Skating Lessons

maple leaf in the snow
Of course, if I was going to be hacked–inconveniencing me and my twenty-odd readers–it would be during the Copenhagen summit. Fortunately I know all of you were well-supplied with climate news from other quarters and that the only real consequence was that you were spared my nail-biting highs and lows as I oscillated between hope that maybe something of note would come out of it after all and despair that I was witnessing the beginning of the end of the world. Not to mention the shame of watching our nation’s leader drag Canada’s reputation through black crude; now I can worry about revealing my Canadianness when next I travel abroad.

Maybe I’ll just stay home.

I’ll claim it’s climate-friendly.

Anyway. The thing is, in Toronto in January, it’s easy to forget we even have a non-built environment. We scurry from heated home to heated car or heated subway to heated mall or heated office, spending agonizing minutes at a time exposed to the wind and twisting our ankles in the slush at the side of the roads. And yes, I know that Toronto is relatively blessed climate-wise for Canada and we could live in St. John or Saskatoon and know what a real Canadian winter is like. Stuff it. All I am saying is that Torontonians generally spend the time periods bracketed by Christmas and the spring thaw pretending that there is no such thing as a non-built environment.

This is not surprising. The Canadian winter can, and until the 20th century regularly did, kill people. It was not all that unusual for poorer Canadians to run out of wood for their stoves sometime in February (and in echoes of today’s political debates, albeit with less potential for disaster, be scolded by the rich and the political conservatives for being poor in the first place and in the second daring to spend a single cent of their meagre resources on anything not strictly related to survival, thus deserving to die by freezing).

I digress. The point is: it’s Toronto, it’s winter, it’s cold, the closest most of us come to the natural environment is the greenery at the local mall, and half the time it’s fake.

Not that being outside with all that non-human nature stuff loses its positive effects. I’m sure it would still make me a kinder, more altruistic, happier, healthier person with higher levels of vitamin D. It’s just uncomfortable. Really, in Toronto in the wintertime, you have two options: 1) Coccoon. Never be farther than 20 feet from a heating vent of some kind. Drink lots of tea or coffee. Plot the shortest possible point between any two external doors. The non-built environment is out to get you; avoid it all costs. 2) Learn to enjoy the cold.

My daughter, sweet innocent poppet that she is, does not yet have to learn to enjoy the cold (though she does shiver along with me while we walk to her school in the morning, pitiably lamenting, “I wish it was spring!”). She wants to build snowmen and make snow angels and examine the prints different kinds of animals make in the snow; she wants to get a toboggan and ride it downhill. She wants to skate.

She doesn’t know how to skate. I don’t know how to skate. I’ve lived in Canada for 34 years; I’ve been dragged to oodles of yearly skating field trips during my public school career. Each time I would wobble fearfully around the ice–did I mention I was terrified of ice when I was in grade school? That I would often walk around a frozen puddle rather than risk slipping on it?–find some sort of a hobbledy gait, decide I liked it ok, put the skates away and only bring them out during the next year’s field trip. It was warmer inside and I had books to read. But Frances wants to learn how to skate, which means I need to learn how to skate, which means dear god help me she’d better like it or she’ll have hell to pay.

(Metaphorically speaking. No pressure.)

This means that tomorrow the boyfriend is teaching me to skate. Or, at least, he’s going to try. He was born in Korea and he plays hockey every week. I was born in Toronto and I still shuffle my way across a frozen puddle. I love Canada. Anyway: he is going to teach me how to skate, and if you think I sound nervous about this you’d be right, and his threat to bring a camera and provide the world or at least a few close friends with photographic evidence (or blackmail material, I’m not sure which) is only partially contributing.

Still. I am determined to learn how to enjoy, or at least tolerate, the Canadian winter, for as long as we still have one, rather than spend January and February pining for April and trout lilies (though there will be that too). Then I might have more to tell you about between now and our annual flooded-creek warnings. That I may be providing Frances with an athletic skill that will be all but useless in the February of Toronto 2030 when we no longer have ice in winter, I refuse to contemplate.

Sorry again about Copenhagen, world.

(By the way: I have short pieces in Corporate Knights and Spacing right now about solar energy in California and the 20th anniversary of the Task Force to Bring Back the Don respectively, and an essay recently published in a parenting anthology. You’ve missed my publication updates, haven’t you? No?)

Moral High Ground: Claimed

Looking at this picture may make you a better person.

Once upon a time, a boy hit on me on a dating site because I’m an environmentalist. “Environmentalists are usually nice people,” he explained, and I think he still believes that. Now there’s scientific evidence for his anecdotal claim: exposure to nature makes people more generous, caring, and altruistic.*

See? I am better than you. No, wait…

Maybe it’s not that nice people care about the world and get involved in issues like environmentalism. Maybe it’s that people who spend time outside grow both to become more altruistic and more attached to the environment, and express both of those values through activism and in their personal lives.

Or maybe other recent studies are right and people who do the right green thing often offset that by screwing other people over. Of course, that study did nothing to differentiate those who act on environmental issues out of guilt vs. love, or obligation vs. desire. My guess is that those who buy recycled paper products because they love nature will not show the same behavioural patterns as those who buy them because they’re sick to death of the kids haranguing them. Much like someone who eats fruit because they like fruit will probably not eat as much cake later as someone who eats fruit because the kids are watching and the doctor’s been bugging them to lose twenty pounds. Of course this is entirely speculative.

But evidence from environmental psychology has been piling up for a few decades now: exposure to nature is good for us; or, phrased in a more evolutionarily-correct way, nature-deprivation is very very bad for us. People in hospital rooms with a view of a tree heal faster. Walking in nature is more restorative and restful than walking on a city street. No, never mind, just go read Richard Louv’s Last Child In the Woods, and if that doesn’t convince you that adults and children both need non-human nature in their lives on a regular basis, nothing ever will.

And then maybe stop trying to goad your children into behaving better by surrounding them with Proper Moral Messages in book and television form, and supplement that with a few trees and flowers. You’ve got to admit that’s more appealing than yet another half-hour show with a Very Important Lesson learned in the last ninety seconds and delivered at super-human pitch. Trees and flowers: prettier, quieter, and they make you a better parent, too.


*By the way, the author of the SciAm blog post, P. Wesley Schultz, is one of the major researchers in environmental psychology. He knows whereof he speaks.

Leaving Neverland: the costs of climate change

You may not have heard of the Pembina Institute and David Suzuki Foundation’s release of a report analyzing the economic implications of two greenhouse gas reduction targets in Canada, but if you have, I can nearly guarantee that all you’ve heard is “dealing with climate change is the end of the economy in Western Canada and too divisive to even contemplate” or “what are you talking about, it’s not that bad.” Which is a shame, because the real problem with the report isn’t about the cost of dealing with climate change or the geographic disparities and implications of that cost or the job gains to be had with transitioning to a clean energy economy.

The real problem is that the entire report is mythical.

Imagine this: you are the owner of a home with a leaky roof. You have hired someone to tell you how much it will cost to fix that leaky roof, and have received an estimate of the cost. When you consider whether or not you can afford to fix the roof, do you compare it to the imaginary cost of living in a house that does not require any roof repairs for the next twenty years? Or do you compare it to the cost of not fixing the roof and experiencing constant flooding and water damage for twenty years?

You own a car with an engine that is on the brink of disintegration. Do you compare the cost of fixing the engine or replacing the car with the cost of having an imaginary car that requires no repairs for twenty years, or do you compare it to the cost of not having a car to get around in?

For some unaccountable reason (and I’ve read the report, and they don’t explain it), the consultants chose to compare the cost of dealing with climate change over the next twenty years to an imaginary future in which climate change itself imposes no costs of its own, as if we have the option of living in a Canada for the next twenty years which can simply opt out of precipitation changes, shifts in tropical disease patterns, heat waves, the enormous die-backs in Western forests and possibly the boreal, the loss of permafrost, the likely extinction of thirty per cent of terrestrial species, the acidification of oceans, and so on.

This has the entirely expected effect of making climate change mitigation look expensive. Much as it would look really expensive to fix a leaking roof if you could just wish it away and pretend to live in a different house for twenty years.

Any economic analysis of the costs of climate change over the next couple of decades shows that it far, far outstrips the cost of dealing with it–and that we can successfully deal with climate change using current technology at a price tag of about 1% of global GDP.

All they had to do was compare the cost of dealing with climate change to the cost of not dealing with it–even the most basic, preliminary estimate–or at least of explaining why they could not do so but where interested readers could go for such estimates.

Boys and girls, climate change is not free. There is no potential Canadian future where we and our children will not pay through the nose for it–economically, socially and politically. Let’s stop living in Neverland.

The Tale of Butterdrops

butterfly on boulder

It’s getting to the time of year when any reasonably warmish, sunny afternoon is to be treasured; when the night starts falling before evening begins and it feels like the sky is sinking into the earth along with the flowers and leaves. So, when I had Monday off work and it wasn’t rainy or too cold, I had to go to the Don. Any November visit could be the last one until spring, and I wasn’t going to miss my chance to watch it all falling asleep.

This somehow or other being the 21st century already, I brought my iPhone, and so when I saw what I thought at first was a dead leaf and then realized was a butterfly (in November!) I whipped it out and chanced it falling into the river to get a shot. The butterfly, amazingly, cooperated–even when I held the camera right in front of it.

butterfly on hand november 2009

I picked it up. Its sticky feet tickled the back of my hand as it picked its way back and forth along my thumb, but it made no move to fly away.

It was just after 3:00. I will bring this butterfly to Frances at school, I thought. She’ll love it. A butterfly in November! I can’t wait to see the look on her face.

From that spot just past the third bridge coming from the Sheppard & Leslie entrance, I walked as quickly as I could, occasionally shielding the butterfly from the wind; but the whole time it made no attempt to fly away. It would spread its wings, or close them; turn into the wind or away from it; but no flight. Who knows? Maybe it liked the warmth of my hand. All along Sheppard I carried it, earning a few startled and happy glances from drivers or other pedestrians, all the way to Frances’s school, and to the door of her daycare room.

“Frances, I have something to show you. Want to see?”

Out she came, and I carefully lifted my covering hand. “A butterfly!” she exclaimed. Out her friends came, crowding around to see for themselves. “That’s so cool.” “Did you find the butterfly?” “Where did you find the butterfly?” “What is its name?”

“Can we bring it home?” asked Frances.

“Sure,” I said. “Get your coat and backpack on and let’s go quickly so we can get her out of the cold.”

On the walk home I held my hands lower so Frances could see her more easily. A butterfly! Such a pretty butterfly! Wasn’t it cute? Wasn’t it tiny? We should call it Butty. No, we should call it Tiny, on account of it’s so small. What a beautiful butterfly! Oh, that cute little butterfly. Mummy, can we keep it?

“Hmm,” I said. “We can try. Butterflies are wild animals. She might not want to stay. Plus this is probably a very old butterfly–she might be sick.”

At home Frances decked out a boot box with cotton stuffing and old leaves and I put in a plastic plate with a small puddle of apple juice on it. The butterfly flew around a little–I do think it’s old–but seemed mostly content to sit in the box on an old leaf and have the occasional sip of apple juice, its little tongue furling and unfurling, spiralling in and out again. We admired her fur and her antennae and the way her little legs look like sticks.

butterfly on Frances Nov 2009
Frances and Butterdrops

“We should call her Butter,” said Frances. “No, Butterdrops. We should call her Butterdrops.”

Butterdrops it is.

This morning, Butterdrops was still full of life and pep. She now has a bit of clementine too. The guinea pigs are very jealous. And no, we can’t keep her for long, but what an easy way to bring a bit of magic into a little girl’s life for a couple of days. A pet butterfly.


Once again I am copping out with a poem, this time Dennis Lee’s “tale” from yesno:

Tell me, tall-
tell me a tale. The one about
starless & steerless & pinch-me, the
one about unnable now — which they did-did-
did in the plume of our pride, and
could not find the way home.
Little perps lost.

Yet a rescue appeared, in the
story a saviour arose. Called
limits. Called
duedate, called countdown ex-
tinction/collide. Called, eyeball to ego:
hubris agonistes.

Bad abba the endgame. In-
seminal doomdom alert:
pueblo naturans, or
else. But the breadcrumbs are gone, and the
story goes on, and how
haply an ending no
nextwise has shown us, nor known.


yesno is good all over. This is the last poem in the collection, and reflects the general tone of it: lots of wordplay and sound games, lots of invention, and the surface nonsense papers over some very big ideas.

Black-Eyed Susan


dsc_0096000521Black-Eyed Susan (John Gay)

ALL in the Downs the fleet was moor’d,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came aboard;
‘O! where shall I my true-love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true
If my sweet William sails among the crew.’

William, who high upon the yard
Rock’d with the billow to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard
He sigh’d, and cast his eyes below:
The cord slides swiftly through his glowing hands,
And quick as lightning on the deck he stands.

So the sweet lark, high poised in air,
Shuts close his pinions to his breast
If chance his mate’s shrill call he hear,
And drops at once into her nest:—
The noblest captain in the British fleet
Might envy William’s lip those kisses sweet.

‘O Susan, Susan, lovely dear,
My vows shall ever true remain;
Let me kiss off that falling tear;
We only part to meet again.
Change as ye list, ye winds; my heart shall be
The faithful compass that still points to thee.

‘Believe not what the landmen say
Who tempt with doubts thy constant mind:
They’ll tell thee, sailors, when away,
In every port a mistress find:
Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
For Thou art present wheresoe’er I go.

‘If to fair India’s coast we sail,
Thy eyes are seen in diamonds bright,
Thy breath is Afric’s spicy gale,
Thy skin is ivory so white.
Thus every beauteous object that I view
Wakes in my soul some charm of lovely Sue.

‘Though battle call me from thy arms
Let not my pretty Susan mourn;
Though cannons roar, yet safe from harms
William shall to his Dear return.
Love turns aside the balls that round me fly,
Lest precious tears should drop from Susan’s eye:

The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
The sails their swelling bosom spread,
No longer must she stay aboard;
They kiss’d, she sigh’d, he hung his head.
Her lessening boat unwilling rows to land;
‘Adieu!’ she cries; and waved her lily hand.


If you ever wondered who Susan was, and if her black eyes were as lovely as those of her namesake, now you know.

Plant info.

Daddy Long-Legs

dsc_00270005-2These critters are a staple of childhood natural adventures throughout Ontario–and beyond, too, I’d imagine. The Daddy Long Legs stilts along like a drunk robot on those proposterously long legs. I remember, at my grandparents’ cottage, picking them up and tossing them in the creek to watch them go over the waterfall. Cruel, yes, but I’ve made up for my early eco-sins with a lifetime of environmental activism. Or so I hope.

I know it looks like a spider. But it’s not. The lack of separate body parts and having only two eyes instead of eight gives it away, though you’d have to get pretty close to one to tell. The Daddy Long Legs, more correctly known as “harvestmen,” is an arachnid but is, apparently, not even an insect.

Moreover, because it’s not a spider, it’s not venemous, contrary to reputation; and two of its legs aren’t even legs, but long leg-like sense organs that feel and taste the ground in front in order to navigate terrain. And yes, their legs do separate very easily but they do NOT grow back.

Daddy Long-Legs, either due to their appearance or their reserved habits, being primarily nocturnal and fairly shy, are not the subject of much in the way of folklore, literature or poetry. One notable exception is an early twentieth century children’s novel called Daddy-Long-Legs about an orphaned girl with a mysterious benefactor who sends her to private school. As with much early twentieth century literature about plucky girl orphans, it is both derided as mawkishly sentimental and a milestone of literature unjustly ignored on the basis of its protagonist.

All I really need to know I learned in the forest


Plants don’t do balance. They over-reach, chronically. They strain as hard as they can for the sun. Sometimes the ground will get cut out from under their feet or washed away in a flood, or a logger or a happy child will come along and lop them off from the top.

The plant will not learn from this that it needs to be more careful. It will not plan, strategize, or compromise. It will go right back to over-reaching. Somehow, plants have learned something that humans have not: you cannot guarantee safety or success by bargaining with the universe and going after only part of what you want.

When a flood washes out the streambank and the tree already straining hard for the one gap in the canopy falls over, it does not lie on the ground and think, well, if only I’d put a little more effort into developing my other sides, if only I’d been more careful, I could have kept the flood away. No. It immediately puts out shoots as close to the sun as it can.

In fact nothing in the forest wastes time either lamenting or pining. No one asks the tadpole if it wants to be a frog or if it would rather stay in the puddle; the dragonfly (and, for that matter, the mosquito) just go ahead and metamorphose without drama or angst. When the maple seed lands in a crevice between rocks or on the stump of an old tree, even if it is the best and most perfect maple seed in the history of the earth, it just grows without shaking its fist at the injustice of fate or bewailing its lost potential. It will spend its life making dirt for another plant to grow in. Apparently, if you’re a tree, that’s a good living.

Sentience seems to muck up the works as often as not.

(Next week: Daddy Long Legs, and if the gods of time are kind, a review of Sobel’s Childhood and Nature.)

Mahasti - The Bellydance Emporium - Bellydance in the heart of Hamilton, Ontario

Bellydance classes, events & parties in Hamilton "Let the beauty we love be what we do"

Dwell on These Things

The lovely side of life

PinkyLux School for Girls

presents 'What is a Woman'...because it's absurd to be a woman on planet earth, etc.

Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!

Enjoying a RTW FAST since 2015! Creator of "DESIGNIN' DECEMBER!" Addicted to sewing since the 70's! In a few words, I want to try everything, learn everything and talk about it with you!



Doctor T Designs

Clothing, Costumes, and Crafts


Craft: (old English) 'power'. 'strength', 'might'.

Captain Awkward

Advice. Staircase Wit. Faux Pas. Movies.

The Monthly Stitch

Come sew with us...

Pigeon Wishes

Learning to sew and delearning compulsive shopping habits

knitting soul

turning the knots into something beautiful

Freshly Sewn

A sewing blog

Climate Change Hamilton

Be a Climate Change Champion!

Trish Burr Embroidery

Insight into my work and inspirations

3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

Design Inspiration, Sustainability, Sewing, Style & Cake