Sunday, July 21, 2013

Taking a stand in the new world

Another beautiful SUP this afternoon out from Tunstall Bay, into a small headwind and down to Cape Roger Curtis.  We are having the most amazing summer, as evidenced by the water restrictions in place and the fire ban.  It's dry and hot - most days the temperature reaches 25 and the ocean is in the low 20s.

I like that I practice a water sport that requires me to take a stand.  It's a hell of a way to think about things.

There is a lot happening at the Cape.  Monster houses are going in there - the biggest is said to be 17,000 square feet, which is about ten times the size of mine.  And the docks have started to be built, with the first one on Lot 13 about 100 meters north of the Cape now featuring three sets of piles, two of which have been driven into the sea bed.  It is creeping out to sea and is now probably a hundred feet out from the foreshore, and growing.  There is a current application for another dock BETWEEN that one and the Cape.  The view is already ruined, the iconic view of the Cape with a gnarled and sweeping arbutus tree, is forever overwhelmed by a two story set of pilings soon to be topped by a pier.  A second dock going in between that one and the lighthouse will simply make the whole place seem crowded and cluttered.

Not a whiff of the usual seals and sea lions that hang around there.  Before the construction I would see one every single time I was out there, whether on land or sea.  Perhaps they will return, but for the moment they have fled the pile driving and the rumbling engines of the work barge for quieter waters.

Something has changed forever on Bowen and these docks are the physical manifestation of it.  There is an irreversibility to it all.  We no longer talk about the land in terms of reverence; instead the public sphere is full of words that describe our island as if you would sell it to tourists.  The way I used to know this community of Bowen Island is now just an idea, and we collectively serve that idea, but the idea is made up and talked about only.  It is marketed, discussed as an economic advantage, but discarded in practice.  In practice we seem to be able to simply take or leave the beauty and the power of the place.  Hardly anyone with any power at all is working to preserve anything.  Instead folks like the Cape developers talk about Bowen's charms while daily depleting them. Since the National Park vote I think we have lost the public will to steward the natural world of Bowen and instead are focused on the built environment and the economy.  Those two things go hand in hand because the IDEA of the natural beauty of the place is what drives our primary economic activity - land values.  To the extent that development DOESN'T impact MY land values, I'm okay with it, says this worldview.  It's a kind of every-one-in-it for themselves mentality.  IN that respect we aren't really an island anymore, we are just like everywhere else.  Where we come together now as a community is around things like Steamship Days which was fabulous, but which was targeted at commerce.  Bowfest, which this year has been reclaimed by community, and Remembrance Day continue to be two of the only things left that everyone gets involved in that have no outcomes other than community building.

We are retreating into the realm of the private.  There are few activities anymore that serve the public interest and few places in which the public can gather and simply be together.  Our municipal Council, who were so gung-ho on building a proper community hall - to the cheers from all of us - have instead re-envisoned it as a municipal campus, as a place that serves their needs.  The last true commons - the sea - now has a large phallic structure asserted across its surface in the most beautiful part of our coastline, with possibly five more to follow.  This was done despite nobody other than the owner wanting it.  Public debate is not about our place; it is angry people yelling at each other, naming each other, projecting themselves into each other's words and deeds.  It is a disgusting display of rudeness coming from all sides.  We are ungenerous with our words, ungrateful for our neighbours, and we bathe in a narcissistic intolerance for small differences, That is how decisions are made now on Bowen.  Go to a public meeting (not that we even have those anymore) and you will be shocked by the behaviour of grown adults discussing important issues.  Any attempt at reasonable dissent is met with paternalistic carping on all sides.  It's embarrassing.

This is becoming Dubai with fir trees.  It is made beautiful by friendship and the land itself but the heart and soul of community is now held by private effort, and we no longer speak the language of community like we used to. The community builders are the ones with money, not ideas.  You gain influence here by being accepted by certain groups, not on merit.  Things like "parks" and "nature" and "community centres" are fraught with politics.  I used to write folk songs about this place, because it used to be a place that deserved a folk tradition.  At one time those songs were sung at Council meetings, and artists joined local governors to express and care for the soul of Bowen.  But singing those songs seem quaint now, just another piece of history to celebrate during steamship days.  The poets are quieter, the painters and musicians of Bowen don't celebrate the community like we used to.  We are in hiding.

But I am not going anywhere.  We have just finished repairing and updating the shingles on our house and three years ago we put on a new roof.  We didn't do it so we could sell it.  We did it so that it would shelter and care for us until we are too old to climb the back steps.  Committing to things in the long term makes a guy sanguine and reflective.  It makes you pick your battles.

For me, my battleground has been respect and decorum in public affairs, but I'm starting to think I lost that war.  The loud and angry voices have won, and this is the way we do things for now.  I've been called a "revisionist" as if my desire for a community-minded conversation was somehow tantamount to criminally rewriting history.  Small cabals of people accuse other people of being in small cabals.  The word "conspiracy" is tossed around by people who sit and conspire about what the other group is doing. It's all very grade five, very much like ten year olds pointing fingers and calling names.  Last week I made peace with my accuser, shook his hand, slapped him on the back, and drew a line under it.  We exchanged no words until a couple of days later when we made awkward fumbling conversation that was nonetheless a relief.  I still live here and so does he.  Perhaps he'll draw a line under it too rather than holding a grudge for all time against his idea of who I am and what I do.  But maybe not.  He can choose to carry the stress of mistrust and suspicion as long as he wants.

The only suffering I can take care of is my own.  So this is me greeting the new Bowen.  It's not the one I wanted, or the one I celebrated or the one I voted for, but here it is and here I am.  I'll offer my gifts and appreciate others and get on with things and stop expecting it to be different than it is.  And when the wheel turns again, when the docks have been smashed by the sea and wind, when the real estate values collapse, when we remember that we need each other in community, I'll be here to dust off a few old songs that remind us of who we could still be.

In the meantime, that man out there standing on the sea?  That's me.