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Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Floods, fires and Summer Limb Drop are good clues as to what needs to be done. Yet… IT'S EARLY IN THE MORNING when I turn on the water. The hose burbles momentarily, then spouts forth a sparkling cascade that lands with a patter on parched foliage. The sun, posing as a farm-fresh yolk, has barely started its rise behind the maple tree but already it radiates a wicked heat. Some plants wait stoically for their ration, the wandering squashes, sun-burnished berries, and burgeoning tomatoes. Others—mostly flowering plants and anything confined to a pot—are slumped like marionettes during intermission. Still others, including calendula, alchemilla mollis, and the cranesbill geraniums, shed all their beauty without giving a damn and rush instead to produce copious seed for the better times that will surely follow. That’s always been the gardener’s operative too, to keep the chin up for more favourable seasons down the road. But now I’m not so sure anymore. It seems politicians are unable to see the creeping malevolence of climate change from their hallowed halls and chambers, their myopia no doubt aided and abetted by big-ticket corporate lobbyists specializing in singular persuasion. Oh sure, there are the increasingly common floods and fires that are impossible to miss, but these are often treated as independent “acts of God” with no connection to a bigger crisis. In fact, we could argue that they have political value because they provide government with a grandly heroic opportunity to pull out the stops and save the votes and the day (for now). A "fire tornado" that occurred during California's Carr fire during the summer of 2018. Come to my garden if you want to see the handiwork of a changing climate, or better yet, have a wee nosey around your own neighbourhood and favourite park. See all the mature trees looking droopy and stressed? Every year they’re losing just a bit more ground. Last year our thirsty maple dropped a huge limb that was as dry as aged firewood. In California that phenomenon has a name—Summer Limb Drop—and is correlated to hot weather and prolonged drought. This year it started shedding desiccated leaves in July. I’m wary and have moved the clay birdbath to safer ground. Summers have always been dry here, but now, with rising temperatures that last for days and linger well past dusk, you can’t grow much anymore without copious watering. That’s bad for home gardens, our farmers, and all of our green spaces. (The only good outcome is perhaps some modest curtailment in gormless weather broadcasting exuberance that touts every sweltering day as just another wonderful day for the beach, tra-la.) I pull the hose to another parched bed and worry that we are slowly burning ourselves up. Every reputable scientist says we are. What really perplexes me is why we keep letting this happen. Why do we keep electing ultra-wealthy politicians who glibly and falsely profess to speak for the masses? Why do politicians with innovative and forward-looking vision go strangely soft and silent once they are elected? (And on the flip side, why can someone like Ontario’s Doug Ford dismantle so much in such a short time?) Why is industry now the go-to beneficiary of government decision-making, seemingly in almost every sector? Why are big decisions not first adequately scrutinized on connect-the-dots maps of our region, province, country and entire planet, including the oceans and atmosphere? Why are our leaders so feeble that, in the face of so much urgency, the only resolution produced at a recent three-day, all-premier’s meeting at one of the country’s swankiest resorts was a piffle of a promise to “significantly increase” how much booze we can cart home from another province? Canada is not back. Not even close. Our fresh-faced federal government crows on the international stage, then rushes home to the still-warm bed its predecessors shared with the fossil fuel moguls. Clearly that leaves us to take the real reins. We can do it. It has to be soon. The towhee nags loudly in defense of its nest as I roll up the hose. I see a bumblebee busy on a flower, its leg baskets stuffed with bright pollen. Despite pesticides and parasites, here it is, still doing its vital and underappreciated work. Nature is resilient. It carries on. It always will, unless we let the day come that it can’t anymore. Writer Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is grateful to her garden for the amazing harvest it was still able to produce, albeit early and under duress.
  8. The heavy carbon footprint of most manufacturing processes gives added incentive for re-using material goods. OUR CLASSIC LIST of favourite family outings has long included the Cordova Bay United Church Annual Country Fair, our community’s very own big fat recycling project. For years we’ve been part of the Saturday morning crowd that gathers at the church parking lot each spring with kids, dogs and visiting relatives in tow. Eagerly we wait for the signal to begin sifting through the heap of castoffs we’ve seemingly just finished dropping off the day before. (How they manage to wrestle all this stuff—almost overnight—into a neatly arranged cornucopia of merchandise in almost every imaginable house-and-home category remains a mystery to everyone except the smiling worker bees ready at their stations when we bargain hunters come surging in.) Over the years we’ve brought home armloads of good clothing, toys, books, shoes, tools, plants, pet supplies, and gifts for upcoming birthdays or the Christmas stockings. I’m always amazed, and a little saddened too, by each year’s vast new stockpile of fine china and antique linen, the hallmarks of glory days inevitably winding down. Fittingly, they draw much admiration and by day’s end many will have been taken home by a new generation of enthusiasts. One year I rescued a delicately textured, white linen tablecloth—for a dollar—and turned it into a cottage-style curtain. Last year a toonie got me an elegant cake knife that’s become prized and useful for our own special occasions. The kids, long since adults living in their own homes, still come out for the morning if they can, motivated by both nostalgia and the realization that a dollar here has the stretch of a rubber band. You could set up an entire apartment with the wares on offer, and it’s not all cheap stuff originally from Zeller’s. We always run into friends and familiar faces and everyone remarks on the bargains they’ve scored. I overhear one young woman telling another, “When I have children I’m doing all my shopping here.” At one time buying or accepting used goods of any kind came with a badge of shame attached, but thankfully no more, and certainly not in these parts. Astute consumers have figured out that the used market can provide what they need without gouging into their food and shelter budgets. Many of the millennials I know are stylishly outfitting themselves and their living spaces with used treasures, thereby also sparing themselves the angst of monthly payments and overdrawn bank accounts. They’re also doing it to decrease their environmental footprint and shop more conscientiously. The ensuing demand has created a bounty of local used-goods opportunities ranging from goodwill and consignment stores to antique attics, rummage sale basements, and on-line community bulletin boards. Several, including the WIN (Women in Need Community Cooperative) Resale shops, the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, and thrift shops operated by Beacon Community Services, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, and the Salvation Army, funnel their revenues back into the community in a myriad of altruistic ways. Of even more benefit is their collective steering of untold tonnes of goods away from the landfill. The Salvation Army in Canada estimates that less than one percent of all its donated wares ends up as waste, and that in 2016-2017 alone, it redirected more than 33 million kilograms of cast-off clothing, household items and furniture to another round of use. That’s all very significant, given, among other considerations, the heavy carbon footprint of most manufacturing processes. Take textile production as an example. It requires massive amounts of energy, pesticides and water—typically 2700 litres per shirt—to grow cotton and turn it into clothing. Denim, the making of which requires harsh dyes and repeated rinsing, exacts an even heavier toll. Synthetics fare no better, not at the manufacturing stage and certainly not in their problematic shedding of microfibers each time they’re washed. Clearly, every garment that doesn’t have to be made because another is being reused saves the Earth significant resources. The same thing goes for every single possession we have. Surely one of these days we’re going to get politically serious about entering this Age of Transition that we’ve all so earnestly talked about for years. In the meantime, and among ourselves in our communities, the Cordova Bay United Church Country Fair and many other like-minded ventures are already connecting many of the dots in the blueprint of our future. Summer will find Trudy in the garden, looking for ways to make it more drought tolerant as the climate continues to show subtle change.
  9. Site C will help power up cannabis hot houses, Bitcoin mining, and LNG! I RELUCTANTLY INTERRUPT my originally-planned column to bring you an unwelcome realization which, like a Poe raven, has just landed heavily inside my head. Now I’m thinking that maybe we’re going to need the Site C Dam after all. This leaves me anguished, given all the dam-slamming I’ve done from the top of a considerable heap of dam-damning evidence. Everything about the project’s backstory has become the stuff of infamy, from the billions of dollars originally committed without prior (or any) due diligence, to the planned flooding of thousands of hectares of other peoples’ land and homes. Don’t forget the destruction of ecosystems, trampling of treaties, and waving away of myriad concerns—including the open-ended price tag, and the god-knows-how-high electricity rates that are sure to follow. Would I buy anything under similar terms? I would not. You already know how the saga unfolds. The Liberals roared into hard-hat gear, bent on getting Site C beyond the point of no return before the NDP assumed office. It was a job well done, because by then they’d spent four billion dollars rearranging the Peace River Valley into a newly-found land of big winners and losers. Then Premier Horgan, still weighted down by the slag of his previous anti-Site-C stance, sputtered a contrite, newfound awareness that he couldn’t kill the project now—not with the billions already spent, and the workers all desperately needing a reason to continue packing their lunch kits every day. (At least Horgan seemed genuinely conflicted, unlike our prime minister’s Kafkaesque approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion, a paternalistic oration that remains unrivalled in the whiplash category of If A, then B—Say Whaaat?) But steering away from political perplexity, here are three new reasons why we probably need Site C after all. First, the energy-addicted LNG portfolio appears to be worming its way back onto the table. Few details are available as I write, but one thing is certain: In BC you can never, ever, say for certain that a pet political project is dead. Don’t fall for all that suave assurance. The Northern Gateway Dragon, for example, has not been slayed. It is just resting. The second reason is cannabis. Again, it’s early days, but clearly Big Business has caught its lucrative drift. Cannabis grows well almost anywhere, but we nonetheless are going to encase it—in untold acres of greenhouses, planted on our best arable land. Greenhouses are energy hogs, and that’s just the beginning. No worries for us though, not with Site C powering us through the brown-outs. (Although, with Business typically galloping out front, and Policy struggling in vain to keep up, do stay braced for inevitable Oopsie moments.) And then there’s Bitcoin. Who could have predicted this: legions of computers all over the world, churning away on algorithms that “mine” for icons hidden deep beneath the pretend-world surface? At one time, Bitcoin was touted as a new digital currency, but now it operates more like a lottery system, where your computer picks the numbers that could lead you to the motherlode. Kind of like souped-up Keno, although that now seems infantile by comparison. As with all speculative activity, Bitcoin is serious business. People worldwide are using their savings to fill warehouses with stacks of beefed-up computers—or “mining machines,” as they’re called in the biz—that operate around the clock like so many miniature pump-jacks on steroids. Picture all this. If Bitcoin was happening on another planet, we’d be making fun of its citizens. But smirks and quizzical head-scratching aside, Bitcoin’s increasingly heavy drain on the real-world grid is probably the more imminent concern. According to the web-based publication Digiconomist, a single Bitcoin transaction draws as much energy as 300,000 Visa transactions. Or, using an estimate in Scientific American, the same amount of energy to boil around 36,000 kettles filled with water. Analysis by the web-based publication Motherboard projects that Bitcoin’s global network could be using as much electricity as Denmark by 2020. One thing is certain: Right now, Bitcoin’s exponential growth shows no sign of stopping. The electricity from Site C is desperately needed for bitcoin mining operations, which produce invisible wealth No worries for us though, not with Site C. In this province of plenty, this veritable Eden, it’s part of the grand SuperNatural smorgasbord that can feed all of our cravings. There’s no need to curtail or tread lightly. No need to change habits or thinking. After all, aren’t we humans the chosen ones, the long-ago recipients of the keys to the Earth? We deserve everything we want. We deserve everything we’re going to get. Trudy holds out hope that we’ll soon arrive at solutions and find the wherewithal to begin embracing them.
  10. With a knack for making do, we can make ends meet and reduce our environmental footprint. I REMEMBER HOW IT FELT, staring at the groceries on the Safeway shelves 26 years ago, and wondering how I was going to feed my family. It was mid-winter, we had just moved here from Nova Scotia with three young children, and it was quickly becoming clear that the ratio of salary to cost-of-living was notably less favourable at this end of the country. I knew housing was going to cost us much more, but food, clothing, gas and everything else too? Was I still in Canada? I took a deep breath and turned thoughts to my parents. In monetary terms, they were categorically poor when they arrived in Canada and settled on a near-defunct farm in New Brunswick in 1952. But, having survived the destitution and ravages of German- occupied Holland during WWII, they knew a thing or two about survival, resilience, and making ends meet. As a result, we Canadian-born kids in our mended clothes and with bellies full of farm-grown food were mostly unaware that we grew up in a working-poor family. I’m sure I voiced plenty of complaints growing up, but I never once worried about food or security. By the time I left home our farm was thriving and our family enjoyed a comfortable life. Now standing at Safeway with my mouth slightly agog, I resolved that if my parents (and their parents) could wrestle down such daunting austerity, then surely I could triumph over my own lesser challenge. I’d had good teachers: I knew how to mend, was a half-decent cook, could plant and tend a garden and had a knack for making do. In the years that followed, we employed many small and homely ways to stretch our after-tax dollars. Much of our retooling centred around food, with strategic practices such as judicious shopping, home-style cooking and zero food waste adding up to big savings as well as healthier eating. We shunned products like plastic wrap and paper towels in favour of free stuff readily available at home: Repurposed cereal bags are much more versatile and rags do a better clean-up job. We ate out only on special occasions, which made those occasions all the more special. We vacationed at island campgrounds, hosted birthday parties at home or on the beach, grew our own food, froze the surplus, baked bread, and made soups and spaghetti sauce out of leftovers. We purchased or gratefully accepted used clothing and other hand-me-downs and mended as necessary. We took care of our stuff and passed on what was no longer needed. We consolidated our errands and car trips. When my mother came to visit, she made bedroom curtains and cushions for the kitchen chairs. The kids soaked all this up by osmosis—if not always willingly—and today they’re incorporating many such strategies into their own lifestyle. Cost-cutting is definitely a motivator, but so is the desire for a less cluttered life and reduced environmental impact. And thanks to a relatively recent cultural shift, buying used, repairing, sharing and bartering are now considered cool instead of cheap, and corresponding social media platforms are abuzz with activity. That’s a good thing, given that an increasing number of people are struggling to make ends meet. For many, the salary to cost-of-living ratio is now distressingly dismal, and staggering social issues such as housing, childhood poverty and environmental degradation have steadily become coiled into a massive and tangled Gordian knot that our leaders can neither cut nor undo. I’m not suggesting that the modest ways from the olden days can fix these conglomerated woes, but they can provide some cushioning against outside chaos. They’re also greener, which is crucial in any blueprint for lasting change. And they could be a brave first step towards calming the economy, a notion that the corporate world wants us to continue believing isn’t possible. Yes, we need good jobs or a good guaranteed income, but we also need a genuine work/life balance instead of its cunning long-time imposter, the work/buy imbalance that has served commerce so very well. Beyond a certain point, it’s not more money for stuff that we need as much as more time to live a little better. There’s wisdom in embracing the tried and tested. Our elders and ancestors would smile their approval. Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic would like to wish everyone a happy new year.
  11. We can recycle nearly everything. We still need to buy less stuff. THE RECYCLING PRIMER I STARTED in the last issue of of Focus continues here, just in time for the festive season, when the garbage bin with its wide-open maw is all too easily mustered for clean-up after jolly holiday times. Last time I synopsized the recycling industry in BC and examined the journeys and destinations of our Blue Box contents; this time, I’ll explore what else can be recycled, and how and in what form some of these materials resurface. What quickly becomes obvious is that most of what once was garbage no longer is. Indeed, the old garbage bin could well get lonely in our parts. The BC recycling industry is growing exponentially, intently mining our urban landscape for used or “recovered” resources. Just about every castoff can now be turned in for transformation into new and valuable goods. There’s a cost involved, of course, but it’s far less than the monetary and environmental costs of new products made of virgin resources. Add to that the heavy financial and carbon footprints of unfettered garbage collection and storage, and you begin to see at least some sustainability in recycling. Trying to feature every recyclable item in this short piece would be like trying to play cards with an entire deck fanned out in one hand. Suffice it to say that the CRD’s online My Recyclopedia is your roadmap for steering everything, from aerosol containers to zinc, away from the landfill. Here’s what happens to some of these commodities: The old tires your dealer recycles for you go to Delta—either to Lehigh Northwest Cement as a fuel supplement, or to Western Rubber Products for grinding into crumb rubber for flooring, etc. (Our roof was made in Calgary out of about 500 tires. Even up close it looks like old-growth cedar. The 50-year warranty is nice too.) Used motor oil is rejuvenated for a third of the energy required to refine new product. Oil filters go to steel mills to become rebar, nails or wire. Oil containers become plastic flower pots, pipes, furniture and more. Crushed mirrors, glass panes and ceramic dishes become aggregate for asphalt. (Toilets once did too, but currently seem to be going to the landfill.) Mattresses are dismantled and mostly recycled. Leftover paint is processed in BC for reuse. Latex paints are sorted by colour and made into new paint or used as a binding agent in concrete. Mills in Alberta accept oil-based paint for use as a fuel blending agent. Steel propane tanks are depressurized and then refined into new metal products. Wood waste is sent to various customers who use it for fuel, instead of oil and gas. Batteries of all kinds are locally collected for Call2Recycle, which sends them to sorters and processors in Canada and the US where they are separated into raw materials for making new batteries, stainless steel and cement. Retailers are becoming proactive as well. London Drugs will take back much of what it sells, including all Styrofoam packaging. This goes to Coquitlam where it is compressed—65 truckloads in equals one truckload out—and shipped to South Korea for remanufacturing. H&M wants your old and tattered fabric, which is shredded for many new uses, including insulation. And then there are the refundable drink containers. Nine thousand tonnes were collected in the CRD last year—an average of 218 containers per resident. The aluminum was shipped to the US for processing into new cans. The plastics were pelletized for new product at Merlin Plastics in Delta. Glass went to a bottle-making facility in Seattle, and the remaining assortment mostly went to international markets not including China. It’s clear that we’re diverting a tremendous motherlode from the landfill, and while that’s great progress, it’s still not enough. We cannot simply recycle our way back to sustainability and environmental wellness. Frenetic buying, using, and now recycling must inevitably give way to something more enduring—sparser and more deliberate consumerism. The challenge will be to find security and contentment in buying less, repairing more, reusing and repurposing. The coming festive season could be timely for rethinking how we might begin doing this. However you plan to celebrate the holidays, may you find yourself with everything you need. May it be your cup of happiness that runneth over—not your garbage, food waste and recycling bins. After finishing this article Trudy dashed down to a Repair Cafe in Fairfield to have an old crock repaired. The cafes are offered every few months. Go to www.repaircafevicbc.ca for details.
  12. Could “garbage” soon become obsolete? EVERY TWO WEEKS and exactly on schedule, an Emterra truck rolls onto our street and begins taking up the contents of the brimming Blue Boxes at the foot of each driveway. It’s an efficient operation: After just a few minutes of purposeful clattering the truck moves on to feed somewhere else. Have you ever wondered where all that stuff goes? Welcome to the complex world of recycling. First, a little background to help keep things clear. While garbage and organics are the jurisdiction of municipalities (or private enterprise, as in the case of North Saanich), recycling is the CRD’s responsibility. Prior to 2014 the CRD oversaw its own collection program and used municipal funds (meaning our tax dollars) to pay for it. But then the Province upended all that by transferring province-wide recycling costs from the taxpayer to the 1300 companies up the line that make and sell all the materials we recycle. The move wasn’t without precedence but it certainly was brash: Now food processing companies, for example, would pay “stewardship fees” for the recycling of food packaging, not the family buying the groceries. Now the print media would be paying to recycle newspapers and magazines, not the readers. (But let’s not be naïve, dear readers. We ultimately still pay through increased product pricing—how could it be otherwise? At least now the recycling costs are affixed to consumer usage rather than municipal tax dollars.) Despite bitter protest from the industry, the Province was unwavering and tasked the Vancouver-based non-profit Recycle BC (then known as Mixed-Materials BC) with a huge two-pronged mission: collect the stewardship fees from the industry—currently about $83 million annually—and use that money to pay for and expand recycling services in BC. As part of that agreement, municipalities would relinquish all aspects of collection to Recycle BC. Such blanket power and money for one small non-profit does invite valid and lingering concerns, but there’s no denying that Recycle BC has made some notable progress in a relatively short time. Almost every BC community now has access to recycling services. We’re keeping more recyclables out of the waste stream and finding increasingly viable and more local markets for their re-use. Last year 185,000 tonnes were collected province-wide—that’s 185 million kilograms—of which 92 percent was successfully recycled. In most of BC, collection now happens either curbside, at multi-family collection points (apartment buildings, for example) and through established collection depots. For much of this heavy lifting Recycle BC has partnered with Green By Nature, an all-Canadian triumvirate that includes Emterra Environmental (the collector), Cascades Recovery (the sorter) and Merlin Plastics (the refiner). Big business has indeed discovered recycling. Back in the CRD, the Emterra truck unloads at the local Cascades Recovery depot on Bridge Street. Emterra charges $5 million annually for collection services in the CRD—some 20,000 tonnes last year, or about 53 kilograms per resident. Recycle BC now pays that fee with stewardship revenue as described above. (I wonder if my municipal tax bill has been reduced accordingly? But again, I digress.) Cascades Recovery begins tackling the load. The separately collected paper is baled for shipping to China, still the only market where it can be processed into boxboard. We’ll see it back as cereal boxes and egg cartons. Glass, also collected separately, is trucked to Duncan to be made into aggregate for roadway construction. The mixed metals and plastics are cleaned and separated. Metals are trucked over to a Victoria company that readies them for shipment to Ontario to be refined into rebar and other products. The plastics are shipped to Merlin Plastics in Delta for processing into pellets to be sold for manufacturing. The pellets come in several grades and can be made into a wide range of goods including non-food bottles, clothing, carpeting, garbage cans, CD cases and plastic lumber. Recycle BC envisions an increasingly circular and more sustainable economy in which materials will continually be reused and repurposed. It is working with the industry to develop more lightweight packaging, cleaner adhesives, and even a more easily recycled K-cup pod. I’ve only just scratched the surface here, but now we know this: We’re reaping where we previously didn’t see bounty; someday garbage will be obsolete; and landfills are bulging with the next motherlodes. In “Part II” in the next edition of Focus, Trudy will explore the ins and outs of everything else we can recycle in the CRD.
  13. Time spent in nature is time well spent. ON A RECENT MORNING I ambled past a property where a huge Douglas fir had just been taken down and sliced into giant disks that oozed resin around the ripped-bark edges. I inhaled deeply, funnelling in the sweet cleansing elixir of balsam. It smacked my brain with pure pleasure, instantly evoking the contented memories of long hikes in the woodland and sublime sleeps in a tent beneath the trees. There are some things, like hanging out in nature, that you intrinsically know to be good for you. But just in case you also need to hear it from someone else, in case what your own body and senses are telling you isn’t ironclad enough, a recent data analysis by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that women who spend time in or near green spaces tend to live longer than women who don’t. For everyone wondering why the researchers focused only on women, here’s a quick aside. Their decision was purely pragmatic: The data already existed, in the vast databank of the famous and ongoing Nurses’ Health Study, which began in 1976 when more than 100,000 female nurses agreed to provide regular health and lifestyle related updates for the rest of their lives. This data bonanza enabled the Harvard researchers to uncover that nurse participants who lived near or spent time in nature had a 12 percent lower mortality rate than their colleagues who didn’t. Furthermore, they were able to determine lower mortality rates for specific diseases, such as a 13 percent reduction in cancer mortality and a 35 percent reduction in respiratory-disease-related death for women in proximity with nature. While I find this all very compelling, what I’m really itching to know is why these correlations are occurring. How do green spaces help to postpone death? While correlation cannot determine cause, the detailed Harvard analysis did point to a complex interplay of many “protective factors” that seem to be supported and enhanced by time spent in nature. Each of these factors influences another in a positive way that exponentially increases the overall benefit. No one should be too surprised to learn that the protective factors identified include reduced levels of depression, increased physical activity, increased social engagement, and lower levels of pollution. You walk under the trees where the air is cleaner (vegetation being the natural filter that it is), you engage with friends or people you meet, you feel mentally uplifted by your surroundings and connections, and your body is grateful for the movement. To head to the woods, be it the neighbourhood park or distant hillside, is to start—or keep—the ball rolling on improved health and enhanced well-being. It all makes abundant sense, and by no means only for women. Numerous studies have corroborated the health benefits of nature for people in general. These include experiments conducted in the forests of Japan whose results showed that forest environments are more effective than built environments for reducing stress as measured by cortisol level, pulse rate and blood pressure. But really, we know all this already. We live it every time we step out and lose ourselves in nature. And we’re grateful to have so many beautiful parks and green spaces in the Capital Region. Thankfully they’re protected, but—oops—not fully immune to urban encroachment, at least not as long as highway interchanges that gobble up green space take precedence over unquantifiable benefits to human health and well-being. Further out of town the situation is also concerning. Our pristine forests are continually under pressure to provide commodities for selling. Our perennially popular provincial parks—the jewels in our super natural crown—keep attracting the paying multitudes even as they wither from years of budget cuts (which is as untenable as both milking and starving your best cash cow.) Times are changing, and one day we’ll see our green spaces as vital natural capital and then start rejigging their economic value accordingly. In the meantime, I’ll keep embracing what the essayist and naturalist John Burroughs wrote more than a century ago: “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” He didn’t need research to tell him that. There are times when the body just knows. Trudy credits the woodland with getting her through the teenage years. Decades later it's still keeping her sane.
  14. Are we hurting ourselves when we oppose mixed housing? HERE IN THE SLEEPY VILLAGE OF CORDOVA BAY, we amiable residents have recently been stirring quite the commodious cauldron of consternation. We hasten to explain that it’s not our usual style. It’s just that, well, we like the sleepy aspect of our village, and want to keep it that way. It’s in our bones and our history, stretching all the way back to when we were just a country vacation destination. In the days when the Great Northern Railway rolled up from Victoria on what is now Lochside Drive to bring campers and cottagers to our remote sandy shores, eating, drinking, basking in the sun, and dancing in the moonlight on the famous McMorran’s maple sprung floor is what we did. (Although there was one tense day in 1942 when an RCAF bomber accidentally rained five unarmed missiles on our idyllic little burg, one of which found its bull’s-eye on a resident’s roof and came to “within a tea towel of taking her out at the kitchen sink.”) We even had a landmark to epitomize our idyll: The Fable Cottage, which for years drew busloads of curious tourists from everywhere. In 1993, the storybook structure was pulled off its foundation, sawn into three pieces, and barged to Denman Island. Turns out that was our bellwether sailing away. In its wake, we got Fable Beach Estates, featuring 25 luxury townhouses. Then the old waterfront cottages began falling like dominoes to make way for mega-houses, which triggered further development around town. Luxury homes and condos sprouted up behind Mattick’s Farm, and a nearby soccer field became a high-end townhouse development. Over the last decade, Sayward Hill has grown 200 “luxury waterfront golf course condos” (as well as the golf course itself). Its eight-storey final and most luxurious phase is pending. And the old Trio Ready-Mix site on the other half of the hill is being prepped for the construction of more than 300 new homes. Property subdivision and in-filling is common. In my neighbourhood, a developer is currently squeezing in six huge homes. The first just sold for $1.6 million. Residents have mostly been chill with all of this. Until now, it would seem. In the village centre stands our old plaza (think “tired and outdated” rather than “charming and vintage”). For the last two decades, it has endured empty stores, fuel-contaminated soil, and protracted legal battles. Then a developer came along with a revitalization plan and, long story short, all finally seemed ready to make way for new retail space and up to 88 modest-sized condos, all kept to a maximum of four storeys. A stone’s throw away, on Doumac Avenue, another developer firmed up plans for a four-storey, 25-condo building on two lots that currently each feature a dilapidated home. Cordova Bayers grew perturbed. We’re losing our charm, our atmosphere, we protested. The projects are too high, too modern, too dense, too paved. The influx of new residents will be too great, too sudden, too changing, too busy. Once a certain crescendo was reached—and that doesn’t necessarily take a lot of voices—Saanich began weighing in as well, councillors extolling our charm and character as if we all still lived in little cottages, as if we hadn’t all been building expansive housing for the last 20 years. The protests worked: The Doumac project has now been mothballed, and the plaza, well, let’s wait and see. I wonder what we’re protecting with our resistance. If it’s green space, the plaza overhaul would be a clear winner over the soccer-field townhouses. But if it’s our views and property values, well, motives become more personal. Who wants their investment compromised by mixed housing, especially if it also obstructs views (even though it might be a prospective young family’s only chance at a toe in the door)? Do we Boomers, who’ve had a relatively easy ride through our little segment of history, really know what we’re doing? By closing the gate firmly behind ourselves, are we depriving our community of diversity and a sustainable future? Do we inadvertently risk turning our own overpriced and oversized homes into exorbitant albatrosses down the road (or do we all hope for offshore buyers)? And when we do finally downsize, will we then be forced to move out of the community, having rejected the very housing that could have accommodated us? I just don’t see the charm in that. Years ago, Trudy watched several homes go up across the street on Water Board property after being assured the land would never be developed.
  15. What makes people truly good? A FUNERAL CAN TEACH YOU A LOT about life. Last Saturday I found myself comfortably squished in an overfilled church for the final celebration of an elderly man who had died quite suddenly but while still actively engaged in life, or, as his daughter told me afterwards, “while still in the saddle.” Her father had accomplished much in his professional life, and while that was presented in a brief bio, it was his deep goodness, kind nature, and abundant zest for living that triggered a genuine outpouring of love, admiration and gratitude that afternoon. Embedded in the eulogy delivered by his sons were the secrets of a life fully lived, an earthly journey fully embraced. We heard what we really already knew—that his family and community meant everything to him, that he gave endlessly to so many without keeping tabs, and that he had an unselfconscious inner radiance that drew people in and kindled in them the yearning to be that way too. Last fall I sat at the death bed of a cherished uncle in Holland whose ravaging disease had suddenly come roaring back after a 10-year reprieve. There wasn’t much time to get ready, he conceded sadly, but he put his heart and soul and remaining energy into the future well-being of all of his beloved ones and everyone he knew. This wasn’t new; it was how he’d lived his entire life, and how he had become everyone’s hero and mentor. He’d always had a special inner light—of which he himself was quite unaware—and now, in his waning days, it held its glow even as his health and strength rapidly deteriorated. I’ll never forget my last visit with him before I reluctantly caught my flight home. He died about a week later. He wanted no flowers at his funeral, which puzzled the hundreds of mourners because the Dutch do and say everything with stunning bouquets. Then they saw the buckets of white roses flanking his casket, heard the invitation to take one home, and understood the magnitude of his final gift and goodness. (Goodness will exist for as long as there are people to carry its torch. People like my thoughtful cousin who, knowing my sorrow over missing the funeral, emailed me a photo of the rose he’d been given so that I could also have one for my own.) When I asked another cousin for his thoughts on the service, he replied most candidly in the plainest English, “I lost a lot of tears.” Both my uncle and my friend’s dad had amassed over their lifetimes a wealth of “eulogy virtues,” to use a term coined a few years ago by New York Times columnist David Brooks. According to Brooks, eulogy virtues are the intangible assets of inner character that are quite unrelated to the more conventional and measurable “resumé virtues.” They’re the enduring qualities—kindness, generosity, honesty, empathy, and so on—that we’d all like to see more of in ourselves but, well, often just don’t get around to cultivating, life being so busy and everything. Eulogy virtues are not just for eulogies, of course, but it is then, when all other preoccupations are temporarily muted and life is contemplated through a longer lens, that clarity can alight. I came away feeling resolved to live my life more gratefully and fully alert. These men inspired me and I wanted to linger for a while and stand in their aura. Back in my daily routine, obstacles such as pride, impatience and selfishness get in the way and probably always will. And then there’s the question of motive. If I’m “improving” myself just to be praised at my hopefully far-into-the-future eulogy, that’s just more me-ism and gallingly disingenuous. (When I was a kid I decided I was going to get some respect by becoming a saint. The holiness lasted for about a day. Motive is everything.) Brooks’ own research suggests that deeply good people are selfless and humble. I believe that they also love life, respect and revere nature, possess great empathy, laugh easily, are deeply rooted in community and lead an intentionally meaningful life. I would bet that they’re good listeners. From them, and especially during these unsettling times, I can learn a lot about life. Trudy looks forward to getting back into her garden where Humility is waiting with more of life’s lessons.
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