Dallas Road cliffs. Photo © Stewart Butterfield, via flickr and Creative Commons

We live in a part of the world many other people envy us for. We have ocean, mountains, beach, forests, a pretty darn awesome year-round climate for a place just south of the 49th parallel, and a number of big-town services and restaurants for what is, in many ways, a small town.

And on one of those perfect summer or fall or spring or even winter days, you just have to stop and say to yourself, “Seriously, why do I live in such a hell-hole? Let’s just stop the clock, and the moon and the stars and sun, and hold this moment. Forever.” More »

Sign of the foo. Photo © TimParkinson, via Creative Commons and flickr.com/timparkinson/

Sign of the foo. Photo © TimParkinson, via Creative Commons and flickr.com/timparkinson/

In the recent Incident of the Abandoned Ford Thunderbird, the Sooke resident who found the abandoned car, complete with registration papers, in the woods near Bear Creek posted a scathing rant online and notified police.

Instead of immediately fining the car’s owner under the conservation and motor vehicle acts, the RCMP turned the incident into a learning opportunity. They gave the owner a choice: remove and properly dispose of the vehicle within a given timeframe, or face fines of up to $3000.

The related media and online coverage served to remind us all of the laws against dumping garbage and unwanted goods on private and public lands.

The Capital Regional District defines illegal dumping as any activity by which waste materials are intentionally disposed of in an unauthorized location. This includes abandoning used goods on sidewalks, in alleyways and other public spaces. It includes the dumping of waste on logging roads and other rural spaces, and other ways of ridding oneself of garbage at another’s expense.

A 2011 survey of the region’s municipalities, recycling depots and non-profit recycling organizations indicates the most common materials illegally discarded here are furniture and mattresses, and the most frequent locations are along municipal boulevards.

I beg to differ. Far fewer sofas, mattresses and so on are left to rot along the region’s roadways in any given month than bags full of dog doo are left to decorate the bushes, trees and trails of our parks and green spaces….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Dog doo wars. Photo © Newtown Grafitti, via Creative Commons and flickr

Dog doo wars. Photo © Newtown Grafitti, via Creative Commons and flickr

View of the Columbia Icefield from the visitor centre. Photo © Samantha Marx (@smath.com). via creative commons and flickr

When you stand on the new Glacier Skywalk, just off the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park, you can look down into the depths of the Sunwapta Valley 280 metres beneath your feet and up at the heights of the Continental Divide around you.

Nestled among these peaks is the Columbia Icefield, a massive complex of ice that first formed more than 10,000 years ago. Six kilometres long, almost a kilometre across, and in some places 300 metres thick, it feeds eight major glaciers and three major river systems.

One of these is the Columbia River. This waterway stretches 2,000 kilometres, from its Rocky Mountain headwaters, through eastern B.C. and four U.S. states. It drains a region the size of France, and now encounters 14 dams along its length, including three in this province.

The river is the subject of an international agreement on shared river management. On September 16, 1964—50 years ago this Tuesday—Canada and the U.S. ratified and implemented the Columbia River Treaty….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….





Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park. Photo © Kyla Duhamel, via creative commons and flickr

Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park.

Nature Boy uses a number of smartphone apps with his work. Some help him identify birds. Others help him key out wild plants, fungi and other assorted roughage. He opens the astronomy app whenever he’s outside on clear nights. And because he works with people, he often photographs—with permission—families, school groups and kids Doing Cool Stuff Together in Nature, then immediately emails the pictures to the respective parents and teachers.

For somebody who interfaces so intensely with the natural world, he’s pretty hip to the latest gadget, gizmo and gew-gaw. His use of technology to augment his and others’ experience of the outdoors exemplifies some of the more positive, constructive aspects of being constantly connected. ]

Those integrated, positive interfaces came to mind when news broke earlier this year that Parks Canada proposed to provide WIFI access at busy areas of some national parks and historic sites over the next few years.

For example, with park WIFI access, I could double-check the tides before paddling around Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. I could check the day’s weather before setting out on the Long Beach Challenge, the 9.5-kilometre route that Pacific Rim National Park is marketing as the latest, greatest B.C. marathon-fitness trail. I could get Nature Boy to look up that weed while we stomp about Fort Rodd Hill.

Of course, with cell-phone coverage in this region, I could do most of that without park WIFI. At Fort Rodd Hill, I may even receive annoying text messages from the U.S. about cell-phone roaming charges.

However, my reaction to the news about Parks Canada joining the 21st Century may have been atypical….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Pathway from Mildred Street to Wilkinson slips between backyards.A little-known network of shortcuts and passageways knits many of the region’s urban areas together.

These connecting pathways—they’re too short to be called trails—pass unobtrusively among municipalities’ houses and yards. They stitch residential streets to other residential streets, quiet parks to formal trail systems, seemingly dead-ends to pedestrian-only exits, and neighbourhoods to crescent beaches or rocky shorelines. They wind through neighbourhoods, linking a person’s travels into lines and loops through local urban geography.

Each of the region’s municipalities treats these access points and rights of way differently. Some, like Saanich, glory in their abundance, and chart their locations like chicken scratchings on trail maps. Some municipalities, like Victoria, make the most of the few no-vehicle passageways that century-old urban planning and decades-old development have left them, and have worked them into formal walking and even lazy-day cycling loops. Some municipalities keep quiet about them, leaving local explorers to scrutinize municipal maps for faint lines and other signs that may—may—indicate the little-used laneways amidst the bolder cartographic connections.

Regardless of whether they’re published or not, most of these passages seem to remain neighbourhood secrets, known primarily to those who live alongside them.

In fact, these rights of passage could be seen as rites of passage….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

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Some friends organized a hike to Sugarloaf Mountain, near Sooke, this last weekend.

Calypso orchids, by Jason Hollinger
During a recent walk through John Dean Provincial Park, Nature Boy encountered his first Calypso orchid of the year.

He was so excited, he called the rest of us back to crowd around and join the admiration parade. He dusted off his annual Calypso orchid lecture: blah, blah, blah, and so on and so forth.

I’d long thought this little orchid with its spiky purple flower was named for the Greek nymph Calypso, whose youth, beauty and — ahem — other charms waylaid wayward Greek hero Odysseus for umpteen years on his way homeward after the siege of Troy.

The orchid’s other names similarly hint at ability to beguile and enchant. Venus lady’s slipper, fairy slipper… the names for this wee flower imply a big reputation.

Continue reading this article at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Bald eagle. Photo by Brendan Lally, www.brendanlallyphotography.com

Bald eagle. Photo by Brendan Lally, www.brendanlallyphotography.com

Bald eagles could be the bird world’s version of heavyweight-boxer Mike Tyson. The eagle is a big bruiser of a bird. It bullies other birds, steals meals, and scavenges whenever it can. Yet, during mating season, incongruously thin, soprano sweet nuthin’s emerge from predator’s curving yellow beak.

In addition to eagles’ springtime singing along the Gorge waterway, I’ve noticed local ravens pairing up and chortling amongst themselves. Robins now out-chirp each other thoughout the day, varied thrushes rend dawn with their off-key whistles, and towhees mimic hinges in need of oil. The chestnut-backed chickadee has changed its tune from “chickadee-dee” to “Hey, baby!” And the winter wren’s love-lorn performances make me wonder how these tiny avian opera singers can sustain so many trills and arpeggios with just one breath.

White-throated sparrow. Photo by leppyone

White-throated sparrow

It’s easy enough to guess what they’re singing about right now. Something along the lines of “Let’s make beautiful music together” to the ladies, and “Get off my beat or I’ll beat you up” to other guys. These themes play out in human songs as well, as Pacific Opera’s performance of Tosca demonstrates this month. They also cause many of the same emotional responses in both animals.

Apparently, breeding female white-throated sparrows—a songbird of Canadian forests—respond to the songs of male sparrows in the same way that humans respond to pleasant music. The reward centres in the sparrow brains light up just like ours do, say the researchers who scanned the birdbrains.

Read the rest of this editorial in the Victoria Times Colonist

Sources include:

How human language could have evolved from birdsong

Birdsong syntax

Some birds seem to have grammatical rules in their songs

Birds teach secret passwords to unhatched chicks

Birdsong: music to their ears (and hearts)

Thwarted child abduction, Toronto, March 2013