A rare treat, and a blessing

Just when things were starting to look dark and dreary, I was called to go over to the raspberry batch and receive a rare treat and a blessing: late season raspberries in Hope Ness, Ontario, Canada on September 14. Within a few minutes, with the humming background music of bees doing what they do, I filled a container with a Canadian quart (1.14 litres) of freshly picked raspberries.

I found myself thinking of you again, Wilma, and how you so perfectly chose the perfect place to start this raspberry patch: in full sun most of the day for the growing season, near a roof that made sure it was well watered, and on well-drained ground. It remains a thriving testament to your love of gardening.

The perfect place for Wilma’s raspberry patch

Less than a minute after I picked the last berry the rain came down; heavy, but just long enough to feel refreshing on unusually warm midday, and more. Yes, I choose to believe there was something wonderful, even spiritual about the experience, more than mere coincidence. There was hope in the air. I look out my kitchen window now as I write this, and the sun is shining; the clouds that blessed me, not so much dark, as life-giving have passed over.

It is for such moments that I have come to live. I look back to earlier in the morning and think now that moment began before I was moved to go into the raspberry patch and pick the late-season berries. I was putting in the time with a usual routine, checking email, news headline, YouTube, and Facebook. It asked me, “What’s on your mind, Phil?”

So, I told it, and ‘friends’:

“Sometimes these days I think there isn’t much point in doing anything without meaning and feelings of love. But then I think we, I, must continue to give ourselves the chance to find a way to make that happen. And then I realize that thought in itself is meaningful, and loving.”

I thought it was worth saying, and that some friends might agree. And so it was: enough ‘likes’ within an hour or so to make me pleased I had offered something that touched more than a few people. I do, after all, firmly believe — and often tell others struggling to keep their spirits up — that you never know when life will wonderfully surprise you and lift your spirits. It may be a seemingly little thing, though in that moment it means so much. And so it was for me this morning.

Or it could be something big and even life-changing for the better. What might that be? I suppose a lot depends on who you are, what you want, and believe.

I happen to believe life is a sacred gift and a blessing. I do not want it to end. When my time comes I hope to enter the Great Mystery of the next state-of-being forgiven and at peace, despite the things I have done wrong. And they are legion, or so I fear. But most of all, I hope my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will live their lives in a safe and better world, and in the time I have left, this moment, or the next, I will try to do what I can to help make it that way.

And I hope the same for all who read this post. We are all one human family.

The tragedy of 9/11 continues: an historic opportunity lost

Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan

Yesterday, the people of the United States of America, and countless other people around the world, remembered the shocking horrors of the 9/11 attacks. Like many others that morning, I watched in disbelief, hardly believing the terrible images happening in real time before our eyes.

“The solemn day of commemoration offered frequent reminders for Americans of a time when they united in the face of unimaginable tragedy,” said an Associated Press article about the day of remembrance. “That fading spirit of 9/11 was invoked most forcefully by the president at the time of the attacks, George W. Bush, who said, ‘That is the America I know,’ in stark contrast to the bitterly divided nation President Joe Biden now leads.

The AP article continued, “Biden left the speech-making to others, paying his respects at the trio of sites in New York, Pennsylvania and outside Washington where four hijacked planes crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people, shattering the nation’s sense of security and launching the country into two decades of warfare.”

With all due respect to Bush, who is a better former president now than he was a sitting one, there is much he could have said about his role in leading his country in the two disastrous, post-9/11 wars. He was largely a figurehead president, while other powerful men in his administration pulled the fateful strings. But as the late, former President Harry Truman famously said about his presidential responsibilities, “the buck stops here.”

Hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan died, and many thousands of soldiers and security forces in uniform, from Afghanistan itself, the U.S., and other NATO countries. They include 158 Canadians. On a percentage basis of the total number of Canadians who served in Afghanistan, that was one of the highest rates of death, second only to the U.K. One of the most shocking statistics I came across, was that 30,177 American soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in Syria, committed suicide as of the end of 2019. That’s according to The Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, of Brown University in the U.S.

The American involvement in the 20-year Afghan war officially ended on August 31 of this year, amid much chaos. That was as the Taliban, the extremists who ruled over Afghanistan at the time of the 9/11 attacks, regained power so easily and quickly after the fall of a U.S.- backed government. After 20 years of war, the deaths of so many people, and the expenditure of an estimated seven trillion dollars, it was, to say the least, no victory.

The continuing tragedies of 9/11 and those two misbegotten wars include a shaking to the core of a great country, once the light and hope of the world, the country that created the world’s first liberal democracy – yes, liberal – and dared to proclaim, all people are created equal. Yes, it was always a work in progress; but the strength and spirit of that idea helped immeasurably to save the world from domination by the most evil tyranny history has ever known, based on the idea that people are not equal.

The United States had an historic opportunity to show the world how a great democracy deals with even such an atrocious criminal act under the rule of law and due process in pursuit of justice: Send a strong and professional police presence to Afghanistan; conduct an investigation; find and arrest the material suspects; charge them with relevant charges; and take them back to the scene of the crimes to face justice and appropriate punishment according to the law if found guilty. But it failed to do that.

And now that great country is in a downward spiral, terribly divided, between those who believe in its founding principle, and those who don’t. Yes, it is as simple as that.

I don’t blame the millions of Americans who, in their distress and confusion, are being exploited and manipulated by others whose only motivation is a deceitful will to power, and not the good of a great nation.

Twenty years of war and so-called ‘nation-building,’ and trillions of dollars spent for no good reason has neglected the needs of the American people. Who got rich from the spending of that money? The increasing economic inequality of American society belies the country’s founding principle.  No wonder there is turmoil, even to the point of ominous talk about another civil war

.Meanwhile, here in Canada it’s like living next to an ongoing earthquake across our southern border. With our socio-economic life so closely tied to the U.S., the seismic waves of the ongoing upheaval are being felt. Canadians have long taken an interest in what happens politically in the U.S., far more than Americans take in our politics. The current angry divisiveness south of the border appears to have infected the Canadian national election now under way. Elsewhere in the world democracy is struggling to survive, and civilization itself is in peril.

I am a father, grandfather, and great grandfather of a large extended family. I live on a small farm in a secluded rural area of Ontario, Canada called Hope Ness. I am surrounded by a Nature Reserve. Some people say I live in a “paradise” on Earth.

With granddaughter Jorden in the garden

I try to live in Hope. I pray. But I am worried, I fear for the future of my family and the world.

Did this continuing tragedy have to happen?

I invite you to read the article below that was published 20 years ago as an editorial in the Owen Sound Sun Times newspaper a few days after the 9/11 attacks. I might change a few words now; but I’ll leave it as is, and ask you to consider if the point made was valid then, and is still:

The central question facing the human race is how to break the cycle of hatred and violence that is leading it, apparently inexorably, to self-destruction. That was the question hundreds, even thousands, of years ago. And it’s still the question, underlined yet again by the terrible events of last week, the mass murder of thousands of innocent people in the United States by religious or ideological fanatics. 

We say religious OR ideological fanatics because, although the mounting evidence so far points to a crime committed by Islamic fanatics, such atrocities are not the exclusive property of any one culture, creed, race or religion, no matter how much it may comfort us under such circumstances to think they are. They are the evil, criminal acts of human beings who are so full of hate and twisted in their beliefs they can actually justify, even sanctify what they’ve done. 

We have no doubt that somewhere in the Middle East today there are people celebrating the deaths of so-called martyrs who, by their deed of mass-destruction, are now regarded as being in paradise enjoying the pleasures of countless compliant virgins. But we also have no doubt that, just as there are grotesque perversions of every religion on earth, including the Christian, such concepts do not reflect the beliefs of the vast number of Muslims, a few of whom live and work in our own community. 

The crime that took place last week was on a scale that boggles the mind. We look on in disbelief. Our hearts and eyes recoil at the terrible images played over and over again on television as if someone is trying to convince us that, yes, it really did happen. Talking head after talking head tries to explain how and why it happened, and who might be responsible. There’s a sinking feeling in millions of hearts, that such a thing could happen and might happen again, in North America, of all places. Such terrible things have always happened somewhere else. Or, most comforting and reassuring of all, they’ve only happened on television or in the movies. So they’re not real. 

But of course they are. And though our society has refined the art and technology of seeming to safely distance ourselves from the cruel reality of human nature (while indulging in it for entertainment) it’s never really that far away. And perhaps now more than ever before we are being called by the terrible events in the U.S. last week to confront that reality and do something about it once and for all, or be doomed. 

People – young people especially – often question the sense of studying history. Why learn about what happened 5,000, 2,000, 200 or even just 50 or 20 years ago if you’re planning on becoming a mechanic? Anyway, it’s boring. 

In fact, history is anything but boring. But, more to the point, history is the chronology of human events that, if learned and properly understood, can be turned into a collective wisdom that could potentially save the human race. Someone once said, ”he who fails to learn the lessons of history is doomed to repeat them.” No truer words were ever spoken. 

Even a superficial study of history reveals that the human race has regularly repeated its most atrocious mistakes. Man’s inhumanity to man, war, atrocities and terrorism on a massive scale have occurred throughout recorded history, in every part of the world, including North America. And we can see a terrible cycle of violence, hatred and cruelty, as one evil deed begets another. There are people in the Balkans (the former Yugoslavia) today, for example, who still feel obligated to seek atrocious vengeance for terrible atrocities that took place more than 500 years ago. 

Today we understand the anger of the American people in response to a terrible atrocity. Those who say the entire civilized world was attacked, and may be attacked again soon, are right. It’s understandable the U.S., indeed the whole world, must defend itself, and respond aggressively to investigate thoroughly and take action to prevent further attacks. If the evidence points to outlaw terrorist organizations then criminal charges should be laid and justice should be done under the rule of law. If the evidence also points to the material involvement of rogue states, then they too should be punished. 

But we caution the U.S., and everyone else whose blood is understandably up after what happened last week, let’s not fall into the trap of history. Let’s not commit our own atrocities in retribution. That’s precisely the escalation of violence the terrorist enemy wants, so the cycle of violence can keep turning toward the apocalyptic goal their twisted minds crave. 

And then let’s all of us do some serious soul-searching and thinking about human nature and what we can all do to avoid falling victim to its dark side. 

When Tchaikovsky sang the blues

Ah, there’s nothing like listening to the last movement of Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, the Pathetique, to remind me that the tragic sense of life has always been with me.

That’s ‘always’ as when my father saw it when he casually looked down at me, a newborn baby in my crib just as I opened my eyes and looked up. He put his arm across his eyes and abruptly looked away in apparent shock, so I was told many times, and exclaimed, “My God, he’s been here before!”

And, just now, as I write that, as if on cue, a torrential downpour such as I have not seen here in Hope Ness for a long time is flooding my hopeful last planting of sweet corn. But for just a few minutes. Already it has passed, and to the west I see a patch of blue sky.

Tchaikovsky did not, when he wrote this music, his last symphony, near the end of his famous, but deeply troubled life. He suffered bouts of depression, and anxiety about his creative abilities. Had I been there I would have consoled him about that. He conducted the premiere of this music, his last symphony, in St. Petersburg in the fall of 1893. Nine days later he died under circumstances that are still not clear. To say he left his broken heart in this music, and in concert halls around the world countless times through the years since then, is to put it mildly. But it is so much more than that. From beginning to end in the Pathetique Tchaikovsky speaks through his music of the complex human story: innocently hopeful and joyful, full of the spirit of life, but troubled by it, disappointed, regretful, grieving; but ultimately accepting finally with quiet relieve, yet still echoing the sadness of parting in silence.

This is no “rage, rage against the dying of the light:” That too is past; the struggle is over. He, we, imperfect beings have done what we have done, for good or ill, in terrible or most wonderful ways; triumphant even, for a time, but not enough, the promise of our being, not fully realized. And therein lies our tragedy, fading slowly into the vast silence. This music certainly should have been included aboard Voyager, to tell our story.

Tchaikovsky in 1893

The last movement especially of the Pathetique is beyond despair: it is an utterly tragic ending. I don’t find it strange at all at this moment in the life of this world, that it seems so to me even more-so now.

And so it apparently seems to conductor Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra, as they linger in a YouTube video for a long, last note of silence after the written music ends. It is deliberate, and it is brilliant, as Gergiev, whose quivering fingers I have occasionally found irritating, go perfectly still over the orchestra for that extended moment. No one, in my experience, has ever understood this music so well.

I first heard it when I was 16, one of the first LP records I acquired, with the help of a promotional deal at the supermarket where I worked on weekends and after class; and the last movement especially made it one of my favorite and most-loved pieces of so-called classical music. Strictly speaking, it is Romantic. From that moment on I was sure to come to Tchaikovsky’s defense when I heard someone belittle him as shallow and overrated. On the contrary, he is underrated. Okay, there is the 1812 overture. And yes, the parade of crescendos does wear thin sometimes. But nobody’s perfect. And besides, the music for the thrilling, transcendental finale of Swan Lake makes up for it many times over.

Thank you, Pyotr, for sharing. And I hope your spirit has found peace and joy, in knowing you are loved.

Parks Canada says national park name changes about reconciliation

The decisions to start referring to the Bruce Peninsula as the Saugeen Peninsula, and to soon begin formal public consultations possibly leading to a name change for the Bruce Peninsula National Park itself, are not connected to a judgement coming soon in the Saugeen Ojibway land-claim lawsuit, Parks Canada says.

Instead, the name changes are Parks Canada’s ongoing effort to support the reconciliation of Canada and the Indigenous people who live within the country’s boundaries. “The identities and cultures of Indigenous peoples are rooted in land, and honouring connections to place is an important part of Parks Canada’s commitment to reconciliation,” the agency says in a statement responding to written questions from this writer.

“‘Wedokododwin’ (the Anishinaabe word for ‘working together’) begins with small steps. In this spirit Parks Canada team members use the Anishinaabe word ‘Saugeen’ referring to the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula informally and regularly,” the statement says. “A recent letter to partners signaled the intent to extend the use of this language more broadly,” it adds.

That is a reference to an email recently sent to operational ‘partners’ by John Haselmeyer, superintendent of the Bruce Peninsula and Fathom Five Marine National Parks on the upper peninsula in the Tobermory area.

“Going forward, we will be changing how we refer to the Bruce Peninsula.  Instead, we will be referring to the peninsula where our two parks are located as the ‘Saugeen Peninsula,’” Haselmeyer said in the email, a copy of which was obtained by this writer. The email also referred to a public consultation process leading to a possible name change for the Bruce Peninsula National Park itself.

When contacted last week for further clarification and comment, Haselmeyer said he was not authorized to speak to the media and requested written questions. Several questions were submitted last week. Parks Canada’s statement and written answers were received a week later.

In the public interest an initial article was written, based on the contents of the email. The article, published last week under the heading, ‘Name change in the works for national park,’ also noted the coincidental timing of the national park-related name changes, and the current status of the long-standing Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s (SON) land-claim lawsuit. A judgement is imminent, following the conclusion of a trial last fall.

In response to a written question about a possible connection to the SON lawsuit and its possible outcome, Parks Canada offered the following answer:

“How Parks Canada refers to the broader peninsula area, and the consultation that will take place to engage Canadians in a discussion about the related name of the park itself are not connected to any litigation.”

The SON lawsuit was filed in Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 1994. The trial began in April, 2019, and ended with final arguments last fall. It is now up to the presiding judge, Justice Wendy Matheson, to make a ruling for or against SON’s claims.

The case centers around Treaty 72, signed in 1854, resulting in the two First Nations that now comprise SON surrendering most of what remained of their territory on the Saugeen Peninsula, as it was then named. SON claims the Crown failed, through the actions of its representatives, in its fiduciary (trust) duty to protect the interests of the First Nations, as promised in an earlier 1836 treaty.

If the judgement is in favor of SON, the next phase of the case in court would be a determination of the amount and method of compensation owed to the two First Nations, the Chippewas of Nawash and the Saugeen First Nation.

The Parks Canada statement has more to say about the possible renaming of the Bruce Peninsula National Park: “There is strong recognition of the ‘Bruce Peninsula’ park’s existing name, including public interest among residents, the business community, and visitors to the region. Parks Canada will undertake public consultations before making any formal changes to its name.”

The statement adds upcoming management planning for the two national parks on the upper peninsula will include formal public consultations, “and there will be many opportunities for Canadians, partners, and stakeholders to provide feedback and guidance over the coming months. This process will include important considerations around names and languages.”

 One of the written questions submitted to Parks Canada asked for a definition of ‘partners’ and examples of who they are. Parks Canada’s answer follows, slightly edited:

“The Agency works with partners in local communities to develop new and sustainable ways to manage visitation in popular areas, ecological protection, and regional tourism issues. In this setting, partners refer to the businesses, groups or organizations that Parks Canada works with in the region, examples of which will be the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, government organizations such as the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula, Bruce County Tourism, or RTO7; local tourism providers such as tour boat and dive boat companies; and non-government organizations such as the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association or the St-Edmund’s Property Owners Association. Many of these have a seat on the park’s Park Advisory Committee.

Another written question asked why a notice about the name changes wasn’t sent to the general public, considering the process has effectively already begun. Following is Parks Canada’s answer:

“A new management plan for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park is in development. The plan guides management decisions and actions for the parks, and serves as a key accountability document to the public. The process to meet legal and policy obligations while reflecting the interests and input of Canadians unfolds over many months and creates several opportunities for Canadians, partners and stakeholders to provide feedback, guidance and to weigh in on proposed direction, themes and changes. Strategic in nature, management plans outline a long-term vision and include measurable objectives and targets to achieve results.

“This public planning and consultation about the future of the park is also a great time to speak about the name of the park itself. Parks Canada is launching the public engagement process in the near future. Parks Canada hopes that many Canadians will choose to become involved and provide their thoughts about the future of the park.”

The reader can decide if that answers the question.

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Name change in the works for Bruce Peninsula National Park

The Grotto, one of the most popular destinations at the Bruce Peninsula National Park

Calling it a “small, but important change,” Parks Canada has changed the name of the Bruce Peninsula to the Saugeen Peninsula in its ongoing communications with operational “partners” who were recently sent an email message about the new policy.

For the time being the name of the Bruce Peninsula National Park remains the same; but Parks Canada intends to begin a formal public consultation process leading to a possible change of name recognizing the park’s presence in the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation

“As valued partners of Parks Canada, I am writing this morning to let you know about a small, but important, change at Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park. Going forward, we will be changing how we refer to the Bruce Peninsula.  Instead, we will be referring to the peninsula where our two parks are located as the “Saugeen Peninsula,” Bruce Peninsula and Fathom Five parks superintendent, John Haselmeyer said in the recent email.

Additional information about a lengthy public consultation process beginning soon to change the name of the national park comes near the end of the email message.

“Please note that the name of the park remains ‘Bruce Peninsula National Park.’ A name change for the park itself requires a longer process of public consultation, which we will be undertaking in tandem with our upcoming management planning consultations,” the message says.

These developments come as an Ontario court judgement regarding the merits of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s (SON) long-standing, land-claim lawsuit is imminent.

In 1994 SON took the unusual step of filing the claim as a lawsuit in Ontario Superior Court. After 25 years of ‘discovery’ the trial finally began in April, 2019. It ended last fall, with closing arguments. It is now up to Justice Wendy Matheson, the judge who presided over the trial, to decide for or against the SON multi-billion-dollar claim for damages. Key elements in the SON case largely focus on the circumstances surrounding a treaty signed in 1854. Under the terms of Treaty 72 the two First Nations that comprise SON, ‘surrendered’ most of what remained of their territory on the peninsula. At the time it was called the Saugeen, or Indian, Peninsula.

That treaty followed another one signed in 1836 that surrendered the largest part of the SON territory south of the peninsula, on the promise that the Crown would protect the Saugeen Peninsula from further incursion by non-indigenous squatters. However, in 1854 the Crown’s British colonial negotiators again said they were unable to control the squatting which had continued on the peninsula. SON produced evidence during the trial that appeared to show that was a lie.

The traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation included a large area in southern Ontario before 1836.

“SON’s claim is that this was a breach of the Crown’s fiduciary duty. What SON is seeking is a declaration the Crown breached this duty. If successful, in a later phase of this claim, SON will be looking for recognition of its ownership interests in lands on the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula that are still owned by Ontario or Canada or have not been bought and paid for by third parties (so, municipal roads, for example), as well as compensation,” SON’s law firm, Olthius, Kleer, Townshend LLP, says on its website where a large body of information about the case is publicly available. In contrast, the non-indigenous government defendants in the case have been publicly secretive over the years about the progress of the case.

In a phone interview peninsula national parks superintendent Haselmeyer asked this reporter to submit written questions about the timing and reasons for the name changes, including the plan to begin a formal process to change the name of the Bruce Peninsula National Park.

One of the questions asks if the timing of the changes has anything to do with the SON land-claim case, with an important judgement now imminent. And if not that, then another question asks what else prompted the changes at this time.

Another question sought more information about the ‘partners’ who received the email message. Another asked why peninsula residents weren’t also notified of the name changes, including the name of the national park. The point was made that informing ‘partners’ that a formal process to change the name of the Bruce Peninsula National Park is planned effectively started the process; and, therefore, peninsula residents should have been notified at the same time.

As of this writing the additional information from Parks Canada in answer to written questions was not yet available. There will be a follow-up story when it is.

A judgement in favor of the SON claim will lead to a second phase in the court process in which the amount and method of compensation for SON’s damage claims will be determined. Grey County — previously named as a defendant along with Bruce County and Bruce Peninsula local municipalities, as well as the federal and provincial governments — reached a settlement with SON last fall when it agreed to transfer ownership of a county forest to SON.

Based on that precedent, if the initial judgement is in favor of SON it appears likely compensation could include transfer to the two First Nations of property currently owned by government entities, including provincial and federal Crown land.

Full disclosure here: this reporter lives on a property surrounded on three sides by the Ontario Parks’ Hope Bay Nature Reserve south of Lion’s Head.

Under the sub-heading, “why are we doing this?’ the Parks Canada email explained that the Bruce Peninsula, after it ceased to be the Saugeen Peninsula was “named after James Bruce, a British colonial administrator who was Governor of Jamaica, Viceroy of India, and, from 1847 to 1854, Governor General of the Province of Canada.  James Bruce never visited the peninsula that now bears his name.

“Using the name ‘Saugeen’ better acknowledges the connection of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation to the Saugeen Peninsula. Some partner organizations in the region have already adopted this practice, the email said.

“Saugeen is the anglicized version of the Anishnaabemowin word ‘Sauking’ meaning river mouth. It is the traditional name for this peninsula, and was still in common usage well into the 1970’s.”

In praise of Aussie

Aussie contemplates his next move.

It’s taken me a long time, way too long, considering how little time we have to live on this precious little jewel of a planet, to fully appreciate the wonder of it all. And by that, I mean everything alive, or seemingly not, like the rock, the moss-covered touchstone, my dogs and I walk to every morning to start the day. What mysteries, what past or even present lives does it hold?

As I reflect on such things, the dogs go about their doggy business of exploring and sniffing every nuance of smell and presence that emerged from the forest during the night to wander across or down the road.

I watch them closely, now more than ever, wondering what interesting stories are being spun and told in their canine minds, and messages going back and forth to each other, as tails wag in excitement and the scent trail carries them along.

I say to Buddy, my big, beautiful German Shepherd, ”whatya got, Buddy? Whatya got?” And he tilts his head the way shepherds do, and lets out a little yelp, as if to say, well, I’ll say it for him, “something really interesting and exciting.”

Sophie, the Cockapoo, pulling hard on the leash, her even more intense sense of smell compelling her to just get on with the exploration. I’ve learned not to let her off-leash; otherwise, if I looked away for too long heaven knows where she might go – off into the woods, up into the barn, somewhere, and me calling over and over, “Sophie, Sophie, Sophie.” She comes in her own good time. I called it mischievous. Sometimes, not being as smart as her, I confess I even called her, “bad girl.” She looks at me as if she’s wondering why I’m not happy to see her. Good point. I am. I just need to get my priorities right, Sophie.

Getting to know both my dogs has been as much a learning experience for me as for them. And how well I do that, I have also learned, makes all the difference in how much we enjoy and appreciate each other.

I had a good teacher. His name was … his name is, Aussie. I can’t bring myself to use the past tense, not yet, or on second thought, not ever. Aussie will always be. There may be dogs that were, and are, as loved and loving. But none more.

I have a friend and neighbor who once told me a few years ago, “dogs are more intelligent than people.”

I think I responded with a somewhat surprised, skeptical look. I may have said, something to the effect that, well, yes, maybe in some intuitive ways.

But I have since come to the conclusion she was right, about the intelligence of dogs in the most important way, a way that, “surpasses all understanding,” words some religious people often use to describe matters of faith.

I’ve had first-hand experience of dogs sensing peoples’ moods, especially when they’re feeling unhappy, and the tears come. I lived on a farm many years ago where two dogs were the best of canine friends. They went everywhere together. The farm was fairly close to a paved road leading to and from Square One, a large suburban mall in Mississauga, near Toronto. One day one of the dogs got hit by a car and was killed. We buried him on a hillside near the house. For weeks, the other dog lay beside his friend’s grave. If anyone said anything to him, to call him over to eat, for example, he would just lie there and look sadly back at us for a moment, and then turn and put his head down again. So we took his food and water over to him.

I was not Aussie’s primary owner when we first met. One day I showed up as a newcomer man-human in the precious place he had shared with Linda since he was a pup. He was about a year-and-half then, an almost full-grown yellow Labrador. I count it as a blessing, that one of the most memorable moments in my life, is when Aussie made me feel welcome. It was as if he already knew me.

It’s true, some dogs, of some breeds, are friendlier than others, and Labs are known to be good-natured. But I say this in all seriousness, dogs have a way of knowing who you are.

Some years later, when circumstances changed, as they often do in human relations, Aussie and I remained good friends, as did we two humans. He always walked over to offer himself up for some petting and a belly-rub. Eventually, I began to call him affectionately, “old man,” as in one old man to another. He was showing his age and getting slower of foot. Not the young fellow anymore who would chase a stick all day if you let him. “Me too, Aussie,” I whispered.

I was glad to be able to help bring him safely home to “the farm” a few days ago.

And now, Aussie, I want to tell you, you are a better ‘man’ that I was in a lot of ways. You taught me a lot about loving, people as well as dogs. And as I write that, and my tears begin again, Buddy gets up from lying a few feet away, to be closer, his eyes knowing.

Morning thoughts

Distant thunder rumbling,

Approaching, ominous and foreboding,

Rain falling, wave after wave.

On such a morning

Some would call this

Not a good day.

But others, myself included,

Would, on reflection, choose to believe,

“This is a way the sun also shines,”

Lifting with celestial love

From its beloved child, the Earth,

That other essential of

The miracle of creation, somehow

Perfectly, wonderfully placed in space,

And I, with cupped hands

Thankfully, hopefully,

Accept a blessing from the rain,

Bathing face and body, lifting the spirit.

And if this day should bring good news

That you, beloved child,

Are no longer in peril,

Then surely this is the best of days,

Absolute, the sun and all the stars –

And on Earth, trumpets of thunder –

Rejoicing, the triumph of a new day.

Gardeners, keep an eye on the jet stream

Rows of garlic, their protective, winter blanket of straw removed, will easily survive cool spring days

With the growing popularity of home gardening there must be a lot of people on a steep learning curve trying to come to grips with the apparent uncertainty of the weather.

After all, spring seemed to have arrived early in the Canada-U.S., Great Lakes area with temperatures in the first week of April that were seemingly warm enough to allow for the planting of early hardy, veggie crops like peas, beets, carrots, onion sets, and potatoes.

After years of gardening that should have made me know better, I again found it hard to resist the temptation of eagerness to get started. But I compromised, planting only a couple of rows of early edible pod peas; after all they are called ‘snow peas’ for a reason, I pseudo-rationalized. I also planted a row of onion sets, and two rows of Chieftain red potatoes. The date was April 6. I’ve never planted potatoes that early. Meanwhile, I held off on planting beets, swiss chard, carrots and radishes.

I should have held off entirely, especially the peas. That’s also considering I plant untreated seed; that is, seed not coated with fungicide to keep it from rotting in the ground if the soil temperature is not warm enough for germination. A few more days of warm weather, and the pea seeds and I might have got away with it. There was evidence of germination just getting started. But now, April 18, there’s no sign of little, green pea-plants emerging. I few might survive, but the rows will likely have to be replanted. With temperatures now forecast over the next few days to be below freezing at night here on Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula, the two rows of seed potatoes buried several inches in their rows should be okay; but just to be sure I’ve covered them with a generous layer of straw. The same goes for the onion sets.

Two rows of seed potatoes planted, covered with straw to help insulate them from the cold. After it warms up the straw can be raked aside and mulched around the plants to prevent potato beetles.

Meanwhile, in the back garden, the numerous fall-planted rows of garlic are looking good. They will be okay without the straw blanket I covered them with for the winter and raked away a couple of weeks ago to give them sun. Garlic, fast becoming a popular crop in southern Ontario, is hardy enough.

I’m not a newcomer on this planet, having lived my ‘three-score years and ten’ and more, but in memory it seems to me the advent of spring, once arrived, was much more reliable than now.

It’s well known that the location of the jet streams, the high altitude winds that circle the globe  in temperature regions, is a major determining factor in weather. In the northern hemisphere, the generally west-blowing jet stream keeps colder temperatures north of us, and warmer, south. As the seasons change with the sun, the jet stream used to move south and north in a fairly stable way. But recent years have seen a growing school of thought that climate change is weakening the jet stream, as the Arctic warms relatively faster than tropical regions. As a result, The jet stream’s pattern has become more erratic with deep dips to the south that sometimes appear to get stuck, or ‘blocked’ over certain areas. I keep a close watch on jet stream maps, and have observed, anecdotally, that often in recent years it has dipped down in large tongues or nodes and lingered for long periods of time south of the Great Lakes. Sometimes, it appears to even fragment and get scattered. Depending on the seasons, all that has resulted in long periods of extreme cold weather in winter, and prolonged cool weather in spring. The spring of 2020 at this time, was similar to what’s happening now: an unusual warm spell in early spring, followed by much colder weather, and then a serious snow event in April. I note snow is in the forecast for this week.

Now, snow in April is not unusual. I well remember driving to work one morning years ago in June with snow coming down. But it’s the sudden, dramatic changes and extremes that now seem new and unusual.

The experts admit evidence of the impact climate change is having on the Jet Stream, and therefore weather, is still inconclusive. They do, after all, have a duty to be precise in reaching their conclusions. Meanwhile, the skeptics can find all kinds of supposed reasons why it’s not happening. I choose to believe climate change is having a destabilizing effect on the jet stream that needs to be taken seriously.

From the point of view of gardening, and farming, I would say you are best advised to keep in mind there is a new norm happening: the weather is becoming more erratic. If it seems too good to be true that warm spring weather has come too early, it more than likely has. And you should take a wait-and-see attitude to planting until the weather warms up to stay. Late April, early May is still a good time to plant cool-weather crops. They won’t do much growing until then anyway.

Above all, keep your eye on the jet stream: where it is, and where it’s expected to go. I recommend a new, interactive ‘global’ jet stream map put online by U.K.-based netweather.tv.

The Awakening: Kate Chopin’s still thought-provoking novel

My recent discovery of the creative, literary works of late 19th Century, American author Kate Chopin, most notably her novel, The Awakening, has been a deeply moving and continuously thought-provoking experience. That meets one of the important criteria for a true work of art; and so does speaking so well to readers about what they may be experiencing, as they struggle to find themselves.

It wasn’t only for my own sake, but more especially for my maternal grandmother, Clara, whose tragic life I was reminded of as I read The Awakening and continue to think about it every day. Kate Chopin would have understood perfectly what happened to my grandmother; and would have felt for her. Maybe she is, right now, somewhere, somehow. It may sound strange, but I find consolation for my grandmother’s sake in such thoughts, thanks to Chopin

As a young woman of 28, and mother of two children she dearly loved, my grandmother was desperately unhappy and neglected in her marriage when she dared to fall in love with a married man, famous at the time, 100 years ago. But despite loving her too, he could not face the prospect of living openly in their love, and the consequences it was certain to have for him in the emotionally repressive, post-puritanical, societal norms of the time. That was especially true in the narrow-minded, provincial confines of WASPish (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant), Toronto “the Good” where she lived, or tried to. And it was also true of the U.S. Midwest where he was a church pastor, and a prominent figure in the progressive, social gospel movement.

As it was, the consequences of being a married woman who fell in love with a married man were terrible: a broken heart, the court-ordered loss of her first two children, her desperate abandonment of her love child, my mother, her lonely misery and abject poverty in Montreal for 18 years, and her death from cancer at an early age after her sudden return, alone, to her parental home in Toronto in 1942..

Kate Chopin

In The Awakening, Chopin’s heroine, Edna Pontellier, raised ‘American’ in Kentucky, is married to Leonce Pontellier, a wealthy member of upper-class, Creole society in Louisiana. She and her husband live in New Orleans, the focal point of the unique, French-based Acadian culture. He’s often away to the north, including New York City and Wall Street, as the story unfolds. Though apparently doting, he cares most about the material trappings of wealth, including what today would be called his ‘trophy wife.’ But she dares to question and ultimately rebel against all that. They have two young children; but Edna rejects the prevailing, social attitude that a woman should always sacrifice her needs for the sake of her children; ‘unessential things,’ yes, but not the soul of her being, as she struggles to discover what that is. She falls in love with a young man who, among other things, teachers her how to swim. That is a crucial, beginning point in her journey of self-discovery, including the awakening of her repressed sensuality. It continues through to the end of the unconsummated relationship with her ‘lover’ who abandons her, “because I love you,” he says in a parting note. Soon after that comes the final and still controversial ending of the novel when Edna, naked and alone on a beach, walks into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. “He did not know; he did not understand. He would never understand,” she thinks, as she swims out as far as she can before exhaustion sets in. She had by then already rejected the possibility of other, passing lovers. She thinks fondly of her two young boys, left, apparently happy, in the care of their paternal grandmother in the countryside. But she affirms again her unwillingness to sacrifice herself and live for their sake only.

I confess to being troubled by how Chopin handles that important issue in The Awakening. It needs more attention. A key character in the novel, a happily married woman, tells Edna more than once to not give her children short shrift: “The children, the children!” she says. How Chopin’s heroine may have struggled with that begs for more creative exploration, especially when her two young sons are ultimately described in her apparently final thoughts as ‘antagonists’ seeking to control her life. It’s not hard to imagine how outrageous that must have seemed to many readers at the time, in a society where the role of woman was so locked-in to motherhood.

Speaking personally, being similarly ‘farmed out’ twice by a loving, well-intentioned, single mother to pseudo-foster parents – exploitive and abusive in one case – was a deeply troubling experience. I still struggle with it. There are other cultures in the world that have a more natural, realistic approach to parenting than one that puts all the pressure and responsibility on individual mothers: such things as a greater, shared reliance on both parents, the extended family, and the social group. There are many examples, even in the animal world.

A shallow, perhaps too-obvious interpretation of the ending of The Awakening assumes Edna’s suicide. The last the reader sees of her she has gone as far as she can out into the waters of the Gulf, with no strength left to make it back to shore. But Chopin, deliberately, I think, leaves her fate uncertain. Meanwhile, recollections of childhood memories, including walking through a “blue-grass meadow” with “no beginning and no end” come to Edna’s mind.

I am left with this thought: that Edna’s journey, her ‘Awakening,’ reaches its consummating climax, its ultimate expression of her sensuality-come-alive, in and with the sea. I might have said best would have been to go on living, in some state of love, in the world. But, in all the circumstances, Edna had realized that was not possible, that it could only lead to personal tragedy. Meanwhile, her spiritual and sensual reunion with the sea, is love, timeless and complete.

It’s also a testament to Chopin’s literary genius: to have written such a powerful scene in such a book on such a theme, in 1899, in the U.S. Midwest.  

And yet, what an injustice, that The Awakening was widely condemned after its publication. Chopin was shunned in the St. Louis, Missouri community where she lived at the time. She had been born there, but married a Creole man herself, moved to Louisiana, and had six children. She, with her children, moved back to St. Louis after her husband died to look after her sick mother. She began writing in the 1890s as a way of overcoming depression after her mother died. She soon made a name for herself as a regional (Acadian) writer. But after the bad reaction to The Awakening, her further works were largely rejected. She died five years later and was virtually forgotten for 70 years. Now she is a regarded as a forerunner of the modern feminist movement. The Awakening and her short stories are required reading in literary studies.

But with all due respect to feminism, and her courageous contribution to it, any label, be it ‘regional writer’ or ‘feminist,’ diminishes her even now: Kate Chopin speaks of the human spirit in all its wonderful, though often tragic, complexity. There was much more she could have said, in the years before and after The Awakening, had she found her wings sooner. It is not quite a great novel, by a writer who clearly had it in her to be great.

My granddaughter Asia at the lookout. May you see your way clear, my dear.