Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Month: May 2016 (page 2 of 2)

On browsing

Serendipity is a frequent companion when I browse in bookstores and libraries. Two of my favourite books of this year were found that way. Unlike my two favourite books of last year, by Monbiot and MacFarlane, which were gifted and recommended, respectively, these were completely accidental discoveries. They are in a similar vein of natural history, both books slim but speaking volumes, penned by women whose names should be as common as those listed above.

Kathleen Jamie, Findings (2005)

Kathleen Jamie, Findings (2005)

The first was Kathleen Jamie‘s 2005 book Findings, encountered when seeking Annie Dillard in the Halifax Central Library. This book is subtitled Essays on the Natural and Unnatural World, which is – as they say – right up my alley. She writes gentle observations from a domestic place that are anything but mundane. While she may be doing it in stolen moments between dropping off and picking up kids, or on weekends carved out of the usual routine, her anchoring in these familiar places makes her discoveries all the more poignant: a nesting peregrine, coastal flotsam and jetsam, archaeological evidence of our long thriving. Unlike most books, where I have started to turn down pages to mark good quotables, Jamie’s text was too rich to choose. One blurb on the back, I cannot remember whose, wrote of her gift for “finding without taking”, and I can’t think of any better way to put her magic.

Kimmerer’s Gathering Moss (2003)

The second book was Robin Wall Kimmerer’s 2003 Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, handed to me as a random pick from a Chapters shelf by someone who knows me well. I’ve always loved mosses. I was aghast to find a big bag of moss killer in the house we bought when we came to Halifax. But I liked them in that head-height kind of way, where the colours and textures mix into a sort of landscape fabric. Kimmerer made me lie down, and showed me how much I had been missing. This is where Macfarlane himself ended up in his otherwise macho quest, The Wild Places, when he finally recognized that wildness is a matter of scale. This book was a revelation. Her writing is so lucid, full of scientific detail without the obfuscation, and grounded in strong narrative. I felt tuned into a new dimension, though I also appreciated her observations on larger landscape pattern. She memorably describes the loss of old growth forest in the Willamette Valley of Oregon’s Coast Range:

The landscape spread out before me looks more like ragged scraps than a patterned quilt. It looks like indecision as to what we want our forests to be. (p. 141)

This is exactly what I thought when I spent some time looking at Canadian forests on Google’s new Timelapse tool.

Postscript: My attempt at a trifecta failed. Annie Proulx’s, Bird Cloud (2011; misleadingly subtitled, A Memoir of Place) is a flawed undertaking, smacking of contractual obligation as she tries to marry well-told stories of her family history and Wyoming landscapes with a whiny tale of high-end home construction in an impractical yet beautiful setting that should probably have just been left alone.

MacEachen Institute launched

Former PM Jean Chretien interviewed by Bob Rae about Alan MacEachen at Monday's launch of the MacEachen Institute at Dalhousie.

Former PM Jean Chretien interviewed by Bob Rae about Allan J. MacEachen at Monday’s launch of the MacEachen Institute at Dalhousie (photo: Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese).

I’ve accepted a role on the Research Committee for the new non-partisan MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Governance at Dalhousie. The event launch was Monday, with a discussion panel about the four research priority areas followed by a little chat by two political heavy hitters, Jean Chretien and Bob Rae, about the Institute’s namesake, Allan J. MacEachen. Disappointing that Gerald Butts had to cancel, not least given his years at the helm of WWF Canada.  My most significant contribution to date has been the appreciative framing of the research area ‘Atlantic Canada and the World’:

The Institute will foster new academic research and public dialogue on issues where Atlantic Canada can lead: regional immigration and patterns of out-migration; trade-offs in transitions from non-renewable to renewable energy; … coastal development and climate adaptation; management of natural and marine resources; relations between Indigenous peoples and government agencies…

This sees the challenges of Atlantic Canada as areas we can contribute, turning our vulnerabilities to strengths. The launch was a well-attended event, a veritable sea of suits. As a member of the committee I had the honour of sitting… well, with the other several hundred who RSVPed actually. Which is about as close to the inner circle as I felt when I read later in the day about where the Institute money originated. My inattention to such details notwithstanding, it will be good to be a part of more policy-relevant work.

Fun week of workshops

I seem to be giving bad news to Joyce and Simon from WWF on the HCV maps behind, as Beckley observes . Maybe I was, a little. (photo: Sarah Saunders, WWF Canada).

I seem to be giving bad news to Joyce and Simon from WWF on the HCV maps behind, as Beckley looks on. Maybe I was, a little. (photo: Sarah Saunders, WWF Canada).

Last week, with winter marks submitted, launched the workshop and conference season. Monday I spent all day in the marvelous new Halifax Central Library with a range of government, academic and NGO experts interested in agricultural risk management in the face of climate change. We workshopped AgriRisk research grant proposal ideas, well provisioned by Pavia. Then I hopped into the car with recent MREM alumna Sarah Saunders, now a tidal energy specialist at WWF Canada based in Halifax, to drive to New Brunswick for a meeting on the Saint John River. Organizer Simon Mitchell, WWF Canada’s Saint John River Advisor, always picks great meeting places, this time the Brundage Point River Centre in Grand Bay-Westfield, north of Saint John. That Tuesday meeting was to troubleshoot the first maps out of the Habitat Friendly Renewable Energy Mapping Project. WWF Canada uses the HCV system to identify constraints to development – high conservation value – which has 6 elements including social value and community needs. Those people-oriented maps were almost empty, prompting lots of suggestions from me and my Energy Transitions colleagues Tom Beckley and Louise Comeau, also in attendance. A thoroughly fun day for nerds like us, but I particularly enjoyed taking the long way home, across the Westfield ferry and up the Kingston Peninsula – entirely worth the extra half hour.

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