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.

 

A view of Notre-Dame from Cathedral Drive

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Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral before the fire

The burning of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral, Monday night in Paris, is indeed much more than the nearly complete destruction of an important building. In their hearts the French know that, and so, it appears do many millions of other people the world over. But why? What is it that makes that building so important?

Is it enough to say, as some already have, of course, that Notre Dame was, and still is, the “the soul of France,” and a priceless gem of human heritage, like the great pyramid, or the ruins of the temple of Olympus, even the remains of the Coliseum,  despite what it was often used for to keep the Roman masses entertained and distracted. Couldn’t they all be described with that currently most over-used word, icon. What — after all is said, and yet not said – is the substance in the shell of that word? Is it even the right word? Is any word? So, again, I ask, why does the near-total destruction of Notre-Dame mean so much to so many?

I was thinking about that this morning as I walked down the short, gravel road at the end of which I live in an old, well-built, farm house I. The road is called Cathedral Drive, so named by the woman who for many years lived on the property that’s now my home. It’s right at the end of the road, and still the only house on it. She called the road Cathedral Drive when the 911 system was being set up in this area years ago. She had already named the forest at the end of the road, Cathedral Woods. She used to regularly walk the trail through the woods to her special place, the look-out from the cliffs overlooking Georgian Bay. She once told me years ago that, as she walked the trail, the mature hard-wood canopy of branches and leaves high overhead made her think of being inside a cathedral. As far as I know she never had been in one. No doubt she had seen photos, including of Notre-Dame.

For her, the woods were the cathedral, and the look-out its sanctuary, her sacred places. She would have no trouble at all understanding why so many people mourn the burning of Notre-Dame as a great, personal loss. She was not Roman Catholic. But I know she too would have shed tears to see what I saw on the TV news Monday night.

Notre-Dame was, and is, special in a way that speaks deeply to many millions of people about the human experience, their human experience: the capacity of human beings, alone or in community, to accomplish extraordinary things when their minds, bodies and spirits are inspired and focused on a great task.

I’m tempted to say the building of Notre-Dame was an astonishing, even miraculous achievement, especially considering when it was built. Toward the end of the 12th Century, Europe was just beginning to emerge from a prolonged period after the fall of the Roman Empire called The Dark Ages. It was a chaotic period in which European civilization took a big step backward. But gradually, the Gothic, or Germanic, and other tribal cultures that had overrun the shattered empire began to form themselves into nation-states. One of them, in the former Roman province of Gaul, was and is France, named after the Gothic Franks.

Construction of the Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris) Cathedral began in 1163, was largely completed in 1260, and fully completed in 1335. (Until the spire that collapsed in flames Sunday night was added in the 19th Century). Clearly, many of the skills associated with the construction of great buildings were learned again in a relatively short time as the Dark Ages gradually came to an end.

No, it is not right to call the construction of Notre-Dame a miracle. Rather, it was an extraordinary human achievement, considering the creative impulse, architectural design and planning, the quality of diverse craft and artistic skills, the scope of organizational energies, and the community labors involved. Everyone did their job and had a meaningful contribution to make, according to their talents, however humble.

I think it’s fair to say Note-Dame was a big part of the building of a great nation, a great civilization, as well as a great cathedral. As in Paris, the building of splendid cathedrals in the cities of Europe in the centuries to come were an economic, social, cultural, and spiritual focal point of community activity and pride. They were the inspiration for the growth and development of many other great achievements of European civilization: traditions of great art and great music that to this day nourish the human spirit the world over.

Some day soon, hopefully any day now, all the good and wonderful achievements of the world-wide human community in all its rich, human diversity will be celebrated as the spirit of who we all are as members of the human family.

Notre-Dame, the mother of all the great cathedrals, one might say, shows what human beings are capable of achieving when they devote their minds, hearts, bodies, and spirits to a great purpose. Throughout its more than 800-year history it stood as a living monument to that truth. Tragically, it was often a truth largely lost on humanity through the centuries as war and human misery swirled around it. Yet, Notre-Dame was always there, to remind us what could be done.

I wonder if perhaps the burning of Notre-Dame will wake up humanity to the re-affirmation of the greatness we are capable of achieving, even if, at first, the task seems  beyond our reach.

First and foremost in these troubled times as our priority task I would suggest the saving from utter destruction of this beautiful planet and its life. These are the divine gifts we were given in sacred trust, but a trust we have so far failed to honor. We are capable of doing it. By all means, rebuild Notre-Dame. But let’s put our hearts and minds and spirit to making the Earth and life on it, our sacred place.

earth

 

 

April 15, 2019: this is not normal

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For a lot of years I’ve been growing vegetables at several locations on the peninsula between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay in southern Ontario, Canada. I’ve grown accustomed to being able to rely on getting certain ‘hardy’ crops planted by mid-April with the snow gone, and the ground dry enough to cultivate. So, peas, onion sets are, or were, I should say, planted by now; and some time this week in previous years, a few rows of potatoes. That especially is my ‘official’ confirmation spring has arrived.

I had my doubts after our experience in these parts last April, when the temperature dropped again, the snows came back, and spring was sorely delayed, that last year was just an anomaly. Still, I had my hopes up this year for a return to normalcy. But yesterday’s ‘snowfall warning’ weather advisory, and then waking up this morning to the reality of winter returned with a vengeance was more food for thought about the impact of climate change; not just here in little Hope Ness, but on North America and the world.

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Hope springs eternal: I had my snowblower disconnected for the season

There are global warming/climate change deniers who will seize on these prolonged winter conditions as further proof it’s a hoax. One of them happens to be the current President of the United States of America, who made much of a prolonged, sub-zero cold spell this past winter that enveloped Washington, D.C. and reached deep into the American south-east.

Now, I’m not a climate expert, far from it. But I try to keep myself well-informed about matters touching on the fate of our world, not just climate change, but that especially.  (I’m Canadian after all, eh? We love to talk about the weather for fairly obvious reasons.)

There is ample evidence already of the destructive potential of climate change: the disastrous Fort McMurray/Boreal forest fire two summers ago, widespread, deadly brush fires in California, extreme weather events more frequent and destructive. And that’s just North America.

I can explain to anyone who care to listen the basics of what’s happening to our weather in central and eastern North America. The Arctic region is warming at a relatively faster rate than areas much further south. As a result, the stability of high-altitude winds, especially the Jet Stream has been disrupted, causing large nodes of the Jet Stream to dip much further south, bringing cold Arctic air with it. (Yes, it’s still pretty darn cold up there, especially in the eastern Arctic).

jetapril15See for yourself: keep a regular eye on Jet Stream maps on internet weather sites. It’s an eye-opener. Meanwhile, the Pacific Ocean is a vast heat-collector. The warm waters of the Pacific reach into the coastal waters of north-west Canada and Alaska. One of the most remarkable things to see this past winter and early spring is how frequently the north-west, including Whitehorse in the Yukon, has been warmer than southern Ontario.

Most recently, there have been reports based on scientific evidence that North America’s arctic region is warmer than it’s been in 10,000 years, that on average Canada is warming at twice the rate of other parts of the world; and before that, a report that the world in general may already have reached an unstoppable, ‘point of no return’ regarding the effects of global warming and climate change. And that’s even if we suddenly stop in a big way burning so much fossil fuel, which is highly unlikely.

Some key,  political jurisdictions in the world are still hung up in the continuing discussion, fueled by big, climate-change-denial money, about the validity of climate-change science. Here in Canada, the Alberta provincial election is being fought over the need to build more pipelines to get Alberta’s crude, including oil-sands bitumen, to new international markets, to eastern Canada, and even to the U.S. which already gets Alberta crude at bargain-basement wholesale prices. It’s not a question of whether or not to build more pipelines, but how many. And for so-called conservative voters that means as many as possible. So, what are conservatives trying to conserve, if not the future?

The economically smartest people know the future is about developing new economies on the basis of a new, sustainable energy paradigm. That should now be the focus of human imagination, ingenuity, and enterprise, not the building of many more pipelines. That writing is on the wall. Some can read it — China, I suspect — but others can’t, including in Alberta, where a United Conservative Party government is poised this day to be elected. And yet, there is no better place to get the new paradigm humming than Alberta, arguably Canada’s energy-industry focal point. The failure to take that bull by the horns is a provincial as well as national tragedy.

And then there’s Ontario, once Canada’s industrial engine, and now where a populist ‘For the People’ conservative government is fighting  the Canadian, federal government’s carbon tax tooth-and-nail; it’s even demanding that oil and gas companies post anti-carbon-tax notices on their retail pumps.

Spring will come in some way, shape or form; and then something resembling summer, too hot sometimes, or too cool, for periods of time. Someone will try to plant a garden here for many years to come, I hope. I wish them well, and trust they will keep themselves well-enough informed to make a difference. It really is up to us, after all, to plant the seeds and help them grow.

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Seedlings waiting patiently for planting

 

This post shared on the Hope Ness Facebook site

I do (gardening); therefore, I am

DSC00552I look out my window and watch the winter storm blow in and get steadily worse. I don’t have to go on-line to check if the roads are closed: that’s obvious enough. The line of the forest trees to the west has all-but disappeared behind the blizzard. After just a couple of hours, drifts have filled in the driveway I blew clear yesterday.

At my age now, I should be celebrating every moment as a gift. Surely, there’s no sense in looking forward to better weather, or to a spring season still a couple of months away, at best — let alone the early summer, when I may have a modest crop of strawberries to pick from the 100 dormant plants I just ordered from a nursery. Continue reading

On growing old, and the health care crisis

Finding Hope Ness

aging(This blog-post was originally published in January, 2017. The current CBC Marketplace investigation being featured by the public network prompts me to reblog, to make the point that this crisis — and that’s what it is — is not new. It’s also worth looking at again because Ontario’s Conservative, Ford government is now in charge, and that doesn’t bode well. And for the record I am well into my senior years, so this is personal.)

First, full disclosure: I am a senior. I have been for more than a few years. I am also the main caregiver of a much older, beloved family member. For some months now we have appreciated the help of the Community Care Access Center (CCAC) in Owen Sound, and the Personal Support Workers (PSWs), visiting nurses and other medical professionals who come to our home. Their genuinely caring attitude has been an important part of…

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