February 27, 2017 Meeting
by Clement Kent, Ph.D., S.R.A, C.P.Y., etc., etc.
⦁ A visit with the Royal Families chez eux ⦁ Base Camp I ⦁ Base Camp II ⦁ The Ascent ⦁ The Royal Forest ⦁ Floral Adornment ⦁ Silence in the Presence ⦁ No Gain without Pain ⦁ Health of the Royals ⦁ Royal Court ⦁ Long Term prospects for the Monarchs ⦁ How You may Help
Your Humble Correspondent had the never-to-be-forgotten honor of visiting the Monarchs (Danaus plexippa, in Court language) in their winter palaces in January. Here I record my observations along with some Illustrations by the redoubtable Mr. Canon, SLR.
⦁ Base Camp I ⦁
Although Their Majesties are more commonly observed in their Summer habitations, in the Winter they withdraw to remote Winter Palaces, difficult of approach. Thus my cousin Mr. Casey and I began our expedition in the town of Morelia, State of Michoacan, Republic of Mexico. Here we established our first base camp in the comfortable Hotel de la Soledad. We dined excellently on regional specialties of gourmet quality with local dignitaries Profs. Ramirez, Marten-Rodriguez, and Quesada of UNAM and discussed their efforts at understanding the role of the peasantry and local fauna and flora. We toured local indigenous artworks, many of which took as their theme the presence of the Monarchs.
⦁ Base Camp II ⦁
We had hired a native guide, Mr. Lopez, who translated and conducted our caravan for us. We repaired to our second camp, the Training Centre of Alternare A.C., three hours from Camp I. We were assigned humble but adequate quarters suitable to our dignity (the Presidential Suite for myself, bunk-beds for Messrs. Casey and Lopez). Simple but abundant and delicious local foods were prepared for us by the good campesino ladies. It is to be noted that at no point were we afflicted with the unpleasantnesses of digestion reported by some travellers. Indeed, part of the Mission of Alternare is the teaching of Hygiene to local campesinos, and judging by our fare they are eminently successful. We shall have further Observations regarding the Mission of Alternare below.
⦁ The Ascent ⦁
Fortified with excellent food and drink prepared for us by the good ladies, we began our first Ascent to the Royal Premises. After 45 minutes on progressively steeper mountain roads, we reached 3,260 meters elevation (above the altitude of Quito, Ecuador; by comparison the highest permanent settlements of Europe are below 2,200 meters) where we left our trusty Honda vehicle and entered the Royal Preserve “Sierra Chincua”. Here we engaged another local guide to take us up to the Royal Forest. We determined to test our Fortitude by walking, but some of our companions who carried heavy Photographic Apparatus discovered less than a kilometer up the trail that they required assistance, at which point a campesino with a horse appeared as if by magic. One suspects that those with delicate constitutions often flag about this point, although the path is more long than steep. Nonetheless, the air at these heights is thin and the slightest exertion is felt more keenly.
⦁ The Royal Forest ⦁
We soon passed from open pastures, inhabited by hardy cattle, to the penumbrous shade of stately Oyamel Fir trees. These cap the mountains and represent a preferred tree of their Majesties, of which more anon. The Forest was previously owned and logged by the peasantry, but the Government of Mexico has declared a Preserve to protect the Monarchs. A grievous consequence of this is severe loss of income to local families, only some of which is made up by revenues from tourism.
⦁ Floral Adornment ⦁
As we ascended the mountain, in clearings we saw great quantities of flowers, including blue and red native sages (Salvia Mexicana and many others), purple groundsels (Senecio callosus) and a host of others. Violent winter winds in the past few years have created many windfalls in which winter bloom abounds. These clearings provide a good part of the winter sustenance of their Majesties.
⦁ Silence in the Presence ⦁
Finally, we approached an area where the majestic Firs were cloaked in Monarchs. Our guide admonished us, sotto voce, to be silent in the Presence. Indeed so Awesome a sight struck many of us silent, although without the vigilance of the guides there would no doubt have been a clatter and chatter most disturbing to Royalty.
⦁ No Gain without Pain ⦁
The pressure of the madding crowd prevented close examination of the Royals at our first stopping place. However, we had been provided a special License to approach their Majesties more closely, at a second location. To do this we followed the guide down one steep slope and then up another, arriving at another Royal Grove where we were the only Supplicants present. Here we were able to observe the resting Royalty at length, for it was still before noon. Those who have only observed Monarchs in their leafy summer palaces of milkweed may not know that in winter-time they use the aristocratic privilege of sleeping until the Sun is high, for it is cool in the Groves. Thus we have the slightly touching image of Mr. Casey breathing on a recumbent Monarch to attempt to rouse it with his plebeian Breath.
Leaving this grove, we ascended a most challenging slope at the crest of which, exceeding 3,400 meters, we were afforded most pleasing views of the surrounding country. However, the ascent did provoke some heavy breathing among our party, and complaints upon the following morn of stiff muscles.
⦁ Health of the Royals ⦁
Although difficult to believe when in the Presence, the number of Monarchs in 2017 is the second lowest in recorded history. Evil effects of 21st century farming methods, including the drastic decrease in milkweeds in their Spring Courts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa due to increased herbicide use and the prevalent cult of King Corn, have reduced the production of new Royals drastically. It is the young from the Spring Courts who move even further North to our lands in May and June and in their turn produce children in the northern States and Canada. Then, when Summer’s days are waning, Canadian Monarchs (aided by the winds of Boreas) fly over 4,000 kilometers to their Winter Palaces.
⦁ Royal Court ⦁
No Monarchy functions without couriers and servitors. We have already mentioned the faithful Guides who preserve and protect their Majesties. One may also see heavily armed “Federales” prepared to repel logger brigands from the Royal Forest, and these make up the military classes. However, it is the servitors who, as in any court, are most essential to their royal needs. At Alternare, part of their Mission is teach sustainable silviculture to the local campesinos. We met peasant families in small cooperatives who raise and plant thousands of native tree seedlings each year on the mountain slopes. Unlike the planting efforts of government funded reforestation, where only 5-15% of seedling survive a year, the campesino plantings are well timed and well tended and over 85% survive. More, multiple species are grown. Further, Alternare teaches local families ways to reduce wood use in their cooking and construction, diminishing mountain slope deforestation.
⦁ Long Term Prospects for the Monarchs ⦁
The decline of habitat in Winter, Spring, and Summer courts continues. Under the regency of Prince Obama, steps were taken to provide subsidies to farmers in the Spring Courts to eliminate herbicide use on strips between farm fields and along Royal Roads. However, the advent of the Pretender [TrumpNew.png] casts doubt that these essential programs will continue. Worse, the Pretender is now attacking Mexico and Mexicans, which may reduce funds available for protection of the Winter Courts.
⦁ How You May Help ⦁
We here in the Dominion can best help their Majesties in several ways. Each of us can help locally by planting attractive milkweed species in our gardens and our public places, avoiding herbicide and pesticide uses in these plantations, and educating our fellows about the needs of the Monarchs. Whether we can affect the Pretender and his Republican Guard is dubious; so until his yoke is cast off, we must support the efforts of organized groups such as Alternare. If this link does not work for you, you may use this one.
You may also help by visiting the Winter Palaces. To do, so, we recommend travelling to Mexico City via a non-stop flight from Muddy York. Thence, a luxurious bus may be hired to transport you to Morelia, where we advise a day or three of accommodation to altitude and enjoyment of the Colonial art, architecture, and gourmet gastronomy. When ready, take a recognized tour to the Winter Palaces. Unless you are strong and aerobically fit, we advise you to hire a horse for the ascent. Be sure to tip your Guides well and if so inclined, investigate the wares on display at the base – many locally produced baskets, pottery, and warm woolen winter wraps are on display. And warm you may wish for! At nights temperatures on the mountaintops can flirt with freezing, although on sunny afternoons it is often a comfortable 18-20C. An ideal time for a tour is to reach the Court at 11am (with a packed lunch) and watch until 1pm, at which time many butterflies will be flying. The Monarchs arrive in November and depart in March. The warmest time to visit is the second half of February, although the crowds will be largest then too.
By: Ava Lightbody
The city is a structured place. Roads and sidewalks follow mainly straight lines, while houses, apartment buildings, offices and shops march dutifully alongside them, one after the other. Many of us live structured lives within our concrete, highly controlled world, following the schedules, routines, and norms of our workplaces and leisure activities. Urban green space is often no different – processions of trees stand on manicured turf and garden beds are filled with neat lines of annuals. Community use of park space is defined and limited by a stifling array of municipal policies, bylaws, permits, and red tape.
While this approach to governing public space is understandable in a city filled with as many competing interests as it has inhabitants; the wild and wayward life of a tiny, disproportionately lively square of parkland in Toronto’s west end has a different lesson to teach us about the rewards of relinquishing control.
MacGregor Playground is an unassuming neighbourhood park bordered by Lansdowne Avenue and the CN Railway line, sandwiched between a high school and dense residential area. Local lore remembers its past incarnations as a mere short cut between Lansdowne and the smaller streets by day, and a dark, threatening place by night. Over the past several years however MacGregor Playground has begun to flourish under the tutelage of community members and a local arts group, now known as Botanicus Art Ensemble. The formerly non-descript park now features a Native Species garden, a bountiful Edible Teaching Garden, arts and garden programs for children and adults, and a series of seasonal nature-based community festivals.
The Native Species garden is a small but exceptionally diverse collection of wild flowers, grasses, and shrubs – Grey Coneflower, Little Bluestem, and Witch Hazel. It is a microcosmic stage for the complex and cyclical dance of pollinators, pests, sun, rain, decay and rebirth. The Edible Teaching Garden is a whimsical oasis of curling little foot paths unfolding through oddly-shaped, lush garden beds – their curvatures echoing the spiralling, twisting tendrils and stems of companion-planted heirloom squash, tomatoes, beans, and herbs. The gardens bring the wild back into the city – a wildness that is impermanent yet timeless, cyclical yet unpredictable, governed by pattern yet uncontrolled and uncontrollable.
As the stewards of the gardens, program participants temporarily transcend the domesticated cityscape and take part in something larger than the human. This “something” can be guided by our hand but is forever beyond our grasp. The Botanicus Art Ensemble artists invite everyone to be a little untamed, a little more free – and so they have been, donning elaborate hats with towering ornaments that reach to the sky, and long sparkling robes that flow like water.
Throughout the growing season of 2016, Botanicus Art Ensemble led garden-side, nature-inspired arts programs in theatre, dance, and music. Spring was celebrated with a large community gathering and a theatrical performance featuring original songs and characters such as “Snap Pea”, a strutting, singing pea plant, and “The Centipedes”, a dancing trio dispelling the stigma surrounding the creepy crawlies of the garden. July brought the “Bumble Bee Flash Mob,” a sudden eruption of lively music and dance within the crowd at the BIG on Bloor street festival, performed by community members dressed as bees and butterflies to honour the importance of pollinators within the ecosystem we all depend on. In harvest season the neighbourhood was brought together around food from the garden, and a participatory drumming procession that circled the empty wading pool as if performing an ancient harvest ritual.
“Working outside in a public park can be nerve-wracking”, says Artistic Director Kristen Fanrig, “because you never know what the day will bring – will there be a rainstorm? Who will turn up? But with professional artists & gardeners who can turn on a dime, and enthusiastic volunteers & participants, you can be sure that what seems like a scary tight-rope walk into the unknown will become a joyful fanfare that trumpets a combined creative expression.”
Between the celebrations were open drop-in workdays in the garden, spent learning and tending the garden and volunteer days for neighbourhood high school students. People from all walks of life transformed the garden from a flat plot of land and a handful of seeds to an Eden of vegetables, fruits, and herbs. A branch of the Toronto Seed Library was started, a city-wide initiative that promotes biodiversity and putting seeds and seed knowledge into the hands of community members. As the months passed, participants formed unlikely and unusual friendships with neighbours whose paths they may not otherwise have crossed. They have stepped outside their shells. They have lingered out in the park a little later.
The success of the arts and garden programs at MacGregor Playground sheds a new kind of light on the adage “if you love something then let it go”. Most Torontonians can see there is much to love about parks and their potential to improve urban lives – they give us a place to form a personal relationship with the environment, to be active and breathe clean air, to break down social isolation and build community.
Parks can be the life-giving counterbalance to wearying city life, but if MacGregor Playground tells us anything, it’s that a blossoming life cannot be contained in the structured world we create for ourselves. It is messy and indefinable, it is cracks and spills and unexpected outcomes. It comes from the ground and it unfurls in myriad directions. If we want to reap all the benefits that Toronto parks have to offer, we must embrace the wildness of co-creating with nature, and with one another.
Ava Lightbody is a social and environmental justice activist and thinker, with a love for research, writing, the arts, and getting her hands dirty in the garden (or the kitchen!). She holds a Masters degree in environmental studies from York University, where she studied Aboriginal rights and the Canadian mining and fossil fuel industries. Ava developed and led garden programs at MacGregor Playground in 2016 for the Botanicus Art Ensemble in collaboration with community members and Parks & Recreation staff.
Botanicus Art Ensemble is a non-profit arts group - actors, musicians, designers, gardeners and story-tellers creating nature-inspired art with neighbours out of an urban park in Toronto, Canada. Their most recent park improvement project has been the creation of the MacGregor Teaching Gardens and in 2016, with funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation the BAE commissioned a feasibility study of the MacGregor Fieldhouse from DTAH Architects to support year-round community programs. To read this study and find out more about BAE projects please visit www.botanicusart.com.
To join us in planting and caring for the MacGregor Teaching Gardens in the upcoming spring please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 30, 2017 Meeting
RUSTY NEVER SLEEPS (With Apologies to Neil Young)
It was quite a coincidence that I spoke with this month’s speaker on January 12th. It was, for those who don’t know, Kiss a Ginger Day and Ann Shteir is much better known as ‘Rusty’ for good reason. That’s what her parents began calling her since “before I [she] was born”, she claims, when you could say they both willed their unborn child to be a redhead.
Despite being a Professor Emerita at York University, Rusty Shteir is anything but the other potential significance of her charming name. In fact, she’s quite energized by the task of putting together a workshop for York next year. And her unquenchable curiosity will keep her researching the topic she will be discussing with us, for a long time to come. That is, like much research interests and work, the focus often begins in one place—comparative literature, specifically German Romantic plant imagery—and takes many turns as she delves into her work about womens’ relationship to science and more specifically, botany.
As a young PhD student, she was excited to have grant money with which to travel to Switzerland to study the works of a male Swiss botanist/poet. But she was non-plussed by the daunting prospect of having to decipher his decidedly terrible handwriting in the depths of the country’s dusty archives, so she switched the topic to English women botanists when she happened upon a reference to their work. And that set the stage for a great part of her research since then, with all manner of twists and turns inside the broader topic… that is, the intellectual relationship, the experience, and the work of women in the intellectual field of botany. She began with European women and, as of ten years ago or so, her attention was drawn to the women working in Canada in the 19th century who discovered our plants, studied and documented them, and… well, she will tell us all about what else they did!
As for gardening, Rusty considers herself more of an inside gardener, but her work has clearly touched her deeply, for in her address to last June’s graduating class at York University, wherein she received an honorary doctorate of laws, she said,
“As I see it, knowledge of ideas and writings from earlier times is a springboard as we get our hands into the soil of our world, and use the tools of our own education to cultivate our gardens.”
She no doubt has lovely indoor plant gardens, but in her nearly 45 years in academia, where she is a respected scholar in the field of Women and Science, she also created the garden of graduate Women’s Studies at York, and has cultivated, nurtured, no doubt weeded, and helped raise to maturity a great number of students.
Please come out to learn about this fascinating field of research to add some depth to your historical knowledge of the plants of Canada and most importantly, the women whose work helped to establish it.
The Perfect Gift for Family and Friends: A Membership to The Horticultural Societies of Parkdale & Toronto
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John Alexander & Peter Kaellgren - Weird, Wild and Wonderful Carnivores, Parasites and Other Unusual Plants
November 28, 2016 Meeting and AGM
Meetings are held at the Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian Church, 250 Dunn Avenue, just south of Queen Street West. Doors open at 6:30pm. This meeting will start earlier than normal - at 7pm. We are having a brief AGM to vote in our board and accept financial and other reports. Arrive after 6:30pm and enjoy coffee and cookies while you check out the Hort library, chat, and ask questions!
In their quest to document wild orchids, John and Peter found many unusual and intriguing botanical curiosities. Peter (former ROM conservator) will share the plants’ characteristics and habitat, John (photographer, artist) the challenge to document and conserve them.
TAKE A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
The immediate post U.S. election period is a time for reflection on much we Canadians hold dear. This is especially true of things that may soon disappear in our neighbour to the south. Take diversity. Only Ecuador and Mexico can boast a higher diversity per square kilometre than Canada—of orchids, that is! Yes… Canada, and Ontario in particular, is home to a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve which helps in the conservation of over sixty of Canada’s total of 70 endemic varieties. They are the wild and wonderful part of this month’s presentation.
The presentation, by Peter Kaellgren and John Alexander, will feature photographs of a dizzying array of orchids, and that doesn’t mean those specimens, cloned by the 1000s, that can be purchased at the supermarket. These two men are serious plantsmen who chanced upon orchids and consequently a community of experts (lay and otherwise), aficionados, and even the Bruce Peninsula Orchid Festival.
“Chance upon” is perhaps the wrong description for John’s relationship with orchids. He was first introduced to them in Fredericton by a grade 1 classmate whose family had a greenhouse full of them. In his teens he took an interest in photographing plants and trees, which grew into a career in photography. During their travels throughout Ontario, John and Peter, a retired Decorative Arts museum conservator who has developed a special skill in identifying flowers in the many forms they are represented, learned about Ontario orchids while exploring nature near the town of Purdon.
John and Peter have developed highly choreographed expeditions wherein John carries his camera and Peter, the ‘Sherpa’, carries the accessories, such as a sun diffuser and kneeler pad. Together they scour the trails they walk, each fixing their eye on one side, looking, not just for the sometimes minute blooms of our indigenous orchid species, but more often, their less showy, but uniquely identifying foliage. On the return, they maintain their gaze, which now falls on the opposite side of the trail. With a different set of eyes, together with a change in the way light falls, they are sometimes able to identify plants they missed on the first pass.
Such dedication has paid off in their having become respected speakers, not just at horticulture and orchid societies all over Ontario, but at conferences as well. This month they’ll share photographs of their discoveries and stories about the experience as well as the issues that these delicate plants raise. And that’s where the post U.S. election period comes in. Should climate change agreements be cancelled or brazen political disdain for environmental protection creep into legislation during the Trump presidency, it’s quite certain that these wild and wonderful plants might suffer. As to the weird ones—well, they won’t be any better off.