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Maleea Acker

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  1. May 15, 2020 Photo: An unusually empty sidewalk in the author's neighbourhood. Consider the silence and the space that saying “no” creates, and what you would be willing to give up to keep that quiet in your head, in the world. Go to story
  2. ...and the space that saying “no” creates, and what you would be willing to give up to keep that quiet in your head, in the world. IN THESE LAST DAYS (for now) of BC’s version of a full lockdown (few stores open other than essentials, most people laid off or working from home, no tourism, no going out to eat), consider the silence. The silence of the streets. At night, I walk my dog around the block: up Regina, up to Wascana, down Lurline, and back along Seaton. Usually, in pre-COVID-19 times, as I crest the hill at Lurline, the blanket of traffic noise from Burnside Road, Tillicum Road and the Island Highway hits me like a growling wall. But in these last eight weeks, it’s been the wind in trees that is the loudest sound. An owl. Someone’s radio. Someone talking. We continue down into a valley of quiet, broken by the occasional car’s faraway whoosh. The sound is an individual car; it’s not traffic. It’s not a wall. This isn’t just at night. It’s at 4:30 on a Tuesday. It’s at 10am with bird song on a Saturday. Consider being able to hear your neighbour’s spoon clinking in its bowl as she eats her breakfast in her kitchen with the window open. Consider hearing children from four doors down. The wings of a raven passing overhead. A dog barking. Your own heart beating. Empty roads and sidewalks equals quiet Consider also, the silence that may have found its way into some of our thoughts. I think, “I could use a shirt; this one is losing its shape.” Then I think, “but the shops are closed.” And I turn back to the garden, or to walking somewhere in the forests nearby, or to what I’d like to do after dinner, after marking my students’ online essays. As we turn away from buying things, because there is little to buy, consider the space that silencing of want leaves in one’s head. Consider the silence (very like the silence I experienced in Cuba) of little advertising, of few or no ads telling you what you lack. How much could we really do without? Will I go shopping when things reopen? Probably not. I like this space that saying “no” creates. I like the extra time that “making do” gives me. Days stretch out longer. I like that “no” creates many other “yeses.” Then, consider the silencing of frivolity. Little on the news about Hollywood stars (other than Matt Damon’s sojourn in a small Irish village). A focus, in social media, on how to grow food, how to support local business, the intricacies of mental health, a plethora of community check-in groups. This pandemic has seen an intensifying of focus on what matters and is critical to human life—health, food, shelter, community. The rest—luxury travel, gossip, speculation—has largely fallen away. I walk down the middle of streets around the city. People say hello when I pass them. Places I’ve travelled to unspool as memories in my head. I am writing to the people I love, rather than meeting them. I’m also measuring the decibels where I walk using a free App on my phone. The level right now at that rise on Lurline is at 35 decibels. That translates to the noise level of rustling leaves. It’s the same level you’ll find 5 kilometres North of the Island Highway, in the Highlands. What is your neighbourhood decibel level at? What will it be at next week? Consider the silence of a world in this delay. What does this mean for how we might live once these strictures are removed? What would we like to keep? What spaces? What stretches of time? What sounds? What are we willing to do without? What can we do without? What would you be willing to give up in order to keep that quiet in your head, in the world? Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.
  3. November 2019 A plea for action on this column’s fourth anniversary. I TEACH A GEOGRAPHY COURSE at the University of Victoria called Landscapes of the Heart. In it, I take my students out into local landscapes—Mount Tolmie, Mary Lake, Tod Inlet—with the goal of opening their eyes and hearts to this region’s species and ecosystems. We paint and draw in the field. We look at how poets, visual artists, philosophers and geographers are trying to connect us to place. Students spend the fall immersed in landscape, producing some of the most thoughtful, emotionally engaged work I’ve had the pleasure of seeing as a teacher. The course begins with a three-hour class called “Why are we in trouble?” This issue, I want to posit some answers to this question. I’ve been writing a column on volunteer stewards in the region for four years with Focus and I love the work. It’s inspiring getting to meet so many people who are passionate about our local ecosystems and who try to improve life for the multitudes of creatures with whom we share these islands. But this month’s column turns the lens on my own experience as an environmental steward. I think one answer to why we’re in trouble can be illustrated by my own history. In 2011, during the writing of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, I began nurturing a native plant garden in my 5,300-square-foot yard. It’s a project that has raised no end of protest from my neighbours. I live in Saanich’s Gorge-Tillicum neighbourhood, where former farmland was planted with houses in the 1930s and 1940s. The clay soil supports boulevards of blackberry. On my street, trees are sparse and gardens infrequent. People mow their dandelions. Since I began the transformation of my sterile lawn into a wild ecosystem, I’ve been cited by Saanich bylaw enforcement officers twice. The first citation (for cultivation of noxious weeds) was in 2011, when I had let the grass grow long to see if camas lay buried in the lot. The fight I launched against the municipality’s citation landed me on the front page of the Times Colonist. I won. Since then, I’ve cultivated a native hedgerow (of Oregon grape, Nootka rose, snowberry, red osier dogwood, salmonberry, and Pacific ninebark). I’ve also planted 17 native trees. After eight years of seeding and growth, the hedge is 10-12 feet tall and supports a wide variety of bird species through the year. Camas, nodding onion, vetch and fawn lily bloom in the meadow. There are Garry oaks, Douglas-fir, arbutus, several mock orange, honeysuckle and ocean spray. When a kid entered my yard on Halloween last fall, he exclaimed, “it’s like walking into a forest!” Left: The author’s front yard in 2011, around the time of the first citation. Right: Flourishing native plants, around the time of the second citation. The wildness has encouraged more wildness. Last summer, I hosted a family of weasels. There are crickets (which I transplanted from Mount Tolmie), over a dozen species of songbirds, hummingbirds, lizards, raccoons, dragonflies, mason and bumble bees. A raven pair, a barred owl and a Swainson’s hawk use the yard to hunt. This fall, I harvested my first edible mushrooms (lepiota rachodes), which shows that the yards of mulch I’ve brought in and the undisturbed soil are now supporting a healthy mycorrhizal layer (which supports the health of trees). All this in a desertified neighbourhood largely barren of boulevard trees or anything approaching native habitat. In April 2018, when Saanich council struck down the Environmental Development Protection Area bylaw (EDPA), along with it went changes to whole series of bylaws; they had been rewritten to exempt naturescaping property owners like myself from being cited. When the EDPA died, these bylaw changes died too. And so, I received my second citation from Saanich last summer, when at least two complainants reported me for noxious weeds and impingement of the hedge into the sidewalk right of way. Saanich sent a regular post letter, a registered mail letter, a bylaw officer, then two environmental services officers to the house. After their visit, charges were dropped. How many native boulevard trees could Saanich have planted for the costs of chasing an imaginary foe? How many camas bulbs? Without the EDPA and associated bylaws, there’s little to stop developers and property owners from cutting trees, and little to encourage them to plant native species, other than their own stubbornness and vision. Fortunately, there is a great deal of that in the region (look to Oaklands’ Tamara Batory and her plan to transform boulevards on Lang Street into pollinator corridors as a recent wonderful example), but there needs to be more. In September, Cornell University published a seven-university study showing that since 1970, bird populations in Canada and the USA have dropped by 30 percent. Billions of birds have vanished, including over 1 billion forest birds, 700 million grassland species, and 160 million dark-eyed juncos (a favourite at my feeder). The cause? Habitat loss. The results of the study, says its lead author, Ken Rosenberg, are “a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife,” indicating a “coming collapse of the overall environment.” The collapse isn’t limited to birds. Similar studies have shown precipitous drops in the population of insects, amphibians, freshwater, saltwater and terrestrial megafauna. Last year, Jan Zwicky and Robert Bringhurst—Quadra Island philosophers, poets and scholars—published Learning to Die: Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis. They mourn what they see as a fundamental change in how humans live on the Earth: a loss of “genuine connection to the natural world [that] is fundamental to human flourishing.” When we try to make something into what it isn’t (a lawn is a nostalgic memorial to England’s sprawling estates), we disconnect from what is actually here: moss, liquorice fern, fairy cup lichen—all the species Langford is mowing down for housing tracts and cedar hedges. The planting I’ve done connects me to the Earth—to the place I’ve chosen in this world, with its rocky outcrops, its plethora of food sources, its clemency and beauty. It helps others do that as well. The Native Friendship Centre’s daycare leads kids past my house every morning. The teachers stop and point out the native species. They eat salmonberries in spring. The collapse of ecosystems is being hastened by climate change, making our remaining natural areas (including those on private land) all the more valuable. The stewardship of parks in our region is laudable; we couldn’t do without the tireless volunteers who keep these places beautiful. But we need every single resident in the region—whether you rent or own or live in a condo—to plant and care for native species. Take a trip around the region and count the trees that have succumbed this summer to the increasingly unstable weather that climate change is bringing. I counted over two dozen on one walk in Thetis Lake Park. As species die, the pressure mounts on those of us who are still lucky enough to harbour some form of biodiversity in our yards. What if we looked at stewardship as a task not just for parks? What if care of our yards and boulevards were a responsibility as profoundly important as that for the Sooke Hills or Playfair Park? I hear stories from neighbours who don’t water their boulevard trees because it’s “not [their] responsibility.” Actually, it is (both legally and philosophically). Our parks won’t compensate for Garry oaks lost to viewscape improvements or meadows lost to development. Or laurel hedges (a species on the invasives list in Washington State) and English ivy, instead of salmonberry and honeysuckle. Or Kentucky blue grass instead of bunch grasses and kinnikinnick. The rich complexity of nature needs to supplant our nostalgia for tidiness and control. Why are we in trouble? We are adhering to outdated ideas, attempting to manage, not garden, the life outside our doors. We’re okay with wildness in parks, but fear its appearance in our own yards. Why does long grass look wrong to us? Why are Garry oak trees considered messy? It’s time to jettison these damaging preconceptions. Time to live in place, where we are, not some tidied-up version of suburban glory. Let’s bring the beauty of our parks home, so that other species can also live outside those refugia. We can’t support every species in our backyards, but we can certainly help. It’s not going to happen, however, if we keep mowing our dandelions, and everything else, into submission. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.
  4. Posted May 1, 2020 Photo: Painted Lady butterfly Pollinator gardens on Victoria’s Lang Street help native plants and bees. Go to story
  5. Pollinator gardens on Victoria’s Lang Street help native plants and bees MY NEIGHBOUR CUT DOWN HIS HERITAGE APPLE this spring (which used to support the bees every spring and feed us every fall). At our shared fence, I tried to convince him otherwise: food security; habitat for wildlife; the tree was a perch for the Anna’s hummingbird that nests in my yard; wildness; beauty. “It’s ugly. I don’t want to look at it,” he responded. He replaced it with cedar hedging, one of the thirstiest plants in the region. You can spot them by looking for the brittle brown skeletons edging people’s yards each summer; they are dying in droves. The problems we had before COVID-19 hit us—increasing drought, falling pollinator numbers, decreased biodiversity, rampant development in natural areas—are still with us. The skies might look clearer, but I saw only two bees pollinating my pear tree this April. Empty seed displays at stores attest to the increasing numbers of people growing food this summer. But gardens are appearing and disappearing this summer thanks to COVID-19. Mike Large (who I last wrote about regarding Haultain Corners’ boulevard gardens) had a couple of ambitious summer projects before the pandemic hit. One was to work with the Oaklands Community Association (OCA) on a five-day kids gardening camp this August. But, along with all of OCA’s summer programs, it has been cancelled because of the virus. The camp would have seen construction of a garden on OCA lands, as well as some boulevard plots especially reserved for children’s plantings. Large also had plans to establish a new community boulevard garden in Victoria. Community gardens are notoriously overstretched; many have waiting lists that number in the hundreds, and one of the primary roadblocks to new community garden spaces is finding a location. Vacant land in cities would seem the obvious choice, but it’s harder to proceed with a new development if an established garden is present, so landowners are often reluctant. Many parks have open grassy areas, but these areas are often viewed as essential recreation spaces (even if they’re not often used). Why not convert a boulevard instead? Large is working with adjacent property owners, organizers and potential gardeners. But COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into the process. “I’m optimistic that a window of opportunity will open over the summer,” he tells me by email, but for now, this project is “on pause,” another of many community action casualties during the pandemic. But there is a project that’s ongoing despite the current emergency. A couple of years ago, Tamara Batory began organizing with nine of her neighbours because she wanted to do something to make her street “more sociable.” Lang Street runs between Cook and Cedar Hill just south of Finlayson in Saanich. It has remnant Garry oak meadow patches along its residential length. Batory and her neighbours read about the All Ireland Pollinator Plan (pollinators.ie), which is striving to create habitat for pollinating insects across that country. They were inspired. Around 70 percent of our food crops require or benefit from pollinators. Honey bee populations have seen drastic losses in the last decade, and 1 in 4 native bee species is at risk of extinction in North America. Native flowering plants depend on pollinators such as bees, birds and bats to reproduce. Their beneficial effects cascade through ecosystems. A native Painted Lady butterfly sipping nectar from a non-native Buddleia (Photo by David Broadland) Batory and her neighbours applied for and received two grants from the Victoria Foundation and the Native Plant Study Group to purchase native plant seedlings. They spent the winter of 2019 sheet mulching small patches of each of their boulevards, adjacent to the sidewalk, to prepare for planting. Sheet mulching adds layers of cardboard, leaves, compost and manure over existing grass in order to create a new bed. In summer 2019, they added a variety of native plants and this spring they’re enlarging the plots with the money left from the grants. A physically-distanced walk along Lang Street with Batory revealed Nootka rose, red-flowering currant, woolly sunflower, camas, blue-eyed Mary, nodding onion and many other native shrubs, flowers, and bunch grasses. As the city densifies, these pollinator corridors—which provide food and habitat for birds, insects and reptiles—will become more and more integral to biodiversity. “We would like to start sharing seed in the future,” Batory tells me. She’s also hoping to install signage that can communicate the WASANEC and Lekwungen names for plants. There’s no payment required for neighbours on Lang to join the pollinator gardens, and Batory hopes the movement will spread. She muses, “Maybe people will think of what they can do to help!” In this time of great uncertainty and sadness, stop before you cut anything down. Wait a moment, as the poet Kenneth Koch wrote, “to see what is already there.” Then add food plants or native species, don’t subtract. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.
  6. Posted April 8, 2020 Photo: Vegetables can be grown on a City of Victoria boulevard. A pandemic is a good time to start sowing food seeds, whether in your yard or a nearby boulevard. Go to story
  7. Vegetables and flowers in a City of Victoria boulevard (Photo courtesy City of Victoria) THE COVID-19 pandemic has seen a surge of press about victory gardens recently. The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and Australia’s Broadcasting Corporation are all talking about the vegetable gardens planted during the First and Second World Wars, when governments encouraged residents to grow food as a way of freeing up national production and shipping capacity, raising local food production and increasing food security. As COVID-19 tracks a course around the world, many are asking questions about food security on Vancouver Island, the available stock in grocery stores and individual self-sufficiency that haven’t been asked since the conformities of the 1950s, when victory vegetable gardens were swept away by Kentucky bluegrass lawns. One benefit of this pandemic could be the return of local food systems, grown in neighbourhoods near you. In support of community resilience, on April 2, Victoria councillors Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday announced a City project to grow food seedlings in the Beacon Hill municipal nursery. Between 50,000 and 75,000 plants will be distributed along with soil and educational resources this growing season in response to Covid-19. If you want an example of successful boulevard gardens, take a physically-distanced walk to the corner of Haultain and Asquith Streets, where lawyer and boulevard gardener Mike Large and local neighbours have created street-side gardens that could easily (and do) feed more than a few families through the year. Mike Large The Haultain Corners—where a coffee shop, a grocery and a few other stores anchor the community—supports three boulevard gardens. Self-seeded arugula pokes through the grass; raspberry canes hug a bus shelter. Miner’s lettuce and chard nestle around berry bushes and well-trimmed fig trees. During my walk with Large, we each pick a bag of greens as he describes the gardens and their neighbours, the current and former owners who have stewarded these parcels. Boulevard garden near Haultain Corners Village When Large first came upon a couple tending vegetables on a boulevard on Fernwood’s Haultain Street, about a decade ago, he admits to me, “I didn’t even know how to plant a potato.” Large graduated with enormous debt and a law degree in 1998; he went to work for private companies and government in Ontario, but it wasn’t his calling. He returned to Victoria to complete a Master’s in Law in 2008. The boulevard garden, planted by his friends Margot Johnston and Rainey Hopewell, struck him as an exciting opportunity to get directly involved in bottom-up change in his city. What else is there other than the state, he wondered. What tools can we use to enact positive change in our communities? A lot has changed since that first meeting. Large met Ben Isitt in 2014. Isitt thought he could get votes on council for support of new boulevard garden guidelines. Victoria had just passed a new Official Community Plan that seemed to support innovative urban food production. Gardens were already common in many areas of Victoria but no official support for them existed. By 2016, Large had worked with council and 12 local community groups to draft and pass an interim, then an official guideline: “Growing in the City.” You don’t need the City’s permission anymore to dig up that grass. At Haultain Corners, “there’s never a raspberry to be found, in summer,” he laughs. People graze while they wait for the bus. The verdant, chaotic, early-spring greens muscle their way out of the earth. Mike picks up a pair of secateurs he knows must belong to a woman who tends the edges of the largest garden and returns them to her shed. “I’m optimistic,” he says. “It’s slowly dawning on people how fragile a system we’ve built.” Now that we are increasingly confined to our own neighbourhoods, it may be time to put away the lawn mower and start sowing carrot seeds. “Everyone should be able to feed themselves,” argues Large. Gardening also presents an ideal opportunity to stay social while physically distancing. Get your beds ready; Victoria’s nursery seedlings will be ready to hand out to residents soon. Still, there are logistical challenges with matching gardeners with land. Many live in rentals or apartments and don’t have the space to garden. Next week, I’ll look at Large’s new project, which he hopes will link the community garden model with boulevards perfect for gardening. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.
  8. Two UVic librarians volunteering for Surfrider are leading the battle against industrial plastic on our beaches. DANIEL BRENDLE-MOCZUK takes a small jar from his office shelf and shakes it, his eyebrows knitting together. “This is from one site, one collection, ten litres of sand.” He hands me the 192 millilitres of small plastic pellets, about the size and shape of a Baby Aspirin. They are various colours of white, beige, pale yellow, and grey. They darken as they absorb contaminants from the ocean, he tells me. Brendle-Moczuk’s colleague, David Boudinot, walked into his office with a jar of the pellets in 2016. “I started going to monthly beach cleanups at Willows Beach,” Boudinot tells me. A foot down, the sand was saturated. “I didn’t know what they were.” The beach clean-up Boudinot attended was organized by Surfrider, an international organization started by surfers to clean up the places they love. Brendle-Moczuk soon joined in. Both are University of Victoria librarians, and their investigation into the pellets—called “nurdles,” or pre-consumer plastic pellets—have led them to surprising places. Brendle-Moczuk’s daughter calls him and Boudinot “Nurdle Man 1 and 2.” She’s picked up on their dedication to their work. Together, they are helping to illuminate an unfolding environmental disaster occurring quietly on southeast-facing beaches all over the region. Daniel Brendle-Moczuk holds nurdles found on the shore of the Fraser River near an Annacis Island facility that uses nurdles Pre-consumer plastic pellets are just that—plastic which has been produced by a refinery, but not yet made into the plastic bags, buckets, storage containers, and packaging we see in stores. The pellets are small and oval to facilitate easy transportation (imagine trying to ship, then melt, a giant plastic cube). Plastic consumer products are produced all over the world, including just across the strait, in Port Coquitlam, North Burnaby, and Annacis Island, which lies between Richmond and Surrey. Brendle-Moczuk and Boudinot couldn’t figure out how the plastic pellets were arriving to Inside Passage waters on the West Coast. At first, they looked to Asia. But there’s a commonality to the locations on the mainland: the Fraser River. Brendle-Moczuk took a trip to see his in-laws and stopped by Annacis Island on his way. With a ballcap pulled down low, he shot photos of several plastics manufacturers’ facilities grounds. Though they declined to give me company names, Google map lists Plasticon Plastics, ibox Packaging, Merlin Plastics Supply, and Plasti-Fab Delta as operating facilities on the island. Brendle-Moczuk’s photos show train tracks (where the pellets are unloaded into trucks), yards (where pellets are shifted from truck to facility) and parking lots littered with plastic pellets. At the edges of these stretches of sidewalk are storm drains—which empty into the Fraser River. When Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk took their research to the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA), they denied responsibility: the pellets, CPIA said, came from Asia. But intertidal movement wouldn’t push plastic pellets that far upriver, and certainly not into the canals of the island, or all the way into the storm drains. “This is an industrial solidified oil spill that’s been happening for decades,” says Boudinot, “and no one is doing anything about it.” David Boudinot holds a nurdle sample retrieved from a West Coast beach Since 2016, Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk have spent countless hours researching the spills, the types of plastic the pellets are made from (both high- and low-density PolyEthylene and Polypropylene), and monitoring spill sites. Brendle-Moczuk has watched pellets disappear from parking lots after staff pressure-washed them down the drains. Every time he goes to Vancouver, he does research on the sites he’s been keeping track of. Boudinot spends hours each month combing beaches and sifting sand to get an idea of pellet concentration. Last fall, he spent four hours walking the beach at Goose Spit in Courtney. “This is what we do, every time we go somewhere,” he says. They look for southeast-facing beaches without a hard edge (like a sea wall or rock face) where pellets tend to gather. Esquimalt Lagoon is a prime location. Cadboro Bay, Willows Beach, any southeast facing beaches on the Gulf Islands. Strong winter storms come from this direction, pushing the pellets onto the beaches. They are keeping a map of areas where pellets have been found, which includes locations all over Vancouver Island, the mainland, Sunshine Coast, and the San Juan Islands. It’s estimated that more than 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into oceans every year. Over 90 percent of sea birds have plastic in their stomachs. Photos from Midway Island, in the South Pacific, show wildlife that has succumbed to plastic ingestion, literally starving albatrosses to death. By 2050, it’s expected there will be more plastic than fish in the Earth’s oceans. Much of this comes from post-consumer plastic (plastic which has been made into a bottle or disposable food packaging, for example) but pre-consumer plastic pellets are just as dangerous—not to mention a totally unnecessary and preventable form of pollution. Plastic pellets absorb hydrophobic pollutants in water, becoming more contaminated the longer they float. These pellets have been found in 22 percent of marine fish, according to a 2016 Marine Pollution Bulletin study. Ingestion of plastics can induce hepatic stress, intra-epithelial cysts, affect blood calcium levels, and cause endocrine disruptions in animals. Studies on humans wouldn’t be ethical to do, but many extrapolate the effect on animals to include humans. Bisphenol-A, one compound in plastics, has been found to increase anorexia nervosa, disrupt the endocrine system, and impact fetal development in humans. Recently, its replacement, Bisphenol-S, has been found to be just as (if not more) dangerous. This fall, Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk made a video, in collaboration with Surfrider, on plastic pellet spills in the Fraser River. Along with scenic shots of the West Coast, the video shows students from the 2019 Geography Sustainability Field School, who found hundreds of nurdles in just an hour of sifting. Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk are also working with law professor Calvin Sandborn to figure out how to best publicize the issue, since the plastics industry is notorious for fighting back against bad press (remember their challenge of Victoria’s plastic bag ban?). They’ve also enlisted the help of UVic’s chemistry students to analyze the pellets, and biology students to research the effects of plastic in fish. Geography cartographer Ken Josephson helped them put together their map. The Canadian Plastics Industry Association promotes Operation Clean Sweep, an international best practices program designed to prevent plastic pellet contamination in waterways and oceans. But participation is voluntary. The Ministry of Environment states that discharge of pollution to the environment is prohibited under the Environment Management Act. But it has not responded to Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk’s findings, other than to say it will be “looking into these concerns and determining appropriate next steps.” Last Fall, Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk sent their Surfrider video to the media. They held a media conference on Annacis Island in October. CBC and Global News turned up. Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk recommended that industries should be required to install storm drain covers to collect pellets and prevent them from entering waterways. When Brendle-Moczuk returned to Annacis Island later that fall, he noticed that many of the work sites he had previously documented were suddenly cleaner. Some storm drains had felt filters installed (albeit not all correctly). But he and Boudinot worry this is a temporary measure, designed to ease tensions until media and public attention turns to the next story. “We’re calling on the Ministry of Environment and the Province of BC to investigate these spills and monitor them, and make sure they don’t happen in the first place,” says Boudinot. Their fears were confirmed last month. The heavy rains of late January and early February sent thousands of pellets into Annacis Island’s Audley Channel. According to Surfrider, the piles of pellets were up to three centimetres deep. They also want the public to be aware of the insidious nature of plastics production. “The oil industry is pivoting away from oil and gas for cars, and building plastic manufacturing plants instead.” Despite recent moves to reduce single-use plastics, the material is used everywhere. Brendle-Moczuk and Boudinot would like to see pellets labelled as an industrial pollutant. They encourage the public to call RAPP (Report all Poachers and Polluters) if they see a spill. They plan to liaise with First Nations and make another video about the spills happening in their traditional territories. And Boudinot has a simple solution for what to do when pellets escape. “When a spill happens, clean it up!” Residents can call RAPP to report pellet spills or the presence of pellets on beaches or waterways at 1-877-952-7277. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.
  9. A Fernwood well brings history lessons, community, and precious water together. AFTER A CAPITAL REGION SUMMER of near-normal precipitation and one of the wettest Octobers on record (though one of the driest Novembers), it’s easy to forget the troubles much of the world has with limited water supplies. California’s groundwater supply is dwindling; Cape Town is running dry; even Tofino has run out in the past. Climate change promises to bring water insecurity to much of the world. So when a water source is dedicated by the Hudson’s Bay Company to the people of Victoria for all eternity—a source that produces from a fractured rock spring in the middle of a growing city—it’s best to count your blessings, and perhaps even take a sip. Bill Goers was talking over the fence to a neighbour not long after moving to Fernwood in 1979 when he heard that Fernwood had once been the main water source for Victoria. “This was interesting to me,” he says when we talk at his store, Common Sense Orthotics on Fort Street. The water came from several springs on Fernwood’s Spring Ridge—from which Spring Street takes its name. Flowing from gravel deposits left from the last ice age, the water was collected and delivered first by bucket, and then by wooden pipe until the 1870s. “People have been meeting at wells forever,” Goers muses, “It’s very old stuff.” Less controversial than saving trees or protecting grizzly bears, water is basic. It draws people together and highlights commonalities. The springs in Fernwood—and the wells that were built over them—were a gathering place for 1800s settlers. Bill Goers (Photo by Tony Bounsall) During a Fernwood Community Association radio interview, Joanne Murray, Goers’ wife and vice president of the Fernwood Community Association, recounts the story of Englishman George Hunter Carey, a settler who attempted to privatize the springs. In 1861, Carey bought land that included a popular Fernwood spring. He fenced it off and tried to charge for water. Locals were outraged and burned the fence down. He was excoriated in Victoria newspapers. Carey had the protesters arrested, but the courts sided against him. Over 20 years after first hearing the story of the Fernwood springs, a friend of Goers was doing research in the UVic Law Library and found evidence of an 1866 land conveyance as part of the Act of Union. It dated back to pre-confederation, when the Hudson’s Bay Company passed ownership of Vancouver Island to the Crown. As part of the union, a well on Spring Ridge was set aside and dedicated, forever, to the people of Victoria. The dedication of the well by HBC was likely a result of the public outcry against Carey’s attempt to privatize a public water source. In the 1870s, when the city began drawing its water from Elk Lake, the Fernwood well ceased to be used; its location was eventually forgotten. Much of Spring Ridge itself was turned into a quarry. But Goers’ interest was piqued. He continued his research. Historical maps placed the well just north of William Stevenson Park, near the Fernwood Community Centre. Telling me the story, his enthusiasm spills out, fingers raking his hair until it stands on end. Goers relates how he gathered together local dowser Ron Welch and a few members of the Fernwood community to start planning. Welch dowsed the entire Fernwood neighbourhood, and eventually found water in a corner of Stevenson Park. The Fernwood Community Well project was born, ushering in the return of an old, old practice of gathering around the well. The group won a $3500 neighbourhood matching grant in 2005 and worked with Victoria’s parks department and gained permission to drill a shallow well of 25 feet. They hit water immediately, which explains why even in the heat of summer, you can walk through Fernwood and hear a trickling of streams under manhole covers. The area, says Goers, is one of Victoria’s only dependable water sources. In 2008, Goers was prodded by the City of Victoria to spend the rest of their grant money. He worked with Tri-K Drilling to drill a deeper well of 150 feet. Goers won the fourth annual World Water Day Award for his work in 2008. Yet the well still didn’t have a pump. Spring water, or well water, is still the primary source of water for most who live outside of the Capital Region’s urban areas. I used to live in a house in Willis Point that had one. Iron and calcium turned the linens yellow and scaled the inside of the toilet. It was worth it, though, for the minerals it infused into my garden and for the taste. But for those of us who don’t have our own free source, water remains an uncertain resource in the event of a catastrophic earthquake. Are we prepared to supply water in an emergency in the Capital Region, Goers asked the Emergency Preparedness team in the region? “Not really,” they admitted. Goers had been negotiating with the CRD, VIHA and the City for permission to drill the well, slowly gaining their trust. He finally convinced officials to let him build and fit the well with a pump by appealing to the need for an emergency source of water. At the end of 2008, Goers and the Community Association won funding to install a pump and cement footing. The CRD has stipulated that the pump can’t remain operational, for liability reasons. They tried locking it, but people kept cutting the lock off. So when it’s not in use, Goers keeps the handle at his house. A well dedication celebration took place in October 2008. Goers was joined by MP Denise Savoie and MLA Rob Fleming, Songhees Chief Ron Sam and Lieutenant Governor of BC Steven Point. “Water is a public resource,” Savoie said, “It just flows through, it can’t be owned.” As a crowd observed, the well was blessed in Christian, Buddhist, Jewish and Wiccan ceremonies. Ceremonial cups were drunk by many, including Point and Sam. Goers, who is incredibly modest, watched from the background. “Officially, it’s not for drinking,” Goers tells me, “But it belongs to all of us; no one can take this away from us.” Goers thinks of the well as a 150-year project, and the community as its steward. Eventually, he’d like to see the well earn a series of good testing reports so that officials consent to keeping the well unlocked and available as a dependable drinking source. It could offer what so many towns in Europe offer: drinkable spring water as part of public infrastructure. In the meantime, Goers is out at 9am every third Saturday of the month, rain or shine, to reattach the well handle and pump for anyone who wants some water. You can join him. Many swear their tomatoes grow larger from the mineral content, and bring buckets. Though the water is not officially sanctioned as potable, some stock up, filling glass containers for an iron-rich drink. Some use it for the making of essential oils, which need chlorine-free water for distillation. I’ve joined him a couple of times this fall, and a varied assortment of people always show up. Kids like hanging off the pump while getting the water flowing. “People light up to the idea of what we have,” says Goers. “I’m always pleased to go, because every time, I meet someone I haven’t met before.” The five gallons I bring home tastes of rock and pine and minerals. It’s more thirst-quenching than water out of the tap. I fill my glass every day. Visit Bill Goers in Stevenson Park, below the Fernwood Community Centre, on Pembroke Street. He’s there on the third Saturday of every month at 9am. Bring a container. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.
  10. A plea for action on this column’s fourth anniversary. I TEACH A GEOGRAPHY COURSE at the University of Victoria called Landscapes of the Heart. In it, I take my students out into local landscapes—Mount Tolmie, Mary Lake, Tod Inlet—with the goal of opening their eyes and hearts to this region’s species and ecosystems. We paint and draw in the field. We look at how poets, visual artists, philosophers and geographers are trying to connect us to place. Students spend the fall immersed in landscape, producing some of the most thoughtful, emotionally engaged work I’ve had the pleasure of seeing as a teacher. The course begins with a three-hour class called “Why are we in trouble?” This issue, I want to posit some answers to this question. I’ve been writing a column on volunteer stewards in the region for four years with Focus and I love the work. It’s inspiring getting to meet so many people who are passionate about our local ecosystems and who try to improve life for the multitudes of creatures with whom we share these islands. But this month’s column turns the lens on my own experience as an environmental steward. I think one answer to why we’re in trouble can be illustrated by my own history. In 2011, during the writing of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, I began nurturing a native plant garden in my 5,300-square-foot yard. It’s a project that has raised no end of protest from my neighbours. I live in Saanich’s Gorge-Tillicum neighbourhood, where former farmland was planted with houses in the 1930s and 1940s. The clay soil supports boulevards of blackberry. On my street, trees are sparse and gardens infrequent. People mow their dandelions. Since I began the transformation of my sterile lawn into a wild ecosystem, I’ve been cited by Saanich bylaw enforcement officers twice. The first citation (for cultivation of noxious weeds) was in 2011, when I had let the grass grow long to see if camas lay buried in the lot. The fight I launched against the municipality’s citation landed me on the front page of the Times Colonist. I won. Since then, I’ve cultivated a native hedgerow (of Oregon grape, Nootka rose, snowberry, red osier dogwood, salmonberry, and Pacific ninebark). I’ve also planted 17 native trees. After eight years of seeding and growth, the hedge is 10-12 feet tall and supports a wide variety of bird species through the year. Camas, nodding onion, vetch and fawn lily bloom in the meadow. There are Garry oaks, Douglas-fir, arbutus, several mock orange, honeysuckle and ocean spray. When a kid entered my yard on Halloween last fall, he exclaimed, “it’s like walking into a forest!” Left: The author’s front yard in 2011, around the time of the first citation. Right: Flourishing native plants, around the time of the second citation. The wildness has encouraged more wildness. Last summer, I hosted a family of weasels. There are crickets (which I transplanted from Mount Tolmie), over a dozen species of songbirds, hummingbirds, lizards, raccoons, dragonflies, mason and bumble bees. A raven pair, a barred owl and a Swainson’s hawk use the yard to hunt. This fall, I harvested my first edible mushrooms (lepiota rachodes), which shows that the yards of mulch I’ve brought in and the undisturbed soil are now supporting a healthy mycorrhizal layer (which supports the health of trees). All this in a desertified neighbourhood largely barren of boulevard trees or anything approaching native habitat. In April 2018, when Saanich council struck down the Environmental Development Protection Area bylaw (EDPA), along with it went changes to whole series of bylaws; they had been rewritten to exempt naturescaping property owners like myself from being cited. When the EDPA died, these bylaw changes died too. And so, I received my second citation from Saanich last summer, when at least two complainants reported me for noxious weeds and impingement of the hedge into the sidewalk right of way. Saanich sent a regular post letter, a registered mail letter, a bylaw officer, then two environmental services officers to the house. After their visit, charges were dropped. How many native boulevard trees could Saanich have planted for the costs of chasing an imaginary foe? How many camas bulbs? Without the EDPA and associated bylaws, there’s little to stop developers and property owners from cutting trees, and little to encourage them to plant native species, other than their own stubbornness and vision. Fortunately, there is a great deal of that in the region (look to Oaklands’ Tamara Batory and her plan to transform boulevards on Lang Street into pollinator corridors as a recent wonderful example), but there needs to be more. In September, Cornell University published a seven-university study showing that since 1970, bird populations in Canada and the USA have dropped by 30 percent. Billions of birds have vanished, including over 1 billion forest birds, 700 million grassland species, and 160 million dark-eyed juncos (a favourite at my feeder). The cause? Habitat loss. The results of the study, says its lead author, Ken Rosenberg, are “a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife,” indicating a “coming collapse of the overall environment.” The collapse isn’t limited to birds. Similar studies have shown precipitous drops in the population of insects, amphibians, freshwater, saltwater and terrestrial megafauna. Last year, Jan Zwicky and Robert Bringhurst—Quadra Island philosophers, poets and scholars—published Learning to Die: Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis. They mourn what they see as a fundamental change in how humans live on the Earth: a loss of “genuine connection to the natural world [that] is fundamental to human flourishing.” When we try to make something into what it isn’t (a lawn is a nostalgic memorial to England’s sprawling estates), we disconnect from what is actually here: moss, liquorice fern, fairy cup lichen—all the species Langford is mowing down for housing tracts and cedar hedges. The planting I’ve done connects me to the Earth—to the place I’ve chosen in this world, with its rocky outcrops, its plethora of food sources, its clemency and beauty. It helps others do that as well. The Native Friendship Centre’s daycare leads kids past my house every morning. The teachers stop and point out the native species. They eat salmonberries in spring. The collapse of ecosystems is being hastened by climate change, making our remaining natural areas (including those on private land) all the more valuable. The stewardship of parks in our region is laudable; we couldn’t do without the tireless volunteers who keep these places beautiful. But we need every single resident in the region—whether you rent or own or live in a condo—to plant and care for native species. Take a trip around the region and count the trees that have succumbed this summer to the increasingly unstable weather that climate change is bringing. I counted over two dozen on one walk in Thetis Lake Park. As species die, the pressure mounts on those of us who are still lucky enough to harbour some form of biodiversity in our yards. What if we looked at stewardship as a task not just for parks? What if care of our yards and boulevards were a responsibility as profoundly important as that for the Sooke Hills or Playfair Park? I hear stories from neighbours who don’t water their boulevard trees because it’s “not [their] responsibility.” Actually, it is (both legally and philosophically). Our parks won’t compensate for Garry oaks lost to viewscape improvements or meadows lost to development. Or laurel hedges (a species on the invasives list in Washington State) and English ivy, instead of salmonberry and honeysuckle. Or Kentucky blue grass instead of bunch grasses and kinnikinnick. The rich complexity of nature needs to supplant our nostalgia for tidiness and control. Why are we in trouble? We are adhering to outdated ideas, attempting to manage, not garden, the life outside our doors. We’re okay with wildness in parks, but fear its appearance in our own yards. Why does long grass look wrong to us? Why are Garry oak trees considered messy? It’s time to jettison these damaging preconceptions. Time to live in place, where we are, not some tidied-up version of suburban glory. Let’s bring the beauty of our parks home, so that other species can also live outside those refugia. We can’t support every species in our backyards, but we can certainly help. It’s not going to happen, however, if we keep mowing our dandelions, and everything else, into submission. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.
  11. Saving forests and removing invasives in Saanich FROM HIS HOME IN EAST SAANICH, Harry Drage tells me “It’s fun to say that you worked your entire career in the forests of BC.” A member of the Saanich Environmental Advisory Committee for over ten years, Drage, a forester, has been an ardent volunteer in both Haro Woods and Konukson Park (in East Saanich) since his retirement. This summer, Drage received Saanich’s Individual Environmental Achievement Award for 15 years of leadership in stewarding invasive species removal in Haro Woods and Konukson, a testament to his dedication to local ecosystems. Together with local residents, Drage has removed invasive species, applied for grants, helped to inspire the community and supported student research in the parks. He and other volunteers have logged over 4,500 hours clearing large areas of invasive species from both parks. Konukson encompasses seven hectares of upland terrain in Ten Mile Point, with arbutus and rocky outcrops; Haro Woods is a large parcel northeast (5.6 hectares) of the University of Victoria, with tall stands of second-growth Douglas fir. Harry Drage (Photo by Tony Bounsall) “Haro is about half done,” Drage tells me, and now, areas that have been cleared of invasives are recovering well, with ferns, snowberry and other native underbrush sprouting up under the firs. “You can actually see the [restored] area of the park gradually moving through like a force not to be denied,” he laughs. Haro Woods was the centre of recent controversy during the planning for the region’s sewage treatment facility, which will see wastewater and biosolids pumped to McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt for treatment. As part of the plan, Haro Woods was proposed as the site for a series of underground attenuation tanks and an above-ground pumping station; the construction would have seen a significant portion of forest cut down. In 2009, public consultation around the Haro Woods site resulted in strong pushback by local residents. I remember attending those meetings (at the time as an employee of the CRD). Haro Woods, then an unprotected greenspace zoned for large lot residential development, was nonetheless known informally as a forested trail system, and supported a variety of uses (including mountain bike trails). Some of the meetings grew quite heated. Drage demurs talking about this period. “I know some people think confrontation is hard to overcome,” he says. He tries to remain optimistic, focusing instead on the cooperation between residents’ associations and developers, and the growing support for the environment, and biodiversity, by Saanich. “We have 50 volunteer projects [in the municipality] with people stepping up. They’re coming forward on their own. That’s a really good sign.” As a result of the community’s resistance to the proposed pumping station site, the CRD retreated from its plan. Attenuation tanks will still be built on part of the site, but they will be located underground in a previously disturbed area. In 2011, Saanich purchased the CRD-owned portions of the site for $7.6 million, allowing for protection of 94 percent of the urban forest as parkland in 2013. For Drage, who began restoration work long before the land caught the CRD’s eye as a potential sewage treatment site, it simply shows the commendable actions of Saanich, which, along with the acquisition of Panama Flats in 2011, added 79 hectares to its park inventory in one year. Drage applauds the purchase, and his experiences in the park mirror many I heard speak at those 2009 community consultation sessions. The decision to save Haro Woods, however, many not be as simple as portrayed by former Mayor Frank Leonard’s joyous announcement. Saanich is the largest municipality in the CRD, and its reach stretches beyond the high-value properties of Queenswood, Ten Mile Point and Cadboro Bay, where many residents have time to become organized defenders of local green spaces. There are numerous properties throughout Saanich’s land base that would also seem to demand attention. Priorities change depending on the lens through which we look. Haro Woods is a recovering second-growth forest. Drage’s work has rid approximately half the park of invasive species. The other half sits waiting, while Saanich concludes its park management plan. But damage to the park over the decades—by invasives, through the construction of mountain-bike jumps, and through heavy use by residents—is extensive. In contrast, one might look at the protection of Maltby Lake, also within Saanich’s boundaries (and covered in this magazine). From an ecological perspective, Maltby has a much higher biodiversity rating; it contains old-growth pockets of Douglas fir; it supports a colony of freshwater jellyfish and dozens of listed species. And it could eventually be connected to Francis King Park, forming a contiguous wildlife corridor through the area. Maltby is owned in part by the Land Conservancy of BC, and in part by private landowners. Should that $7.6 million have been put instead toward purchase of portions of Maltby, or of other parts of the Saanich Highlands, which are under increasing threat from development? Drage has another solution. As a forester trained in the latter half of the 20th century, he subscribes to management practices that see a forest as a resource or a crop, as well as an ecological refugium. For much of his career, Drage was district manager in the Salmon Arm and Shushwap Lake area. In Victoria, he worked as an analyst for the BC Forest Practices branch, including planning for woodlots. For him, city boulevards—and forests such as Haro Woods—provide an opportunity for use as woodlots. City trees could be a part of this plantation, offers Drage, with orchards planted on side streets (and even on some lanes of streets, he offers) and selective harvesting of larger forests. It’s a novel vision. But when asked, he doesn’t have a ready answer to the question of biodiversity levels in mature forests as opposed to woodlots. The former support species such as great horned owls and bats. The latter tend not to have the decaying trees and forest floor detritus necessary to house and feed these creatures. Still, planting more trees would certainly help bolster Saanich’s currently spotty record with boulevard tree planting. “To me,” he says, “[boulevard planting] isn’t moving very far very fast. The profile needs to be increased.” One of the simplest ways to combat global warming, he stresses, is through the planting of trees. As someone who’s been trying to get my nearly treeless street in Saanich planted for over seven years, I concur. Drage would also like to see more incentives for landowners and developers to choose nature-scaping and the retention of trees on their properties. When beginning work in Haro Woods and Konukson, Drage had to read up on invasives before he knew what to look for in each park’s tangle of English ivy, Daphne, Himalayan blackberry and Scotch broom. In Konukson, he and other volunteers sectioned off areas to work methodically, somewhat like what’s happening in Cuthbert Holmes Park, in Saanich’s Tillicum neighbourhood, or the meticulous record-keeping that Jarrett Teague does for John Dean Park. “It’s almost a war, in some cases it’s so thick,” he says. “When the last invasive [in a section] comes out of the ground screaming in agony, it’s not fun, but it’s close to that.” Haro Woods and Konukson are all the better for his and his compatriots’ dedication. “It’s amazing to walk through [the park] now. The natural plants have come back—oh, it was fabulous,” he says. Due to the region’s deer overpopulation problem, the rebound of native species in some areas hasn’t been as quick as he’d like to see, but he has a solution for that, too. “Venison could become the feature meal out of the forest!” he tells me. I offer to provide the wild blackberry sauce to complete the dish. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between social sciences and poetry.
  12. A deep and abiding love for ȽÁU,WELNEW/John Dean Park is evident in the stewardship work of volunteer Jarrett Teague. IN OLD GROWTH STANDS of Douglas fir and cedar, interspersed with sunlit, mossy meadows of Garry oak and arbutus, Jarrett Teague is surveying a landscape that he’s helped restore into an archetype of Southern Vancouver Island. Free of mature Scotch broom and other invasives, it looks largely as it did before colonization. In winter, rains blanket the park’s forests and trails; in spring, calypso orchids dot the mountain’s slopes. This past May, the W̱SÁNEĆ name for John Dean Provincial Park, ȽÁU,WELNEW (pronounced Tlay will nook), was officially recognized and added to the park’s moniker; Teague was thrilled to see the acknowledgement of a place that has helped sustain him for decades. Over the last 30 years, Teague has logged nearly 13,000 hours of volunteer work in ȽÁU,WELNEW/John Dean, which includes a sacred mountain on the Saanich Peninsula that once sustained the W̱SÁNEĆ peoples during the Great Flood millennia ago. In 2012, Teague was named BC Parks Volunteer of the Year. This past May, his 30-year restoration and caretaking efforts were recognized in the Provincial Legislature by MLA Adam Olsen. In my interview with him at a Tim Horton’s this spring, Teague at first seems reserved, in fact he stops speaking as soon as I begin to write notes. But he visibly relaxes over the course of our chat. About an hour into the interview, I ask him what he remembers of me. Over three decades ago, we were students together at Sidney Elementary. We haven’t had contact since, but somehow we both recall one another. He was a dark-eyed kid; he took things seriously. He wanted to do good. Perhaps we recognized this in one another. He answers my question easily: “I knew you had good parents.” It is a moment that has stayed with me since. Teague isn’t a stranger to good shepherding. A 22-year service member with the Canadian Forces and a father of three, he’s been a doting caretaker of ȽÁU,WELNEW since 1989. “I used to spend hours on ivy removal, and I’d watch the sun move the whole way over,” he gestures, and looks up, as if into a forest canopy. “Different lights, winds, birds. If you’re there for that long, you really know it.” ȽÁU,WELNEW/John Dean Provincial Park was established in 1921, when John Dean donated most of his 100-acre property to the Crown. Subsequent donations through the 1900s brought the park’s size up to 173 hectares, encompassing the summit of Mount Newton and its surrounding forest. A “Class A” park, it was one of the first in BC developed by Forest Rangers for open access by the public; some of its trails are almost 100 years old. Teague, who is a fourth-generation Vancouver Island resident, now lives in East Sooke, but grew up in North Saanich. “In grade six, I did some scouting in the park. I learned how to light a fire in the rain with two matches. By grade nine, I found the Friends of John Dean and started working with them.” Building trails, picking up garbage, preventing erosion and pulling invasive species, Teague quickly became enamoured with the park and its history. He has published two books on the history of John Dean, John Dean’s Cabin Diary, and Camp 20, a history of both ȽÁU,WELNEW/John Dean and BC’s other Provincial Parks. Jarrett Teague clears tree roots from a path in the park following a storm Mount Newton’s original name, ȽÁU,WELNEW, means “place of refuge.” As Adam Olsen tells the story, XÁLS, the Creator, caused a great flood to occur, and told the WSÁNEĆ people to prepare themselves. Many gathered their belongings and wove a long cedar rope to attach to their canoes. As the flood waters rose, the people paddled to the highest mountain nearby, ȽÁU,WELNEW, and tied their canoes to an arbutus tree, surviving the flood. Today, both the mountain and the tree are sacred (arbutus is not cut or burned by WSÁNEĆ peoples). WSÁNEĆ means “the emerging people,” which comes from the sight of their land emerging in the distance after the flood. For Teague, work in the forest is also spiritually significant. He has served two tours of duty overseas in Afghanistan, as well as circumnavigating the globe with the Royal Canadian Navy. The second tour, in Kabul, was uneventful, but the first, to Afghanistan in 2002, left him shaken. “I was like a mouse in a shoebox,” he says. He demurs using the term PTSD, preferring to call it being “wound up.” For the summer after his return, he spent much of every other day at ȽÁU,WELNEW. “It helped me decompress and heal from the experience,” he says. Teague’s time with the military has influenced his management of the park in prominent ways. He refers to his two-hour commute to and from East Sooke as his “deployment.” He has a system to keep track of tasks that need doing in the park: a piece of garbage in the park for 45 days or longer is a “debt;” fewer than 45 days and it’s a “deficit;” when he picks it up, it’s “paid in full.” These categories apply to invasive species, trail washouts, or signage in need of repair (he takes down, dries, sands, paints and reinstalls all 32 signs in the park with new hardware on a yearly basis). He has spreadsheets to keep track of each task. BC Parks often comes to him for advice. Teague’s organizational skills keep him functioning as a manager, rather than reacting. “When you’re reacting,” he explains, “you’re dealing with the obvious, and you’re missing the details. Everything becomes a priority.” His professional discipline has inspired the trust of local history keepers. He was gifted with retired BC Park Ranger Davey Davidson’s photographs and records of both Manning and John Dean parks. Much of his learning was done at the side of elder volunteers for the Friends of John Dean Park. “I feel I’ve really lost that generation of people who knew me,” he muses. “They affected me.” Teague, at 43, isn’t as concerned about a succession plan for his work as some of the volunteers I’ve profiled in this column. He has no intention of letting go his post. But he is acutely aware of the passage of time. “I realize I only have 50 more Junes left. It spurs me to enjoy the day, to think about what [the park] will be like in 100 years, and what it was like 100 years ago.” This musing about time has led him to expand from restoration to teaching. He now leads Scout and Beaver troops along the same paths he was led along. His children are also learning with him. “It’s kind of a neat feeling for me to see [my son] discovering and connecting with the park. I don’t have to make him, or teach him; he’s just doing it on his own.” Upon Teague’s retirement from the military, which is an option in 2020, he plans to study as a horticultural technician, revelling in the opportunity to work in Royal Roads’ gardens as part of his training. On May 2, 2019, MLA Adam Olsen supported passage of a bill to honour the sacred mountain through addition of the WSÁNEĆ name to the park. During his speech, Olsen briefly lost his composure. Thanking the students from the Tribal School and Cordova Bay Elementary for the petition that spurred the change, he wiped away tears. “That’s the first time that’s happened,” he murmured to a colleague at his side, before continuing. Teague also recounts the moment in his blog, “at exactly 11:19:45 am, the new name “ȽÁU,WELNEW/John Dean Park” was spoken in the Legislature, it sounded perfect and beautiful…” More information on ȽÁU,WELNEW/John Dean Park and its history can be found on Jarrett Teague’s website, www.johndeanpark.com. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between social sciences and poetry.
  13. The Bateman Foundation’s new vision comes into focus. THROUGH ART, we can connect to the natural world. That’s the vision Robert Bateman has been creating his entire life. The 89-year-old artist, famous for his hyper-realistic portraits of wolves, bears, birds and iconic nature scenes, has been an outlier in the Canadian art world for decades. His work has always promoted the importance of nature more than it sought to further a specific style or school of art—he eschewed impressionist or modernist technique for exacting portraits that stay true to the plumage of a red-winged blackbird or the mists that crawl over a coastal bay. This year, the public charity he established in 2012 (and on which he serves as Honorary Chair Emeritus) has rebranded to more exactly attend to that vision. The former Bateman Centre has renamed itself the Bateman Foundation Gallery of Nature. Robert Bateman in his studio The gallery, until now home to a large collection of Bateman’s art, will begin showcasing exhibitions by a wide variety of artists (including photographers, painters and sculptors) for whom the natural world is their focus. And the foundation has begun reaching out beyond the art world. Its goal is to bring more people—especially children—into closer contact with nature, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of its power, and getting people off their devices and into the woods. When a stone is thrown into a pond, Tiffany McFadyen tells me when I visit the gallery, it makes a wave that ripples across the water. “Robert wants to be the stone.” McFadyen, the head of philanthropy and sponsorship for the foundation, confirms that Bateman is thrilled about the changes the Board is implementing, though “it’s been an interesting adjustment.” Many of Bateman’s works will move to other locations when the gallery begins hosting others’ exhibitions. But overall, she says he is pleased with the foundation’s wider reach. “We’re now not just a gallery, but an organization that offers educational programs with a tangible impact,” explains McFadyen. A large part of the foundation’s new work is with children. “Nature deficit disorder” is now recognized as an acute problem for all ages, but children are especially vulnerable. Children spend up to 2,783 hours per year in front of a screen, but only 183 hours outdoors in unstructured play. That’s less than many federal prisoners. Most children can recognize more corporate logos than they can native species of plants and animals. Last year, uproar followed the Oxford Junior Dictionary’s decision to omit words such as acorn, heron and nectar from its new edition, replacing them with words like blog, celebrity and chatroom. The Bateman Foundation’s Nature Sketch program reached 3,000 children across Canada in 2018. Fees for the program are a modest $150 a classroom, which see a naturalist and a sketch artist accompany children outside to learn about ecosystems and species, and practice translating their knowledge into drawings. Adult Nature Sketch programs also run in spring and fall in Victoria (and Duncan), with outings to local favourites like Beacon Hill Park and Mount Tolmie. If you connect people with art about the natural world, Bateman proposes, they’ll be more likely to go outside. The foundation is also working in Vancouver with the BC Children’s Hospital and Anxiety Canada, facilitating Nature Sketch programs with adolescents who suffer from severe anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies. “The kids that weren’t showing up [to school] are now coming for art class every week,” says McFadyen. Engagement with the natural world through the creation of art isn’t so much about product as process, as Thompson Rivers University botanist Lynn Baldwin has recently suggested. Many naturalists argue that we are facing an “extinction of experience” with nature, which compounds the threats facing our planet. “Drawing draws us into the world as we pay attention to easily missed details,” she explains. Drawing rekindles a close relationship with the natural world, encouraging care, and helping us to acknowledge the complex ties we have with Garry oak meadows, Douglas-fir forests and even the backyard birds at our feeders. The Bateman Foundation Gallery of Nature is ideally located for visitors—its waterfront perch occupies the second floor of the Inner Harbour’s historic Steamship Terminal and sees 25,000 visitors annually. Executive Director Peter Ord and the Foundation’s Board hope that more diversity in the gallery’s exhibitions will attract more people, and keep more in tune with the foundation’s vision. Until June, the Gallery of Nature will feature “Plumage: The Majestic Art of Birds,” which includes works by some of the world’s iconic wildlife artists—J.J. Audubon, Fenwick Lansdowne, and Bateman. In June, “Into the Arctic” will open, with paintings and film by renowned Canadian artist and explorer Cory Trépanier, who traversed over 40,000 kilometres of the Arctic during his travels. Cory Trépanier painting in the Arctic Next fall, a short exhibition of Kim Michelle Toft’s hand-painted silk depictions of the Pacific ocean will precede “One Tree,” a biannual celebration of a single tree, which is salvaged and sections distributed to artists. This year’s tree is a 200-year-old bigleaf maple from the Cowichan Valley. Eighty participating artists are creating furniture, musical instruments, and sculptures from its wood. Visit the Bateman Foundation Gallery of Nature at 470 Belleville Street or online at www.batemancentre.org. Maleea Acker studies the intersections of art and science.
  14. A molting elephant seal on Gonzales Beach offered lessons in nature and an occasion for friendship. FOR OAK BAY RESIDENTS Kerri Ward, Gina Lemieux and Stephanie Weinstein, April 2018 was an exhausting month that changed their lives. A female elephant seal arrived on Gonzales Bay beach to complete its annual spring molt. The three met on the beach, while trying to protect the seal. “I don’t think it was an accident,” Ward tells me, of the three women’s introduction to one another. I meet them in Ward’s kitchen, her character house surrounded by red-winged blackbirds, Garry oaks and early spring buds. “I think it was a kindred connection.” But despite their new friendship, the seal’s arrival is not an event they’re eager to repeat. Left to right: Stephanie Weinstein, Kerri Ward, Gina Lemieux Lemieux and Weinstein are biologists; Ward’s background is in conservation, but she now works as a museum curator and as a long- time volunteer for Wild Animal Rescue Centre (Wild ARC). Ward discovered the seal; Lemieux and Weinstein encountered her trying to erect a caution-tape barrier around the animal. A friendship blossomed from their shared love of the natural world. “We are part of nature, not separate from it,” explains Lemieux. “It was amazing to see this seal go through this phenomenal life process.” Ward’s ribbon barrier was a reaction to the frenzy that surrounded the seal’s arrival, which had quickly attracted attention from local residents and media. Even tour buses announced its presence during their travels through Oak Bay. Thanks to the media attention, crowds began visiting the beach, pressing closer and closer to the wild animal. “The behaviour of people was depressing and discouraging,” Ward says. “We’re invading their habitat!” And yet, she says, she encountered many people whose conception of nature was something closer to Disney—where wild animals can be approached for selfie shots or close inspection. Elephant seals go through a “catastrophic molt” every year, during which they lose their fur and their topmost layer of skin. It’s a painful and taxing process. Normally, they don’t eat during their month-long molt, and often lose 25 percent of their body weight. Males normally top out at 4,500 pounds, with a length of 13 feet; females can reach 3,000 pounds. During their molt, they loll on the beach or dip into the water, using the salt and sand to keep cool and relieve pain. Their bodies conserve water during these periods, concentrating their urine so that they excrete less and can go long periods without drinking. In the initial days after the seal’s arrival, Ward, Lemieux and Weinstein quickly formed a team, taking at least three shifts a day to ensure a barrier remained around the seal and helping educate the public. “For the most part, people were respectful,” says Lemieux, and Weinstein agrees, but those that weren’t led to a couple of frightening incidents for the women. The media attention culminated in a confrontation with the public on the sand beside the seal. “I could see the seal, and they were surrounding it, and it was stressed,” Ward recounts. Afraid a confrontation might occur between seal and human (or dog), Ward raced across the beach to ask people to step back. “People started swearing at me, they threw driftwood, they screamed. One guy stood up for me and they turned on him. It was sheer insanity.” Ward contacted Fisheries and Oceans to let them know what happened. The next day, there was a massive response by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Marine Mammal Rescue (an initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium), and local Bylaw enforcement. Pylons and signs were erected. Enforcement officers patrolled. The northern elephant seal’s range stretches from northern Alaska south to Mexico. Many molt at Race Rocks, off Metchosin. Mostly a solitary creature, they migrate as far south as Mexico, congregating to breed and feed. Once hunted for their blubber (like whales), they were nearly extinct by 1882. Less than 100 individuals found refuge on small Guadalupe Island, off the Baja Peninsula, where they were discovered in 1910. The island became a biological reserve in the 1920s, and since then the population has grown to more than 200,000 individuals, all descended from the Guadalupe population. This recovery from near-extinction makes the seals even more precious in Ward’s eyes. “They were here long before us. It’s not fair that we stress them out.” All three women credit the natural world as a guiding force in their lives. Lemieux has worked extensively in Southeast Asia in marine biology and education. After a masters in tropical conservation and development, Weinstein began working in environmental education, and now provides schools all through the CRD with techniques to connect kids to nature. Ward has transported seals, squirrels and countless birds in her car, through her work with Wild ARC. “This is the best place in the world,” they tell me, of BC’s South Coast. They are spider rescuers, snake and jellyfish befrienders, entranced with all that gallops, shimmies and glides. Weinstein and Lemieux qualify that Ward’s bad experience on the beach doesn’t represent the majority of their encounters with the public. Most were far less confrontational, though still lacking knowledge. “They thought the seal was sick or dead, so they went closer and were curious,” Weinstein explains. So she decided to set up an education table. She brought seal skulls, colouring books and information about the seals, gained from her work with the Habitat Trust Education Program and Wild BC. “One of the most positive experiences was talking to a bunch of teenagers, who all had their drinks,” she laughs. One interested girl kept asking questions, and then excitedly took the information back to her friends. It only served to confirm her optimism: how interested children can become in the natural world, and how much their behaviour can influence others. Unlike the Pacific harbour seal and California sea lion, who often get blamed (inaccurately) by fishers for eating salmon, elephant seals feed primarily on squid. Diving down as deep as two kilometres, they can hold their breath for up to two hours while in search of squid, as well as small amounts of fish and crustaceans. The inflatable snout of the male elephant seal amplifies his snorts, bellows and grunts, which help to ward off rival males. The females have no proboscis. After the seal left, the women breathed a sigh of relief. But it didn’t last long. A second seal arrived in May, staying for only a day. Another was seen in Gorge Inlet on May 30. And a third arrived at Gonzales Bay in June, staying for two weeks. The women’s daily patrols resumed. They were asked if media should be informed. “No!” they shouted. The seal left the Friday of the Canada Day long weekend. Weinstein smiles, “It was perfect timing!” Lemieux, Weinstein and Ward don’t know why the seals chose Gonzales Bay to molt. Are they confused about their location? Is the changing climate altering their habits? Or is this just the result of a rebounding population that now needs more beaches on which to molt? They relate the story of California’s Drakes Beach, which was taken over by elephant seals during the recent US federal government shutdown. A lack of park rangers meant the seals easily colonized the beach, mating and rearing their pups in what is normally a busy destination for humans. The park stayed closed until the seals and their young departed. Lemieux, despite the stress of monitoring and facing off with the public, looks at the seal’s arrival as a gift. “That’s been the silver lining, to connect with these two amazing women who I never otherwise would have met,” she says. “I’ve connected with local neighbours, seen beautiful spirits and hearts who have the same outlook on what we’re trying to do.” But that’s not to say they wish for another arrival on Gonzales, or any populated beach in the Capital Region. If an elephant seal does arrive, their advice echoes that of Fisheries and Oceans and conservation organizations: stay clear, keep your dog and children away, and let the seal endure its natural process without disturbance, and particularly, without having to appear in a selfie. Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.
  15. Combining creative work with research, Estraven Lupino-Smith collaborates with HAT to monitor and celebrate bats. A few years ago, when Estraven Lupino-Smith was living in Philadelphia, they threw their back out. (Lupino-Smith is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.) Miserable, between contracts and home-bound in winter, instead of succumbing to depression, they fell back on their long history as an artist. “I’m going to make something,” they decided, “I’m going to do a series of prints on nocturnal animals.” Many are vilified, they explained, considered dangerous, part of the underworld. Lupino-Smith wanted to change the way we view wolves, bats, barn owls, raccoons. In particular, I learned during our conversation at a local cafe, they love bats. A lot. Estraven Lupino-Smith Lupino-Smith, a creative researcher with a degree in political science and equity studies, is currently completing an MSc in geography at Concordia, but art has always been a part of their research. “That’s how my brain works,” says Lupino-Smith. Focusing on bats and other vilified animals seemed an ideal way of combining creative work with research. “I think we don’t realize how much social context there is to issues of science and politics. This is a key reason people undervalue creative work.” Lupino-Smith’s Etsy website offers the artwork as pins, t-shirts and prints, but it was when they moved to Victoria (via Montreal) that things really came together. When Lupino-Smith arrived here, they emailed Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT) and offered to volunteer, sending a copy of the linocut bat print they’d made. The HAT staff member who answered the email just happened to be wearing Lupino-Smith’s bat design t-shirt that day. A collaboration was born. With funding from a CRD arts development grant, Lupino-Smith gathered sound files on the bats using a heterodyne detector, which allows humans to hear the echolocation bats use to find food and move through space. “We can’t normally hear it, but they’re actually screaming; they’re quite loud!” BC is home to 16 of the 19 bat species in Canada—the greatest diversity of any province. Bats are the only mammal that can truly fly, and half of BC’s bat species (all insectivores) are listed as vulnerable or threatened. Coming from the east, where bat populations have been decimated by White Nose Syndrome fungus (recorded deaths total over six million), Lupino-Smith was eager to see a population that is, relatively speaking, still intact. “It will take 10,000 years, they told me, “to recover the population numbers on the East Coast.” Lupino-Smith counted bats with HAT over the summer, watching over 1,200 bats emerge from the attic of the Metchosin Community Hall, which the bats had chosen as their female maternity colony. That means there are both adults and pups in the groups volunteers count in summer. Some volunteers are retired, Lupino-Smith says, but many just like the work, which is communal and provides a chance to view the world in all its complexity. “You get your blanket out. You bring your dog.” Watching the pups learn to fly can also be hilarious. “They’re not great fliers yet. They hit things, they do loops to get higher,” laughs Lupino-Smith. White Nose Syndrome wasn’t initially found on the west coast of the continent. But in 2016, a sick brown bat was found by hikers near Seattle. The syndrome was confirmed a few days after the bat died. This means the disease has travelled over 1,300 kilometres past its last known western-most appearance. Bats keep mosquito and other insect populations in check, protecting crops from infestation and protecting us from vector-borne diseases. Many also pollinate plants and help with seed dispersal. A fall in bat numbers means diseases like West Nile virus could become a serious problem. If the disease becomes as wide-spread as it has on the east coast, the west coast of North America could lose 90 percent or more of its bat population. The culmination of Lupino-Smith’s summer work with HAT occurred at the Big Bat Bash in October 2018. Combining video files, footage from a slow-motion camera, and a sculptural piece, Lupino-Smith created a multi-media presentation meant to inspire and educate. The event drew more than 300 people and included workshops, dinner and a dance, with donations supporting the Metchosin Community Hall bats. Lupino-Smith’s plan, working with CFUV, the University of Victoria’s community radio station, is to create a podcast called “Mediated Natures” from the project, integrating science research with art creation. Lupino-Smith also works in sound, film, and text, providing workshops on the natural world to children, and nature walks with a political ecology component. Their plan is to eventually do a research-creation-based PhD. “Art is in the ideas. That’s where you start.” The HAT work was great, they explain, “because it was a rural project, not in a gallery. There was a bat cave, a bunch of kids.” The work made them realize the importance of outreach. Many landowners in the region don’t know that it’s illegal to remove bats from private property—even if they nest in the eaves of buildings. HAT provided training to Lupino-Smith that included a 14-hour session with other volunteers in Stanley Park, learning about bats, echolocation and data from scientists. “It made me realize that it’s all the work of these individual [volunteers] that makes the difference.” Lack of resources, social or political will, they argue, means that much of the data gathered by scientists is effectively lost if it’s not translated to the public. Lupino-Smith also admires the way HAT liaises with First Nations (with their restoration work on Senanus Island, for example). “I’d like to see more work on the part of settlers to follow Indigenous leadership.” One of the key changes Lupino-Smith would like to see in the non-profit world is a greater openness to art-science collaborations, which they stress are key to developing greater connection to place, and acknowledging humans as just one species in a large, complex ecology. Before HAT said yes to their proposal, Lupino-Smith approached another non-profit in the region. It turned Lupino-Smith down, worried they might compete with the NGO for funding. “There’s a funny thing in Victoria. Every organization looks fun, but then there’s a board of directors full of ancient white people who [work] to maintain the conservative frameworks that exist.” Part of being a queer, non-binary person, they argue, is an inclination to question the dominant power dynamic, which can see art and science as disparate fields. For Lupino-Smith, collaboration between the two is an integral step in dismantling colonialism and finding alternatives to institutionalized power. “Art is in creatively and critically thinking about things you don’t normally get to think about,” argues Lupino-Smith. “What excites you? What are your ideas? We’ll go from there.” This past year, they dreamed up the Artemisia Institute ( see estraven.ca/research), a name that gives authority to the work they’re already doing in various guises around the continent. So far, the Institute can only point to a research vehicle (the Research Creation Vessel Putt-Putt) and a business card. But if their track record is any indication, it won’t stay that way for long. “If a thing doesn’t exist, I do it. I’ve always had a DIY mentality.” If you have bats in your house or on your property, email HAT: hatmail@hat.bc.ca! They study and monitor bats, and need to know where they live. Bats are shy (and cute) and don’t want to harm you. Maleea Acker recently submitted the first draft of her geography doctoral dissertation on the intersections of art and science. One chapter of the dissertation is a manuscript of poetry.
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