Friday, 19 December 2008

I support a Coalition NDP-Liberal government

What do I return to when I land back into the mundane: I never thought I’d live to see this day! A Coalition government in Canada between the Liberals, social democratic NDP, with support from the Bloc Quebec! The conservative would-be Prime-Minister in minority went absolutely crazy, trying to ban collective bargaining, using the financial crisis as a scapegoat. Not having a majority of seats in Parliament, and not having the support of the other parties, he will be toppled!

A liberal-NDP coalition may be a step towards what I see as the most pressing issue of all: reforming our archaic British first-passed-the-post election sham process to a democratic proportional representation, or, what I like to call “one person, one vote” democracy (unlike now).

Despite the high I felt of a united Centre-Left, it was shortlived when I started reading angered comments of (perhaps biased sampling of angered conservatives) Canadians on the CBC. “Coup d’etat,” “Power grab” etc. Many even had the pretension to say we’d look like an international joke when an “elected” prime-minister can be toppled only two months after an election-- unaware that most democracies in the World are made up of coalitions. E.g., where I am now, Sweden has never had a majority government. Rather, I’d say our election system looks like an international joke when a party that the majority of Canadians don’t want (i.e., 60% of Canadians didn’t want the conservatives to win) rules without compromise or negotiations. Most countries have governments where many parties have to come together, compromise and negotiate, while respecting the varied principles of each other and the citizens. This demonstrates a maturity and pragmatism that Harper never had, and its time Canada grew up.

I just came back from Scotland.

The Rankin’s were apparently hereditary pipers for the Maclean Clan, in North-Western Scotland, round the island of Mull. I was fortunate enough to visit these coasts and highlands, being in the town of Oban for a Marine Biology excursion for a week. I can’t say I feel any of what many Eastern Canadian authors of embellished of “returning” to Scotland / Ireland, a sense of ancient belonging. Nonetheless, I did feel I could live there, if need be, more culturally similar than Sweden. I liked their friendly manners and happy disposition. I like not being around tall, handsome, well-dressed people all the time. Seeing the capital B Brats in the Gothenburg airport, well gelled hair, tight clothes, meek and giant… I’m anglo through and through!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Mysteries of Fall 2008

Catch in trawl. Part of the Marine Faunistics Course trip to Croatia, Marine Biology Masters program in Helsingborg, Lund University, Sweden

Animal photos on a course in Croatia, Halloween, Arx and Nimis, X-rays of my Jaw, and other strange things

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Cheap is sexy again

My oh so stylish Swedish friend blogs about the mainstream ascension of dumpster diving and freeganism. Unemployment sores. Credit disappears. The nerve of the nation is frugality, again, as it was during the Great Depression. Den gröna vågen gör intåg i hus och stuga...

If so, I’m on the cusp of cool! The air of scorn for flashy bling, a pocket of saved fastfood napkins, and a shirt I found in the laundry room, all suddenly the mark the with-it.

A Spanish friend and dumpster-diving mentor calls it “buscar vidas”, searching to live (she found the sweets in the picture). To her, and many impoverished others, its primarily for survival. To me, its longterm survival: planetary, ecosystem survival. Gaia gives us 2 degrees to warm, about 500 ppm Carbon Dioxide equivalent, until the planetary system is perturbed to an entirely new homeostasis. One without ice-caps, without the Amazon, without the tundra—an Earth unseen in 3 million years. Its not something that “heals” itself, it sits happily and steady within its new nightmarish balance.

There is a bright side to economic slowdowns. An economic contraction, reduction in material standards of living, slows the rate of climate disruption. And I write that recalling the sting of the early 90’s recession--- and how government marine “biologists” faced numerous bomb threats from fisherman during those years.

In the new tradition of frugality, today a friend and I used construction boxes as sleds to slide down Lund’s only hill of note. Its snowy here. Its quite beautiful. There is a sensual nostalgia to the bitting cool of snow: warm smoking stoves, drafts, the laziness of Christmas, swaying craggy trees silhouetted against ghostly snowscapes. I love it! With it too do the Swedes really shine—they just sort of make sense when it snows.

But with the snow also comes a sense of foreboding. Mostly all of my new friends are leaving in January. Oh well, time to get serious with my thesis.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Fractured jaw

I imagine an injury as being a single parent. In this case, my lower jaw is fractured--it no longer "fits" with the upper jaw. Like a little baby, it's always on my mind, always worrying, a little foreign something on the side of my head, me and not me at the same time. The little gnawing and cracking sounds wake me up in the middle of the night. Always so gentle and petitioning to it. It has changed my life: I no longer go out as I once did, feeling stigmatized.

As part of my bedroom activities, I imagine how far in the past an injury like this would equal death? In five days they're going to put a titanium rod in my jaw, to secure it back in place. X-rays and MRI and serious facial surgery. Could they do that 60 years ago, 80, 110? I think around 110, I'd probably be near the end. I'd probably have been a farmer, and I would have let it heal together on its own in a mismatched unalignment, having my farm wife stoically mash potatoes and cabbage into a paste that would be poured through a tin funnel into my mouth.

At some point, the inability to chew and communicate would have equaled death. Thus, I am all to more apparently wedded to civilization, all the more dependent on murderous dams, vicious pit mining, and omnipresent effluent. If I had my dream and industrial civilization did overshoot and crash, I wouldn't have the blender, the plastic straws, MRI's and titanium alloy to make it all better.

Its apparently routine surgery. My face is a bit swollen, but otherwise the same. They say I'll be back home after the surgery, I'll be alright. I plan on going to school monday. I earned this little bundle of joy by trying to stop a fight. I didn't and got hit, hard. The fuckers ran away. Didn't really hurt at the time, just odd.

Hopefully I post the x-rays soon.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Trawling in Croatia!

When the bottom-trawling was first deployed on mass in nineteenth-century Britain, fishermen protested and petitioned for its ban. No manner of fish can escape the trawl, they knew, and the oceans have never been the same. Since then, whole generations of apologist marine biologists have grown up thinking the ploughed, soft, silty bottoms of the Northern shelves are the norm: we have no baseline, we've never known what is natural...

But ain't it cool! Oh, the anticipation as the engines groan while lugging in the haul. The silvery mass of fish n' net rising to the surface. The gulls hovering eagerly. Everyone's face taut and anxious. Is it a big catch? Did we catch anything rare or maybe endangered?

We trawled and dredged nearly every day in Croatia for a week. One of those things, that despite the sun, the roll of the sea, good people, and the inherent interest of a new culture, it made me think: "I don't belong here. This is wrong."

On the bright side, everyone likes my new tan!

I celebrated my 26th birthday in Split, the Croatian capital. I'm now legally an adult. I left my adult life back in Canada. I look forward to graduating.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Prince Leopold Island Seabirds

Short video outlining the research on and behaviour of seabirds inhabiting a remote island in Arctic Canada - as well as some fun fotage of Belugas!

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Prince Leopold Island Summer 2008

The ice is disappearing. Down at Coates Island, northern Hudson's bay, sea extent is down, and the reproduction of the colony of Thick-Billed Murres is plumeting. The Murre, a relatively large, penguin-like auk, dives deep in the arctic seas for fish, sometimes 150 m deep. Arctic ice serves to "seed" the oceans with algae and promote bloom conditions that nourishes the ecosystems, supporting large aggregations of seabirds and cetaceans.

At a more northern and larger colony on Prince Leopold island, Dr. Tony Gaston hasn't noticed a difference in ice. "We're seeing more large icebergs, collapsing from Glaciers, but the amount of ice is the same." This is good new for the birds here. The island hosts 100,000 plus murres, nesting in dense aggregations on the precipitous shale cliffs which drop 280m to the sea. They are doing alright. So are the colonies of Black-legged Kittiwakes, which seem to be on the rise. The alien looking northern Fulmars are having birth defects and reduced productivity, but that's more likely from the global-atmospheric dump of mercury and persistent organic populants than the retreat of sea ice.

I just returned to "civilization" after 5 weeks on the island. Working with the environment canada researcher Tony Gaston, and a few others, we monitored birds' breeding success, abundances, and mounted various instruments on them. There is nothing like living on a seabird colony! The smell and sounds and eye-candle of so many birds packed in so tightly on the cliffs. Where possible, one can get pretty close to the birds too: living so remote, both in terms of latitude and dangerousness of their nesting ledges, the birds haven't evolved much fear of nosy primates. This is to researchers advantage. One can closely observe all their facinating behaviours from close, without disturbing them. The stars of the shows are of course the chicks. And what a drama! Facing horrible 70 km/hr winds, gusts, snow squalls, and little comfort on a narrow ledge 280m above certain death, the heart really goes out to these chicks, each day, watching in their meteroic growth.

If the chicks are the stars, the non-breeding adults are the sideshows. Hormones are high at the colony, and birds are showing off. Loud arial displays, build faux-nests, chasing each other around. Are they trying to attract new better mates, or intimidate rivals from potential breeding sites next year? My favourite sight was the "choking" display of partners: loudly rubbing nape over throat of each other, while fiercely making a vomit/cough head-thrust. This is how Kittiwake partners say "I love you, we're together, right?", as uncomfortable it may seem. And thats whats cool about birds, beginning to understand the emotions and gestures of pair-bonding and parenting, which have evoled in many different alien ways, opposed to the more intuitive gestures of higher-mammals, whom we sympathize with and anthropomorphize so easily.

Their lack of fear nor evolved susticiousness to humans allows us to catch them easily too, sliding nooses around their necks and snagging them with nets (relatively harmless). By catching them, we were able to put geolocating devices on them, dive-depth measurements, and identify bands. Devices like these allow us to see where and how far they go to get food in between incubation turns, and identify individuals over the years. We caught one Murre who had a metal band ID placed on him from the late 70's, making him at least thirty years old (older than me!)

The island always offered a dream of marine mammals: the occasional Walrus, harp seals, bowheads, and when there was ice, belugas. And of course, Polar bears. "I have nighmares of Polar bears," says Dr. Gaston. He's had his fair share of dangerous encounters with them. We walked around with slug-loaded shot-guns, just in case.  

I made a snazzy video on youtube:

Now, I'm back in the "real world" of civilization, back in Lund, Sweden, to continue with Marine Biology.

Prince Leopold Island

5 weeks on a seabird breeding colony doing research - Summer 2008

Ammarnäs Summer 2008

5 weeks doing surveys in the swedish mountains near Ammarnäs.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Leaving the Swedish mountains

There is a sense of foreboding. Time is wrapping up here in the Swedish mountains. My project fieldwork is done as most of the nests have hatched, and the chicks are running around the valleys. It was a physically difficult 5 weeks. And it wasn’t that successful. I didn’t find as many nests as I had hoped, as the density is much lower here in the rugged alpine, than the tundra from which I based my estimates on. So, I’m left with data that may not be useful, 5 weeks of somewhat isolation that I don’t remember too much about. Soon, I’ll be travelling back down to Lund and then on to Canada. Much has happened in the 10 months that I’ve been in Sweden so far, to hard to conceptualize. I have that satisfactory feeling of a life lived, bloated and pushing back the memories of arrival back into another lifetime. Was it really only 10 months?

And how will these 5 weeks here fit in to my story? Not much to say.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Snowed in

My german company sets a hard pace, thick calves running up the steep spring streams in the lower birch forests. Even here there is snow. Higher and higher we go and it becomes more obvious that nature has done a reboot. A two day storm has blanketed the mountains in snow and in silence. Such a transition when three days earlier I had baked in the heat, cursed the sunburn that blistered lips. Then, the green had just hit the dwarf shrubs and the air was full of maddly displaying shorebirds, the birds who, as their name suggests, normally populate the shores of oceans and wetlands far to south. In the summer, they make spectacular migrations to the north to nest in the giant continental wetland that is tundra, and its similar sister ecosystems in alpine valleys. We had already found about 10 nests.

Another 500m onwards and we're on an icefield. A few passerines, and a lonely golden plover makes distress calls in the distance. A futile effort, as its nest is surely lost: 30cm deep in snow, in the cold, parents must make a choice between their current nest and survival to future breeding efforts. Everyone else has abandoned. Perhaps this one has lost its mate, and waits at the only obvious rendezvous point.

I don't want to think how many more days of optimal weather we must wait for until all this snow is gone. Then how many more days until the birds can re-lay eggs? It will be a late season this year. I just have under 4 weeks left, researching nesting patterns of the Dunlin. All previous efforts to waste. Re-searching indeed. And so it goes.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Bleeding chicks and transitions

I had a great day today. How is this for quality education: my department rents us a car (environmental car, of course), to drive out to an old research grove in the middle of a military training area, where old Jackdaw nestboxes host a small colony of crows. We rob the nests, measure the chicks, and bleed them for an anti-body study. Like vets or something, drawing blood from pink little monsters. Can't quite describe why, but its really cool, and totally unheard of in Canada to let loose a couple students like us to handle chicks in such an invasive way.

I've done it before in Alaska, but more experience is always good. I guess? I don't really know what this will all lead to. But I feel good doing it. How many students can say that and mean it? How many professionals?

So, the pace of school is slow and cool as June approaches. Its already so bright here. Soon, I will kiss the stars and night goodbye as I head up to northern northern swedish moutains for 5 weeks over the solstice. Until then, I don't know what was the climax, but things are unraveling. Everytime I meet someone familiar, it could be for the last time. Few of my friends now will be back in sweden in the fall when I return. I don't know where I will live, and have the choice of three cities... slowly saying goodbye to a great ten months. I had good friends, a good corridor, good education, fun distractions. Sad to see it go. But that is my life: go, go, go!! I don't plan on stopping any time soon, but at 25, I'm aware of some ancient genetic programming thats nagging me to settle down; that its only in this frivolous modernity that one can be thrown so much strange shit and think its normal.

Go! God is a verb.

Birds and Baseball Bastard

We can't loss, so why not play relaxed?

Some birds during my Ornithology course at Lund, and the traditional swedish sport called bränboll, spring 2008

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Den sista Bränboll spel

The last burnball game.

At first, you don't think its true, you must of heard wrong, a mistranslation from swedish to english. But its true: for the last two weeks, every day, from five to eight thirty, my student housing building, called the Paratheses, has been playing in a self organized tournament of "burnball", a bastardized version of baseball, each student corridor against the other, obligatory and highly competitive.

People take it serious (and for a good reason...) For the last month, everyday, people have been practising out in the middle ground of the "Parathesis", training their batting arms, catching one handed, and throwing.

My corridor's bats were stolen... sabatoge! A dirty trick in a dirty student tournament. A serious dirty tournament, for at the end of the two weeks, the two losing teams from each division (remember the American League and National Leagues?) play each amidst a hailstorm of week-saved garbage being thrown in inebriated volleys from the balconies of the other non-loser corridors. Trash, old tv's, stinky containters, fish eggs, rotting fermented herring. You name it, they throw. And the grand losers, have to clean it all up in the end.

Then they erect a giant beer tent, and the modest student residence of 300 grows to thousand for the legendary Bränboll fest.

We play under the threat of punishment. My corridor, mostly inert swedish girls, almost lost last year. This year, we managed to avoid being in the final losers game by an opponent team to lose on purpose, with baked cakes, punch and waterpipe.

Our team is called "Kärlek utan granser" ("Love without limits"). Other floors called themselves "Love hurts" "We eat blackeyes for breakfest" "Love for a price" and "Fuck Love, we just want to fuck."

So, lets recap just how rediculous this whole concept is: the tournament is a long tradition, completely self-organized, obligatory, and the whole point is to just avoid losing and thus cleaning up the damn dumpster. Unheard of in more civilized countries like Canada.

We play our final game in a couple minutes: non-serious, enjoyable goofy game as we're under no duress of losing. I'll have a beer in my hand and rubber boots, as the field has become mud after two weeks nonstop play.


Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Öland roadtrip

Öland is a long narrow island on the Swedish east coast. It’s a last stop for many birds before they leap frog to continental Europe. So, I went on another roadtrip, as a friend wanted to visit her family in nearby historical Kalmar and on the island. The birds weren’t so interesting, as the migration hasn’t started yet, and it was windy and wet. However, I’d like to think that my nerdy and proud love of spotting scopes and the outdoors brought an unexpected joy to my friends, and participated in their self-described rebirth into a healthy lifestyle. i.e., no more cigarettes, sugar and other evils, and hello to almonds and hiking!

Watching seals, climbing lighthouses, mischevious witches and their abodes. We stopped at ruins, old borgs and castles, and large erected rocks in the shape of the phallus (many in Sweden, actually) Öland had plenty to offer our eclectic touring troupe.  Mixed with a some partying, great companions, it was the best trip so far.

 But that’s it for traveling for a while. Time to sublimate mojo and fun into my studies. Kittiwakes and shorebirds from now on.

I should actually congratulate myself in finding the fun in the more “mundane” Sweden. Other Canadian students are flying to the Alps, London, etc., not really enjoying Sweden itself. In fact, I don’t know why many foreigners are here, living a strange apartheid between foreingers and Swedes. Consider this one Spanish girl in who exclaimed in surprise: “You’re Canadian? But… but.. you were talking to the Swedish people!”

Öland roadtrip

View from the Ottenby lighthouse

Early March roadtrip from Lund to Öland, a small island on the east coast

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Norrköping roadtrip

I've been acting like a typical "bytes", as they say here, a foreigner who's come to Lund only to be frivolous and to party. I'm usually quite serious, having a lot on my plate at the moment, with ecotoxicology labs, database programming nonsense, assisting a  PhD student on her golden plover habitat modelling, learning swedish, and the constant planning for the summer, all of which I have been terribly negligent after 5 days of  festivities. Slipped by in a high serotonin sprint of extroversion to which I'm not accustomed. 4 swedes and I went on a delightful excursion to Norköping, a pretty post-industrial town on the Baltic, where old water towers and factories are coverted to student residences and bars. It was fun! We hung out with a corridor-mates group of friends, touring some of the sites of the city, like 3000 year old stone carvings, of boats and hunting and bear prints etc, went out to nightclubs, where II realize that night clubs are full of people well below my age, dressing in ways that seem silly.

So, thats it for a while. Contented for the moment with my time away from Lund, and hopefully not going to feel the need to travel around more, like these damned affluent swedes would so casually fly the globe around for their monthly vacations. Me, the spring migration is coming, and the summer sits on the horizon like a warm, glowing orb, full of promise that fills all whose light it touches. I really live an exciting life.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Summer decisions, balanced blood and empty eyes.

The summer is never too far away, not when you have to decide what to study... should I return to Canada to work in the arctic on seabirds, or stay in Sweden to work on shorebirds... For my future, I'm probably going to life the rest of my life in Canada, so, that makes sense, but it sort of feels like a failure, not building stronger connections here... the future is the sum of past, especially with projects like this, so I'm really agonizing over this.

Otherwise, life prattles on as usual. I dazzled my professor with a modelling project on Auks and Seals, he wants me to try to get it published, which is the highest honour for a project. My half brother Jeff is getting married, and will have a daughter in June! Amazing... though, for me, I'll probably never see this niece, as I never see Jeff, have never met his finance, and will likely live in very a different part of the globe. Too bad, Uncles are usually really cool.

And now, some more observations about swedes and north americans: Unlike in Canada, where the signs of a good listener are nodding, showing expressions of interest, and asking relevant questions, the swedes consider this all very excitable and somewhat rude. One should just sit very still and quiet until the speaker is finished. "Dead in the eyes" is how I might characterize them.

But thats okay. I love them anyway. I'm for the most part glad that I came, despite having perhaps the wrong reasons.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

I can die a happy man because of 2007

A round of applause for 2007: I did good work at Environment Canada, went to the Haida Gwaii and fell in love with seabirds, worked for the USFWS in Alaska, and started a Masters in Sweden. I also ended a 2 year relationship, had a strange one in the summer, and am otherwise single. Other than the last bit, a great year of professional development and honing my interests.

What now for 2008? I hope to do exciting thesis work in the summer, and other than that, just interesting biology courses, and try to rectify that whole "being single" issue.

I can't seem to sleep.

Red Sea Diving 2007

Went to Hurghada Egypt to do my advanced open water diver certification, over christmas. Christmas hua ekbar!