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 human 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.