The simple truth

 

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Digging potatoes with grandson Jake, and Buddy.

I’m a simple man in some ways. I think my love of growing potatoes reflects that. It takes a certain know-how, and I am proud of what I do to avoid the use of pesticide: thick straw mulch and a lot of hard work. The result this year is my best crop ever, if I say so myself.

But, growing potatoes is not quite “rocket science,” some might say, as if that’s the highest standard of intelligence anyone might reach. Yet, when you give it a little thought how hard can that be? You pack a metal tube full of explosives, point it toward the sky, stand back, count to 10 backward, push a button, and say, “we have lift off,” in whichever language applies at that moment. Continue reading

Nature knows best about Sauble Beach

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Sauble Beach, unraked, early August, 2017

Sauble Beach is located on the western shore of Lake Huron, one of North America’s Great Lakes. It’s a major summer tourist destination in the Province of Ontario, Canada. On a busy summer upwards of 25,000 people will pack the beach and the nearby business community of restaurants,  campgrounds, hundreds of rental cottages and other tourism-oriented businesses.  Most will come from the cities a couple of hours drive south in Ontario. It is one of the major tourist destinations in the area generally known as Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound.

That area, and more, is part of the “traditional territory” of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, which includes the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation and the Saugeen First Nation. Continue reading

Trump as tragedy

Tragedy: A drama or literary work in which the main character is brought to ruin or suffers extreme sorrow, especially as a conseqiuence of a tragic flaw, moral weakness, or inability to cope with unfavorable circumstances. – The Free Dictionary

I believe in giving credit where credit is due, even if somewhat grudgingly, as in this case.

But before I mention the name that might well send many readers rushing for the exits, allow me to set the stage. (But, of course, my A-team of headline writers have already done that, I see.) Continue reading

Still growing

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Me, Sophie, and Granddaughter Mirabella in the garden

I was out picking peas in the garden one morning a few days ago when I started to think about how much gardening  tells and potentially teaches us about life. That’s if we’re ready, willing and able to listen, of course.

You take peas, for example. Still a staple of the home garden, and the first to plant as soon as the ground can be worked in early spring, they’re supposed to be easy to grow, even fool-proof, I’ve heard it said.

But even as I bang out those words on my long-suffering, computer keyboard, memory calls up the image of rows of peas I planted here in my little corner of Hope Ness a few years ago. Big portions of those six labour intensive rows failed to germinate in the hard, clay-loam soil. And yet, there they are now, just two rows planted in that same ground a few, rotational years later doing just fine, and far more productive. I must have learned something, even in my dotage.

That other was a dry , unusually warm spring, as I recall, whereas this past spring was anything but; even now, just past the middle of July, the temperature is struggling to get past 30 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, this season I don’t think we’ve gone more than two or three days at a stretch without rain.

Last summer I had sweet corn ready to pick by the middle of August. This year I’ll be lucky to have any by Labor Day.

I figure the copious moisture has kept the surface of the clay-loam soil from being baked into the usual hard-pan weeks ago, to the benefit of my pea crop.

Judging from my back field here that’s still in grass, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better hay crop. But no doubt local livestock farmers are having a frustrating time getting it off between the rainy days.

I reached for yet another snow-pea pod, judged it in a nanosecond of time, more or less, to be not yet ready for picking, and moved on. By the time I got to the end of the first row in a few minutes I had several baskets full. I thought with a smile if I had my early-teen granddaughters up from the city helping me, I’d be hearing a lot of that inevitable question: “Is this one big enough, Grandpa?” .

I keep hoping that gardening gene that has bloomed in the past so wonderfully on the maternal side of our family will light up again for one of my many grandchildren, and maybe even lead to a career choice. (My great grandfather Thomas Thompson was a master gardener; his brother, my great uncle, Richard Thompson, was the head gardener for many years at Toronto’s fabled Casa Loma.) Beside, I’m getting old and I’d like to think someone will carry on.

Far be it from me to pressure, or worse, force anyone. In the best of all possible words, gardening should be a joyful experience. Never think for one moment that doesn’t make a difference to the plants.

I recall hearing a man make a disparaging comment years ago at a local planning meeting about gardening being “woman’s work,” as if its value was little compared with the work normally done by men. It was a foolish comment that said as much about an attitude toward the value of women and the work they did at one time, as it did about gardening.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as that man himself, who happened to be a farmer and a member of a local township council, should have known. He likely sat down at his own table often enough to eat a hearty meal largely grown in the garden, cooked, and preserved by the women of his house.

A wise man – and I’m sure there were many of them – would have understood the survival and success of the pioneer homestead and the family farm was just that, a “family” affair that valued and celebrated everyone’s contribution in many ways to the healthy spirit of the home.

The living room of the 125-year-old farmhouse that’s my home now, still gives pride of place to the upright piano, a made-in-Toronto Bessemer, the woman of the house played to bring the pleasure and consolation of music to her family. Or so she hoped.

I recently framed a couple of her paintings, one of the moon shining down on Georgian Bay, the other of the family’s two beloved work horses.

Her beautiful, perennial garden – now very much missing her tender, loving care – was her pride and joy. She knew in her heart every home needed flowers to keep spirits up.

Gardening is a lot of work, to be sure. I imagine she must have been introduced to her parental family garden gently and lovingly by one or both parents, and grew into gardening with love.

Since I took up gardening more than 20 years ago I’ve found it very rewarding, not so much financially, as mentally and physically. I have found the work involved with gardening to be the perfect exercise to keep my back muscles in condition to compensate for three herniated disks.

Meanwhile, gardening is a continuous, and often quite challenging and surprisingly complex learning experience. It’s a lot like life in that regard: So many foundational factors to maintain in good condition, so many challenges to face and carefully overcome, so much planning ahead with a need to be realistic about one’s energies and abilities, while still daring to dream and try new things.

And then comes a wonderful, proud moment – it often takes you by surprise – that crown’s your achievement: a particular beautiful basket of newly-picked beans, the first-picked bite of your own sweet corn.

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Back in the days when Canada was a much more agrarian society, young and old had far more opportunity to make that life and spirit-nourishing connection with the land.

If you happen to live in the big city and feel a notion to go for a drive in the countryside, come my way. I’ll be glad to show you what you’ve been missing and perhaps in your heart of hearts longing to awaken a dormant need to garden. I recommend it for anyone, young and old.

A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in July, 2017

 

Omar Khadr has a lot to offer the world, including hope

There was no shortage indeed of tragic and troubling events in the world and Canada this past week:

  • The continuing tragedy of more than 200 out-of-control wildfires in B.C. and the evacuation of close to 15,000 people from their fire-threatened, and now possibly destroyed, homes.
  • News that more than two-thirds of Canadians, according to a usually reliable Angus-Reid poll, oppose the Canadian government’s payment of $10.5 million compensation to Omar Khadr for the failure of previous Liberal and Conservative governments to defend his Constitutional rights when he was a tortured, teenage prisoner in American military custody.
  • The “bombshell,” and still unfolding revelations that senior members of the then-Trump election campaign, especially Donald Trump Jr., met with a Russian lawyer, after they were led to believe that lawyer had incriminating information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that was part of a Russian government effort to help Donald Trump win last year’s U.S. presidential election.

And then, in the midst of all that, comes news that an “iceberg” bigger than Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island, has broken off a huge Antarctic ice shelf.

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Larsen C breaking off.

An iceberg indeed! The Larsen C now-former piece of Antarctica weighs a trillion tonnes, and is 5,800 sq kms in size. It’s called Larsen C because it follows the “calving” of two other giant sections, A and B, off the Larsen Ice Shelf, in 1995 and 2002 respectively.

“The (Larsen C) iceberg is one of the largest recorded and its future progress is difficult to predict,” Adrian Luckman, the lead investigator of the British-led Project MIDAS, which has been monitoring the ice shelf for years, said in a Thomson-Reuters news report. Continue reading

We must learn how to live, and love, together.

 

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She’s looking right at you with that questioning look, deep into your heart and mind. What will you say and, more importantly, do in reply?

It’s one thing to talk reconciliation, between Indigenous people and other Canadians; it’s another thing to make it happen. We’re being reminded of that lately on an almost daily basis as many in the country celebrate this brave, and relatively new experiment in multicultural living called Canada. Continue reading

My “cool” garden, Toronto Island flooding, and “the old fogy days.”

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My “cool” garden, with lettuce thriving and in need of picking and thinning

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I might say this is, therefore, a 2,000-word update on the progress of my “cool” garden. But I better make allowances for the fact they’re two views from different angles of essentially the same picture and call it 1,000 words. Nothing but “real” news here, by golly. Continue reading

Still waiting for summer

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My “cool” garden. Not doing too bad. Those are potato plants in the foreground, mulched with straw to deter potato beetles, and add organic matter to the soil.

My “cool” garden is doing okay despite the unusually cool, wet weather. After all, up to a point that’s what early-season crops like peas, potatoes, onions, kale, and lettuce like – up to a point. But they won’t thrive either without their good, old-fashioned share of sunny days and warm weather.

I’ve lived in southern Ontario for a good many years (indeed, I’ve got another birthday coming, and that will make me of an age that surprises even me) but I’ve never seen anything like this: Continue reading

A good year to speak and do truth

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I admit my initial reaction to the criticism heaped on Canada’s Governor-General David Johnston for referring to Indigenous people as “immigrants” in a CBC-radio interview was that he had walked into a thorny patch of political correctness.

But a moment of reflection soon set that knee-jerk reaction aside as I realized the absurdity of what the Governor-General had said on the recent the weekly episode of The House:

“We’re a country based on immigration, going right back to our, quote, Indigenous people, unquote, who were immigrants as well, 10, 12, 14,000 years ago.” Continue reading

Sickening

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Anyone who says that life matters less to animals than it does to us has not held in his hands an animal fighting for its life. The whole of the being of the animal is thrown into that fight, without reserve.” (Elisabeth Costello, in J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals)

I had just left Owen Sound and was on my way home after the weekly trip to run a few errands and do some shopping when I first heard the news about an animal rights group having released a video of alleged abuse of chickens at a poultry factory-farm near Chilliwack, B.C.

The radio-news report said the alleged abuse involved people hired as “chicken catchers” to gather up chickens, and pack them in shelves of plastic cages for shipment by truck to plants for slaughtering and further processing.

Before he continued the CBC reporter warned the description of the details might be difficult for some people to hear. And so they were. Continue reading