Friday, February 22, 2008

In Shadows Cast....

Lunar eclipse photographed over Wallacetown, Ont.
February 20, 2008

“It's only during an eclipse
that the Man in the Moon has a place in the sun”
If you were not looking up on Wednesday night, you would have missed an opportunity to see the last full lunar eclipse until December of 2010. The cold clear night made for perfect viewing of the phenomena. Those who were brave enough to chance the brisk cold were treated to a fine display of celestial pageantry.
A total lunar eclipse occurs as the combined orbits of the Earth, sun and moon cause the full moon to pass into the shadow of the Earth. The Earth blocks the rays of the sun so they cannot directly reach the surface of the moon. Because light rays can change direction, some sunlight does reach the moon. It has to pass through the Earth's atmosphere to get there. As a result, the light spectrum is altered and the moon is cast in a "stain of red"
Mankind has been able to predict the occurrence of eclipses for thousands of years. Despite this, ancient civilizations often considered eclipses to be a magical event that portended great change for the world. The most common mythology usually concerned some type of mythical creature, like a giant toad or jaguar, devouring the moon.
As a people who consider themselves to be "enlightened and modern" we are not that far separated from the citizens of those ancient cities. There are many who swear by the Farmer's Almanac, only planting when the phase of the moon is just right. The daily horoscope that you read for entertainment was determined, in part, by the position of the moon in the sky when you were born. The moon is known to affect tides and has been supposed to affect human behaviour (the full moon is often an explanation for unusual behaviour).
Whatever attributes or powers that might be assigned to our closest orbiting celestial neighbour there is no denying that a full lunar eclipse is a phenomena that is worth experiencing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Between Glimpses of Red

A bright crown over a mask of black

Dry rustle marks a remembrance of autumn gold

An echo knocks from tree to tree

Caught light, trembling on the branch

Wild in the winter calls.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tyrconnell Stovies

Many traditional recipes came along with the people that settled in Thomas Talbot’s domain. Stovies was one of those dishes. The simplicity of the basic Stovies has stood the test of time and you will still find it gracing contemporary tables around the world. On a cold day, nothing warms one’s insides like good old-fashioned Stovies. A long time Scottish tradition, Stovies can be made from any protein like beef, lamb or fish. It is a great way to use any roast left over from Sunday dinner so that none goes to waste.
Vegetables like potatoes, carrots, turnips and onions make up the rest of the Stovies ingredients. These root vegetables were a staple for the families that came to live in the Talbot Settlement. Potatoes and carrots were vegetables that stored well and could be counted on to last over the harsh Canadian winters. Potatoes were especially versatile as they were used to make any number of recipes from sweet to savoury.

You will need to start with a cast iron or heavy bottomed pot with a tight lid.


2 oz fat, drippings or butter
3 onions, chopped
2 lbs potatoes peeled and sliced in various thicknesses the biggest being a ¼ inch
½ lbs cooked lamb, sausage (if using sausage brown with onions), beef, venison or fish
½ of a small turnip
3 medium carrots, sliced
Stock, gravy or water (as much as you think you need…)
Salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste

Melt the fat on a medium setting in your heavy bottom pot. Add the chopped onions and sauté until fragrant, slightly translucent and light brown in colour. Reduce the heat and add your sliced potatoes. The varying thickness of the potato slices will create a delicious contrast with some cooking down to a mush while others stay intact. Shake the pot and stir to make sure the potatoes are coated in the fat. Cook for 10 minutes and then add your stock, carrots and turnip and cover with the pot lid. Continue to cook until the vegetables are tender. Add your lamb, beef, venison or fish. Heat through. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Serve with fresh baked bread or scones.

Dig in! It will warm you to your toes and show you just how good history can taste.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Grey Water, Grey Wings

Winter does not work only on a broad scale...
he is careful in trifles.
- Alexander Smith

The winter waters of Lake Erie are grey on grey, fading back into the patchwork sky. Dark and light, the frosted shades of winter play in both waves and wings.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Research in the John E. Pearce Park

A flash of yellow flutters bright against the tangle mass of winter bare vines and branches that mark the border between the Pearce Park path and the clay cliffs overlooking Erie’s vast grey expanse. Across the path, to the left, another banner beckons. A few short steps into the underbrush finds a third strip of yellow anchoring a plastic bag to an overhanging branch.
The small Ziploc bag contains a note with contact information and a small device that is designed to measure and record temperature variations. It isn’t the only bag of its kind located in the area. Another small bag can be found further in the park. In fact, several more of these bags have been placed at intervals along the Lake Erie shoreline. Through the cold months of our traditional Canadian winter, the devices in these bags will duly log the rise and fall of the mercury.
The bags are part of a study being conducted by University of Western Ontario graduate student Caroline Williams. Caroline is no stranger to the world of academia. She completed her Masters in New Zealand. Caroline met Dr. Brent Sinclair who currently runs the research lab at UWO during her undergrad studies in New Zealand. It was actually Dr. Sinclair who encouraged her to do a Masters. The year she began that Masters, he moved to South Africa to do a post-doc, but he continued to supervise her studies long distance. After acquiring her degree, Caroline spent over 3 years traveling and teaching English in Japan and Malaysia. It was her acquaintance with Dr. Sinclair though, that led to her current position as a graduate student at the UWO Sinclair Lab.
The Sinclair Lab is concerned with the study of insect low temperature biology. A part of those studies deal with the cold tolerance of insects in South Western Ontario. Here in West Elgin, our proximity to the Great Lakes has created an environment that is comparatively warm and (as anyone who lives here knows) subject to unpredictable climatic variations. The research done at the lab will foreseeably have an impact in our own community. Information on the effect of climate change upon the life cycles, migratory habits and reproductive behaviour of both beneficial insects and pest species will help us to better manage our agricultural, forestry and conservation interests.

That is why, even though you aren’t thinking about butterflies in January, Caroline Margaret Williams is. Caroline plans to spend the next 4 years at the University of Western Ontario writing her PhD thesis. In compiling data for a portion of her thesis, she will be exploring how fluctuations in cold temperatures affect the way butterflies utilize stored energy. When the Tyrconnell Heritage Society contacted Caroline, she was happy to discuss her research and kindly sent us an email summarizing her research as it relates to the area along the northern shore of Lake Erie.
Butterflies survive the winter in a cocoon ( chrysalis) waiting out the cold weather until the longer days of spring tell them it is time to emerge. With a lowered metabolism, slipping into a state that is very similar to hibernation, butterflies are able to endure the winter cold and lack of food. The warmer temperatures and sometimes rapid changes in our warm lakeshore region can alter the winter cycle. In some cases, the warmer weather will cause increased metabolic rates, using up energy that would have been used to evolve from pupa to butterfly or to reproduce. Tracking these variations will help to indicate what kind of developmental differences we might expect to experience in insect species as the climate continues to change in the coming years.
Looking for patterns she can use to correlate general weather information, Caroline hopes to build a model that will estimate energy consumption in butterflies that over winter along the Lake Erie shoreline. Caroline has chosen to concentrate on both swallowtail and duskywing butterflies as they exist in the northern range of their environment along the shore of Lake Erie. She will be correlating her in-lab studies of gene flow adaptation in fruit flies to information gleaned along the range boundary.
Caroline will be dropping by John E. Pearce Park regularly to check on her data. She did enjoy her visit to the park and although Caroline is concentrating on the swallowtail and duskywing butterfly species for her thesis, she is looking forward to witnessing the migration of the monarchs in the fall of this year.
The research that Caroline and the members of the Sinclair Lab at UWO are involved in will have a long term effect on our economy, lifestyle and environment. By studying the effects of our unusually warm and occasionally unpredictable climate, it is hoped that we can better anticipate the adaptations that our changing environment will bring to the world we live in.
If you would like to learn more about the Sinclair Lab at UWO just click the lab name to link to their site.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Winter Afternoon

A late February afternoon is a busy time on the trails that traverse the area surrounding the Backus Page House. The wet snow makes it easy to follow the trail of foraging deer. The crisp markings of cloven hooves pass under leafless boughs out into stubble painted and windblown fields.

Further across the rows a red-tailed hawk has gone to ground. It fluffs up; standing guard over the still warm prey that will make its early dinner. Woodpeckers call and flit from tree to tree only stopping to tap in search of something to eat.

The old grindstone stands girded in white, forgotten until spring....

...while far over head, dark against the grey sky, a bald eagle wings out towards Lake Erie.