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Apologies to my readers yet again for my long silence. I returned to Toronto about a month ago and have just been lazy about writing. It was a real pleasure to leave Rome as it was 40C when I left and getting hotter. By comparison, Toronto is very pleasant around the mid 20s.
One of the things I like about being in Toronto is being able to travel around on my bike, my preferred mode of travel. The city is bike-friendly and there are designated bike lanes on many major streets which makes it easy to bike in the city. The waterfront stretches for miles and there are areas along it only open to walkers and cyclists. Some weeks ago, I was on one of these, a long man-made narrow peninsula, largely formed by landfill, called the Leslie Street Spit. It extends 5km into Lake Ontario and has been left in its natural habitat which has attracted many species of birds. In one spot, people have arranged little piles of stones similar to what the indigenous people in the Artic would have made on a larger scale called inukshuks which they used as reference points for navigation. No navigation is necessary on Leslie Spit but they look pretty framing the Toronto skyline and people must enjoy balancing stones.
A few days later, I was walking along a path close to the University of Toronto campus and an artist was doing the same balancing of stones in a dry river bed filled with stones. He apparently does this almost every day starting afresh each morning as a form of performance art.
Many people like myself stop to take photos after asking his permission at which point he asks for a donation. I can’t imagine that he makes a living out of this but it’s an interesting way to earn money and his skill at balancing stones is admirable.
Yesterday was the solar eclipse which we able to see partially from here. Many people, armed with protective glasses, were looking up at the sky during the eclipse. Down on the ground though was a strange sight. I saw this group of birds, mostly pigeons but also other species, as still as the balancing stones. It was an extraordinary and disconcerting phenomenon. The light had changed but it wasn’t at all dark, and the temperature had fallen slightly, really not enough of a change to warrant a change in behaviour. In retrospect, I wish I had waited until the eclipse had ended to see what the birds would do. I found out afterwards that an ecologist Rebecca Johnson at the California Academy of Sciences is leading a project called Life Responds for which an App called iNaturalist was created in order that her team of biologists and astronomers can analyse data recorded by the public on animal behaviour during the eclipse. Evidently, animals behave in strange ways during an eclipse. Too bad I didn’t know beforehand as I would have enjoyed recording my observations in a structured way. Once a scientist, always a scientist!