I enjoy pretty much everything there is that has to do with the outdoors. Some of my most peaceful moments have been while walking through the forest, sitting on a beach, or boating (minus the loud engine). Accordingly I have a great respect for nature and enjoy learning about the plants and wildlife therein. My plan is to continue that learning process and hopefully enhance it by sharing what I learn. I intend for this blog to serve many purposes, but in the immediate future it will be a place for me, and hopefully others, to share ideas about reducing our individual impact on this planet, protecting wild spaces, and in general just to comment on the things we enjoy most in the great outdoors. I welcome all opinions as otherwise you cannot consider every aspect of a subject. However, I would ask that every opinion be expressed in a respectful way and considered with an open mind. Often there is no single right answer. Thanks.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Impact of Medications on the Environment

I started this post a few weeks ago and was reminded that I needed to finish it when I attended an all-candidates meeting in Saanich last Thursday.  Saanich, where I live, is one of thirteen municipalities included in the Greater Victoria Capital Regional District.  Long story short several years ago the Province of British Columbia mandated that the Capital Regional District (CRD) must build sewage treatment facilities.  This has fuelled a more public debate over the last couple of years about whether sewage treatment is required or not.  Treating sewage and not sending filtered waste directly into the ocean might seem like an obvious conclusion, but one of the points brought up by opponents is that we are blessed with ocean currents that carry our "organic waste" away from shore and, I suppose, sufficiently dilute it so that it does not cause contamination.  It seems rather far fetched given that it has to end up somewhere, but I am not a scientist.

Now back to the all-candidates meeting.  Inevitably a sewage treatment question came up and one of the candidates brought up a point I had not previously considered. If our waste were actually only organic waste then it might not be so bad.  However, our waste is polluted with such an incredible amount of chemicals that it really cannot be considered organic.  One example is the copious amounts of medications that we humans ingest on a daily basis.  Think birth control pills, antibiotics, cold medications, anti-inflammatories, and any other prescribed, or over the counter medications you see at the pharmacy.  Not only are these chemicals making their way through our waste water systems, where there is rarely enough treatment to get the chemicals out before they make their way into other water systems, but also many people still dispose of these medications improperly.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Northwestern Alligator Lizard near Brandywine Falls

This past August my kids and I spent three nights camping at Alice Lake with my Uncle and cousin.  My Uncle is an enthusiastic hiker, and one of my favourite people to go hiking with, so it should not be a surprise that we took the kids out on hikes of varying length every day.  On our second day we headed to Brandywine Falls, which has several trail options.  The first, and easiest, option is the short trail to the falls.  As you can see they are beautiful, although much more impressive in person, and well worth the 10-20 minute, easy walk it takes to get there.

Brandywine Falls

Brandywine Falls

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pacific Tree Frog

In mid-September I put my rusty, frog catching abilities to the test when my brother-in-law spotted a frog near a pile of firewood we were moving.  Unfortunately my kids were not around and I really wanted to show it to them so I quickly scooped it up and started calling them.  The poor little fellow was not overly happy to be cocooned in my hands but held still long enough for the kids to have a look  I had to re-catch it a couple of times so the kids each had a chance to hold it and then, after a quick photo-op, we released it and watched it hop away.  At one point I caught it mid-jump and I can still feel the sticky pads of its feet on my hand as it muscled its way up over the edge of my palm. 

A slightly blurry picture of a Pacific Tree Frog (only had the phone camera handy - as usual)

Friday, September 23, 2011

RONA - Eco Paint

We have been doing some painting lately and, while I cannot say that I am enjoying myself, I am happy to report that I have found another product that attempts to be kinder to this world we live in.  My husband and I went to RONA looking for paint samples; nothing too adventurous, just some neutral colours.  We took them home, chose our two favourites and I headed back to pick up the paint.

When I got to RONA I passed by the "ECO" paint cans and decided to check them out.  I cannot write about being more environmentally friendly and then walk right by an opportunity like that.  At the time the first thing I noticed was that 3.78L cans of ECO paint are just over $16.00 as opposed to $30.00 to $40.00, or more, for the other brands.  Finally, an environmentally responsible product that does not cost more than its regular counterpart!  As for product quality I am not a paint expert, but I had no trouble with ECO paint; it goes on smoothly, and cleans up like any other latex paint.  The one thing that you may not like about ECO paint is that it comes in 16 pre-mixed colours.  While that may seem limiting I am looking at the brochure right now and I think they cover a broad range, from "berry", a dark reddish colour, to "moonlight", a basic white.  I was able to take the two colour samples my husband and I chose and find two ECO paint colours that were the same, or very similar.  All the colours have names you would associate with nature such as cloud, moss, blue planet, and sand.  Rather fitting don't you think?  Now for the environmental details. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Turkey Vultures at Mt. Doug

A view from the top of Mt. Doug
Summer is quickly coming to an end and today was one of the last days the four of us will be home together, at the same time, without interruptions.  We took advantage of the opportunity and hiked up Mt. Doug this afternoon.  The last half of our route was not exactly one I would have chosen and we kind of broke the general rule of staying on the path.  When I was a kid I remember pushing through tiny "trails", or just flat out smashing bushes out of my way while my brother and I tromped through the empty lot next door.  I never had a thought about damaging native plant species, or valuable habitat - it was fun and more of an adventure.

Today's episode left me feeling frustrated and guilty.  Perhaps if I had never volunteered for a work party with the dedicated crew that tries to maintain the natural beauty of the park it would not have bothered me so much.  But putting faces and personalities to those caretakers makes possibly damaging their work more difficult to dismiss.  However, once we arrived at the top, agreed we would take a main trail on the way down, and had a chance to enjoy the view, I was able to relax once again.

The view from the top of Mt. Doug is 360 degrees and amazing.  We spent some time identifying the major landmarks and favourite spots and then decided it was time to go.  As we stood up we noticed a Turkey Vulture soaring in the sky.  One of the great parts about being at the top of Mt. Doug is that instead of seeing the Turkey Vultures way above my head, usually while I am driving down the highway, you can actually look down on their backs.  From this perspective you get a much better sense of how big they actually are and can more clearly see their faces, characterized by their red colouring contrasted with the white beak.  As you can see in the picture on the right the underside of their wings is also two-tone.  This colouring is much more noticeable up close.

Photo from

I vow to one day get myself a better camera, and actually remember to take it with me, so I can take more of my own pictures, but in the meantime I pulled these two images from a google search to give you a visual. 

Photo from http://vulturesociety.homestead.com/Photos.html
taken by Sarah Croft


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Factory Farming: Chickens

As mentioned in my post "Factory Farming: Environmental Impact" I want to share some information I  learned about the treatment of animals in the farming industry.  Rather than throwing it out in one long post I have decided to break it up and cover the animals in separate groups.  So for this post I will talk about chickens, both egg laying, and those raised for meat.

Some examples of the poor treatment of egg laying hens mentioned in Gene Baur's book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food, and also the chooseveg.ca website include the following:
  • beak tips are cut off with no anesthetic so chickens do not peck at, and injure each other
  • hens are housed in battery cages in which birds have space equivalent to an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper
  • at hatching facilities baby chicks are sorted.  Females go to laying facility, males chicks are discarded -sometimes ground up in a commercial size garberator or left to suffocate in a large plastic bag
  • one farm in California disposed of 30,000 unwanted hens by putting them through a wood chipper
  • the life expectancy of a chicken in a natural setting is about 10-15 years whereas a factory egg laying hen is often sent to slaughter at 1-1.5 years of age when production drops off

Discarded male chicks. 

Battery cages in Guelph, Ontario
The two pictures above I copied from the For the Animals page on chooseveg.ca.
After reading the above information I was grateful that our family already pays the extra money and buys Island Gold Organic Free Run Eggs.  According to the carton the eggs "are produced by hens fed a special diet of all-natural, organically grown grains that are free of pesticides, herbicides or preservatives.  The hens are free roaming and have access to outdoors, weather and environment conditions permitting."  I also went to the Burnbrae Farms website as they are the parent company for Island Gold.  The website does have a section about social responsibility and I did ask for, and promptly receive, a copy of their Animal Welfare Policy.  It is brief, easy to read and contains information about the beak treatment, housing practices, and use of antibiotics and hormones, among other things.  Given the amount of chatter I hear about antibiotics and hormones in food products I was particularly interested to note that steroid and hormone use has been illegal in the Canadian Egg Industry for over 50 years. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Factory Farming: Environmental Impact

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Farm Sanctuary by Gene Baur, which was the book I mentioned in my post A Couple of Recent ReadsI started the book with some trepidation and, as I suspected, it was not an easy book to read.  There were some heartwarming stories of animals rescued from stockyards and other terrible situations, but the information provided about the conditions in which most farm animals live was eye opening to say the least.  In this post I want to take a look only at the environmental impacts of factory farming, but I cannot simply ignore the despicable conditions that most farm animals are raised in so I will cover those in subsequent posts. 

The book focuses on factory farming in the United States, but I was curious about the environmental impacts closer to home.  Without too much trouble I found an article published on September 25, 2007 in the Vancouver Sun called Factory farming cruel to animals and hard on the planet, too.  The article refers to a study released by the BC Agriculture Council which found "high to very high environmental risk" levels of nitrates in the soil of some Valley Farms.  The article also refers to unnamed studies that point to agriculture as being the source of nitrates in the Abbotsford aquifer.  Also mentioned was the high levels of ammonia from livestock manure which are released into the air and react with other chemicals to form particulates harmful to respiratory health.  The issues of ammonia and nitrates are also mentioned in a more recent article in the Vancouver Sun entitled Agriculture fuels the Fraser Valley's White Smog published on August 30, 2010.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Camping at Little Qualicum Falls and NIWRA

Last Saturday, with our Honda Ridgeline stuffed to the brim, we headed out for some camping.  After a brief trip to the mainland we came back to Vancouver Island and made our way to Little Qualicum Falls for four nights of camping.  Fortunately someone flicked the summer switch and we had no rain and mostly clear skies for all four nights.

Little Qualicum Falls is a provincial campground located between Parksville and Port Alberni.  We arrived late afternoon and got settled in amidst complaints from my daughter who wanted to find the first available swimming hole and jump in.  During our stay we went to Port Alberni for supplies, went to Coombs for some ice cream and a browse, spent about 4 or 5 hours at Cameron Lake (c-c-cold!), did a couple of walks around the provincial park, rode our bikes through the campsite, and went for a brief swim in the river as it was technically still closed to swimming due to the high water level.  I also was happy to hear the call of a barred owl during one night's sleep.  If you want to listen check out the territorial call on this page.  Apparently the owl had a lot to say as it woke me up and I listened to it for quite some time before I fell back asleep only to hear it again at a farther distance some time later.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pacific Mobile Depots - Another of My Favourites!

If you are familiar with Pacific Mobile Depots you will know that they accept a large variety of recyclable items that are not picked up curbside.  In a previous post I mentioned that our family sets aside soft plastic, foil, and styrofoam in large bags in our garage for recycling at their roving depots.  On the second and fourth Saturdays of each month there are several depot locations around Victoria to choose from.  Unfortunately we were slack in getting to the depots and by the end of June the full bags were taking up a ridiculous amount of real estate in the garage. 

When you throw away your foil, soft plastic, and styrofoam every day I do not think you can fully appreciate how much these items can accumulate over time.  Since we had ours stocked up for so long I figured I would share a visual with you.  The picture below shows my truck full of about 7 months worth of soft plastic, foil, and styrofoam.  My truck has a trunk so you will notice that not only is the bed of the truck full, but also the trunk is stuffed.

 Most of what you see above is soft plastic.  I think I only had one large bag of foil and a couple of bags of meat trays and other styrofoam.  The cardboard box is full of styrofoam peanuts.  My mom and I trucked it over to the depot at Reynolds Secondary and I paid $35.00 to leave it there.  Some people will argue that we should not have to pay to recycle.  I would not disagree.  However, I am not going to wait for a bunch of bureaucrats to sort it all out while I send truckloads of recyclable material to the landfill.  Perhaps they will figure it out - eventually.  In the meantime, if the facilities exist, recycle your waste and if you feel that strongly about not paying to recycle then send a letter to your government representative and express your opinion.

For a complete list of acceptable materials, how they need to be sorted, their rates, etc please check out the Pacific Mobile Depots website.  For those that are curious I will pass along some information about where the materials go after the depot in an upcoming post.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Viaduct Flats - Red Dragonfly

After I took part in the Viaduct Flats restoration walk back in February my intention was to take my kids for a walk there sometime in the near future.  Apparently the near future means approximately four months.  I think summer has finally arrived in Victoria and since we are no longer bogged down with school and extra curricular activities I finally got around to taking the kids to the Viaduct Flats today.  It took some coercing, as all they wanted to do was hang around the house, but I persuaded them that I would be a much happier mother if we could get out for a walk somewhere.

I was so happy to finally get them into the truck that I held off on the sunscreen until we got to the parking lot.  Once we are there we might as well walk, right?  In their usual fashion they were chomping at the bit to get started and happy to skip/run once we got going.  Our first stop was up onto the observation platform where there is a scope for looking out over the water.  Unlike the last time I was there you could not see the platform from the parking lot and the grass has grown so tall that in some places it is taller than me.  After everyone had a chance to take a look at the various waterfowl and had watched a bird in hot pursuit of a dragonfly we were off to the trail head.

The trail is quite wide and covered with crushed gravel for most of the way.  A little bit of minor up and down but otherwise an easy walk.  We turned off the main trail and headed down the Birder's Loop, which was quite narrow due to the spring growth.  I think it makes for more of an adventure though when you have the grasses and other plants reaching out and brushing you as you pass.  I do not let myself get bothered by the occasional cool, wet feeling of the spit bug foam on my legs.  The path meanders a bit and we skipped a couple of turn offs.  I was trying to head in approximately the same direction as my walk in February and was successful for the most part.  When we got to the open area, where the land slopes down towards the water, the path that I had previously taken was not as clear and so rather than trample the grass we stuck to a path that went the long way around.  I am glad we did.

We saw many dragonflies of varying size flying overhead and as we were just about to head back into the trees we had a rare treat.  I have never seen a red dragonfly before and must admit that it made my day to see this one.  Please excuse the quality of the pictures as I am not a professional photographer by any means, and I was using my blackberry as a camera.  I was sure that the dragonfly was going to take off any second and so I took about 5 pictures as I got closer and closer.  As you can see it let me (and my son) get very near before it flew away.  Naturally I was much more excited about this dragonfly sighting than my kids, but they patiently stood there with me while I attempted to get a good shot.

I poked around on google this evening to satisfy my curiosity about this red fellow and came across an E-Fauna Atlas page that has a much better picture and, of course the name, which is the Cardinal Meadowhawk.  From this page you can also link to the BC Species and Ecosystem Explorer which gives you conservation information.  Here I learned that the Cardinal Meadowhawk is on the yellow list.  This means that it is "apparently secure and not at risk of extinction".  Given all of the depressing information that you frequently read about endangered species I was pleased to hear of the Cardinal Meadowhawk's yellow status.  I also learned that the adults are not strong fliers and perch often, thus the great photo opportunity.

I hope to overcome my kids' protests and get out for little nature walks quite regularly.  The negotiations and occasional complaints of "are we almost back to the truck?", or "I'm hot" are totally worth it if I get a chance to come across some new plants and animals.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A couple of recent reads...

As I mentioned in my first post one of my main goals in writing this blog is to learn more about ecology, sustainability and any number of environmental topics.  To that end I have read a number of articles while writing posts, come across many interesting websites ("my favourites" is getting harder to navigate), and have been borrowing books related to nature and sustainability.  At this point I have more possible topics to write about than the time to write them.  I suppose that is a better position to be in than the alternative - that being gobs of time and no ideas. 

The following two books are a couple of my recent reads.  The picture of the book below each paragraph is a link to Amazon if you are interested in checking them out further.

Nature's Secret Messages by Elaine Wilkes was an interesting read.  There was much more to the book than I initially thought there would be.  The comparisons between how a food looks and what impact it has on the health of your body were fascinating.  I loved all of the quotes that were incorporated throughout the book such as "Don't ask yourself what the world needs.  Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman, or "Nature does nothing uselessly." - Aristotle.  She touches on many topics including relaxation, connection with nature, the importance of non processed foods for our health and that of the planet, and finishes off with an appendix full of ways that you can help the planet.  My only complaint would be the frequent use of puns throughout the book, but that certainly does not diminish the value of the information contained within.

The book I am reading right now is called A Year on the Wild Side by Briony Penn.  It is a collection of essays sorted into months of the year depending on the time of year the topic pertains to.  I am currently reading the essays related to October and so far I have enjoyed the book very much.  Her writing makes me smile because it is not stuffy or boring in the least.  I get the impression that the author is someone who is still in touch with her inner child, who sees and appreciates everything that nature has to offer, and, the best part, does not give a damn if anyone thinks that is weird.  My son and my dad spent some time together on the couch looking at all of the illustrations, which are drawn by the author.  It is a mini natural history lesson pertaining to the plants and animals found in the area around the Salish Sea.  It is a great read for anyone who either lives in, or is interested in, this part of Vancouver Island.  I have become even more aware of how each living thing, no matter small, is an important part of a balanced ecosystem.

My interests are still very broad and I do not foresee them becoming simplified anytime soon.  If anything I keep finding more topics that pique my interest.  I have a book called Farm Sanctuary by Gene Baur which I plan to read as soon as I am finished A Year on the Wild Side.  I was hesitant to take it off the book shelf because I enjoy eating meat.  Once you educate yourself about a topic you cannot exactly remain blissfully ignorant and continue with your same habits.  I hope that more people pick up books about sustainability and the health of our planet and come away with the same feeling.  What are we waiting for?

PS: Happy Canada Day!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Loving the Soap Exchange...

In a couple of my previous posts like Food Waste = Composted Soil and Recycling and more recycling I talk about ways in which my family has reduced the amount of waste we send to the landfill.  However, being kind to the planet is not just about reducing the amount of garbage you produce.  There are many, many other ways that you can make a difference.  A couple of examples would be using baking soda rather than harmful chemicals to kill moss, or sacrificing a small amount of convenience and taking public transit whenever possible (yes, that was a shot at you lovely husband), or buying biodegradable cleaning products and/or toiletries.

There are several sites online these days such as Earth Easy and About.com that provide recipes for producing your own cleaning products with ingredients such as baking soda and vinegar.  For some reason I have not managed to ever get around to producing my own, but I did find The Soap Exchange, a store that offers a great alternative to your standard store bought cleaners, detergents, etc.  Not only are their products 100% biodegradable, but they also reuse your containers so you are not throwing away, or recycling, any packaging.  I do not know all of the figures and science behind the energy and water requirements for making plastic containers and then subsequently recycling them into new products, but I think it is safe to assume that reusing is the best option in that regard.

The Soap Exchange has three full-line locations in Nanaimo, Saskatoon, and Victoria.  In addition, you may find a few sub-stores in their vicinity that also carry a smaller selection of Soap Exchange products.  In Victoria The Soap Exchange is located at the intersection of Hillside Avenue and Cedar Hill Road.  There are also approximately 15 sub-stores in the surrounding area including a couple on the Gulf Islands and one in Powell River.  The Saskatoon location was the first to open in 1992 and the Victoria and Nanaimo locations followed.  Rather than a franchise format the full-line stores act as licensed distributors of The Soap Exchange products.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What is 1% for the Planet?

A couple of months ago I received my last catalogue from Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) and noticed a logo on one of the pages that mentioned 1% for the Planet.  I was curious at the time what it was all about, but forgot about it until I went to MEC last month and saw the logo again on one of their windows.  I have seen it in a couple of other places since then and decided that I should quit wondering and figure out the answer.

The stated mission on the 1% for the Planet website is as follows: "1% for the Planet exists to build and support an alliance of businesses financially committed to creating a healthy planet."  Conceived in 2001 1% for the Planet had its official launch in 2002.  Fast forward to 2010 when they had over 1200 members in 38 countries and had facilitated over $50 million in donations to approved non-profits.  Essentially member companies agree to donate 1% of their sales to a non-profit organization whose work relates to sustainability.  The member company develops a relationship with one or more of the approved non-profit groups and makes arrangements directly with them for payment(s) and the timing of payment(s).  At the end of fiscal year, by review of receipts and tax information, 1% for the Planet certifies that the member company has donated at least 1% of sales to an approved enviromental group. 
As I was reading the website the cynical part of my brain questioned the "approved non-profit", but I can see the advantages from a member perspective.  If you are going to donate 1% of your sales you would like to know that your money is going to an organization that has already been researched to some degree, being able to search from a pre-approved list would make it easier, and you can connect with non-profits that you otherwise might not have heard of.  The application is designed so that the non-profit group indicates which areas they focus on ie. wildlife protection, climate change, wetlands, etc in addition to providing information about their activities and budget.  In this way a member company can choose a group that fits with the environmental activities they are passionate about.

1% for the Planet is a non-profit organization itself and supports its activities with membership dues collected from member companies.  If you take the time to read a few of their blog entries you can see that the staff are busy setting up networking opportunities between members and the non-profits they support, and also gathering feed back to improve their operations.  They were recently in the Vancouver area doing a presentation along with a couple of representatives from MEC, which is the largest 1% member in Canada.

On the 1% for the Planet website you can do a search for member companies.  When I entered a search for all members within Canada I got 164 results, 58 of which are in British Columbia.  These companies range from lawyers offices to outdoor adventure tour companies to design and photography.  Each listed member has links below their name to a brief profile and also their website.  As I mentioned in my Recycling at London Drugs post I like to try and support those companies that show a higher level of social responsibility.  1% may not seem like a large amount of money but, as with any movement, the work of many people together can make a huge difference.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bats - Insect Eating Machines

I find that when you bring up the topic of bats the emotions evoked in most people often range from fear to mild disgust, to complete disinterest.  In my life thus far I have had limited experience with bats.  The information I received during childhood consisted of spooky cartoons that show a bat turning into a bloodsucking vampire, or the main characters entering a dark space and the bats flying out en masse resulting in panic, screaming and wild arm flailing.  As I got older the cartoons gave way to stories of bats becoming tangled in long hair, or of bats being carriers of rabies.

Over the last few years I have seen several nature documentaries that included information about bats, I have read various articles, and occasionally one of my kids will bring home a childrens story, or non fiction book on the subject.  As with most subjects in life, a little education can dispel most, if not all, of the myths and now I find the subject of bats quite interesting.  A couple of times while camping I have seen bats flying overhead and on one occasion last year I had my closest encounter yet.  My husband and I, along with some friends, were at Lake Cowichan and took the opportunity of a lack of city lights to do some star gazing.  While lying on our backs on the dock, staring at the sky, I felt the quick passing of an animal near my head and upper torso.  I am going to assume that it was a bat since there are not any other animals I am aware of that enjoy night flights.  The bat did not actually touch me and it was probably gone in less than a second.  I did not feel scared in the least, on the contrary I count it as a very cool experience, and I should probably say thanks because it likely scooped up a few mosquitos that would have otherwise bit my neck or face.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Boulevard Improvement Project

As I mentioned in my Canadian Wildlife Federation post I have been slowly, very slowly, implementing plans to improve my boulevard.  When we moved into our current home just over 2 years ago the boulevard had three photinias, one of which was growing sideways, and several pyracantha bushes that were a large, prickly, snarled mess.  For those interested in plant families both the photinia and pyracantha shrubs are members of the Rosaceae family.  Both get clusters of white flowers and the photinia is currently flowering while the pyracantha is covered in buds.  These large shrubs were nestled among thick, tall grass and interspersed with holly and himalayan blackberry.  



As you can see by the picture above the pyracantha has a knack for shooting off in every direction, while the photinia can look rather sparse depending on which side of the shrub you are standing on.  I am not particularly fond of either one of these shrubs and I have been plotting their demise since we moved in.  They have survived thus far for several reasons.  First, the birds love these shrubs.  I see hummingbirds and other small birds perched in the photinia branches quite often, the pyracantha, being extremely thorny, protects little birds from predators, and the robins seem to enjoy the pyracantha berries in the fall.  Second, my husband enjoys the fact that our backyard is private due to the height of the shrubs and I am guessing that without them the deer could probably jump our fence.  Third, I do not have the budget for ripping everything out and planting the whole thing in one shot.  And last, but not least, my kids make little forts underneath and behind the branches, climb the photinia branches and play various other imaginative games in this area.  They would be very unhappy with me if I ruined their fun.

Lucky for me I have a mother-in-law who enjoys gardening and over the course of several days last year she shaped up the photinias and tidied the general area.  It was a huge improvement and I think the whole neighbourhood was pleased with the outcome.  I also spent some time cutting back the pyracantha to a slightly more manageable shape (although you cannot tell by looking at my picture) so that I could cut the crazy grass without suffering huge scratches like I did the first time.  The pictures below show what the boulevard looked like prior to the new tree being planted.  The branches you see on the ground are the remains of the sideways photinia.  My husband and I spent a very wet Easter Monday removing the stump to make way for the new addition. 

Over the last year I have also planted a few native plants, which are not visible in the above pictures. They will eventually become large shrubs. 

Indian Plum
 The Indian Plum is deciduous, but one of the first shrubs to get its leaves and bloom in Spring.  Its white flowers are a welcome sign that spring is on the way.  It is one of the plants that I notice most when I am walking through Mt. Doug park as it often grows near the edge of the trail and along roadsides.  Unfortunately the deer enjoy snacking on the leaves so, as you can see in the picture, I have put some mesh around it until it gets taller.  According to the native plant book I have the Indian Plum should get between 1.5 and 5 metres in height.  

Red Currant
One of my favourite native plants is the Red Currant.  Another early bloomer, the flowers provide food for hummingbirds and also apparently deer.  The only flowers I saw this year were on the inside of the plant buried among the green leaves, which the deer have not touched so far.  Thankfully I got to enjoy the pink flowers of the Red Currant I have on the other side of the fence.  This one should grow to between 1 and 3 metres tall.

Tall Oregon Grape
 I just planted these Tall Oregon Grapes on Sunday.  I assure you the two shorties in front are the same type of plant.  I had to go for the starter size to stay within my budget while shopping at the Swan Lake Native Plant Sale.  The yellow flowers are already finished for this year and will be followed by edible, purple berries.  Not sure how tasty they are, but the birds will eat them if my kids do not eat them first.  The mature height for these plants is between 1 and 5 metres tall. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Call me crazy, but I like the bus...

In a previous post I mentioned that I was planning on purchasing a bus pass for the month of April.  I followed through with my plan and the kids and I rode the bus to and from school almost every day.  Overall it was a positive experience and I bought another one for the month of May.

From a financial perspective a monthly adult buss pass is $82.50.  However, my daughter, who is almost 8, and my son, who is 5, ride for free when they are with me.  My son would be free anyways because he is under 6, but for my daughter to ride it would cost $1.65 each trip.  At the end of April I did a rough estimate of how many times we had ridden the bus, and how much it would have cost if we had paid per ride.  The end result is that it was definitely worth it to pay for the monthly pass.  To sweeten the deal bus passes are tax deductible and, if you get around to using it, are good for a free admission to any Victoria regional recreation centre.  Also, the money I have saved by not having to fill my gas tank as often more than pays for the $82.50.

Another reason I like the bus pass is the convenience of not having to worry about transfers.  Rather than having to think about timing, or whether I have to switch buses, I just swipe the card every time.  Sometimes on my days off I have dropped the kids off at school and run several errands on the way home.  One particular morning I walked approximately 4 kilometres stopping at a coffee shop, two different banks, a library and finally a grocery store.  I purchased a few items at the grocery store, walked right out front and caught the bus for the remaining 3-4 kilometres home.  After doing this a couple of times I realized that having a vehicle with you can sometimes feel like an anchor.  I like the freedom of knowing that I can keep walking in one general direction and hop on a passing bus if I decide that I am running out of time, the weather turns for the worse, or I have too much to carry.  Furthermore, a couple of my concerns about riding the bus turned out to be unfounded.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Baking Soda kills Moss

My moss solution...
 In addition to its many other uses I often read about baking soda being used in combination with water and/or vinegar as a more environmentally friendly way to clean your home.  A couple of years ago I came across a tip in a newsletter that suggested using baking soda to combat moss.  I read the newsletter around the time we moved into our new home, which had moss on the roof of the garage that the house inspector recommended we remove.  A thoughtful relative gave us some leftover chemicals from when they had their roof done and the white powder sat inside the bags for awhile as I tried to decide whether to give the random tip a try.

I finally bought one large box of baking soda about a year and a half ago and got out on the roof of the garage.  The two sentence tip really did not elaborate on how you used it: Must the surface be dry?, Should you dilute it with water? So I figured I would start with the one box and see what happened.  A dry roof just seemed better from a safety perspective so I went out there on a dry day and just sprinkled the baking soda directly from the box.  It certainly was not instant death, but the fact that it was no longer green was victory enough for me. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Canadian Wildlife Federation

My family occasionally donates to the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) and I recently received an issue of their Canadian Wildlife magazine.  I intended to do a posting about a couple of lesser known invasive species that people would not normally consider, but alas, I visited their website in my quest for information and have spent most of my time cruising around their website, subscribing to their magazine, and signing up to receive their free e-newsletters.

The Canadian Wildlife Federation was founded in 1962 and has grown to include approximately 300,000 members.  As a Canadian, non governmental organization they focus entirely on species and habitats at risk in Canada and are funded entirely by public donations.  Their stated mission is as follows:

The Canadian Wildlife Federation is dedicated to ensuring an appreciation of our natural world and a lasting legacy of healthy wildlife and habitat by:
  • informing and educating Canadians;
  • advocating responsible human actions; and
  • representing wildlife on conservation issues.
The amount of information contained on the CWF website is almost overwhelming.  I am sure it would take me hours to peruse the whole thing, but whatever you might be looking for with regard to nature you will probably find it on their website.  Mildly curious about butterflies, bats, bees or birds? They have a poster for you.  Want to know more about Canada's species of plants or animals? They have a whole section dedicated to flora and another for fauna, broken down into mammals, birds, insects, and reptiles and amphibians.  Check out the Hinterland Who's Who for ideas you can implement in your backyard or, for the more ambitious, see their ideas for broader community projects.  

In addition to their Canadian Wildlife publication they also have two magazines geared towards children.  One called Wild, geared towards 6 to 12 year-olds, and Your Big Backyard for children aged 3 to 5.  The description for Canadian Wildlife suggests that the articles are accompanied by some of the "best nature photography in the world".  I have to say that the magazine I received (March/April 2011) had some of the most beautiful pictures of birds I have ever seen. 

The photographs were taken by Roy Hancliff in the backyard of his Salmon Arm, BC home using a technique he developed using "multiple flashes and super-high shutter speeds of up to 1/20,000th of a second".  The result is some awesome action shots of a variety of birds including pine siskens, the northern flicker, stellar jays, and hummingbirds.  Of the photographs included in the article the one of the Northern Flicker is my favourite.  Coincidentally when I visited his website it was the first picture that came up on his home page.  If you like nature pictures I would highly recommend checking out his site.  He has a gallery and you are able to order prints of his pictures.

If you are someone who would like to help the natural environment around you, but are not sure how to get started, I would highly recommend the CWF website as a beginning.  Even projects as simple as incorporating native plants into your landscaping, or building a bat house, can have a positive impact on the surrounding environment.  For my part I have been working on plans to improve the boulevard outside my home for the last two years.  I have decided on planting native trees and shrubs and also plan to incorporate some of the other ideas from the CWF.  My project will be getting a boost on Thursday when the Municipality of Saanich puts in a big leaf maple tree.  I will post a picture of the current state of the boulevard and add pictures as things progress.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Recycling at London Drugs

My curiosity was piqued when I read the title of an advertisement in Saanich News: “London Drugs thanks customers for recycling over 90,000lbs of Styrofoam with BRING BACK the PACK”.  London Drugs recycles Styrofoam? Really?

A quick read and I soon found out that yes, London Drugs does take Styrofoam and several other items.  A “clip and save recycling list” details cell phones, PDA’s, batteries, ink jet cartridges, electrical and electronic goods, and CFL’s among others.  For a complete list see http://www.greendeal.ca/recycle.html.  According to the advertisement 90,000lbs of Styrofoam is about 90 tractor trailer trucks stuffed full.  This is the amount of Styrofoam that London Drugs customers have helped divert from Western Canadian landfills over the last three years.

Before you pack up your trunk, however, do note that they take back packaging materials only from items purchased at their store.  You must show your receipt when you drop off the packaging at their customer service desk.  This is a limitation that makes perfect sense to me.  I think the fact that London Drugs has a program like this in the first place is fantastic.  "BRING BACK the PACK" is part of a program instituted by London Drugs called What’s the Green Deal. 

A visit to their website http://www.greendeal.ca/ provided more information about their Bring Back the Pack program, an impressive list of corporate initiatives, a list of recycling fees for items that you can return to their stores and much more.  A message from the Senior VP, Clint Mahlman, describes What’s the Green Deal as a program that is “a source of useful information that can help you and your family shop a little greener, before, during and after your visit to our store".  Besides the recycling they also have products in store that are marked with a "green deal" sign.  For a look at the criteria used to determine whether a product qualifies for the label and a list of products check out green deal products.

I checked out their website one more time before publishing this post and a recent green deal blog entry had the picture below of a bike outfitted with styrofoam.  Apparently it has been travelling around Victoria over the last couple of weeks bringing people's attention to the recycling program.  You can even ask for a ride.  I have not had the pleasure of seeing it in person, but I find it very amusing.  I think it certainly shows some creative thinking on the part of London Drugs.

I often view corporations as large, impersonal entities that care more about their bottom line than looking out for the environment.  I think it is great that London Drugs is showing some leadership in this area.  I am sure that programs encouraging waste reduction, and promoting sustainability, take some effort to get rolling and have a price tag attached.  I feel that if a company is willing to put such programs in place they should be rewarded.  After checking out their green deal website I will certainly put London Drugs higher up on my mental list of places to shop.  I would also be interested to hear of any other companies that make taking care of the environment a priority...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Canadian Politics and Voting - Here we go again...

I have been struggling with whether or not to post anything political on my blog.  I am not a person who likes to shout my political opinions from the rooftops and I detest confrontational debates.  I have my reasons for my opinions and I would be happy to explain them and hear other peoples' opinions, but to participate in an aggressive debate is just not my style.  But, since my blog is not followed by thousands of people and comments are few and far between I figured what the hell.

Let's start with the leadership debate, which I attempted to watch a portion of last night.  First of all regardless of who I vote for I was not impressed that the Green Party was excluded and I happily signed the petition and sent an email expressing my disgust to the various media involved in the decision process.  Since they failed to rectify the situation I watched part of the debate on my computer from a Vancouver Sun link that was streaming it live with occasional comments from Elizabeth May.  Although my intentions were good I did not actually watch much as I kept walking away every time the leaders started talking over top of one another like small children, or presented their opinions in an overly rehearsed way.  To me it was a useless exercise.  The negative tone of politics today is a real turn off for me.  I would rather hear what a party plans to do for the country than constant criticism of what others are doing.  If you are going to point out a problem then you better follow up with your solution.  I long for a day when politicians can park their egos and turn off the political rhetoric long enough to find some common ground, formulate some policies that are based in compromise and at least get us moving forward.

Although I have a very negative impression of politics today I still drag myself out to vote every time we have a federal or provincial election (my record is not so impressive on the municipal front, but I pledge to do a better job of that).  Judging by voter turnout during the last few elections I am not the only one feeling rather discouraged by the options available.  I remember comments being made after the last election about a historically low voter turnout so I thought I would see what I could find that regard.  One site I found uses graphs to compare historical voter turnout since 1867 and breaks down the votes by party for the last two federal elections.  You can check it out at http://www.sfu.ca/~aheard/elections/historical-turnout.html
You might think that voting for the Green Party would be an obvious choice for someone who blogs about composting and recycling, enjoys hiking and all things nature, however, I have never voted Green in a federal election.  My perception of the Green Party up to now has been shaped by what I have heard from other people i.e. they do not have a real platform, all they stand for is legalizing marijuana, they would not know how to run a country, they are not a serious party, etc., etc.  However, given my passion for the environment I thought I should at least take a look at their website and see if there is more substance to their platform than what I have heard.  I also heard Elizabeth May, who is the Green Party candidate in my riding, speak during a radio interview and liked what I heard.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been a frequent visitor to the Green Party website trying to get an idea of what they stand for and how comprehensive their plans are.  I made it through a couple of sections of their Vision Green document, which is 132 pages and details their long term vision for Canada.  Today I read through their platform, which is a much more manageable 12 pages.  Do I 100% agree with everything in their platform?  No.  But it is a hell of a good start and I do like many of their ideas including those regarding forestry, food security, green energy and green jobs.  I also like the tone of their party, which promotes positive, productive politics instead of constant mudslinging.  This election I am determined to vote for something, rather than against something.

I would encourage anyone who is interested in making an educated choice in this federal election to include the Green Party Website as one their information resources.  Out of fairness, and the interest of informed decision making, here are the links to the other websites of the main federal political parties: Liberal Platform, NDP Platform, Conservative Platform, Bloc Quebecois.  Happy reading (try not to fall asleep) and please get out to vote on May 2.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ogden Point - Restoration Walk #3

So many ideas and so little time!  Time has been hard to come by lately and I have a couple of posts that were started, but not nearly finished.  Not to mention several other topics that I would like delve into.  I figure I will begin by finishing this one about the last restoration walk and go from there.

After a delay due to snow I got a chance to head down to Ogden Point on Thursday, March 10.  For those not familiar with Victoria, British Columbia when I say “snow” I am talking about maybe 6 to 8 inches.  That is enough to keep most of us at home for a snow day as we are not accustomed to the accumulation of white stuff.  Ogden Point was the last tour in the restoration walk series offered by UVic.  I was fortunate enough to be able to attend two others: Esquimalt Lagoon & Viaduct Flats.  This walk was led by Val Schaefer, Academic Administrator of the Restoration of Natural Systems Program, School of Environmental Studies at UVic. 

Ogden Point Breakwater - taken today - in better weather...

Unfortunately we did not get lucky with the weather on March 10.  Walking on an elevated concrete sidewalk, albeit wide, with rocks and ocean on either side combined with fairly strong winds is not really ideal.  At one point I got splattered with the spray of a particularly frisky wave.  Also, a look at the sky made it pretty clear that there was rain on the way.  Accordingly, our walk was somewhat abbreviated, but in keeping with the previous tours the first order of business was a brief history lesson.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"It's not easy being green"

In the words of Kermit the Frog: "It's not easy being green".  My gradual change to "green" living has probably been snail paced compared to some people and I still have several habits that I know I need to change.  Some days I feel that my efforts are having an impact while other days I feel like there is no point and I should just give up.  It is not hard to stumble upon articles featuring environmental topics as they are quite plentiful these days. While most articles are informative, the emotions evoked can range from inspiration to utter discouragement.  Personally I like the inspirational ones as they encourage me to keep changing despite the articles that say it is too late.  But those discouraging articles are hard to ignore.

Many articles allude to, if not graphically describe, the multiple potential and occurring disasters that face our world today.  To name a few: melting of the polar ice caps, water pollution, air pollution, oil spills, nuclear incidents like that in Japan, increasing damage from extreme weather... Really it would be so much easier to pretend that it all did not exist, because if I take the time to acknowledge all the possibilities I start to wonder about the point of living on this earth at all.  Are my two beautiful children going to see a world that is decimated by our irresponsible actions? Will I see it in my lifetime?  Will this planet just give up and become unable to support any life?

I think most humans consider ourselves as highly intelligent beings.  If you simply take into account all of the things we can do that other living creatures cannot it sure looks that way.  However, I am starting to think that we are like a computer user that knows enough to get him or herself into trouble, but not enough to get out of it.  When it comes to making decisions that would decrease consumption, decrease use of energy at home, decrease waste, or decrease car usage the standard complaints I hear are that it costs money, or that it is not convenient.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why isn't cohousing more popular?

I can already hear people I know comparing a cohousing project to a commune so I would just like to deal with that right up front.  In the Student's Oxford Canadian Dictionary a commune is defined as follows: "a group of people who live together and share responsibilities, possessions, etc."  That on its own sounds smart to me, but then, of course, the example given in the dictionary perpetuates the first thing that comes to my mind which is "a 1970s hippie commune".  A google search turns up a Wikipedia link, which gives a more detailed definition and has a quote from Andrew Jacobs of The New York Times which states "most communes of the '90s are not free-love refuges for flower children, but well-ordered, financially solvent cooperatives where pragmatics, not psychedelics, rule the day."  It seems to me that modern cohousing projects incorporate many elements of a commune, but take into account people's desire for some form of privacy and do not go so far as sharing income.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Save Mary Lake: Plan B, I attended a lecture by Chris ScottHanson regarding cohousing.  A quick google search for cohousing led me to the Canadian Cohousing Network website.  Listed on this site are 11 cohousing projects in British Columbia in various stages of completion.  Some are awaiting rezoning while others have been completed for some time.  Chris ScottHanson is the cohousing consultant listed on the Windsong project in Langley, which was completed in 1996.  He has also coauthored a book with Kelly ScottHanson entitled The Cohousing Handbook: Building a Place for Community.  What follows is some of what I learned during his lecture.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Save Mary Lake: Plan B

February 28, the extended deadline for coming up with approximately $1,000,000 to save Mary Lake, has come and gone.  Unfortunately the campaign was not successful and the property is now on the market.  At first glance it would appear that the fight is over, but the organizers of this campaign are not through yet.  The website is still taking donations, and in the meantime there is an effort underway to create a cohousing project on 10 acres of the 107 acre site. For a little background these links are to my previous posts about the Save Mary Lake campaign: Mary Lake and Odds & Sods

I will go into more of the details I learned about cohousing in a different post, but for the purpose of this one I would like to talk about how it applies to Mary Lake.  I attended a presentation about cohousing at St. Ann's Auditorium on March 12, which featured a lecture by Chris ScottHanson, author of The Cohousing Handbook: Building a Place for Community.  After his lecture one of the organizers of the event spoke about the general plans for a cohousing project on the Mary Lake property.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Esquimalt Lagoon Restoration Walk

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to check out Esquimalt Lagoon and Bee Creek during another Restoration Walk like the one at Viaduct Flats.  I have lived in Victoria for almost 14 years and only driven over Ocean Boulevard once - and did not stop.  It is not hard to appreciate the beauty of this place.  There were many photographers on the shore and I saw one hurrying down the beach with a large camera.  Given that it is a Migratory Bird Sanctuary there is no shortage of bird activity.  I saw many types of birds that I was not familiar with.

Esquimalt Lagoon

As you can see we lucked out with beautiful weather that morning.  Our group was guided by a woman named Kitty from the Esquimalt Lagoon Stewardship Initiative (ELSI).  She started us off with a brief history lesson of how the lagoon was formed.  Over 13,000 years ago when an ice sheet retreated a large piece was left behind.  As this piece melted, the gravel that washed out settled around the ice and created the boundaries of the lagoon. 

The lagoon is a very dynamic environment and as such is a challenge to restore and maintain.  Erosion of the barrier spit, the Coburg Peninsula, is a primary concern.  I found an article written in April of 2008 entitled Coburg Peninsula Eroding outlining concerns and possible solutions after a particularly nasty storm caused significant erosion resulting in the bridge and other infrastructure being "exposed to more aggressive waves and debris".  In July 2010 an article appeared in the Times Colonist about the repair of the Esquimalt Lagoon Bridge after the bridge was closed to traffic for some time in early 2010.  Beyond concerns for the bridge there are concerns for the lagoon as a whole.

ELSI is a group that was founded in 2001 to help protect the lagoon, by preventing further loss of habitat, reducing contaminants, restoring degraded areas, and educating the public, among other things.  Due to the large number of groups with an interest in the lagoon there are many partners at the table.  Just to name a few: Department of National Defense, Songhees Nation, Royal Roads University, Canadian Wildlife Service...check out the ELSI website for a complete list.  Two of the projects Kitty spoke to our group about were the restoration work taking place on the spit (dune restoration), and that taking place on the banks of a couple of the creeks leading into the lagoon. 

Monday, February 28, 2011

Managed vs. Natural Ecosystems

Since my walk through Viaduct Flats I have been thinking a lot about managed vs. natural.  The Viaduct Flats, which I toured almost two weeks ago on a Restoration Walk, is a managed park.  Managing the deer population, managing the rabbit population, managing invasive species...these are topics that appear frequently in our local Saanich News and other publications.  I was listening to a radio interview with a man from the Raincoast Conservation Foundation a few weeks ago and the topic of discussion was conserving and managing the cougar population in British Columbia. 

It seems to me that we as humans are unable to touch a place without completely muddling up the ecological balance.  Whether by clearing of naturally occurring vegetation and it's inhabitants, introduction of alien plants and animals, or just general pollution, our species has a tremendous impact on our surroundings.  I wonder, if you had the time to add up all of the paid labour hours, volunteer hours, and cash that is pumped into "management" of areas that we humans have meddled with, what would the cost be?  Staggering would be my guess.  However, I agree with the premise that we cannot just meddle and move on.  Some attempt has to be made to set things back on track.  But as with any issue there is no one way that will satisfy everyone.

Two local examples are the rabbit and deer populations.  I have a giant soft spot for animals large and small and I have read many articles and letters to the editor with regard to these issues.  There is the argument that humans caused the problem and so we must fix it, but no agreement on the method.  There is the argument that it is not the fault of the animals and so they should be just left alone and we should do nothing.  My heart prefers the latter.  I would rather that all animals were left to their own devices and that nature could take care of itself, but Saanich, like many other ecosystems, is not a functioning, balanced ecosystem.  It is broken and we are responsible.

Some time ago one of my kids brought home a library book called "Wolf Island" by Celia Godkin.  I love this book as it contains a basic lesson on a balanced ecosystem.  A book review that I found describes it accurately as book that young children will be able to understand and that will give older children things to think about and discuss.  I would argue that most adults would also benefit from reading this book.  Based on fact, it is the story of an island on which resides a family of wolves.  The wolves leave the island and without the balancing role of the carnivores the island's ecosystem becomes dysfunctional and all of the other resident species suffer as well.  When the wolves are eventually able to return balance is restored and all species are able to thrive again.

The primary predators of deer on Vancouver Island are historically the wolf and cougar.  One interesting article I found from 2001 (In the Predators Domain) talks about how human activity has impacted these populations.  Given the fractured state of the green space in most urban areas deer populations are being cut off, and protected, from their natural predators.  My guess is that introducing predators into populated areas to naturally control the deer population is out of the question.  So that leaves management as the only other alternative since burgeoning deer populations are not sustainable. 

I love the deer and the thought of not having any in our neighbourhood depresses me.  The wider variety of wildlife in my new neighbourhood was one of the reasons we chose to live here rather than near downtown.  If I have to choose between managing the population and keeping them around, or getting rid of all them like the bunnies at UVic, I choose management.  So how do you manage these beautiful creatures?

I would not go hunting myself, but I can respect it if it is a managed hunt and the animal is not wasted.  I doubt that it is done much in modern times, but in some cultures prayers were offered as an acknowledgment of the gift an animal's life was in terms of the food and supplies provided for your tribe, or family.  One viewpoint would be that these prayers are just to relieve some of the guilt that we should feel for taking an animals life.  My point is that I would rather a deer's life serve a purpose, such as feeding families, rather than be drugged, cremated and wasted.  One letter to the editor I read with regard to the rabbits denounced the idea of feeding rabbit meat to the homeless as why should we expect them to eat something that the average citizen would not.  I do not think that is a valid argument in the case of deer, but just in case someone is thinking along those lines, my dad hunts occasionally and I have eaten deer and moose.  I do not consider it as being beneath anyone.  I also cannot think of any way of humanely killing an animal, but I do not imagine that being run over by a car, or wandering around with an arrow through your body, is all that humane either. 

Whatever management option is decided upon in our municipality I doubt that I will like it.  My heart will break for the deer population that is subject to the "management plan", but my brain knows that "natural" methods of population control are no longer an option here.  We have meddled and left our mark and now it is up to us to fix it.  I hope that one day we will learn to better coexist with nature, green belts will be left intact, people will learn to minimize conflicts with natural predators, and management plans may not be so desperately needed.  Imagine if we could be part of a balanced natural ecosystem instead of disrupting it completely.  A utopian view for sure, but one can always hope.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Viaduct Flats Restoration Walk

Some time ago I was looking for opportunities to learn more about environmental topics and came across a program offered by UVic.  Specifically the UVic Restoration of Natural Systems Program and Division of Continuing Studies.  People were able to sign up for three different "Restoration Walks" taking place during the month of February at sites around the Capital Regional District.  The options available were Rithet's Bog, Viaduct Flats and Ogden Point.  They have since opened up another walk the first week of March at Esquimalt Lagoon.

To quote the UVic site, where you can get more information and/or register, the purpose of these walks is to enable "participants to see first hand restoration efforts occurring in Greater Victoria’s “lost” streams to improve their value as natural habitat."  I felt that the walks were a great way to not only learn more about some of the projects going on in our area, but also check out a couple of places I had not been before.  I was obviously a little behind as when I attempted to register I had to put myself on a wait list for all three of them.  Much to my delight I got an email informing me of the added session at Esquimalt Lagoon, which I promptly signed up for, and then another email a day or so later saying that a spot had opened up on the Viaduct Flats walk.

I have never been to the Viaduct Flats before and as I slowly cruised down Interurban Road I was relieved to see a gentleman in a very bright yellow coat, with binoculars around his neck marking the entrance to the parking lot.  This friendly fellow turned out to be Val Schaefer, the Academic Administrator of the Restoration of Natural Systems Program, School of Environmental Studies, who was accompanied by Jessica Miles, a graduate of the UVic Environmental Studies Program.  Our local expert for this walk was Hoke Holcomb who has been involved with restoration of this area since approximately 1997. 

To give you an idea of the history of this area I will include a quote from the pamphlet we received: "Once covered with ice and essentially a shallow ocean, the area dried to a freshwater lake and then marsh after glacial recession."  Fast forward to the 1980's and this land consisted of plowed fields growing potatoes and daffodils.  In the late 1980's and early 90's, after the agricultural lease expired, studies were undertaken to determine how this area would be preserved as parkland.  In 1993 a lone beaver made its way to the area and built a dam.  The resulting open water led to an increase in bird activity and when the beaver died in 2001 the decision was made to install artificial weirs in order to maintain the water level.

As this area was created with the intention of being a publicly accessible park certain parameters had to be considered as planning began for a trail network through the 38 hectares.  Essentially the goal is to have a closed canopy Douglas Fir forest with several open meadows.  The committee that manages the area feels that maintaining several meadows is important to the overall aesthetics of the park from a public perspective, but have planted thousands of trees in an effort to connect the existing Douglas Fir "islands" with forest corridors.  Over time, if left untended, much of the meadow areas would naturally revert to thick forest including walls of English Hawthorne and Himalayan blackberry, so these meadows will have to be artificially kept up by periodic mowing.  In addition to the extensive efforts on land, there is still work to be done as far as the creek is concerned.

The Viaduct Creek is fed by a Spring and is a tributary of the Colquitz River.  According to Hoke, salmon come as far up the river as Quick's Bottom, but the committee is hopeful that after some creek rehabilitation there will eventually be salmon fry residing in the shallow water of the Viaduct Flats.  Currently the focus is on a section of Viaduct Creek which would benefit from the addition of "large woody debris" to help slow the water and reduce erosion of the banks.  To be brief erosion causes silt and this is not conducive to salmon spawning.  I also learned that "large woody debris" can mean whole trees, with root system still attached, being laid in the creek.  There is of course a fairly large price tag associated with the restoration work and I was not clear on whether funding is already in place. 

Overall the scenery was beautiful, the trails were easy walking, and the area is like a bird watcher's paradise.  There was a diverse group of birds swimming in the open water, a heron flew in shortly after I arrived and I was thrilled to see a pair of bald eagles, which I am told have nested in the trees here at the Flats for the last two years.  Hopefully they are back for year number three.  I found it very interesting listening to Hoke describe the history of the area and not only the work that has already been done, but also his vision for the future.  He passed on much more information than I have shared in this post and I would recommend the Restoration Walks for anyone who is interested in more than just a place to walk.  I have definitely added the Viaduct Flats to my list of places that I would like to show my kids.  Next up - Ogden Point...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

For the ladies: The Verdict

For those that have been reading you will remember that I had a previous post about the ob tampon shortage and finding the Lunapads website.  There I found out a lot more information about the DivaCup and also the reusable menstrual pads offered by lunapads.  I decided to order a DivaCup kit and give them both a try. (Order Kit - Check!)  I would rate my overall experience with the DivaCup and LunaPads as a 9/10. 

The directions included with the DivaCup are pretty straightforward.  They recommend two different ways to fold the DivaCup and the first one I tried I did not like, plus I think my technique could have been better.  However, the problem was a minor comfort issue and it sorted itself out pretty quick.  I used a different fold the next time around and I found it did not take long to become comfortable putting it in.  I had a very small amount of spotting, but I have a feeling it was not leaking - perhaps just a small amount that caught under the DivaCup when putting it in or taking it out.  The comfort level was excellent and you would not even know it was there.

The next challenge was taking it out.  There was a moment of "Um, where is it?" and my friend's concern over somehow losing it, or not being able to get it out, crossed my mind.  There is actually a statement in the instructions that says "Don't Panic" so I didn't and found it easily enough.  As they say in the instructions you do have to "bear down" to help get it out so that was a bit different.  Removing it certainly requires a little more intimacy with my body than I have been used to, but it is my body after all and there does not seem to be any sense in getting squeamish.  I found it slightly uncomfortable as the wider part came out, not from a gross factor, but from a physical perspective.  Given that I have had two children, however, this is rather minor in comparison.  I did not find it any more 'messy' than using ob tampons.

I was able to do all the changes at home so I was a little unsure as to how it would work if it was necessary to use a public washroom.  A friend of mine, who I just found out has been using the DivaCup for the last couple of years, says that she hung on to her older one as a backup in those cases.  She can put the used one into a little bag, or container, and put the new one in while in the bathroom stall.  Then she just cleans it at the first opportunity. 

The lunapads were also very comfortable.  I did not have any trouble with bunching, or movement.  On one of my last days of very light flow I wore it to my tap class and had no issues whatsoever.  I did find that when I washed them the fabric came out of the dryer bunched, but I was able to smooth them back out for the most part, and they were still comfortable.

I have put two pictures below.  The left one shows how many pads, etc I would typically use during one cycle.  This is actually on the low side I think, but I was running out of all my supplies so I made do with what I had.  The second one shows what I used this time around.  Next time I would not use anything except the DivaCup and lunapads.  From my point of view the pros of these products far outweigh any cons.  The only downsides I can think of are minor inconveniences that are easily surmountable.  If you do not already use these products I hope you will give them a try.  For me it is a no-brainer and I will not be going back to pads and tampons.

Minimum Monthly Usage

This month