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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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.

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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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Morning surprise is thought provoking

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A stoat, or ermine, caught in my live trap, soon to be released back into nature

I got quite a surprise when I checked the live-trap this morning in the basement cold room where I store produce from last summer’s garden. I’ve been setting the Havahart trap with pieces of squash for several weeks to control an over-abundance of red squirrels getting into this old farm house. So far, I’ve caught seven of them, which I take down the road, far enough I hope that they won’t return.

But this morning, when I saw the trap door had dropped and I took a closer look, I was amazed to see a pure white creature that looked far more like a small weasel than a squirrel. The long, sleek torso was the big difference, though, otherwise, there were many similarities as you can see. Continue reading

On the joys of celibacy

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Something called the incel movement has been in he news lately, in connection with the horrific murder of 10 people in Toronto, and the serious injury of 14 others, when a man deliberately drove a rented van down several blocks of sidewalk.

The suspect now in custody and at last count now facing 10 charges of first-degree murder, may have been radicalized by the hateful, tantrum language toward women often used on websites frequented by unhappy, angry men.

Their complaint is their state of “involuntary celibacy,” hence the “incel” name of their movement.

But I’m confused. I find it hard to understand how a man, or woman, for that matter, could be celibate for an extended period of time and not at some point discover the good side of it. Better than good. I went through a period of celibacy when I was a young man, starting when I was 20 and lasting for a couple of years. Continue reading

Ah, the joys of a late spring

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April 14, 2018, Hope Ness, Ontario, Canada

The local store where I buy my Big Beautiful Boy’s dog food was fairly busy one morning earlier this week. Housed in an older building, the décor steeped in Canadian, farm-store heritage, it’s staffed and operated by folks who call you by name – or soon will, if you’re new. If they say, “have a nice day,” they really mean it.

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