Sunday, March 26, 2017

Autumn Changes

Self-Reliance Corner - The Spiritual Principle of Obedience

The third principle of self-reliance is obedience to God's laws.  Since one of the objectives of self-reliance is to become more like God, this only makes sense.  We are taught in the Doctrine & Covenants (Section 130:20-21) that "There is a law...upon which all blessings are predicated.  And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to the law upon which it is predicated".

Some of God's characteristics are that he is omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful) and full of charity towards his children.  Likewise, if we wish to increase our knowledge of both temporal and spiritual matters, to become more capable in meeting the challenges of life, and more loving towards our family and friends, then we must live (i.e., be obedient to) those gospel principles that will allow us to develop in those ways.

For example, we can study, ponder and pray as we learn, that we may gain understanding and discern the truth of all things, through the power of the Holy Ghost.  As Solomon prayed to God, so let us also pray: "Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this thy people, that is so great" (2 Chronicles 1:10).  And let us avoid, as Paul admonishes (2 Timothy 3:7) the pitfalls of those who are "...Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth".

Thomas S. Monson
Our modern day prophet, Thomas S. Monson, said: "The knowledge which we seek, the answers for which we yearn, and the strength which we desire today to meet the challenges of a complex and changing world can be ours when we willingly obey the Lord's commandments.  I quote again the words of the Lord: 'He that keepeth (God's) commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things' (D&C 93:28)".

In our last post, we talked about the multi-generational nature of self-reliance and the importance of instilling a culture of learning and education in our children and grand-children.  Our children, by applying the principles discussed above, have progressed in their education so that they are able to support their families and help other people.  We think that their great-grandparents, who initiated this change in family culture 100 years ago now, would be pleased to see the fruits of their efforts.

Enjoying Nature

You have no doubt noticed by now that we love to walk in the various parks around Melbourne and enjoy the birds and other fauna that we encounter.  Several weeks ago, we saw two young men traveling down the Yarra River, who had taken this appreciation to a higher level.

They stopped to say hello and to tell us about sighting a migrating bird that we hadn't seen for a few weeks.  They clearly were set to enjoy their surroundings and their time together.

Note that these adventurers are careful to stay on the river.  People do not camp under the eucalyptus trees here because they are prone to dropping large branches in any kind of wind or during a period of dry weather.

So far, we have not had a "near miss" with a tree branch, although almost as dangerous are stray golf balls hit from the numerous courses along the Yarra River!

We are entering the fall of the year, which means some rain and slightly cooler temperatures (mid-20s as opposed to mid-30s).  The fields have turned an emerald green.  With the backdrop of rain in the distance and sun behind us, we took this beautiful photo a couple of days ago.

Double Rainbow over Cricket Green

We took a trip up into the Dandenong Mountains a week ago, to one of our favourite hiking spots called "Grant's Picnic Grounds" (actually a large forest reserve).  The beauty of the surroundings, with the tall eucalyptus trees and the "tree-ferns", is very calming to the soul.  Although we still look out for snakes, it is relaxing to walk through a forest with essentially no predators (the closest being kangaroos, which generally do not bother people, and foxes, which are very shy and rarely seen).

Tree-Fern (trunks typically 2 to 5 m high)

Old Growth Eucalyptus (rising to over 30 m high)


It is the time of year for birds to migrate and we are seeing a number of visitors to our favourite local pond (Banyule Swamp).  The first (below) is actually a resident, but we are seeing many more at this time and year and love his fall colours.

Chestnut Teal

Playing Hide & Seek with a Juvenile Nankeen Night Heron

Yellow-Billed Spoonbill Arguing with
Eastern Great Egret over Landing Rights

This last photo is of another resident, but he was so colourful, sitting on this small bush covered in seeds, and with the background grass, that we just had to include him.  This is probably the brightest colouring we have seen all summer; the young birds start out with a dull and patchy colour and then grown into their adult plumage as the summer progresses.

Eastern Rosella

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Turning the Hearts of the Children to their Ancestors

Multi-Generational Nature of Self-Reliance

We usually think of self-reliance in terms of how the progress we make in our personal lives affects the lives of our family members, our friends and others who we help.  If our vision is wider, we may think about expanding our circle of influence to our immediate or even larger community.

Today, we would like to consider those who take the long view of self-reliance, particularly those of our ancestors who acted in faith to build a better life for their children, grandchildren and all who would follow afterwards.

Perhaps an example would help.  John's paternal grandfather, also named John, was Polish.  He was born in a small town in Galicia (before the first world war, part of Austria; between the first and second world wars, part of Poland; after the second world war, part of western Ukraine).  He fought in a cavalry unit during the first world war, and then after the war, returned to his home town and married a Ukrainian girl.  Despite significant differences between the two cultures, they had a relatively happy home with two sons.  However, life was very hard, eking out a survival existence as farmers.  They wanted to improve their family prospects and so developed a plan to immigrate to Canada.

John's grandfather joined with several brothers-in-law and they moved to western Ontario in about 1921, working in a lumber mill.  They lived together in a small room, saving every penny that they did not need for rent or food to send home to their families.  John's grandmother was the extended family treasurer.  She doled out money to each family for living expenses and also put some into savings.  Every 1 to 2 years, they would have enough money to send one family (mother and her children) to Canada, to rejoin their father/husband.  After 7 years, all of the family members were finally united in Canada, just in time for the Great Depression of the 1930's.

John's father (Walter) and uncle had not seen their father in all that time.  Walter was 9 when he arrived in Canada and had to learn English to attend school.  Walter grew up in a small Ontario town; life was still difficult (compared to where he was born), but the family survived and the children received what would be considered a normal education, for that time, in Canada.  They also learned to live off what the land around them would provide - fish and venison, in particular.

Walter with Fish at Rainy Lake
(A Life-Long Love)

Walter joined the Canadian army in his early twenties.  He trained in western Canada and in Surrey, England, and then served during the second world war in Belgium, Holland and Germany.

After the war, he married an English girl who he had met during his training, and they moved to western Canada (Victoria) to live and start a family.  Walter had an opportunity to attend university in engineering or architecture, but elected instead to learn a trade, to support his family.

A few years later, John was born.  He grew up in the 1950's and 1960's.  During the 1950's, the Canadian economy was sluggish but growing due to the affects of the second world war.  Living conditions were pretty basic as John grew up.  He learned many self-reliance lessons from both his father and his stepmother, who drew on their experiences of growing up in the 1930's.  He and his siblings learned to work hard and to develop a variety of living skills.

John Learning Self-Reliance at an Early Age

John (age 10) and Brothers, Learning to Catch and Clean Fish

From an early age, Walter encouraged his children to go further in school than he had, to learn a profession of some sort.  He also told John he needed to earn the money to attend university himself, as there was not a sufficient income to support a family member in post-secondary schooling.  Fortunately it was possible in the late 1960's and early 1970's to earn enough money for university from a summer job.  John chose to do an undergraduate degree in engineering, and then found he liked advanced education so much that he eventually earned a graduate degree in engineering.

As John and Jan had children and raised their own family, they practised the provident living skills that they had been taught, and passed them on to their children.

Harvesting Carrots from Our First Garden
(with Oldest Daughter)

John Learning the Fine Art of Beekeeping

Learning and education were given a high priority, and they sought ways to ensure that their children were successful in all aspects of schooling and in their careers.  The family mantra was "We have progressed to this state because of the efforts of our family going back 3 generations; it is up to you to improve on what we have accomplished".

In retrospect, we see that over 4 generations of our family, there was a steady evolution of self-reliance.  Temporally, that meant first gaining the basic necessities of life, then learning to live in a self-reliant manner, then becoming more and more educated, finally developing a family culture of education and excellence at work and at home.  Spiritually, it meant learning to help others, to develop Christ-like characteristics, to develop a community spirit and to love the country in which we live.

This story is told again and again - on other lines of our family (John's English grandparents and mother; Jan's Scottish, English and eastern European grandparents) and in the families of thousands of other immigrants to Canada during the 20th century.  The story is still being told in new waves of immigrants to Canada in the 21st century!

And that is our message for this blog - temporal and spiritual self-reliance is a multi-generational effort, passed down and continually evolving.  Those who are courageous enough to start the process do not necessarily see the end from the beginning, but they act in faith, knowing that their efforts will enable their children to do better than they did.  The idea of hard work and the values of education, love and community service must be embedded in our family culture, so that they endure and encourage improvement from generation to generation.  And as a society, we must foster and support families in their journey to self-reliance!

In the end, the objective is self-reliance for all extended family members (not self-aggrandizement) and for the community in which we live.  In spiritual terms, we want to create a Zion society in our family and in our community, where we truly a) are of one heart and one mind, b) dwell in righteousness, and c) have no poor (of any kind) among us.

Feature Tree - Bunya Pine

While out walking in a reserve called "The Briars", we came across several Bunya Pine, which are native to the area (Mornington Peninsula).  We first saw this sign, and an area roped off around one tree, which confused us:

However, walking around the other side of the tree, we saw this "cone" lying on the ground.  The reason for caution immediately became apparent, as the cone was huge and easily weighed more than a coconut.  You would not want one of these falling on your head!

Elder Myers with Bunya Pine Cone
(Weight - about 10 kg, but can go up to 18 kg)


With the onset of fall, we are seeing some of the small birds disappearing but others showing up temporarily that we have not so far seen through the spring and summer.  Here are some recent bird "catches" of which we are very pleased.

Yellow-Billed Spoonbill

We have only seen this bird once in our Melbourne birding, at the Banyule Flats Pond.  It literally flew up into a tree in the middle of the pond, posed for a photo, and then flew away.  But what a sight!

Yellow-Billed Spoonbill

Nankeen Night Heron

This is another water bird that has only showed up towards the end of summer, first a juvenile and then an adult (which look very different).

Nankeen Night Heron (Juvenile)

Nankeen Night Heron (Adult)

Peregrine Falcon

This is one of the few birds that Australia and Canada have in common!  However, in all our years of birding in Canada, we have never sighted a Peregrine Falcon.  It is somewhat ironic that we would have to travel to Australia to observe one.  This particular Peregrine Falcon on occasion likes to sit high up on a transmission line tower and eat its prey.

Peregrine Falcon (with prey)

We were happy to get this photo, as the falcon was some distance away and high up on the tower, but our 100-400 mm Canon zoom lens seemed to take a sufficiently crisp photo in the light of the setting sun (just the top of the tower was still in light) that it allowed this modestly decent blow-up.

However, as we were walking away, patting ourselves on the back for the photo, we noticed that the moon was up, not too far and at the same level as the tower.  A little adjustment of position allowed this photo:

Peregrine Falcon (with prey; moon in background)

Now, we have one confession to make.  When John took this photo, with the moon in the background, to get the falcon in focus, the moon was quite out of focus.  He couldn't resist immediately taking a photo of the moon by itself, in focus, and then overlaying the second photo over the moon in the first photo (using Photoshop) to get this combined photo.  We suppose there is a question of photographic integrity, but then this is how the scene actually looked to us!!

Galah in Fall Colours

We've shown a photo of the Galahs before, but this one, of two Galahs perched on a Eucalyptus tree, is so colourful that we couldn't resist posting it.

The Peculiarities of Driving in Australia

When you drive a vehicle in another country, there are always aspects of driving that are peculiar to that country, i.e., different from that to which you are accustomed.  The obvious one for the driver is sitting on the right side of a vehicle and driving on the left side of the road.  It takes some mental toughness to survive the first few weeks, but after a month or so, stress levels decrease and it becomes, if not normal, at least comfortable.  There are a few other differences to which it is harder to adapt, although they are less obvious at the beginning:

  1. Generally, roads and lanes are narrower, so you continually feel squeezed by the vehicles around you in moderate to heavy traffic.
  2. Narrow residential roads combined with the normal number of parked cars means that you do a dance of slowing down and speeding up, weaving back and forth over the centreline, to avoid the parked vehicles and the oncoming traffic.
  3. Australia's national pastime is jaywalking, at least in the small villages, shopping areas, and around schools.  Everyone from mothers with babies in strollers, to teens just out of school, to shoppers and workers, to little old ladies with walkers, all randomly cross the road, at any location that is convenient to them.  To be fair, the vehicles generally ignore them, i.e., they do not give way, and so the jaywalkers look out for their own safety.  But that does not make them any less ubiquitous or frequent.  For someone with a different driving sensibility, it seems that people are waiting to leap out in front of your vehicle every 20 m along the road.  There are intersections with crossing lights, but those are for the minority who can be bothered to walk a few metres, it seems.
  4. There are traffic circles everywhere, on secondary highways, normal city streets and especially in residential areas.  Given their due, they are an efficient way for vehicles to negotiate intersections as long as the traffic isn't too heavy.  And in the larger circles, it is easy to see the traffic flow and negotiate your way around them.  However, in residential areas and on the smaller circles, there is a tendency for vehicles to act as if they just have the right-of-way and drive through, not paying a lot of attention to what other vehicles are doing (because there are usually no other vehicles going through when you are, except at rush hour).
A Residential Traffic Circle (area recently re-paved)

The last situation was our fate a week ago, when we were hit broadside on the left rear of our vehicle, when almost through a residential traffic circle.  Our vehicle was spun around and thus went over the curb and through a low brick wall along a resident's property line.  The impact was at low to moderate speed, so there were no personal injuries, but our vehicle definitely looks the worse for it.

We are grateful that everyone involved (in both cars) is OK, and why do we have insurance, if not to cover just such a situation?  We can say though that we are being much more paranoid now about that particular traffic circle, as well as all other traffic circles that we encounter while driving!