Monday, March 7, 2016

Monarch Butterflies in Michoacan

On February 26, we made a special pilgrimage – to see the over-wintering Monarch butterflies high in the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico. The day began serenely at the lovely Agua Blanca canyon-side spa inn in Jungapeo, at an elevation of 4,850 feet above sea level. Gundi started her morning with a long swim in the mineral-rich pool waters, which she says took away the aches and pains of years. In Chris and Allan’s rented Jeep we climbed 5,000 feet via the town of Angangueo to the butterfly-viewing base at El Rosario. This is part of a 56,000-hectare sanctuary for the mariposas monarcas (of which the butterflies only inhabit a fraction), declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1980 and a World Heritage Site in 2008.  From here, it was an hour’s steep climb in thin air another few hundred feet to close to the summit at over 10,000 feet. It is here that millions of monarchs cluster high in the oyamel fir trees, making forays in the sunshine to find water and food from the plentiful forest flowers. On mostly cloudy mornings such as we experienced, the butterflies are lethargic in starting their day, so action on the wing was tempered. Nonetheless, the sight of so many monarchs freely finding their ancestral annual winter home was a mesmerizing one to behold.  With a hundred or so fellow “pilgrims” watching on quietly in awe, this was a profound  and moving spiritual experience, with Nature playing out for a whole species. 

Monarch butterflies are severely threatened by a number of challenges, all of which are brought on by humanity’s greed and over-reach. Their habitat across their summer feeding and breeding grounds in Canada and the United States, their migration route to the southern states and Mexico, and their over-wintering forests all need ongoing vigilant protection from toxic pesticides, desert-like monocultures, development, mining, and logging in order for their current numbers to be sustained and increased. They are highly dependent on the milkweed with which they have a symbiotic relationship across these vast territories. Our relationship with them has to be symbiotic too, as they pollinate wild flowers, bring us beauty and joy, and as we continue efforts to conserve them as a fellow species. They need us as we need them.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

In Tune with the Elements

This mermaid is intuitively and rapturously in tune with the elements in Snowdonia. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Up over the hill

Up over the hill the rambling wild old apple tree is not quite over the hill. Her tenacious fruit are hanging on for dear life bolstered by the balmy early November temperatures - a veritable Indian summer, a gift from the speckled blue skies. They are clustered on the top half of the tree, safe from marauding deer and the clutch of humans like us, ravenously stripping the lower half of her ample flesh, transforming it by means of our hand-cranked apple press into rich juice of a complex sweet tang that modern-day apple strains cannot match. The pink-blushed fruit that remain will ultimately succumb to gravity and the waning juice of life, tumbling down with the breeze and rotting into a mush where they fall. They will have had a good long life left to their own devices in nature; that’s the most any being can hope for.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Where were you when you fell in love with Nature?

Where was I when I fell in love with Nature?
I was playing in the woods down the leafy lane with my friends for hours on end.

Marine scientist and ocean advocate Wallace J. Nichols explores the neuroscience of our brains on nature, and posits that our love of the natural world holds the key to preserving it.
"Nature brings us deeper into ourselves, connects us more to it and our planet and each other... Nature is medicine."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Twelve Years of Camping & Canoeing

Year 1. Algonquin 

For the last dozen years at this time of year as the seasons turn, I’ve been camping and canoeing in southern Ontario parks with my pal David. We have been transported on two trips to Algonquin, two to Temagami, two to Massasauga, two to Kawartha Highlands, one to Haliburton Highlands, and three to the jewel in the crown, Killarney. 

Year 2. Algonquin

Year 3. Temagami 
We have witnessed the spectacular in sun-bleached skies and star-laden heavens, gales and downpours, frosty mornings and breezy afternoons. We have been awed by magnificent scenery in lakes and rivers, canyons and cascades, waterfalls and woodlands, marshes and mountains. We have encountered ravens who bid us welcome and loons who lull us to sleep.

Year 4. Kawartha Highlands 

Year 5. Temagami
Year 6. Massasagua

We have constructed and been toasted by roaring campfires long into the hours of darkness. We have eaten heartily and drunk merrily.  

 Year 7. Massasagua
 Year 8. Killarney

 Year 9. Killarney

We have mooted a lot of ideas, spouted a lot of drivel, and laughed our socks off. We have ruminated about the world we have temporarily left behind and pondered where it is headed. 

 Year 10. Kawartha Highlands

 Year 11. Killarney

It is a wonder to me to feel so enriched by Nature’s effusive embrace and reassured by the knowledge that this majestic land and lake scape will sustain itself for eons after we are dead and buried.

 Year 12. Haliburton Highlands

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

On this glorious Thanksgiving morning,
Giving thanks for the family and friends we share, the land we inhabit, 

the community we share, the food we grow and eat, the gifts of love and life, 
and much more besides.

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.