Wednesday, August 26, 2015

And then came Saul...

Well then.
Like two canoes passing on a smokey mountain lake...

This looks like the last season, as I've known it, of the bicycle/scooter gardener.
Changes are afoot.
Alas, my two-wheel-propelled friends.

Updates and further chronicles upcoming...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Children, Playing With Sticks: The Great Stick Story

Great Stick

The first Great Stick I brought to our outdoor children’s program was a many-branched staff I’d cut from a dying cedar hedge. It was rough and twiggy and almost as tall as me, and the only remarkable thing about it was the fact I’d hauled it along. “Why?” the circle of children asked me, quizzically.

 “Because,” I exclaimed emphatically, ‘it’s… Great Stick!”

At that point, I barely understood myself why I insisted on ferrying the cumbersome thing to and from our woodland preschool. I simply recalled how much I’d enjoyed carving and decorating my own walking stick during camping and hiking trips as a kid, and figured Outdoor School needed a mascot. We needed a Great Stick.

I had been recruited by the new North Shore program, largely because I am, by trade, a gardener, and have an affinity for plants, mud, being outdoors, and, as it happens, children. I took the opportunity to heart, excited to be part of the West Coast renaissance of the Forest School philosophy that has come out of the UK and Scandinavia. Our program also incorporates the Reggio Emilia concept of child-led free play. For anyone who has read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, the idea of getting kids (especially city kids) to play outside in nature is an increasing priority in our over-protected tech age.

Almost immediately, it became apparent that Great Stick was going to play a significant role with our troop of 3-6 year olds.

As any parent will tell you, when (or if!) you send a kid out into the woods, the first thing they’ll pick up is a stick. And unlike a standard I-phone or digital doo-hickey, a stick is much more likely to take out an eye. In play groups of up to ten children, stick-related injury can be one of the main concerns. The next concern in line is the often closest association children can make when playing with sticks: weapons and guns. Nothing like an idealistic nature program turning into the infant-edition of Hamburger Hill!

We already had a stick rule with the children, made easy to remember with the phrase, “Big Sticks need Big Spaces!” They were allowed to play with any stick they liked, so long as they had enough space. No matter what, this kind of rule still requires constant vigilance. And because Great Stick went everywhere with us, it became a constant reminder, and constant training for the kids. Everyone was allowed the honour of carrying or incorporating Great Stick into play, but everyone also knew Great Stick was important (if only because I seem inexplicably attached to it), and certainly not to be used as a weapon.

At one point in that first program, a pair of devious twins made a point of challenging my attachment to a stick. All this Greatness was fine, but didn’t make enough sense. 

“Why do you bring it every time??” they demanded to know. 

They couldn’t understand it. Together, they conspired to take Great Stick to the murkiest section of the creek and bury it in the mud. They decided that would dissuade me from retrieving it, forever. It was just a stick, after all.

After the children had left with their parents, I returned to the creek and rescued Great Stick, washing away layers of mud. I still didn’t understand the psychology of Great Stick, and indeed was beginning to feel like some equivalent to a Crazy Cat Lady. The Crazy Stick Lady. All I knew was there was something important about Great Stick.

The next meeting, the children were amazed at the miraculous return. Something shifted. Great Stick was not that easily dispatched. It was a survivor, and from then on, if it was (accidently) misplaced, it became a group mission to recover it. While other sticks may come and go, our own Great Stick became a constant companion.

As time went by, Great Stick became many things. During our opening song, in which a jingle-bell is passed around a circle to each child, Great Stick would be the last to get a turn, as the welcoming finale. If someone got ‘stuck’ in the mud or at the bottom of a bank, Great Stick would come to the rescue, starting a tradition of children rescuing other children. If the tarp we used as a rain shelter sagged too much in the middle, Great Stick came in handy to prop it up. If a certain amount of magic was required, to turn dragons back into kids for example, Great Stick had acquired enough mystique to get the job done.

Over time and as the children became more immersed in forest play, their first associations with sticks-as-weapons dissipate. Sticks become so much more than weapons—they are for building shelters, for making fishing poles, for reaching and rescuing, for magic wands and dragging along the forest floor to leave a trail. They are for making bridges and forest couches and nests, for stick-people and puppets and leaf-popsicles and paintbrushes and peeling. In short, sticks are useful, and open to limitless interpretations. They are, truly, Great.

Our first program ran from January to June. The last week of the program, I took Great Stick home and, using a wood burner, replicated a pattern of sun and trees and water down its length. On the last day, we made a ceremony of sawing Great Stick into tiny decorated pieces for each child to take home. I am told that the children and their little pieces of Great Stick were inseparable for weeks. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

City Riding Pros and Cons: Bicycle vs. Scooter vs. Motorbike

City Riding Pros and Cons: 
Bicycle vs. Scooter vs. Motorbike 

Bicycle--25 years riding

  • Silent
  • Out-maneuver traffic (no jams)
  • Secondary benefits to travel time: exercise/zen time
  • Free parking
  • Get exercise/cardio/always fit for ski season or other activities
  • Feels like a skill to be a good rider
  • Arrive everywhere pumped full of endorphins
  • Stay warm every season (moving)
  • Can carry a lot of stuff of unusual dimensions (eg. vaccuum cleaner on a rear rack)
  • Zero-emissions
  • Way more stealth
  • Bicycle-culture very creative/casual/low-cost
  • Very very fun
  • Can actually drink coffee while riding
  • Can do most of maintenance yourself
  • Less gear than motorized bikes
  • Can wear almost anything/almost nothing
  • Other cyclists wave
  • Can use almost any roadway/shoulders of highways
  • No insurance! No licence!
  • Can ride year-round, even in snow

Bicycle Cons:

  • Have to allow longer travel time
  • Always arrive sweaty/tendency to develop low-maintenance cyclist 'look'
  • 100% exertion
  • Difficult at times to carry as much as you need without over-exertion
  • Require 'bicycle-recovery' time
  • Have to mess around with headlamps/rear lights/batteries etc.
  • Over-use injuries 
  • Less likely to go out if tired
  • Safety factor in dark/rain
  • Safety factor on streets without bike lanes
  • Still a lot of gear to haul around (rain gear/helmet/locks)
  • More susceptible to theft

Scooter (Honda Ruckus 50cc/4-stroke)--5 years riding (36 000 km)

  • Actually pretty quiet
  • Can sneak around traffic (somewhat illegally)
  • Can park in triangle zones/motorcycle parking almost always available
  • Zero exertion
  • Can carry A LOT of stuff in panniers/through underseat to foot-well
  • Low emissions/low cost for gas
  • Get a lane! (Feel safe)
  • Full face helmet is good for incognito effect/singing en route
  • Faster than a bicycle (60 km top speed)
  • Other bikers wave (even 'real' motorbikers)
  • Has built-in lights so don't have to mess with detachable lights!
  • Can ride almost year-round  (about 1 1/2 months of ice here)
  • Very very fun
  • Friendly/cartoon factor--all ages/everyone will approach to talk about your ride
  • Low theft-factor.
  • Soooo easy to ride around town (automatic)
  • Insurance is cheap
  • Don't need a motorcycle licence (just a driver's licence)

Scooter Cons:

  • Get cold in off-season! Have to layer up/wear wind & rain gear/use hotshots
  • Shop costs/finding private mechanics who are available when you need them
  • Not much scooter-culture unless you chopper your bike/not inclined to partake
  • Doesn't feel like a real skill (doesn't require that much co-ordination/courage/fitness)
  • Have to wear anti-road-rash gear
  • Can compress vertebrae on bumps (all weight on tail bone)
  • Slow on hills/have to watch/deal with overtaking traffic
  • Not allowed on high speed highways (not necessarily a 'con'...)
  • Have to pay insurance
  • Can't carry a passenger (weight restriction)
  • Messin' around with oil n' gas

Motorbike (Kawasaki Ninja 250cc)--3 months riding


  • Fast (100km/hr)--can go on highway...can go places!
  • Arrive everywhere pumped full of adrenaline
  • Can't multi-task: pure focus/zen
  • Big Big Big Bliss-Factor
  • Riding position is better for bumps (can stand on foot pegs)
  • Probably more cool
  • Feels like a real skill to learn to ride
  • Other bikers wave
  • Still very cheap on gas and insurance
  • Anti-road-rash gear may be the same as on a scooter but feels more legit

Motorbike Cons:

  • Loud
  • Need a licence (a good thing, but time/money)
  • Arrive everywhere feeling like a Stormtrooper
  • Can't carry items of unusual dimensions
  • Not as easy to ride in town as a scooter--have to constantly change gears
  • Still can't carry a passenger--feels too dangerous
  • Feels like a luxury/not entirely practical (depending)
  • Feels less safe than bicycle/scooter in heavy rain
  • Definitely have to wear anti-road-rash gear
  • People actually less likely (than scooter) to approach and chat about ride!..maybe because this bike is pretty generic?
  • Motorbike culture more exclusive/expensive
  • Shop costs!!
  • Fast factor--higher risk
  • Can't ride year-round 


Two-Wheeled Evolution...The Fleet

There it is, the Kawasaki that may or may not change my life. It's hard to know at this point. But it felt ordained: I'd given up on getting a (motor)bike this year because everything I liked was too expensive. Time was going. And I felt greedy. How many two-wheeled vehicles does a gal need? (Three, apparently. Three.) Then the Universe intervened. Housemate Robyn, who was moving to the States, discovered he couldn't take his bike with him. He sold it to me, cheap. 

This happened in August, a couple weeks before my learner's licence was due to expire on Sept. 5th. I couldn't book a road test appointment in time. Best I could do was call up Pro-Ride (where I did my motorcycle training in Sept. 2013) and get on the cancellation list. Sure enough, Pro-Ride called on Sept. 2nd and said 'Hey! We have a cancellation! Can you do your practice test tomorrow and your road test on Friday??' I said I'd go for it. The Universe obviously wanted me on a motorbike.

At that point, I'd only crept around the neighbourhood on the Ninja, stalling randomly and trying to remember how to change gears, I hadn't even taken it through a traffic light. When I knew I just HAD to do it, I got on it that night and rode all over town. No problem! I swear, motorbike riding is 95% in your head. And I passed--the day my learner's licence expired. Suddenly, I had a bike and a licence. My soul needed time to catch up!

Here's, me, my soul, and the Ninja, catching up on the spit in Squamish, with The Chief in the background. 

There's definitely, um, a huge leap in nirvana-factor between a scooter and a motorbike. I'd describe it as one of the more visceral experiences of my life--like being an extension of a machine, suddenly capable of going very fast, while feeling strangely secure and connected to the engine. And this, from someone who definitely rides like a girl. I think the overblown safety concerns re: motorbikes are clearly related to the dominant demographic who tends to ride them. Every time I take a step 'up' the motorized ladder on two wheels, I actually feel safer. Like 'Wow! I can actually keep up with traffic!' (Now, when I drive an actual car, I feel huge, as if I'm going to bump into everyone. No room to maneuver!)

So I am indeed sticking with three two-wheeled vehicles for the moment. The insurance for both the Ruckus (50cc) and the Ninja (a 250cc) is pretty cheap, and the downfall of 'real' motorcycles is that they can't handle long-handled cargo (i.e., garden tools), so I need the Ruckus for work. The Ninja, however, doesn't have a fantastic prognosis: there are cylinder issues (and I'm not spending any more $$ on it). I could take it on an Epic Ride that would simply end when it chokes on a cylinder. Could end anywhere from Surrey (woo) to mid-Alberta. I wouldn't wager much farther. 

This blog has seen me through a full evolution of two-wheeled transportation, and I have a feeling it's not over. Recently, my trusty work vehicle (Honda Ruckus 2012, centre) hit 18 000 km, which is how much mileage was on my 2009 Ruckus when it hucked up its engine and died. I don't believe in jinxing, mainly because I've changed the oil on this one religiously, every 1000 km. So chances are, it will last longer. 

I, however, have been reconsidering the bicycle lanes! Honestly, density on the North Shore has increased SO MUCH in the past few years that the free-flowing bicycle lanes are starting to look good again. Not to say I'd go back to pedaling  like the manic gardening cycling maniac I was...five years ago. I have discovered, though, that Motorino makes an electric scooter with the same frame as the Ruckus, which means I could haul tools and claim the bike lanes at an acceptable 30 km/hr. 
See? Looks just like a Ruckus, but electric!  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Stephen Harper, Stick This in Your Pipe and Smoke It.

So here we are, on the cusp of a decision about whether the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline will be pushed through our province to the shores of the Pacific.

Seems to me this is going to come down to the First Nations slowing down the Greed Monster. Sure, the oil sands aren't going to go away. But I'm not sure how they'll build a pipe across First Nations territory without consent. How many traditional chiefs does it take to stop a pipeline? One. And we have more than one.

The folks running the Unist'ot'en camp, west of  Prince George and in the path of the proposed pipeline, are fueled by good old passion and inherited responsibility and dare I say, hope and optimism for their children's future. Well, I know what side I'm on. Here's the link to their page: Unist'ot'en Camp 
And here's a link to the caravan this summer to support them: Caravan to Unis'tot'en Camp

The Unist'ot'en are a clan of the Wet'suwet'en people, who, together with the Gitksan and Nisga'a people in the same region, have been fighting various industry interests in their traditional territories for years. The Nisga'a quite famously signed the only modern-day treaty in 1997 and have a degree of self-government. The rest of B.C., except for a bit of Treaty 8 up in the northeastern corner, is unceded territory.

After growing up in small town B.C. in First Nations communities and studying FN history and treaty process in university, and even working for Indian Affairs in Alberta for a while (believe it or not, in the litigation department, for a case in which bands were suing the government for oil and gas royalties--oh well, everybody's rich now...) I'd have to say that First Nations issues get resolved very very very. 

It just comes down to philosophy. Money now or long-term stewardship. Shiny trucks or shining waters. There's enough evidence now that the environmental cost is too high. So time to slow down.

Here's a couple recent pics for perspective.
This is from Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver, looking over at Stanley Park.
Here's a modern-day freighter, loaded up with items from China that are so essential to our lives that we would trade our ecosystem for them. Note the scale of the freighter, in relation to the park headland..

Now here's a shot, taken minutes later, of the former glory of the inlet: a stern-wheeler paddle-boat, characteristic of the steamers that used to head up Indian Arm at the turn of the century. Can you see it? Zoom in. Can you see it yet? How about now? 
I think our sense of entitlement has grown in about the same proportions. Super-size.