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Leslie Campbell

May 22, 2020

IN A RECENT Guardian column, Lucy Jones called being attentive to nature “a healthy form of escapism.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s the greatest gift we can get from lockdown, she notes; and the evidence that being in nature helps with healing, grieving, fear and loneliness is growing. (And that’s in addition to the vast ecosystem services nature provides, from water to carbon storage and well beyond.)

My hope is that we try to “repay” nature for such gifts. The upheaval of life-as-we-knew-it does gives us an opportunity, not just to slow down and revel in near nature, but to save it as well.

News sites and social media indicate more people the world over are taking notice and falling in love with nature right in their own backyards. Not just a glancing sort of notice but a deeper, longer, more contemplative type of awareness, one that leads to seeking out more knowledge about the plants and animals with which we share the Earth. The more we understand about our fellow creatures, the more we care about them—and the more we make connections between the health of those backyard biota and the need to protect the environment, including taking aggressive action against carbon emissions.

One backyard creature I cannot help but notice right now is the Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). We have swarms of these feisty little jewels at our feeders—I just upped my daily sugar-water production from six to eight cups to meet their demands. These tiny “notably pugnacious” birds arrive here from points far south, making journeys of over 3,200 kilometres. Wintering in Mexico, some nest here on the Island, others head further north, right up to Alaska—further north than any other type of hummingbird.

 

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Female Rufous hummingbird

 

Their populations have been declining, and with the climate crisis and the decline of insect prey due to pesticides, they will be faced with existential challenges. These globe-trotting birds must hit many different habitats at just the right moment to meet their needs. An interactive map at Audubon.org shows that even at +1.5 degrees C scenario, most coastal areas of Vancouver Island will not be suitable habitat for them. (Unfortunately, the planet is already at about +1 degrees C above pre-industrial temperatures.)

It’s terrifically sad to contemplate a world without these little jewel-like creatures. Yet such contemplation is a step towards saving them. Understanding how their survival depends on humans radically reducing their carbon emissions and pesticide use, helps motivate me on those fronts. It seems the least I can do to repay the many gifts nature provides. (I am pleased they appreciate my gift of sugar-water as well.)

 

ON THAT OTHER CRISIS FRONT: In recent days, the BC government has reported fewer new cases of COVID-19. Ten yesterday; but other days, 8, 2, 15, 7, 9, 14. So we are flattening the curve.

But we are still being admonished that we cannot go back to “normal” yet. Non-essential travel and large get-togethers are out. We’ve been officially urged by Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr Theresa Tam, to wear a mask in public. While many businesses re-opened starting May 19, they are operating with very non-normal restrictions in place—one at a time service, lots of extra cleaning, and the like. Business inspections are being made to ensure compliance. FOCUS clients tell me they are exhausted trying to keep their businesses alive. Late last week we learned that Dance Victoria, Pacific Opera Victoria and the Victoria Symphony have all cancelled their seasons through next spring. Over 8 million Canadians have applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, millions more are on the wage subsidy, and large businesses are now eligible for $60 million-plus loans. Oh, and Worksafe BC, the lead agency on getting us re-opened safely, lost close to $3 billion in the stock market collapse.

There’s abundant evidence that we are far from normal.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of this page. If you are taking photos of native plants and animals, you might be interested in our Mapping Nature project, here.

Leslie Campbell

May 5, 2020

THE SUN CAME BACK. After the rain, everything is sparkling, a brilliant green with many wildflowers and new growth everywhere—it’s breathtaking. Our bluffs are carpeted in white “death” camas, chocolate lilies, seablush and yellow monkey flower. A large rock face that’s just a short walk away along the beach has all these as well as Indian paintbrush, red columbine, various saxifrages, small-flowered woodland star—well, it’s a long list of native plants that’s blooming there today. In the forest behind us, there are light green tips of soft new needles on fir and pine, maple flowers, carpets of moss, swaths of sword ferns and vanilla leaf, with yellow stream violets and other wildflowers growing along the edges of our paths.

I marvel that for 25 years I have missed this past month of nature peaking on Quadra Island.

 

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Chocolate lily

 

I’ve also been witnessing the bird life, in song and flight. The ravens are taking food to raucous-sounding chicks in their nest on the cliff behind us. Migrating songbirds like the yellow warbler, Audubon’s warbler, Townsend’s warbler—it would be another long list just to include all “the warblers”—are busily building nests and causing us to get out the bird ID books to refresh our memories about who our new neighbours are.

It seems a perfect time, season-wise at least, to close down most contact-based commerce. Without that distraction, we are freer to focus on, and be stimulated by, the grand spectacle of spring unfolding.

It seems like everyone I talk with tells me how much they appreciate their time in nature right now, along with their time alone, without any pressure to rush out to do errands or visit someone.

I talked to a fellow writer yesterday who admitted she is feeling guilty because she’s enjoying this period so much. She’s not looking forward to returning to business as usual, which in her case means travelling the province to give readings and seminars to earn her modest living. Right now, she can concentrate on writing, receive the fed’s CERB funding, and enjoy her garden and nature walks.

All provinces are moving towards lessening the restrictions on activities. BC’s will be clarified by Premier Horgan tomorrow, but it sounds like we’ll still be encouraged to avoid any large gatherings and, while stores can open, they will maintain physical distancing practices.

Further down the road post-COVID-19, the economy will likely be dramatically different. Besides the recession and its attendant reduction of small independent businesses, there will be a super-charging of the “there’s-an-app-for-that” trend, allowing us a more physical-contact-free world. Combined with the uber-growth of the Amazon culture and its low-paid fulfillment and delivery workers, it all makes me queasy. Partly, its just the instability, the changes it will demand and engender. But it also just seems a colder, sadder, life-mediated-via-screen world.

If I was convinced it would somehow allow us to move towards “degrowth,” a less-consumptive economy, one that protects the natural world from our self-entitled demands, I’d embrace it. But if the past is any indication of the future it will likely be about selling us more of everything, making it easier for us to buy it all with our smart phones.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of this page.

Leslie Campbell

April 25, 2020

YESTERDAY, NEW FEDERAL-PROVINCIAL FUNDING was announced that will provide rent relief for small businesses and non-profits. This is excellent news.

And today, the BC government reports it has secured 324 hotel rooms for Victoria homeless people (and 686 for Vancouver’s). Another positive move.

Later in the day, I get the usual emailed news release from the provincial government. It always begins the same way, just with new numbers: “Today, we are announcing 95 new cases, for a total of 1,948 cases in British Columbia.”

Ninety-five is a big daily jump, for BC, one that is partly explained by outbreaks in two poultry processing plants on the mainland, 53 cases in all as of today.

Given such numbers and the fact that the new coronavirus is thought to have originated in a meat market, I wonder if more people will shun meat? 

At times like this I feel relieved to have a vegetarian diet, though I know fresh produce can spread disease as well. Global industrial agriculture seems to demand conditions that make contamination a definite risk: low-paid people working in close quarters and often co-habiting with others in close quarters. 

I feel for the farmers all over Canada complaining about the border restrictions, which are making it difficult to get skilled farmhands from Mexico or elsewhere. But it is an odd situation. We cannot get enough Canadians to do the work because the wages are so low for long hours of physically demanding work. If the wages were higher, the cost of food would rise. Our desire for cheap food is a large part of the problem.

In the Western world and beyond, our economies have relied on turning us all into good consumers. We want so much and purchase so much non-essential goods and services (including exotic vacations), our food budget has to be kept in check so we can afford all that other stuff.

I do fear it will all collapse in a fitful, painful way, something like this pandemic. Relying on endless economic, consumption-based growth to keep us afloat cannot work in the long-run, can it? Certainly not without wrecking the planetary systems we depend on, from pollination to the very atmosphere we breathe.

On an individual level, we will have to make do with less. I doubt we’ll be any less happy as long as we still have the basics: a comfortable home, decent food, access to good education and health care.

But again, our economy, our governments, our endless shops, cafes and services, all depend on us being big consumers of non-essentials.

Airline travel, for instance is a big non-essential (in most cases), one that costs a great deal both in consumer dollars and impact to the environment. Despite growing awareness of the climate crisis in recent years, air travel has only increased and was projected to continue in that direction. The coronavirus crisis has brought it to a virtual halt, with airlines crying for bailouts. Yet it has become evident that we can manage quite well without most of those flights, whether for business or pleasure. The great speed with which the virus was transported around the globe during January and February should, alone, be adequate evidence of the tremendous damage that air travel can wreak on the planet and its inhabitants.

I am hoping that latter realization helps on the climate crisis front. As the Suzuki Foundation notes, “If left unchecked, [carbon emissions from the airline industry] could consume a full quarter of the available carbon budget for limiting temperature rise to 1.5 C.” Emissions from flights stay in the atmosphere, for centuries. 

Unfortunately, international aviation is not covered under the Paris Agreement and the industry enjoys tax-free jet fuel on international flights, giving rise to absurdly low prices that obviously do not reflect the true costs of flying. (I have not flown for 16 years.) The federal government should not bail out the airline companies.


Leslie Campbell is the founding editor of FOCUS. She welcomes your comments below or through the “Contact Us” button.

Leslie Campbell

April 14, 2020

AS EDITOR OF FOCUS, I get numerous press releases from the provincial government every day. The two at around 5:30pm announce the latest stats. Today’s noted there were 27 new cases for a total of 1,517 cases of COVID-19 in British Columbia. Only 89 of those cases are on Vancouver Island (i.e. Island Health Region) and no deaths. There have been 72 deaths in all of BC. 

We seem to be doing really well compared to many places in the world. Is it because we introduced social distancing quickly and thoroughly? I wish we could test everyone and just quarantine those with the virus. I hear an Ontario company is starting to ship tests that can be done within an hour or so. I hope they can ramp up production to test everyone. Fast. We are killing so many businesses and jobs in the meantime. 

Failing mass testing, we need that vaccine. Until one or the other is found and distributed, the economy really can’t get going again and, of course, the recession or depression will not turn around overnight even then. If a vaccine takes a year or 18 months to develop, how many local businesses will still be standing? Many of the small ones (except grocery stores) will have given up unless, perhaps, their rent is paid by the government. I have been surprised to hear how ungenerous most commercial landlords are. Don’t they get it? They have good tenants who, through no fault of their own, have no revenue. Those landlords won't be able to find other tenants anytime soon. Why can’t they share the pain a bit? Perhaps some will, but others are forcing their tenants to close down, perhaps declaring bankruptcy to get out of their lease arrangement.

If anyone knows of landlords forgiving rent, please let me know; I’d love to tell their story and hold them up as an example of corporate generosity and reasonableness.

Small businesses (1-99 employees) in Canada employ 70 percent of the labour force; in BC it’s closer to 75 percent (2017 Stats Canada). Overall, small and medium-sized businesses contribute about 50 percent of Canada’s GDP.

They are also the ones that understand the importance of supporting the communities they reside in. FOCUS, for instance, has relied on them for 32 years. When Stephen White of Dance Victoria told me how that organization had much better success attracting donations from this community’s small businesses, as opposed to large corporations, I totally related.

Beyond the economics, small businesses add texture, vibrancy and character to our communities. Imagine downtown Victoria with only large chains occupying all those spaces in Old Town and along Blanshard, Douglas and Fort Streets, or in Cook Street Village, or Oak Bay Village. They wouldn’t be as interesting, as appealing, or as friendly.

It was hard enough for local businesses pre-pandemic with more and more people moving towards online shopping at places like Amazon. Right now, with so many local businesses offering online services and personal shopping by appointment, it seems especially important and easy (and safe) to shop local!

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the Contact Us button at the bottom of this page.

Leslie Campbell

April 13, 2020

WE HAD A LOVELY HIKE TO SHELLALIGAN PASS yesterday, a Sunday, taking our lunch and David’s cameras. He got some superb drone video footage of the shoreline. The sea looks deep blue, except closer to shore where it’s a riveting emerald green. Combined with the wide rocky ledges of white-grey granite, it looks stunningly, exotically beautiful from above.

I revelled in reading while sitting on those rocky ledges—mostly my historical fiction book Resistance Women about the years in Germany covering Hitler’s rise to power and the daring (non-fictional) women who witnessed and fought in various ways against fascism. Like those proverbial frogs in boiling water, most intelligent people kept thinking it couldn’t get worse, right through step-by-step trashing of the rule of law, the growing restrictions, then violence, then genocide against the Jews, the aggression towards other nations, and, of course, Hitler’s megalomania and lust for world domination.

 

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The shoreline along the Shellaligan Pass trail on Quadra Island

 

It does ring some warning bells about this time, a time when the world is in crisis and leaders are demanding, or surreptitiously grasping at, new powers that sidestep their legislative bodies.

Today I’ve been reading about how the pandemic is revealing autocratic leanings in many governments. The list of nations granting special powers to leaders who usurp the role of their parliaments is growing. One might expect that of the Philippines or Hungary, but even Trudeau veered in that direction when his government tried to pass bailout legislation that gave them special powers through December 2021 to spend money (and raise taxes) without Parliament’s approval. Fortunately, that measure was thwarted by condemnation in the media and the opposition. But Alberta went ahead with such undemocratic plans.

It seems like a ripe moment for those in power to attempt to acquire more. Daily press conferences give them so much more exposure. Perfect for egomaniacs. Incumbents have a leg up at the best of times; with the constant attention on them right now, the opposition is left in the shadows.

Meanwhile, closer to home, I interview Wendy Boyer, general manager of Victoria’s Iyengar Yoga Centre, for our series on how the city’s small businesses and organizations are faring in this virus-induced upheaval. She tells me of the non-profit’s considerable losses, but also the generosity of many patrons who donated class fees despite their cancellation——an experience similar to that I’ve heard from so many other non-profits. Wendy tells me about the Centre’s positive moves towards offering online classes. They will start in May with a few of their usual classes.

My mom, Jade, called today. She is doing really well, now into a Terry Fallis novel which my friend Heather lent her and claims is hilarious. Humour would be welcome, as my mom’s other main activities are reading the newspaper and a dose of television news at 6pm. (“It’s a real mess,” she says of the situation.) For a few years, Jade, now almost 92, seemed to have given up on books. But since her move into the James Bay Care Centre two years ago, she has rediscovered the joy of having a good story to turn to.

I received an update via email from James Bay Care Centre today, as well. The management staff there are wonderful at keeping us informed. All the care workers will now wear masks. They are all checking supplies that normally would be brought in by family (in my mom’s case, primarily distilled water, kleenex and chocolate) and will make sure she doesn’t run out. My sisters arranged delivery of a box of chocolates for Easter, so the chocolate supply is taken care of for now. Perhaps most importantly, the staff are offering us video chats with our loved one via Zoom. We just have to arrange the timing.

I feel so grateful that no care homes on Vancouver Island have had an outbreak of COVID-19. What has occurred elsewhere in Canada is tragic and shameful. That the military had to be called in to help in Quebec belongs in the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction book.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of this page.

 

Leslie Campbell

April 11, 2020

IN BC, ACCORDING TO A UBC PROFESSOR specializing in disease modelling and projection, quoted on the CBC website: “We’re showing very strong signs the situation is under control, so to speak.” Mohsen Sadatsafavi said BC could be reaching a “maintenance phase” of the COVID-19 response. 

Still, that appears to mean only that we should continue as is with the restrictions and “prepare for when certain activities can be allowed again.”

More stories are coming out about the silver linings of the pandemic—like cleaner air, more blessed quiet—except for bird song—and a resurgence of wildlife. The images of Delhi’s skies before and after shut-downs are a dramatic illustration of what, in the normal, pre-pandemic course of events, we have been doing to our planet.

Will such benefits, along with some of the more obvious drawbacks of dense urban development, influence the future shape of our cities? In New York, the densest city in the US, the rush on grocery stores early in the unfolding COVID-19 crisis, with people packed “shoulder to shoulder,” likely fuelled the spread of the virus. A Washington Post story notes, “When asked whether New York’s tightly packed quarters contributed to the high number of cases, Demetre Daskalakis, deputy commissioner for the Division of Disease Control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said simply, 'You’ve hit on the main thing.’”

How will concerns about contagion play out in Victoria’s future? Will people be less keen on living in small Downtown condos?

Most people I talk with are surprised how fast the days pass. Many don’t feel very productive even if they are working, but also don’t seem unhappy. They are finding creative tasks and keeping in touch with loved ones and colleagues through all the technology at our fingertips. It’s a change, and it seems we are mostly able to adapt well. And everyone I speak with feels grateful—for being Canadian, for Dr. Henry’s kind, calm, wise presence, for living in such a beautiful part of the world, and being (fingers crossed) healthy.

 

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Pacific tree frog

 

This morning’s walk was graced with a Pacific tree frog jumping onto a fern right in front of me, where he sat for a minute or so listening to my compliments. I also watched merganzers preening, buffleheads and goldeneyes bobbing about in a small cove. The latter two will be gone soon to their summer habitats.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of this page.

Leslie Campbell

April 10, 2020 (Good Friday)

THE PERIOD FROM NOW THROUGH MAY 10 is a time I have never been on Quadra Island. It’s always been “production time” for FOCUS’s May/June print edition (and before our bi-monthly schedule, the May edition). We’ve always headed back to Victoria to produce it from there. This will also be the longest stretch I’ve ever spent here—perhaps two months or more by the time we return. I’ve been coming over the 26 years I’ve been married to David; he had been living here for 15 years before that.

Since everyone is working remotely and virtually anyway, it doesn’t really matter where we are, physically, in terms of working on the website.

So I am excited to be here through this peek springtime moment. There is so much new growth bursting into view. I regularly take photos of new, budding flora. The maple flowers, for instance. I think their unfolding is among the most splendid of wild things. A mini-miracle. Of course, huckleberries and salmon berries and nettles and new fir needles and emerging ferns are all fascinating as well. I love being able to see nature unfurling, up close and personal. I take way too many iphone photos, but it really helps me see and appreciate the intricacies of nature.

 

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Sword fern fiddleheads

 

Speaking of nettles: I made curried nettle cauliflower soup earlier this week and am just finishing the last bowl for lunch. I love stinging nettles (Urtica dioica). They are full of vitamins, minerals and, supposedly, contain all the essential amino acids, meaning they are a decent source of protein for vegetarians like me. I read they also make a good liquid fertilizer for gardens as well. 

But they do sting: their fine hairs act like needles, injecting histamines and other chemicals into ones skin on contact—unless cooked or dried. I should harvest some soon, while still young, for drying so I can use them in teas through the winter. And maybe try to make some garden fertilizer tea, as well.

I am triaging the rest of our fresh food now, planning meals around what needs to be eaten quickly to avoid spoilage (hence the cauliflower in that soup). “Waste not, want not,” as my Scottish grandmother was fond of saying.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the "Contact Us" button at the bottom of this page.

Leslie Campbell

April 9, 2020

BORIS IS OUT OF INTENSIVE CARE, though still in hospital. I am not a fan of his, but am relieved. Somehow a world leader dying of the virus would have been truly demoralizing.

The Mew gulls have shown up—hundreds of them—and are making their delightful squeals while doing aerobatics en masse above the tidal flats. When I google them, I stumble onto the Audubon Society’s interactive map which shows their range now and under various global warming scenarios. Even at 1.5 degree warming, they will lose 40 percent of their range including along Vancouver Island.

 

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Mew gulls gather in Hyacinthe Bay, an annual occurrence

 

In other depressing news, today the Victoria International Jazzfest announced its cancellation due to the COVID-19 crisis. Set to run June 19-28, it would have been number 37. The Jazz Society is working on a plan to present a special series of concerts beginning in late summer/early fall. By then we’ll really need some live music.

In an earlier era I volunteered for Jazzfest. Darryl Mar, who still heads it up, became a friend. I served beer at Market Square performances circa 1986/7. I adored those concerts—their exuberant, communal feeling, with elegant jazzy notes floating up to an open sky encircled by the old brick buildings. I’ve emailed Darryl my sympathies. I hope we all buy tickets to whatever they come up with.

A lot of my FOCUS time these days is spent reviewing submissions from writers. Right now we have a backlog of about six stories to post. We hesitate to post more than one each day as we do want to stretch out what funds we have left.

We are going to run some ads on the site starting in May, but probably just for free to help out our small business/arts organization clients. We will also have that donate button. But who knows whether reader donations will materialize. We have always had some donations (beyond subscriptions) to the FOCUS print magazine. But those readers loved the print version; a digital magazine is a different thing.

Reading the Columbia Journalism Review, which arrives in my inbox every morning, writer Alexandria Neason notes, “The weaknesses [in the media] that COVID-19 is exacerbating have long existed; if we’re smart, we’ll channel the ingenuity currently on display in our communities long after the virus is kept at bay.” She thinks it’s time for journalists to reconsider what news is essential. “More information as a default setting doesn’t fly. The 24-hour news cycle—the compulsion to produce, to fill time and space, to never stop talking—is as much a characteristic of our industry’s technology-induced neurosis as it is a product of our hyper-capitalist system. This moment of self-isolation, of stillness, is an opportunity for us to take stock of our habits and behaviors.”

Ah, yes. A moment of stillness. It sounds great, and I am finding them thanks to this heavenly natural place, but it is challenging when one has to also re-invent one’s business model. Big newsrooms and small publications like FOCUS are all facing plummeting ad revenues. It will be fascinating—hopefully inspiring—to see how the media landscape is transformed a year from now.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the Contact Us button at the bottom of this page.

Leslie Campbell

April 6, 2020

BORIS JOHNSON IS IN INTENSIVE CARE with COVID-19. That’s sobering.

Finally, I spent some quality time in my vegetable garden. It really needs some soil amendments, but I don’t think we’ll be going out anytime soon so I am praying that some seaweed washes onto nearby beaches. It often does in April, which is great timing garden-wise, but you never know. It requires a combination of the right winds and tides.

FOCUS writers (and fellow gardeners) Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic and Maleea Acker have both submitted recent pieces for this website about local food security. Trudy writes about COVID-19 exposing cracks in Canada’s food security, while at the same time helping us value local farms and our own backyards’ abilities to produce food. Maleea looks at a great example of boulevard gardening in the Haultain Corners area. She notes City of Victoria citizens don’t need City permission to dig up their boulevard for re-planting.

Victorians have always treasured their gardens, but it sounds like the pandemic is inspiring many more to plant food gardens for the first time. This is definitely a silver lining of the COVID crisis. Nurturing soil and plants that will supply fresh, organic vegetables and fruits for one’s family—what could be more healthy, both mentally and physically? It also reduces the need for carbon-intensive agriculture and transportation.

I have had a vegetable garden here for about 20 years. It has six beds, each about 4 or 5 feet wide by 15 feet long. I rotate my crops, using a (very messy) diary and map for each year so I can keep track. I can usually store enough root crops, squash and garlic to last the winter. And over the summer and early fall we have plenty of greens. There are always challenges—last year it was mice or rats eating the broccoli, beet tops and any potatoes near the soil surface. Sometimes in the peak of summer the garden has had to get through a month without me—though we have an automatic watering system. Gardening has always been a very satisfying use of my time.

 

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This year’s peas emerging

 

I planted some broccoli and cabbages today. The peas I planted a week or more ago are just peaking through. I have learned to cover them initially with netting or garden-shop trays to prevent the birds from pulling them up. The little pea shoots must look like worms to the robins.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the "Contact Us" button at the bottom of this page.

Leslie Campbell

April 5, 2020

WE HAVE BEEN SPENDING MOST OF OUR TIME working on the transformation of FOCUS magazine to a digital version. We feel there needs to be new content, virtually every day, and that I—the social-media-luddite—need to promote it via Facebook and Twitter. Soon, we’ll have a donate button on the site, and hopefully sell some advertising. It’s a whole new business model.

We’re in good company—a lot of folks are re-inventing themselves and learning new skills right now. Still, at our age (well over 60), can we really pull this off? And does it mean we’ll be working our butts off each and every day to keep the site timely?

Today, a Sunday, we had decided to take off most of the day, but both of us got caught up in what seemed initially like minor technical issues to work out. I just wanted a good, explanatory “signature” on my email. But all sorts of things conspired to make that more difficult than one could imagine. I settled, for now, with a plain text message under my contact info stating: “FOCUS RESPONDS TO THE PANDEMIC: We’ve shifted from our bi-monthly print publishing schedule to frequent, online, place-based reporting and commentary at www.focusonvictoria.ca. Please join our community—register as a member at www.focusonvictoria.ca and follow us at https://www.facebook.com/FocusMagazineVictoria and https://twitter.com/FocusMagVic”

FOCUS readers and advertisers have been—are still—a wonderful community. But many of them have not made it a habit to visit us online, and we haven’t made it a priority to get them there. Until now. Like everyone else it seems, from yoga instructors to artists and educators to retailers, we are all being forced to gear up our online activity.

I have been communicating by phone and email with FOCUS advertising clients and others and have been impressed with the energetic, creative and positive ways organizations and businesses are responding. Everyone is concerned about the future, of course. But people are trying to make the best of it, and pushing themselves to learn new skills and ways of being.

We are starting a series of interviews with local small businesses and non-profits. I interviewed Stephen White at Dance Victoria for the first one. Marilyn McCrimmon is doing one on Munro’s Books; and I plan to interview Wendy Boyer of Victoria’s Iyengar Yoga Studio next week. It feels good to relay the stories of these creative, hard-working, worried-but-positive folks.

Finally, around 3 pm, David and I pulled ourselves away from our computers and hiked up and over to what we refer to as Bonsai Bluff (in honour of some very old bonsai-looking pine trees on the summit). The movement, the sunshine, and the view of the mountains felt very good.

 

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I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the "Contact Us" button at the bottom of this page.

Leslie Campbell

April 1, 2020

DAVID AND I WENT OUT FOR SUPPLIES for the first time in three weeks today. We headed to Campbell River and had no difficulty finding what we needed (the only empty shelves we noticed were those for Tylenol and toilet paper) and were impressed at how all the shops have set up new protocols since our shopping three weeks ago. Thrifty Foods has plexiglass shields at the check-outs, 2-metre lines on the floor near the cashier, and arrows on aisle floors. Bosley's pet store allows only one customer at a time to stand in a gated area at the entrance while staff go find the pet food you want. David and I carried our hand sanitizers wherever we went. We adapted quite easily to the new normal.

We made up for all our recent isolation by hitting about seven places—for groceries, pet food, garden supplies, propane. Surely, the resulting truck-load of provisions will see us through the next couple of months, at least if our garden starts producing (all it has now is a lot of kale).

It takes a couple of rowboat trips to bring it all across the bay from our truck. And it’s actually hard to find room for everything in our finite cupboard space. But we happily find ways to squirrel it away.

 

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David rows the groceries, including vegetable plants, back to the homestead

 

Speaking of squirrels, where are all the little red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) this spring? I have heard them chittering occasionally, but haven’t actually seen any. Quadra Island doesn’t have the large grey variety that abound in Victoria and elsewhere. Which is good as it means the native red squirrels still thrive here. There have been some years where they seem to disappear but they’ve always bounced back. In the past it seems related to drought the previous year causing the firs and pines not to produce the cones the squirrels rely upon. Perhaps they are just really busy nesting and birthing their young, which typically happens right about now.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the "Contact Us" button at the bottom of this page.

Leslie Campbell

March 29, 2020

WE HAVE SUCH A MAGNIFICENT “backyard” here. We can hike from our doorstep for miles through forest and along beautiful moss-covered bluffs, and today we took full advantage. At first I was preoccupied thinking about the pandemic and also Focus, and noticed that I was missing whole chunks of our route. David was taking lots of photos so he was more “there.” Soon I started taking some of my own with the iphone. I love doing close-ups of such worlds-of-their own as moss, lichen, tiny yellow violets and brand new pine flowers or maple flowers.

 

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Bigleaf maple flower bud bursting open

 

Before our hike, we listened to CBC radio, an interview with Paul Rogers, who told Michael Enright, “The world should never be the same again, because we must learn from this.” He noted that our lessons, on how to work internationally, and to revise health and other systems to deal with the pandemic, will be applicable and necessary to deal with the climate crisis.

Speaking of the climate crisis, I stumbled into some rather chilling reading at the site of Jem Bendell, a University of Cumbria social-science professor known for his theory of “deep adaptation” in relation to climate change. Bendell argues that time is up for gradual measures to combat global warming. Without an abrupt transformation of society, changes in the planet’s climate would bring starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war—the collapse of civilization—within a decade. (Gene Miller mentioned him in his Focus column a couple of editions back.)

According to a recent article on Bendell’s website, he spent the past week studying how climate change and the virus are related.

He says that a warmer habitat and disappearing insect populations have caused bats to move. “When bats shift to new locations, they mix with other populations of bats, which provide conditions for the emergence of new strains of virus. In addition, as bats appear in new locations, so they can come into contact with livestock and animals in wild food markets that they would not have done before. That provides conditions for the transfer of any viruses to those animals which then expose humans, as WHO (2020) has confirmed for COVID-19. The same problems are affecting birds, with implications for other pathogens which affect humans.”

To further explain the connection, he writes, “Imagine if you were having to work extra hard, had less nourishing food and were exposed to wild changes in weather. You might come down with the flu. This is similar to what is happening to bats. The effect tends to be cumulative...”

Also, unfortunately, the biodiversity crisis means there are fewer animal species or  “reservoir host populations” for pathogens. And, Bendell explains, the fewer birds and bats there are, the more pathogen concentration and mixing occurs—which increases the “spillover risk for zoonotic infectious diseases to humans.”

He sums up it up this way: “There is sufficient evidence to conclude that COVID-19 may be, in part, an impact of climate change. It may be yet another destructive climate event. As our climate changes, it stresses plants, insects and animals in the wild in multiple ways and so they become sick, infect each other, and therefore, as fellow animals on this planet, we can get sick.”

Bendell feels that the impact of this pandemic is far greater on society than it needed to be, “because of the nature of our economic system, which is dependent on financiers’ confidence of an increasing volume of trade, transactions and debts. In a world where disease and other disruptions are likely to increase, we need a different economic model which does not multiply and prolong the harm.” Interviewed by Bloomberg recently, Bendell said governments should commit only to “fair and green” bailouts, and “shouldn’t save carbon-intensive industries such as airlines, oil, gas, coal or cement. Instead, they should let the companies approach bankruptcy and nationalize one or two of them to get them aligned with national climate policies.” He believes that keeping the most polluting industries afloat will increase the likelihood of future pandemics.

Bendell is an interesting researcher and thinker.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of this page.

Leslie Campbell

March 27, 2020

THIS MORNINGS WALK through the forest took us to a cave formed by an large overhanging cliff, keeping the ground below dry. We imagine it gave shelter to the First Nations people who would fish and dig for clams in nearby Hyacinthe Bay.

The forecast of cloudiness over the next five days has caught our attention partly because we may need to be a bit more careful around our electricity consumption. Cloudiness means our solar panels will not charge our batteries, which in turn supply the power for all our electrical needs, including the very important satellite internet and phone (the cell service here is iffy). We have a wind generator—the rotor is 14-feet in diameter—as well, but one never knows if the wind will be blow’n when you want it to. There has been some rain, meaning our wee creek is still flowing so the water turbine will help keep the batteries charged.

 

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The windgenerator in a storm, as seen from the kitchen window

 

We are fortunate to have three sources of energy on this property. Because of our south-facing bluffs, we generally have abundant electricity, especially from the dozen solar panels—usually more than we need.

Still, life off the grid means paying attention to the weather and our electricity usage. Though we have a robust capacity for generating electricity, how much is available on a given day depends on the weather. So we are conservation-minded during dry, cloudy windless days. When we can keep things cool in a bin outside, for instance, we don’t run our refrigerator. We don’t have a freezer; instead we stock up with dried legumes, nuts and grains and some canned produce from the garden. Leaving anything electrical on when you arent using it is a strict conservation no-no. Conversely, we slip back closer to our city ways when theres lots of sunshine, wind or rain.

Mostly our electrical system works as well in practice as BC Hydro. For many years we had a diesel generator for back-up, but we retired it about 10 years ago and we’ve truly never missed it.

Of course, BC Hydro, which we rely on in the city, supplies renewable energy and its collectivized approach makes sense for most of us: it’s relatively inexpensive, convenient, and (discounting construction) largely carbon-free. British Columbians are fortunate to not rely on the gas- or coal-powered electricity generating plants that people in many parts of the world use.

Living off the grid helps me feel connected to my environment, and a little less entitled to certain conveniences.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the "Contact Us" button at the bottom of this page.

Leslie Campbell

March 26, 2020

CBC REPORTED THAT Atlantic Canada’s largest newspaper chain, SaltWire Network, is temporarily laying off 40 percent of its staff and shutting down its weekly publications due to the loss of advertising revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “The economic ripple effect of COVID-19 hit us faster and more aggressively than we could have ever planned for or anticipated,” Mark Lever, president and CEO of SaltWire Network, said in a news release.

I’ve communicated with all Focus writers now, though we’re still working out individual assignments. They are all so understanding and supportive. We have been so fortunate to work with them all.

Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, Focus will find a sponsor or two who wants to support both local journalism and some of the businesses and organizations that I’d like to help through this site with, for now, free advertising.

When one looks around at models of funding for online local/regional journalism, one finds mostly non-profits which have angel funders or foundation monies, plus donations from readers.

Though we’ve had a website for over a decade, with decent traffic, viewing it as our “main gig” sort of feels like starting over. But Focus does have such a loyal, long-term audience we just have to help them find us.

How to explain things to our readers, particularly our paid subscribers? While their contribution of $20/year is greatly appreciated, it only covers a very small portion of the expenses. It certainly doesn’t cover our journalism expenses. That will have to change if journalism is to survive at Focus and elsewhere. Our writers do not charge even close to a modest hourly rate for their work (and fortunately, most do not rely on Focus for an income).

The cases of COVID-19 now stand at 52 on the Island. Maybe there won’t be a big impact here.

In today’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof and Stuart Thompson, relying on modelling by University of Toronto epidemiologists, addressed the idea that maybe the cure is worse than the disease (a la Trump and yesterday’s Times Colonist editorial). I liked their response: “First, the fundamental force damaging the economy is not the rulebook on social distancing but rather an out-of-control virus, and the best way to protect the economy is to rein in the pandemic…It may be that the only way to control it sustainably is with an economic pause too long to be politically sustainable. In that case, we may be headed for a year of alternating periods of easing and tightening economic activity, with the pandemic rising whenever we ease and subsiding whenever we tighten.”

 

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The first Rufous hummingbird showed up today

 

The flowering red currant has just begun to bloom and, right on cue, the first Rufous hummingbird appeared at the feeder today. On our walk today I picked nettles for our dinner. I will add them to some wild rice, onions and garlic. We are running out of fresh produce, but we don’t seem keen to do grocery shopping yet. So the nettle patch is a blessing.

The cats enjoyed the dull, rainy day: they could hang out in their cat “tree” which gets too hot when it’s sunny.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the Contact Us button at the bottom of this page.

Leslie Campbell

March 24, 2020

THERE ARE NOW 617 COVID-19 cases in BC, 44 on the Island.

Feeling a bit depressed. Besides the global trauma, the local pain hit me today. I talked by phone to some of our advertisers, long-term ones to see how they were doing. Though all tried to be upbeat, some are facing very difficult situations—those with high Downtown rents, expensive seasonal stock, beloved employees they have little choice but to lay off in the face of zero revenues. The current 10 percent wage subsidy is inadequate; Sweden is doing 90 percent. The small business folks who I know are not in it for the money. They love what they do and work really hard, often for modest returns.

I hope the commercial landlords are generous—forgiving-rents-generous—with their tenants. Focus is fortunate on that score: we’ve been working out of our home for many years.

I hear about a couple of popular restaurants that closed and are not doing takeout either, largely due to how labour-intensive and nerve-wracking it was to keep everything properly sanitized.

I talk with Mollie Kaye, our arts editor, who is out on social media advocating in her forceful, creative way for everyone to “stay home!”

 

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Mollie Kaye, dressed up and out there, before the pandemic arrived

 

Mollie also reminds me we really need good investigative journalism. David is keen to continue doing his research, especially around the forestry and carbon issue, but how will we generate funds to pay for other investigative reports? (And how will David find the time when he must also work daily on the website?) A whole set of skills that I do not have—crowd-funding and social media, for instance—will be needed. Anyone want to help on such fronts?

A walk in the late afternoon sunshine is restorative. The forest in that golden light, without a breath of wind, is enchanting.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the Contact Us button at the bottom of this page.

Leslie Campbell

March 23, 2020

LISTENING TO DR HENRY THIS MORNING. BCs total COVID-19 cases are up another 48 cases to 472; 3 more deaths. David tells me Quebec’s number of cases has risen dramatically. All the numbers swim in my brain.

I am also thinking about both my garden and Focus. Both are pressing but thankfully the garden is more physical and outside. Today has some sunshine which will help our spirits.

But what to do about Focus? Our talented writers are geared up to write about something pandemic-related. But what can we do that’s different, that adds something useful to the conversation?

Amongst other things, we seem to be settled on the “conversation” idea, one to which our writers—and readers—can bring their special skills at research and communication. David, with Ross Crockford’s and my input, is developing topics for stories and forums. With the social distancing we need such ways to connect.

We do accept that Focus, at least for the next edition or two, is an online “publication,” rather than a print one. We are not convinced it can ever be on paper again given the financial realities. Most of Focus advertisers (the source of 97 percent of our revenue) have been forced to cancel their art shows and performances, or close their doors. It’s a stark new reality for them (and us) that I honestly cannot fully process.

I know both the federal and provincial governments are coming up with funding programs to help businesses as well as citizens. Understandably they are aimed at wage subsidization, tax deferrals and rent relief. Focus has two modestly paid employees (David and I) and a dozen freelance writers, but the bulk of our expense is our printing and distribution bills. I cannot foresee those being paid by any government programs.

Perhaps it is time anyway for Focus to move off paper—to be tree-free is a very good thing for both both biodiversity and carbon storage reasons. I am getting emails from other organizations, from galleries to dance companies, about their new digital moves. Thank goodness for the internet.

 

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Bigleaf maple felled for no apparent reason 

 

Speaking of tree-free, on a recent walk along a road to Open Bay, we came across a big healthy Bigleaf maple that had just been cut down. For no apparent reason. The only thing we could figure was that it might have been a bit close to hydro lines. It was a tragic sight, an example of how our culture sacrifices life-giving nature all too easily.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of this page.

 

 

 

Leslie Campbell

March 22

ON THE TYEE I read about “Report 9” by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team. Its technical discussion of mitigation and suppression strategies for Covid-19 indicates that strict self-quarantine measures need to continue for about 18 months.

It is sinking in how life-as-we-knew-it is over. Will I ever see my mom again? How will our economies ever recover? Will there be food shortages at some point? How will democracy survive? Will people actually go globe-trotting again? (I once thought the climate crisis might stop them, but nope.)

David reminds me that it’s possible the virus could mutate to something less infectious, or less deadly. Let’s hope. And for a vaccine.

 

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Leslie gathering nettles for dinner

 

On our walk through the forest, we traverse a logging road on which we meet a couple in a vehicle. The first humans we’ve seen in 10 days. They roll down their window to talk, David and I standing as far back as the narrow road allows. In introducing ourselves and describing where we live on the Island, I mention our wind generator and solar panels on the bluffs and they immediately know where we are and are interested in discussing how to manage off-the-grid themselves. David suggests they don’t bother with wind as solar is so much more reliable, and also that a small turbine on their creek would be good too. We have a very small creek on our acreage which dries up in the summer, but in winter provides a bit of welcome power when the sun doesn’t shine (but definitely no Netflix or vacuuming if there’s no sun for a couple of days).

The social contact feels good! We stocked up on groceries so well that we’ve had no need to go out for supplies since our arrival and likely for some time to come, though we should have got more cat food (Bullseye and Frodo, 9 months and always hungry).

The realities of a water-accessible-only property have got us in the habit of being well-provisioned with staples. Plus I have a small but productive vegetable garden which even now still has a lot of kale in it. And we’ve potatoes, carrots, beets and garlic stored from last summer’s harvest. Unfortunately my squash—a bumper crop—got moldy.

I have planted some lettuce and cabbage seeds and soon my peas. Unfortunately I did not stock up on aged manure or organic fertilizer so hope I can find some in the not-too-distant future. Or maybe for this year, the garden will manage with only my compost. Like others, I am letting go of certain rules and habits, quite easily, almost with a shrug.

Writing in New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan, who lived through the AIDS epidemic, puts it this way: “Like wars, plagues can make us see where we are, shake us into a new understanding of the world, reshape our priorities, and help us judge what really matters and what actually doesn’t. Testing kits matter. Twitter not so much.”

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of this page.

Leslie Campbell

March 21

FIRST I LEARN A DEAR WINNIPEG FRIEND HAS DIED, though not of coronavirus. A celebration of his life will be held…but who knows when?

A long telephone chat with one of my two Vancouver-based sisters helps bolster my spirits. Conveniently for times like these, Karen is a bookworm, and has five books on the go, though she too is distracted by all the news updates and media analysis of the pandemic.

Then I read the Globe and Mail about the modelling on social distancing (by Simon Fraser University professors—see link below). Even with the strong distancing—which I believe is what we now have—up to 50 percent of Canadians may be infected. And it won’t peak till Septemberish. And we shouldn’t end the distancing measures till the peak of the pandemic is over, say October (assuming there’s not a second wave). The only way to reduce it more is to embrace even harsher measures than we have now, “reducing all contacts outside of the household by more than 90 percent.” Still there are no guarantees especially given our lack of immunity and the risk of it being introduced from elsewhere.

Even without those “harsher” measures, it could mean the type of serious social distancing we have now for 6-7 months! This is indeed like nothing humans have ever experienced before. How will so many laid-off workers survive?

A hike on the mossy bluffs behind our homestead helps console us. Down on the beach we watch surf scoters and swans.

 

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Surf scoters

 

A Suzuki Foundation article “Idle Some More: A Novel Climate Solution,” references one of my favourite philosophers, Bertrand Russell. It states, “Russell advocated for a gradual reduction in paid labour to four hours a day. This, he argued, would facilitate full employment, provide more time for creative pursuits and contribute to the public good. ’In a world where no one is compelled to work more than four hours a day, every person possessed of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it, and every painter will be able to paint without starving,’ he wrote.”

Of course, we might need a guaranteed basic income, as well. Another bold idea worth considering in this time of dramatic change. The federal government’s plan to subsidize wages to the tune of 10 percent is not going to help the situation much given the deep plunge in revenues many businesses are experiencing.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of this page.


 

Leslie Campbell

March 20

DAVID AND I MIGRATED TO OUR QUADRA ISLAND HOME on March 12, the day after the WHO declared the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before news of the virus, we had decided to do the next edition of Focus from here, our spring and summer grounds. The virus and recommendations around social distancing gave us extra incentive to be here.

It is incredibly beautiful right now with lots of new growth coming, Pacific white-sided dolphins and buffleheads in the bay below our seaside perch, and eagles and ravens in the trees above. This morning we saw red-breasted sapsuckers tapping away at a big old maple tree. And the chorus from the Pacific tree frogs is a joyous sound. David is taking a lot of wildlife photos.

 

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Pacific white-sided dolphins

 

Though completely off the grid with no road access (we boat across a bay to reach here), our satellite internet allows us unlimited access to the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic. We track how Italy and the US are faring and attempt to project what that means for BC. I check in on social media to see how my friends in Mexico and Spain are faring.

We hope the social distancing will reduce the numbers facing severe symptoms and the pressure on brave healthworkers. David is tracking the virus’ progress here on this website. And we discuss how else Focus can respond—and how it will need to change to survive in this suddenly changed world.

My 91-year-old mother Jade is in Victoria’s James Bay Care Centre. Before we left Victoria, her whole floor was under quarantine due to two influenza A cases. By March 16, the whole building was in quarantine, limited to “essential visitors” only: “Essential visitors are defined as those who have a resident who is palliative or very ill. These visitors must continue to be actively screened when visiting our home,” the Care Centre’s staff inform us. I check in daily with my mom by phone, as do my sisters. She is fine and avoids the TV, for the most part, but reads the daily newspaper and novels, which she reports on. I am ever so grateful to the staff of this well-run facility. They are caring, competent, always cheerful. And always there when needed. My mom, who cannot walk, just has to press a button. It’s a publicly-funded, privately-run facility. I’ve been impressed with the care and management throughout the two years she’s resided there. But still, with the pandemic and careworkers coming and going, it is feasible that the new virus could erupt and wreak havoc with the many elders who live there.

That alone seems a good reason for the rest of us to practice diligent social distancing: to prevent spreading any viruses to careworkers and other health care and essential workers and the folks for whom they provide care.

Everything but grocery stores and pharmacies are closed now—schools, parks, rec centres, playgrounds, galleries, shops, offices, most events and gatherings. And as of today, Quadra Island’s regional rep and its Chamber of Commerce have asked all visitors to stay away. There are limited resources here—especially around health care—so that is a good move, though devastating for the many tourist-dependent businesses. Just like Victoria, Tofino, Ucluelet and elsewhere.

Also on the news, another 77 British Columbians have been diagnosed with the virus bringing the total to 348, with 8 deaths. The next two weeks are critical to flatten the curve.

I welcome your response, either as a comment below or privately through the “Contact Us” button at the bottom of this page.

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