Saturday, October 30, 2021

Generations of art and artists

 Art plays an important part in the mental and intellectual growth of children. 

Generations is a family show, featuring my dad’s artworks, my own, plus works by my kids and grandchildren. When I was teaching art education to teachers at the University, I would use slides of my own kids’ and grandkids’ artworks, to give teachers an idea of what to expect at each age and grade level. From the time my kids could hold a pencil or crayon, I kept their scribbles, their drawings and paintings. When they became able to manipulate clay, I kept the clay objects they made and painted. This exhibition, Generations, confirms that the arts and art education, are fundamental to hand and brain development. 

For almost a decade now, the arts ecology in this province has suffered a drought. As usual, when the economy hits the rocks, governments cut art budgets in the name of austerity. In Europe and Asia, the arts are taught at every grade level.

That’s why we need to advocate for arts education.

We are moving into a future that will require creative thinkers who will be able to solve a host of new problems creatively, using both hands and both hemispheres of the brain.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

When a concept becomes a vision, and then a project... and finally all the pieces start to fall into place

It's been ten long years since the Gazebo project was first proposed for the Grow Regina Community Garden, but all the components are fitting together nicely, we're painting it this weekend, and installation should be completed by the second week of November. It is already an impressive structure!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Awaiting the arrival of the Dandelions

With spring on its way, I start to look forward with excitement for the first plants to appear in my neighborhood. On my regular (but solitary, given social distancing) walks through my garden gate and into Massey Park, the snows have gone, the grass is greening, and the migratory waterfowl and songbirds are out in abundance.

I’ll be looking for dandelions, but they’re not up yet. Give it another week or so and we’ll start to see a lot of changes. The pretty yellow flowers will appear here and there, almost by surprise, and I’ll be picking couple of handfuls of these flowers where no killer sprays have been used.

The flowers are edible, medicinal, and bursting with Vitamin C. Peel away the tendrils under the flowers and wash in cold water. Dip them in a runny pancake batter and fry in oil for 3 minutes. Eat as appetizers or as toppers on a dandelion salad of freshly picked leaves. They’ll be the first fresh treats of the season!

Monday, March 30, 2020

Honouring the Blue Marble

On December 21 in 1968 the Apollo 8 manned spacecraft was launched on a voyage to the moon. In orbit around the moon, the astronauts observed and photographed our planet, a blue marble against the inky black void of the universe. The grandeur of this unique photo, which they called Earthrise, captured the imagination of the world and became the icon of the global environmental movement. The vast loneliness of this blue marble rising in black space is awe-inspiring, and makes you realize that ours is only known inhabited planet in the universe.

When I look at the photos of Earthrise, it pains me to bear witness to our home planet turning into a garbage dump and an abiotic chemical desert. The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth. We are part of the web of life.  

Our species is the problem. We want stuff, and more stuff! We are consumers. But more stuff won’t make us happy, and it certainly won’t make the world a better or healthier place for life in all its many forms. 

For decades, we’ve been dumping billions and billions of tonnes of toxic chemicals on the soil, into to the atmosphere and into rivers, lakes, oceans, aquifers and groundwater. Soils have become depleted of nutrients due to intensive chemical farming practices, and the runoff is polluting water resources. The widespread use of antibiotics compromises human resistance to disease. As carbon accumulation drives climate change, the air the we breathe depends on the lifestyle choices we make every day. The pollution and damage we are doing to the earth, we do to ourselves, and to the web of life we are part of. 

As a species we must acknowledge we are the problem. We seem incapable of solving the ecological damage we are causing on Earth. A meteor the size of a mountain once slammed into the earth filling the atmosphere with dust, toxic gas and debris that drastically and immediately altered the global climate, killing off all the dinosaurs. 

What should our response be for the gifts the Earth bestows on us – the gift of life, water, air and the soil beneath our feet? The author E.O. Wilson proposes we set aside and preserve large tracts of land and ocean to protect the world’s rapidly disappearing plant and animal species, giving nature some time to recover. We can save the planet by reducing our population, creating more habitable urban environments, planting front and backyard gardens, shrinking our ecological footprint, and by planting trees.

Trees love carbon. They suck it up and lock it in the soil. The billion-tree planting campaign was instigated by Wangari Maatthai, the first African woman to win  a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who founded the Green Belt Movement in Africa in 1977. That movement sparked the Billion Tree Campaign which later launched the Trillion Tree Campaign. As of February 2020, over 13 trillion trees have been planted by young and old, rich and poor, working together. It is estimated that planting 1.2 trillion more trees would counteract ten years of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions.  

Now for the good news. According to Paul Monks, professor at Leicester University, there are important lessons we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. There are fewer cars on the road, fewer planes in the air and many factories shut down, slashing air pollution levels around the globe. This is essentially the largest scale experiment in the world in reducing air pollution. Pollution levels in many parts of China have become ten to 30 percent lower than last year.

The world is facing the most alarming challenge ever – the climate crisis! I am old enough to remember the Victory Gardens of the Second World War. This was an urban phenomenon of planting gardens: vegetables, fruits and herbs to demonstrate patriotic citizenship in helping to win the war. What the world needs now more than ever before, is to reverse climate change. 

This is our war, the collaboration of all hands and green thumbs working together with our grandchildren, planting trees and backyard gardens. We need to learn stability and balance, going back to the basics of a simpler life marked by independence and cooperation. Dig up your lawn with a spade and plant a garden. People can and will change when the chips are down, and when we realize what’s truly important in the relationship between humankind and nature.

Robert Frost's poem Birches, it has been said, “delights the mind and endears itself to the heart.” I’d like to quote a few lines:
                         I’d like to get away from earth awhile
                         And then come back and begin over.
                         May no fate willfully misunderstand me
                         And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
                         Not to return, Earth’s the right place for love:
                         I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Gardener's Universe sets down roots in the Maritimes

As part of the opening reception for his lifetime retrospective exhibition at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown in early March, Victor was invited to present an Artist Talk on some of the inspiration behind his artistic work. He chose to speak about Dirt.

Early in March, Victor made his first visit to Prince Edward Island for the 
opening reception of his retrospective exhibition, The Gardener's Universe.
Victor, and the show, were warmly received, and a good time was had by all.
I grew up with healthy dirt on my hands. My fascination with dirt (and gardens) developed around the age of seven, as I observed my grandmother Bunica standing barefoot in her early spring garden, bending down to scoop up a handful of garden soil. She squeezed it. She smelled it. She rubbed it between her fingers to examine it for organic matter. Was the soil alive? Was it ready for planting?

A teaspoon of healthy soil can hold up to one billion bacteria according to Kathy Merrifield, a retired nematologist from Oregon State University. Each of these creatures has a role to play in keeping soil healthy, but this underground livestock also needs to be fed, to maintain and renew soil fertility. Nature does this by recycling plant and animal residues. As gardeners, we do it by composting and mulching to increase organic matter. Voracious soil bacteria break down organic matter into nutrients that plants need to grow and to stay healthy.

As a kid, I could walk all the way to Wetmore School down back alleys from my home in the Garlic Flats. Every backyard had a garden. Back then, most people were still connected to the land, like my grandmother Bunica, getting their hands dirty planting gardens. That's what gardeners have been doing for thousands and thousands of years. Soil is the foundation of life. It has sustained us.

The disconnect with the land came around 1947/50, with the first supermarkets selling fruits and vegetables, based on mechanization and chemical farming using herbicides, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers This destroyed the natural productivity of the soil and polluted water resources. Industrial food production is a major polluter of our environment. Most people don’t even know where their food is coming from, how it was grown or how it was processed. Cheap food is packaged in plastic and the only thing that matters is price not quality. Wash your fruits and vegetables, they say!

However, a revolution in gardening is well under way. People are digging up their unproductive, chemically-polluted lawns to grow organic gardens. This transition is about people reconnecting with garden dirt and with growing food where they live. Others are joining community gardens. Still others with shovels in hand are digging up their backyards and planting gardens with lettuces, radishes, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs and much more. This revolution in planting productive organic gardens is growing by leaps and bounds.  

By planting an organic garden, you are working with nature not against it. Involve your grandkids. Gardening is a magnet for kids. It’s a small step toward food security, but an important part of building a sustainable world.

Photos ©2020, Courtesy of Jan Pel, Julia Kruger

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

More Sex in the Garden

Every summer, I have a lot of fun observing the interesting reproductive variations of the plants emerging in the garden. Sexual reproduction was an early evolutionary innovation and, when we think about it, is commonplace. The birds do it, the bees do it and plants do it throughout the growing season. 

The latest sexual wonder in my garden this summer has been a Franz bunching onion.Its companions normally grow in bunches of 20 or more tops. It’s what I general expect. However, this single Franz erection that popped up in the onion patch this year is 140 cm tall (and that was a week and a half ago!)!  This Jack in the bean stalk onion appears to be a celebratory show-off, with a flower like no other, eagerly inviting pollinators to fertilize it to reproduce another unique Franz onion. Just goes to show, garden sex works!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Life from the Soil

                     “To forget to till the earth and tend the soil                         is to forget ourselves.”   – Ghandi

Today, most people live virtual lives playing with their technological toys and have lost their connection to planet earth. Scooping up handfuls of garden soil or walking barefoot in garden soil, allows your skin to breathe and absorb vitamins and minerals from the soil. They do not understand that we are part of nature and that our bodies are made up of the same elements, minerals and energy that make up this planet. Life from the Soil.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Update on CO2

On Thursday, July 7, 2016, I wrote a blog alert quoting Lawrence Soloman’s article in the Financial Post: “Hooray! There’s reason to celebrate that CO2 levels are rising.”

What’s to celebrate? Recent finding from NASA and the University of Otago, New Zealand provide us with the first global picture of the seasonal change in the patterns of vegetation – known as phenology, the timing of leaf emergence and how CO2 is altering the cycle. The planet is getting greener. Plants love CO2. But……….!

Earlier leaf emergence moving out of synch with the life cycles of birds, pollinators and mammals will have a significant impact on the ecosystem and could lead to higher extinction rates of species dependent on leaf cycle.

Are these early warning indicators of catastrophic ecosystem changes? NASA is sending up three missions to investigate the role of plants in the breathing earth’s carbon and water cycle. 

Edward O. Wilson's book, Half Earth: Our PlanetsFight for Life, proposes an achievable plan to save our imperiled biosphere: Devote half the surface of the Earth to nature. It’s a good start.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Arrival of Spring

Each spring my Romanian grandmother, Bunica, would mark the vernal equinox with a centuries-old pagan ritual. She would dig up two clods of green grass and place them on each side of the gate posts of her house, and then insert twigs of pussy willows in the centre of the grass. When we asked about the meaning of this ritual she said, "For us Romanians, pussy willows announce the arrival of spring and the renewal of nature. They tell other plants and trees to wake up.”

Traveling through a village in northern Romania in 1981, I noticed two gate posts capped with clumps of grass and pussy willows. I stopped my car and went over to ask the lady in the yard about the significance of this ritual. She told me, "It’s nature’s way of announcing springtime, new beginnings and ensuring fertility in the coming year.”

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Bison are Back

There were between 50 and 60 million bison on the prairies when the railroad and European settlers arrived. Within a couple of decades, their numbers were reduced to about 2000.

Grant McEwan, author and historian, has called this “the most spectacular slaughter of wild animals in world history.”

The prairies were covered with bison skeleton bones. Gathering the bones became a lucrative cash “crop” for the first settlers.  The bones were shipped east where they were processed into phosphate fertilizer, used in the sugar refining industry and in making bone china. Carloads of bones shipped from Moose Jaw and Regina represented well over several million bison.  

Today, bison herds, large and small, are distributed all over North America from Alaska to Texas, and throughout the Canadian prairies.

The bison are back! Enjoy your bison burger!