Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The foest returns to reclaim

In the front of our house, which has been transformed from a dusty cliff top to a beautiful food garden, we have a small Douglas-fir that broke a few years ago and started to die. We had it removed, all but a spar standing about 15 feet high. Part of the reason the spar remains is that there is a tree house attached to it.

But the forest has been working it's magic on this tree and slowly has been converting this spar into a snag. IN the temerate rainsforests of our region, snags are the islands of life in the woods. They hold a huge amount of anuimal and vegetable biomass, and are the primary locations for small organisms that eat things and break them down to create the rich forest soils that make possible the extreme growth of our trees.

Last week a pair of pilleated woodpeckers began visiting the spar to dine on the small bugs that are making it a home. One was back this morning, and it aroused me from sleep with its pecking and calling. I had a sudden realization that the tree has transformed from spar to snag. It is now crawling with enough small creatures, that woodpeckers are beginning to accelerate the deconstructions of the tree. This morning around the base, there are small piece of bark that the woodpeckers have removed and already there are woodbugs on the underside of some of that.

In the middle of the garden, with an apple tree espaliered to it, our Douglas-fir has become a soil factory, a buffet, and a home to a thriving community of industrial little forest creatures.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thoughts on place

More musings from the BIO thread, in response to Wynn:

The major difference with the work I do in First Nations communities and the work I do in non-Native communities is that in the first place and belonging are essential and in the second, place and belonging are dispensable. First Nations have no choice but to first and foremost consider where they are, because who they are IS where they are. For Bowen Islanders - for the most part - you have a choice about where to live. Non-native communities are all about choosing your affiliation. So place doesn't matter much. Very few Bowen Islanders have lived here more than two generations. Very few Bowen Islanders would suffer if they moved away. In a culture that is born from migration and movement, place becomes "location" and "location, location, location" becomes a mantra.

I think an honest discussion is in order here. As a Bowen Islanders does place matter to you? I know it matters to you Wynn, and it matters a great deal to me too. I made a declaration a few years ago that I would live out my days on Bowen, and while never saying never is a good policy, having that kind of perspective changes things. I'm not looking to flip my property or move when the "the old Bowen" disappears. I'm here to make it work to become in essence someone who is as native to this island as he can get. My kids think of themselves that way, and I think there is something very important about seeing the community like that - very important for the social fabric and social capital in our community. That we see ourselves as part of this place.

But not everyone sees life like that. Many people have a line in the sand. The first time a chain store appears on Bowen they are leaving. Or when their property value peaks, they'll sell out and move somewhere else. Or they are here as long as the work lasts, or the relationship lasts, or it's time to put the kids in high school and they leave. For people with no intrinsic tie to place, the kinds of goals and visions and notions of character we are talking about don't matter, and they don't make much sense. To include them in an OCP seems idealistic in a way that is different from what Paul is talking about. It seems impractical. These folks often raise objections to the Islands Trust mandate as standing in the way of useful development, because the mandate is about protecting character among other things.

This is a very serious cultural divide on the island. It is the root of some conflict but it is alos the root of a lot of apathy. If you don't care about place other than what it will do for you, then an OCP seems like a fanciful process, and one that, unless it optimizes your property or business opportunity, is a waste of time. Or unless it impacts your property or business negatively. Then you show up. But that is a kind of apathetic way to participate. It is not co-creative and not driven by the need to collectively own and steward the future of this place.

For those of us who treasure place, thos other people look insensitive and opportunistic. For them we look like dreamers. But both of us know that deep down our perspective makes sense for a livable community and that for THIS community, the Official Plan needs to recognize both mindsets in a way that brings us together.

Bowen is not a First Nation, and so the mindset that does not recognize place needs to have a place here too. The conversation is about including each other in the future of our Island, creating a useful collective future and living together well. My hope is that the intangible goals and visions are recognized for what they are - foundational to the very feel and character of the community, without which we become "just another small town." I don't want to live in just another small town. I want to live on Bowen Island.

Generic IS our is the enemy of human community.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The kinds of goals we need for Bowen

There is a wonderful thread going on at Bowen Island Ourselves which Paul Rickett started by talking about the OCP process. It has morphed into a discussion about green house gas reduction, development and population growth which is very rich.

I added a few thoughts on Paul's initial musings that our OCP needed mesurable and attainable goals. Here are my thoughts:

It seems like this thread has concentrated largely on GHG and development, but I wanted to say something about the measurables. I think with our plan we have a chance to revisit how we measure things and discover new community indicators that would give us a sense of how we are doing without making us slaves to short term numbers. One of the dangers with choosing measurable goals (and even designing things that are "attainable") is that we fail to shoot high enough to change for fear that we will not be able to measure what we are doing, or that perhaps we might even fail. The GHG discussion is a good case in point: what is attainable or even measurable here? The concern I have is that specific indices and numbers work well for small things that are controllable, but a lot of what happens in a community is complex behaviour, even emergent behaviour, and not subject to control or measurement or management. In fact the "character" of a community can be neither controlled or measured, but it is as important a quality as any. b This is where "idealistic" goals as you call them come into play: they give us something to strive for. We could adopt self-sufficiency as a principle of our community, and commit to seeing that roll out in a number of ways, including trying for 20% food self sufficiency, 50% energy self-sufficiency and 100% water self-sufficiency within 20 years. We already have the water goal achieved! The goal would be to keep it there and not require water to be trucked from the mainland in the 20 year time period. Adopting self-sufficiency as a community principle gives us something to strive for and something to gauge our efforts against. Are we making decisions that take us in that direction or away from it? If we refuse to zone any more farmland, are we compromising our ability to feed ourselves, and lower GHGs in the process? So I am interested in finding community indicators that let us know that we are on the right path. For instance, a demand for more affordable housing in some ways is a good indicator of economic diversity: you don't have that indicator in exclusively rich gated communities. If that demand were to disappear, I would worry about the economic diversity of Bowen. So while it remains a pressing need, to me it is an indicator of a rich community populated by people who are trying to make a living in unorthodox ways. Increased demand for affordable housing is not a goal we want to pursue, but it tells us something about who we are. There are some very interesting community dashboards at Integral City which, despite its name, is an organization that is doing work with applicability to many types of communities. I have been using some of their work in a project I have been doing to measure the impact of Native public radio stations on Native communities in the US, and they have piloted some of their dashboards using Bowen Island indicators. It might be worthwhile bringing Marilyn Hamilton to Bowen for an evening conversation about different ways to measure community goals and host a conversation about what indicators make sense in this round of OCP discussions. What do you think?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fall is trying to get in

Stormy weather last night and today. The rains and winds have returned and there was even a thunderclap or two this afternoon. The Channel was churning with great waves crashing against the Bird Islets. Still warm, but the odd scent of woodsmoke is on the air.