Jack’s Walk

VanSittart Park ©voyager, all rights reserved

It was a damp, cold zero degrees when Jack and I were out this morning, but now it’s climbed to +4 º and melting is finally happening again. Hooray! It looks like Spring has finally decided to make a reappearance and this time it might actually stay. If the forecast is to be believed it’s supposed to stay above zero all week and might actually climb all the way up to +9º. Be still my heart. I cannot wait to see the end of snow and ice this year. It feels like winter’s been dragging on forever and I am bone tired of it. Melt, melt, melt, I say.

Tree Tuesday

Desert trees need tricks up their sleeves to survive the hot, arid conditions and the Bottle Trees of Namibia and Angola (Pachypodium lealii) manage this with bulbous trunks that retain water.

Those trunks don’t just contain water, though. They have another trick up their sleeves to help them keep their water.

It’s also full of poison. This is not the kind of thing you want to find in your water bottles, but it does help the Bottle Tree actually keep its water. Which was their plan all along. That’s why it’s a Bottle Tree and not just a bottle. The poison is so effective that hunters in the region used to smear the sap on their arrows, just to add that extra ‘oomph’. And yet no-one calls it a Poison Dart Tree!

It all works rather well for the Bottle Tree, and they can grow to some 8 metres (26 ft) in height. Although sometimes they only reach about 1 metre (3 ft) tall. If you want to survive in a desert, you need to be willing to give a little. Or a lot. Like 7 metres (23 ft) of your potential height.

The trees are also covered in long, sharp prickles because poison alone might not keep their precious water supply safe.

However tall a Bottle Tree grows, it’ll be almost entirely branchless until the very top. The leaves grow on slender branches and are jealously defended from herbivores by sharp spines. Around May to November the leaves will all drop off as the Bottle Tree diverts all its effort into growing surprisingly extravagant flowers.

Those thorns are magnificent and you’ve got to love a tree that’s so determined and deadly.

 

From Real Monstrosities, which is a pretty interesting site full of weird and wonderful things.

What a Mess

Our woods are a nature and water reserve which means that there is no commercial use of the wood. Trees that have fallen or are at risk of killing people are just cleared off the paths and left to rot, which means that you get to see decay in a way you really get to see in our tidy, tended to world.

It’s also wonderful for loot for crafting…

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved
I love you, too

They also offer space for animals, like those ants. I discovered them when I wanted to place my resin stuff on the top to take pics. I decided against it.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Jack’s Walk

©voyager, all rights reserved

Jack and I ran into a couple of big, beautiful horses today. It’s maple syrup season and this farm hosts a pancake and syrup breakfast during the month of March. This team are here every year to give wagon rides to anyone who wants to bump up and down a country road full of potholes and slush. What fun! I normally try to come late enough to miss all the fuss and foofaraw, but our timing was a bit off today. Jack barked like a fool at them from the car until they were far enough down the road to let him loose. He jumped out, watched them for half a second, gave one final woof and then ran into the woods to chase after the newly emerging spring smells. Each new bare patch of land requires very careful sniffing and Jack takes this job seriously. Some places require an extra bit of pee which Jack is always happy to provide. I always know the important places, though, because Jack will pee, turn around and lift his other leg to pee again and then turn back for one final squirt. The triple pee is always done with great seriousness, but it’s only half of the ritual. Next, the boy will dig in his back feet and rake up oodles of debris and mud as he stretches his legs way out behind him before giving a final snort and moving on. I wish I spoke urine.

Racialization of Muslims

In the light of the Christchurch terrorist attack, I think it is appropriate to try to put to rest, on this blog at least, the “Islam is not a race” argument so often thrown around in atheist circles. I admit to making this clueless blunder in the past as well, and really meaning it. But when arguing with actual unapologetic racists I had to point out some realities to them – like that Roma people are not in fact different race from Europeans, because we both stem from common and fairly recent Indo-European stock. And like that Arabs and Jews are also not different races from each other – and are not a different race from Europeans for the same reasons as Roma people are. That has made me to realize that racism is not, at least not only, what I thought it is, and that islamophobia is a real thing, alhtough the word itself can be used disingenuously (like any other word).

When I see a hijab (or a cross or any other overt religious symbol), I see a person being shackled by the throes of superstition, but still a person no fundamentaly different from you or I. But when a racist sees a hijab, they also do see an “other” in a very fundamental sense. Because to them race is not actually about biology (because biology does not support any form of racism) but about politics of power that merely uses biology and science in general to construct post hoc and ad hoc arguments for holding onto or acquiring said political power.

For the rest of the argument I give word to Philosophy Tube, who has made two excellent videos explaining the process of racialization of human groups and the whats, why’s and how’s behind it.

Names and Faces

Let us begin with this:

Text in tweet: “I don’t know the terrorist’s name. Nor do I care to know it.

Im keen on knowing the names, remembering the stories and celebrating the lives of the victims.”

BBC has a list, as does the New Zealand Herald:

They are fathers, mothers, grandparents, daughters and sons.

They are refugees, immigrants and New-Zealand born.

They are Kiwis.

These are the names of those who have died or are missing after the horrific acts of terror in Christchurch.

You can probably find more lists elsewhere, as they are being updated. This man, Khaled Beydoun, is keeping a list on Twitter. The number of victims has now increased to 51.

My heart goes out to the New Zealand Muslim community so disproportionately affected by this violence, as one of your local athletes puts so well:

While as cities and a nation we are all devastated by what happened yesterday, let’s not lose sight of the fact that yesterday’s terrorist attacks were targeted at the Muslim community. While it may have felt like it, we were not all at risk. We were not all unsafe. But we are all responsible for joining the wider conversation about racism, about white supremacy, about who we are as a country, and what’s actually going on.
I walked through the airport this morning and saw Muslim people going about their day in fear, including one woman that I and a couple of others sat with while she cried. I thought about how they were in fear as their community has been attacked, and how they would also be in fear if the perpetrator had been Muslim and the victims random, afraid for themselves and their children due to potential backlash from others in the community.

At what point do they get to rest? Why is everyone else able to go about their day? Why does the responsibility for such devastating actions by individuals get placed on entire communities in some cases but not others?

The reality is I know why. If you don’t know why, once we have had time to grieve, it might be time for some uncomfortable conversations.

In the mean time I implore you to support our Muslim community through donating to one of the fundraisers currently happening.

To our Muslim brothers and sisters – kei te heke ngā roimata, kei te ngākau pōuri au, ka aroha ki a koutou. I am so sorry this happened to you here. You should have been safe here, you should be safe everywhere. My heart is so heavy.

Ringatoi/Artist: Adrien Tavite

(via his instagram)

And this time no music, but to close off, A poem by Warsan Shire: What They Did Yesterday Afternoon:

what they did yesterday afternoon

by warsan shire

grief-reactionthey set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

 

(More from warshan shire in the New Yorker and on her blog.)

Slavic Saturday

Czechs and Polish languages are reasonably similar. Not mutually intelligible, but similar enough that we can somewhat understand each other when spoken very, very slowly (which can be hard, especially for Poles). Our histories are also reasonably similar – both our nations wandered in from east and south, displaced local Germanic and Celtic nations, both established their foot on the ground by fighting and subjugating smaller slavic tribes and selling them to slavery to richer tribes to the south and west. Both eventually became big kingdoms of significant clout and with great ambitions.

But whilst the Lands of the Bohemian Crown were torn from within with Hussite wars and subsequently came as a whole under Habsburg rule, the Poland-Lithuanian commonwealth was not only torn from within by squabbles between its different religious and national groups (like Orthodox Cossacks vs. Catholic Poles), but the part of commonwealth inhabited by Poles was itself totally plundered by Swedes and in few centuries torn from outside and divided between Austria, Prussia and Russia. This difference in historical development has, to my mind, played a significant role in one of the most significant cultural differences between our nations today.

I was blissfully unaware of this difference until my twenties when I decided that a literate and educated person should have at least passing knowledge of the writings of Henryk Sienkiewicz. I have already read one of his books as a child – In Desert and Wilderness – but that is more or less just an adventure book, nothing special (with extra helpings of racism, which flew over my head at that time). I have decided to start with Quo Vadis, because that is his most prominent book internationally and has brought him in the end the Nobel Prize in Literature.

And thus my attempt at reading his works started … and immediately ended. After I have read Quo Vadis I was left with a huge “What The Actual Fuck Did I Just Read?!?” feeling and I could not bring myself to pick up that book or any other of Sienkiewicz’s works ever again. I was appalled, I was totally disgusted and repelled. The writing is excellent, I have no reason to not believe that it is historically well researched, the story is captivating but…

The whole book reeked to me of christian, specifically catholic, propaganda. And this is the difference that I was talking about.

The Czech nation has undergone internal religious divide around Jan Hus, a significant portion of it has challenged the authority of the Holy Roman Church, was beaten into submission and had Catholicism forced it. But it retained some religious diversity and freedom throughout – and ever since then there always were Catholic Czechs as well as Protestant Czechs living with each other in no insignificant numbers. When national revival came, Czechs did identify mostly around shared language and religion has always played second fiddle (even though Catholics were seen as “no true Czechs” by some, that point of view never really became mainstream) and that fiddle became more and more insignificant with each generation ever since.

Polish nation was beaten up from outside and divided into different empires, each with different ruling religion – Orthodoxy in Russian Empire, Protestantism in Prussia and a teensy bit in the predominantly catholic Austria-Hungaria. And although they were not persecuted due to their religion per se in their respective parts throughout this whole time, language as well as religion remained at the core of Polish identity for most, because the non-polish invaders were also mostly non-catholics.

And thus, through a complicated historical route we arrive at present situation. Czechs are one of the world’s leaders in “Not Giving A Fuck” about religion, and Poles are still predominantly actively observant catholics. Czech Republic has freedom of religion, freedom from religion and freedom to say just about anything about any religion you like, as long as you are not engaging in hate speech. Republic of Poland has still has anti-blasphemy laws on books and you can get into trouble for making a mildly amusing parody video making fun or being critical of the Pope.

Jack’s Walk

It’s maple sugar season ©voyager, all rights reserved

Bubba and I thought we’d check out our wee forest today and we were pleased to see that maple syrup season is in full swing. There’s a farm adjacent to our woods that’s full of sugar maples and they process the syrup the old-fashioned way, with pails to collect the sap and an old-fashioned sugar shack where they boil it down over a wood fire. The ratio is 14 litres of sap gives you 1 litre of syrup. Jack has spent a lot of time checking out the farm and those maple trees and I’d warrant a guess that he’s peed on many, maybe even most, of the trees that are tapped. That’s why we call this farm’s maple syrup “Jack Juice.”

Tap, tap, tap ©voyager, all rights reserved

Mmm…©voyager, all rights reserved

Full Fish Ahead: Part 1

Welcome to a brand new series here at Affinity penned by Avalus who’s going to take us through the process of setting up a new aquarium and talk fishkeeping in general.

Let’s begin with the start. I found this big piece of gnarly wood in a shop in early December 2018 when I helped a friend shopping for (and carry) cat-equipment. It just had beautiful depth to it so I just bought it, as I had an idea for a new fishtank and remembered having an old tank in my parents’ attic. In January I picked up the tank from my parents, where it sat for 3 years or so. [Read more…]

Brexit Revisited v2

Because clicking on one thing inevitably leads to another, here’s a companion piece to Charly’s youtube video.

I understand that Brexit can be the source of all kinds of negative emotions – frustration, anger, betrayal, confusion, etc., and for this reason, a nice round of relaxation with yoga might be in order:

To be quite honest, it’s supposed to be funny, but at this point, I’m far more ready to cry. Or laugh-cry, at the very least. Deep breaths, I suppose.

Here’s some more meditative music:

Friday Feathers: A New Sighting

Seeing a new bird is always exciting. I knew we had black woodpeckers in the forest by their characteristic sound, but I had never seen one, so you can understand my excitement upon spotting one in the trees. The pics are taken at probably 70m distance, but do click for full size to see the fellow a little better.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved