Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bowen Island Undercurrent - Long-time Bowen family moves to Coal Harbour and beyond

My friends Brad and Julie Ovenell-Carter are leaving the island. They have been here for 22 years involved in all kinds of things from running the local middle school to comiling anthologies of Bowen writing to bread baking to running a restaurant to Brad wailing away on his bodhran at our regular Irish music sessions. There was a nice article in the Undercurrent about them: Long-time Bowen family moves to Coal Harbour and beyond.

There are some people who leave and who don't make a difference in their leaving, and there are others who leave a hole in our collective heart when they fly away.

We're going to miss these guys alot.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Dolphins and hurricanes

For some odd reason Pacific white-sided dolphins have invaded Howe Sound.

Last week on the water taxi to Granville Island in the late afternoon out of the blue we were surrounded by dozens of dolphins.  We could see them maybe 100 meters off our port side and then all of a sudden they were all around us swimming alongside the boat.  We stuck our heads out the windows and were right there, looking them in the eye as they swam at speed beside us.  Off in the distance there were several more groups of dolphins, each with dozens of individuals.  It looked like there was at least 100.

A few days later, Caitlin phoned the Vancouver Aquarium and they said they had been receiving reports of dolphins, but they hadn't seen them yet and they were clueless about why so many had showed up altogether at once.  It's a mystery, which is par for the course when it comes to the sea.

Returning from town on Saturday we saw three more far off towards Passage Island, and Caitlin spotted another pair in the wake of a boat.  If you are travelling around the mouth of Howe Sound, keep an eye out for them.

* * *

Tonight and last night we've been deluged with rain and wind.  There is a series of low pressure systems and cold fronts crossing the coast bringing highly variable and at times violent weather.  The wind at our house gusted to at least 60 km/h and probably more.  There was rain being driven through our window panes which usually indicates wind speeds approaching 80.  Not so much debris on the road this morning, but it was an alarming night last night.  Rain continues tonight and one more cold front is due to come through before our late taste of winter passes.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Supporting local businesses

There is a thread on the Bowen Phorum about high food prices on the island.  I have played a little in that thread, but as the 72nd poster I wrote a response to some who feel that it isn't their duty to "support" local businesses.  Here is my reply:

I had another thought too, and that is that some are making the point that you don't "support" a local business, you just simply buy there.

That has been bugging me a little.  For me there is a difference between The Ruddy Potato and Costco and the difference is that The Ruddy Potato has a different relarionship with its customers than Costco does.  Costco's sole goal is to make money by offering bulk prices on goods that they buy in huge quantities. They live and die by the market and have no scruples about pounding their competition into the ground if it increases their market share.  They would just as soon eliminate The Ruddy Potato as they would Superstore.  That is how big box retail works.  It's about creating the monopoly, increasing your market share to the largest extent possible and growing the return on the investment of the owners.

So fine.

But I think our local businesses on Bowen ARE different.  And I think the difference is that they are trying to do several things at once.  Number one is make a profit, so they have to cover their costs to do that, and as I've said before, costs are high on Bowen, higher than on abandoned industrial land in Port Coquitlam.  Second, they operate within a community with customers who are also their neighbours.  In that there is a trust relationship.  They can certainly break that trust with predatory pricing to either put the competition out of business or to gouge customers, but why would they do that?  To do so risks the relationship they have that will turn people away for them and no one is coming over from Horseshoe Bay to shop at the Ruddy.  In short they have a relationship with us, and they SUPPORT our community.

I'm not saying you have to support them back, but think about it for a minute.  It is an invited part of the relationship.  The Ruddy and the General Store and the BBC and others sponsor events on Bowen, they help raise money and help when people need it, they provide learning experiences for students and jobs for residents.  They make it a mission to bring quality products to our shores, something we would miss terribly if they didn't exist.  They are not merely businesses and I believe that there is a social contract that says they will continue to support the community if the community continues to support them.

The cold emotionless dynamic of the free market is not the core mechanic of our community.  We all live together on Bowen in a community that is rather more complicated and nuanced than that.  If you want to live in a place with low prices, where the only relationships are transactional, plant yourself on Bridgeport Road in Richmond and shop at Ikea, Superstore and all the other big boxes.  You'll get your dollar's worth but you'll miss something.

To the best of my knowledge the businesses that have gone out of business during the time I have been on Bowen have mostly failed because they didn't manage to connect to the community.  Their prices might have been lower and their quality fine, but the businesses were dark.  No one went in there, no one talked about them and the businesses themselves didn't get involved in the community.  A few have failed for purely business reasons: they didn't know what they were doing, they got into a bad financial situation (if anyone has the monopoly on Bowen, it is the owners of commercial land...there is a true scarcity of that and they can charge whatever they want in rent).  Some of these came and went with scarcely a thought and others, largely victims of financial externalities they couldn't control (read RENT), like Lily Hooper's Teahouse and La Mangerie, I miss even now.  

So I think I do have an obligation to support our local businesses if I want a community in which they are an active part, a community in which they support us.  Feel free to disagree, but for those of you out there who own and work at Blue Eyed Mary's, Bowen Kayaking, the Taco Shop, The Snug, Mik-Sa, Tuscany, Gino's, the General Store, the Beer and Wine Store, the Village Baker, Phoenix, The Ruddy the Video Store, the Pharmacy, Artisan Eats, Cocoa West, Movement, Alderwood, BBC, the Gas Station and all the other services, insurance, notary, massage health and otherwise, thank you.  You have a loyal customer, and a supporter in me.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Always looking for new names to describe what is going on around here.  Richard Smith over in Tunstall Bay discovered this gem:

I don’t think I had ever heard this word “soughing” before it was offered up as a translation for a phrase in Chinese. My son and I were in a market in Hangzhou, China, and were taken with a scroll that we saw. We asked the graduate students who were showing us around for a translation of the text, and were told that it was “the soughing of wind in the the trees looking over the sea.” A more appropriate phrase I couldn’t imagine for our home on an island, surrounded by tall trees, and overlooking the ocean. We bought the scroll and have it posted in our home, facing the ocean. The dictionary definition is “(of the wind in trees, the sea, etc.) make a moaning, whistling, or rushing sound.”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Only on Bowen: coming home

This is how it is when I come home.

Sunday morning on the sparsely populated 9:00am ferry from Horseshoe Bay.  I'm coming back from 10 days on the road and expecting to sit on the ferry alone, sort out some receipts and make some notes.  Friends Jackie Minns and David Cameron are on the ferry, coming home from an over night in town.  We start jamming on exercises for our nascent improv group.  They ask if I need a ride.  I tell them I'm good - Caitlin will pick me up in the other side.

Get off the ferry, Caitlin is running behind, so I wait by the library.  Murray, Patrick and one or two other people driving ON the ferry honk and wave hello, welcoming me home.  Dale stops and asks if I need a ride.  The bus comes around the corner, all of 20 meters from where it started, and asks the same.  I politely decline all offers.  

At last it gets quiet.  Ravens, crows and gulls are wheeling overhead and there is a little bite in the wind coming off the bay.  I'm smiling at how darn hard it is avoid all the friendliness here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The deep essence of what it means to live on Bowen

Please just read these notes, a near verbal transcript of a conversation at one of our monthly dialogue sessions, where four people told their stories of coming to Bowen and why they love it and what it means:

What Do We Appreciate About Living on Bowen?

A snippet:

Bowen Island provides the sanctuary to experiment, we came here for personal reasons and we are doing a fair bit. We’re getting past the personas we had to take on to survive in our ‘former’ lives. Now I’m trying to learn who I am. For thirty years I have been wearing all these roles, that don’t really fit me very well. This place gives us the opportunity to rediscover what’s important.