Monday, July 19, 2010

The Early Bird Gets the Bird

This it the part of summer when we sleep like campers. The wonderful thing about a travel trailer is that it's a travel trailer! With a large window to either side of the bedroom, a five-foot wide window at the head of the bed and an operable skylight vent in the ceiling it's almost like sleeping outside.

It always cools off here in the evening, even when it's been a blistering 40 C (104 F) during the day. The breeze is fantastic. Nighttime temperatures drop into the 50s and it's heaven for sleeping.

But I have exceptionally acute hearing, and with all the windows open I hear everything, from the toenails of a dog walking past on the road, to the mice that gnawed on my vegies (last year) to what woke me at 5:00 am today.

It was daylight, though the sun was still an hour or more from coming over the horizon. Above, in the tree adjacent to our bedroom, the birds were flapping and screaming in terror. My first thought was that the neighbour's cat was up there bugging them, but it soon became apparent that our resident red-tailed hawks had brought their newly fledged youngsters over for breakfast.

I've seen the hawks flush game, and seen them terrorize small birds in trees, so it takes no stretch of the imagination to believe they may have herded the great number of smaller birds into this one tree. It was a teaching moment.

The youngsters sat in the mock cherry - two of them by the sounds of it, and whistled that wild cry of theirs. The blackbirds, warblers, orioles, finches and sparrows shrieked and clattered and screamed. The tree was full of the fluttering of wings. The parents circled over head, their whistles coming from higher, moving in a constant circle.

All the hawks had to do was dive bomb the tree and pick off the smaller birds that panicked and flew. The hawks are teaching their young to kill, so they must have been catching the small birds with a soft hand, not the usual (merciful) killing blow of a talon. You heard the small snared birds panicked squealing above all the others.

The young hawks' whistles grew excited, the small birds screamed as they were torn apart, the young hawks called and gobbled, as young birds do everywhere, as parent stuffs food down the yawning beaks.

As my neighbour says, "Nature is nature." Hawks have to eat too, and there are hundreds of small birds, but I doubt that was much consolation to the small birds as they became the young hawks' breakfast, nor was it to me, hearing their fear and pain.

After a ten minute frenzy the hawks rose and flew away. The trees, and the morning itself, grew quiet. I went back to sleep and dreamed of flying. The sun rose over the eastern ridge and touched the ripples on the lake. At the edge of the garden the birds chattered as they picked up the seed we'd thrown out for them at sunset. They are better Buddhists than I, they have already forgotten 5:00 am.

Friday, July 16, 2010

And the Answer is....

Yesterday's post ended with a question; "Does the Municipal District have a clue?" The question is how do they actually have a viable plan to reduce greenhouse gases to 33% of 2007 levels by 2020, and 80% of 2007 levels by 2050?

The answer is.... drrrrumrrrroll.... apparently not.

The very pleasant young lady at the door asked if we were willing to cut our energy usage 30% by 2020? I told her we'd already cut it, to about 12-15% of the average US energy usage.

She asked how we did it. I told her we'd moved into a 250 sq foot house. Her jaw dropped. Her next question was, 'Had we built that house?' I told her no, building code doesn't allow a dwelling that small, so to reduce our footprint we'd moved into an RV and retrofitted it with extra insulation and energy efficient appliances.

Her next question was, 'Building codes won't let you build a 250 sq ft house?' I told her no, not in BC (or most other jurisdictions for that matter). I went on to tell her about the Tiny Home movement, based on two premises, environmental consciousness and voluntary simplicity. And that it was a movement primarily fueled by young professionals, not by the un-housed, under-housed or the poverty-stricken.

I went on and walked around the room, looking at the posters. One excellent initiative suggested was to require that all new homes be built to seamlessly incorporate solar water heaters, should the home owners decide to add one. The additional cost at the time of construction would be about $800. That seemed like a positive step which was sensible and concrete, not wishful thinking that people will drive less in a rural community spread over a huge area, or that power usage will magically drop if we set a goal.

Two men came in. By this time I was at the far end of the room, sitting at table, filling in a form. I heard the young lady ask them, "Why can't you build a small house in BC?"

"There's no minimum size for homes in BC," one said. "Build as small as you like."

"250 sq ft?" she asked?

"Well, there are minimum sizes for the ROOMS!" he said incredulously, "a bedroom has to be 10 x 12 ... and there has to be another room of at least..." He had suddenly lost volume and I couldn't hear what he said. But I distinctly heard him say "Huts for the homeless." And then he laughed.

I completed my form, and came home. Once I'd calmed down I wrote a note to the pleasant young organizer, and sent her some links:

The Small House Society.

The so-called Pocket Neighbourhoods of small "jewel-box" homes which have quickly become not only ecological but community showpieces. 

And to the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and Jay Shafer's lovely little homes.

Is there no way to show town and city governments that increasing density by grouping several small energy-efficient homes on one or two lots is a viable option for improving the carbon footprint and creating richer environments where people can thrive? Or is it only the dollar that speaks any more?

Take a look at a video of Jay Shafer's 100 sq ft home.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Little Brochure

Came in the mail. Summerland's Climate Action Project, Progress Report July 2010.

So I am readying myself to go the Open House, to see what they have in mind. Their goals are modest, a 33% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2020, and an 80% reduction by 2050. I'll be pushing up daisies by then but with any luck I'll still be around in 10 years to see if they make their goal of 30%. Of course we need much more drastic cuts, but a start is a start.

Summerland has a problem, and I'm part of it. Walk down the street and the majority of the people you pass are 60, 70, 80. Walkers, wheelchairs and scooters are everywhere. It looks like a scooter parking lot in front of the most popular hang-out, the pharmacy! This town desperately needs to attract the young and the educated, and not just as to fill service industry jobs for the old and dying.

Second problem. Population density here is average 3.1 per hectare. A hectare has 2.39 acres in it for the Yanks among us. Even the BC municipal average is 7.1. Now some of this is because Summerland has the cone of an extinct volcano poking right up in the middle of town, taking up a lot of acreage, and part of it is because the municipality also includes a lot of agricultural property, orchards and vineyards, landscapers and tree nurseries etc. But less than half?

The point of this is that one end of "town" is miles from the other end. There's not enough population to make a bus system viable, and biking on most of the narrow, twisting roads leading into the town centre is suicidal, since they are constantly traversed by heavily-loaded logging trucks, which are the clear winner in any bike-truck confrontation.

Third problem: Water water everywhere - there's a 100 mile long lake out there - but n'er a drop to drink. We're on a boil water notice and will be until October.

The town's potable water comes from snow melt in the mountain valleys above us. Warmer winters, less snow, and the Okanagan already has 30% less rain and snow fall than fell in the 1950s. And the population booms, and everyone wants a great big green lawn and a great big water feature and a great big sprinkler going night and day all summer long.

What to do? Does the Municipal district have a clue? That's what I am going to find out this afternoon.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a ...

I inhaled as as I straightened up from pulling a weed last evening, and (too late) saw the small triangular moth as it disappeared into my mouth, and felt it as it fluttered down my windpipe. The song, "I know an old lady who swallowed a fly..." came to mind. Thankfully it was not a fly, and it was not swallowed, but I choked and spit and coughed up moth bits for an hour. My advise to you, dear reader, is - keep your mouth shut in the garden!

I have been preoccupied with that garden, which has fed the neighbourhood with chard and greens all spring. I need to go clear out the last feed of chard and allow the tomatoes a turn. But I have both flower and vegetable gardens. The flowers are going crazy, and the vegetables are flowering. The tomatoes are heavily laden with pea-sized tomatoes and hundreds of blossoms, the squash are putting on buds, the beans are lifting buds, the potatoes are blooming, and everywhere you look is abundance and sheer abandon.

But I haven't talked about the house in ages, and I should. Work on the wee abode creeps along at a snail's pace. I'd love to have everything I envision done in a massive week-long swoop, but at this rate five years, maybe ten, is a more realistic goal. sigh

The "Tiny House" crowd is generally dismissive of the RV as a dwelling, but with a bit of retrofitting they make comfortable and efficient housing for people who are happy in a small space. Our RV is cozy, if a bit chaotic. The structural changes are complete and what remains to do is largely cosmetic; painting, new flooring in the kitchen/entry, some resurfacing of new construction.

Unlike most "Tiny Homer's" we are retired, so our place functions as a full-time home. It's heated 24/7 in the winter and cooled appropriately in the summer. We prepare and eat our meals, shower, sleep and do our laundry here.

We have already talked at length about installing the washer/drier combo unit, and insulating, but more recently we built a platform for the drop-leaf desk we had shoved awkwardly into the living room corner. It's elevated by nine inches to clear the wheel well on the outside wall, thus creating some storage underneath, and allowing us to push the desk back against the back wall. Much better.

As you can see, the platform still needs finishing, the shelf to the left still needs a bit of finishing, the desk is in line for a repainting, and I could have tidied. I'm still thinking about window coverings. Venetian blinds are nice for controlling light, but these are old (metal) and somewhat the worse for wear. They conduct cold like crazy, so we'd like something a little more insulative. Any suggestions that don't involve yours truly sewing, which is definitely not my thing?

We replaced the broken down sofa with the eye-popping zebra patterned one, the only one I could find which would fit into the truncated space. But then I found the perfect wall unit to drop into place in the five inch space at the end, giving us room to display a couple of treasured mementos, and a bit of protection for my curio shelf filled with the collected miniatures from four generations of family members.

These are the things that say home to me, paintings we've hung, little gifts crafted by loving hands of mother, grandmother, husband, child. Touches that are priceless in any setting, small or large, humble or palatial.

Ian tore out the banquette bench seats and table, and built a shelving unit against the kitchen wall. Very handy. On the top shelf a few of the cups and saucers passed down from Tony's Grandmother, the teapot given to me by my late friend Audrey, tea caddy and flower bowls. On another shelf, the family altar. Below, storage for canned goods, pots and pans, crock pot. Oh the joy of not having to climb a ladder to get to these daily items!

The small table and chairs suit us much more than the difficult banquette ever did. We still need to change the flooring, but all in good time. Little by little it's taking on less of a "factory-installed" look and more of our personality.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Our KIVA Loan for July

Ahon Sa Hirap, Inc. is the oldest existing micro-credit organization in the Philippines. In the Native language of the Philippines Ahon Sa Hirap means “to rise above poverty.” With more than a third of the nation’s 90 million Filipinos living below the poverty line, ASHI was established with the vision of helping to alleviate poverty in the Philippines.

Dedicating to empowering women, ASHI lends only to women and specifically those in the lowest 50% of household income, so to the “poorest of the poor.” In addition to general business loans, ASHI also offers educational loans, house repair loans, savings funds, and social development programs for its members. ASHI is committed to translating its social mission into practice.

Evelyn Sandajan is 46 years old and lives in Hamtic, Antique, Philippines. She is a very humble woman who enjoys her life to the fullest despite her poverty.

When she became a mother, she was motivated to find a way to help support the family and educate the children so they could escape the poverty the family lives in. Her motivation has intensified and their eldest child is now in college, and the second has entered high school.

Through a field partnership with KIVA we joined with several other investors to lend Evelyn $400 which she will use to expand her business. She will repay the loan over time and we will reinvest the money as she repays it.

With determination to see her children graduate from college and improve their standard of living, Evelyn joined ASHI in 2003. The first loan she received was used to finance and grow a vegetable business. This kind of livelihood activity is the most common source of income of the many families in the village where Evelyn and her family live. Every day they go to different municipalities to market their products.

Evelyn works hard with her husband to bring home money to support the needs of their children. Given the opportunity to have larger amount of capital, Evelyn and her husband hope to make their business more stable and profitable. Through this, they will be able to educate their children until they are capable of living lives free from poverty.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Try to keep up...

I know, I know. It's madness. I'm as mute as a fish for weeks on end and then write three posts in two days. What can I say? The tide comes in, the tide goes out.

We caught another chapter in the never-ending story that is the BP Blowout on the news tonight, Gulf States July 4th tourist visits down by 80% as the beaches slowly disappear under a layer of sludge. Dying fish, corals, plankton, shellfish, birds, marine mammals, estuaries, marshes, reptiles... the Gulf is suffocating in a toxic stew of oil and methane gas.

British Petroleum shares have lost half their value on the stock market, their assets have plummeted as they struggle to contain and clean up their mess, and look forward to years of damage control and horrendous image problems.

You know what? Concern for the environment is not just felt by economically naive tree-huggers. Environmentally responsible policies are good for both the bottom line and the planet. BP might have spent a couple of million dollars more putting the wellhead in to begin with, but they wouldn't be in this mess now if they'd have done it.

As it is the impact of this disaster will probably be felt for the next 100 years. Birds species will make their way south this fall for the last time, never to return. Turtles which have paddled our oceans for millions of years will vanish forever. The next four generations will live with the consequences of BP's economic decision to make a penny more profit a barrel by not installing an emergency excluder valve which would shut the flow off should there be an explosion. The penny difference per barrel was important enough to them that they were willing to risk the health, safety and livelihood of every man, woman and child living along the Gulf coast and beyond.

This in itself reveals exactly why business cannot be left "unfettered", because corporations will always choose profit over the public good, and are indeed compelled to do so, for their only definition of "immorality" is to fail to return a profit to the stockholder. Corporations must be constrained by law from harming the environment and the public, because they are by nature self-serving. Like a two-year-old who will run into a busy street and cause a 10 car pileup, corporations need a parental government, to protect themselves, and others, from their own risky behaviour.

Companies need only look to BP's example to see that the corporation who places itself in a risky position to obtain profit may lose everything if a single thing goes wrong. BP may never recover from this. They may well go down in well-deserved flames before this is done with. Unfortunately it will take many an investor and family business with it, and a once productive and beautiful area of the USA may become a shadow of its former self.

Only after the last tree has been cut down
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only after the last fish has been caught
Only then will you find you cannot eat money
-- Cree Saying

Eat Local!

The flier for the annual Summerland Fall Fair arrived a few days ago and I was excited to see that this year their focus is on supporting the 100 mile diet.

Each year they have a spectacular dinner which is always sold out long before the date. This year the menu is made up of entirely locally grown foods. We live in a garden of plenty, yet we don't see much of the local bounty, as much of it is shipped to other markets, while we eat food brought in from Chile, New Zealand, Mexico and California.

It's time to change. Anthropologists can look at a 1000 year old skeleton and determine where that person lived. The minerals from the food they ate were incorporated into their very bones and teeth. When Natives said, "We are this land," they knew what they were talking about. But it was true of most people.

Local eating is becoming more than a "crank's" way of eating. More and more people are putting some thought into how they eat, and choosing to be Locavores.

I fell off the wagon and bought nectarines from California last week. I knew I shouldn't have but I was so hungry for some fresh fruit beyond the apple. What a disappointment. They were nectarines only in name. In the same way growing up in a citrus orchard spoiled me for eating oranges picked green and shipped 2,000 miles, eating nectarines picked fresh and ripe for the past three summers has spoiled me for eating sour nectarines with the texture of cheese. I'll buy no more until they are offered fresh from the tree here in my own backyard.

Pete's Greens: at the heart of the locavore movement from lovetomorrowtoday on Vimeo.

This is an interesting video. Local production of vegetables providing jobs and rescuing depressed economy. Who would have known that the family farm was the answer all along?

Do you hear what I hear?

The flowers in the garden are so thick and vigorous they are crawling over each other trying to escape the bed. Surrounded as we are by the astonishing wealth of nature, it's easy to become almost blind to it, but you really have to be deaf not to hear all that's going on around us.

Just now the neighbourhood pack of coyotes broke into one of their bloodcurdling choruses. I can't say it's a song I particularly like, unless I hear it from very very far away, and this was pretty close.

The last few nights I've been hearing the raspy "reeeeeekkkks" of a family of what sounds like three juvenile great horned owl chicks, begging for food. She brings the kids up and parks them in the trees while she hunts for the fat moths, and maybe the occasional bat, swarming under the streetlights on the street.

Three or four nights ago one of the owlets was parked on our next door neighbour's roof. Every so often the reeeek would turn into a gargling ruggleekruugreeeekkk as Mama Owl stuffed something into the demanding youngster's screaming and insatiable maw.

I heard the cries of a baby bird today and looked out the window to catch a flash of bright orange on the path in the garden. Closer inspection revealed that it was a male Bullock's Oriole feeding a very small chick which had managed to fall from the nest.

Knowing that a chick on the ground has absolutely no chance of surviving our resident mouser and bad cat (read opportunistic birder) I went out and caught the little oriole. It was the size of a small hen's egg, and while it could flap and glide, it could not yet fly. I put it as high as possible in the big willow, then thought, That was stupid! The cat will have it in a minute. I should have put it on a limb too small for the cat to climb on.

But it was too late. The chick was climbing up the bark and was well out of reach. I left it to its fate and came back to my housework. An hour later I went to find our Park Groundsman and who should come flying out of the tree and land at my feet but Baby Oriole. This time I was smarter. I carried him around and put him on a small branch which was inaccessible to the demon cat. It was sheltered by overhanging leaves high above. He held on and started calling his parents. ("He" could be a "her" for all I know, but I have to call it something and it just looked male to me.)

After two or three minutes of full-throttle screaming the Daddy Oriole appeared and shoved food down the gaping beak. Thirty seconds later Mother Oriole repeated the process. They must just have the one chick left because they fed it all afternoon except for a brief 20 minute break about 5:00 pm when I figure they must have collapsed in a heap and gobbled some dinner for themselves. Baby seems to have taken a nap, as he said not a word during that time.

All this time he was on the little branch but after dinner break the parents began a tag team effort to get him higher in the tree. One would bring food but lure the chick six or eight inches higher before feeding it. The other would stay at the chick's side flapping and encouraging the it to hop up. Once it was up the second parent would feed it.

In this way they had moved the chick into the higher branches before dark, to a place much less accessible to the cat. Now they just have to keep him warm for the night. I don't know if they have lost the nest, or if the chick left it too soon, and they were trying to lure it back. I hope they have a nest and can get it back in and all get a good night's rest. If anyone deserves it they certainly do.

The owls are reeeeeeking ever so often. They are closer than they've been all night. The crickets seem to have been sensible and gone to sleep. It's closing in on 3:00 am, and soon the dawn chorus will begin with a single trill. Time for an old insomniac to try once more for a few hours of sleep.

3 July Edit: Little Oriole survived a chilly night and is yelling his head off for food, which the parents are providing in 30 second shifts. I am ever so pleased. Ruth next door says it's okay to let a stranded baby bird die because, "It's nature." But I can't. I'm such a sucker. I'm the only person I know who rescues ants from the water in the sink. I take spiders and bugs outside, and even shoo flies out. Everything loves its own life. Even an ant.

4 July edit: 8:43 pm. Baby Oriole is still happily screaming for food, and still being stuffed by two obliging parents. He should be the size of a young turkey by now. Nature and nurture collide. I do hope he's not too fat to fly by the time he grows flight feathers. :)