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 BLOG >> Nature

Acadian Forest Bathing [Nature
Posted on May 25, 2018 @ 09:13:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I drove down to the farm property on thursday to sell some square bales of hay from the barn. After my online and farm work was done for the day I went to visit a local swimming hole and was pleasantly surprised to see that someone did some trail development since I visited last fall. I explored the trail for awhile and, given my recent interest in Forest Bathing, I felt like this was a trail where a person could do some serious forest bathing. I took some footage of a deep woody to riverine section of the walk. The ideal forests in this area are called Acadian Forests and are characterized by a diverse mix of hardwoods and softwood species, often with brilliant colors in the fall. It is springtime during this walk so the leaves are still in the process of emerging. At one point in the footage, I look at a rock type that is interesting and reminds me of coral rock.

On my drive down I decided to listen to Bill Mollison's 1983 Permaculture Design Course. When I hit the play button, the part that started playing happened to be about the many ways in which water and trees are interconnected. He refers, for example, to a forest as a "standing lake" and trees as "columns of water". He discusses how much surface area an acre of Eucalyptus Trees might expose to the atmosphere and comes up with an estimate of 1200 acres (there are studies on this). An intact forest is a huge condensing surface for water helping to regulate the humidity of the forest and the surrounds. He also discusses forest-based rain which occurs when humid air released by a forest supplies water to the atmosphere that causes rain downwind from that area of the forest. That area of the forest in turn adds humidity and the cycle is repeated. Remove large sections of forest and that type of rain does not happen. I have some skepticism about these claims as do many scientists, but I do acknowledge that Bill is putting forward his own mechanical theories on the origin of precipitation which are quite testable. There is some evidence to support his claims. Bill views trees as a "living system" that has a more profound effect on the availability of water in the landscape than most scientists would claim.

Bill's discussion of trees and water offers another reason why the term forest bathing is so apt. If a forest is a standing lake why wouldn't we call it bathing when we walking in or near a dense forest canopy?

I don't think forest bathing is something I will do everyday. Sometimes I will just go for a walk around the block for my physical exercise. When I am at the farm I will do more forest bathing because there is lots of forest land around here and lots of it I haven't yet explored. When I am in my favorite spots in a forest, next to a steam, I am generally not thinking that I want to forest bath here. I have interests in hydrology, forestry, and permaculture that caused me to be there and are contributing to my enjoyment of the forest. The fact that I am forest bathing is often of secondary concern but sometimes, in particularly beautiful sections of forest, I may feel compelled to make forest bathing a priority so I don't miss the feeling of beauty that the forest is radiating.

The term forest bathing might also be used to help remind us that trees and water are interconnected in many ways. The forest is not just a carbon sink, it is also a water sink and source.

Happy memorial day weekend and I hope you have the opportunity to do some forest bathing and figure out what it means to you.

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Shinrin-Yoku [Nature
Posted on May 11, 2018 @ 08:52:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Shinrin-yoku is the Japanese term for forest bathing. I learned this as a result of reading a new book called Forest Bathing: How trees can help you find health and happiness (April, 2018) by the leading Japanese researcher in this area Dr. Qing Li.

The book is a joy to read. It includes lots of forest imagery from Japan and you can learn alot about Japan from his discussion of Japanese forest culture and the role that forests play in contemporary cities in Japan. They really do appear to take the concept of forest bathing seriously in Japan with certain forests certified specifically for forest therapy.

Forest bathing sounds like it might be new-age tripping, but Dr. Qing Li reports alot of the research he has done over the years measuring levels of stress hormones, levels cancer killing immune cells, sleep duration, mood changes and other aspects of physical and mental health that changes as a result of exposure to forests. How much exposure, where, when, and why are all discussed in the book. You can get a preview of the art and science of Shinrin-Yoku by watching Kirsten Dirksen's interview with Dr. Qing Li.

I was under some stress this week and decided this morning that I needed to do some Shinrin-Yoku. I found a logging road leading through a young forest to an old pasture full of wild apple trees. When I exited the young forest I was drawn to a small stream that I wanted to follow back to the headwaters. I never got there but following a small stream through a wild apple tree forest is my idea of beautiful so it was an immersive way for me to forest bathe. I did manage to forget about my worries and stresses. On my drive back home I also had a breakthrough on the problem that was causing me the stress. Appears that stressing about a problem may block solving the problem. Shinrin-Yoku has many benefits.

Shinrin-Yoku is an approach to mental and physical health that is becoming more relevant as we spend more time indoors, in urban environments, and with our electronic devices. Shinrin-Yoku is about using all your senses again to experience nature. It would appear that forest trails between 2 and 4 kilometers offer a good dose of forest therapy. Doing it in the afternoon may offer more benefits than in the morning but for me the morning is when I find it easiest to do. You don't need to live in a rural area to practice Shinrin-Yoku as many cities support nice walking trails through wooded areas. Some forests are denser with trees and better places to practice Shinrin-Yoku. One interesting figure in the book is the 40 most beautiful forests in the world which might be a good bucket list for those wanting to do some forest bathing tourism.

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Walking the Watershed [Nature
Posted on April 18, 2018 @ 08:31:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Last weekend I decided to walk the watershed at my ridge top farm property. The lowest area of our property has a marsh area that eventually turns into a running stream. It is the headwater area for the stream. The stream then runs for about 500 feet to the end of our property onto our neighbor's property.

As I followed the stream down I noticed 5 tributaries that joined the stream. In some cases these "tributaries" appeared to contribute almost the same volume of water so it would be difficult to say which stream was the "main" stream. A watershed does not have to end where the water meets an ocean or lake. You can arbitrarily stop at any point in your journey down a stream and say that you are only interested in the watershed before that point. For me, the end of my journey and my watershed was about 2 kms (1.25 miles) down the stream where the first large pool of water forms. Because it is next to a road called MacKillop's Road, I decided to call the watershed the MacKillop Pool Watershed.

It came as a bit of a surprise to me that intimate knowledge of a watershed is now within my reach. All I had to do was follow all the tributaries back to their headwaters and I could better understand how the landscape creates the flow that is observed draining into the MacKillop pool.

I walked one tributary which took me far into the woods and increasingly into wilder country. Some bears are waking up and some coyotes are roaming so I decided to stop my journey before reaching the end. I'll finish the walk with a partner in the near future to see where the headwaters lie.

The next tributary I walked was the first tributary that meets the stream after it exits my property. I followed that stream quite a distance to a neighbors farm where the stream originates around a wet area of his field. I encountered the most debris so far on that tributary which I intend to clean up on my next walk when I have something to transport it out with. One of the main causes of debris in this area is the open fields and wind blowing stuff off properties that end up in low points in the landscape such as streams. One item that blew into the stream was Santa Claus (and some white silage wrap).

I still have 2 or 3 more tributaries that I will need to walk in order to visit the full MacKillop Pool Watershed. I'm looking forward to what I might observe and learn on these walks.

Fallen trees, dense alders, and spruce thickets are some of the obstacles that I frequently encountered as I walked the watershed. It is not a walk you do for pure pleasure. I carry a Fiskars billhook to help me get through really dense areas (and if I encounter some animal that wants me for a meal). One way to walk a watershed is by looking for "reaches" along the watershed. The term "reach" is used in geology to refer to a level, uninterrupted stretch of a stream. I find myself wanting to use the term "reach" to refer to the land beside and/or accross the stream that looks like the best way to get to the next point along the stream. When you are in the midst of many obstacles to your path, your plan is reduced to trying to "reach" the next viable point ahead.

The term "reach" is one that might be useful for entrepreneurs to have in their vocabulary. On the one hand you have a business plan which tries to map out the equivalent of a watershed, and then you have a reach which is how you actually navigate that watershed in a world full of obstacles. From where you are at, you need to continually look around you and figure out what is the best way to get upstream. There is no point in planning too far ahead given the uncertainty of the obstacles in your path so you look for a "reach" that at least keeps you moving in the right direction. And as you find and cross a series of reaches, you may eventually achieve the goal of getting to the headwater.

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Mapping Watersheds [Nature
Posted on April 4, 2018 @ 10:58:00 AM by Paul Meagher

This blog is a continuation of my recent blogs on rivers and flow patterns (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

If you want to understand river flow you will need to study some watershed maps. The watershed of a stream is the collector area that feeds water to that stream. Properties of the watershed determine how that watershed responds to a rain event. The watershed response determines stream flow volume.

A digital elevation map (DEM) can be used to render the surface of the watershed landscape. Other maps can be overlayed onto this map to indicate, for example, infiltration rates and hydraulic roughness. Finally, if you overlay a grid onto these maps you can compute on a cell-by-cell basis (using slope, infiltration, runoff, roughness as parameters) the contribution of that watershed cell to the stream flow. You can add precipitation to this model to compute the response of the watershed and predict flow volumes.

This is a physics-based approach (versus the more common empirical/statistical approach) to simulating and predicting stream flow. It sounds fairly simple in theory but there are many details that need to be figured out if you ever wanted to do this in practice. A good book for learning those details is Distributed Hydrologic Modelling using GIS (3rd Ed., 2016) by Baxter E. Vieux.

A Geographic Information System or GIS is a piece of software that not alot of the general public uses. Now that I have a reason to use one, to map watersheds, I began looking around for a free opensource GIS system. From my research, the premier opensource version appears to be QGIS.

I am using a windows desktop operating system for the software so I downloaded an older stable 64-bit version (2.18.18-1-Setup-x86_64.exe) from http://download.osgeo.org/qgis/windows. This is a large download that installs alot of opensource geo software for windows so expect download and installation to take awhile. The latest version (v 3.0.x) can also be downloaded and run alongside the older version if you want to experiment with a buggier version of the software without as much tutorial support as the stable version. The QGIS software can also be run on other operating systems by finding the appropriate repository to download from.

My first impression is that QGIS is full of features that would take quite a while to master. There appear to be good learning resources out there for it. It is used in industry and by governments so it is not immature software. Powerful geomatic software is now within the reach of the average Jack and Jill.

To understand river flow we have to understand the larger context of the river. That larger context is called the watershed and it can often be defined precisely based on how the land drains.

A watershed is like the market for a product or service. It may be a small watershed that supplies a small first-order stream or it may be a large watershed that supplies a third-order stream. Properties of the marketshed determine the flow of traffic to your product or service. If you have alot of time on your hands, you might use GIS systems, overlays, and grid-based computing to model how consumer traffic might flow to your product or service.

Those who advocate for a bio-regional economy often make use of the watershed concept to delimit what is considered to be the local economy. Proactively, you should make an effort to trade with those who you share a watershed with. That seems like a crazy idea in some ways but in other ways it is reflective of how things worked historically and that history still bares an imprint on current trading practices if you look at trade through a watershed lens.

Another reason to trade with someone who you share a watershed with is because if that person lives upstream or downstream from you, then you are all interconnected by the various uses that you make of the water resource. Water quality and volume is a function of the whole watershed, not just some section of it. This is a very important connection that watershed users share and could be the basis of thoughtful trade patterns. Restricting your trade to just those within a certain distance from you (e.g., 100 mile diet) can cut across watersheds. That may not be that important to you, but it is a factor that is perhaps less arbitrary than a simple distance measure for defining what is local or not.

In conclusion, mapping watersheds is useful for understanding and predicting water flows. Techniques and technologies used for mapping watersheds might also be relevant to mapping marketsheds. Finally, the quest for sustainability dictates that the marketshed and the watershed should become more aligned.

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Modelling and Modifying Flow [Nature
Posted on March 13, 2018 @ 08:15:00 AM by Paul Meagher

For the last couple of blogs I have been talking about rivers and flows (Part 1, Part 2). These blogs are inspired by my morning walks by the local river and by my reading of a book by Sean W. Fleming called Where The River Flows: Scientific Reflections on Earth's Waterways (2017).

The book covers different approaches to river science, more specifically flow prediction, involving neural networks, markov chains, information theory, spectral analysis, chaos theory (fractals), complexity theory (cellular automata) and monte carlo methods. I was a bit disappointed at first because I was looking for something a little more meaty about the mechanics of river flow and this seemed a bit too high level. I eventually picked up a book on hydrology for lower level details (Environmental Hydrology , 2015) which complimented Sean's faster-paced high level discussion of how river flow can be related to physics, geology and astronomy using modern tools and techniques. Sean discussed may interesting and complex topics is relatively short book (204 pages) in a way that was easy to read and entertaining. I recommend it if you have an interest in rivers and flow patterns.

To begin predicting river flow, it helps to have a time series consisting of a river flow measurement recorded at regular intervals of time (e.g., daily, monthly). Hydrologists try to predict these flows using different types of models. One type of model is an empirical one that statistically relates flow rates to dominant factors like rain fall, snow depth, temperature, previous day's streamflow, watershed topography, etc... These are often the types of models that are developed in practice for streamflow forecasting. Another type of model is a process model that uses physics equations to represent meteorological inputs and internal watershed characteristics. You run the model with the proper inputs and the model simulates expected stream flow. A final type of model is what I would call phenomenological that is based on extended observation and interaction with river flow. A beaver, for example, uses a phenomenological model to predict and alter river flows.

Humans are fortunate that we can develop empirical and process models of stream flow patterns, but it is interesting that a beaver can have a profound beneficial effect on water flows using only a phenomenological model based on observation and interaction with flows. In the Devon area of England, the wildlife trust has re-introduced beavers to an enclosed 6 acre area to study how they alter their immediate environment and downstream areas. Their main findings were that 1) beavers significantly increased biodiversity in that area, 2) they altered flow patterns so that downstream areas are less likely to flood because of the impounding and slow release of water from their dams, and 3) their dams act as a filter cleaning agricultural pollutants from the streamflow. Some of that research is reported in the Devon Wildlife Trust Beaver Project Update (PDF). I would like to draw you attention to one graph from that report that shows the evolution of the dams over time. Starting from 0 dams in 2011 they have constructed 13 dams and completely altered and enlarged the flow of water through the landscape

I think it is worth keeping the beaver in mind when we think about modelling the flow of automotive traffic through a streetscape, the flow of foot traffic through a mall or store, or other flows that are of concern to us. We can certainly construct sophisticated models to explain and predict these flow patterns, but phenomenological models developed through sustained observation and interaction can also be powerful ways to understand these flows for the purposes of modifying them in beneficial ways.

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Swimming & Scootering [Nature
Posted on September 15, 2017 @ 10:03:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I listened to a blogger on the radio who felt it was inadvisable to talk about yourself because you as a topic would inevitably become boring. That is true but it is hard to avoid talking about what you do especially if it gives you some joy.

The last couple of days have been warm and sunny but the season for swimming is coming to an end because the nights are getting cool. I just came back from a trip to my favorite swimming hole on my second-hand 2003 Yamaha Zuma Sports Scooter (49cc) that I purchased this spring. The Zuma allows me to drive down a rugged road and right up to the side of the river for a swim. I take it all over the place. A gas fillup costs about $3.50. The Zuma gives me some joy as does swimming in this river. It occurred to me that the swimming area is at least Olympic size because it is a workout for me to go up and down it once. There are no creatures in this water that you have to worry about and you could drink the water.

I took some footage from inside the river yesterday when it was sunny and a bit more windy. There is an area in the center where you can be up to your neck and that is where I shot some footage from.

My daughter competed as a swimmer in a chlorine filled pool and the thought never occurred to anyone that the river might have certain advantages as a place to train (e.g., upstream swimming).

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Backyard Forestry [Nature
Posted on February 13, 2017 @ 11:29:00 PM by Paul Meagher

I attended a "Backyard Forestry" workshop over the weekend at The Deanery Project. The workshop was led by Jamie Simpson author of Restoring the Acadian Forest (2015).

The workshop was a combination of lectures and round table discussions. About half was practical learning outdoors in the woods and in a workshop where we went over chainsaw maintenance and operation.

A critical decision any woodlot owner needs to make is what trees to promote and what trees to thin out. We revisited this question many times first by learning to identify the various tree species and then learning what tree species tend to dominate in native old growth forests and favoring those species in our thinning practices. This is how you can "Restore the Acadian Forest" (or any native forest for that matter). The Acadian Forest concept also involves an appreciation for standing and fallen dead wood as habitats for birds, small mammals, insects, frogs, etc... and as a way to replenish the soil. One point that Jamie made frequently was that you always have to be looking up when trying to determine what trees to keep or remove in your forestry management. You are often looking for signs that the tree is dead or on the way out and this will affect your decision to remove or not. I will be looking up alot more when I walk through my own small woodlot.

Here is Jamie (to the left) amused by what Tom Rogers (My Acadian Forest) was saying. Jamie spotted a yellow birch hardwood amidst mostly softwood trees and was advising us to actively promote that tree by thinning a few trees around it, but not too many because lack of density when young can encourage bad form.

Jamie also picked out a few Red Spruce and advised us to promote that species as well. He advised us that it wouldn't hurt to remove some Balsam Fir (aka Christmas Trees) because many factors are conspiring to make that species over represented in the local forests. The Acadian Forest concept celebrates the diversity of native species that this forest system can support as it straddles the southern range of the massive Boreal Forest system and the northern range of southern forest systems. Over time, selective harvesting from a diverse and uneven aged Acadian Forest can potentially be more lucrative and more sustainable than clear cutting approaches (especially if we take into account non-timber products and services) but it takes more time and patience than the plantation mentality of forest management.

In the evening Jamie and a few of the participants played guitar. Jamie also plays fiddle and during one of his tunes this big old Alaskan Malamute dog started to howl along. I managed to capture a bit of his howling towards the end.

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Winter Outdoor Adventures [Nature
Posted on February 10, 2017 @ 09:20:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I've been building up alot of short nature videos and decided to share a few around the topic of outdoor adventure in wintertime. For some of us this is the heart of the winter season. Many fly South this time of year such as my sister who will be staying in the warmer climes of Florida for a couple of months. Myself, I still enjoy the many adventuresome activities that winter has to offer. Having good gear makes it easier to get around under all different types of winter conditions.

When I'm not working at my computer or reading, I'm often looking for an outdoor adventure. I prefer not to walk on sidewalks. I like to walk in local park trails to get some exercise. This year I discovered Icers which is a studded shoe sole that I can strap onto my rubber boots and not slip when I'm walking on Ice (see www.icers.ca). It has made a huge difference in my ability to get around on the local park trails. I am often alone on parts of these trails for obvious reasons if you watch my journey to Victoria Park falls:

Another outdoor activity that I like to do if I'm in the right area is explore the woods for Chaga Mushrooms. I already have some Chaga that I hope to brew into tea to boost my immune system so no there is need for me to harvest any more. I like to find Chaga trees and revisit them to see if I can learn anything more about this strange species of mushroom. Winter time with lots of snow down is the best time to hunt them because the contrast is better. Below is a Chaga tree I visited last weekend. Only 2 of the 7 mushrooms growing on it are shown.

Another outdoor adventure is visiting my farm to explore the property and see how my vineyard is doing. A window at the top of my barn blew out in a wind storm so I had to repair it. Fortunately there is lots of hay in the barn so I was able to climb up to it easily and fix it. I was also able to take a clear video of the vineyard with the dirty window removed. The video starts with the oldest vines and ends with my younger vines.

This weekend I will be attending a workshop on "Backyard Forestry" so that I might better manage and appreciate the forests you see behind the vineyards. I am supposed to bring rain gear and extra layers for warmth so there will be some outdoor learning. Also have to bring a flash light. I won't be camping outside in the snow (which is an option), but I'll be bringing my sleeping bag and pillow for an overnight stay in the dormatory.

Woo! Woo! as Jake would say in the Reality TV series Bering Sea Gold. I'm reminded of Jake because Pomrenke Mining, LLC is raising capital for Gold Mining on our Texas Investment Network site. Reality TV meets the Texas Investment Network to raise capital for a project that you can see unfold on TV!

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Vernal Pools & Mosses [Nature
Posted on December 18, 2015 @ 10:39:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I took some time yesterday and today to film some of my natural surroundings.

Yesterday I encountered an icy vernal pool and after looking at it for awhile decided I wanted to do a video study focusing on pattern formation, life at the edge, and cold-hardy amphibious plants. Mosses are a family of plant species that are cold-hardy and amphibious in part because they are "non-vascular" plants (no internal circulatory vessels).

In my second video which I took today the temperatures are warmer. I was checking up on a white birch log that was innoculated with Shitake Mushroom spawn 3 months ago. I also noticed all the pretty mosses growing around it. I've become quite interested in mosses lately because of a book called Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. Also, this is a time of year around here when the moss family of plants (a.k.a Bryophytes) are most noticeably alive in the forests (after the evergreen trees). In this video I was trying to determine how many species of mosses there are near the log. I thought there were at least three species - one that is more tree-like, one that is more fern-like, and one that is more fur-like in shape. I'm still new to moss identification so I can't get any more specific than that at the moment.

The moss family is an under appreciated class of plants considering that all plant life on land owes it's existence to the mosses. They invaded the land from the oceans. Mosses are an evolutionary step up from primitive ocean algaes. Some people call them "primitive" plants but I think "primordial" is often a better term. They are primordial because from moss forms all other forms in the plant world were realized (see Fundamentals of Pattern). There is still evidence of mosses in the body plan of all plants. That might be going overboard to make the point but the microcosm of the moss communities in the video above bear a family resemblance to plants, or elements of plants, that exist at a larger scale.

A recent noteworthy event in the moss world is the release of Mossin' Annies new book The Magical World of Moss Gardening (August, 2015).

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Barneys River Fall Colors [Nature
Posted on October 26, 2015 @ 05:16:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Here is a photo of some colors that were on display in Barneys River a week and a half ago.

Barneys River is an idyllic river valley area that I always enjoy driving through. It is even better in fall time as the changing colors light up the surrounding hills. Here is some footage from the same area a couple of days ago.

Just thought I would share a little piece of paradise on earth.

Also noteworthy is that around the same time 15 minutes away actor Ethan Hawke was participating in a Micmac water ceremony. He has property in the area and was asked by Micmac elders to attend. You can see a short video of what he had to say as well as what a water ceremony consists of at this link:

http://www.thestar.com/news/2015/10/26/ethan-hawke-a-guest-at-mi-kmaq-water-ceremony-in-nova-scotia.html

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Fall Colors 2015 [Nature
Posted on October 16, 2015 @ 06:21:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I hope to get a chance to explore the fall colors today. Yesterday evening I went to the field below and took some pictures.

I also took some video footage from the field to see if I could better capture some of the colors I was seeing.

I took some photos last year of the fall colors around the same time of year.

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Full Moon Photos [Nature
Posted on August 1, 2015 @ 08:39:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I was mowing the lawn around sunset and noticed the full moon coming up. I stopped mowing and ran for my camera to take some photos. The moon emerges quickly from the horizon so you have to be faster than I was to get it just as it emerges. The first photo is one of my first photos, then I took a close up (hard to maintain image stability even on a tripod when you have mosquitos wanting to have you for dinner), and the final photo is when clouds started to occlude the moon - I got a spooky cloud formation over the top of the orangy full moon.

Here is a tip - if you are looking for inspiration for a logo/brand design, observe the shape of clouds against various backgrounds. The final photo is one I took during the day because I liked the flowing motions of it. It could be the inspiration for a unique logo/brand design. Nature is always ready to mentor us if we are prepared to receive it.

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Seaside Nature Walk [Nature
Posted on July 27, 2015 @ 01:25:00 PM by Paul Meagher

Yesderday, I went for a pleasant walk at the Coal Mines Wharf area with family and extended family.

Here are some photos from the trip (starting at the wharf and returning to the wharf).

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Back To The Wild [Nature
Posted on October 31, 2014 @ 08:36:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I came accross an interesting link this week. The link takes you to a page with recorded interviews from people who are leaders in wilderness teachings of one type or another. The leaders were part of a Back to the Wild Summit that took place in 2013. You might find some interviews a bit new-agy but I've enjoyed listening to 3 of the interviews so far. The first listed interview with Arther Haines called Where Past Meets Future is worth listening to in order to determine if you want to listen to any more interviews.

I did some foraging this morning for a valuable medicinal tree mushroom (not hallucinigenic if you are wondering) that is supposed to grow around here. I scouted out the mushroom yesterday and packed up a ladder and some tools this morning so I could harvest a bit of it. Apparently mushroom collectors are quite secretive about their finds and I will not be releasing any more details :-)


Ladder used to scale ravine and climb tree.

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Fall Colors [Nature
Posted on October 10, 2014 @ 06:10:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Today is the last day that I can take in the fall colors at my farm as I'll be heading back to my office this evening. I've been taking care of some fall tasks around the farm but have to get back to my family and suburban responsabilities.

I uploaded some photos from the last couple of days taking photographs and some from today. I plan to tour around this afternoon on a back road to enjoy the stunning colors on display right now. If you like nature photography like I do (not saying I'm particularly good at it) then you feel compelled to drop everything and take in the visual feast.


Shoreline


Beauty At The Dump


Fractal Maple


Former Schoolhouse


Giant Pumkins


Funny Pumkins


Corn & Apple Trees


Harbour Sunset

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Natural Business [Nature
Posted on July 17, 2014 @ 09:58:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Some business gurus will tell you that in order to succeed in business you need to work longer and harder than your competitors. Forget the 40 hr week, you should be working 60 to 80 hrs a week on your business at minimum.

The same could be said for being successful at farming. A lazy farmer is likely to be an unsuccessful farmer and it is the go-go-go farmer that is more likely to build a successful farming enterprise. They put in the long hard hours and that is why they are successful, or so the story goes.

Is it possible to be successful without all the work? Perhaps the excessive amount of work you are doing is causing you to be unsuccessful? Perhaps the excessive amount of work is telling you something about the viability of your business? If you have to work this hard to make a go of it, perhaps it is too much work?

There may be an alternative paradigm for growing a business rooted in green philosophy. That paradigm leads to a type of business called a Natural Business, by analogy with Natural Farming.

You can learn about this natural approach by reading the book The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosphy (1985) by Masanobu Fukuoka.

In this book, Masanobu espouses a different method of farming with the goal of letting nature do its thing on the farm and to intervene as little as possible. There is still lots of work to do in order to make the farm produce an income to support itself and its workers, but the work is of a different sort. Specifically, it does not involve 1) cultivation, 2) fertilizing, 3) weeding, and 4) pesticides. If you are growing grains, fruits, and vegetables, then not having to engage in activities related to the above 4 practices leaves you with some serious time on your hands in order to engage in other activities around the farm (like enjoying and connecting with it instead of always working it).

Masanobu's approach was to find methods of growing grains, vegetables, and fruits that produced a yeild yet did not require all the work we normally put into growing them. His not-so-hidden agenda was to demonstrate that by working with Nature instead of trying to control it through reductionist science, you were able to get comparable if not better yields with alot less work and a whole host of benefits that you don't get through a western science approach (richer soil, more biodiversity, healthier plants, clean water, spiritual connection, etc...).

There is a very deep vein of skepticism in the book about our ability to know the world through our mental models which is probably why it has not received the degree of serious study that it should have in philosophy, agriculture, and, I would argue, business. His critique of the pretensions of western scientific knowledge is one of the most devastating I have ever read. Forget Wittgenstein, read Masanobu if you really want to have your conceptual foundations rocked.

The skepticism, however, is critical to giving into the natural way of business. If you come with too many preconceptions and scientific theories about how things should be done (and there are no shortage of these), then you will not be looking for or attuned to the natural vibe of your business. That natural vibe is found by observing more and intervening less and seeing what happens. It is found by questioning whether you really have to intervene, whether the work is really necessary, whether things might just take care of themselves if given a chance. There is also alot of experimentation to see what works without much intervention. These become your natural lines of business.

One way to explore the concept of natural business would be to think about your business as a garden that you are currently cultivating, fertilizing, weeding, and applying pesticides to.

The four principles of natural farming/business are simply stated:

  1. No cultivation.
  2. No fertilizer.
  3. No weeding.
  4. No pesticides.

Larry Korn advises that Masanobu is here using a traditional japanese method of teaching to stretch the student's thinking about farming. Masanbou's farming methods includes some weeding for young plants but ideally none as they grow older.

What are the equivalents of these 4 practices in your business?

Are you afraid of the chaos that might ensue if you stopped doing any one of these in your business? A certain amount of chaos is part of a natural business. It is a balance between your will and nature's way.

I highly recommend this book for its philosphical content, practical information on farming, and very thought provoking diagrams. The book contains some of the best systems diagrams I have ever encountered. Ironic indeed from someone who claims to know so little about the world.

If you want to learn more about the productivity of Masanobu's farm, and his genius, I'd recommend reading the recent article Fukuoka's Food Forest by prolific permaculture author Eric Toensmeier.

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River Spirits [Nature
Posted on February 21, 2014 @ 11:55:00 AM by Paul Meagher

We had a few snow storms over the last couple of days. I got out in the middle of it a took a few photos. There were some nearby rivers and streams that I thought would look nice in a blanket of snow. One of the photos that I find interesting is a photo of the river with a weird shape floating on the top. I took the photo because it looked like an oil emulsion of some sort floating on top of the water. What I think it was, however, was pieces of ice starting to form in the water creating a swirly whitish mass traveling down the river. You can see the swirly masses in this photo, however, if you look long enough at the largest white swirly mass (in the foreground of the picture above the rivers edge) you might see the face of a river spirit. I know that the mind creates order out of randomness and the icy river spirit is that sort of phenomenon, however, if there were such a thing as a river spirit this is how it might manifest itself.

This is the river as seen through a few branches.

Here are some tributaries to the river blanketed in some nice fluffy snow.

The river meanders along a tree-lined road.

It is easy to spend the winter complaining about the weather, but if you actually get out in it and marvel at its beauty, then the winter can be enjoyable in some of its fiercest moments. You also might also be lucky enough to see an icy river spirit if you look hard enough at the swirly white masses in the water.

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Learning from Lichens [Nature
Posted on January 27, 2014 @ 08:55:00 AM by Paul Meagher

As I learn more about nature, I like to ponder whether nature has any lessons we might learn regarding business survival and growth. Previously I looked at lessons we might learn from nature by studying how natural ecosystems work and applying similiar principles to growing a business. See business guilds and metaphors of growth for more.

Today I want to look at a specific species, Lichens, to see if they have anything to teach us about business survival and growth.

Lets start with the basics and define what a Lichen is: it is an organism that consists of a fungus and an algae (and/or cyanobacteria) with the fungus supplying the organisms framework and the embedded algae converting sunlight to energy (i.e., sugars, nutrients) for the organism. The fungus and the algae are in a symbiotic relationship with each other, each supplies something the other needs. While both may exist without the other, they perform much better if they are symbiotically intertwined. They are smaller, weaker, and much less adaptable when they exist apart.

Lichens are a tremendously successful organism occupying 10% of the earth's land surface, especially in the far north. They can exists in some of the harshest conditions on the planet and play a major role in the process of creating soil by releasing acids that break down rock which eventually becomes soil.

One of the main lessons we might learn from lichens is that a symbiotic relationship can create a new level of adaptability that cannot happen without the symbiotic relationship. One reason to partner with another company is because that company supplies something that is missing from your own company and vice versa. We partner with companies so that we can each benefit monetarily or otherwise from the arrangement. A lichen, however, goes one level above a simple partnership insofar as the arrangement allows them to compete in new environments that they otherwise would not be in if the fungi and algae they did not partner. Likewise, companies can partner because the joint organism that results can compete in a new environment that the separate companies cannot compete in individually. So partnerships are not just about staying in the same environment and extracting more of the resources from that environment; it is also about joining together so that you can venture into new territory and compete against the incumbents in that territory.

Another lesson we might learn from lichens is how to survive in harsh environments. Lichens can survive in extreme cold and extreme drought. They are able to do this because they can approach a state close to death when times are tough but as soon as conditions warm or rain comes, they can spring back into life and thrive again. A lichen will shrink in size when there is no rain thereby reducing it's requirements for water. When water does come, it expands in size again. Likewise, for a company to survive in tough economic times it should have a strategy for entering into a low energy conservation state and exiting that state when conditions become favorable again. The life of any company is often marked by periods of growth and setback. When life is good and the company is growing you may think that life will stay that way and structure your company accordingly - buy new company assets, take on more loans, spend money as soon as it comes in. Any little setback, however, could quickly spell the end of the company. How easily can you shrink the company when economic times get tough and how long can you stay in the state? The lichen has learned how to live through the bad times and exploit the good times with equal ease.

In "The Forest Unseen: A year's Watch in Nature" (2012), David Haskell, describes lichen existence as follows:

Supple physiology allows lichens to shine with life when most other creatures are locked down for the winter. Lichens master the cold months through the paradox of surrender. They burn no fuel in quest of warmth, instead letting the pace of their lives rise and fall with the thermometer. Lichens don't cling to water as plants and animals do. A lichen body swells on damp days, then puckers as the air dries. Plants shrink back from the chill, packing up their cells until spring gradually coaxes them out. Lichen cells are light sleepers. When winter eases for a day, lichens float easily back to life. (p. 2).

These are just a couple of aspect of lichen existence and physiology that we can learn from if we study lichens more closely with an eye towards what they might tell us metaphorically about business survival and growth.

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Autumn Reflections [Nature
Posted on October 17, 2013 @ 07:01:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Went to one of my favorite nature spots in late evening when the autumn leaves were vibrant. It is called Mabou Landing and it is where a large fresh water stream, the Mull River, meets the ocean waters of Mabou Harbour. On this evening the waters were calm and I focused on capturing reflections of the scenery in my photos. I travelled 2 minutes up the road to Mabou Harbour and took my last reflective photo. Enjoy.


Mabou Landing facing Mull River


Skeleton Tree


Moon on Water


Mabou Landing facing Mabou Harbour


Mabou Harbour

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Turtle Island Preserve [Nature
Posted on September 4, 2013 @ 07:43:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I'm watching a couple of documentaries this morning on Eustace Conway. Eustace is one of the featured people on the Mountain Men Reality TV series. I wanted to learn more about what Eustace's property, the Turtle Island Preserve, is all about. The reality TV series does not give one a good sense of how Turtle Island works as a whole. This documentary gives that overview and is quite entertaining, informative, and well done.

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Bird Nesting Site [Nature
Posted on July 27, 2013 @ 09:05:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I was taking junk to the dump when I noticed a very active bird nesting site on the property. The soil is a sandy clay which the birds appear to like for nesting. This is what an area of the nesting site wall looks like:

This is a closeup of what the birds inhabiting a nesting den look like.

Here is a short video (25 seconds) of the sights and sounds at the bird nesting site.

I thought it was a cool site and thought I would share.

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