Monday, 8 February 2016

We're all doomed

The snow didn't last but slowly melted away 
It seemed an appropriate title for a blog in this day and age, especially with the recent release of the Dad's Army film, since it was Private Frazer's favourite saying. I hope that the film is as good as some are saying and look forward to seeing it on video. Sometimes the world can seem like it is full of doom and gloom but if we focus on that and not the good that we see in others we could easily become paralysed and fearful of everything and everyone and that can't be healthy.
The moles are still active under the soil. Makes me wonder how
they manage to get through the hard frozen layer.

You can see Agnese peering out from inside the alpaca house,
which is where she ran when she saw me. Bodes well for next
week when I am looking after her. Mind you, I bet she changes
her mind when I have the feed trays. 
Our week began with the snow falling thick and fast and the fear our car wouldn't start. Ian went down early to make sure it did before I set off for Estonia last Monday in case I had to walk to the bus with all my baggage. The car started perfectly and ran well for a few days before starting to have issues again apparently and the snow melted into muddy puddles. There is one thing worse than having car issues and that is having intermittent car issues. Not a comfortable thought when Ian is heading for surgery next week and I will be home alone looking after alpacas while he recuperates in hospital. I am going to have to have a ......I hesitate to say....... crash course in what to do if the problem re-occurs.
The promise of wild strawberries later
in the year
Next year's Christmas tree?
The reason for being up in Estonia was for my annual evaluation. Hopefully it will be my last one for my PhD studies. It is a scary thought to think I could be defending my thesis this time next year, although this is unlikely as I have to have three papers published to qualify first and it took long enough to get the first one through to publication. At least the evaluators were happy enough that I had got one through to that stage. I also have all the credits I need apart from the ones for the thesis itself. The fact I have another paper nearly ready for submission and on track for getting another one together were added bonuses. I just need to do a few more interviews first. One evaluator wondered if the breadth of what I was doing was too overwhelming but he was content with my answer that I am more of a broad picture kind of person and I don't go into a huge amount of detail. I am looking for flexible frameworks that planners can use and adapt rather than THE definitive answer to all planning questions in rural areas.
I love the contrast of the green moss and
the trunk of the tree

A bleak view
Although that was on the Tuesday I had another presentation on the Friday to my colleagues in the department. As the travelling time is too long on public transport to go backwards and forwards I stay up there. With a few days to spare I took the opportunity to see both my supervisors and chat through what I will be doing over the next year and I met up with a lady who I have got to know over the last year or two but not had much chance to chat to in person before. She has helped me with my last paper and we have chatted a lot online as well as briefly in passing but just not for long. This time I made sure we got to spend some time together so I went for lunch and rolled out of her apartment after 7pm after chatting about so many topics that we are both interested in. We even managed to chat about those things you are not supposed to chat about if you want to remain friends, religion and politics. We're still friends!
A forlorn looking remnant of a sunflower that didn't grow
particularly well in the cooler summer temperatures of last year.
In the background you can see the beds we are preparing for
later on in the year to plant into.

The gate for the sheep enclosure stands ready, but no longer
needed for this time of the year. 
My presentation on the Friday was a little naughty, I didn't stick to the usual format at all. I made it participatory and I was trying to demonstrate to them how it is possible to include people in a fairly easy way. I had them answer three questions, "Who am I?", "Where have I come from to get here?" (that is their route in life to the department, not their morning route to get to the office) and "What keeps me here?" We didn't actually go through the answers but laid them out on a table roughly corresponding to our geographical origins (not to scale though, one lady was from Iran, a young guy from Ukraine, another from India and a couple of us from Latvia in addition to the Estonians). We then used wool to link each member of the department to those who they connected with, whether that be professionally or in a more relationship based way. The point of the exercise was to show that we had a map of a story for that department, it outlined our history, it outlined who we were as individuals and corporately and how we were connected to each other. Important starting points for any kind of development.
The trenches dug last year along the contour
of the hill is working. The idea is that it
captures the water and allows it to soak in,
rather than just running down the hill and
flooding the lower areas. They still got
flooded but at least this slows the whole
process down.

This is a potential problem to deal with when the ground
defrosts. We have to find out how far the water is eating into
the bank and undermining it. This is the end of a land drain
that takes water from the road on the opposite side of our
What followed was fascinating as they started to think how the exercise could be used for planning purposes, how it gave people value and could connect them into a process. I was thrilled to see how it engaged them to think about how people could be put at the heart of planning. I was asked a couple of awkward questions about how this linked into my thesis but managed to think on my feet to answer that. I was then asked what had I hoped to gain from this exercise, since that would be the normal format for a doctoral presentation and managed to waffle through that it was informative to see how my own colleagues engaged with the process. What I actually hoped was that people would see that stories could be powerful ways to engage people in landscape planning - something that is understood as a good thing to do, but the actual practice is more difficult and not so well done usually.
One of the problems of surfaces becoming hard is run off that
then freezes - skating anyone?

I had eggs from a farmer in Estonia this last week but they
weren't as fresh as these ones from our own hens. If the yolks
were not burst they would not cook so well for fried egg
sandwiches. The bread was fresh too and home-made. 
Eventually it was time to go home. I checked the timetable on a Latvian travel planner, and was horrified to see that train times were still not connecting through as they did last year on my way home. It still said that the Latvian train was due to set off before the Estonian train got into the station - not terribly helpful for a connecting train. I had doubts though because it was winter and track works aren't normal in winter and so I checked the actual train site and it didn't correlate at all. So when I set off I had no idea whether the Latvian train would be in the train station or not. Fortunately it was. I was also a little concerned that there was a planned demonstration by the anti-immigration group in the city, but I didn't see any of that either.
Both cats have been banned from the caravan. They used to be
allowed in to warm up on the radiator but have discovered how
to break and enter into tins that held Ian's bread and cakes.
Fortunately for them the weather has warmed up and so not as
much need for the radiator now. This is a cosy enough spot in
the greenhouse
It looks like a giant hoof print, but is actually
a rather large hole that developed where we
buried Snowdrop. We have to wait for the
ground to defrost to refill it with the soil from
around it
One of the issues for many travellers is the toilets, where are they and what state are they in. Toilets on Latvian trains are not great, they are usually clean, but basic and do not always have hot water or toilet paper and so I choose to hang on until I get to the station. I was thrilled to see that the Riga train station toilets have had a makeover and no longer do people have to tear off toilet paper at the cashier desk as they pay, they actually have toilet paper in the cubicles. Bliss! No longer do I have to think carefully how much am I going to need. They even had posh sinks and the Dyson hand-dryers but somethings never change, the ladies on the cashier desk still don't smile.
As you can see, that despite the melted snow the ice can
still be quite thick in places

There is also the little pockets of life showing through and
the promise of the spring to come
The title of my blog "We're all doomed" often comes through in the various websites and Facebook posts I read, as scientists talk about their concern for the planet. There is often talk about how many are worried that we just seem hellbent on hurrying to our collective annihilation due to our lack of willingness to change lifestyles to stop our planet overheating and going beyond our planetary boundaries. It's not a comfortable thought. The Paris agreement was viewed by some as a victory because there was an agreement to do something, but what was lacking was any cohesive way of actually dealing with the issue they all agree now is happening. As someone explained to me, it is now not just a matter of cutting back on our carbon emissions, it is also about literally sucking it back out of the atmosphere. Something that technology alone is not capable of doing, at least at the moment and despite the Paris agreement there is not much money being ploughed into it either. 
Thinning out the trees on what should be a field. 

It might not look like caring for trees, but
many are dead or dying as the trees grow and
crowd each other out. Theoretically we are
supposed to cut them all down but we don't,
we choose to thin them out and let some
grow for shelter for our animals. 
Unfortunately the chances are we don't have the time to see if the planet will correct itself, or to see if it really is just a part of a greater planetary cycle, we have to act now to address the pressures we are putting on the planet. We have to act as if it matters, not just to us, but for the sakes of our children and grandchildren - they are the ones who will suffer if we don't do something radical. I'm an optimist and choose to believe that if we do alter our lifestyles and care for the environment, the trees and the soil in particular, there is a chance that we can turn things around. If we take care of others better and are more thoughtful in the way we treat others and the planet, at least we will be in a better shape to meet the challenges ahead. For those who are not entirely convinced that the world is going to overheat any time soon, won't it be a better world we leave to the future generations if we do change? 


  1. Hi Jo, it is always a pleasure to be part of your "journey". Let's keep hope for the future of the people and the planet.
    Warm regards ❤️

    1. Thank you for accompanying me on the journey and yes let's hope for the best


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