Monday, 14 October 2013

Tanzania: letter to the Editor

There are "too many of us.  The shortage of water is really the surplus of people." reads the letter in the newspaper delivered to my seat in a plane returning from Tanzania. 

Community members in Bahi, Tanzania, a small village close to the city of Dodoma (150 km NW of Dar Es Salaam) had called upon an international community of doctors, researchers and human rights workers for help.  The Tanzanian government was being lobbied by a uranium mining company from Australia.  The people believed that their lands and livelihoods were being bargained away.  

Bahi is semi-arid. The dry black earth is deeply cracked.  Our vehicles lurched over barely visible trails that would be gone when the rains came and the dike-bordered squares were transformed into rice paddies.

There is no uranium mine here yet. However, after the prospectors left, local farmers developed skin problems – especially on the skin of hands, lower legs and feet. Their plight simultaneously reached the ears of a German activist, a Swiss president of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and a human rights organization.

The visiting team was organized in hopes of providing diagnoses, education about the health effects of uranium mining and provide support in their efforts to keep their small farm-holdings.

In Tanzania, the press of population is crushingly present – from cheek-sunken beggars by the roadside to car-choked traffic jams in Dar, from the scores of  unemployed to the grinding poverty of hundreds of thousands. Yes, this population demands a lot of water.

But the proposed uranium mine in Bahi would require 35 million litres of water per day! The used water would be poisoned with arsenic, acids, alkalis and heavy metals. It would be lost to human consumption. 

People are not consuming this water for their needs; it feeds an energy hungry industry based upon peoples' greeds.

So now I'm home and unpacking pent-up emotional baggage:  Sorrow for the 50,000 Africans who left Zanzibar per year as slaves, gutting the cultural heart of the continent.  Anger that they've, in turn, been left with a network of despotic corrupt leaders.  Anger at continued colonialism through bribery, extortion and collusion in the extractive industry.  Anger that the extractive industry's long arm can reach through the country's mosaic to harass opposition*.  Fury that Canada has the most lax international oversight in the world and shows callous disregard for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Africa, South and Central America and Australia.

Gratitude for the people I've met - many talented young and not so young African activists, for the group of medical students determined to make a difference in the arms trades working on One Bullet Stories, for the many who love their families, communities and countries - and are willing to risk imprisonment of worse to stand up for peace, justice and a sustainable world.

Preserving land and water to use for our needs and for those of future generations is a sacred trust.

*As we stood outside the police station in the tropical darkness, the police in Bahi questioned one of the organizers of the road trip.  The next morning the police stopped a bus coming to the conference in Dodoma and told them not to proceed.  That night an activist from the Congo was held at customs until someone came to sign a voucher for him.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013



The final chapter of Cleo-poultra has yet to be written – so far her life has been preserved.

Cleo can walk without faltering, flap wings to perch on the deck railing and peck seeds from the ground from a standing position. Great accomplishments for an animal that was lying on its side, paralyzed wings and legs with seizure-like spasms which propelled it about in circles.

Seventy days ago, that was she. Beth and Bill started providing palliative care. They put her in a box, placed food and water within beak-reach and kept her bedding clean. Her remarkable chicken-neck flexibility put her head into a horizontal position.

A sling over the top of a box through which her legs could be put was devised. Her bum feathers were clipped to make personal hygiene simpler (chicken shit is very, very sticky). At first she was “diapered” because she was too unstable to be held upright but as she became stronger, a hole was cut through which her waste could fall onto plastic below – sort of a “chicken biffy”. Erin put a mirror in front of her so that she wouldn't feel as though she was all alone.

For two weeks in July, her legs were in cardboard splints and removed only for sessions of “chicken leg physiotherapy”. By 21 days post-illness, the splints were discarded and by the end of July she had to be restrained by sling across her back behind her wings because she could spasm right out of the sling. She could not control herself to walk.

On July 29th, she took her shaky steps. She never used her sling again during the day. She was directionally challenged – her feet did not seem to take her in any kind of controlled direction. She had to work very hard to get back to her food and water. A week later, the sling was retired and she graduated to a cat carrier chicken coop with shavings in the bottom. She was able to find her way back to it in the evening. Concern for her warmth resulted in a small rug cover over the cat carrier.

Re-integration has so far met with failure. She gets severely pecked – she is smaller than all the others. The rooster, on the other hand, knows that there is a chicken up at the house and comes to the house to try to seduce her. So far, she is having none of that and her objections bring Sylvan, the dog, to chase him into the trees.

What future does Cleo have? Will she lay eggs?  Will she become lunch someday?  Be a pet chicken for the rest of her life? (Given the alternatives for a chicken, that's not too bad.)

But do we want a pet chicken?

We have learned that chickens aren't all that stupid.  They might even have personalities!  We find it truly amazing how accurately Cleo can peck a tidbit off the tip of a finger – or hidden in a half-folded palm - when her eyes are on either side of her head.  I guess we could learn more.......

Sunday, 8 September 2013

No Military Intervention in Syria - or anywhere!

Interviewer:  What made you decide to join this action?

Bill and I have long been opposed to military action anywhere.  Call us "old peaceniks".  In April and October 1967, Bill marched in New York City and in Washington, DC  in opposition to the Vietnam war.  The enormous toll of war was apparent:  the environmental destruction, the waste of petroleum products, the re-building of lives, livelihoods and infrastructure.  When the peace movement influenced the US to pull out of Vietnam, many of us thought the world had reached an intolerance of war.  We raised families and developed professional careers.  

In the 1980's, the world accumulation of 67,000 nuclear weapons, enough to destroy ourselves many times over, spurred us to action again.  We were involved with International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War  (IPPNW) - it brought Reagan and Gorbachev to the negotiating table, the numbers were reduced to 23,000 and we thought the reductions would continue.  We were wrong. 

This year Obama devoted more than $80 million dollars to update nuclear weapons.  We don't know what he is truly thinking when he claims that he had have a "limited military action".  The Prime Minister of Russia has said, "Russia will regard such an action as an 'act of aggression'"?

Both sides have nuclear weapons and a measure of immaturity!  No military action in Syria.

Interviewer:  What do you think should be done?

Taking military action is will give in to the enormous military-industrial lobby, which will wring its hands all the way to the bank.   Whether it is power or oil or the banks, the beneficiaries will not be the people.  As the Mafia says, "Follow the money." 

"Occupy Wall Street" was right!  The economic system is intrinsically dependent upon both the petroleum industry (and other extractive industries) and upon the arms industry.  It is an entirely artificial, human-made system.  War and redirection of the world's resources into the military - the single greatest consumer of petroleum products and hence contributor to greenhouse gasses – is its product.

"Idle No More" sprang up to offer impetus to justice for Indigenous People and expanded to recognize the inclusion of opposition to extractive industries  and preservation of the environment.  It, too, will spur us towards the tipping point, the point where the human race changes direction. 

Do we "go where no man thought" (Carl Sagan), develop an economic system dependent upon sustainability (David Korton), accept the sacrifices (Naomi Klein) and create the world of the United Nations mission statement, a vision of peace and cooperation amongst people.  Or do we choose death - either by nuclear weapons  (nuclear winter – Carl Sagan, Ira Helfund) or by environmental destruction (global warming, increasing carbon)? 

Let us choose neither and start with Syria.  No military intervention. 

Let's:  choke the flow of arms into the country – identify the profiteers on both sides.  Pinpoint the manufacturers of weapons of mass destruction.  Remove international provocateurs.  Provide lots of work for undercover agents and journalists!

Start talking at every level of government, start teaching non-violent conflict resolution – not just in Syria but everywhere, start dealing with the already overwhelming numbers of refugees from Syria (but also all over the Middle East) and the personal traumas of survivors, including soldiers. 

Take it slow and take it patiently.  Real change does take some time.  Let Syria not slide into another violent Western-created quagmire like Iraq or Libya.

Interviewer:  Do you have hope for the future?

Yes.  The choices are clear and it is clear that many of us are making a choice to live and to create a world for future generations.  The human race has no alternative but to do it – and do it quickly!!! 



Hope in our Hearts

What a wonderful day in Regina!

It was quite an effort to arrange - revising the chicken coop to make it impenetrable from the outside for four-legged carnivores and from the inside from scratching imprisoned chickens, picking the corn, zucchinis and cucumbers to take to the city, organizing our travel bags with "things to return or drop off", recreational items like yoga mat and bathing suit (just in case the opportunity arises)  and the shopping list (like good fairtrade coffee, woman's work gloves, a special spatula, etc. - we always look in Wynyard first).

We successfully dropped off everything - book to Jan, toilet seat to Shayna and garden goodies in the evening.  We managed to get most of the essentials - didn't get to David's Tea or to visit the museum; I did yoga in the Balkwall park but Bill didn't get a swim.

We participated in the short march from City Hall to Victoria Park in opposition to military action in Syria, made some new friends and met some old friends, carried a sign (If I can learn how to post pictures to my blog, I'll show you.) heard some good speakers (who knew how to make a point briefly), and was interviewed by some excellent young journalists.

Part of my Spiel at the interviews:  In the 1960's we in the peace movement thought that we had more or less "won the war" against war - Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement was founded on principles of non-violence and they had prevailed over legislative racism.  In the 1980's we thought that we had turned the tide and the world would disarm itself of nuclear weapons - and eventually all weapons - this was not a utopian dream, it is the view of the founding nation-states of the United Nations, it was the view of the United States in the late 1920's when, tired of death and destruction, it passed a motion not to engage in wars of aggression anywhere!  It is not utopian, in fact, it is the only way the world will survive.

Military action to "punish" the use of a banned weapon is so exquisitely childish but action is needed.  The manufacturers of banned weapons must be identified.  The flow of arms into the conflict areas must stop and negotiations must begin. Do it now or do it after more infrastructure is destroyed?  May as well show the maturity to do it now.

We capped off the evening at the Briarpatch 40th Anniversary Party.  We  were delighted and proud to discover that our daughter, Beth, was the MC although we knew that she was the event organizer.  An incredible amount of volunteer time must have gone into the historic slide show!  The audience was engaged throughout.  And the audience!  What a wonderful mix of people of all ages and backgrounds!  Again, we renewed old friendships, and met many whose paths we will pass again!  The energy in that room will "change the world - it is the only thing that every has"!

When we pulled into the yard, the chickens had all put themselves to bed safely and the dog was pleased to be let out to mark his territory, have a barking fit and check for invaders.

We slept a satisfying sleep.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

What to do about Syria?

Get out and protest unilateral military action!  Twitter, facebook and phone congressmen, MPs, and the Whitehouse!  Take on Prime Minister Harper.

It doesn't work, you say? 

Peaceful protest ended the Vietnam war, segregation in the United States and apartheid in South Africa.  The Danes turned back Hitler in World War II by non-cooperation and protesting.  Regimes have been changed and dictators brought down by non-violent protest.

The “Arab Spring” in Syria was brutally squashed, apparently by President Assad's security forces, making room for multi-faceted sectarian violence, so-called revolutionary forces that come from a multitude of backgrounds.  Not even the government opposition supports their actions!

A gas attack on civilians is egregious but bombing the government or Assad's own fortress will not accomplish any good.  It could unleash a cascade of harm.

Obama knows that it could spiral out of control.  The United States is evacuating its embassy in Lebanon “as a safety measure”.  President Putin of Russia says that Russia would regard a military strike as an aggression against Russia.  Harper is saying that Russia shouldn't have a veto in the UN – but this isn't going to the UN.  Obama says he'll wait only for Congress to support him – and it is not clear whether he'll order an attack if he doesn't have their support.

Just a minute.  The United States and Russia both have enough nuclear weapons to plunge this world into a “nuclear winter” - in fact less than 1/10 of either countries arsenal would do it.  Volcanoes have done it in the past – the 1815 “year without summer” in Europe was the result of an eruption in Indonesia.

Who would press the button first?  Russia is dependent upon North American wheat so a failure of agriculture on this side of the Atlantic would have enormous “blowback” consequences for them.  The United States through President Bush has threatened the use of nuclear weapons “if necessary”.  But the end result would be roughly the same for the entire world.

Let's step back from military action while we can!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Bugged by Bites

Almost the end of bug season....

Flies, ants and spiders bite too.

Horse flies, deer flies and black flies are vicious. Did you know that their mouthparts are shaped like razors? – and they cut through the skin to create a wound from which they suck up blood if we let them sit long enough! Like mosquitoes and ticks, their saliva contains a blood thinner to prevent clotting while they work.

The saliva is a potential vector for several diseases, mostly for farm animals but may include Lyme disease. Because the flies leave small open wounds, the bite site has potential for local infection, especially if scratched. While most people will develop a welt from black fly bites, only a few people will be allergic to the saliva of horse or deer flies, a sensitivity that increases with repeated bites. Black flies are daytime feeders although the long twilight hours of the North means that they can be looking for a meal long into the evening.

Ants bite in defence – they aren't actively seeking humans for food. Their mouthparts dig into the skin and then release. People experience pain and rarely much of a reaction. If caught under our clothing, an ant will leave a series of bites creating a “family” of small welts.

Spiders on the prairies are rarely the cause of skin reactions. Most are completely uninterested in humans. Although the “brown recluse spider” is not supposed to be in Saskatchewan, I have seen a few people with reactions that resemble their bites. The bite is practically unnoticeable but the result is attention-grabbing. A red spot or blister usually develops some time after the bite followed by a shallow ulcer that takes up to six weeks to resolve. Antibiotics have no effect upon healing.


Horse and deer flies are largely visual creatures and apparently are drawn movement, dark colours, and the colour blue; carbon dioxide may also attract them to a lesser degree. So stop moving, wear light-coloured clothing and stop breathing – there are only two out of three choices. Unfortunately, they are not deterred by regular insect repellants although aggressive use of highly concentrated DEET may prevent them from biting.

A number of fly traps have been on the market including patches that were put on the backs of baseball caps – all have limited value but if you were planning an outdoor barbecue during fly season, they might decrease the menace.

Ants are best avoided – don't stand on an ant hill! Spiders? Like tick prevention, long pants stuck into high socks are be the best prevention.

One of the best things about cold weather is that all of these biting insects disappear! Unfortunately, we won't have long to wait.

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Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Bee and Wasp Stings

Does it bug you as much as it bugs me when people start screaming, flailing and scattering at the first sign of a stinging insect?  It sure annoys me.  So I did a bit of research..........

And here are some of my conclusions:

Prevention of stings lies in identifying your bug and knowing what to do about it.  A honey bee sting produces the worst response because it injects considerably more venom than wasps.  A wasp is much much more likely to sting than a hornet.....forget about the myths about hornets.

First of all, flailing arms about in the air is NOT a good idea. Most of these members of the hymenoptera family of insects don't sting unless threatened so if you accidentally hit the insect while throwing your arms around, you are more likely to be stung. The precautionary approach is to either ignore the insect or get up and leave, quietly informing others in your vicinity.

Identifying the insect?

The most common stingers around Wynyard are yellow jackets - a 1.3 cm long wasp with prominent yellow stripes on its body. It is fairly aggressive in protecting itself and its nest. If a yellow jacket perceives a threat it will sting and release anywhere between 2 and 15 micrograms of toxin into the skin. It also gets bored quickly so when people are eating outside, hiding any dishes that might attract wasps, sitting still while one is exploring and waiting for it to leave (unnerving as it might be) will leave everyone unbitten. (Swatting air at it is ok but be careful not to strike it.)

A honey bee is less aggressive, same size but fatter than a wasp with dull yellow stripes - if it stings, it cannot withdraw its weapon - leaving the stinger, parts of the muscles and its lower bowel behind. It dies shortly thereafter. Release of the stinger sends a pheromone into the air to attract other bees to the scene of its death, so move away quickly even if you are not the victim. The person who is stung should change any clothing that was in contact with the bee as the pheromone might be on them.

Bumblebees are a larger (about 2 cm long) and even more passive version of the honey bee; it is safe to watch them gather nectar from a flower garden.

A hornet is less common, larger, almost 2.5 cm long, thin-bodied and rather passive - they are big vicious-looking insects that occasionally find their way into warm parked cars. They need considerable provocation to use their stingers which contain about the same amount of toxin as a wasp.

The actual venom contain enzymes (hyaluronidases) that break down cellular membranes, melittin which stimulates an inflammatory response and some histamine releasing agents.

The first sign of being stung is intense pain. Within an hour, swelling around the sting site, usually about 2 - 4 cm in diameter, occurs followed by intense itchiness. Scratching the site increases the swelling. Both swelling and itch last about five days. The amount of swelling varies with the amount of toxin injected and the location on someone's body - stings on faces, especially on eyelids as well as fingers, inner wrists and ankles all have the potential to swell dramatically.

Ice, applied as soon as possible after the sting is most important to decrease the size of reaction. The first hour of pain provides the victim with time to remove rings, earrings and watches from the vicinity of the sting. Application of various forms of pastes of turmeric, tobacco, salt, meat tenderizer, aspirin, garlic,and baking soda, or liquids like vinegar, urine and diluted ammonia do not “neutralize” the toxins but decrease pain by distraction and probably prevent the victim from scratching. Some people place a copper coin over the site. The only thing that actually works to reduce the size of reaction is the application of ice.

Stingers of bees contain about 50 micrograms of toxin and contain barbs that pull it further into the skin. The stinger must be removed from the skin - quickly and without squeezing because it continues to release toxins. Usually simply scraping the surface with the edge of an ordinary table knife will work. If not, use tweezers close to the skin or simply pick it out trying not to squeeze it.

One person in ten will experience a very large local reaction - the entire arm might swell from a single sting! These people benefit from taking an antihistamine as soon after receiving the sting as possible.

About 1 person in 50 has a life-threatening reaction to bee stings called an anaphylactic reaction. Anaphylaxis signals itself with a sense of a rapid heart beat, feeling that airways are closing in on the breathing tubes and feeling faint. Unfortunately, these are the same signs as for a panic attack which is not life threatening. There is not really time to differentiate so someone experiencing these symptoms should be taken to the hospital. It is false reassurance to think you are safe if you have never reacted before because anaphylaxis can occur after the 2nd or 52nd sting. According to US research there is no relationship between having allergies in general and anaphylaxis from bee stings. Of the 8000 people who died in a ten year study of the mid-Western US, half had never reacted to stings before their final bee encounter.

If you have had an anaphylactic reaction, you should carry your epi-pen during the summer. If you live more than thirty minutes from an emergency room or ambulance, you might want to keep an “epi-pen” at your house and learn how to use it.

Final word: Learn to recognize your stinging insects. Apply ice as soon as possible after a sting. Take an antihistamine - first choices are benadryl and chlortripolon every four hours for the first twenty-four hours, especially if you have had previous large reactions. If the bite is on a sensitive area, expect swelling. But, most important, unless you are unfortunate enough to have stepped on the insect or nest, chill out and let the insect go about its business of stocking up on food. Unlike the insects like mosquitoes and horse flies, it really has no interest in you.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Canadian Quakers and First Nations' Peoples

Canadian Yearly Meeting this year occurs in Eastern Ontario and we are sad that we cannot attend.  So we decided to have friends visit us here on the farm in the Touchwood Hills.

Quaker meetings from across Canada were reminded that CFSC is encouraging discernment on two important topics, one of which is called “Repudiating the doctrine of Discovery”. (The other is on biological engineering.)  In light of the work that CFSC has done over the years, a statement on this is long over-due.

Quakers were at the stand-offs at Grassy Narrows over mercury poisoning, have been dedicated to the plight of the Lubicon in Alberta over oil exploration, concerned with the tar sands effect on people who live there, have tried on both sides of the 49th to get Leonard Peltier out of prison, annually attended the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples as the charter of rights was developed (were able to persistently tackle governments especially Canadian) and stood with the Anishnabe at their latest standoffs.  (Facetiously I wonder if the connection was all due to the awareness by Quaker women that women of the Five Nations Confederency had more rights and status and white women!)

If you are interested in some of what's coming down, here's a start:

Please find:

Draft statement and resource package on the Doctrine of Discovery:

Joint statements from United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Jennifer Preston, program associate for Quaker Aboriginal Affairs Committee attended the Forum in New York, 20-31 May 2013, which brought together more than 2,000
Indigenous participants from all over the world.

CFSC supported a number of partners in making the following joint statements:

Study on the extent of violence against
Indigenous women and girls

Implementation of the UN Declaration on
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

However, we will try to put into action the very proposals made by Quakers - we will have a day, August 21st, when we will talk about why the Doctrine of Discovery was so unjust.

(If you are on facebook, the Idle No More site has links to a multitude of First Nations' activist sites.)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Our Chicken

Our Chicken

We have 27 chickens in the coop. And six ducks. We ordered 30 chickens but one died before we picked them up in Watson; one drowned due to our negligence (we left a pail of water uncovered). The 28th chicken is not in the coop.

It is in our house. About a month after the chickens arrived at our house, one developed gimpy legs. At first Bill assumed that it had injured its legs on the chicken wire around the coop. It seemed to sit for awhile and then fall over when it tried to walk. He and Beth arranged a trough for chicken seed and feed and a small dish for water. They arranged it in a tub upon hay and shavings.

I had been away for awhile but when I returned I was asked to put my diagnostic skills to work. They were limited for chickens but I seemed to remember that when Mom and Dad had chickens in '48 - '51 they sometimes had chickens that succombed to some sort of leg paralysis. Using our friendly internet, I discovered Markan's disease - a viral illness that seemed to affect the nerves to the legs and sometimes the wings. There were no suggestions for treatment - if even termination.

Our Chicken seems quite interested in surviving. It has endured incredible stress for a chicken - daily handling by humans, “diaper” changings, confined to a sling, practically hand fed and watered, forced movement of the paralyzed legs. It has not gained much weight. It does poop a lot

What are the likely outcomes of this experiment? It involves a commitment of time and a bit of a learning curve.

Options are to keep caring for it, expose it to the elements (and whatever animal uses it for food) or deliberately euthanize it. It would seem logical to feed it until it gained weight and slaughter it for lunch - but should we eat an animal that has been ill?

Our Chicken can mew like a cat. It tells us when it needs more feed. It goes wild for uncooked beef and the offal of its own kind. It tolerated having its rear end clipped short - poop gets stuck in the feathers. Yesterday I put vaseline to protect the naked skin.

So far, the amount of work required has been balanced by the amount of interest derived. But it could wear thin.  Options (and other feedback) gratefully received.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Ticked Off

There is nothing quite like the creepy feeling as a tick crawls on your body looking for a place to set up its drilling rig. For the first time in two and a half decades of dealing with ticks, this year many of their bites resulted in welts.  We used to conduct 'tick checks" before the kids went to bed - they never seemed to get welts.

 It was time for me to do some research. The internet, of course. A review of literature revealed that there was very little good data about “our” local wood ticks, the Dermacentor variabilis or “Dog Tick”. So I tapped another resource, a listserv run by the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada. Thanks to my colleagues from across Canada and especially those from the prairie provinces, the answers here are a summary of what rural doctors had to say:


A. The quickest and surest is to hold the body of the tick between thumb and forefinger and perform a quick twist-pull with the wrist. Tweezers and needle-nose plyers are good second choices applying the same wrist movement. There is a little gadget on the market that can be slid under the tick to “pop” it off (I haven't seen it but I am told that it is sold in camping supplies).

Methods such as soaking an attached tick with vaseline, rubbing alcohol, or witch hazel work but take more time. Applying a lighted match or cigarette to the tick is probably more likely to cause damage to the victim although it will kill the tick (the theory that the “tick backs into the heat” is absurd).


A. Not one doctor reported heads being left behind after removal of the tick by any method. (In our house, we always check to see that there is a piece of skin in the jaws of the removed insect. A useless exercise because we don't do anything if we don't see skin.) The idea that the “heads migrate” is likely false; in spite of the widespread prevalence of the belief, no physician reported this finding.

To our knowledge, we have not had any mouth parts left behind. But if we did, a dermatologist stated that “Retained mouth parts would be very small and cause a minor irritation. The body would deal with them by literally dissolving them.”


A. Ticks inject a local anaesthetic when they attach which is why we usually don't feel the attachment. They also inject a blood thinner so that the blood can be more easily sucked up. Either could cause a tissue reaction (like hives or mosquito bites) but the local anesthetic is probably the culprit. It is a neurotoxin and is injected in different amounts which explains the variability of the skin reactions.

It is not known whether the length of time that the tick was attached or the method of releasing the tick has any effect upon the development of a welt.


A. Our local ticks are not disease vectors. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and a Progressive Paralysis occur, as the name implied, largely in the Mountains. Lyme Disease is coming from Eastern Canada and the USA and is carried by the deer or black-legged tick which is about half the size of the dog tick. Know your ticks; know the signs of the disease.

Although no physician reported seeing an infected bite, the itch could cause such scratching that the broken skin could get infected.


Ticks are very annoying to large animals like horses or cattle, especially when the tick is engorged. Cats usually clean them off by themselves. Dogs need a little help; the neurotoxic effect can result in centimetre wide denuded areas with fairly significant scabs. The scabs, even when they are piled up, are not mouth parts or heads and do not need to be removed.


This spring for the month of June in the Touchwood Hills Southwest of Wynyard, we removed up to seven ticks a day using the “finger-pinch” method. Not all bites resulted in welts but, when they did, the itch was unbearable. One “bite” left a huge area on my lower leg looking and feeling much like an infection - reddened and hot (cellulitis). It was gone the next morning.

When we remove ticks, we put them in a small “tick jar” containing rubbing alcohol - notoriously hard shelled, they are otherwise difficult to kill. A hammer on a hard surface works, as does the judicious application of a pair of plyers.

Prevention is key. The following precautions work: wear long pants tucked into socks plus long- sleeved shirts, tight collars and cuffs. Wrap a scarf around your neck. For exposed skin, use DEET. Don't walk in tall grass.

There were a lot of myths and misinformation uncovered in looking for scientific research about the “dog tick” and I suspect they will continue to abound. With respect to the “migrated head” story, if anyone has or suspects that they might have a bonifide “migrated” head under his or her skin, please call me. To show my appreciation, I'll make a house call!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Animal Encounters

Encounters with animals

We live a goodly distance from everywhere so it should not be surprising that we have wild animals in our lives.

The morning that our friend Jan died, a crane flew up from the pond and sat on the top of the spruce tree outside our living room window. We were sitting at the table dining before driving to Jan's home. The three of us said, “Cranes never sit in our spruce trees.”

This crane was having such a difficult time balancing that it was clearly not its preferred perch either. We could not help linking the strange behaviour of the bird to the spirit that was leaving Jan. A messenger of the spirit.

That same summer and before Jan's memorial, I had a personal encounter that also seemed to be somehow connected - perhaps because so many things become highly significant in the “crack-in-everything” time.

It was my habit that summer to go for a 45 minute bike ride daily; sometimes my route took me along the North side of the tree line on the West quarter. I was pumping the pedals pretty good, the dog was running on my left side, when I became aware that a young doe had lined up with me on my right side.

We travelled together, me peddling, her lightly loping, the dog running, for about 120 meters - quite a distance - during which time the doe and I had the opportunity to look into one another's eyes. I don't think that I saw fear in her eyes; it seemed to be more like surprise. In any case, I wanted to hold the sensation of that link - running and riding together - as long as I could. As much as one could do on the halfway mark of a 45 minute bike ride, I was holding my breath.

Suddenly - I don't know whether the dog noticed the deer or the deer saw the dog - the deer lept forward, bounded across the trail in front of me and into the trees, dog immediately behind her.  Our moment was over.

Out here in the Touchwood Hills, we've had our share of wild animal babies - skunks and racoons have been memorable - and we've had some spectacular scenes - a flotilla of 12 pelicans lined up across the pond, a congregation of eagles parked in trees along Elving Lane, a herd of elk on Elving's old field. We've had birders leg-banding horned owls on our property.

In spite of our cats, birds build nests around the house so we get to have visits from song sparrows, hummingbirds, canaries, goldfinches and others. On occasion we've had bird-human encounters. One winter, some chickadees came out to the snow covered garden where I was pruning fruit trees to harass me until I came to the house and filled their feeders. They would sit on the branch that I was about to prune and when taking flight zip into my line of vision - not quite but almost into my face. I went to the house and put out food. They left me alone thereafter.

But yesterday took my breath away.

I was doing my physio/yoga on the brick patio in front of our house - just warm enough to have short sleeves. As I was standing, stretching my arms outwards from my sides, I heard a familiar sound at the window above me. The buzz-whirr of a hummingbird. As I stood there regretting the failure to anticipate their return by having feeders prepared and hanging, he flew down to my hand, buzzed around it and then, as I stilled myself, he parked himself on my left wrist. I could not bear to blink as he impudently flashed his iridescent red neckerchief at me. Then into the air and gone.

Wait. Not gone, I only thought he was gone. He hovered over the tip of my fore finger and, to my astonishment, stuck his tongue under the nail! The tiniest of a tickle. Then he went on to the other three fingers. Tickle, tickle, tickle - and this time, he was really gone.

His was the glory, the honour and the awe was mine.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Warren's One Bad Egg

One Bad Egg….  written by Warren Bell

The federal government has just spent $5 million dollars on a totally terrific cause. They’ve caught a gang of Evil-Doers, a shadowy organization lurking around the edge of decent society, aiming to pounce on innocent politicians and corporations, eager to disrupt law and order and good governance.

One year ago, the government of Stephen Harper promised to spend $8 million to root out bad charitable organizations who were being “political” – that is, lobbying for changes in government behaviour that the government itself wasn’t ready to support.

Now Metronews-Vancouver reporter Katie Gibbs has found out what happened this year past.

After closely auditing 880 organizations, our Prime Minister and his trusty lieutenants Natural Resources Minister Joe “Tough Guy” Oliver and Environment Minister Peter “Sniff-‘em-Out” Kent have found a pretty bad criminal organization that was “getting political”

What they found was a bunch of doctors, banded together in an organization brazenly called “Physicians for Global Survival” (I mean, who gives a fig about global survival when we’ve got the Oil (Tar) Sands on our side).

And the unspeakable actions this hardy band of rogue physicians were promoting were… well, nothing small potatoes like bombing the Parliament Buildings, or lying down on the train tracks, or naked protest marches.

Physicians for Global Survival were pushing to abolish nuclear bombs, and the uranium industry consortium that supports them.

No wonder they had to go.

And Physicians for Global Survival didn’t stop there. They were advocating for “the prevention of war, non-violent conflict resolution, social justice and a sustainable world.”

They didn’t even bother to hide it. They spelled it out, right in the open – on their website. If you don’t believe me, then go have a look.

You’ll see how really bad these guys are.

What’s more, it turns out that Physicians for Global Survival have been getting away with this kind of evil-doing for over 3 decades – flying under the radar, quietly undermining the work of the beloved military-industrial complex and corporate weapons manufacturers and the uranium industry for (gasp) 32 years – and all these years, previous weak-kneed, lily-livered governments had turned a blind eye.

But no more.

Stevie and Joe and Pete are on the job.

This is a good news story. Physicians for Global Survival have been caught and punished. They’ve been forced to give up their charitable status, and create a whole new organization that promises to never go rogue political again.

Now if they behave, then maybe their new organization can have charitable status and grant tax receipts to donors – as long as they behave.

But there’s more good news.

At the top I mentioned the government had set aside $8 million to catch more bad guys. It’s true. But they’ve only spent $5 million of it. So now Stevie and Joe and Pete can get more bad guys next year – or maybe they’ll just get the old ones all over again. Whatever.

And here’s one further piece of good news. The Fraser Institute, full of good guys who just love to tell it like it is, and appreciate nice donations from good old guys like the Exxon gang, and those Koch brothers who love to have Tea Parties – the Fraser Institute will never be shut down.

All the Fraser Institute does is explain why the government has to do what it does – things like catching evil-doers.

But now, I have to make a confession. I have a big fat conflict of interest.

I was once president of Physicians for Global Survival.

And I’m still a member.

And a supporter.

Sigh…..I’d better go down to the jail-house and turn myself in.

Or maybe…maybe….I’ll just let Stevie and Joe and Pete come and get me.

With those Three Amigos on the trail, it’s only a matter of time.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Killing feral cats

The recent National Geographic recently published an online discussion about "solving the feral cat problem".  They highlighted a statement made by a former Audubon freelance editor promoting murdering all the wild cats.  It centres around the painful awareness by so many about the numbers of birds killed by "catus" domesticus.

This narrow focus fails to recognize the value of cats.  If all the feral cats were suddenly to disappear by any means, we would be overrun by with mice, rats and other rodents which are their preferred food.  

We live on an acreage more than 26 km from the nearest small town.  Before we acquired a house cat and two garage cats, there were mice running in the ceiling above our bed.  We'd find mouse droppings in the laundry room and even in the pantry!  Having one house cat wasn't enough.  The two garage cats catch the mice as they try to enter.  

The garage cats go out in the morning when the dog is let out.  We put them in again and feed them when the bird feeders are filled.  They spend the rest of the day going in and out - in warmer weather they'll be outside longer.  Birds are very difficult for cats to catch - in cold weather they won't even try - they have to devote enormous energy to endless patient stalking.  Our cats spend hours "tracking" birds and invariably eventually give up and find other amusement.  In the three years that we've had garage cats, we have found evidence of kills only twice.  Our cats stay close to the house, glued to watching their reality T-V, in the sun and sometimes sheltered by the house.  

As the snow disappears, there will be oodles of ground animals, leaves will come out on the trees and the cats won't be interested in climbing.  We think that our windows are a greater hazard to the birds than the cats - if hitting the window doesn't kill the bird, they become stunned and helpless on the ground.  It is actually surprising that we have found only two bundles of coarse wing feathers around the gardens, deck and walkways.

If the cities' feral cats were provided with food, they would continue to hunt their favourite delicacies, the rodents, and largely leave the birds alone.  If they are provided with food, we'd find little evidence of kills.  My recommendation doesn't mean that they should have a balanced diet but rather that they should be fed from restaurant waste, the amount of edible food thrown out by restaurants would be re-cycled!  What is not to like about this plan.

Disclaimer:  I am not opposed to catch, neuter, release programs which I think make a favourable impact on the populations - not only does do the numbers decrease but the remainder look healthier.  Those really skinny females with dugs hanging to the ground look so pitiful desperately hunting for their nursing babies.  You just know that their hormones have forced them to breed repeatedly - unlike housecats, a feral cat has an average lifespan of 3 years. A female will have produced at least 4 litters of 2 - 6 (sometimes more) kittens.  As a farm girl, our family had a cat population that was constantly growing in spite of my parents culling and barnyard life.  One year, a disease spread through our grossly overblown population of 37 cats.  We were all traumatized by it and resolved never to permit that to happen again.  We employed every tool - neutering males, drowning kittens, the occasional "lead poisoning", cyanide, carbon monoxide.  Cats cannot control their own population, like rabbits they increase exponentially.  No one ever considered becoming "catless" - we knew the value of cats.  If we had a barn, we'd have a barn cat.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

"Damned Nations"

Damned Nations - Greed, guns, armies and aid.”

This book is chaotic - it is written by a physician, Samantha Nutt, MD who has been working in the international fora for the last couple of decades.  It is a public debriefing and like one, it rambles a bit. Governments, aid organizations, private corporations and well-meaning individuals are all at fault in one way or another - and maybe all with just cause.  A few glimmers of hope trail through the narrative but become buried like her friend, Aquila, in some unnamed desert.

People are being killed, women are being raped, children are taught to kill or starve, and weapons manufacturers are only too happy with their ill-gotten gains. Aid undercuts local entrepreneurs and farmers - but it also tends to be initiated by surplus in the donor countries. Even entrepreneurial do-gooders like Madonna or Oprah find out the hard way that what they think they are doing isn't what is actually happening.

What a dismal world!

Samantha Nutt leaves no stones unturned. She doesn't hide from her own naivety, her own embarrassments or her frailty. This is her story, her story of international involvement, her experiences - what she has seen and done - and, as a narrative, it is a easy two-day read.  But it will stay with you.

(She forced me to remember the people with whom I have worked in Kurdistan, in Pakistan and in the Philippines. My work is entirely different - I am an educator - but there is a synergism. I could not do what she is doing - and perhaps she cannot do what I do - but both of these - and more - are needed if we are going to change this world's political agenda.)

The last chapter of Damned Nations is a gem. “A Just Cause” sets the scene for optimism. While describing activities and actions that further peace in the world, Sam weaves together little vignettes of successful ventures. To the solutions - narrow the gender gap and end poverty - she adds a third - “legal aid” illustrating the importance of having a due process all the way up to the International Court of Justice. Then she devotes a mere four pages to “here's what you should do” - and four pages is all she needs. She's laid the foundation.

Samanth Nutt's a small woman, she says (maybe we'll meet someday and compare sizes) but she is punching way above her class!