Archive for the 'winter' Category

Gifts and promises

By David Parkinson

Not much going on but the cover crop (hairy vetch)

Nothing much happening but the cover crop (hairy vetch)

Happy New Year! Having passed through the Christmas downtime, around the inflection point of the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year!) and back onto the upslope, we’re now at the traditional point of looking backward and looking forward. Early winter in our culture is a time of reckoning in two important ways: we reward one another (and ourselves) with gifts for past behaviour and many of us go through the annual ritual of setting goals for the coming year. Pundits and cultural commentators waste a lot of ink and pixels on their ‘best-of’ lists for the year gone by, and the ones who feel like sticking their neck out do their best to predict what the coming months will bring.

Plenty of people asked me, while I was away visiting my family, what I was up to and how my year went. And I found myself oddly unable to come up with a coherent story about any of that. Maybe I just don’t think naturally in terms of year-long chunks terminating neatly in a clever narrative and a few year-end lists (the best books I read, the finest wines I drank, and so on). The year certainly had some highlights, among them:

There were some lowlights too, but the less said the better. At least they all came with a lesson I think I learned.

The more interesting and exciting things that happened in 2009 were mostly ones that I challenged myself to do for the first time. And in most of these cases I stumbled through them, not knowing what I was doing but doing it anyway. This appears to be my standard modus operandi these days; in my previous work life I was able to do more or less the same things day after day, but lately I have to invent my work as I go and fling myself into activities with no clear idea of how to do them or what to expect. It’s occasionally frustrating and difficult but certainly not boring. That’s how life should be.

I won’t subject myself or you to a rundown of my resolutions for 2010; although feel free to leave your resolutions in a comment to this post. I’m always fascinated to read other people’s attempts to put order into their lives. But I hope that 2010 will bring an increase in positive community organization in the region and elsewhere — and I hope that this positive action will increase faster than the negative forces out there in the economy and social atmosphere. Things are looking fairly dark and I have no hope that our elected and self-appointed leaders and wise heads can get out ahead of these forces. But I do think that committed and honest groups of citizens reclaiming their right to self-determination can do more to cushion the landing than any number of bombastic pronouncements or grandiose government programs.

I expect 2010 to be challenging for many of our friends and neighbours. If we can make only one resolution, let it be that we do what we can, starting from where we are and accepting our human limits, to start creating real solutions to the many problems facing us. And having found one solution, to spread the word, to draw more people in, and to keep moving onward.

Here comes the sun, eventually

By Tom Read

Here's our food preservation "tree" with a local seashell on top instead of a star.

With the arrival of winter Solstice a few days ago, our days are theoretically getting a tiny bit longer, and that’s certainly something to celebrate as we head into a new year. Glancing out the window at this moment, however, it still looks rather grey out there — but we might be due for some sun later today.

Grey punctuated occasionally by brilliant sun breaking through the clouds might be considered normal for Texada Island during this season. I love our beautiful island home, including its rainy winter weather.

As for today, it’s the holidays!  Linda and I hope that you are enjoying the fruits and bounty of the Earth, as is also our good fortune. Best wishes for 2010 and beyond,

–Tom

August planning pays off in November

By Tom Read

I uprooted these carrots yesterday. They not only look lovely, but they taste really good, too. The standard-sized teaspoon gives a sense of scale. Linda assures me the spoon was clean when she took this photo, but the lights reflecting on it make it look kind of grungy. She cut up these Nantes-variety carrots shortly after taking the picture, and we enjoyed them in our yummy chicken-and-dumplings dinner. Yours truly made the dumplings!

It’s the third week of November and our kitchen garden is still providing a fine harvest. The carrots are sweeter than they were this past summer, thanks to the onset of colder weather. Also yielding well are parsnip, kale, arugula, bok choy, romaine lettuce and various other greens.  Most of our potatoes are still in the ground, but they will have to come out in the next few days because their bed has become waterlogged given the last two nights of torrential, deafening-on-the-roof-for-hours rainfall.

Our attempt this year to grow food through the winter started last August when I attended Carolyn Heriot’s excellent workshop on winter gardening, sponsored by the Texada Garden Club. Looking back over my notes from that day, I can see that with a little more foresight and investment, we might have planted a much larger and more diverse winter garden. Alas, we’ll probably have only enough fresh greens and root crops to last perhaps another few months, for which I’m nonetheless quite grateful. Next year’s goal will be to have ample harvests all year long.

Along those lines, I’m pleased that the Texada Garden Club has also decided to sponsor Robin Wheeler, Roberts Creek, BC, resident and author of Food Security for the Faint of Heart, to give a “MicroFarm Forum” workshop here on Texada on Saturday, February 20 of next year. I’ll have more to share on that topic as we get closer to the date.

In the meantime, Linda and I are busy harvesting animals as well as plants. Last weekend we “did” the chickens with our friends An and Seneca; next weekend we’ll be on our way to our first pork harvest, as well.

Who would have thought November could be such a busy month?

The time of slowing down

By David Parkinson

Leaves turning as the days turn shorter and cooler

Leaves turning as the days turn shorter and cooler

Suddenly fall is upon us. Days are getting shorter quickly: the long luxurious evenings of the summertime are now cut short, and the sun which used to set over Harwood Island is now dropping down into Texada. Once below the horizon, the light does not linger as it used to. Night comes on fast. It’s harder to wake up early now that the sun is not banging at the windows at 5:00 AM. And more and more we have condensation in the mornings on our typically lousy west-coast single-glazed windows. Time to think of fires in the evening and space heaters by the bed. A meal of salad no longer fills the belly.

It’s a time of year which many people find mournful, since it spells the end of the riotous long hot oasis of summer, which is the time of year when everything seems possible if only because the days are long enough to fit any number of projects. The visible decline from sunshine to grey wet days is a tough one for many of us.

I like this time of year, though. There is something comforting, hidden underneath the distress at losing the warmth. It’s time to start contracting into projects centred on the home and time to start picking up the dropped threads of plans with other people who also have been too busy and outward-focused to think about developing common projects. Fall, for me, now means the beginning of the planning ahead to Seedy Saturday (March 13, 2010). And it looks as though a group of folks are going to keep talking and planning through the winter for the Exhibit Hall at the Fall Fair. And sometime during the winter I hope to start gathering together a gang of people to plan ahead for the 50-mile eat-local challenge and Edible Garden Tour (v2.0). I’m starting to remember some of the grandiose plans I had last winter, which somehow never came to fruition — a little like our cherry tree this summer. Maybe I’ll revive that idea of a cooperative… after all, I did convene a Working Group on Food-Security Cooperatives at the recent annual gathering of the BC Food Systems Network.

Another thing I look forward to is the return of the endless evenings spent reading. Summertime is such a whirl of activity that I struggle to find blocks of time wide enough in which to stretch out and get deeply immersed in good heavy books. Summer nourishes the body, but winter nourishes the mind. It’s much more difficult to feel guilty about lying around with a book when outside it’s pelting down cold drizzle, and has been doing so for days.

Who knows what plots hatched during this long wet winter will spring forth when the days begin to lengthen again?

Local economy betrayed by the $5 customer

By Tom Read

Centennial Service, not a mere commodity seller, but a key part of our island's local economy

Centennial Service, not a mere commodity seller, but a key part of our island's local economy


Centennial Service has the best commercial location on Texada Island. Its prominent spot at the corner of Blubber Bay Rd and Gillies Bay Rd greets traffic flows coming in from the ferry, or travelling between Van Anda and Gillies Bay, making this a true corner gas station. Even the greenest first-time visitor just can’t miss it.

The owners, John and Linda, have lived on Texada much of their adult lives. I’ve observed the way they conduct business during my nine years living here, and I’d like to point out a few realities that visitors and Texadans alike should consider about our only local gas station.

Let’s start by getting one thing clear: Centennial is not really a commodity-selling business, like gas stops in the cities. For example, if you ask the city gas station attendant for directions, you might get a very brief, often uninformed answer, as in “I don’t live anywhere near here, sorry” while they shift their focus back to the long line-up waiting to buy junk food. Note that it’s an “attendant” you’re usually talking to, not an “owner” or someone who thinks and acts like an owner.

But if you ask John or Linda or Ian (whom I consider an honorary owner, given his dedication) for help, you get real, well-informed, interested help. This could include detailed directions (with a local map) if you’re lost, being a trusted drop-off point for an envelope or package for pickup by someone else later, or having the station opened up after hours so you can get gas if you’ve run out. That’s service, not commodity-selling.

Speaking of after-hours service, consider that in last winter’s snowfalls, our local gas station owners came in to work very early and stayed very late so that our intrepid highway maintenance guys, Al and Sy, could refuel the island’s snowplow/sand truck as often as needed to keep our roads open.

Yet this is a business where volume is everything. If you don’t sell “x” amount of gas each month, you’ll end up paying a higher wholesale rate than your competitors, who will eventually drive you out of business if people choose to buy their gas solely on the basis of price. Our Texada station really can’t offer the lowest prices in the region. It must contend with being off the beaten path for fuel distribution, so the owners often must pay more to bring gas and diesel here. Thus, we “regulars” typically pay a bit more per litre than the city people across the water do. But that’s ok for a loyal customer, because we know that the price spread on fuel between island and mainland isn’t price gouging, it’s just necessary to stay in business. And, believe me, this community really doesn’t want to lose this particular business.

Conclusion: there is just no way this gas station can survive without the loyal support of local people. My understanding is that Texada’s Centennial Service has about 75 such loyal customers who are keeping the station afloat, sometimes just barely. So where are all the other hundreds of vehicle owners who live on Texada buying their gas? Ah, here’s where the $5 customer comes in, pulling up to the pumps right now: “I’ll take $5 worth,” says the polite lady in the nice car, who has lived here a decade or two. “I just need enough to get to Powell River,” where, obviously, she will buy her fill of gas.

Does this hurt? Of course it does, especially for local business people who pride themselves on giving the community superb service that would be unheard of in a city. Local business people who care about their customers are treasures, the very foundation of our local economy.

Morning frost

By David Moore

When the overnight temperature dips below freezing, I check the thermometer in my unheated greenhouse to see if my tender plants are at risk. I have a little plug-in heater to turn on if needed. This morning (March 11) I had a delightful surprise. Magic forces had decorated all the overhead glass panels with ferns and feathers formed in the frost.

I grabbed the camera and captured these pics. Then I plugged in the heater and they were gone in a few minutes. So much of beauty in nature is fleeting.

(Click on thumbnail image to see a larger version.)

An unusually COLD spring can have a silver lining.


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