This Land is My Land

DSCF2819As I mentioned in my earlier post, as soon as we close the deal on our waterfront property, I’d start blogging about the land, the plants and animals that inhabit it, the overall ecology of the region, and the process around building as close to a net-zero low-impact home as we can.  Last week the deal was finalized so today I’d like to introduce you to the property.

But first I want to say, the title of this post notwithstanding, this land isn’t just my land (or more accurately “our land”). Sure, we paid the money and there is a piece of paper on record that says it belongs to us. And yes, we are going to build a house on it. But everything you see in these photos was here long before us and, if we do our job right, will still be here long after we go. In the meantime, we are merely stewards of this tiny piece of earth, responsible for the well-being of the plants, animals, lake and surrounding watershed.

Alright, now let’s take a walk …

It is a 5 acre wooded lot …


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Beautiful Sunday: Full Moon Silhouettes

It is indeed a Beautiful Sunday, so to put yourself in a quiet mental space for today, take a moment to appreciate this incredible moonrise over the Mount Victoria Lookout in Wellington, New Zealand.

Photographer, Mark Gee took this in a single, uncut shot filmed in real time. Watch it full-screen, sound on for full effect.



For the details on how Gee got this shot, see his write-up.

For some of the science behind the moonrise and why it appears to be going so fast, see astronomer Phil Plait’s explanation.

Seeing the Light: Freeing the Birds of 9/11

Today is 9/11 .

Tribute in Light 2012 - The sparkles aren't stars. They are birds. Photo Robyn Lee (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Tribute in Light 2012 – Photo Robyn Lee (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)  (click to enlarge)

From dusk tonight until dawn tomorrow morning, eighty-eight 7,000-watt xenon light bulbs positioned into two 48-foot squares will echo the shape and orientation of the Twin Towers. This ” Tribute in Light” reaches 4 miles into the sky and is the strongest shaft of light ever projected from earth into the night sky.  On a clear night it is visible for 60 miles in every direction.

These spectacular beams draw our eyes, but they also draw birds. By the thousands.  Migratory birds that would normally just be passing through are attracted to the beams like moths to a flame. And to observers on the ground, it must seem like something of a miracle, these swirling , sparkling, and calling creatures, lit from below as though being lifted by the light. Click the photo above to enlarge it and you can see the birds.

But then the reality of the situation becomes apparent. The birds are trapped there — unable to see their way out or tear themselves away from the columns.  As well, they are quickly using up precious energy needed to complete their migrations.

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5 Food Worries You Can Forget About

I know. Food is complicated.

Photo: Domiriel (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Photo: Domiriel (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Every day we’re bombarded with the latest science and fads telling us what we should eat more of, less of, or not at all. Should I drink coffee? Am I meant to eat like my paleo ancestors? Is it good or bad to eat fish? Are carbs in or out? What about meat? Atkins or Ornish?

The result of all this advice?  Food anxiety.  Like the “paper or plastic” conundrum, we worry about what to choose, what to avoid, and either way end up feeling guilty or anxious.

So I’m going to save you some time and anxiety.  But before I do, read this:

Yes there are exceptions to every one of these things. If you are pregnant, you should take certain vitamins. If you have celiac disease you should avoid gluten. And so forth.

Got it? Good. Then let’s go.

Today, right now, you can stop worrying about …

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The Need for Canadian Science Blogs

© Chris Wattie / Reuters

© Chris Wattie / Reuters

The Council of Canadian Academies released an assessment last week entitled, “Science Culture: Where Canada Stands.” The report is the result of an in-depth, independent assessment to investigate the state of Canada’s science culture.

In an editorial post over at Science Borealis, I talked about a few of the highlights from that report as they pertain to blogging, social media, and science journalism. Here’s a short summary of that:

Dedicated science coverage is notably absent from the majority of newspapers and other print journalism in Canada. … none of the top 11 newspapers by weekly readership in Canada has a dedicated science section…Few Canadian newspapers have dedicated science journalists on staff. (Sec 5.3.2, p. 120)

With the decline in formal media coverage of science, the politics around the muzzling of scientists, and the eagerness of the Canadian public to learn more about science and technology, there exists a large gap that can be filled by science bloggers in this country.

Certainly, in this internet age, Canadians can read science from any number of international sources, but every country needs its own voices, opinions, and perspectives.

While a lack of Canadian sources may not result in an overall constraint on the availability of science content due to ready access to periodicals from other countries, it does limit exposure to content targeted at Canadians and about Canadian researchers or institutions (Sec 5.6, p. 140. Bold mine.)

Read more at Science Borealis.

New Fall Season Lineup at Endless Forms

Two things happened this past year and I just recently figured out they were related.

nakedmolerat wikipedia

Naked Mole Rat – Superhero of the animal world! (photo: Roman Klementschitz (CC BY-SA 3.0) )

Thing 1: My writing critique group was going over a piece I wrote on naked mole rats.  Near the end of the 90-minute discussion I had a revelation: “How many of you had ever heard of a naked mole rat before you read this?”

No hands went up.

Really? Really.  They had no idea such an animal existed. Now this surprised me. These are eight well-educated, widely-read, smart and creative people. How could they not have heard of this legendary animal? In the online science world you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a naked mole rat story.

So that’s the first thing.

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Beautiful Sunday: Colorful Crustaceans

Good morning! It is another Beautiful Sunday!  Today, take a look at this beauty:

Blue lobster caught by Meghan

Skyler, the blue lobster caught by Meghan Laplante & her father (photo Miss Meghan Lobster Catch Co. Facebook)

Yes, it’s really that blue. This lobster was recently caught by Meghan LaPlante, 14, and her father Jay, who operated the Miss Meghan Lobster Catch company in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.  It is the same kind of lobster everyone is familiar with, but this one exhibits what scientists call, a color morph — that is, a distinct color or pattern that develops in a species.

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Friday Fiction Facts: Ray Bradbury on Writing

Welcome to Friday Fiction Facts: sciency things that fiction writers need to know.

Ray BradburyThis is a different kind of Friday Fiction post, but in honor of Ray Bradbury’s birthday today I wanted to share his advice to fiction writers.

Yes, I know it’s long. An hour is like 100 years in internet time. But just give it 5 minutes…trust me ..


An Evening with Ray Bradbury 2001

Science fiction author Ray Bradbury regales his audience with stories about his life and love of writing in “Telling the Truth,” the keynote address of The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University. Series: Writer’s Symposium By The Sea [4/2001]

Keep writing!

Plastic Bear Honey and the “Terroir” of Industrial Food

Photo: Flickr User bionicgrrrl CC BY-NC 2.0.

Photo: Flickr User bionicgrrrl CC BY-NC 2.0.

It’s August.  Welcome to the days of summer honey.

If you are only familiar with the mass-produced product in squeezable plastic bears, you may think that there is just one honey and that it is of uniform golden colour and singular mild flavour. That’s what I used to believe until I started frequenting farmers’ markets and talking to beekeepers – and most importantly, tasting the honey. As it turns out, in nature, no two honeys are alike.

You can read what makes summer honey so special (and so unlike plastic bear honey) in my latest post, Harvesting Sunlight, over at the Canadian Science Writers’ Association blog.

In talking about honey in that post I introduce the term terroir — a word  I had never heard before but which may be familiar to wine connoisseurs. Terroir  (pronounced tehr-wah) is a French word that comes from terre meaning “land.”  According to Oxford it refers to:

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Beautiful Sunday: Capturing the Skylark’s Ecstasy

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)  Sergey Yeliseev, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Skylark (Alauda arvensis) Sergey Yeliseev, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A song of light, and pierces air

With fountain ardor, fountain play,           

To reach the shining tops of day,

And drink in everything discern’d

An ecstasy to music turn’d,

              -From “Lark Ascending”, George Meredith


Some things in nature are so breathtaking, they move us to try to create something equally beautiful to express and share our awe. Ansell Adams strove to capture the brooding majesty of the North American west on black and white film. John Muir did the same through layer after layer of eloquent descriptive narrative. Poets through eternity have tried to do justice to flowers and birds, lakes and mountains, the moon and stars, but in the end, Kilmer probably had it right; we will never see a poem as lovely as a tree.

Birds occupy their own special place in the artistic interpretation of nature. Is it possible to expound the glory of the dawn chorus or the swirl of a million flamingos in a way that even comes close to equaling the events themselves? Let’s start with something simpler: a single bird’s song —

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