Tuesday, 30 September 2008


People who read this blog now and then may have noticed that I have a tendency to be all enthusiastic and hopeful sometimes, and all upset and ranty at other times. I would like to be more consistently hopeful and uplifting in the things that I post, but sometimes life just "grinds my crackers" as our lovable blogger Crunchy Chicken would say.

I've enjoyed Crunchy's Blog for quite a while - I think hers was the second 'green' blog I started reading, right after No Impact Man. These and many other bloggers (see sidebar!) have given me hope and lifted my spirits many times over the past two years or so. Even their rants make me hopeful, because when we get mad in the name of a good cause and then do something about it, we reclaim just a little bit more of our voice, our citizenship, and even our humanity.

Just recently I came across another blog, called A Buddhist Perspective. And I found it just at the time when I needed to collect myself, quiet my spirit and just slow down. Funny how things happen like that - a Taoist wu wei moment while finding a Buddhist blog - is that neat or what? And lo and behold, right around the same time I found another Alberta blogger, SoapBoxTech who is concerned about the environment too, and who is looking to reject greed and 'nudge people awake'.

While smiling about my two new finds, a line from a childhood song popped into my mind: "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine." And then I thought: All these blogs, they are like candles. They are little lights, shining in the darkness. Each of these blogs represents a person or a group of people who are passionate about the whole of the Earth, and who want to live simply and gratefully within its means. And they aren't afraid to talk about it - About the ups and downs, the hopes and the frustrations.

Thanks to all of you for shining, especially when times seem dark.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Real and Surreal

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to go on a tour of many of the homeless and emergency shelters, and detox-centers in Edmonton's inner city. As I've mentioned before, I work in a jail and the mentally ill people I work with there utilize the services of these places quite frequently when they are out in the community. It was good to see these places for myself, to know where they are and get to know a bit how they operate so I'm in a better position to understand my inmate clients' reality. The person leading the tour made a telling comment at one point in the afternoon: "being homeless is a full time job."

I found out that while there are quite a few places to get food in our city, there are hardly any places to sleep if you don't have a home of your own. (In the winter, this can be a big problem here, since it gets down to -30C regularly at night.) You have to get in line early to be sure to get a mat on the floor for the night, in a room of 65-70 or more other people on their mats for the night. Then get in line again for breakfast a few blocks away before it's all gone, and put your name on the list to use the washer or dryer or telephone, which may sometimes actually work. Cart around your few belongings and try to stay out of the way of the aggressive drug dealers or gang members who might 'roll' you for fun, or for your meds or workboots, or just because they can. Pick some bottles to get some cash, maybe apply at a temporary labor agency but be turned down because you don't have any work boots, and no place for them to call you to tell you had the job, even if you did have work boots. Go back to the public health clinic to pick up your psych meds. All of this before lining up early for dinner again, and wolfing it down so you can get in line for a sleeping mat. All day long, the realities of where you are going to sleep and eat are staring you in the face, along with the realities of how to ensure personal safety and how to make some kind of legit money.

I contrast this with the surreal nature of what I've been hearing and seeing in the media, more so lately. Large investment banks whose avaricious practices have caught up with them, now want taxpayers to fund their greed (and apparently their wish has been granted, thanks to another round of fear mongering). Citizens' money worked for and saved over decades is sucked into the abyss of failing banks. Rather than talking about things that matter, our politicians try to out-insult each other so they can become our new 'leaders.' The effects of melamine-tainted food products on Chinese babies are kept under wraps so the Olympics can go off without a hitch. Amateur and professional sporting events are 'fixed' so you can't even be sure that when your team wins, they actually won. Everything is artificial or contrived, if not a boldfaced lie. Do we live in a democratic society anymore, or is it mostly fascist now?

Maybe this is what an existential crisis feels like? When I sit and listen to the news I mostly just gape and shake my head, wondering what really exists, and what is just 'impression management' and 'spin.' Maybe the movie, The Matrix, wasn't so fictional after all? Who can even tell? What does a person hang on to while the house of cards falls?

I imagine that the homeless people I saw yesterday would tell me bluntly that my 'existential crisis' is a luxury they can't afford. They would deride me for ever having thought the house of cards was real in the first place, and shake me out of my foggy delusions. Then, they would get back down to the business of dealing in the everyday realities of finding shelter, food and a measure of safety in their community. In some ways, the mentally ill people I work with are less deluded and more practical than society at large. I'm thankful for the opportunity to learn from them, and thankful for the reality check. It's time to buckle down and get to work.

Reading through the Tao Te Ching today, I notice this chapter, which seems fitting given the news of the 'bailout' in the US announced this morning:

Chapter 53

If I have a little knowledge
Walking on the great Tao
I fear only to deviate from it
The great Tao is broad and plain
But people like the side paths

The courts are corrupt
The fields are barren
The warehouses are empty

Officials wear fineries
Carry sharp swords
Fill up on drinks and food
Acquire excessive wealth
This is called robbery
It is not the Tao!

Monday, 22 September 2008

The Anthropocentric Weather Report

This morning I was listening to the CBC as usual during my 45 minute commute to work. Also as usual, the announcers were going through the regular news, traffic and weather reports at various intervals. When it came time for the weather, the announcer said something to the effect of how disappointing it was that she couldn't say we were in for a "lovely day" again, like last week, because it was raining. The host of the show replied in kind, bemoaning that it was a rainy, windy and miserable day. And I thought, wait a minute, that's only true from a human point of view.

From the point of view of the grass, trees and the ducks in the nearly dry wetland area near my house, today is actually a very lovely day. About 10 - 20 millimeters of rain are expected to fall today. The land is really in need of this, considering the unseasonably warm and dry weather we've had for the past two weeks or so. Speaking anthropocentrically, it has been a really nice Fall so far, with mild temperatures, no rain, and almost completely sunny days.

That weather report illustrated to me once again how disconnected a lot of us humans are from nature most of the time. Surely after two weeks of sun, a little rain is a good thing? It reminded me too, of how much we humans like our undisturbed comfort, and how we almost seem to take it for granted and feel entitled to it at the same time.

I've certainly been guilty of feeling resentful towards the weather, especially towards the combination of rain and wind, and especially on a work day. It messes up my hair and splatters my glasses, while I struggle to hold on to my umbrella and avoid stepping into puddles, all the while dodging the water spraying from passing cars' tires. But then there are the days on the weekend when I relish going out into the rain, with my silly hat on, to weed the garden or fill up the rain barrel. I like feeling that rain plunking down on my head and smelling that smell of wet grass. Feeling my rubber boots squish in the dirt and hearing the raindrops patter on the leaves. That is a "lovely day," in my view. And maybe walking to work in the rain with my umbrella isn't so bad either.

Picture courtesy this Flickr site

Thursday, 18 September 2008


As much as I like the new green of Spring, there is much to be said for the golden, orange and red shades of Fall. The trees around here are glowing with color, and the wild rose hips and wild rose leaves are flaming red in the late afternoon sunlight. Even my poor little frost-stunted pumpkin is turning orange just a little bit.

It's a time of transformation.

The Big Garden has gone through its growing season and now is winding down. I've harvested all but the last of the late crop of greens, and soon those will be gone too. Harvesting the potatoes was my favorite part, I think. Just reaching into the soil and plucking out the potatoes there was kind of amazing. I had potatoes big and potatoes small! One of the potatoes was as tiny as half of my pinky finger, and another was as wide as my palm and longer than my hand! Can you see the big potato there in the picture, covering up my glove completely? The tiny potato is on top of it, that little light spot you can barely see. I've decided that potatoes are very cool.

The Little Garden has been completely dismantled and in its place we have stacked quite a bit of wood. The plan is to make a woodshed in this spot, out of free pallets (that Gord gets from businesses that want to get rid of them), but this Winter the wood will just be stacked on the pallets and covered with a tarp or two. Still, we are miles ahead of last year in terms of wood for the woodstove. That's a good feeling.

I'm looking forward to the quieter time of Fall and Winter, and I'm trying to take the time to enjoy all the signs of seasonal transformation.

What are you noticing in your neck of the woods?

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Returning to Simple Things

It's the simple things that get me through. I was glad to have had a reminder of that today.

I've been so riled up about the wetland drainage and so frustrated about the way the Canadian election campaign is going that I lost sight of the satisfaction in little things. Today for some reason the little things stuck with me, and made me smile.

The first thing I appreciated was my visit to my favorite used bookstore after work. I had a nice muffin and a chai latte, chatted with the new owner of the shop and picked up a good book on medicinal and practical uses of essential oils, as well as a novel by Miriam Toews I'd heard so much about.

The next nice thing was a visit to the farmer's market, where the honey lady and the cucumber lady both recognized me, and where I heard a little kid say while running, "Mom, look for the pickles Mom!" And I heard the mom reply, "The pickles will be on the right side, honey!"

So, no matter who wins or loses this election, there will still be good books and good people, still much to be thankful for. I needed to remember that today. I'll try to remember it tomorrow, too.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Tarsands can't part with profits to protect wetlands

Sadly, it didn't surprise me to wake up to the news this morning that the Alberta tarsands companies think that it will cost too much money to protect the wetland areas near their mining sites. Oh right, the wetlands ARE the mining sites!

The companies walked out on negotiations, much of the content of which they had already agreed on in principle, after three years of work "citing cost concerns of a few cents per barrel for environmental protection measures as an unacceptable burden." I guess the couple of cents per barrel must have cut into the profit margins a little too much, now that oil is under $100 a barrel again. Maybe we should all take up a collection for these poor, destitute oil companies. And we should just stop bothering them so much when they want to destroy "over 80 000 hectares" of wetland to get at all that delicious gooey bitumen.

I wonder if any of these tarsand company CEOs actually drink water, or use water, or maybe even know that they need water to continue to live? I'm beginning to think that they must all be robots or aliens or something, given their utter disregard for water and their complete oblivion to it's necessity for all life on this, the one planet we have to live on. Among other things, wetlands clean surface water as it passes back down into the groundwater. Clean water is what sustains life.

Oil doesn't sustain life, water does. Why is this so hard for these companies to understand?

Picture courtesy Alberta Wilderness

Friday, 12 September 2008

Wetland Drainage Update

With all the sudden election/debate hubbub, I've neglected to post about what's happened since I spoke with the reporter at the site of the drained wetland.

In a nutshell, the reporter went ahead and spoke with Alberta Environment and confirmed that water diversion permit posted at the site was a valid one. The reporter also found out that the water was being used on a road construction project. The main questions remaining were whether or not the County had been withdrawing water from the wetland before getting the permit, and/or if the County had only applied for the permit because I complained to them. The reporter suggested I contact Alberta Environment myself, and express my concerns, and said that there wouldn't be anything to write an article about unless the County was actually found guilty of improper water removal after an investigation by Alberta Environment.

So I called the Alberta Environment 'tip line' and an Environmental Protection Officer called me back. He was fairly receptive to my concerns, and said that he would be speaking with the County and applying the necessary 'pressure' to ensure compliance with the water extraction regulations. He said that the water truck operator should have had a copy of the extraction license with him, and so if I see it happening again I am within my rights to ask to see the license. He also said that for future reference, it would be good to be in a position to take a date-and-time-stamped picture of any truck extracting the water from a wetland or other body of water. I didn't have such a picture this time, so there really is no verifiable proof that water was being extracted from the wetland. You can be sure I will be carrying some sort of picture-taking device in my car from now on. I sent the EPOfficer the pictures I did take and he has forwarded them to the water licensing staff for their records.

So, as it stands now, there is no article in the paper, and nothing other than a cautionary phone call from Alberta Environment to Sturgeon County. I'm trying to look at it as a step in the right direction, but it does make me angry that it is so time consuming and complicated to just get someone to stop doing something they knew they shouldn't have been doing in the first place. It's kind of ridiculous to have to go around carrying a camera all the time so you can prove you've seen what you've seen. I also just have to take it on faith that the EPO actually did call the County and apply the requisite 'pressure' and that this will actually make a difference.

But, I stood up and said something. I bore witness to what happened and didn't just ignore it. At the very least, the County knows that this citizen is keeping an eye out, and is ready to speak out again.

(Neat side story: while the wetland story didn't get published (yet), I did speak to another reporter at the same paper about my adventures in canning, and that story did get published last week. You can read it here. The reporter did a nice job of reflecting the food security and interconnectedness issues I mentioned during the interview, which I happily told him I very much appreciated !)

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Can you say "Massive Public Backlash"?

Update: We Won! Democracy won, actually - hooray!


It looks like speaking out might just have done it this time!

Harper and Layton now say they don't object to having Elizabeth May in the nationally televised election debates. It shouldn't matter whether or not these two object, but apparently to the consortium who makes these decisions, it does. According the CBC article linked above, the group of media executives will make a final decision about including Elizabeth May in the debates on Friday, September 12th. But according to this announcement on the Green Party website, a decision could be made as soon as later today.

Knowing the fervor with which Canadians have voiced their opinion on this matter, let's hope they do the right thing and listen to the people! They've got more than enough time to dust off that fifth podium, last used in the 2000 election, and put it up on the debating stage.

If you haven't expressed your opinion yet, there is still time! Go to www.demanddemocraticdebates.ca and sign the petition.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Can you say 'Chicken'?

Stephen Harper is a big chicken, and so is Jack Layton. But the biggest chickens of them all are the people who are part of the media consortium who buckled to threats that these two chickens made about boycotting the upcoming nationally televised leaders' debates if the leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, was allowed to participate.

The Green Party has been growing in popular support over the past several years in Canada, and regularly polls at or above the support levels for Jack Layton's NDPs. Canadians deserve to know more about the Green Party and they deserve to see Elizabeth May in a debate with the rest of the national party leaders. (Oh, which reminds me, Gilles Duceppe has been allowed in on the last several debates, even though his Bloc party only fields candidates in the province of Quebec.) But Stephen Harper is a big chicken, and doesn't want anyone on stage with him who can easily poke holes in his pathetic climate change 'plan.' And Jack Layton is just as scared -- he doesn't want anyone on stage with him who can remind Canadians what being passionate about what you believe in actually looks like.

In 2006, the GPC was kept out of the debates because they didn't have a member of parliament, but this has since changed. By rights the Green Party should now be included. But I guess it just takes a few intimidating words by our control-freak of a prime minister and the wanna-be prime minister and the media falls to its collective knees.

Some bloggers are blogging in green to show their support. I would too, but I always blog in green! So I took some other action instead. I've emailed the offices of Harper, Layton and Duceppe and told them how unfair and undemocratic their boycott threats are, and I've emailed the media consortium to tell them how cowardly they are for buckling under such threats, and 'deciding' to exclude May from the debates. Censorship, anyone? Oh, and I've upped my donation to the Green Party too, and encouraged family and friends to sign the petition at www.demanddemocraticdebates.ca.

We will only have democracy if we remember that we are CITIZENS and demand it! Here is the contact information for any other Canadians out there who are as outraged as I am about this:

Stephen Harper:
Conservative Party of Canada
Election Headquarters
#1204 - 130 Albert Street
Ottawa, Ontario, K1P 5G4
Toll free: (866) 808-8407
Phone: (613) 755-2000
Fax at: (613) 755-2001
Email: pm@pm.gc.ca
Jack Layton:
Canada's NDP
300 - 279 Laurier West
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5J9
Phone: 613-236-3613
Toll Free: 1-866-525-2555
Fax: 613-230-9950
TTY: 1-866-776-7742
Email: Layton.J@parl.gc.ca
Gilles Duceppe:
Bloc Québécois
3730, boul. Crémazie Est
Montréal (Québec) H2A 1B4
Téléphone : 514 526-3000
Télécopieur : 514 526-2868
Email : Duceppe.G@parl.gc.ca
Constituency Office
1600 - 90th Avenue SW
Suite A-203
Calgary, Alberta, T2V 5A8
Telephone: (403) 253-7990
Fax: (403) 253-8203
Constituency Office
221 Broadview Avenue
Suite 100 (Main Office)
Toronto, Ontario; M4M 2G3
Telephone: (416) 405-8914
Fax: (416) 405-8918
Constituency Office
1200 Papineau, # 350
Montreal, Québec; H2K 4R5
Telephone: (514) 522-1339
Fax: (514) 522-9899
Hill Office
House of Commons

Ottawa, Ontario; K1A 0A6
Telephone: (613) 992-4211
Fax: (613) 941-6900
Hill Office
House of Commons

Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6
Telephone: (613) 995-7224
Fax: (613) 995-4565
Hill Office
House of Commons

Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6
Telephone: (613) 992-6777
Fax: (613) 954-2121

Remember, you can visit http://demanddemocraticdebates.ca to sign a petition to pressure the Broadcast consortium to make sure that Green Party leader Elizabeth May is included in the leaders' debates. You can also let the broadcast consortium know of your disagreement by contacting them at:

John Cruikshank, Publisher, CBC news
(416) 205-6300

Robert Hurst, President of CTV News

Troy Reeb, Senior Vice President of News Canwest Global
(416) 967-1174

Pierre Dion, President, Groupe TVA Inc.

Ronald Cohen, National Chair, Canadian Broadcast Standards Council
P.O. Box 3265, Station D Ottawa, ON K1P 6H8

Glenn O'Farrell, President and CEO, Canadian Association of Broadcasters
P.O. Box 627, Stn. B Ottawa, ON K1P 5S2
613-233-4035 ext: 326

Sad chicken photo courtesy this flickr site.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Water Story Update - Wetland Drainage

Yesterday was a good day. Before work, I mailed my letter of response to Sturgeon County mayor and all six council members.

After work, I met with a reporter from a local newspaper about the local wetland area that has been almost completely drained. We met at the site of the wetland. I took the above picture on August 29th, five days ago. Yesterday this side of the wetland was totally dry - the water had stopped flowing into this part of it altogether. September 1st was the last day of the 'permit' to divert water. Just in time, it would seem.

The reporter saw all of this with me, and asked a bunch of questions. He looked at the permit too, and I told him that water was being taken out of the wetland for weeks before the start date of the posted permit. There may or may not be a story in the paper about this wetland, but even if there isn't, the fact that a report came out to look at it and is going to investigate matters made it a very good day for water.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

New Year in September...

I have always thought of September as being the start of a New Year, much more so than January. Years of going to university probably ingrained in me the idea that September is all about beginnings. All those new loose-leaf binders, day planners, back packs, and pens, oh the beautiful pens! And sweaters - I can wear sweaters again.

So this past Labor Day weekend really brought me the sense that Summer is winding down. It's been a good Summer, with many gardening lessons learned. I tried my hand at canning for the first time, bought a freezer and even dried some chard and tea herbs, as I try and get a handle on this whole food security thing. We joined a local organic CSA farm, and I learned a bit about how to cook based on what's in season, rather than what's in the grocery store.

I made a start on a small herb garden, and even tried growing some different types of grains, just to see if it would work. We put in a vegetable garden, and planted a variety of trees. I planted edible plants instead of decorative annuals in my flower pots, and dined on local salad greens. We bought a rain barrel. I tried cooking in my homemade solar oven. I learned more about the plants that grow in my own back yard, and enjoyed many a cup of herb tea from the leaves I picked within 50 feet of my front door. Planting garlic and marigolds around the perimeter of the garden seems to have kept the deer out. It was a good Summer.

And now Fall approaches - quickly. We've had our first frost already and it has spurred us on to split and stack firewood. This weekend we dismantled the Little Garden entirely, and have turned that part of the acreage into a wood storage area. I've moved the compost bin over to the Big Garden area. We're arranging to have the chimney cleaned, and we'll (hopefully) learn from the chimney sweep person how to do it ourselves. We tested out the hand pump for the cistern, and it works! Now we can pump water if our electricity goes out.

And, I picked the first of the corn. I'd forgotten I'd planted a blue corn variety until I shucked the two small ears and saw that one was all decorative-looking. Upon cooking the two ears, the blue corn turned out to be much more tender and tasty than the regular yellow corn. I think I left it too long on the stalk, and I'll probably harvest the rest of the corn right away, even though the ears seem quite small.

The biggest lesson of all seems to be to "Stop, and pay attention." Become attuned to natural cycles. Watch and see which plants like which conditions. Slow down and notice the two beans that look like they're embracing on the vine, or the fuzzy seed pods on the chick peas. The opulent beauty of squash blossoms, and the perfection of a new potato just under the surface of the soil. The resilience of leeks and carrots, despite all the weeds and the days I forgot to water them.

So Happy New Year everyone! May we all experience the vigor and zest that comes with a crisp Fall day, and the cozy contentment of a warm cup of tea on a chilly Fall evening.