Friday, April 26, 2013

coasts and a roller coaster

Yesterday morning, when the skies went through a dramatic and unexpected change to bright sunshine for once, the prospect of a jaunt around Point Pleasant Park seemed more inviting than has been the case most days these past four months. I almost took my camera but habit won out, as it usually does, and it remained in the drawer while I kicked myself for not having it when we got to the long beachfront part of the walk. The sky was blue,  waves broke in jade crests flashing white tips of spray and,  best of all, Dartmouth was obscured by a low cloud bank making the eastern passage look like wide open sea. Not that there's anything wrong with Dartmouth per se but it is a bit boring to see gas works, container ships and warehouses rather than seemingly endless sea. I tend to fall into those kinds of reverie quite easily as you may have guessed. I've never found the profusion of beach glass I'd imagined littered every shore either.

It turns out there aren't very many beaches that glitter with the remains of ancient glassware, only four or five worldwide, but eventually I learned I'd spent nearly 18 years not all that far from one of the best and had never known. There's an oceanside park in northern California next to Rte 1 where people threw their garbage for more than one hundred years. In those days there was no new-fangled plastic so when they tossed an old jam jar or beer container or fishing float, the thing was invariably made from glass. That glass was made from sand - a fact which makes it having it gone back to the seaside a remarkable, albeit accidental, bit of recycling. In the early 60's the state determined it was time to remove the garbage and carted off the cars, refrigerators, furniture and all the other assorted detritus that had landed there over the decades - but they left the glass. The park, called MacKerricher State Park, is close to Fort Bragg, CA if you ever go that way. It's even on the route through the Redwood forest if you need a bit more incentive. The beach now looks like the picture at the top, or this if you want a closer view.

Ah well, you never know what you'll find on coastlines. This is a film made about a drive along Norway's Atlantic Coast Road:

In many ways the landscape doesn't look much different here but imagine that as a daily commute to work and back. Worse still, imagine having been on the construction crew.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

artus interruptus

I really had intended to have this Crow portrait finished by now as a surprise for him when he returns from near space. That's as opposed to far space from which picture postcard mail is still quite unreliable. Anyone who's gone to their local postal facility recently will understand that problem exists even without interstellar transport delivery methods. As it is, Crow's original message had suffered some singeing on re-entry so I've been busy doing a bit more interpretation than is usual.

Why isn't it finished, you may be wondering? Well, let's just say I'm as subject to distractions as anyone.

Meanwhile, here's a little movie about space that I found and liked a lot.

Spacebound from Spacebound on Vimeo.

All the best til next time (fairly soon).

Sunday, April 14, 2013

unintended consequences

* Having made the decision to live in rented accommodations long ago, it's been my experience there are certain signs to watch for when you begin to suspect the current arrangement may no longer be conducive to a peaceful lifestyle. This is one of those stories.

At the time we'd been living in Portland for nearly three years, residing in a type of complex known as a California courtyard apartment, where a pair of two storey buildings faced one other across a heavily planted median. The eight ground floor places, four in either building, were spacious two bedroom apartments with broad windows looking out at the garden. We lived in one of those. Above them were twice that number of studio apartments accessed by stairways and long balcony decks. The place was quite old as evidenced by the age of the plantings - huge camellias, thick clusters of azalea and impenetrable rhododendron bushes - which masked, but didn't really hide, the opposite building.

Time passed with us mailing the monthly rent checks and rarely talking to the guy who'd owned the place for decades. One day there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find a small well dressed woman holding a briefcase standing next to a respectable looking middle aged man wearing a suit. They looked like insurance agents or active proselytizers for some religion except for the fact the man was also wearing a brand new tool belt. The woman introduced herself as the new owner, gave me copies of the legal documents and a card with information about where to mail the rent checks. She also said she had no experience with rental property ownership so had engaged her next door neighbor (the now smiling man) who had often thought about being a contractor. He would be hiring and overseeing a crew that would make necessary repairs to the buildings..

One of the first things he and his crew did was to remove half of the support columns for the studio apartment access deck for the building across the way. They probably intended to replace them but left for the day without doing so. That night the whole midsection of the structure fell down. Happily nobody was hurt but the fire department had to be called to rescue the people stuck in their second floor places. I have no idea what kind of fines were levied but that didn't stop the renovations taking place. Their next plan was to redo the plumbing in all the studios, a disturbing enough process to listen to in the first place, but made so much worse when it turned out that every time someone upstairs used the shower, sinks, or toilet, water cascaded down the walls into our kitchen and bathroom. By then we'd begun to search for a new place but didn't find one that suited us quite soon enough. It was February by then, a cold wet month just about everywhere as you well know. We came home from work one afternoon to find our bedroom windows boarded up and broken glass all over the bed, bookcases, night table and floor.

The man hadn't quite made it back to his car when we found him making ready to leave. 'Oh, that?' he responded to our outraged protests, 'We had a little accident with some lumber but we'll get new glass for you in a few days.' Although he affected surprise when we insisted he clear up the broken glass he did call over a couple of his boys to help. So it got fixed, mostly, but a week later we found a new temporary home.

It wasn't the first or last time we witnessed renovations go wrong but it reminded me of a weakness often found among people. That man might have been a well trained and skilled member of his chosen profession but he was no carpenter or plumber. What he had was the mistaken confidence that he could master anything. What troubles me is that same unfounded confidence that leads people who know nothing about the environment to make even worse mistakes.

It's a problem of scale.

* Apologies but some images aren't worth more than five minutes of drawing time.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

at sea with Crow

My friend Crow has been in the Doldrums recently. By that I don't mean he's been in a particularly grim mood, although where he's been is hardly pleasant, but that he visited a couple of the large oceanic gyres where a lot of plastic garbage accumulates. It's sadly true a number of people aren't that bothered about where the plastic goes once it's out of sight, but the fact is the millions of tons of it present in the oceans kills a huge number of aquatic animals and sea birds every year. If that weren't bad enough, the chemicals that degraded plastic releases serve as a transport medium for pollutants (including PCB and DDT) that accumulates in the food chain.

Okay, we know all that (or should) but what to do about it? Crow just sent me this picture and a letter about someone he met on his recent travels he's asked me to share with you.

My dear susan,

Whilst flying across the Pacific in company with an albatross I happened upon a rickety sailing ship becalmed in turgid waters and sitting next to a large fan-like device. Being curious I slowed to see if help was required as my friend flew on after calling back to me, 'Ware men'. I knew what he meant but albatrosses have more to fear from people than we crows.

On alighting, I found the small crew celebrating the results of some project. It turned out a young man called Boylan Slat, a student from Holland, had just finished a successful test run of a device which could potentially remove 7,250,000 tons of plastic waste from the world's oceans. Not that single unit by itself, of course, but he sees it as the precursor of an Ocean Cleanup Array consisting of a network of floating booms with central processing platforms. Since humans with money enough to build such projects don't like to spend any of it unless they're guaranteed more, the other good news was hearing the nasty stuff could be recycled at a profit.

I was pleased to rest a while, so as we sat sipping lemonade looking at the diamond shaped platform with its two wing-like booms, he explained his reasons for developing the system.

"Plastic pollution costs governments, companies and individuals millions of dollars in damages per year, due to loss in tourism, vessel damages and (inefficient) beach clean-ups. The ultimate solution to plastic pollution is clear; we need to close the tap, by ending our reliance on disposable plastic items/packaging, we need proper waste management globally, and we need to become aware of the problems our garbage is creating. It will require drastic changes on legislative, industrial and individual levels of society. However, even if we close the tap, we need to get out what's already in the oceans. We'll need a combination of both worlds, and we'll need them soon."

If you'd like to see pictures and read more about his ingenious proposal he has a web site you can visit called 'The Ocean Cleanup'.

It does sound interesting as well as positive. You well know I've seen far too much of man's stupidity over the millennia but as I flew away to catch up with my friend, I remembered another brave boy from Holland who saved his land using just one finger. You never know.

I shall be home soon, my dear friend. Warm up the brandy if you will and please make sure the fruitcake is old.

Best regards from your fond companion,

ps: the Albatross said:

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."

~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Yesterday was one of those times when I really wished I'd taken my camera along when we went grocery shopping. It must be very handy having one of those new-fangled cellphones on your person when you run into strange sights. You see the aisles of the old Atlantic Superstore were crowded with palettes filled with unsold Easter candy. There were mountains of leftover chocolate Easter bunnies, chocolate hockey players (this is Canada, after all), chocolate Sponge Bob Squarepants (is that character even popular anymore?), chocolate trains, buses, horses, pussycats, planes, tractors, nuclear power plants and (it appeared) anything else that could possibly be poured into a glossy mold. We even found one mysterious item that looked like chocolate coated road kill.

You have to wonder what happens in the weeks following any occasion when tons of candy can be put out for sale that nobody buys. Do they save it for next year? If so, where do they put it? From what I've seen previously after every other major sugar event - Halloween, Christmas and Valentine's Day being the other main ones - the stores are always massively overstocked. It's not like the stuff even counts as being nutritional so they can't very well fob it off to food pantries either. It seems apparent that every grocery store in North America has similar quantities of now defunct holiday candy. It's kind of scary if you ask me.

Do you suppose it might ever occur to those who make and market holiday specific candy that it's all become too much?
No, probably not.

Thought for the day:
You are what your food eats.