Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Art is on my Mind

Hiking With my Trusty Companion
It’s April and art is on my mind. The days are becoming longer and sunshine has sharpened the colours. The daffodils are waving their yellow heads, and one by one the shrubs in my garden are bursting into flower. As colour returns to the coast, I feel the urge to paint.

A Fallen Leaf
The natural landscapes around me have always inspired my creativity. I walk the trails observing all the signs of Spring, and it feeds my soul. The other day, I made a point of counting how many types of wild flowers I saw along the trails. There were 13. Yes, I counted the dandelions and skunk cabbages too!

Unidentified Spring Flower
Last week, I went to the excellent artist's supply store that serves the mid-Island area. I spent a happy hour choosing some tubes of paint, a couple of new brushes, and some other products like varnish and primer (ground). I am not much of a shopper except in art stores, bookstores, and stationery stores. Once I enter one of those three types of stores, my self-control deserts me. I might as well open my wallet and dump all the money out.

I came home feeling inspired and varnished ten of my paintings. Varnishing the surface of the painting helps to protect the painting and restores the colours to the brightness they had when the work was first painted. You can’t put permanent varnish on an oil painting until the paint has time to cure (fully dry), which takes about a year. I have not been conscientious about remembering to go back and varnish finished works. It is not a necessary step, but I do like the way it enhances the brightness of the colours.

View of Nanoose Estuary
On a recent walk, I took the photo above of Nanoose Estuary with the tide out. I started a painting last Fall of this scene, working from a photo taken near this spot. The painting is still sitting on my easel, unfinished. Somehow -- I don't know how this happened -- I have signed myself for so many things that I hardly seem to have any time to paint.

Here's a list: Weekly yoga classes at two different studios, book group, writer's group, service group, weekly volunteer activity for service group, volunteer at grandson's preschool, art group, planning committee for upcoming art show, organizer for activity to combat invasive plants, academic committee, Elder College course, participant in Drawdown Ecochallenge 2019, and, um, lots of other stuff.

I just want to put in a plug for Drawdown Ecochallenge. This is a three-week challenge in April, in which people from all over the world commit to do one or two or more things to contribute to efforts to combat (and eventually reverse) global warming.

There is still time to join! I would be happy to have you join my team, Vancouver Island Sustainable Future (you don't have to be from Vancouver Island). This is my way of taking action, rather than just sitting around worrying about it. If you join, you can read my feed on the Ecochallenge and find out all about my eco efforts this month. You can join up here.

It's only ten days until our big Spring Showcase art show! I have updated my art website, and added more paintings to it. You can read about the upcoming show here.

Monday, April 1, 2019

It's Gardening Season!

It is almost two years ago since we travelled to Vancouver Island to look at real estate and ended up making an offer on this house that is now our home. One of the striking features of this place is that it has a large property and a beautiful garden. When we viewed it in April two years ago, the garden was in bloom and it looked glorious.

The Garden Last August

The previous owners were avid gardeners with a great sense of aesthetics. The entire backyard is a decorative garden with flowering trees and shrubs, rockeries, and a pond feature. It also has deer-proof fencing, which is an important consideration on Vancouver Island. There are lots of deer here, and they eat almost everything.

Having now spent nearly two years here, we have discovered that the garden looks beautiful in every season.

I have always enjoyed gardening, but my expertise is more in the area of organic fruit and vegetable gardens. I have also grown small flower gardens, with both perennials and annuals. But I am not very knowledgeable about caring for our current type of garden. As well, I wondered where I might be able to grow some vegetables and herbs.

The first year, we decided to to not touch anything in the garden. We waited and watched to see how it changed with the seasons. We weeded, watered, and did a little pruning.

Last summer, we took out a few shrubs that had died in the previous summer's drought conditions. We moved some shrubs that were too crowded to different locations. We added drip irrigation hoses, and sea soil, especially to the rhododendrons. We pruned more confidently. We weeded and cultivated, and did a little mulching.

I planted pots of herbs and tomatoes on the deck. I tucked some strawberry plants, kale, carrots, and beans in among the shrubs. They all thrived -- except for the beans, which the bunnies ate. Vancouver Island is overrun with rabbits as well as deer.

This year, I decided that one way or another, I was going to build a vegetable bed. I really like to grow at least a little of my own food. It is very pleasing to walk out the door and pick something for supper. Home grown food is the freshest possible food. Also, because I use organic growing methods, I know that there will be no noxious chemicals in the food or soil.

The problem is, there really is no sensible place to put a garden. In the front, there is a long sloping lawn shaded by huge evergreen trees. There is a small side yard that is flat enough, but it is shaded on every side and never sees the sun. And in the mostly flat, sunny backyard, every square inch is planted already.

I did not want to detract from the aesthetics of the beautiful garden.

I finally decided to build a small vegetable bed in the corner of the fence by the gate. It is not the sunniest location, but I think it will be okay. It is away from the the long roots of the evergreen trees, and it was not a very pretty part of the original garden design.

So, this week, Rob removed a small decorative pine tree from that location. Behind it, he took out some kind of prickly shrub with bright yellow sap. I cleaned up the area and turned over the soil and added 75 liters of black garden soil. Today I planted it.

So now I have a small vegetable plot, about five feet by seven feet.  It looks fine to my eyes.

Watering the New Veggie Garden (Left of the Daffodils)

The strawberry patch that I planted last year looks like it will thrive. The kale plants made it through the winter and have put out new leaves. They now look like small bushes, but the leaves are quite edible, so I'll leave them in place for now.

Today, I also planted a magnolia tree. I love the beautiful tulip shaped blossoms of magnolia trees. But much of my life I have lived in climates that are too cold for magnolias. In our garden, there was a perfect space for the tree near a bench in the corner of the yard. A shrub, a kind of decorative pine that previously had been in that space, had not survived the hot dry summer. So now we have a magnolia tree!

I dug a Big Hole
Planting the Magnolia Tree

The next challenge is to create a compost pile or bin. There's more to come on that topic another day.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

A Plan to Reverse Global Warming

A Path Through the Forest

What Can I Do?

In a recent blog post, I wrote about my sense of helplessness and personal paralysis as I considered what I can do to help address global warming and climate change. The problem is huge and multi-faceted, and change on a global scale is urgently needed for humanity's survival (or, perhaps more accurately, the survival of human civilizations).

As a single individual, I cannot solve climate change. But I can do my small part to make a difference, to the best of my ability.

So where should I put my efforts? What actions would have the biggest impact, match my particular knowledge and skill set, and be within the scope of what I can actually accomplish?

Although I have been slowly educating myself about the challenge of global warming facing us as a species, I decided that I needed to do some reading about not just the challenge facing us, but about possible solutions.

Drawdown

So I ordered the following book from the library: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. It arrived a couple of days ago. This book, edited by Paul Hawken and published in 2017, was a New York Times best seller in 2018. There also is a website that is even more extensive and up-to-date than the book at www.drawdown.org.

So what is "drawdown?" The website defines it this way: "Drawdown is that point in time when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere begins to decline on a year-to-year basis." Once greenhouse gases begin to decline, the warming of the planet will begin to reverse.

The book sets out 100 global strategies, which, if we implement them all by 2050, will enable us to reverse global warming. The strategies are in the following categories: Energy, Food, Women and Girls, Buildings and Cities, Land Use, Transport, Materials, and Coming Attractions (promising future technologies and solutions).

All of the approaches (except the last category which is more speculative) already exist and have been rigorously researched and modeled by a team of more than 200 scientists and other specialists from around the globe. Each one is ranked in terms of how many gigatons of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) will be reduced by 2050 using that solution, an estimate of how much it will cost to implement, and what the net savings will be. By reduced, I mean either CO2 that will be removed from the atmosphere, or CO2 that would be added if we continue on our current course but that we will avoid adding if we use this solution.

In the book, they have adopted a conservative bias -- that is, left room for error if the proposed solution is not quite as effective or adopted as readily as the scientific evidence suggests is plausible. 

Upon receiving the book, I looked at the Table of Contents and how the book was organized. I read the brief Forward that described the purpose of the book and the assumptions they worked within. Then I flipped straight to the back of the book and read the table of statistics (yes, I'm a nerd).

The numbers show that, by 2050, in the Plausible Scenario (the outcome that we should be able to achieve with good effort), we will be able to reduce 1,051 gigatons of carbon dioxide. That will not get us to drawdown or reversal of global warming. In order to reach drawdown, we will need to reduce carbon dioxide by 1442.3 gigatons. This is the Drawdown Scenario, and they describe how it can be achieved. They also show an Optimum Scenario -- one where we are able reduce carbon dioxide by 1612.9 gigatons.

I also skimmed through the brief bios of the 200 scientists and other experts from around the world who contributed to this research and plan.

My Initial Response

 My first thoughts on getting this far with the book were:
  • a huge sense of relief that so many really smart people with appropriate backgrounds are working on developing solutions and a plan
  • surprise at the wide range of human activities that are currently contributing to the problem, and the practical solutions in each area. 
  • a dawning realization that we have to work on the problem of global warming on many fronts simultaneously -- electric cars, solar power, and wind turbines are not by themselves a solution. They are only part of the solution. 
  • surprise to see that the data shows that the net savings of implementing "greener" solutions exceeds the costs. That is, green solutions are in most cases less expensive than what we are currently doing. 
 I also appreciated that the book is very engaging and interesting to read, not dry and technical as so many reports about climate change and policy frameworks tend to be. It is beautifully illustrated with photos of different landscapes and cultures around the world.

So I dived into the meat of the book.

Drawdown, Open to the Section on Food

Food

I decided to start with the section on food, because I am very interested in food.

I was surprised to learn that a broad-based switch to eating a plant-rich diet is one of the most effective ways of reducing greenhouse gases -- ranked 4th of the 100 solutions. They point out that our "Western diet comes with a steep climate price tag," noting that raising livestock accounts for 15 to 50 percent of current greenhouse gases emitted each year. A large proportion of this is because of the deforestation that takes place in order to create grazing areas for cattle, in particular.

They report that the average Canadian and American eats more than 90 grams of protein each day, much of it from meat and animal products. An adult's daily protein requirement is 50 grams and all or most of it can be obtained from plant-based foods.

They recommend reducing meat consumption and avoiding overeating by restricting calorie intake to 2500 calories per day, on average. Citing Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen master, they say, "making the transition to a plant-based diet may well be the most effective way an individual can stop climate change."

As I have written here before, I eat a healthy well-rounded diet that includes meat. But this book convinces me that reducing my meat consumption is something immediate and positive with respect to climate change that I as an individual can do.

Another astonishing source of CO2 in the atmosphere is from food wastage. More than a third of the food we grow or raise every year in the world is thrown away, primarily in high-income economies. Yet around the world people are going hungry.

The wasted food contributes the equivalent of 4.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide every year. If we used the food instead of throwing it away, globally we could reduce the need to clear more land to grow food, which causes deforestation. Reversing food wastage is ranked third of the 100 solutions in terms of carbon dioxide reduction. If by 2050 we only threw away half as much food as we do presently, we could reduce CO2 by 70.5 gigatons, they say.

Some of the other topics I have read about include farmland restoration (#23), clean cookstoves (#21), multistrata agroforestry (which means planting crops under trees) (#28), improved rice cultivation (#24), growing rice using the system of rice intensification (#53), and silvoculture (grazing livestock in forests) (#9).

There are still several other strategies that involve food and agriculture that I have yet to read about. It is interesting to discover that so much of our greenhouse gases come from our systems for raising and handling food.

Michael Pollan's advice: Plant a food garden in your yard or community. Because of our industrialized approach to agriculture, every calorie of food produced requires 10 calories of fossil fuels to produce it. Therefore, he says, growing your own food is one of the most powerful things you can do. 
 
Why It Matters

To me, the reason that it is imperative to take action is that the well-being of future generations rests on the choices we make right now. Every month that we delay, we pump more greenhouse gases and particulate into the atmosphere. Some of them, like carbon dioxide, remain in the air for decades or even centuries. Others, like black carbon, only stay in the air for eight to ten days, but hugely accelerate the warming effect when they are present.

Taking action now means that our grandchildren and our loved ones' grandchildren will inherit a beautiful world in which they can thrive. The alternative, if we do not take action, is too horrible to contemplate.

I'll leave you with some photos of me on a recent hike with my son and daughter.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Birds Are Back

One of the joys of living in a semi-rural area is having forests, meadows, and small lakes and ponds all around, right outside my door. Moreover, I live on a peninsula which is about two and a half kilometers wide, so in every direction, the ocean also is near at hand. The whole peninsula is criss-crossed with hiking trails, and there are small parks with beach access all around its perimeter.

These are all things that I really like about living here. Another nice aspect is that the community is quite small -- about 5,000 -- and friendly. There are several residential neighbourhoods, but overall, it is a mixed use area that includes farms, a small commercial "town center," and some industries such as an oyster farm and a timber-sorting facility.

The Oyster Farm in the Late Afternoon
One of my regular road walks takes me down to the oyster farm. There is public beach access right next to the oyster farm on the bay. I snapped the photo above yesterday on my walk.

Only two and a half weeks ago, our backyard was still full of snow. Although Vancouver Island does not get much snow compared to the rest of Canada, we live up on the north side of a large hill. So we get a little more snow than many other Islanders (which is fine with me).

A Snowy Yard
Weather permitting, I go out and hike on the nearby trails several times a week. With a number of days of sunny weather, most of the snow has vanished. I was delighted to hear many birds twittering and calling in the forest last week. The birds are back, having returned from their winter migration. I hadn't realized that I had missed their singing until I heard it again.

We live with wild animals all around us. Some of the animals I have frequently seen or heard right in our neighbourhood include: deer, rabbits, owls, eagles, hawks, raccoons, seals, sea lions, and several kinds of ducks and geese. Of course, there also are ravens, seagulls, hummingbirds, and many other types of birds.

My son spotted a cougar at the entrance to the trails last winter. I have seen bear tracks and bear droppings, although I haven't seen an actual bear here yet. I have been told that pods of whales swim by from time to time. I believe there are foxes and coyotes here as well, as I have seen their droppings.

In addition to going on forest walks, I also love to walk on trails by the shore. On one of our recent walks, Rob and I were able to walk out to an island that is only accessible at low tide. It was exciting to explore a new place, although we didn't stay long as the tide was coming in and we did not want to be trapped there.

Low Tide
A Sunny Afternoon



















If you look closely at the photo labelled "Low Tide," you can see that the beach was covered with clam shells.

Our geriatric dog, Kate, is always thrilled to join us on our walks. When she was younger, she ran circles around us. Now we have to stop and wait for her.

Standing on the Edge     
In the photo above, Kate and I are standing at the edge of a small cliff. The trees are hanging out over the edge.

A Stand of Garry Oaks
The photo above shows a stand of gnarled Garry oaks. They are growing in an exposed location, where the ocean winds blow.

Driftwood
Big Old Tree



















The forests here are filled with big trees. They are not ancient forests, however, but second or third growth trees. Everywhere there are huge stumps and other signs of past logging activity. Trees have been logged on Vancouver Island for about a century and a half.

The Pond
The final photo that I will leave you with is one of the pond. This is the same pond that was covered with ice in recent photos that I posted. The other day when I took this picture, there were some very noisy ducks having arguments over at the far end of the pond.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

About Commitment

Two Virtues

Last month, I attended a weekend yoga workshop taught by one of my excellent yoga instructors. Each time she does one of these workshops, she designs it around a theme taken from the list of 100 virtues. This particular workshop focused on commitment and self-discipline. 

As it happens, commitment and discipline are two areas in which I believe I am quite strong. Now, if the focus had been patience, tolerance, or confidence, it would be a different story!

In general, I don’t really struggle with making a commitment to something. And, once I have agreed to do something, I follow through and do it. Not necessarily quickly. The opposite of procrastination (promptness?) also is a virtue that I could use some work on. 

Similarly, with self-discipline. I am quite capable of being a stern taskmaster for myself. In fact, I remember certain times during my work life when I spent 14 solid hours at my desk to complete a necessary project, at a high standard, and met the deadline.

Hmm. 

In the yoga workshop, I found myself re-thinking commitment and discipline to take it to a deeper level than my initial smug response, which was, “Oh, I’m pretty good at those virtues.” And I have continued to ruminate on commitment and self-discipline in the weeks since.

Having strong self-discipline means sometimes pushing yourself to complete something for a deadline, or persevering with doing a task or activity even when you would rather be doing something else. With good self-discipline, a person can master new skills, develop behaviours that help achieve their goals, and follow through on commitments they have made. 

But doing that too much, day after day, is not a good thing. Head down, flogging oneself to keep going, ignoring the need for rest; that is when self-discipline can become excessive and unhealthy. I am sorry to say, that kind of single mindedness describes much of my past work behaviour.

Similarly, a problem that I have with commitment is not lack of commitment or failure to follow through on a commitment. Rather, it is over-commitment. I have a history of committing to more than I can possibly do. It’s not because I can’t say “no” to people, but rather because I have strong sense of duty, and a vastly over-extended sense of what I can accomplish. Pair this with a slight tendency towards perfectionism, and voila! A recipe for stress and burnout. 

So, my take-away from the workshop was, a virtue, taken to excess, becomes a problem.

Application To Environmentalism

As I continued to think about commitment, I considered one area in which I have been struggling to make a commitment. 

Like so many of us, I am very worried about global sustainability: climate change, loss of species diversity, environmental degradation, and extreme weather events. I have been struggling to figure out what to do about it. The problem is urgent, and also so massive. Although it might be the most important thing I could devote my time to now that I am retired, I feel paralyzed by helplessness. I can’t figure out what to do, and therefore, what actions to commit to.

HOW AM I GOING TO SOLVE CLIMATE CHANGE?

I’m not. Stated this way, it appears ludicrous. I am one little person. I am not going to solve climate change. I am not going to save the world (or, at least, the human inhabitants of the world).

So, another lightbulb moment in the workshop had to do suddenly understanding why I was having such a hard time deciding the best way to commit myself to supporting global sustainability. I was setting an impossible expectation for myself.

And when the problem of saving the whole world slid off my shoulders, I felt much more at peace, and also I was able to think more clearly about what positive steps I actually could do. I can continue to add one thing, and another thing, and another thing to what I am currently doing to be more environmentally aware.

So, here is a list of some new things I have already started to do:

- buy nothing in January (except consumables)
- cook a vegetarian dinner once a week
- limit cooking beef for dinner to no more than once a week
- discontinue using chemical fabric softeners for laundry (use dryer balls instead)
- read several articles per week that summarize current research on environmental issue and response strategies
- order the book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” by Paul Hawken, from the Library
- write a blog post this month on global sustainability (this is it)
- spend time in nature every week, thinking about and valuing the natural world

Island Winter

We have had a little touch of winter on Vancouver Island this month. Although it has not been very cold compared to the frigid temperatures across the rest of the country, we have had a bit of snow, and the ponds froze. So, I’ll end this blog post with some photos of our Island winter.

(I am writing this on a tablet, which limits editing, so please pardon any errors.)






Sunday, January 27, 2019

Fat But Fit?

Stock Fitness Photo From Here
January is a month when many people make resolutions at the first of the month and, unhappily, have already broken them by the end of the month. Oftentimes those New Year's resolutions pertain to fitness. So, although I do not make New Year's resolutions, I believe that today's post on fitness and health is timely.

I have had a longtime interest in fitness, health, nutrition, food, wellness, quality of life, and longevity factors. I am the sort of person who actually reads the health bulletins handed out at pharmacies, and the health columns in newspapers, and every new update on whether dietary fat got a bad rap in the Canada Food Guide of 30 years ago, and why we should eat colourful fruits and vegetables. And wine. Is that one glass a day actually good for you, and what are the risks, and is a glass of beer just as beneficial? Kathy Gottberg, on her SMART Living blog, has written a lot on these topics, for example, here, here, and here

Red Wine Stock Photo From Here
 As well, I am an outdoorsy person who enjoys athletic pursuits. But, as I have written here before, until I retired 18 months ago, I worked long hours at a sedentary desk job that left little time for anything else. Some of the things that were lacking in my life back then included: enough sleep, a satisfying social life, enough time to spend with Rob and other family members, sufficient exercise, and time for personal passions like writing, art, gardening, cooking, and travel.

Although I have always enjoyed cooking, and in the past I grew some of my own fruits and vegetables, during the final five years of my career it became very difficult to maintain a healthy approach to eating. On a typical day, I'd eat a light breakfast, throw together a bag lunch, and race out the door to be at work by 8:30.

The morning was filled with meetings, preparation of agendas and updates for meetings, phone calls, and answering emails. At noon, I would eat lunch at my desk, preparing for the afternoon slate of meetings or answering emails. The afternoon consisted of more meetings, and some were highly political, or involved stressful personnel issues. Finally, at 4:30 when the staff went home, I would sigh and dig into the work that required real concentration and uninterrupted time: writing reports, working on the budget, or planning. I'd also make a cup of tea and dig into the remains of my bag lunch, often high energy foods like granola bars, or crackers and cheese, or puddings. Finally, at 7:30 or 8:00, I'd head home, starving. I'd cook dinner and we'd eat at 8:30 or 9:00.

The lifestyle was a prescription for high stress, lack of activity, and poor eating habits. You can see how it left little time to lead a well-rounded life. Although most of my life I have been short and slender, in the final five years of my career, I packed on 20 pounds and moved into the "overweight" category. One reason that I retired when I did was that I began to have worrisome health indicators that made it obvious to me that I could not sustain that kind of a lifestyle and remain healthy.

So, since retiring, it has been very important to me to reestablish healthy habits and live a well-rounded life. I get enough sleep every night, and refuse to participate in activities that require me to set an alarm clock. I eat three well balanced meals a day, and make sure that I drink enough fluids, especially water. I have an active social life that includes new and old friends, and I spend lots of time with Rob, my kids, and my grandkids. I make time for writing, art, reading, and other personal pursuits.

Alpine Skiing
 And I have increased my activity level. I do at least 30 minutes a day of at least moderate exercise five days a week, as well as yoga twice a week.These photos show two examples of activities that I have done in the past week: A day of skiing, and a hike with Rob up the steep hill to the viewpoint near where we live.
Hiking













For Christmas, I was gifted with a wearable fitness device. This is something that I had not imagined wanting, but it has delighted the data nerd inside my head. The small screen on my wrist tells me how many steps I have taken that day, how many hours of the day I have been physically active, my pulse rate, the distance I have walked in kilometers, estimated calorie burn, how many flights of stairs I have climbed, how many minutes I have spent in sustained exercise (such as brisk walking), how many hours of sleep I got, and whether I have met my goal of 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week. If I wanted to, I could also track weight and fluid intake.

It is synchronized with my phone, so at the end of every day, I can look at a report on my phone, and I get detailed stats on all of those categories, with appealing multi-coloured graphs, and stars for the goals I have achieved.

This is the Graph Generated to Show My Sleep Patterns Last Night
 Well, who can resist stars? Not me! Gold stars and graphs motivate the heck out of me.

This is not all. The device also sends me a weekly report. I can see how I did this week in each category, as well as cumulative kilometers walked, etc. Since I put the device on my wrist on December 25, I have been going strong, trying to beat my own stats.

Using the heart rate data combined with age, height, weight, and activity records, the device has estimated my general fitness level. It tells me that my cardio fitness level is excellent for a woman my age. 

I am fat but fit, and I'm happy with that.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Beach Compositions

Last week, Rob and I took Kate and went to one of the local beaches a couple of hours before low tide. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and we had a lovely time rambling across the sand and circumnavigating tide pools. As it was on the weekend, lots of other people were at the beach too, but it's a big beach.

I was particularly interested in how the waves had left patterns in the sand. They looked dramatic in the late afternoon light.

I took quite a few photos, all with my phone, and share some of them below.

The Water Retreats



The Dog and Me



Rob and Kate Go Around Tide Pools



Lines



Hole




Woven






Transition


Stone Circle


Tide Pool



The Beach




Every day I feel grateful to live in such a beautiful place.