Monday, 7 November 2016

Errrmm! I think it's winter already!

The sheep in what was the boys alpaca paddock
Tuesday was a day of preparation before I went away and before the threatened snow, which was forecast for later in the day. The sheep were still out on the field and we needed to get them into the paddock where they had access to better shelter and they could be fed some hay. We attached wire to the posts in the old alpaca paddock that had been put in by our American friends earlier on in the year. It all started off well, but we had to keep stopping to warm up. The wind was so bitter and neither of us wanted painful hands or feet. We ended up finishing it off as the snow descended earlier than forecast. We went to get the sheep but in their hurry to get to the hay that they had seen Ian put out, they managed to break three electric posts. Ian was not happy with them. At least they are now in their winter quarters.
The ram lamb has got quite big

Alpacas have such big expressive eyes
On Wednesday I was supposed to travel up to Tallinn in Estonia. The idea was that Ian would drive me to our alpaca friends near Pärnu, where he would collect some fresh bags of alpaca feed and then drive home again and I would have a meeting with someone about leaders in rural areas before travelling up by bus to Tallinn. This was going to be a bit of a long drive and so not something he was looking forward to and not made any better by the forecast of more snow.
Snow on the greenhouse. Ian got a bit concerned today as he
spotted a tear in the plastic where the snow was coming in. We
don't want that to fall apart over winter. He managed to tape it
up with tape he managed to buy a while ago and hopefully
it will hold. Not the best time of the year for putting tape on

My journey up to Tallinn
On the morning we woke early and it had indeed snowed overnight. It was not a huge amount by Latvian standards, but it was wet slushy stuff and our car had four year old all weather tyres on and not the winter tyres that we got last winter. After slithering into our village, we decided this was not a wise move and cancelled all arrangements and I stayed at home instead, or rather in our caravan, from where I booked a ticket to travel by coach from Riga to Tallinn. Thursday morning we set our alarm for earlier than the day before and Ian took me into our village to catch the Riga bus.
More snowy scenes from the bus

I rolled into Tallinn late Thursday afternoon and walked the snowy paths to the church where the latest conference I was attending was being held. This was rather different to the last ones, as it wasn't an academic conference and I wasn't there to present anything, I was there to help in any way I could. The event was the European Christian Youth Parliament and the idea was to gather youth from across Europe to discuss European issues and also to hear a little about how the European Union began.
The Lutheran church in Tallinn. We were guided by a Baptist
Minister who was also a qualified guide. He apologised that
he forgets English words quite often as he is more used to
guiding Chinese tourists around

I love the decoration on this door and above it
I found out about a man called Robert Schuman, who was motivated by his faith to work for greater cooperation between the European nations, one that included Germany. This was despite the fact he was imprisoned by the Nazis. At first he orchestrated an agreement to collaborate over coal and steel industry but he ultimately envisaged this as a way of making war impossible between the European nations as they worked together. This was a very different vision to the one I had heard amongst some in Christian circles and one I think Robert Schuman would have been shocked and saddened by. At least the weekend gave a more hopeful and positive version of events.

The Russian Orthodox church
A small statue on another church in Tallinn. I love the blue
colour they used for this. Different to just plain white or stone
The idea was that in the spirit of Robert Schuman's faith and his vision, youth would discuss national identity and the rise of nationalism, Estonian politics (since we were in Estonia) or Environment and Natural resources and present their thoughts on these issues. In the end, not many youth actually turned up, but those who did were excited to be discussing these kinds of topics in a positive and affirming environment and not the toxic environment that often seems to fill the social media posts or conversations with others. Since there were not so many there I opted to be one of the participants and joined to guys to discuss Environmental and Natural Resource issues. It was a bit disappointing not to have any youth in our group but we set to in trying to work out why it did not connect with them and how could we get the message across that it was important and needed to be included in discussions.
The medieval town hall

Old School, working on a blackboard
We realised first of all it is a huge, all encompassing issue and one that can overwhelm. We thought of the different aspects that make up the issue and discussed what could be done on a personal and wider level. At one break I was chatting to one of the younger folks there and telling them what we were talking about in our session and said it was a shame that no one of their age was in the group. She apologised and said it was really important, but the issues with nationalism was more urgent from her perspective. That set me thinking. In the end I had a couple of brain waves, firstly we needed to highlight that tackling environmental issues was a justice issue and secondly a healed environment was a healing environment.
A massive felt light-shade in a café

Part of Tallinn castle
So what did I mean that the environmental issue was a justice issue? The fact is that when things go wrong in our environment, it is often the poor who suffer the most. They live in the most vulnerable places and have the kinds of jobs that can expose them to most environmental toxins. Environmental issues can poison their soils and their water and leave them little options but to either take the risk of eating and drinking from that environment or leaving it for risky jobs in the factories. Those with more money and resources are often able to insulate themselves from at least some of these risks. I used a clip from the Story of Stuff to make the point.
Is it Christmas yet?

The trees Ian cut down earlier on in the year, disappeared
under the grass and reappeared as the grass died down. Now
they are disappearing under the snow. Sigh!
I also saw that as we learn to heal our environment it in turn heals us. A pleasant environment becomes a place to relax in or to even de-stress. We need those places for sources of inspiration, for food, medicines and so many other possibilities and as I am sure an acquaintance of mine would point out, we should protect it for its own sake and value. I and my fellow participants would say that we should also protect it because that is our God given mandate to do that. We presented our findings to the other participants of the conference, so I did get to do a presentation after all. At least the practice of past presentations meant that it was possible to put it together pretty quickly.
Icicles look pretty, but so soon?

Possible Lynx footprints. Not what we want to see really
when the sheep are out. Someone today suggested that they
and the wolves are going to be hungry this winter in Estonia
at least because the wild boar numbers have finally crashed
after the African Swine Fever. It might explain why we haven't
had much damage this year
During my stay up in Tallinn I stayed with a young couple I had stayed with before. They are so incredibly hospitable and it was a joy to meet them again. I had mentioned that others might need to stay too and they had mattresses set up in preparation. They welcomed them all warmly and made sure that everything was labelled and all foibles of showers and toilets were explained. It was amusing that the toilet light was wired into a radio to disguise all noises that may emanate from within, as this was a source of embarrassment for someone who had shared their apartment. It played retro music and so every time I popped in, it was like stepping back in time to my youth and certainly before many, if any, of the other occupants that weekend were even born.

How Estonian or Latvian! A roll in the snow, but that should
be after a spell in the sauna first. Brrrr!
Today was another snowy trip to Tartu but first I had a meeting with a professor at the Tallinn University and a good friend of one of my supervisors. I have rediscovered how to navigate the occasional ice patches that are beginning to form as I made my way carefully across the town. I took the precaution of taking the buses or trams, even for short routes, rather than walk on snowy paths as I usually do. It was a good meeting though and helped to confirm that I am on the right track for my PhD studies, for which I am grateful to know. From there it was onto Tartu by train. It was a pleasant journey as I met one young lady who I had met the day before at my friend's apartment and we sat and chatted for most of the journey about the future and how we envisaged it to be.


  1. Looking very wintery! This morning we had such a heavy frost it looked like snow, it was beautiful sparkling in the sunshine.

    1. Very wintery indeed :) I love the way snow and frost sparkle like diamonds, it makes me feel very rich to see it

  2. I love your thoughts about the environment being a justice issue. That's why God says we should look after it. Looking at your photos makes me feel cold but grateful for a warm home and ... Christmas isn't far away! Another interesting blog as always.

    1. I was quite pleased a coming up with that phrase, it helped us to focus our thoughts better on issues that people can understand.

      Christmas is indeed not far away and I have one more trip to go yet :D


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