Category Archives: Nature
Hundreds of books pass through my hands in any given week in my library job.
Few of them make me stop and look.
The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe by Roger Penrose has a catchy title for a person like me, though. I imagined myself opening it, reading a few life-changing phrases and sighing, “So that’s what life is all about.”
Alas, I lasted only as far as the mathematical equations:
Taking the particle’s ordinary 3-velocity to be v, so that v = (dx1 / dt, dx2 /dt, dx3 / dt), where t = x0, we get [18.19],[18.20]
p = mv, m = γμ, va = γ(c2, v),
γ = (1 – v2 /c2) – 1/2.
The equation road led me to the reality of a dead end.
Is the universe is only ours to appreciate if we study enough math?
I sure hope not.
I wouldn’t have wanted to see my grandmother’s magical ability with pie crust trapped in a mathematical equation. I don’t believe my friend Etienne’s off-the-charts charisma can be captured that way. Or my love for my children? There’s no equation complex enough.
I thought of The Big Bang Theory episode where the scientific geniuses rhyme off answers to complex scientific questions in the Physics Bowl. Penny sleeps through the event and average viewers like me wonder Who knows that stuff?
After the physics event Penny brings out her own trivia cards. The answers to the popular culture questions would be obvious to most of us, but Leonard says, “Who knows this stuff?”
Same reality, different roads.
I’ll stick to the one with apple pie and no equations.
The Turtlehead blog post yesterday entitled Frozen talked about winter, and how it’s possible to love it. The skating, the skiing, the walking and playing in the snow.
I am finding so much JOY in winter this year. As I write this I am looking out my window at sunshine glinting off a snowy landscape.
So bright. So beautiful.
On New Year’s Eve when it was -22 degrees Celsius in Ottawa, Canada, we walked from house to house during our annual “travelling” dinner celebrations with neighbours. No breath of wind stirred the air. The almost-full moon cast crisp shadows on the snow. So bright. So beautiful.
In early January we skated on the ice rink put in place on Parliament Hill as part of Canada 150 celebrations. It was really, really, really cold that night and the wind howled. But we skated in the evening with the inspirational images and music of the Northern Lights sound and light show playing in the background. So bright. So beautiful.
We skied on Sunday at a local ski hill. The sun shone on our skis as they shooshed through perfect snow conditions. So bright. So beautiful.
On Saturday we visited the outdoor skating rink at Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General. (Affectionately known to many as the GG, she is the Queen’s representative in Canada.) We happened there on the same day as the Winter Celebration. We walked on the grounds, skated on the rink, drank hot chocolate and enjoyed winter. So bright. So beautiful.
We skated on the Rideau Canal on Thursday, and if anything encapsulates the winter experience, it is that. How lucky to have such a gift in my city. The National Capital Commission does an amazing job of maintaining the world’s largest skating rink, but this is nature we’re talking about. Some parts of the 7.8 km stretch (not quite 5 miles) was glassy smooth. So bright. So beautiful.
Some parts were smooth, but not glassy and with bumps under the surface. So bright. Proceed with caution.
Other parts were pitted and rough. Navigate those patches by pointing the skate blades straight and coasting until it’s over. So bright. Not so beautiful.
Those rough patches mean the experience is not flawless, but the joy of skating for almost five miles without ever having to make a turn, the benefits of crisp cold air and sunshine, and the beauty of our Ottawa landscape makes the overall experience SO worth coasting through the rough patches.
That sums up winter for me. I don’t love everything about it, but the joy of skating, skiing, walking, the benefits of crisp cold air and sunshine, and the beauty of our Ottawa landscape makes the overall experience SO worth it.
Finding joy in winter is about wearing the right clothing and choosing the right attitude. You don’t wear a parka on a beach on a hot, humid summer day, so you shouldn’t wear jeans and thin jackets outside on a winter day either.
Dress appropriately and look for the bright and beautiful. Choose joy.
This past weekend the streets of downtown Ottawa, Canada overflowed with hundreds of thousands of people thronging to see La Machine.
The “travelling urban theatre” made its North America debut in my hometown as part of our ongoing Canada 150 celebrations. A gigantic mechanical dragon and spider wandered through the streets and public parks for a show entitled “The Spirit of the Dragon-Horse, With Stolen Wings.” The creatures lived, breathed (sort of) snorted and farted (really), and walked among the people of Ottawa 24 hours a day for four days as they pursued their quests. My social media feeds and the Ottawa news channels were full of pictures and videos of these feats of engineering at play in our city. The dragon and the spider were a huge hit.
As cool as that all sounded, as unique and interesting as it seemed, I could not summon the interest in going to see it for myself.
Cottages called to me. I spent the weekend in peaceful surroundings. Sun, water, relaxation. I couldn’t bear the thought of those crowds.
Last week, before the dragon and the spider descended on my city and before the hundreds of thousands of people flocked to see them, I went for a walk downtown. At the heart of Ottawa, a few hundred feet from Parliament Hill, I encountered these baby bunnies. They were small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. By myself I spent some quiet moments with the bunnies.
For me, quiet moments with those bunnies beat noisy dragon time.
In honour of National Aboriginal Day in Canada on Wednesday, June 21, I am sharing the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers. This traditional story, given to our First Nations early in their history, applies to all people in all times.
The Creator gave seven Grandfathers, who were very powerful spirits, the responsibility to watch over the people. The Grandfathers saw that people were living a hard life. They sent a helper out to spend time amongst the people and find a person who could be taught how to live in harmony with Creation.
Their helper went to the four directions to find a person worthy enough to bring to the Grandfathers. He came across a child, and he tutored the child in the “Good Way of Life.” Each of the Seven Grandfathers gave to the child a principle.
Wisdom: To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom.
Wisdom is given by the Creator to be used for the good of the people. In the Anishinaabe language, this word expresses not only “wisdom,” but also means “prudence,” or “intelligence” or “knowledge.”
Love: To know Love is to know Peace.
Love must be unconditional. When people are weak they need love the most. This form of love is mutual .
Respect: To honor all creation is to have Respect.
All of creation should be treated with respect. You must give respect if you wish to be respected.
Bravery: Bravery is to face the foe with integrity.
This means “state of having a fearless heart.” To do what is right even when the consequences are unpleasant.
Honesty: Honesty in facing a situation is to be brave.
Always be honest in word and action. Be honest first with yourself, and you will more easily be able to be honest with others.
Humility: Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of Creation.
This can also mean “compassion.” You are equal to others, but you are not better.
Truth: Truth is to know all of these things.
Speak the truth. Do not deceive yourself or others.
A few weeks ago I began a blog post entitled “Veering toward the mud.” It was a whimsical piece about a mother with two toddler children I passed on my walk home from the bus stop. All three played with joyful abandon in a deep puddle. Her refreshing lack of concern about how dirty and wet the children became with each passing moment struck me as so rare in these times of overprotective, germ-fearing parenting. I imagined her returning home after to wring out wet socks and turn up their rubber boots to let the water run out. I thought about how, as adults, we veer away from puddles but every child veers toward the mud. At what point, I wondered, do we lose that childlike enjoyment of getting wet and dirty?
I didn’t finish the piece because busy life intervened. I thought, “I’ll get back to it. I hope I manage to do that before our spring mud clears up.”
I needn’t have worried, because then came the flood.
All nature’s forces combined to create flood conditions in the Ottawa River valley and surrounding area that haven’t been seen in the living memories of inhabitants. People didn’t need to veer toward mud and water in the Ottawa-Gatineau area; it veered right into their living rooms.
I took the picture below on Saturday at a local park. This area is usually grass and park benches. The bird in the distance that looks like it’s sitting on a log? That bird is perched on the back of a park bench.
This is a picture of the same area on Sunday. The park bench where the bird sat is now submerged.
How could I write about playing in water when people a few kilometres from me had to wade through waist-deep water to get to their homes, if they could get to them at all?
There is no joy in that. There is no joy in this mud-ville.
The only solace to be found comes in the goodwill of people. Neighbours who might have only nodded in passing before are now bonding as they work together to fight back the tide. Countless volunteers are spending hours hoisting sandbags for people they don’t even know. The Red Cross, as always, first on the scene to give comfort, compassion and the bare necessities for survival—a ledge for people to cling to by their fingernails in their time of crisis.
The only solace comes from community, in mud and flood.
In honour of International Women’s Day, I shall describe the visitor who came to us during our recent Florida vacation as female. Apparently male and female egrets appear identical—a fitting attribute for the day.
The visitor, when she arrived, alighted 20 feet away from us. A comfortable distance. Non-threatening. We appreciated the special gift of her presence and enjoyed witnessing it from afar, like she was a gift intended for someone else.
Then she lifted lightly into the air, flew closer and set down on the peaked roof right in front of us. A nervous distance. Mildly alarming. Verging on creepy. We marveled at the proximity, and fought the desire to shrink away to a safer distance.
We enjoyed the extraordinary presence. We didn’t want to run away from the awesomeness. But a little corner of our souls experienced discomfort at the closeness of a being that shouldn’t be so close.
Just hours before we had kayaked in the mangroves swamps of Caladesi Island, Florida, and we had paddled silently by an egret in his wild habitat He had looked at us from a nervous distance like we were mildly alarming. Verging on creepy.
This visiting egret turned the situation on its head.
I guessed that this bird visited us because someone somewhere had broken the invisible rule of not feeding wildlife. The two worlds—the wild and the domestic—are meant to brush up against each other but remain separate. Respected as “other.” We can appreciate. We can witness. But we should maintain the separation as much as possible. Wildlife must stay wild.
But the separation had been breached, so there was the visitor right in front of me. Staring me right in the eye.
The visitor lingered, so we had plenty of time to marvel at the purpose-built beak, the graceful neck, the delicate white feathers waving in the breeze. The setting sun created the silhouette of an angel, lent a divine aspect to this earthly creature.
A car roared into the parking lot below, obnoxious music blaring out of its speakers. Traffic whooshed on the highway nearby. Unwelcome and mundane sounds barging into the extraordinary moment.
The world of the unwelcome and mundane brushing up against the world of the divine.
Inevitably, the sun set, the air cooled and we shivered in the cool evening. We moved on, because such moments are not meant to last forever. Come the time, we move on, savouring the memory and living with the unwelcome and mundane.