Meteor show. Photo © NASA

Watching the night sky from the western edge of the continent at this latitude at this time of year presents a gamble. Announcements that a full moon would light the way for midnight mass-goers this year overlooked our forecast rain showers and our understandable preference for warm, lit, cosy quarters over damp, dark, blustery venues.

Even on December 21, clouds ruled the night. They blocked views of the annual Ursid meteor shower. If the weather had cooperated, the solar-reflector qualities of the nearly full moon so enjoyed elsewhere would have washed out sightings of falling stars we might otherwise have caught.

Before the Ursids zipped by behind thick cloud cover, we could have tried our night-sky luck with the much more spectacular Geminids. This shower peaked on December 13 and 14. Typically, as many as 120 meteors can be observed each hour at its height. More »

Dog Mountain Fire, Vancouver Island, July 2015. Photo © BCFLNR2015

Dog Mountain Fire, Vancouver Island, July 2015. Photo © BCFLNR2015

For a week, Nature Boy gasped and panted under dense skies. He flopped from sweaty seat to shade-enshrouded room in search of hints of coolness. He marveled at a sun that glowed orange throughout the day and lit everything with a buttery, evening light at midday.

The hot weather over the west coast sent many Victorians rushing to stake out blanket-sized patches of beach early in the morning. Others scurried into the welcome relief of air-conditioned offices. As for Nature Boy, he took to spending his afternoons in cool, dark cinemas.

The system that brought the weather also held Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland in a form of hot smoker. It suffused the coast in the fumes of the region’s wildfires.

In Vancouver, the outlook was labelled “Martian skies.”

The recent Big Smoke gave us a taste and whiff of our own coastal rainforests going up in flames, here, in a place normally known for clean air and fresh ocean breezes. With our itchy eyes and scratchy throats, we felt the chemical and particulate ghosts of thousands of trees being partially cremated at Dog Mountain, Sechelt Inlet, Port Hardy, and in other wildfires in the region….

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

Old Person's Home, Saatchi Gallery, London. Photo © Jim Limwood, Creative Commons via flickr

Old Person’s Home, an art exhibit at Saatchi Gallery, London. Photo © Jim Limwood, Creative Commons via flickr

Take 12 minutes.

Twelve minutes represent less than one per cent of a day.

If you work full-time, commute, ferry kids around, do chores, 12 minutes of free time allows you to catch your breath, prepare for the next crisis, or give your kids some undivided attention. Or 12 minutes means you’re late and you’ll be scrambling for the rest of the day.

If, however, your days lack the luxury of busy-ness—if, for example, you depend on others to help you dress, bathe, move about, arrange your social and recreational activities, and provide your meals—12 minutes may seem a mere eye blink in a day that stretches on and on like a geological epoch. Even if you subtract the eight hours of your day spent sleeping, the one hour spent bathing, dressing and personal care, three generous hours for eating and preparing to eat, you still face 12 hours of unalloted time. That’s 60 12-minute periods.

According to the Island Health spokesperson quoted in Katherine Dedyna’s April 9 article in this newspaper, 12 minutes is the minimum amount of physiotherapy or occupational therapy, nursing, or other “allied services” that each senior in residential care in the region receives each day from Island Health. Using $40 as an hourly average payment, Island Health funds 26 facilities almost $3,000 a year per resident, with services determined by the assessed needs of the individual residents. That means one facility may provide more hours of physiotherapy and another may arrange for more social-work hours per resident.

WIth the funds covering the spectrum of allied health services, most residents at most public long-term care facilities in the region receive much less than 12 minutes of physically active therapy daily, if any at all.

Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie highlights that lack in her report, Placement, Drugs and Therapy: We Can Do Better. She reveals that fewer than 12 per cent of B.C. seniors in public residential care homes receive weekly physiotherapy, and only 22 per cent receive recreational therapy such as chair exercises or bingo.

What she doesn’t detail is that, in some residential care facilities, if you need help to stand up, you likely spend your days sitting. Care home staff encourage you to use a wheelchair….

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

Poison Hemlock flowers. Photo © Paige Filler, via creative commons & flickr

Our benign climate welcomes yet another uninvited transplant to the region. Poison hemlock joins hundreds of other invasive plant species that make themselves at home here.

Like some of those other plants, it contains toxins. Unlike most of them, it resembles a common cooking herb, and can be easily mistaken and ingested as such.

Native to Europe, poison hemlock gained lasting notoriety 2,413 years ago as the poison used to kill Greek philosopher Socrates. In 2002, two people went into respiratory arrest and were hospitalised after eating parts of the plant.

Poison hemlock is to be handled with care and gloves. Consider the precautions part of the evolutionary arms race between plants and animals….

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

Poison Hemlock has purple-splotched stems. Photo © Jerry Kirkhart, via creative commons & 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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Through an aquarium at Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, Sidney, B.C. Photo © Herb Neufeld, via flickr & creative commons

Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, Sidney, B.C. Photo © Herb Neufeld, via flickr & creative commons

Picture a community hall on a weekday evening. About 40 people sit in rows. Official-looking sorts look back over the audience.

The people have gathered at this fictitious meeting to discuss the fate of a nearby fictitious historic site/nature centre/community museum/natural or cultural heritage site. Like so many real sites in the region—Craigflower Manor and Schoolhouse, the Centre of the Universe, Undersea Gardens, Crystal Gardens, BC Experience, the Soviet Submarine, or Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, to name a few—is no longer open to the public.

For two hours, those gathered have spoken in support of the site. Government Gus has presented how the government, which owns the site, is looking for a new operator—even if it means repurposing the site.

Education Eli has spoken of the site’s value to the community, especially to its youngsters. “It’s the kind of vital enrichment that connects classroom learning to the community,” she says.

Others have spoken, too, suggesting new activities, new uses, new revenue sources. Everyone agrees the site is an important resource. It helps define and focus the community. It creates common identity and builds community spirit….

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

Undersea Gardens no longer operates in Victoria, B.C.'s Inner Harbour. Photo © Brian Chow, via flickr & creative commons

Undersea Gardens no longer operates in Victoria, B.C.’s Inner Harbour. Photo © Brian Chow, via flickr & creative commons

Grape clusters. Photo © Scott Mair

We rarely see grapes being crushed by foot these days, but visitors to the Cowichan Wine and Culinary Festival earlier this month witnessed an old-fashioned grape stomp. Seven teams, dressed in costume, with grape juice soaking the hems of their trousers, shorts, gowns and dresses, competed against each other to stomp the grapes the fastest.

Their bare feet and enthusiasm served to remind spectators of wine making’s fundamentals.

Here and everywhere, wine making starts with sun, water, soil, and vines that take all of the above and turn it into grapes. Those who tend the vines and those that turn the grapes into wine strive to create product that represents and reveals the most desirable qualities of the fruit, place, climate, and so on. Each resulting bottle contains a bit of the heart and soul of the land and of the people who work it.

Yet, behind the growers of grapes and makers of wine, another community of players calls the shots. I’m not talking about grape stompers, who have been mostly replaced by mechanical presses these days. I’m talking about more enduring, pervasive contributors.

In the most basic sense, microbes make the wine….

Continue reading this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Grape vineyard. Photo © Monique Keiran 2009.

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