Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The lessons of hunting

Three brittle jeers break the blessed stillness of the woods.

I am found out.

I was enjoying the stillness, feeling totally alone and unnoticed. Observing, presumably without being observed. Now I am the centre of attention.

It is a blue jay, of course, that has sounded the alarm, warning everything with ears that I am slinking through their territory. I can’t see it, but it hears and sees me from some hidden perch.

I was hoping to spot some game. The day certainly is right. A bold blue sky with an abundance of late autumn sunshine illuminating the darkest corners of these woods.

The jay’s screaming has lessened my chances of spotting anything. I have a feeling that there is not much to spot anyway. There are few tracks and little other fresh sign.

The winter-like weather of early November seems to have alerted birds and animals to start moving to winter quarters. The bears likely have gone into hibernation; the deer are moving off to winter yarding areas where they have a better chance of avoiding starvation.

The official start of winter is three weeks away, but the signs of it bearing down are everywhere.

Bare-branch oaks and maples surrounding me are shivering. It’s not really that cold so I assume they are shivering in anticipation of what is to come.

From the ridge where I am standing, I see the lake below. It is frothing and spitting to protest the lashing it is taking from the wintery north wind. Soon the lake will be calmed and stiffened by relentless overnight freezing temperatures.

The freezing and the heavy-duty storms that accompany it will lock in winter for the coming five or six months.

I think about how lucky I am to be enjoying these woods before the big snows close them off.

Then it hits me: this is the first time I can remember being in the autumn woods unarmed. No shotgun for partridge, no rifle or bow for deer, moose or bear. In fact, I don’t even have a hunting licence, for the first time that I can remember.

I have decided not to hunt this year.

Some folks say age reduces the urge to hunt, but I still have that urge and still know the excitement of hunting.  

I guess I am hunting during this walk in the woods. I hope to see a deer running down the ravine that leads to the lake. Or, hear the rush of a partridge flushing from beneath an evergreen. I’m just not carrying a weapon.

I have decided not to hunt this year because I see game numbers steadily decreasing in the woods that I travel. I have seen only one partridge this year, and if I saw it again while carrying my shotgun, I could not in good conscience shoot it.

The same applies to deer, although their numbers fluctuate from year to year and location to location. They could be abundant next year or the year after.

Not so the partridge. Where I wander the flocks no longer exist. The decline is a trend that I, and other hunters, have seen develop over the past 20 years.

My decision not to take any game this year is strictly personal. In no way do I advocate it as a decision to be followed by others.

Hunting is a valuable part of Canadian culture. It provides enjoyment and food for many people and is an effective management tool in areas where game management is needed.

Also, the licensing of hunting provides governments with money, which hopefully is used to better manage wildlife resources and ensure that hunting can continue for the many thousands who enjoy it.

None of my favourable thoughts on hunting apply to one aspect of the sport – trophy hunting. Killing any animal specifically to pose with its corpse, or simply to wall mount its head or horns, is not hunting. It is killing to feed one’s ego.

Hunting is about learning to become part of nature. That involves understanding that everything in nature – including you – is equal.

Parts of nature kill other parts. They do it out of need.

Humans kill animals, plants, fish and insects.  When they do, there should be some form of need, and a great deal of respect.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Education: the best climate change tool

A whopping majority of we Canadians believe that climate change is real, despite the fact that we are not well educated about the topic.

That’s the conclusion I draw from a new study published this fall by Lakehead University Orillia. The study has a local connection; its principal researcher is Dr. Ellen Field, a post-doctoral fellow and teacher at the university in Orillia, and the niece of well-known Haliburton resident Sharon Lawrence.

The nationwide study of 3,000-plus Canadians found that 85 per cent believe climate change is really happening. However, there’s a huge gap between what we think we know about climate change, and what we really do know.

While 51 per cent of those surveyed felt well-informed about climate change, 43 per cent failed a climate change knowledge test, answering four or fewer of 10 knowledge questions correctly.

Those figures confirm what I suspect about people’s knowledge of other subjects. We have opinions on everything, but few of our opinions are based on knowledge that is factual and deep.

That’s because many of us get our information from television, word of mouth and social media. We used to get much of it from print newspapers and magazines, which had the resources and staff to provide more lengthy and comprehensive reporting but have been pushed aside by digital culture.

Television news is a good thing, but it provides only summary information because of time limits. Nothing deep. Nothing comprehensive.

News from friends and relatives usually is some fact mixed with gossip. Much of what we hear from other people comes from social media, where too many people dump whatever is floating loose and unorganized in their heads.

Climate change is a critical factor in our future. We all must become properly educated about the issues so we can make decisions based on facts.

The survey found that roughly two-thirds of Canadians, and an even higher percentage of educators, feel that the education system should be doing more to educate youth about climate change.

“Students, parents and teachers agreed that schools should be doing more to educate young people about climate change and that climate change education is the responsibility of the school system,” Dr. Field says.

Only 35 per cent of teachers surveyed reported teaching about climate change. And, students who did get some instruction on the subject experienced only one to 10 hours instruction a year or semester.

“There is variation in teachers’ level of preparedness when it comes to teaching about climate change,” says Pamela Schwartzberg, president of Learning for a Sustainable Future, the non-profit organization that was a partner in the study.

The survey also was put to students 12 to 18 and found that 46 per cent of them are aware that climate change is occurring. However, they do not believe that human efforts will be effective against it.

I take that to mean that many students feel nothing can be done so we should just carry on until we all burn to a crisp or are floated away by rising sea levels.

The Lakehead study was released just after 11,000 scientists from 150-plus countries declared a “climate emergency,” predicting “untold human suffering” if more is not done to stop human contribution to climate change. The declaration noted that the world population is increasing by 80 million a year, more than 200,000 a day.

The Lakehead study makes a number of recommendations for providing more climate change education in school systems. It calls on education ministries to put out policy statements to guide climate change education and to begin embedding climate change in curricula.

What the study indicates, but does not shout out, is that Canada is far behind in climate change thinking and education.

The federal government jacks up gasoline taxes and hopes climate problems will disappear. Some provinces object and the fighting begins.

Our politicians need to get fully focussed on this issue and understand that education is a key force in the fight against climate change.

Australia has been at the forefront of education for sustainability for almost two decades now. It’s time for Canada to start catching up.

We have become a country of talkers when we need to be a country of doers.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

November meanness

November is the saddest month.

The second last month of the year carries a realization of growing old, reaching an end. Everything is dying or about to die and the crying starts, in the form of the November rains.

The month enters dark and spooky following Hallowe’en, the haunting evening for ghosts and ghouls. Nov. 1 dawns as All Saints Day when some religions honour the dead who were saintly in their lives. And that’s followed by All Souls Day Nov. 2, a day of memorial for all dead.

The month seems to be all about gloom.

There is little life in the woods. Cold and approaching snow have sent birds winging south. The bears have taken to hibernation. Deer are hoofing off to wintering areas where they face less chance of starvation.

The landscape is bleak. Deciduous trees are embarrassed in their nudity, their leafy clothing tossed aside revealing not only their private parts but a wide open view of the terrain that supports them.

The forest floor, revealed totally only briefly in November and April, looks like a battlefield. It is littered with the decaying bodies of the fallen – branches and complete trees that have dropped unseen and silently, victims of age, disease or perhaps vicious winds.

Once vibrant participants in forest life, they are but dark lumps trying to blend into the ground, now turned a sepia tone by the rotting leaves that fell in October.

Everything is different in November. The shocking blue skies that amplified October’s brilliance now show sooty grey, the colour of ashes in woodstoves being fired up across the county.

Even the wind is different. It is more often northerly, pushing naked tree branches together, clicking and rasping like dried bones rattling in a bag.

Nature never keeps us in a bleak and sorrowful state for long, however. November is a short month and almost always before it ends the snows come to blanket our dull and weary landscapes.

Not everyone appreciates the whiteness, but it does cloak November’s decay. It also heralds more interesting times ahead – winter sports, the joy of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays that promise ebullient gatherings with friends and family. And, of course, the Dec. 21 winter solstice that brings increasing hours of daylight and the march toward spring.
November’s change from dark decay to snowy whiteness brings hope for days to come after January and February.

But there is something different about November this year. Something nasty and negative.

There’s a meanness present this year. A meanness present in all our discussions, whether they be about the country’s political divisions or the rightness or wrongness of the firing of television hockey commentator Don Cherry.

For example: Don Cherry is a loud-mouth racist unable to accept the changes in hockey, or in Canadian culture. Or, Don Cherry is an honest and generous person crucified by “left-wing liberal snowflakes.” Hard line opinions tainted by meanness and with little rational thought.

There is no middle ground in that discussion, or it seems any other discussion these days. Everything is argued in extremes with a meanness that is becoming a part of our daily lives.

This meanness is a significant social problem. We see it in political debates, schoolyard bullying, domestic abuse and even mistreatment of animals. It is like a virus has drifted in and infected a once stable and reasonable society.

Meanness develops when people feel small and powerless against the changes and pressures in the world around them.

The world today is one of massive change. People lacking the ability to think about change in a reasonable and wise manner feel overwhelmed and helpless. Trying to solve the problems brought by change seems impossible, so they turn to an easy defence – lashing out strongly and with little thought.      

Nature understands change as inevitable and an important progression in a natural cycle.

The current cycle of our human civilization is not natural. It is out of whack and nature can do little to help us. We have to do that ourselves.

We won’t fix our problems with meanness. Loud swaggering threats never have done much to help define and solve problems.

That’s something for our political leaders - in fact all of us - to think about.