Category Archives: Nature

Disorderly Divine

 

 

 

When Chris and I were in Arizona 2 years ago we heard a series of lectures at Arizona State University by a professor from Oxford, Jonathan Bate,  on the subject of “How the Humanities can save the world.” I found them fascinating and have meant to blog about those lectures. Must do that soon.One day Bate  discussed a little known poet by the name of John Clare who Bate says is the most important poet of nature in the UK.  Even though he is not well know.

John Clare was an English poet and the son of a farm labourer, who became known for his celebrations of the English countryside and his deep sadness at its disruption. Like me, he hated to see the commons desecrated. He hated to see the ecosystems of flowers and community disturbed.

 

Clare was not very well known or respected until the 20th century when many started to realize that he was one of the most important poets of the 19th century. Perhaps poets like Clare can help the Humanities save the planet.

He can do that because he points, however vaguely to a new attitude to nature. I have blogged a little bit about that but again must do more. I must return to this subject as soon as I can relegate politics to the backhouse where it belongs

One of Clare’s poems which Bate talked about was “Autumn” in which Clare describes the changing of the seasons:

Thy pencil dashing its excess of shades,

Improvident of waste, till every bough

Burns with thy mellow touch

Disorderly divine.

I love that idea. Autumn leaves evince the disorderly divine. Perhaps what we need to save the planet is the disorderly divine. Perhaps that is what the Humanities can give to us. That’s a lot.

This was the Day the Lord had made

 

This was a magnificent autumn day at Buffalo Point. It was Thanksgiving Weekend and we had a lot to be thankful for. We got together with our two sons Nick and Pat who live in Manitoba and one daughter in law, Debbi, and 2 grandchildren, Nolan and Stella. They were all healthy and fully employed.

 

We interpreted Manitoba laws to allow a small gathering. We figured 7 was small, but had tinges of guilt and fear. Just a little.

 

 

 

The blue skies were extravagant and the yellows were sharp. In Manitoba we had few reds. That is a pity, but the colours were still sensational. I  went walk to take photos of the autumn leaves.

 

Astonishingly when I went for a walk I strolled toward the golf course to admire autumn leaves in brilliant foliage. Much to my surprise I met some of my old golfing buddies who I used to golf with regularly before I became a recovering golfer.

Can you imagine that they would waste the time golfing on such a beautiful day? It seems absurd but it was true. What cretans. I must search for a better class of friends. Some who might appreciate truth and beauty.

My mother used to always quote to me a passage from the Bible. “This is the day the lord has made.” She wanted us to read it at her funeral. And we did. This was such a day.

 

Autumn Magic

 

Autumn is my favourite time of the year to travel. It might even be my favourite time of the year.

This year I sadly confess I nearly missed it . As a nearly retired guy who works only a little bit, this should not have happened. I let one file of mine interfere with my nice quiet life. My grand daughter Nasya was right when she told me, “Opa you suck at retirement.” Harsh words but children tell you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it.

Maple leaves are the prize of autumn. We don’t really have them in Manitoba other than a few scattered spots. That is a dreadful pity. I know a stop just across the border in Ontario where I try to go at least once each autumn. This year it was very disappointing. Most of the regular spots were barren of maple leaves. I don’t know if I was too later or too early or it was just not a good year.

I did find a couple of trees but most in some places I deemed not very photographic. At least I could not capture them there. So I concentrated on finding them on the ground or rock instead. As some sage said, when the world gives you lemons make lemonade.

 

I always associate autumn with the last part of life. Maybe that is why I appreciate it even more now. The end of life; I am there now. The spectacular beauty; I am not there. Sad.

I believe maple leaves are the prize of autumn. I did not find many, but I did find beauty. It was worth the trip.

Searching for Orchids

 

 

Recently I  went on what might be my last botany trip for a while, as Chris went to  the hospital  for hip replacement surgery and after she is released I became her manservant. So I chose to go to one of my favourite places, The Brokenhead Ecological Reserve just north of the Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation with whom Native Orchid Conservation Inc. partnered with as well as the government of Manitoba and the Manitoba Model Forest to establish a wonderful place for the protection of native plants. Not just orchids.

Every time I got there I learn something. Today I stopped to think about a posted sign created by the First Nation. This is what it said,

Our elders teach us that all nature people and people are all part of the balance of life. When something is lost or taken, the balance is changed. When we lose one part of an ecosystem we put the entire ecosystem jeopardy. There must be a balance for Mother Earth to remain healthy.

Those are wise words. Well worthy thinking about.

 

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It was a beautiful day for a visit.  I had spotted Dragon’s Mouth orchid (Arethusa bulbosa).  It is one of the gems of the reserve.

I also  went to the nearby Stead bog where I was easier to get closer to the Dragon’s Mouth.In the Ecological Reserve we have to stick to the board walk.

I also saw  a little rabbit that was chewing on the leaves of a young seedling. Thank goodness he ignore the orchid right beside it. The rabbit also had something around its neck that I  thought it might be mounds of ticks. I hope not, because I was sure that many ticks would not be good for the rabbit. In any event the rabbit graciously allowed us to take some portraits of it.

 

 

No Nature

 

 

Dandelion: friend or foe?

On the last day of our trip, listening to CBC radio I heard about a scandal in Regina. Apparently they have a local bylaw there that if the “lawn” on your yard is more than 15 cm high it must be cut down. What a draconian rule! If you don’t do it the weed inspector will come down and do it for you and send you the bill.  No wild flowers permitted in Regina.

It reminds me of the war that most of us who reside in towns have waged on dandelions.  Such beautiful little yellow flowers. Some say the problem with dandelions is that they take over. They invade the lawn. That is true. Nature hates  monoculture. If we didn’t insist on creating monocultures on our property,  dandelions would have no place to invade. People forget that in nature there are seldom vast fields of yellow dandelions. Dandelions enter where nature has been destroyed. People in towns don’t want nature. So they get dandelions and want to use various horrid chemicals  to defeat them.

Some town folks even think golf courses are nature at her finest! Those wide fairways where golf superintendents apply vats of carcinogenic substances to kill the weeds are what they think is nature. They actually consider that nature. Just goes to show how far they are removed from nature, they have forgotten what nature is like. The only difference between a wild flower and a weed is a public relations firm.

On the way home from British Columbia I saw another example of our war on nature. This was actually a big example. Just after we crossed the Alberta/B.C. border we lost nature.  After we left Banff National Park we saw no nature until we arrived in Steinbach other than rain clouds. That was about 1,000 km.! Not one single animal other than an occasional cow. I don’t think cows were native to North America. The prairies that we took the better part of 2 days to travel through used to be grasslands.  Less than 1% of the tall grass prairie remains. Less than 30% of the remaining grasslands are gone too. Actually, to me it looks like more than that has disappeared. We saw none other than in occasional sloughs or river banks. The grasslands seemed to have vanished.

The first European explorers were stunned when they encountered what they saw as an ocean of grass. They had never seen anything like it. After all, the grasslands of Europe were all but gone before they arrived. Most of that grassland is gone.

We have destroyed so much of nature in the holy names of progress.

I have also been told that the wildlife in North America, before contact with Europeans,  was even more abundant than Africa. To me having been to Africa and having seen their depleted wildlife that makes ours pale into insignificance , I find that hard to believe. It is an awful desecration.

For two days,  we saw virtually none. That is a pity. As the Red Rose Tea commercial used to say, “a dreadful pity.”

I even like dandelions when they have gone to seed. I think there is a beauty in old age.

Forest Bathing

 

 

Stef, Charli, Chris and I had most pleasant walk through the temperature rainforest called, most appropriately, Cathedral Grove MacMillan Park B.C.  I could not help but think about forest bathing. Many people, like me, believe that there is a power in nature to heal. This is not heebie jeebies stuff.  Nor nude walks through the forest. While this is not yet scientifically proven, there is growing evidence that there are healing powers in nature that are becoming increasingly well documented.

In Japan there is a interesting notion that they call Shinrin-yoku.  This refers to walking and/or staying in forests in order to promote health. It is a major form of relaxation in Japan; however, its effects have yet to be completely clarified.  There was a scientific study there whose aims  were: (1) to evaluate the psychological effects of shinrin-yoku in a large number of participants; and (2) to identify the factors related to these effects.

Shinrin-yoku means literally forest bathing and the activity has become a recognized stress management and relaxation technique.

Some people, like Richard Louv who wrote the book The Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, points to research that shows that the diminution of life in the world of nature has been one of the causes of increased rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (‘ADHD ‘) as well as other mental health problems. He is the person who coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe what happens when virtually a generation of young people is disconnected from nature.  The result is an illness—a disorder.

Louv says that it is a short hand way of describing what people knew was happening but had no short way to describe. It is related to the increasing alienation between children and the natural world.  That is the alienation or disconnect that humans feel toward the natural world. He points to recent studies that show that the symptoms of attention deficit disorder frequently are minimized with just a little contact with nature. There are other studies that show childhood obesity is partly caused by the absence of a natural connection between children and nature. Some of those studies also show the extraordinary benefits of connecting to nature  for both children and adults.

Frances Kuo is the Director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois where they studied the relationship between green spaces and human health. She said that the range of outcomes related to deprivation of nature were staggering. Everything from earlier mortality in adults to general ailments in the population, ADHD symptoms, cognitive functions, mood issues and social functioning were often related to this deprivation of nature that many of us too often experience. The symptoms of this deprivation are vast.

On the 2011 CBC radio series The Bottom Line Professor Kuo said “just everything across the board,”  is improved in nature.  According to Kuo the presence or absence of grass or vegetation in a landscape is a huge predictor of whether or not people will like a place. People like nature. They want to see it. They want to be in it. They want to be a part of it. And if they do not feel that connection they often react adversely. They may not understand why, but that feeling of disconnection from nature is uncomfortable. It is literally disconcerting.

Kuo also studied the effect of nature on cognitive and emotional functioning. Her group went to homes in the inner city of Chicago. Some had more green areas than others. They looked at verbal and physical aggression and they found that people who had more grass or more shade trees were significantly less aggressive than nearby neighbours without any green space. Even a tiny green space helped a lot. She was surprised how such a small space could have such a remarkable effect.

Kuo points out how people often feel rejuvenated or refreshed after a brief walk in nature and she said, “It turns out that refreshment effect is quite documentable and quite consistent.”  Her research shows that the part of the brain that deals with effortful activities gets a respite when one walks in nature or is around nature. “By giving that part of the brain a little vacation it gets rejuvenated and is able to operate better afterwards,” she said. It really is resting and then recharging the brain. It is good for us to be in nature. I know this is exactly how I felt after our brief walk through the woods in Cathedral Grove this afternoon.

Kuo also pointed out how there is research that showed that people in prison with no connection to nature had more self-aggression than people who have some connection to nature. They get aggressive with themselves because often there is no one else they can be aggressive towards. That research also showed that the nature deficit prisoners tended to have all kinds of illnesses more frequently than those better connected to nature.

She said that when we design cities we have to recognize the importance of nature to community health and stop thinking of trees and parks as “merely pretty.”  They are much more important than that, though that is very good too. One of her colleagues calls it “the parsley around the pig.”  According to Kuo, “nature in the city is functional. It helps to provide a healthy human habitat and it is as essential as providing vitamins.”

Diana Beresford-Kroeger is another person who understands the profound importance of nature on health. In particular she concentrates on the value of our relationship to trees. What better place to think of her than Cathedral Grove? She is a botanist who describes herself as “a renegade scientist.” Her latest book is called The Global Forrest.

Even in Victorian times they recognized the “forest as a spa”. They knew how it could rejuvenate and heal a person. First Nations people thought along those lines too when they initiated the sweat lodge system. They used the natural antibiotic fungicides from a forest to help heal people. Walk in to a pine forest when the temperatures are about 60º C and the air is rising, the pine trees produce a huge chemical factory from the needles, which are really modified leaves. From a distance you can even see a slight bluish haze rising from a pine forest. This reminds me of the Blue Ridge Forest, which was mainly deciduous. Chemicals are literally exhaled from the trees. They help breathing and provide a mild anesthetic.

Beresford-Kroeger says that in Ireland where they do deep meditation in forests they can actually “hear the trees”. Like children who have much better hearing than adults, can sometimes actually hear the tree. Her theories have not all been scientifically validated at this time. Yet, perhaps, it makes sense to hug a tree.

Many of us realize that nature infuses us with an inexplicable calm. Without understanding why, many of us find refuge in a park, even if just for a short stroll. That was how I felt at the Cathedral Grove.

This was forest bathingat its finest.

Mount Robson

 

The Rocky Mountains contain the highest mountain peaks in central North America. The highest peak in the Rocky Mountains is not in Canada, as I thought. The highest peak is Mount Elbert, which is found in Colorado and is 4,401 metres (14,440ft.) above sea level. Mount Robson, which we saw today, is the highest peak in Canada, but it is “only” 3,954 metres (12,972 ft.) above sea level.

When we saw Mount Robson today I was immediately brought back to my days as a Canadian National Railway porter in the summer of 1970 and 1971. I got the job to work in the summer. On every trip to B.C. we stopped right here and our passengers clambered out to gawk at and photograph Mount Robson. I did not have a camera so I never got a single photograph it. I made up for that today.

Mount Robson is special.

 

Helmcken Falls

 

After a fairly long drive in to the park from the main highway we had been following in  BC since we left Jasper, and a wonderful stop for Ice cream and directions, we found the falls. They were not a disappointment.

Helmcken Falls is 141 m (463 ft.) high. It is located inside of Well Gray Provincial Park. In fact, the park was created partly to highlight the falls. And I am glad they did!

Helmcken Falls is the 4thhighest waterfall in Canada measured by total drop without a break. The three higher falls are Hunlen Falls in T in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park and Della Falls in Strathcona Provincial Park. Interestingly, all of these water falls are found in British Columbia and we have a chance of seeing the  Takakkaw Falls. It is found on the Murtle River. The falls were easily accessible by a drive of about 47 km out of our way. I felt this was a small price to pay for such  spectacular falls. Chris was not totally convinced. It did not help that we approached them sort of late in the day and were a little worried about a hotel in this area as a result of the Labour Day Weekend starting today. I figured it was worth the risk. Of course, I am a waterfall guy (just like I am a wild flower guy, a bird guy, a lighthouse guy, a bog guy, a….

 

The falls were named after John Helmcken, a physician with the Hudson’s Bay Company who was instrumental in bringing British Columbia into Confederation in 1871. He never actually saw the falls, so I consider this an inapt designation. But, of course, I am a waterfall guy, not a guy trying to honour politicians.

The falls drop over the western escarpment of the Murtle Plateau. The escarpment consists of a huge lava deposit that occurred about 200,000 years ago and filled the Clearwater River valley.  At the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, the massive floods that occurred when the continental ice sheets started to melt, carved out a huge canyon in the area. When water gets trapped behind ice if the ice damn later dissolves, as they tend to do, they can emit an awesome deluge. This happened many times in North America creating astonishing canyons. The canyon here is called, of course, Helmcken Canyon.

Wild life in the Rockies

For the animal shall not be measured by man.  In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.  They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.

– Henry Beston

 

An “animal traffic jam” on the highway in Jasper National Park led us to this elk.   A long line of cars were stopped beside the road and we noticed many people out with cameras. This was a sure sign that there was some wildlife on display.

The Male elk was keeping a close eye on this female elk and 3 more that made up his harem

Down the road we found a Rocky Mountain Goat.

We also saw a Bighorn Sheep. The Rocky Mountains are a fine place to find wildlife.

Rocky Mountain High

The Rocky Mountains are, in my opinion unsurpassed by almost anything I have ever seen before. I wish I was a much better photographer than I am so that I could show you what I mean.

 

Notice that many of the pines are red!  That is the deadly work of the Mountain Pine Beetle.  This photo was taken just south of the town of Jasper on the banks of the Athabasca River.

The colours of the lakes vary from blue to turquoise, to green , depending on the sediment.

Maligne Lake has a totally inappropriate name. It is not malign at all.

Medicine Lake is better named. It is medicine for the soul.

This photograph was taken near Spirit Island when the spirit of the lake was calm.