Monday, December 31, 2012
This blog has shifted and morphed over the past ten years, has largely been about the natural world of Bowen Island, which is the most amazing thing to me. The forests, mountains, lakes, creeks and oceans of this island never bore me. And for years I have made the same walk from my house to Sung Cove, to sit in The Snug and work and write and read and catch up with neighbours, and that never tires me either. The sense of community, among musicians, among those who share a common love of soccer, of those who practice experience of the sacred or among those who love the natural world and the among the eclectic and diverse humans that make up this island's population continue to impress and amaze me.
And so this post is a purge of a psychological burden that has begun to turn me uncharacteristically cynical.
Over this past year, I've been saddened a little by the way some of those humans have been carrying on. The thing that drives me most crazy is the narcissistic nature of small town community conflict, and part of my project over this past year has been to fall in love with Bowen again despite some of the crazy and petty antics of a few people who wield some disproportionate influence about the kind of place this is.
This shows up in the political realm most visibly. There is an ancient bun fight on Bowen Island basically between those who favour the preservation of public lands on Bowen and those that favour creating a positive climate for private property development. This is the basic bun fight that consumes all small Canadian municipalities largely because municipal governments have very little power and influence and money, and can mostly make themselves useful by creating planning guidelines and approving buildings. Local governments aspire to greater things, but they have limited influence or power all of which is subject to provincial legislation, largely penned to support the free flow of development capital across local jurisdictions. So you get a lot of steam and bluster about what should be happening and very little actual ability to make it happen.
Last year, our community's political life was dominated by proposal to create a National Park on Bowen Island. I ended up being very much in favour of this idea, seeing it as an ideal way of creating a permanent legacy of our remaining public landscape in a way that would allow us to access resources from another level of government and encourage all sorts of interesting activity. Small towns in Canada don't get much of a chance to create a vision for themselves, by which I mean a lofty aspirational ideal that we can actually work towards. Usually you get trite things like "liveable!" or "interesting to visit" accompanied by a few flower pots hanging on lamp posts. For me, the National Park idea was our once in a life time chance to live a little larger. But we chose against it, with a libertarian flavoured "no" campaign that was based on ideas of more traffic, the threat of the big bad federal government and unforgivably outright lies, like Lonnie Hindle's audio musings in which he discussed Parks Canada's (non-existent) ability to expropriate private property. (These are time worn strategies in the fight agains the public interests, by the way).
I was surprised by the amount of derision that proposal attracted. And not just derision, but downright libellous hatred spewed against the Council that was trying to host a rational consideration of the proposal. In the lead up to the referendum on the park idea which coincided with a municipal election the man that became our mayor referred to members of the sitting Council as "The Gang of Four." I was appalled by this characterization, and it revealed to me a depth of outright hatred that some people of influence on our island hold for others.
So this fight is not a new one, but this was the first time in a long long time that it became so visible. You could see it in posting to the Bowen Island Online forum, where personal character attacks are commonplace despite appeals and rules to the contrary. You can see it in the blog of a Councillor called Tim Rhodes, who uses his blog to attack people who disagree with the current Council under the guise of correcting facts, which he often does by slinging an implication of conspiracy around. In fact Tim Rhodes kind of started this whole thing a few years ago when he took on the previous Council by creating a newspaper called BITE that was funded in part by the owners who were developing Cape Roger Curtis. He arrived on the island a few years ago as a little known internet marketer and quickly became the offensive voice of the pro-development faction of Council, as represented by Bowen Island Properties. He has spent the past year as a member of Council largely deriding the previous Council's efforts and laying a whole number of sins of omission and commission at their feet.
The level of vitriol that appeared in the public conversation - which included a public bullying of a Council candidate on the ferry one morning by a man called Andrew P which I witnessed - was an alarm bell for me. Something is going on. The principle of "the man doth protest too much" is evidently at play. The current Council has almost run through half of it's term and people like Tim Rhodes continue to attack the previous Council. meanwhile, they have done nothing of substance for the municipality except govern, like everyone else has. They are trumpeting their basic governance as something special, but they are just doing what they have to do under the provincial legislation to which they are bound. (Municipalities are so beholden to the province, that they practically run themselves.). Their supporters defeated the National Park proposal, achieved their goal of electing a slate of development and private property advocates, and installed a previously little known person as mayor who began his public campaign by comparing four councillors to a gang of Maoist extremists.
I have no faith in this Council to accomplish anything of substance except to make the development guidelines on Bowen friendly to a few people. They may try to take us out of the Islands Trust which would loosen the environmental protection of our common lands. They are hell bent on "making change" but so far have not really demonstrated the will or ability to do that. I worry a little that they will choose unwise decisions just to appear to make change.
It has renewed my philosophy of never electing people to government that hate government. What good can ever come of that? They generally become poor stewards of the common good, instead using their power to make things happen for the personal and private gain, leaving the public purse and the public realm in tatters. It happens in this country at every level and our current federal government is a prime example. While this Council has yet to do that with finances or infrastructure (although their ferry marshalling proposal may just accomplish that yet), Tim Rhodes especially has shown no desire to quit poisoning the public well of discourse. The effect of course is that citizens become cynical and disengaged from their local government. That is not a good thing, no matter what flavour your Council is.
But I am not expecting anything from this Council, as I don't expect much from ANY Council. It is a generally impotent level of government, especially in small towns. Despite the storm and bluster, it is easy to bully around and get what you want. One of the current Councillors even brought a legal action against the previous Council because a small process issue was "the straw that broke the camels back." So local government in Canada is an arena for small and prudent stewardship of a few tax dollars, and not the grand arena of civic direction setting that people often make it out to be. Not only can you fight city hall, it turns out that you don't even need to land a blow. You can just show up with some heavy threats and have your way with it.
No, I don't believe municipal governance matters much in the grand scheme of things. Not when private interests can push it around. But I do feel like community matters. A lot. And where I do despair is how cavalier people are with civic discourse. Social capital is a precious asset, and one which takes a tremendous amount of effort to create and which can be spent very quickly. We have just come through a period of massive erosion of social capital. I tried to do what I could to stem the bleeding by speaking up for decorum online and by hosting conversations in real life. But I realized in the spring that I was losing my mind trying to do so. I was becoming another ego riddled participant in the public sphere, wanting to impose my own standards on the community, and thereby suffering from the very disease that I was fighting. So I gave up on the Bowen Island forum, and recently I have been engaging with Tim Rhodes on his blog, by inviting him to a more reasoned critique of his fellow citizens and pointing him to resources to help with community planning that cares for the heart and soul of a place like ours, but he put up a post the other day that was yet another personal attack of a citizen and so I'm giving up there too. Old dogs are just old dogs. I'm an old dog as well. Old dog fights are pathetic.
So I'm making this long essay my last substantive post on civic discourse for a while. I'm writing out this thinking to address some of the egregious behaviour I have witnessed over the past year and as a way of explaining the depth of my sadness at what happens in our community. I notice that I suffer the most when I engage in the narcissistic behaviour that characterizes so much small town difference. The truth is that it is quaint, not important. It is charming, not devastating. This past year I have worked in places like the violence racked south suburbs of Chicago and viciously divided First Nations communities. I have worked with people who are stopping gang violence in Minneapolis, who are caring for refugees in Fargo, who host dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians, who support freedom in Egypt and Syria and South Sudan, who provide safe shelter for women fleeing the threat of death, who are trying to affect a preservation of the very atmosphere that sustains life on this planet. It has reminded me of what is important, and what is truly big and where the real fight is.
So if I have a new year's resolution, it is to practice gratitude. I am grateful for the struggle between factions on Bowen Island, because it means I live in a privileged and peaceful place. It means I don't actually have to "save" Bowen. It is not one of the places in the world that needs saving, whether it is from developers or Councillors or vitriolic forum posters or real life bullies. Our own narcissistic bunfights are the good news actually.
So this is a purge, a throwing off of an old shell, a burning in the fire. I will be out and about as usual, in the forest, on my paddleboard, playing music, kicking a soccer ball around, sipping coffee at Artisan Eats and The Snug, participating in this community. We have much to be thankful for, and I'm going to re-store writing on this blog as an archive of all the good, all the beauty and all the fortune that we have and experience.
So away with the old ways of being, and welcome to the challenge of rising above, seeing what we really have, and spending time in creative gratitude for beauty and blessings.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
This mornings rainbow on Howe Sound.
First snow as seen from the Bowen Queen, our replacement ferry, while our regular boat is in for an annual refit.
And a not very good photo of a small pod of dolphins seen off our starboard side while heading home.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
I travel all over the world drinking espresso, and I could have told you that Gino doesn't need some fancy-pants Seattle-based award to prove that his coffee rocks. But I am so happy for him that the rest of the world now knows what we Bowen Island espresso drinkers know.
Friday, September 14, 2012
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Nice to be back on my home island where we have a sophisticated relationship with time. I'm here briefly, spending some time hiking and camping with my son's school an then off to the US for three weeks.
Appreciating moments out of time and the flow of being back in my own village.
Saturday, June 23, 2012
An early morning start from Bowen for a full day of work and travel. Off to run a full day Open Space for the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of BC and then on to Naramata to work with the leadership program of the Federation of Community Services of BC.
A rainy day of warm air and misty tendrils and landscapes half revealed.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Entering the summer solstice. I crossed the Salish Sea today which provides this view of my home island and, today, a glimpse of two dolphins who passed us in a hurry, steaming their way north.
This is the time of year in the north when the light begins to wane. The time of the fullest and brightest days, the fulfilled promise of the winter solstice. For me it's a time of waning fullness, letting myself empty out leading into some time off in the summer and a busy fall. I love the rhythm of waxing and waning, of light and dark, of ordinary time and non-ordinary time. A year divided into two forms of practice.
So I wish you a happy celebration of the fullness of promise, an honoring of the warmth and light, comfort if you need it and relaxation if it helps. And my wish for this six months is for a half year of good practice, putting to good use everything that has been learned in the winter and spring.
Friday, June 8, 2012
Friday, June 1, 2012
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Monday, May 21, 2012
Early morning trip to Minnesota on a holiday Monday. One downside of working a lot in the United States is that American clients often book me for long weekends. It's free on my calendar, so it must be okay!
Not too choked to leave on a little trip today though. The weather has been glorious the past few days, the Vancouver Whitecaps have treated us to some fabulous games at BC Place, including a thrilling comeback in the opening leg of the Canadian Championship Cup final and a terrific derby match against Seattle.
But now the rainy weather has moved in, the Pacific high which gets established over the Gulf of Alaska every summer, is yet to settle in so it's bright grey cloud with light rain, moderate temperatures and no wind. I'm off to Minnesota where I'm looking forward to sunshine and thunderstorms.
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
But this week, we see the knee jerk reaction to the idea that we might continue to contribute to a region-wide public good. In a letter to the editor entitled How much is enough?, R. Gordon Ganong argues that we should aim to reduce our contribution to Tranlink to zero:
I urge mayor Adelaar and council to continue their work regarding TransLink payments and take whatever steps possible to reduce our gift to TransLink with the goal of reducing it to zero.This is not a gift. Public financing of public services is the way we live together in a society. We cannot simply reduce our contribution to zero. I urge the mayor to continue with his solution focus, to find ways we can make our contribution matter and have a greater affect on addressing local needs.
Since the majority of voters chose to kill the National Park initiative in the fall, I have made it a point to wander on the little known and lesser travelled trails of the Island. Yesterday we were hunting for food in the Davies Creek canyon below Valhalla. I bet you didn't know that Bowen had canyons, but several of the streams and creeks of the Island travel through deep steep walled valleys that are beautiful, lush places of quiet.
So, looking forward to a summer of rambling in the quiet parts of Bowen and eating from the land and the sea.
Friday, May 4, 2012
Thursday, May 3, 2012
That little yellow dot is the epicentre of an earthquake that shook the island Tuesday morning. No damage done, but a friendly reminder that we live in an active region of mountain building and land creation. In fact that large island just to the west of us, Vancouver Island, is moving every steadily towards us. It is part of what is called the Insular Superterrane, a region of tectonic plates that is slowly crashing into the edge of western North America. In a few million years, Bowen Island will sit in a valley not unlike the current Okanagan. We'll probably have nice dry weather and our descendants will be growing grapes and mangoes.
And as it creeps ever closer, The Insular Superterrane occasionally lurches a little and gives us a shudder. In fact we're expecting the stormy geological weather to continue with light showers of tremors and aftershocks during a current swarm. And who knows, perhaps the Big One will show up as well. You can never tell, nor guess when it will happen, but it's a fool who doesn't expect it.
Friday, April 27, 2012
The level of public banter and nickname coining has never recovered.
Which is why I am looking forward to baseball season starting again. In this excellent article, my bantermate-in-crime, Katalina "Chickpea" Bernard invites everyone to get down to the delightful Snug Cove Field, where bleacher banter is a fine art practiced by a select few throughout the summer. It is all in good fun, by the baseball can be deadly serious, and thrilling.
This is the salve we need. I'll be there every evening I can be. I love it. I'll probably be down there at 80 years old, calling out newly minted nicknames for the grandchildren of Adrien "BeBop" Belew, Brian "The General" Park and Sean "A dollar for my daughter" Delany.
See you there.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
It feels like we are going through that on my little Island at the moment. Yes it is a #firstworldproblem, and in more ways than one, for what we are going through is happening all over the place at the moment.
Groups go through this kind of thing all the time. But this breakdown of the public conversation creates difficult problems and has real costs. When the public conversation is throttled by power or bullying or other non-dialogue behaviors we pay a real price.
So what to do? Well, for one I like Peter Block's take on things: transform the conversation starting with how you meet and then what you talk about. You cannot have a new conversation in the old format, so let's get rid of the talking heads and the power points and the raised tables. It's time to all come to the same level and discuss declarations of possibility that would inspire us all towards some action.
We need to find common purpose together, to open ourselves to each other and to host our own stuff so that we can hear other people and offer advocacy of our positions and ideas that makes us easy to be heard in return. We need to start from a place of renewed trust and good faith, even in people that might take advantage of our naïveté in doing so. We need to do that because restoring quality relationships is the only way to reboot the democratic conversation so that we might engage in some truly beautiful community building, nation building.
So, what declaration of possibility for your community can you make that joule inspire us all? What opinion, attitude or behaviour do you commit to letting go of so that a little more space can be opened? The work of cultivating possibility starts with all of us, and the burden is on skeptics. Transform your doubt into clear and legitimate dissent but keep your hope strong. Find someone across the aisle with whom you can reboot this precious space of democratic engagement, and don't let the cynics drive you apart. In the end, only they will gain.
Monday, April 23, 2012
So islanders, what do you make of this dichotomy. There are times and places when the public interest is clearly supreme - clean drinking water comes to mind. And there are times when the private interest is supreme such as what colour I can paint my house.
But what about at the margins of public and private? For instance your stance in the proposed piers at the Cape will probably depend on whether you see it as an issue of a property owner exercising a right to have a private dock in front of their land. Or whether you think the public access and use of the foreshore should frame the decision.
Likewise with ferry marshaling. Would it be fair to say that those who are pushing for a loop road feel an affinity for the private development of the Cove whereas those who are not in favour instead see the public interest in the parkland and wildlife as primary?
What do you make of this split? And would you be willing to engage in dialogue across these two world views?
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Now it turns out that Wolfgang Duntz later ran for and was elected to Council (in fact he sat on Council while the action he was pursuing against Council was unresolved and while the Court was ruling on how the costs would be handled, a decision that has ended up costing the municipality - the one Duntz is a Councillor for - incurring a bill in the tens of thousands of dollars).
But governance is hard and it turns out that in an effort to help deal with the green waste that is generated on Bowen, Councillor's Duntz's Council may have in fact done exactly the same thing again. They made a decision without proper process being followed that runs counter to the concerns of many neighbours. And they made this decision even as Underhill and Duntz's action was still being settled.
I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Governance is a tricky thing to get right and I don't think as a community we can defend ourselves from court challenges every time a process is not exactly followed to the letter. On the other hand it will be interesting to see what those who brayed for blood before the election have to say now.
I think the proper course of action is for the Council to talk to the local neighbours, and reintroduce their motion using proper process. That way every one gets a good hearing and the decision gets made properly. What do you think they should do?
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
For other waterbirds, the March herring spawn is a time of plenty, particularly between Nanaimo and Comox. “There is an exodus from this side of the strait,” Bird Studies’ Davidson said.
Species such as gulls and harlequins gorge on the roe. Others such as Pacific loons and western grebes target the actual herring. “The cycle is so dynamic in the Salish Sea, so many different types of bait fish, birds and marine mammals that are all part of this complicated food chain,” he said.
Almost on cue, Davidson spots the slick dark-grey backs of two harbour porpoises farther offshore.
As perplexing as coastal birds, this marine mammal is listed as a species of special concern in our waters with information lacking on their overall numbers and population trends.
A PhD thesis by Anna Hall at the University of B.C. found that harbour porpoises seek out strong tidal areas for foraging during the reproductive season, from April to October, in the Salish Sea.
In April they will gather by the dozens off Point Roberts, another mystery of a coastal ecosystem dominated by strong tides and currents and the brutish muscle of the Fraser River.
“It’s a very complicated puzzle,” Davidson said. “Everything affects each other, probably in different ways.”
Monday, April 16, 2012
Does anyone have some gutter pieces lying around? Any colour, any size. I want to build a wall of lettuce planters.
Love it. Give Gil a call if you can help. As for me, I'm going to head over to see the lettuce wall.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
He said that it didn't look like any of that, and when I turned around, I saw a small pod of dolphins ripping through Mannion Bay. I have never seen dolphins in the bay before, so we ran down to the beach and watched them move between the boats and back out into the channel. Our whole group was in awe of the scene, moved by what we were seeing, deep in the appreciation of these creatures.
This group has continually talked about how beautiful it is here on Bowen, how friendly people are, how lucky we are to have the forests and the sea and the park right by the village. Some went out to Docs on Friday and were blown away by Rob Bailey and Teun Scheut playing jazz and one of group members even joined in for a version of Nature Boy. They have enjoyed themselves here, and have opened my eyes to the qualities of place that we often take for granted. And we got to witness a surprise that even the most seasoned Islanders were delighted by.
Location:Cardena St,Bowen Island,Canada
Saturday, April 14, 2012
There are a number of very good resources on line to support hosting practice. Here are a few:
- Art of Hosting online home. Also there is a ning site which is an interactive space for the Art of Hosting community. At both of these places you can find a link to joining the Art of Hosting email list as well.
- The online home of the Open Space Technology community
- Online home for The World Cafe community.
These links will connect you to folks all over the world using participatory hosting methods ina variety of settings.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
For decades, there has been talk about what should happen with the village. Over the last few years, the talk has become more and more focused on detailed planning, and the latest iteration concluded last fall with the Snug Cove Concepts process which analysed several of the previous plans, broke out several design elements and combined them into four scenarios which have sparked a lot of discussion. On Saturday, our Council will hold a public meeting to introduce a fifth concept, which significantly adds a road right through the Park at the entrance to the island. This has never proved to be a popular option but they have put it on the table anyway.
The new Council has produced a plan for how they will move forward on developing the Cove. Entitled "Building a viable community" it seems to be a critical pathway for implementing a comprehensive development of Snug Cove using a single source - either a private sector builder or a local development corporation composed of local developers, landowners and municipality staff.
I have several thoughts about this, not the least of which is that turning over the massive job of developing a village seems to me to be a "shopping mall" approach to the work. It strikes me that all Council needs to do is to rezone the land, determine the uses and values of the development, and offer it for sale. The developers who buy could contribute to the infrastructure. I am unsure why we need to tender the offer for development. And with Bowen Island's largest developer sitting on Council, I'm unsure of how the process could be rendered fair. What is being offered essentially is a large swath of community lands for a private interest to buy and develop, essentially under contract to the municipality. It is unclear who will actually own the land at the end of the day. One suspects that a development company my buy and lease it to tenants which seems like a terrible idea. Absentee landlords jacking rents are one of the primary reasons why businesses have a ahrd time succeeding in the Cove.
Critically for me, what is missing from this vision of development is tha "viable community" part. It seems that this is a pathway fro "creating a profitable development process" but it says nothing about citizens being involved in the development corporation, it contains no provision for community consultation or co-creation (especially, one imagines in the private sector option) and it doesn't talk about community life at all.
On the other hand, it IS an implementation plan. Something will get done. I just wonder if at the end of the day we won't have a glorified shopping mall for a village rather than a proper village.
If this was the plan that was being used to develop your village, what would you have to say about it?
Monday, April 9, 2012
What is it like to make amends? Can you find a reason to apologize to someone? What does that take in you?
I apologized to someone today for an unwise speech act. I did it because these two - my partner and son - among other on my home island matter to me. Because small instinctive it's can have a long term impact on relationships.
Feels good to apologize and I hope it's accepted. The sacrifice of pride and ego has its return in a feeling of peace.
Sunday, April 8, 2012
A time of renewal of the spirit, for crossing thresholds, sustaining goodness and returning to life. The weather has been glorious over the past couple of days and yesterday Caitlin organized a trip into Vancouver for our little local improv group. We loaded up a friend's sailboat with food and cheer and set sail for Granville Island where we took in a Theatresports game. Coming home an incredible moon rose behind the Vancouver skyline and as we rounded Point Atkinson an outflow gale got started. We sang songs, told stories, recited poetry and snuggled under fleece blankets, welcoming the wind that indicated a pleasant day to come.
And indeed we have that pleasant day today. Bright sun, birdsong and the smell of soil, the promise of new life sprouting in the garden and in the forest all around us.
Location:Miller Rd,Bowen Island,Canada
Thursday, April 5, 2012
It must be spring. The fiddleheads are ready to pick, salmon berry bushes in full bloom and today Nancy's Taco shack opened on the pier. I took my lunch there waiting for the noon ferry and contemplating the recent effect that our new Council is having on our community.
The natural world keeps me upbeat, Nancy's tacos nourish, but there are times when my optimism wanes.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Monday, April 2, 2012
This is me. This is the bay I live by. These mountains are the east wall of the fjord that holds the island that I live on.
Years ago a well known islander gave me the advice about living here that, if I'm in it for the long haul, I would need to develop a practice of witnessing. In the ten+ years I have lived here a lot has changed and I'm finally beginning to realize what that role of witness means.
There is a sharp division here between private and public, growing sharper every year. I believe that the rejection of a national park here was a testament to the strength of the view that public stewardship of public lands is dangerous. I happen to think that view is incorrect but I think that drove the opposition. and I think unchecked, that view will wreak havoc.
We now have here on our island a sharp line. It seems the role of our Council is tilting towards protection of private rights instead of stewardship of the public good. In the paper last week it was revealed that a private developer had cut dozens of trees in a newly established public park on the edge of his development. Not only that but he built a storm water ditch right through the tiny park to deposit rain water and associated detritus right on the public beach.
We have very little public land left that is easily accessible. It's the height of arrogance to presume that one has the right to encroach on it for private gain.
So to witness and call out acts that violate the community's assets, our public treasures, our few remaining places to experience wildness on an island that should be rich with wilderness.
I'll be submitting a document opposing the construction of docks across the public Cape Roger Curtis foreshore. I'll be opposing a loop road through what is left of Crippen Park. I'll be asking that the developer responsible for selling the trees compensate us with money at the least, more parkland would be better.
Time to focus on home and powerfully witness what is going on around here.
You with me?
Location:Cardena St,Bowen Island,Canada
This morning the wind is gusting off the sea and it's dry. The forest is drying out, kinglets and sparrows flitting around and eagles are being chased by the crows who are trying to nest in peace.
I feel the same way. Letting all that soaked through me just drain out. Watching an afternoon scooter match between Manchester United and Blackburn, drinking tea and smoothies and walking in the woods with my beloved. I'll have a little ferry ride this afternoon to see a friend and recover a lost laptop bag, and I'm looking forward to the ease and flow of having otherwise nowhere to go and nothing to do for a couple of days.
Friday, March 30, 2012
A long day of traveling home from Minnesota made longer by a bout of flu and a cough. Hopefully I didn't poison anyone in the way home. It will be good to have a rest, and see how spring has come in while I've been away most of the last three weeks.