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Welcome to the Music of Life

Welcome to the Music of Life

Musical instruments have always been somewhat of an unknown quantity to me. With a shrug of the shoulders, it was generally neither here nor there. Myriad keys that apparently vibrated something and then, like magic, sound emerged. And indeed it was nothing less than enchanting when someone would begin to play. Yet, that was the extent of it.

Just Starting

For several years, through elementary and then into secondary school, I contentedly played the clarinet in the school band. Then, for a different perspective and often comforted solely by an ongoing series of whole notes, I briefly switched to the baritone horn for one semester. None of it was done with any heartfelt endeavour, I confess. But something had clearly touched my heart.

For, here I am, decades later deciding, with a heartfelt mixture of determination and certainty, buoyed by spirit and hopeful intention, to learn to play the piano. It’s strange because I had always professed to dislike the piano when I was younger. It seemed to somehow lack drama. Plinking away at “Mary Had a Little Lamb” seemed to invariably invade my mind when I thought of the piano.

A Spellbinding Drama

Although, I realised, it’s just the start. As time progresses and with practice, the piano, like any instrument, will become a symphony of spellbinding drama, all with a deft helping of skill and finesse.

And whatever instrument happens to take our fancy—for some the guitar, for others the fiddle or the accordion, whatever it may be—it’ll be a matter taking small steps. Of course it won’t sound like anything grand and entrancing immediately. But time is our ally in this endeavour.

First and foremost, it’ll take time and practice. A little bit here and there will do. But learning to play a musical instrument doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s something in which we’ll need to invest a little time and then it’s a matter of practice, practice and practice. It just calls on us to marshal ourselves and manage our time a little.

Whole New World

I know for me, when I think of learning to play, it feels like I’m entering a whole new world. Where before, it was a mess of black keys and white keys, now, while it still largely is, it’s now a lot more of a tidier mess. I can look at a piano and proudly say, “ah, that’s a C and that’s an F.” It’s an elementary distinction. Still, it’s a lot more than I could’ve done a month ago. I look forward to learning more.

Some say that we’re smarter as we gradually acquire knowledge of our instrument. Although I can’t say I’m smarter, there are a few new bits of information I’ve now got tucked away inside my brain. They’re like puzzle pieces that I know will in time be inserted in their rightful place.

Stressing Confidence

Others note how playing an instrument relieves stress. One is calm and at peace. It’s true. For my own experiences, the one thing I notice is how time appears to move quite rapidly. If I say I’m going to practice for an hour, before I know it, that time is gone. Clearly I am not worried about time or anything that was troubling me. For those moments, we disappear into another world.

And it’s also wonderful when I finally seem to manage positioning my fingers to play a chord. It seemed rather tricky at first. The person teaching the online course I’m taking referred to our “muscle memory.” As I focus, trying to hold my hand in a particular way, at first it seemed impossible. Yet, I was astonished that it actually worked. So, whatever is the next lesson, I’m increasingly confident that, with a little effort, I’ll be able to do it.

Patience & Memory

Not only does learning to play a musical instrument help our muscle memory, it apparently helps our memory overall. I was able to download a host of chords with the key’s coloured to let us know where we are to hold our fingers. It seemed daunting. However, memory, assisted ably my practice will allow me to gradually absorb the information. Before too long, I’ll be knowledgeably pressing keys that in previous months were absolutely unknown to me.

When I embarked on this journey, I knew it was not something that would happen overnight. The goal will be to invest the time to make it a success. So, to learn to play a musical instrument is undergirded by the idea of patience. Throughout, I’m sure I’ll be spurred along by momentary victories as well as all the myriad frustrations. However, I’m sure, whenever I experience those frustrations, I’ll work towards transforming them into victories.

A Spark of Creativity

Some also assure us that our creativity will be beautifully sparked by our newfound skill and talent. It makes sense. As we learn more and more, the knowledge of the various keys and chords become second nature. Then, bolstered by our growing confidence, more and more, we’ll start to explore. After all, we’ll feel the urge to express ourselves, adding a little extra spice to a piece simply because it feels right to do so.

Learning to play a musical instrument requires commitment and determination. But more then anything, the will and passion to do so is essential. Most of us would agree that music is an expression shared the world over. Regardless of its origins, through its enchanting and embodied rhythms or its heart-pounding beat, it’s capable of reducing us to tears as easily as rousing our spirits to sublime heights.

And to know we’re even just a modest part of such an endeavour is reason enough to try.

Rocks as the Sacred Embodiment of Time

Rocks as the Sacred Embodiment of Time

Many who have wandered along the beach in Placentia, Newfoundland and Labrador have encountered a rare gift. Sitting down for a rest, we gaze around and are confronted with a magnificent mosaic of colour and pattern. Leaning down, we pick up a rock and examine its rich colours, contours and interesting textures.

Most often we lay it back down, simply intrigued by the display. Sometimes, we pocket it, a memoir of beauty, retained to hold the memory of the moment. But little more. However, if we focus more keenly, we realise how rocks hold secrets. For they are the sacred embodiment of time. More importantly, they hold lessons, ones we can glean if we heed.

A Matter of Time

Many of us understand time in cycles tied to seconds and minutes. Often we find ourselves speaking with someone on the phone, assuring them it’ll only take half an hour to reach some destination, a friend or a shop. Rushed for time, we beg for someone to give us “just a sec” and we’ll be able to get something done. Our conception of time matches our lives, the daily round of time in which we live. It makes sense.

Rocks obey a much longer cycle of time. For us, once we go beyond these conceptions of time, we invariably lose track. It ceases to make sense. Months and years are marginally concievable, but anything beyond seems infinitesimal. But for rocks, they’re formation is a process on the scale of millions of years.

Given the region where I live, our rocks stem from a violent time of volcanic eruptions, heaving rocks, something that took place hundreds of millions of years ago—the Cambrian and Ediacaran Periods, between around 488 and 630

million years ago (mya). Go around the world and the story will be the same. Such a span of time is incomprehensible to us.

The Span of Time

And yet, if we touch those rocks, running our hands over their surface, in so doing, we are essentially compressing time. Those millions of years sit in our hands at that very moment. So a nigh unlimited past coalesces into a present. It’s like our lives. No matter what has occurred in our past. Eventually, when we look in a mirror, all that past coalesces into what we see before us. For rocks, the roaring overflow of magma and crush of the rocks is over. Gone. For us, we are left with the silence and peace of the here and now.

Similarly, rocks broaden our conception of time. We pick up that rock along the beach. Having looked at the qualities of coarse grains flowing through the rock, inter-swirling with finer compositions, we ponder. And we recognise that the changes we’re looking at must’ve occurred over a vast amount of time.

Change Takes Time

We look back a mere ten to fifteen thousand of years to a glacial period when kilometres of ice glided over places such as Newfoundland and Labdrador. In doing so, it left evidence of its presence in the erratics1 or striations2 left behind. We may look at a landscape in which these formations and many more speak of actions in the past. What we realise most extraordinarily is how it didn’t happen overnight. For rocks, it often took upwards of thousands of years.

In our own lives, we realise how change takes time. Maybe there’s something we’re hoping to alter in our lives. Perhaps we’ve just taken a new job. It’s possible some of us are trying desparately to stop smoking, under- or over-eating, drinking alcohol, beginning a new relationship. There may be any number of shifts to our lives. They all take time. Like those rocks do over the millennia, over a much shorter span of time—weeks, months or years—we will take the time and magically evolve, transforming into a quintessence of beauty.

Time in a Transforming World

Rocks also provide an obvious indication that the world was once a very different place. Some rocks possess linear layers of fine and then coarse grained inclusions. These are what geologists refer to as sedimentary rocks, evidence of processes such as erosion, weathering and precipitation. Perhaps hundreds of thousands of years ago, rivers may transported grains of sand, depositing them in some location, perhaps a delta. Over time, these gradually hardened through lithification. So, in the present, we encounter these rocks with little knowledge of the immense pressure from those above that were required to create them. We are at peace, looking around us as the birds sing, the water gently lapping along the coast.

In much the same way, we need to take a moment to appreciate how the world in which we exist is far different from how it was in the past. What we experience in our present are mere reflections of how things were in the past. Similar to rocks, they offer hints of what took place in their past. However, it is just that, it is simply an important reminder of from where we come. No more or no less. It is no longer who we are in the present. Like those rocks, we go forward, creating a new entity or self, developing and transforming throughout the beauty of time.

Rocks are subtle in how they have been woven in the warp and weft of time. Nonetheless, it is there if we gaze deeply enough. Still, they are lessons that can provide a map for us to navigate our way into the unknown and innermost recesses of our future.

1Rock pieces that differ in composition, etc., from the rock surrounding it, having been transported from its place of origin, esp by glacial action.

2Striations are lines which were ground onto rock surfaces by glacial ice moving over them. These often give a sense of the direction and orientation of the overlying ice.

Growing Connections

Growing Connections

Anyone who’s ever spent a little time in a nursing home or senior’s residence, speaking with residents has no doubt had a chance to delight in the pleasures of the past. As we all know, times were often hard. But there were sprinkles of joy throughout. And nestled amidst the myriad elements speaking of the often this foreign way of life, are valuable lessons we can apply to our lives in the here and now.

Learning From the Past

Where I live in Placentia, Newfoundland and Labrador, shared words have highlighted the joys and woes of lives lived decades ago. They touched on harvesting the bounty of gardens and the berrypicking trips amidst the lengthening shadows of August and September. Along with fishing and purchasing food stocks in the autumn, these actions helped to ensure a secure source of food over the winter.

In hearing these words, the concerns of the past invariably merge with present ones. The reminiscences of routines and traditions from previous years are inherently intertwined with current and widespread ideas and concerns for food security. How can such connections inform our understanding and ability to address food security and related community sustainability?

Challenges to Our Food Security

We’ve become increasingly aware of our food, from where that food comes and in general, the notion of food security. The Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador’s concept of food security mirror’s that of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. It states how food security “exists when all people at all times have physical and economic access to adequate amounts of nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate food to maintain a healthy and active life.” The issues that surround food security are undoubtedly complex.

Right here in Newfoundland and Labrador, these issues gather around sometimes intractable concerns. We’ve the lowest number of farms, we only have a 2-3 day supply of food if the ferries are delayed, we import 71% of the food we eat, 13.4% of households are food insecure,1 more than 26,000 (or 5% in the province) rely of food banks, our province has the highest rate of heart attacks in Canada, we generally eat fewer veggies and fruits, and we have the highest rate of diabetes in the country. Many places around the world may not share these specific difficulties, but they will likely have their own share of challenges.

Responding to Food Insecurity

However stubborn and grave the problems, solutions can still be found in initiatives that begin close to home, extending outward to encompass the wider world. So, closer to home, my experiences when speaking with seniors spoke of how the daily routines of gardening and food gathering, such as berrypicking, sought to achieve what we now regard as food security.

A community garden. By ricky-from-left-field – https://www.flickr.com/photos/69503658@N05/21315538268, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=101622773

At present, if we peer behind homes in Placentia or other communities, we often spy gardens that offer the fruits of labour—beets, potatoes, tomatoes, turnips and so on. Around Newfoundland and Labrador, a host of communities have also chosen to plant a community garden. To do so is a potentially an enriching, motivating and educational endeavour. Going to our plot at the community garden, we’ll meet friends, exchange ideas, and maybe even learn a new trick.

Harmonising Food System

Food First NL has also identified a five part food system that must work in harmony. Consisting of production, distribution, access, consumption and disposal, it is essential for us to ensure all components of this system are working smoothly and in harmony. If some element of distribution is impeded, for us, say the ferries are blocked by high wind, then the access to the food will be affected. Likewise, in some other part of the world, perhaps the distribution of the food has been negatively affected. Then, consequently, so will the access to that food. As you can see, our focus needs to be guaranteeing all elements work together. If so, our relationship with our food is then sustainable.

Before doing so, there are many things we’d need to improve in the province and country as a whole. We need to improve our support for farmers to make it a viable way of life. We need to strengthen our controls on the use of pesticides, the cost of feed and fertiser, seeds and more. There is a lot of room for improvement.

Still, there is always hope. Much as people have done in the past, residents and visitors to the community can have an increasingly assured access to safe and nutritious food. Alongside such efforts, for the community in general, by maintaining the heritage of gardens, we are collectively working to enhance different elements of the food system. We’re taking a further step toward food security and by extension, the sustainability of communities.

A Way to Sustainability

Invariably, food security and sustainability work hand in hand. As enshrined in the Sustainable Development Act (SNL2007 CHAPTER S-34) for Newfoundland and Labrador, sustainability refers to “the capacity of a thing, action, activity or process to be maintained indefinitely in a manner consistent with the future use, enjoyment and development of natural resources.” When we work towards food security by planting and growing our food, we can also help make certain that subsequent generations have access to the food they need to survive and thrive in their community.

The reminiscences of seniors who may now live in places such as the Lions Manor Nursing Home are perhaps reminders for us all. Their words signal that efforts made decades ago hold the key to current concerns. It is in our interest to cultivate the growing connections between past and present, for such connections can yield both the sustainability and contentment of our communities.

1Food insecurity means a household has an insecure access to adequate food due to financial constraints.

Being On the Boardwalk

Being On the Boardwalk

Photograph of the one side of the boardwalk (Source: Lee Everts).

Regardless of the season, the colour of the sky, whether calm or forceful gale, there is bound to be someone who can be found running, rambling or being propelled by the wind on the boardwalk. Built in part in the early 1980s and then continued in the the early 1990s, the boardwalk sits atop a seawall. It has become an iconic element of the Town of Placentia.

Enhanced by three gazebos, one is located near Oceanview Efficiency Units. Another is on the other side by the road turning to Southeast and the other is near the Jerseyside beach. Painted a vivid blue, perhaps a reflection of a blue sky, real or simply imagined, the boardwalk is an unmistakable asset for the Placentia area.

Apparently it was a George Trevelyan who, in 1913, uttered these words — “I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” Too true. Without question walking is immensely good for your health, both physical and mental.

Walking has been hailed for its contributions to our physical health. Health Canada touts physical activity as a sure path to healthy living. For seniors, in particular, Health Canada lauds the benefits of a “weight-bearing physical activity” as helping to reduce the rate of bone loss linked with osteoporosis, maintenance of strength, flexibility, balance, coordination and it can can help reduce the risk of falls, as well. However, regardless of age, from children to seniors, a place such as the boardwalk provides access to an activity that can enhance physical health.

Gazebo on the one side of the boardwalk (Source: Lee Everts).

But anyone who’s taken a walk along the boardwalk will know that this simple pleasure and activity is beneficial to body and mind. As the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s “Mental Health Promotion” notes, the one is connected to the other. For instance, one of the key benefits of mental health promotion is an improvement to physical health.

So, the two are tightly interwoven. Given this connection, the Public Health Agency of Canada notes how regular physical activity “can improve your overall sense of well-being by improving fitness levels and self-esteem, reducing the effects of stress, increasing energy and contributing to positive mental health.”

For instance, taking a walk along the boardwalk provides both a time and a place where the rigours or simply the regular routines of the day, can fade into the background. Perhaps it’s been a frustrating or worrisome day. To be sure, we may have to again gather up those thoughts and worries when we return from a walk along the boardwalk. Still, every now and then, they’ve lost some of their vigour and potency once we do. Taking a walk will sometimes allow some time for us to mentally sift through the nooks and crannies of the concern. So, we return to our day with a different and perhaps improved perspective.

And as well, when taking a walk along the boardwalk, we may meet someone we know. Speak with many who have strolled along the boardwalk in Placentia and they will quickly remark how they invariably meet people whom they know. So, whether it’s merely a smile we exchange, a brief “how’re you doing” and comment about the weather or perhaps a longer chat, the boardwalk brings us together.

Either way, a walk, run or trundle on the boardwalk is a shared pursuit, one allowing us to enjoy and experience the inherent ties that, however quietly and imperceptibly, connect us. Without question, it’s a lovely place to be!

The Wisdom of the Boreal Forest

The Wisdom of the Boreal Forest

Photograph of a mixture of balsam firs, spruce and larch (Source: Lee Everts).

I’m in such awe of them. I look at their rough and straggly bark, some leaning over, old webs strung raggedly amidst the branches and maybe some Old Man’s Beard, a type of lichen, clinging to them. I think of how steadfast and noble are our boreal trees and how much they must know.

Ancient Trees

I lean against one tree, the other one that used to stand alongside it, now fallen, acquiescing to the gentle songs of decomposition and decay. I can’t help but think of the heritage of these trees. The depth of human heritage can stretch back to around 11.6-5.3 million years ago, and that’s respectable enough.

Homo sapiens are the most recent evolutionary spin-off of that line—that’s us. We can only lay claim to 315,000 years since we broke off and went our own way. Despite it being a long time, in stark contrast, trees can call on a much deeper past—around 400 million years, in fact. To compare the two is impossible.

So, for me, trees must be far superior to humans. What had changed in their biology or ecology when they were at 12 million years, let alone 315,000 years, and then simply discarded? We’re mere infants by comparison.

The boreal forest regally crowns the planet, stretching across 8 more northerly countries—Canada, China, Finland, Japan, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. It covers approximately one-third of the world’s land surface—more than 15.3 million square miles. For us in Canada, the boreal forest lays claim to around 60% of the country.

Patience is a Virtue

Several trees make their home in Newfoundland and Labrador, in particular, the province where I live. The balsam fir is one of the primary trees in the boreal forest that covers the entire province. The fir is often joined by the black spruce, larch or tamarack as it’s sometimes known, pine, as well as deciduous trees including the trembling aspen, balsam poplar and various types of birch. The first three are common on the trails where I walk.

Throughout the year, the trees must periodically withstand seemingly gale force winds, often over 100 km/h. The day after such a storm, I’ll walk along the trail and invariably there will be trees bent over or

lying strewn over the trail.

Photograph of blown down balsam firs (Source: Lee Everts).

The circle of roots at their base has simply lifted as the tree toppled over. The balsam fir and the black spruce tend to have shallow root systems, thus allowing them to be readily thrown over by the wind.

I love walking through certain parts of the woods to see the rich variety of growth. Often, there’s moss and a variety of plants on the floor of the woods, the moss ringing the base of the trees. The moss has also often enshrouded the rocks and boulders, sometimes trees taking root on their surface. There are other sections where it is virtually carpeted with young balsam fir.

Photograph of balsam fir seedlings on the floor of the forest (Source: Lee Everts).

Photograph of moss covering boulders (Source: Lee Everts).

They are unbothered by the lack of sunlight, as balsam fir are known to be shade tolerant. But as a result, the balsam fir can readily respond to the challenges posed by the wind. As soon as the wind overturns one of the more mature firs, several of those smaller firs will quickly begin to savour the greater amounts of sun now reaching them and begin to grow.

So, there’s almost a type of patience inherent in such a behaviour. Some may say, but they’re just trees. What would they know about patience? But it’s more accurately a way of being that exemplifies patience. It’s demonstrative of the great stretch of time trees have had to realise or learn it is best to wait. It’ll work. For the younger trees, their time will eventually come. That’s how evolution works after all.

Display of Determination

While the balsam fir has a method for addressing adversity, the black spruce does its own thing. For the black spruce, its winged seeds that had fluttered to the ground from its parent’s cone simply waited for more ideal conditions, in this case, light, in which to grow. To my eyes, it was a reflection of sheer determination. It’s a quality shared with trees in general.

Under normal conditions, the Black spruce gets the job done. It possesses female cones and male cones, making it monecious. The female cones with the eggs cells, where the seeds develop, tend to grow on the upper 1 to 2 metres of the tree. Meanwhile, the male cones containing the pollen are lower down. In late May or early June, the male cone swells and opens, the pollen then being caught by the wind. If all goes well, that pollen will reach the female cones which are simultaneously opening. And its planned to ensure genetic viability is maintained, as the one trees pollen reaches another spruce’s female cones.

Photograph of a red squirrel happily eating a cone (Source: Lee Everts).

For the larch, it’s much the same, except the male and female cones appear on the same branches. They are active in different years. Although the male flowers are borne on 1- or 2- branchlets, the female ones are borne on 2- to 4-year on ones. So, it maintains its genetic viability.

Fires Offering a New Beginning

As I rambled along the trail, contemplating the trees reproducing, I was put in mind of the keen resilience, in particular, of the Black spruce. You see, the Black Spruce has something else up its sleeve. There are times when the woods are susceptible to fire. That’s just a natural part of life. However, the Black spruce is prepared for such an occasion. The waxy exterior on their cones are actually readily melted by fire. Jump starting the new generation of trees, the seedlings are then released onto a seedbed fire-cleared of any existing vegetation. This would’ve normally impeded the new growth. Fire is always regarded as utter destruction and devastation, but after 300 million years of evolution, for a Black spruce, it’s a new beginning.

Strength

Pausing along the trail, I take a seat on a fallen fir. Looking all around me, I’m in a section of the woods where the balsam fir is more dominant, just every now and then I see a spruce. Yet when I ponder the woods, I feel all the trees exhibit a strength. They know what to do when they meet various forms of adversity—wind, fire or otherwise. Every year, the cones on the trees grow, time passes and then the little buds appear. It’s magical. They always seem to stand impervious to the elements, whether rain or snow.

They’ve had hundreds of millions of years to work things out. Something that didn’t work, perhaps a bad choice, was soon whittled away over the centuries, leaving trees who simply and peacefully, know how to be. We need only listen and indeed learn.

Sources:

https://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/what-we-do/resource-centre/forests-101/boreal-forest.html

https://www.science.org/content/article/world-s-first-trees-grew-splitting-their-guts

https://www.britannica.com/science/human-evolution

https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/picmar/all.html

http://www.naturenorth.com/winter/blspruce/Fblsprce_4.html

https://www.hww.ca/assets/pdfs/factsheets/boreal-forest-factsheet.pdf

https://newfoundland-labradorflora.ca/flora/dview/?id=125

https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/misc/ag_654/volume_1/larix/laricina.htm

Pale Blue Dot

Pale Blue Dot

“Pale Blue Dot.” The earth can be seen in the middle of the ray of light on the furthest right. Given the size of the image, the earth appears as only a mere pin-prick.

As of the 21th January, 2022, it was 23.307 billion kilometres from earth. That means the Voyager I space probe is now the most distant artificial object from home and indeed the first to have left our solar system. Though these may seem practical words merely stating a fact, they convey an awe-inspiring gravity.

Launched on the 5th September, 1977, Voyager I spent decades within our solar system collecting data—discovering a thin ring around Jupiter and two new Jovan moons were but two of its discoveries. Carl Sagan, a scientist of astronomy and astrophysics was a member of the NASA team responsible for Voyager I. He had a particular idea.

The idea was that before Voyager I crossed the boundary into interstellar space1, NASA would transmit a critial command sequence to its computers. The instruction would be for the Voyager I’s camera to turn back towards earth and take one final snapshot of us before it left. The resulting picture was taken and it became known as the “pale blue dot,” a phrase coined by Sagan. It was simple enough. However, while the subsequent image of our planet only appeared to be a few millimetres in length, its meaning was orders of magnitude greater.

With a feeling of supreme humility, one gazes at this photograph. Life continues on that pale blue dot and has for millions of years. For humans, late arrivals to the biosphere, there are constant conflicts and difficulties with which we contend. They involve an innumerable number of people on our planet. Social and political struggles afflict us in every way. Many times, it is the ravening hunger for power and money that lies at its heart. Too many lives are lost in its pursuit.

Likewise, countless joys have been played out on that pale blue dot. People giving and sharing kindness and exhibiting compassion and dignity to others in myriad ways, sometimes breathtaking in their sheer wholeheartedness. This has made every difference, ensuring that no matter how distraught and downtrodden our lives may become, there are always means by which we can overcome.

So, when we cast an eye to the pale blue dot, even the most steadfast and striving dictator must pause. For it is with an eye to this image that we are reminded how we are truly one. This is the case, despite the innumerable differences and disparities of colour, religion, economic status, sex, way of life that unhinge our lives. However, those differences do not matter.

Ultimately, we are life. The trees, birds, insects, reptiles, mammals, single-celled species. All of us. Of course we are different. And periodically, we may be wooed by a feeling of power granted by our position economically, militarily, or politically. Still, before we act, it is vital we remember that this creature, two or four-legged we intend to impose our rule over shares this lonely planet amidst billions of light years all around—and has done so for a very long time.

We may be alone in this immense universe. But we are together, bound innately—genetically in fact. Scientists have learned that 99.9 percent of the genetic information in a human’s DNA is common to all of us. Whatever is not included accounts for the remaining 0.01 percent differences in things like hair, eye and skin colour, height and susceptibility to particular diseases. It’s barely anything. Still, one, we are.

In fact, we apparently share 98.7% of our genetic sequencing with chimpanzees. But more surprisingly, we actually share 90% with the Abyssinian house cat and on average, 85% with mice. That’s fairly close. More notably, we share more than 50% of our genetic information with plants—60% with a banana. We’re more than half plant.

When we look upon that tiny blue dot, it seems so unimportant, a minuscule bit of nothingness. Over the thousands of years we have been here, each and every one of us has sought to live a life of meaning, full and replete with both exuberant joys and unfortunate woes of every kind.

We can let Carl Sagan have the final word.

— Carl Sagan

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Sources:

Sagan, Carl (1997). Pale Blue Dot. United States: Random House USA Inc. p. 6-7. ISBN 9780345376596

https://sciencing.com/animals-share-human-dna-sequences-8628167.html

1This is known as the heliopause, the place where the contant from of material and magnetic field from the sun ceases to affect its surroundings.

Phantom Ships — Strange and Mysterious

Phantom Ships — Strange and Mysterious

The Flying Duthman By Albert Pinkham Ryder – Transferred from English Wikipedia; en:File:Flying Dutchman, the.jpg ; Original uploader is/was en:User:Efenstor, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1305876

For centuries, we’ve been left spellbound, listening to stories of ships disappearing without a trace. With bated breath, we hear of boats that have been sighted, eerily surrounded by glowing lights, on fire, or sailed by men rowing and screaming. It sends a chill down our spines. We have entered into a troubled world, one where stories such as the Flying Dutchman ensure that everything we thought we knew is quietly turned on its head. We are riveted.

Placentia Bay is not unaccustomed to the strange and mysterious. It is home to many stories of what are known as “phantom ships.” Stories emerging from centuries past speak of unworldly sightings. One told of a ship with black sails that was seen on a calm night. The crew on another ship apparently remarked on the white foam flying from her bow. Another near Harbour Buffett, spoke of how two men on night watch aboard a schooner saw a dory rowed by two men in oilskins. The dory travelled beside the schooner all night, before it “withered away into thin air.”

These accounts come from a time when many customarily travelled by boat. So, many of the stories tied to the phantom ships were actually used practically. Often, they foretold of the weather. There was a phantom ship that would appear near Davis Cove (near Castle Gut), in western Placentia Bay. It is said the appearance of the phantom steam-powered pirate ship would warn of an oncoming storm. In Brule, the sight of a phantom ship and its lights accompanied by the sound of men working and an engine also foreboded of bad weather.

So, here we had stories of mysterious ships that were a part of the thoughts and ideas people exchanged. They complemented well with the workaday life of the people, speaking of valuable information they could use while on the sea.

Given that more people were on the sea, there would’ve likely been numerous sightings. One can imagine everyone discussing the weird things they had seen or heard while busily unloading their catches. Then, as now, people would’ve been fascinated by stories that left them with a question of what happened. “It disappeared?” they would’ve said, aghast at the thought and no doubt, now intrigued.

No one likes unanswered questions or unknowns. The only option would’ve been to imagine what likely could’ve occurred. We do that all the time as we try to fit the pieces together in what appears to be the most sensible way. Every new sighting would’ve added a dash of spice to the story. By our nature, we instinctively seek an explanation, answers to somehow fill in the empty spaces to the story.

For some, these stories allowed people to exercise their deductive reasoning, to derive a conclusion from something that is known or assumed. What made sense, they would ask. We are all eager to understand the inexplicable. Near Lear’s Cove on the eastern shore of Placentia Bay came the story of the Ada Maud Best (more likely the Ada and Maud). It apparently left with three men, but returned empty, drifting alone. As a result, many believed it to be haunted. It was owned by the Best family of whom Clarence, Kenneth, and George Best, sons of Joshua Best, the owner, were among those lost.

There is little doubt that most would’ve likely deduced that a horrible accident had indeed claimed the lives of the fishermen. Perhaps an unexpected storm. Members of the community likely exchanged possible stories of what had likely occurred. However, time and story are commonly required to soften the details of a rather unpleasant affair. So, casting it with a light of intrigue and mystery may have somehow helped to diminish the very harsh realities of the sea.

Ultimately, we are often left with the unknown, a situation that is as alarming as it is alluring. We may shrug our shoulders, accepting how there are countless things we will neither ever understand, nor comprehend. In our blissful ignorance, with starlit eyes, we are left to merely wonder.

Sources:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/ghost-ships-map-mun-1.5543555

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_ship

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Dutchman

Time to Move On

Time to Move On

Simple. Just keep it simple was what you always used to say. Ursula smiled as she knelt down, clearing away a few more of the weeds. Her husband, Mick was never very showy, either. Never cared what others thought of him, even in the end when he had to use the wheelchair. ‘Do what ya gotta do,’ she could hear him saying. The sedum she’d planted a year ago was well on its way now. She’s glad she’d just decided to plant something, rather than always carting flowers up every week, just to see them blow away.

“Well, I had a nice week. I’ve just been keeping to myself. You know me.” She paused for a moment as some leaves twirled in the wind. “You were always the one who spoke with everyone. Me, no.” She shook her head to add emphasis. “But you’ll be proud of me. I’m thinking about doing something—something I’ve never done before.” Ursula looked up, smiling, her eyes glistening. “I know you always said I needed to get out more. I remember you always telling me ‘What are you gonna do when I’m gone,’ she said, imitating his voice. “Guess you are now. Funny that, eh. Y’know, it feels like it was just yesterday you were here. Think it’s been about two years, now. Since you’re gone. This October, it’ll be.” Ursula wiped away a wisp of hair that had escaped her braid, a tear dropping to the wiry grass.

Her mind travelled back to the day. She remembers the sound of the dirt landing on the coffin like it was yesterday. Sharp and distinct. And the smell of the egg salad sandwiches Mrs. Peabody had made for the meal they’d had after the funeral. She looked around and breathed in the air. It’s been such a beautiful autumn day. The leaves were only beginning to turn colour, leaving the cemetery looking like it was part of those old-style landscape scenes.

A couple walked by who seemed to be just reading the headstones. Her eyes quickly darted up and then back down again, a ghost of a smile crossing her lips. She could hear snippets of their conversation—“This one’s from 1881” and “Look at this one”—until it faded away as they grew more distant. She waited to make sure.

“As I said, I’m thinking of doing what you were always trying to get me to do. I don’t know. I’m not sure about the piano. I know you said that’s the one I know best, but …” she said, leaving her sentence hanging. “No. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to ever go back there again.” She laughed wryly, looking into the distance, the jagged skyline of the city defining the horizon. “Oh, I know you’d say, I’ve got to finally put all that stuff in the past. Find a way to forgive, you always used to say. But I don’t know.

“As I told you, my mother actually passed on, something like a year after you. Finally. I didn’t feel anything, I have to say.” Her chin rose obstinately. She closed her eyes, her mind straggling back to those shadowy days.

Ursula always remembered how she’d pray for 1 0’clock to not come, maybe something would happen and her mother couldn’t make it. But as the bell struck, she had to be at the piano, seated and back straight. Her mom was always strict about that. “Keep your back straight,” she’d harshly tell her, her ruler clattering against the piano. She laughed remembering how it broke the one time.

Sometimes when she’d be playing, she’d make a mistake. Down would come the edge of the ruler on her hands, her mother barking, “No! Do it again. Properly, this time!” She rubbed her knuckles, massaging them as she recalled. Whenever it would happen, she’d always keep her eyes steadfastly ahead of her. The menacing sound of the metronome was sternly re-set and Ursula would have to play the piece again. She had come to despise the piano.

“No, I wasn’t sorry to see her go. She so hated me.” Ursula yanked vehemently at a stubborn weed. “I know you always said she had her own troubles and that’s why she was so horrible. Mother was worse with poor Marigold, bless her soul. She drove her to the grave. I know that. It’s like I used to tell you. She made poor Marigold go up and down, see to this, see to that. I always used to ask Marigold why she’s doing it. I guess I was just glad I’d already left by then because I knew it would’ve been me had I been there. You were always seeing the good side of everyone—I don’t know how you saw anything good in her. She paused and smiled.

“But gee, before I forget, I’ve gotta tell you about what I want to do. Well, I was walking downtown a little while ago, past one of the charity shops. And yes, just so you know, I’m able to walk a little more, even though I’ve got a slight limp. It’ll get better, though.” Ursula absent-mindedly ran her hand along the words of his name on the headstone. She was jarred back to her thoughts by the kaw of a crow. “Anyway, I wasn’t really paying any attention—you know how I am. So, I was just about to walk by when all of a sudden, I saw it. I heard it,” she said, emphasising her words. “Oh, it was beautiful, let me tell you. I mean, what do I know about guitars. Y’know, for some reason, it felt like it was calling out to me. It really did. And you know what?! I went inside and bought it! Isn’t that wonderful?!

“Now, I’m not sure about tuning or anything like that.” She rolled her eyes. “Listen to me. Like I know anything about it! I’ll go to someone to make sure it’s in good working order and all that. But I remember running my hands over the wood and it was glorious! I put it up to my nose and it smelled just like the wood you used to work with. Beautiful. Oh, you’d love it.”

“I even looked on the computer a bit and they said, it apparently doesn’t matter what age you are, you can always learn a new instrument. I was worried about that, I guess. But there ya go. Me at what, seventy-one learning a new instrument. And there were all these things they said would help people like me. It’s almost like a whole new world I’ll enter with its very own language!

“What I read is that adults have spent a lifetime listening to music and so we can get more of a sense of the structure of music. I mean, more than kids. What else did they say?” She thought for a moment. “We really want to learn, so unlike kids, no one is there forcing you to do it. I know that very well, don’t I? Also, it increases our grey matter,” she said, tapping the side of her head. “It also helps to deal with stress, too.” Ursula snapped her fingers. “What else? It eases your breathing. Well, more so if you play something like a trumpet or clarinet.” She pulled her shoulders back and closed her eyes, breathing in deeply. Ursula opened them again and playfully falling forward, she giggled. “You’re probably thinking I’m out of my mind. I don’t think I’ve laughed like this since ….” Her face grew suddenly serious, her eyes glossy and shimmering. She stared off into nothingness.

“That’s how it’s felt, y’know. I haven’t laughed … I haven’t wanted to laugh since you left.” The tears ran down her face. But eventually, she clasped her hands as if in joy and shut her eyes tightly. “Do you think it’s time, my love? My sweet love. I won’t forget you. Never. But that guitar, it sang to me, I tell you no word of a lie,” her voice just barely a whisper. “And it virtually beckoned me to go with it. I feel like there is a bejewelled path it’ll lead me on. Oh, I feel that I’ll be going to the ends of the earth now with it as my guide. But my love, you’ll be with me every step of the way. I promise.” She tenderly touched the headstone. “Time to move on.” I know that’s what you’d say.

To Stress a Peaceful Life

To Stress a Peaceful Life

We’ve all been low. Most of us are no stranger to those times when we simply don’t know how to go on. Exhausted, we ask, how can we even begin to contend with this problem—there doesn’t seem to be a way out? The notion of simply putting one foot in front of the other and moving on seems impossible. These are the unforgiving moments in our lives when our spirits have been brought down, an unbearable pressure laid on us. Is there any relief?

A Stressed Life

It’s all about stress. None of us are surprised when we learn that stress is one of the top reasons why we find ourselves lost and hopeless. We are confronted in every quarter of our lives with pressures that will lead unerringly to it. For some of us, we are experiencing financial difficulties. Life is grave, for only after some painful contortions of our bank accounts are we able to cobble together next month’s rent or mortgage payment. But what about the one after that? In two Canadian studies, 48% said they’ve lost sleep over financial worries. And 44% say it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their pay was late. Such problems exert tremendous amounts of stress on us and we are often left feeling defeated.

Otherwise, we encounter difficulties in our workplaces. Sometimes it can be the fear of potentially losing our jobs. As far as we’re concerned, it’s our very lives that seem to be at stake. Some experience the tensions brought on by conflicts or disagreements with colleagues. In other respects, especially in the various health professions, people are overworked and struggling to make time for the other elements of their lives—families, friends or simple recreation. All of these challenges bring with them a great degree of stress.

Taking care of a loved one experiencing medical challenges is always a very difficult and sometimes a traumatic task. Those who accept these burdens are willing to care for their loved one, something that varies in its degree. It could mean simply providing support and ‘being there’ to actually conducting medical procedures. But it takes its toll, the worry and the personal sacrifices that have to be selflessly made. These few examples I’ve offered only touch on a fraction of life situations that carry with them a sometimes crushing amount of stress.

Short-Term Stress

And under stress, people’s overall health is affected. We must bear in mind that stress isn’t automatically detrimental. It can be either good or bad—it depends. One thing we know for certain is that our brain and immune systems are in constant contact. During short-term stress, our immune system is activated, thus enhancing our immunoprotective responses including wound healing, vaccination, as well as providing an anti-infectious agent and anti-tumour functions. Hormones also work to produce symptoms known more customarily as a ‘fight or flight’ response. That’s good.

Chronic Stress

Although, the story’s different if it’s more chronic stress. With long-term or chronic stress, our immune system responses are suppressed. In so doing, they induce low-grade chronic inflammation, in addition to suppressing the number, trafficking and function of immunoprotective cells. It also dampens less immediate bodily functions. In contrast to shorter term stress, chronic stress does the opposite by reducing immune responses to infection, limiting wound recovery and impeding immunity provided by vaccinations. Chronic inflammation is particularly negative as, if it is persistent, it can lead to chronic diseases affecting central organs in our bodies like our heart.

Dealing With Stress

Any one of us who have ever been confronted by these trying conditions can readily identify how harmful and destabilising they are to our mental and physical well-being. But there are ways we can potentially dial down our stress. One of the first things to do is just move. Go for a walk, bike ride, or anything that will get your heart pumping a little. If we are near the seaside or in some natural setting, all the better. But even if we’re surrounded on all sides by glass and steel, in the end it doesn’t matter. Just go. And when we do so, our bodies naturally release a few hormones that can make our path a little more smooth.

Endorphins are released when we are vigorously exercising, but even for less intense exercise, it will do so. They’re our natural pain relief and they also promote feelings of pleasure. They’re released simply because our bodies aren’t sure of the nature of our exertion. Is this life or death? It can’t know and so, we receive a dose of endorphins just in case. To top it off, we may also get a portion of other more happy-day hormones such as dopemine. We are left feeling eager to meet goals, desires and needs and it also enhances our pleasure in achieving them. Serotonin is another that accompanies feelings of significance or importance.

Other actions we can take to combat stress include ensuring our diets are healthy. When stressed, we need to curb our tendency to, for one, overeat or to lean on foods carrying very little nutrition. Particularly highly processed food will be the most tasty and easy to access meal, albeit the least nutritious. Another good practice is to simply remember to take time for ourselves. Be kind. Read a good book, prepare a healthy meal. or practise a hobby. We can also use some of our time to be with family or friends.

There is Hope

The idea is to find means by which we can depressurise. Not only are we separating ourselves from the reality or situation causing us stress. We can also take that moment to put things in a better perspective. No, the sky is not falling and there is a way out. When we are calmer, solutions often arise that are least expected and usually from out of the blue. Stress seeks to box us in and trap us inside. We steadily lose hope in the blackness. But in the end, we are always the ones holding the keys to our freedom.

Sources:

http://depressionfree.com/non-clinical.html

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24798553/

https://www.news-medical.net/health/How-does-Stress-Affect-Your-Immune-System.aspx

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/16-ways-relieve-stress-anxiety#7.-Spend-time-with-friends-and-family

https://health.umms.org/2020/11/10/stress-immune-system/

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/hacking-into-your-happy-c_b_6007660?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAADj8a7jtlEfekFt3NwB6OxSkObcuW6wvKWkl8Ds6CNBaAip6R9Tq53X9gYSW0liClme_BPv3LAaOcw4FgJLVZ0nS-nOGStly6Ezk_hc-VX9Iz38M7VfuyGa6MsHbuJLxq_cNzJL3oQ6BFgQpriutyRGzeALyiOlaMNqwwn11qgQhttps://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Individuals-with-Mental-Illness/Taking-Care-of-Your-Body/Managing-Stress

The Spirit of Gardening

The Spirit of Gardening

The signs are everywhere. The temperatures are rising, the first signs of buds are appearing, and in some places, we can even see the points of leaves almost magically pushing through the soil. With a contented sigh, many of us will stray into our gardens, now, assessing what needs to be done in the coming few months. One thing’s for sure, we do so spurred by a deep-seated bond, one reflecting the innate connections with our gardening world.

Meditative State

Gardening can be truly serene. It often provides those peaceful and prolonged times when we can be in touch with ourselves and the meanings that guide us throughout our lives. When I first go out into my garden in the spring, it soon finds me clipping back the old plants—the sedum and foxglove. We snuggle into a comfortable spot and begin snipping the old stalks, our minds not necessarily thinking about anything. In a way, it’s almost like we reach some sort of meditative state. We may not be “thinking” about anything at all, yet the repetitive and rhythmic nature of gardening takes us away, almost leading to another state of consciousness.

Stress

The act of gardening is a pastime that does wonders in reducing stress. By reaching a meditative state, we are largely distracted as our minds become consumed by what we are doing. Hours can pass by unnoticed as we ignore all the concerns and worries customarily cluttering our minds. And stress is not something to be disregarded. Our entire system—muscular, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, and nervous—is affected in some manner. However, even after just half an hour of gardening, we’ll finish and feel rejuvenated and refreshed. We shouldn’t be surprised.

Be Patient

Like its ability to curtail stress, gardening also urges patience. What we are ultimately saying when we’re feeling impatient is “I don’t have the time for this” and most importantly, “I’m angry about it.” Some say that emotions including anger, irritation, blaming, and shaming are all the opposite of patience. This is why we’re told that when we’re feeling impatient, take a few deep breaths. Let it pass. But gardening instils in us the need to wait and take the time. Time is almost the beauty of it. After all, it not only takes time to plant our gardens. It takes an equal amount of time, if not more, for it to grow. We know there is no point in being impatient. In fact, there is every point in not minding the wait, as our reward will far outweigh any amount of time we had to wait.

Being Creative

As we go out into our gardens, it is impossible not to envision what we’d like to do in the coming year. Gardening is never something that comes to an end. We’re constantly experimenting with new plants and exploring different techniques by which to show them off. In doing so, gardens offer a blank canvas to constantly change, as well as create. The sky is the limit.

Our gardens provide an opportunity to expand and exercise all our sensations. Roaming into our gardens, we are overwhelmed by the perfumed aroma, the visual splendour, and the myriad sounds of the birds and bees interacting with the panoply of plants and flowers. Flowers that have dropped to the ground, we pick up, feeling their velvety contours. There is no end to the sensory experience.

To Be in Awe

It is through our interaction and interplay with these plants that they have come to be. We could never force them to do our bidding and still yield this sensual splendour. Rather, we need to somehow work with them, preparing the soil, watering them regularly, removing any plants that can impede their growth. When we witness the results, we are in awe. And so, we are able to place our lives in perspective, recognising we are in touch with the vastness of the earth and by extension, the universe. Thus we humbly note how we are soothingly a part of something that is indeed greater than ourselves. We are a part of the whole.

At is very simplest and most magical, gardening also offers us a chance to be of service. Certainly we are to the others with whom we may share the fruits of our efforts. There is no greater joy than to receive a fruit or vegetable that has been formed graciously by the love of the giver and of the earth. More so, our efforts also serve the earth, as the remaining leaves and stems of the plant eventually return to the life-giving soil. The minerals and nutrients will then be ready to spur the growth of the following year.

Casting a Spell

Gardening is a pastime that never fails to evoke a calming effect. Peace. Too often, our lives are tightly entangled by any number of situations. Each demands our attention and we find ourselves caught in a thorny thicket of unending thoughts. We seek relief. And when we wander into our garden and kneel down, something wondrous begins to happen. We begin to weed or cut back any of the unwanted over-growth and before we know it, the spell is cast and we are gone, leaving our trouble behind. Such is the spirit of gardening.