SRES is launching a new strategic internal scholarship scheme this fall that invites high quality MES applicants for potential September 2016 intake to offer up around a set of departmental priority research areas. Interdisciplinary-minded students with high GPA and a passion for independent research are being invited to get in touch with professors about individual projects. Mine is related to my new work in the Falkland Islands. The description is below. If you have similar interests and meet the above description, please get in touch with me. The full list of projects is online.
The Falkland Islands are a British Overseas Territory east of Patagonia with a limited and contested land mass, unique ecosystem, and a historical reliance on fishing and grazing. Cruise ship tourism is a growing part of the local economy, however, and oil and gas exploration offshore has led to development for extraction. These four sectors interconnect in interesting and challenging ways and all have impacts on the local community and supporting ecosystems. The project will use social media to explore local and visitor perceptions of the Falklands land and seascape as oil and gas exploration begins. Software can be used to extract rich observations in the form of text and photo from Twitter and Instagram, using either hashtags or geotags. These data can be analyzed qualitatively to explore the visibility of oil and gas infrastructure, and understand perceived trade-offs that this industry presents for the community, ecology and economy.
I suppose it is time to weigh in on the disappointing progress of the proposal to build a maudlin ten-storey statue reaching out toward the war dead in Europe from the shores of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. I am not averse to man-made structures in natural settings, as I have often said here, but I do not support this initiative. I think it is useful here to reflect on the words of English designer William Morris in 1880 (later published in Hopes and Fears for Art: Five Lectures Delivered in Birmingham, London, and Nottingham, 1878 – 1881 (1882)):
If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
This stands doubly for landscape, in my opinion. I would have an easier time supporting a small-scale wind turbine on this site, which research has shown over time can accrue local acceptance, and even attachment as a result of its utility and symbolism. Meaning can be built over time to lots of useful infrastructure: lighthouses, headponds, factory stacks, or towers like the erstwhile Radio Canada International transmission site at Tantramar. Similarly, a piece of great art may be seen as consecrating such a natural site and emerge as an attraction (like now-common sculpture walks) as well as a site of local meaning. Mother Canada does not even meaningfully leverage the natural beauty like the recent construction of the Glacier Skywalk in Banff, which I also opposed.
Such developments in National Parks suggest Parks Canada is more interested in visitor numbers than conservation. I believe that attempts to impose a memorial of questionable aesthetic value or symbolism as an attraction for the purposes of local economic development are ill-advised. It will become a site where those happily employed locals can sneer at tour bus passengers, who may themselves smell the inauthenticity and see the place as just a welcome bathroom break (where is that septic going, anyhow?). Given recent federal cut-backs in veteran support, this just stinks. Use the funds to develop a wilderness retreat for returned service personnel, or the grieving families of those who did not return, and all will be better off.
An old road dissolves into the Mactaquac headpond on the Nackawic Nature Trail
When I was a child in Nackawic, New Brunswick, I remember going on walks with my Mom to a place I called the castle. My mother was aware that these were not castles but old basements or farm outbuildings, abandoned when farmers were forced to move before the Mactaquac Dam headpond was flooded in the late 1960s, but she did not ruin my fun. To get there we had to clamber down over a guardrail, and down a rocky ravine at the outflow of a culvert. As I got older I went there with friends, and then alone, attracted by that hint of history (much more recent than I realized). It was not a history that was discussed with children when I was young (or we didn’t listen).
I am very pleased to see that the town of Nackawic – itself constructed to house the relocated families as well as new families attracted by work at the pulp and paper mill constructed to use the new energy – has reclaimed the story. In the late 1990s, a ‘Nackawic Rural Experience’ walk was created along the shoreline, now the Nackawic Nature Trail, including explanatory plaques on old structures, and other evidence of what was once there, including roads into the water and fruit trees like quince that were likely once in farmhouse gardens. We did the two-kilometer walk last week when on holiday in the area. It is much overgrown since I played there, but beautiful and also melancholic. It is interesting to see how much more focused the town is today on the headpond frontage as an asset; this is emblematic of some of our observations of changing perspectives in our research on connections to the headpond through time.
The ‘castle’, actually an old potato house.
Cottage view at Davidson Lake
I spent last week at my family cottage in New Brunswick. I have been coming to this place for 37 years, including spending every summer all summer when I was a child. It still has few of the conveniences of many modern cottages, though now we have running water (though naturally high in uranium) and an indoor toilet. The conveniences installed at many other cottages on the lake, like showers and dishwashers, are causing real trouble for the lake ecosystem. When I was a child, hundreds of bullfrog tadpoles lined the leaf litter on the shoreline, splashing out an impromptu honour guard as you walked along the beach. Those frogs are mostly gone today; I haven’t seen a tadpole in the lake for years. This may have been caused by stocking of the lake with bass. Also, however, by each August, the water grows thick with algae, indicative of eutrophication. Glad to have been there last week, with the water clear if frigid.