Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Discovered by being in a hurry:
A scoop of baked butternut squash, drizzled with eggnog, tastes like pumpkin pie.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

The street bright with
glow after glowing
string of lights
and warm windows with
glittering trees within.

High above
almost beyond notice
the thin clouds flicker
into and out of view
against a crescent moon.

The church beckoning
away up there
past the school
and around the corner
out of the wind

as we hurry
anxious with plans
eager with hopes
and just a little later
than we wanted to be

but it feels good to hurry
pressing onward
until our path joins others' paths
and the voices ring out
and we are gathered there

in the glow of candles
and sparkling garlands
and children's eyes
and friendly faces
from last week and last year.

The harp is playing
so soft and sweet
beneath it all
that it is almost beneath notice
until you breathe it in.

And then bright horns
and carols rising
and the story
of the decree
and the journey

and the wondrous moment
in a stable
so unlike
this warm bright place
and yet so full of the same

peace and love
after pain and tears
new hope
and joy
all over again

as the bright eyes shine
in the weathered faces
and the cry of a child
is holy
and welcome.

Silent Night
a hundred voices soft -
no silence here
and yet
the stillness comes -

the hush of joy
within the heart
as candles light
from hand to hand
and voices blend:

Silent night; holy night
all is calm; all is bright
round yon virgin mother and child
holy infant so tender and mild
sleep in heavenly peace

sleep in heavenly peace
all you who leave this place
with your warm bright smiles
and your children
nodding in your arms

while I gather
musician's clutter
and snuff candles
and turn out lights
and walk alone

since the others went ahead
down the block
and around the corner
the wind at my back now
past the school

and glow after glowing
string of lights
until our own warm window
into the sheltered yard

where I pause
hand on doorknob
my gaze held for just a moment
by the golden glow
of the setting crescent moon.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I may have said this before.

If we humans are so adaptable, why don't we adapt our own lifestyles, now, instead of waiting until adaptation is forced on us and on all those other living things that aren't so adaptable?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Yonge Street, Rocks and Trees, Alberta

Yahoo! Canada News: "TORONTO (CP) - It's beginning to look a lot like a green Christmas for most of the country east of Alberta."

Wow. I should have known it was too early to hibernate.

I wake up mid-winter and find I must have missed some sort of referendum.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Viral Bits

Kate (smalldeadanimals) has a post up about the media and blog buzz over Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion's French citizenship. I was intrigued, not by the political topic, but by the illustration of the way bits of news (or not-news) "go viral" in the blogosphere.

This phenomenon has nagged at me for a couple of years now, as I watch little dust devils of commentary swirl up whenever Kate mentions anything to do with climate. I just sneeze and move along, but many people who breathe that stuff in seem totally lacking in immunity to the infectious bits.

Kate quotes Ezra Levant discussing the virus-spreading quality of the Internet as a good thing: whatever is interesting catches on. I would agree - if only the infection caused those infected to pursue their new-caught interest with vigour, openness, and balance. Instead, infection seems to produce a sort of reverse immunity, with greater susceptibility to future infection if newly encountered viral bits resemble the old. Such familiar-looking bits will produce a new round of inflammation and vigorous replication of viral bits from previous infections. Meanwhile the generic rejection response for totally unrecognized foreign bits goes into overdrive, preventing any infection by novel bits that might serve to balance the system.

If people actually responded to something "interesting" by exploring further, finding deeper and wider information that allowed them to view the interesting bit from very different angles, then an infection would be a good thing. It would strengthen and invigorate the mind.

There is, of course, a problem with this viral infection analogy: we associate immunity with health, but a mind that rejects any foreign matter is unhealthy indeed. It is liable to be hurt by all those things that it refuses to know.

Here I can see the value of the viral spread of ideas on the Internet. If there is unhealthy immunity at the level of news outlets (rather than at the level of an individual mind) - if news outlets are rejecting publication of stories that are foreign to established ways of thinking - then the blogosphere provides a new channel for healthy infection.

But what is a healthy infection? Are some of the infections unhealthy? Here I see the power of the viral infection analogy. Mentioning a virus brings to mind several qualities: something harmful; something that relies on encoded information; something that operates invisibly until symptoms suddenly erupt; and something so small as to seem a mere fragment.

A virus does harm by injecting a tiny snippet of misleading information into the workings of a cell. I call it misleading, because it leads the cell astray to serve the purposes of the virus. An infected cell drops its normal activities and instead produces copies of the virus - both its information code and its injection apparatus - until the entire cell self-destructs.

The healthy cell was a marvel of sophisticated harmony, with a host of interacting functions derived from an enormous store of information. Yet the injection of one tiny snippet of new information brought the whole thing to ruin.

Can the whole body of science around anthropogenic global warming be brought to ruin in a similar fashion? Some would like you to think so.

In a recent CFRA Ottawa radio interview, popular climate-fear-soothing geologist Tim Patterson talked about the way science can be totally changed by a single study. Michael Crichton makes the same point in his speeches, and uses the same example: the sudden shift in geological sciences when the idea of plate tectonics became accepted. Crichton and Patterson use this example to belittle the idea of a "scientific consensus" around anthropogenic global warming. They imply that the whole idea of global warming caused by human activity is just as vulnerable as the old idea of fixed continents. They hint that their own contrary voices are on the verge of bringing a major new enlightenment to science.

Their example has great power, and I am sure they know it. Crichton's audience can easily identify with his story about noticing the apparent fit between South American and African coastlines, and about a schoolteacher dismissing his observation. What an apt example to use when you are belittling scientific consensus! It suggests that scientists of the day were ignoring contrary evidence that was obvious even to a casual observer; and thus, it affirms the value of casual observations that seem contrary to a global warming trend.

Crichton and Patterson would like you to think that the scientific consensus about global warming is on the verge of self-destruction, as a healthy infection of new ideas works its way through the scientific community. However, I suspect that their own opinion is somewhat different. I suspect that they are well aware of the strength of the scientific consensus and do not expect it to collapse from within. Instead, they hope to spread enough infection through public opinion outside the scientific community, so that climate change research will be starved of public support, at least to a degree and for a time.

Why do I doubt their sincerity? I have spent some time following up the bits of contrary evidence that these authors and other skeptics present. I have explored the topics they raise by seeking out published research by other authors. I have seen the way the skeptics select examples and omit context. I have learned enough of the scientific background to recognize some of these deceptions immediately, rather than after plowing through reference papers.

Through all of this, I have begun to recognize not only the deceptions, but the techniques behind them. One key technique is to inject deceptive information where it is least likely to be challenged, and most likely to be repeated. For example, both in his radio interview and in a parliamentary hearing, Patterson has talked about the Ordovician period, 450 million years ago, when CO2 levels were much higher and yet there was an ice age. However, in his research papers submitted for publication, he doesn't mention this example. Presumably he doesn't mention it in the friendly discussions he claims to have with other scientists, because he knows he would be laughed out of the room. During the Ordovician, the distribution of land masses was totally different (plate tectonics again), ocean circulation was totally different, and there weren't even any land plants yet. Naturally the relationship between atmospheric composition and global temperature was a bit different back then!

But in the blogosphere, often unnoticed, Patterson's fragment of detail about the Ordovician goes viral, as do numerous other bits of disinformation. And fast-paced blogs like Kate's, where these viral bits propagate, are much more interesting than my tedious, several-days-late rebuttals. Then when the symptoms appear, in the form of public complacency about climate or even outright hostility towards reducing CO2 emissions, some people wonder how it happened.

Fog and Clarity

At 9:10 p.m. last night, they booted me out of a department store. As I left, I mused about making the exact gifts I want to give, instead of searching for them, but then I remembered the unfinished gift from last year. If I really worked at it, could I finish it before her birthday rolls around a second time?

Speaking of second times, last night was the second time in a week that I drove home from Regina in fog. The first time was the kids' shopping day, and yesterday was mine.

Last week, the fog was fairly continuous until around Francis, where it broke up into great skeins illuminated by the headlights and the rising moon. In some places it was still a continuous sheet, but elevated a little, and when a slight rise tilted the headlights up, that layer of fog looked like a giant tent.

Last night, the entire 200 kilometres was fogged in without a single break. The towns passed as faint glows in the periphery; often I didn't even glimpse their names on the signs. At one town - was it Osage? - I had a momentary vision of a deer, standing right in the bottom of the ditch next to the pavement, with its ears pricked towards my passing car. It reminded me of the sight from that morning, just outside Creelman, of a moose loping across the highway right in front of the car ahead of me, and then turning just beyond the ditch to jog along parallel to the highway, beard flapping, legs lifted high. With thoughts of deer and moose, and frequent false alarms from frost-crusted roadside weeds emerging out of the fog, I cruised at 80 to 85 kph (where the posted limit is 100). Several vehicles stayed behind me; I recall only three that dared to pass.

One good thing about that fog: I had Country 100 FM coming in clear to Forget. (That's FOR-zhay, around here, although when the highway sign flashed out of the fog, my mind noted the coincidence with the song I was hearing at that moment, about forgetting - something, but I forget what.) Usually I lose the Country 100 signal somewhere around Francis - one-third of the way, instead of over three-quarters. I actually got enough of that station yesterday to start to notice the repetition. For me, that benediction from Rascall Flats ("My Wish") is not holding up to frequent airplay the way Lee-Ann Womack's did a few years back ("I Hope You Dance").

But that new one from Martina McBride - "Anyway" - they can play that again. Wow. Any volunteers to sing it in church?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tilting Time

The sun is setting. Through gaps in frosted tree tops, I can see bands of pink colour lingering on the blue-gray clouds.

According to SunriseSunset.com, we are within a day or two of our earliest sunset of the year, more than ten minutes before the hour of 5 p.m. Their calendar lists sunrise and sunset times to the nearest minute, so I can't tell exactly which day marks the turning point.

By the time the winter solstice rolls around, our sunset will be moving later again. In those last few days before the solstice, the shortening of daylight will be only on the morning side, with sunrise still moving later, right through until early January.


From a New Scientist article, Early Days, I have a shaky idea of how our days shift through this dark time of the year. The U.S. Naval Observatory offers what sounds like a more systematic explanation in The Dark Days of Winter, but my understanding still feels a bit unsteady.

The impression that stays with me is this. Solar days pulse slightly over the course of a year, making the time from one noon to the next longer and shorter. Time as measured by the sun does not march exactly to the beat of atomic vibrations. We don't correct our clocks for this pulsation. Although those 24 hours on the dial suggest that we are keeping track of solar days, we are really approximating them, and clock time wobbles around solar time without quite matching it.

Twice in the last month I've seen an "atomic clock" offered for sale. It's really just an electric clock that automatically resets itself when it detects a radio signal from an atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado. You can get one at Lee Valley; you can also get a sundial. With the atomic clock, you can make detailed observations of sunrise and sunset times and then try to get your head around their movements. With the sundial, you can observe the solar day directly, and not worry about how many wobbles of an atom fit into it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Counter-Intuitive Bad News

Here's a new finding that goes the exact opposite direction from what the climate optimists have been saying. You've probably heard the argument that CO2 is plant food, so rising CO2 means more plant growth, which means more food for humans and everything else, and at the same time, controls the rise in CO2 levels. You probably already know some problems with that argument: plant growth is obviously not controlling CO2 levels, and CO2-fertilized crops may actually be less nutritious.

But here's the new problem. Satellite studies indicate that microscopic plants in the ocean grow slower when the ocean gets warmer.

That startled me. From my biology background, I know that most biological processes speed up with temperature. Heck, just from living through a cycle of the seasons here, I know that plants grow faster when it's warmer. So why do these tiny plants in the ocean grow slower? From the news release at Oregon State University:
When the ocean surface warms, it essentially becomes “lighter” than the cold, dense water below, which is loaded with nutrients. This process effectively separates phytoplankton in the surface layer - which need light for photosynthesis - from the nutrients below them, which they also need for growth.
Well, so what? Aren't trees more important than these phytoplankton that we can't even see with the naked eye? Back to the news release:
Despite their microscopic size, ocean phytoplankton are responsible for about half of the photosynthesis on Earth, a process that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converts it into organic carbon to fuel nearly every ocean ecosystem.

Bad news, yes. Or is it? I'd say it's better than no news. If phytoplankton dies in the ocean, and nobody hears about it, it still dies. How about using this news as fuel to fire up your determination to walk instead of driving. Try a toboggan for the groceries, with a picnic cooler on it to keep the bananas and lettuce from freezing on the way home. Or grow some sprouts instead of buying lettuce, and check out those new garden catalogs for some fruit trees and berry bushes to plant next season. Insignificant? Consider this: a lot of people say our food in Canada travels an average of 2500 km to get to a dinner plate, and I've heard some estimates as high as double that.

And pass the word along to a climate optimist. Gently. They don't like to hear this stuff - and can you blame them?

Carols, Old and New

This Sunday, December 10th, the choir at St. Andrew's United Church in Arcola will present a carol service, with choir anthems, a solo, and lots of carols for all to join in.

Readings and reflections on the Advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love are taken from "Gifts of the Season," a service order written by Gretta Vosper. If that name sounds familiar, you may have read about her in the United Church Observer; she's the controversial minister of West Hill United in Scarborough, Ontario, who is bringing big theological questions out of academia and into direct conflict with the traditions of congregational worship. I don't think there's anything very controversial in this particular service, but it might give you a taste of her approach. From the U.C. Observer, December 2006: "Whether or not you agree with her, understanding who Gretta Vosper is can tell you what you hold dear in the Christian faith."

Besides, there's all the music: some treasured old carols, and some startling new songs of faith. Come early for a chance to sing even more carols, since we just couldn't fit them all into the service. It starts at 10:45 a.m., with carol singing beginning around 10:30.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Snow Wardens

As I was shoveling snow yesterday, I got wondering about the history of this task. Did a pioneer woman shovel through drifts to make an easier passage for the sleigh up to the house? Or did the sleigh just pack the snow down around the yard? I know that if you always walk the same path through the snow, you can get into trouble later in the winter, when your feet begin to slide off the sides of your packed path down into the softer and much deeper snow to the sides. I imagined a sleigh side-slipping off its runner tracks into deeper snow - not a good thing for the horses. But maybe they just drove the sleigh slightly to one side or the other each time, to pack a wider track, much like I deliberately trample the path a bit wider in the snow. Could you get the horses to do that?

I looked at some pictures in the Arcola-Kisbey history book, but I couldn't be sure what was done. I did find a picture from spring of 1903, showing the sidewalk (boardwalk?) cleared in front of the storefronts, but hemmed in by a wall of snow on the adjacent street surface, as high as a man.

A Google search for "horse-drawn snowplow" turned up just what I wanted - an essay on the history of snow removal. It turns out that I was partly right: snow was not removed from the roads at all, but rather packed down to make a good running surface for the sleighs. But it was done much more deliberately than I had imagined. Have you ever heard of a snow warden?

The Snow Pile Today

It's bigger than last year (in March!), that's for sure. I'd say about four times bigger. I can't get a perfect comparative photo, because I built it closer to the chokecherry behind it this year, to keep the melt water off the driveway and out of the porch.

One of those feral cats made the mistake of trotting into my snow push path while I was gathering another shovel load. She had to stretch up just to see over the end of it, to assess her options.

Then she came back up to the bend and hunched down, looking at me. I paused and talked to her, suggesting that she should take the chance to run forward and past me, but she just stared. Heartlessly, then, I pushed the snow load on towards her, and she hurried back to the dead end. "It's deep," I warned, but she plunged on.

Poor kitty. I wish I'd got a video. She looked like she was swimming.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Disconnect

Here on the plains south of the Moose Mountains, there are two main industries: agriculture and oil. When you need money to keep farming, you go work on the rigs.

There are some proud farmers and ranchers who get by with what they can earn from their land, and sometimes fight a losing battle to keep the oil wells off it. There are some people here only for the oilfield work, who have little or no connection to any farm in the area. But for many people, the two industries have formed interwoven strands of their lifestyle for generations.

Recently I have heard of people quitting farming to work full time in the oilfield. One said his only regret was that he didn't do it sooner. Others carry on, quite literally using their oilfield income to keep their farms going.

The problem is the rising cost of just about everything except farm produce. A farm can't be run as a stable business if the costs keep going up while the revenue stays flat. Some farmers have been coping by expanding their acreage, spreading some of their costs over a larger area of production and hoping the per-acre costs don't overwhelm the per-acre revenue. How long will that hope hold?

And why the squeeze?

I just finished reading an overview of similar problems in Montana (in Part One of Jared Diamond's book, Collapse). Diamond related a story to highlight the difficulty farmers face. At one time, if a farmer wanted to buy a truck, he would sell two cows. Now, to buy a truck, he must sell 25 cows.

To an urban person accustomed to inflation, that might not seem wrong. Prices go up. But why hasn't the price of cows gone up? Sure, the urban cost of living goes up, but so does the average wage. Back on the farm, when the cost of living and of farming goes up, what is the farmer to do? He can't just grow more cows on the same amount of land.

Reflecting on this, I realized that the problem is built into the foundations of our economy. Because our economic growth is fueled by oil (and coal and natural gas) and not by growth in biological production, there is a disconnect between the performance of the overall economy and the returns to agriculture. If the overall economy was dependent on biological production for its fuel, then the price of biological products would keep pace. Grain would be valued for the energy stored in its carbohydrates; that value would be reflected in the price of a grain-fed cow; and a farmer selling two cows could still get the same return in material goods as his father did. Instead, fossil fuels are used to squeeze more and more biological production out of less and less human labour, holding the price of those biological products low. Meanwhile all the rest of the economy is allowed to surge along on the power of fossil fuels, effectively disconnected from the reality of biological limits - for a while.

In Montana, the problem is much more acute than in this area, because land prices are rising steeply due to demand for homes and acreages in the beautiful mountain landscapes. Farmers cannot expand their operations to spread costs, because the land costs more than they can earn back by farming it, even over a lifetime. In the desirable mountain valley areas, farming is on its way out.

When I read this, I remembered Eleutheros's post, "Unlike Coin," and wondered whether a farmer who focused on direct use - growing food and fibre for his own needs rather than for the money it could earn - could persist in those Montana mountains. Rising property taxes would be a challenge. That might be overcome, but what about estate taxes? How would a direct-use homesteader pass that homestead on to a child?

How ironic that we have structured our economy to grow and grow and grow - at the expense of growing food. We are running an enormous gamble, that the unknown jackpot will contain some sort of unlimited supply of clean energy (pdf), that we will win it before the existing energy sources become inadequate or intolerable, and that energy alone will be enough of a foundation when we finally turn our attention to coping with the limits of soils, water, oceans, and climate.

UPDATE: Eleutheros has a new post about our response to limits - depressing or bracing, depending on how you want to take it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Here to Stay

This is more like it! Our first lasting snow of the season came last Thursday evening, and the big storm blew in yesterday. Here's the snow pile from a better angle to compare to last year's photo from the beginning of March.

This pile is bigger already. I was out before daylight topping it up with the new snowdrifts from overnight, to keep Garth from shovelling and re-injuring his elbow. It's been puffed up and glowing red a couple of times in the last few days, but it improves with rest and a castor oil pack. He thinks he hurt it in a curling game, sweeping.

Just as I was pushing the last ridges out of the way so he could back the car out, his colleague phoned to say he was stuck, in a back alley near Coteau and Mountain. I put the shovel in the car and jumped in.

We saw a vehicle churning its way slowly out of the south end of that alley, but when we got around to the north end we found two big drifts between the street and the snowed-in car. I started in with the shovel while the men discussed the situation. They decided the car could stay where it was; Garth would give him a ride for today.

With all the computer gear and two big men, the Geo was looking a bit crowded, so I put the shovel on my shoulder and walked home.

Looks like B had no trouble getting out to the cleared street and away to work.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Streetwalking Season

It was a surreal scene on Main Street at dusk, with the headlights of a riding snowblower illuminating the drifting snow where the sidewalk was partially cleared, and more headlights picking out the bank of a large snow ridge piled down the center of the street.

I kept out of the way of the snowblower and scurried through the deep snow by the corner, back onto the plowed surface of the side street that leads me home. Off Main Street, the sidewalks are all buried about six inches deep, except where the grader piled the windrow over them, or that place by the school where somebody pushed a great heap about four feet high. I can see giving up on the sidewalks in late January, but November?

The strangest sight of this evening, though, was the large V of noisy geese, racing south above it all.

Getting a Handle

There are too many of us out there.

Lauras, that is.

I know of second Lauras who comment on several of my favourite blogs, and now on one blog there is a third.

So I am thinking I will take a new handle. I tried "Laura the Arcologist," but that looks much too pompous. (I don't know; maybe it fits? Gently, please, gently.)

Here are some other ideas:

LArc - too French? I can manage a little conversation, but I have no French heritage.

larc - too acronym-ish? Google brings up an awful lot of research/resource centres. But larc puts me in mind of a singing bird, or a light-hearted rebellious wandering.

larcola - hmm. Sort of icky, but on the plus side, this handle is very rare on the 'Net. Still - I'm no Miss Arcola.

arcolaura - I wouldn't be the only one in the world, but pretty close. I think I like it. The full name of Arcola is there, but muted, and the arc theme is emphasized. And my name is definitely there. Yes, I think I'll take it. I was going to ask for your opinions, but that was before I thought of this one.

Oh don't worry, I'll still welcome your opinions. But I'll probably still be arcolaura.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Of Barbs and Targets

A visitor lingered the other day, chatting with the children, joining in singing "Jubilate Deo" in three-part round, and discussing things heard on the radio during his travels. There were disagreements, but all in good faith and fun.

Then, for a second time, there came a wildly tangential comment, threatening to harpoon a very large, dark, submerged topic. What was he doing? Subversive cheerleading for his own opinion, without bringing the matter to the surface for all to discuss?

I challenged him, and he denied any attempt to hurt or upset anyone.

Later, trying to see his comments in a less critical light, it occurred to me that I sometimes do a similar thing. In almost any topic of conversation, I can suddenly inject a comment about the environmental implications. It probably sounds like a challenge, whether I mean it that way or not. Sometimes I do, but sometimes, I am just offering another thread of conversation. Though it sounds off-topic to the others, for me it is the very next thing that comes to mind.

Perhaps those provocative tangents from our visitor were really just his natural, habitual thoughts. If you have one particular topic that occupies much of your contemplations, that topic will attach itself more and more readily to whatever other thoughts come by.

And most such absorbing topics have at their core some sort of conflict or problem that divides people. Venture a comment, and it will sound like either invitation or challenge, depending on who is listening.

Monday, November 20, 2006

What I Haven't Read

Here is the shocking truth. I have not read:
Those are some of the omissions I know about. Then there are entire areas of knowledge, such as macroeconomics, and world history, where I feel woefully under-informed.

But enough of this negativity. I am reading a beautiful book by Diarmuid O'Murchu called Evolutionary Faith: Rediscovering God in Our Great Story. I had started it some months ago, and although it was entrancing, I bogged down somewhere and set it aside while I read The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Shlain (another excellent book; on my shelf, if you want to borrow it). Now, at a low point in my sense of hope, I have returned to O'Murchu's book and I am finding it a healer for my soul. O'Murchu will be at the Calling Lakes Centre in June 2007. From the program bulletin:
If you have read any of Diarmuid's books, you will know that they are dense, crammed with information and new thinking. Diarmuid, in person, is engaging, easy to follow and always intensely interested in engaging in discussion.
One more thing: I just took a look at Diarmuid's website (see the link from his name above) and came across a list of books that he has found inspiring. More reading! I have a moment of shrinking dismay, like the feeling I used to get when I stood among the stacks in the university library, but oh, there are some tantalizing titles there.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Curling Season

Curling started on Tuesday night. My Dad is our skip, I'm third, Garth is second and James is playing lead. Ruth is babysitting for some other curlers. They live near the rink, so you might think that we would just drop her off on our way, but she accepted their offer of a ride. A shrewd move, that was, because she figured that going with us might mean walking. Actually she needn't have worried. Garth wants to curl for the exercise, but he wants to get there in his car. So he phoned and offered to drop Ruth off, and I loaded the brooms and sliders into the car. Then I walked, and they drove. I got to the rink first, but of course they had an extra stop.

I was amazed how curling lifted my spirits. Earlier that evening I had to ask Garth to finish making supper while I stormed out and up the street in the teeth of a bitter wind, trying to shake an inexplicable rage. The wind did blow most of it away, and I came back to the meal quietly. As soon as I neared the rink, though, I felt the happiness coming. By the middle of the game, I was remembering Jacob's excellent Remembrance Day address about peace coming from within, and noticing my Dad's easy enjoyment of the sport, and gently choosing not to worry so much about imparting all the rules of etiquette to Garth or keeping James playing up to the pace. The rules and the game itself are only there for the fun.

It was a great feeling just to step back into my little ritual: rock in front of the hack, broom down on the ice to my left; right foot in the hack, left toe up, pull the slider under it, toe down and pull the strap up around the heel; squat and tip the rock, clean the bottom, sweep the cleanings aside, tip the rock gently down and spin it once. Then and only then, lift my head to look down the ice for the skip's instructions. Vital step: point the hack foot's toe at the broom. Dad's advice coming back to mind: keep reaching for the broom.

I was a little shaky at first, but delighted to find myself gradually settling back in to the form I had found last year, with my sliding leg deeply bent so the foot is right under my centre, balancing my weight. A few ends in, I was ready to try to do better, not just do. Kick off a little harder, hold a little longer. Near the end of the game there was one delivery that felt really good.

Something - perhaps the push from the hack - reminded me of the lunges we've been doing at dance class, and made me grateful for that training over the last two months. While sweeping, too, I felt the tug of my abdominal muscles and enjoyed my newfound strength. Last year I built up to that first night of curling with stretches mimicking the delivery pose, but this year I hadn't done any. I trusted the hip stretches from dance class, and sure enough, the flex was there.

We lost the game, but it didn't matter a bit. James was throwing with steady form, using a slider, and getting rocks in the house. More importantly, he was cheery and chatty, open to suggestions, and resilient when his shots didn't go so well. Garth was trying a slider too, and even hinting that he'd take advice about my technique. And Dad was having fun. Coming home with last rock, he was going to try a draw to the button to keep their near-centre rock from counting. As I stood holding the broom and waiting while he went back down the ice to throw, I could hear the murmurs from the other team behind me: "I thought he would have tried that!" There was a narrow hole between the front guard rocks. Sure enough, Dad looked down the ice and called to me to move the broom: he would throw right down the centreline. I had to chuckle at that. He made the shot, too.

After the game, Garth invited Dad to come by our place for hot chocolate. We didn't have to pick Ruth up, because she wouldn't be finished babysitting yet - the other curlers were lingering over drinks. Again I walked, and the others drove. As I came around the corner of the house, they were closing the garage door and coming towards the house as well. "See," I said, "those car things are just a hassle."

The Joy of One Last Ride

At the Willmar Supper a couple of weeks back, Richard asked me if I've been biking lately. He hadn't seen me go by his place on the 604 like he used to. I told him no, I'd been pretty busy. Not that I haven't been biking at all, but it's been mostly here in town, running errands. Even then, I often walk, especially since the snow and ice arrived. It's gone again, though, except for some lingering frozen puddles. Yesterday I met my former Grade 3 teacher on the street, and she remarked on my carriage - the trailer I was towing behind my bike. It always surprises me when people ask me about it, as if it's something new. Some assume that I am looking after small children. Indeed it was originally designed for hauling tots, but I have used it for years as a general cargo hauler, mostly for groceries.

It's not true that everybody knows everything about everyone else in this little town. They may all know about the four vehicles we had simultaneously licensed, after we got my dear old Nissan 4x4 running again and before we sold the little Ranger to Garth's niece; but they don't all know about my bike trailer.

Four vehicles? Yes - well, three now. I think the third was a mistake. We bought a '77 Ford Custom 500 so that we could haul 5 kids at a time when carpooling to events in Carlyle, and license it cheaply (as of next year) as an antique. That way we can still keep the tiny Geo Metro as Garth's daily driver, and the Nissan in case of snowstorms or large hauling. It seemed like a good idea as the school year was beginning and we were anxious to do our part in the carpool, but the way things have worked out, we haven't been driving that many kids at a time, so the blue whale (as the Ford is nicknamed) has been staying parked. Beached, I guess you could say.

I thought my bike was pretty much parked for the season, too, but when I saw that ice melting away this week, and then saw the forecast of a sunny warm day for Thursday (today), I made up my mind to get one more ride.

The day dawned cloudy, and showers had crept into the forecast, but I was undeterred. While the kids got ready for school, I mended my headband so I wouldn't have to choose between my helmet and my toque. I layered long underwear and a couple of sweaters under loose pants and a breathable raincoat/windbreaker (a luxurious gift from my mom). As the kids went out the door, I reminded them that they might be on their own for lunch. I tidied the kitchen a little, filled my water bottle, and stepped out into the light chill of a south breeze.

I rode south into that breeze, feeling it sap the warmth from my fingers and wondering if I should have chosen a different pair of gloves. Mitts, maybe? I remembered the images of wind-driven snow in the movie James and I watched last night, "March of the Penguins." Amazing, to see those tiny chicks poking their heads out from the shelter atop their parents' claws. How do any of them survive?

On the downhill slope of the ridge south of the airport, I geared up and raced a couple of trucks, but they blew past at double my speed. By the time I slowed down, I could feel my own warmth laughing back at the chill of the breeze, and my fingers were fine.

Somewhere along the way, I found myself wondering about this cold land of ours, and what it means to my perspective. Surely looming energy shortages must look a little different when you live in a warm place. It must be a little easier to just retreat to a farm and prepare to ride out the crisis, when you and most of those around you can reasonably expect to pull through. Here, I imagined, there will be an accelerated exodus, as some try to go back to the land and realize that this land was never very friendly. Perhaps there will be a deepening divide between those involved in pumping the last of the oil, and those just trying to survive.

It seems to me that there is a north-south split in the blogging circle I frequent. The southern U.S. bloggers are living close to the land, making dire predictions about humanity's future, and expecting to carry on through those grim times relatively unscathed. The northern bloggers are a bit behind in terms of acquiring land or building warm homes, but they are also much less inclined to discuss the coming darkness, and much more invested in the task of choosing to hope, to rejoice in this present moment. To light one candle, and to try to pass that light along to another. Is this just wishful thinking and willful blindness to the truth? I don't think so. A good tree bears good fruit, and in my life, hope yields hard work and harvest.

There is the matter of my children, too. At times I have thought that it was a mistake to have children in these times, though I did not really understand the times back then. If it weren't for the children, I could retreat so much more easily, or be a wandering prophet, working for my supper and talking to anyone who would listen. I wouldn't have to compromise so much, to give the children some of what I had, and some of what their peers have, just in case my reading of the times is all wrong. But more importantly, I wouldn't have so much riding on my hope that things will turn out better than they seem.

So maybe it is a good thing I had the children. That sounds terrible - as if I barely appreciate them. I love my children, and I marvel at their wisdom and goodwill, but I ache when they talk darkly about the future. Should I have sheltered them from my own fears, letting them believe that the future is bright? Should I have fled to a farm when they were very young, making that lifestyle the norm for them, so they would have nothing of modern society to long for or to miss? But today I think, no, this is where I am, and the Spirit is still breathing me, still stirring me to something more, and perhaps there is a blessing in this connectedness, this longing for a brighter, gentler future for humanity.

It takes far longer to write this than it did for the thoughts to flit across my mind. All the worries came and went, falling behind me or floating off across the textured fields, and I breathed the bracing air and waved at passing neighbours and friends, carried along by two narrow wheels and a rolling wave of joy. I stopped by the creek to admire the patterned ice and wonder about the old house on Adrian's, whether it really is compressed earth block construction, and whether it could be renovated with an extension on the south with lots of windows, and a strawbale blanket around the north, to use all that earth block as thermal mass. It could be beautiful, I thought.

Of course, it's beautiful now.

I rode up Perry's Hill in third gear. I'm in better shape than I realized.

I rode to the South Arcola Corner, turned, and came back with the breeze helping me along. I flew down Perry's Hill, enjoyed the creek again, stopped to talk to some horses, and then Murray stopped to talk to me. He told me about Shirley's appaloosa, that was just as curious as the one coming along the fence behind me.

I was home well before lunch time, and happy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Which Way Forward?

Madcap Mum has put her finger on the knotted ache in my living and dreaming these days. As I see it (which is none too clearly at the moment), my writing here has grown cramped and clotted, with fits of angry self-pity and bursts of pure diversionary fluff punctuating long stretches of total shutdown. There are unfinished drafts lurking, but even the activity of writing is getting shut down before it starts, as I sense the bleak and harsh thoughts rising, and decide to keep them to myself. Or just go blank. Look for something to do, something to eat.

I wonder if I need to take a break from news and research and the reading of the blogs. That idea feels like selfishness, like refusing to face the evil of these times just because it is depressing. And yet the alternative seems to be, as Madcap puts it, to "cripple myself with despair."

There is a glimmer of light that beckoned me into writing this morning; a hint of direction for my next small step. I will ask myself, when I sit down to read: What are you looking for? Once you learn this, what will you do with it?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Psalm, November, 2006

Where are you?
The vaults of heaven have turned to space,
a frozen void shot through with deadly rays.
Are you beyond?

Where are you?
Life is crowded,
turning on itself with hungry tooth and claw.
Things of beauty are dwindled,
clinging on the fringes
and in the cracks
and cringing and shrinking still.
Are you within?

Where are you?
Will I find you in the towers of glass and steel,
in the humming wires,
in the pointed tubes of hardened metal charged with power and death,
in the cheered performances ringed with pavement and cars,
in our sacrifice of praise?
Are you really there?

If you are there,

why have you made me
such that I cannot love you?

I know, I know.
You are the potter,
and I the clay.

Dash me to pieces if you will.

I wait

with wild eyes

and pounding heart

and find you

in the breath

that breathes these words

Friday, November 10, 2006

God Save the Queen

If you're asked to play "God Save the Queen," and you can't find the music right away, fear not. Chances are you do have it, under another name. Try looking for "America" or "My Country 'Tis of Thee."

Your next problem might be to shift it into a singable key. Many books offer it in the key of G, which confronts the singers with a series of D's and that last phrase lunging to an E. No trouble for a trained singer, but as public singing has dwindled in recent decades, so has the comfortable vocal range of most assembled groups. CyberHymnal has a score in F, quite accessible to most singers.

Since the anthem is used by tradition rather than any legal proclamation, I see no problem of protocol with shifting the key. In fact, while the Royal webpage for this anthem has a recording in the key of G, at the Canadian Heritage page you will hear it in the key of B flat.

However, for people who enjoy (or suffer from) absolute pitch, or for those who have this anthem firmly in their muscle memory, even a one-tone drop might be a problem. What do you think? F or G?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Narrow Way

My song of prayer for these days of remembrance. I'll be singing it at the Remembrance Day service, not because I especially wanted to have it heard, but they were looking for "something different" and couldn't find a soloist, and then even the usual choir anthem was looking unlikely since so many choir members will be away - and so I stuck my neck out. Later another soloist came forward, and I tried to back out, but no, they wanted both.

I hope it works out alright. I am always drawn to the borderlines, the places where controversy brews, and I fear negative reactions to my explorations. All I've heard is positive, even when I thought certain people might be offended, but still I wonder. Are they just being polite? Maybe some are thinking, "That Laura, she's always pushing her way into every community function with one of her songs." And what about my ideas? What do they really think?

Narrow Way
© 2006 Laura Herman

O, God, help us
find that narrow way.

Where we honour those who died
and stand by the veteran's side
but never glorify the battle day:
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way.

Where we heed the call to serve
and convictions steel our nerve
but yet where evil will not be obeyed:
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way.

Where we cannot close our eyes
to the horrors and the lies
but still our hearts are soft enough to pray:
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way.

Where our world is once again at war
and we doubt the hope we knew before
help us stand our guard;
help us name the sin;
help us work for peace,
but not give in:

help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Apparently the song "A Pittance of Time" has been around for a few years now, but I had not heard of it until today when I was checking the Royal Canadian Legion website for music for the Remembrance Day Memorial Service. At first I shied away from the large banner for the song, clicking instead on the settings of "In Flanders Fields," but finding that (for me) they did not do the poem justice. When I listened to "A Pittance of Time," even the first few lines drew me in. At songwriter Terry Kelly's website there is background on the incident that sparked the song, and a compelling video.

On Remembrance Day in Arcola, the Memorial Service begins at 10:45 a.m. in the MacMurray Theatre; please wear your poppy. On the preceding Sunday, November 5th, part of the regular service of worship at the United Church will be devoted to Remembrance, and members of the Legion will be in attendance. That service also begins at 10:45 a.m.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Shooting in the Dark

I believe this comment over at sda may have been aimed at me:
I have noticed that some environmentalists are very selective in their concerns.I know of one that gets on a plane,flys halfway around the world using more fuel than my 2000 acre farm does in at least three years,to educate people that could get the same information from a book or the internet.He then comes home and says how well THEY treat their environment.I believe that he is a graduate of the CBC-David Suzuki school "of the other guy make changes" school of environmentalism.
Sorry, spike, you missed. Just because I'm married to him doesn't mean I agree with him. And just because he's married to me doesn't mean he's an environmentalist.

By the way, I don't recall him saying they treat their environment well. I recall him mentioning walking to work in Kathmandu and crossing a bridge over the "sewer" - he figured that was a more accurate word for it than "river" would be. And he mentioned arriving at work and blowing his nose, which was crusted with just as much grime from the air as if he had been shovelling inside a granary.

But your closing comment is very amusing. He is always insisting that people must stop trying to change other people, and instead change themselves. It's working very well for him: as long as he can keep the rest of us busy fixing ourselves, it keeps the heat away from him!

(Ouch, I'm a little snarky today, no?)

Navigable Waters - Again

Kate is celebrating David Suzuki's announcement that he will retire, by re-running a piece about the enduring health of Moose Mountain Creek. I figure my piece about our general ignorance of that creek is worth another read (or at least a look for the picture at the end).

(Link fixed)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Finish the Story

She woke from a dream that seemed significant somehow, and lay still, wondering what it meant. The possibilities circled in her mind until the ideas blurred and the phrases grew strange and poignant again, and she dozed some more. At last, with a particularly odd phrase tickling her mind, and the pressure of her bladder grown too great, she came awake again, threw the blankets back, and flicked her ankle free of the sheet. In the corner of her vision, she saw her husband throwing his side of the blankets onto the same ridge down the middle of the bed. Something seemed strange, something about the way he moved, just as suddenly and briskly as she; as if her hurry had reminded him of some deadline that she herself did not remember. But before she could frame that thought, she noticed the flick of his ankle, just like hers, except that there was no sheet for him to kick free of; he would never have had his feet covered. And then he was sitting up sharply, almost simultaneously with her own sitting up.

She: "What are you doing?"

He: "Copying you."

Bicycles, Energy Cycles, Life Cycles

I was startled by a comment by Eleutheros, that if you walked everywhere you went, for your whole life, you would still not use as much energy as it takes to make a bicycle.

I got wondering whether this would be true when the energy of walking comes from a conventional Canadian diet, with far more calories used to produce a plate of food than the body gets out of it.

I went looking for a measurement of energy used in bike manufacturing, and came across an intriguing article(pdf) about energy use associated with electric bikes. It didn't answer my question about energy in manufacturing, since it focussed on differences between the electric bike and the human-powered bike, but it clearly illustrated the problem I was wondering about.
Despite the intuitive sense that electric bikes would require more resources than regular bikes, life-cycle analysis shows that they actually consume 2-4 times less primary energy than human riders eating a conventional diet. This conclusion is largely due to the considerable amount of transportation and processing energy that is associated with our western food system.
When the analysis considered a cyclist eating local food, and electricity coming from hydro-power, the electric bike and the human-powered bike were about on par.

It's a sad commentary on our society, when you are better off letting a coal-fired plant push your bicycle than eating the food you need to spin those pedals yourself. Yet when you look at lists of "things you can do to conserve energy," how often do you see the suggestion that you plant a garden?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Now that I have upgraded to Blogger in Beta, I am having an absurdly good time labelling old posts. Why? I guess I like to read my own writing. It's interesting, looking back at what I was saying and thinking over the last year or so.

The labels section is far from complete. I'll pick away at it whenever I feel like navel-gazing. For now, it gives you an idea of what I remember as my most significant or frequent topics. We'll see whether it changes significantly or not. Or whether I lose interest in it . . .

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Nettle Harvest

Yesterday morning I was out to the hills to help my dad along with his new musical ventures: learning to play the C melody saxophone, and doing more with the guitar. After loading him up with things to practice, I strolled out to their garden and pulled a bunch of nettle stalks from the side of the weed heap. I tried breaking one underfoot and cracking apart the pith walls to see if I could find the rumoured fibers for spinning into nettle thread or yarn or whatever it would be called, but I didn't have much success. Now I am hunting more references to glean whatever tricks I can. Perhaps the stalks will need to be retted, but I'm told the odor of that process is not acceptable indoors, and water outdoors is frozen over now. I may be storing my nettle bundles until spring.

Nettles are very noticeable, and that may explain why I used to think of them as abundant. Once I set out to gather them, I decided they're not so common after all. I know of specific places where they grow thickly, but they're not the sort of plant that you see dotted here and there through a wide variety of habitat. Now I'm thinking again that I should plant some here in the yard. (That would really raise some eyebrows, no?)

Aside from their fiber content, nettles are useful as a highly nutritious early spring green. Just boil or steam them a little to neutralize the sting.

Less directly, but perhaps more importantly, nettles have value to us humans as a food plant for butterflies. Today I found a new report on the Status of Pollinators in North America, which outlines another of those slow emergencies that will probably not get much notice until it's too late. Perhaps it will never get much notice, and future schoolchildren will marvel at the fantastic stories of a time when gardens didn't need hand pollination, and the world was home to six billion people, and candy bars were made with real chocolate (pdf).

Now for the obligatory cheerful closing note about things you can do to help. The Pollinator Partnership, at www.pollinator.org, has a long list of online resources, with everything from research about native bees, to pollinator-friendly practices for golf courses, and of course articles about gardening for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Too Good

A drawback to our efficient little fridge: it's very difficult to thaw anything in it. I've yet to do it successfully, except when I happened to be running the defrost on the freezer compartment at the same time. I think the defrost works by simply shutting down the compressor and letting the frost thaw. The phase change draws heat from the rest of the refrigerator and thus keeps the food cool. When all the frost has melted, the temperature in the refrigerator begins to rise, and a sensor switches the compressor on again.

So I guess the trick is to take the turkey out of the deep freeze, put all the food from the freezer compartment into the new space in the deep freeze, wedge the turkey into the freezer compartment, hit the defrost button, and pay attention, because as soon as the thaw is finished, the compressor will kick back in and freeze that bird all over again. Of course, if there's room for the bird in the fridge part, you're okay, and the sound of the compressor kicking in is just a handy signal that the thaw is complete.

I'll have to try that.

And then I'll have to cook the thing. Never cooked a turkey in my life.

Learn to do by doing, they say...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Common Life

I am home from the first weekend of a Common Life program at the Calling Lakes Centre. Yes, another program, another drive in our car. As Eleutheros says, "hang head, shuffle feet . . ."

I certainly notice the irony of travelling over two hours' drive away from my own community to become part of a dispersed community of people and thereby learn how to be in community. I notice the irony of sitting here wrestling with the right and wrong of all this, instead of getting all the carrots and beets and rutabagas that I dug last week properly stored away. I wonder again whether I could have made the trip to the Calling Lakes Centre by bicycle, and notice that if I had, I wouldn't even be home yet, and it would be mighty cold out there, pedalling into that fierce east wind.

I met a spinner. She wants to teach us hand-spinning. I asked if she had ever worked with nettle fibre, and the idea was new to her, but she had been planning to try flax. When I go to our next meeting, I hope to take along some nettle fibre, and see if she can teach me to spin it.

I laughed more than I have laughed in weeks.

There was very little top-down, teacher-student, giver-receiver stuff; just a framework and time to explore it and people to share the walking and climbing and puzzling and struggling and laughing and hugging and all that. Stuff that no amount of books or websites or good intentions have given me. Maybe once I learn to find and build these connections and live these practices in Common Life community, I will be better able to do the same here . . .

Or maybe I will be even farther out of step with my neighbours.

And even more excessively busy.

I got lost on the way home.

There was a towering cloud of smoke somewhere close to Heward. I could see it from several towns back, and as I got closer, I was sure I didn't want to drive through it. At Creelman I found a grid road angling east to pass upwind of it. Once I was on that road, I got thinking about the Gap, and how I'd love to drive through there. I started to glimpse the hills ahead, and thought I should be a bit farther south, to strike the little dirt road through the Gap. So when I came onto 47, I turned south for a few miles. When I turned east again, it was hilly enough that I couldn't see much of the road ahead. After a while it dwindled, but I kept hoping. When I topped a rise and saw trees in the distance, straight ahead where the road should be, I ignored that detail, hoping for a bend. And so the gravel gave way to a surface of stones and dirt, and ruts appeared, and I topped a sharper rise and saw my trail's end, next to a new oil well. Actually I could have continued, if I'd been willing to turn south on a wheeltrack in tall dry grass, but the Geo Metro has very little clearance, and I didn't want to risk a grass fire.

I backtracked onto good gravel, and found a southbound road, and then the next road east. It was delightful, dwindling and narrowing but carrying on, over little rises and through hollows, past native pastures on the rougher places, and up over one lonely little peak that gave a view of the whole low rolling area and the rampart of the Moose Mountains stretching along the northeastern horizon. As I drove on, an area of trees ahead began to look familiar, and the farmyard to the right began to look like one I knew, though I'd never seen it from this angle. Suddenly there was a large slough on my left, just north of the road, and I was startled to see it, because I knew I had spent hours on several occasions working outdoors just over the next ridge, without knowing the water was there. I hadn't even noticed that there was a ridge to hide anything.

But all this flashed through my mind in an instant, without capturing my attention, because on the water were seven swans, and on a bridge of ice across the middle was a bald eagle.

An unknown road, and seven swans and an eagle. Significant?

Wishful thinking?

I came out on the White Lake Road, several miles south of where I'd hoped to be. Knowing I'd add at least four miles to my trip, or maybe eight, I turned north to see the Gap.

There were survey stakes that looked to me like well centres for new oil wells, again and again along the roadside. I think there were half a dozen, almost all of them in native grassland, one in a low floodplain. And here I was taking a Sunday drive.

Could I give up driving?

Would it make any difference? Would it mean anything?

I turned onto another unknown road, one that I had often wondered about, and sure enough, it was a shortcut to the Gap. I passed a gravel pit and newly cultivated cropland, and hardly noticed the wild beauty of the looming hills on either side, the beauty that draws me back to that place. Before I knew it, I was through the Gap and on into Star Valley, noticing more new oil wells, and a drilling rig.

As I cruised down the paved road towards Kisbey, the cell phone rang, and I confessed that I'd got lost for a while, but I was on my way and would be home soon. On the highway again, I pushed the car up close to the speed limit. A huge red pickup truck with chrome grillework loomed behind me, crowding close. I thought about our "52MPG" license plate and wondered if he noticed it. At times like that I'm glad to be driving the speed limit, so they won't be thinking, "Yeah, sure you get 52MPG, when you're only doing 50!" The truck passed me, and as it pulled away ahead, I read the slogan in white letters on the black-tinted rear windows of the cab: "Save some OIL! Ride a RIGGER!"

Common Life? Here? There? Anywhere?

Seven swans and an eagle.

I don't know.

Friday, October 13, 2006


I think it had something to do with rainwater running down the path and puddling against the floating row cover, next to this root. Most of the others look more like purple-topped parsnips.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Chained to a Tree: the Powerless Environmentalist

Environmentalists have been sounding alarms in global terms since at least the 1960s. One might wonder how such an apocalyptic outcry can be sustained over nearly half a century. Is it only noise? If the dire predictions are true, where are the terrible effects? On the other hand, if this is all false scare-mongering, what keeps the environmentalists going at it?

If you take a more sympathetic view of environmentalism, this half century of alarms still presents a glaring question. If these are truly serious problems, and we know so much about them, why aren't they fixed yet?

I am at heart an environmentalist, having spent my formative years (in the 1970s) immersed in my parents' conservation and outdoor education activities. There was a "Conservation Confab" at Fort San, and I still remember the hilarity - and the sadness - in Bill Mason's "Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes," a film shown to us young folks while the adults did their boring sessions. Mom gave a presentation there about foods gathered from the wild (or something like that), and Dad was probably involved somehow as well. Then there was our family trip down through the western U.S., where Dad visited a series of wind power installations as part of his alternate-energy research for the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Regina. But more important than these occasional exciting ventures was my involvement in the day-to-day activities as my parents helped establish an outdoor education centre (Saskairie), learned to raise cattle, grew large gardens, gathered berries, hunted, canned and dried food, and designed and built a solar-heated and wind-powered home.

I grew up with a deep love of wild places, a simmering resentment against the imposed abstractions of straight roads and square fields, and at the same time, a humble awareness of the sources of my food and shelter. I was never drawn to environmental activism, seeing the problems not so much in industry or government as in individual choices. I preferred to believe that if all were aware, all would do much better.

I sought training in journalism, then changed course to solidify my scientific background in ecology before tackling the enlightenment of the masses. With growing doubts about the power of education to solve environmental problems, I drifted sideways into a geographical study of the way conservation practices spread among farmers. Degree in hand, and bitterly disappointed with my graduate school experience, I settled down to the meagre goal of getting a job that might do a bit of good.

I found work as an environmental consultant, did the best job I could, and waited for the day when my work might make a difference. There was more disappointment ahead.

In recent years, I have given up my idealistic career goals and worked in the environmental field only for the money, or for the sheer joy of being outdoors. Meanwhile, I have turned my quest inward. Reading, debating, and sifting through my own experiences, I have tried to understand what I see as the failure of environmentalism.

In the series of essays to follow, as I examine this failure, I hope to offer some explanation of how it happened, and even some glimpses of why. Ah, hope. There it springs again. I don't know where this writing might lead, what might come out of it, or who might respond with a new vision of a brighter future. I do know that a vision of my own is growing, but before I write about that, I first need to spell out my understanding of the darkness behind.

Table of Essays
These are proposed titles, to pique your interest perhaps, but mostly to jog my memory as I write. They may change. (For example, I may look at a title and fail to remember what it was about). As each essay is completed and posted, I will change its title to a link, so that you can read through the full series in sequence if you wish. Where they appear in this blog, essay titles in this series will be prefaced with the acronym "CTAT," a reference to the series title, "Chained to a Tree."

I'm Not Dead Yet
Walking the Walk
We Can't All Live That Way
Don't Be So Depressing
Every Little Bit . . . Helps?
The Corporate Line
The Government Line
"Sustainable Growth" and Other Mad Buzz
Environmentalism as Religion

Aside: if you're thinking I went straight from global drought to the failure of environmentalism without a pause to give thanks, be assured that I did spend some time this weekend in awe of the glorious gold of autumn aspens. As I said to my family, what kind of universe do we live in, that instead of a relentless slide from warmth and lush green to cold and bleak grey-and-white, we get a riot of red and gold backed by incredible blue? I don't care whether there's anyone to thank. I'll sing my thanks anyway, and whoever wants to hear, let them hear!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Global Drought

Well, adaptationists? How do you propose to deal with this?

I suppose all the extra deserts will provide plenty of room for extra refugee holding stations . . . and cemeteries . . .

I should stop reading the news.

Sand dunes are pretty, I suppose.

I like sandhills better, though. Drought turns sandhills into sand dunes. Sigh.

That reminds me, I have some pictures from our September mini-vacation to the Spruce Woods area in Manitoba. I should post those soon, just to lift my spirits. Yes.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Let the Sun Shine In

There's a new house in Arcola. Remember that vacant lot I wrote about last winter? Well, it's not vacant anymore.

It almost makes me wonder if somebody got worried that I would find some rare plant in there with the native grasses, and so they rushed to develop it. Seriously, folks, I'm not that concerned about rare plants (even though I do accept pay to go look for them sometimes).

I'm much more concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, and here we have a problem. They put this house in backwards! Those big windows are facing north. Not only that, but the two biggest windows are being expanded into even larger window bays.

Now, I'm happy to see an old house salvaged for a few more decades of use. This house was moved in from South Arcola, saving a lot of energy and material that would have been needed to build a new one. But just because it's old doesn't mean you have to live with high energy use. All they had to do was to face those windows south into the yard (which is a better view anyway, with grass and trees instead of a street), and they could have had some good solar gain to cut their winter heating costs.

Maybe they were worried about appearances, having the "front" door facing the back yard. I'd say nobody uses the front door anyway, so why worry about it? If the house were turned around, that side door would be right up close to the front. I think the house would have looked welcoming enough with a little deck at that side, steps down to the front yard, and some foundation plantings to soften the north wall.

But maybe they actually thought about the sun on those windows, and worried that the house would get too hot in summer. Maybe they heard the rumour about another house in Arcola, with a big sunroom, and how hot it gets.

If that house is turning people off passive solar heating, it's a sad thing. At this latitude, it's really very simple to have sun streaming in your windows in winter, and still keep the house shady and cool in summer. The solution is built right into the structure of the house, in the form of a long overhang. Here's how it works:

I've seen this work at my parents' house, with windows nearly floor to ceiling. In summer there is just a little strip of sunlight on the floor by the windows, and in winter, the rays fall all the way to the back wall of the room.

But so many houses get built backwards, just to have the picture window facing the front yard. My own house is backwards, and I keep plotting to turn its insides back to front. I have a plan. Now if I could just convince myself that it is a better plan than moving to a farm, I'd get on with it.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Time Passing

Yesterday was the fall/fowl supper, now held in Prairie Place Hall instead of the church basement. Much easier to organize, and wheelchair accessible, but some people miss the routine of sitting upstairs to wait your turn, then picking your way down the narrow winding back stairs, and finding out who would be sitting next to you or across from you at the long supper table in the basement. There was lots of deliberate visiting during the wait upstairs, and then random chance visiting with the people at your elbows during the meal. Nowadays, in the new hall, with all those tables of eight, people can sit with those they know, linger over coffee, and then leave with hardly a mingle.

I was signed up to help with cleanup, but it wasn't much of a job, because the tables were all left up for today's luncheon in honour of Joe Hengen. He passed away earlier this week. It was a shock to the whole community, because he was vigorous and active in everything - literally just about everything going, and more than just about any of us realized. He was 70, though, and had been living with heart problems for a long time, so I'd say he did very well. He was principal of our school when I was in elementary, and later mayor of the town, right up until a few years ago. He acted in the community theatre group, danced with the Scottish Country Dancers, took part in curling and lawn-bowling, sang with choirs, served on numerous boards and committees, and I'm sure he holds the community record for most events emceed. From the photo display at the luncheon, I learned that he was a recipient of the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal.

At the two events this weekend, I saw several people that I haven't seen in many moons, or even years. A neighbour from our first years here in the Arcola area, whose family made us welcome like no others did; and my piano teacher to whom I owe so much for the joy I find in music. Her husband was my English teacher in high school. Funny, when I thought about what to post on this blog today, the first thing that came to mind was a little poem I wrote in those years - one that he particularly praised.


watch my life ticking a-
way overdue

Too easy to be wrapped up in schedules and deadlines like that. In the long run, I guess it's not the deadlines met that matter so much as the times shared in between.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

CESD Report 2006

Today the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development released her much-awaited report for 2006, assessing the Canadian government's response to the challenge of climate change.

While politicians and bloggers are busy using it for mud-slinging, I thought you might be interested in looking at the report itself.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Autumnal Equinox

Here's something fun for today. I went looking for it after noticing, at around noon a few days ago, the striking appearance of the day-night boundary on the Seismic Monitor that Kate has displayed in her sidebar. I wondered if I could find a similar display without the earthquake data. I haven't found one to use as a constantly-updated sidebar icon, but I did find a page where you can look at Earth's areas of daylight and darkness, for any date and time you choose between 1700 and 2030.

Try looking at the light map for today's date, and then switching the month to June, and then to December.

A curious note from the text:
Because our atmosphere bends sunlight about a half-degree (60 km) into the area of the Earth that would otherwise be dark, the sunlit part of the Earth is slightly more than half of the entire surface (there is actually more than 12 hours of daylight at the equinoxes).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

For Sunday

A Prayer of Approach
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, September 24th, 2006

Mighty and merciful God,
you are the God
of darkness and of light,
of water and of dry land,
of creatures that creep and creatures that soar,
of creatures that swim and creatures that walk,
of the weak and of the strong,
of the least and of the greatest,
of the last and of the first.

You welcome all.

You call us all
to give our all in loving you
and to let the love we know ourselves
flow on to neighbour
after neighbour
after neighbour.
Help us to remember
that the child Jesus welcomes
is every child of your creation.

And remembering this,
in everything we do, everywhere we go,
may we share that welcome.
So may we welcome your son, Jesus,
and so, welcome you.


If You're Trekking to the North Pole...

...you might want to bring a dinghy.

More meltdown here.

Hello-o-o . . . Ottawa . . . Calgary . . . coffee row . . . Hello?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Thinking of Switching

All you Beta Bloggers out there - have you tried using the new "labels" function? Does it apply only to new posts, or can you go back and add labels to old posts - and if so, do you have to go into each post and republish it individually, or is there a way to do this in a batch?

I just noticed that I haven't updated my subject index since 2005/09 - yep, that's a year ago. I'd really like to give people a chance to look back through my thoughts on, say, climate change, but updating my subject index was always tedious and I just can't face doing a whole year's worth the old way.

By the way, my recent posts (June to September '06) on climate change are here:
Climate Change Is Good for Me - Part Two
Climate Change Is Good For Me
The Sporting Mind (2nd Edition)
Klein's Breath in the Grand Scheme of Things
Climate and Energy News Coming Thick and Fast
An Enormous Step Forward
Not for Gore's Sake, but for Your Sake (Updated)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Santa and the Stone Soup

Ruth had an assignment in art class, to write a children's story so that she could then illustrate it as a children's book.

She was not amused.

As an expression of her frustration, she wanted to kill Santa off in her story, but that was not very original, since she knows a fellow who actually did that, and got sent to the school counsellor for it.

(Now she's telling me she actually wanted to kill the Easter Bunny.)

In the end, she wrote something about a pink penguin, which wasn't all that original either, considering the song I used to sing to the kids when they were younger (Boom, boom...). "But," she says, "my penguin was a loner, because he was actually pink."

Anyway, back when we were still discussing the assignment, we did cook up a bit of a yarn about Santa. I asked Ruth if I could post it here, and she said "Sure - you're the one who made it up." Ummm - before you call the folks in the white coats, I insist, it wasn't all my idea.

Once upon a time, in a village far away, a great pot was set over a hot fire. The pot was filled with water, and a strange, quiet, happy man carefully lowered into the simmering water a single, plain-looking stone.

Curious villagers began to gather. First the youngsters came, their first timid steps giving way to bold rushes, and then to questions. Each time the man answered that he was making stone soup, and it would be very good. But each time he added that it would be even better if he had a little bit of this or that.

And the villagers came with their little bits of this and that, and each bit was solemnly added to the simmering water with the same strange look of quiet joy.

The joy spread, and grew noisy, and the pot bubbled, and the smell of the stone soup grew stronger and richer and spicier and sweeter and stronger still, and mounted to the sky.

And across that sky came the strangest thing yet: a sleigh borne aloft by some great magic, and pulled along by eight reindeer. Or was it nine? After the peculiar events of that evening, no-one could clearly remember. But they all remembered the jolly face of the rotund man in the sleigh, his white beard trailing in the breeze of his flight, his tall red cap tilted sideways too, and a look of pure pleasure on his features as he leaned far out to catch the smell of the stone soup. Farther and farther he leaned, straining his great bulk against the side panel of the sleigh, until all at once he tumbled over.

Down he fell, down, down towards the centre of the village. And it seemed that the soup pot had grown wondrously large, and the steam had grown fiercely thick and hot, and on its updraft the rotund fellow settled softly into the simmering water with hardly a plop, his face still suffused with rapture at the scent.

And all who tasted it agreed: it was a very good soup.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

For Today

Believers know that while our values are embodied in tradition, our hopes are always located in change.
William Sloane Coffin

Found in today's edition of Rumors.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Climate Change Is Good For Me - Part Two

Well, well. More evidence that climate change is a good thing.

Depending on how you look at it, of course. Is civilization a good thing?

I'm reading "The Alphabet Versus the Goddess" (which, strangely enough, I don't seem to have mentioned here before), and Shlain is discussing the same time period. I may have more to say later.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Be Patient - They Really Do Have Brains

I browse and blog; Mom watches TV and passes tips on to me. With this one, I believe she has in mind the survival of her grandchildren. Now, I'm not talking about vague, hypothetical grandchildren surviving an ecological crisis. I'm talking about those two specific grandchildren of my mother that happen to live with me, and their chances of surviving their own adolescence and its effects on me.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Climate Change Is Good For Me

They've extended the ice-core record back to 800,000 years, and still no challenge to our modern triumph: the highest atmospheric CO2 levels in the entire record! And beyond! Way beyond! Hooray for civilization!

I did a Blogger blogs search for reaction to this news, and found Tim Denton's cheery response, as well as an even cheerier post of his from a couple of days ago, in which he has the arrogance to suggest that (gasp) humans may be contributing to global warming! But wait - his arrogance goes even further: he is so certain about the future of Earth's climate, he can assure us that this anthropogenic global warming is a good thing. The larger trend is global cooling, you see, so this warming event is a pretty fine human accomplishment.

I'm so relieved. But, Mr. Denton, I have such a long habit of worrying, please excuse me, but I still have a couple of questions.

How do you know we're increasing the CO2 at the correct rate? I mean, sure, it's colder now than it has been at various times in the past 15,000 years, but how do you know just exactly how much higher the CO2 should be now than it was then, to correct for the mystery factor that's been making it colder? Wait a minute, I'm confused. I thought you said that the global warming hypothesis doesn't fit the facts, and you mentioned those warmer times . . . Were you saying that there is no link, after all? But then, how can you say that our global warming is good?

Oh dear. I wanted to believe your good news. Give me a minute to spell out the implicit points of your argument here, and see if I can understand it.

During time period A (shortly after the last ice age), temperatures were higher than they are today.
During time period A, CO2 levels had not been significantly elevated by humans.
Therefore, CO2 levels being elevated by humans did not cause the high temperatures of time period A.
Therefore we should not expect CO2 levels to have any significant effect on temperatures.

Umm, Mr. Denton. Isn't that argument analogous to this one:

Car A was in an accident.
Car A was not travelling over the speed limit.
Therefore travelling over the speed limit did not cause Car A's accident.
Therefore we should not expect speed to have any significant effect on car accidents.

I'm sure you'll agree with me that this argument is false. So, now I can happily accept your larger argument, that CO2 is leaching out of the atmosphere causing global cooling, and humans came up with their Industrial Revolution just in time to turn this around. Maybe, to clear up your minor confusion about the global warming hypothesis, you'll be glad to hear my alternative interpretation of those earlier warm times. You see, things moved slower then. CO2 levels increased and decreased over centuries and millenia, instead of just decades. So you see (I hope you're following this), it could be that the current temperature just hasn't caught up to the current CO2 level. If I may be so bold, I'd say we have only barely begun to see the scope of our accomplishment here. We're going to set that global cooling trend back a lot more yet! Good news, I know.

But I'm such a worrywort, Tim, my friend. What if - what if it's true what I hear, that the sun is kind of slowing down and giving us less light and warmth, and - what's that you say? Oh, yes, I know, that makes global warming a good thing, but, but - what if we're doing it all too fast, kind of like burning up your whole firewood supply in the first few days of winter? What if we run out of carbon-based fossil fuels before this solar dimming spell turns around, and then - oh dear, I hate to think of it - and then we don't have all that petroleum to fuel our economy to keep the research going to find another solution - oh please, Mr. Denton, tell me you've got this all figured out.

Oh, I'm freaking out here. Let me take a break, go for a walk, breathe deeply . . .

Ah, that's better. Now, you'll be happy to hear that I can be an optimist too. I just realized that I've been worrying too much about this whole thing. I really was wrong to think that human activity could disrupt natural cycles so badly. Sure, CO2 levels are way outside their natural range for the past 800,000 years. The way I see it, we've moved them so fast that the temperature has barely begun to catch up. But here's the good news. The temperature may never catch up! We're about to run out of cheap oil (if we haven't already), but we're still very determined to burn it as fast as we can, so it's probably only a few more decades - or years, even - before oil is suddenly ridiculously expensive, and our CO2 emissions will drop like a stone. We won't run out of oil, but as soon as we run out of cheap oil, our economy will collapse and we'll leave lots of oil in the ground. Fertilizer will become ridiculously expensive; food production will plummet; people will die and be buried and thus create billions of little carbon sinks; forests will spring up on the abandoned farmland; and lo, the crisis will be over. We could have been cautious and tried to conserve our fossil fuels and spread this CO2 peak over a few centuries, but no, we made it a harmless little blip.

The Earth will go back to its 40-million-year-old cooling trend, moving slowly enough for us to adapt, research or no research.

And it's all thanks to you and your friends! You climate-change skeptics have been so effective with your bold rallying cries (Damn the tornadoes! . . . go ahead . . . full speed!) that you've completely foiled the dangerous plot of the petroleum conservationists. You knew that we might get all worried about Peak Oil, and actually tackle it successfully, so you created a wonderfully clever diversion with all the noise about climate change. You had us all looking very nearly straight at the scary short-term problem, but not quite. And so we missed it, and it will play out as it should, and in the long run, the world will be safe.

Oh, Mr. Denton, you're my hero.