30 November 2011

I thought this month would never end

Whew. Thirty consecutive posts. I enjoyed the exercise, and I feel like I cracked the writer's block that was plaguing me. There were certainly posts I wouldn't have bothered with if I hadn't set myself the challenge of a post a day for this month, and there are topics I would have expanded on if I had more time to work them through. Well, I say that, but writing longer pieces is much harder and I have a tendency to completely disagree with myself by the next day, so perhaps that bit is fantasy.

I expect I'm not the only one who sets silly challenges for myself and then fails to follow through, so I'm kind of proud of myself for sticking with this. Gold star for me. Now if I can just think of something interesting to say on a reasonably regular schedule between now and next November when I will very likely do it again.

I ought to give a shout out to Canberra Canuck who was a pretty faithful commenter here or on facebook all month. Thanks.

29 November 2011

A proud Canadian moment

So the first day of negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change talks in Durban has gone and Canada has scored first and second place in the fossil awards. It got first for planning to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol (in December after the talks are finished - talk about bad faith bargaining) and second for this statement by our Environment Minister, Peter Kent: ‘Emerging and developing countries need to stop “wielding the historical guilty card” and asking for a free pass on emissions reductions just because in the past, industrialized countries had more emissions than the rest of the world’. Yeah, developing countries. Stop asking for free passes. Don't you know free passes are for North Americans?

Third place goes to the UK for making a deal with Canada to bring tar sands oil into the European Union by undermining the Fuel Quality Directive. Hey, I'm considering that a win for Canada, too.

While I was googling around on this topic, I came across some "conservatives" cackling about the awards with glee. So if you thought it was just our government that hates the environment, you're wrong. Some Canadians do too, and they walk among us. Or more likely, they idle their SUVs in the drive-through lane at Tim Horton's.

28 November 2011

Monday Forest photo: November 28, 2011

11:30am 5C light drizzle 
A mere 5 days ago, it was a winter wonderland here in Monday Forest, but the temperatures have been well above freezing ever since and the snow is long gone. It's a cold enough climate here that we expect to see snow on the ground all winter, but it can take a few tries at the beginning before it sticks. In the meantime, depending on one's perspective, one waits with dread or anticipation for winter to finally arrive.

This little cluster of cedar cones caught my eye. It made me think of the preparations all the wild ones make for winter. Much more life and death than remembering to empty the rain barrels.

27 November 2011

They thought there would be cake at the grand opening

The girls got a first look at their new sunroom/rain shelter this morning. Yesterday I finally got the plastic on because rain was forecast for today, and I don't like to let the birds out to free range in the rain - they're just not very good at staying dry. Soggy chickens are pathetic little creatures.

The chickens have been sharing the winter coop now for a week, but they still keep to their own groups. The two white chickens and two red chickens nearest the ramp are the old ladies, and the rest are the teenagers. From what I can tell, though, everyone is getting access to the food and water and there isn't any violence.

Dax doesn't seem to fully appreciate that she is among the 1% of chickens. Hopefully, she'll enjoy the new space this winter.

26 November 2011

See ya later, sunset!

The view from my kitchen window one day last winter
At this time of year I start to get kind of squirrelly because of the very short days. Because my days are my own, and most mornings I don't have to get out of bed to be somewhere before it gets light, the primary day length issue for me is what time the sun sets.

I spent a little time perusing a sunrise/sunset calendar for my area and made a wonderful discovery. Today the sun set at 4:25 pm. In just over a week, on December 5, the sun will set five minutes earlier at 4:20 pm and that will be as early as it ever sets. Ever. Oh, the days will continue to get shorter, and sunrise will be later and later until January 5, but that critical sunset time bottoms out in 9 more days.

I may just make it this year, and I'll try to appreciate the the view.

25 November 2011

News Flash: the government doesn't care what I think

   Brick Wall

 I did a bit of citizen activism today. I dressed in my least no-good-sit-n-thinker clothes, brushed my hair and went to speak with my (Conservative) Member of Parliament about climate issues. I'm sure that if I had made an appointment to speak with a brick wall, I would feel much more satisfied than I do now. And if I had banged my head against that wall, at least I would feel relief when I stopped. 

As cynical as I am, I actually came away from my conversation even more pessimistic that there will ever be any meaningful change. The thing that surprised me was that my MP and I pretty much agree that things are going to get warmer - much warmer. We spoke of the need to reduce consumption, and he advised me to tell my grandchildren to buy land along James Bay, because it will be a sunny resort area in the future.

The thing that startled me, given his acknowledgement of the problem (though he tried to lecture me on natural climate variation - I wouldn't hear it) was that he was absolutely certain that the government would never take any serious action because people didn't want it. When I reminded him that I had made an appointment to tell him I wanted to be carbon-taxed and that I was probably representing at least one or two other people in the riding, he merely shrugged. He said the government just wasn't getting that kind of vibe from people. I told him I hoped he got my vibe.

I suppose I wasted my time today. Apparently, there is nothing to be said against the status quo. I guess if the system won't change, we're going to have to change systems.

24 November 2011

Where's Sergeant Pepper?

You've no doubt seen lots of images of the pepper spraying cop photoshopped onto all manner of iconic and not so iconic images by now. If not, check here for lots more. I'm glad that this thing is going viral and that folks seem genuinely disturbed by the casual violence against peaceful protesters. Our new overlords majority Conservative government is taking a turn in a much more authoritarian and cruel direction and no doubt we'll see more of this.

I was a bit surprised when the various city governments in this part of the world were so tolerant of Occupy protestors at first. In Canada, occupations started on October 15, and mostly were sent packing this past week, though some were cleared out earlier. The protesters were moved out using provisions of city bylaws designed to prevent homeless people from camping in public parks. (I feel sorry for the homeless - it's practically illegal just to exist, let alone all their other problems) They got the parks all tidied up and now nice people can use them again.

There was an interesting article in the paper about how police infiltrated an anarchist group for a year before the G20 summit in Toronto last year. Two officers joined a group, but one was exposed because he wasn't a very good anarchist and he saved his receipts. That little nugget really struck my funny bone - I'm not sure why but I'm still chuckling about it. I have no idea what good came from this undercover operation - it didn't seem to prevent any violence and there weren't very many serious criminal convictions in the end.

Full disclosure: I'm married to a cop, so I'm not anti-police, but I hate to see them used as pawns when the full force of the state is brought to bear against those who would speak out against a system that is already rigged against them.

23 November 2011

First snow

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found? - J.B. Priestly
When I no longer thrill to the first snow of the season, I'll know I'm growing old. - Lady Bird Johnson

22 November 2011

A very big trip

There was a bit of a milestone in our household today. Madeleine wanted a ride, not only to the city, but across the city, to volunteer at her old school for the day. I wanted to drive in rush hour, twice, to drop her off and pick her up like I wanted to stick needles in my eye. So I agreed to drop her off and pick her up at the park and ride. She managed all four busses and hour plus each way trip and arrived back at the station in one piece at the end of the day. She had not gotten lost, molested or recruited into a cult. She had realized that a lot of things in the city were now accessible to her that otherwise might not be if they required full chauffeuring services from an unenthusiastic parent. Now if I could just talk her into hitchhiking the rest of the way home, she'd have all the independence a teenager could want and cut our carbon emissions, too.

Speaking of emissions, the picture above is of an electric city bus from the early twentieth century. I know, I know - there are still emissions, except they're belching out of a smokestack at the local coal-fired generating plant rather than the tailpipe, but it's interesting to ponder how things might have gone if electric vehicles had prevailed over internal combustion engines. Perhaps we'd all be driving slower, lighter vehicles and listening to birds and people rather than the traffic noise we've gotten so used to.

21 November 2011

Monday Forest photo: November 21, 2011

1:30pm -3C sunny
A beautiful crisp, cool day. A cold front blew through last night, bringing clear skies and chilly temperatures - just right for a walk with the dog.

There's not a lot of greenery left in Monday Forest, but this fern is still standing proud.

20 November 2011

Chicken nuggets

Today was the culmination of Project Flock Blend. This project started back in June when we got five new day old chicks who took up residence in the large winter coop while the original flock of four spent the summer and fall in the chicken tractor. I knew from the beginning that we'd have to move everyone into the winter coop before winter. The girls have been free ranging in their two separate flocks for months now, but don't mingle much, though the old ones do chase the young ones away from goodies.

The temperature is forecast to hit -10C tonight, which seems like winter to me, so Madeleine and I grabbed each of the four old chickens and put them into the big coop with the pullets. Everyone was a bit miffed at the disruption of their ordinary routines, and there was much complaining.

The old chickens captured the floor level and the young chickens retreated atop the straw bales which are stacked under the roosts. The old birds partook of the offerings of both feeders and the waterer while the young ones watched, annoyed. When we left, after half an hour or so, there was an uneasy truce, and it was starting to get dark.

I'm sure there will be some jostling for sleeping space tonight, but chickens do enter a kind of nightly torpor, which should prevent any conflict overnight, and hopefully they will wake up slightly confused but well-rested and genial (or at the very least refrain from maiming each other over breakfast).

In every flock, certain chickens stand out for some exceptional trait. Martha, our Plymouth Barred Rock, shown above at the far end, is notable for her lovely appearance and stupidity, even by chicken standards. Martha frequently finds herself lost and was voted most likely to be eaten by a coyote.

Uhura is the chicken who comes running towards me when she sees me approach. She seems to speak for the pullets and objected the loudest to having new roommates.


Photo credit for all the chicken portraits to Madeleine.

The coop is undergoing an expansion this year, with the addition of a sun room. It's still under construction, but I'm sure it will be appreciated this winter.

19 November 2011

Northern Red-Bellied Snake

I love the days when I see something I've never seen before. Today on our walk we saw this tiny snake on the trail. According to google, it's a Northern Red-Bellied Snake, a snake one doesn't often see because it is very shy and likely to be found under a log or rock. Also, it's the smallest snake in Ontario, so it's just plain tricky to see, especially in this dark grey colouration. This one actually appeared dead, though apparently they are known to play dead. It didn't move at all, even when we picked it up. Luc placed it under some leaves off to the side of the trail where hopefully it snickered quietly at its subterfuge and waited for us to leave before slithering off to wherever snakes go at night.

It seems kind of late in the season to be seeing snakes, but it has been a particularly mild fall and these snakes seem to be able to endure cold winters as their range extends up to Lake Superior.

While I was doing the research for this post, I discovered a project called the Ontario Nature Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, which seeks to "improve our knowledge of the distribution and status of Ontario’s reptiles and amphibians by collecting observation submissions from the public, carrying out field surveys and amalgamating existing databases." They accept observations from "citizen scientists", and I will definitely register to participate.

18 November 2011

A depressing tour of White Tail Ridge

Meg and I went over to White Tail Ridge for our walk this afternoon. White Tail Ridge is a controversial suburban-sprawl type development plunked down a couple of kilometres from town in a rural area. The advertising has been misleading to say the least. I saw one ad that proclaimed that WTR was "in the heart of vibrant and eclectic Almonte". Uh, no. There are road signs along the main road from Ottawa that show the distance to WTR, except that every single one understates the distance by several kilometres. There must be marketing science behind blatant lying about obvious facts, though the strategy is lost on me.

I like how the sign says "Imagine the Possibilities"and shows a picture of an olympic size backyard skating rink. Your imagination will get a workout here.

I stuck my camera in over the edge of a dumpster outside a house which is currently under construction mostly to see if there were any goodies in there. I was pleased to see some workmen had tossed their beer cans in the dumpster, as they mostly they seem to toss them into the ditches.  It seems kind of European to be drinking at lunch, but I suspect these guys are not old world craftsmen.

Construction is proceeding (but not on this weekday afternoon) on three houses. Customers don't appear to be lining up to buy these homes, which are priced similarly to houses in the city, except they come with a bonus half hour longer commute. 

I threw up a little when I saw this monstrosity. Luckily it will blow away when the first big wind comes up.

The forest here is gradually being blasted away to make room for roads and storm water drainage. Of course, as houses are built, the remaining trees will be cut down too. Sigh.

While I was poking around, I found a sign which reveals the site's previous use: Welcome to "Stan's Slaughtering Plant". It's hard to get too romantic about something like that, but I'd rather see a local food producer here than a bunch of oversized, vinyl and chipboard dream homes.

17 November 2011

Stephen Harper and his corporate puppeteers don't speak for me

I engaged in a bit of slacktivism this afternoon. The Council of Canadians has a campaign to let European Union decision makers know that the Canadian government is acting as a shill for Big Oil and does not speak for a majority of citizens. The Canadian and Alberta governments are lobbying against the EU's Fuel Quality Directive, which seeks to reduce carbon emissions from transport fuels by discouraging the use of high-carbon fuels such as tar sands bitumen. They say the FQD is "discriminatory" and "unscientific". Apparently you must remove your conscience before you crawl into the pocket of Big Oil so that you do not mind spewing complete bullcrap in public.

So Madeleine and I took each other's pictures holding this fancy sign and uploaded it to a Flickr group, called I'm Canadian and I Support the EU FQD. This is slightly more effort than signing an online petition, but not much, and I would encourage anyone who is concerned about reducing carbon emissions to go to the Council of Canadians website to get more information on this action and how to participate. Do it. Go now. Oh, and why not leave a comment here once you've done it?

16 November 2011

Experiencing Mental Difficulties: Please Stand By

I am completely at a loss for today's blog, so I am cheating and posting this picture of some stuff on a rock for your viewing pleasure. Regular programming resumes tomorrow.

15 November 2011

Is there decent health care in debtor's prison?


There's a tumblr blog I go to quite frequently called We Are the 99 Percent which is simply photographs of people holding a sign that describes why they feel they are part of the Occupy movement's 99 percent. I have a hard time figuring out why I find this so compelling. The site has hundreds of these pictures of people who are in debt, un- or underemployed, insecure about food and housing, and often sick or disabled. So many of these accounts are of folks who are carrying debt from student loans, underwater homes or medical bills. This debt renders them indentured servants, but with no guarantee of employment. 

Quite honestly, I can't really relate to most of these people. By far, most of them are American, and as much as Americans and Canadians may be indistinguishable to the rest of the world, there are some major differences that are particularly relevant here. The real estate bubble hasn't burst here, and in many parts of the country there is no real estate bubble. Most Canadians are not underwater on their mortgages and there hasn't been any spate of foreclosures. Most universities here are publicly funded and tuition fees average about $5000 a year for undergraduate programs. The biggest difference, though, is our publicly funded health insurance. Every Canadian has a provincial health card that provides all basic health services for free. Ok, it's not free. We pay for it through a reasonably progressive taxation system. Poor people pay less than rich people, but everyone receives the same care. Every emergency room visit, every hospital stay, every doctor's appointment (specialists too), diagnostic tests, surgery, childbirth - all free. No worries about pre-existing conditions, co-pays, HMOs (whatever they are), unaffordable premiums or bankruptcy due to medical bills. Oh, we complain about wait times. Sometimes people have to wait longer than they'd like for MRIs and elective surgeries. And for people under 65, drugs aren't covered unless you have supplemental insurance, usually from your employer. But, a catastrophic illness isn't automatically a financial catastrophe.  

I don't know why Americans are so vehemently opposed to the kind of reasonably civilized health care enjoyed by most citizens of the developed world. From my outside perspective it seems that a significant number of people are being condemned to suffer for an obviously failed ideology. 

14 November 2011

Monday Forest photo: November 14, 2011

11:30 am 17C cloudy
 This weather is strange indeed. A southwest wind is blowing up warm air and we're having temperatures I thought we wouldn't see again until April or May. As lovely as it is, at this time of year there's a nagging feeling that it's not quite right to be this warm. All good Canadians used to say something along the lines of "we'll pay for this" when the weather was unseasonably nice, and now we worry that this particular instance of weather is yet another sign of climate change. Geez, why can't we just enjoy it?

There are a lot of snags in Monday Forest and some bear some striking mycodecorations.

13 November 2011

Today's post brought to you by the artful lodger

Rainy day in a small town



After being silent for a while, our artful lodger is back at it, and this time with a vengeance. Madeleine is taking the semester off school, ostensibly to recover from a health issue, but evidently to do art. She's the kind of kid who completely throws herself into whatever is the current passion, and for now it is visual art. More of her work can be seen at her art blog.

12 November 2011

Confessions of a crunchy granola shelter porn addict


Well, I suppose I had better acknowledge the problem before it gets out of hand. I can't stop looking at pictures of people's rooms. This is a strange fixation for someone who rants on about the end of the world as we know it, and currently lives on painted plywood subfloors. When I open my browser, Apartment Therapy is there. I have no intention of moving - ever - yet I check real estate listings just about every day, and I can tell you how much and whether the kitchen is updated for most houses currently on the market in my town. I was thrilled, thrilled, to discover that we now live in an area where the IKEA catalogue is delivered in the mail.

Back in my early twenties I used to buy magazines and persisted in that habit until I couldn't afford them anymore. Then I found them and big coffee table decorating books at the library. Now I get my fix online. More shelter porn every day than I could ever have dreamed of back in the day. I don't know what this says about me. I don't have a fabulous house and no grand plans to create one. I don't have the time, actually, because I haven't seen all the pictures on the internet yet. And I can stop anytime I want. Really.

11 November 2011

Kombucha don't know what this is

I've often got something growing on my counter. No, not because I don't clean it occasionally, but because I have jars of kefir, yogourt, sourdough starter, ginger bugs, or fermenting veggies on the go. So it wasn't out of character for me to seek out a kombucha starter to join the menagerie.

Kombucha, in case you're not familiar with it, is a fermented sweet tea drink. You make a sweet tea, then add a kombucha scoby, which looks like a tentacle-less jellyfish. The word scoby is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. You leave it to ferment for a week or so, by which time the scoby will have spawned a baby jellyfish, which you can use to ferment more tea. You do all this because kombucha is reputed to be an amazing health tonic (the lights dim at the server farm when you google it) and is also a refreshing, lightly carbonated beverage.

So maybe you can't see why I was so keen to try this new fermenting adventure, and at this point I can't actually remember either. The first step was to find a kombucha culture. I don't actually know anyone in person with any scobys to spare, so I went bravely onto the internets. There are lists of folks who will send you a kombucha baby, along with its pedigree, for the postage. I sent a few emails, and didn't hear anything back, so I decided to purchase one from the one Canadian outfit selling them online. I won't mention the cost, but it turns out that the unit cost of drinkable kombucha has been embarrassingly high.

The starter arrived in the mail, packed inside 2 freezer bags and floating in some kombucha, which smelled suspiciously like apple cider vinegar. I'm pretty sure that's what it's supposed to smell like. I followed the instructions, and a week later I looked into the jar to find not much of anything. I left it a few days longer and harvested my first batch of kombucha, along with a baby scoby. I made two more batches and checked on them a week later, to find mold growing on the surface of both jars. The instructions had cautioned this could happen and offered advice about dealing with it. One batch looked bad, so I threw it out, but I rinsed off the other and started another batch -another batch of mold and some previously unknown lifeforms as it turns out.

I'm kind of surprised my kombucha adventure has turned out to be such a flop. The animals in my counter zoo usually die of boredom (and neglect) after a long life. They don't usually perish under my active guardianship.

10 November 2011


One of the benefits of living close to Ottawa is being able to visit the National Gallery of Canada. Madeleine and I went last week and had a fabulous day soaking up all kinds of art. Perhaps the largest piece in the gallery's collection is the giant bronze spider called "Maman" that inhabits the square in front of the gallery. Maman is huge: she's 9 metres tall (30 ft.) and weighs 6000 kg (13,000 lb). She has 26 marble eggs in her egg sac. 

I love that Maman looks like she is about to devour the city.

09 November 2011

The tao of Meg

Meg is our two and a half year old border collie. She is pretty much in constant motion. When she is happy or excited she jumps and twirls and zooms in circles, practically all at the same time. Luckily, many things make Meg happy: the prospect of a walk, seeing someone after they've been out of sight for a moment, letting the chickens out in the morning, seeing the dog next door, fetching slippers, letting Madeleine know it's time to get up, being invited onto the bed, chasing a ball, rounding up the chickens, licking a cereal bowl, running on the trails or being brushed. Her big ears, which don't fold down like most border collies' (she might miss something), are constantly rotating like two furry transceivers. She jumps into the UPS truck to meet the driver, rather than wait for him to come out with a biscuit.

A few things aren't so popular with our Meg. The stove timer, vacuum cleaner or smoke alarm are pretty scary things. Meg sneaks downstairs to crawl under Madeleine's bed until the danger has passed. She stoically endures car rides by curling up on the seat and waiting until it's over.

Good or bad, Meg lives in the present. She doesn't stress about the future or harbour regrets. Her life is a moment by moment adventure and if things get a little slow, well, who's up for ball?

08 November 2011

A Year in Monday Forest: The Movie

Monday Forest is the brand new name of the woods where I spend quite a bit of time practically every day. I've been taking a picture there every Monday and posting them on my blog under the title "Monday forest photo". I've been describing this area behind my house as "the woods" or "the forest" since we moved here more than a year ago now, and I've always felt that such a specific place needed its own name. The name basically appeared to me as I was creating the title for the video and I am happy to finally know what this place is called.

I managed to climb far enough up the learning curve of iMovie to put this together last night. I had envisioned a quick time-lapse effect, but the pictures weren't nearly consistent enough, so I made it slower and hopefully easier to watch. The critical reviews have been lukewarm (ok, they're terrible, but what was I thinking showing my masterpiece to my teenager?) so far, but I hope you'll ignore the film snobs and watch it anyway.

The Monday Forest Project continues on Monday, and with any luck for a long time.

07 November 2011

Monday forest photo: November 7, 2011

9:45am 12C clear

It's a beautiful day. A day to be appreciated for all its worth, because it's November and it could so easily be a soggy, dreary mess.

This photo marks a full year of Monday forest photos since I started doing them last November. I wanted to document seasonal changes in the woods, and I was pretty faithful at doing it. I missed a couple of weeks, and I didn't get to it until Tuesday or Wednesday sometimes, but it's become a fun little habit. I realize that there were a few months over the past year when I posted nothing other than the Monday forest photos, and I apologize. I do understand that I may be the only person who is in any way interested in them.

Because I now have a full year's worth of pictures, I am going to make a slideshow or video to show the year passing in a minute or so. I haven't quite figured out how, but I'm kind of excited about this little project.

I couldn't resist taking a picture of this world on a rotten stump. Now that the leaves have dropped, and most everything is brown, this little vignette attracted my attention.

06 November 2011

Fall back

I woke this morning to a brightening sky for the first time in a while. I truly appreciate this light in the morning, I really do. But this day marks the beginning of the dark season. For some reason an earlier sunset has a much greater effect on me than a later sunrise. I am fortunate not to be a 9to5er, so I have plenty of opportunity to get outside in the daylight, and I will be making a concerted effort to partake as much as possible.

In 2005, in order to keep synchronized with the US, which had passed the Energy Policy Act, Canada extended daylight saving time by 3 weeks in the spring and 1 week in the fall. It was the first and only positive feeling I ever had towards George Bush Jr. 

I'll stop complaining now, as I live at the 45th parallel, far south of many of my Canadian, European and even some American neighbours, and I have lived at much higher latitudes myself, so I know my situation is in no way remarkable. You folks in the darker latitudes have my sincerest sympathies.

05 November 2011

When I grow up I want to be Ruth Stout

I have read "The Ruth Stout No-Work Gardening Book" probably dozens of times, and it has a permanent spot on my bedside table. I am always a sucker for anything promising reward without effort, so it is no surprise that this book would be one of my all-time favourites. Except it's not so much the content as her anti-authoritarian and very funny attitude. Ruth Stout was not intimidated by experts, and she seemed to have a reasonable suspicion that most experts were guilty of complicating things unnecessarily. This book is a collection of articles written for Organic Gardening and Farming magazine in the fifties and sixties, so maybe not her best book, but it is the only one I have. Whenever I see old books for sale, I always look for anything by her.

Ruth Stout was the mother of permanent deep-mulch gardening, and she was very adamant that it was the solution for practically everything in the garden. I don't mulch religiously, because sometimes I just find it easier to weed a bit, and I plant stuff so close together that mulching between plants is plain too hard. I don't dig very much, but I do sometimes because it's the easiest way to get out perennial weeds, which sorry to say, do still grow through deep mulches. And I compost, contrary to Ruth's opinion that it's easier to just bury everything under mulch. I don't think it's more work, and I have a winter's worth of chicken manure to deal with every spring. I plant potatoes her way, by just tossing them onto the ground and covering them with lots of straw (though she would use hay, and I can't bear the thought of adding that many weed seeds to the garden). So I'm certainly no faithful disciple of her methods, but I think the main thing I've learned from her is to pay attention to my garden and trust my observations. 

A few weeks ago, over at The Duck Herder's blog I saw a documentary called "Ruth Stout's Garden" that is now on YouTube and I fell in love all over again. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when I grow up, I want to be Ruth Stout.

I think you should watch this movie, too.

04 November 2011

It was a very mast year

Last year the red oaks in our forest produced a bumper crop of acorns. The trails were littered with acorns and you would often get bonked on the head by one as you walked. Bluejays were plentiful and spent their days arguing and tapping acorns against tree branches. It made for an interesting soundtrack to the late summer and early fall. These years of abundance are called mast years and they are a pretty interesting phenomenon with a cascading effect on the ecosystem.

No one has yet been able to predict which years will be mast years for a given species. The theory is that normal years provide just enough food for a smallish population of animals to survive. In a mast year, such an overabundance of food is available that lots of acorns are left to germinate and grow up. Of course, the quantity of food available also results in larger populations of deer, squirrels, and mice, which have their own impacts. For example, all those extra mice are hard on ground nesting birds and also on gypsy moths, but good for owls and other predators. Life isn't easy, though, and the charitable oaks revert to their stingy ways the next year. No one seems quite sure what triggers all the trees to participate in the mast, as by doing so, they have to allot resources which would otherwise be used for growth.

One of the visible reminders of last year's amazing acorn production is the large number of red oak seedlings scattered throughout the woods. Now that everything is brown and bare, the bright red leaves of the tiny red oaks stand out like little beacons.

A great article on the subject was published in American Scientist magazine in 2005.

03 November 2011

Occupy Your Life: How to be happier, have more money, and subvert the system

I'm always skeptical of folks who claim that they know the one source of all your problems, and conveniently the solution, which often involves you buying something. Well, I won't claim to solve all your problems, and you definitely don't need to buy anything. I can promise you that if you follow my advice, you will feel better, save money, and play a small role in undermining the modern industrial capitalist system. 

There are five simple things that anyone can do. By doing them you will immediately have improved self-esteem, you will find you have most everything you need, and you will have a more peaceful life. 

1. Look around your house until you find your tv. Now look some more to see if there are others. Especially look for televisions in rooms frequented by children and teenagers. Disconnect all the wires  and remove the televisions from your home. Advertise them on freecycle or kijiji or find someone you don't much care for to gift them to. Now call the cable or satellite company and cancel your service. That will feel good, and will save you somewhere in the order of a thousand bucks a year (you're welcome) but the biggest benefit is that now you will not be exposed to television advertising. You will also not be tempted to watch Jersey Shore or Bounty Hunter or any other programming that makes you feel dirty for having watched it. You will be able to watch whatever you want on your computer (I know you have internet) and if you can't figure out how, hire a teenager for a couple of hours. We've been tv-free for more than 3 years, and cable-free for 3 years before that, and I can say with certainty I haven't missed it.

2. Go bravely into the interwebs and find yourself some ad blocking software that works with your browser. I've used both Adblock Plus for Firefox and Adblock for Safari. These are both extensions to your browser that block all banner ads and most other ads, even on facebook. This will change your web surfing experience dramatically. You will wonder how you ever managed to read a newspaper online before, and you will feel very smug indeed. You may wrestle with your conscience about whether you are stealing content by not watching advertising, but I will leave you to do that in private.

3. Spend a little time with the presets on your radios. Make sure they all point to public or advertising-free radio which in Canada means Radio 1 and Radio 2 (and maybe campus radio?). Don't let radio advertising get in your car or into your kitchen while you are cooking supper because nobody needs that noise. Also, you will find yourself exposed to all kinds of current affairs and music that you wouldn't hear on commercial radio. This you can do with a perfectly clear conscience, as you have already paid for these services.

4. Whatever you do, don't go to a mall. Just don't do it. Everything there is designed to exploit your insecurities so that you spend money on stuff you don't need. If you don't go there, you will never even realize how hopelessly outdated your wardrobe is, or that you don't have the latest version of whatever iGadget you have in your pocket. 

5. Lastly, and for teen girls most importantly, do not read fashion or other women's magazines. They are designed for one thing only, which is to convince you that you are a vile and unworthy human because you actually have flesh on your bones, and to feel better, you should buy stuff.

By doing these things, you are kicking advertisers and their corporate overlords out of your life and you will be better for it. You will not find yourself humming stupid jingles or wondering if you should try some miraculous wrinkle cream, or new car, or no-medical life insurance. Instead, you can fill that empty space in your head with whatever you want. And that, in the 21st century, is revolutionary. 

02 November 2011

In which I demonstrate that I cannot be trusted with endangered species

This little sapling is my contribution to saving Butternut trees from extinction.  Butternut trees are an endangered species in Ontario because of butternut canker disease, which is affecting Butternuts across their range. Seed is being collected from apparently resistant Butternut individuals and grown out to seedlings for distribution to volunteer landowners. One rainy Saturday this spring I was given 10 little trees to plant by the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority Butternut Recovery Program. Seven months later, six of them are still alive, and Tree 6 here is the healthiest of the bunch.

With the best of intentions, I made a huge mistake when I planted them. I thought the soil I was planting them into was likely rather lean, so to give them a little boost, I thought I would add some of my homemade organic fertilizer to the planting hole. If you have read Steve Solomon's Gardening When it Counts, you will know about the fertilizer formula. My version has soybean meal, bone meal and kelp meal in addition to the other ingredients and you may be able to see where this is going, but I didn't.

When I went for my walk the next day, I was surprised to see the first of my new plantings completely uprooted and lying some distance from where I'd left it, with a large hole in its place. I was horrified to find that 5 out of 10 of the trees had been similarly beset. I replanted the trees and held my breath for the next few days when I checked on them. I never found any clues as to the identity of the vandal, but I suspect he was a creature with a sensitive nose and a discerning palate.

I was blaming the early mistreatment of these seedlings for the high mortality rate, but now that I've actually done the math - 2 of the dug up trees and 2 of the unmolested trees died, it appears their survival was unaffected by their youthful adventure. So there is no moral to this story after all, except that it will be a lot easier on your nerves if you don't entice wild critters to dig for goodies underneath your newly planted endangered trees.

01 November 2011

Warm and somewhat contrarian thoughts

We've got a seventies vintage, Elmira woodstove. We use it to heat our house almost exclusively. I'm sure it isn't the most efficient or clean stove out there, but it's the one we have, and one doesn't change out a woodstove lightly. There is nothing I like better than to get up on a frosty morning and build a fire, then sit in front of it with a big mug of coffee.

You may be surprised to hear that being the doomer I am, I don't have cords of wood stacked up, ready for the next two winters. Neither do my husband or I go into the woods and cut our own firewood. Rather, we have a fellow who lives down the road who will deliver a cord at a time within a day or two of us calling. I stack the wood under the deck and we're good for another couple of months. We're not really set up to store much more than a full cord of wood, and it just isn't a priority, given how well our system is working for us. The fact is, if we wanted to save money on firewood, it would be at a cost of many hours of fairly hard labour at a very low hourly rate. Given how local a commodity firewood is, and the fact that I see my supplier's stocks of it every time I go to town, I don't stress a bit about going cold.


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