Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Two Very Different Cretan Cities

Well, "cities" might not be quite the right word.

As I wrote in my last blog post, I have just returned from a yoga retreat in Crete. As well as meditating and doing lots of yoga everyday, we went on a number of excursions to explore historical and fascinating areas of Crete. The first two excursions were to the Palace of Knossos and to Matala.

The Palace of Knossos

The Minoan city of Knossos on Crete is thought to be the oldest European city. It is located only a few kilometers from Heraklion, the largest contemporary city on Crete. Probably inhabited from neolithic times, this bronze age city was the centre of Minoan civilization. The first Palace of Knossos is thought to have been built around 2000 BC, and at its height, the palace and surrounding city had a population of 100,000 people. The total inhabited area was 10 square kilometers. The palace was abandoned around 1300-1100 BC.

The Palace of Knossos is in the Middle of a Wide Valley
The Palace of Knossos was rediscovered by British archaeologist Arthur Evans. Excavations began in the early 1900's. Today some sections have been restored. My photo below shows the restored north entrance. There is a fresco that depicts a charging bull partially visible behind one of the columns.

Some Sections of the Ruins Have Been Restored
The Palace of Knossos is famous in Greek mythology because of the legend of the Minotaur. The Minotaur was a creature that was half man and half bull who was kept at the centre of a labyrinth constructed by Daedalus underneath the palace on the orders of King Minos. Theseus entered the labyrinth and fought the Minotaur. Theseus was able to find his way out of the labyrinth by following the thread given to him by Ariadne, the king's daughter. Then Theseus and Ariadne fled from Crete.

A Painting of the Minotaur
I can't believe I was actually there, in this historic place I had read about in books!

On the afternoon we were there, it was very hot, or so it seemed to this northern gal. After we had wandered all over exploring the ruins, Theo gathered us together in the shade and led us in a meditation. He had us visualize entering the labyrinth. For me, this and the subsequent meditations were powerful experiences.

Matala

A few days later, we travelled to Matala on the south coast of Crete. The cliffs of Matala have many caves, ranging in size from small ones that could fit a couple of people to the ones the size of a large room. It is not known how the caves came to be there, but it is most likely that humans dug them out to use for habitation. In the 1960's hippies descended on the community and lived in the caves.

We made use of one of the caves for our daily meditation session, much to the consternation of some swallows who had nests on the cliffs.
Climbing Up to the Caves of Matala
After we came down from the caves, our group split up. I went with three others to have a cold drink in a beachfront bar. Then we explored the little town.

The hippie presence was everywhere, from the colourfully painted sidewalks, to VW vans parked all around and represented in murals, to tributes to John Lennon painted in the square.

 
Goofing Around with Nura





Exploring Matala


We had a lot of fun browsing in the shops. But at this point, we didn't dare buy anything because we had no suitcases in which to bring stuff home! (Click to read about the lost suitcases.)

After shopping, we went for a swim in the Libyan Sea (the part of the Mediterranean Sea south of Crete). The water was so refreshing -- a wonderful feeling on a hot afternoon. Theo's tent provided some welcome shade. 

Our Tent on the Beach with the Caves Behind

We ended the day with a beautiful dinner at the Sunset Taverna, so named because it offered a spectacular view of the sun going down. After dinner, we walked back to the beach and I took the photo below. Idyllic.

 
A Beautiful Sunset
 
But, the day was not over yet. We still had a long drive back in the dark to the place we were staying, over mountains and around hairpin turns. We stopped high on a mountaintop and all got out of the cars to look at the stars. It was an amazing day.


Friday, July 12, 2019

Retreat in Crete

Circle on the Sand
A Yoga Retreat

I have just returned from a yoga retreat in Crete. I went with my daughter, K, and it was absolutely fabulous.

I loved Crete, which I have never visited before -- the beautiful rugged island, the generous people, the turquoise water, and the delicious food. I loved the retreat, which included daily yoga practice in the morning, brunch, excursions to beaches and historical sites, daily meditation, and dinners featuring excellent local food.

Nura (our yogi) and Theo (a psychotherapist from Greece) were our fearless leaders, instructors, and tour guides. The seven participants travelled from Canada and Switzerland to take part, and they were a warm, wonderful, fun bunch of people to spend a week with. And, best of all, I got to go to Crete with my daughter!

In Crete with my Daughter
Where's The Luggage?

The first thing that happened is that our luggage did not arrive on Crete. Apparently, there was a baggage handling problem at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, and 60% of the people on our flight arrived at Heraklion in Crete without their luggage. We were among them.

We arrived at 8:30 in the evening after 24 hours without sleep, to discover that our bags were not on the carousel. Theo and Nura were at the airport to pick us up, but we couldn't leave because we had to stand in a lineup for two hours to file a lost luggage report.

The next day, the luggage did not arrive either, and our yoga retreat group was leaving to drive across Crete to a remote village on the south side of the island to our retreat location. We were wearing jeans, T-shirts, socks, and running shoes from our flight the previous day that were none too fresh. Although we'd each had the foresight to put a couple of spare clothing items in our carry-on backpacks, we did not have hats, sunscreen, sandals, or light summer clothes, and it was hot there! We also didn't have our yoga clothes, yoga mats, toiletries, or bathing suits.

So, we tore around Heraklion to try to buy a few essentials, as the area where we would be staying for a week did not have stores. But it was Sunday, and everything was closed, except for a few tourist stalls. Nevertheless, we managed to find some light clothes, and, amazingly, the last store we looked in also sold bathing suits and underwear.

I had just finished publishing a blog post in which I announced that I was imposing a clothes shopping moratorium on myself. I think the universe was laughing at my good intentions!

The wonderful people at our yoga retreat were so kind, lending us yoga pants, other clothing, sunscreen, and yoga mats. I accepted that I would never see my suitcase again. I was managing to get by just fine with the little I had, and I wondered why I had thought I had needed all that stuff I'd packed in my suitcase.

And then, four days later, our suitcases showed up, having been delivered by taxi from Heraklion. A surfeit of clothing!

A Beautiful Place To Be

We stayed in a family-run inn in a tiny hamlet. It was situated across the street from the Mediterranean Sea.

Our Accommodations
In the photo of the inn above, our room was the middle blue-painted one.

Water Tap in the Stairwell
Inside our Room, and my Feet
 Every morning at 8:00 or 8:30, we did 1 1/2 hours of yoga on the terrace under the bamboo umbrellas. Then our hosts served breakfast at a long table under the umbrellas. Some days, they set up the tables right beside the sea, under the shade of big trees.


Breakfast on the Terrace
The Yoga and Meditation Sessions

I attend a weekly yoga session with Nura Madjzoub (and I also go to a yoga studio in my neighbourhood once a week). Nura takes a holistic approach, which really resonates with me. I am still a beginner, and I find that yoga has added an important dimension to my life. 

Several times a year, Nura offers yoga retreats in international locations. I was thrilled when my daughter and I committed to attend. I have never done anything like this before.
Theo Making a Funny Face

Nura collaborated with Theo Kyriakos to offer the retreat. Theo is presently based in Greece, and he was our cultural guide as well as our meditation instructor.

Nura in Front of the Temple of Apollo








Nura and Theo organized the retreat around the theme of harmony, specifically the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether.

They were also great fun to be with, as you can see from this photo of Nura hamming it up in front of the Temple of Apollo, and Theo making a funny face for the camera.

That's Me Doing a Headstand!
After six consecutive days of 1 1/2 hours of yoga, I was a little sore, and very tired. But I loved every minute of it.

Partner Work
After yoga and breakfast each day, we went on an excursion, either to the beach or to a historical location. After fun and frolick in the waves, Theo led us in a guided meditation. We explored our shadow side. I found the meditation experience very powerful. The meditations left me with lots of images and ideas to explore further.

Most evenings, we ate a late dinner at Taverna Kriti, a local family run restaurant, where we sat at a covered patio beside the Mediterranean. The food was fabulous. The last night, George made us a longtime family recipe: goat with wild artichokes, simmered all day in an egg yolk and lemon sauce. He raised the goats. He picked the artichokes himself up in the mountains. I can't believe I forgot to take a picture of it.

I leave you with one final image that says it all: eating watermelon in the sea.

Watermelon in the Sea

Friday, June 28, 2019

A Shopping Moratorium

Tomatoes and Herbs on the Deck
Yesterday, I heard something I hadn’t heard for a long time. It was the sound of raindrops pattering down on the roof.

For the last six weeks, we have had no rain. We have been experiencing a drought. The grass outside is yellow and crunchy. The arbutus trees have been dropping their leaves. When I walk along the parched trails, I kick leaves underfoot as if it were autumn.

We live in a coastal rain forest, not the desert. So the rainfall was very welcome.

As a consequence of the drought, our area has water use restrictions. We can only water our yards and gardens for a few hours every second day. (Vegetable gardens are exempted.) We are asked not to use water to wash cars or to hose off driveways.

We have installed soaker hoses to water the shrubs. We don’t water the grass or use a sprinkler. We’ve used lawn clippings to mulch the gardens.

This is the third consecutive summer of drought in this area. Although I haven’t lived on Vancouver Island long, local people tell me that this weather pattern is atypical. The fire risk as at a high level and it is still only June.

The recent hot dry summers in this area are most likely a consequence of climate change. A recently released report on the changing climate said that Canada, especially the more northerly parts, can expect more degrees of warming than the world average, due to the climate crisis. One reason is that as the glacial ice and snow in the arctic and on the mountain tops melts and is not replenished, light from the sun will be absorbed rather than being reflected by the white snow. That will warm the land and air, causing the remaining glaciers to melt even faster.

The more I educate myself about climate change, the more worried I become. The consequences of rapid warming for human civilization, animals, and plants are dire.

But there are positive changes taking place too.

People are now talking about climate change. It is a topic in the media now, whereas for so many years the topic seemed to be avoided. Now our national broadcaster, CBC, regularly reports on climate related issues as well as solutions that individuals, communities, and various levels of government are implementing. Cities, and regional districts like mine, are developing policies and plans to reduce their carbon footprint and take action to mitigate climate change. For example, my regional district has been very proactive in developing a solid waste management approach that diverts waste from landfills. Each household recycles, sorting their household waste into compost (food and yard waste), paper products, recyclable plastics and metals, and garbage (for the landfill).

Since I last wrote about this topic, I have continued to look for additional ways to do my part to reduced my carbon footprint. Here is a list of new I initiatives I have taken in the last two months.

1. I met with my financial advisor and divested my retirement portfolio of fossil fuels. I replaced those mutual funds with funds that are investing in green technology.

2. Reduced beef/lamb in my diet to once a week.

3. Now do most of my grocery shopping at the nearest store (3 km.) to reduce driving, and if I am in the nearby city anyways, I mostly shop at a locally owned independent grocer that offers local produce, meat, and dairy products.

4. To reduce our water usage, we bought and installed more soaker hoses, we mulched the gardens, and we don’t flush the toilet overnight (ewwww).

5. I convinced my service club to offer a vegetarian alternative at the next community pancake breakfast. Now instead of pancakes and sausage, people can choose to have pancakes and fruit instead.

6. When I put away my winter clothes a few weeks ago and brought out my summer clothes, I realized I have way too many clothes. So I have implemented a shopping moratorium for myself. I will not buy any clothing, footwear, ore jewelry for myself until 2020.

I believe that as individuals make personal changes changes, we will make a difference and also inspire ourselves to change policies and practices at a broader social level.

On a totally different topic, I am heading off on an adventure with my daughter. In my next post, I’ll tell you all about it!


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Animals Around Us

Upper Pond With Lotus Bloom

A Haven For Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

As I have mentioned before, we purchased our home from people who were avid gardeners. The entire backyard is beautifully landscaped with shrubs that bloom from spring until the fall, and it also has two ponds and a mini waterfall. It has several birdhouses, a bee house, a bat-house, a bird feeder, and a birdbath.

Our yard is a haven for birds, bees, and butterflies. All summer long, the blossoms are alive with buzzing bees -- bumble bees, honey bees, and other types. I am not very knowledgeable about identifying butterflies, but in the last few days, I believe I have seen both Western Tiger Swallowtail and Pale Swallowtail butterflies in our yard, and a blue butterfly that might be a Blue Copper.

As well, we have many birds. We have a pair of humming birds, one with a green head and one with a red head (a female and male pair of Rufous Hummingbirds, I think). One day when I was out in the yard wearing a red shirt, one of the hummingbirds hovered only a foot away, trying to determine if I was a large red flower, I guess. The same day, a tiny bird of an unknown species that was perched on the rose arbour a few feet from me flew over and was about to land on my head. I felt the whirring of tiny wings just above me. It realized its mistake and continued on.

The birds I recognize include American robins, varied thrushes, juncos, chickadees, and sparrows. There is a yellow bird that looks like a canary (possibly the Common Yellowthroat?), and many other little birds. There are crows, ravens, and Northern Flickers. Just the other day, a Pileated Woodpecker came by and pecked at the trunk of a Douglas fir tree just beyond the back fence. Once a Great Blue Heron paid a visit to our pond. I ran out and counted the fish, but they were all still there.

Sailing past the Douglas fir trees, we frequently see bald eagles, hawks, and sometimes a pair of turkey vultures. Presently, we believe that there is an eagle nesting in one of our Douglas fir trees. We can't make out the nest, but we hear the eagle vocalizing all day long. We've also heard the call of an owl, red winged blackbirds, and ring-collared doves.

We don't use any chemicals of any sort in our yard, and I think that is why it attracts so many species. 

 

Other Species in Our Yard and Nearby


Vancouver Island Deer
As well as the birds, bees, and butterflies, there are a variety of other animals that share our space. The deer are so commonplace here that I never remember to take photos of them even though I see them almost every day in our yard or around the neighbourhood. The photo above is of a pair of deer at a new house under construction down the road from us.

Bug at the Pond
There are many wild rabbits in the neighbourhood. A large white rabbit with a black spot on its eye and a smaller brown bunny spend a lot of time grazing in our yard. One day when I walked around the streets, I counted eighteen different rabbits on my walk.

One evening, I surprised two raccoons fighting (or mating?) in a nearby ditch. Our next door neighbour has been plagued by raccoons getting into her garbage but fortunately we haven't had that problem.

I've seen two different variants of garter snakes in our yard, and Rob spotted either a salamander or lizard in the garden the other day. Sometimes a little green tree frog shows itself. We have all manner of interesting insects, including June bugs, dragon flies and damselflies. As well, we have various slugs and worms, and in the pond there are snails and leeches.

Goldfish at Feeding Time
 Our lower pond has goldfish in it. I am fascinated with the goldfish, and spend lots of time watching them each day. This winter, we wondered if they had survived as we did not see them for months. But once the water warmed up in the spring, they reappeared. Most of them made it through the winter. There were thirteen fish when we first moved here two years ago, and we now have approximately twenty-eight fish. The goldfish have been having babies! The minnows are black, grey, or brown. As they mature, they turn orange. Some of the mature fish are orange and white, and one large fish is all white.
 
Canada Geese
I also see lots of animals in the forests around us, and in the nearby little lake and ponds. On a recent mountain bike ride, I paused for a break, and a skunk walked calmly across the path I had just ridden down. I stayed very still and watched the cute little cat-like animal stroll by. 

On my forest hikes, I often stand by one of the many ponds to see what I can see. The largest pond is home to many ducks (buffleheads, mallards). One day, the two Canada geese shown in the photo were there. They were disturbed by my presence and kept swimming back and forth in front of me, honking loudly. I went back on the trail and came out again at a different viewing spot. The two geese spotted me instantly and swam over to chase me away. That same day, I saw some Brant geese come to the pond. Brant geese are a protected species that migrate through this area in the spring. When the Brants tried to land, the Canada geese chased them away.

Clams at the Estuary
I have read that there are at least six cougar dens on this peninsula where we live. Although my son and my neighbours have seen cougars here, I haven't seen one. There is reported to be a resident bear. I haven't seen it, but I did see a bear this spring in nearby Coombs. It was on the bike path, so we took a little detour on our bicycles.

My Daughter and Oysters

Abundant Ocean

Our peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the ocean and its great abundance of life. Last week, there was a pod of Orcas (Killer Whales) in the bay on the far side of the peninsula. I didn't see them, but a number of people posted pictures and videos.

There are many sea lions and seals here. In the spring and fall, from everywhere in the area you can hear sea lions barking. We have not gone fishing much, but when we went out on our friend's boat last week, Rob dropped a line. He caught and released a small ling cod. Last week, hiking along the shore with my daughter, I saw sea stars and sea anemones. We gathered some oysters and few clams.

Kate Takes a Breather
We don't have an oyster knife for shucking oysters, but we managed to shuck them using a screwdriver and one of Rob's sturdy knives. We each slurped down a couple of raw oysters, and the rest of the dozen went into a seafood chowder, along with a handful of clams. Delicious! Afterwards, we returned the shells to the beach. (Note that we carefully read the government website beforehand to make sure that we were gathering the shellfish in an area that was safe and permitted.)

 

The Pets

Oliver Sitting on my Legs
Of course, no blog post about animals would be complete without mentioning those important fur-covered family members, Kate and Oliver. Kate is our elderly Blue Heeler cross. She still loves her hikes and walks with me, but now I have to take it slowly and give her lots of rest breaks. She also likes to cool off along the way in a pond or the lake.

Oliver, our cat, also is elderly. He is quite hobbled with arthritis. He loves to bask in the sun, or sleep on a chair out on the deck. If we're in the yard, he follows us around. He's a very cuddly guy.

 

A Frog Story

A Frog in Our Pond
This spring, a frog appeared in our pond. I was thrilled to welcome this new pond resident. At first, every time I came near the pond, it jumped into the water. But after awhile, it became used to me and would just sit there blinking and sunning itself as I fed the fish.

A few days ago, I went online to try to determine what type of frog it was. We have a serious problem on Vancouver Island with an invasive species of frog, the American Bullfrog, which has been taking over wetlands and killing native species of frogs. It is a voracious predator that can eat fish, mice, painted turtles, salamanders, ducklings, and other small birds. That's why I was so excited to welcome what I thought was a native species of frog to our pond. I believed our frog was not an American Bullfrog because it was smaller than other bullfrogs I've seen, and also because it didn't produce the easy-to-identify bullfrog croak.

So, I was horrified to discover from my research that our frog was, in fact, an American Bullfrog -- a female one. Rob set up a special USB camera with a computer so we could zoom in on it to make a positive identification. Females are unable to vocalize. They can travel quite a long way to get to a pond, where they will lay up to 50,000 eggs at a time. I frantically read websites about the history of the bullfrog's introduction to the area (one website said they were brought in by restaurant owners who wanted to serve frogs' legs and when the business failed, released into the wild), watched videos of them eating all manner of things, learned that they carry amphibian pathogens, and looked at maps showing that their territory is expanding. I had a sleepless night worrying that we were harbouring an invasive species and that our pond soon would be full of bullfrog tadpoles.

Meanwhile, Rob read the frog control website to learn how to exterminate it, and then calmly followed the instructions while I refused to watch. Invasive species or not, I had become fond of "our" frog. But culling it was the right thing to do, and I am grateful that Rob was willing to do it. We no longer have a bullfrog in our pond.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

So Where Have You Been, Dr Sock?

I haven't posted for so long that you might have thought I'd disappeared somewhere. I've hardly been keeping up on reading my favourite blogs, either.

Good Life, Good Food
Well actually, I've been right here. I made one quick trip to northern BC, but mostly I've just been here at home, living my life.

We've had some friends and family visiting over the past month.

My brother was down here for a visit in late April.We had a great time.

Trail at the Point
We showed him some of our favourite hiking places.

Also the beach, of course!



With My Bro












We also biked the Parksville to Coombs Rail Trail there and back, with a nice stop for lunch in Coombs at the famous Goats on the Roof. It was great to get out on the mountain bikes for the first time this spring. Since then, we've cycled the Rail Trail once more, and also the trails around Enos Lake.

Intrepid Cyclists
We had a visit from my son, who has just returned from a holiday in Barbados. We're looking forward to a visit from my daughter next week.

Our friend Cliff has been visiting too. Last week, we spent an afternoon out on Cliff's ranger tug cruising along beaches and around islands.

Ahoy Captain!
At the Marina
Livin' The Dream
Easter was a big hit with the grandkids. I can explain it in one word: chocolate!

Face Paint and... Chocolate!
My Booth at the Spring Showcase











The last weekend of April, my art group hosted a Spring Showcase. It was well attended and we had a number of guest artists join us this year. You can read more about it here.

The weekend after the art show, I attended a writers' conference. Several members of my writers' group went as well.

I've also been busy with volunteering activities. I volunteer a couple of times a month at my grandson's preschool. Our service group hosted a community Easter Egg Hunt. We also joined the Broombusters' initiative, and spent an afternoon cutting scotch broom around the community centre. Broom is an invasive plant in our area that suppresses native species, is toxic to other plants and animals, and creates a fire hazard. Invasive species are the second greatest cause of loss of species diversity around the world.

Rob Cutting Broom

During April, I spent three weeks participating in the Drawdown Eco-challenge. Participants' focus during the eco-challenge was to commit to making personal changes to reduce their individual impact on global warming. I chose two daily challenges: to eat two meatless meals a day, and to walk daily in nature. As well I completed several one-time challenges, including: creating a compost bin in my yard, mulching trees and shrubs, learning about electric vehicles, learning about heat pumps, and donating to purchase clean cook-stoves in developing countries. There were many options to choose from, including challenges that involved collaborating with community groups or communicating with local leaders to influence environmental policies.

The Drawdown organization eco-challenge that I participated in is not the only chance to get involved. There is a July challenge to go plastic-free. There are also a number of other groups doing great work to reduce global warming and to mitigate the effects of climate change, such as 350.org and Blue Dot. I plan to continue to educate myself and to make changes to reduce my carbon footprint. I have come to understand that the human race has reached a critical juncture and that we need to make sweeping changes now if we want to leave a liveable planet for our children and grandchildren.

I haven't been giving the garden the attention it deserves, but somehow it still manages to look beautiful. My potato, strawberry, and tomato plants are thriving, as are the pots of herbs. However, I can't seem to get the spinach to grow. Bunnies, perhaps?

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.