Wordless Wednesday | July 8/20

Our destruction of natural habitats of wildlife is what has allowed these new viruses to cross over to humans in the first place. Ebola, HIV/AIDS, SARS, MERS, H1N1, and now the granddaddy of all, COVID-19. The granddaddy of all new viruses so far, that is. We can’t go back to normal.

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Map Monday: looking at the history of maps

Thanks to a suggestion from a kind reader (thanks, Karl), today we’re going to take a quick trip through the history of world maps.

Stop and think about it for a minute. As I’ve tried to show through past Map Mondays, mankind has been exploring beyond their local boundaries for not just centuries but millennia. There’s the known travel and trade routes of early Asians and people in the Middle East, of course.  As well, archeologists are coming to realize that even indigenous peoples in the Americas had long-ago trade routes with one another over a distance of at least a thousand miles, including between North America and Meso America, trading desirable goods unique to each other’s location and sharing cultural practices. And they sure didn’t have maps. No satellites, no GPS, no maps.

We’re used to living in a time where the features of the world are well known and where information about all parts of the world are readily available. We’re used to being able to find a map online at a moment’s notice or just pick up our personal GPS. But what about the explorers who set out into the unknown, with nothing but the stars, a few rudimentary instruments, and notes from previous ship’s logs to guide them? Or the travelers and traders who had the stars and the stories and advice of those who had travelled the route previously as their guide. They didn’t know what they didn’t know! Wow, talk about challenges.

At some point, a few people got the idea of trying to diagram the far reaches of their world. Some were mathematicians and so tried to use some geometric principles to put accuracy into their drawings. That can’t have been incredibly successful, but it was a start. It was an intriguing challenge. And as exploration heated up, obviously having the most accurate maps would provide a considerable advantage to those ships and the country that sponsored them. Let the map-making competition begin. Continue reading

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Social Justice Saturday: introducing a new Robby Robin series

As has been analyzed in blog after blog and media opinion piece after media opinion piece, the global pandemic in which we find ourselves has, along with many hardships and horrifying numbers of deaths, shone a badly needed light on many social justice issues that have been festering in all our countries for a very long time. Most were already known and just not dealt with; a few were a bit of a surprise to many. All these issues, now exposed for all to see, need to be addressed as countries slowly but surely emerge from lockdowns and set their individual courses for the future. We have an unprecedented opportunity to move from the status quo and plan for societies that work for all citizens – and for our planet. These opportunities don’t come along often in history. It’s an opportunity that the population must fight for. We shouldn’t let excuses or the easy way out get in the way. The status quo cannot stand.

I decided that I can’t keep ranting about these issues in every post or I’ll wear out my readers, so instead I’m going to try writing one post a week on one of the many lessons we’ve learned and what changes might make a difference going forward.

In coming up with a name for my new series, of course I had to choose something that started with “S” to go with Saturday! I thought of “Society improvement” Saturday and a few other possibilities and then settled on Social Justice Saturday. It fits the bill for most of the topics I have in mind.

For the record, according to Wikipedia and other sources, social justice is a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society. It’s measured by opportunities for personal activity and social privileges, and by how wealth is distributed in society. The concept of social justice has often included the process of ensuring that individuals fulfill their societal roles and receive what was their due from society (possibly such as paying your taxes and accessing universal healthcare).  In the current global grassroots movements for social justice, of which we are seeing renewed strength, the emphasis has been on breaking barriers for social mobility, the creation of safety nets, and economic justice. In other words, addressing racism and income inequality, and ensuring a fair society. Continue reading

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A different kind of Canada Day this year, a time for reflection

Today, July 1, is Canada Day. Happy 153rd Birthday, Canada! Usually, when we think of Canada Day we think of a beautiful summer day where communities have parades, outdoor concerts, face painting for kids, birthday cake for all, and the singing of ‘O Canada’ with great gusto. Followed of course by wonderful fireworks displays when it finally gets dark enough (about 10 pm where we live). Or people celebrate by spending the day at one of Canada’s tens of thousands of lakes and maybe end the day with their own fireworks. It’s a wonderful holiday and Canadians have lots to celebrate.

What a typical non-pandemic Canada Day looks like in Ottawa, our nation’s capital. Image credit: 680news.com

But … this isn’t a normal year. Canada Day celebrations have been cancelled in most places, certainly where we live. No relaxed and happy times mingling with the crowds for local concerts, no face painting, no fireworks, and God forbid any public singing. Who could have imagined?! In our area the city is trying to promote community spirit around this important holiday by having a competition between the north side of the river that runs through our city and the south side of the river. The challenge is for your side to have the best Canada Day home decorations; not quite the same as fireworks, but they’re trying. Go, South Side!

A more doable celebration of Canada Day during the COVID pandemic. Image credit: smithsrvcentre.com

Since we won’t be having the usual Canada Day celebrations, the ones that make most of us feel very good about the country we live in despite the occasional concern we might have, perhaps we can make use of this day by reflecting on why we take pride in our country, but also what we could be doing – and strongly encourage our politicians to do – to make Canada even better as we slowly, eventually, emerge from the global COVID crisis. Continue reading

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Getting relief from troubling times through nature – and maps

Today is Map Monday, but all the maps I’ve been looking at are awfully depressing. They seem to offer yet more evidence of what poor decisions humans have made throughout history. I thought I’d see what maps I could find that tell us about the animals that inhabit the world instead. Once I got past maps of what animals are endangered or extinct thanks to the poor decisions of humans, I settled on simple maps that show us where we are still able to observe the beauty and majesty of animals in nature … that is once we are able to travel again! Meanwhile, we can watch them close up and personal on National Geographic and the Discovery Channel.

You can click on any of the maps or images to zoom in on them. Image credit: Dieter Braun

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about Speech Day and the amazing animals of Botswana. Botswana has to rate at the very top of anyone’s animal viewing list. Bar none. But there are other options that are very worthy of being added to your own personal animal-viewing list.

Fairly recently I ‘gave’ another technology-enabled grandmother speech to one of our sons’ families in a city currently off limits. This ‘speech’ was called “Choosing the best wildlife trip”. (Of course, what it should have been called was choosing the best wildlife trip after Botswana, but I did explain that in my presentation. And I did explain that I was not suggesting that we were going to take them on the trip they chose; this is purely hypothetical!)

In fact, there are obviously way more than 3 or 4 astounding wildlife trips on offer around the world, but these three make a good starting point, after Africa. I’m going to give you the overview and see which trip you would pick if you could only choose one. And if you’re keen, another week I could take you on some other virtual wildlife tours, like to Costa Rica and Borneo. Or maybe to see the amazing herds of buffalo roaming the broad valleys of Yellowstone. Or all the places in the world for unbelievable whale-watching.

Here we go. Let’s suppose you are offered, as a special treat, ONE special wildlife trip, bearing in mind that nothing will ever measure up to wildlife viewing in Botswana – or maybe Kenya or South Africa, or Tanzania.

Which will it be? Your choices are:

  • Galapagos Islands
  • Madagascar
  • Canadian High Arctic and Greenland

Each one has different unique animals, unique geology and geography, unique history, and unique cultures.

First, let’s take a look at what the Galapagos Islands have to offer. The Galapagos were first made famous for Charles Darwin having spent time here while on his around-the-world voyage collecting animal and geological specimens. Many of the animals that live here are not found anywhere else in the world. Some are only found on their one tiny island in this group of islands. The animals are not afraid of humans at all; you can lie on a pristine beach next to sea lions and iguanas. Try snorkeling or scuba diving. As a bonus, you could pair this trip with a visit to Ecuador’s upper Amazon region.

Now, let’s take a look at Madagascar. Madagascar split from the African continent over 160 million years ago. The Malagasy people who live there are descended from seafarers from Borneo, Polynesia, and east Africa. There’s a French influence to their food, which is always a good thing. The only place on earth where you can find lemurs and several other species of animals. It’s a poor country and it is difficult to get around, but fascinating and unique.

And, finally, let’s take a look at what we’d see in the High Arctic. What isn’t special about the high Arctic. History and culture of 12,000 years of indigenous habitation. History of the European explorers trying to find a way to Asia, through all that ice and cold. All those amazing animals. All those amazing icebergs. You probably only want to go there between July-mid-August; it’s pretty darn cold the rest of the time, but has the bonus of nearly 24-hour days in mid-summer.

And so,

I know what our family chose, and it surprised us. What about you? Which of these three special opportunities would you choose? Why?

Let me know if you’d like to have further around-the-world wildlife trips to think about. There are lots more!


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Wordless Wednesday | June 24/20

Lessons from nature. All tigers are tigers, they get that.

Lessons for humans.


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Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada, yes, on Father’s Day!

Today is National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada.

This year, today is also Father’s Day and that’s what will be forefront in most people’s minds, as would be expected. Fathers are very deserving of their special recognition, especially after 3+ months of lockdown with their families!

But June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada every year, and it’s important not to let this celebration fall under the radar because of Father’s Day and the constraints of COVID-19. This National Day has been gaining prominence, at least in our region in eastern Canada, as a welcomed opportunity for non-Indigenous folk to learn more about Indigenous culture, history, and their arts and crafts, and to interact in a joyous way with their Indigenous neighbours. This is a hugely important step in the very slow but hopefully steady appreciation of the strength of present-day Indigenous communities and respect for these communities and their cultures.

It is difficult for me to write this without highlighting the many, many injustices perpetrated on Canada’s Indigenous Peoples over the past hundreds of years. Injustices which just don’t stop, despite the painful but thorough work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the 94 calls to action of their final report, most of which have yet to be realized. Despite the lack of action on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry. Despite continuing systemic racism in the police systems and criminal justice system. Despite many things. But I’m going to reserve this tragic and shameful history for another post, because the spirit of National Indigenous Peoples Day is one of celebration. And celebrate we shall.

National Indigenous Peoples Day was established in Canada to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, each of which have their own distinct heritage, language, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs to share.

For generations, many Indigenous peoples and communities have celebrated their culture and heritage on or near this day due to the significance of the summer solstice as the longest day of the year. I can tell you that when you live in a northern clime, the longest day of the year is very welcome and very long! Even where I live, just east of Maine, it’s still light until 10 p.m. and then light again at about 4-4:30 a.m. Pretty special, definitely worthy of celebration. Hence, the selection of June 21 for this national day of recognition of our Indigenous peoples could not be more appropriate. Continue reading

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A day in the life of a hummingbird

Time to take a break from serious topics, for a day at least; I don’t want to wear you out with an overdose of angst. Instead, today I’m reblogging a lovely piece written by a male hummingbird (well, actually by fellow blogger John Persico, Jr.). We have ruby-throated hummingbirds around our house every summer and this is the first time one of them has explained himself to me. I found it charming and enlightening. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

*I couldn’t find a way to properly reblog this, so I am reprinting it in its entirety, but I heartily recommend John’s often provocative posts to you at Aging Capriciously.

I am a hummingbird.  My name is Archilochus Colubris, but you can call me Josh.  I am also known as a Ruby Throated Hummingbird to distinguish me from other members of my family.  We have over 330 different species in my family.  Much like humans have ethnic groups, we hummingbirds have species.  My family has the distinction of being the smallest members of the bird class known as Aves.

I listen to humans all the time talking about how tough their lives are.  Buddy, you don’t know what tough is.  Humans think they live life in the fast lane.   Did you know I flap my wings at 60 times per second?  That is 3600 times per minute.  Speedy Gonzales can run a mile in 4 minutes, in that time I could go nearly 4 miles.  I can fly upwards of 50 miles per hour.  My heart beats at over 1200 beats per minute.

Human beings, even the busiest ones, take breaks several times a day.  Not me.  I almost never stop moving.  My life is constantly in motion.  I don’t have time for breaks.  My life span is only about 4 years.  During that time, I have lots to do.  Humans are always in a hurry, and multi-task because they think they have lots to do.  I can do in one year what it takes a human twenty years to do.  The cycle of life is the same for all of us.  We are born, grow up, age, and die.  Along the way, we make friends, have babies, eat many meals, sleep every day, and see some of the world. Continue reading

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