Monday, May 26, 2014

Goodbye bats, goodbye belfry

The little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) is nearing extinction in New Brunswick.  Scientists report that a 2014 survey of ten caves in the province counted a total of 22 bats in locations where colonies of thousands used to spend the winter in hibernation.  The cause of rapid decline in the N.B. bat population over the last three years is a fungus known as white nose syndrome, a disease imported to North America from Europe. The illness affects the skin of the bat and causes the dehydrated animal to emerge from the cave prematurely, exhausting vital energy reserves.  In spite of research efforts (Environment Canada spent $330,000 on the problem) scientists have not found a way to prevent the spread of the disease, or to cure it.

Little brown bat

Regions affected by white nose syndrome

The demise of the little brown bat may seem like a small loss, but that single missing species will actually have a big impact on agriculture in North America.  Bats normally feed on moths, flies and beetles and serve as a natural control for insect pests. As growers resort to more intensive insecticide use to protect their crops, food prices will rise.

Sackville United Church was dedicated in  October, 1875

In Sackville N.B. there may be a handful of bats still around, but sadly, no belfry for them to occupy.  The United Church building, a striking historic landmark that has dominated Main Street  for 135 years is destined for demolition.  A dwindling congregation, lack of regular maintenance and the need for money prompted the sale of the church property to a real estate developer in 2013.  Last year the manse was replaced with a drab housing complex that looks more like a warehouse than a residential building.  The church is currently for sale, listed on MLS for an asking price of $1 Cdn, with the condition that the building be removed from the land.  A buyer in Texas representing a church organization  has come forward with an offer to purchase and move the building south of the border.   It won't be long before the white spire on Main Street comes tumbling down, making way for yet another big box multi-unit apartment building.  For details of the doomed church, see photos at The Huffington Post.

"We are time's subjects, and time bids be gone."      
- William Shakespeare, "Henry IV" part 2

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mind your manners

Public transit in The Netherlands is the most convenient, economical and efficient way to travel.  Trains, trams, subway and buses run on time and will take you anywhere you wish to go, from the center of a major city to a small village on the North Sea coast.  The transit system is not only clean and comfortable, it  comes with built-in visual cues that spell out a code of etiquette for passengers.

I'll never forget a disturbing scene witnessed on a street corner in Amsterdam a few year ago while riding the tram.  The driver had just departed from the station and was stopped at a red light when three women banged on the front door wanting to get in.  Annoyed when the driver refused to open the door, they raised their fists, swore in their native language and spat all over the door as the tram pulled away from the intersection.   The driver, who was acting in accord with company rules, remained totally unperturbed, but the incident highlighted a growing level of friction that is generally unacceptable to the Dutch.  It was just one example of a cultural misunderstanding in a country dealing with an increasingly diverse population.

The GVB has recently introduced a series of Robert Vulkers videos delivering good behaviour guidelines.  As you ride the tram through Amsterdam, you are reminded of the "house rules" that apply to passengers.   Even if you don't read Dutch, the illustration of right and wrong conduct is clear.

In Belgium a similar campaign is used on the trains.  Retro-styled signage indicates that it's stupid, gauche and even a bit absurd to place your luggage on the seat next to you, or (heaven forbid!) to talk loudly on your cell phone.

There's an underlying belief demonstrated by the Euro transit authorities that polite public behaviour reflecting respect for others can be taught with simple graphic reminders.  Organized religion once gave citizens a moral code that laid the foundation for good deeds and righteous living.  In a museum in Utrecht, a domestic fireplace clad with 17th century Delft tiles served this purpose.  Members of the household could not warm themselves by the fire without receiving an edifying message from the scriptures.  Today, even in our contemporary era of "anything goes" you can't ride the tram in Amsterdam or the train in Antwerp without receiving a lesson in politeness and patience.

Delft hearth tiles, each one illustrating a Bible passage

"Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come"  Matthew 24: 42