Monday, October 13, 2014


I love the slate grey sea
Ruffled in the cove
By winds that buffet the shelter
And whipped into a foamy dance
In the channel between our island
And the continent.

The rains that pound the slate grey rock
And call the salmon back to
Their ancestral streams
Bring us too back to life.

For a face full of wind and rain
Is impossible to ignore -
It awakens the senses
and sends the blood pounding
Through one's veins
Like the swollen streams and rivulets
That course through the forest
Feeding every root and tendril
With a feast of autumnal nourishment

A day to give thanks
For being washed clean
And restored to life again.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Let's do better this election

Election season is starting here on Bowen Island and final papers will be filed on October 10.  We will then see who is putting themselves forward to represent Islanders on Council and at the Metro Vancouver and Islands Trust councils as well.  Already we are seeing some of the rhetoric beginning and it is starting to take on a familiar role.  In an lovely and personal email exchange I was having with another Islander - a man with whom I have had many many disagreements over the past few years, I started thinking about the cost of the way we have done politics in the past few years.  What follows is a frank reflection of where we are at and where we could go.  We have a choice about what happens over the next six weeks.  

Over the past 13 years of living here I've learned a few things about Bowen's "divisiveness."  The truth is that there is a diversity of political opinion on the island - not at all a radical diversity, mind you.  Everyone is basically "small l" liberal in their economics and views on the role of government.  There are a few outliers with unusual political philosophies but they tend to talk a lot more than they act, and they rarely get anywhere near actual power.  We have had a famously anarchist mayor and once an Ayn Rand libertarian ran unsuccessfully for Council, but in general those who get elected stay pretty close to the middle.

But we do suffer an awful lot from what Sigmund Freud called the "narcissism of small differences."  What usually happens is that we see a simplistic "pro-development vs. pro-environment" split in decision making. Strangely people often refuse to identify with one side, but they are happy to demonize folks they perceive to be on the other side.  And folks being demonized refused to be categorized  in such a one dimensional way.  Zoom out a bit however and everyone looks pretty much the same.  

In general what we see on Bowen is actually NOT a lot of divisiveness.  We see diversity of opinion.  I believe that has been conflated in the kinds of online interactions and in Bowen's robust pamphlet culture into something that looks divisive.  We project our bigger fears of what is happening in the world on local neighbours that hold ideas we find disagreeable. But we aren't really THAT divided.  Especially when we encounter one another in person.  The vitriol we see online, or whispered from ear to ear, or insinuated in self-published formats does not translate into real life in any great extent.  There may well be people that can't stand each other in real life, but in general they don't impact the way things happen or don't happen on Bowen.

So with a recent thread on the forum, and with the low hum of this tone echoing through the past three years of benign pamphlet warfare, I feel like I'm watching the beginning of the same old same old: people fighting each other's projected personas when in reality there is a depth to people and a deeper passion that underlies where folks are coming from.  Two a a half years ago I pulled myself away from the forum because I felt that I was not contributing to a healthy tone of discussion there.  That doesn't mean that I'm not passionate about things or that I don't disagree with people.  But in the last three years I've become more aware of my impact and have worked hard to try to serve the tone I want to see on Bowen Island.  Not perfect in any way.  But I am who I am and I'm also changing because I have a long term view to my life here, and I can't see myself living in a community that is deeply polarized.

Back during the beginning of the artificial turf debate in 2007 I shuddered at the level of vitriol being directed at each other online.  Having worked in deeply divided communities, what I saw was an early warning sign about deep divisiveness here.  Small communities can go sideways very quickly and I had been looking at events on Galiano Island where there is an intractable and spiteful conflict that is decades old and is almost completely unsolvable except by people moving away.  That was my fear for Bowen and that is why i have tried to moderate my own participation in civic discourse and why I have appealed from time to time for a relaxation in the personal tone and tenor of disagreements.

I'm not a pollyanna person.  I'm deeply practical.  I'm not an idealist.  I am an optimistic realist.  And in order for us to proceed from a basis of possibility we need a fertile field of civil engagement and discourse.  I actually feel that the tone of the last election campaign made it very difficult for the current Council to get as much done as they wanted to because, even though they had a majority and a clear view about building a community centre and finally getting the village planning underway. they had so rankled and distressed those with different opinions that no one on the "other side" trusted them.  Therefore they were hamstrung both by the realities of actually governing - which is a slow process - and the need to implement what was essentially a pretty solid community agenda as a strategic communications exercise.  Trust was eroded and we got exactly the context we had all created.

Unless this election campaign radically addresses this need for us to work differently together there is a real chance that we will continue to see-saw between polarities of action and reaction and be quite slow in implementing really interesting ideas that will continue to make our little island a terrific place to live.  I am cautiously optimistic that this will change, but I can almost guarantee that if the campaign dissolves into the kinds of name calling, vitriol and bitterness that we saw last time, whoever gets elected will be quite unable to get anything done for another three years.

One reason why things take so long on Bowen is not Council.  It is us.  All of us.  And all of us have a role to play in changing that.  We will have disagreements and arguments - that's how democracy works.  But we could all use a little skill in how those arguments are conducted.  So when you put yourself about this election season, give some thought to the kind of community you are creating with your speech and actions.  If we have use this campaign to rebuild trust on the island and hammer out good ideas together, then good things will happen quite quickly.  But if we see campaigns and commentary that are full of innuendo, anger, rumour and insult, then we will end up with community in which trust is scarce and therefore action is very, very difficult.  And the fingers will get pointed at those who were unlucky enough to get elected in those circumstances, even though they aren't the ones to blame.

Pogo had it right.  Let's do it right.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Out paddling this afternoon on a calm grey sheet of glass in the soft rain with my friend Tuesday Ryan-Hart who was paddling for this first time. Saw a seal a few meters away watching us. Cormorants and oystercatchers. Gulls and eagles.

And later in the forest a barred owl mistook Tuesday's hair for a squirrel and had a go at her. Caitlin fended it off.

Summer's over and the fall has begun. Air is still warm but the rains have arrived and the salmon will soon be tasting their streams.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Minister of Transportation insults us all.

Dear Mr. Stone.

I am writing to express my astonishment at your letter to the UBCM regarding their analysis of BC Ferries.

Consistently over the two “engagement” processes that Judy Kirk led for your government coastal communities called for a socio-economic analysis of service reductions.  Your government refused to do one.  When I asked my MLA, Jordan Sturdy about the socio-economic effects of cuts he told me that regions of the province that contribute to the GDP get infrastructure  He pointed to northeast BC and Whistler in particular and talked about how the service reductions would contribute to protecting our bond rating.  With no analysis of the contribution of coastal communities, your government mandated service reductions anyway.  

It would be fantastic to have, as you say, "a dialogue to discuss creative solutions” but YOU wouldn’t allow it.  Your government said that BC Ferries was not allowed to have a creative discussion about cost savings, instead, BC Ferries was given a mandate tha the savings had to be found through service reductions.  Bowen islanders provided many incredibly interesting ways of saving money on our route and reducing costs without service reductions, but your government refused to hear them because you were acting on Treasury Board mandates to reduce services.  

You dropped the ball on this.  You imposed conditions on the dialogue and constrained creativity.  Your consultants ignored the results of the first round of consultations that said that coastal communities wanted to discuss ferries as highways, and instead embarked on a second round about service reductions that no one asked for and that were not subjected to any analysis beyond the effect they would have on our provincial bond rating.  My MLA told me this personally.

To now suggest that the UBCM, and by extension the citizens of coastal communities are unwilling to have a creative conversation about is completely astonishing.  Your government has never provided an opportunity for that discussion, and this letter does not do that at all.  Far from it.  It engages in a confrontational tone and sets the stage for a fight with coastal communities.  This is not the way forward.  

I suggest you return to the drawing board and make coastal communities a meaningful offer to engage, or at least work with the already extensive creative ideas from that we generated over the last two rounds of your sham consultation in 2012 and 2013.

I would appreciate a response to this email.  I am publishing it my blog and will publish your response there too.     

Chris Corrigan
Bowen Island

cc: Bowen Island Mayor and Council

      Sheila Malcolmson, Chair, Islands Trust

Monday, September 15, 2014

Late September in the garden

No let up on summer. Hot days, cooler nights, no storms or rain. Bioluminescence in the ocean. Still eating kale and tomato salads from the garden.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The beauty of the transition

The still and steady thread of summer has taken a turn. A hint of autumn has crept into the sound to try our the glory of its grey on the mountains and the sea.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hosted by the sea

I have had nearly a month of uninterrupted time at home here on Bowen Island.  A lot of that time has been alone, or in my own company which can be both a comforting and terrifying prospect.  In this whole time it has hardly rained at all, and the summer is as hot and pulsating now as it it usually is at its height at the end of July.

This year I have made a transition to becoming friends with the ocean.  For the past 13 years living on this island I have shaken hands with the forest and the land and the little creeks and lakes and rivers.  I have been a student of rain and wind, watched the way forests change, followed the paths that deer carve through the salal.  I have been to our local peaks and dove deep into the canyons that carve our island into a set of deeply scarred ziggerauts, step up mountains pierced by the deep gullys that channel water away into the sea.

This is the first year I've decided to turn my back on all that and see what this ocean is about.

And you may think that crazy, given the fact that I live on a small island, but the truth is that I grew up on lakes and although bodies of water don't scare me at all, the prospect of drifting around on the ocean always held some nervous energy for me.  It is unpredictable, and wild and full of creatures and tides and flows.  It changes on a whim.  It is powerful and dangerous.  It is not a place for an idle ramble.  You can die out there.

And all of that is true.

Since my friend Geoff Brown convinced me to stand up on a paddle board a couple of years ago and get out on the sea, I have been doing so,  in every season and in many different conditions.  Until now though, I have taken to paddling when the weather is pleasant, when there is very little wind and the water is like glass.  That is easy.  This year though I have sought the challenge of paddling when the sea is advising me to do otherwise - in conditions of choppy swell, over tidal surges and eddies, against ever fiercer winds.  It has been rewarding to discover what my board and I can do.  It has been challenging to learn how to adopt my stance and stroke for various conditions.  My shoulders ache with the addiction now, as I willingly plunge into any conditions and see what I can make of it.  I've been tossed off waves, as I was a few days ago as I learned to downwind surf the wind driven swell.  I have bobbed up and down to the point of near nausea, and occasionally found myself in situations that were approaching dangerous.  I am learning to pay attention to my instincts.  You have very little room for error out on a SUP when the wind has a different idea than you do and you discover that the tide has turned and is carrying you to places you'd rather not go.  I have not been foolhardy in my pursuit of challenge; it has been a calculated effort to discover my edge, and it has been rewarding.

And it leads to moments of surprise.  Last evening for example, I read the wind forecast wrong. It looked like the calm conditions of the early morning would change to a strong westerly wind in the afternoon, and so around four o clock I went over to Tunstall Bay to head out into the swell and practice my down wind skills a little.  I couldn't have been more wrong about the conditions.

The water was glass, and hardly a wave broke on the beach.  The sun beat down on the rippleless water such that only a single beam of it reflected back into my eyes.  No diamonds on the sea.  just a flat completely calm surface.  I could go anywhere, and had I been with someone else I would have ventured over to Worlcombe Island, but thinking the better of it, I paddled down to Bowen Bay and then made a straight line towards Cape Roger Curtis, a course that took me several hundred meters offshore, where there was nearly no sound except for the explosive out breath of surfacing seals, and the little squeaks of nervous harlequin ducks.

And out there, with the Strait of Georgia stretching away to my left and right, and the mountains of Vancouver Island looming through the smoky air and the sea undulating gently beneath me, the hugeness of things opened to me in all of its implications.  Laid out in that moment was all the grief and possibility of the world.  Images came to my mind of the fighting in Syria, the despair in Ferguson, the playful dumping of ice buckets on heads all over the place.  And I could find myself just melting into the background, the hugeness, the calm, the restful embrace of the sea.

It's hard to describe the kind of restorative power that moment contained.  A kind of distancing from the petty and internecine.  A kind of relief from the thought that everything is a problem to be solved, that everything was wrong and was getting worse.  It was just calm, relaxed ease.

And so the ocean is a great teacher of mood and resilience and offer gifts when one least expects them.