Friday, April 27, 2012

Better banter from baseball

Since the Bowen Island Men's Fastpitch Tournament wrapped up last August a lot has changed on the island. We have been through the tail end of a fractious national park debate and a bitter election in which the man who became mayor began his candidacy with a vicious attack on sitting Councillors he called the "gang of four" (I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, that his knowledge of Chinese history or eighties punk is scant). In his first Council meeting, he began things by reaming out his colleagues and asking for a legal ruling on the extent of his powers to exclusively set the agenda.

The level of public banter and nickname coining has never recovered.

Which is why I am looking forward to baseball season starting again. In this excellent article, my bantermate-in-crime, Katalina "Chickpea" Bernard invites everyone to get down to the delightful Snug Cove Field, where bleacher banter is a fine art practiced by a select few throughout the summer. It is all in good fun, by the baseball can be deadly serious, and thrilling.

This is the salve we need. I'll be there every evening I can be. I love it. I'll probably be down there at 80 years old, calling out newly minted nicknames for the grandchildren of Adrien "BeBop" Belew, Brian "The General" Park and Sean "A dollar for my daughter" Delany.

See you there.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rebooting democracy

It happens on every scale. A community, a nation, a people becomes bitterly divided on an issue and the civic conversation deteriorates to become nasty, rhetorically or physically violent and entrenched. Suspicion arises on every side and distrust, camps, territory and accusations fly. Perhaps someone launches a lawsuit, someone else accuses someone of unethical behavior. People who come forward to help are shot down if they can't be pinned down.

It feels like we are going through that on my little Island at the moment. Yes it is a #firstworldproblem, and in more ways than one, for what we are going through is happening all over the place at the moment.

Groups go through this kind of thing all the time. But this breakdown of the public conversation creates difficult problems and has real costs. When the public conversation is throttled by power or bullying or other non-dialogue behaviors we pay a real price.

So what to do? Well, for one I like Peter Block's take on things: transform the conversation starting with how you meet and then what you talk about. You cannot have a new conversation in the old format, so let's get rid of the talking heads and the power points and the raised tables. It's time to all come to the same level and discuss declarations of possibility that would inspire us all towards some action.

We need to find common purpose together, to open ourselves to each other and to host our own stuff so that we can hear other people and offer advocacy of our positions and ideas that makes us easy to be heard in return. We need to start from a place of renewed trust and good faith, even in people that might take advantage of our naïveté in doing so. We need to do that because restoring quality relationships is the only way to reboot the democratic conversation so that we might engage in some truly beautiful community building, nation building.

So, what declaration of possibility for your community can you make that joule inspire us all? What opinion, attitude or behaviour do you commit to letting go of so that a little more space can be opened? The work of cultivating possibility starts with all of us, and the burden is on skeptics. Transform your doubt into clear and legitimate dissent but keep your hope strong. Find someone across the aisle with whom you can reboot this precious space of democratic engagement, and don't let the cynics drive you apart. In the end, only they will gain.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Private über alles

In trying to make sense of the polarization on Bowen that was evident during the National Park debate, the Cape Roger Curtis saga and the recent election it has become clear to me that the political split on the island is not left vs right or developer vs environmentalist but rather public vs private.

So islanders, what do you make of this dichotomy. There are times and places when the public interest is clearly supreme - clean drinking water comes to mind. And there are times when the private interest is supreme such as what colour I can paint my house.

But what about at the margins of public and private? For instance your stance in the proposed piers at the Cape will probably depend on whether you see it as an issue of a property owner exercising a right to have a private dock in front of their land. Or whether you think the public access and use of the foreshore should frame the decision.

Likewise with ferry marshaling. Would it be fair to say that those who are pushing for a loop road feel an affinity for the private development of the Cove whereas those who are not in favour instead see the public interest in the parkland and wildlife as primary?

What do you make of this split? And would you be willing to engage in dialogue across these two world views?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Harvest from our Cafe at Shadow Lake

 A little story of what folks are facing in their work, shot and edited on an iPhone.



Thursday, April 19, 2012

Governance is hard

Before our new Council was elected, two Bowen Island residents, Wolfgang Duntz and Richard Underhill, took the municipality to court over a complaint they had about undue process.  They claimed that Council had not given proper notice of documents related to the approval of the Official Community Plan, and they sought an injunction against the implementation of the plan.  The injunction was dismissed, because, well, it wasn't substantive.  Many islanders in fact argued that it was malicious, while others said that if the municipality is not following their own procedures it serves them right to be taken to court.

Now it turns out that Wolfgang Duntz later ran for and was elected to Council (in fact he sat on Council while the action he was pursuing against Council was unresolved and while the Court was ruling on how the costs would be handled, a decision that has ended up costing the municipality - the one Duntz is a Councillor for - incurring a bill in the tens of thousands of dollars).

But governance is hard and it turns out that in an effort to help deal with the green waste that is generated on Bowen, Councillor's Duntz's Council may have in fact done exactly the same thing again.  They made a decision without proper process being followed that runs counter to the concerns of many neighbours.  And they made this decision even as Underhill and Duntz's action was still being settled.

I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.  Governance is a tricky thing to get right and I don't think as a community we can defend ourselves from court challenges every time a process is not exactly followed to the letter.  On the other hand it will be interesting to see what those who brayed for blood before the election have to say now.

I think the proper course of action is for the Council to talk to the local neighbours, and reintroduce their motion using proper process.  That way every one gets a good hearing and the decision gets made properly.  What do you think they should do?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Birds and mammals and fish and things

The complex rising and falling of the birds and mammals of the Salish Sea:

For other waterbirds, the March herring spawn is a time of plenty, particularly between Nanaimo and Comox. “There is an exodus from this side of the strait,” Bird Studies’ Davidson said.

Species such as gulls and harlequins gorge on the roe. Others such as Pacific loons and western grebes target the actual herring. “The cycle is so dynamic in the Salish Sea, so many different types of bait fish, birds and marine mammals that are all part of this complicated food chain,” he said.

Almost on cue, Davidson spots the slick dark-grey backs of two harbour porpoises farther offshore.

As perplexing as coastal birds, this marine mammal is listed as a species of special concern in our waters with information lacking on their overall numbers and population trends.

A PhD thesis by Anna Hall at the University of B.C. found that harbour porpoises seek out strong tidal areas for foraging during the reproductive season, from April to October, in the Salish Sea.

In April they will gather by the dozens off Point Roberts, another mystery of a coastal ecosystem dominated by strong tides and currents and the brutish muscle of the Fraser River.
“It’s a very complicated puzzle,” Davidson said. “Everything affects each other, probably in different ways.”

Monday, April 16, 2012

Only on Bowen: gutter recycling

From the Bowen Forum today:

Does anyone have some gutter pieces lying around? Any colour, any size. I want to build a wall of lettuce planters.


Love it. Give Gil a call if you can help. As for me, I'm going to head over to see the lettuce wall.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Prepared to be surprised by visitors

Yesterday at the end of our workshop day one of our participants looked out to the bay and saw a stirring in the water. He asked what it could be and I suggested it was a reef appearing at low tide, or a seal chasing herring or the Goldeneyes who have been engaged in their weird breeding behaviour of running on water and diving below the surface.

He said that it didn't look like any of that, and when I turned around, I saw a small pod of dolphins ripping through Mannion Bay. I have never seen dolphins in the bay before, so we ran down to the beach and watched them move between the boats and back out into the channel. Our whole group was in awe of the scene, moved by what we were seeing, deep in the appreciation of these creatures.

This group has continually talked about how beautiful it is here on Bowen, how friendly people are, how lucky we are to have the forests and the sea and the park right by the village. Some went out to Docs on Friday and were blown away by Rob Bailey and Teun Scheut playing jazz and one of group members even joined in for a version of Nature Boy. They have enjoyed themselves here, and have opened my eyes to the qualities of place that we often take for granted. And we got to witness a surprise that even the most seasoned Islanders were delighted by.

Location:Cardena St,Bowen Island,Canada

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Some online resources

There are a number of very good resources on line to support hosting practice.  Here are a few:

These links will connect you to folks all over the world using participatory hosting methods ina variety of settings.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Building a viable community?

Our new Council has begun its process to develop the village.  To do so they are lining up a few ducks which they have to solve in order to proceed.

For decades, there has been talk about what should happen with the village.  Over the last few years, the talk has become more and more focused on detailed planning, and the latest iteration concluded last fall with the Snug Cove Concepts process which analysed several of the previous plans, broke out several design elements and combined them into four scenarios which have sparked a lot of discussion.  On Saturday, our Council will hold a public meeting to introduce a fifth concept, which significantly adds a road right through the Park at the entrance to the island.  This has never proved to be a popular option but they have put it on the table anyway.

The new Council has produced a plan for how they will move forward on developing the Cove.  Entitled "Building a viable community" it seems to be a critical pathway for implementing a comprehensive development of Snug Cove using a single source - either a private sector builder or a local development corporation composed of local developers, landowners and municipality staff.

I have several thoughts about this, not the least of which is that turning over the massive job of developing a village seems to me to be a "shopping mall" approach to the work.  It strikes me that all Council needs to do is to rezone the land, determine the uses and values of the development, and offer it for sale.  The developers who buy could contribute to the infrastructure.  I am unsure why we need to tender the offer for development.  And with Bowen Island's largest developer sitting on Council, I'm unsure of how the process could be rendered fair.  What is being offered essentially is a large swath of community lands for a private interest to buy and develop, essentially under contract to the municipality.  It is unclear who will actually own the land at the end of the day.  One suspects that a development company my buy and lease it to tenants which seems like a terrible idea.  Absentee landlords jacking rents are one of the primary reasons why businesses have a ahrd time succeeding in the Cove.

Critically for me, what is missing from this vision of development is tha "viable community" part.  It seems that this is a pathway fro "creating a profitable development process" but it says nothing about citizens being involved in the development corporation, it contains no provision for community consultation or co-creation (especially, one imagines in the private sector option) and it doesn't talk about community life at all.

On the other hand, it IS an implementation plan.  Something will get done.  I just wonder if at the end of the day we won't have a glorified shopping mall for a village rather than a proper village.

 If this was the plan that was being used to develop your village, what would you have to say about it?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Can you make amends?

What is it like to make amends? Can you find a reason to apologize to someone? What does that take in you?

I apologized to someone today for an unwise speech act. I did it because these two - my partner and son - among other on my home island matter to me. Because small instinctive it's can have a long term impact on relationships.

Feels good to apologize and I hope it's accepted. The sacrifice of pride and ego has its return in a feeling of peace.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Sailing to town

A time of renewal of the spirit, for crossing thresholds, sustaining goodness and returning to life. The weather has been glorious over the past couple of days and yesterday Caitlin organized a trip into Vancouver for our little local improv group. We loaded up a friend's sailboat with food and cheer and set sail for Granville Island where we took in a Theatresports game. Coming home an incredible moon rose behind the Vancouver skyline and as we rounded Point Atkinson an outflow gale got started. We sang songs, told stories, recited poetry and snuggled under fleece blankets, welcoming the wind that indicated a pleasant day to come.

And indeed we have that pleasant day today. Bright sun, birdsong and the smell of soil, the promise of new life sprouting in the garden and in the forest all around us.

Location:Miller Rd,Bowen Island,Canada

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Seasons changing

It must be spring. The fiddleheads are ready to pick, salmon berry bushes in full bloom and today Nancy's Taco shack opened on the pier. I took my lunch there waiting for the noon ferry and contemplating the recent effect that our new Council is having on our community.

The natural world keeps me upbeat, Nancy's tacos nourish, but there are times when my optimism wanes.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Douglas fir pollen

Douglas fir pollen

A sure sign of spring.  The Douglas fir pollen has started to fall.  Sometimes if we have had dry weather it blows in great yellow clouds off the trees.  Other years, it falls with the rain and is left behind when the water evaporates.  It is sticky and crystalline and hard to wipe or brush off.  Over time it comes away, but it is tenacious stuff.  

Monday, April 2, 2012


This is me. This is the bay I live by. These mountains are the east wall of the fjord that holds the island that I live on.
Years ago a well known islander gave me the advice about living here that, if I'm in it for the long haul, I would need to develop a practice of witnessing. In the ten+ years I have lived here a lot has changed and I'm finally beginning to realize what that role of witness means.
There is a sharp division here between private and public, growing sharper every year. I believe that the rejection of a national park here was a testament to the strength of the view that public stewardship of public lands is dangerous. I happen to think that view is incorrect but I think that drove the opposition. and I think unchecked, that view will wreak havoc.
We now have here on our island a sharp line. It seems the role of our Council is tilting towards protection of private rights instead of stewardship of the public good. In the paper last week it was revealed that a private developer had cut dozens of trees in a newly established public park on the edge of his development. Not only that but he built a storm water ditch right through the tiny park to deposit rain water and associated detritus right on the public beach.
We have very little public land left that is easily accessible. It's the height of arrogance to presume that one has the right to encroach on it for private gain.
So to witness and call out acts that violate the community's assets, our public treasures, our few remaining places to experience wildness on an island that should be rich with wilderness.
I'll be submitting a document opposing the construction of docks across the public Cape Roger Curtis foreshore. I'll be opposing a loop road through what is left of Crippen Park. I'll be asking that the developer responsible for selling the trees compensate us with money at the least, more parkland would be better.
Time to focus on home and powerfully witness what is going on around here.
You with me?

Location:Cardena St,Bowen Island,Canada

Drying out

After twelve days on the road followed by a further day of work at home and battling a flu I finally have a day off.

This morning the wind is gusting off the sea and it's dry. The forest is drying out, kinglets and sparrows flitting around and eagles are being chased by the crows who are trying to nest in peace.

I feel the same way. Letting all that soaked through me just drain out. Watching an afternoon scooter match between Manchester United and Blackburn, drinking tea and smoothies and walking in the woods with my beloved. I'll have a little ferry ride this afternoon to see a friend and recover a lost laptop bag, and I'm looking forward to the ease and flow of having otherwise nowhere to go and nothing to do for a couple of days.

Drying out.