Of jaw bones and water woes
The snow has melted here and worms are casting about, much to the delight of robins. I’ve not yet spotted a woodcock, the bird that must be the best equipped, with its hinged mandible, to tweeze earthworms and grubs from their lairs beneath the surface of the soil.
Speaking of mandibles, last week I found one attached to a skull beneath a brush pile I was about to torch. The skull, narrow and about seven inches long, was obviously that of a carnivore, but which one? None of the photos of skulls in my library answered the question, so I turned to Matthew Betts, curator of Atlantic provinces archaeology with the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. (Why not go to the top?) I iPhoned snapshots.
Dr. Betts knows his bones. I have seen that for myself as he and teammates have, for nearly a decade, dug carefully through nearby Mi’kmaq shell middens that tell the story of pre-colonial life on this shore. The smallest shard of pottery, stone tool, or bone is soon identified and dated by one or another of this crew.
The answer was not long coming: “You have found a very nice coyote skull and mandible. Poor fellow was an adult, but not very old, perhaps between a year or two.”
But then, how was it a coyote ended up under my brush pile not a hundred feet from the back door? Why the skull alone? Had I missed the rest of the skeleton in the heat of the moment?
Again, I turned to Matt, who, in addition to knowing his bones and indigenous history here in the Atlantics, is the authority on an intriguing aspect of the ill-fated Franklin exhibition, specifically Sir John Franklin’s ship HMS Terror. (On the internet check out buildinghmsterror.com. A fascinating, entertaining, and informative blog.)
Dr. Betts replied: “An interesting question…. My guess is that the skull and mandible were dragged in by a smaller critter who made a nice feast of it under (the brush pile). Skulls detach readily, and are easy to drag around.”
I picture a sort of bucket brigade of critters, from crows to squirrels to faithful Tank the dog, taking turns shifting the skull from where the coyote met its demise to the backyard shelter.
It is soon planting time. One recent afternoon I dropped in on Phillip Claremont, in Melbourne, outside of Yarmouth. Phillip, retired from teaching, always has a dozen things on the go, from tending cattle (including a family milk cow – Jersey of course), to amateur theatre, to gardening, to demonstrating blacksmith skill at the Historic Acadian Village in nearby West Pubnico.
That day, in preparation for planting, Phillip had just finished spreading more than 50 fish totes of dead lobsters over soon-to-be garden ground. This was free “compost” from a large lobster pound nearby, where a percentage mortality is expected. While spreading the lobster carcasses was no small task, the more demanding job of plowing them under lay ahead, lest gulls find the feast and carry it away.
Now, what to plant? If price of seed were a deciding factor, canola might be a choice, what with China slamming the door on importation of this oilseed. Results of a 2003 study in Virginia determined that canola grown for pre-flowering greens for human consumption “has the potential to provide an alternative crop for small and mid-sized farmers.”
Nova Scotia and to a lesser extent Prince Edward Island are beset with water woes. Indonesian-owned Northern Pulp wants permission to pipe waste far into the Northumberland Strait. This does not sit well with fishermen. Alton Gas wants to pipe hot brine into the Shubenacadie River in the course of hollowing out huge underground caverns to store natural gas. This does not sit well with indigenous and non-indigenous “water protectors,” sturgeon, and other living things. And then there are the open-pen fin-fish farmers from New Brunswick and Asia who salivate over Nova Scotia’s 7,400-kilometre coastline.
Cooke Aquaculture, based in Saint John, has burst onto the scene in Liverpool, N.S., seeking approval to greatly expand its existing operations in the bay. Opposition is growing and may turn the tide – as it should, for this way of raising fish makes a mockery of efforts worldwide to clean up our estuaries and oceans.
Now comes another multi-national aquaculture giant, Cermaq Canada, owned by Mitsubishi, which, according to a lengthy (and unsettling) story in undercurrentmagazine.com, is prepared to spend up to $500 million installing as many as 20 farms around the coast.
The environmental and ecological abuse inherent in open-pen fish farms should make the practice against the law. If I raised hogs on the shore here and piped feces and unused feed into Sandy Bay, I’d be hung high, and rightly so. But put out the word I want to deposit an equivalent amount of fish crap in the bay, and the province rolls out the carpet.
Last month in this column I took an April Fools’ Day crack at the vaccine industry. Less than a week after I wrote the spoof, a bout of flu knocked me on my fanny, and I’ve yet to fully recover. I am laughing at myself. I’d not gone for a flu shot at the sooper store or any other of the myriad locations in the vaccination business. Despite all, it is doubtful I will sign up come fall 2019.
There is something unattractive about band wagons that too often run over good old-fashioned scepticism. While I do not wish to align myself with rabid “anti-vaxxers,” the pro-vaccination people would put me in that camp. In their world view, one is pro or con; you are a champion behind every vaccine and vaccination program, or you are a risk to society’s health and safety.
There are grey areas. There are reasonable questions to ask and to be objectively addressed – about vaccines and so many other matters about which civil discourse is stifled. DvL
PS: A sad note just in that Greta Mathewson, wool crafts artist, nurse, missionary, mother, grandmother, and wife of the late Prof. Bill Mathewson who contributed greatly to this magazine for several years died April 11 at her home, Upperbrook Farm, in North River, N.S. She was 89. An obituary can be found at mattatalvarnerfh.com.