Category Archives: 2018 Trip to Ottawa

Anthropocene

 

 

Dandora landfill in Nairobi

We visited a second exhibit at the National Gallery in Ottawa. This was very different from the first one that displayed works by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries. This one did not have beautiful art. Or rather it did, but in a weird way.

The exhibit featured amazing works of photography by Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier using a variety of techniques and technologies. Their works are stunning, but  deeply disturbing, and that is what good art should do. It should disturb us. These 3 artists ask us to consider the environmental and ethical issues involving the exploitation of Earth’s resources by one species—Homo sapiens.

The exhibit included about 30 new enormous photographic prints and high definition murals as well as film installations. The title of the exhibit is Anthropocenea concept I have been interested in for a number of years. The concept arises from an important but little understood fact: Human beings now affect the Earth and its processes more than all other natural forces combined.

This word has recently been invented. I wish it had not occurred to anyone that this word was needed. The word is anthropocene.  It refers to the fact that humans have had such a profound influence on the planet that the era we are now in needs a name to reflect that.  That word is anthropocene.

The word is closely associated to another word—anthropogenic.  This word also refers to profound planetary forces that have a human origin.  We created these forces.  And many of these forces are not benign.  Far from benign in fact.  Malignant would be much closer to the truth in many cases.

In the spring of 2013 Christiane and I visited Africa. It was a marvelous experience. Never have we seen wild life that. We were astounded when we safaried into our first African ‘Game’ Park. That was Chobe National Park in Botswana. It is not the park with the most wildlife in Africa. That privilege probably belongs to the Serengeti.  Yet we were completely stunned by the amount of wild life we saw that day.  We saw large numbers of elephants, giraffes, gazelles, impalas, hippopotami, crocodile and water buffalo as well as small numbers of many other animals.  Of course we saw many species of birds as well.  It was one of the most exciting days of my life.  We had never seen anything like it in North America.

Yet North America used to be like that. It is hard for us to believe.  200 to 300 years ago the Great Plains of North America resembled the plains of the Serengeti.  It has been estimated that some 30 million to 60 million animals were found on the Great Plains of North America.  These included the American bison and pronghorn antelope in the millions. They roamed freely across about 500,000 sq. mi. of land between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi. That is difficult for us now to comprehend. It is difficult because most of those animals were slaughtered—deliberately slaughtered. Now it seems incomprehensible that we could do that. But we did. Our species did that. This destruction was anthropogenic. We were the cause. Destruction on such a vast scale beggars our imagination.

The epoch we are currently living is called the Holocene epoch.  It started 11,700 years ago. In geological terms that means this current epoch has barely begun. Yet already, some scientists are saying we need to declare that the Holocene epoch is over and  a new one has begun–the Anthropocene.

Epochs are marked by momentous events–like Ice Ages. Usually they have lasted millions of years. For example the epoch that preceded the one we are now in, The Pliocene or Pleiocene  Epoch is the epoch in the geologic timescale that extended from about 5.333 million to 2.58 million years before present. It lasted about 2.8 million years and was by no means the longest.

Originally it was thought that the Holocene epoch would begin during the last Ice Age and then end when a new Ice Age started.  That would make the Holocene an interglacial period between an experiencedice age and an anticipatedice age. During this period the climate has been relatively stable and this has allowed Homo sapiens to dominate the earth.  Yet recently many scientists have become convinced that this traditional analysis is no longer accurate.  They believe that over the last 200 years, or since the time of the Industrial Revolution, the impact of this one species has been so great that an entirely new geological age has been ushered in—the Anthropocene, or Age of Man.

According to British geologist Jan Zalasiewicz there is now a widespread belief among Earth and environmental scientists that changes created by human activities are now so great that they rival some of the great forces of nature that have in the past so altered the planet that at least 5 mass extinctions of species have occurred since the planet was created 4.56 billion years ago.

Think about this concept for a minute. This means that the consequence of activities of our species, are so enormous that we compare to the effects caused by an asteroid smashing into the planet about 65 million years ago that killed more than half of the species on the planet. According to this view our actions are so profound that the stability of the Holocene epoch has been disturbed to such an extent that the very life support systems that have nurtured and favored our species. How is that possible?

Scientists believe that so far there have been 5 major extinctions. the most  massive extinction was the Permian Extinction that occurred about 600 million years ago and  changed the nature of the planet forever.  It was probably the most extensive extinction ever.  It led to the extinction of 95% of life on our planet!

This extinction ended that Permian world. The cause of this extinction is not universally agreed upon. Some have suggested that massive volcanic forces inside the earth led to massive eruptions that poisoned the atmosphere and oceans so much that 95% of all species died. Other causes have been suggested but all of them are on the order of magnitude of what we call forces of nature. No pipsqueak can change the world’s climate.

To think that our actions are being compared to these massive destructive natural forces is stupefying. Yet that is exactly what some scientists are now doing. This is a disconcerting thought, but on this basis, our species isthe greatest serial killer of other species that the earth has ever seen.

Andrew Miall, a professor at the University of Toronto described this well,

Deforestation, agriculture, increase in erosion, the pumping of all kinds of artificial things into the hydrosphere; all these phosphates and nitrates going into the river systems (so that) we now have this huge dead zone in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico because of all the agricultural chemicals that have gone down there. These are all undeniable effects.  There is no point in trying to evade it. To call this now the Anthropocene epoch would certainly crystallize that concept. It does seem that a number of scientists have started to use the term

How have we—one species—been able to have such a profound effect on the planet? According to William Marsden,

Scientists say the principal agents of this change are the machinery of the industrial age and its chemical toxins. Modern mining, urbanization, forestry, agriculture and fishing practices have refashioned both the terrestrial landscape and continental shelves. Toxic pollutants are changing weather patterns, warming oceans, increasing their acidity and raising sea levels.

Scientists say that there are already clear and distinct geological markers of this human impact that are clearly visible in the atmosphere and sedimentary rock as well as discerned changes to our weather patterns.

This impact has been felt in not just species extinctions, but species invasions.   According to Jan Zalasiewicz, “the CO2increase associated with global warming and ocean acidification—this is large in scale and probably unprecedented in its speed.”

The idea that we have created our very own geological age has been around for decades, but the effort to formalize this notion began with a scientific paper by Paul Crutzen in 2002. He is the scientist who received the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1995 for his work on the effects of ozone in the atmosphere. He is a respected  scientist.

Scientists like Crutzen treat our actions as equivalent to a geological phenomenon that caused some of the greatest events in the Earth’s deep past.  They also make it clear that the driving force for the global changes we are undergoing is human behavior, particularly in the social, political and economic sectors.

There is not yet general agreement about when the Anthropocene began. Some say it started with the start of the Industrial Revolution that began in about 1800.  At that time in England a rapid transformation of English society from a predominantly rural agricultural one to an urban society began. This spread throughout Europe and from there to North America.

It was during this time that the concentration of carbon dioxide started to rise above the 278 parts per million (‘ppm’) that had helped to stabilize the planet so favorably throughout the Holocene. By 1900 the levels of CO2in the atmosphere had reached 300 ppm.  We have now gone above 400 ppm, even though scientists warned a few years ago that it would be “dangerous “for us to allow it to go over 350 ppm. We are now well beyond that. We are in the danger zone.

Other scientists believe that the Anthropocene started later at about the end of the Second World War.  Some have called this the period of great Acceleration. During this time the human population doubled to more than 6 billion people.  During this time the number of automobiles grew to 700 million from 40 million, people began to abandon agriculture as a way of life, the use of fertilizers rose to 300 million tonnes a year from about 50 million tonnes while CO2expanded to 390 ppm from 311 ppm.

Most of the Grand Acceleration was powered by Western countries, but new emerging economies like China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa all had an important impact too. Greenhouse gas emissions have exploded exponentially.  Coal use rose sharply, but 90% of the recent increase in the use of coal—a primary cause of increased greenhouse gas emissions—can be attributed to India and China alone.

What does all this mean?  According to William Marsden,

Some scientists believe a formal recognition that mankind is now the most powerful force of nature on the planet will help draw the world’s attention to the damage mankind is causing to the Earth’s life support systems.

A paper of the Royal Society published in 2011 says, “The ultimate drivers of the Anthropocene, on the other hand, if they continue unabated through this century may well threaten the  viability of contemporary civilization and perhaps even the future existence of Homo sapiens.” This is the consequence of modern industry, mining, urbanization, forestry, agriculture, and fishing activities. Pollutants are filling the air and water and soil with toxins. All of these human activities are refashioning the earth. They are changing the game. We have a lot that we are responsible for.

The photographic display we saw explored the effects of human activity on the planet in artworks that are amazing, horrible, and in some weird way beautiful. Bringing us images of places such as the enormous Dandora landfill in Nairobi, massive log booms on Vancouver Island, and the Gotthard Base railway tunnel in the Swiss Alps, among many others. Collectively these works show us the pervasive and complex repercussions of our modern way of life. It is disturbing to look at. It should be disturbing. What are we doing?

The Group of 7

 

The Tangled Garden by J.E.H. MacDonald

I love art. I love it a lot.  But I don’t know if understand it. At least not very much. I wish I did. Of course ignorance of a subject has rarely stopped me from commenting, as readers of this blog no too well? So why start now? I have tried to learn more about art, ever since I watched the BBC television series Civilization written and narrated by Kenneth Clark. I have visited art galleries around the world and have tried to educate myself about art.. In Ottawa we visited the National Gallery. It is an immense gallery and it is never possible to see it all. One must be selective.

         We opted to see 2 exhibits. One a temporary exhibit on the Anthropocene. I will comment on that later. The other was an exhibit of art of the Group of Seven and their contemporaries from the permanent collection.

I wanted to see the Group of 7 exhibit, even though I had seen it before, because it felt to alive to me as a result of travelling through so much of the countryside where they did much of their painting.

I have always had a soft spot for the Group of Seven.  The group was started by 7 artists who thought of themselves as revolutionaries in art. They wanted to paint Canada in a Canadian style.  When they first announced themselves as a group Toronto art critics were largely indignant. They wanted a style that was appropriate to and born out of Canada.

In particular the Group of Seven was fond of and attached to the Canadian landscape in and around Algonquin Park and the Georgian Bay area.  Ever since I first travelled there I felt the same way.  It often seemed like my spiritual home.

The painting above of the Tangled Garden by J.E.H. MacDonald the senior member of the group is one of the most famous in Canada. It was quite controversial when first revealed in 1916 because it was a painting of what was considered a prosaic subject and it was painting on  a large canvas. One critic called it “a huge tomato salad.”

 

The Canadian Encyclopedia described the group this way, “With their bright colours, tactile paint handling, and simple yet dynamic forms, the Group of Seven transfigured the Canadian Shield, the dense northern boreal forest, and endless lakes into a transcendent spiritual force.”

I believe this painting was created by Lawren Harris who is probably my favourite of the Group.  I really admired this painting. The Canadian artists realized that the light on a cold Canadian winter day reflecting from the giant reflector under their feet—the snow covered ground—was very different from the light on a warm day in the south of France.  They had to learn how to display such differences in their art. They could not just copy the French artists they admired. They needed a Canadian art. I loved the way the brilliant white snow in the background lake is so different than the foreground snow which is more dull. What is more Canadian than snow?


North Shore, Lake Superior

This is probably my favourite work of art by the Group of 7 and not just because we had driven around the north shore of the lake on our way to Ottawa (though that helped.  I love the stark and simple landscape and how the art is not really representational. Sort of an early abstract work of art on a brilliant and dark day on the world’s largest lake. What could be more Canadian than this?

We had a great day in National Gallery. More Canadians should see how their tax dollars are spent.

Mosaïculture

My brother-in-law Norm took Chris and I together with his partner Monique and their daughter  Margo to Mosaïculture.  This is an international horticultural event being shown for the second year in Gatineau Quebec.  The display contains 45 larger-than-life plant sculptures on a stunning 1km loop on the banks of the Ottawa River overlooking the Parliament buildings on the Ontario side. The exhibit uses 5.5 million plants as part of 45 sculptures.

Mosaïculture is upping the floral ante. Last year’s run saw three million plants, while this year, more than 5.5 million will sprout across the park. The number of plant-based sculptures has also grown to 45 from 33.

The astounding artistic display weds nature, culture, and horticulture in which the plants are designed a sculpted to appear like objects of art. For example they display a lobster fisherman, 3 ships from France, Bill Reid’s famous killer shale, snowy owls, polar bear, a howling wolf, bison, voyageurs, Glenn Gould’s piano, the 1972 hockey summit, Wisakedjakand the creation of the world through indigenous religion, the raven and the moon masks by  a Haida artist, and many others.

 

Chinese dragons

 

Mother Earth

To me the most interesting sculpture was of Mother Earth as described in North American indigenous belief systems together with the  legend of Aataentsic who is really the same being portrayed as Gaia in Greek mythology, Terra Mater in Roman myth, and Mahimata in Hindu beliefs, Pachamama among  South American indigenous peoples, among others. It is really the same idea expressed by different cultures. The sculpture of Mother Earth was inspired by the speech that Chief Seattle gave when he met American President Pierce and it captures the fundamental belief of many North American indigenous people that we are all part of the earth and inseparable from it. If this is true, as they, and I too for that matter, then it has profound importance for our relationship with nature and our environmental obligations which take on a spiritual impulse.

 

Tree of Birds

There was another outstanding creation: the Tree of Birds which featured 56 endangered avian species from around the world. Chris and I were photographed in front of this sculpture.

 

 

 

Algonquin Park

 

Algonquin Provincial Park is a provincial park located between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River.  The park was created in 1893, the first in Canada. It is pretty big.  Currently it has about 7,653 square kilometres (2,955 sq. mi), which is about one and half times the size of Prince Edward Island or a quarter the size of Belgium. Sadly a number of highways crisscross the park.

The park is a transition between the northern coniferous forest (boreal) and the southern deciduous forest. This permits the park to sustain a wide variety of plants and animal species. The park was designated as a Historic Site in 1992.

The park has attracted many important figures over the decades including Tom Thomson and other members of the Group of Seven, an informal group of Canadian artists. Thomson did some guiding in the park and of course, painting.  Some of his famous paintings were created here including The Jack Pine and The West Wind among others.

He died under mysterious circumstances at Canoe Lake in 1917near to where we drove today.  Margot has been reading a book that attempts to explain that death.

Not all travel days are stellar

Mattawa Ontario

The fall colours were just staring to emerge in much of Northern Ontario.

After our days travel, we obtained a room at the a small motel  in South River Ontario a short drive south of North Bay Ontario. This was not the wisest choice of lodging we ever made. Our only excuse was that we were tired of driving and wanted to stop and this was the only inn in South River. This Inn gave a new meaning to the expression “modest Inn.”  If I was not a firm believer that suffering is a prerequisite for spiritual enlightenment, I might have complained. Instead I chose to suffer in silence.

The owner/concierge was a pleasant individual who was eager to secure our business. Nothing wrong with that. The office had a strongly unpleasant odor of curry. At least it was unpleasant to us. He probably liked it. The room was Spartan. No that was giving it too much credit. It had one lonely chair, as many hotel rooms do. The refrigerator had a tray of ice but no one had put water in it. And we needed a debriefing drink badly. The owners assured us that his ice-maker could make us ice cubes in 30 minutes. That proved to be a falsehood. In fact we never got ice from him. When I came to pick up the ice the owner sent his teenage boy to deliver the bad news. As a result we had to savour our drinks without ice.

The owner recommended we dine at Antonio’s Grille. Again the only restaurant in town. The ambience of this restaurant consisted in us watching trucks fill up with gasoline, as the restaurant was attached to a gas bar. We dined next to 2 elderly gentlemen who did not exchange one word during their entire meal. Chris and I both ordered Ground sirloin steak. The name was definitely misleading. It was merely hamburger steak. The vegetables looked like they had been defeated in a battle with some wet noodles.

I was deflated by the meal, but In fairness, let me point out that Chris dissents from the opinions given here. She liked the motel and the meal. Go figure.

My conclusion was that not all travel days are stellar. Now where was the enlightenment?

 

People are entitled to the presumption of innocence and Judges should not be rapists or harassers

The recent hearings in the US Senate to consider and decide whether or not Brett Kavanaugh should be confirmed as a judge on the US Supreme Court exposed some of the glaring weaknesses in the American system of judicial appointments to that nation’s highest court. Remember that judges are appointed for life and can have a profound effect on many social issues of great importance. Issues such as the right of women to an abortion, or the rights of a foetus, the rights of gays and lesbians, and countless other important issues. No doubt America should put the best people on that court.

In criminal law there is an expression, ‘better to let 10 guilty criminals off than send 1 innocent person to prison.’ That is acceptable in a criminal court.  Is that the appropriate principle to other important decisions? Not always I would suggest. No one in his or her right mind would say, ‘Better to have 10 rapists as judges than decline one innocent candidate.’

The problem of course is what should the decision makers do when the evidence is not certain or all the facts are not in? That can be difficult. Did the American Senate get it right?

What are people to do when all the evidence is not in? In a criminal court it is clear. The court cannot convict unless it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty.  If the judge or jury decides the case is not certain, a verdict of not guilty is required. That is as it should be. But what about other circumstances? What about outside the criminal court?

I think environmental law has found a workable solution.  It is called the precautionary principle. This means that decision makers should act to prevent harm when it is within our power to do so, even when all the evidence is not in. For example, if someone proposes to install a petroleum pipeline that might or might not lead to environmental contamination should the pipeline be approved or not? This principle requires that the pipeline which might cause great harm, only be approved if the persons who wants it gives reasonable credible evidence that it is safe to do so.

If it is not certain whether a particular course of action will create harm or not, as for example when the existing scientific evidence is unclear or uncertain about whether it will lead to serious harm or not, the precautionary principle imposes an obligation on the proponent of the  course of action, such as a pipeline, to prove that it will not lead to harm until further evidence makes it clear that the harm can be averted. In other words, policy makers are required to protect the public when there is a reasonably plausible possibility that a particular action will cause harm.  The decision makers can and should act to do this even it is not certain that the action will lead to harm. These protections can only be relaxed when further sound evidence makes it clear that no harm will result. The onus of proof is on the proponent to establish a lack of harm. Not the other way around.I think the American Senate ought to have been guided by such thinking in the case of Judge Kavanaugh.

In the case of the Senate hearings both the complainant Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the proposed judge, Kavanaugh made plausible cases in support of their position. Kavanaugh came on strong and made a forceful defence against the allegations. On the other hand, Ford was clearly credible too. She made some inconsistent statements about what happened 36 years ago, but it would have been suspicious if that were not the case. I would say it was not certain beyond a reasonable doubt who was right.

The Senate appointed Judge Kavanaugh on the basis, I believe, that Dr. Ford’s  allegations were not proven. I think the Senate put the onus of proof on the wrong person. It should have said, Kavanaugh must prove he was innocent on a balance of probabilities, not on beyond a reasonable doubt.

Ford’s testimony might not have led to a conviction in a criminal trial, but it certainly was enough to reject him as a judicial candidate for a lifetime position to the highest court in the land. The public should not be required to accept a candidate as tainted as Kavanaugh, even though he might be innocent, because the public should be protected from the immense harm he might inflict on the public as a result of his lifetime appointment unless he could first prove that he was worthy.

Judge Kavanaugh was right when he called the hearing a national disgrace but not for the reasons he said so. It is a disgrace when the weighing of judicial appointments becomes a pure partisan game on both sides. It is a disgrace when an alleged sexual assault victim becomes a pawn in a political game. It is not a disgrace when an unworthy candidate is rejected for high judicial office when on a balance of probabilities, even if not beyond a reasonable doubt,  it is clear that he is wholly unsuitable for that office.

I would put it this way: If you were on the board of your local school division would you hire Brett Kavanaugh to be a janitor for the school? Not me.

Autumn

 

Everyone should experience the magic of autumn in the Eastern deciduous forests of North America. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world. The incredible variety of colors of the changing leaves is astonishing. That variety is produced by the great variety of trees in the east. In the west we are much more accustomed to the boreal forest where the trees are mainly coniferous and do not change color or shed. There are also much less varieties of trees.

Whenever I see the impossible beauty of autumn, I think of that French existentialist thinker, Albert Camus, said, “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” That is probably why autumn is my favorite season. Until recently I was always a little leery of autumn. I think it was because I knew what came next–winter. I never wanted to think about that. I dreaded winter. In the last few years we have largely escaped winter by travelling to the southwestern United States where winter is much more tolerable. Again, this year I am looking forward to the dead of winter to escape it. In the meantime I want very much to enjoy autumn. On this trip we certainly did that.

Rocks and Trees

Rocks and Trees and waterfalls in the Canadian Shield

Often when we tell people that we are headed to the east people ask, “Why would you do that?  All you will see are rocks and trees and more rocks and more tree.” Then often, they add, “Boring!”  I would say if you think Northwestern Ontario is boring that you are probably boring.

Shortly after heading east down the Trans-Canada Highway we saw evidence of something that intrigues me.  That is the Canadian Shield. I kept thinking about this as I travelled east.  I love to see it, but my viewing pleasure is enhanced by what I have learned about this astonishing Canadian Shield.

We experienced snow on day 1 and 2 of our trip to the east

When I was at the Grand Canyon we were amazed that the oldest rocks at the bottom of the canyon  were 1.7 billion years old. That seemed like a lot, but those rocks are youngsters compared to the rocks in the Canadian Shield!

The shield contains some of the oldest rocks on the planet.  Many are 2 billion years old. Some are nearly 4 billion years old! The Shield goes well beyond Canada’s borders. Nearly 2/3 of North America is part of the shield.  It stretches from the Arctic to Mexico.

To geologists rocks seem to be alive since they tell us so much about where we and our world came from.  The earliest mountains on our planet are about 3.9 billion years old. The continents of our planet  have always been migratory. They travel like rafts on the surface of the earth. This is part of the system of tectonic plates. When continental plates collide parts of one plate can be added to the other. This is referred to as continental accretion. The plate tectonic process began soon after the earth was created. The Shield was assembled over billions of years. Since then many successive mountain ranges have been created and worn down over deep time. As a result geologists often look for ghosts of ancient mountain ranges. The Shield is one of these ghosts–the worn down stumps of very old mountains.

Colliding continents created immense volcanic activity which in turn created many rocks including  gneiss.  Gneiss is a highly metamorphosed rock that is composed of distinct bands of alternating pinkish granitic rock and darker more iron rich rock. It is very common in Canada. This rock shows the intense deformation of rock that occurred at great depths under the surface of the planet when crustal rocks collided to create the crustal mosaic that constitutes the oldest part of our country.  Where it is now exposed at the surface over large parts of the country these rocks are evidence of deep erosion of mountains and the removal of vast volumes of rock over the millions of years that followed these collisions creating a relatively flat Shield surface with which we are familiar.  The rocks we see are often the very deep roots of what were at one time very high mountains.  Contemplating such immense erosion gives one a profound sense of the power of time.

Gneiss is produced when 2 plates squeeze against each other and the igneous rocks are heated to extreme temperatures as a result of the friction and the pressures are enough to create mountains. The rock at that point is as soft as toothpaste.  The heat is so intense and so extreme that rocks are dehydrated  and produce water streaming from a burning rock.  The rock that is forced out is mineralized water.

Even though the Canadian Shield contains some of the oldest rocks on the planet, from time to time sojourner rocks have arrived from far off places. Some of these have even arrived from other worlds. For example, at Sudbury about 1.8 billion years ago a meteorite rocked the earth, digging deep beneath the surface at that time to create what we now call the Sudbury Basin.  The Basin is so deep it can be seen from space.

The force of that blow was awesome.  In fact it exceeded the force of all of our nuclear weapons combined!  The Sudbury Basin close to where we travelled is the second largest known impact crater on our planet. It is 62 km long and 30 km and 15 km deep.  To consider the force that created such an impact is a humbling task. Railway engineers who were constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway discovered it accidentally in 1885.   Another surprise meteoric visitor from outer space created the crater that later filled with rock. We now call that crater West Hawk Lake.

The last two million years in the Shield have produced great fluctuations in climate. From time to time, this generated massive continental ice sheets that came and went over the continent wearing down mountains, depositing rock materials, and retreating again, only to arise again later.  The changes created by these forces were also awesome.  These ice sheets were HUGE.  Imagine ice sheets 2 km. deep above where we were driving. It really was difficult to comprehend.

I love these little islands of rocks and trees

         My friends probably think I’m nuts, but I was thinking about such things as we drove through the Shield. It is much more than rocks and trees.

Castle in the Forest

https://www.dropbox.com/s/6tspb5b7ry8cq8j/Screenshot%202018-10-03%2008.21.45.png?dl=0

White Otter Castle

 

Outside our Motel in Atikokan –the White Otter Inn–where we spent the first night on our trip to Ottawa we saw a display of an extravagant castle in the forest. This is a photograph of it I found on the Internet. We learned that the motel was named after that castle–the White Otter Castle. The castle deep in the north woods of northwest Ontario that can only be reached by boat or plane is an amazing 3-storey log house built by James Alexander “Jimmy” McOuat on the shores of White Otter Lake. Like any self-respecting castle it has a turret extends 41 ft. above the 3 storeys. McQuat built the castle by himself starting in 1905 and finished it in 1915.  Clearly he was another man with passion. He felled the red pines all by himself in order to complete construction. If you are not familiar with red pines they are Manitoba’s and Ontario’s version of the California Redwoods. McQuat’s grave is beside the castle. The castle was falling into disrepair though recently restored.

According to a brochure in our Inn the castle is “a symbol of man’s triumph over nature.”  I am not so sure. Although it has been restored,  I think it is a symbol of nature’s triumph over man. As the saying goes, nature always bats last. We’ll have to see who is right.

 

Travel Sluts

There is little doubt that Chris and I are travel sluts. We have already traveled this year from Arizona to Manitoba by way of Utah, Iceland, and now to Ottawa. After the last trip, we were so tired we thought we would not travel again for quite a while. Well, it is less than 3 months since we got home and we are off again. Yes, we are travel sluts.

So what is a travel slut? It is a person who is promiscuous about his or her travel desires and is willing to travel without a lot of courtship or foreplay. We took this trip without much forethought. The opportunity arose and we took. Surely that is a travel slut.

I had a narrow 2-week window of opportunity between teaching engagements with the Manitoba Real Estate Association. That was a window that had to be filled. Hence here we are meandering toward the nation’s capital in the autumn. Ready for the best and the worst.