at the farm (that's me at the front on the right!)

Going up to my cousin’s farm was one of my favourite things as a child.  I was in love with their German Shepard dog, Rex, and I liked helping bring the cows in to be milked at night.  It was where I first learned about karma, although I didn’t hear the word for it until many years later.  My sister Lynda wouldn’t let me have a turn holding a piglet, so when he peed on her it was like divine intervention.  I loved talking to the animals, and I loved when a cat sometimes got a squirt of milk from an udder. Or getting to drink warm fresh (unpasteurized!) milk from the big vat.  The earliest visit I remember I was maybe 4 or 5.

The time I’m writing about was the time I learned the hard truth about where chicken dinners came from.  We were all in the front yard between the house and the barn.  There wasn’t much yard in front, really, it was mostly a dirt parking lot separating house & barn where cars and tractors came and went.

That day a chicken was caught, and like Mary Queen of Scots she was carried to a block of wood.  I didn’t understand what was happening, so when the axe came down on her neck in the blink of an eye I was profoundly shocked.

The head lay still on the chopping block, but the most horrific bit was the headless body running around the yard spraying a geyser of blood into the air.  I remember laughter, but I don’t know whose.  Then the drained animal fell down, spent.  I think everyone was surprised that I didn’t find it funny, but I was a soft hearted city kid.  I got angry at the dog I loved when he ran over to lick the blood from the chopping block.

I was very upset, and then horrified when the women sat down to pluck the dead bird.  That was when I learned that we would be eating the dead bird for dinner.  I vowed I would never, and I spent the afternoon pouting upstairs to my cousin’s room.  And then the smell of roasting chicken wafted up the stairs.  And eventually the smell helped my resolve shatter, and I ate the chicken dinner after all.  I was unhappy about it, and mostly I was disappointed in myself.  It occurs to me now that even though I spent a lot of time there throughout my childhood, I don’t ever remember this happening when I was there again.

After that I knew I was a meat eater, and probably always would be.  We ended up moving out to an old farm house in the country when I was ten, so although I was really still a city kid I learned about country life.  We had three quarters of an acre, with an orchard, and dad put in a mammoth garden, in spite of the fact that the only vegetables he would ever eat were peas carrots and corn.  A large part of the garden was flowers, and there was always rhubarb and musk melons (aka cantaloupe) and a pumpkin patch.  Every year he tried to grow watermelon, but the growing season just wasn’t long enough, although I suspect it is nowadays.

Our farmhouse was the original built for the pig farm next door.  The farmer had separated our land, and with the proceeds he could build a big modern house with a granny suite for his mother upstairs, and a basement shower room so he wouldn’t track the barn smells into the house.  The farmer was also a blacksmith who shod the horses of the local Old Order Mennonite population.  I loved watching him shoe the horses, or visiting the neighbouring farm animals.  That was the first time I saw chickens confines to cages for their entire lives.  The best part of living there was the fact we could have a dog; the worst was that the dog would raid the manure pile and bring home the corpses of aborted piglets. This was hard for me as the kid who was always trying to save injured birds and the like.  Of course I was a big fan of “Black Beauty” and “Charlotte’s Web”.  LincolnsRooster_3396

And I still love animals as “people.”  And now a half century later, although I am still a meat eater, and I know it would be difficult to give it up, that I would have to relearn how to eat if I were to ever become vegetarian. Vegan will never even be a possibility.   And yet one day a few years ago I suddenly couldn’t eat pork any more.

All the same, I’m still a meat eater.  My vegetarian and vegan friends have not actually tried to convince me to switch.  But I am learning from them.  These days I have friends who are not only vegan, but working to change the world. And I’ve been learning about some of the trials faced by animal activists.  Did you know, there are even refuges for farm animals?.   Eating animals is bad enough, but making their whole lives a misery is inhumane.  And as it turns out, unfettered animal based agriculture is damaging to the environment.

So while I am still a meat eater, and probably always will be, I can decrease the amount of meat that I do eat.  And I have.

I thought it would be hard to manage one meatless day a week, and as it happens, I’ve been managing at least one (and sometimes more) meatless day each week for some time now.

And it isn’t that hard.

And now that my farming cousin is retired, his favourite pet is a rooster.

We can all change, and we can change the world.

On Saturday, July 16th, 2016, say “hi” to the PIGS vs RIBS  folk in Victoria Park.  The Kitchener Ontario Animal Liberation Alliance will be in the vicinity of the Clocktower from 4-7pm.  They’ll be handing out FREE literature and FREE samples of plant meats to showcase the vegan lifestyle as more fun – and delicious – than most animal-eaters would expect. Vegan food needs to shed the rumours of being inferior – today is the day to do so!





Happy Earth Day

Moonscape in foreground, looking at planet earth rising
home sweet home

Between trying to get my debut novel, “Inconstant Moon,” ready to launch, computer technical difficulties, and the current federal election (I’ll be posting an #elxn41 piece to Oh! Canada later today) it would have been easy to forget all about Earth Day.

The weather is fairly miserable this year, but it is still an important day. One of the common themes in science fiction read in my youth was the caution that if we mess up the planet irreparably, without space travel humanity will be, ahem, screwed. Personally, although I am in favor of space travel, it is still important not to destroy this planet. Even if I could move to Mars or the Pleiades with Desdemona, I’d still want the option of coming home to visit.

a tiny chipmunk with eyes closed is held in child's hand while feeding from medicine syringe

Earth is my home.

As it is home to other forms of life.

One day a few years back I found a baby chipmunk stumbling around, wandering into the street.  A closer look showed that his eyes weren’t open yet.  A few days before I’d seen a dead chipmunk on the side of the road, so it was a very good guess that this little guy was an orphan.

So I brought him home.

Amazingly we managed to raise him.  I had been advised to start him on goat’s milk with acidophilus to help digest it, and that did the trick. As he got older, I fed him husked sunflower seeds and grass &tc. but his favorite was tender dandelion greens, which fortunately were not covered in pesticide in my yard. So Chippy Baby grew up.

chipmunk with eyes open, held in child's hand

I got him a large cage so he would be able to build muscle so that when released he’d be able to run away from predators and survive.
Chipmunk in cage about to enter clear plastic climbing tube

Chipmunks live underground, but ours was raised in a hamster cage with a climbing tube.  He could sit at the top of his cage and look around, secure from being picked up by human hands.

When he told us it was time to go, we released him.

Happily he survived, and can be seen checking on us from on high.

Chipmunk on the rooftop

Happy Earth Day.

Image Credits
“Earthrise” NASA image photographed by astronaut Bill Anderstaken on Apollo 8 mission. All NASA photos are released into the public domain.

All other photographs are by laurelrusswurm released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) License

Reduce the Access Copyright Student Tariff

Howard Knopf and Michael Geist both warn that this tariff will circumvent Canadian copyright law.
small children in "graduate" caps

As a parent I don’t think it’s a good idea, for any of our kids. You know, I’ve heard rumours that in many civilized countries post secondary education is fully funded by the state.

But what is worse is that it is totally unreasonable. What Access Copyright is demanding copyright payments for is ludicrous. For Instance:

Incredibly, the tariff defines a “copy” to include “posting a link or hyperlink to Digital Copy”. So, that would presumably include any website with copyrighted material. For example, take this blog – please! AC apparently expects to be paid whenever a professor posts a link on his or her website to my blog, or Michael Geist’s blog or the Globe and Mail or eBay. That is simply absurd.”

—Howard Knopf,
Access Copyrights Excessive $45 per University student proposed tariff

The tariff purports to licence linking to materials, despite the fact that no licence is or should be needed for such activities. It charges for displays which are not copies, lacks an exclusion for fair dealing (as is found in the current tariff), provides additional protection for digital locks, and features extensive, onerous reporting requirements.”

—Michael Geist,
Access Copyright’s 1300% Tariff Increase – Deadline to Object is August 11, 2010

I don’t have time to be elegant, but here is my objection:

Acting Secretary General
56 Sparks Street, Suite 800
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0C9
613-952-8624 (telephone)
613-952-8630 (fax)
gilles.mcdougall@cb-cda.gc.ca (email)

Dear Mr. McDougall:

I only found out about this today, so I’ll be brief.

I sincerely hope that you decline this Access Copyright tariff increase. I think the amount is excessive and extortionate, instead I would appreciate it if you would look into reducing the amount of the tariff already paid to Access Copyright.

I am a writer, who is just getting up to speed on a lot of copyright issues because I haven’t made any income as a writer in fifteen years because I was fortunate enough to be able to take a long family raising hiatus. It is in the capacity of a parent I am writing primarily.

As a writer, I am not a member of Access Copyright, but I doubt I would want to be. I have not looked into it closely but things I’ve read about Access Copyright have made me very very uncomfortable.

As a parent, I have volunteered and/or served on the P.T.A. of the schools my child has attended. I’ve seen elementary library staff slashed to the point that I don’t think any elementary school in Ontario has a teacher-librarian available to students. Volunteers like me and a few lower paid staffers have been left running school libraries. In Ontario this unfortunate process coincided with standardized testing which invariable produces the result that we need better literacy among our children. I am confident that you will understand the dreadful irony in this.

Education lays the foundation for our future. It isn’t like Canadian post secondary students need this. This will be bad for students, economically adding the already high cost of post secondary education in Canada.

I realize that many policy makers don’t think a tiny sum like another forty five dollars will make a difference. But I have to tell you that is wrong. We are already losing plenty of bright worthy students who chose to go from high school directly into the workforce precisely because post secondary education is already too expensive. And every potential Nobel Laureate who ends up driving a cab because they didn’t want to spend the rest of their lives paying off student loans is a blow to Canada. To our future as a nation.

I believe that Canadian Copyright law requires changes, but not the sort of changes that Access Copyright would like to see. But time is short, so I don’t have time to get into that here. As I understand it our existing copyright is plenty strong, even before any changes.

As a writer, and the parent of a potential writer, I find the idea of allowing Access Copyright to license rights it doesn’t have in respect of repertoire it doesn’t have to be seriously detrimental to the future of this great nation.

This is not a good idea. Again, please consider reducing the Access Copyright Tariff.


Laurel L. Russwurm

p.s. I will also be publishing this formal objection in my blog, Laurel L. Russwurm

Robin’s Nest #5

My brother @larryrusswurm told me about this live streaming web cam capturing an Osprey nest.   I think it will be interesting to be able to check in periodically and maybe get a chance to actually see hatching.

The problem with the way I’ve been taking my photographs— as snapshots maybe a couple of times through the day— is that I have to be careful not to crowd the robins.   Which means pop out, snap quick and withdraw.

I’ve taken lots of photos that aren’t in focus because I’m looking over my shoulder for Mamma Robin instead of through the viewfinder.   I’ve heard robins feel threatened they’ll cut and run.   Move away, start over.   After all, the adults will likely have at least one more clutch this year anyway   Which of course would be very bad for these chicks.   I want to see all four of these nestlings to grow up healthy and be able to fly away and make nests of their own.

Mamma and chicks in the nest

Preferably NOT right beside my front door though.   The porch may be sheltered from rain, but it would be an easy jump for most cats to get to this nest, so the whole time these little guys have been here I’ve been nervous for them.

chick's head dangles over the side, second picture shows beak starting to open

But then sometimes you get great shots.

robin chick's head dangles over the side of the nest with an open beak.

Who knew robins had tongues?

four robins sprawl in the nest

Of course the advantage of photographs over streaming video is better quality images and I can get in closer and look at things from different angles.

Close in as beaks are raised hopefully

I’ll be surprised if I get a better photograph out of the bunch than this one.

beak open wide

But this one is my favorite.

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Robin’s Nest #4

Four robin chicks in the nest

As well as getting more fluff, you can see that their little bodies have grown a lot in four days.

Four robin chicks in the nest

They sure are ugly!

Mamma robin sits in the nest for feeding.

Peeking through the cedars I can see Mamma robin settling in to feed the chicks.

Mamma feeds the chicks

It’s a lot of work keeping up with the little guys.   A lot of mouths to feed.

One chick pokes his head out of the nest where Mamma Robin sits

It’s hard to believe that the chicks will actually grow up to look like robins.

Four nestlings start to look a bit more like birds

It is possible to see that feathers are beginning to form where the fluff is darkening up.

4 robin chicks in the nest

It looks like their eyelids are developing too.   They grow up so fast!

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Robin’s Nest #3

nest shows sleeping mound of chicks

The little ones are… well little.

The close shot  of the nest reveals three questing beaks

Until now I have never seen wild bird chicks up close and personal.

robin chicks in the nest

It is weird to see giant heads on tiny bodies.   Their eyes are very large, but still closed.   My guess is that this is the robin version of a “baby gate”.   Not that they they want to go anywhere.   Yet.

looking at Mamma on the nest from the road

Having made a point of taking my camera when I went out, and parking across the road when I returned I was able to catch this shot of Mamma on the nest.   (I love my 12x optical zoom.)

Nest in profile through the bushes, chicks beaks poke above the nest

I have also been making my presence known by doing a bit of yard work, being careful not to get too close and studiously ignoring the nest.   Now Mamma will stay on the nest even when she knows I’m out there so I can get shots like this through the cedars.

curled asleep in nest... their fluff is darkening

The chicks eat and sleep.   And grow.   Their fluff is darkening so they don’t look as bald today.

Adult robin sits on tree branch.

Mamma still flies away and yells at me from the tree if I get too close.   She wants my attention on her, not her babies.   This is good.   The last thing I want is for my wild friends to trust people.

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