was Blacksmith Day. Here’s Blacksmith Shane, picking up his tools from his truck. I like to have an early morning appointment, so that the horses can have their pedicure before heading out to pasture for the day.


All the horses here are barefoot, so a trim doesn’t take very long. The excess growth of the toe is trimmed off and the hoof is neatly reshaped. If a horse wears shoes, it’s more of a procedure. The shoes have to be removed, the foot trimmed and the shoes replaced.


The horses are restless at being kept inside in the morning. But when they see Shane, they understand what’s up and stand quite patiently when it’s their turn for the blacksmith’s attention.


It isn’t long before everyone is out to pasture, enjoying their morning hay together, their feet looked after for another 6 to 8 weeks.


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March 22nd is UN World Water Day (webpage linked here). On July 28, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly agreed to a resolution declaring the human right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation. The Harper government once again embarrassed Canadians on the world stage, abstaining from the vote even though there are many communities across Canada, including First Nations, which do not have access to clean, safe water.

It’s undeniably true that Canadians tend to take fresh water for granted and often fail to take the necessary steps to protect this invaluable gift. A perfect example of this national failure is ongoing. In the 2008 Speech from the Throne, Harper committed to introducing legislation to ban all bulk water transfers or exports from Canadian freshwater basins. The Harper government is currently reneging on this commitment, having voted down Bill C-267 and replaced it with a much-watered down version (pun intended), Bill C-383, the Transboundary Waters Protection Act, which if passed will only protect 10% of Canada’s fresh water resources.


Alberta Bitumen Project: Before. Photo: Garth Lenz

It is easy to find examples of water abuse in Canada, but perhaps no other is more blatant than the poisoning of water in the Alberta bitumen project. The largest industrial undertaking on the planet is variously referred to as the Tar Sands or the Oil Sands, depending on your perspective. If you are a pragmatist and view continued economic growth as both vital and inevitable, you’re an oil-sander. If you are a superpragmatist and view the continued existence of a livable planet as vital but not necessarily inevitable, you’re a tar-sander.

The tar sands consume between 2.5 and 4 barrels of water per barrel of oil. About 90 percent of the water used in the tar sands is discharged into a vast system of toxic tailings ponds. [2] These ponds, which span over 50 kilometers and can be seen from space, are built right on the banks of the Athabasca River and are often held in place only with earthen dykes. Birds that land on the ponds die. (From Waterdefense.org)


Alberta Bitumen Project: After Photo: Garth Lenz

Unlined toxic tailings ponds range in size up to 9000 acres. They contain enough toxin to cover the surface of Lake Erie a foot deep. New projects are being added every year and production is expected to increase from 1.31 million barrels of oil per day in 2008 to 3 million barrels per day in 2018. Three million barrels of oil per day would mean that between 7 and 12 million barrels of water will be withdrawn from the Athabasca ecosystem and poisoned every day.


Photo: Garth Lenz

The tar sands are upstream from the Peace-Athabasca delta, a globally significant wetland, central to a major migratory bird flyway. The waters feeding the delta are being drawn down and the toxic burden of the waters is being increased daily. Already, the cancer rate of Fort Chipewyan residents, living downstream from the tar sands, is 10 times the national average and includes rarely seen forms.

A compromise position would be to slow tar sands development until better technological processes that result in less damage to the environment can be developed. After all, the resource is in the ground and it isn’t going anywhere. However, with billions of dollars of support from the Harper government, it’s full steam ahead and damn the consequences.

The tar sands photos used here are from Garth Lenz’s TED Talk, The True Cost of Oil.

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It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, March arrived liked a lion in a flurry of snow. There is no sign of snow now, and the first day of Spring was one for the record books. While the normal average temperature for this time of year is 4 degrees C, yesterday it soared to 25 degrees C (77F). Unheard of! But what a beautiful, perfect day.


We were just celebrating the arrival of the first Red-winged Blackbird a couple of weeks ago, but the birds have been showing up in a rush, Woodcocks and Song Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, even a Turkey Vulture, compressing the usual spring arrival season into days instead of weeks.


The pussy willows are out and the first frog chorus has filled the evening air.


Here’s a little Johnny Jump-Up, or Viola, the first flower blooming in my garden.


The torrent of spring runoff has already slackened and the little river is flowing tranquilly along its course.


On the radio, the announcer was warning people that it was still a bit early to plant seeds! The traditional planting date here is May 24th. It’s a little unsettling, to be having May weather in March. But perhaps Mousie had the right idea. After months of wearing a winter blanket, she settled right into sunbathing and soaking up the heat. It was a wonderful gift of a day, from sunrise to peaceful sunset.


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Thanks to guest photographer Tony for today’s Sunday Snapshot of the beetle display at the Montréal Insectarium.

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I was recently talking with a young man and the topic of environmental protection came up. I was very surprised to learn that he was unfamiliar with The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). So here are a few words about an excellent organization that works on behalf of Canadians across the country to preserve our natural heritage.

Established in 1962, The Nature Conservancy is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012. NCC works with stakeholders such as local nature groups and conservation authorities to directly protect important habitats through the purchase of the land. Since 1962, NCC has helped to conserve more than 2.6 million acres (1 million hectares) across the country.


An example of an NCC project in the Ottawa area is Alfred Bog. The bog is the most significant such wetland in southern Ontario and was threatened with commercial peat extraction and draining. The Nature Conservancy of Canada became involved in the conservation of the bog ecosystem in 1986 and worked with many partners, including the South Nation Conservation Authority, the Alfred Bog Committee, the Ottawa Field Naturalists, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, the Vankleek Hill Nature Society, Environment Canada and the Ministry of Natural Resources. Today, about 90 percent of the Bog is under conservation ownership. You can read more about Alfred Bog in my post linked here.

A number of Canadian entertainment personalities have worked with the Nature Conservancy to promote their work. The short video above features the voice of Stuart McLean. Jason Priestly, Ryan Reynolds and William Shatner are among those who have contributed to the NCC Force For Nature campaign. You can become a Force for Nature too. Visit the Nature Conservancy website here. The Nature Conservancy also works in the United States and around the world to protect biodiversity. Join now, and spread the word.

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