When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its most recent special report this past October, I could tell who’d read it by the looks on their faces. The researchers, scientists and average folks I consider friends would either shake their heads and sigh with bitter disappointment or break into tears when its more dire predictions came to mind. Not prone to tears myself I just became quiet, trading my usual boisterousness for inactive rumination, while Canadians at large talked of nothing but the legalization of marijuana.
Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, Virginia, was featured in both the New York Times bestseller The Omnivores Dilemma and the documentary Food Inc. for his farm’s unique and holistic management, servicing more than 5,000 families, 50 restaurants, 10 retail outlets and a farmer’s market with organic beef, pork, poultry and forestry products. What’s more, he’s published 12 books.
The question has been asked – where is the organic industry of Atlantic Canada headed? – in particular by stakeholders pining for a formal plan. At Charlottetown’s ACORN (Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network) Conference in late November of 2018, it was put more directly.
I was caught off guard recently when someone assured me that invasive species are no big deal; that, when it comes to the mass extinction we humans are driving forth, taking a couple thousand species from one unique ecosystem and plunking them in another won’t matter much in the long run.
It was the 18th of August when I gained the summit of Mont Jacques-Cartier, an alpine peak of shattered stone and meager vegetation some 1,270 metres above Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. Several stones were organized into mounds marking the trail all visitors were obliged to follow, and just beyond them, lounging in no-man’s-land with a mountainous backdrop, were the very last of the Atlantic caribou. Here was the end of a very long pilgrimage, for me, but more so for them.
We live in the age of mass extinction, a harsh reality which dogs me each week. Our tactless conquest of the natural world is leaving precious little habitat for the species and ecosystems which made this planet beautiful, mysterious and, incidentally, habitable. My summer reading of authors like David R. Boyd, Lawrence Anthony, Edward O. Wilson and Frans de Waal brought this modern crisis into sharp focus for me, and the weight of my realizations left me with two choices – to implode, like so much weak sauce, or to volunteer.
The so-called Earthship is defined by a heavily windowed south facing wall passively absorbing the sun’s heat; a north facing wall buried in several feet of soil to create thermal mass; load bearing tires packed tightly with 300 pounds of soil; a botanical cell for growing vegetables indoors; and the means to generate electricity on site.
There was a time when American beech commanded much of the Maritimes, growing to tremendous sizes with porcelain smooth bark, a generous abundance of seed and autumn beauty to rival any hardwood. But that’s not the American beech we’ve come to know, seeing instead a tree corrupted by black rot, its bark twisted and cankered beyond recognition, stunted and with very few seeds. In little over a century this species fell from canopy heights, now a leper among plants.
The concept of biodiversity is relatively new to the mainstream, proposing that ecosystems can be appraised, so to speak, based on the variety of organisms they support. It states simply that a healthy forest cannot contain solely Balsam fir, nor a healthy river exclusively Atlantic salmon.
Knowing Prince Edward Island, one doesn’t expect a rich natural history. Surrounding provinces contain regions of surviving wilderness with larger examples of life, while visitors to the Gentle Isle might easily assume it was always an expanse of farmland and pasture with the occasional vacant lot. At least that was my impression, upon my first youthful visit over a decade back – a province of exceptional beauty, but with very few surprises.