Category Archives: Nature

The Girl Who Loved Giraffes

I was smitten with the story of Canadian giraffologist Anne Innis Dagg after I saw the movie The Woman Who Loves Giraffes. I wrote a blog post about how the film inspired and moved me. So when I heard there was a new children’s book about Anne Innis Dagg called The Girl Who Loved Giraffes I was so excited. Now Anne’s story would be accessible to a younger generation of Canadians.

I was even more excited when I heard that Kathy Stinson a Canadian children’s writer with a long and successful career had written The Girl Who Loved Giraffes. Kathy Stinson classics were favourites in my sons’ book collections when they were young as well as in the libraries of the elementary schools where I served as a teacher. At one point I probably could have recited any number of Kathy Stinson’s books by heart, because I had read them so often.

So when CANSCAIP (the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers) of which I am a member began to advertise the launch of The Girl Who Loved Giraffes by Kathy Stinson I signed up immediately.

The launch was terrific because not only did we get to hear from Kathy Stinson the author, but also from Anne Innis Dagg herself. I also enjoyed listening to Francois Thisdale talk about how he created such beautiful illustrations for the book. He put so many details into each drawing.

He explained for example that in this one where Anne sees a giraffe for the first time at the Brookfield Zoo he added a vintage ticket for the zoo and the numbers on the ticket are Anne’s birthdate.

Anne Innis Daag

One of my favorite things about The Girl Who Loved Giraffes is that it is really two books in one. First of all, we can read Anne’s story about how she went to Africa to study giraffes and became one of the world’s foremost experts on the animal only to be rejected for teaching positions at Canadian universities because she was a woman.

A gIraffe I photographed at the Taronga Zoo in Australia

But… we also learn all kinds of interesting things about giraffes in the notes on each page. Did you know a giraffe’s intestines are as long as a football field or that they eat 90 different kinds of leaves?

I can hardly wait to share The Girl Who Loved Giraffes with my grandchildren. It is a top-notch autobiography- a fascinating compendium of information about giraffes and it contains many beautiful works of art.

Other posts………….

Where Are the Women?

The Matilda Effect

Show Us Where You Live Humpback

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Show Us Where You Live, Humpback

“A celebration of the wonder of whales and the connections we share with them” are the words on the back of a beautiful new picture book for young children called Show Us Where You Live Humpback by Beryl Young.

A mother and child see a humpback whale with her calf as they walk along the ocean and a lyrical story begins to unfold where the lives of the two children, whale and human are described and compared. As the baby whale grows and learns so does the child.

Photo of a page from Show Us Where You Live Humpback by Beryl Young and Sakika Kikuchi published by Greystone Kids

Show Us Where You Live Humpback is a feast for the eye and ear. Illustrator Sakika Kikuchi has created gorgeous images of the whales under the sea all awash in different shades of blue while the cadence of Beryl Young’s text brings to mind the lapping of rolling waves on the shore.

I loved the page where the whale is shooting a plume of spray out from its blowhole and the reader is invited to make the accompanying sounds- Whoosh- Fwissh- Wow! This is contrasted with lively colourful illustrations of the child in the story blowing out birthday candles, blowing bubbles and blowing away the white fuzz of a dandelion.

There’s lots to learn about humpback whales from the text in the story itself and in a short information piece included at the end of the book which compares the knobs on a humpback’s head to the bumps on a dill pickle and the size of the baby whale to a compact car.

Author Beryl Young

Beryl Young the author of Show Us Where You Live Humpback has written all kinds of books for children including biographies and middle-grade fiction. This is her second picture book. Illustrator Sakika Kikuchi has a degree in children’s book illustration from Cambridge University and lives in Japan. This is her first picture book.

Illustration by Sakika Kikuchi from the book Show Us Where You Live Humpback

The book is published by Greystone Kids which specializes in nature books for children. At a conference in May, I listened to a presentation by Sara Gillingham who is a consulting creative director for Greystone and she talked about working towards more inclusivity in the visuals in children’s books. I could appreciate that in Show Us Where You Live Humpback where the illustrations depict the child in a way that leaves gender and ethnicity open to suggestion.

I have become friends with author Beryl Young through our connection with Heritage House. They published my novel Lost on the Prairie and have also published one of Beryl’s novels, Miles to Go.

I have never met Beryl in person but am hoping to rectify that with an autumn trip to British Columbia where I’d also like to go on a whale watching tour to meet the fascinating creatures featured in Beryl’s beautiful book.

Other posts……

What An Inspiration

Two Breathtakingly Beautiful Books

A Book I’ve Loved For Fifty Years

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10 Reasons Green Exercise Is Good For You

I have been a regular member of a gym for most of my adult life. Of course, since the pandemic started I have had to change my approach to fitness and almost all of my exercise takes place outdoors.

There are lots of advantages to what is known as green fitness although here in Manitoba it might have to be called white fitness for at least six months of the year.

What is green fitness?

Various sources define it as…….. exercise that takes place in a natural outdoor environment or the act of being physically active in a natural setting.

According to the experts, outdoor fitness has better results than indoor fitness when it comes to………

Restful sleep

Reduction of stress and anxiety

Sense of well- being

Cognitive performance

Cancer risk

Healthy blood pressure

Self- esteem

Bone strength

Healthy body weight

Motivation

Looking at that long list of benefits I am wondering if I should ever go back to the gym even once the pandemic is over.

Other posts………….

Into the Wilds of Winnipeg

Hiking the Virgin

Walking on the Seine

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The Trees of Rideau Hall

When Prince William and his wife Kate visited Canada in 2011 they planted a hemlock tree on the grounds of Rideau Hall, the home of Canada’s Governor-General in Ottawa. It is a tradition that when someone famous visits Rideau Hall they plant a tree.  On our visit to Ottawa, we took a tour of Rideau Hall and the park surrounding it and I made some notes about the trees I saw.

There are 150 trees planted by famous visitors on the Rideau Hall grounds.  Many of the trees have grown large and their boughs stretch wide and high.

One thing I noticed was many of the people who planted the trees at Rideau Hall had made a positive difference in our world. 

There is a brass marker at the base of each tree telling you who planted it, when it was planted, as well as what kind of tree it is.

I saw a sugar maple planted by Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president. The anti-apartheid activist spent twenty- seven years in prison and became a worldwide symbol of hope to those fighting for freedom and equality.

Diana, Princess of Wales has a tree in Rideau Hall Park. This popular British royal used her notoriety to draw the attention of the world to the needs of people with AIDS and the victims of land mines.

In July of 2011, when William her son and his wife Kate visited Rideau Hall, they stopped for a few moments of silence beside the tree Diana had planted, just after planting their own tree.  Following in the footsteps of Diana’s dedication to public service the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have established a foundation that promotes mental health and wellness.  

John F. Kennedy planted a flourishing red oak tree. Kennedy inspired the establishment of the United States Peace Corps. The organization has sent 200,000 volunteers to 140 countries to help those in need.

When Kofi Annan visited Canada Adrienne Clarkson was the Governor-General living at Rideau Hall.

There’s a tree planted by  Kofi Annan of Ghana, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations.  He won the Nobel Prize for his efforts to bring peace to conflicts in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Nigeria, Libya, East Timor and the Middle East.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko greet Governor General Michaelle Jean at Rideau Hall before planting their tree

Japan’s Emperor Akihito has a tree at Rideau Hall. In 2011 after a tsunami devastated his country he did something no Japanese royal has ever done before. He made a live television appearance to talk to his people to reassure them and give them hope and then he and his wife visited shelters for storm refugees. 

Many of the famous people who have planted trees at Rideau Hall have used their lives to serve others, and make a difference in the world. 

 Other posts……..

The Beginning And End of Life

I Sat in The Speaker’s Chair

Canada A Country For All Seasons

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10 Good Things About Dandelions

A couple of days ago my friend posted a photo on Facebook of her granddaughter picking dandelions. The little girl looked like she thought those dandelions were the most beautiful flowers in the world. That got me thinking about how we always malign dandelions. “Aren’t there some good things about them?” I wondered. I decided to look for positives about dandelions and make a list.

Dandelions photographed yesterday in a park near my home

1. Dandelions have lots of health benefits and have a long history in the healing arts. Long ago dandelions were prescribed for a whole raft of ailments. Today herbalists are exploring ways that the dandelion may be helpful in combating cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and skin damage, reducing heartburn, protecting bones and improving brain function.

2. Dandelions are good for your lawn. Their roots spread out to help ease erosion, aerate and loosen the earth and pull nutrients out of the soil and make them available to the grass around them. Dandelions actually act as a fertilizer for your lawn.

Trying to draw a little again after too long a time away from what was once a daily practice to stretch myself by doing something which is challenging for me

3. Dandelions provide food for bees and butterflies. They are rich in both pollen and nectar. All kinds of birds, a host of different species of mammals and even domesticated farm animals eat different parts of the dandelion.

4. Every part of a dandelion is edible from the roots to the blooms. You can dip the flowers in batter and fry them or use them to make dandelion wine. You can sauté the leaves with ginger and have them as a vegetable dish or chop them up and put them in a salad. The roots can be brewed to make a caffeine free coffee. I even found a recipe for tossing pasta with chopped up dandelion stems.

Stopped on my bike ride yesterday to capture this sea of dandelions

5. Dandelions are early bloomers so they add a pop of colour to the landscape which can be grey and drab before other things begin to flower.

6. Dandelions have a long and important history. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Chinese have all used dandelions as part of their traditional medicinal collections for over a thousand years. Historians think dandelions may have come to North America with the Pilgrim settlers who brought them along for their medicinal benefits. Long ago Japan had horticultural societies devoted to dandelions. The plant was once world famous for its beauty and Europeans treasured it as a beloved garden flower even making dandelions the subject of poems. It is only in the 20th century that dandelions came to be seen as a nuisance weed.

7. Did you know German and American scientists funded by the Bridgestone Corporation are trying to discover a way to turn the milky white root sap from the Russian dandelion into rubber?

8. Dandelions are a kind of natural calendar. When we see them blooming we know its spring. They are also a kind of natural clock because they open in the morning and close in the evening.

9. Dandelions are fun. Once they have gone to seed you can blow on them and make a wish. Kids can make dandelion chains and use the flowers for print making. I even found a recipe online for making dandelion play dough.

10. Dandelions can be a source of wisdom. They remind us ………..

To treat everyone with respect because everyone’s life serves a purpose.

You can survive even in the harshest of conditions.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Be stubborn in your commitment to grow.

Proclaim your presence with confidence.

After compiling this list I realize dandelions don’t deserve their negative image. There are lots of great things about them!

Other posts………

Wild Grasses A Love Story

Wild Flower Inspiration- Moose Lake

Weed Sorting

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Wild Grasses- A Love Story

As for us, our life is like grass- Psalm 103:15

That verse of Scripture kept running through my head on Friday afternoon, as my husband Dave and I went on a windblown tromp in the Tourond Discovery Park. As we strode through fields, climbed gentle hills and trudged down to ponds I marvelled at all the gorgeous waving grass around me.

It was simply stunninga golden sea.

I was reminded of Donald Hoffman who once said that wild grasses are “nature’s eloquent way of making freedom visible.”

I learned recently that some 10,000 species of grass cover 40% of the earth. Grasslands are the backbone of many ecosystems. Their roots keep soil from washing away and their blades feed wildlife.

Red Winged Blackbird – photographed by Dave Driedger

They certainly provide the perfect perch for red-winged blackbirds who we spotted in abundance during our Tourond trek.

Only 10% of the world’s grasslands remain intact. What a shame if we were to lose all that beauty!

Photographed on the Iberian Peninsula Croatia
Photographed in Vik Iceland
Photographed in Quebec City
Photographed on Pollock Island in Winnipeg
Photographed in Gross Morn National Park Newfoundland
Photographed in Akaka Falls State Park Hawaii
Photographed near Porec Portugal
Photographed in Stephen Juba Park at the end of my street in Winnipeg
Photographed at Oak Hammock Marsh Manitoba
Photographed at Fort Whyte Manitoba
Photographed in Keewatin Ontario
Photographed at Bunn’s Creek Winnipeg
Photographed in New Zealand

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed. – Mary Oliver

Other posts……….

Crocus Hunting

Spring In Winnipeg’s Exchange District

Linda’s Garden

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A New Song for the Sparrow

I have to admit that before the pandemic my bird knowledge was pretty basic. I recognized most common birds and knew the difference between the caw of a crow and the hoot of an owl but that was about it.

Dave ready to capture a bird with his camera at Louise Lake last summer

During the pandemic when many of the activities they previously enjoyed were cancelled both my husband and my younger son became avid birdwatchers and so now family Face Time conversations usually include details about what birds have been spotted and where and bits of interesting information about birds. As a result I am developing more interest in birds myself.

White Throated Sparrow- Photo from Wikipedia

That’s why my ears perked up last Sunday when I heard a story on CBC about the white throated sparrow and how its song is changing.

Most birds have a distinct call. Many of the birders I know can recognize a certain species of bird without even seeing it. All they need to do is listen to its song. Ornithologists and birdwatchers used to think the songs of bird species stayed the same but new research shows that’s not always the case. Over the last two decades, for example, the white-throated sparrow has changed its tune.

It used to end its song with a three note call. Now it only uses two notes. The song change starting happening first with birds in British Columbia but within twenty years it had spread all the way across western and central Canada to Quebec almost 2000 miles away.

Researchers Ken Otter and Scott Ramsey listened to thousands of old and new recordings of sparrow calls to verify the change in song. They say the rapid spread of the tune change is quite remarkable. Tagging the sparrows in order to track their migration journey has led Otter and Ramsey to believe that sparrows from different places may be teaching each other their new tune when they cross paths in the central United States on their migration journey.

Thinking about how the white-throated sparrow has managed to change its tune is inspiring for me. Perhaps if birds can pay careful attention to a song different than their own and then teach each other to sing in new ways, people can do the same thing.

White Throated Sparrow- photo from Mike’s Birds- Wikimedia

Note: Of course when I shared my interesting “find” about the white throated sparrow with my husband and son it was old news to them. My son said he had already spotted his first white-throated sparrows of the season in Manitoba. You can listen to Ken Otter and Scott Ramsey share the old and new songs of the white-throated sparrow here.

Other posts……..

Lessons From Birds

A Bird on the Hand

Hecla Hike With a Bird Watcher

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I’m Glad She Made A Mistake

One of the first things writer Ariel Gordon did during Monday’s meeting of the Winnipeg Free Press Book Club was confess that her popular book Treed contained a major error. Ariel had written that Winnipeg has more than 8 million trees when in actual fact only 3.3 million trees populate the city. The mistake wasn’t Ariel’s fault because just after her book came out a new method for counting urban trees was implemented and it was discovered the former estimate of 8 million trees in Winnipeg was way off the mark.

I was glad to learn Ariel had made a mistake because after reading her book I was determined to follow her suggestion to develop friendships with individual trees in Winnipeg. Ariel wrote that if you divided the number of trees in the city by the number of citizens we’d each have eleven trees to call our own. I admit that number seemed somewhat daunting to me. How could I maintain friendships with eleven trees? Using the new figures however I only need to get to know four Winnipeg trees in an intimate way. I figure I can handle that!

Photo of Ariel Gordon from her Twitter page

How to make friends with trees is only one of many interesting things you learn while reading Treed by Ariel Gordon. In fact I wondered after I had finished the book why she called it Treed because she writes about so many other fascinating things. Mushrooms are another passion of Ariel’s and in her book you can read about her adventure harvesting mushrooms at the former home of the famous Winnipeg suffragette Nellie McClung.

Ariel is the kind of person who takes note of every living thing that shares her space. In one chapter of her book she is staying in a house in Langruth Manitoba and she writes about how she notices the exoskeletons of three orange ladybugs on the carpet, the buzzing flies on the walls, the swooping blackbirds and trembling aspens outside her window, the lowing of the neighbour’s cows and the golden raptor hovering over their stubble field. I think one of the most important things I learned from Ariel’s book was to take more deliberate notice of the living things all around me.

Trees in Old Market Square – I took this photo in 2012

Treed does contain many chapters that relate to Winnipeg trees. Ariel writes about the delights of the Assiniboine Forest, the history of Winnipeg’s famous Wolseley Elm, the fate of the trees in Central Park, weaving baskets from bark collected from dogwood trees on the banks of the Red River, the 11,000 Christmas trees the city recycles each year, the fact our city’s hydro poles come from trees and both how Winnipeg’s urban forest impacts climate change and how climate change impacts the urban forest.

In my very favourite passage in the book Ariel compares her relationship with her husband Mike to the seasonal cycle of a crabapple tree that stood on the yard of her childhood home.

If I had to criticize Ariel’s book it would be that she tantalizes the reader with bits of other stories that leave you yearning for more. Could you please write another book Ariel about your naturalist great grandfather who died in Antarctica studying whales and seals? I’d love to see you publish the poem you promised to a family who had lost men from two generations to war. Could you bring us up to date with a current news story about your frightening discovery of lead poisoning in St. Boniface?

This photo I took from the top of the Human Rights Museum in 2015 gives you an idea of just how TREED Winnipeg really is

As you can tell I really enjoyed Ariel’s book Treed and now that I realize she made a mistake with the Winnipeg tree count and I only need to befriend four Winnipeg trees I fully plan to do that. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Other posts……..

Would You Want Your Child To Be A Doctor?

Finding Nellie’s House

A Bird on the Hand

Roof With a View

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Filed under Books, Nature, Winnipeg

A Passage For A Prince

The first Scripture passage read at Prince Phillip’s funeral last weekend was a poem from Sirach 43: 11-26. Sirach is one of the books of the apocrypha, a set of Scriptures that have not always been included in the Biblical canon. I hadn’t heard this particular passage before and it was so descriptive I decided to look for some photos of mine to illustrate it.

Rainbow near Vik Iceland

Look at the rainbow and praise its Maker; it shines with a supreme beauty, rounding the sky with its gleaming arc, a bow bent by the hands of the Most High. His command speeds the snow storm and sends the swift lightning to execute his sentence.

In the Cloud Forest in Costa Rica

To that end the storehouses are opened, and the clouds fly out like birds. By his mighty power the clouds are piled up and the hailstones broken small. The crash of his thunder makes the earth writhe, and, when he appears, an earthquake shakes the hills.

Icicles on the Royal Albert Hotel Winnipeg

At his will the south wind blows, the squall from the north and the hurricane. He scatters the snow-flakes like birds alighting; they settle like a swarm of locusts.The eye is dazzled by their beautiful whiteness, and as they fall the mind is entranced. He spreads frost on the earth like salt, and icicles form like pointed stakes.

Dew on a flower during an early morning walk in Leo Mol Gardens in Assiniboine Park

A cold blast from the north, and ice grows hard on the water, settling on every pool, as though the water were putting on a breastplate. He consumes the hills, scorches the wilderness, and withers the grass like fire. Cloudy weather quickly puts all to rights, and dew brings welcome relief after heat.

Orca seen on our kayaking trip in British Columbia

By the power of his thought he tamed the deep and planted it with islands. Those who sail the sea tell stories of its dangers, which astonish all who hear them; in it are strange and wonderful creatures, all kinds of living things and huge sea-monsters. By his own action he achieves his end, and by his word all things are held together.

Prince Philip was a passionate environmentalist who helped found the World Wildlife Fund and served for many years as its president. People eulogizing him in the last weeks frequently pointed to his dedication to conservation and environmental causes. Perhaps that explains why he chose this particular passage to be read at his funeral.

Other posts……..

Seeing the Queen

Getting to Know Richard II

My Husband Sits on a Throne

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For the Beauty of the Earth

Sun rise in Praia da Luz Portugal
Mountains in Zion National Park Utah
Quetzal in San Gerardo de Dota Costa Rica
Rock in Sedona Arizona
Mekong River in Laos
Swan on Lake Konstanz in Germany
Wild grasses in New Zealand
Fields in Vietnam
Water lily in Merida Mexico
Alligators in the Florida Keys
Winter trees in Steve Juba Park Winnipeg
Crab on the Black Sand Beach – The Big Island Hawaii
Hills in Gros Morne National Park Newfoundland
Kangaroos in The Hunter Valley Australia
Bee on a flower in Runaway Bay Jamaica
Sunset in Fiji

Happy Earth Day!

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