Why I Didn't Write a Novel This Weekend (A Post for Pam)

Monday September 01, 2014

This time last year, I was sleep-deprived and beginning to panic. That's because I was in the final 12 hours of my first 3-Day Novel Contest. A few days ago I received a comment on my 2013 3-Day Novel Contest Wrap-Up from Pam Bustin, a Canadian writer who's been doing the contest since 2008 and was wondering if I was going to be doing it again in 2014.

To answer that, let's just say I happily slept in this morning.


Actually, let's say a little more than that.

It took me years to sign up for my first 3-Day Novel Contest because for me, the Labour Day Weekend is usually family time. Last year was an anomaly, but if I had signed up this year it would have been a two-day contest at best.

But I considered doing it anyway. What really stopped me was an ongoing writing problem I have, which I even mentioned in the CBC interview I did about the 2013 3-Day Novel Contest:

That is the hand of one of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman. Written on his hand is very good advice. And although I know he leads us all true, I still can't get a handle on that middle bit.

Finish things.

The book I started writing at this time last year sits on my hard drive, barely touched in all those months. And it is not alone.

I'm at a point right now where charging headlong into a draft of something brand new has a definite appeal, but it is the appeal of sugar and shiny things. I have too many works-in-progress that aren't really in progress at all, because I'm puttering and poking at them, rather than digging in.

So best wishes to @PamBustin and everyone else who's in the final leg of the 2014 3-Day Novel Contest. If I can manage a few more "The Ends" in the next twelve months, perhaps I'll start something new with you this time next year.

But for now, GO GO GO!!! YOU GOT THIS!

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Interview with an Earth Ranger: Charlotte's Helping Bring Back the Wild

Friday July 4, 2014

I must have been around nine years old when I grabbed a coffee can and my friend from next door and, clutching a newspaper article about efforts to save the Peregrine falcon, went door-to-door seeking donations. I have no idea how much money we raised that day, but I do remember being intimidated by a barking dog and discouraged by some ill-tempered neighbours.

Earth Rangers logoIt's natural for kids to want to get involved in causes they care about, but sometimes it's rough going it alone. That's why I'm always excited to see ads for Bring Back the Wild, an ongoing campaign from the GTA-based organization Earth Rangers. By signing up with Bring Back the Wild online, kids can safely raise money and awareness to support animals who are threatened by habitat loss. Every year, Earth Rangers identifies four species that are in danger, providing information on the challenges the animal faces and how fundraising* can help. Kids can choose the animal they'd like to campaign for, create a goal, and start spreading the word!

Earth Rangers discourages the kind of door-to-door canvassing I attempted, but they do suggest that parents share Bring Back the Wild campaigns with friends and colleagues. That's how I had the honour of recently contributing to one girl's efforts to save the Western bumble bee...

Charlotte Wants to Help Save Animals and the Planet

Charlotte, Earth Ranger and
Protector of the Western bumble bee.
At eight years old, Charlotte has just finished Grade 3 here in Ontario. She also recently became a Protector of the Western bumble bee, after raising $140 in her first Bring Back the Wild campaign. Charlotte was kind enough to answer some emailed questions about her Earth Rangers experience so far:

How did you first learn about the Earth Rangers? Why did you decide to join?

Charlotte: I first heard about Earth Rangers when they came to visit my school. They came in grade 1, and then again this year. I joined because I wanted to help save animals and the planet too.

There are four animal missions to choose from - why did you pick the Western bumble bee for your Bring Back the Wild campaign [over the Beluga whale, the Barn swallow, or the Blanding's turtle]?

Charlotte: I chose the Western Bumblebee for my Bring Back the Wild campaign because bees are really important for making sure plants grow. Also, I just love bugs!

Do you have any ideas for what you'd like to do next as an Earth Ranger? Or are there other things you're already doing?

Charlotte: Right now, I'm cleaning up garbage in my community to help with the Spring Green Up Challenge. Last year I started a club called "Cleaning up the Earth Crew" at my school. We go around the school yard at lunch and recess picking up any garbage that we find.

What would you say to someone your age who was thinking about joining the Earth Rangers but hadn't made up their mind?

Charlotte: I would tell them that they should join Earth Rangers so that they can help the Earth too!

And finally, a question for Mom. Have you done anything as parents to encourage Charlotte's interest in nature and the environment?

Charlotte's Mom: Charlotte's an amazing kid. She's very passionate and curious, so we try to make sure we support her and give her every opportunity to find out more about the things that catch her interest.

We make sure that we find answers to her questions, we talk to her about things like conservation and recycling, and why those things are important... but really, it's all her.

Congratulations, Charlotte! Thanks for your time, and for helping the Earth.

More About the Earth Rangers

Do you know an amazing kid like Charlotte who'd like to become an Earth Ranger? Visit EarthRangers.com, which is full of information and activities.

Earth Ranger Andy introduces Animal Ambassador Sonic
the barn owl to an audience at the Royal Ontario Museum.
For adults, more information about the organization is available at EarthRangers.org, and there's lots to learn on there, too. Bring Back the Wild is a relatively new addition to the Earth Rangers slate of programs. For many years this non-profit has been educating and raising awareness about animals, habitats, and the importance of protecting biodiversity through presentations made with live Animal Ambassadors. Trainers and animals visit schools and take part in special events - there's even a permanent Earth Rangers Studio offering regular presentations in the Schad Gallery of Biodiversity at the Royal Ontario Museum. You can also read about the Earth Rangers Centre for Sustainable Technology in Woodbridge, which serves as both Earth Rangers HQ and as a practical demonstration of conservation ideals in action. 
* According to the Earth Rangers website, 50% of funds raised go to habitat conservation projects and the other 50% goes to support Earth Rangers education programs.

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An Unfortunate Demonstration of Why Nature Education Matters (Sam Smith Bird Festival 2014)

Sunday May 25, 2014

For the most part, I was glad there were children between us and the snakes.

They weren't there in a human-shield kind of way - the snakes weren't dangerous and the kids weren't that coordinated anyway. When Steve and I first approached the Sciensational Sssnakes!! display at Saturday's Spring Bird Festival in Sam Smith Park, we were both pleased and disappointed by the size of the crowd. Pleased, because it was wonderful to see so many children interested in learning about the frog, turtles, and snakes that nature educator Jenny Pearce had on hand, but disappointed because it didn't seem like we were going to get a chance to personally reconnect with Ross, the Everglades rat snake Steve had so enjoyed hanging out with last year.

Children take turns gently handling a hog-nosed snake.
We watched the kids for a few minutes and I was impressed by how careful they were not to hurt the snakes, as per Pearce's instructions. Then Steve and I continued on, looking at displays from many wonderful organizations [links below]. There were several activities at the festival designed just for kids, including bird house building and other crafts, plus there was information on upcoming nature programs for young people which are being run by the Humber Arboretum in partnership with the local community group CCFEW.

After putting myself on a Swift Watch volunteer list and chatting with a representative from the Toronto Field Naturalists, we found another festival favourite of ours, the live birds who serve as environmental educators for Wild Ontario.

Curious American kestrel - Artemis, I think.

Einstein the Great Horned owl returns.

Socrates, showing just how handsome turkey vultures can be.

His good side (actually, both sides are good).
I learned something new about turkey vultures when Socrates' handler explained that because vultures are social animals, she needed to form a relationship with him so he would trust her (which apparently is not the case with most birds of prey, who don't really care whose hand is inside the thick leather glove). She said she was once interrupted during a school presentation by Socrates trying to clean food out of her teeth. 

She was telling that story to a man trying to get a nice shot of Socrates, while I hung around getting my own photos. But I was aware again of the kids all around us, including hearing a mother explain gently to her son, "no, we can only touch them if we're invited."

Children in their bright spring jackets are reflected in Einstein's watchful eye.
After taking in a few more displays, Steve and I skipped the scheduled group bird walks to wander around the park ourselves and see who we could see.

Red-winged blackbird. One of these guys was dive-bombing Socrates.

The tree swallows were out in force.

Finally we swung back by the festival area for one more attempt at snake-handling. But the highlight of our return to the reptile table was meeting a boy of about ten or eleven who had taken on the role of apprentice nature educator, talking about the snakes to anyone in the crowd who wasn't speaking with Pearce. We have no idea if he was a snake aficionado before the festival, or if he had just retained absolutely everything he'd heard said that day, but he certainly didn't seem to be there in an official capacity. He was just an eager and helpful young man bursting with snake info he wanted to share.

He correctly coached younger kids on how to hold the snakes, identified the various species, shared some interesting facts, and occasionally facilitated the passing of the snakes from one interested person to the next. In fact, he was the one who asked Steve if he would like to hold Ross.

And yes, I got a turn as well.

Ross was not as interested in posing as the birds were.

After we finally left the park, I went home thrilled not only by our animals encounters and the nature-types we'd spoken with, but even more so by the attitude of the many children we'd seen and the parents/guardians who had brought them there.

Basically it was a fantastic day, until I turned on my computer.

Logging onto Facebook to share a photo of Steve and Ross, I was surprised to see a photo of a fledgling American robin in my newsfeed. Most of my friends are primarily interested in the arts or politics or technology, and post accordingly. Indeed, the photo was from Guy Doucette, who I know from Toronto's theatre scene.

It was posted as a farewell message to the young bird.

It seems my Guy had been watching the young robin for the past week as it learned to fly. He also happened to look out his window in time to see several children chase the young bird and throw a stick at it, breaking its wing. When he called out to them, they replied sarcastically, without remorse, and were quickly ushered away by one of their fathers.

A father who had watched the whole thing.

I know it's unrealistic to think we'll ever live in a world where every person has a deep respect for other forms of life, but we can try. And my afternoon drove home just how important the morning's activities had been.

Groups Represented at the 2014 Colonel Sam Smith Spring Bird Festival

Here's a list of the groups who had display tables (in no particular order). If you were at the festival and know of one I missed, please let me know in the comments and I'll add it here.

Edited May 27 to identify Guy by name, after I checked in with him. They buried the young robin in their garden. In somewhat nicer news, they've since discovered that the robin family have another chick who is still doing well.

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