Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lots of cool animal news from around the island this fall:

  • Last week in the rain we saw a family of trumpeter swans on Killarney Lake. There were two adults and five cygnets paddling in the water on the west side of the lake off the gravel bar.
  • In the lagoon at the moment there are no salmon (weep!) but there are mergansers, least grebes and buffleheads. The Goldeneyes haven't arrived yet.
  • This morning in the back there was a doe and a young fawn. A late birth that one.
  • Confirmed reports of skunks in an around Deep Bay and Miller's Landing. The only way they could have got here was with human assistance. What a lot of work to do that. Anyway, they're here, and rooting through compost piles and nesting under decks.
  • Nuthatches are doing strange things. Usually ubiquitous to our neighbourhood, they come and go now in little flocks. There has been a lot of tree cutting in the neighbourhood the last few years, and wondering if that has impacted them at all. At any rate they were around at dawn yesterday morning, so that was nice
  • Ravens and eagles haven't been about my place too much. Sue Ellen Fast (I think) was talking about the eagles the other day. The lack of salmon has them predating heavily on the herons this year, and there was only one heron chick hatched in the nests around Deep Bay. Herons are less common these days, especially around the Cove, but we see them regularly at the lake and on the shore.
  • I haven't seen too many seals lately, although there was one in Deep Bay eating salmon last week, which was a good sign.
  • All the birds are quiet...the resident winter wrens and towhees only chip in the bushes now. The loudest creatures on the morning air are the chickadees scrapping over suet, while the juncos wander around beneath them cheeping and picking up scraps. At night the geese down in the lagoon can be heard at our place, honking at the threat of a night prowling cat I suppose. The weather is colder and drier this month and it's as if everyone is waiting for something. Lots of stillness in the mornings.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My friend and Elder Anne Ironside died on Saturday morning. Anne and her husband Jim were former residents of Ashoka House, an amazing place in Bowen Bay, with a river runnign through it. Anne was an equally amazing person, intensly curious and always seeking improvement in the way the world could be. I'll write more about my memories of her later. For now a marker that another of Bowen's dear Elders has left us.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Vancouver Magazine hit the stands this month with an article about how we're doing on Bowen confronting the issues of sustainability and conservation while living in a small rural community next to a big city. The article was written by James Glave author of "Almost Green", a book that describes the societal implications inherent in the construction of his Eco-Shed up on Cates Hill. What I appreciate about James is his eye to the complexities and realities of the choices we face and the degree of difficulty in the work of becoming green, especially for a community like ours which is blessed and cursed by a relatively high degree of comfort.

True to form, James names names, and talks about the real issues we are facing from the Snug Cove Village plan, to our carbon footprint, to the turf war of last summer. I think James makes a great case for why we need to think about our impact on the world (comparing our carbon footprint to other municipalities in Metro Vancouver is startling - we are more than three times bigger than Maple Ridge). Some who ran for Council this year poo-pooed the preoccupation that some councillors have with larger environmental agendas, but I think if we continue to stand out in that regard it won't be long before we are made to pay for our luxurious incineration of carbon and sulphur.

James is a gift to this community. He is dedicated, committed to staying here and he brings a very sharp eye to what we are up to. Would that we had more fearless recorders of our paradoxes and pathways forward.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pretty good Squamish out in the channel last night. I cam through it on the Cormorant, coming home late from some work in Victoria. We hit the stream of wind just outside Tyee Point on the North America side of the channel and steamed through it for a little over a mile until we got in the lee of Gambier, maybe a half mile off Dorman Point. The water was choppy and hadn't really built into a bad swell, but a couple of hours later, the winds were gusting at 60km/h and it was easy to hear it. At my house, on the east side of Bowen there was no wind at all, while a mere 3/4s of a mile away a gale was raging, the wind and water in the Channel making a dull and steady roar for the whole night.

After three days of beautiful weather, the rains are due back and hopefully that spells good things for the salmon. So far, I've only heard reports of one chum that has returned, although there may have been a few more riding the very high tides we are having at night. It's getting late for them, and winter is coming on.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Our election results are in and we have a new Council for Bowen Island.

This is the fourth Council for our Island Municipality, since we incorporated in 1999. It shows a fairly typical pattern in Bowen Island voting which has emerged over the years. First of all, Bowen Islanders vote in droves; our turnout is always in the high 70% and I'd be surprised if it was any less than that this year. Second, Bowen Islanders seems to prefer keeping a certain amount of experience on Council. Third, an incumbent mayor has never lost. And fourth, the high turnout results in a Council that reflects the will of the population, and as much as this has changed over the years, Bowen Islanders seem to favour a mix of people who campaign on fiscal responsibility, preserving the natural environment and getting things done. If you are an aspiring municipal politician you'd be well advised to think about adopting one of these three perspectives in your campaign.

So who got elected? Three Councillors got returned: Alison Morse, Peter Frinton and David Wrinch. All three have served multiple terms on Council. Three new Councilors were elected, Cro Lucas, Doug Hooper and Nerys Poole. Doug and Nerys are well known environmental campaigners, deeply involved in the Cape Roger Curtis Trust. Cro was very involved in the golf course and campaigned strongly on the "getting things done" ticket. Finally Mayor Bob Turner was returned with a strong majority mandate.

Outgoing were the two Lisas, Barret and Shatsky, both of them friends of mine. Lisa Barret was our first mayor, and has sat on the last three Councils as mayor and Councillor. She has been deeply involved in our community's relations with the GVRD (now Metro Vancouver) and was especially involved with the Lower Mainland Treaty Advisory Committee. I think we owe her a debt of thanks for nine years of public service, undertaken with a fierce commitment to social justice, peace and the environment. She has always seen municipal politics as a microcosm of a bigger picture, and while lots of people felt that her perspective was too broad, I think that in an interdependent world, you cannot simply pretend that what is going on elsewhere doesn't affect you.

Lisa Shatsky wasn't returned to office either. Lisa is a poet and a therapist and she wears her heart on her sleeve. She talks beautifully about her commitment to Bowen, her care for the place and for the preservation of its character. I don't think we are missing that perspective on the current council, but I especially respect Lisa's stance in bringing care and passion to her public service. I know that she won't be shy about reminding Islanders about the essential character of this place.

The third non-returning Councilor was David Hocking, who declined to run again. Again, we owe him a debt of thanks for his hard work and for bringing a deeply informed green way of thinking to municipal issues. It is not an easy road to hoe, especially when you are holding down a full time job and making decisions that puts you on the receiving end of blistering criticism. But David was a good Councillor, and brought a very important skill set to Council, and his contribution is appreciated.

So our new Council has a very full plate. There are huge public process challenges emerging in this term, including development concerns, Snug Cove planning and the granddaddy of them all, the Official Community Plan process. I have been musing rather openly that now might be the time to get involved again in this kind of thing, building on some of the work we did with the Bowen Island Life Long Learning Society back in 2002 and 2003. I'm especially interested in how we can create ongoing containers for community conversation that invites creative, generative and involved community participation in an ongoing way and that has the effect of creating capacity in our community for this kind of conversation so that we don't default to positional debate.

So if you are interested pursuing this with me, let's get together soon and talk about how we might do this. Initially I'm conceiving of something of a citizen led initiative in support of our decision makers on Council and on the various committees that do the big work of caring for life on our island. Let's see what we can do together.

Good luck to the new Council, and big thanks to those retiring and those who ran, and to those who continue to be involved on committees, task forces and community groups. There are no "special interests" on Bowen...just associations of citizens trying to make this place the best it can be. We are luck to have so many that care.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It feels like it could snow today.

I have been watching the pattern that last few days. A warm and wet Pineapple Express followed by northwesterly gales yesterday that blew the moisture and cloud from the skies and gave us bright and sunny fall day. At night, with no cloud cover, the temperature dropped to near freezing and at the same time condensed the mopisture in the air. By 9pm there was a ring around the lately full moon. This morning the sky is an even grey tone, with a yellow rime along the horizon, and it feels like it could snow.

And, the nuthatches are back. I hadn't heard nuthatches since the summer, which is strange considering that they are ubiquitous around here. They seemed to have all disappeared until this morning. As I awoke outside, they were the first birds of the muted fall dawn chorus, meeping together all around me as the sky brightened.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Kelli Turner and the folks at Granville Island Water Taxi are not the first people to try and make a go of a foot passenger ferry to Bowen Island from downtown Vancouver. Others have tried and found the operating costs prohibitive and the price just too high. Last night, I tasted a little of what they have to offer though and it worked well for me.

I arrived home on a flight from Prince George that got in at 7:45. Ordinarily, I would take a cab from the airport to Horseshoe Bay (at a cost of $70) and wait for the 9:30 ferry (at a cost of $6.50, or whatever BC Ferries is charging today). Last night though, I called from Prince George and booked myself on the Bowen Express which left at 9:00pm from Granville Island. Jumping in a cab, I ended up at Granville Island with 40 minutes to spare at a cost of only $30. I had a piece of pizza for supper and them headed over to the water taxi, paying $10 (the price of a commuter ticket on the Express) and arriving at Snug Cove at 9:30. We were ten minutes late because the driver misplaced the tickets. I was at home about the time the ferry I SHOULD have been on left Horseshoe Bay and I did it for about half the price. My client will be happy.

The crossing itself, in calm seas like last night, is scheduled to be 22 minutes, and the Bowen Express is running a pretty ambitious schedule. I don't think I want to be on it in a Squamish or a strong inflow, and indeed the story from two nights ago about taking air as they ploughed through five foot swells sets my stomach churning a little. So if you're planning on doing it, check the winds warnings and make sure there is no gale blowing. Winds in Howe Sound are very local and can come up very fast, with swells building quickly depending on the tide and other factors. You can start across Howe Sound in calm seas and get blasted before you get to Snug Cove.

But last night the water was fine and the three of us steamed out of English Bay and home with no hitches at all. It was surprisingly, scarily fast. If they keep it going, it will change the way people visit Bowen and the way we visit the mainland, and if it really takes off, BC Ferries will have to pay some attention. As it is the price doesn't make it the preferred way to travel, but when circumstances warrant, like last night when I'm travelling on someone else's dime and cabbing all around the lower mainland, it will be the way I get home.

So good luck to Kelli and the crew and thanks for the great ride last night.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Went down to the causeway to gaze upon the waters and see if any salmon had returned yet. Alas none to be seen, and no seals in the bay either. I don't think we've had enough rain yet, although we had a good dump last night, the spray coming deep onto the deck where I was sleeping.

I worry for our salmon. Hoping to see them soon. News is that the killer whales are starving in the Strait of Georgia and I haven't seen seals for ages.

Snow on the mountains...the season has begun, and the fish are welcome back any time.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Things change all the time in communities. Sometimes you don't notice them at all - the ferry seems more overloaded than it was before, the salmon seem to come back later and later, there are kids at the beach you've never seen before. Sometimes the change comes fast, like this week at our house when two 75 year old douglas-firs on our neighbours property were cut down. Our neighbour was worried that these tress posed a threat to her house, and she had them taken apart by Dave Affleck's very capable logging crew. We lament these gentle beasts, but we know too that things change and that every time something significant changes, it can be a chance to come together and do something new.

That's kind of how it is with things on the island at the moment. I was reading Peter Frinton's excellent post on what we are facing and it got me thinking. We're in the midst of an election campaign that will choose the council that will embark on a formal review of our Official Community Plan. The OCP is the document that outlines all of the tools a municipality has for guiding it's growth and change and protecting its character. It's a tremendously complex task and is often greeted with the groans of a painful process to come.

I certainly don't see it that way though. I think the OCP could be a unique opportunity to bring our community together in an unprecedented way, to invite everyone who lives here now to have a hand in shaping the future and to emerge with a vibrant sense of co-ownership and pride in who we are and what we are becoming. All of us who moved here after 1996 inherited a Bowen Island that was shaped by a previous generation, and everything I love about this place was the result of those who came before me. We have a chance now to make an immediate future that will create and maintain that character of the island that we love so much. Rather than dread the OCP, we can look forward to the process and for the unity that it brings.

This is by no means a slam dunk. We have a choice in how to approach this work. If we as a community approach it from a place of dividing the community into discrete interests and agendas, then we will get a plan that is mired in divisions that focuses on the parts rather than the whole. The OCP review, being as significant as it is, has the chance to cleave us apart. So I have a number of ideas that I'd like to share with the candidates running for council and with the citizens of our island. These come from my years doing community planning and engagement in many contexts around North America:

  1. Remember what community is. I recommend that everyone running for council read Peter Block's new book Community: the Structure of Belonging. Communities are not problems to be solved. They are places in which people live and grow and in which individual achievement and health is supported by a fabric of neighbours, and relationships. However we do the OCP review, it should be a problem solving approach. You can find a summary of Block's inspiration here.
  2. People in communities are citizens and they don't belong to special interest groups. What some people call special interest groups are simply groups to which they don't themselves belong. Associational life is a strong part of community, and groups are critical to the fabric of community. But social capital - the capital needed to grow community - is best served up BETWEEN groups. There are no enemies in this community. People are not divided into camps, and so us against them posturing doesn't work here. To engage in that kind of view of the world results in finding out down that road that people you need are not there for you. We are too small a community to suffer those kinds of divides.
  3. Use participatory processes that build relationships between citizens.
  4. Use citizens themselves to do the planning. While we have experts on staff in our municipality, we are a community of thoughtful and experienced people, and there are countless ways in which citizens of all ages can take responsibility for the planning process. After all it is we who will be responsible for implementing and living with the results. If the planning process is done by a small group of people who ultimately make the decisions about how it all unfolds, it will be a document that is not inclusive of the very community that it plans for.
  5. Citizens themselves should be invited to participate in planning processes as contributors and co-creators, not as consultees in the process. This involves using processes that invite that contribution rather than simply filling in surveys or attending community meetings as passive consumers of the circus.
I could go on actually, and a lot of the blogging at my other weblog, Parking Lot is about the details of how to do this. Suffice to say that I'm interested in how this change will unfold, because I live here and I love this place and I'm not going anywhere.

And the trees next door? They are lying in the driveway at the moment, but in the next few days myself and two other neighbours will buck them up and split them and share the firewood between the three of us. Turning radical change into a chance to cement our friendships and keep each other warm.