Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Deadly Seduction

It’s the time of year when the mushrooms start calling to you. They stand on the forest floor, perhaps with a shaft of sunlight illuminating them, and they whisper seductively how delicious they are.
This year is another banner mushroom year, likely because of the ample rains. The autumn mushrooms are popping up in a variety of wild colours: jet black, bright orange, earth-coloured shades.
I don’t listen to their calls anymore. Too dangerous. Ask Nicholas Evans, author of The Horse Whisperer, the popular novel that was turned into a movie starring Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas. Three years ago he went mushroom picking in the Scottish Highlands. He found some along the edge of a pine forest, cooked them in butter and parsley, and served them to his wife, brother-in-law and his wife. Their lives changed dramatically after that meal.
His wife and brother-in-law are still on dialysis and waiting for kidney transplants. Evans received a new kidney recently from his adult daughter.
Evans was no stranger to mushrooms and had been picking them since he was a boy. But something went wrong that day. He picked some that were similar to an edible type he knows but they almost killed all four them.
Mushroom misidentification and poisoning are not uncommon. Some time back a doctor wrote how he followed a mushroom picking guidebook and ended up in a New York hospital after becoming poisoned.
Never believe any of those folk tales about how to tell good mushrooms from deadly ones. It is not true that brightly-coloured mushrooms are the deadly ones. You cannot safely test mushrooms by boiling them with a piece of silver that turns black from poison. Silver does not react to mushrooms of any kind.
One of the greatest dangers is that mushrooms that are edible in one geographic location, might not be in another. If you are going picking, make sure you know what you are doing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Kids and Caterpillars: Be Careful

Most of the kids who visit our cottage want to hunt and catch bugs. They love caterpillars because many are fuzzy and cuddly and easy to catch and keep around. You hate to ruin their fun but it’s important to be vigilant about which caterpillars they pick up as playmates.
Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Caterpillars, of course, turn into moths or butterflies. Some hairy caterpillars carry venom in their stiff hairs or “spines” as a means of defence. When they are touched, the hairs can break, releasing the venom. There are several or more of the stinging variety, including the hickory Tussock moth caterpillar found from Nova Scotia through Ontario.

In most cases, the venom causes stinging or burning and little else. Some people are more sensitive to the stings than others and might get a rash, or in severe cases, swelling and nausea.

Some hairy caterpillars have venom that is extremely dangerous but none of these are found in Canada.

Also, if you ever wondered why caterpillars are so slinky, it’s because a caterpillar has 2,000 muscles in its body. The human body has 700.

For more on venomous caterpillars try these sites:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Policing for Revenue?

There is a line between enforcing the law in the interest of public safety and enforcing it to raise revenue. Police forces, directed by their political masters, are crossing that line more often in these rough economic times.
The Ontario Provincial Police have been on our lake at least four times this summer checking boats for alcohol, required equipment such as a working flashlight and those absurd boating licences. Normally they show up once a year to remind everyone they are out and about promoting safety.
You can hear the provincial coffers ringing as they go about the lake issuing tickets. They boarded one fellow’s boat and found an empty glass that smelled of alcohol although there was no alcohol on the boat. They gave him a breathalyser test, which he passed. However, the empty glass that smelled of alcohol was enough for them to charge him, which will cost him $300 or more.
There are more and more cases like this where a warning would suffice. But the province needs money and policing is an important revenue stream. Law enforcement officers will tell you they are not pressured to lay charges. However, woe be the officer whose ticket issuing is below average at performance review time.
The story making the rounds in cottage country is that the OPP had to buy more boats for patrols during last summer’s G8 meeting in Huntsville. Now they are using the boats to raise money to pay for them.
One priority of the OPP’s strategic plan is to “build trusting relationships with the public . . . .” A trusting relationship will be built only if the public believes that law enforcement’s main focus is public safety, free of pressure to raise revenues.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Watch Out for the Turtles!

The big excitement at Shaman’s Rock this summer is that the snapping turtle is back. He or she is an adult who we hope has been active in making babies because snapping turtles are becoming fewer and fewer.
Photo credit: Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service
Snappers don’t make babies until they are fifteen or twenty years old. That’s a long time in the animal world and it means that even small numbers of turtle deaths can have a major effect on the species’ survival.

Turtles cross roads in search of food, mates or to find a nesting area. They often get smacked by cars, and unbelievably, some drivers run them over just to hear the crunch. If you see a snapping turtle crossing a road, don’t try to move it because they bite, hard enough to take off a finger. (They rarely bite in the water, so it’s safe to share the swimming spot with them).

Snappers now are a special concern under both Ontario and federal endangered species laws. However, in yet another of the great mysteries of bureaucracy, snapping turtles are still hunted in Ontario. Turtle hunting is open in most parts of the province to residents and non-residents. Each hunter is allowed to take two snappers a day, with a possession limit of five. Endangered species list. Hunting. Duh.

Turtle poaching also is a problem. In some cultures, turtles are valued as food and medicine.

Let's give them a break (brake) folks. There are too many extinct species already. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Enjoying the Heat, but not the Deer Flies

Deer flies normally are just a July annoyance. This year they were a July nightmare that is continuing into August. You can’t walk in the woods without dozens of them swarming your head.

The really bad news is that repellents, including DEET, do little to stop them. They are attracted to dark, moving shapes and typically go straight for the head and neck in search of blood. They are among the fastest fliers in the insect world, so there’s no point trying to run from them.
Photo credit: Howard Russell, MSU Diagnostic

Aside from a full head net, the best protection is a ball cap, which keeps them off your head. Also, you can buy sticky patches for the back of the ball cap. These trap the pests as they dive bomb your head, and they actually work.

They deliver painful bites and drive us crazy with their relentless buzzing about the head, but deer flies actually are pretty if you get one to sit still for a few seconds. They are the size of a house fly, have brilliant striped gold-green eyes and delta wings marked with dark patterns.

They are related to horse flies, which are larger, even more persistent, but fewer in numbers.

Wind and cooler temperatures reduce their activity, but hot days are expected to continue through most of August in many parts of the continent.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Reflections on a Train Wreck

Whenever I think about these sad times in traditional journalism I picture a train wreck. A quick peek at the wreckage scene:
  • The Sun newspaper conglomerate has withdrawn from the National Newspaper Awards, Canadian Newspaper Association, The Canadian Press news agency, and now the Ontario Press Council. Despite whatever group spokespeople say, it’s all about saving money to boost bottom lines. Read more at: Honderich: Sad time for newspapering in Ontario -
  • Those are some of the same actions Conrad Black and David Radler took in running their newspaper empire in Canada, Britain, Israel and the United States. Their empire disintegrated.
  • Rupert Murdoch, King of Kings in world tabloid journalism, is in so much trouble over the British phone hacking scandal that he might as well bend over and kiss his butt goodbye.
  • There no longer is a national news service delivering news to all media outlets throughout Canada. Co-operative news gathering, mainly for the benefit of the people in our far-flung country, no longer exists. News in Canada now is tribal controlled, much like Afghanistan.
  • What little remained of radio news is being further diminished by electronic networking.
  • Television news continues to transform itself into just another entertainment manipulated for ratings. CBC’s The National has become a disgrace in the eyes of many serious, experienced journalists. One, Tim Knight, writes: “Simply put, the senior executives responsible for The National have gone rotten, abandoned the organization’s mandate and, in their frantic race for ratings, lost their journalistic focus and with it their journalistic integrity.” He calls main news reader Peter Mansbridge “A patronizing chief-anchor-for-life who . . . almost never actually seems to feel the scenes he describes. . . . doesn’t care what’s in the stories, doesn’t see the scenes, doesn’t feel the emotions. Has no genuine human response. As a result, of course, neither does the viewer.” Read more at: "The day I finally lost all respect for The National" |