Category Archives: taking care of our planet
The heat collectors at the top of the house were glass panels in front of metal plates. The sun’s heat waves went through the glass and heated the metal to a temperature as high as 150 degrees F.
Fans then blew the heat down through pipes storage cans filled with a sodium compound that soaked up and stored the heat.
Why didn’t this catch on?
The article, written on the cusp of the 1950s, promised that the sun-warmed house “could be the beginning of a big reduction in the approximately $3.5 billion the U.S. pays annually for household fuel.” At the time, architect William Hamby predicted that solar heat would replace all other types of home heating within 10 years.
In 1949 we didn’t foresee the oil crisis or believe that fuel resources would be finite. We didn’t foresee the environmental damage of fossil fuels. We didn’t foresee the number of human lives that would be lost because of wars that had the word “oil” at the bottom of the pile of reasons for their development. We were not nearly motivated enough to adapt.
Oh, scientists of today, how about now? Something to ponder on Earth Day Eve.
I have become an avid fan of the Facebook page of Shaw Woods.
The site posts photographs and information about the plants and creatures flourishing at the Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre. High-quality photographs show close-up views of the flora and fauna of Canada’s Ottawa Valley. The accompanying descriptions give background information about what is in the picture. I’ve learned so much.
When I look at the photographs, I feel like I’m on a walk with a toddler. If you’ve ever walked anywhere with a 2-year-old, you know you don’t get anywhere fast, because toddlers take advantage of their place close to the ground to discover everything along the way. Bottle caps, rocks shaped like hearts, bugs, and flowers must survive the intense scrutiny of the inquisitive mind of a young child.
The Shaw Woods photographs depict a toddler-view closely examined life of Shaw Woods: Every tree, every flower, every insect, every bird, every creature noticed, appreciated, studied and chronicled.
And I have to admit to feeling a little embarrassed. I grew up a few miles away from Shaw Woods. I spent my formative years there, and I didn’t even know that many of those plants or creatures existed in that area. How could I live there for decades and never know about a Goldenrod Crab Spider? How could I have missed a spider that stalks prey in flowers and changes colour to match its background? This spider below had just left a yellow flower.
My embarrassment makes me realize how little I closely examine my surroundings. If Socrates was right when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” I’ve got some work to do.
The Shaw Woods Facebook page is a good start. Then I think I’ll go for a walk—toddler style.
The rhubarb patch at the front of my house soaks up full sun and produces a crop robust enough to nourish many families in my community. My neighbours know they are welcome to wander down any time and harvest a few stalks. Goodness knows, I could never use all that rhubarb.
Sharing my rhubarb wealth takes me back to my roots on a farm outside a small town where neighbourhood sharing was the norm, not an aberration, and where natural foods grew wild for the picking. I smile when I see my friends bent over the huge leaves looking for thick, juicy stalks. (I will need to thin the plant next year. They stalks are getting a little spindly.) I reminds me that as a child I broke off rhubarb stalks and munched them down raw. It makes my mouth pucker at the memory of bitter chokecherries we picked to make sweet jelly, or salivate at thoughts of juicy, tiny wild strawberries plucked carefully from their tender plants growing close to the forest ground.
My community rhubarb makes my city home feel like a country place. It reminds me that nature can never really be owned but is there for the picking.
In honour of Earth Day I’m recycling a post I wrote two years ago after my Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Bolivia. My post begins with a futuristic look at our Earth.
The year: 3952
The place: A recently exposed outcrop of shoreline on the Ontario Sea. (Present day Ottawa.)
A team of archaeologists materialize on the flat stretch of loamy soil.
“Ancient maps indicate the location of a settlement here before the Water Age, when the Ontario Sea was still just a river,” says the team leader. At 80 years old, she is one of the youngest on the team.
“Well, let’s see what we find,” says her assistant as he pulls a small spade out of his pack. “Whatever it is, it will tell us what kind of people were here, and how they lived.” He kneels and penetrates the soil with the spade. It stops abruptly when it encounters springy resistance. “Found something already,” he says. He scrapes the earth away with gloved hands. He sighs.
“It’s another one from Giant Tiger he says as he pulls the tattered, bright yellow plastic bag out of the dig site.
In February, 2012 I was part of a Habitat for Humanity team that helped to build a house for a Bolivian family.
We needed to level and grade the site, and we did this using pick-axes and shovels. I and my fellow team members spent several days digging in the dirt. The lot we worked on had been vacant for some time and had become a catch-all for errant plastic bags that wafted to the site on Bolivian breezes. Time after time our shovels penetrated the top layer of soil only to bump into a plastic bag or a plastic bottle. Time after time we stooped and tossed these to the side. This picture is just one small part of the plastic we collected.
The reality about plastic hit home for me.
Plastic doesn’t go away for a long, long time. One carelessly tossed plastic bag becomes part of a mountain of plastic that won’t go away for a long, long time. Plastic is not attractive, historic, meaningful, artistic, or culturally significant. It is ugly, utilitarian, and, most importantly, not necessary. There are other, better options.
I will be more mindful about plastic use from now on, if for no other reason than, in 2000 years, I want my descendants to find beauty, not ugliness.
“I cannot feel anger against him who is of my kin, nor hate him. We are born to labor together, like the feet, the hands, the eyes, and the rows of upper and lower teeth. To work against one another is therefore contrary to nature, and to be angry against a man or turn one’s back on him is to work against him.” —Marcus Aurelius
We have lived some excruciating Canada/US Olympic rivalries in recent days: Virtue and Moir vs Davis and White, the women’s hockey teams, and today the men’s hockey semi-final. I cheer loudly for Team Canada, of course, but I feel the pain of the US loss, too. I know all Canadians don’t feel that way; many of us (most?) want to see the Americans crushed. To me, that feels like wishing ill on a brother.
Canadians and Americans labour/labor together like North American feet, hands and eyes. Our opinions differ in many ways, but we agree on the most important points. We’ve fought, and continue to fight, different battles on our way to respecting human rights, but both our countries are kilometres/miles ahead of others in that area. We’re both headed the right direction.
When we lose to one another at the Olympics, it might be as irritating as a zit on prom day, but I cannot feel anger.
It’s far too important for us to keep working together.