Sunday, July 5, 2015

Buckwheat Abuzzing

From afar on this mellow morning, the field of flowering buckwheat is a single mass. Getting up close, concentrating the mind, attuning the ears, and focusing the eyes, the plants are lush, their flowers intricate and colourful, imbued with yellow and pink. And they are thrumming with insect activity. Butterflies, bees, wasps, flies, gnats - all wild and busy - are gathering a food that is transitory, delectable, and nourishing. There are no honey bees to speak of, just their less glamorous wild cousins who have been around the planet for eons, hummingly going about their business of collecting what nature offers. They do not stray too much into the mega-fields of corn and soy, which are drenched in danger for their digestive system. They survive on wild food; annual plantings of organic buckwheat are but a tasty supplement to their regular diet, as are clover, peas and vetch.

When I pause for a few minutes to listen, watch and smell, it is akin to soaking up the desert at dawn on a dewy morning, when miniscule flowers materialize for a short time before the heat of the day takes hold and shrinks them away. These are worlds which normally remain hidden, with nature going about its business of flowering, feeding, providing, and reproducing, as it ever was.
As William Blake mused in Auguries of Innocence:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

This buckwheat was planted not only as food for live creatures above ground, but also for the subterranean microbiota. In the coming days I will hitch up the plow to the tractor and turn under the juicy stems and flowering tops, just before they go to seed. This green manure will ameliorate the soil and suppress at least some weeds, but the process also cheats the bees from further foraging as they desperately collect their last feed of it.

Industrial agriculture has truck-transported honey bees all over the continent to mass-pollinate our cherished fruits like almonds, apples, cherries, oranges, lemons for our mass consumption. In domesticating them so, they have been opened up to ingestion of a number of lethal toxins, and now their numbers are plummeting, their health terminally compromised. Is it hubris that prevents some from believing that human health is not likewise affected? To offset the biocide that is occurring in industrial and agricultural systems in our time, we need to make sustained effort to protect the complex and rich diversity of life in the wild by setting aside sanctuary wherever we can - in our backyards, in our gardens, on our farms, across the landscape, in our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Survivors of the onslaught  so far, an untold multitude of wild birds, insects, fish and amphibians still depend on us for their very survival. Once forests are cleared, land is paved over and soils, air and waterways poisoned and depopulated, we just have to go back and start over by rewilding swathes of land and sea, trusting that some animal and plant life remains to re-populate them after the shameful decimation we have perpetrated. Nature has proven to be resilient in the past and will be so again, long after we’re gone. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Health flourish


chemical concoctions
fossil fuels
genetic mutations
heavy metals
nuclear radiation

and we shall see

health flourish.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Cuba's Healthy Nature

We are setting off on our Cuban adventure – four weeks travelling around the island. Bus will be our means of transport between Varadero, Trinidad, Havana, Viñales, and Guanabo, and we will be staying mostly in casas particulares, which are bed and breakfast-style homestays. Travel will not be easy; we expect it to be like the old days as budget travellers in Indonesia.

The image of rustic simplicity and beauty above has drawn us to Viñales where we will be setting down for ten days or so to soak up the Cuban countryside and diverse wild life, birdlife. A  scenic village, Viñales perches midst the Sierra de los Organos above an extensive valley punctuated by otherworldly Jurassic-age outcrops called mogotes.  This is traditionally tobacco country, but I am really looking forward to checking out  Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso, a spacious organic farm with restaurant on a hill with incredible views of the 'silencio' valley. Cuba’s farming methods are these days famously organic, with farms having being forced to quit chemicals with the loss of supply with the fall of the Soviet Union. What a blessing!

In Havana we will feel the energy of the city scene – people, music, dance, art, architecture, which have either been preserved in time or evolved in their own Cubana style. In Trinidad we will soak up a slower pace midst old colonial-style buildings and cobbled streets, the nearby beach.

The Nature Conservancy reports:

Cuba has a secret: This country's thousands of miles of coral reefs appear to be healthier than others in Caribbean waters.

Preliminary assessments indicate that the reefs do not exhibit the widespread disease and mortality occurring in places like the Florida Keys, Jamaica and Mexico, in part due to the decades of isolation from mass tourism as well as limited agricultural practices.

A study of the health of Cuba’s reefs can provide valuable insights into coral reef conservation for the Caribbean, and possibly, the world.

In 2012, the Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund completed a three-week expedition of Cuba’s Jardines de la Reina national park. Despite some localized coral bleaching, the research team was awed by what they found – many intact reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds teeming with fish and marine life. This work has laid the foundation for Cuban scientists and officials, who will decide if the 840-square-mile park should be expanded.”

With political change afoot with the heralded easing of tensions between Cuba and the United States and the proposed end to the trade embargo, this is a precious opportunity to see Cuba the way it has become one stage removed from the Western world with all its “bells and whistles.” Time will tell how the island copes with what will almost be a whirlwind of change, hopefully managed so that the people, economy, arts, culture, nature, farming can adapt without huge upheaval.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Love That is Wild

“...The eyes of the future are looking back at us. And they are praying that we may see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we may act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild  is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wildness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wildness, wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands....”

Terry Tempest Williams, at the Bioneers National Conference, October, 2014

For more information on Bioneers, please visit

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fall Trip into Nature

Our fall trip into nature this year – traditionally embarked upon after Canadian Thanksgiving (second weekend in October) – took on a fresh twist. David and I have become over the years paddle pals, taking time out to canoe out into the semi-wilderness of southern Ontario’s gems of provincial parks for several days and nights of deepened connection with the wild. We have soaked up scenic locations in Algonquin, Temagami, Masassauga, Kawartha Highlands (all twice) and Killarney three times, showing it to be our favourite and most mystical.

On our dozenth trip in twelve years, we chose to skip the canoe rental, those sometimes life-sapping portages, the cold at night huddled around the smoky campfire, the winds howling through our summer tent. We went a bit wussy and opted to take up the kind offer of long-time close friends Chris and Allan to use their cottage on quiet small Otter Lake near Minden, well south of Algonquin. I know this place well, having enjoyed many visits. The property is set in fifty acres of natural mixed forest abutting the lake. A long winding narrow laneway escorts us in from the road. Set in white pines on a rocky outcrop with a lovely view right down the lake, the cottage and adjoining deluxe “bunky” are the perfect spot to unwind after a busy season.  And the joy of soaking in the cedar hottub filled with 104 degree orangey-brown pine-tannined water pumped straight out of the lake is second to none, rain or shine.

On these trips we always eat and drink well. Traditionally, when camping, we have used David’s trusty (and heavy) Coleman stove. And we have taken adequate but limited supplies of drink to see us through the long hours of dark! Well, this year, we could load up the car and splurge a bit. At night, we cooked grass-fed beef liver with bacon and onions, rack of lamb, Berkshire ham steak, accompanied by Rolling Hills Organics spicy salad mix, baby arugula, sunchokes, carrots, potatoes, Cloud & Bear’s Brussels sprouts. We cranked up the Buena Vista Social Club and Orchestra Baobab as counterpoint to Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, early Van Morrison. The logfire was roaring. Red wine from Chile, California, Australia, Argentina was free flowing; vino tinto is a staple of conviviality.

By day, we went on a hike north of Carnarvon called  Circuit of Five Viewpoints and took in marvellous autumnal vistas over Halls Lake. We also did rent a canoe for old times’ sake and had a pleasant few hours in the warm sunshine paddling up the Oxtongue River to the frothing cascade of Ragged Falls from Oxtongue Lake north of Dwight. We returned to “civilization” and news of a fatal shooting in Ottawa

We’re really not up to the extreme lugging involved in multiple portages to reach the ideal campsite nor the sub-zero temperatures sometimes endured for the sake of sleeping under the stars, but we did miss the spectacular feeling of being truly out there on a rocky island looking out over the vast openness of lake, forest, mountain and endless sky , miles from humanity and its grubby goings-on.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Marshland Boardwalk & Mermaids

After welcome heavy rains overnight, the fields were too wet for planting this morning. After a session of weeding and watering the basil beds in the greenhouses, Gundi and I decided to have some time off. After a pleasant lunch at Dougall’s on the Bay in Brighton, we drove to the gem of a park on Lake Ontario that is  Presqu’Ile. Our favourite walk there is a gentle one along the recently-refashioned boardwalk through the expansive marshland, with vistas opening up to the bay and open water beyond. The variety of grasses, reeds, wild flowers, sedges, lilies, frogs, birdlife is marvellous. The strong breeze from the north clearing out the last of the rain weaved patterns through the long grasses as they danced with abandon.

After the boardwalk we headed to the grassy parkland and limestone-ledge beachfront of Lake Ontario. Sheltered from the north, all was calm, the lake a  mirror in shades of grey, dark at the horizon where it met the layers of lighter grey sky.  Gundi flipped off her sandals and waded out in the shallows to a rock on which to perch, thus becoming my mermaid.

 As she returned after a meditative spell on the rock, she bent down to pick up a beautiful treasure – Mermaid #2. We have encountered this serendipity before, where we are spellbound by the aura of the scene, resulting in a most beautiful, almost miraculous find. (On a beach on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state many moons ago, Gundi spent the day beachcombing, amassing a huge collection of elliptical grey stones. I frivolously requested a  round stone, at which prompting she bent down to pick up a perfect heavy charcoal grey sphere). Back to Mermaid #2… We like to fantasize that she came up from afar, in the deep, landing moreorless into our arms. She is not made of plastic, nor plaster, but porcelain. She has become the second mermaid in my world.