On drought, and the reign of what’s best about being human


An RCMP officer with a big heart welcomes a migrant/refugee child to Canada last winter at an unofficial border crossing. Who can say this is wrong?

A few days of occasional, light showers, amounting to a scant 2.2 millimetres of rain is not yet enough to end the extended drought the Bruce Peninsula has been experiencing through the most critical period of the current growing season. But it’s better than nothing when your field crops and vegetables are in dire need of any amount of moisture they can get. 

Nothing less than a good, old-fashioned rainy day, or at least a serious thunder/storm deluge, that left the soil thoroughly soaked, would well and truly break the drought right down to the parched roots.

Even so, in that case, it may be too late for some crops, like the prematurely-aged, dry fields of grain I observed the other day on the fertile, sandy-loam, Ferndale Flats in the Lion’s Head area of the peninsula.

But not, hopefully, too late for corn which by mid-July in this part of southern Ontario, Canada nearby should be at least three or four feet (more than a metre) high, and not barely a foot or two. I almost hate to admit how poorly my small planting of sweet corn is doing here in my garden on the challenging clay-loam soil of Hope Ness, in the midst of the Hope Bay Nature Reserve. Despite me watering by hand from two old dug wells on a daily basis, most of the corn was barely a foot high. In my 20 years or so of gardening on the peninsula that is unprecedented.

But the risk of fire has recently become the most urgent need for a substantial rain, so much so that complete fire bans have been put in place by most area municipalities, from South Bruce to the Northern Bruce Peninsula.

I count myself among the many people who believe the underlying cause of these epic changes in the world-wide movement of people is global warming/climate change, the consequence of unsustainable human industrial activity. And in that regard, we have a shared responsibility as citizens of the Global Village.

News of out-of-control forest fires in parts of Canada, and devastating wildfires in other parts of the world, including California, have been frequent in recent years. Meanwhile, extended droughts in vast areas of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, and the socio-economic crises they cause, including war, are the root cause of the Migrant crisis. As a result, thousands of desperate men, women and children risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea to seek refuge in Europe.

The world has a choice to make: let them die; or save them. What person or country in their right mind would not do the obvious right thing when confronted with the terrible reality? Turning our backs on them, turning them away, is a crime. By the same token, migrants from the U.S. – undocumented or not – faced with the prospect of ruthless deportation from the U.S. under the current, racist administration, cannot be blamed for seeking refuge in Canada. Nor can the federal government be blamed for taking them in under the circumstances.

Surely, the virtually miraculous rescue of 12 trapped boys and their coach from a partially flooded cave in Thailand tells us something about the best of what we are as human beings: when people are suffering and in desperate straits, especially children, the instinctive response of most of us is to want to help, even to the point of risking our own lives.

Yes, the migrant crisis has reached Canada; yes, Canada has not turned desperate people away; yes, this country has welcomed them. Yes, Canada has a heart.

And, by the way, it will be good for Canada in lots of ways.

It is not a “mess”, as the new Conservative government of Ontario has recently chosen to call it. Nor is it a matter of money, with that narrow-minded government already showing its populist colors and not willing to help in that regard. It’s about “doing what’s right,” not in a shallow, unfeeling way, but in the best sense of the spirit of that expression.

Let that spirit reign.

We in this area have perhaps become accustomed to the idea that devastating, life-changing events like wildfires that threaten or destroy hundreds of homes, and cause mass evacuations of whole communities, happen elsewhere.

But the peninsula recently got a reminder of just how vulnerable we are to just such a disaster.  It brought back memories of the “great bush fire” that started on the Ferndale Flats in 1908 during a summer drought and burned much of the peninsula, including topsoil.

During the recent, Canada Day long weekend the Northern Bruce Peninsula Fire and Rescue department got called out to a two-acre (.8 hectare) bush fire in a heavily wooded location in the Spry area just west of the Flats. The current issue of the Bruce Peninsula Press describes how the local firefighters were able to “surround it the first night,” despite the challenging conditions of “rock cracks, felled trees and logging rubble.”

IMG_1719 (1)

A Northern Bruce Peninsula firefighter extinguishes a hot spot in a recent bush fire                                                                                       Photo by Fire Chief Wilf Barnes 

That was followed by three days of searching for smoldering crevices under the “duff layer” so they could be soaked with water and the remnant fires extinguished. Water tankers managed to bring in 33,000 gallons of water over several days to do the job.

Softwood, coniferous trees, especially cedar, are more common in that area on the low-lying west, Lake Huron side of the peninsula. They are more flammable and vulnerable during droughts than the deciduous, hardwood forests on the east, Georgian Bay, side.

But the Hope Bay Nature Reserve forests, and the forest floor, that surround me here in Hope Ness are bone dry. I know because the creatures that inhabit those forests are obviously desperate for water; so much so, that the incidents of my garden-crops being eaten by wildlife are much more frequent: rows of lettuce are chewed to ground level, pea plants nipped off, even Kale, which tends to have a bitter taste, have been thoroughly devoured in the back “cool” garden closest to the nearby forest. And I see lots of tell-tale tracks in the soil.

A few days ago, rightly or wrongly, out of concern for forest inhabitants dying of thirst, I pulled out a spare wheel barrow, filled it with water, and parked it in the front field near a more than 100-year-old, dug well.

In the old days of settlement digging wells was one of the ways people drained, low-lying land. I stand and look with wonder at the muscle-power and perseverance that must have gone into the use of shovels and pic-axes to dig those wells, up to 20 feet (about seven metres) deep. There are two of them, well-constructed, and still watertight, that I’ve been using as a water-supply to keep my garden watered by hand. But they’re both almost empty now. I figure I’ve pumped more than 2,000 gallons from those wells to keep my garden plants alive, just barely in some cases, like sweet corn.

But there’s nothing like a good rain. I hope for your sake, if you’re a gardener or a farmer, or for personal and community safety sake, this area drought is finally over.

I also hope what’s best about the human spirit reigns.

A version of this post was originally published in The Sun Times in July, 2018

2 thoughts on “On drought, and the reign of what’s best about being human

  1. Saturday, July 14th, Owen Sound,… 3:10 p.m.
    Torrential downpour just finishing … hoping for a more steady rain.
    Hope you get some.


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