Seeds of hope in troubling times

The garden, May 2018

On a scale of one to ten this perplexing spring so far in Hope Ness and the rest of southern Ontario isn’t much to complain about when Putin’s bombs and missiles are killing thousands of innocent people in Ukraine, destroying the country, and threatening the future of the world

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 of this year, I posted this brief comment on Facebook: “Suddenly, everything else is irrelevant,” without referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the mostly local people who replied understood quite well what it was about. I sensed an unspoken, deep-seated anxiety about the increasingly unstable state of the world, one thing after another piled on in recent years: a persistent global pandemic; an attempted Trump-cult coup in the U.S. that only now are we learning how close it came to succeeding; democracy under threat by extremist, so-called ‘conservative’ movements in other parts of the western world, including Canada; hatred and divisiveness running amok.

And last, but certainly not least, climate change and its effects, being demonstrated, clear and ongoing, by this current spring in the upper Great Lakes area of Ontario and other parts of Canada.

At the time my ‘irrelevant’ comment felt right, and still does, depending on the outcome of the war in Ukraine. Just yesterday, April 26, 2022, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov again raised the threat of nuclear war if Ukraine continues to ask for and receive military supplies from the U.S. and other NATO members. Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously made similar statements.

Lavrov said he would not want to see risks of a nuclear confrontation “artificially inflated now, when the risks are rather significant,” he said on Russia state television, as reported by the Associated Press. “The danger is serious. It is real. It should not be underestimated.”

It was an obvious threat, designed to keep the world at bay while the Putin Regime has its brutal way with Ukraine.

The most recent reporting says more than 8 million Ukrainians are now refugees, most of them women and children and old men. In a heartbeat, I would welcome them here at Cathedral Drive farm. And if they want to find some solace by helping in the garden, that would be fine. But no pressure. Sometimes a body needs to sit in the sun for a while, watch the clouds roll by, listen to the birds, go for a walk on the nearby trail, and rest.

Seedlings waiting patiently to go outside, April 27, 2022

Hopefully, there will be an abundance of raspberries, strawberries, and vegetables from the garden by then. No matter where in this area refugees may go, I would be more than happy to gift them, and their hosts, with naturally grown produce from Cathedral Drive Farm. It would be a privilege.

The season is late so far this spring, to say the least. Last night, with the forecast calling for -3 Celsius temperatures I thought it best to bring the seedlings out of the cold frame and into the warm of the house. Now, April 27, early afternoon, the temperature is still struggling to get above freezing. Tonight, the forecast is for a low of -5 C, and -3 tomorrow night. This is not normal for the end of April. Southern Ontario is on the verge of setting a new April record for cold weather. Normally, by now potatoes, peas and other cool-weather crops would be planted; garlic and strawberries, their winter-straw blankets removed, would be flourishing in 10 to 15 Celsius temperatures. Instead, the soil is still too cold and wet to work. Maybe by the end of the week, with warmer though still unseasonably cool days ahead, and sun, precious sun.

Rows of garlic emerging slowly, -1 Celsius, April 27, 2022

Meanwhile, I just received word from a berry nursery in Quebec that their shipments have been delayed because of unprecedented cold, April weather there. I ordered 100 young raspberry plants to start a new, sunny patch in the back garden, and expected to plant them this week starting May 1. “Pas de souci. Je comprend,” I replied.

What’s going on, one might ask?

Climate change, that’s what – climate change that has weakened and disrupted high-altitude Polar Vortex and Jet Stream winds, allowing cold, arctic-air anomalies to dip farther south than what used to be called ‘normal.’ For some reason those anomalies have a particular liking for the Great Lakes region, and once down this way, they like to stick around.

Jet Stream map, environment Canada, April 27, 2022

Yes, colder springs may seem counter-intuitive when global warming is the root cause of climate change. The problem is the polar regions are warming at a greater rate, relatively speaking, than the tropics. And that fact, by the way, has also disrupted the warm-water Gulf Stream, so much that winters in the U.K and other parts of Europe are much more severe in recent years.

Hopefully, some day soon, the world will get the message that something needs to be done.

In the meantime, the best we can do is spread the word, try to do good, be caring and helpful where it’s needed most, and keep planting seeds of hope.

In praise of Russian culture: it deserves better

A scene from Ballad of a Soldier: a Russian mother waits for her son to come home from war.

I suppose this may not be the best time to say anything good about Russia and the Russian people. But no sooner do I write that than I think, on the contrary, this may be the best time.

The atrocious brutality of one man, and his corrupt enablers, whoever they are, have certainly cast a dark shadow over Russia and its people, who are apparently as gullible and easily manipulated as any nation of human beings on this long-suffering planet. Tragically, that appears to be one of the most fatal flaws of our imperfect species; otherwise, brutal, murderous tyrants, like Vladimir Putin, or would-be tyrants like Donald Trump would be laughed off the stage before they did too much harm.

Tchaikovsky

Putin claims to be the Great Defender of everything Russian, including Russian culture. He references the current, conspiratorial ‘cancel culture’ mindset when he says Russian culture is in the process of being ‘cancelled’ by the west, led by the current U.S. administration under President Joe Biden. (No one should underestimate the extent to which Trump’s loss in the 2021 presidential election upset Putin’s grand plan for the takeover of Ukraine, including Trumps likely withdrawal of the U.S. from NATO).

But I dare to say, Russia, Russians, and Russian culture most of all deserves something a whole lot better than Vladimir Putin.

I hasten to say, I am not expert in Russian culture. What I know comes from personal experience and appreciation of the works of certain Russian composers, writers, and filmmakers. I can honestly say, from the heart, that my spiritual life has been enriched immeasurably, and my life changed, since the time I was a teenager by the listening, reading, and watching the great, creative works of the rich Russian culture.

Sergei Prokoviev

I think I was 16 when I first heard Canadian pianist Glenn Gould play Sergei Prokoviev’s 7th Piano Sonata with the dramatic, ‘Precipitato’ final movement, like nothing I’d ever heard before. Thus began my life-long love of Prokoviev’s diverse, creative genius. He stands on a par in my book with Beethoven, possibly even higher; and, with the 9th piano sonata especially, he reached the sublime, ‘edge-of-the-universe’ musical expression of J.S. Bach at his best.

Again, as young man barely out of my teens, I saw my all-time, favorite movie on the unforgettable Elwy Yost’s, Saturday Night at the Movies, on TVO. Despite the less-than-ideal title in translation, the 1959 Russian movie, Ballad of a Soldier, is a classic of world cinema, with the most gorgeous and evocative musical score and wonderful cinematography. The scene at the well in the Russian railyard, when the heroine, holding back her long hair, drinks pure, spring water from a rough iron tap, is a life-lasting image. The hero, the young, Russian soldier, Alyosha, on leave for heroism, finally makes it home to his village with no time to spare. His mother finds out he is home almost too late, runs desperately through the field of grain, reaches the road as the truck carrying her son is driving away, then calls out to him, “Alyosha, Alyosha.” He hears her, but they have so little time to speak. Sixty years later it still brings tears to my eyes.

Scene from Ballad of a Soldier

How many Alyoshas, kept in infernal, misinformed darkness by Putin, died in Ukraine today, I wonder.

Most recently, my new most favorite movie is The Ascent, by Larisa Shepitko, regarded as one of the best women directors in the history of cinema, Shepitko was born in the eastern Ukraine. Her father was Persian. She went to Moscow when she was 16 to study filmmaking and immerse herself in the former Soviet Union’s rich, though tightly controlled, cinematic tradition. For example, Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin, 1925, Odessa Steps scene) is regarded as one of the greatest formative directors in film history.

Made in 1977, two years before Shepitko’s tragic death in a car accident, The Ascent follows the fate of two Russian partisan’s as they try to find their way back to their group through the bitter cold of a Russian winter after ambushing a German patrol. They reach a farm where they are given shelter but are discovered and taken to a nearby village. They are sentenced to hang along with a group of villagers. After torture, one of the partisans agrees to work for the Nazis to save his life. The other partisan goes to his death with courage and Christlike faith. It is one of the most deeply moving movie scenes I have ever watched.

A scene from The Ascent

The historic Ukraine-Russia connection, early and late, is complicated, and forged on the crucible of frequent, foreign invaders, notably, Mongols, Napoleon’s Grand Army, and Germany’s Nazi regime. It’s no wonder a good deal of paranoia underlied the empire-building policies of Tarist Russia, the former Soviet Union, and now Putin’s Russia.

Ukrainians suffered greatly during the mid-1930s under Joseph Stalin’s brutal, dictatorial leadership of the Soviet Union. Millions of Ukrainians died of persecution and starvation as a result of famine deliberately engineered by Stalin. Whatever brotherhood may have existed between Russia and Ukraine before then was destroyed by Stalin’s brutality, much like Ukraine is now, again, being destroyed by Putin.

Thus have the evil deeds of two, ruthless dictators led to the current war in Ukraine, and the real possibilty of a global catastrophe. The Ukranian people deserve better. So do the Russian people. And so does the world.

You would think ‘in the best of all possible worlds’ the historic suffering of both the Russian and Ukranian nations would lead them to a mutual understanding of how to live in separate, sympathetic peace.

But this is not the best of all possible worlds, so long as autocratic tyrants are allowed to take and hold absolute, undemocratic power.

The lies that brought us to the brink

A classic ‘picture worth a thousand words.’

Donald Trump (DT), the well-known pathological liar and former President of the U.S.A. who tried but failed to overthrow its democracy has blamed President Joe Biden for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s ongoing military invasion of Ukraine. But the well-documented record of the last six years shows DT has done more to weaken the U.S. than anyone in its history, while constantly acting as Putin’s ‘useful fool’ puppet, with the help of so-called ‘conservatives’ in the U.S.

I say ‘so-called’ because since when is enabling and supporting social-political disruption and hateful division in one’s own country conservative. In fact, it is knowing or unknowing traitorous behavior that has enabled Putin’s plan to restore the Russian/Soviet empire and emboldened him to attack Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the self-centered DT stands on a public stage before a rapturous audience of several thousand useful-fools, so-called conservatives, and millions of gullible members of his cult, and calls Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, a world-class “tyrant.” And for what? For being patient for weeks? For repeatedly asking protestors occupying the nation’s capital to go home, before defending our country against the imported cult of disruption and chaos trying to destroy democracy in the name of ‘Freedom?’

It boggles the mind that this is what the world has come to: the continuing human tragedy of millions of people being taken in by the lies and hypocrisy of two madmen drunk on power. And as a result, the existential future of the world is at stake; especially now that Putin has raised Russia’s immense nuclear power to a state of imminent readiness.

It is utter madness in a world in which most people simply want their children and grandchildren to have the hope of a peaceful and secure future in which to live.

One morning in the spring of 2016, I was out in my garden hilling rows of recently emerged potato plants. The sun was shining, a few clouds were drifting by in the sky above. I was full of thoughts about why DT, still not formally chosen the Republican Party candidate for the U.S. presidential election that year, would suggest the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NAT0) was obsolete. And, besides, he said, most NATO members don’t pay their fair share of NATO funding, unlike the U.S..

I asked myself, why would he say that now, just two years after Putin’s Russia had invaded and annexed the Crimea, then part of Ukraine, and with Russia conducting a clandestine war in eastern Ukraine in support of separatist rebels. The former Soviet republics that joined NATO after the fall of the Soviet Union were understandably alarmed by those signs of renewed Russian aggression. Wasn’t the U.S. supposed to be their allies?

As a political move aimed at gaining support from members of the Republican Party, what DT said also didn’t make sense. The party had long been a staunch opponent of the former Soviet Union, and prior to the 2016, of Putin’s Russia. So, what was he thinking?

I put down my hoe, looked up at the sky and suddenly saw the light. “He’s got a deal with the Russians,” I said to myself. Call it a hunch: at the time that’s what it was, based on what I knew.

I comforted myself by thinking that, if it was true, the truth would surely come more to light, one way or another, and the ‘smoking gun’ found.

Granddaughter Mirabella helping Grandpa hill potatoes, spring 2016.

Nothing that happened leading up to the 2016 election and after has done anything to change my mind about my thoughts then. On the contrary, I believe now more than ever DT had a ‘deal with the Russians,’ and maybe still has. Certain things that happened over the past almost six years continue to stand out amid BT’s generally fawning attitude toward, and praise of Putin: the Helsinki summit with Putin, for example, whereby DT dismissed the conclusions of the U.S. official Intelligence community that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election. After a secretive close-door session with Putin, the then-President of the United States said Putin had ‘strongly’ denied anything of the sort had happened. Commentators in the U.S., many of them former high-ranking government officials and military officers, were astounded, “I never thought I’d see the day” when a President of the United States would ever say such a thing, said one.

Throughout his one-term tenure, DT continued to say time after time, and still does, that the whole “Russia thing” was a “hoax.” It was not.

The investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller only happened because former U.S. Attorney-General, the late Jeff Sessions, recused himself from the probe into the possibility of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the possible collusion of DT’s 2016 election campaign. Rod Rosenstein, Session’s deputy A-G at the time appointed Mueller to head up the investigation in May, 2017.

The final Mueller Report found plenty of evidence of interference by Russian government agents and operatives. A Grand Jury for the District of Columbia (D.C.) charged a dozen Russians with criminal offences, including Conspiracy to Commit an Offense Against the United States. They have never been arrested and are likely hiding in plain sight in Russia.

Mueller himself said the reason DT was not charged with Obstruction of Justice was because of a Department of Justice policy against charging a sitting president with a criminal offence.

Bill Barr, who was Attorney-General when the Mueller report was about to be made public, took pre-emptive action by writing and releasing a summary that appeared to exonerate DT, who quickly seized on the moment to claim again that it was all a “hoax.” Partly as a result, 75 million Americans voted for DT in the 2020 presidential election. He still lost by seven million in the popular vote, and also by a wide margin in the electoral college, as confirmed by Congress on January 6, 2021. That was despite a riot by DT supporters who breached the capital in hopes of disrupting the process. To this day DT still claims the election was “stolen” from him.

To his credit, Attorney-General Barr, after ordering a DOJ investigation, said no serious evidence of election fraud was found. And then he resigned after DT’s angry reaction to that.

The Guardian published an interesting article last summer that I recently re-read. The Guardian is widely respected as one of the best news venues in the world. The carefully worded article cites “what are assessed to be leaked Kremlin documents” that indicate Putin personally approved a secret Russian plan in January, 2016 to support what the leaked papers describe as a “mentally unstable” DT in the 2016 US presidential election

The leaked document speaks of it being “acutely necessary” to take strong measures to facilitate DT’s election as U.S. president. That would help bring about Russia’s favoured “political scenario” because a Trump win “will definitely lead to the destabilisation of the US’s sociopolitical system, and see hidden discontent burst into the open.”

Some of the measures Russia might take to infect American public life with media viruses” would become self-sustaining as they mess with the “mass consciousness” of certain groups of Americans, the Kremlin paper says, as quoted by the Guardian.

Spokespersons for both Putin and Trump strongly denied at the time there was any truth to what the Guardian article said.

It is worth mentioning here though, that if there was indeed such a plan, that it certainly succeeded, beyond Putin’s wildest dreams. The fate of U.S. democracy is still in jeopardy.