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Navigating through pandemonium
Development and architecture
Everything posted by Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic
On her first trip to Fairy Creek, the author finds her daughter coping with the violent pepper-spraying of the RCMP earlier that morning. ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 21, I WENT TO FAIRY CREEK to participate in a circle ceremony hosted by Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones. I was hitching a ride with my daughter Caroline, and we were going up for the day. We had arranged to meet my other daughter Laura at the recently installed red gate across the main entrance to several of the forest defenders’ camps on the logging road into Fairy Creek. From there we would walk together to the ceremony site a bit further in. Laura and her partner Pat are devoted environmentalists who’ve given much of their last five months to the Fairy Creek protest, their careers as musicians and their band, Carmanah, having been sidelined by the pandemic. Caroline and I had long been wanting to go to Fairy Creek, and today was the day. We chatted lightly on the way up but grew sombre when the landscape began including hillsides that looked as if they’d been buzzed with giant clippers. Also worrying was the RCMP’s increasingly hard-hitting tactics at Fairy Creek as of late, perhaps spurred on by an aggressively impatient industry, or perhaps by their own frustration over having failed to banish the protesters in short order, despite being the ones with all the training, legal power, muscle and gear including helicopters and ATVs. Helicopters delivering ATVs, to be exact. It was they who had the seemingly unlimited budget and fresh recruits daily, including specialized teams for when the going got tough. Whatever the reason, these last few weeks had become increasingly volatile and dangerous, and more protesters were being injured. LAURA HURRYING ALONG THE ROAD to where her truck was parked was the first sign that something was amiss. By the time we caught up with her, she’d climbed into the back and was rummaging through a backpack. “Pat’s been pepper-sprayed and needs a clean shirt,” she said. “They were all pepper sprayed earlier this morning, it’s unbelievable.” Wordlessly we follow her back to the gate, where two ambulances are attending to the last of the injured. People stand milling on both sides of the highway, many still dazed, clutching water and dousing eyes. Pat puts on his shirt; his shoulder-length hair still drenched. It seems they spray the hair so it drips into the eyes to prolong the temporary blindness, not to mention the excruciating pain. “I guess they thought I needed my hair washed because they just kept spraying my head,” he jokes, but his eyes are red and sad. Laura Mitic tending to victim of pepper spraying by RCMP (photo by Shaena Lambert) A group of day visitors wait near the gate for the Elders to arrive and lead them through. Someone keeps reminding everyone to stay off the pavement, this being the highway from Port Renfrew to Lake Cowichan. To step on it is to risk being arrested for impeding traffic, and this is not where the protesters want to waste their strength and numbers. A line of black motorcycles keeps cruising by ominously, back and forth. The black-clad riders are not out on a casual drive. We note their thumbs-up to the RCMP. And their Quebec license plates. There are many influences in this struggle, perhaps more than we know. The hairs on the back of my neck stir a little. I’M STILL TRYING TO GET MY BEARINGS. “Why did this happen?” I ask Laura. She doesn’t know, it’s impossible to know. Pent up exasperation, maybe. The RCMP had arrived angry and aggressive that morning, which was verified in videos I pored over later. It was expected they would go to River Camp that day—one of the last stands in that touch-and-go weekend—to finish mincing it into the ground. (Yes, literally. Pounding it down with the bucket of a backhoe.) Maybe they hadn’t anticipated the tight knot of 60 or so people blocking their access at the red gate. In one video, a member of their District Liaison Team—the DLT—can be heard saying they had not expected a group that large. Instead of dealing with the blocked gate, the RCMP pulled out their chainsaws and felled enough nearby saplings to open an alternate access route. Then those headed for River Camp drove their vehicles through and vanished up the logging road. A dozen or so officers, maybe more, stayed behind and turned their attention to the gate. The group’s efforts there were now moot, but still they clung together and resisted efforts to pry them apart. Red spray cans appeared and were portentously shaken. The alarm was sounded among the defenders, who tightened themselves up and lowered their heads. The spraying began and mayhem ensued. Video of pepper spraying event just before Trudy arrived. IT’S ALMOST NOON when the RCMP allow us through the gate, but no further today: The ceremony will have to take place in this gravel clearing, right off the highway. At the back of the clearing, where it narrows back into the dirt road, RCMP members now stand behind yellow tape to keep us contained. RCMP (with Teal security employee) keeping defenders in check (photo by Caroline Mitic) Security guards for Teal Jones shuffle between the RCMP stronghold and the gate, the dust rising off their boots. While we wait for the Elders to settle themselves in, we speak in hushed tones, and note that everyone else is doing the same. It feels like a requiem for irretrievable loss, for best efforts that are still not enough, for justice that fails when the well-heeled aren’t looking. It feels hopeless, truth and righteousness having been buried too deep under the weight of self-interest, ulterior motives, voracious greed, blind allegiance and pride, campaigns of misinformation, a deeply flawed political system still steeped in colonialism, and yes, racism. Everyone seems to be processing thoughts. When does a scrap of gravelled, besieged earth become hallowed ground? When the Indigenous Elders begin speaking. The aged among them may look frail, but their words are clear and unhurried, formed by the laws of the land, the reverence for it, and centuries of accumulated experience in nature. Their eyes seem to burn when they speak, not with animosity but with absolute conviction. Up until now, nature’s truth hasn’t changed much from century to century. Elder Bill Jones with Rose Henry (photo by Caroline Mitic) Elder Bill Jones extends a generous welcome, in this clearing surrounded by trees that are tall but still only juveniles compared to their ancestors up the hill. In measured tones, he rebukes the work of the RCMP but not the members themselves, reminding them that this special place is for them and their children too. He thanks and comforts the mostly young defenders who, for the love of the planet and life itself, found themselves assaulted just hours earlier in a manner usually reserved for hardened criminals. The elders ask all older visitors to come form a circle. My girls nudge me forward. Now the drumming and singing starts, and the stories about healing and medicine and the gifts and powers of the cedar tree pour out. Cedar is so central to traditional life that it provided almost every need, yet rarely did a tree have to be cut down. Elders circle ceremony (photo by Caroline Mitic) “We are an ingenious people,” proclaims the elder Chiyokten (Paul Che’ oke ten Wagner) in summary. He is a master of story and song from the WSANEC nation, and next he introduces the cedar brushing ceremony, for cleansing, rejuvenation, purification and healing. Cedar boughs are dipped in water and then gently brushed over recipients, starting at the head and ending at the feet. Everyone is invited to receive the brushing, starting with the frontline defenders. On this day, they need it the most. Afterwards they walk around the inside of our circle as we murmur our thanks and support. Some cry silently. Some are steady-eyed and resolved. Everyone is processing; no one is capitulating today. Now it’s our group’s turn, and as the cedar is gently brushed over me, I think about the many layers of my society that keep me separated from the natural world. I become aware of a deep impoverishment. At one point a security guard approaches me on the sidelines and softly asks how he can get to the gate without interrupting the ceremony. I suggest he wait until the dancing stops, and then ask him about his job. “I open and close the gate, that’s all,” he says, and then unexpectedly asks, “Why do they want these trees anyway?” He has no idea. “I don’t follow the news much,” he admits apologetically. He’s from Vancouver, but his company is currently providing security for Teal Jones. He’s worked 20 days straight and wants to go home. “Maybe I need a new job,” he concedes, adding that it’s not easy finding meaningful work these days. THE ELDERS HAVE FINISHED brushing everyone and now make their way to the yellow tape. They invite the four officers standing behind it to be brushed as well, reiterating the benefits of cleansing and healing and opening the heart to this moment. The officers agree somewhat awkwardly—granted, it’s a fine line—and step in front of the tape. The tape itself is brushed as well. In that moment, it looks like reconciliation gaining ground. But reconciliation is a dodgy target, to be recalibrated again and again. It will suffer setbacks, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Or later in the day, when the DLT member interrupts the ceremony—not rudely—to ask everyone to make way so the River Camp arrestees can be driven through and taken away. The speaker stops, the crowd complies. Then the officer says, “It’ll be another 15 minutes.” “They do this all the time,” Laura sighs. “They get us ready, then keep us waiting. It’s all on their terms, to show their power, to intimidate us and wear us down.” Laura Mitic on logging road at Caycuse Camp in April 2021 (photo by Dawna Mueller) The arrestees will be worn down too, having been locked in a van for hours, possibly injured and with no medical care. (The RCMP medic, I now realize, is a medic for his colleagues only. Since that morning, he’s gained notoriety—not for his deftness with splints and bandages, but with a canister of pepper spray.) LATE IN THE AFTERNOON we step back again to let the entire RCMP convoy through—they’re calling it a day. It’s an interesting if disquieting spectacle, vehicles for every possible scenario, 17 in total. The stone-faced occupants all stare straight ahead; some are filming us. When the twin, windowless paddy-wagons roll by, a roar of support rises from the crowd. Caroline and I start heading for home, though we move slowly, against the tug of this beautiful wilderness, its storehouse of wisdom, the struggle for its survival. Laura is staying but understands the yen, having slept under the stars here many times over the summer. “Returning to the city feels like I’m on an episode of the Truman Show,” she writes to me a few days later. “You realize just how make-believe our society is. It makes sense for humans to live together in a cluster, in community, and let nature be elsewhere, but we’ve become too far removed from the outside world. That’s made us apathetic and unaware, and our governments have exploited that. So now here we are, struggling for nature against the very systems and values we have produced.” The setting sun pours liquid amber into the forests as we pull away. The beauty of it takes my breath away. It fills me with hope, resolve and gratitude. For Nature, more beautiful than anything we’ve ever created. For the Indigenous elders who are unfailingly generous and patient. For the activists who dare to defy. For the old-growth forests and their first lesson: We need them if we ourselves are to survive. In the haze of the conflict at Fairy Creek, Trudy would like to clarify that civil disobedience is not a criminal offence, and that it has played an important role in protecting our rights and freedoms in Canada, according to the BC Civil Liberties Association. For more information, check the BCCLA website.
Two years ago John Horgan commissioned an updated report on the status and management of old growth forests in BC. Now he’s cherry-picking it to his own advantage. WHEN PREMIER JOHN HORGAN CALLED called a snap election last fall, he found himself promising, if re-elected, to implement all 14 recommendations of A New Future for Old Growth, a recently released report by an independent review panel consisting of expert foresters Garry Merkel and Al Gorley. For Horgan, it was a case of promise now, to get the Green Party off his operating ticket, and worry about the logistics later, once his desired majority had been achieved. The tactic worked, at least in the short run. Horgan himself had commissioned the report in 2019, tasking the panelists to “engage British Columbians and collect their views on the importance and future of old growth in the province.” The response from all over was clear, the government declared on its website: “It is time for change.” To those wanting the ancient and increasingly rare temperate rainforests permanently preserved and protected, the report flickered hope and perhaps—finally—some meaningful action. The authors reminded the government that this wasn’t the first report on old growth management. An Old Growth Strategy for British Columbia had been released in 1992 but many of its recommendations had either been only partially fulfilled or become political flotsam along the way. Had that report been fully embraced, Merkel and Gorley wrote, we would now likely not be facing “high risk to loss of biodiversity in many ecosystems, risk to potential economic benefits due to uncertainty and conflict, [and] widespread lack of confidence in the system of managing forests.” This time around, they advised, all 14 of the report’s recommendations must be implemented as a whole within three years’ time. Essentially, the authors warned the government not to pick a recommendation or two to chew on in isolation—a widely tried and tested political tactic for stalling while appearing to be busy as gangbusters. The authors would have known what they were up against. Garry Merkel, himself a member of the Tahltan Nation, told the media in late 2020 that in BC, “we’re [still] managing ecosystems—that are in some cases thousands of years old—on a four-year political cycle.” The decline in old-growth forests in Fairy Creek area: “non-renewable in any reasonable timeframe” (drone photo by Alex Harris) Throughout their report, the authors emphasized the alarming rate of decline in old-growth forests as well as their intrinsic value and irreplaceability. On page 14: “Old forests, especially those with very large trees…anchor ecosystems that are critical to the well-being of many species of plants and animals, including people, now and in the future. The conditions that exist in many of these forests and ecosystems are also simply non-renewable in any reasonable timeframe.” On page 27 they identified 13 of the “many values of forests with old and ancient trees” including unique, essential and undiscovered biodiversity, resistance to fire, and intrinsic value for human well-being and perpetual tourism. For years the Province and closely-aligned industry (too close, as David Broadland has shown in Focus) have narrowly defined old growth as trees that, in the Interior, are more than 140 years old, and on the coast more than 250 years old. But that’s been an inadequate and industry-serving definition, the authors explain. Every inaccessible (and therefore never logged) forest in the province will contain trees of all ages, from the saplings to the ancients, so under that definition, these can all be called old-growth forests. This classification helps to inflate old-growth inventory and mislead the public. When you can dump all of the province’s stunted, out-of-reach forests in with the salient and accessible rainforest giants without specifying the difference, it’s easy to fool the public into thinking we’re so flush with forests like Cathedral Grove that unfettered logging of coastal old growth is not an issue. But the authors are tolerating none of that, and in the report, they carefully and systematically show how little of the unprotected intact, coastal old growth is left. “We often hear that, ‘oh, we have nothing to worry about because we have 50 percent of our old-growth left,’” Merkel told the media in an interview last January. “And I think some of the people who are saying that actually believe it because they don’t understand the science. Very few people understand the science. And so, then it just becomes a big numbers game. But almost all of that 50 percent [of alleged old growth] right now is at the tops of mountains and has tiny little trees.” What’s especially troubling—and classic stonewalling—is that Horgan tacitly continues to let these distorted perceptions float around in the ether, despite hard evidence to the contrary in his own commissioned report. Misleading the general public is disgraceful enough, but allowing the false narrative of a plumped-up inventory to percolate through the industry and among its employees for the purpose of riling them up against folks who would rather see the forests preserved, is deliberately pushing the dirty work down the line. All the way down to the impasse, where the logger waving a “Forestry Feeds My Family” placard stands glaring at an activist gripping a “Worth More Standing” banner. Where unarmed Indigenous youth on their territory are roughed-up and, in at least one case, injured by swearing, enraged loggers “just trying to do an honest day’s work,” as the cliché goes. Where blinkered law enforcement follows orders that reek and will inevitably result in serious harm at some point. Where a logger’s wife, incensed by the blockaders keeping her man off the job, shouts into a television camera to, “bring in the forces, bring in the military, clear their asses out…,” her pointing finger stabbing the air in every direction. She then asks darkly, “How far can you push a family man?” There’s scant room for exploring real solutions when you’re working with blatantly inaccurate information. EQUALLY GUILEFUL is how the government has chosen to interpret the report’s 14 recommendations, which the authors grouped under four headings. The first five on the list are under the heading:“On conditions required for change.” The first of these—Number One on the list—is to “Engage the full involvement of Indigenous leaders and organizations to review this report and any subsequent policy or strategy development and implementation.” A chart in Gorley and Merkel’s report summarized these recommendations: Page16 of A New Future for Old Growth While Indigenous involvement is certainly a top priority, the authors make it clear it’s not intended to stall everything else on the list until fulfilled. Considering the centuries of chronic colonial wrongs, and all the bungling ways in which successive governments have dealt with that, Horgan and his cohorts would be stuck on this one well beyond the three-year timeframe. Nearly a year has already passed if you’re counting from the election date, nearly a year and a half if you’re counting from the report’s release date. All this to say that the other 13 recommendations would almost certainly be left unfulfilled. Nonetheless, Premier Horgan and Katrine Conroy, minister of forests and so much more, are sticking to their message that this is the most important item on the list—it’s the first!—and they seem happy to hang their hat there for the long haul. Whenever they appear in front of a mic, it’s always the same stalling talk that comes out—about the need to first consult with First Nations, about respect (which they have yet to translate into anything economically meaningful), and about all the work to be done, getting the work done, and doing the work. It’s a good place to be stuck if you don’t want to tackle anything else in the report. No critic would be so politically gauche as to challenge this effort, especially now, with the discovery of all those graves. It’s a very good place to be stuck if you want to keep your eyes averted from the two urgent recommendations singled out For Immediate Response: Numbers Six and Seven state in full: “ Until a new strategy is implemented, defer development in old forests where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss.  Bring management of old forests into compliance with existing provincial targets and guidelines for maintaining biological diversity.” To legitimize #1 as the top priority and deflect anticipated outrage—especially since old-growth management is the heart of the report, and stopping the saws is an escalating public demand—the ministry tweaked the panel’s chart so as to be better aligned with it. The revised chart on the forests ministry website appears below. (Keep in mind that the election promise was to accept the recommendations, not modify them to better fit the government agenda.) The new heading—Prioritizing the Panel’s Recommendations—is the first sign that things have been rearranged. The banner is gone, and the Conditions Required for Change have been individually redistributed under the other three headings that have also been altered. Where did the first Condition land? Exactly where the government wanted it—still Number One on the list of 14 but now also leading the list of Immediate Measures (formerly For Immediate Response). Now it unabashedly presents as the government’s top priority. The government’s re-do of the A New Future for Old Growth report recommendations As for Number 6, the immediate deferral of logging “in old forests where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss,” Horgan and Conroy made a few failed and farcical attempts to lock in the perception that old growth was now adequately protected. Last fall they announced protection for nine supposedly old-growth areas, and this spring they deferred logging for 2 years on 2000 hectares in Fairy Creek. Under closer scrutiny, both of these announcements swiftly shrank to almost nothing (see here and here). If the Ministry was really serious about partnering with First Nations on the management of old growth, you’d think it would actually listen to First Nations. To people like Grand Chief Stewart Philip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, who, in a recent Stand.earth video, had blunt advice for Horgan: “If you’re committed to working with Indigenous peoples, stop the logging of old growth immediately.” You’d think the ministry would stop talking at Indigenous people, given how they’ve so publicly embraced Recommendation #1. But no. A new Forestry Intentions Paper—another paper!—drew reproach just days ago from the Tŝilhqot’in, Lake Babine and Carrier Sekani First Nations, who in a joint letter panned the government for developing yet another forest policy paper without Indigenous participation. “This is not a roadmap for a more just and robust future together,” wrote Chief Murphy Abraham of the Lake Babine Nation, “but rather a ringing endorsement of the status quo that ensures continuing conflict and uncertainty in our forests.” You’d think the government would also note that 85 percent of British Columbians now support an immediate end to old-growth logging. That support will only increase, thanks to the government-orchestrated fiasco at Fairy Creek, where blockaders tenaciously defending humanity’s right to preserve a healthy and diverse environment have experienced needless hardship and suffering at the hands of the RCMP, especially in the last few weeks. They’ve been unfairly portrayed, vilified and shrugged off by the various Goliaths in this saga, and from the media they’ve received a wall of indifference. Regardless of how this eventually unfolds, the RCMP is set to fall even further from grace, and the NDP brand will be the biggest casualty of all. Video clip of RCMP assaulting Fairy Creek forest defenders with pepper spray AFTER 71 PAGES OF MAKING A BALANCED CASE for preserving the old forests, the authors concluded their report this way: “Our ever-expanding understanding of forest behaviour and management, as well as the effects of climate change, have made it clear that we can no longer continue to harvest timber and manage forests using the approaches we have in the past while also conserving the forest values we cherish. We therefore have to be honest with ourselves and collectively and transparently make the difficult choices necessary to ensure future generations of British Columbians can enjoy and benefit from our magnificent forests, as we have done.” The government remains unmoved. Or maybe not. In June, after an onslaught of criticism, Minister Conroy selected yet another panel of experts, this time a five-person “Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel” to help further identify the most at-risk old growth forests. The panelists are a stellar group and include the indefatigable Garry Merkel. Maybe it’s a sign more deferrals are coming. Maybe it’s another round on the carousel to nowhere. Maybe it’ll be another report to tweak when nobody’s looking. In the meantime, the talking continues over the whine of the saws. For now, the government still believes it can have it all while leaving the rest of us in the sawdust. Trudy is feeling the mental strain of climate change, environmental degradation and irretrievable biodiversity loss, and finds it distressing to know there are people who still believe the government will fix everything. She’s thankful for the garden, nature and the people in her life who help her keep it all together. She may yet become a raging granny.
IN THESE PAST FEW WEEKS we’ve been given more than an inkling of what it’s like to have the deck perpetually stacked against you. What it’s like to be swamped by a crippling cascade of unjust circumstances that keep you hopelessly disadvantaged, that keep you beholden your entire life to oppressive systems and the privileged people who own or run them. First came news on May 27 of the horrendous discovery of human remains buried on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The discovery shouldn’t have surprised anyone, but it gave grim reality to what First Nations people have been claiming for decades: They had children who never came home, who simply vanished. At least 215 sites have been identified, all containing little ones, some as young as three. Their small maltreated skeletons have been there for decades, pressed beneath the innocuous grass and the muted layers of soil, subsoil, time, and indifference. They are not located in one mass grave but individually scattered around, as if spit out by the building itself, one by one by one. The Kamloops Indian Residential School in an undated photo (via Archives Deschâtelets-NDC) When I close my eyes, I see them being lowered into the ground, in their tattered school uniform or other rags, their cheeks tear-stained, their bodies ravaged by neglect, and broken, maybe. The mother in me sobs for them, and as much for their agonized parents and families who were never told their cherished children had died, never given the decency of having the little bodies respectfully returned to them, and who never—even to the present—received more than shoulder shrugs when they pressed for the whereabouts of their missing sons and daughters. I cannot know the depth of their anguish and never-ending loss. That this could happen, and at the callous, cold hands of those who professed to love God no less, is utterly unforgivable. The federal government is no less complicit: It built schools that were more like prisons and handed thousands of children over to “educators” who were utterly unsuitable for the job, who by virtue of their calling alone, knew nothing about children, little about nurturing, nothing about parenting, and had, for the majority, taken vows against having children themselves. (Roughly 70 percent of the 139 official residential schools in Canada, including Kamloops Indian Residential School, were operated by the Catholic Church.) I can’t imagine how desperate, distraught and terrified these families and communities all across Canada would have been when the mighty triumvirate of Government, Church and the RCMP came calling for their children. What was this, if not outright genocide? Can we start calling it that now? NEXT CAME OUR NDP GOVERNMENT’S long-awaited release on June 2 of an “intentions paper” on a much-needed overhaul of forest management in this province. With tensions rising at the Fairy Creek blockades and public outrage mounting over the steady loss of Vancouver Island’s last ancient forests, I harboured hope that Premier Horgan and his forestry team might finally call an immediate halt to old growth logging while other options are explored. (It makes no sense, and seems ill-intentioned even, to keep destroying a recognized treasure while exploring options for its survival.) But my hope was dashed. Viewers were instead treated to an industry love-in, a self-serving fête of the industry’s renewal with nary a mention of forest renewal. In front of a huge backdrop showcasing a lush wilderness, the premier went on about an entirely different visual—cutblocks, tenures (agreements), volume (hauled out of the woods), fibre (trees on the trucks) and jobs. There was plenty of flushed talk, big smiles, and industry-affiliated endorsements of the kind usually reserved for infomercials. Premier Horgan announcing his new forest policy intentions In the end, you could tell the premier felt he had it in the bag, with his bright, triumphant smile and the impromptu wink to his right (where Minister Conroy was standing) as it all wound down. To be fair, the industry is unquestionably in need of a thorough overhaul, and the intention to reduce raw log export and instead increase value-added capacity in our own province seems progressive. So does the plan to begin sharing the forestry pie with more and smaller local companies, some of them owned by First Nations. But the few prickly questions from reporters on the ever-rising Fairy Creek imbroglio were a snag. There, and in his own riding no less, the premier has increasingly been finding his image squeezed between a log and a hard place. Could he not do something to protect the ancient forests, he was asked. He could not, the premier replied. While he was passionate about the wilderness and loved old trees as much as the next person, his hands were tied when it came to saving them, he said. (How convenient, I couldn’t help thinking.) Here’s why, he elaborated. “The critical recommendation that’s in play at Fairy Creek is consulting with the title holders. If we were to arbitrarily put deferrals in place there, that would be a return to the colonialism that we have so graphically been brought back to this week by the discovery in Kamloops.” Had I just heard that right? I was aghast. It sounded as if he had just used the travesty of residential schools, and in particular the horrific discovery in Kamloops, to justify delaying the protection of old growth forests. In other words, out of respect for Indigenous people, he was going to continue allowing their forests to be destroyed for paltry compensation. If Fairy Creek has succeeded in exposing the plight of our dwindling old growth inventory, it has also, and perhaps inadvertently, shone a light on the entrenched government prejudice against First Nations and the suppressive colonial tools and agreements still being used to keep Indigenous people subjugated and all-too-often impoverished. Tools like the excessively constricted logging agreement that the government drew up for the Pacheedaht nation earlier this year. It has all the flavourings of snake oil: The Pacheedaht could sign it and receive a scant $350,000 over three years—less than half of one percent of the $132 million worth of old growth logs that Teal Jones would cut and haul away every three years—or they could refuse to sign, and receive nothing. That they chose to sign is not surprising, but what a reprehensible, dead-end pair of choices. What they confirm is the government’s ongoing preference for seeing old-growth forests turned into lucrative lumber, and its mulish resistance to being educated in the value of living ancient trees. Unfair as the agreement is in itself, it has an even uglier side. The Pacheedaht also had to agree to keep the government informed on how they were spending this picayune windfall. This is a shamefully insensitive and insulting demand that drips with racism, malevolent insinuation and antiquated paternalism. I’m willing to bet this clause doesn’t appear in any government contract with non-Indigenous people. And still there’s more. The Pacheedaht also had to agree that they would not speak out against the contract nor obstruct any aspect of the clearcutting operation. Nor could they allow anyone else to stand in the way. A person can’t help wondering if, as resistance grew and heels dug in at Fairy Creek, the government might have reminded the Pacheedaht of their obligation to denounce the objectors. If so, it would explain the Pacheedaht’s sudden public directive to the blockaders in mid-April to pack up and go home. The timing was perfect for the premier, and it gave him an opportunity he couldn’t resist—to admonish the defenders (who included First Nations youth and Elders) for not showing respect for First Nations people. Evidence has since surfaced that the government quite likely had a secretive hand in the crafting and release of the Pacheedaht statement. The favourable timing for the premier, it turned out, had been based more on choreography than coincidence. Clearly the government will use First Nations in any way then can to get at their resources. Including calculated manipulation and disadvantage. BUT THAT IMBALANCE may finally be starting to shift. On June 5, the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations declared their intention to the government to immediately defer old-growth logging in the Fairy Creek and Central Walbran areas for the next two years. They need that time, they told the government, to develop their own land and resource management plans that will be based on their own needs and values. The Declaration is forceful and straightforward. There’s no cap-in-hand meekness in any of it. When one of the signees, Chief Councillor Robert Dennis of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, was asked by a CBC journalist if he thought the Province would agree to the deferral, he replied, “They’d better.” It was, after all, a declaration, not a request. Two days later, Premier Horgan announced that he would acquiesce. “We have allowed, as a Province, the title holders to make decisions on their land,” he said. The wording betrays a subtle undermining, a waft of arrogance rising out of centuries-long power and privilege. Old idioms tend to die hard, especially those that have always solidified the upper hand. But inevitably that grip will continue to loosen. Other First Nations have started busting out of their own forestry agreements with government, including Squamish, which has declared an actual moratorium on old-growth logging in its territory. Members of the Gitxsan Nation near Prince Rupert have installed a gate on a forest road in their territory and told loggers they are no longer welcome. Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones and Victor Peter lead a procession demanding access to their territories in Fairy Creek area (photo by Alex Harris) First Nations people here and across the country are finding their voices and emerging strong and articulate. They are full of resolve, unapologetic, increasingly well-versed and well educated, and no longer intimidated. They know with certainty that they are equally entitled to the same rights, privileges and respect that settler Canadians enjoy. They are done with having land, children, opportunity and prosperity stolen from them. They are done with unfairness, with agreements and deals that have unendingly been stacked against them. We settler Canadians, with our thoughts and prayers for the lost little ones—these 215 and the thousands yet to be discovered—we must applaud and abet this courageous evolvement. And we settler Canadians, with our lowered government flags reflecting ourselves bowed in shame and regret, we must acknowledge and accept that we owe a debt to the people, our equal and fellow citizens, who lived here first. Writer Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic recommends Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America to anyone in search of a “fascinating, often hilarious, always devastatingly truthful” read. It is all that and very enlightening.
A handful of politicians should not have the right to forever destroy the non-renewable wonders that exist for the benefit of all. I DREAM OF ONE DAY SOON being able to take a bus excursion to the rare and treasured old growth forest just north of Port Renfrew, in the Fairy Creek watershed and stretching all the way west to the Caycuse watershed. I dream of hopping off a Wilson’s electric bus at several stops in this spectacular new park, and walking quietly and contemplatively among the now-protected, ancient giants. I follow soft forest trails that languidly weave their way around massive, deeply-ridged trunks. Closer to the waterways I step on protective boardwalks over the tender lushness that is typical of a riparian ecosystem. There is nothing typical about this place. I slowly inhale the world’s cleanest air and hear the songs of countless birds that make their home here, in the immense forest canopy that rises full of life to dizzying heights. Here and there along the path, carefully placed panels explain the science and the marvels of this magnificent place. I want to read every word. I’m keen to hear the history too, from the local Pacheedaht and Ditidaht guides who are finally receiving adequate remuneration for the work they’ve been doing for centuries—protecting and stewarding their land and its resources. In their presentation, they will share how they lived before “civilization” befell their land, how the imposed colonial business model deliberately and persistently undermined their sovereignty, how it carted away entire old-growth forests and paid for them with the trinket equivalent of a stumpage fee. They will recount how decades of rapacious old-growth clearcutting and other accumulated tensions finally came to a head, in a David vs Goliath standoff at what has become known as the Fairy Creek Blockade in the time of the devastating pandemic. We visitors are a rapt audience. Photograph by Laura Mina Mitic THE VISION FADES, but here in the present, I get history’s gist. The model that has worked for settler governments from coast to coast to coast for the last five centuries is this: Pay people just enough to keep them appeased but still dependent on the continued trade of paltry handouts for irreplaceable resources. Pretend to consult meaningfully. Continue talking about clean water (without mentioning that white towns have had this almost forever). Throw in goodies like a sawmill or community centre if you have to. Stir dissent in any number of ways, including covert interference with Indigenous government systems. Find individuals that you can pay off—money talks in every setting. Make backroom deals and swear everyone to secrecy. Use your law enforcement resources if you have to. That’s the way it still works in 2021, and you can see it playing out at Fairy Creek and related blockades. Never mind that a standing ancient forest is worth untold millions for its capacity to combat climate change by capturing and sequestering vast amounts of carbon. (An 800-year-old tree typically stores 20,000 kg.) Never mind that it is a complete, unique and endlessly diverse biome—from the soil way up to the towering canopy—and therefore a key player in keeping future pandemics at bay. Scientists agree that the rainforest treetops are teeming with species yet to be discovered. University of Victoria researchers, who liken that world to a hanging garden, recently discovered 20 of them. Never mind that it has the power to heal. First Nations people have always known this, but the rest of us might finally be catching on. We keep hearing about forest bathing, and some healthcare providers, using resources developed by the BC Parks Foundation’s newly-formed ParX program, have begun prescribing visits to the forest for health and wellness. We’ve always loved our urban parks and forests but are beginning to realize that the wilderness beyond is even more crucial to our survival and wellbeing. Never mind that ancient trees are lucrative magnets for world-weary locals and eco-tourists alike. Forget cruise ship revenue with all its carbon-laden drawbacks: An old-growth forest is a rare and benevolent living shrine that will bring back people from around the world, time and time again. Port Renfrew knows that, and has called for a moratorium on old-growth logging in the region. Not so long ago, its few hundred residents were mostly loggers and other employees of the forestry industry. Now rebranded as Wild Renfrew, this “gateway to ancient forests, epic hikes and mighty surf” has become a busy tourist town, full of amenities for the steady stream of sightseers eager to experience the world’s oldest and tallest trees. The BC Chamber of Commerce knows that too. In 2019, and citing the transformation of Port Renfrew as an example, it passed a resolution calling on the provincial government to increase old-growth protection, stating, “In many areas of the province, the local economies stand to receive a greater net economic benefit over the foreseeable future by keeping their nearby old-growth forests standing.” I’m not sure, however, that Premier Horgan grasps that. Nor does he seem to get the irony—and tragedy—of some of his own doings. Last month in a chat with the CBC’s Gregor Craigie, he touted the improved cellular service coming soon to Port Renfrew and surrounding area. He specifically enthused that it would help bolster tourism. When pressed, though, he kept his distance on the Fairy Creek dispute. What seemed lost on him was the scenario that cable trucks carrying tourism-enhancing infrastructure might end up rolling in just as oversized logging trucks carrying our most lucrative tourist attraction are rolling out. All with his tacit approval. The way we do forestry in this province is maddening. Last year, at the behest of the government, an independent panel produced a report titled, A New Future For Old Forests. The overarching message was the need to recognize that, “old forests are more than old or big trees. They are a product of ancient and unique ecosystems, and their characteristics vary greatly across the province. They can only be effectively managed in the context of broader public priorities, including the interests of current and future generations.” And yet, the forestry industry always seems to find them, peg them for easy, top-grade lumber, and manage to wrangle a license out of the government of the day. Not all old-growth grabs have been successful, however. A vigorous anti-logging campaign in 1990 in the Carmanah Valley, not far from the current blockades, resulted in the loggers being turned away for good and the establishment of the Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park. (Forestry company Macmillan Bloedel received almost $84 million in compensation for lost tree-farm licenses.) A few years later and further north, Clayoquot Sound became the scene of a long and acrimonious War in the Woods. After some 800 arrests and the dumping by loggers of 200 litres of human excrement at the activists’ staging site, the Harcourt NDP government shut it all down and declared the region protected. That was in 1995. Five years later, Clayoquot Sound received designation as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. But that’s not how today’s government is doing Fairy and Caycuse Creek. Horgan seems to have stubbornly dug in his heels and—it has been speculated—played a hand or two in the deal-making backroom. There’s been no expressed interest in seeking internationally recognized status and protection for the valleys and watersheds where these giants thrive. Instead, the government and industry—the “mindustry,” as writer David Broadland refers to them in FOCUS—continue to assess old-growth trees solely for their value in board lumber that, according to a spokesperson for Teal-Jones, the logging company with the license, is mostly destined to become decking, fencing, and other utilitarian products. That’s as ludicrous as tearing up rare old books to line the kitchen garbage pail. Premier Horgan has asked for patience while the report recommendations are slowly being digested by bureaucracy. But in the meantime, he allows the rampant cutting of old-growth trees to continue. This borders on the farcical and almost certainly ensures there’ll be nothing left to steward when protection finally becomes policy. Small wonder public objection is persistent and growing. Teal Jones had sought an injunction against the activists, and last month the BC Supreme Court granted it to them. It ordered the blockade gone and the roads opened for logging. Instead of complying, the activists have deepened their resolve and are appealing that decision. I’m not surprised. Judge Verhoeven, who granted the injunction, seemed less than wholehearted in his decision. (He also seems to have been working with incomplete or incorrect information provided by the company.) He based his decision on the strict letter of the law, but seemed to concede that he was limited to assessing the issue in isolation and unable to take the larger critical issues of climate change and environmental degradation—the “broader public priorities” cited in the above-mentioned report—into consideration. Clearly, and perhaps inadvertently, he has added to the argument that it’s time to change that law. And now in early May comes word that the activists have also served a Third Party Notice to the Province of British Columbia, thus drawing the government into a case it probably would have preferred to continue watching from the sidelines. It’s a gutsy move, but again, I’m not surprised. Its arguments have sharp teeth. In Quebec the Magpie River was recently granted all the rights and protections of personhood. Our giant trees—for starters—must receive this too. A handful of politicians in any given era do not have the right to forever destroy the natural and non-renewable wonders that exist for the benefit of all. NEAR THE END OF MY FUTURE EXCURSION, I learn that not all the trees could be saved by the blockaders, who braved months of public indifference and cold wet weather in rudimentary shelters before the madness was finally halted for good. Our last stop overlooks a barren valley dotted only with giant stumps that stand like stepping stones in a sea of destruction. I spot former premier Horgan gazing wordlessly into the distance. I wander over and ask him who our real heroes were, back in those times. Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a Victoria-based writer. She has had a life-long passion for the care and preservation of nature but never imagined it would become such a battle. She’s grateful to all of the old growth’s defenders for doing the hard work that will benefit us all.
A visit to Doumac Park in Saanich comforts—yet reminds of the über commodification of nature and BC’s farcical forest management strategy. WHENEVER I'VE FELT ANXIOUS AND DISCOURAGED by all the exceptional challenges of this past year, I’ve found myself walking to the trees. It feels odd to say that they speak to me, but when I start down the long set of stairs into the Cordova Bay ravine known as Doumac Park, the sounds of civilization fall quiet behind me and I can feel Nature beckoning. A small rainforest thrives in this basin, in the filtered sunlight and almost prehistoric setting. Stately Douglas firs, grand firs, bigleaf maples and western hemlocks stand as stoic sentinels up and down the ravine’s steep sides. Their roots are prominent; the downhill ones look like giant toes, braced to avoid sliding down into the creek. Many generations are intermingled here, the elders among them reaching 40 metres high, the juveniles in their shade straining for sunlight, and underfoot, the hollowing trunks of ancestors busy giving themselves back to the earth. Just two months ago this place was blanketed in snow, impossibly quiet and pristine, the conifers skirted in white from top to bottom, the bare maple branches heaped with white icing. The sun was brilliant, the sky azure, the woods full of secrets. I wanted the scene to last forever. Doumac Park, January 2021. Photo by Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic These days moss carpets almost everything, and already the Western sword fern, an age-old creation in its own right, has burst forth for another season. Here and there are nurse stumps—ancient rotting stumps that nurture fallen seeds into seedlings, saplings and full-grown trees whose roots will eventually spill over them like octopus arms and engulf them entirely. Doumac Park, near the ravine. Photo by Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic The air in the ravine is soft in my lungs, and I breathe in unison with the trees. They make me feel protected but I worry about how much longer they—and more specifically their non-urban brethren—will be safe, this being the era of über commodification of all natural resources and farcical forest management strategy. It’s both galling and appalling that while BC politicians keep jawing tirelessly on the same old cud of insincere management rhetoric, they meanwhile allow the industry to keep sawing away all the old forests. At this rate, there’ll soon be nothing left for them to discuss, except perhaps the unheeded lessons in Dr Seuss’ The Lorax and Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, (both prescient gems from 1971). The trail I’m on wends down to Revans Creek on the ravine floor. Currently it is burbling with ample spring water, funnelled from the capillaries of its watershed for delivery to the sea. It all fits together so exquisitely and interdependently, these puzzle pieces of Nature that collectively support a fragile balance and complex symbiosis that keeps so many life forms, we included, alive and thriving. There’s so much to learn in this small, four-hectare sanctuary—and in any small section of Nature—that one could spend a lifetime studying here and still not know everything. Walking in Nature has, for decades, been my own effective remedy for whatever has ailed me. It rouses happiness, gratitude, wonderment and awareness of my own ephemerality in the face of all the incredible beauty and complexity that has been loaned to us for our duration. If there is any bond to be had with a Creator, I feel it most acutely here, in a place of veneration that was created for us rather than by us. Here it is easy to commit to stewardship as our part of the bargain. But take the worship out of this place, to a human built edifice elsewhere, and it becomes much easier to re-interpret the call for stewardship as a permit for dominion over everything. The credo of dominion has destroyed so much. Climate change remains our biggest challenge, and I worry about the times to come. We’ve surely learned lessons from COVID-19, but will we remember them once the light at the end of that tunnel grows stronger? Already we are champing at the bit to gear everything up and start regaining lost time. We can’t wait to fly again—those enticing vacation ads!—and to buy again, because we deserve it, we’ve suffered so much. Never mind the centuries-long concomitant exploitation of Nature that’s now reached a critical point. We’ve never factored that into our cost and are not terribly keen to start doing the math now. I start back up the hill and pass the centuries-old nurse log near the second landing. I feel reverence for it. I feel it wanting my humility. I feel it wanting to tell me, “If you’re going to be humble in the face of anything, let it be Nature and let it be now.” Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a writer, grandmother and Master Gardener. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).
A look to the recent past shows how humans have hurt the Earth and its creatures. We need to do better. THIS PAST CHRISTMAS I gave my guy a device that converts slides to digital images, the perfect project for these COVID at-home hours, days, weeks and months. Secretly I plotted that we—mostly he—might finally comb through boxes of old slides and negatives, teasing the prized keepsakes away from the celluloid chaff. As a result, we’ve been rediscovering hundreds of images and innumerable memories from the early days together, four decades ago. The most startling thing we noticed, notwithstanding our short shorts, tube socks and poofy hair, was how much the landscape has changed since then. It’s not subtle. Here we are, playing on my childhood beach, the stately cliffs tall and dominant in the background. When I last saw them two years ago, they looked hunched and forlorn, resigned to the merciless onslaught of ice riding in on ever-rising waves. One section has gone entirely to rubble. Here I am in an Ontario meadow, sitting with my camera trained on a monarch butterfly while at least a dozen more flutter within my reach. Back then, they and several other species were a common sight, beautiful and totally taken for granted. So were the legions of bees that buzzed in the thistles and goldenrod surrounding the hayfields of my childhood. Not anymore. The monarch has all but disappeared and many species of bees are at risk everywhere. When we moved to Victoria 30 years ago, I was especially captivated by the iconic Olympic Mountain Range along our southern skyline, its splendid peaks generously robed in snow even throughout summer. But, that’s all changed too. These days the summer coverage amounts to a few, shrunken daubs of white scattered on and around bare gray peaks. The US National Park Service confirms the decline, reporting that the Olympic range lost 82 glaciers between 1982 and 2009. That’s an alarmingly high disappearance rate of three glaciers per year. Repeat photographs of Anderson Glacier in Olympic National Park. Arrows in identical locations illustrate the dramatic retreat/disappearance of this south-facing glacier. (Photos: 1936 by Asahel Curtis; 2015 by Byron Adams) Locally there’s plenty of micro-evidence that nature is struggling and changing—animal species in decline or on the move, native forests and other flora stressed and foundering, unusual or erratic weather bouts year-round (including an incredibly forceful thunder storm last summer and a bona fide snowstorm as I write), and now, a pandemic. COVID-19 arrived at our shores—or, more likely, airports—just as it seemed we were finally beginning to acknowledge our own involvement in the degradation of every aspect of the environment. Just as we were starting to notice our sullied, suffering world and concede that we couldn’t rightfully go on like this. Weren’t we finally beginning to connect some dots, say, between pesticide use and insect decline, and wanton habitat destruction and animal extinction (not to mention the spread of their diseases to other species, including ourselves)? Weren’t we finally beginning to understand that our carbon-rich lifestyle is altering the climate and putting immeasurable burdens on the planet and our descendants? Hadn’t we just recently tried (as we’re doing again) to ban single-use, plastic shopping bags? And hadn’t we just marched 20,000 strong through our downtown core to demand, finally, some real government leadership on climate change? COVID-19 sidelined everything. A huge silence fell on climate change. Now was not the right time. We were in a full-blown, unmatched human health crisis. The height of any crisis is never a popular time to question how it happened and how we can prevent it from happening again. Could we inadvertently have been the cause? That kind of querying wasn’t wanted, was considered callous and tone deaf, when Canada’s costliest wildfire consumed Fort McMurray in 2016, and when Manitoba experienced “the flood of the century” in 2017. It isn’t really welcomed now either, what with every hand required just to keep the virus—and now its variants—under control. Not to mention concern for the battered economy. The problem, however, is that no one wants to hear this between crises either. No one wants to hear that we’re near to arriving at the outer edge of what our environment can support. That the changes required to keep the Earth liveable will be uncomfortable, and impossible to kick further down the road. That each and every one of us will have to adjust to new standards and realities. That “natural” catastrophes are only the beginning if we choose to do nothing. We know by now how governments work, even in the face of impending climate catastrophe. They go nowhere because they keep trying to walk in opposite directions at the same time. The most dramatic example of this was the pairing of Prime Minister Trudeau’s 2015 declaration in Paris that Canada was back as a climate leader with his bewildering purchase of an old, overpriced pipeline just three years later. Then, having painted himself into a philosophically incongruous corner, he lectured without irony that, “Canadians know you have to protect the environment and grow the economy at the same time.” That’s been his modus operandi ever since. Meanwhile, our provincial government has been simultaneously walking on both sides of the fence for so long that surely there has to be chafing going on. Horgan and his team want to be both champions for climate action and champions for every extraction industry in the province. That especially includes liquid natural gas—a heavily subsidized pet project that, as the fairy tale goes, will use the “clean” energy of the Site C Dam to save Asia from dirty coal. The reality is a long and destructive path of carbon-heavy enterprise that starts with the contentious Site C project itself, and reaches all the way to yet-to-be-determined Asian ports, and beyond. LNG is where many of our provincial tax dollars hit a dirty dead end. Then there’s Clean BC, the government’s beautifully worded, all-encompassing plan to “reduce climate pollution” and “build a low-carbon economy.” Except that it falls so short of these goals as to seem intentionally deceptive in both messaging and accounting. Writer Russ Francis reveals what’s really going on here, in a recent detailed analysis for Focus. All the top-down deception and dithering would lead us to believe that the situation is hopeless, but perhaps it isn’t. Real change has always started as a groundswell, building upwards until politicians finally feel it’s safe enough for proclamations and ribbon cutting. It’s why we need to stay persistent with our petitions and calls for change, all the while bettering the way we live and work and play in our own community. The pandemic has not quashed our community groundswell. Even in these trying times our ongoing enterprise and activism remains quite remarkable: The University of Victoria is moving $80 million out of fossil-fuel investments. Camosun College will soon start training tradespeople on net-zero construction. Combined with all the solar innovation and expertise we have here, it’s a solid step towards the inevitable requirement that all new buildings be closer to net-zero and have at least some solar-powered infrastructure. Torquay Elementary School in Gordon Head has just installed a $60,000 solar project, a giant step towards its goal of net-zero energy consumption. Esquimalt is banning single-use plastic bags, and more municipalities will follow suit. Zero waste groceries and many household goods are increasingly available at locally-owned stores. Victoria has committed to a complete transition to green energy by 2050, and Saanich is one of the first communities in the world to adopt a One Planet strategy, which means that every decision the municipality makes must also pass through the lens of climate change. The CRD has the same intent under One Planet Region. All this and more keeps us resilient and our hope alive. I hope that years from now the people will be alive and well, and shaking their heads at the memory of us and our folly. I hope they will have a re-stabilized climate and thriving, prized environment. I hope there’ll be summer snow on the Olympics once again. I hope the monarch butterflies are back. Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a writer, grandmother and Master Gardener living in Saanich, BC. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).
Give this new year a fighting chance at being a happy one by nurturing social connection. AND SO HERE WE ARE, having laboured our way over the threshold into a fresh new year and decade, our backs solidly turned on 2020 as if that year in itself incited the pestilence. But only one week in, 2021 already feels like an aging clunker dragging along on under-inflated tires. The short, cheerless days of early January don’t help at the best of times, nor does the inevitable post-holiday letdown, especially when the holidays themselves have been a letdown. Add on the omnipresent stress of COVID-19’s persistent second wave, and all the implications of the recent unnerving chaos in Washington. Pour on the days of rain that have been coming down, from morning to night, then night to morning. The backyards of a few people I know have become so soggy that trees have relented and toppled over, their bony roots yanked out of the ground, desperately clawing at the air on the upswing. With the pandemic approaching a sordid anniversary, we are becoming a community of isolated people. I hasten to add that, like so many, I have nothing to complain about: My good fortune includes a loving partner, the security of a home, food in the pantry, plenty of projects on the go, and a stack of books to read if I ever find the time. Like everyone else, I miss my loved ones, but we stay well-connected virtually. I have my worries about the pandemic—and what we’ve witlessly done to nature to bring us to this and other critical points—but the current constraints are not a terrible hardship for me. However, for those of all ages who live alone, it’s been a long and arduous marathon. In early December, their world became even smaller when Dr Bonnie Henry decreed that for the holiday celebrations they could bring just one or two others into their bubble, more accurately a mini-bubble now, compared to earlier directives. According to my daughter who has many friends in their 20s-40s who live alone around town, that started a desperate round of requests to form or share holiday mini-bubbles. Inevitably some were left on the sidelines, alone and crestfallen during the most emotionally profound days of the year. “This was hard on everyone, and felt like high school (without the meanness) all over again,” she said, recalling the anguish of having to decline several invitations after accepting the first one she received. Ongoing concern prompted her to keep checking in virtually with lonely friends who were just waiting for the celebrating to be over. December is always a hard time to be alone, but this year’s imposed isolation made it excruciating. I think of the thousands of seniors who live here by themselves and were not able to hug children, grandchildren and friends during the most family-oriented time of year. I think of the people who don’t live alone but because of COVID-19, are hemmed into a particular purgatory of loneliness and isolation in the confines of a dysfunctional relationship or difficult family setting. I think of all the heightened worry in such a setting—about job loss or other financial strain, personal safety, food insecurity, ailing health, ailing parents, at-risk children of any age, drug or alcohol dependency; the list, like the rain, goes on and on. I thought of them all as they soldiered alone while the chimes of Christmas seemingly rang out for everyone else. (I’ve been on that side of the fence too.) Again they were on my mind, especially the young people, as I drove past Mayfair Mall on Boxing Day—with shopping the last thing on my mind—and saw the parking lot filled to overflowing. There was no visible lineup outside so I assume that hundreds of shoppers were intermingling indoors. Tell me again where we are with our isolation logic, I said in my outside voice to no one in particular. I’m not here to criticize our dedicated public health team, and I understand that they wade through myriad considerations in developing the best route for saving lives and trouncing the virus. But I like to think that they haven’t forgotten that what works best for the population can, and almost always does, let some individuals down. I like to think that they work hard to buffer that unintended consequence whenever they can. We, in the meantime, shouldn’t forget either, that we are social beings who absolutely need connection and community. We can help offset mental health strain—our own and that of others—by seeking and bolstering our own social connections and virtually reaching out to the isolated people we know. Staying distanced is imperative, but this is not the time to be insular. We can go outside when the weather allows, breathe deeply and restoratively, and be kindly to everyone we meet. We can share gratitude for our peaceful and compassionate society, for the vaccines that have been developed at record speed, for the beautiful nature all around, and for all the local resources devoted to seeing us through this onerous time. There are so many, and they continue to exemplify as they always have, that when we help others, we help ourselves too. In these gloomy and uncertain days, virtually reaching out and touching someone is a very good way to help make 2021 a happy new year. If you are feeling hopeless or think you might be in crisis, please reach out to the Vancouver Island Crisis Line at 1-888-494-3888 and/or the BC Mental Health Support Line (also Island based) at 310-6789 (do not add area code). They both offer free emotional support and services 24 hours a day. Check them out online for more information. Trudy Duivenvooden Mitic is a Victoria-based writer and longtime Focus columnist.
The ultimate festival of mingling and consuming is being revamped this year into a celebration we’ll likely never forget. IN THE DAYS LEADING UP TO CHRISTMAS, I enjoy getting cozy on the couch with stories and reminiscences of Christmases gone by. I know it’s a bit of sentimental self-indulgence, but my “research” clearly reveals that the celebrations people remember with the greatest affection are almost never about extravagance, and almost always about the trials and triumph of getting home for the holidays and being together with loved ones. “Home” is perhaps the most enduring holiday sentiment of all, embodied in cards, décor, music, food, sumptuous seasonal aromas and every childhood memory and memento. Even snow. Especially snow, for those of us who grew up in a more wintry clime. I felt pretty dismal on our first Christmas day in Victoria, and almost burst into tears when the rain started, shortly after a sprightly runner in shorts had jaunted by. Home is rootedness. Years ago, my daughter was at one of her Christmas concerts clutching a songbook she’d received from her Oma the previous Christmas. Suddenly I noticed a woman staring at it, her eyes widening and then welling. “My mom gave me that book when I was a child. I so regret losing it and have been looking for another ever since,” she said, before asking if she could borrow it to have a quality copy made. I remember her gratitude and her gladness. Home is at the core of who we are. But sadly, home as we know it is off the table this year. Although we’re good at getting home for Christmas—at persevering through the snow, finding the money for travel, pleading for a few extra days off work, and hanging out at airports when scheduling falls apart—the barrier this year is in a class of its own. This year we have an insidious and deadly virus that can make anyone the vector you’re trying to avoid. Or you the vector that everyone should avoid. It’s wreaked grief and havoc, and has forced us to change nearly everything in life. Vaccines are coming, yes, but not in time for Christmas. And since Christmas is the ultimate festival of mingling, it is exactly the festival that we now need to revamp. To be frank, we saw this coming, in the doggedly upward trajectory of the pandemic’s second wave, and in the pained and tired faces of our public health team as they weighed the hardship of imposed holiday bleakness against the reality of a merciless virus not under control. In the end, caution won out, and rightly so. No family gathering around a turkey dinner is worth the risk of a stint on a ventilator. It wasn’t surprising when all the usual holiday events around town began toppling like dominoes. All parades were nixed, including the much-loved Santa Claus parade in its 39th year. Plugs were pulled on the venerable Christmas light show at Butchart Gardens (a favourite annual outing for my most elderly friend and me). Places of worship were ordered to stay shuttered, to the chagrin of many who had hoped for a Christmas reprieve. Concerts, theatre offerings, the venerable Nutcracker—all have been mothballed or sent to virtual platforms for the rest of the year. All told, dozens of community events, even those just drawing small crowds, have had to throw in the towel or completely redesign their delivery systems. This could so easily have been the year Victoria went dark for Christmas, with everyone fearfully hunkered down indoors, alone or in their own small bubble with curtains and soul tightly drawn in true Dickensian fashion. But no, that’s not who we are. If anything, we’ve gone a little wild with this year’s outdoor décor, our way of punching hard against the COVID darkness. Local innovation turned the Santa Claus Parade into the “Light up the City” campaign, which, in partnership with the Times Colonist’s annual Christmas Lights Map, spurred a friendly Griswold-type rivalry that’s resulted in a grand string of holiday bedecked homes to savour from the safety of your car. And also some pretty cool drop-off sites for your food and toy contributions. Against all the odds, donations are up in all categories this year. And apparently, we’re still baking up a storm, with the intent of leaving care packages on the stoops of those we would otherwise see during this time. The Christmas tradition of not leaving anyone forgotten is a strong one. Meanwhile, various polls reveal that we’re spending less on the holidays this year. Perhaps we’re realizing that we don’t need stuff as much as we need human connection. The Zoom learning curve has soared in 2020, and many will be using it and other platforms to stay virtually connected over the holidays. Our tiny bubble will be Zooming with several loved ones, ranging from my mom back east to our first grandchild just up the road. It’s his first Christmas, but everyone’s safety overrides our desire to see him in person during the holidays. That’s for next year. We can make it work this Christmas—and Hanukkah, Winter Solstice and all the other transcendent celebrations at this time of year. Whether alone or with our small group, we can be buffered by music, candlelight, favourite foods, a good book or puzzle, and online access to family, friends, spiritual comfort and holiday entertainment. Add in a nearby park or beach for walking, and even a crackling fireplace on TV, and we can say that we are safe, blessed and truly at home. However we choose to celebrate this Christmas, it will be unforgettable. Years from now we might even find ourselves writing about it. Trudy wishes FOCUS readers a safe and happy holiday.
A close-to-heart climate hero instills hope, courage, and solidarity. EIGHT MONTHS INTO A PANDEMIC that as of yet shows no end, I’ve found a new hero and guiding light—my youngest brother Carl. I know he’ll fidget with discomfort when I tell him this, maybe suggest I ease up on hyperbole, possibly even wonder if I’ve gone off my rocker. But I’ll insist I know a hero when I see one—a selfless, genuinely good person who, even against formidable odds, chooses to devote life and livelihood to the betterment of a greater common cause. Heroes are resourceful and resilient, typically lead by example, and persevere in the face of overwhelming adversity. My Canadian heroes include David Suzuki, Stephen Lewis, and now Dr Bonnie Henry, who’s been steering a very steady ship through the iceberg-infested waters of COVID-19. Our best-known Canadian hero is probably Terry Fox, who, with steely determination and only one leg, was running his cross-country Marathon of Hope the summer my husband and I honeymooned from the Maritimes to the Rockies. What slouches we are, I thought, fiddling daily with the car radio dials to find a local station and update. Sadly, Terry wasn’t able to finish his quest, and died when he was only 22, but not before he’d managed to move an entire country with a dream and mission that resonate to this day. Every year my brother Carl laces up for the Terry Fox Run, in honour of our dad and sister who were both lost to cancer. But there’s a lot more to know about Carl than that. He’s always lived and studied close to the land, and saw climate change looming long before most did. His disquiet intensified when his sons were born. It stewed up protracted grappling at his core, then steered him to the decision to trade his secure government job for uncertain work as a champion for nature. He immersed himself in the science of climate change and the art of presenting, learning French in the process so he could connect with all New Brunswick audiences. Then he began sharing his knowledge and findings in school auditoriums, conference rooms, boardrooms and town halls throughout the Maritimes. Like all true leaders, he focused on teaching, not preaching. He started a blog, became a consultant, and for years wrote a bi-weekly newspaper column, until the Irving dynasty bought the paper and shut him down. (The wily Irvings now own all of New Brunswick’s presses as well as its fossil fuel and forestry industries. They may not have invented the concept of monopoly but they sure know how to play the game.) All the while, Carl chipped away at his family’s own carbon footprint in many small and then bigger ways—which amply compensated for their financial reset. Eventually he bought a used hybrid car, which was later traded in for a fully electric one, also pre-owned. This past summer he installed a bank of solar panels that now power both car and home. But back to the 2020 Terry Fox Run, and the day he truly became my hero. Due to pandemic restrictions, participants had been asked to run on their own, and as Carl pondered this, he started envisioning an entirely different mission. Months earlier, he and his wife had gone hiking on beautiful Campobello Island. As they rounded a coastal trail to an idyllic sheltered cove, they came upon the atrocity of a 300-metre stretch of beach almost completely covered with discarded plastics. Carl Duivenvoorden with the plastic he removed from the beach on Campobello Island “It was so disheartening, especially all the water bottles,” he told me later. “I felt overwhelmed. And when I realized that my Terry Fox run would be solo this year, I decided to come clean up this beach instead.” On what coincidentally was World Cleanup Day, he worked alone for several hours, collecting more than 400 water bottles, more than 1000 pieces of Styrofoam that ranged in size from fingernail to surfboard, about 75 kilograms of nylon rope, including bits and pieces washed up everywhere, and four fishing totes that he filled with smaller plastics, including countless lobster claw elastics. He crammed another four commercial-sized garbage bags with miscellaneous litter and then lugged everything well above the high-water mark so it wouldn’t be swept out to sea again. Island park staff later hauled it all away for proper disposal. He cleaned the entire beach. He did it for nature, for the plovers that tiptoed gracefully along the shore, the seal that bobbed by to check on his progress, the Fundy tide that played out a full cycle while he worked. He did it for the world. He did it out of hope. He makes me want to be and do better. That’s what heroes do: instill hope, courage, and solidarity. Inspire the hero in each of us. Everyone needs a few heroes, especially right now. I’m grateful I’ve found one so close to my heart. Trudy also extends kudos to BC small-ship tour operators who, sidelined by the pandemic, pulled together last summer to accomplish an “industrial-sized cleanup” along our rugged central coast. Over a 42-day period, they and their collective crew of more than 100, and in collaboration with First Nations along the way, collected 127 tonnes of marine debris (which amounted to just “a dent”). Check out the story and photos here: https://thenarwhal.ca/bc-tour-boat-operators-clean-up-ocean-debris-coronavirus/
This time, vote as if your life depends on it. Another forest fire threatens another community in BC IN MY HOME IN SAANICH, recently socked in under a persistent dome of noxious smog, I had everything on my mind. It was not a comfortable feeling, stacked as it was on top of pandemic perturbation and a clatter of intertwined environmental, social and economic crises, all seemingly now coming to a head. They spun like bumper cars in my brain, colliding wildly in all directions, bashing, smashing and revving up anguish. One crashed into the memory of a line from the 1973 movie, Jesus Christ Superstar, and knocked it free. But as it rose to the surface after all those years, it morphed into a despairing dirge for our times: Every time I look at us I don’t understand; Why we let the things we did get so out of hand. Millions of acres have burned in Washington, Oregon and California, and millions more in the Pantanal wetlands—wetlands!—of Brazil, where the carcasses of jaguars, caimans and fallen birds have reduced the landscape to a charred boneyard. Add to that, the immense fires that have burned almost everywhere in these last few years, including in Australia where more than a billion fleeing animals died in their tracks, and in Fort McMurray, the heart of oil country, where a 2016 fire chased everyone out of town, ravaged 1.5 million acres and left behind almost $10B in damages. Add to that the parade of hurricanes on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the rapidly melting Arctic ice, the oceans full of toxins and plastic, the loss of tundra, old growth forests and untold species—in summary, the exploitation of just about everything. Add to that the polarization of society, the increasingly skewed disparity between privilege and poverty, the resigned acceptance of lies as truth and of broken government promises and international accords as the legitimate new normal, and the restless volatility that thrums ever more loudly in a very tense (and trigger-twitchy) undercurrent. Add to that our long-time individual and political stonewalling on action and legislation for sustainability in every aspect of life, and on the building of a new and better economy around that. Real progress escapes us. Instead, we continue to stumble over a long string of consequences, always earnestly preoccupied with the most recent ones while carefully avoiding their intertwined link back to root causes that should have been dealt with decades ago. Implausibly, many of us still fill the air with skepticism about human responsibility for this slurry of a mess, still question the validity of science (while reaping its benefits every single day), still consume and discard as if the world is one long, never-ending buffet table. Surely we are awaiting our judgement day at this rate, and it won’t be coming from on high. Thankfully the skies have restored to blue, and—deep breath—the world is still full of kindness and good. But let’s not be lulled. Things have to change. We cannot go back to the normal we enjoyed before 2020 started going down. If the pandemic has a silver lining, it’s that we can see this now, can no longer ignore what we’ve been discounting for years. Better days can start right now, and indeed, they must. A provincial election is happening this fall, and other elections may yet be called. Don’t walk away. Yes, all the political gobbledegook and evasion and ill-explained monkey business is galling, but it is still our province, our country and our world. We are key, and right now we hold the most powerful key. Voting is action. It is redemption. This time, vote as if your life depends on it. 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).
We have no future without seeds and seed diversity. They are our food and medicine, a sacred and essential resource. WE ARE INTO THE FINEST SEASON OF ALL—the harvest time—and despite all the unprecedented tumult this year, the Earth is again offering up abundant bounty. I am both awed and grateful as I make my way around garden beds crammed with carrots, beets, Swiss chard, kale, tomatoes and a medley of summer and winter squashes. I say “crammed” because in amongst our planned crops are the volunteers sown by nature. While I can’t say enough good about the dependable, open-pollinated seeds we order every year, especially in light of the panicked shortage this past spring, I find the volunteer seeds more intriguing because we never quite know what we’re going to get. The pumpkins are an interesting example. Every year we have some form of them zigzagging throughout the garden, even though we never plant any. That all started years ago, with a bought pumpkin whose seeds we threw into the compost. This activated a cycle that we’ve been happily perpetuating ever since. Two years ago, we ended up with an entire bed of butternut squash plants, all because late in the spring I had bought one (grown in Mexico) for dinner. Turns out it was full of sprouting seeds, a veritable bonus that I potted up and then transferred to the garden to see what would happen. What happened was that we harvested enough delicious butternuts to feed us late into the fall. Our most prolific tomatoes this year are all volunteers. Early in the spring they surfaced in the cold frame, presumably the seedlings of tomatoes tossed and buried there last year. They took off and thrived, despite a late cold spell that shrivelled most of the tomato seedlings we’d carefully grown and coddled indoors. Every flower promises seeds, and once you start noticing them you can’t turn away. This year we forgot to pick one radish, which responded by growing a vine with white flowers that now is dripping with small, swollen, pea-like pods that can barely contain the seeds within. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a radish seed still in the pod. Occasionally the seed is the most exotic part of the plant. A small clump of wild peony brought home from Haida Gwaii a few years ago offered two flowers for the first time this summer. A few weeks after they had faded, a flash of hot pink drew me back to the peony. I was astonished to see that one of its drab pods had opened to reveal rows of seeds that were brighter, glossier and more luminescent than any I had ever seen before. Nature is nothing if not ostentatious. Peony seed pod And then there are the seeds that we love to hate, in my case the dandelion with its fecund puff and the yellow wood sorrel with its spring-loaded pods that each bear ten seeds, no more, no less. They might infuriate me but they also deserve to be here, as important food sources for pollinators (especially the dandelion in early spring) and even for humans, in a pinch. We have no future without seeds and seed diversity. They are our food and medicine, a sacred and essential resource. To safeguard seeds is to safeguard the plants—all plants—and their ecosystems: soil, water, air and climate. We each have a role to play in that. For now and for life. Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a Saanich-based writer, new grandmother, and Master Gardener. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).
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).
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).
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).
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.