This blog is a mash-up of journalism, local, regional and national, letters to the local paper by me, letters to the local paper complaining about me, bad press, good press, criticism, well founded and especially not, response to that criticism, expurgated sections of ECO-Fascists, and observations short and long, sacred and profane. I’ve always thought of myself as suspended midway between writer and journalist, an uncomfortable position at best, but nonetheless where I hang. The real world and acting within it – fascination is too weak a word, but unhooking myself and diving deeper for longer periods of time than that granted to any working journalist or even traditional non-fiction writers, gives me a deep satisfaction, amounting almost to gratitude. Put another way, to know something to its plumbed depths? That, for me, is everything.

Since the Greeks, and no doubt before, from time to time, country people have been forced to call the city to account. Digby Baltzell points out that, historically, the struggle has been between aristocrats, landed gentry and yeoman farmers and the patricians of the cities, who believe they are better suited to determine the future of the countryside and its people than those who live on and love the land. During the early 18th century, an ancestor of mine joined with Swift, Samuel Johnson and other thinkers of the time to oppose Disraeli’s Corn laws, forming the Country Party of disaffected Tories and Whigs. They fought what they called the Court party, made up of rent seekers, urban merchants and the usual suspects – interchangeable with those today who live on other people’s money. Country people, gentry or yeoman were libertarian, self-reliant, individual. They wanted a frugal and efficient government, low taxes, and personal liberty. The court was just that: courtiers, their allegiance available for the right price, the case remaining the same whether in the 1st, 14th, 16th, 18th or 21st century. Bolingbroke was exiled before the fight was over – the stakes were higher in 1715 – but those ideas shared by Burke, Locke and others informed in part, what was to become the American revolution.

Plus ca change. While the fight is no longer carried on by aristocrats and gentry, those of us who live in and love the country find ourselves in one hell of a fight. Outmatched at every turn and facing more money than we can imagine, the ideas remain the same: liberty, limited government, low taxes. Policy makers have long thought that the actions of governments supersede the ancient ways of the land and the knowledge of those who live on that land. They could not be more wrong, and after many decades of interference, the land itself is suffering, no more or less than those who live on it. Culture is more fragile than nature and rural culture, the founding culture in every country but city-states is breaking apart. This could not be more wrong. That connection between people and their lands should be, must be unbreakable. The ground on which we stand, the food we eat, the water that brings life, the air we breathe trumps any marketplace, no matter how elevated.

Islands Trust must adapt if it is to survive

Times Colonist, Saturday, March 10, 2012

Forest-lot families on Galiano barred from building homes for 20 years.

The Islands Trust, Canada’s blue-chip experiment in conservation government has decided not to take a $250,000 Gas Fund grant to review its policy statement. Gulf Island residents heaved a sigh of relief.  Was the Trust actually considering the will of its subjects?  Could it be that the Trust was finally listening to people who were not fanatic supporters?  Could the Trust learn, grow and even survive? Continue reading “Islands Trust must adapt if it is to survive”

Nelson Mandela’s Farewell

Published The Globe and Mail, 13 October 2010

I spent the first three weeks of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison sitting in his back garden. “Smile, young lady!” he’d call and, eventually, he let me follow him around like a dazzled puppy as he loped through Soweto. “Are you in love with Zwelakhe?” he’d tease. Zwelakhe Sisulu was his press gatekeeper and I’d stare fixedly at him because I wanted an interview. Once in, though, things froze. I, the Life magazine reporter, was under strict orders to elicit his feelings. I’d recently not asked the Dalai Lama whether he missed sex, meaning that a reporter had to be sent all the way to Dharamsala, so I was on the spot.

“We …” he’d start. I’d frown. “Well, we …” he’d try. I’d look distressed. It was torture. In 1990, Mr. Mandela didn’t think of himself as an “I.” The most famous political prisoner in the world, the hero and hope of Africa, was a “we.”

Today, after working for 20 years with Bill Phillips, one of the most rigorous editors around, Mr. Mandela’s heart and mind are all the way open and, for the first time in Conversations with Myself (published this week), we see everything: heart, intellect, relationships, family, patriot, the whole of a man whose life is one of the most remarkable in history.

The seemingly inarticulate leader I met was, of course, anything but and, throughout his life, he jotted notes (“conditions to be borne in mind when starting a Rev(olution)”), kept a diary and wrote thousands of letters. Agile and funny, his comments range from the ingenuous “Gee whiz, the Pope is also an outstanding person!” to profound, almost Christian homilies to a deeply sophisticated political philosophy.

Mr. Mandela is 92, and the book is his farewell. It takes the reader from his childhood in the royal household of the Thembu tribe, through the classical schooling once given to the brightest in every former British colony, to city life, legal work, two marriages and increasing political involvement. He describes in some detail his choice to split with the African National Congress and become a leader of its armed wing, MK (translated as Spear of the Nation).

His prison letters are heart-wrenching. He was not permitted to bury his young son or his mother. When Winnie, his second wife, was jailed, their two young daughters were without parents. This pitched Mr. Mandela into despair: “I feel I have been soaked in gall, every part of me, my flesh, bloodstream, bone and soul, so bitter am I to be completely powerless to help you in the rough and fierce ordeals you are going through.”

Richard Stengel, Mr. Mandela’s collaborator on Long Walk to Freedom, and Ahmed Kathrada, one of Mr. Mandela’s fellow prisoners, tease out the horrors of that imprisonment. The South African struggle was heroic and vicious by turns (Ruth First, the mother of one of my friends and an anti-apartheid activist, a woman Mr. Mandela still mourns, was blown up by a letter bomb sent by South African police), and Conversations illuminates all its stark and terrible beauty.

But it’s in Mr. Mandela’s political thinking that his book truly soars. He insists over and over that “we” want a non-racial culture, where all are equal: “At a time when some people are feverishly encouraging the growth of fractional forces, raising the tribe into the final and highest form of social organization, setting one national group against the other, cosmopolitan dreams are not only desirable but a bounden duty; dreams that stress the special unity that hold the freedom forces together …”

Conversations demonstrates why Mr. Mandela’s hand on the tiller meant that his revolution didn’t result in a liberation bloodbath, or at least not much of one. He’s still a collectivist, although, he claims, no longer a communist. And he doesn’t outright condemn the violence in today’s South Africa, the habit of which MK, in part, formed. But he repeatedly preaches empathy for one’s enemies, and his collectivism is so moored to individual liberty that it’s collectivism even a conservative can love.

If the world can create such a man in such a furnace, freedom for everyone is, indeed, possible.

Elizabeth Nickson is a writer living in Victoria.

How Big Brother Came to the Gulf Islands

How Big Brother came to the Gulf Islands
The Islands Trust has turned the region into a museum exhibit for wrong-headed conservation
Last Sunday, suitably enough July 4th, the 13 communities of the Gulf Islands threw Salt Spring Coffee into Ganges Harbour and kicked off a rebellion.
With the Islands Trust’s refusal of the coffee company’s development application, the iron-fisted conservation government now finds itself in more trouble with its citizens than ever contemplated in those dewy days 35 years ago when the trust was struck to preserve and protect the Gulf Islands.
Former Vancouver mayor Senator Larry Campbell spoke, and 40 tractors, backhoes, septic and dump trucks drove to the protest site, some of the big-machine operators were nude.
To many on the Gulf Islands, the trust has become Big Brother, impenetrable, managed by a small closed elite, and destructive not only to once vivid, diverse and open communities, but arguably to the land itself.
The Gulf Islands have long been known as an argument surrounded by water. The end of the hippie trail, the repository of the anarchic, ridiculous and strange, to the casual observer people move here, shed their adult selves and decide to express their inner artist. All of which might lead that observer to divine that the islands are essentially ungovernable.
In point of fact, there is no government. Dozens of volunteer committees struggle with parks, water, library, recycling, recreation, fire, and every other issue that might come up before a municipal government. Area CRD directors parcel out money and try to keep up. And while the trust describes itself as a “unique form of local government,” its mandate is solely to manage land use. Mismanage might be a more precise word.
Property prices are among the highest in the country, despite 90 per cent of the land lying fallow and neglected. Tinder builds up in those abandoned forests, and invasive species predate once fertile fields. Hundreds of Gulf Islanders live in forest shacks, boats, trailers and tents, while the trust endlessly studies plans for affordable housing.
Applications for business expansion can take a decade to process through the trust and requirements are so stringent that applicants shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars only to be turned down, as the coffee company was, based on a “feeling.”
As business owners wait, jobs melt away, and young people, shorn of opportunity, leave. On many of the islands, there are so few students that schools are starting to close. And the islands are aging rapidly; on Hornby, the median age is 60.
The trust is the great-grandaddy of a new kind of government, which has over-laid strict environmental management on a new kind of jurisdiction — the conservation community. Struck in 1974, the trust has been imitated all over the world: The California Coastal Commission and the Cape Cod Commission, for example, are modelled, in part, upon the trust.
Essentially undemocratic, each island, whether 10,000 or 450 strong, has only two trustees, with any tie vote broken by an off-island trustee who comes in for the monthly meetings. Trust council can, with a single vote, obviate any decision approved by local trustees.
On Galiano, 100 forest-lot owners have been waiting since 1991 for permission to build just one house on plots that range from eight hectares to 43 hectares. Nowhere else in Canada must a property owner pay residential taxes on a property he cannot live on, and nowhere else in B.C. is a forest-lot owner not permitted a residence. On Denman, trustees turned down a 405-hectare park, bigger than Stanley Park, offered in return for a total of 100 houses on the 486 remaining hectares. Denman’s density is one resident for every 10 hectares, hardly “overdeveloped.” Dozens of similar decisions have worn away trust credibility and respect.
All over the world conservation communities are failing. An imposed web of ecosystem management regulation practically ensures a poor and aging population.
New York State’s 2.4-million-hectare Adirondack National Park, for example: 59 per cent of the park is private but subject to the earliest form of environmental regulation. The 30-year results were just tabulated: the population is aging, a school closes every 18 months, private business has fled, there is no Internet or cellphone coverage, young people have left, property tax revenues crashed, welfare and social service requirements have spiked and only massive government subsidy keeps the park going. Much of it is now closed off with little money left for maintenance.
Not one resident of the Gulf Islands wants over-development. We cherish our small intimate rural communities and treasure the little corner of the natural world we have been given to tend. Many of us build green houses, covenant our lands, and build salmon enhancement.
But without sensible reform, another 10 years of trust mis-management will turn the islands into museum exhibits for authoritarian and wrong-headed conservation.
Elizabeth Nickson is a writer who lives on Saltspring Island. Her next book is Soft Place to Fall.

Where Are All The Corpses

On a more positive note, while I have been in the trenches, the inestimable Dr. Timothy Hulsey has been auditing the U.N.’s Biodiversity Sky is Falling 33% of the World’s Species Are Going Extinct Report, Summer 2010.   To date he has found that only 29% of the citations used are peer-reviewed.  Less than one-third.  And we know just how reliable those are.  Conservation biologists who quarrel with the sky-is-falling, the earth- beneath-our-feet-is-collapsing agenda do not get grants.  Nor are they published.  They are not granted tenure.  They are shut out of the profession.

The rest of the citations are put together by the various and many organizations with an interest in promoting universal fear of collapsing ecosystems.

Like everyone I need to know:  Where are all the corpses?

The State of the World’s Ecosystems

This blogger asserts that just as global warming has created a whole warehouse of scandals, and politicized science to the point where reason has lost its moorings, conservation biology is equally as corrupt.  Over the past thirty years, our natural resources have been locked away from us by environmental NGO’s who have sold us a bill of goods about species and biodiversity loss, equally as bogus as the warming scam.  As a result, prices for all natural resources – particularly food and energy – are unnecessarily high, and penalize the least advantaged among us, preventing the very poor from climbing out of their poverty.

Because of this pseudo-science, country people numbering in the tens of millions have been driven off their loved lands in every nation on earth.  Most poignant is the state of those indigenous peoples in the developing world who have had their land stolen from them and resources locked away, by the heirs to the greatest American fortunes, who run the foundations based on those fortunes.  Well connected, with unlimited funds, Ivy league educations, and an adherence to a false ideology, they’ve created a mapping system covering more than 1/3 of the planet, that is nothing more than a pack of lies.  Nonetheless these mapping systems, once created are donated to local governments and thereby form the basis of all land use planning.  The assertion of massive species loss is the so-called rationale behind the takings of hundreds of millions of acres in hundreds of countries, developed and not.

Working country people in every locale say these maps cannot be ground-truthed, that more often than not, what the mapping says is there, is not there.  The mapping all too often is a politicized tissue of lies, created by pet scientists who are creating jobs for themselves first by establishing ecosystem collapse, then in finding ways to stop ecosystem collapse.

In April of 2010, the U.N. Panel on Biodiversity announced that 1/3 of the species on the planet are going extinct.  With this document, which had no citations attached to it, these so called experts assert, among other absurdities, that 90% of the grasslands of North America are going extinct.  Even a schoolchild on a bus on the Canadian prairies or in the great intermountain States of the U.S. would find this laughable. One hundred and twenty-four countries contributed to this report.  The reports will certainly be found to be a clever mix of fact, fiction, utopian fantasy and blatant fabrication.

Over the next year, this blog will attempt to gather data that ground-truths (fact checks) the assertions of the UN Biodiversity Panel, the Heinz Foundation’s 2008 The State of the Nations Ecosystems, an equally politicized report on species loss, and the grand-daddy of them all, The Nature Conservancy’s NatureServe.  I will publish the findings of conservation biologists on the ground all over the world, as I find them.  Conservation biologists who disagree with the prevailing zeitgeist, much like climate scientists who do not agree with the UN IPCC, are silent.  Many are afraid for their careers, since granting, especially from U.S. foundations, the U.N. and its satellites and most universities,  depends upon following party line.

My Gym

It’s spring and some days I have to chain myself to my desk.  The broom is calling you see, and not a witches’ broom either – though witches’ brooms must have been made with the stuff I routinely slaughter.  It’s stiff and green and tough as steel wire and this month, the bright ghastly yellow flowers surround the house – 150 meters away, but nonetheless, it will go to seed in a month, and then all the earth – scraped bare by the construction crew –  will be colonized.

So I got out with my loppers, rubber boots, and long sleeves and start work.  It is the best exercise ever.  Better than downhill skiing – ok not quite. Galloping a horse across a field – that’s more fun I admit, but I no longer risk death.  But most things – the gym, hiking, swimming – cutting broom trump broom.  Within fifteen minutes I’m breathing hard and sweating and here’s the thing – I don’t want to stop.  It’s too satisfying, it’s fun, it’s time travel back to when our ancestors cleared farmland – I used to think how miserable that must have been.  Now I know they were all high as kites the whole damn time.

I’ve been clearing broom for 12 years now on and off.  It is the most aggressive invasive species out here and it flourishes wherever land has been disturbed and then allowed to go fallow – the best argument ever against our metastatic conservation urge.  All local shrubs and flowers are crowded out – the nootka rose, the camas lily, the chocolate orchid – gone.

Here’s the thing: I arrived in the country, hollowed out from 20 years in big big cities, frail, exhausted, often bedridden with flu or a persistent cold. Broom gave me back my health.  Working outside cured me.  I can hike straight up a mountain now, or run five miles (with breaks) and I never get sick for more than a day.  Destroying that shrub on my 28, then after the (green) subdivision, 16.5 acres has given me another 40 years of brutal health.  Now, I must go because if I do four hours of phone interviews,  I can have two in my broom patch.

SINS OF COMMISSION director Richard Oshen

Finally, a film about how the California Coastal Commission created the great fires of the last few years in California.

“We are suffering a crisis of authority.  The California Coastal Commission has subordinated public safety creating a hazardous fuel preservation program, amending state fire code without the approval of the State fire Commission as is required by law.”  Ann Hoffman, President of Land Use Preservation Defense Fund, Governor’s Blue Ribbon Fire Commission.  7 January 2004

People are fined $1000 a day for clearing 20 foot brush-free zones around their houses.

This kind of coercion is happening in British Columbia, Washington State, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, anywhere the big environmental NGO’s like Sierra, Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society, NRDC, &etc. ad infinitum go to court to prevent any mitigation in any forest.  200 million acres of U.S. National Forest are at risk of catastrophic, once in an millennium fire.  The death of species, old growth forest, the pain suffered by those who live in and around the forest – all incalculable.

Let’s start with indicting Peter Douglas, executive director of the California Coastal Commission for crimes against humanity.

Meadow of the Long Peace

The meadow around the house belongs to the Man of Reason – the name in tribute to Elizabeth Von Arnin’s Man of Wrath.  He will, like his mother and the rest of his Arterazi clan, who are more than a little competitive in the garden arena, create Shangri-la, a jaw-dropping, mouth-watering array of perfection.  And I will spend a few minutes each day thinking up praise-filled sentences to bestow on its creator.

But twenty feet below the field on which the house sits, lies my meadow.  It is smaller, only  two acres; two creeks cut through it on a diagonal.  The creeks run wild and frothy in the winter months.  At the back of this meadow stands the alder arch into the forest.  This meadow, in contrast to the sheered flat garden meadow ready for the art of the creator, is jumping with life.  Twenty years ago it was a gravel pit, but when the pit was abandoned, nature roared back.

Nature thrives on disturbance. I bet you didn’t know that.  In contrast to the leaden zeitgeisty belief that land is fragile and the web of life in peril, in fact, put nature in peril and she will surprise you with a mighty push-back.  Life is indestructible, it is culture which is not.

When I’d lie on my couch in New York or London or Toronto my stressed brain and body screaming bloody murder, I’d try that meditation of dreaming yourself into a peaceful place, a far away place where cares dissolve and your true self emerges.  While the palliative nature of the exercise seemed minimal at the time, years later, here is the dreamed meadow, narrow and deep, sunk into the land, water and trees, tall grass and song birds.

In true ecology, not the politicized mess by which we now live, you “take care” of nature by deciding what you want it to do.  Do you want a refuge for bears?  Do you want butterflies and songbirds?  Do you want it to go to rack and ruin?  This last is a trick by the way – the best way for land to go to rack and ruin is to try to preserve it in amber.

Instead of speaking of an “balanced eco-system” as the cynosure of heath, more correct to say healthy for.  Then ask, healthy for what?

In my small meadow, I want nature to be healthy for wildlife and plant life, especially indigenous shrubs like Nootka Rose and Salmonberry.  I want camas and chocolate orchids.  And I want the salmon to over-summer in the deep holes of my salmon pond.  I want it to be the meadow of the Long Peace.

This is my world

Today, in torrential rain, Siouxie, the younger Jack Russell followed me down into the lower meadow, across the fallen tree bridge, around the teepee platform into the forest.  We haven’t been down here for two years, and today, in the dark of December, –  both of us already wet to the skin – it is at its most beautiful.  The leaves from the big maples are as big as platters and coloured Hermes orange. the green is psychedelic, and the wet brown as vivid, crawling with life.

We climb the hill, the avenue wide, bordered by cedar and fir, all huge and old, draped in moss, the ground carpeted in orange, and the creek is wild – raging – white water –  a dozen waterfalls follow one upon the other.  We reach the top of the hill.  Siouxie looks at me, and uncharacteristically hesitates on the incline, 80 degrees, thirty feet down.  I’m not sure either.  But, it’s too beautiful not to, so we slide down, inching, me clinging to branch after branch.

Then we are in a lost world.  No human has been here in decades, but me and that only once or twice – this is crazy land.  Untended, sound deafening, and we wade across the creek, clamber up the other side and in about a half hour of bushwhacking through the enchanted forest, we’re back at the Pink House, drenched, filthy, exhilarated, happier than either of us has been in weeks.