Thursday, May 29, 2003

And as an addendum to the bird list, Caitlin and I got out for a rare walk together around Killarny Lake and added a pie-billed grebe, mallard ducks and a common yellowthroat to our list of birds from today. The bitterns were also honking away in the marshes.

Wilson's Warbler

Went poking around the meadow today, thinking I would look for some warblers. I finally saw some after standing for about 20 minutes up to my knees in long grass and thistles. I had to work hard to identify the Wilson's Warbler because I spent most of the time looking at females, which are completly non-descript. The fact that they flutter around a lot and like to hide behind alder leaves that are always bigger than they are didn't help.

Finally, after patiently scanning the edge of the wood, I saw a male, and his black cap gave him away. A quick check of the field guide confirmed that the others were definitely females. Yay. Hunting warblers requires the patience of a monk at times.

Other birds spotted, and recorded here for posterity:

  • American Robin

  • Chestnut-backed Chickadee

  • American Crow

  • Raven

  • Stellar's Jay

  • Red-shafted Flicker

  • White-breasted nuthatch

  • Swainson's Thrush

  • Violet-green swallow

  • Canada Goose

  • Song Sparrow

  • Warbling vireo

Our municipal council recently went through a strategic planning process and produced this document which outlines their vision of Bowen and the work they have before them.

What I really like about this document is the vision statement, which describes how council wants our Island community to be viewed by the world. So here it is:

Bowen Island Municipality is a model of sustainability balancing the vironmental, social and economic needs of the community.

Council sees Bowen Island as a small, caring island with a strong sense of community. The citizens of Bowen Island are a diverse demographic mix, engaged in and committed to respecting community views and to preserving our heritage. Bowen Islanders are committed to volunteering. There is strong support for economic diversity which allows people to live on Bowen Island from the "cradle to grave".

Municipal Council and staff are committed to providing timely, friendly, and efficient service delivery. We are approachable, accountable and encourage public involvement in decision making.

The citizens of Bowen Island value their green infrastructure and are committed to preserving their watersheds and green spaces. Council supports regulations and bylaws that encourage compliance and are easy to understand. Green building standards are encouraged to be the norm.

I can buy into that.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

The campaign to save Cape Roger Curtis is gathering steam. The most recent event is a fundraising concert scheduled for June 21 at Sundog Farm at which I and a number of other Bowen musicians will be playing.

We were down on the Cape last weekend, walking and resting and eating lunch on the beach by the lighthouse. Finn busied himself turning over stones and finding purple shore crabs, identifying their sex by whether they had a "lighthouse" or a "beehive" on their undersides. That's what two year old kids do here when the weather gets nice.

There were millions of western tent caterpillars hatching last weekend too. They nest high in the canopy of alder forests where they emerge in May from silken "tents." In the infested trees, it looked as though the entire top quarter had been defoliated. In the alder stand at Cape Roger Curtis, something like 20-30% of all the alders had tents in their canopies.

At the Cape, the alder forest spreads over a floor of mostly swordfern and salal. The caterpillars were falling from the trees and landing on the ferns which they continued to eat. There were so many caterpillars eating ferns that we could actually hear them.. The forest was full of a quiet munching sound.

Aine and her friend captured a bunch of caterpillars and let some go at the beach. They were attacked by ants and spiders in some pretty dramatic insect assaults.

The ones that survive (and there are millions of them) will build little cocoons in June and then emerge later as little brown moths, flinging themselves into porch lights and campfires all over the island this summer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Our little place blogging community has shown up on this week's Carnival of the Vanities. Thanks to all who made it happen. Now go over there and read what these really interesting people have written about. Scroll down to the bottom to see the place blogging entry.
Fred has early season run ins with deer. This should provide an entertaining read over the summer as he tries vainly to keep them from his corn.

As i mentioned on his blog, we gave up on the deer. We don't even pretend to be amazed when they eat the latest deer proof crop. In fact, as the Victoria Day weekend wound down I got in a little gardening time, and, among other things, here is what we are growing this year:

  • Rock Daphne (mmmmm!...and expensive too!)

  • Several varieties of lavender

  • Osteospermum daisies in purple, yellow, orange and cream

  • Curry plant

  • Lemon balm, rosemary, oregano and thyme

  • Mallow (the only plant ringed with wire mesh)

  • foxgloves

  • sweetgrass

  • Swan river daisy

All of those survived last year without deer chompage. This year I have dug up a bunch of foxgloves growing wild around here and have planted them along the border of our daisy bed. I think we'll get a decent flower show this summer and hopefully the deer will be satisfied munching salal.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

The conversation continues amongst a nice group of people blogging places. We're looking for a few questions to anchor our thinking a little more and provoke some discussion about what it means to be blogging place. As usual, I turn to Barry Lopez in a crises such as this:

Over time I have come to think of these three qualities--paying intimate attention; a storied relationship to a place rather than a solely sensory awareness of it; and living in some sort of ethical unity with a place--as a fundamental human defense against loneliness. If you're intimate with a place, a place with whose history you're familiar, and you establish an ethical conversation with it, the implication that follows is this: the place knows you're there. It feels you. You will not be forgotten, cut off, abandoned.

As a writer I want to ask on behalf of the reader: How can a person obtain this? How can you occupy a place and also have it occupy you? How can you find such a reciprocity?

The key, I think, is to become vulnerable to a place. If you open yourself up, you can build intimacy. Out of such intimacy may come a sense of belonging, a sense of not being isolated in the universe.

My question--how to secure this--is not meant to be idle. How does one actually enter a local geography? (Many of us daydream, I think, about re-entering childhood landscapes that might dispel a current anxiety. We often court such feelings for a few moments in a park or sometimes during an afternoon in the woods.) To respond explicitly and practicably, my first suggestion would be to be silent. Put aside the bird book, the analytic state of mind, any compulsion to identify, and sit still. Concentrate instead on feeling a place, on deliberately using the sense of proprioception. Where in this volume of space are you situated? The space behind you is as important as what you see before you. What lies beneath you is as relevant as what stands on the far horizon. Actively use your ears to imagine the acoustical hemisphere you occupy. How does birdsong ramify here? Through what kind of air is it moving? Concentrate on smells in the belief you can smell water and stone. Use your hands to get the heft and texture of a place--the tensile strength in a willow branch, the moisture in a pinch of soil, the different nap of leaves. Open a vertical line to the place by joining the color and form of the sky to what you see out across the ground. Look away from what you want to scrutinize in order to gain a sense of its scale and proportion. Be wary of any obvious explanation for the existence of color, a movement. Cultivate a sense of complexity, the sense that another landscape exists beyond the one you can subject to analysis.

We are not merely journalists. We are cultivating a nearly indigenous connection to the land in which we live. And this is an interesting exercise for me, as I was in the process of rediscovering my indigenous roots in Ontario before I left there in 1994. Studying and being on the land with Ojibway Elders helped me to cultivate a sense of place that was deeply connected to traditional teachings and morality. Now I find myself here on the west coast, and in a new environment too, and I find myself drawing on the ways of knowing that I have been taught to try to understand the land here.

That's why my tag line for this journal refers to Bowen Island by it's ancient name Xwlil Xhwm. That's the place I start, and this blog is an attempt to do what Lopex challenges us to do: to enter the local geography and get the heft and texture of the place.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Back in January when I assembled the list of links on the left of people blogging places, I did so as a way of noticing a particular kind of weblogging activity. Weblogging as a way of writing was originally about keeping an up to date journal of links and notes about the web. Before I started blogging with Blogger, I had begun to keep notes about living here on Bowen on my website, with hand marked-up pages of html, little essays that were about my experience of living here on Bowen Island.

I did that for about five months. It got more and more sporadic and people who were interested in reading what I was writing were starting to lose interst, and so was I. Luckily I discovered Blogger, and I haven't looked back.

When I started using Blogger to update the Bowen Island Journal a year and a half ago, I had no idea what a weblog was. I simply needed a tool that would allow me to write about my expereince and keep my site updated in a easier fashion. As I discovered more and more about weblogging though, it becasme clear to me that something really interesting was happening with this medium, and it had to do with the links.

Weblogs links ideas, places and people together creating communities and relationships. But when the subject of blogging is "place" there is something else that happens too. The writer links to the land. These links are not nescessarily hyperlinks or photographs, but instead are written projections of the writer's relationship with the land. Assembling these notes together creates a landscape, and in continuing to assemble this picture, one creates a communal relationship with the place and, ultimately with the readers of you and your place. I'm glad to see other bloggers of place taking up the thinking on this.

Barry Lopez writes:

"Over time I have come to think of these three qualities--paying intimate attention; a storied relationship to a place rather than a solely sensory awareness of it; and living in some sort of ethical unity with a place--as a fundamental human defense against loneliness. If you're intimate with a place, a place with whose history you're familiar, and you establish an ethical conversation with it, the implication that follows is this: the place knows you're there. It feels you. You will not be forgotten, cut off, abandoned.

People who blog places are making sense of the land in which they live and are situating themselves both in that space and in the greater and wider space that is constituted by the minds of their readers. If my weblog is read in South Africa, then my inner landscape of Bowen Island is projected there, and the reader there makes the connections between my writing and his or her life. It is not a hyperlink but it does bound us together and it extends something of this place all the way out to you, whereever you are.

I think blogging place extends Lopez antidote to lonelieness to the wider world. We are not strangers in our own lanscapes, and nor are we alone in the community of humans on earth..

Thursday, May 15, 2003

It was a dark and stormy night...

I'm not kidding. There is a full moon out tonight but it rose coming out of a total lunar eclipse which ended at about 10:30. Since then it has been darting in and out of huge black clouds. The cold front which has moved in over the last few days is coming with big banks of cloud and rain showers, and just now, thunder and lightning too.

Still very calm air and not much else is moving, but the odd thunderclap and chilliness is a little weird.

Yellow-spotted Millipede

A forest walk today with Aine and Finn, Caitlin and my parents was very productive. We walked the Killarney Lake Loop Trail, which in the past has been great for slamanders, frogs and other interesting vertebrates. This trip, we added a few new things to the list.

First off, the Yellow-spotted Millipede. We get smaller millipedes around here fairly commonly, but I've never seen one of these before. They are fairly common, black with yellow spots on the side and when threatened they curl up and release very small doses of cyanide, which makes them smell like almonds.

Shortly after finding that we saw the first of two Northwestern Salamanders. This was followed up by our first Red-Legged Frog of the season.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Walt Whitman writes on ferries:


Living in Brooklyn or New York city from this time forward, my life, then, and still more the following years, was curiously identified with Fulton ferry, already becoming the greatest of its sort in the world for general importance, volume, variety, rapidity, and picturesqueness. Almost daily, later, ('50 to '60,) I cross'd on the boats, often up in the pilot-houses where I could get a full sweep, absorbing shows, accompaniments, surroundings. What oceanic currents, eddies, underneath -- the great tides of humanity also, with ever-shifting movements. Indeed, I have always had a passion for ferries; to me they afford inimitable, streaming, never-failing, living poems. The river and bay scenery, all about New York island, any time of a fine day -- the hurrying, splashing sea-tides -- the changing panorama of steamers, all sizes, often a string of big ones outward bound to distant ports -- the myriads of white-sail'd schooners, sloops, skiffs, and the marvelously beautiful yachts -- the majestic sound boats as they rounded the Battery and came along towards 5, afternoon, eastward bound -- the prospect off towards Staten island, or down the Narrows, or the other way up the Hudson -- what refreshment of spirit such sights and experiences gave me years ago (and many a time since.)

When people move here, there are a few little tests they have to pass in their first year before they decide to stick out life on the island. The first is the winter, the long dark wet and windy nights when the Pineapple Express sweeps up the Gulf of Georgia from the southeast or when the bitter Squamish winds lash the north side of the island, bringing the cracking brace of Arctic air off the Pemberton ice fields at the head of the Sound.

Survive that and then you have to make it through the sicknesses that circulate around the island in the winter and spring. Everyone seems to spend their first year being sick, and in the process achieving a natural immunity from the island's own crucible of disease. Flus, colds and coughs all plague the populace in the cold months, and it doubles the effort required to stick it out.

In the second year, full of antibodies, the sickness is more tolerable and instead you have to confront the final test, the one that lasts forever: the ferries.

I am convinced that one must develop a love, not unlike the one that Whitman speaks of, for the ferry to take it every day and stay sane. And that is perhaps the hardest test of all, for the Ferry Corporation often throws up challenges to keep you devoted. Schedule changes, impromptu equipment refits, threats of price hikes and the odd unexpected overload all bubble up to keep you asking whether living here is worth the hassle.

And the truth of the matter is I am happy I don't have to do it every day. If I had to commute on a daily basis, it would make me very tired and jade my view of the trip. But as it is, I am more than happy to rise at 5:30 in the morning to cue for the 6:35 ferry and ride with friends through some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. Every day is a different picture, in sun and rain, wind and fog, sleet or still warm air. The shades of green, grey and blue that I have laid eyes on over the past two years are myriad.

And like Whitman it is this endless variety of movement and light that continues to draw my attention. It matches well with my poetics, to find form in the whimsy of the moment, to find a voice in the sound that fills my ears, to see with eyes filled by shades of colour. It feeds diversity in my thinking and dreams, the currents going one way and then another, like a river that runs in two directions at once, like thoughts that bounce between speech and silence.

The love of ferries, and deeper, the love of the constantly changing view and sense of place, arises out of the living poem that is Howe Sound, inspiring like a storm cloud or an agate.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

The Queen of Capilano rescues the Queen of Surrey

Adventure and excitement in Howe Sound yesterday as the Queen of Surrey caught fire. Our own little ferry, the Queen of Capilano towed her to safety as she foundered off Hood Point.

Funny that as all this was happening I was writing a short piece about how much I enjoy the ferries. But read the story about this event and then come back in a couple of days for my ironically timed musings.

Monday, May 12, 2003

My daughter's sixth birthday today, and things are very much as they were six years ago, atmospherically.

It has been warm and calm here the last couple of days. Sun beating down on the beach tempted Aine and Finn to venture in waist deep at Tunstall Bay yesterday for the first official swim of the year. They reported near hypothermic temperatures, but still: they notched May 11 as opening day in the great Bowen SkinnyDip Quest 2003.

My parents have been visiting over the past week from Ontario. They are staying down the road at the Rosebank B&B, home of 1998 Bowen citizen of the year Angie McCullogh. The guest cottage there is about 120 years old, and Angela is an amazing woman. She is pure indominatable spirit, being the driving force behind many efforts to improve care for humans and animals, including CAWES (Coast Animal Welfare and Education Society) and a food bank set up in the foyer of the United Church.

Tuesday, May 6, 2003


Down in the Cove where the ferry comes in, is a beach at the end of a picnic field. It's still pretty wild, despite having a marina dropped into Snug Cove, and turning over rocks has its rewards.

Today we stood in the run off from the underground springs that feed the life in the little rock pools. Usual crabs (purple and green shore crabs), limpets, mussels, barnacles and springtails. But today we saw our first gunnels.

Gunnels are little fish that look like eels (that's what we thought they were at first). When they are small they can be found in tiny pools of water under rocks at low tide. They’re hard to catch, a little slippery and when you see one move there is no guarantee that you will ever see it again. They are masters of hiding in clear water in small pools.

Monday, May 5, 2003

The view we had

High above Sechelt Inlet

Business today took me up the coast a little ways to Powell River, to do some work with the Tla'Amon First Nation. Powell River is about 100 miles north of here, on the mainland, opposite Texada Island.

To get there I first jumped on a ferry from Snug Cove to Horseshoe Bay and made an immdiate connection to the ferry to Langdale. This ferry cuts through the Collingwood Channel, which wraps around the north end of Bowen Island, and ends up on the other side of Howe Sound. Once there, my partner Chris Robertson picked me up and we drove to Sechelt.

Sechelt lies up the Sunshine Coast a little ways and is a town nestled between a long inlet and the Gulf of Georgia. At the head of the inlet, which lies only 500 meters from the sea, is terminus for Pacific Wings Airlines, a float plane charter service. We chartered a Beaver (whimsically registered as C-FOCQ) out of Sechelt Inlet in perfect weather and, never flying above the mountain tops, we dipped and doodled through wide glacial valleys, long lakes and fijords for 45 minutes to Powell River.

The weather was perfect. Not a cloud in the sky and no wind to speak of. The mountains around here are really something else, huge jagged chunks of rock rising straight up 6000 feet from the surface of the ocean, topped at their highest peaks with snow, scarred in the lower slopes by logging. I find myself utterly failing to conjure up words to describe flying among them.

Friday, May 2, 2003

May has flown in with warm spring weather, hot sunlight, and temperate breezes.

The birds are getting hooked up, bitterns are calling in the marshes on Killarney Lake, the geese and heading north and the loons are rafting up in large flocks off Cowan Point. The forests are full of the sounds of warblers and thrushes and the salmonberry patches are alive with hummingbirds.

Even though the winter wasn't hard, there is a feeling on the island that is akin to a big group sigh of relief.

Last night we ate our first supper of the year on the beach at Tunstall Bay, huddled around a fire which was lit more for the comfort than the heat, and we watched the sun fall into a bank of cloud over Mount Washington. Loons and seals and herons moved back and forth in front of us, and we could sense the feeling of swimming in the ocean, something that won't be far off now. Spring is still fresh in the smell of perfume from the cottonwoods and the hyacinths, and we're soaking up every minute of it.