A Toronto Transformation

Nature

Toronto’s Wildlife is Trying to Tell Me Something

Pink and purple flowers in a Toronto garden

Last week while I was enjoying a lunchtime picnic -for-one on a bench by a wee garden near my office, out of the corner of my eye I caught a tiny movement from the undergrowth to my right.

I had just enough time to think “chipmunk?” before the thing came streaking towards me. I shrieked “Woooooo!” in what I would like to think was a verrry dignified manner as it bumped gently into the side of my foot before scurrying back into the garden on the other side of the bench. I glimpsed its tail in the split second before it disappeared and realized that it was not in fact a chipmunk, but a small rat. Or a large mouse.

Because my life is clearly a thrill-a-minute at the moment, I found this little city wildlife adventure fairly exciting.

Until today that is.

This afternoon as I was sitting on a bench in an entirely different little garden finishing another solo lunch (I actually do have friends, I promise), I felt something come in contact with the back of my neck.

I involuntarily shuddered and reached back to slap it away as it lingered oddly for a moment, then turned my head slowly as I tried to figure out what the hell had just touched me. It felt so strange that I wondered for a second if someone had snuck through the tall grass behind me to cop a nervous feel? Of my neck? I’m usually pretty aware of my surroundings, but I did have excellent ear buds in so I guessed it was distantly possible. There was a guy in Toronto a while back who was slithering up behind women with long hair and fondling it. I glared into the garden behind me for a minute, then shrugged and turned back to pack up my lunch and reapply my lipstick.

I stood up, turned to make sure I wasn’t leaving anything behind and froze.

Five feed to the left of me was a low railing and on that low railing was the biggest damn hawk I’ve ever seen.

I swear to you, it was two feet tall.

We stared at each other for ten seconds while I grappled with my phone (which was still in selfie mode from the lipstick application – damn my vanity!) and he took off before I could snap a picture.

Watching him fly away I realized that’s exactly what that mysterious sensation on my neck had been. Not the nervous, fluttery fingers of a creepy hair molester, but the fluttery wings of a curious hawk doing a low fly-by!

I’m not sure what the moral of the story is here. That my hair looks like a delicious squirrel from above when I wear it in a messy, low bun? That I am weird, (and kind of gross), urban Snow White? That I need to start wearing tall rubber boots and perhaps a helmet if I’m going to continue eating in Toronto gardens?

If we’re going in order of the food chain, I assume if I dine alfresco next week a wolf will just walk out from between some parked cars, shake my hand and eat salad out of my tupperware!

Of all the things to get me writing again, an encounter with a downtown bird of prey isn’t what I would have imagined, but when inspiration literally hits you out of the clear blue sky, I say roll with it.

What’s your weirdest urban animal encounter?

8 Ways to Make Your Bathroom Eco-Friendly

8 Ways to make your bathroom eco-friendly

Lately I’ve been on a mission to become a more environmentally responsible citizen. I really feel that humans’ impact on the planet is one of (if not the most) important issues of our time. For those of us who don’t yet feel drastically inconvenienced (or horribly threatened) by the effects of climate change, it is all too easy to push some frightening realities about what will happen if we don’t change our collective behaviour to the back of our minds.

Everyone has seen photos of polar bears stranded by melting ice, but they’re far from the only immediately at-risk species.

Baby puffins are starving to death because they can’t swallow the butterfish their parents bring them now that their usual diet of smaller herring and hake have disappeared from their habitat as the water warms up.

Bees are disappearing because of pesticides and climate change. And guess what? Without them we won’t just lose honey, we’ll lose huge swaths of our global food supplies.

The WWF also lists sea turtles, whales, pandas, orangutans (fuzzy little red-haired orangutans, guys!), elephants, frogs, and tigers as just a few of the candidates for extinction if people don’t act quickly to slow climate change.

Now, obviously cutting down on the amount of garbage I purchase for my bathroom isn’t going to magically reverse climate change. There is much more that I can do, starting with supporting political leaders who aren’t so seduced by capitalism and motivated by greed that they can’t see (or muzzle scientists and willfully ignore ) the bigger picture. I know I need to lend my voice and support to organizations and movements that are working hard to lead us away from environmental catastrophe.

Still, there’s no reason I can’t also do my part to cut down on the amount of junk I send to the landfill (or the giant patch of garbage in the ocean). So here are a few small changes I’ve come up with to make your bathroom eco-friendly:

How to Make Your Bathroom More Eco-Friendly

1. Replace body wash and liquid handsoap with solid soaps to cut down on plastic. One of my best pals actually made some beautiful lavender soap, so I’ve been lucky enough to have that on hand for a while. I also really like Kiss My Face olive and chamomile (paraben-free! Not animal tested!) soap for shaving.

2. Buy eco-friendly dental floss. This one has been a challenge, as even floss made from more environmentally-friendly ingredients tends to be packaged in hard plastic. Add to that the fact that my teeth are super tight, and it’s almost impossible to find something that will work.

I actually went so far as to email Oral B and express my concern about the environmental impact of so many of their dental floss dispensers winding up in the trash. They sent me back what I would describe as a polite kiss-off claiming that they are very concerned about the environment without going so far as to say they will actually do anything about the issue at hand. I suggested one immediate improvement would be to sell the reusable dispensers and 200m spools of floss they sell to dentists to the general public. Shockingly, they haven’t replied.

So far, the best I’ve come up with is Ecodent gentle floss. It comes in a cardboard dispenser, so at least it won’t float around in the ocean for eternity once I’m done with it. I only wish it was a little flatter for my poor crowded teeth.

3. Use solid shampoo. I’ve mentioned Lush solid shampoos here before, and I am still dedicated to them. Godiva, Seanik and Karma Komba are my favourites.

4. Buy Large. If you can’t find a replacement for a bottled product, buy a giant bottle of it. I have yet to find a solid conditioner that I like, so while the search continues I figured the least I could do was buy giant salon-sized bottles of the stuff to cut down on plastic at least a little.

5. Trade in your plastic toothbrush for bamboo. Think about all the toothbrushes you’ve used in your life so far. They all still exist in a landfill somewhere, and as far as we know, they will never stop existing. Bamboo toothbrushes on the other hand, will biodegrade, and bamboo is one of the most sustainable materials on the planet. Easy math! The one pictured above is from WooBamboo.

6. Use solid toothpaste. Good news! Crest recently removed plastic micro beads from their toothpaste after folks realized that…what was it again? Oh yes, they realized that it was INSANE to put tiny pieces of plastic in toothpaste (which is also packaged in plastic) and made some noise about it. Nice work, noisemakers! Meanwhile Lush toothy tabs do not contain plastic AND are not packaged in it. These little sweet tart-looking tabs foam up something fierce, but they do leave my mouth awfully clean. And with no creepy plastic micro-bead residue!

7. Try a menstrual cup or reusable pads. Approximately 20 billion tampons, applicators and disposable pads wind up in North American landfills every year. And none of them are mine! Again, there was a learning curve with this little gem of a product, but after my initial hilarious/terrifying adventure, I’ve never looked back! This one’s not only an earth-saver but a money-saver too!

8. Don’t shave your legs! Or, if like me, you aren’t quite at that point (at least not year-round), ditch the disposables or products like Gillette’s insanely over-packaged refills and try a Preserve reusable razor. They’re made from recycled yogurt cups and their refills aren’t infuriatingly individually sealed in hard plastic.

So there you have it, a few ways to green up your bathroom! And don’t forget, if you think a company’s packaging or product is environmentally irresponsible, you might want to consider letting them know exactly why you won’t be using it anymore. If they hear from enough of us who will take our money elsewhere, they’ll have no choice but to make a change.

Does anyone have a solid conditioner recommendation or any other ways to make your bathroom eco-friendly? I’d love to read them in the comments!

A Bug’s Eye View of Riverdale Farm

Siberian Squill macro photo closeup at Riverdale Farm

Ever since babyhood, one of my favourite places in Toronto has been Riverdale Farm.

This charming little piece of rural Ontario makes for a charming stroll or picnic locale in summer, and while the colourful gardens aren’t yet in full bloom, there are already tons of brave little blossoms leading the way into spring.

CapturingSiberianSquill

I didn’t feel like carting around my beloved camera today, but I did have my photojojo macro and wide angle lenses handy to capture a few of them and I’m pretty happy with the results!

As far as I can tell, these gorgeous tiny blue flowers might be Siberian Squill. Any botany enthusiasts care to help me out with that one?

 

Siberian Squill at Riverdale Farm

WhiteFlower1

WhiteFlower2

Don’t the ends of these teensy stems look like mini macarons? Or am I just dessert-obsessed?

Riverdale Farm gates hough park bench

RiverDaleFarmTower

Baby Goat at Riverdale Farm Spring 2014 No visit to Riverdale Farm would be complete without saying hello to the creatures that live here. The goats are by far my favourite. They’re so dear and silly and friendly. I once overheard a tiny tot on his dad’s shoulders exclaim, “MONKEYS!” upon spotting some of the new baby goats in their enclosure. It was a great reminder of how important it is for city kids to have the chance to learn a bit about farm animals, if only so that they don’t go around confusing goats and monkeys their whole lives.

Riverdale Farm windmill

PurpleFlower

 

 

Little Luxuries – A Garden

forget me nots

I grew up in a house with a slightly wild, definitely beautiful garden. Some of the first words I spoke as a baby were the names of plants and flowers (and animal sounds). I used to love make believing I was living off the land. Munching on fresh rhubarb and blackerries, currents and chives, as I tromped around the backyard looking for fairies.

I have yet to finagle myself into an apartment with access to a proper garden, but am lucky enough to have the luxury of a sunny balcony I can grow a few things on in the summer months (ah summer months, remember those? I’m not totally sure I do. I’m starting to feel like Jon Snow on that damned wall of his lately).

I’m not the greatest green thumb. In fact I own possibly the saddest looking ficus anyone has ever seen, BUT I absolutely love growing fresh herbs and lettuces (I tried tomatoes but the squirrels and raccoons stole every single one) and cannot wait to get my hands back into some sun-warmed soil to plant delicious and fragrant basil and rosemary and dill this spring!

Do you guys grow anything? And do any of you know how to keep a ficus from looking like it has mange? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Hawk Child in the City

hawk on a fire escape

There is a building near my office that has been having a bit of a “we don’t dispose of our trash so there are a billion rats running around the property” problem of late. I know they carry disease and chew through every damned thing, but I always get a little thrill when I spot little vestiges of the wild in the city. So imagine my excitement when we spotted this handsome fellow, taking advantage of the rat buffet laid out so conveniently for him.

hawk in Toronto

 I have a strange relationship with birds of prey. I’ve been totally fascinated by them and have wanted to visit Panama to see their king, the endangered Harpy Eagle, since I was given a fold out, pop-up rainforest theatre thing that featured one as a little girl. BUT I’m also afraid of them and convinced that many of them are wizards in disguise. I mean, just tell me this guy doesn’t know how to do at least some rudimentary magic. Look at his eyes and regal bearing!

So, while I did take eleventy-billion photos of this lovely hawk, (all while talking to him nervously, I might add) I didn’t want to get too close lest he decide to see how his talons would fare against a human or in case he decided to cast a spell on me or whatever.

I think hawks are about the most interesting wild critter I’ve seen in Toronto so far (of course we are also the racoon capital of the world, so I’ve seen a scrillion of them, and as you may recall, I’ve had many a close squirrel encounter here. In the smaller city where I grew up we’d get the occasional deer on the front lawn, and I remember seeing at least one fox.

What kind of wildlife have you guys had surprise encounters with?

Also, did you know that parahawking is a thing? It looks absolutely incredible!I kind of want to try it but I’m not sure the dear hawks would appreciate my inevitable constant screaming.

 

Saving the Bees with Style!

Jenny Bird Bracelet

How cute is my new Jenny Bird Wild For Bees Bracelet? All proceeds from sales of these pretty little things go to the Pollinator Project Canada.

My mom has been expressing her concern for the world’s bee population for years now.

Bees are incredible, industrious little creatures, vital to the earth’s ecosystems and to our food supplies. Oh, and they make plans through dance. Don’t believe me? Ask Isabella Rosellini:

 

And of course, as with most things, my mom is totally right and her concerns are very much valid. Our bees are in trouble. Their numbers have been declining drastically for more than a decade now, and unsurprisingly, it seems humans are to blame.

Between our use of pesticides, and our destruction of bee habitats, it’s no wonder more and more species of honey bees are becoming extinct.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to help stop the destruction of these amazing, vital little guys, like supporting organic farms that don’t use pesticides, planting wildflowers, buying local honey from beekeepers (or, if you’re my mom, just go ahead and make plans to become a beekeeper yourself – if there’s a more proactive person in the world, I swear I don’t know who they are).

We can also make donations to organizations like the Pollinator Partnership, which works to protect and restore populations of pollinator species like bees, bats and hummingbirds!

As an added incentive, right now, fabulous Toronto jewelry designer Jenny Bird has teamed up with Burt’s Bees and designed bee-themed bracelets and earrings with 100% of the proceeds from sales of these little pretties going towards the Pollinator Partnership Canada.

I love mine and have found they’re a great conversation starter to spread the message about the importance of protecting some of the world’s tiniest, most precious little creatures.

On a related note, has anyone read Douglas Coupland’s Generation A? It’s looking more and more like a spooky glimpse of the near future than a work of fiction, no? 

Mother Nature Partnership

You know how you have that friend who makes you feel like a total underachiever? They’re not only constantly doing a million cool things, but they’re excelling at them. They’re world-changers, go-getters, creative geniuses, and probably just plain old regular geniuses too. They’d be completely insufferable if they weren’t also damned hilarious and kind.

My friend Alice Irene is one such annoying genius. Just hearing about the things she has on the go at any given time makes me want to take a nap.

A couple of years ago after meeting Veronica Kettle of the African Women Education and Development Forum, Irene came up with an idea to address the challenges many women around the world face due to harmful taboos attached to menstruation in their communities.

For many women around the world, menstruation is considered an actual curse, to the point where, in some cultures, they may be banished to a tiny isolation shed, offering inadequate shelter from the elements for the duration of their periods so that they will not contaminate their own homes with their “impurity.”

Even when not taken to such extremes, the taboo, shame and mystery around menstruation, combined with the prohibitive cost of feminine hygiene products, often means that women are forced to use ineffective methods to manage their periods, which can in turn endanger their health.

It’s not difficult to see how women in developing countries being prevented from working for several days every month, all while feeling ashamed and confused about their own bodies could have a hugely negative impact not only on their physical and mental well-being, but on their economic security and that of their families as well.

So how do you go about empowering women living in a culture with such stigma?

Well, if you’re my amazing friend, you start a partnership with the African Women Education and Development Forum, send 350 reusable menstrual cups to women in rural Cameroon and invite them to take part in workshops where information about menstruation and female reproductive health is distributed and discussed by/with health professionals. For many of them, it was the first time they had access to this vital information about their own bodies.

The response from every woman who took part was so overwhelmingly positive.  Reading their feedback and realizing what a huge impact something as simple as a small, sustainable tool and a little bit of knowledge would have on their lives got me more than a little choked up. I immediately volunteered to help with whatever needed doing for the next phase of the project.

The next phase, as it turns out, will be taking the project to 5000 more women in Cameroon, a  number we will be able to reach in part because Mother Nature Partnership, it was announced this week, will be one of the (over-the-moon thrilled and grateful!) recipients of the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations grants!

We still have lots of work and fundraising ahead of us to make this happen, and I’ve taken on the task of trying to drum up some interest through social media, which is where you, my internet savvy friends come in.

If, as your good deed for the day, you would be so kind as to show this fantastic project some love by following us on Twitter and/or by liking us on Facebook, well I’d be just tickled.

Or, if any of you bloggers are interested in the project, and feel like writing about it or how to go about taking something like this from an idea in the shower to an actual living, breathing organization, please-oh-please feel free to drop me a line!

Happy Friday

 

blossoms

Cherry blossoms outside Robarts Library

The cherry blossoms have begun to spring open in Toronto this week, which means that this weekend, scores of people will flock to High Park to stroll around under the breaktakingly lovely, delicate trees in the gorgeous sunshine we’ve been waiting so long for.

I love that no matter how much incredible technological entertainment we come up with, nature still has the power to astound and delight us, to stop us in our tracks and inspire us.

I’m stuck in the city working this weekend while my friends dash off to enjoy the weather at cottages and farms, but my mamma and one of my aunties are coming to stay with me, AND ROM Friday Night Live is back for the season. Drinks and dinos here I come!

A Weekend for the Birds

"I'm recharging. Don't worry about it." I'm totally solar-powered.

“I’m recharging. Don’t worry about it.” I’m totally solar-powered.

I took advantage of the Easter long weekend to get out of the city and visit my family. For weeks I’ve been running around Toronto saying yes to every opportunity that came along, filling every waking hour with activity. It was nice to take myself out of that equation for a while and head for quieter pastures.

My hometown is ludicrously picturesque and friendly and the evening air when I stepped off the train was so fresh and unpolluted that I decided to save my cab fare and walk home (my parents usually meet me at the station but were at a dinner). I hadn’t gone a block before running in to a family friend, and a half a block later don’t my parents pull up on their way to come pick me up after all. We spotted a bunny on someone’s lawn and a neighbour shouted a happy greeting as he cycled by us and by the time I got to the house (maybe ten minutes after arriving) I felt like I’d already been given a welcome hug by the whole damn city.

On Sunday my parents and I drove an hour back out of town to visit my brother and my grandparents. We did not, however, take the most direct route. Instead, we took the route with what they have calculated to have the best odds of seeing various interesting birds because, as my mom explained. “This is what we do now.”

Apparently, since my brother and I left home, they’ve become the bird paparazzi.

A lovely day for a flight, no?

That speck in the tree is a bald eagle. He would not be lured closer by my mom waving at him, go figure.

That speck in the tree is a bald eagle. He would not be lured closer by my mom waving at him, go figure.

 It’s especially exciting to spot an eagle here since the use of DDT and related pesticides landed them on the endangered species list in Ontario before the use of these pesticides was banned. The eagle population is slowly recovering, although the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources still lists them as a species of special concern.

peacock

Tree, barn, truck, fence, peacock. Right, you can stroll as casually as you like bird, you do not blend in here.

I love the “Beware of Dog” sign on this farm. Like a gang of peacocks isn’t a thousand times more terrifying than a dog. We spotted at least four of them roaming around, screaming their freaky peacock screams and perching menacingly on the porch railings.

So uh, how about you guys, see any interesting birds this weekend? Or, you know, what sort of non-bird things did you get up to?

Follow me around, why dontcha?

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Archives
Affiliate Link Disclosure
Actions taken from the hyperlinks on this blog may yield commissions for Metamorphocity.com.

Copyright ©  All Rights Reserved.