Ten Influential Albums: Numbers 6-10

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Here is the second instalment of the list I drew up in May for the so-called Ten Album Challenge. In revising the text for these last five albums, I discovered a rather pressing urge to say something more about Billie Holiday and Captain Beefheart in particular. The first because her far-reaching shadow seemed to touch, … Read more

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Ten Influential Albums: Numbers 1-5

Album cover for Blues the Common Ground by Kenny Burrell.

Just as the Coronavirus settled in for its brutal, interminable visit, just as the remnants of life-as-we’ve-always-known-it shattered and collapsed around my ears, a friend nominated me for the Ten Album Challenge. In accepting this challenge, I agreed to post—on Facebook—the covers of ten albums that have influenced or inspired me in some meaningful way. … Read more

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The Coronavirus Conundrum: You want I should hibernate in spring?

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Two weeks ago, I biked down to the allotment garden in Toronto where my wife and I have been tending a plot for the better part of twenty years. On the gate where I usually enter, I found a sign stating that the allotments were closed indefinitely, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s possible to … Read more

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The Smell of Skunk: My Madeleine

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Unlike most people I know, I love the smell of skunk. This unforgiving mixture of sulphur and alcohol that scientists call butyl mercaptan operates for me like the madeleine did for Proust. It prods to life memories that might otherwise have stayed buried in the past, and by doing so, it illustrates the complex associations … Read more

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Winter Birding: A photo essay from Algonquin Park

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Algonquin Provincial Park is one of the finest places in North America to see winter birds, those boreal species that rarely come down to more southerly locations. Situated in central Ontario, the park is a three-hour drive north of Toronto and about the same distance west from Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. I spent two days … Read more

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Cold-weather Camouflage: How do birds conceal themselves in winter?

A Purple Sandpiper on a rocky shoreline.

To put it as simply as possible: birds display two types of camouflage: color and shape. Both of these techniques help them to perform the magical act of disappearing, of blending into their surroundings, sometimes to the point of invisibility. In the spring, birds put themselves on display in hopes of finding a mate. During … Read more

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Derive or Drift: The Art of Exploring the City on Foot, Part One

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In its root sense, the French word derive is a nautical term that comes from the Latin rivus or river. It means “drift,” as a canoe drifts down the river or a ship drifts out on the ocean. In the second half of the 20th century, certain French writers appropriated the term as the name … Read more

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Monk’s Day

Thelonious Monk and Sahib Shahib at the Village Vanguard, 1941.

Always a wizard of the unexpected, Lord Buckley introduced his meditation on the Supermarket by riffing on one of his great heroes. “This is Lincoln’s Day,” he says. “Tomorrow should be Lincoln’s Day, and the next day should be Lincoln’s Day, and we should have Lincolnville and Lincoln Park and Lincoln Lincoln, and it should … Read more

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Summer Sightings or Random Thoughts on the Sacred Quest

Giant Swallowtail on the Leslie Street Spit.

Every summer, I stop birding and turn my attention to butterflies and dragonflies. Now, as the season draws to a close, I feel an urge to summarize it somehow, to list its highlights and express its character. Was there anything strange or unique about this particular summer, any surprising development, that set it apart from … Read more

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Courtship Behavior of the Orchard Oriole: A photo essay

Male Orchard Oriole--Featured Image.

On a hike through Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto near the end of May, I noticed a bird sitting in a tree. It was small in size and yellow in color: a female Orchard Oriole. She sat on an exposed perch with a long piece of grass in her mouth. Was she collecting nesting material? … Read more

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