Tag Archives: conservation

Bathtub Scholar

Ever notice how our facination with hobbies tends to move and circulate? You take up a new hobby and spend loads of time exploring whatever new  thing you’re interested in, but then you circle back around to something you knew from before. Something that used to take up your Sunday evenings. Something you and your oldest friends have in common because that’s what bound you up all that long ago. With me the thing that I come back to always seems to be digesting books.

Newer distractions took up most of last year, but since Christmas I’m back to an old habit – reading. Last year I knit a dozen hats, made dinner almost every night, started to play the ukulele, tried to learn computer programming language, painted, and hung around in a park. This year, my hands have been full of paper including that of Simon Schama’s “Landscape and Memory” which is a curious recounting of man’s history with the natural landscape.

His argument seems to be that we need to understand how much of our consciousness is based in the landscape around us and that we need to interact with the land in order to understand our culture. Beyond something to anchor ourselves, the landscape makes us who we are. He starts in the forests of Poland recounting the various tribes and villages that used to run wild – and manage the wild – in the woods. Then it was on to the discussion of the great English oak and the tree’s impact of what it means to “be English”. But the forest’s natural state is doomed to the greed of man, just as it is in in America and in Germany, and the book chronicles all those who have tried to possess and control it. I’ve only finished the chapter on the woods, but will be spending a good bit of tub time with the other subjects to come including stone and, fittingly, water.

Reading in the water.

Going to read about the water in the water.

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Vocabulary Lesson

Sometimes I get to feeling like an underaged grandmother. This modern world and all it’s trendy concepts and mash-ups has a way of putting me directly in touch with my further eighty-year-old self – you know, the one where I get to grumble out loud without consequences and tell people I think their ideas are dumb without consequence. Even though I’m closer in age to a 15-year old than to my grandmother, I don’t know what a bitcoin is and I don’t want my eyeglasses to tell me whether or not I’m about to have a heart attack or look at buzzfeed posts about the some-number-of-things that something or another. I want to shop at thrift stores and have to take out  shoulder pads from 80s blazers and bake things with whole wheat flour and read books made out of paper.

I do, however, want to see people act better do nice things for themselves and the other creatures on this planet so, when I learned about two new words that, on first glance, sounded like the kind of thing that normally makes me shudder, I had to admit maybe new, buzzworthy concepts aren’t always all bad. The words? Flexitarian and rewilding.

The first one I think I am. Having spent the last ten years going on and off a completely vegetarian diet, I’ve landed somewhere comfortably on the side of vegetables but without the commitment. ‘Flexitarians‘ eat soup made from chicken stock, sometimes grill up some hotdogs, and maybe grab fish tacos once in a while. What they don’t do is have meat every meal, or even every week. That’s important for all the right reasons – health, the environment, your wallet, the ocean, animal rights – and it’s more realistic for people than straight-up vegetarianism might be. There’s plenty of reasons, obviously and obviously, to become a vegetarian, but most people still eat loads of meat so I thought this was a pretty neat concept. Maybe even a starter kit for self-improvement though food choices. I wouldn’t be a true flexitarian unless I asked you to try it, but I do draw the line just before proselytizing most times.

A flexitarian's dinner.

A flexitarian’s dinner.

The other word that’s interesting is ‘rewilding’. I heard this first on one of those radio interviews you catch the end of but don’t remember what station or who was speaking. Then I read about this group who wants to see Europe return to a more wild state. My muddled memory of that radio piece plus what I’ve learned since spells a case for returning (at least parts of) the world as much as possible to the wilderness. And more so than just to an environment similar to the one we had before the industrial revolution – these guys want to return things to the actual open wildness that was before people. This is interesting to me because it seems a drift from the conservation ideas I have come to know as a 21st century human. Not just ‘let’s recycle and eat locally’ but ‘let’s tear down these old buildings and let the trees grow back’.

So the chant is to reintroduce wolves and grizzly bears, connect huge tracks of land  to other huge tracks of land in a way that follows how animals move naturally, and let’s get people back to working the land in harmony with the natural world. Coppicing and harvesting, rather than bulldozing and fertilizing. These people are thinking big and that I can respect. With news like scallop die offs and rhino extinction, it’s probably time for some renegade action in addition to all those re-suable water bottles we’re so proud of here on the west coast.

I’ll still probably keep avoiding facebook games and a new cell phone for as long as mine still works, but I’m happy to have been exposed to some pretty cool new ideas. Good to take your attention away from re-stitch these shoulder seams, I suppose, no matter your age.

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Responsibility, and an Otter.

A couple of weeks ago in a conversation with my sister, she told me that she and a friend of ours had been talking about me living in a big city. The friend asked how I was getting along. My sister’s answer wasn’t a yes or no – she told our friend that, since moving to Vancouver, I’ve developed a ridiculous number of hobbies. No way, I said. But then I counted.

Knitting, painting, exercise (yes, it counts), wool spinning, blog writing, other kinds of writing, cooking regularly (yes, I think this counts too), photography, Twitter, amateur film historian research, meditation, jewelry making, dedicated reggae music fan, cake eating, and altering my own clothes. That’s fifteen new hobbies. Oh wait, I forgot volunteer work. So sixteen, which is a little ridiculous.

After admitting she had a point, I though about why I’ve become so active given that I think my actual real favorite thing to do is drink coffee, read and then take a nap. I’ve landed on the idea that I think it comes down to responsibility.

What I mean by that is, I’m afraid I’m responsible only to myself. I don’t have any kids and I’m something like four thousand miles from family or friends who’ve been around long enough to have earned the right to be disappointed in me if I screw up. You know, the people with the highest standards. Maybe I got it from them and have carried it here, but somehow I’ve wound up being pretty strict.

This has turned into one of those thoughts that keeps slithering its way back into my head – when I leave this place, if  we move away, I’ll have to report out. ‘What have you done?’  ‘What have you to show for this?’ myself will ask.

As a thirty year old person, this is supposed to be a regular part of my day, right? Pick up some mushrooms for dinner, run by the bank on the way to work, contemplate the meaning of existence, fold the laundry. Or, wait. Is that what your twenties were for? Ever since that conversation with my sister, I’ve been upset by the triteness and complication of what I assumed would be my explanation of my time here. Last night, while I stood holding a net  in a little cage built around a plastic tank with a blue tarp to keep out the rain, I think I found a simple answer – future me can say, ‘When I lived in Vancouver, I helped take care of a sea otter that someone shot’.

I don’t know how much you know about sea otters, so I’ll spare the biology lesson in favor of summary: they are furry, they float, they eat shelled things, and they are obsessed with grooming hair that, not so long ago, was coveted enough that people killed nearly all of them. Apparently, if you too like to eat shelled things, you might consider them a pest. Somebody near Tofino did and, for reasons I don’t understand, shot him which  blinded him, tore up his  flipper, and left him unable to feed himself.  He’s still got some shrapnel (is that the right word? I don’t know a lot about guns, obviously) in his head.

You can read about Walter, or Wally, here on the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue site. These are the people you call when you’re out on the beach and you see an emaciated sea otter with bloody flippers. It’s where, in my apparently frenzied onslaught of acquiring new hobbies, I started volunteering. Over the summer, I grind up fish for baby seals to eat, clean buckets of salmon oil, scrub dog kennels turned seal carriers. On a couple of chilly November nights, I help watch over a blind and underweight sea otter and net the shells and shrimp he drops because he can’t see them.

While I didn’t expect it, this kind of thing fills me with a nerdy sense of purpose that I normally try to minimize. The kind of person who talks about that one good thing they did one time is not the sort of person I intend to sound like. I didn’t plan on a once-a-week volunteer gig becoming something major. I did it because I was bored and afraid that my whole adventure might coming to nothing.

I’m sure the person who hurt the otter didn’t plan that out either. I’d bet it was a joke, or perhaps something that happened faster than you can think through. Maybe the person was angry, or pressured by something else. Or maybe that person is terrible. If we go with my fear that the only responsibility we hold is to ourselves, I guess none of that matters at all.

So, when I come home from watching the otter, I knit. A lot. And I spend loads of time looking at foodgawker. I’m probably going to watch five movies this week. If I make it to the art supply store, I’ll get a couple of canvases and paint pictures of birds while I watch movies. Maybe it’s all a coping mechanism, like my sister thought (in kindness, mind you – she and I both are small town girls and getting lost in a world like this is easy).

But from now on, if I get to feeling silly for entertaining myself here, I’m going to remember that sea otter and the people who are spending thousands of hours and dollars (turns out he likes to eat expensive shellfish) to help a furry critter that won’t get to see again and probably won’t return to a wild ocean. Perhaps if I help out I’ll have something to show for Vancouver – I’ll have taken a little responsibility back from someone who I think showed very little of their own. Maybe this makes it so that I’ll get to be responsible for more than just me.

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