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Archive for June, 2013


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The annual rite of spring at most institutions is convocation: a coming together to celebrate achievement and excellence. We had 5 ceremonies last week, and they represented another year of success as we watched the graduates cross the stage and we shared the moment with family and friends.

(In an era of digital video and photography, it is hard to guess at how many bytes of information are generated at each ceremony, and what actually happens to all the images and sounds? In the old days, we put the snaps in a photo album or labelled the videotape, and these were dutifully stored in the den for easy access and spontaneous perusal. Now what? Having them on a laptop or on some storage device isn’t the same…or is it just me?).

I have tried to re-think our ceremonies: to have them focus more on the grads and with fewer, shorter speeches. It all starts I think with the music that plays as the audience gathers. I made a playlist that I thought was up-beat, celebratory and appealing to the parents. The rather smug sound guy thought it would appeal more to the grandparents, but he appreciated my effort.

Then there is the matter of the music for the processional. We have used a bagpiper for a while, but I cancelled that: I see no obvious direct connection between KPU and the Scottish people and their culture that would justify using a piper just for the sake of it. “Everyone else uses one” is not a good reason. I opted for Elgar on CD: Pomp and Circumstance #4 – not number 1 which has all sorts of poor connotations with “Land of Hope and Glory” (the WW1 patriotic use of which Elgar hated).

The recessional was Bach: very jaunty and celebratory, but at the last ceremony we had drummers from the Kwantlen First Nation lead us out, and it was very powerful.

For the first time in a long time this year we included a student speaker in the event, and they were all great. We swore off the common practice of inviting a keynote graduate speaker, and unless someone can bring Kurt Vonnegut back to life (his graduation speeches were the best), we won’t be starting.

However, I do like to remind the students that they graduate in the presence of greatness through the honorary degree awards that we offer. We had 4 this spring: Drs. Janet Austin (social enterprise hero), Charan Gill (activist), Susan Davidson (sustainable food pioneer) and George Melville (business genius and philanthropist). They each, in their own way, spoke concisely and graciously to the graduates in accepting their degrees, offering inspiration and advice.

Susan Davidson got us to sit quietly and think:

“Anything I have accomplished or may yet do, has been, and will be, the harvest of our collaborative insights and actions. It is my deeply held belief that the resilient social fabric woven by love, in all its many expressions, is essential to addressing the challenges we face in 2013.

I salute KPU’s vision to move out beyond their ivory towers of academe into the communities they serve. It is indeed an act of courage for you to bestow this prestigious recognition on a local small-scale organic farmer such as myself!

Some have asked what gets me out of bed in the morning. For sure, life certainly isn’t always a bucolic dream at Fraser Common Farm. While cynicism and despair may be understandable, in my view, they are self -indulgent and irrelevant options. Listen to the words of Rumi, 13th Century Persian poet and Sufi mystic:

Sit down and be quiet.
You are drunk,
and this is the edge of the roof.

So, here we are on “the edge of the roof” and in many ways we are drunk, as in unwilling, though hopefully not unable, to step back, reclaim time to think, and  commit to recovery programs from our addictions to fossil fuel consumption, cheap food  and the buy low/sell high commodification of land.”

It was nice to see local politicians attend the graduation: Jasbir Sandhu, Jinny Sims, Dave Hayer (who has just retired as MLA and whose daughter was graduating), Stephanie Cadieux, and Dr. Wendy Johnson from Langley School District 35.

No pithy comments to finish with, just the sense of satisfaction and affirmation that convocation provides to all of us in education, reminding us of the importance of our work and of the wonderful colleagues we are blessed to work with.

Those who organized it all (they are amazing) will take a break and then start planning for the Fall ceremonies, where we will honour  Canadian soccer star Christine Sinclair and another local hero, TBA.

Meanwhile, as I offered by way of a salute to the grads:

Live Long and Prosper.

Spring, Part 1

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Of all the seasons, I am pretty sure Spring is my favorite. Warning: if you don’t like corny personal journals about flowers and bunny rabbits, read no further.

I have lived away from the lower mainland of BC for some years now, but spring has always been a surprise. In Northern Alberta, it lasts about a week between the frost and the mosquitoes, but when it comes, it is very powerful, and to see the transformation in the land and people is quite special. I have never seen people so excited and engaged in every possible event as I did in Edmonton, where there is a festival every week of summer it seems, and everybody attends, knowing that the long summer nights will soon enough give way to the cold once again.

In the lower mainland of BC of course, we are already gardening seriously in February, cutting the lawn in March, and in April to early June enjoying the extraordinary bursts of colour, starting with all manner of tree blossoms through to all the exotic species of azalea, rhododendron, gladioli, irises, poppies and all sort of a blooms I simply do not recognize. (My father would be ashamed: he knew every plant, Latin names included.)

I have felt the smugness that comes with hosting friends from Ontario in March and April on their first trip to metro Vancouver. Ontario is usually just starting to see some buds and other evidence of spring, but I have photos of our back yard at Easter in St. Catharines with dogs playing in the deep snow.

(I once overheard some young people behind me on a plane coming through the clouds into Vancouver from Toronto, and seeing the green pastures of the Fraser Valley, wondered if they’d got on the wrong plane: this after all, cannot possibly be Canada in February, can it?)

Anyway, one dear friend walked around Kitsilano in a daze and couldn’t even believe the size of the dandelions: “tropical” was her adjective for the plants and trees that we take for granted.

I have lived in a mature subdivision in North Delta since August, so I am witnessing its spring for the first time as I walk the dog every morning, enjoying the achievements of my neighbours in their gardens. Nobody is really obsessive, and some prefer a more natural look, but the colours and the diversity of plants are stunning. I tried to take a few pictures, but they do not do justice. It starts with the crocus and the snowdrop but the fun really starts with the tulips and daffodils:

This is Denise’s favorite poppy:

The shape of the iris flower must have all sort of erotic and exotic meaning, and you wonder about the evolutionary path that led to such a complex piece of art, presumably just to attract the odd bee:

My favorite garden is just full of plants (no weeding is required, since there is no space) and almost no lawn. Plus, there are many whimsical elements made from odds and ends of brick and concrete, all of which sounds a bit weird, but which work in so many ways.

One of the defining features of our region is the network of BC Hydro power lines, and the bands of land underneath. There is a coffee table book for some enterprising photographer on all the creative ways that these places have been shaped for public use: trails, parks, bike paths etc.

My favorite is the Huff Greenway, which is the next section of my morning walk with Max. While the gardens in North Delta reflect a global approach to horticulture (try Googling the origins of the plants in any garden: you’d be amazed), the Huff Greenway, over the last 20+ years, has been nurtured by a few neighbours with the support of the Corporation of Delta and BC Hydro itself, into a magical space for people, dogs, rabbits and children, with a special focus on plants that are native to BC: the Nootka Rose, the Pacific crab apple, native Hawthorns, and Saskatchewan berries etc. The huge blackberry patches provide a safe haven for many rabbits.

Some posts and structures have been installed, originally to guide the big mowers that come in a few times a year so they didn’t cut down the seedlings. The structures are (in my humble opinion) minor works of art: they are unassuming but whimsical and somehow fit perfectly with the intent and spirit of the greenway. Take a look:

It’s a great way to start the day, I can tell you.