Monday, December 30, 2013

Festive Season's Ice

With an ironic nod to the holidays, the elements got together to pack a heavy wallop over the festive season - a cluster bomb of snow, ice, pellets, and freezing rain. The landscape became decked in a lethal, startlingly beautiful coat. Nature can indeed cause havoc, as residents of New Orleans, Fukushima, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, Philippines, Mexico CityHaiti, Chile, Ethiopia, Somalia, for example, can readily attest with their heavy loss of life from hurricanes, typhoons, tsunamis, floods, droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions…. For many hundreds of thousands from the Great Lakes to the eastern seaboard, the Christmas week ice storm must have been one long  nightmare with lengthy power outages which continue yet for some. Thankfully though, fatalities were low.

For our visiting friends and us on a convivial Christmas Eve, the scene around us was dream-like and spectacular in its sparkling splendour. A lone deer high-tailed it off up the hill, leaving not a trace as she negotiated the crusty ice without penetrating it. We walked in reverence, as if on glass, treading gingerly, taking in the magical sparkling of the grasses and branches coated in thick ice. The setting sun cast long late-afternoon shadows atop the white surface.

With extended cold and sunshine, the light and ice show lasted for days, a brief power outage proving to be only a minor inconvenience. As we wait for the accumulation to slide off the roof in one momentous crash, we are more aware than ever of the treacherous, beauteous, humbling nature of ice.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Poet Patrick Lane on looking for the beauty in life

Blue Morpho butterfly

I am currently most of the way through reading There is a Season by British Columbia author Patrick Lane. Gifted me by my good friend Barry Olshen, it is an absorbing read. The author writes in haunting detail of the demons of life that he has struggled with, but a deep appreciation of beauty experienced through  reverence for his garden and the act of gardening shines through the book. I was captivated to read the following, published in the Globe & Mail, on July 5, 2013:

At 74, Patrick Lane remains one of Canada’s most celebrated poets. Last week, he was named to the Order of Canada. And last month he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna – particularly meaningful since the school is just down the road from Vernon, where Mr. Lane grew up and spent his early years scrounging a living. In his address to the convocation, he spoke powerfully of those tough, formative years and, in particular, of an extraordinary incident that has affected his life ever since. It taught him the value of beauty. When he finished, there was silence, followed by rapturous applause.

By Patrick Lane

Back in early December of 1958, I was 19 years old, living with my wife and baby boy in a two-room apple picker’s shack a few miles down the road from here. I had a job driving dump truck for a two-bit outfit that was working on a short stretch of highway just down the hill from where this university was built so many years later. I remember leaving the shack and walking out to stand by the highway in the wind and snow. I stood there shivering in my canvas coat as I waited to be picked up by the grader operator in his rusted pickup truck. The sky was hard and grey. Its only gift that winter day was ice disguised as a fragile, bitter snow.

As I stood there in the false dawn, I looked up for a moment and as I did an iridescent blue butterfly the size of my palm fluttered down and rested on the sleeve of my coat just above my wrist. It was winter, it was cold and I knew the Okanagan Valley where I had lived most of my young life did not harbour huge, shiny blue butterflies, not even in summer. I remember stripping off my gloves and cupping the insect in my hands, lifting that exquisite creature to the warmth of my mouth in the hope I could save it from the cold. I breathed upon the butterfly with the helplessness we all have when we are faced with an impossible and inevitable death, be it a quail or crow, gopher, hawk, child or dog. I cupped that delicate butterfly in the hollow of my hands and ran back to the picker’s shack in the hope that somehow the warmth from the morning fire in the woodstove might save it, but when I reached the door and opened my hands, the butterfly died.

I do not know what strange Santa Anna, Squamish or Sirocco jet-stream wind blew that sapphire butterfly from far off Mexico, Congo or the Philippines to this valley. I only know the butterfly found its last moments in my hands. I have never forgotten it and know the encounter changed me. There are mornings in our lives when beauty falls into our hands and when that happens, we must do what we can to nurture and protect it. That we sometimes fail must never preclude our striving. The day the beautiful creature died in my hands, I looked up into the dome of the hard, cold sky and I swore to whatever great spirit resided there in the dark clouds that I would live my life to the full and, above all, I would treasure beauty. I swore, too, that I’d believe in honesty, faithfulness, love and truth. The words I spoke were the huge abstractions the young sometimes use, but I promised them to myself and, now, more than half a century later, I stand here in front of your young minds, your creative spirits, your beautiful lives, and I can tell you that I have tried.

I told myself that year and in the subsequent years in the sawmill crews and construction gangs I worked with that I would become a writer, a poet, a man who would create an imagined world out of the world I lived in, that I would witness my life and the lives of others with words. The years went by filled with the tragedies and losses that all our lives are filled with. My brother’s early death, my father’s murder, my divorce and the loss of my children did not change the promises I made. There were times I lived a dissolute, irresponsible and destructive life. There were times, too, when I was depressed and wretched, but I continued to believe in spite of my weaknesses and fears. I wandered the world and as I did I wrote of the lives that shared my times. And I wrote of this Okanagan Valley, its lakes and hills, its stones, cacti, cutthroat trout, magpies, rattlesnakes and, yes, its butterflies.

What I have told you is a story. It arose from my life for where else but from a life can a story come? What I promise each of you is that there will come a day or night, a morning or evening when something as rare and fine as a blue sapphire butterfly will fall into your hands from a cold sky, a fearful child will climb into your bed and cleave to you, a woman or man will weep, will laugh, will sleep with you in the sure belief that the one they abide with is governed by a good and honest love. No matter the degrees you have earned and the knowledge you have accumulated, remember to believe in yourselves, to believe in each other. In a world as fearful as our present one, I ask that you not be afraid. Today is merely an hour. Remember in the time ahead of you to hold out your hands so that beauty may fall safely into them and find a place – however briefly – to rest.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Revelation Rock

She exposes herself daily,
revealing beauty, 
radiating light and warmth.

She is ever-present, reflective
facing outward to the heavens,
downward underwater.

By night, she is adorned by stars,
wafted over by Northern Lights,
traversed by the moon.

She is a rock in a quarzite range,
a permanent feature,
an aura, an earthly spirit.

We are born, we dream,
we grow strong, we fade
back in to the forest floor.

Revelation Rock remains.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Germany's Energiewende

As here in Ontario and most of Canada we “fiddle while Rome burns” over the aesthetic value (yes, they are an eyesore to some) of wind turbines on our local horizon, Germany proceeds with its breathtakingly ambitious far-sighted plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80- 95%  and convert to 60% renewable energy from 2010 to 2050. What’s not to like about this national approach, particularly with the emphasis on democratization through local production and ownership?


Energy transition in Germany

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Energiewende (German for Energy transition) is the transition by Germany to a sustainable economy by means of renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable development. The final goal is the abolition of coal and other non-renewable energy. Renewable energy encompasses wind, biomass (such as landfill gas and sewage gas),hydropower, solar power (thermal and photovoltaic), geothermal, and ocean power. These renewable sources are to serve as an alternative to fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) and nuclear fuel (uranium).
Piecemeal measures often have only limited potential, so a timely implementation for this transition requires multiple approaches in parallel. Energy conservation and improvements in energy efficiency thus play a major role. An example of an effective energy conservation measure is improved insulation for buildings; an example of improved energy efficiency is co-generation of heat and power. Smart electric meters can schedule energy consumption for times when electricity is available inexpensively.
An example of a comprehensive approach is DESERTEC. This concept looks at dramatically expanding the production of electricity from adjustable solar thermal power plants in southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Linking the electricity transmission networks of these regions would supplement the variable renewable energy available locally with surpluses and adjustable renewable energy sources from other regions.

The term

This term was the title of a 1980 publication by the German Öko-Institut, calling for the complete abandonment of nuclear and petroleum energy. On the 16th of February of that year the German Federal Ministry of the Environment also hosted a symposium in Berlin, called Energiewende – Atomausstieg und Klimaschutz (Energy Transition: Nuclear Phase-Out and Climate Protection). The views of the Öko-Institut, initially so strongly opposed, have gradually become common knowledge in energy policy. In the following decades the term expanded in scope; in its present form it dates back to at least 2002.
Energiewende designates a significant change in energy policy: The term encompasses a reorientation of policy from demand to supply and a shift from centralized to distributed generation (for example, producing heat and power in very small cogeneration units), which should replace overproduction and avoidable energy consumption with energy-saving measures and increased efficiency.
In a broader sense this transition also entails a democratization of energy: In the traditional energy industry, a few large companies with large centralized power stations dominate the market as an oligopoly and consequently amass a worrisome level of both economic and political power. Renewable energies, in contrast, can as a rule be established in a decentralized manner. Public wind farms and solar parks can involve many citizens directly in energy production. Photovoltaic systems can even be set up by individuals. Municipal utilities can also benefit citizens financially, while the conventional energy industry profits a relatively small number of shareholders. Also significant, the decentralized structure of renewable energies enables creation of value locally and minimizes capital outflows from a region. Renewable energy sources therefore play an increasingly important role in municipal energy policy, and local governments often promote them.


The key policy document outlining the Energiewende was published by the German government in September 2010, some six months before the Fukushima nuclear accident. Legislative support was passed in 2011. Important aspects include:
·                    greenhouse gas reductions: 80–95% reduction by 2050
·                    renewable energy targets: 60% share by 2050 (renewables broadly defined as hydro, solar                     and wind power)
·                    energy efficiency: electricity efficiency up by 50% by 2050
·                    an associated research and development drive

The policy has been embraced by the German federal government and has resulted in a huge expansion of renewables, particularly wind power. Germany's share of renewables has increased from around 5% in 1999 to 22.9% in 2012, reaching close to the OECD average of 18% usage of renewables. Producers have been guaranteed a fixed feed-in tariff for 20 years, guaranteeing a fixed income. Energy co-operatives have been created, and efforts were made to decentralize control and profits. The large energy companies have a disproportionately small share of the renewables market. Nuclear power plants were closed, and the existing 9 plants will close earlier than planned for, in 2022.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

She doesn't belong to me...

Exactly six weeks after our black cat Negra left the land of the living – yes, on a Wednesday -  I found myself wandering in a mystic trance under the canopy of massive hemlock trees in Killarney Provincial Park. The dappled low late-afternoon sunlight through the trees was beguiling. My fellow walker David sensed my need for space and contemplation. He said my feet danced over the ground as I stepped as if on air. As I looked up through the trees beyond the sinking sun to the blue sky above, a resplendent yellow-leaved trembling aspen glittered with a beckoning aura, surrounded by the towering hemlocks.

The ravens had come calling when time came for Negra to depart. Here, they came again, led me to this hallowed old-forest grove, releasing her spirit to the great beyond. As we left the forest and canoed back out into the bright light of the lake, a loon surfaced just ahead of us then dived into the depths once more.

When I got back home after our intoxicating, magical days and nights in the back-country of Killarney, the Naxos marble stone that I placed at Negra’s head above where she is buried had vanished. Another animal probably took off with it to furnish her den. That’s OK. After all, she doesn’t belong to me. She belongs to the earth.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Numen: The Nature of Plants

This original article was posted on on September 14, 2013. The points contained are a crystallization of my own belief in the vitality of plants and our synergy with them for our food, our medicine, and our soul.

By Dr. Mercola

Numen is the animated force in all things living, and this is strongly demonstrated, although often taken for granted, in plants.

Even our DNA contains much of the same material found in the plant world, which gives new meaning to the idea of healing plants.

It’s a scientific fact that is explored, fascinatingly, in the documentary Numen: The Nature of Plants. As Bill Mitchell, ND, naturopath and co-founder of Bastyr University stated in the film:
“You’re as much carrot as you are a kangaroo, as you are a bird. A lot of that DNA, that memory comes from the very origins of life.”

Herbalism Is the Oldest System of Healing on the Planet
The use of plants as medicine is one of the only forms of healing that’s embraced by every culture and ethnicity, and that has endured since ancient times and is still in use today in most areas of the world.

What makes this all the more intriguing is that how and why plants work is still largely a mystery. Modern science can uncover cells, molecules and atoms, but science cannot fully explain the healing nature of plants, or the intricacy and complexity of life.

One only needs to view the amazing time-lapsed photos of sprouting seeds and flowers blooming in the video below to appreciate this…

Herbs, Like Foods, Are Complementary to Human Health
In the past I have regarded herbs, in many cases, as an alternative to drugs, useful for treating various symptoms but not to treat the underlying cause. I have since revised my opinion on this quite significantly, and now realize that herbs can help support your health from a very basic level, just as foods do.

When I interviewed Donnie Yance, who is a clinical master herbalist, he explained that foods and herbs share quite a few similarities, including being pleiotropic - which means they produce more than one effect.

This is expanded on in Numen, which explains that the complex mix of chemicals in plants work synergistically to address underlying imbalances in your body that may lead to disease.

As herbalist Matthew Wood said:
“It is very seldom that herbs are strong enough to kill germs. A few of them can, but then they become drugs. Killing germs isn't how traditional medicine works.

It works instead by changing the environment, working to address imbalances in organ systems and tissue states, not targeting a specific bacteria with a single chemical extracted from a plant or synthesized in a lab.”

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, you could walk into a drug store and find hundreds of herbal extracts for sale. Upwards of 90 percent of the population at that time knew how to use the medicinal plants growing in their backyards to treat common illnesses and injuries; they had to, as this was virtually the only ‘medicine’ available.

With the rise of what is now known as conventional allopathic medicine shortly before World War One, herbalism slowly fell out of favor and became to be thought of as folk medicine. Rather than viewing nature as the source of healing, as had been done for centuries, people began to view drugs and other ‘modern’ healing methods as superior.

We’re Now Separated from Our Natural Roots
When you shop for food in a grocery store, you’re completely removed from the natural process used to grow your food. And in many cases, that ‘natural process,’ too, has been transformed into an industrial process that is at the heart of mass food production.

This is but one example of our increased separation from nature, a state that often leads people to feel significantly unbalanced. Said Ken Ausubel, CEO and founder of Bioneers:
“If there’s been a single disconnect in Western civilization, it’s this idea that somehow we’re separate or distinct from nature, when in fact the opposite is true… we’re connected to the ecosystems around us and we can really only be healthy when the land and the air and the water around us are also healthy. And if they’re not, it’s going to show up in our physical well-being.”

Now, with the US spending more on health care than any other industrialized nation, while at the same time experiencing soaring rates of chronic disease, it has perhaps never been more evident that our disconnectedness from nature is backfiring.

Environmental Pollution Is Poisoning Humans, Too
Infertility, immune system disorders, obesity, and other chronic illness are on the rise, and it’s becoming very clear that environmental chemicals are at least partly to blame. Yet, there is still a reluctance to acknowledge that when you poison nature, it is akin to poisoning yourself. The average American has 148 chemicals in his or her body, and this chemical exposure begins in your mother’s womb.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like phthalates and bisphenol-A, are interfering with hormones and linked to the rise in male birth defects and testicular cancer in young men. You’re exposed not only when you use products containing them, but plastics containing these chemicals are dumped into the environment, where the chemicals enter waterways, with unknown effects.

“At the molecular level we’re wreaking havoc, and then that cascades up to the cellular and organism and ecosystem level,” said Martha Herbert, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.

Healing Is About Wholeness, Not Parts
Modern medicine excels at treating emergencies and certain serious illnesses, like bacterial infections, yet often misses the mark when it comes to healing other more subtle, yet no less devastating, conditions.

Physicians often rely on lab tests and blood work over the patient’s own words, and may use this information as proof that nothing is wrong, when in fact the person still feels tired, foggy or depressed. Part of the problem is the breaking down of a whole person to a set of parts and evaluating each organ in isolation from the rest of the body. Another part is ignoring the bigger picture, which is that lab tests do not give the whole story of a patient. As Tieraona Low Dog, MD, said:
“I think the truth is many people have a kind of soul sickness, they have a soul pain, a spirit pain. And you can’t find it in laboratory values, you can’t find it in a scan, but in no way does that make it less real.”

Unfortunately, conventional medicine is not well equipped to deal with these types of emotional pain or other underlying conditions that modern medical tests miss. This is also evidenced by many physicians’ complete lack of attention to lifestyle factors that could be influencing their patients’ health, like sleep, stress, and diet… they don’t tell you that a trip to the farmer’s market for healthy food and perhaps some herbal preparations may hold the cures you’ve been searching for.

Nature Is the Source of Healing: Whole Plant Medicine
Most synthetic medications are based on compounds in plants. Scientists cannot create these substances but must, rather, try to make copies, But in their synthetic models they often end up with compounds that your body doesn’t recognize and doesn’t know how to handle. As Herbert explained:
“You target a particular chemical and you hit it really hard, and the system is expected to just have the response that you want it to have, but actually you have all these other effects… we call these side effects. They’re not side effects, they’re effects, they’re just not the ones you wanted.”

A plant, however, is a complex of thousands of biomolecules, many of which are countervailing, so if there’s one effective compound that may have a toxic effect, it usually contains a countervailing compound so that it doesn’t harm your liver, for example. It’s the interplay of chemicals that make the plant work, which is why you can’t study herbal medicine by isolating a certain element; you’ve got to study the whole plant. This is what conventional medicine is largely missing.

Of course, the ultimate ‘herbalism’ is the food that you eat on a daily basis. Dark green leafy vegetables, herbs and spices are excellent sources of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and anti-cancer substances that can dramatically influence your health. Christopher Hobbs, clinical herbalist, put it well: “The real medicine is hiding in the produce department.”

You Can Feel the Power of Plants Every Time You Walk in the Garden
There’s a deep connection with plants that many people feel intrinsically when they walk into their garden. This connection continues when you use plants for healing, including when you prepare tinctures or teas from herbs, which you can do in your own kitchen. According to many herbal experts, this relationship with plants and nature is nearly as important as the herbal medicine itself.

As herbalist Rosemary Gladstar said:
“I think one of the most unique places about herbalism and modern herbal healers is that we still maintain that deep connection with the plants. We're not looking at just single components as being the magic bullets in our bodies. There's still a deep prayerful relationship, whether you go to the plants and consciously pray or you have awareness with them, or just the way you are with them when you're harvesting them or making your medicine or even giving the medicine. There's a deep connection with the spirit of the plants. It's not just that there is a chemical constituent that will cure your condition; it is the relationship that the plant has to us and how those plants have served as our healers for literally thousands of years.

For anyone who works with the plants, whether you're gardening, or just being with them, backpacking with them a lot, that experience of having a plant communicate with you in some way happens. It takes you by surprise at first, but the plants want a talk to us, they want to help us.

They work on so many different levels in our bodies. Yes, they can work just as chemical constituents, but that's the least potency that they have… when you develop a relationship with plants, that kind of sacred plant medicine will happen. Just by working with them, they begin to speak to you and you begin to hear them. It happens when you garden. You know, when people go into the garden, they transform. That's why so many people garden. They go into that garden and they begin to feel things and be different, and in a way that's plant spirit medicine at its finest.”

10 Steps You Can Take to Harness the Healing Power of Plants
After watching Numen: The Nature of Plants, you may find yourself driven to deepen your relationship with the natural world. If so, here are 10 tips to do so:

1. Learn to identify three medicinal plants you don't already know that grow in your region and learn their uses.
2. Add at least one of these herbs to your garden or to pots on your windowsill.
3. Make a tincture, tea, syrup, or salve. Or make one of each!
4. Harvest and dry mint, lemon balm, calendula, nettles, or any other plant growing in your region.
5. Find a plant to sit with quietly each morning for a week; draw the plant.
6. Identify one healing skill you would like to have but don't, and find a way to learn it—perhaps by taking an herb class, or re-certifying in basic first aid or CPR.
7. Make an herbal first aid kit.
8. Organize local healers for emergency response in your community.
9. With medicinal plants grown in your region, learn how to treat one condition that you and/or someone in your family struggles with.
10. Join United Plant Savers, which aims to protect native medicinal plants of the US and Canada.

Monday, September 2, 2013

True Love for my little Negra

Negra, February 2010

I have experienced true love with my dearest little black cat, Negra. We offer each other unconditional devotion and support and are rewarded by the sweetest joy life can offer - giving and receiving love. She plays, hunts food, responds to prompts, eats heartily, shows bounding energy, snuggles up beside us, sleeps long and sound.

Hope is all we have when a loved one is fading. It is a sweet comfort. The hardest thing, apart from juggling conflicting emotions, is abandoning hope, letting go. The mark of true love is - when the impending inevitable demands that we surrender - letting a loved one go on to the next world, released to the pain-free other side when their will to live drains away from them, or the pain of living becomes too much for them and you to bear. Deep empathy with another soul is surely the most tender, all-embracing emotion we can feel, one that brings us ecstasy and agony and everything in between.

As Dr. Meredith Galbraith expresses it so eloquently: “It is because animals bring so much to our lives that we feel such intense sadness when they die. The love we share is a prerequisite for the loss we feel - and often, the more intense the love, the more intense the loss. Yet it is a sad truth that love and loss will always go hand in hand. Every life is finite, every single one, and dying is as much a part of every life’s journey as being born. And since the richness of any life’s journey is in the connections and relationships fostered along the way, living fully means opening your heart to loving fully, even knowing there will be also be loss.”

On Friday, August 2, after many days of not eating and showing low energy, I took Negra to the vet. Poor little thing was so stressed that she panted and panted on what was just a warm day. The news was bad; she had a large growth in her abdomen, affecting either kidneys or intestines or both. The vet recommended putting her to sleep at the earliest opportunity, there being no long-term hope for her.

On the evening of Wednesday, August 7 at dusk, a coming storm announced itself with distant rumbles of thunder. Negra vanished stealthily, to be found up on the rise, lying alert in the middle of the gravel laneway, watching the storm approach. She loves the rain. As the rain began to come down in buckets, she scooted off into the long grass, re-appearing drenched through after it stopped.

A week later, in the late afternoon of Wednesday August 14, I was watering rows of greens that had been recently sown. And there she was, coming down and lying watching in the grass. I talked to her about how sweet and special this moment was, with her in her element, down in the field. After I’d finished watering, she moved to some longer grass and lay inhaling the breezy air and looking out over her preserve. Finally at dusk, she came home. I felt blessed to have witnessed her devoted attachment to this realm she inhabits with us. When she goes, she will take a lot of our happiness with her.

And now, seventeen days later, she has eaten all she can – raw grass-fed beef liver, raw ground beef, raw fish, tuna, yogurt and milk, with cake and ice cream as treats. Most of this is probably going to feed the tumour in her tummy. She has peed and peed but the poops seem to have dried up. Her belly is larger than ever, she now wobbles shakily and turns her prone body around restlessly. Excursions outside to breathe in the air and sit with us are an increasingly rare reminder of her devotion. Though we wanted her to reach the end of her days entirely on her own terms, following nature's course (just as she has lived all her life with us), we now think she is feeling too uncomfortable and we need to help her go and rest in peace. Last Wednesday, I felt the time was already nigh and went out to dig her a new and permanent home.

With Negra, it's always on a Wednesday. This Wednesday the house-calling vet will come and guide her on her way. Then she can move in, and we will have to move on. You’ll always be with us, little one. 

Negra, late August 2013

Wednesday, September 4 Update
Yesterday, as I was distractedly selling produce on a sunny breezy Riverdale afternoon, Gundi tells me Negra decided to venture out across the lawn at home to sit for a couple of hours inhaling the air, one last time. When I got home she was tired, sat on her mat but purring contentedly, perfectly calm. This morning, due to be her last wake-up, she is alert and still hungry for food and love. I just sat on the deck pondering if she is ready to go. A fluttering fanfare of goldfinches rose up to will her on her way. I wandered to the fields up the hill and clambered up on a large round hay bale. The alfalfa flowers in full bloom in the early morning low sun waved in the breeze shaking off the dew. Time is precious but short, they whispered. For good measure, I released a swallowtail butterfly from the plastic barrier of the greenhouse. She flew off happily and landed  in the greenery. My Dad was always drawn by the spirit of butterflies. To cap the list of good omens off, a cawing raven came to roost on the tall elm tree just before the vet arrived. He circled off, up into the blue distant sky, and the vet pronounced Negra more than ready to go.

Our little sweetie now rests in peace. She passed so trustingly, graceful to the end. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Splashy Spring

Nature has put on quite a show this spring. She seems to be exuberantly flaunting her jewels. With extravagant displays of blossoms from apples, pears, cherries, lilacs, acacias, chives, caraganas, honeysuckles in our neck of the woods, all that we have been missing are the bees to pollinate them. We’ve never seen the locust trees blooming like this, suffusing the air with their glorious sweet scent. Some bumblebees have been doing the business, but wild bees have been very scarce. Can’t wait to see if they are around for buckwheat flowers when they come in a few weeks. They are traditionally all over them. We wait to hear from local beekeepers how their honeybees survived the winter.

Spring has been long and gentle, with intermittent rain and heat. The garden and fields seem to have responded to the moderation favourably. With the recent heavy two-inch rainfall, we look forward to some prolonged heat for crops to put on a growth spurt. At our farm, garlic, greens, beets, carrots are ready to roll in the fields, as are basils, tomatoes, hot peppers in the greenhouses.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mad As Hell!

Peter Finch as newsreader Howard Beale in the movie Network, for which he won a posthumous Best Actor Oscar

Like many of my gender, I used to be an angry young man. In my more mellow middle years, I am generally not an angry man anymore. I find contentment and fulfillment in my personal life, my relationship with family and community, my readings, musings, listenings and explorings, my doings growing and selling organic food.

However, when I read of the increasing corporate and government control of things dear to me – food, liberty, nature, health, peace and quiet, income, due process, human rights – it becomes easy to slip back into a bewildered quiet rage and shake my head at the folly and meanness of those that lead so many into fear, depression, anxiety, panic, resignation, complicity. On the food front alone, our leaders turn a blind eye to enormous threats to our welfare: GMOs whose effects on human health have not been independently assessed receive easy approval of infiltration into the foodchain; wild salmon populations are jeopardized by lack of monitoring and regulation of fish farms; confined factory farming continues unchecked; corporations like Monsanto are granted immunity from prosecution; bees continue to be killed off by neonicotinoids and other pesticides; glyphosate and other chemicals, toxins and heavy metals continue to work their way into the water supply creating severe health hazards for humans, amphibians, birds, wildlife…

It becomes easy to sympathize with the television newscaster Howard Beale in the film Network, played by my namesake Peter Finch as he loses it:

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth. Banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s no one anywhere that seems to know what to do with us. Now into it. We know the air is unfit to breathe, our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had 15 homicides and 63 violent crimes as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad. Worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in a house as slowly the world we’re living in is getting smaller and all we say is, “Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster, and TV, and my steel belted radials and I won’t say anything.” Well I’m not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad. I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crying in the streets. All I know is first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, “I’m a human being. God Dammit, my life has value.” So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” I want you to get up right now. Get up. Go to your windows, open your windows, and stick your head out, and yell, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Things have got to change my friends. You’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Monday, April 15, 2013

Icestorm renders us powerless

Nature can pack a pretty wild punch in her weather delivery systems. Friday’s icestorm here was a case in point. The soft fizz of freezing rain falling and collecting on the damp vegetation was relentless all day. It was an eerily beautiful, somewhat surreal, sight. The forecasted rise in temperature that was meant to melt the ice accretion did not materialize, and the ice steadily thickened on trees, branches, twigs, and grasses. Many of each collapsed under the weight and pressure, sometimes like the firing of a gun as a huge limb snapped off and the ice cascaded to the ground. Budding branches at the apex were most exposed as treetops took a radical haircut. 

The dull grey of the day contrasted with the sharpness and clarity of the ice. With electric power cut off, contact with the outside world was over the airwaves of the car radio, so we took to the road, gasping at the widespread devastation. By no means universal, certain trees were particularly badly affected – wispy poplars, willows and silver birch which snapped into unruly pieces; and soft pine and cedar which often lay prone or uprooted. Power lines were coated in ice an inch or more thick. Icicles dangled from them in a sagging ribbon. Stunned residents scratched their heads at the sight of shattered old maples and spread-eagled shrubbery. Chainsaws cleared roads and paths, and the loud whine of generators filled the still air. Hydro reported that power would be out for a day or more. The outage for us lasted in fact three days, with power restored over candlelit dinner entertaining friends. In the meantime, no flushing of toilets, no showering, no refrigeration, no music or news. However, we could crank up telephone land line, woodstove heat, buckets of water from our full dug well, cooking on the gas-stove, boiling of water for tea and coffee, lots of strategically-placed beeswax candles, flashlights….
By the third day, we recognize our fragility and dependency on the power grid and wish for self-sufficiency from the type of residential-scale wind and solar-generated power that dinner guests Kevin and Jack enjoy. Extreme weather events such as this are a stark reminder that we are all live just a few days away from extreme discomfort and deprivation. Ah well, back to our smug complacency with restored power as today brings sunshine and temperatures in the mid-teens Celsius (mid-twenties in the balmy hoophouses where green shoots take on a growth spurt, oblivious to the commotion outside). My tractor has shed its icy mantle and will soon be called in to action. Spring is surely on its way now.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

All Life Is Sacred

This past Sunday I gave a talk-cum-reading on my experiences as an organic grower of food. It was delivered to an audience of some fifty or so First Unitarian Church attendees in Toronto as part of a discussion on “Why Consumers Are Choosing Organics”. I was one of four speakers, the others being Sarah Dobec of The Big Carrot, Jodi Koberinski of the Organic Council of Ontario, and Tanmayo Krupanszky of the Toronto chapter of Canadian Organic Growers.

I really am unaccustomed to public speaking. Only truly at both my dear parents’ passings have I bellied up to do so, then too addressing mostly churchgoers. It is a measure of my passion for organics and the engagement of the public that I chose to take up Unitarian Allen Goldfeder’s invitation to speak at this event. I get nervous, would be more comfortable just reading from a prepared text, but – in the interest of conveying passion – prefer to talk directly to the audience whilst reading. This doesn’t come easy, especially when having to consider the proximity of the microphone and the steady drying up of the mouth. I am not a ready talker, preferring to read, listen, write, and inwardly mull.

Back in my comfort zone of the greenhouse this morning, fork turning over the moist thawing soil and extracting stubborn grasses around the perimeter prior to planting, insightful thoughts come to me. I confess to not being a churchgoer. However, there is something about the questing goodly spirit of those with faith that do worship regularly at the house of God that I admire. Tanmayo related her talk on organics to Love, Faith, and Hope, in turn. Nobody can argue with the value of these virtues.

I do find myself in life always casting around and digging for truth and meaning. I generally find it in honesty, ethical conduct, love, respect, and acting on these principles. In her primeval essence, it is Nature that is my guide. Some thirty years ago, Gundi and I were married by a lovely man called Dr. Dixon. At the time, he was a retired professor of biology at the University of Guelph and a Unitarian minister happy to come out to where we chose to wed. I always remember him saying that he believed that “Human Life is Sacred” and revered him for this. Over the years, it has become apparent to me that all natural life is sacred, in that we need to sustain living populations in all their wondrous diversity.

We, as humans, share this miracle of Life, this Planet with multitudes of other species, other beings that are alive for a short time on this Earth, just as we are. In the twinkling of an eye we are conceived, live our lives inhaling the swirling dynamic forces that have evolved here, then we evaporate into the afterlife, whose nature is full of promise, an unknown quantity, or an eternal void, depending on our faith. Whether we believe in one God, many Gods, or no god at all, it seems to me that our duty while we are alive in the here and now is to respect, honour, and love our earthly home and those we co-exist with, be they animal, vegetable, or mineral. Nature in whatever form will surely inhabit this planet long after our own species has driven itself also to the brink of extinction, and maybe beyond. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Address to the Soul in the Yellow Wind

This mutated sunflower was found in Manno cho Kagawa prefecture. Kagawa is in Shikoku, Japan.

Iori Mochizuki is a brave man who posts constant updates about the Fukushima disaster at his blog
This post of his, penned on this very day, the second anniversary of “311”, touched me deeply.

As technology made our lives easier and easier, we abandoned our gift called intelligence. We were merely waiting for the spoon to feed us like unthinking reed.

Like they built pyramid or the tower of Babel, we built the huge kettle with Pluto inside.
Delphic oracle revived in the crystal boxes to tell us what to believe and stop us thinking.
We were banned from doubting and doubters were regarded as heresy.
When the mountain became valley, the bottom of ocean reached the sun, the wall of water swallowed our dreams.
Old kettles – the symbol of fake god- were smashed into pieces. We saw Pluto rising in the mushroom cloud.
Haves were afraid of losing all the have-nots. With the pieces of broken kettles, they built the church to keep have-nots inside. Stained glasses are made of notes, the cross is made of bones. It’s a floating cottage on the black river.
They swore they would never open their eyes to God so they won’t have to see Pluto anymore. They poured wax into their own ears.
Pluto is not outside of the church anymore. It’s in our shoes, in our pocket, in our breath and in our blood.
The letter from our parents to our children were rewritten illegibly, our sons and daughters read the “heaven” as “hades”.

Haves are building the army of have-nots and had Delphic oracle tell them to see the enemy with the closed eyes. You hear the choir counting our bodies and tell us where our enemy is.

On the day of the yellow wind, the offered flowers to the lost souls have 3 heads but the blind never see it. The offered water is burning. Breads are glowing blue. The voice of lost souls can never be heard by the waxed ears.

When they notice they killed all the Ichthys, they hear the sound of military boots coming to them.

Friday, March 1, 2013

We Are All One

As discovered on the Google+ profile page of my sister-in-law Heidi Grenda,
Heidi creates wonderful recycled art in Managua, Nicaragua, where she has happily lived for many years.  

This incredible short film shares an indigenous Native American prophecy that links all of life and the future of our planet. 
Narration is in English, subtitles in Spanish.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Poem for the Marcellus

By Sandra Steingraber
From the Huffington Post, full article at
In praise of unfractured rock.
Everywhere is holy. - Allen Ginsberg, "Footnote to Howl," Howl, and Other Poems

In honor of both National Poetry Month and Earth Day - and with thanks to the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who continues to inspire me - I offer below a love song to the bedrock: the methane-suffused shale that geologists call the Marcellus, which now lies in the crosshairs of the oil and gas industry.
By way of prelude: The Marcellus Shale is the geological foundation of upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The namesake for this underground layer of rock is the village of Marcellus, New York. The village, in turn, is named for the ancient Roman general, Marcus Claudius Marcellus. Renowned for his cunning military strategies, General Marcellus ultimately perished on the battlefield, run through by a spear. Marcellus reappears as a character in Hamlet (where being run through is a not uncommon cause of death). In Shakespeare's telling, Marcellus is a career officer who utters the memorable line about Denmark.
Geologically speaking, the Marcellus Shale represents an ancient seafloor. The bubbles of natural gas trapped within it are the remains of marine organisms. The Marcellus also contains heavy metals, radioactive elements, sea salt, and carcinogenic vapors, including benzene. When the shale is run through - fractured, fracked - for natural gas extraction, these substances are liberated and brought to the earth's surface.
Carbon-rich geological formations are also living ecosystems. They are the home to relic organisms collectively called "deep life." Some of these microbes form complex colonies, sending nanowires out into the surrounding rock for purposes of electron transfer. Deep-life organisms are ubiquitous and almost certainly play a role in the Earth's carbon cycle. They may, in ways we do not yet understand, contribute to climate stability.
Living organisms also interfere with the flow of gas through pipelines. To prevent this biofouling, gas companies send powerful biocides into the shale, killing everything that inhabits it. The use of biocides, among other factors, makes fracking a highly toxic form of energy extraction.
As a biologist, I've written extensively about the toxicity of fracking. As a poet, I'm interested in it, too. I'm often asked what biology and poetry have in common. The answer for me is that both biology and poetry are about the mystery of being alive. But whereas biology wants to solve the mystery, poetry simply says, behold.
If you like this poem, take it with you. Read it aloud at public hearings, at rallies, in church. Perform it at Earth Day celebrations. Consider this as permission to reprint. Send copies to your elected officials. Set it to music. Add some images and make a video. Whatever we can do to express our belief that the integrity of life on the sunlit surface of this planet depends on the integrity of the bedrock beneath us, we must do. Now.

- for Allen Ginsberg, who reminded us that the worship of Moloch required the sacrifice of children.

Marcellus below us. Marcellus below us. 
Marcellus, tell us, who are you? 
Older than fishes. Older than spinal cord and bone 
and the green day of trees. Older than pollen dust, 
than seeds. Bedrock of grief. 
Subterranean coral reef. Microbe and nanowire. 
Electrically conductive, hypersaline fire. 

Marcellus our cellar. Marcellus unlike us. 
Fissured and fossilled sarcophagus 
of sea lilies and squid, ego and id.
The whole periodic table in you. 
Uranium. Radium. Barium. Lead. 
Marcellus, home of the dead. 
Toluene. Mercury. Benzene. Brine. 
Arsenic. The River Styx. 
Five hundred million years thick.
In you Euridice.
Hades. Moloch. Charon's boat.
Hades. Moloch. Ransom note.

Marcellus deserved the name given him 
who waged war and gained fame for the sacking 
of Syracuse, for the battle of Gaul, only to lose 
to the enemy at home. And fall. No exit plan.
Some say your success was embellished, 
General Marcellus, tell us: who called you 
Sword of Rome?
Saudi Arabia below our feet. A prolific monster 
says Wall Street. A sure thing. A shale play. 
Play. Play. Place your bet.
Marcellus: a minor character who guides 
Hamlet away from his father's ghost. 
What, has this thing appear'd again to-night?
Something is rotten in the state of. . . .

Here, sign this lease and let's make the most 
of it.
Enters now Marc Antony breaking bread 
with Bobby Kennedy. Jealous?
Et tu, Marcellus.
O pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
that I am meek and gentle with these butchers.

Hades. Moloch. Charon's boat.
Hades. Moloch. Ransom note.
Marcellus, who are we? Drill. Syringe. 
Derrick. Vein. Two junkies argue how many
atoms of carbon dance on the head of a pin.
Marcellus, quick. Tell us. I hear the trucks. 
They're not far. The plan is reduce you to rubble.
There is no Hubble telescope for you. 
No 24-hour spill cam for us.
Are you a box inscribed with name Pandora? Or a 
scroll on which are written the names of us all?

Holy the rock 
and the fissure, 
the salt and the diatom's fall. 
Holy the unfractured. 
Holy the wall 
between you 
and us, Marcellus. 
Holy the cave. 
Holy the soluble. 
Holy the hall. 
Holy the unmapped 
and abandoned 
I know you're down there.
Mom always said, 
don't blow up the basement.
Hades. Moloch. Charon's boat.
Hades. Moloch. Ransom note.
Let me love you 
from a long way up.
Holy the water. 
Holy the cup.

Sandra Steingraber is the author of Living Downstream, published in second edition by Merloyd Lawrence Books/Da Capo Press to coincide with the release of the documentary film adaptation.