Archive for January, 2008


Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Hey, if Marc can get away with blogging a YouTube clip of the Muppets singing Mahna Mahna, then why can’t I share this Big Bird classic?

On his own

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Luke has found an affordable apartment, and will be moving on the weekend.

And so another milestone approaches … the first to leave the nest.

Praying for a cold snap … in Alberta

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

No I don’t particularly enjoy walking to work when the temperatures are in the minus 40 Celcius range, as expected tonight. This morning was cold enough, and it was only -32C.

However part of me is relieved that a cold period seems to have settled into the western Canadian provinces. That may sound like a really masochistic thing to say, but I have a reason.

As explained in this news article, a couple of years ago hungry hordes of mountain pine beetle(MPB) crossed the Rockies from B.C. into Alberta, and have been happily munching through huge areas of lodgepole pine forest in an epidemic of biblical proportions.

Forest management agencies have been trying to deal with its spread, and forest entomologists have been studying the question of how it will fare in its new habitat. A burning question is whether the MPB will be able to survive at epidemic levels in Jack pine, an alternative to lodgepole pine, its favoured host. That is a real concern to a lot of foresters in Saskatchewan’s boreal forest, where we have lots of Jack pine but no lodgepole. There seems reason to believe that MPB might do OK in Jack pine, despite the thinner phloem layer where the insect over-winters.

Apparently what it takes to really reduce the MPB from epidemic down to endemic levels is a good old-fashioned cold snap. I’ve heard varying estimates, e.g. two weeks of -35 to -40C weather, five days of -40C weather, etc. I’ve also heard that the cold snap must occur early in the winter before the insects have become winter-hardened.

A problem is that in recent years the prairie provinces have experienced warmer than average winters, whether due to anthropogenic global warming, as many scientists believe, or other causes as suggested by the climate change sceptics. Whatever the reason, if the current cold snap lasts a few more days, it should set back the MPB epidemic, and that would be a good thing.

Of course since the MPB hasn’t yet reached Saskatchewan, it would be nice if the cold snap were restricted to Alberta and B.C. Would that be too much to ask?

UPDATE 2008-01-30: I woke up this morning to the news that a 3-year-old Saskatchewan child died of exposure and searchers are looking for her 1-year-old sister. I hope that no-one misinterprets my concerns about ecosystem health with flippancy about the serious consequences of our cold winters. Keep safe people.

Seneca Root

Monday, January 28th, 2008

I am looking forward to spending time this coming summer exploring our new land purchase. While building an inventory of forest cover types, I’ll be keeping an eye out for Seneca Root (Polygala senega).

Seneca Root in flower

I have childhood memories of time spent searching for and digging up Seneca Root. After drying the roots, we would bring them to Adilman’s General Store, where we would be paid a few cents per pound, not enough income to feel rich, but enough to buy a few treats.

Although we never picked large quantities (with the exception of my big brother Ray), I remember days when there would be a lot of boxes of Seneca Root at Adilaman’s, mostly brought in by a few serious hard-core root pickers.

Dried Seneca Root

We moved to the city when I was in my early teens, and seneca root rarely crossed my mind until many years later, when I realized that either I was looking in the wrong places or the species had become more scarce. I decided that if I had unwittingly contributed to its demise/extirpation by digging up entire rooting systems (instead of practising sustainable use by leaving part of the roots), I would atone for my transgression by planting some in suitable sites.

From the last sentence in this description on the Environment Canada webswite, it appears that the species has indeed been reduced by over-harvesting, although from other sources it isn’t considered “endangered” or even “threatened” …

A showy plant with several erect, leafy stems, each with a terminal spike of greenish-white flowers, this plant is renowned for its medicinal properties. The thick shallow root is collected and sold to this day through fur auction houses. Polygalic acid which is extracted from the dried ground root is used as an expectorant in the treatment of pneumonia, croup, and asthma. Native people have traditionally used it for respiratory ailments. It has also been found valuable in the treatment of rheumatism. This plant has been largely depleted by digging and overgrazing.


The University of Manitoba has a good article on the species here, including a description of how to propagate it from seed or shoot cuttings. If my explorations of our land don’t find any, I may try growing some.

On the other hand, if anyone knows of a greenhouse selling Seneca Root bedding plants, please let me know.

The Rock That Doesn’t Roll

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Larry Norman, the Father of Christian Rock n’ Roll, must be in his 60s by now.

I stumbled onto this video clip while searching for a different Larry Norman song. What makes it interesting for me, apart from the fact that Larry is still even alive, and that I enjoyed listening to the song in the 1979s, is the fact that the concert was apparently filmed at a music festival called “Sommergospel“, at a small Norwegian village called Skudeneshavn, on the island of Karmøy, Norway. That happens to be where my maternal great-grandparents emigrated from.

Beggar evangelism

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

“Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”

- D.T. Niles

I like that quote. Unfortunately, for many people, the word “evangelism” brings to mind the scandal-ridden world of televangelists asking for more money, rather than the sharing of Good News.

Fat boat

Monday, January 21st, 2008

Eco-boat powered by human fat attempts round the world speed record

The fastest eco boat on the planet will attempt to break the round the world speed record using fuel made from human fat….

Fat boat
… for the full article click on the headline above (my apologies for all the sidebar celebrity trash at this tabloid website).

When I first heard about this muscle-boat that was going to try setting a new round-the-globe speed record, the headline about it being fuelled with human fat caught my attention.

Then I realized it’s just an attention-getting gimmick. Actually the biodiesel from human fat will power them about 8 nautical miles (15 km). The remaining 23,991 nautical miles they’ll be running on biodiesel from more conventional sources.

The article states that the boat has a “net zero carbon footprint”, which I take with several large grains of salt. I’ve seen varying figures on the environmental cost of producing biodiesel, but this Wikipedia article states that biodiesel has net life-cycle carbon dioxide emissions of 60% that of petroleum-based diesel.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m totally anti-muscle-boat. In fact I’m sure that riding that monster would be a blast. It just seems to me that they’re over-playing the “eco” bit. If they really wanted to burn fat, kayaking would have been a more earth-friendly option.

Memory Logs

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

Memory Logs 2007Our family has a tradition that we call Memory Logs. I don’t recall exactly where we got the idea, but we’ve done it every year since the children were babies.

The way it works is that every year after taking down our Christmas tree, instead of just throwing it out, we cut off the branches and cut the stem into six equal lengths, which get bundled up and stored in the garage to dry until the following Christmas. On Christmas day, after the Christmas story has been read and the gifts have been opened, we burn our Memory Logs. One by one, we take a piece of last year’s Christmas tree and share a significant memory from the year just passed, before adding the log to the fire.

Being the patriarch, I usually go last, which has a couple of disadvantages, including the risk of being incinerated by the roaring fire, and having someone else use my memory. This year, since the week at Pigeon Lake had already been used, I mentioned that I had started a blog and managed to keep it going for six whole months.

Small traditions like this can be part of the glue that holds a family together. I really appreciate the fact that, although we probably squabble as much as any other family, the kids look forward to this annual time of togetherness.

The 2007 Christmas tree has been sitting in the back yard. Today I finally got around to cutting it up, in preparation for next Christmas. I pray that the memories of 2008 will be good.

2008 memory log preparation

The incarnation: for those people too

Friday, January 18th, 2008

A few weeks ago I celebrated a typical comfortable middle-class Canadian Christmas. In the midst of the activities and relaxing with family, I was reminded of Bruce Cockburn’s song “Cry of a Tiny Babe“,

… Like a stone on the surface of a still river

Driving the ripples on forever

Redemption rips through the surface of time

In the cry of a tiny babe…

I believe that the historical Jesus came to bring redemption. It’s the practical living out of my faith, including how I perceive some of the people that I see from my downtown office window, that I often fall down at. Cockburn’s song reminds me,

… There are others who know about this miracle birth

The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth

For it isn’t to the palace that the Christ child comes

But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums …

Uncomfortable lyrics, but I believe they capture the truth of why Jesus came. Lord help me to get beyond merely believing.

Back to the blog

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

My last blog entry was on the 20th of December. That’s been almost four weeks, the longest hiatus since I started blogging in June 2007.

So why the lack of activity? I guess part of my excuse for the first week had something to do with family-related activities around Christmas, but beyond that I can only blame my natural laziness and lack of motivation. Maybe I’ve even been a bit discouraged because I compare my work against the work of others and realize that the quality isn’t at the level I’d like it to be.

Anyway, I will make an effort to get back in the saddle and plug along.

By the way, I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and that 2008 will be a Happy Almost-New Year.