Friday, May 29, 2009

I Witnessed A Miracle

Three days ago, I was growing a little concerned regarding the amount of rain that we are receiving this spring. We have had a good amount of rain, until about ten days ago, then it got really hot and we hadn’t seen any rain since. Yesterday, that changed.

It poured and poured. And today, it also poured and poured.

Last evening, it stopped raining for a few moments and I decided to take Koly outside to do what dogs will do and I took my camera. I knew that there would be a few interesting ‘garden’ photos to take.

We have a very young and small Ginkobaloba tree (not sure how its spelled) in the back garden and the rain had beaded up on many of the leaves and I thought that this would make for a few interesting photos.

You’ll notice that I still have a few things to learn about this digital camera. I put the settings onto ‘macro’ for these close up shots, yet sometimes what I want to be in focus is not and what I am hoping will have a blurred background is in focus. If I was shooting with my trusted Voiglander camera I wouldn’t have these problems… but it would take several weeks to fill an entire roll of film and get it developed.

I hope that you also notice that I do not and never put my point of interest in the centre of the photograph. I spend a lot of time lining up the branches of the tree and the pedals of the leaves to make interesting photos. In this photo, the point of interest is in the bottom right corner, where you will see three beads of water down the centre of the leaf with symmetrical drops placed along the outside edge of the leaf. I also lined up the huge raindrop at the top right of the picture to balance all of the small raindrops gathered at the bottom. Even the dark brown branches were placed in an interesting location in the photo. Not a lot, but a few thoughts go through my brain as I compose my photos.

This Ginkobaloba tree is very special. Several years ago, a friend told me why. During the last ice age – over 10 000 years ago – the glacial ice masses covered most of what is now called Canada. The ice sheets made it as far south as this region of Southern Ontario. Because the end portions of the glaciers were the thinnest, they did not cover this region completely. The vegetation that lived on top of the highest hills survived this natural phenomena and the Ginkobaloba tree was one of the survivors. This species dates back to the time before the glaciers and if you think about it – it’s pretty amazing!!! A stitch in time that has survived throughout a great period of the world’s history… but that’s not the miracle that I want to speak about.

So, then, the miracle…

A few moments later, it started to rain lightly. Luckily, there is a small shed in the back garden and Koly and I took some shelter there. A few moments later, the rain stopped.

I was leaning against the side of the open doorway and looking at this part of my garden – right beside the lilac bush – when it happened. I would describe it as if a small bucket of water had been separated into individual rain drops that fell in a small confined area on the plants in this part of my garden. Two seconds later, it happened again. Then, again!!! My eyebrows raised in curiosity.

About fifteen seconds another isolated shower occurred, then another two seconds later, the fifth sequence of this strange rain phenomena occurred. I thought that this rain pattern was very unusual and truly unique. I must be witnessing a miracle in progress. My mind sought out answers…

First, I started from the beginning. I thought about how all of these momentary isolated rainfalls could have fallen from the clouds. I thought about how the rain drops must have been falling at just the perfect angle to get past all of the budding leaves from the tree tops, way up high. Then I thought about the treetops way up high. Then, I smiled because a new thought had entered my brain, and then I looked up…

… I looked up some more…

… Yep! I looked way up…

… all the way to the top of the tree. And then I saw it.

Stoooooopid squirrel. LOL!!!!!!!

There was a squirrel at the top of this tree and every time it had jumped from one branch to another, the branch that it landed on shook and the raindrops all fell at once, in a small amount of space. I couldn’t stop laughing when I realized the truth. Then I realized that indeed, I had witnessed a miracle, after all…

The universe is a very big place and it is filled with millions of galaxies. Each galaxy is filled with billions of solar systems and ours is the only known one to contain life. It is a miracle that life exists on Earth. It is a miracle that all of creation led to the creation of the squirrel that jumped from branch to branch in the miracle of the tree. It is a miracle that I am alive and happened to be leaning against the frame of the shed door, just moments after it stopped raining, at the exact same moment that the squirrel happened to be in the treetop.

If you stop to think about it, our lives our surrounded by and involved in miracles during every second of our existence.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Robins and Polar Bears

The last several weeks have been very interesting, in my back garden. There is a back porch that has wooden posts extending upwards to support the overhead trellis and between the trellis and the back wall of the house a pair of robins decided to build a nest.

Joanne and I were both a bit concerned with this location because we walk past this area many times during the day. Our neighbours also share our driveway, so there is even more concern for disturbing the robins. But, they didn’t seem to mind so much, so everything has worked out fine.

We learned a lot, just watching all the commotion in the nest, every evening. I didn’t realize it, but both the mama and papa robin took turns feeding their babies. While I would be doing some weeding in the garden, I would notice the robins moving throughout the garden to find yummy worms to feed their young. It put a smile on my face to know that my garden was providing for another family, as well as my own.

It really surprised me to see how fast the babies grew. This photo was taken just five days after the first photo and during this time the babies had tripled in size. Just a few minutes before this photo was taken, one of the babies had climbed to the top of the nest to get away from its siblings for a minute or two. By the time I had run upstairs and returned with my camera, all three were back in the nest again.

I was very surprised to find that the very next day, the nest was empty. I spent a moment looking around for the babies but they were nowhere to be found. That evening, I had shared this story with Joanne’s parents – they had invited us over for dinner – and Jo’s dad explained the reason why…

When the babies, themselves, feel it’s time to leave the nest, they do by flying (or half-falling) to the ground. For the next few weeks the babies will stay on the ground, running around on their feet and flying small distances as they learn to fly. The parents stick close by to continue feeding them until they are ready to embark on their own life’s journey. This time is very dangerous, as neighbourhood cats may want to eat them up yum!

I had always thought that they would learn to fly, enough to keep returning to the nest for a few more weeks, but I was wrong. Joanne and I both said a little prayer to the god of birds to see over these babies until they are strong and beautiful.

The reason that I entitled this blog entry as “Robins and Polar Bears” is because every time I see a robin I can’t help but remember my experience that I had while in Canada’s arctic. Story:

Robins have always been a glorious symbol for our Southern Ontario springtime. Now, they have a more important role as symbols of our deteriorating biosphere. We should take heed in all the symbols that Nature shares with us, so that we can begin to learn our true place in the web of life.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Everybody’s Working For (Most Of) The Weekend

Since I started my new career as a school bus driver, I’ve found that I really look forward to my weekends off -even if it means that this time is filled with a million chores!!!

I spent my Saturday with five young artists. It was time for my monthly art workshop for children and we all had a wonderful time. I was really disappointed when I got my camera out and realized that my batteries were dead – thus not one photo was taken. All the paintings that were created were well done and the parents were more than shocked (in a great way) when they arrived at 5:00pm to pick up their children.

Joanne and I both woke up on Sunday feeling a bit lazy. After our morning tea with our dog Koly, in the back garden, Jo’ began to get breakfast ready.

While she was doing this, I was catching up on getting some of my art prints ready for the post office. I have fun contests on my facebook page and the winners get my art prints as prizes. Today I prepared three packages… one is going to Malaysia, another is going to California and the third is travelling to British Columbia. I love it when my artwork goes on permanent vacations to far away lands!!!

I spend quite a bit of time getting these packages ready. I use scrap bits of cardboard to build custom boxes for the artworks, to ensure that it won’t get bent during its delivery.

Of course, Elly was there to help me!!! She likes to play with the little cardboard ends that I cut off. She began to play and I asked Jo’ to take Elly’s photo, cuz it was kinda funny to watch her. Just then, Elly decided that it was time to rest, so her little show was over.

Joanne decided to take matters into her own hands…

…and soon we had Elly jumping around again!!!!

Whenever I send a package containing an art print, to a friend, I always include surprises. When the package arrives, my friends will find my print along with a nice handful of my peace stik-ers, a poem or two, a newspaper article and sometimes a CD, with one of my animation films on it. These packages are always well received!

After the packages are sealed up and the address is written on it, I’ll fill the rest of the space with a few more of my peace stik-ers. By doing this, everyone that handles this package will get to see some of my artwork, too!

While Jo’ and I were eating our breakfast, we were deciding on what we should do for the rest of the day. We were talking about some of the chores that needed gettin’ done, in our garden… and then the phone rang. Joanne’s mom had invited us over for dinner that evening.

Jo’ reminded me that the last three weekends we had spent in the garden and that she wanted to go somewhere to relax and enjoy the sun. We got out our map and soon found a nice beach that we had never been to before.

The winds were crisp and cool and I was beginning to wonder how we would enjoy ourselves while we shivered. I went over to a log and sat down, noticing that the wind wasn’t as fierce when I was closer to the ground. Then I learned that if we were lying down on the sand that it was quite warm.

So, that’s just what I did. I stretched out on the sand that had been warmed by the sun, low enough to not feel the cool breeze.

Joanne spent a little while, throwing sticks into the lake, for Koly, but soon she joined me for a bit of quite time on the sand.

Later, Jo’s mom had a few little laughs when our pinkish faces showed up at her doorstep looking for a free meal! LOL!!!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lilacs and Bleeding Hearts

Joanne and I have been very lucky over the last few years. Our previous residence and where we are living now both have lilac bushes in the yard. Lilacs are one of my favourite flowering bushes/trees. It is so wonderful to go into my back garden to play in the dirt with the smell of lilac filling my nose and head. This smell always reminds me of our stay in Nelson, British Columbia, in 2001-02.

We enjoyed two springs in Nelson and during these times the alleyways between the houses were filled with lilacs. There were so many different varieties and each one showcased its unique colours and scents. The entire town was filled with these fragrances and it really made me feel alive.

All of these photos were taken just last week, in my back garden. Man oh man! I love spring!!!

Last year was the time when I decided to expand the flower gardens around this property. Since the squirrels eat and destroy any vegetable plant, I thought that this would be a good idea. I’ve learned so much about flowers, in just the last two years. When Joanne and I finally get a place of our own, I’ll be able to use this knowledge to quickly build some amazing gardens!!! I can’t wait.

These plants are called Bleeding Hearts (because of their shape and colour) and this is the patch that I planted last spring. Last year these plants flowered a little bit but they didn’t grow as high as they could. I have found that plants spend their first year healing and reestablishing their roots systems. This is their second year and they are coming in very strong, filling in with many flowers.

It’s important to think about the spacing of the plants when you are creating a garden. If the plants are placed too close together, then they spend too much time competing for the light and some will be overpowered. If they are placed too far apart the weeds will thrive in the spaces between to choke out the plants.

You can also notice that I try to plant different generations of plants. In the above photo we can see a very large and older plant surrounded by smaller plants of the same species. Over the years to come, this patch should fill in very nicely with different levels of flowers to amaze the eyes!!!

I hope that this blog entry has inspired you to now turn off your computer so that you can spend the remainder of the day in your own back garden – or a neighbours (LOL) – to enjoy the gifts that Nature has blessed us with.

Wishing you a heart filled with sunshine on all your rainy days!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Garden Surgery

Our world changes around us, in so many different ways, but often times it happens very slowly – over the course of many years – and it is difficult to recognize this change.

For example – this maple tree sapling is in its second year of growth and if I was not diligent in my care for my garden, it could continue to grow to be a mature tree. This is what has happened all over the yard and garden where Joanne and I are living. The gardens were built many years ago but for the last ten years they have not been maintained. That is why it has been such a labour intensive love to bring these gardens back to life.

Our entire yard is filled with trees, like this one, and this could be a problem if neglect continued. Trees and weeds will grow wherever they can find soil. Weeds are easy to clear away, but the trees sometimes pose a problem.

This is a close-up of the previous photo and you can clearly see that this tree grew through the metal fence. It didn’t make me too happy to have to cut this tree down, but if I didn’t, the entire fence that it has grown through would be ripped from the ground in another five years.

Some of the smaller trees I’ve managed to be able to dig up with most of the roots still intact. These trees I take to a nearby park and transplant back into the Earth. The larger ones sometimes sustain too much damage so I cut them up into lengths that will fuel my seasonal garden fires. I usually have one fire in the spring and one fire in the fall, to get rid of these limbs and other ‘green’ waste and the nitrogen adds valuable nutrients to the soil.

As you can tell, from this photo, I’ve been very busy with my new pruning saw, clearing away all the ‘accidental’ trees that were growing through fences, between houses, beside porches and throughout the garden. I always find it handy to have a small space, usually close to the composter, where I collect all these types of ‘green’ waste.

As I’m busying myself with these chores, my mind can’t help to wander… I wonder what would happen if the tree that was growing through the fence was to remain. I imagine, year after year, that the tree grows taller and with each year the fence becomes torn further and further away from the ground.

In this photo, we see four or five maple tree saplings that are growing out from the underside of the back porch. If these trees continued to grow, in five years the would begin to lift the edge of the wood porch. In another ten years the porch would have been torn apart. Examples like this are found everywhere and they all remind me of the simple, gentle and oh-so-powerful force that is Nature.

We humans truly believe that we have successfully dominated our world – that we are the masters of our domain. Thoughts like this make me laugh because they are uttered in absolute ignorance. I have fun imaging what our world would be like without humans. What if something happened and humans suddenly vanished from the Earth? Nature would do what Nature has done throughout the history of this world – be its own master!!!

With the examples that I’ve shared in this blog entry, I laugh when I think of how our neighbourhoods would look, thirty years after humans have vanished. We would find a thick forest of trees, filled with lawn chairs and bar-b-ques – because the tree saplings had grown through them. We would find porches lifted up and fences ripped from their foundations. Many houses would be knocked over or have a wall pushed in from the trees growing along the side of the walls. Eavestroughs would fill with debris, thus creating compost to support the birth of more tree saplings, that would continue to grow until the eaves became too heavy and then broke away from the house. Within ten years our streets would be covered with grasses and weeds and other tree saplings that would grow through the asphalt to destroy our streets.

I think that it’s important to use our imaginations to create funny scenarios such as this, so that we can realize how insignificant our man-made world truly is and how dominating Nature will always be. We all need to grow our appreciation for the Nature that provides for all of our needs, so that we can revel in a new kind of relationship that will ensure humanities continued existence on this world.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

London’s International Children’s Art Festival – 2008: Cont’d

For my special art project for the festival, I had decided to create another community involved painting. I wanted to have lots and lots of kids help me with a painting so I had to have a large canvas… I decided to use a bathroom door. These doors, that I sometimes paint on, are great – the finished product doesn’t need to be framed, just hung by the two hangers at the back, the door offers stability and structure that you can’t get in a regular canvas that size.

Keeping in fashion with this year’s ‘World Environment’ theme, I had decided to design a unique “Earth, Moon and Sun” painting, with lots of bright colours.

Some of the children that came out to help with this painting were very young. That is why I had designed most of the painting to be straight lines, radiating out from the center of the sun. The brush strokes were very simple to apply and this really made the children feel happy about the work they did.

At some points, the tent was overflowing with children and their parents or schoolteachers and this was a little overwhelming. I’m really glad that I had a few volunteers helping me to keep the paints and children organized.

It may be hard to believe, but this painting was finished in less than six hours. This was the largest canvas that I had ever completed in such a short period of time. After all the paints were cleaned up, the volunteers and I sat down for a short but well deserved break.

Before, a child was allowed to paint, we had them fill out a very simple form. We asked for their name, age, the school that they were from and we asked them to write down what their favourite thing in the whole wide world is. At the end of the day, we put all these forms into a container and a volunteer randomly selected one of the forms. I knew that the finished painting would have to go somewhere and this is how we selected where. A name was selected and the school that that child was from was the winner of the painting. The winning school was Kensal Park, here in London, Ontario.

The next week, I made a surprise visit to this school. The principal was extremely pleased to hear this unexpected good news. She told me many stories about how creative her students are and she showed me many of their art creations. We had made arrangements for me to return to the school the following week so I could help their maintenance workers install the painting above the doors leading to the school’s library. When I returned I was pleased to learn that the painted door had already been installed.

The principal called one of the teachers and several students to the office – who had helped to complete this painting and we had a group photo to showcase our achievement.

Events such as this really warm my heart. This was a great experience to be a part of and now this art will be enjoyed by so many young students for many years to come. The value of an artwork such as this can never be defined by the costs of supplies, or the time needed to create it. This art peace will continue to create new sets of value as it inspires growing, loving minds.


Friday, May 15, 2009

London’s International Children’s Art Festival – 2008

Imagine my surprise and delight when I answered my phone, last year, to be invited to participate in the London International Children’s Art Festival. The theme for this festival was ‘World Environment’ and the caller told me that several people involved with the London arts scene had suggested my name to her. I was asked to organize several art events for this four-day festival.

The festival took place in a downtown Market, with events happening inside as well as outside in the large community area, as well as on the street (which was closed to traffic during the event). Many community organizations were participating and the outside areas were filled with tents and booths. There was a performance stage set up and many musicians entertained the hundreds of children that would gather. There were theatrical performances taking place in several venues throughout the downtown area, so you can imagine some of the chaos that ensued as throngs of children bustled from one place to another.

Children from all over Southern Ontario came to this huge event, being bussed in by their schools. Over the course of these four days, it was estimated that just over twenty thousand children had attended. It was a very busy four days.

One of the events that I organized was ‘Peace Chalk Art’. We had a tent set up outside for the volunteers that were taking care of this event. The children that came to this area were asked to think of ‘peaceful’ things and then they had to draw their expressions on the large sidewalk area that was divided off for this event. Here are some of their art creations….

I also organized an ‘environmentally friendly’ art event that took place inside the Market. The children were to use small shapes that had been cut out of cereal, pop and tissue boxes – reusing this colourful cardboard – to create fridge magnets in the shape of pretty flowers…

I was really happy to get permission to play a few of my songs for the children and parents.

This is one of the songs that I played…

Our Only Friend

Can you feel my heartbeat
Pounding thro’ the strings
Of my guitar?
Oh! The joy it brings.

I’m singing simple songs
For the world to hear
About ‘Peace and Love’
Laced with a little bit of fear.

Can you feel your spirit
Raising in the air?
As you’re floating above life
You can go anywhere.

You can scale a mountain
Or forge the great divide.
You can dive in with the whales
And now you’re coming out the other side.

You can hug the moon
And kiss a brand new day
Cuz you’re young and wild.

Could you be a tree
With branches waving at the sky?
Once you were a seed
But then, you grew so high.

You’re changing with the weather
And the seasons, too.
White is your winter crown
And the summer brings the morning dew.

When you hug the moon
The night dissolves away,
Then your heart can smile.

- solo –

Can you see the sunshine
Through the acid rain?
Dark clouds usher in
Ten thousand years of pain!

It’s not to late
If we find a peace to lend

We’ve got to learn
That the Earth is our only friend

Can you feel my heartbeat
Pounding thro’ the strings
Of my guitar?
Oh! The joy it brings.

I’m singing simple songs
For the world to hear
About ‘Peace and Love’
Laced with a little bit of fear.

You can hug the moon
And kiss both night and day
Cuz you’re Nature’s child……

There was one other special art event that I had organized for this festival - but that’s tomorrow’s story….


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Graves VS Beds of Life

I’ve learned that ‘raised bed’ gardening has many advantages. The temperature is higher because the sun can warm a larger surface area and the plants like this. The amount of water that is needed to grow the crops can be regulated, thus decreasing wasteful consumption of this resource. I’m not sure, but I think that the soil stays a bit ‘looser’ and this allows the roots to grow deeper more quickly.

First I dig the garden area in long rows. I’ll take a couple of shovel-fulls of my compost and spread it into each row, before digging the next row. Then, I use the garden rake to start pulling the dirt into rectangular beds. Where I rake the dirt from, now becomes the pathway between the beds. Very simple and easy to do.

I love the look of a raised bed garden. Often, I’ll hear comments about how they look like graves, but I’ve never looked at it that way. I’ve always thought of them as beds of life. After all, the food that I eat will come from them and that will keep me alive – LOL!

If I happen to have a small pile of branches and dried vines hanging around, I’ll have a fire on top of these beds. The nitrogen from the ash is very healthy for the soil and I’ll dig this into the bed before I plant. This whole process disposes of so much ‘green’ waste and creates a very profitable product… my lunch! Someday, all economics will be based on energy cycles such as this one… when we realize that money can never make the world go ‘round or feed the poor.

When it’s time to plant, I’ll pull the soil from the middle of the bed to create a small wall around the outside of the bed. Then I plant…! I’ll water the entire bed, once I’ve planted – the water helps glue the wall to the side of the bed and the wall keeps the water from flowing away from the plants. Now, whenever I water the veggies, the water will stay concentrated in one area. In the photo above, I only planted a small area of the bed. This is garlic that I took from my mom’s garden, last weekend. I’ll be planting carrots in the rest of this area and I’ll finish building my walls at that time.

I’m really enjoying the work that I’m putting into this year’s garden. The garden is twice as big as last year’s and I’ve more than tripled the amount of flowers surrounding this area. I’ve also really enjoyed taking all these photos and writing these blogs, to share my mistakes and lessons with people from around the world.

Happy Gardening Everyone!!!!


Monday, May 11, 2009

Snowing In May

The other day was sunny with patches of small clouds so it was fun to watch all the light and shadows dance across my garden. I was standing near the composter with my eyes closed and face raised to feel the warmth of the sun. A gust of wind strayed by and suddenly I felt lots of small things falling down on me. I opened my eyes and I realized that they were snowflakes. Then I noticed that they weren’t melting on my skin and I accepted that they were the blossom petals from the old pear tree… LOL!!!!

Last year I noticed that the pear tree – that must be at least one million years old (ha ha) – had lots of dead branches and a grapevine had actually grown up into its highest limbs. It didn’t blossom all that spectacularly and it didn’t even have many leaves. I decided to give it a trim.

I didn’t have a pruning saw – but I bought one this spring and I’ve used it a lot already – so I just applied pressure to the dead branches until they snapped off. It wasn’t very pretty. I thought that these wounds would actually mimic those of a violent and strong wind and that the tree would respond in kind.

For the higher branches, I climbed up a ladder and then I reached out and jumped – grabbed a hold of the dead branch and the two of us came crashing to the ground. Joanne thought I was crazy for doing it this way. It was only a three foot drop to the ground…lol!!

I then climbed onto the roof of the garage to get to the top branches and to pull off the grapevine – which got the next haircut…

This year, the tree looks amazingly full of leaves and it was shining white with blossoms. Unfortunately, I neglected to take any really good photos of one of my gardening success stories, so I hope that you enjoy what I have been able to show.