Tag Archive | Biology

How Noisy is Too Noisy?

The United Kingdom’s energy strategy for the future is heavily reliant on off-shore wind turbines. The unknown element here is how the underwater noise of these turbines, during construction, and in usage, will effect the environment. The University of Newcastle’s Sustainability blog posted about the preliminary challenges of these turbines.

wind turbines

The masts which hold the turbines must initially be hammered into the sea floor, destroying habitat space, and causing loud echos and rippling waves from it’s center. In coalition with other University research teams, Newcastle’s research team spent four days on the water collecting samples of species and water with various technologies in order to map the ecosystem before construction, during, and usage periods. This will help them understand the effects of underwater noise in their marine ecosystems, and design ways of limiting potential issues into the future. Read their blog post for more information on this endeavor, and other sustainability news.


In July 2013 the RV Princess Royal was home to a group of UK underwater sound specialists, called the Bio-Acoustic Research Consortium (BARC). This new project is led by Dr Per Berggren from Newcastle University’sSchool of Marine Science and Technology and it brings together a range of noise specialists, ecologists and industry professionals with a common aim: to better understand the impact of underwater noise on marine ecosystems.

The consortium has attracted grant funding from the Natural Environment Research Council’sMarine Renewables Knowledge Exchange Programme to explore the environmental challenges associated with offshore wind development, an industry that continues to grow rapidly. The Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability (NIReS), also supplied a small grant towards equipment costs which has funded the purchase of six hydrophones, called C-Pods, for detecting marine mammals. It is hoped the knowledge gained from the project can be fed directly back to industry…

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Beans and Bunny Go Outside


Kate from Beans and Bunny Go Outside is an Ontario-based biologist who is the mother of two daughters nicknamed Beans (6) and Bunny (8). Her blog is devoted to sharing her family’s adventures in nature and answering all of the many questions that her daughters come up with as they explore the natural world around them. As her homepage states, “Sometimes it takes a kid to make us stop, smell the flowers and identify the bugs living on them.”


Beans and Bunny Go Outside is a fun, creative, and educational blog fit for anyone who wants to learn more about the environment or for mothers who want inspiration on how to get their children enjoying and interacting with nature. Beans and Bunny Go Outside is part of the Outdoor Blogger Network and is approved by the Top Mommy Blog list.
If you would like to visit Beans and Bunny Go Outside and learn more about the natural world from a biologist and her kids, click here!

A New Coral Reef Species from the Gambier Islands, French Polynesia

A variety of shapes, ornaments and coloration in smaller colonies of Echinophyllia tarae.

The new speciesEchinophyllia taraeis described from the remote and poorly studied Gambier Islands, French Polynesia. Although the new species is common in the lagoon of Gambier Islands, its occurrence elsewhere is unknown.Echinophyllia taraelives in protected reef habitats and was observed between 5 and 20 m depth. It is a zooxanthellate species which commonly grows on dead coral fragments, which are also covered by crustose coralline algae and fleshy macroalgae.

This species can grow on well illuminated surfaces but also encrusts shaded underhangs and contributes to the formation of coral reefs in the Gambier. It is characterized by large polyps and bright often mottled colourations and it is very plastic in morphology like most hard corals. Patterns of partial death and recovery of the species were often observed and could be due to competition with other benthic invertebrates like the soft-bodied corallimorpharians or zoanthids which can co-occur with this species.

Read the full story here.

Connections in Cow-Town

The drive to Calgary went quickly, and I soon arrived at the school for my presentation. I was tired from the early drive, but the show went well, the kids enjoyed the singing as always, and were thrilled with the colourful stickers I handed out at the end. Then it was on to Nikki’s house. I hadn’t seen this friend in years–we had met in London, England nearly ten years earlier, and it was she who had initially introduced me to my publisher and his wife. Nikki and I had met online while looking for a baseball team in London (a difficult thing to find, it turns out). But we found each other, discovered that we were both from the same part of the world, and had both attended UVIC. Next thing you know, she had introduced me to a network of ex-pats from Vancouver and Victoria, and I suddenly had a new social circle. When we returned to Canada we wound up on different ends, her in Victoria and me in Toronto, so over the years we lost touch, but now here she was in Calgary, offering to host me for my ten-day stint in the city. The oddest part was, in a completely unrelated twist of fate, since I had seen her last she had married a man who had played soccer with my brother when they were boys, and who had been coached by my father. So I suppose our friendship was meant to me.

My snowy suburban neighbourhood in Calgary

My snowy suburban neighbourhood in Calgary

I arrived at a pretty little house in a cute suburban neighbourhood, and was greeted at the door by Nikki, a rust-coloured lab, and a red-haired baby. I was smitten at once but the baby, who promptly crawled right up to me at speed, grabbed my pants and pulled himself to standing, thrust his arms toward me and said ‘up!’ Wow. I’d never met a friendlier baby. Their dog was equally gregarious, and greeted me at the door every time I came in throughout the course of my stay. So I often found myself in this house with a copper-haired baby on my hip and a copper-coated dog at my heels, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Nikki and I soon caught up, and I was delighted to find her to be the kindest and most energetic of hostesses. I had a large room and a bathroom all to myself in the basement,= so I was more than comfortable in my new lodgings. Her husband had many funny stories to share about his soccer days with my brother, and we spent much time reminiscing about our days in London.

The weather most days was cold, crisp and bright, and I often came out to a snow-covered or entirely frozen vehicle in the mornings. The show I was working was located at the opposite end of town, and as it turns out, Calgary is a fairly well spread-out city. I was shocked to discover that this little town of only 1 million could possibly possess so many highways that seemed to go on quite literally forever. My first weekend there, all I saw was the suburb where I was staying, the tradeshow grounds, and endless stretches of highway. The show was located in a series of buildings in the middle of a huge snowy field surrounded by numerous parking lots, and navigation was a major challenge. It was just so vast! My booth was in a building called the Riding Hall, that normally houses horses when it’s not filled with vendors hawking Christmas wares. The Spruce Meadows show was fabled to be the busiest tradeshow around. I actually had other vendors approaching the first morning to tell me how great the show was last year, and how everyone was expecting big things this year. I was braced for a busy first day.

A common site on my Calgary mornings–one very frosty Sonata.

A common site on my Calgary mornings–one very frosty Sonata.

You could have heard a pin drop at times, the place was so quiet. Everyone was shocked. They had apparently extended last year’s ultra-busy show from two weekends to three, and had expanded the number of vendors substantially, which had the result of diluting the crowds to a significant degree. Vendors saw their sales drop to a fraction of what they has seen the previous year, and our first day wound up being the slowest of the tour so far. The entire first weekend was much the same, with the weakest sales of the trip yet. Spirit Bear sold well in spite of this, still keeping pace with the other books and even outselling them at times, which was surprising, as I found myself pitching it last, or not at all, since the other books were so much easier to get people excited about. But some people would gravitate to the tiny paperback, and again, people here seemed to know about the spirit bear, or to at least be curious, so this was heartening.

After the show was over, I had the rest of the week free, save for a few school visits here and there, so I decided to see the city. I made plans to meet with my childhood friend Mick, who I had last seen when he was about about 8 or 9 years of age. He was in his 30’s now, so this would be quite the reunion. We spoke on the phone and agreed to meet at a place called Model Milk on 17th, a street in Calgary famous for its hip bars and restaurants. I showed up a little late, and found Mick sitting at the bar inside. Now 6’2, this baby-faced child who had always been smaller than me (I am four years older) had grown into a bearded adult that towered over me. The funny thing was, in spite of the beard, his face hadn’t changed all that much, he was still the same boy with dark features and big brown eyes that I remembered from so many years ago. After greeting each other with a hug, we made our way upstairs to another bar where we had the pleasure of watching the chefs prepare our meal. Model Milk turned out to be a fantastic place–formerly an historic former dairy building in uptown Calgary, this character building had been converted into a trendy resto-bar featuring locally-sourced, ethical ingredients made into some very inventive takes on classic dishes. We both ordered the (sustainable) sea bass, and enquired as to what exactly made it so sustainable. The waiter happily explained that they worked hard to ensure that all of the fish served in their restaurant was purchased from ethical fisheries, and only featured fish that were not endangered or overfished. We were quite pleased to be able to enjoy such guilt-free, healthy meal. It was like a scene right out of Portlandia.

Our ethical Calgary dinner spot, Model Milk on 17th

Our ethical Calgary dinner spot, Model Milk on 17th

Mick and I caught up over dinner, and I learned that he owned a profitable snow-clearing business in town. We reminisced about the times when we had played together at each other’s houses in Edmonton and North Vancouver, and I brought up the time that I had made him cry by claiming dislike of his favourite movie, the Never Ending Story. It turned out that he was still a committed fan, and a heated and hilarious debate broke out over which 1980’s children’s movies had the best entertainment value.

When the food arrived, we found that the portions were smallish, but the taste was incredible, and the ingredients truly unique. The price reflected the high-quality ingredients, but I have to say it was worth the money. How can you put a price tag on a guilt-free meal?

After dinner we made our way to Local 510 for a drink, where I was amazed by the friendliness of the staff and the customers. Everyone seemed to know each other, and the vibe was so upbeat and happy, it was truly enjoyable being there. By the end of the night Mick had me convinced that I had to come back for the Stampede, when the entire city apparently shuts down and turns into one big dress-up party, where everyone comes kitted out in cowboy gear. He told me that the hat, boots and belt buckle were more or less requisite, and that the one year he’d decided to dress like a civilian he had felt so out of place that he’d come dressed to the nines every year since. Sounds like my kind of party.

Nikki had a couple of family parties that week, and made a lovely dinner for Troy and I one evening (Troy was also in town working an Arts and Crafts show), so I was kept quite entertained throughout the week. The second weekend the sales were better at the show, thankfully, the final Sunday being the best of all. We had one more weekend to go at the market but I wasn’t to work it. Troy had arranged for a friend to fill in at Spruce Meadows while I made the the journey up to For Mac.

My new bed-buddy took up a little more room than the last one...

My new bed-buddy took up a little more room than the last one…

My last night in town Nikki had 20 family members over for a big dinner, and the house was buzzing with happy children and chattering adults. Always the helpful friend, Nikki insisted on bringing out my books and wound up selling several to her guests. It was a great last night in town, and the next morning I set out early once again to Edmonton, where I had another school visit scheduled. I waved goodbye to my wonderful hosts, their cherubic baby and loving dog, and hit the highway again.

A few hours later I was back in Edmonton, and doing another school presentation. I really enjoy these shows, reading The Night Before a Canadian Christmas, singing A Moose in a Maple Tree and Canadian Jingle Bells along with the kids, discussing various Canadian icons and even doing a bit of teaching about Canadian history and geography. At one school visit in Calgary, the children had surprised me by asking about Spirit Bear. How did they know? Spirit Bear wasn’t advertised in the materials we had sent out to the school, and I hadn’t mentioned a word about it at the presentation. I didn’t even have a copy with me at the time, so I couldn’t offer to sell one to the little girl who came up to me with each in hand and asked to buy one. I was stunned. How had they heard about this? The teacher explained that she had Googled me the day before and found information about Spirit Bear online, so she had shared it with the class. I didn’t have anything with me at the time, so I just opened a file on my computer for my business card that had an image of Annuk on it to show to the kids. They had recently learned about the spirit bear in class as well, so they were all very keen to talk about the bear and hear about the book. After that I decided to start integrating Spirit Bear into my presentations, showing the kids pages from the book and talking about the animals. It turned out to be a great way to end the show, and I found the kids loved learning about the wildlife featured in the story. And what’s more, I loved teaching them about it.

They don't have one of these in Eaton's Centre...

They don’t have one of these in Eaton’s Centre…

After my presentation I headed back to Mick’s parent’s house where I was to stay for another three days. They were delighted to hear that we had reunited and had so much fun together. I went to bed early that night and had another school presentation the next day. Afterwards I jumped in the car and drove straight to West Edmonton Mall. I hadn’t been there since the days when I’d  played with Mick and his brother, and I had great memories of the place. It turns out that it’s just as amazing as an adult. Wave pool! Zip-lines! Underwater Caverns! Stingrays! Pirate ship! Bowling! Roller coasters! Skating rink! What a mall! Really, every mall should have a place where you can PET live stingrays. That really was the highlight, descending into the Underwater Caverns just in time for the stingray feeding and getting a full presentation from the naturalist on site. I was amazed to watch these flat grey creatures behaving just as dogs might, swimming around in circles splashing onlookers and flapping their wings over the rocks at the edge of the enclosure. We were told we could put our hands in the water and pet them, and these wonderful creatures would actually swim right up and allow us to stroke their soft, wet, silky backs. Then the trainer hand-fed each one, identifying them by name, and explaining how each had their own personality when it came to feeding time–one splashing and causing a ruckus so he’d be fed first, another hanging back until the rest had had their fill, then gliding up for an uninterrupted and peaceful meal. It was truly amazing, and I decided I wanted one for my bathtub back home.

Turns out stingrays can be rather affectionate…

Turns out stingrays make affectionate pets…

In all seriousness, though, I am not big on seeing wild animals in captivity in general, so I asked the naturalist where they came from. It turned out that many were rescues with sad stories. Like the giant sea turtles that had been owned by a drug dealer and were caught being smuggled across the American Border. These turtles were in such bad shape and had been in captivity for so long that they could no longer be released into the wild. And the South African penguins, she explained, came from a habitat so polluted that were these birds to be released into the wild, their chances of survival would be incredibly slim. They were actually a part of a breeding program intended to keep the species going should they become extinct in the wild, which seems very likely. This story was so sad to hear, but in a way it reinforced for me how aquariums could have value for such animals, by keeping endangered populations alive and educating the public about their plight. Poor penguins. Who thought you could learn all of this in a mall??

I'm going to have to come back for the roller-coaster

A roller coaster! In a mall!!!

After checking out the pirate ship and the wave pool, I eventually found the roller-coaster and immediately bought a ticket. I was gutted to discover the ride had already closed (I’d spent too much time with the stingrays), and I was offered a refund. I guess I’ll have to return one day to make my dream of riding a roller-coaster in a mall a reality.

Next Blog: Tar Sands Trouble

Across the Plains

The view on the way in to Saskatoon

The view on the way in to Saskatoon

My week in Saskatoon was nothing short of wonderful. My cousin (my Dad’s cousin to exact) is an amazing lady. One of the friendliest, most energetic, and kindest people I’ve ever met, she is also one of the most petit. Standing at only 4’7″, she is a tiny fireball of amazing energy and personality. She and her lovely 20-year-old daughter hosted me in typical Prairie fashion, with plenty of warmth and welcome, even arranging a family dinner one night so that my other relatives (I have a few) in Saskatoon could come by for a visit. I was able to reconnect with an old roommate and dear friend from my University days, which was equally wonderful. I’m so pleased I got the chance to reconnect with all of these great people who I rarely get to see. And staying at my cousin’s place there is never a dull moment, due to the presence of three very cute, very small, very friendly dogs that would race up to greet me whenever I entered the house. The littlest one, a Yorkshire Terrier named Bean, even slept on my bed at night on her little yellow towel, so I was never lonely.


My adorable housemates

Too cute for words!

Little Bean kept me company at night.

I spent my days in Saskatoon working at Earth Bound Bakery, and I really don’t know where I would have been without that place. The day I left town, I loaded up on sandwiches with thick, freshly-made hemp-seed bread, homemade soups and chocolate croissants made from organic, unbleached wheat flour and organic butter (you can really rationalize that something is good for you if it has enough good ingredients!).

My (almost) guilt-free breakfast treat–an organic latte with a chocolate croissant made from organic, unbleached flour and organic butter.

My (almost) guilt-free breakfast treat at Earth Bound Bakery–an organic latte
with a chocolate croissant made from organic, unbleached wheat flour
and organic butter. Yum!

I set out for Lethbridge at what I thought was a reasonable hour, but I had somehow shortened the driving time in my mind. Google tells us it’s 6 hours 41 minutes, which of course means in perfect conditions with zero traffic and no stops. I clocked in at about 8.5 hours with gas and food breaks (my sandwiches eventually ran out), and at times I felt like the drive would never end. The weather was cold and there were a few flurries at times, but the highways were mercifully clear. I made my way through Swift Current and Medicine Hat (which were both much larger than I expected), and finally, at about 9:30pm, I arrived in Lethbridge. I called my Air B&B hosts to let them know I was nearby, and followed the GPS through a labryinth of similarly-named streets to find the house where I was staying. Vastly different from my Regina accommodations, this was a family home, where I was to stay in the spare room in the basement and share a bathroom with the owners and their two teenage daughters. As daunting as this may sound, it was actually great. The family blew me away with their kindness, hospitality, and down-to-earth attitude. They invited me for home-cooked meals each night, (which always featured beef and were uniquely delicious), and printed out numerous maps to help me find my way downtown, to the show, and in and out of their maze-like suburban neighbourhood. They had a big white cat named Paul who took a liking to me, and the last night I was there I thanked them with a bottle of red wine, which we sat around enjoying over great conversation until the wee hours.

Aside from the oddly complex neighbourhood street system that I was positioned in, Lethbridge was quite easy to navigate. As always I sought out a good organic cafe, and one of their daughters directed me to the next best thing. ‘The Penny,’ a coffee and lunch shop with delicious homemade sandwiches and soups, that nearly gave Earth Bound Bakery a run for it’s money, except for the organic designation. I made it my daily morning stop, which was possible only because Lethbridge was so small and easily navigable. That weekend a snowstorm hit, and I found myself driving (sliding) in about a foot of snow on most streets. At one point, on the way to the exhibition grounds, I tried to round a corner on a quiet, snow-covered street, and my steering and breaks failed me completely. I slid right into the curb and heard a loud ‘CRUNCH.’ Oooohhh, that can’t be good. When I checked the tire, I saw that the rim was pretty badly damaged. I didn’t think I could make it to Edmonton in that state, but I had to get out of Lethbridge. It was a Sunday, and I had to work at the show all day, and Monday was a bank holiday. Yikes! There was nothing I could do for the time being, so I decided to worry about it later.

'The Penny' coffee-house in Lethbridge, home to great homemade eats.

‘The Penny’ coffee-house in Lethbridge, home to great homemade eats.

The Christmas Market itself was smallish, as to be expected, but we still did a respectable amount of sales, and what was really wonderful was that Spirit Bear began to sell well. Part of this, I believe, was due to my improved sales pitch, but it also seemed as though an inordinate number of people knew what a spirit bear was in this town. In Regina, I could count on two hands the people that had actually heard of the spirit bear, yet here every second person seemed to know about it. Many referenced a documentary, and a few mentioned Simon Jackson of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition having visited Lethbridge to speak about the bear, so word was getting around. On Friday I was shocked to find that Spirit Bear outsold all of the other titles at my booth, which was something I really didn’t expect. But it seemed that people here really connected with the idea behind the book, and appreciated the free learning resources and low eco-footprint. It gave a me a great feeling to see so many people getting excited about the book in its printed form, and not just as a concept anymore.

Monday morning was spent searching for a mechanic’s in Lethbridge that was actually open. I called the car rental company but I soon became trapped in a maze of circular dial pad pressing, and I realised it was all a ruse–I wasn’t going to get ahold of a person that day. Finally I found a Canadian Tire that was open and had a garage. Thanks goodness!!! The mechanics were a team of teenagers, the oldest one being 18, but he looked no more than 15. The head mechanic happened to be there on his day off, and he had a few more years under his belt. He took one look at my tires and told me the front ones were essentially bald, and unsafe for winter driving. He said he wasn’t at all surprised that my brakes had locked up and my steering had failed. He said I should never have been sent out with tires in this condition. This surprised me greatly, as I had specifically requested winter tires from the rental company, as I was driving on dangerous highways, not the least of which was the one to Fort MacMurray.

My damaged rim had to be sacrificed in order to make it to Edmonton.

My damaged rim had to be sacrificed in order to make it to Edmonton.

I explained to them that I needed to get to Edmonton that day, and the boys kindly bumped me to the front of the queqe and hoisted my little car up onto the lift. Before I knew it, they had replaced my rim and rotated my bald tires to the back, so that I’d at least have some traction for my drive North. They advised me to trade the car in as soon as possible, though, and agreed to back me up if the rental company tried to hold me liable me for the accident. Prairie kindness strikes again!!!

I wound up waving goodbye to Lethbridge much later than planned, loaded up with goodies from The Penny, and made my way up North in my newly souped-up vehicle. Luckily the roads were clear, so I didn’t have to test the baldness of those tires yet again, and I arrived safely in the late evening at the home of family friends. This family had been very dear to me as a child, we had often visited each other when my brother and I were young, and we loved playing with their two boys, who were just a few years younger than us. The boys had long since moved away, but their youngest daughter was still at home, and I had only met her once before as an adult. Busy lives, years and distance had caused us to drift apart, though I had seen their parents from time to time when they came through Vancouver.

I was greeted warmly when I arrived, and welcomed in as though I were family. Their daughter even moved into the basement while I was there so that I could sleep in her room. I was touched. My first evening was spent sipping wine, catching up and reminiscing.

My first order of business the next day was to switch out the car. I was nervous that the rental company might try to hold me responsible for the damage, but I had the mechanic’s phone number in case things got dicey. I needn’t have worried. The staff fell over themselves apologizing to me for this terrible inconvenience, and swiftly packed my things into a shiny new upgrade for no extra charge. Now I had a sweet Sonata with brand-new all-seasons (they don’t offer winter tires), and a trunk big enough to actually fit all of my books plus my suitcase. I was ready to roll!

Saying goodbye to the Mitsubishi that got me from Regina to Edmonton in one piece despite the bald tires.

Saying goodbye to the Mitsubishi that got me from Regina to Edmonton
in one piece, despite the bald tires.

My new sweet ride with extra trunk space – all ready to get dirtied up on the road to Calgary!

My sweet new ride with the extra trunk space–all ready to get
dirtied up on the road to Calgary!

That evening I caught up with a friend who lived in town, who I had actually met on a Whistler trip through a mutual friend years before. We went for a drink with his co-workers in the Strathcona area, which I found quite delightful, as it was peppered with brick buildings and charming little shops, bars and restaurants. A welcome break from the series of strip malls that seemed to populate the roadsides of Edmonton, Strathcona is an historic district located in the south-central part of the city, and was once the downtown area of the separate city of Strathcona. It’s now Edmonton’s main entertainment district, filled with theatres and live-performance venues. There are also a number of character buildings in the area including the Canadian Pacific Railway Station and the Strathcona Hotel. Always a sucker for the old part of town, I made a point of walking up and down the strip, popping my head into all of the little shops along the way. It’s so nice to see a city like Edmonton taking pride in their heritage and preserving their historical areas for the people to enjoy, as it truly enriches the experience of the city on the whole.

The Old Strathcona district in Edmonton, Alberta.

The Old Strathcona district in Edmonton, Alberta.

My last night in town, my host and her daughter took me to dinner at one of their sons’ restaurants; the younger of the two boys I had played with as a child had begun a highly successful chain of pizza restaurants using classic Italian cooking techniques and ingredients. The food was delicious–thin-crust pizza made from fresh dough, with tomato sauce made with tomatoes imported from Italy. And we finished  off our meal with a tiny glass of real lemoncello, just like I’d experienced in the old world. Deliziosa!

I was presenting at a school in Calgary early the next day, so I had to wake early for my drive. I was sad to say goodbye even though I’d be returning in ten days time, as reconnecting with these old friends had been amazing, and they felt more like family to me now. No matter what I sell on this trip, the relationships I’ve had the opportunity to re-establish have been more than worth the journey.

One of those boys that I had played with as a child (but had not seen since before my teen years) now lived in Calgary, so his mother insisted that we meet up when I arrived in town. It’s been nearly twenty years since I saw him last, so this ought to be interesting!

Next Blog: Connections in Cow-Town

Prairie Bound

My next blog post was meant to be about how I came up with the idea for Spirit Bear, but I am going to bump that storyline in favour of relating my experiences on my first ‘book tour’ of the Prairies.

As mentioned previously, the Moose in a Maple Tree  Christmas collection was my first experience with children’s books–I illustrated the three-book series for my friend Troy who has his own publishing company, Polyglot.
He wrote and I drew, and for the past two Christmases I have worked various tradeshows and Christmas markets selling the series along with a compilation CD featuring musical versions of each book.

This year it was decided that I would do a Prairies tour. I have visited Edmonton and Saskatoon before, as I have family there, but Regina, Calgary, Lethbridge and Fort McMurray are all new to me. I’m excited!!! Fort McMurray in particular interests me, as I plan to drive North to the Tar Sands to observe the situation up there for myself. I understand it’s a treacherous drive, and tourists aren’t exactly welcomed, but I intend to have my own Tar Sands experience and report on my findings here, so stay tuned.

Troy has kindly agreed to let me to sell Spirit Bear alongside our MIAMT books, so this tour will be a great opportunity to test out our newly printed book on the Prairies markets.

The Dragon's Nest B& B

The Dragon’s Nest B&B, my home for 3 days in Regina

My tour began in Regina at the Signatures show. I arrived at 2pm on Halloween day and got settled in at my B&B, a delightful character house called the Dragon’s Nest. My room was lovely and cosy, and cost a modest $70 per night. It was perfect with a little desk for my computer and a full bathroom down the hall shared with one other guest. I soon discovered that this place was famous among the locals for the colourful dragon statue that sat above the front entryway, as I had only to mention the name when I was out exploring the neighbourhood, and people knew exactly the place I spoke of.

I must say that my first day in Regina was all I could have expected it to be–everyone I encountered was incredibly kind, friendly and helpful, living up to the reputation that Prairie people have earned over the years. Even the neighbourhood animals shared the same warm, welcoming demeanour–cats and dogs alike rushed up to me as I walked down the street, greeting me with wagging tails and friendly purrs, begging for a bit of affection, which I was happy to proffer.

I was fortunate to find that two ladies from Red Deer who were staying in the downstairs suite at the Dragon’s Nest were also working the same show selling Christmas fruitcake, and they kindly offered me a ride to and from the show each day. They even helped me to unload my gear at the B&B on their way to the airport (I had planned to walk and take cabs, as the show was only about a kilometer away).

The first day I arrived at the show to set up, Spirit Bear was there waiting for me. It was my first time seeing it in print, and I held my breath as I turned the pages. I had been terrified that the recycled paper would make the colours look too washed out and dull, and that this would hamper sales. I was prepared for the worst,  so I breathed a sigh of relief as I flipped through the pages–it looked alright! Yes the colours were duller than those in other children’s books, and it lacked the lustre of MIAMT’s coated pages, but it didn’t look bad, and the illustrations were strong enough to shine through despite the natural, muted tone of the pages.

A first copy of 'Spirit Bear,' hot off the presses!

A first copy of ‘Spirit Bear,’ hot off the presses!

My first day at the show, however, I began to worry once again. People didn’t seem to see the tiny, thin paperback stacked neatly beside the colourful MIAMT hardcovers, and passed right over it to pick up the bigger, shinier books. I found myself ignoring Spirit Bear myself and focusing on the Moose books, or selling it with a half-hearted pitch that impressed no one. Had I made a huge mistake? I began to wonder if I should have gone against my beliefs and printed hard covers on new paper–the books would look so much more impressive that way, and would certainly capture people’s attention. But that was not the intention of this project, the whole purpose was to create a book with a low ecological footprint, something that we could be proud of as a ‘green’ company, something that could stand out as a good example in an industry that relied upon new trees and chemically-coated paper to attract buyers. Was it possible that no one would ‘get’ what we were trying to do and actually buy our book?

As the day wore on, my sales pitch got a little better, a bit more confident and concise. I began to realise that I had to ‘sell’ Spirit Bear in the same way I ‘sold’ the MIAMT series, by showing it in it’s best light, and keeping the pitch short and to the point. This had been a struggle for me to learn with the MIAMT series in my first year of selling, as I am no sales person by any stretch of the imagination. But over time you learn what to say and how to say it.

By the end of the show I had a short, confident pitch for my new book that engaged people and made an impact on them, whether they bought the book or not. I discovered that there were a lot of people who really loved the concept, and felt that it was a truly wonderful idea and a beautiful book. They understood the importance of using recycled paper, and once I filled them in on the reasoning behind the choice we had made, they decided they really loved the natural look of the pages. Once again, I breathed a sigh of relief.

The show was a moderate success. I sold 30 copies of Spirit Bear as well as 190 books and CDs from the Moose in a Maple Tree series. I will approach upcoming shows with new confidence, and the knowledge that there are people who can appreciate Spirit Bear, as well as the shiny, colourful books I’ve been known for in the past. I even connected with several Regina-based teachers interested in booking me for school visits in the New Year. So many possibilities ahead, it’s truly exciting.

Earth Bound Bakery and Delicatessen, an amazing organic cafe in Saskatoon.
A great spot for coffee and blogging.

Today I sit in a lovely organic cafe in Saskatoon. I drove up last night from Regina via Moose Jaw, where I stopped in at the Temple Gardens Mineral Spa for a much-needed massage and dip in the mineral pool. After a weekend of sales at the Regina show my neck and back where in rough shape. The deep-tissue massage was wonderfully rejuvenating, and the pool was just incredible, the highlight being the outdoor section where steam rose off of the heated waters into the chilly night air. Floating on my back in the warm mineral water, I had a view of the lamp post and a leafless tree dotted with white Christmas lights, set against a dusky cobalt sky, as tiny flecks of icy snow swirled down and stung my cheeks. It was truly heavenly. A short stint in the steam room completed the visit, and I was ready for my trek to Saskatoon by 7:30pm. It begs mentioning that Moose Jaw certainly earns its reputation as the ‘Friendly City’–everyone I encountered seemed in the best of spirits despite the icy weather, and treated me like an old friend being welcomed back to my hometown. I certainly recommend stopping in at the spa, and Veroba’s on Fairford Street is a great spot for some solid home-cooked food made from scratch.


The beautiful outdoor section of the mineral pool at Temple Gardens Mineral Spa in Moose Jaw

Good home-cooking at Veroba's in Moose Jaw

Good home-cooking at Veroba’s in Moose Jaw

That night I set out in my little mid-sized rental car on roads that had been receiving a healthy dusting of snow throughout the day and over the course of the previous evening. My first hour on the road was clear and ice-free, but as I neared the halfway point of my journey, the roads became caked with snow that was rapidly approaching the consistency of ice. There had been a bit of salt applied in places, it seemed, but overall the highway was incredibly scary. At times I drove straddled between both lanes, as that was the only way to avoid driving on top of what was fast becoming a skating rink. Not a few times I found myself beginning to lose control of the car, and at one point I was certain that I was bound for the ditch, as my little Mitsubishi began fishtailing wildly across both lanes. I kept my cool, pumped the brakes rapidly and steered into the swerve as I’d been taught, and managed to regain control. Thankfully I was alone on that strip of highway–had traffic been heavier at that moment, things could have taken a disastrous turn. For most of the drive I was far from any other cars, with the exception of a number of semis that I passed along the way. It was a good experience in Canadian winter driving for me, and it gave me new confidence in my ability to handle treacherous, icy roads in the dark.

I arrived an hour later than expected at my family’s house, where I was warmly greeted by my cousin’s husband with typical Saskatchewan-style hospitality. He was off to Hawaii first thing in the morning, my cousin was working the late shift and their daughter was already in bed, so he and I stayed up for several hours visiting and pouring over their travel photos from Australia and Cancun. When I finally hit the sack at 1:30 in the morning, I slept like the dead.

I’m beginning to enjoy this Prairie life.

Next Blog:  Headed for Lethbridge

What’s this? Chimpanzees catch yawns from humans

Chimps start catching yawns from humans after about the age of five, indicating that empathy among chimps progresses with age.

Chimpanzees catch yawns from humans just like humans catch yawns from humans, new research shows.
Chimpanzees are amongst several primate species — including baboons and macaques — that have been shown to catch yawns from individuals within their own species. Researchers think this uncontrollable reaction helps communicate a sense of empathy that strengthens group bonds in both humans and primates.
To determine whether this phenomenon — known as contagious yawning — crosses species lines in chimpanzees, researchers at Lund University in Sweden studied 33 orphaned chimps between the ages of 13 months and 8 years, and observed each individual’s reaction to yawns from two different humans: one who they knew well (their surrogate mother), and one who they did not know at all (a researcher).

Read the full story here.

Getting Inspired

Image from 'Twelve Little Girls,' another book still sitting on my back burner, getting slightly singed.

An image from ‘Twelve Little Girls,’ another book still sitting on my back burner,
getting slightly singed.

After the success of our Moose in a Maple Tree Series, I was supercharged by the idea of doing my own book. I knew a bit about the industry now, and had a pretty good grasp on what would sell and how to do it. It suddenly seemed more viable, less daunting. But what would I write about first?

The obvious choice was a book I’d been working on for some time, a true passion project for me. A few years ago I walked into a clothing shop belonging to a friend of a friend, and discovered a series of gorgeously-rendered paintings of  young girls tangled up in a dark forest. Each painting featured a single girl who had somehow become integrated into the woods around her. One was sitting high in the crook of a black, bent tree bough, looking angrily down at some unseen thing below her. Another sat on a carven throne atop a ‘tree ladder,’ in a forest hung with tiny mirrors, the largest of which she had fixed with a rapt gaze .


The ‘Forest of Mirrors’ image from ‘Twelve Little Girls.’

Another showed a claw foot bathtub, supported by ascending roots, gauzy bath curtains hanging from the tree-branches above, blowing in the wind. Half-submerged in the bathtub lay a beautiful girl with greyish skin, hair hanging lankly over the tub’s rim, her thin, frail limbs dangling corspe-like over the edges. Yet another depicted a girl whose hair had grown into tree branches, and intertwined with the boughs above her, that had reached down and dragged he up off of her feet so that she dangled in the wind like and uprooted weed. Another showed a tall, bent girl carrying a treehouse on her shoulders, with branch-like hair that grew up through the porch and chimney.

Drain Forest Bath

‘Drain Forest,’ another image from ‘Twelve Little Girls.’

This images screamed at me, demanded my attention. I asked the store owner, Gabrielle, who was also the artist, if she had ever considered making this series into a children’s book. She hadn’t, but she loved the idea, and I offered to write stories for the illustration. She was thrilled by this, so I got to work. Soon a new book concept was born, ‘Twelve Little Girls.’ It was told in rhyming couplets, a cautionary tale about 12 young girls who enter a dark forest as friends, and end up separating, straying from the path and becoming entwined in separate fates of their own making. It was dark, it was mysterious, and it rhymed. Gabrielle loved it, and offered to create new artwork to flesh out the full twelve stories (she only had eight paintings to start with). Together we came up with four new girls to add to the mix, and the story became an exciting project. The trouble was Gabrielle had a day job, and these paintings had been done over several years, so it was not a quick process. Again, the back-burner loomed.

And then I heard about the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal.

When I first discovered that an oil pipeline was being planned by a major oil company to run through an old-growth rainforest in Northern BC, I was pretty stunned. Was this real? Could our government seriously be considering this? They were talking about the Great Bear Rainforest. From what I understand, this area is pretty famous for being a bit of an ecological relic–a true old-growth forest that has never been logged or developed. A place where biodiversity has been allowed to flourish to the point where a unique subspecies of bear has emerged–one that sports a coat of pure white. Where else on earth could you find that? Nowhere, it turned out.

I think that I, like most Canadians, harbour a sense of pride in the natural, often pristine beauty of our country, and have always felt as though Canada had its head and heart in the right place in terms of conservation. It turns out that it just seems that way because we have such a tiny population in relation to our land mass, so we’ve always had so darned MUCH wilderness that destroying it all hadn’t really become a viable option as of yet. But now, it seemed, things were changing.

Grizzlies in the Great Bear Rainforest

Grizzlies in the Great Bear Rainforest

In the wake of this new, unsettling information, I began to educate myself. I leaned about Enbridge, the corporation that wanted to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline. I read about the Tar Sands, with their massive tailings ponds filled with toxic leftovers from the oil extraction process. I learned what bitumen was. Dirty. Sludgy. Super-carcinogenic. Oh, and in order to make it fluid, it’s cut with super-toxic solvents before it enters the pipelines, so that in the event of a spill, you’ll have a caustic mix of chemicals injected into your water supply that will give otherwise healthy people migraines, seizures, and over the long term, cancer. Not the best news I’d heard all day.

I read about the Enbridge bitumen spill down in Michigan. How the Kalamazoo River had more than a million gallons of this stuff pumped into it over a weekend. How it took eighteen hours before a Michigan utilities employee noticed the spill and reported it to Enbridge, who had yet to detect a problem. I watched documentaries about people suffering the after-effects of having a 40KM stretch of river contaminated with this ‘black gold.’ I saw a video made by an ex-Enbridge employee who had been a part of the ‘cleanup effort,’ and had decided to come forth and tell the truth about what had really happened. Cover-ups. Threats. Complete extinction of all life in the river. Rocks and sand poured over oil they knew they couldn’t remove from the environment (or didn’t want to spend the money to do so). Canvas and grass seeds thrown over top. The appearance of a complete and total renewal of the waterway. But dig down a foot or two, and dark, glistening bitumen oil blooms to the surface. The river was ruined. Lifeless.

This terrified me. Could our government actually be considering running a substance this dangerous through an ancient BC rainforest??

In my years at Uni we had made trips up to Carmanah Valley and Clayoquot Sound to study these old-growth forest systems. I had seen them. I knew how they worked.  How precious, rare, unique and invaluable they are to life on Earth. How everything in the system is connected with every other thing, and how losing even one element would compromise the entire system. How these places were precious jewels, the lungs of the planet. And they wanted to bring this deadly, life-extinguishing oil into one of these places?

Surely this was not possible. It seemed like madness.

Potential devastation from a spill by tankers for proposed Northern Gateway project.

Potential devastation from a spill by tankers from the proposed Northern Gateway project.

There was talk of jobs. Of new safety standards. Of the importance of Tar Sands oil in the new economy, of its importance to Canada. And of tankers longer than the Empire State Building navigating treacherous waterways inhabited by humpback whales, orcas, spawning salmon, and this crazy white bear that no one seemed to have heard of before, even though it was one of the mascots for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. And there were more spills. And more cover-ups.

And there were outright lies. Like when Enbridge created a map for their website that showed  tankers gracefully cruising through a wide bay to alight in Kitimat, undeterred by the pesky network of islands that the map illustrator had conveniently chosen to erase.  Surely this was a joke.

It wasn’t. They believed that people really were stupid enough to swallow all of this propaganda, and shrug their shoulders and look away, as they far too often do.

My first instinct was to DO SOMETHING. This hit me hard. I lived in Toronto now, but I grew up in Vancouver, and BC’s wilderness had been my childhood playground. It was in my blood. I wasn’t going to let anyone spill oil all over my nice, white bears and pretty rainforest.

My first thought was to write a children’s book. It was the one thing I knew how to do (sort of) that might have a little impact. I envisioned a story that took place in the Great Bear Rainforest after an oil spill had hit the area. I was serious about it. I discussed it and workshopped ideas. And then, as so often I have done in my life, I lost faith in my own idea. ‘Who’s going to listen to me?’ I thought. ‘What impact could my book possibly have? It won’t make a difference.’ And with that, I dropped the whole plan.

Months passed and the issue didn’t disappear. My guilt gnawed at me, but my negativity was far stronger. ‘What good can one person do? No one will care about what I have to say,’ I told myself.

That summer I went camping with some friends on a long weekend. We discovered this pristine little lake a few hours North of Toronto, with no buildings or boats, and very few people. Walk-in campsites near the lake, no cars. It was heaven. As we lay on the smooth rocks on the water’s edge looking up at the stars one evening, we began pontificating on the virtues of wilderness. How important it is to the soul. How it’s strange that something so natural, so wonderful, should be so difficult to find and have access to. And something clicked in my head. I brought up the pipeline issue and the rainforest in BC. Everyone agreed it was a horrible plan. Disgusting. Ruinous. How could our government be so greedy, so corrupt?

‘I have to do something,’ I said that night.

‘I have to write this book.’

An inspirational moment.

The actual night that I decided to write ‘Spirit Bear.’

Suddenly it dawned on me that if everyone took the attitude I had been taking, we would certainly fail as a species. Evil would run rampant, since good people preferred to remain silent and feel powerless. I wasn’t going to go down that path. Not anymore. I was going to do whatever I could do, as ONE person. If only a handful of kids read my book and got inspired, I knew it would be worth it. If every person in the world decided to do SOMETHING–whatever that something was–to make the world a better place, then we’d have a better world. Simple. So I wasn’t going to worry about what other people thought. Or whether or not I was ‘good enough’ to put an idea into print. I was going to do this. Because this issue was bigger than me. And it needed my attention.

No more shrugging, shuffling and looking away. That night I decided to write Spirit Bear.

Next Blog: The Birth of a Little White Bear

The Biomimicry Manual: What can We Learn About Resilience, Weight Loss, and Kidney Disease from the Grizzly Bear? Read more: The Biomimicry Manual: What can we learn about resilience, weight loss, and kidney disease from the grizzly bear? | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

Grizzly bear resting on a log in Alaska

The grizzly bear adapts readily to alpine mountains, deserts, beaches, and forests, and her wide-ranging appetite spans a remarkable variety of food preferences and foraging techniques. She’s a cunning hunter, and passes her tricks on to her cubs, just like we do. In fact, her smarter-than-the-average-bear abilities allowed some of her ancestors to venture into the extreme life of the Arctic, becoming polar bears in less than a million years. That’s the blink of an eye in evolutionary time, and she might even consider mating and producing offspring with a polar bear if they should meet. In fact, her long, polar bear-like muzzle and beautiful frosted highlights may be testament to the indiscretions of her fore-mothers.

Our grizzly can take down big prey, like moose, elk, bison, caribou, and even muskox and black bears, as well as small animals like ground squirrels and rabbits, marmots, lemmings, and voles. Because our girl is at the top of the food chain, her habits indirectly influence the entire ecological community. She keeps prey populations in check, preventing overgrazing, which in turn affects plant and insect distribution, as well as bird migration patterns.

Read the full story here.

There’s hope: Canada’s largest and most endangered fish spotted off Canada’s West Coas

Basking shark observed off the Brooks Peninsula on Canada’s Pacific coast in August 2013.

Seeing a basking shark in B.C. waters these days is like seeing a sasquatch. Since 1996 there have been just 13 confirmed sightings (PDF) in Canada’s Pacific waters. Basking sharks, which can grow as long as 10 metres, were once as common as a salmon. Historical accounts from the 1950s describe inlets full of hundreds of basking sharks, so plentiful they were considered a nuisance. During the 1940s to late 1960s, this shark entered into B.C. coastal waters during the spring and summer, often getting entangled in salmon fishing nets and threatening fishermen’s livelihoods. Complaints led to a government-sponsored eradication program and the sharks’ eventual demise. Even though I wrote a book about the history of basking sharks in B.C., I’ve never seen one in our coastal waters.

On August 8 off the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, researcher Wendy Szaniszlo was fortunate to observe and photograph a seven-metre long basking shark. Earlier this summer, Department of Fisheries and Oceans researchers observed a North Pacific right whale in Canadian waters, the first in over 50 years. These rare sightings give us hope that these species may yet return from the brink.

Read the full story here.