A view of Notre-Dame from Cathedral Drive


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.




April 15, 2019: this is not normal


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.


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.


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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Making the best of a Canadian winter, mindfully


I hear spring flowers and blossoms are starting to bloom in Victoria, on Canada’s Pacific Ocean, west coast. But everywhere else in this country, known for its long, cold, snowy winters, such a thing is still the stuff of day-dreams. The reality of spring is three months away here in Hope Ness, Ontario, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole; more if spring is late this year like it was last. Continue reading

Morning surprise is thought provoking


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

Canada and China – A Timely Remembrance of a Special Friendship


January 1, 2019, Hope Ness, Canada. The sun trying to break through the clouds before sunset

I am dismayed by the current, troubled relations between Canada and the People’s Republic of China. In my view, Canada has long had a special-friendship relationship with China, one that could and should be regarded as unique among nations. Now is a good time to remember it. Continue reading

Walking after sunset


After Sunset, 5:00 pm, in Hope Ness, Canada, December 15, 2018

Sunset comes early in Hope Ness, Canada a week away from the winter solstice. If I don’t feed and walk the dogs before sunset it will soon be too dark. I admit, however remote, the prospect of running into some member or members of the local wildlife community concerns me. Is it possible, with the unseasonably mild weather in the past few days, one of the black bears living in the nearby woods may have postponed hibernation?

One of the larger members of the weasel family, fishers, are in this area. An “exceptional predator,” according to Canadian Geographic, they are one of the few animals to prey on porcupines, and a host of other small animals, including even baby deer. They have a frightening, chilling scream when aroused. Their range extends from coast to coast in the forests of Canada. It historically included here, in what used to be called the Saugeen or Indian Peninsula, more recently, the Bruce Peninsula. But fishers must have been hunted, trapped or run out of existence here, until they were introduced again years ago to control porcupine damage to local woodlots. It’s fair to say they’ve flourished.

So did coyotes — and the stray dog, coyote hybrid known locally as coydogs — for a long time. It was common here in Hope Ness up until a couple of years ago to hear coyotes yipping and howling in the nearby woods as they began their evening hunts. Lately the woods have been quiet. Coyotes have lately been heavily hunted, sometimes by the pick-up truckload, as nuisance animals known to attack livestock. But to virtual extinction? That can’t be good. They have their role to play in nature’s wildlife balance. Whether or not a pack of coyotes would take on an angry, aroused, fisher, I do not know. I just know the silence in the woods is ominous

My little cockapoo dog, the irrepressible Sophie, wouldn’t stand a chance against a fisher if one ever came that close on our evening walks; or, I daresay, coyotes. My big German shepherd, Buddy, would put up a good fight to defend her, but regardless of the likely outcome in his favour, I’d rather that didn’t happen.

Deer hunting season is over now, both regular rifle for a week in November, and musket for a week just passed, as well as bow. I heard a few shots fired fairly close by. I turned around and headed back to the farm with the dogs. So, that’s how we got into the habit of taking our evening walks through the relatively small window of opportunity between sunset and the darkening sky.

In the time it takes to get to my touchstone and back daylight has just about gone. Today was special though: unlike most days this time of year, it was at least partly sunny, rather than overcast. And then on the way home the sky above was a beautiful rose after sunset. But it was receding toward the western horizon, over beyond the woods fairly quickly.

I thought, maybe I should just let it go, enjoy the passing moment. But then I thought again, grabbed my camera off the kitchen table, went outside, and took that photo you see above, to share with you my cyber friends, wherever you may be in the world.


Tracks in the snow


Buddy woke me up early this morning with barking that tells me he’s picked up on something around or near the farm. My thoughts were of critters from the woods come to feast on the compost pile in the garden closest to the house.

But an hour-or-so later after the ever-so-important, two cups of coffee and the morning feeding of the dogs, the tracks in the fresh snow near the end of the driveway where the road comes to a dead end, told me differently. Continue reading

A conversation with the sun



Another cloudy day in late October with the front field to cultivate before it starts to rain, as forecast. I’m out beside Mr. Massey Too, checking his fluid levels before connecting the cultivator, when I get that feeling, you know, like somebody’s looking at me. So, I look up right where that feeling is coming from, just above the treetops of some tall spruce, and there it is, the sun – a faint light in the clouds, so faint that I can look right at it, face to face, as it were.

I get the sense the son wants to tell me something; so, I say, “What? What’s up? What’s on your mind?” Continue reading