Chanterelle mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of a mycorrhizal fungus. Photo © Charle de Mille-Isles via flickr/Creative Commons

November 29—Celebrating a three-tined tribute to the stuff that makes gardens grow seems odd at this time of year. But Global Soil Week, punctuates the end of the U.N.’s International Year of Soils and ends in a trifecta with Saturday’s World Soil Day, relates as much to winter here as it does to places with growing seasons that span the turn of the year.

During Victoria’s damp season, grass gone brown during summer sprouts green, winter heathers bloom, and mushrooms burst forth from the soil.

The chanterelles, pine mushrooms, morels, and other late-year treats are signposts of the complexity and mystery of our coastal soils.

This much we know about soil—we depend on it. To paraphrase the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization’s website, soil makes possible food, feed, fuel and fibre production. It helps us manage water and prevent drought, and provides supports ecosystem and human wellbeing. Soil does so much for us.

This much we also prefer to overlook. More »

Royal Roads shoreline outside Esquimalt Lagoon. Photo © David Stanley via flickr and Creative Commons.

The year has begun amidst a series of earth-shaking events.

Three earthquakes were reported for the Vancouver Island region on January 2. The biggest, at magnitude 5.4, occurred 211 kilometres west of Port Hardy, while two smaller tremblers occurred west of Port Alberni. Five days later, a 4.8-magnitude quake west of Port Alice shook the coast.

They form part of a regional swarm of earthquakes that began late last year, as the tectonic plates beneath Vancouver Island released rock-bending pressure. To add perspective, about 4,000 earthquakes occur in B.C. every year. Of these, only a few—like the larger January quakes—are felt by people.

As solid as the ground beneath our feet seems, when the forces that shape the our planet’s surface start squeezing it, the granites, basalts and sedimentary rock on which our region’s municipalities are built take on the consistency and strength of something like fine, aged Cheddar….


Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Myrtle warbler. Photo © zenbenscience, via creative commons & flickr

While we await the region’s autumn rains, the rest of the country prepares for winter. After last year’s ordeal, flocks of Snowbirds east of the Rockies are preparing their escape routes.

Some will visit our region. Others will head south.

Our behaviour mirrors a time-honoured tradition begun by our feathered friends eons ago. Scientists recently established that the region’s migrating birds are at heart northern residents that, like their human counterparts, head south to avoid harsh winters.

For years, scientists believed migrating birds first started leaving southern territories to travel northwards across and between continents because of intense competition for space and food in the crowded tropics. After all, most songbirds in the Americas, including those that don’t migrate, live in the South American tropics, and most migratory species have close tropical relatives.

But that theory is now turned upside-down, geographically speaking. After analyzing the family trees and territorial origins ofsparrows, warblers and blackbirds—which together make up the largest group of North American songbirds—scientists found that long-distance migration was twice as likely to arise among bird ancestors from temperate regions than among ancestors from the tropics.

The majority of the species started migrating by moving their winter ranges southwards.

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Clown fish. Photo © Rob,, via creative commons and flickr.

When male clown fish lose their female partners, they change their sex and become female themselves. Go, Nemo/Nema.

When it comes to gender equality, researchers find Dad’s actions around the house speak louder than his words. University of British Columbia psychologists recently found that, when a father regularly engages in traditionally female household chores, his school-aged daughters are more likely to aspire to gender-neutral careers—for instance, becoming doctors, lawyers or CEOs.

Which means, guys, if you want your daughters to become highly paid white- or even blue-collared professionals, be sure you change diapers, scrub floors, pick up groceries, drycleaning and dirty socks, and make dinner—often and regularly. For, despite Peter Mackay’s reported emails to his staff, in doing so, you will indeed shape your daughters’ minds and values.

Gender-based divisions of household labour are social constructs. Yet, despite the last 40 years’ advances, women remain the primary caregivers, cooks and cleaners in many households. Some people—including some individuals in influential places—claim the roles naturally come with being the only humans biologically capable of gestating and birthing young.

But imagine if we could switch biological roles, as it were, without complicated surgeries and hormones. Imagine if we could easily adjust the division of reproductive labour. That would be the end of many questionable comments and assumptions.

Some organisms do exactly that….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….


More to explore:

Battle of the sexes – one gene keeps us either male or female

Dads who do housework have more ambitious daughters

Moms change diapers, Dads form leaders: Justice minister’s emails to staff

Sex change in nature—coral reef fish

Slug love


Dogs are attuned to their people, but who is in charge. Photo © Stefan Holodnick,, via creative commons.

Some dogs show more intelligence than most people. Or so their owners tell me.

Perhaps thinking of one’s four-legged best friend as brighter than one’s children—perhaps not one’s children, but possibly one’s in-laws—goes with the territory of being a dog owner. Much like people universally describing their driving skills or their children’s giftedness as better than average.

I don’t know if the “my dog is smarter than most people” phenomenon is universal to two-legged members of clan Canis. I do, however, know I am required by friends to adjust my vocabulary in certain canine company. Forbidden words include W-A-L-K, T-R-E-A-T, B-A-L-L and C-A-T.

According to University of B.C. psychologist and canine-intelligence expert Stanley Coren, dogs can learn about 160 words. Exceptionally bright pooches can attain a vocabulary of about 300 words….

Read the rest in the Victoria Times Colonist….


Grape clusters. Photo © Scott Mair

We rarely see grapes being crushed by foot these days, but visitors to the Cowichan Wine and Culinary Festival earlier this month witnessed an old-fashioned grape stomp. Seven teams, dressed in costume, with grape juice soaking the hems of their trousers, shorts, gowns and dresses, competed against each other to stomp the grapes the fastest.

Their bare feet and enthusiasm served to remind spectators of wine making’s fundamentals.

Here and everywhere, wine making starts with sun, water, soil, and vines that take all of the above and turn it into grapes. Those who tend the vines and those that turn the grapes into wine strive to create product that represents and reveals the most desirable qualities of the fruit, place, climate, and so on. Each resulting bottle contains a bit of the heart and soul of the land and of the people who work it.

Yet, behind the growers of grapes and makers of wine, another community of players calls the shots. I’m not talking about grape stompers, who have been mostly replaced by mechanical presses these days. I’m talking about more enduring, pervasive contributors.

In the most basic sense, microbes make the wine….

Continue reading this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Grape vineyard. Photo © Monique Keiran 2009.

We live in a plastic world: terror at chemicals in humans' blood stream and breast milk. Photo by Kevin Dooley

We live in a plastic world: dismay at chemicals in human blood stream and breast milk.
Photo by Kevin Dooley

Granny always sent us outside to play. She was right—being outside was good for us—but she was right for reasons she couldn’t have foreseen 40 years ago.

Numerous recent studies indicate our homes and offices have filled in recent decades with chemicals meant to benefit us, which instead might be harming us. These substances are called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, because of the way they interfere with our hormonal processes.

A recent report by the World Health Organization and the U.N. Environment Programme summarizes the latest in the ongoing science on these substances. Researchers in B.C. and Canada continue to contribute to our understanding of the complex issue, including how we are exposed to these compounds.

Continue reading…


Sources include:

World Health Organization’s report on the State of the science of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, 2012.

Flame retardants in human breast milk

Indoor sources of PFCs in 152 Vancouver homes

Tracking daily exposures to toxins in Europe

CHILD study