Blue camas, buttercups and spring gold bloom in a south Vancouver Island Garry oak meadow. Photo © Monique Keiran

When I first moved here, one winter many years ago, a long-time area resident gifted me with a list of some of her favourite outdoor spaces.

She rattled off the names of parks and trails that she enjoyed. Then she let slip the name of a small hilltop Saanich park.

“For spring wildflowers,” she said, adding, as if no explanation were needed, “It’s original Garry oak meadow.”

The following April, I found my way there. The day was damp and blustery. Watery-looking sunlight filtered through evergreens towering along the path. Not far into the woods, the sound of traffic from the busy roadway behind dropped off.

I climbed the hill and stepped out of the trees. Blue camas, buttercups and spring gold carpeted the ground. A few gnarly, naked oaks stood guard. Beyond some rocky outcrops, I found a patch of fawn lilies. A few satin flowers lingered on.

“So this is a Garry oak meadow.”

Shooting stars - pink and white. Photo © Monique Keiran

In the years since, the small farms that once bordered the park have bred single-families dwellings and townhouses instead of sheep and horses. Ivy, blackberry, Daphne laureola and other invasive plants choke the lower forested slopes, while other non-native plants invade the south-facing meadows.

But the greatest threat to this quiet, little jewel remains ill defined and uncertain, as it does to special places everywhere. Scientists predict that, over the next decades, the seasons here will feature greater extremes. Hotter, longer, drier summers will anchor the year, with frequent, intense storms punctuating the other seasons. How changing climate and its attendant baggage will affect Garry oaks and their attendant plants, microbes, insects and other critters remain unknown. Whether this Garry oak meadow will survive also remains uncertain….

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

Sign of the foo. Photo © TimParkinson, via Creative Commons and

Sign of the foo. Photo © TimParkinson, via Creative Commons and

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

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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Parks like East Sooke Park help make nearby residents happier and healthier. Photo by Logan C (flickr's LoganTech)Back when Nature Boy worked at a big California museum, I flew down to visit on a semi-regular basis.

I remember looking out over the city as the aircraft made its final approach to L.A.’s airport. Below me stretched mile upon mile of concrete: buildings, roads freeways, parking lots. Few trees and no green spaces relieved the sunbaked ugliness that extended from the mountains in the city’s east to the Pacific Ocean.

No wonder, I thought at the time, crime rates were so high. No wonder crazy people were using drivers on Los Angeles freeways for daily target practice—events which, by that time, were so commonplace, even the most reputable of the city’s news organizations no longer reported them.

With so many people living in Los Angeles, the absolute number of already-crazy people living among them was going to be high.

But packing so many people in so close together would surely compound the problem. Those conditions could easily push anybody unstable and close to the breaking point, mentally and emotionally speaking, over the edge into outright nuts-dom….

Continue reading at the Victoria Times Colonist