The story of Hope Ness

IMG_0186Oh, if only these rocks could talk, what a story they could tell about how they got here thousands of years ago. They were part of what’s now called the Canadian Shield, a primeval formation of igneous rock, forged over many millions of years. When the vast glaciers of the last ice age began their slow, relentless march south, these rocks were broken off the shield and pushed south by the immense power of the ice. So great was the weight of the ice, several kilometers thick, that it tilted the eastern edge of an ancient sedimentary rock seabed upward, thus creating the unique, cliff-edge rock formation we call the Niagara Escarpment. When the ice age waned, and the ice began to melt and retreat, these rocks were left right here, where you see them now, on the section of the Bruce Trail from Hope Ness to Hope Bay, on the Bruce Peninsula. Hope Ness is the name settlers gave the promontory of land that reaches out into, and protects Hope Bay, which is part of much larger Georgian Bay. It in turn is part of Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes. Those are all names with a relatively brief history so far. The indigenous people who lived here for thousands of years before the “age of contact” with people of European descent had their own names, including for Hope Ness. I find it interesting, and comforting in a way, that in researching the Indigenous history of the area, the nearby Chippewas of Nawash First Nation have found it was regarded as a “place of healing,” a hopeful place where people came from far and wide.

I’ve certainly come to realize that’s why I’m here, and why I feel strongly the need to share this special place, especially with those who are in need of hope. Perhaps in times to come Hope Ness will have another similar name, or a renewed and restored one, expressing that same spirit.

Hope Ness was almost destroyed about 50 years ago when the Dow Chemical Company wanted to develop a huge quarry to mine the limestone bedrock for its rich magnesium content. The plan included a large shipping facility at the foot of the Niagara Escarpment at nearby Hope Bay. The plan did not proceed. But in the meantime Dow had acquired a large interest in most of the land, which the Ontario government ended up owning, and still does. It includes the provincial Hope Bay Nature Reserve which surrounds my homestead on all sides. More details of the story of how that happened, and other aspects of the history and continuing existence of a special place can be found here, in Finding Hope Ness. Welcome.

 

The earth quakes in Hope Ness

In the 40 years since I first came to live in Hope Ness I’ve seen, heard, and felt a lot of memorable natural occurrences: a few specially intense, zero-visibility blizzards; the sky turning green over nearby Hope Bay as a tornado approached; a ball of lightning rolling across the kitchen floor after the house was struck; the explosive crack of a thick, old hardwood beam as the old drive shed collapsed under the weight of snow; half a dozen deer caught nibbling on my rows of beans in the glow of my flashlight. They ran off, and we continue to co-exist peacefully.

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But I never heard and felt the earth rumble and roar, as in an earthquake. Never, that is, until yesterday evening, December 13, 2019. And yes, it was a Friday. But just a coincidence, of course.

Continue reading

Keeping one’s head up in ‘interesting times’

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Planting potatoes with granddaughter Mirabella (beautiful miracle), May 2, 2016. Photo by daughter, Lila Marie. And a good one it is.

When one reaches the pre-boomer age I’m at now, it makes no sense at all to look forward to spring. That’s despite yet another Canadian winter freezing itself in for a long stay and a “snow squall warning” in effect for the next couple of days. So, what else is new.

The only thing that makes sense for an old guy like me is embracing every new day when it has finally become obvious that every one of them is a Hallelujah! gift.

Yet, here I am, imagining it’s late May in the spring of 2020 and I’m out in the back garden again doing a first weeding in rows of recently emerged potato plants a month after planting, just like I was in the spring of 2016.

There was hope in the ground, and in the air, then. But a cloud had also appeared Continue reading

Alberta’s American heritage and the threat to Canadian national unity

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The official municipal flag of the city of Lethbridge, Alberta, a version of the flag American whiskey traders flew over Fort Whoop-up before 1874

Winter has come relatively early here at Hope Ness, as elsewhere in this part of Canada, from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic. It came much earlier on the Canadian prairies, just as farmers were taking in the harvest; and even on Canada’s Pacific coast, normally still quite balmy in mid-autumn.

Meanwhile, another big chill has gripped Canada: a serious threat to national unity in the wake of the apparently divisive results of the recent federal election. Continue reading

A hard morning frost, joyful wild apples, the soul’s journey, and Putin’s plan.

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Hope Ness, late October, 2019. The heart cries out with joy at the sight of such a tree.

A hard frost covered ground-level Hope Ness this morning as the dogs and I went for our early-morning walk. ‘Early morning’ is a relative thing though: as one day follows another it gets a little later and dusk a little sooner as the sun goes south. The dark, clay-loam soil I turned up in the front field a couple of weeks ago was white with the fragile lightness of frozen dew as the sun began to rise above the line of the woods to the south-east. Continue reading

Two smallish-type poems

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“The man who invented time was a fool.” Dan, circa 1961, the village cafe, Toronto

Waiting

A few dark grapes, some cheese, a bit of bread;

An ear, or more, of just-picked sweet corn.

It is enough

For now.

 

Sun going down

Last pick of late corn,

Sun going down in the west.

Delicious, as always.

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The real ‘peaches and cream.” Sweet enough.

 

“May you live in interesting times”

The origins of that now very relevant and ironic old saying are not clear,  though it’s known in English as “the Chinese curse.” However, no actual Chinese source has ever been found.

The Chinese are indeed an interesting people in their own right, as the world well knows, now that “the sleeping giant,” as Napoleon called China, has been awakened. And by that, I mean “interesting” in its most obvious non-ironic meaning..

At any event, the saying often comes to my mischievous mind to describe the times we’re in, especially since the fateful American presidential election of 2016. Continue reading

On climate change and sweet corn, and other things that change history

Indulge me, dear Reader (cap deliberate), for I am about to complain for the umpteenth time about climate change, and specifically its disruptive effect on that engine of weather in these parts, the Jet Stream.

The Environment Canada Weather daily weather graphic for this day, as you can see, shows the Jet Stream dipped south over much of east-central North America, so far south into the U.S. that the full extent of its reach is not shown. But the temperature-range aspect of the graphic clearly shows temperatures in Pennsylvania, for example, as well as most of southern Ontario, are colder than northern Alberta, Canada, and even the Canadian Northwest Territories.

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I look at the seven-day forecast for this region of southern Ontario, specifically the Bruce Peninsula, and no day is forecast to reach a high of 20 degrees Celsius. This, along with flooded fields, is not good news for farmers, including vegetable gardeners like me: certain warm-weather crops need more than 20 C to germinate if untreated seeds are used. That means not treated with fungicides to prevent the seeds from rotting in the ground while they wait for warmer temperatures.

I’ve always loved growing sweet corn, my favourite food. In previous years I’ve always managed to get my corn planted before the end of May, when normally by then suitably warm temperatures could be depended on to arrive. That was, well, normal. But ‘normal’ seems to be gone. Last year I had to replant when late-May corn fell victim to cool weather. This spring, I waited as long as possible and planted corn June 8 to 10, with sunny days in the forecast. Any later would mean missing the late summer, local sweet corn market season already glutted with corn from warmer climates much further south. I see, for example, sweet corn grown in Georgia is already for sale at local stores. But then the clouds, rain and cool weather came back before, I fear, the corn had a chance to fully germinate. It still remains to be seen what comes up. I’ll try not to send too many negative vibes out there where the corn and squash are planted.

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The 2017 garden

I find myself wondering if climate change and its disruptive impact on the Jet Stream spells the end of farming sweet corn and other temperature-tender crops in the more northerly parts of Southern Ontario. Who would have thought? Back in the days when ‘global warming’ was the more-often used term to describe what was happening to the world’s climate, I used to imagine southern Ontario becoming semi-tropical. But not so; on the contrary.

I feel guilty about complaining. Millions, even billions are suffering far worse from the effects of climate change in the wider world, from unprecedented floods in parts of eastern Canada and the U.S. Midwest, to drought and famine in Africa, and increasing numbers of extreme weather disasters happening who-knows-where next.

Historians who know their stuff will say, or should be saying already, that previous climate changes in certain parts of the world, for whatever reasons, has changed the course of history before. The Roman Empire declined and fell for many reasons. But ultimately an empire already weakened and rotted from within by civil wars and incompetent emperors, ultimately fell victim to the overwhelming pressure of massive migrations of people driven out of the steppes of central Asia by drought.

If this is starting to ring a bell of current familiarity, then so be it.

This modern period of rapid, unprecedented climate change brought on by unsustainable, human, industrial activity will lead to catastrophic disruptions of socio-economic life on earth that will make the fall of the Roman Empire look small indeed by comparison.

The date of the final collapse of the western Roman Empire is usually given as 476, when the last western Emperor, based in Rome, was disposed. The Eastern Empire, based in Constantinople (now Istanbul) continued to exist — its fortunes ebbing and flowing — until the great city itself was conquered by the Ottoman-Empire Turks in 1453.

I think it’s fair to say the Roman Empire was not all that Roman in its demographic make-up long before it collapsed in the west. In a word, it was multicultural, home to many different nationalities. As a Republic it rose to greatness and survived many formidable, possibly fatal, challenges because it met those challenges defiantly with determination and necessary change. But in the period of decline it lost it’s ability to think creatively. One might say it became ultra-conservative. It built walls, and numerous fortified positions on the frontiers of the empire to keep the “barbarians’ out. Inevitably, that was an ill-conceived strategy, bound to fail.

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Of course, there’s no way now of knowing if embracing change, and building on its multicultural experience to welcome newcomers into a renewed vision of what the Empire could become would have saved the western empire, or whatever it might have been called. By that time it may have been to late. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire may have begun when Julius Caesar broke with the long-held, underlying law of Rome and ‘crossed the Rubicon’ with his devoted legion.

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We are at such a moment now, by the way.

The child-man, would-be emperor whose name I can’t bring myself to say is no Julius Caesar. But, Heaven help us all, he has the fate of the world in his hands, and will likely start a ‘wag-the-dog’ war before the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

But he is not the problem. Rather, he is a symptom of it. We are the problem, we terribly imperfect human beings, we irrational beings, lost in our dangerous tribal nonsense, incapable of coping with change.

But there’s more to being human than that: at a critical point in human evolution, faced with catastrophic environmental  conditions, a relatively small group of our ancestors decided to take matters in hand and begin a long, dangerous trek in search of a new home. They survived by being innovative, creative, determined, and last, but not least, by taking advantage of the diversity of abilities, talents and character in their community. In effect, the new home they sought and eventually found, was within them.

 

The power of forgiveness, setting spirit free

It’s been a couple of years since I first published this. Posts have a relatively short shelf-life, so to speak. They get some little attention, or more, for a while; then they lapse into relative obscurity. There are a relatively few exceptions, seemingly for political reasons. But this post is one I’m personally most proud of, and thought I would give it another day in the sun.

Finding Hope Ness

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I know I’m not alone. There are legions of us pre-boomers born just before our fathers went off to war. Many didn’t come back. Many did, but in various states of brokenness, never to be whole again.

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Old Man Apple Tree

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This old apple tree has seen better days, but none better than this, if one takes into consideration its defiant struggle to stay alive, and much, much more. I call it heroic, glorious, the way it stands there still, among the rocks and the tall grass just beyond the far side of the garden.

Its wonderful abundance of blossoms suddenly awakened after a long cold and wet early spring season virtually cries out, “look at me, world, I’m still here, I’m still alive; and not only that, I’m beautiful.” Continue reading

A thousand words

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this one tells quite a story. You don’t have to look that closely to see parts of northern Canada (northern Alberta, the Northwest Territories, and northern Quebec) are considerably warmer than other parts of southern Canada, including the Great Lakes region; and even warmer or as warm as parts of the U.S. as far south as the southern states.

Right here, in my little corner of the continent on the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, where the Jet Stream now often hangs out, the unusual cold, wet weather persists. Cool-crop seeds I planted in the ground weeks ago are barely up, or still waiting patiently for a few more degrees of heat and sun.

Maybe by the end of this week, I tell the snow peas, potatoes, Swiss chard, beets, and even kale, the hardiest of them all. Normally, by mid to late May the garden is well greened up. It was, even last spring, which was bad enough as late springs go. But this is something else. My old memory is far from perfect, but I don’t recall anything like this spring: temperatures barely in the double-digit Celsius, often cold enough to threaten frost, and more cloudy, rainy days than sunny.

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The garden, Hope Ness, May 20, 2019

On the bright side it could be a lot worse: parts of southern Ontario, the Ottawa valley, Quebec and New Brunswick are still flooded, or just beginning to recover from disastrous floods.

And there is some hope on the horizon for the mid-Ontario growing season toward the end of this week, with a forecast of warmer weather and some sunny days. That’s if the forecast pans out. No offence to the climatologist/forecasters. They do their best; but in recent years it’s become evident that the weather in increasingly hard to predict. Which doesn’t make life any easier for market gardeners and other farmers whose livelihood depends on dependable weather.

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May 24, 2016, potatoes and peas well-sprouted

Are those days gone, or in the process of going? I can’t help but wonder. Even as I sit here at my keyboard typing out these words and concerns, tender plants I risked putting in the cold frame yesterday to “harden’ before transplanting in the garden, are still under a protective tarp cover. With the temperature hovering around 6 degrees Celsius, and a cold wind gusting from the north, tender plants like tomatoes, squash and peppers are vulnerable to shock damage, or worse.

By this time in past seasons I would be thinking about planting some bush-bean seeds, or even sweet corn. But sufficient soil temperature is critical for germination when you plant untreated seed (without chemical fungicide) as I do. And that temperature, a minimum of 21 degrees Celsius, is nowhere near being reached yet. I’ll be luck to get those seeds in the ground by the first week of June. I hate being pessimistic — honest, I do — but I’ve even beginning to wonder if the soil is ever going to heat up enough in time to save the corn season.

And so it goes. I trust these unscientific, anecdotal observations and thoughts from an old gardener’s experience, and perhaps others like me, should be worth something. After all,  in a part of the world where most people have little understanding of where their food comes from, let alone how it grows, the voices of those who do should be heard.

I count myself as one of those who believes, for good reason, that climate change is a critical issue affecting the future of life on earth as we know it. Surely, I daresay, it can’t be denied any longer. And yet, backward-thinking, Trumpian and mini-Trumpian politicians who pander to populist, climate-change denial are increasingly being elected to be our so-called leaders. Even in Canada, eh.

It’s unprincipled political opportunism at its worst, ‘the will to power’ for its own sake, rather than any thoughtful, informed, caring concern about this precious little jewel of a planet and the present and future generations that live, and hopefully will live, on it.

They should know better. And they do, which makes it all the more tragic.