Saturday, 14 September 2019

Saturday Photo: Good Summer for Bees

The weather is a little wet and cool right now, but one of the advantages of our hot and dry summer is the abundance of flowers and of bees who have feasted on them.

Nobody on my street uses pesticides that I'm aware of: either people don't care much about their little gardens, or they're eco-types who want to do things organically.  This means that every blossom is bee-friendly, and it's clear that they have been enjoying themselves greatly.

This of course is one of the ironies of modern life.  To some extent cities are friendlier to beneficial insects than the countryside.    In Montreal there also has been an increase in beekeeping, so much so that some voices have been raised to call for a cutback. In part this is because there seems to be too much competition between honey bees and native bees.

Don't know what kind of bee is visiting the hydrangea in the photo, but I find it very encouraging to see so many pollen-loving critters, no matter what kind they are.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Saturday Photo: The Connecticut River and Boundaries, Walrus Talk

The photo is of the Connecticut River which separates New Hampshire and Vermont.  It's just one example of how boundaries--arbitrary and otherwise--divide and influence people.

In this case, the state line is not the middle of the river, but the high water mark on the western side.  This has meant that the good sites for power dams are mostly in New Hampshire, which in turn meant that it was much easier for that state to turn to manufacturing, while Vermont continued as an agricultural state.

I'll be talking about this boundary and others when I take part in one of the CIFAR-The Walrus Talks on Monday Sept. 23 from 7-9 p.m. at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau. The topic is Boundaries and my presentation is titled (at the moment at least) Across the River, the Height of the Land: Physical and Political Boundaries.  Tickets at

And of course boundaries lie at the heart of my new book Frenemy Nations: Love and Hate between Neighbo(u)ring States which the University of Regina Press will be bringing out next month.

NEXT MONTH!  Hard to believe since this project has been in the works for so long. There will be more about the launch later.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Saturday Photo: More Pears Than the Squirrels Can Eat...

Well, actually I must admit that the photo was taken a few years ago, but the truth is that this year we have another bumper crop of pears.

Over the last week we--the grandkids a bit but Lee mostly--harvested a number so large I didn't feel like counting them.  Four have ripened enough to eat, and they taste very good.  The rest are reposing--as Ralph Waldo Emerson reportedly said: There are only 10 minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat."  I'll have to check and see how they're doing in a few days.  Until then we'll eat peaches and nectarines that seem at their most delicious right now.

July was hot and August, dry, which may have contributed to this bounty.  Don't know, but I'm glad to see that all is well, and that bees, who do the pollinating, weren't deterred by a wet and cool spring.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Saturday Photo: Roman Walls at Conímbriga, Roman Concrete Lasts

This week I sent of the revisions to my next book: Rock of Ages: How Concrete Built the World as We Know It. The University of Regina Press will bring it out in 2020.

This is one of the photos I'm suggesting we use.  It's of a Roman wall built in Conímbriga, Portugal, not far from the university town of Coimbra.  Dating from the Third Century CE, it was built on the far western frontier of the Roman Empire, but it still stands.  As such it's a tribute to the many, many Roman constructions that used their rather wonderful concrete, the secret to which was lost for about 1200 years after the Fall of Rome. 

You'll notice that this wall doesn't look like a modern concrete wall wood: the concrete wasn't poured into forms to cure.  Rather, the Roman usually built walls like this with a stone exterior and a hollow interior into which rubble and their concrete were dumped.  In many cases the stones have succumbed to the ravages of time, but the concreted interior survive.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Saturday Photo: Pictures from the Summer of Dust

This is the Summer of Dust on our street.  The work began in early June and probably won't be finished before early September.  Many things are being done: replacing lead water pipes, putting in new sidewalks, adding speedbumps and completely redoing the paving which dates (it would appear) from about 1910. 

Last week the sidewalks were finished, the holes for the pipe replacement were filled, and I looked at the mess and decided I had to do something.  The city will add topsoil and plant grass, we're assured, once the work is done, but that may be several weeks away.  So I went out and bought our own soil, sacks of composted manure, and many new plants.  (The last really weren't an extravagance, I keep telling myself: the garden centre had them all for 20 per cent off.  Think of all the money I saved!) Many of the old plants survived the work, but had to be replanted and/or composted so that they can regrow after being trampled upon. 

The top photo is what it looked like when I finished work last Monday.  Pretty nice, I think.  The other is of the street stripped of its asphalt but before the crews got down to the underlying concrete and rock.  You can't  drive the street this weekend without either being shaken to death, or driving a large 4x4.  Lots of neighbors have cleared out to avoid the noise and trauma, while the streetlights are out because a worker cut the cable up the street when excavating for the pipe replacement.

This means the street is very quiet today,  the upside to the summer of dust. 

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Saturday Photo: Day Lilies....

The strong colours of summer are upon us.  This day lily has just finished blooming, and now the golden rod is high, with native asters about to bloom.

A nice time of year to garden, particularly today after a good soaking rain last night broke two weeks of drought.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Saturday Photo: The Road to Nieuport after the Field at North Hatley

Last week I posted a photo on my Facebook Page that
I'd taken of a field at Glen Villa Gardens in North Hatley, QC.  Lovely peaceful scene, I thought.  The  one lone power line crossing the sky seemed a symbol of peaceful countryside that might be almost removed from the crowded highway of 21st century connectedness.

The photo set me thinkning about a painting by Alfred William Finch, a Belgian painter who was influenced greatly by the pointilist Seurat.  It currently is owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, but it was on display at the Art Galley of Ontario earlier this year in a fascinating show Impressionism in the Age of Industry.(1888)

At first I thought the painting was just another pastoral (literally) scene that the Impressionists are famous for.  But then I realized that what Finch was painting was the very latest technology.  Those power poles have to have been among the first in the countryside, carrying telegraph connections across the fields.  (Pretty sure they weren't electricity wires, since at that time transmission of electricity over any distance was very rare for technical reasons.)

If you wanted to, you could read a whole parable in the sheep huddling under the wires, with the dog trying the herd them.  Toward what?  The internet?


Is that a bad thing?

Don't know.  Suffice to say that the creator of Glen Villa Gardens, Patterson Webster, keeps a beautiful blog, and without it chances are I would never have learned about her creation.