March 29, 2008


I love surprises of the pleasant variety. And yesterday I had a surprise of the most pleasant variety indeed! The very lovely Antipo Déesse of Naughty Letters to Ms. Mac fame was so very kind to send me a package all the way from France for my birthday. Since Antipo is THE domestic goddess, her package was sure to contain the finest of sweet and savoury treats. And sure enough, when I finally opened her package there were two kilograms of the nicest treats that you could imagine.

Antipo decided that she would make it a competition and she most certainly has outdone the package of Canadian goodies that I sent to her for her birthday, which pale by comparison. (Apparently now the competition switches to the tackiest souvenirs, all because I said that all I really wanted was a NICE souvenir of the Eiffel tower. I believe that competition will be easy to win because we have some god-awful tacky souvenirs here in New Brunswick.)

So now we are enjoying all sorts of French delectables which Antipo most thoughtfully described in great detail in a mammoth epistle written on lavender-coloured parchment that nearly caused the loss of her writing hand. Her histories and descriptions of each item were wonderful and gave a real sense of appreciation to everything. Who would have thought that I was eating a small cake that was invented because of the plague?

The various taste sensations have been most enjoyable. So far my favourite has been the salted butter caramels from Brittany, which I could not stop devouring. Alas, they are now all gone! I cannot thank Antipo enough for her kindness and I feel very fortunate to have such a lovely penfriend. I am truly blessed!

March 27, 2008


Today was a beautiful early spring day with bright sun and a temperature of around 5°c. That first really nice spring day that you get always brings with it a keen sense of anticipation for me. A dear friend of mine has been trying to convince me of the joys of anticipation lately. I must confess to being more of an instant gratification kind of guy, but I am slowly learning that there is a certain pleasure in the anticipation of a thing. Today’s nice weather has me anticipating spring flowers and I simply could not restrain myself any longer, and that is the inspiration for today’s photograph.

It is about six weeks too early for these tulips to bloom here. I took this photograph last year in the middle of May. Tulips came from Turkey and were introduced to Europe in the last of the 16th century. By the early 17th century tulips were all the rage and by 1636 tulip mania had swept the Netherlands. Tulip bulbs were worth much more than their weight in gold. In the city of Haarlem a red and white striped tulip bulb named Semper Augustus was sold for a record 6,000 florins. For a single bulb! To put that in some perspective, the average yearly income at the time was 150 florins, making that tulip bulb worth 40 years salary. Just think that today you can buy a dozen of these bulbs for a few dollars at your local garden centre.

The other story about tulips that sticks in my mind came about during the Second World War. In war ravaged Europe foodstuffs were in tremendously short supply and there are stories of people eating tulip bulbs for food, this being the only thing around that was edible. What a change in the value of these beautiful flower bulbs.

Tulips have had a fascinating history which you might enjoy reading about. A good book on the subject is Tulipomania : The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash.

March 25, 2008


I don’t know about you, but I love to have visitors, especially if they are congenial and well behaved. For the past several weeks just such a visitor has been showing up at my bird feeder. I am talking about the common redpoll which my Audubon Handbook of Eastern Birds identifies as Carduelis flammea. The common redpoll can be found on Plate 375 of Audubon’s Birds of America as Acanthis Linaria. I am always happy to see them.

The redpoll is a bird of the far northland where it breeds and raises its young on the tundra and in northern forests. During the winter these birds will come south to over-winter in places like New Brunswick. I often think that if this is where they come to spend the winter imagine how brutal the weather must be where they normally live! They do not come and visit every winter and a number of years can pass before you see them again. I look for them eagerly and always count a winter when they return as a special one.

The redpoll is a gregarious and very gentle bird. Its distinguishing feature is a bright red patch on the top of its head. It is as if the redpoll had been held upside down and dipped into a can of red barn paint. It is a very handsome little finch and usually quite tame. If you stand quite still you can get very close to them while they are feeding. The other day, after one of them had finished eating, he sat very contentedly for the longest time surveying the world about him. I felt very fortunate to have such a long view of him as well.

Soon the redpolls will leave us and return north to think about raising their families for another year. They never really announce their departure and it is not something that you immediately notice. It just gradually dawns on you that you aren’t seeing them around anymore. Whether they return next winter we shall have to wait and see.

On another note, one of the reasons that I started this blog was to inspire young people to become interested in the environment around them. I spend some of my time mentoring a group of tweenagers and I am genuinely impressed with the level of interest and concern that they have for the planet. I encourage this as much as I can.

I have discovered the website of one such young person that I should like to suggest to you. Her name is Helena and her blog is called Adventures of Bird Girl. For a fresh perspective on the world around you I highly recommend that you visit her website. To quote Helena directly, “I love nature and wildlife more than anything in the world.” She is definitely a person after my own heart.

March 21, 2008


"All beginnings in nature afford us a peculiar pleasure. The early spring with its hints and dim prophecies, the first earth odors, the first robin or song sparrow, the first furrow, the first tender skies, the first rainbow, the first wild flower, the dropping bud scales, the awakening voices in the marshes, - all these things touch us and move us in a way that later developments in the season do not." - John Burroughs

Today is my birthday! I was born on the first day of spring in 1949. The equinox has shifted over the years so now I have to say that I was born on the first
full day of spring, which is of course what today is. (I wonder if I should consider the fact that I have been alive long enough for the equinoxes to have shifted in time?) Where I grew up the first sign of spring in the woods would be the skunk cabbage peeking up from the ground. How I looked for those very first signs of green with great anticipation. Here in New Brunswick the first signs of spring are few and far between as of yet, but the very first pussy willows are out and so are these birch catkins. In a few weeks you will be able to ping them with your finger, releasing a cloud of pollen into the air.

The lovely April (what an
appropriate name for the time of year) of Nature At My Doorstep has tagged me with the Six Word Memoir meme. I think I should like my memoir to be:

I photographed the world around me.

I'm afraid that since I have only been blogging for such a very short time, I really don't know five people to tag. However, I would like to tag the
irascible Ms. Mac and the incorrigible Antipo of Naughty Letter To Ms. Mac fame.

I invite all who read this post to participate as well. The rules are simple:

1. Write a six word memoir and post it on your blog.
2. Add a picture if you wish.
3. Link to the person who tagged you.
4. Tag 4 or 5 others, with links, to keep it going.
5. Leave a comment for the ones you tag with an invitation to play.
6. And link to the original post about the Six Word Memoir meme.

March 17, 2008


Am I the only person who finds the following news item totally outrageous?

Exxon Mobil Corp. on Friday, Feb. 1, 2008 posted the largest annual profit by a U.S. company - $40.6 billion - as the world's biggest publicly traded oil company benefited from historic crude prices at year's end. (Donna Mcwilliam - AP)

As good corporate citizens shouldn’t Exxon Mobil give a thought to their responsibility for climate change, especially considering the huge part they play in contributing to the problem? As they themselves point out, they’re drivers too! Surely they could spare, let’s say for the sake of argument, a billion dollars. Imagine for a moment what a billion dollars worth of research could do to further the development of a zero emissions electric or hydrogen fuel cell automobile. I’m just saying …

In keeping with progressive thinking about global warming the province of British Columbia has recently introduced an escalating carbon tax on most fossil fuels. This carbon tax will start at a rate based on $10 per tonne of carbon emissions and rise $5 a year to $30 per tonne by the year 2012.

This to me seems like a sensible solution. Our society is driven by money and it is money that has gotten us into the climatic mess we find ourselves in. Unless we change our fundamental values as a society, money is the only thing that is going to get us out of this mess. So by charging people for the carbon they produce we make them think about environmental responsibility in very real terms. Produce more carbon, pay more carbon tax.

I am thinking that many people will adjust there lifestyle in order to pay less carbon tax. If you are like me and ride a bicycle or walk to get where you are going you pay no tax. If you drive a socially unacceptable vehicle (S.U.V.) then you will be taxed at the rate that you use it. This seems like a fair and sensible way to make people pay for the environmental damage that they are responsible for. The province of British Columbia is to be commended for this forward thinking legislation.

At least in British Columbia, now Exxon Mobil will have to put its money where its mouth is.

March 15, 2008


Like many Canadians, I have returned from my winter break. The month of February marks for me the lowest point of the year. This is the time that I want to cocoon the most, curling up by the fire with a good book. It is the season of the winter blahs. The first two weeks of February are generally the coldest we have. My almanac suggests that winter’s back is broken by mid-month, but here in Canada it is generally another six weeks before one is sure that we are on the downside of winter.

There are signs of the coming season to be sure. The other day came the first time this year that you could smell spring in the air. Many people that I spoke with that day noticed it. On a walk in the woods last week I saw the very first pussy willows of the year happily sunning themselves in the now strengthening winter sun. And there are catkins hanging from the birches just waiting for the spring warmth that will bring forth their pollen in the air. Soon, like me, spring will return.

Things are looking up …