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Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic

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  1. Posted August 18, 2020 Photo: The author's Stargazer Lilies We’ve made a fine mess of this blue dot…but nature has incredible healing powers. Go to story
  2. We’ve made a fine mess of this blue dot…but nature has incredible healing powers. MY GARDEN’S ONGOING VARIETY SHOW currently has the effusive Stargazer lilies owning the stage, their clusters of bold and magnificent flowers vying with each other for audience attention. They look like the hybridized confections they are, the planned offspring of two lesser, Oriental-type lilies, using science that was unlocked by Gregor Mendel more than 150 years ago. That’s impressive tinkering for sure, but it would all amount to nothing if it weren’t for nature. We can plunk a pixel of seed or homely bulb into the ground, but only the holiest communion of natural forces—healthy soil, air, water and pollinators, specific temperatures and just the right intensity of sunlight—can transform it into a beautiful, living plant that is the essence of all life on earth. In the garden, I wander past the emerging squashes, tomatoes and other crops that will nourish us in the coming months. I greet the flowers, some still tightly budded while others are ready to shed their seeds. I take pictures of the Stargazers strutting their stuff. The author’s Stargazer Lilies Earlier this summer, star gazers of a different kind cropped up everywhere, their upturned faces scanning the night sky. The comet NEOWISE had briefly surfed within our view on its 6800-year loop around the outer reaches of our solar system. We could see it with the naked eye, and it rightly made us feel small and humbled. I imagined myself a traveller on the frozen NEOWISE who has endured the harsh monochromatic loop for all of 68 centuries and then suddenly spots a single blue dot—blue!—just 103 million kilometres away. The discovery would be unbelievable. Here was the only mass among untold millions with an accidentally perfect, life-supporting biosphere. The view of Earth and its moon from space Consider that dot, the eminent astronomer Carl Sagan urged a hushed audience some 30 years ago. “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.” We’ve made a fine mess of our priceless blue dot. Our individual greed, folly, indifference and denial have driven it to the brink. And yet, nature has such incredible healing power that we could still turn things around. It will be hard. It will feel like too much, after we’ve put in so little for so long. But the choice is urgent and clear. Either we change, or carry on unabated at our own great peril. Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a writer, new grandmother, and Master Gardener. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).
  3. Posted July 4, 2020 Reflections as the pendulum swings between hope and hopelessness. Go to story
  4. July 4, 2020 Reflections as the pendulum swings between hope and hopelessness. THE CONFIDENT RESILIENCE that I felt just a month ago in the face of this near-unprecedented pandemic has started giving away to the occasional wobble. It began subtly enough, with small ephemeral anxieties that suddenly took to hovering overhead, and a vague irritability, directed mostly at myself, for playing too close to the pendulum swinging between hope and hopelessness and occasionally getting knocked in the head. At first it was easy enough to stay positive. Adrenalin drove our preparations; it all felt a bit surreal, and indeed it was. This was our opportunity—in tandem with the masses—to practise resilience and self-sufficiency. We baked, gardened, stayed cocooned, and felt grateful for our resources. Across the country people did the same. Puzzles, seeds, gardening supplies, bicycles, knitting supplies, pantry staples and home renovation products all flew off the shelves. It almost seemed as if we were reaching back in time for help with the present. In the author’s neighbourhood, this Lochside Trail sculpture appeared to encourage cyclists and others On our street, people were unfailingly kind: I’m thinking of the many offers of help we exchanged back and forth, the easy and encouraging chats over the fence, the safely distanced cul-de-sac concert that brought everyone together, and the sweet little painted stone I found on my doorstep one day, its liquid-bright colours exuding reassurance. As a region, we pulsed with ingenuity. Local manufacturers retooled their systems and began producing hand sanitizer and face shields for health care workers, and ventilators for a possible worst-case scenario. Suddenly you could chat with your doctor by phone, and your pharmacist could authorize your prescription refill. Grocers invented new ways to shop. Almost everything local could be ordered online and delivered to your door. Businesses, struggling through a marathon of uncertainty and debt, came up with creative adaptations once restrictions were somewhat eased. Jam Café on Herald Street, for example, hung clear shower curtains between the tables as a low-cost, low-tech way of keeping diners safer without making the space claustrophobic. The University of Victoria transformed a parking lot into a drive-in theatre, a perfect, everything-old-is-new-again antidote for our times. And then there was the patchwork quilt of emergency relief programs, each announced daily over several weeks by the federal government. Billions of dollars were quickly distributed among millions of Canadians and our identity as a civilized and compassionate society was duly reinforced. But there’s no denying the quilt’s awkward, and no doubt costly, inefficiency. We are in the midst of several astounding crises: a pandemic that is nowhere near finished with us; inequity that keeps rising to new all-time highs; societal divisiveness that threatens to turn us into each other’s enemies; and climate change that looms over everything as the most urgent and lethal threat of all. What we really need is a daring reset involving some complex and multi-pronged solutions. One is the Guaranteed Annual Income. If ever there was an opportunity to give serious traction to this concept—which has twice been pilot-tested in Canada with notably positive results, and twice been mothballed by partisan politics—this is it. This is our chance to move away from a tradition of ineffective, compartmentalized aid for all the persistent miseries—child poverty being one—to real and lasting equity in an efficient and streamlined program that leaves no one behind. And if ever there is a time to at least consider promoting a four-day workweek as a way to begin shifting the emphasis from “having more” to “living better,” surely this is it. After the initial pocketbook panic, we might be able to envision the possibility of a better work/life balance focused less on the hamster wheel of earning and spending, and more on the benefit of extra time for self and family. We might come to understand the often-inverse correlation between time and money, and that it isn’t always money that leaves us feeling more enriched. Can we change? We must. Every day I hope we will have the courage and resolve to do so, and to see each other through the undoubtedly rocky transition that must come first. On other days, I’m not so sure. It seems like a long shot, given our checkered record for compromise and getting along. On those days I lay low and keep my head away from the pendulum. I go outdoors and lean on nature for strength and solace. Then I come back in and carry on. Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a writer, Master Gardener and proud new grandmother. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).
  5. Posted June 9, 2020 Photo: The new normal: constant warnings to keep your distance Much about our old ways seem reckless now—the indoor visit, sharing of food, and shoulder to shoulder camaraderie. Go to story
  6. Much about our old ways seem reckless now—the indoor visit, sharing of food, and shoulder to shoulder camaraderie. SO MUCH HAS CHANGED during these unprecedented times. For one thing, we’ve all been learning the strange, new social distancing dance, the classic one-step-forward-and two steps-back manoeuvre that has you yearning for the embrace of your loved ones while propelling yourself away from anyone else who comes too close. These days we always enter our house through the laundry room and head straight for the sink—newly coined as the disinfecting station—to scrub our hands, groceries, cell phone, car keys, and whatever else is brought inside. Washing groceries is an odd and tedious exercise that now must follow the nerve-wracking task of shopping for groceries. Did I say shopping? It’s more like post-apocalypse mission for nutrition. Wearing a mask, and with gloved hands gripping a sanitized cart, I navigate the one-way arrows and try not to linger at any displays, nor touch anything I’m not going to buy. We’re all in this together, we’re told, but every shopper I see has their head and eyes down as we all quickly collect our victuals and work our way to the cashiers behind Plexiglas. We look resigned and alone in our confining bubbles. The new normal: Constant warnings to keep your distance These are the days when emotions run high and mental health takes a battering. Life feels uncertain, worrisome and melancholy. My spouse and I are fortunate to have plenty to keep us busy at home, but I long for more human touch, especially the easy presence of our children and new grandchild. Previously they would all drop by often, come right in, have coffee and settle for a visit. Everything about that seems reckless now—the indoor visit, sharing of food, and shoulder to shoulder camaraderie. Now we stand tentatively on the driveway or sit in the garden, always well apart from each other. Instead of hugging we wave. A lot. On a chilly day back in April, the crock pot had been burbling on the counter for hours when a daughter and her partner came by with a load of compost for our garden. “Stay for dinner; we can make it work,” I urged, which triggered flashes of both Yes! and No! across their faces. They settled on Yes. We banished the car to the driveway and then set up a card table in the middle of the garage. The chairs were placed several metres apart. I served the food and we ate heartily, all the while enjoying each other from a safe distance. I was so happy to have them “inside” that I almost wept. Recently she and I were gardening together while staying safely apart. (She has time for this now, since all of her band’s summer music festival bookings have sadly been cancelled.) We talked about how COVID-19 has changed everything for everyone. Suddenly she reached a gloved hand around a shrub and said, “Look! We can still hold hands.” I extended my own gloved hand. Her grip was firm, full of hope and encouragement. It felt so good and reassuring that I again almost wept. Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a Saanich-based writer and Master Gardener. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).
  7. March 2020 A plant-based diet came simply and gradually—and with many rewards. IT WASN’T ANYTHING SPECIFIC that led me to becoming a vegetarian many years ago; in fact, I never consciously “became” a vegetarian. There was no pivotal deciding moment, no fervent, “from-this-day-forward” declaration. Those were the days when food choices were still pretty straightforward, when they had not yet been conscripted into moral, political and health-related tug-of-wars. In my case, meat just slowly faded off the plate. Growing up on a dairy farm probably had an influence. Our farm was well run and we were blessed to have wholesome, home-grown food security—all the milk we could drink, rows of ripening vegetables in the garden, and meat from an occasional cow selected for culling. The butchering of that cow, wide-eyed with primeval fear as she was led behind the barn on a tight halter, was a hard reality, including for my dad, who always hired someone else to get the job done. For a while afterwards, we felt a heaviness, a vague culpability in the heavy-handedness of it all, but those agitations were easily enough reconciled over plates of meatballs with gravy and mashed potatoes. I never was a big meat-eater, and over the years I came to realize I’d never much cared for its unadorned taste, nor look. The seasonings and sauces were what made it flavoursome; the butter that braised it and enhanced the gravy; the garlic, onions and red wine that perfected stews and roasts. It was when my own kids were blossoming into adolescents with iron-clad opinions that I proposed a non-meat dinner one day a week. I was getting dreadfully tired and uninspired in the kitchen. Meat is perishable—it can go bad in a really bad way. It’s a lot of work (including clean-up) and expensive for the household on a budget. Over the years, I’d boiled our meat choices down to ground beef, chicken breasts and, on Fridays, chicken nuggets. Nobody liked ham anymore, and we’d already ditched the wieners: Even back then, there was no good reason to feed them to anyone. It will be fun, I told them brightly. Everyone, my husband included, looked at me as if I’d suddenly sprouted a tuft of chin hairs. (I hadn’t, although I’m rather familiar with them now.) Our youngest lived at home until she’d finished university, and by then we three were mostly done with meat, having discovered the elegance and simplicity of a plant-based diet. Who knew that almost any type of winter squash, which is locally grown and storable for months, would make such a hearty and delicious pasta sauce? Who knew that lentils—grown right here on the peninsula—could be transformed into a full-bodied tourtiere? And that grilled vegetables could taste so sweet and delectable? There are many good reasons for becoming vegetarian. The health benefits have been well established. The land-use and carbon footprints are substantially smaller. Food security is enhanced, since grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and legumes (dried lentils, beans and peas) can be stored for months, years even. Add fruit and vegetables from the garden or local markets, and you’re all set. Food factories have jumped on the vegetarian bandwagon, but it’s worth knowing that not every new product is necessarily good food. Avoid anything that’s overly processed, salted, packaged, and expensive. Many offerings try to mimic meat. You don’t need them, unless you have strong cravings. Just keep using your most loved seasonings, and apply them to everything. Recipes abound, and many have been adapted from meat-based cuisine. Once I figured that out, I started modifying my own simple recipes. If I can do it, anyone can. A plant-based diet generates very little waste. Very little to wheel to the curb for barging over to Richmond for processing. Surely that counts for something. Slightly off topic, but then again not, I’ve recently started scrutinizing and reducing our energy use in the kitchen. Now we often make two meals at once, the second one requiring just a quick reheat. If we must use the oven, we’ll load it up with extras to bake and roast for later. We never have all four elements going at once—no recipe is that important. One last thing. My food evolution did end up being about animals after all. As kids are apt to do, I filed away everything I saw back then for inevitable processing much later in life. Today I’m content that no farm animal has to die for my dinner. I believe that eating vegetarian is eating more humbly. A little humility in the diet is never a bad thing. And on another front, Trudy can’t help wondering where we could be now if our $12.6 billion investment in the Trans Mountain pipeline project had been directed towards alternate energy solutions.
  8. January 2020 Used clothing is no longer solely the domain of the poor, and for good reason. ONE DAY MANY YEARS AGO, I stood as a meek and awkward adolescent in front of an older girl’s burgeoning closet. Her mother was pressing me to pick out some clothes for myself. Her mother had also been my grade five teacher a few years earlier, and was one of the more outspoken voices in the community. I cringed as if I was back in her class. She must think we’re really poor, I thought, as I tentatively slid the hangered shirts and dresses along the rod. Anxiety tightened my throat. To please her, I’d have to wear her daughter’s clothes in public and deal with that fallout. But if I went home empty-handed, I’d be rejecting her charity and maybe invoking annoyance, a risk I didn’t feel brave enough to take. In the end, I chose a pair of black tights, blurted out my thanks and dashed for home. Those were the days when you faced palpable shame for wearing other people’s castoffs. You could accept a pie or pickles or freshly knit slippers, but someone else’s old clothes—that was too personal, too stigmatizing. It was the distinction that consigned you to the have-not corral and then used your new-found status to keep you there. Fast-forward to 2020, and everything has changed. The used-apparel industry has become a darling, a feel-good shopping option that’s trendy, thrilling, and much easier on the budget and the planet. The clothing resale market has grown 21 times faster than retail over the last 3 years In the US, it will grow to $51 billion by 2023, more than double its worth in 2018. In truth, it’s beginning to leave the retail market in the dust. According to a 2019 Resale Report by thredUP, a San Francisco-based, online, used-clothing marketplace now accessible to Canadians, the resale market has grown 21 times faster than retail over the last three years. That’s not surprising, given that resale shopping options now include efficient, fashion-savvy online markets, some of which allow you to return clothes for credit when you’re finished with them. Also—and this is a key driver—everyone has become a potential client. No longer is “used” the domain of the poor. According to Kijiji, 35 percent of Canadians who shop the overall used market have an annual income exceeding $80,000. High-profile shout-outs haven’t hurt either: The Los Angeles Times recently declared buying second hand to be one of the hottest trends of the year. Fashion designer Stella McCartney has declared, “the future of fashion is circular; it will be restorative and regenerative by design and the clothes we love [will] never end up as waste.” Anna Wintour, fashion diva and editor-in-chief of Vogue, recently urged consumers to become more mindful in their shopping choices. It’s about “valuing the clothes that you own and wearing them again and again” before finally passing them on to someone else, she told global news service Reuters last November. All this helps to begin pushing back at the ugly and destructive side of the fashion industry—that the planet has $40 billion worth of clothing languishing and burning in landfills, 95 percent of which could have been reused; that the industry’s carbon footprint is estimated to be larger than that of the shipping and airline industries combined; that most clothing is produced in Third-World factories where conditions and wages are deplorable, and is sold here by retail staff whose earnings are among the lowest in our work force; and that no mass-produced fabric can really be called sustainable. Even natural fabrics require copious amounts of water and other resources in the course of manufacturing, tailoring and shipping, resources that are wasted when they end up in the landfill. But if you donate it instead—let’s say your t-shirt—and someone else buys and wears it, now its carbon footprint is reduced by 82 percent, according to research firm Green Story Inc. (The same can be said for almost anything that’s repurposed.) Locally we’re fortunate to have a vibrant used market. Each year we collectively support it with untold thousands of donated clothes, thereby advancing a circular economy or, as Kijiji calls it, community commerce. As long as the clothes continue to change hands, they continue to make money. The revenue stays local; some of it goes to charity. Jobs are created and budgets aren’t broken. The stores are clean and organized. Nothing smells like mothballs. In 2020, shopping for used clothing is trendy and forward-thinking. I no longer tremble when facing the hangers. I love the hunt, and the fact that I’m being a “radical” for the environment. We know we’re going to have to start treading more lightly to avert a crisis. Used clothing is an easy way to make a difference. Trudy wishes everyone a Happy New Year and happy new adventures in community commerce. Once you go there, you'll never look back.
  9. November 2019 But both the new federal government and citizens must dig deeper to face it. THE ELECTION IS OVER, and by now the members of our 43rd parliament will have settled into their hallowed Ottawa seats. Notwithstanding the new faces and bustling rearrangement of desks in the house, our most urgent reality remains the same: we have a climate crisis on our hands. We left it idling unattended for decades, and now it’s speeding full bore to the crossroads of no return. Such a statement is no longer hyperbole. We can see for ourselves the strain on nature. We can see it in the fires, floods, storms, melting polar ice, and erratic weather systems, and in the exquisite microcosms of our own gardens and local parks. We can understand it too, the folly of filling our atmosphere to the breaking point with untold and unchecked volumes of ancient and sequestered carbon. (Generations from now, researchers will puzzle over why we let things get so out of hand. Why we didn’t look up, see the potential of the sun, and then begin vigorously innovating to harvest its endless clean energy.) But now, perhaps, things might at last start to change. This past election finally saw climate change emerge as a top-of-mind issue, despite some early foot-dragging by the big-party politicians. Throughout the country it was robustly debated by local candidates at more than 100 town halls. Locally it drew well over 20,000 people of all ages to a Downtown climate strike. Across the land it propelled a million people to the streets, all thirsting and champing for a justly tenable future. 16-year-old Greta Thunberg talks with a group of climate-active citizens during a climate strike event The prospect of such a future has become somewhat brighter now, with the Liberals returning as a minority government enrobed in the mantle of newfound mindfulness for cross-party cooperation and collaboration. The prime minister and his pared-down team would do well to feel chastened by hard evidence that two-thirds of Canadians have climate change concerns that will not be placated by further distraction and detour. We’ve made it pretty clear that we want our leaders to quit their feeble and perfunctory pecking at the trifling edges of this all-encroaching threat. In ever-increasing numbers, we are demanding strong and overarching action on climate change, and that persistence will not fade away. It’s going to be challenging—no, daunting—for our leaders to fix this, considering the deep and bitter regional divides, and the seemingly inevitable collision course of one Canadian’s livelihood with another Canadian’s right to a protected local environment. Here’s what Ottawa really needs to understand: You can’t appease one region by sacrificing another. You can’t champion both the fossil fuel industry and serious climate action. You can’t continue to pour billions of dollars into fossil fuels while claiming there’s no money for renewable energy. You must start clarifying that jobs will be changed, as is already the case, not lost. You can’t keep favouring the traditional economy just because your investors and supporters and lobbyists have not yet finished their business there. You can’t keep standing in the way of real and required change. As for ourselves, evidence is growing beyond anecdotal that we’re ready to do some heavy lifting of our own. A recent, CBC-commissioned survey of 4,500 eligible Canadian voters revealed that almost three-quarters indicated a willingness to make “some” or “major” lifestyle changes themselves. Those changes included buying local (75 percent), lowering the thermostat (66 percent), reducing overall consumption (55 percent), reducing driving (47 percent) and becoming vegetarian (17 percent). These combined actions alone would make a huge difference, but they are still not far-reaching enough, given how we’ve let this slide to the eleventh hour. We must dig deeper, and people already have, by forgoing a car, becoming vegan, living in smaller spaces, eschewing or cutting back on air travel, and choosing to remain childless. We don’t all have to make every dramatic change, but we each have to make some. If we want to continue living in a clean, diverse and sustainable environment. If we want this for all of the world’s citizens. The season of renewed peace, hope and goodwill is just a few weeks away. Maybe this year there’ll be gifts for the Earth, which in the end are priceless gifts for all of humanity. We can do it. Just look around: We’ve already begun. I hope our team in Ottawa can too. Trudy thanks you for reading and wishes you a happy and hope-filled holiday season. May peace and wellbeing be upon your home and loved ones.
  10. September 2019 Tired of being used by the corporate world? Revolt by exercising the common-sense muscle. WE HAVE A UNIQUE LITTLE EXPERIMENT going on right here in our own corner of Canada. You will recall the City of Victoria’s ban last year on single-use polyethylene shopping bags at all retail establishments. Other than stirring up a few anticipated moans and groans, it came into effect with very little protest. That’s not surprising, considering how many people had already made the switch to reusable bags or at least acclimatized to the notion that reducing plastic is a good thing. Retailers didn’t mind either, given that they were all being equally “disadvantaged” and, more notably, alleviated from the hefty and ongoing cost of buying single-use bags for the same customers over and over again. No, the only real lament came, predictably, from the plastics industry, whose justification for their single-use products employs the kind of skewed logic that’s getting increasingly more awkward to defend with a straight and sincere face. The Canadian Plastic Bag Association—its name a billboard flashing self-interest—wasted no time clamouring its outrage. Depriving the people of their convenience is not fair, it insisted, even as several island communities were fine-tuning their own bans, and people all over were already eschewing single-use plastics without legal prompting. Faster than one can say “Polyethylene lasts forever,” the Association challenged the ban in court, claiming the City did not have the jurisdiction to regulate business. The CPBA won that round recently, but the battle is not over, and in any event, the City’s end goal of eradicating some plastic from the landscape will probably be achieved. Why? Because it’s hard to keep momentum reined in when the public has decided to move forward. Courts can order municipal governments to back off, but people can’t be forced to buy or use what they no longer wish to consume. A recent Nanos poll shows that most Canadians now favour banning single-use plastics, including the ubiquitous plastic bag. Grocers already know this. The Canadian food giant Sobey’s will remove plastic checkout bags from all 255 stores by next February. That change alone will keep 225 million plastic bags from having to be absorbed by the planet every year. (Thrifty Foods, owned by Sobey’s, turfed these bags from their 25+ stores 10 years ago.) The federal government, in a hardworking election year, has jumped on this accelerating bandwagon too, by announcing a ban on single-use plastics by “as early as” 2021. The faraway date and lack of concrete plan might make a cynic wonder if this is just more cheap campaign chatter, but never mind the politicians. It’s people who create change— by getting enough of the grunt work done to propel a growing shift in thinking that eventually results in legislation to pull along the rest of us who’d never get there on our own. There’s plenty out there needing public resolve: apparently, Imperial Metals can walk away from the catastrophe it caused at its Mount Polley mine, and still go hunting for a new site to exploit in the Manning Park wilderness. Apparently, watershed areas can be logged in this province because, you know, jobs, jobs, jobs; and apparently, towns like Glade in the Kootenay region have, alarmingly, no legal right to clean water, having recently had this clearly laid out by a BC Supreme Court Justice. Apparently, our government is falling seriously short of protecting everyone’s drinking water from the ravages of climate change and industrial enterprise, according to BC auditor general Carol Bellringer. Apparently, federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has promised the food industry that he will “review” the new Canada Food Guide if he wins the upcoming election. We finally have a food guide based on solid, independent research in nutrition—that’s neither imposing nor forbidding any food choices—and he would let it be reshaped by businesses that are intent on defining the “healthy” foods as the ones they have to sell. Apparently, so much is happening that we can’t keep track. Still, we have the muscle to wrestle government attention back onto our concerns and priorities. For starters, we can vote next month, with the future, rather than the past, in mind. We can sign petitions, write letters, and stand or march in peaceful determination for the things that absolutely need to change. The greatest impact will come from being a cautious and conscientious consumer. Business can only afford to make what we want to use. They’re forced to either fold up or reinvent themselves when we turn away. We’re already saying no to redundant plastic. What happens next is truly up to us. After finishing this column, Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic retreated to her garden, where the laws of nature still reassuringly prevail.
  11. July 2019 There are lessons we need to learn about the meaning of “consultation.” IF THERE'S ANY WORD that’s undergone a moulting of sorts in these modern times, it’s the now politically overused and clichéd term consultation. Not so long ago this was a respected word, a solid and honest word that intimated the benefits of putting two or more heads together to discuss an idea or plan with the goal of making it a better one. Then Politics started watering it down. In the last few years I’ve grown increasingly more curious and cynical about government consulting, a now ballyhooed process that mostly seems to happen with First Nations and environmentalists, and mostly when huge, land-razing projects are on tap. What do they talk about? Is the process respectful and meaningful? Are both sides equally weighted in authority and stature, and are the initiators prepared to make concessions? How do they achieve a workable consensus? When someone talks, does anyone really listen? When the prime minister says he still needs more time to “engage in meaningful consultation” with First Nations before finally announcing the decision he’s already made on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, what is it that he still needs to do? Talk people to the brink of exhaustion and capitulation? Offer incentives, the way my dad long ago offered a case of beer to the highway snowplough driver for taking a quick veer up and down our hopelessly plugged lane? (We used to call that “bribery” back then.) Is the exercise of political “consultation” mostly a charade that we all play along with? Are we satisfied with just the optics of due diligence? First Nations protest Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project It’s not hard to imagine the hodgepodge of authoritarian tactics governments might once have used to get business interests rolling, colonial-style, on Canada’s vast tracts of territorial land. But that would have been curbed in 1982, when former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau amended the Canadian Constitution to include Section 35, which cemented the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canadian law. That forced governments at all levels to begin developing careful protocols for consultation, a trickier process in British Columbia because 95 percent of our province is still unceded territory, meaning that the land claims, treaties and ownership of almost the entire 944,735 square kilometres have yet to be sorted out. Consultation became a fine dance for governments because, while they typically want to discuss ways to get a mine going or a pipeline pushed through on a particular tract of land, First Nations communities ensconced on that land are astutely more interested in first raising their ownership issues, a deviation that can end up in a legal battle that stalls projects for years. All this has reshaped the exercise of consultation, especially after several court cases around fishing, hunting and forestry all ruled in favour of First Nations. The latter, a 2004 Supreme Court case involving a forestry dispute with the Haida Nation, reinforced Canada’s constitutional “duty to consult” with First Nations on any and all decisions that affect them. You would think that would count for a lot, at least legally if not morally. But here we are, with the Pandora’s box that is our Trans Mountain pipeline. The federal government is champing for its expansion, and the National Energy Board—its in-house “regulator” of all things relating to non-renewable energy—has twice conducted public consultation, and twice dutifully recommended in favour of expansion. The first hearing was so flawed in its consultation and environmental assessment processes that the Federal Court of Appeal flatly overturned its recommendation last August. Justice Eleanor Dawson, who presided over the ruling, rebuked the Crown for its failure to engage in meaningful consultation, amounting to little more than note-takers of the proceedings. “The meeting notes show little or no meaningful responses…to the concerns of the Indigenous applicants,” she wrote. That forced a hurried second round of consulting that, not surprisingly, drew considerable skepticism from First Nations participants. To no one’s surprise, the NEB announced last February that the pipeline expansion could again go ahead, adding that its “considerable benefits” justify “the likely significant adverse effects” it will someday wreak on our coastal and marine ecology. So much for putting heads together. What frustrates even more is the Crown’s apparent presumption that, except for First Nations people and the clusters of protesters who show up at disputes, the rest of Canada is in accord. But that’s where the Crown is seriously misguided. First Nations issues are everyone’s issues. Environmental degradation hurts everyone. There’s been so much consultation, and so little real talk. But these are pivotal times, and an election looms. So do the summer fires. We’ll see how that all goes. Writer Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic was not surprised when, on June 18, the pipeline expansion was approved by the Canadian government. See Briony Penn’s column in this edition for more on the Trans Mountain pipeline issue.
  12. May 2019 It is in our gardens that wisdom and humility are nurtured. PATRICK LANE, one of our most loved and celebrated writers, died suddenly in early March, just as his garden was wakening anew. I did not know him personally but found myself thinking of him and contemplating his words as I began gearing up for spring chores in my own garden. If I was to be banished to an island somewhere with only an hour’s notice, I’d be packing some seeds, a clutch of gardening tools and my well-worn copy of Patrick Lane’s 2004 memoir, There is a Season. In this one book I’d have a library’s worth of slow-release wisdom and perspective to nourish me through unlimited rereading. Central to the memoir is Lane’s lifelong love for gardening and for nature, which he juxtaposes so exquisitely with his own life’s story—the years and years of hardscrabble existence in isolated towns where the living was hard and misery ran rampant; the turning to alcohol and a small manual typewriter on which he hammered out late-night words against hopelessness and defeat. Patrick Lane in 2004 (Photo by David Broadland) The words bought him freedom but addiction plagued him for decades until his journey to sobriety took him back again to the foothills of his own garden, where he found himself standing “as a strangeling in this simple world.” Slowly and humbly he began rebuilding both his life and neglected garden, his ever-keen mind revelling in the miracle of a dewdrop, a chickadee, an emerging bloom, and the papery wall of a hornet’s nest. Throughout the book, Lane deftly weaves between the past and the present, dredging up unreconciled pain from the one, and half-buried empty vodka bottles from the other. He faces both with unvarnished courage. He is ready to acquiesce to his garden—his teacher—and achieve with it a symbiotic stasis: Each can rehabilitate and heal the other. Like Lane, I labour willingly “in the daily meditations of earth, air, stone, and water.” Caring for a piece of nature, even a contrived piece like the suburban back yard, is good for both body and soul. This is where thoughts often swirl like spring pollen, where I sometimes feel as if I am on the cusp of some new understanding or perspective. This is where I see that a hundred years of studying nature would not reveal everything there is to know about this evolving place, a fact I find oddly comforting. In the garden you can take the memories of your regrets and compost them into something amenable enough to let you get on with life. You live in the present. You feel gladness for tasks that involve your hands in the warm soil, for the privilege of anointing emerging seeds with clean water burbling from the hose or watering can. You check in on your resident tree frogs, their tiny green bodies bizarrely incongruent to the weight and timbre of their call. (Of them, Lane adds this gem: “A green frog does not sit on a red leaf unless he’s gone a little mad.”) In the garden you don’t need a politician to tell you about climate change and the damage we’ve done. You can see it in the thousands of tiny assaults on the ecology—the tree that drops a branch without warning, the butterflies and dragonflies mostly gone, the lizard you didn’t see until five years ago, the thermometer’s increasingly erratic dance across the calendar. You know it as you haul water to plants that were previously satisfied with the occasional summer rain. Still, the garden is perhaps the most basic and precious thing we have, not so much as owners forever but as stewards for a time. A garden can help us through any transition, any season in life. It can lead the way. It always has. “Every stone in my garden is a story, every tree a poem,” Lane wrote in his memoir. “I barely know myself in spite of the admonishments of wise men and women who tell me I must know my life in order to live it fully. What I know is that I live in this place where words are made. What we are is a garden. I believe that.” I believe that too. I believe that by taking care of our land and the miracles of nature that happen upon it, we are taking care of ourselves and each other and the Earth that we all share. It is the purest and most joyous way to live a fleeting life. Trudy encourages everyone to plant kale this year. It’s easy to grow and loaded with nutrition, the bees and butterflies love the flowers, and the greens can be picked throughout the winter.
  13. March 2019 There’s no end of dire news, so seek out the glimmers of progress. THE HAUNTING CHOREOGRAPHY of the January eclipse involving Earth, Sun, and super blood wolf moon left me feeling deeply humbled, and then unexpectedly stung by anguish. The beauty of it was immense. There it hung, an antediluvian orb undergoing metamorphosis more than 357,000 kilometres overhead, its feral colours still eons older than the smudged pigments of ancient cave art. Here stood I in a darkened schoolyard, an undeserving spectator fully dependent on, and yet habitually oblivious to, the Earth and its crucial sliver of atmosphere. As the moon began glowing red, I felt the burn of raw contrition for all the short-sighted harm we humans have done here. Super blood wolf moon eclipse We’re getting frightfully close to the brink of pandemonium, and still there’s no action plan in sight. Only 12 unescapably challenging years remain for getting it all fixed, according to an urgent 2018 report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That’s the equivalent of just three more terms of office, with scarcely a truly committed politician in sight. It’s become a twisted, top-down world that we live in, where corporations seem to rule through beleaguered governments that are not much more than latex gloves on lobbyist hands. Any small policy advancement proposed for the common good is too often thwarted by a business interest intent on safeguarding its market share and profit margin. Throw in constant warnings that jobs will vanish if things change, and it’s no wonder that many working people stay entrenched as keepers of the status quo. The struggling mainstream media has been co-opted too, probably with their eyes wide open. Our local daily paper now puts wrap-around ads where the news once appeared, and prints cheap filler pieces without fully disclosing the writer’s affiliation. I’m guessing that’s how Gwyn Morgan, a “retired Canadian business leader who has been a director of five global corporations,” came to preachify last month in a wildly biased essay that pipelines are Canada’s most urgent need. His motives become clear when the internet reveals that his clutch of corporations are steeped in fossil fuel. Besides being the former CEO of Encana, he’s the former chairman of the not-so-law-abiding engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, known for its cozy ties to the notorious Ghadafi family of Libya (and perhaps the Trudeau government, which is now the subject of an ethics investigation over its replacing of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Reybauld). The World Health Organization recently released a list of the top 10 health threats in 2019. Number one is air pollution, which it bluntly calls “the greatest environmental risk to health.” Last month Times Colonist columnist Trevor Hancock meticulously pinned almost all ten threats on environmental degradation and concluded that “when we protect the environment, we almost always protect our health.” (Hancock’s byline does disclose who he really is—a now-retired expert in human health. His views are rooted in science and bring him no financial gain.) All the stonewalling is enough to make one despair, but despair alone is just more useless idling while the clock ticks on. Better to find glimmers of progress and focus on them. Focus on the wealth of innovation in our town, including Project Zero, a brand-new incubator program that will guide and support entrepreneurs who envision turning waste materials into new products. The tipping point days are inching closer. Decent sustainable investment opportunities are cropping up quite regularly now—although you won’t yet find them at your local bank—and the Supreme Court of Canada has just decreed that energy extraction companies will, in fact, be held financially responsible for all environment damage left in their wake. No more declaring bankruptcy and walking away. Taxpayers are done being the mop-up crew. Perhaps the biggest indicator of change yet is Canada’s new Food Guide, finally based on the best and most current independent evidence instead of industry junk science. Health Canada deserves applause for standing firm where they had previously caved to partisan pressure, for not compromising health in favour of profits, and for resisting the jump into inane entrenched discussion on, among other tired topics, the question of whether bean-eating humans fart more than cows. Every unaffiliated dietitian has praise for this guide. What’s more, the fact that we finally have it provides a telling snapshot of where the government thinks society is now, and where it is headed. Palpable change is thrumming in the air. Maybe, just maybe we can still fix this. Maybe we’re ready to start preparing now. “Yes,” says a thoughtful friend, a seasoned psychologist who still feels hopeful. “More and more people are getting pissed off over inaction.” I agree. People love living here, on this protective blue and green Earth. From this perfect vantage point, the moon looks unfailingly beautiful. While we wait for big change to happen, Trudy recommends checking out www.zerowasteemporium.com for a growing list of local businesses ready to help us become zero-waste shoppers for the stuff that we need.
  14. January 2019 Victoria is tackling the bags; now let’s move on to single-use plastics. WE LIVE IN THE BEST PLACE ON EARTH. Well, that might be an exaggeration, but we like to believe it and enjoy proclaiming it, especially to bedazzled visitors and newcomers. People enjoyed saying it to me many years ago, when I had barely stepped off the plane. “You’ve arrived in Paradise,” someone—I no longer remember who—declared in that incontestable big-little way that makes you feel both grateful to be here and a fool for having frittered away so many years elsewhere. We do live in a wonderful place, but as we limp over the threshold into what’s likely to be another bedraggled year, it’s worth acknowledging that there’s much room for improvement. Especially now, with crucial global issues hanging in the balance and, given the urgency of a recently released report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an unavoidable era of enforced transition looming ever closer. An estimated 1,000,000 plastic bottles a minute are purchased on the planet. 91 percent aren’t recycled. (Forbes) As in most other communities large and small, we continue to postpone until tomorrow what we just don’t feel like facing today. We continue to uphold a stubborn disconnect between business interests and what we hold dear when we’re not talking business. We keep accepting the politically-driven myth that if something is good for the environment, it must be detrimental to the economy. And we keep on swallowing the emboldened government doublespeak that the environment can be preserved one pipeline and fracking event at a time. The environment is what we locals hold most dear, according to the Victoria Foundation’s 2018 edition of Vital Signs. This is not surprising, given that we’ve been blessed with nature’s most extravagant largesse. It’s always the lush landscape and temperate climate that enthral the newcomer at first sight, the proximity of snow-capped mountains to wave-washed seashores, the marine life, pristine air, islands, and century-old trees gracing trees, parks and neighbourhoods. No visitor from anywhere has ever said, “I can’t believe how beautiful your roadways and buildings are here.” We’ve taken some notable measures to protect our environment and ease the carbon footprint. Probably the most dramatic was Victoria’s move last year to banish the plastic shopping bag, a decision that generated such minor pushback—except from the plastics industry—that other municipalities should have seized the opportunity to swiftly follow suit. Banning soft plastic is just the beginning, however, and it’s time to tackle another critical issue—single-use plastics. (Actually, time is running out, but let’s not be derailed by that anxiety right now.) There is a place that can offer a blueprint. Bayfield is a storybook town of 1,100 people on the eastern shore of Ontario’s Lake Huron. Last year it became the first community in North America to be recognized as a plastic-free zone by the online organization Random Acts of Green. Alarmed by the glut of plastic in the Great Lakes—450,000 pieces per square kilometre, double the rate of ocean contamination—Bayfield accomplished this feat by engaging community groups to work on projects in “chewable bits,” according to one key organizer. These groups focused on public education, business buy-in, political pressure, and hands-on action. They installed several water refill stations, distributed 2,500 reusable water bottles, and banned the sale of bottled water at town venues and events. Slowly and persistently they convinced most businesses and eateries to eliminate all single-use plastics and polystyrene, surely the most ubiquitous of all petroleum products. We can do it too, in chewable bits of our own design, and we seem well poised to take the plunge. Last spring the Times Colonist reported that the City of Victoria was already in the process of “developing a single-use materials strategy as part of a comprehensive zero-waste program.” That means getting rid of drinking straws, Styrofoam cups, take-out containers and plastic cutlery. The CRD and most municipalities are exploring similar possibilities, having developed their own climate action plans that emphasize the reduction of energy and material consumption. Saanich aims to become a 100 percent renewable energy community by 2050. Many local businesses are also working towards sustainability and zero waste. (Check out the Victoria-based Synergy Sustainability Institute and the long list of businesses to which it recently awarded Ecostar awards.) And then there’s us, the denizens of this Eden. We can get ahead of the curve—and the inevitable legislation—by starting right now to quit the disposable plastics habit. What a great New Year’s resolution, to begin toting a refillable travel mug or water bottle, to begin saying no to plastic drinking straws. Victoria is a great place to live. In 2019 we can make it even better. Trudy finished writing just as the BC government began rolling out CleanBC, a bold new proclamation for tackling climate action. She thinks it might bode well for a happy new year.
  15. November 2018 Until governments get serious about tackling greenhouse gas emissions, citizens must take the lead. HAVE YOU SEEN THE URGENT REPORT that was released last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? You know, the one that spells out how we’re currently barrelling towards disaster and misery unless the world starts taking extraordinary measures to reduce carbon emissions. It was intended to prod governments into action, but let’s face it—when it comes to the climate change train, our politicians have been riding in the caboose for years. Only when the polls assure them that the masses have finally started stumping for real change will they cast off corporate control and come scuttling up to the locomotive to grab the microphone and take it from there. Until that happens, it’s up to ordinary denizens everywhere to start reining things in right now. True, what we do individually only adds up to a speck of difference. But multiply that by a collective groundswell of thousands and then millions of small, unspectacular actions, and we have the catalyst to turn our dismal destiny around. It all starts with just one change becoming engrained, and then another. Starting now gets us practised and ready for the official fix because when it finally comes, it will definitely decree that we do our part. Solar-powered clothes drier Understanding that almost everything comes with an energy price-tag—in the mining, making and/or use of it—helps us see near-endless ways to reduce our own carbon footprint. Here are some starter ideas: Combine errands and make fewer car trips. Participate in a clothing swap. Mend your clothes. Drink tap water. Stop using plastic water bottles. Buy only what you can eat before it spoils. Use cereal box liners instead of plastic wrap. Turn your leftovers into the next day’s lunch. Eat less meat (animal agriculture is a high-emission industry). Get cozy in a sweater. Wear slippers in winter. Shun the dryer and hang-dry your clothes—they’ll last longer too. Try going plastic-free for a week. Turn brown bags or any used paper into giftwrap. Make Santa bags and ditch Christmas wrap forever. Embrace all the little free libraries popping up around town—200 at last count. Shop the used goods market (and prepare to be amazed). Give the gift of your time. Carry a travel mug and quit paper cups and plastic lids. Buy powdered dishwasher detergent and lace with baking soda—no rinse agent required. Make your own greeting cards. Swap out toxic household cleaners for a single all-purpose biodegradable product. Boycott glossy magazines that feature huge exclusive homes seemingly for the purpose of breeding discontent. In your yard, plant a food garden. Stop watering the lawn. Embrace a native plant or pick something heat and drought tolerant. Adopt a struggling boulevard tree. Be kind to birds, bees, the soil, water and your own health by eschewing all garden pesticides. Buy good shoes and have them repaired. Reduce your personal-care products by one item. Go vegetarian one—or more—days a week. Ride your bike to work. Stop thinking of shopping as recreation. Turn your Halloween pumpkin into soup, pies or muffins. Co-own a lawnmower with your neighbour. Borrow and share so not everyone needs to own everything. Keep stuff organized so you don’t end up buying something you know you already have but can’t find. Use less paper. Avoid fast food, a source of mediocre nutrition and mountains of single-use plastics and other materials. Carry a small real fork in your purse or briefcase and wave away all the plastic cutlery. Participate in a beach clean-up. Get stuff fixed at a Repair Café. Go for a walk instead of a drive. Find new homes for the “stranded assets” in your storage locker. Make your own laundry detergent—online recipes make it easy. Embrace regular “buy nothing” days. Reconsider your list of essential needs. Pretend you’re downsizing and cull accordingly. Downsize when the time is right. Grow your own window-sill sprouts and micro-greens. Check out all the improved reusable offerings for feminine protection and bladder control. Buy trendier fashion second-hand (yes, it’s there!) and donate it back when you’re done with it. Remember that children don’t need every toy on the market. Same for pets and pet accessories. Be content with last year’s line of electronic devices. Extend the life of your cell phone by investing in a good case. Use biodegradable soaps and shampoos. Refill liquids at a soap exchange. The list goes on… Given that the fossil fuel industry and transportation are Canada’s top two leading greenhouse gas emitters, here are some ways to dig deeper: Buy local whenever possible (the trucking of goods has a huge carbon footprint). Start saving for an electric car (many new models will soon be available). Install a heat pump. Take vacations closer to home. Ensure your retirement savings are invested in ways that reflect your values. And vote for candidates committed to tackling climate change. Change begins with us. Every single thing we do counts. Trudy wishes everyone a truly happy holiday with just the right balance of everything that gladdens your heart.
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