Snow job

January 29, 2019

Screen shot 2019-01-29 at 9.00.00 PMToronto is a nice place in the snow.

The storm that hit Toronto Monday was epic by Toronto standards, and by morning about 30 centimetres had fallen. Torontonians are an entitled lot, zipping around as they do in their Lexus and BMW and Mercedes cars and SUVs, but a big old wallop of snow renders a lot of these people pretty helpless. It slows them down, and evens things out a bit.

We live on a corner lot; municipal bylaws require homeowners to shovel their sidewalk, and so we end up with about 40 metres of sidewalk to clear off. My son and I started shoveling in the evening, and shoveled about every two hours, but the snow quickly erased our work. By morning I had to shovel it all over again.

But before I started I noticed a young man who parks his white delivery van by the neighbour’s house across the street. He backed up, trying to leave for the day, and lodged his truck in deep snow. His wheels spun helplessly. He got out a long pole with a squeegee blade and started trying to dig himself out, and I just felt bad so I went over, and then Frits came out as well, and we lent the truck driver a third shovel, and we dug him out. Continue reading

The Treasure Chest

January 7, 2019

Screen shot 2019-01-07 at 5.55.00 PMA few years ago the National Post published my five-part series about my childhood and my father’s stint in state prison in California. I could not have written the stories without a remarkable trove of correspondence that my father let me read, not just letter to him but also letters from him in prison and out; letters that somehow ended up back in his hands. I started imagining what else might lie in his “archives;” specifically, I wondered what records he kept of the early 1970s, when he acted as a minor svengali/messiah, or perhaps the metaphor I seek is pied piper, enticing droves of young people to join him on first one farm and then another in the Ottawa valley for two summer craft faire hippie communes that he called “the Renaissance Faire.” I spent the summer of 1972 and the summer of 1973 at these farms. Continue reading

Finders keepers

December 4, 2018

Screen shot 2018-12-04 at 8.32.14 AMHe knelt in the muddy grass, digging intently. My mind being on forestry these days, at first I thought maybe he was gathering soil samples. But that seemed a random thing to be doing on a cold Saturday morning in Dufferin Grove Park.
Then I noticed a black metal detector lying next to him.
I threw the frisbee for Coco and then the gentleman stood up. He’d heard a ping from his metal detector and was digging for coins. But he gave up on that hole.
“Water pipe,” he said.
He was wiry, with a lined, strong face, lots of teeth, and wore construction knee pads over his dirty jeans. Along with the 2-metre metal detector he wore a small orange portable detector, the length of a serving spoon, in a sheath on his belt, and dug with a thin sharp garden trowel. Alex, his name was, and he said he’d made a hobby of metal detection for many years. He spoke with a thick accent which at first I guessed was Russian. Continue reading

Forestry teamwork

November 8, 2018

rashidA gaggle of Master of Forest Conservation students from the Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto, gathered at Sunnybrook hospital Thursday morning to plant some trees.

The hospital in October had welcomed a team from a large national corporation, whom we shall not name here, to plant trees on the hospital grounds. Sunnybrook takes trees seriously and has worked in the past few years to enhance its tree canopy.

Back in October, the aforementioned corporate team of 15 didn’t do so hot at planting trees. Presumably these staffers converged at Sunnybrook for some team-building, but did more team-building than tree planting; after four hours they’d managed to plant 60 trees. These are not big trees; they are saplings, maybe a metre or so high, in about 5-litre pots. Continue reading

Tall wood on the horizon

October 27, 2018

Screen shot 2018-10-27 at 1.45.24 PMGrace Jeffers, an artist and “wood sourcing expert” from Chicago, uncorked a pretty good line the other day at the Wood at Work conference at the faculty of architecture, University of Toronto.
Architects need to learn more about where wood comes from, so that they can move away from specifying in their drawings cliché species imported from unsustainable clearcuts in the rainforest, such as ipe, she said.
If architects were better informed about the provenance of wood, said Jeffers, “Rem Koolhaus would never have done the Prada shop in zebrawood.”
There is a lot packed into that statement. Mixing a starchitect with a coveted brand and an exotic wood (and a shop in New York’s SoHo district) neatly encapsulates the debate about how Canada might gain respect as a forestry superpower. Conference organizers, in my understanding, were trying to jumpstart the conversation about how Canada might begin to show off the natural spendour of our copious wood resources in the buildings that we erect. Continue reading

Tree guy Tony tees off on poor innocent students on the mean streets of Toronto

October 15, 2018

Screen shot 2018-10-15 at 10.00.36 AMOn a sidewalk just east of downtown Toronto, a large clump of students stood huddled around a young street tree on a sidewalk, shivering against the October wind. If you looked closely at the students you could see they formed two distinct groups, one on each side of the tree: one group wore windbreakers and jeans and Bluntstones or hiking boots; in the other group one could spot wool designer coats and a tall guy with a poney tail. A big guy in an untucked shirt and a longshoreman’s cap stood yelling at them.

“The trees were brought here at 100 or 110 centimetres diameter,” thundered the man. “They developed for the conditions in the nursery where they were initially planted. This is a problem. It’s the rush to the ribbon-cutting. And then they all die.”

Tony Lucey is supervisor of commercial trees for the forestry department at the City of Toronto. He said he “oversees all hard-surface infrastructure in the city.” City rules require builders to design spots for new trees in front of new buildings in Toronto, plant the trees, and provide initial care. Continue reading


September 18, 2018

bike wheel1

The other morning I rode my bike to the U of T bookstore to look for textbooks for my graduate course, ENV 1008: Worldviews and Ecology. I arrived early, because at this time of year the place resembles Union Station at rush hour. The shelf was empty; a staffer assured me that, “The books are on order. The prof knows.”
I walked out and found my front bike tire flat.
Life is like that some days.
I rolled my bike over to Bike Chain, a service of the university for which students pay an annual $1. Bike Chain lives in  a nook on Bancroft Avenue in the Earth Sciences Centre, where I study. It didn’t open until 10, so I went off to run some errands and got back at around noon.
Bike Chain is windowless; it smells of bike grease, and young men and women walked around purposefully in a way I found slightly forbidding. A sign at the entrance read, “All bays full. Add your name to the wait list.” Continue reading

My wonderful summer job

August 26, 2018

Screen shot 2018-08-26 at 8.17.48 PMJust a brief note about my summer job. I write this on a Sunday evening while I wait for Coco to finish gnawing on the T-bone that we gave her in the back yard after we ate the steak. I can’t walk her until she’s finished her gnaw.
I have a great summer job.
Of course, fall is here, and with fall comes the return to real life; I feel almost like Cinderella when the coach turns into a pumpkin. I am going to need to find a real job when this Master’s in Forest Conservation is complete, in December.
That said, it’s been a great summer.
I was reflecting on it just now because I fished around in the laundry basket at some clothes that I just took off the clothesline, and selected a short-sleeved shirt, a pair of shorts, a pair of underwear and socks, and put those, plus my belt, phone, wallet and keys on the ottoman down in the living room. Continue reading

Wild goose chase

July 19, 2018

Screen shot 2018-07-19 at 5.25.09 PMMy workday starts at 6:45 a.m. when the shuttle bus drops me off at Sunnybrook hospital with my co-worker, whom I will call Francesca. The crew at the Grounds department of the hospital unlocks the workshop door (where we keep our boots and tools) at 7 a.m.

So from 6:45 to 7 we have our “morning meeting” at a picnic table on the grass near the main loading docks and discuss our day. We are both Master of Forest Conservation graduate students, and Sunnybrook has hired us for the summer to assess the health of its forests. Sunnybrook, the largest hospital in Canada, boasts 12,000 employees, and thousands of trees.
Often when we arrive we see nearby what Francesca calls the “stupid geese.” They are a family, parents and seven goslings, though by now the young ones are so big it’s tough to tell them from the grownups. The geese are the bane of the Grounds department’s existence (or maybe a Continue reading

Goodbye, Paul

July 3, 2018

IMG_1449         My father died on Monday night. He had the temerity, or perhaps I should say the grace, to die on my birthday.

I write ‘grace” because one of my friends joked last night that perhaps his death could be looked at as a birthday present to me: he was such a terrible father that in dying he gave me the gift of not having to put up with him anymore.

But I cannot look at his death that way. He was not a great father, nor was he even a good father, but he had his good points. Generally over the years and through about 25 years of therapy I have been able to get past the bad points and to enjoy Paul for who he was. (He told me when I was nine, when he got out of prison, that, “You have to call me Paul now.”) He was a crazy iconoclast, self-centred and self-destructive, incapable of raising or supporting kids or even of living in a house, and creative, smart, talented, good-looking, funny, curious and full of inspiration.

Continue reading