Monday, May 31, 2010

Tree Sitting

Okay, that was a very weird and painful week! I was having a pleasant morning sleep-in with my husband Dave, when we were awakened to the sound of chainsaws. It sounded like the neighbour was cutting his house in half, long, sustained high rpm, chainsaw noise. I was raised in a house that afforded Saturdays to the delicate art of cutting up wood and chopping it and loading the old pick up and then sharing tea and ginger snap cookies.

This was not the short sounds of slicing a tree into fireplace sized logs. I listened for a while in bed and then heard a sound that was also a new a terrible one, a tree hit the ground and shook the whole area! My mind raced to the park behind our block that was to be under construction to build a large baseball park. Surely they weren't cutting down those giant grand old oak trees that give the entire park it's validity. I have taken every island visitor to this park and the gravel pathway allows the dogs to run wild without vehicle traffic and the less mobile to still walk comfortably.

I had some toast and coffee and listened to this chaos and then told Dave that I absolutely had to see what was going on! I threw some clothes on and went to ask the first person I saw with a reflective vest, what they were cutting down. The lovely young lady that was directing traffic was a bit shocked to encounter my questions and I was off across the mucky, sticky ground that had been scraped clear by the bulldozers to find the contractor, in no time.

I found him in the job site special: large, white, company work truck with the window open and papers everywhere. He was a warm, friendly man only a few years older than I am with an easy smile and the firm handshake of a hard working honest man. I asked what they were cutting down and he simply got out the large area maps and showed me.

This proposed ballpark is (I'm guessing here) at least 40 acres and has a gigantic Garry Oak in the back right corner of the one side. It is a magnificent specimen, rounded, full canopy, a huge, tall behemoth, starting with a trunk thick with age, that has to be 800 years old! She is beautiful! He laughingly assured me that no one would get any where near that huge old tree as it was set aside from the beginning due to it's high public profile and stature. The crew had lovingly named the old tree the 'hanging tree' as anyone who got too close to it would have been hung. (hahahaa, he smiled wide at this)

I asked about the other large oaks just behind and further from us and he brought a strong, caloused finger over the map to the place where the survey showed two small circles that had a computer line to the words "remove existing tree" which caused me to catch my breath short. I asked him if he had seen the trees and he explained that there was a project that he was working on in Nanaimo that was halted by someone discovering a Garry Oak with a trunk the size of a pop can!

He was shocked by the Municipality suggesting that he get the faller to cut all the trees on the slope, some of which had trunks that were 6 feet across. Someone had given the workers the 'heads up' that once the public sees trees fall down they go a little crazy so they should get there and get them cut down as close to the 7am noise bylaw as possible.

As nice as this man was to me, I knew that I was going to have to do something serious about this situation. I told him that I was going to go home to get a ladder to climb the tree, I wasn't sure what he thought but he smiled and waved goodbye. I went home and raced all over the house to do something to get this tree cutting stopped before they killed any more of these monster trees. I called the muni office, the MLAs (both of them), the municipal parks and rec guy, the Sierra Club, the environmental protection branch of the government, the MP and then in desperation the editor of the newspaper. Strangely enough, the editor had a few moments to talk when all others were way to busy to talk to me, he sent out a reporter and I was to meet him by the park.

I tore through the house putting things into the red backpack that had seen me through many difficult situations; rope, water, sleeping bag,nut bars, leather gloves, a tarp, wool toque, old wool sweater....I was running out of ideas and really had no idea what I was packing for! I was jogging with the back pack by the time I saw the reporter and was right mad that it had come to this. I lead him onto the pathway takes everyone right by these huge trees.

He asked what the backpack was for and I said that if I told him he would be an accessory. That only stalls a real reporter for a minute, he asked what my plan was, what I was thinking, what I was going to do, and then followed me to the tree that was next to be cut down and took a look at all of the stumps already cut. When his eyes came back to me I had tied a rope to the back pack and was (unceremoniously) clambered up to the first bifurcation in the tree. I hauled the back pack up and started to get to know my new home.

I honestly had no idea what I was doing but I really thought that they wouldn't cut it down with me in it. Yup, that's as far as I had thought this thing through! The car was at home and I was supposed to be picking Dave up from work later that day, it was looking like he would walk home with no explanation.

So there I was in the arms of a beautiful 800 year old tree, shaking from the natural fear of heights, and absolutely no plan what-so-ever!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Philanthropy, Cobble Hill Cross Country Mountain Bike Race 2010

First, I would like to reference the photo here from a local mountain bike race that we held this weekend on Cobble Hill on Vancouver Island. I have been involved with this group of cyclists for as many years as I have been on this glorious rock/island. They have encouraged me up the mountains and laughed when I ride off into the bushes and fall over from my own uncontrollable laughter. They have also straightened my handle bars and checked for broken bones when I have really crashed hard and stayed down for a while!
I am honoured to create the four, first prize beer steins for this race, which I volounteer and really enjoy making. I also have had a few really cute comments about trying to win a stein during the rest of the year when I have met up with people who were at the race and will be returning. The reactions that I got from both the race organizers and the racers was uplifting and humbling, I can't wait to make some more work for the next race we hold.
Donating pottery, in this case, warms my heart and makes me smile in the studio on a sunny afternoon, as I am trying to use a syringe full of runny slip clay to turn a line and blob of clay into a bicycle shape that will still look like a bike after it is covered in glaze and fired twice.
Now that is a donation! It starts in my soul and I actually laughed out loud (yes, as always, I was alone in the studio at the time) making the steins and remembering the precious afternoons I have spent on the mountains: riding, watching Dave race, cleaning up after the races and leaning on the car after a good ride hashing over how I finally rode that bridge or log that I have been scared of for--ever!
This year's Cobble Hill Cross Country Mountain Bike Race drew out an elite crowd, some pictured above, the likes of Melanie McQuaid and Drew McKenzie and other famous racers including Wendy Simms and Norm Thibault who showed the adoring crowd what real mountain cyclists look like in action, not the bumping into logs and bouncing back and "oooofffffff" noises that we normally see (looking down, that is, hahahahahhaa).
The little bike club that I happily support is not only a non profit but allowed Dave and I to take the cheque for their donation to the food bank here in Duncan, and give it to the manager there and get a little sunshine in return from her, she must be 80 years old (oh to be so involved when I'm 80!!).

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Arts Funding Up-side-down

I attended the local art show here in the valley and was struck by the odd approach that arts funding users have taken. I think that if money from the government is being assigned to the "arts" whatever that means, that the general public thinks that the artists might be getting at least a portion of it. In fact, that is not happening.

Money comes in as a grant from the government (insert your name here) and the arts council uses it to pay rent on a building and staff costs to open the doors and answer phone and email. Now, as an idea this makes sense, a place for artists to set up a show and rotate through a whole community giving time for every artist to show their work to the public. What is missing here is any money going to the artist as VERY FEW items are sold from these installed shows and the commission paid out on a sale is between 30 and 60 percent off the top.

Lets say a $200 item is sold and the price was based on the artist's time and supplies (too numerous to list here) not to mention the talent, skills and education already invested. There would be a tiny cushion of money to buy more time (literally and figuratively) and more raw materials. With the $100 taken from the artist to pay for the building rental (etc) that doesn't leave any money to start the next work. The same work of art at $300 (just mark the price up to reflect the gallery cut you might suggest) would not sell, as we all know the market drives the price of the art, and that would leave the artist working two or three shitty jobs to pay their own rent. We haven't even touched on the fact that art needs to sell for a profit (read "retail" here) to keep anyone doing it.

I don't think that you, the government, wants the arts funding money to end up in the pocket of fat cat property owners but that's exactly where it ends up! One tiny wage is paid out to an office assistant and the rest goes to the very rich who can afford to own buildings in the downtown core where a gallery might survive, and the rest goes to (also painfully well off.....conrad black....need I say more) advertisers. Around here we have wonderful small papers that incite riot in the letters to the editor section and have biting criticism of really crumby local issues, but still, was that where the money was said to be going?

Arts funding should be spent having a large show or two a year, like the Ladysmith Arts Council puts on every year. A small fee is charged to cover the costs of the tent/hall rentals and the artists happily pay that. A small army of rugby players/band students who are fund raising for a trip somewhere or other, move all the tables and get a nice donation. The beauty of this type of show is that the artist is standing out there IN PERSON and meeting the public and when you select the perfect mug/carving/painting/basket you hand the bills to the person who desperately needs them to buy food and keep a roof over their head!

This type of event is exciting for the public. There is lead up and stories about the artists that you can meet if you attend the show and it is like a special trip to another world where people do what they want all day, a far away place from where the customer lives working 9-5 slinging hashbrowns at A&W.

I have had about a million people walk over to my stall and gaze over the pots only to have their eyes settle on me frantically knitting a warmer garment as the leaves fall around me, and say...'it must be such a wonderful life to be a know... full time'. I smile and put down the knitting and decide if I think they have any intention of buying anything before mentioning that I personally squeeze thousands of dollars out of the skin on my finger tips to pay the mortgage.

I also almost never start the bitter diatribe about how nowadays all houses require two incomes and a rentor, to stay afloat (not to mention $2000/year in property taxes) and that almost every artist I know has a full time job to support their habit, or as I call it: my life affirming work.

I understand the drive of a local small arts group to have a tiny gallery of rotating shows from the obscure to the grotesque on a monthly basis but this thinking is quite flawed. All of the money goes into building rental and trying desperately to create interest in the gallery, it also tires out each and every volounteer artist who sits in the window and waves to anyone passing by to come in and see the show. If anyone does enter the gallery, they politely walk around and try not to react to what they see and then drop a quarter into the large, truly oversized, donation jar by the door and leave, never to return.

A big, sexy show a couple times a year when everyone pulls together and works hard to make it into an event is a much better way to go. So the next time you consider the systems of thinking that surround you and SPEND YOUR/GOVERNMENT money, try to turn it upside down and look up a local artist who would really appreciate that money to buy a loaf of bread or some seeds to plant veggies to eat. After all, we may not have any money but we do have the early morning all to ourselves to weed the garden and watch the sun dance accross the grass towards our humble ambitions.