Saturday, October 11, 2014

Thanking The Bees

This Thanksgiving, let's give thanks to pollinators and acknowledge the work they do to put food on our tables in abundance, for without bees and other pollinators we would not be able to enjoy the kind of Thanksgiving meals we have come to take for granted.

I am especially thankful and grateful this year because we almost lost our colonies. I cannot imagine late summer at White's Wetland without the familiar liquid gold harvest, the silky textured honey, pure and light and delicate, that has been gracing White family tables since 1919.

So the tragic and frightening scenario of a world without bees hit a little too close to home this year. The fact is that all over the world bees are disappearing. Bees are at risk on every continent. And if bees are at risk, the human race is at risk. It's that simple. Colony-collapse disorder, pesticide use, disease, loss of habitat - we are putting our most important animal kingdom allies at great risk by virtue of our own bad habits, our abuses and negligence and our ignorance. Books like Laurence Packer's can help us to better understand these tiny underrated creatures so that we come to appreciate how critical they are to our own survival.

Keeping the Bees is not a puritanical moral lecture, however, but a delightful journey around the world - the world of bees, that is. Packer teaches and enlightens with prose that is as easy on the palate as the finest honey dripping on fresh-baked bread. Fascinating and informative, it will forever change your relationship to these incredible insects. If the first step to saving them is to start caring about them, then this book is essential reading.

We must save the planet's pollinators before it is too late. We humans fear their sting, but the harm we are doing to their world will have painful repercussions for all of us - it will be a painfully hungry world, a world with more people but fewer crops. Fewer plants, fewer flowers, fewer fruits, fewer vegetables.

So before you pile your plate with delicious baked squashes, green beans, carrots or pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving, give a thought to the tiny creature who really brought it to your table. That yummy goodness really didn't come from Loblaws, Metro, Whole Foods or even Farmboy. It has been brought to you courtesy of the humble bee.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Deciduous Dreams

I don’t know about you, but my eyes are starved for colour. I long to see green foliage and clear blue skies. If the bleak January landscape of white on white with shades of grey is starting to play with your psyche and if you’re not about to jet away to the Caribbean any time soon, may I suggest a quick and economical alternative?
Here is a good book all about trees, so you can pull the drapes against the drabness and indulge in deciduous dreams at your leisure. Roger Deakin’s  Wildwood, A Journey Through Trees is beautifully written, each chapter weaving facts with personal anecdotes about our complex and perhaps often unexamined relationship with wood, trees, woodlands and forests. Tree huggers unite, because there is something in this marvellous book for every interest or reason for loving trees.
Take, for example, the chapter entitled “Among Jaguars.” I turned to it believing I was going to be whisked off to the emerald rainforests of Central and South America. Not so. Deakin takes us to the Jaguar factory in Coventry, England and surprises us with some interesting data about the nuances of the walnut burr, the coveted and costly part of the walnut tree that is used exclusively to trim the mechanical beast’s dash, steering wheel and gearshift knob.
My favourite chapters, however, are “Willow” and “Ash,” two exquisite paeans in prose about two very lovely trees species that grace our lives and our landscapes here too in southwestern Ontario.
In “Willow” we learn that there are more willow varieties in the world than most of us realize, but only one, a  special variety of the white willow, is used to make the world’s best cricket bats. Yet Deakin’s curiosity for facts and stories about man’s many uses of wood through the centuries reveals an underlying reverence for trees just being, well, trees.
Of the willow he writes, ”All willows abound in life and vigour, and their pliable wands give them grace.” Willow’s genus, Salix, he reminds us, stems from the Latin verb salire, which means “to leap.” And leap they do, as willow’s natural spontaneity means that new saplings will emerge easily and readily from cuttings, all on their own and with little help from us. Willows are often planted inadvertently when we simply drive a willow fencepost into the earth or if we happened to leave a green log lying on damp ground.
Nature, so glorious, no?
As for the chapter on the Ash, I can only say – just read it, for under the spell of Deakin’s pen this great tree spreads its glorious branches across your mind ― Fraxinus excelsior, a name that exquisitely evokes its majestic essencemaking you want to run immediately to the nearest woods, find a specimen for yourself and throw your arms about it.
He writes:
“I love the skin of ash, almost human in its perfect smoothness when young, with the under-glow of green. It wrinkles and creases like elephant skin at the heels and elbows of old pleachers where they have healed. It bursts out in pimples or heat bumps where the epicormic buds are about to break out into new shoots.”
Roger Deakin passed away in 2006, shortly after writing this book. But by sharing his deep and abiding love for trees and the wooded places in this world he has reminded us of how intertwined our humans lives are with those splendid giants among us who have given us fuel and furniture, ornament and shelter across the ages and who sustain us still with their grace and beauty, for whose soul is not stirred with wistful delight at the memory of a leafy canopy of green above on a hot summer day.




Saturday, November 16, 2013

On a Positive Note...

Credit where credit is due, the Ontario government has done something (environmentally) right recently! Ontario is now the first province in Canada to have a Local Food Act. Forest and freshwater foods have been included in the Act, and we can thank Ontario Nature (again) for this. Why is the inclusion of forest and freshwater food important? Because forest and freshwater foods rarely garner the same attention as agriculture in the discussion of local food. Yet it is intrinsically part of the discussion in many areas of our province, most certainly our boreal north. The new Act, which will probably be proclaimed in the spring of 2014,  will provide increased recognition of the importance and value of wild habitat and the need for clean water. Kudos for that. Or should we say two green thumbs up?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ontario Nature is Going to Court

Ontario Nature is an organization that I respect and support. They have always been proactive and outspoken whenever wildlife, wilderness and habitat have been threatened in this province. So it is no surprise that one of nature's greatest allies in this province is, indeed, Ontario Nature.
To learn more about Ontario Nature's stance on the changes to our Endangered Species Act, see the link below. However, you might want to spend some time on their site and/or sign up for the newsletters, which are always well written, knowledgeable and informative.
A big "tree-hugging" thank-you today to a great organization, Ontario Nature!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Ontario Government's Shameful Flip-flop on Endangered Species

While scandals rock municipalities, the Senate and the PMO, let's not forget the whoppers perpetrated by the provincial Liberal government under the guidance of Dalton McGuinty and crew. As if the money-sucking, morally reprehensible health care and gas plant scandals weren't bad enough, the Ontario government has opted to pay for its fiscal mismanagement at the expense of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), the province's only lines of defense against the greed of corporate and industrial developers. Cash-strapped Ontario is jettisoning programs and protocols faster than you can say Close that racetrack! And who is paying the price?
Endangered (and threatened) species. Ultimately, however, we, the people of Ontario, will be the losers, as we will be losing our precious and irreplaceable biodiversity and the beauty and grace of these wild creatures and plants - forever.
Think this is just my embittered opinion? Well, read this and weep: Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, has  released a special report slamming the provincial government for the recent changes made to the once-gold standard Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 2007.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Results of Last Night's City Council Vote

With a pro-development and development community-backed mayor holding the reins of power in our city, it's open season on woods and wetlands in London, Ontario. You know, those pesky parcels of land where trees take up space that could be so better utilized for shopping malls and where ponds only welcome aquatic wildlife, purify our water supply and maintain our water tables. No matter. What city needs more oxygenating green spaces anyway? Let's give the developers the right of way to pour their cement, pave over significant wooded areas, and derisively laugh at us all the way to the bank.

One councillor has tried to broker an imperfect peace, though. He may have appeased Council, but judging from the buzz I hear Londoners are generally not happy about how this all went down. I don't believe that I am exaggerating when I say that some councillors last night have lost the trust of the public for once and for all. A new call to action seems to be emerging from the twitterverse that suggests Londoners may have the 2014 municipal election already on their radar and plan to gear up to elect councillors that will listen, pay attention and be genuinely hyped to make this city a kinder, greener, healthier, smarter city for ALL to enjoy - not just for the enjoyment of developers with deep pockets.

Now it's up to the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority and the MNR. Unfortunately, Council's vote last night has put the cart before the horse. UTRCA and MNR should have been respectfully consulted before an approval was passed. Personal agendas and the pompous prattling of the uninformed should have taken a back seat to the logic and reason of science, intelligent analysis and inquiry. But it didn't.

And had the parcel of land been properly zoned in the first place, that is to say, by taking into account that the woods and wetland might be significant and by conducting an environmental assessment to determine significance, we wouldn't be where we are now.
Welcome to London.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Let's Not Pave Paradise

There is a stand of trees basking in the late August afternoon sunshine on Dingman Drive at Wellington Road. They are blissfully unaware of the controversy that swirls around them or of the “great debate” that could seal their fate tonight.

Pen Equity Real Estate wants to remove the trees and the pond entirely so that it can build its vision for a mega-mall, a shopping complex that we Londoners really don’t need or want, because we already have so many stores and malls sitting empty in our city.

The jobs Pen Equity promises are illusory.

The trees are not. They are real. They stand tall and proud, and we need to make sure that they do.

But this evening, London City Council could actually violate the official plan’s land use policy by choosing to ignore it entirely. A thorough and proper environmental assessment of this natural area must be undertaken before any re-zoning applications are approved or building permits granted. In fact, the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority should have been consulted from the outset, as there is a wetland on the site, and UTRCA policy states that if there’s a wetland, there’s no development!

City Council cannot flagrantly disregard official land use policy without jeopardizing the public’s trust and confidence. Londoners should be very angry if they do.

The Glanworth Community Association is angry, and here is the letter the GCA sent to Ward 14 Councillor, Sandy White, who seems to be unclear about City policy as it concerns environmental assessment procedure:
Dear Councillor White:
As the Glanworth Community Association (GCA) includes both Wards 12 and 14, I must convey to you today the sentiments of the GCA executive team on the matter of the Pen Equity proposed development, which involves the destruction of the Carolinian woodland and wetland at Dingman Drive and Wellington Road.
As you may know, we have been opposed to this development from the beginning, having submitted our objections early in the process to the planning department, in December 2012.
Our opinion has not changed. If anything, we are even more determined in our resolve to oppose it after the re-zoning recommendation reached at last week’s planning committee meeting. We know that you changed your mind on the issue and, frankly, we do not understand why.
For the record, the GCA would like to remind you before you vote this evening of what is at stake here. This is not about jobs. That has been the tactic of the pro-development community —  specifically, the “jobs at any cost” faction   to deflect attention from the real issue.
The real issue, Sandy, is one of Policy, and of violating the trust of the citizens of London. We have an official plan with strict guidelines about wooded areas deemed significant, and even Pen Equity’s ecological assessment rated this wooded area as “significant.” Those results stand as fact, despite Pen Equity’s attempts to twist the conclusions to suit their purpose.
Sandy, if Council ignores city policy tonight they are in fact breaking a contract they have with every Londoner, a contract assuring citizens that the City will engage in fair and due process and abide by its own policies and procedures. 
This woodlot deserves protection. London’s environmental organizations have been articulating this clearly and logically for months. And UTRCA policy is clear: development is not allowed in wetlands. Even the province has weighed in on this matter. MNR does not support the conclusions made that the wetland is “non-provincially significant.”
Countless community and citizen groups and individuals around this city have put forth fact-based scientific as well as moral and ethical arguments against the willful destruction of these woods and wetland.
Today, the GCA stands with them in opposing this development. The GCA stands with all Londoners who have spoken out against it.  
Sandy, the GCA does not want this mall development. This is urban sprawl at its worst. To allow this development is to allow the destruction of a woodlot and a wetland that cannot be replaced or “replanted” elsewhere to compensate. There is NO compensation package that would ever satisfy or appease us. The woods and the wetland must be protected, and we have the means to protect them only if our representatives follow policy and procedure.
Sandy, I think you know the members of the GCA very well by now. We fight for what we believe in with passion and commitment and we always strive to do the right thing for our community and for the greater community of London.
Working to find ways to protect the wooded wetland on Dingman Drive is the right thing to do.
Thank you,
Victoria White
President, Glanworth Community Association (GCA)
On behalf of the GCA Executive
August 27, 2013

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


It's that time of year when the natural world wakes up from its winter slumber. As the sun warms the earth, amphibians and reptiles begin to emerge, joining other creatures who are on the move - mammals, birds and insects. 
So please take extra caution when driving down our country roads and watch out for crossing deer, opossum, groundhogs and raccoons. As more and more countryside is being developed, these animals need to cross more roads to reach habitats.
However, turtles, toads, frogs and snakes are particularly vulnerable. Unlike birds they cannot fly across a road. Nor can they run. They are especially slow-moving and, being small, easy to miss.
Slow down and follow posted speed limits. Slow down when driving past woodlots, wetlands or ESAs, like White's Wetland on White Oak and Harry White Drive.
And be kind. You can help a turtle or a toad cross a busy road too. Just make sure you point  them in the direction they were going or they will simply turn around and try to cross again, making your good samaritan act meaningless. You can keep garden gloves in your car. Remember to "handle with care"! Some wildlife sites can give you pointers for picking up turtles, for example.
It only takes a second to help a creature. It costs nothing to be kind.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lake Erie's Fowler's Toads vs Big Developers with Deep Pockets

Same old story, right? Animals versus developers. Animals always on the losing end. Well, maybe this time there is still time to make a difference. Please follow this story by visiting Dr. Kerry Kriger's website, Many thanks to Dr. Kriger for all of his efforts globally on behalf of frogs and toads everywhere; but a special thank-you for his committment to amphibians in crisis here in Canada. Please do what you can. Write, protest, join the online seminar, spread the word or donate. The Fowler's Toads of Lake Erie need your help now.
Did you know that the Ontario government has authorized the developers at Lake Erie to "harm, harass, kill and collect the toads?
But already thousands of emails have been sent to 18 politicians by concerned Canadians!
We must keep up the pressure! This development company - the Molinaro Group - needs to be told that there is something more precious than money.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Voices for the Watershed

The Great Lakes conference may be over, but our lakes, our fish and our fresh water supply are still under threat. So the work must continue, and part of that work involves raising awareness. We must share our love for the Great Lakes with others, and here is a very special book I can recommend.
It was first published in 2000, but its messages are even more relevant and urgent today. Asian Carp is now a very real threat. Climate change, warming lake water temperatures, the proliferation of wind farms near key migratory routes - there are many threats now to the ecological health and well-being of the largest inland source of fresh water on the planet. In fact, what makes this book so unique among books about the Great Lakes is that it does not exclude the surrounding drainage basin of the Great Lakes. And if you take a look at a map of the scope of the St. Lawrence Watershed and what land that includes - the entire state of Michigan, all of southwestern Ontario and southern Quebec, for example - then you realize just how vast this area really is and how many people live on the watershed, people who may not even consider themselves Great Lakers!
We have a treasure in our big backyard, so let's protect it. This book's thoughtful essays and evocative photos will stir your soul and awaken your resolve to protect and preserve  this most precious region.
Together, we can raise our voices for the watershed...
To order a copy of this book: