RD Pot Luck December 2018

A fatted bird, and other tales

My son’s visit in early November was a welcomed birthday gift. It had been more than a year since his last appearance here, and one would think we’d have slaughtered a fatted calf or goat to celebrate the occasion. But no, we settled on a chicken from the freezer to stuff and roast.

It was a tasty bird, such that partway through dinner Wim asked, “Was this chicken one you raised?”

Why yes, it was. And unlike a commercial bird, this one over its short, happy life had free run of the place. Free run means all the bugs and bits of vegetation, including wild grass seed and rose hips, that a chicken can fit in its craw. Flavour enhancers.

Running free, I suppose it also can pick up a virus from a passing passerine. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency frowns on free-range, for just such threats to an industry that in Nova Scotia is concentrated in Kings County where thousands upon thousands of chickens nearly identical in their chromosomal makeup are carefully sheltered from the wild.

Yet, should one die, perhaps fallen victim to a viral infection (who’s to say, short of analysis to determine cause of death at the Department of Agriculture pathology lab?), its carcass, like as not, ends up pitched out for passing Bald eagles to pick apart – and potentially spread whatever disease it might carry.

But this is hardly dinner table conversation. Instead, yes, I was pleased and proud to reply, “That’s one of my chickens.”

“Thought so,” my son replied, holding up what I first took to be a fine bone – more a fish bone in dimension. Odd. I focused more closely on the object, bi-coloured and clearly neither of fish nor fowl.

“A porcupine quill!”

Free-run indeed. Did my roaster attack a quill pig? Or was the encounter no more than results from curiosity, as when one of our heifers could not resist nosing a porcupine ambling across the pasture?


No more quills presented, and the meal continued without interruption as conversation turned to other encounters of a wilderness sort. Like Black bears, and a Rock or Long-tailed shrew that became the first victim of young kittens brought home earlier this fall for just such duty – although mice and Red squirrels are the pests they are intended to bring under control. Shrews, if they did not stink, would be heartily welcomed, for they have an appetite for spiders, of which I’ve too many.

Kittens and cats are to be indoor pets, I am told – even lectured – and I have no argument sufficient to defend. I will offer, anyway, the fact that Red squirrels are known predators of songbirds, taking them from a feeder on occasion, but more frequently in embryonic form from nests – stealing eggs.

Bears abounded this past spring, summer, and into fall. Today’s brutal weather may have driven them to den. I like there being Black bears, despite their marauding nature – green garbage bins being a favourite attraction. My own garbage goes into the compost and eventually onto the garden. That from the Harrison Lewis Centre on the hill above home is never guaranteed free of stuff I do not want in the garden, and so is there in a bin ready to draw hungry bruins.

Necessity hatched a simple answer. A hasp and spring pin hold the green bin cover fast. This past week, there being no human activity on the hill, and a half-full green bin beckoning, it was satisfying to see the container tipped over three mornings in a row, scratched and chewed, but sealed tight.


It was a busy week for more than bears. Cooke Aquaculture to the east (of home) held an “open house” to put forward the company’s case for greatly enlarging its fin-fish pen-print on Liverpool Bay. Down west, meanwhile, a consortium of mills is fending off opposition to its clearcutting of Crown lands in Shelburne County – forests formerly owned and managed by the Bowater pulp mill. Too much of the product ends up as chips. (For why that is a travesty, read the letter that follows).

Cooke’s open house, as always with these exercises, did nothing more than provide a chance for those in opposition to let off steam that would, in this case, have been put to better use rallying support of lobster fishermen who are most in harm’s way.

Opponents of clearcutting found support in the showing at Shelburne’s Osprey Arts Centre of the documentary “Burned,” which is getting wide circulation in the province thanks to the Ecology Action Centre. The film, shot along the U.S. seaboard where clearcut liquidation forestry is becoming as popular as in Nova Scotia, exposes the hypocrisy of the wood-chip and pellet industries posturing as providers of “green energy.” Clearly it is not.

Like many people, I find myself overwhelmed at times by numbers thrown about in defense or opposition to how resources are exploited – megatons of this, kilowatt hours of that and cubic metres of the other. There was little confusing in a letter to the editor of the Chronicle Herald (Nov. 10) by Gary Saunders, retired forester, longtime employee of the N.S. Department of Natural Resources, and frequent contributor to Rural Delivery and Atlantic Forestry. With permission, that letter, “Biomass madness,” is re-printed here.

“Re: “MIT expert: Carbon-neutral biomass ‘accounting fraud’” (Nov. 5 story). Thank you for exposing the Nova Scotia biomass shell game. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: It’s one thing to use local firewood to boil a kettle to make tea. Your trucking is minimal, and in our damp climate, your patch cut will soon restock, cancelling your carbon debt within the trees’ lifetimes.

“It’s quite another thing to clearcut hundreds of hectares of Crown land a year (some of it prime old growth), truck it long distances (burning fossil fuel at about four kilometres per litre) to biomass mills to boil water to make steam to run turbines to generate electricity to transmit kilowatts (losing more than 20 percent along the way) to distant points to boil water to make tea (plus run TVs, recharge phones, etc.).

“Never mind shipping our tree chips overseas to right the carbon wrongs of Europe and the U.K.!

“I’m oversimplifying – but how ungreen can we get? Burning biomass is like the U.S. subsidizing Big Ag (wink, wink) to grow corn to make ethanol to replace gasoline – while producing more CO2 than they saved! I know – it’s all about jobs and votes. But meanwhile, our grandkids’ planet is being cooked! Are we nuts? Or just slow?”

Speaking of slow, here in Nova Scotia the provincial government led by Liberal Stephen McNeil has been sitting without response on a report, paid for by government, that recommends sharp reduction of clearcutting on Crown lands. The report’s author, Dr. Bill Lahey, addressed Shelburne municipal council the evening following the showing of “Burned.” Municipal Deputy Warden David Levy, noting that the Lahey Report submitted last August is complex, asked if that might be why government has yet to respond.

“It’s not complexity,” Dr. Lahey replied.

On that note, a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Here Comes the Sun! to all of our readers. DvL