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Brown Feathers, Says “Cluck”

I hear them quite often when I’m out on my morning walk. The neighbourhood chickens. You REALLY hear them when they’re laying their eggs; that loud, repetitive squawk.

For a number of years now, the city of Victoria has allowed people to have up to 15 backyard chickens. There are different bylaws in Esquimalt, Saanich and Oak Bay, but for most people, 3 or 4 hens is plenty. Each bird lays one egg a day, so unless you’re selling them, 15 eggs a day would be more than a mouthful.

Roosters are not allowed in most regions for obvious reasons. They would just cause a peck of trouble.

Many people are drawn to those lovely, fresh eggs every day. They buy or build chicken coops and sometimes even create chicken runs so that the hens can get a little exercise. Animal Control encourages people to keep their chickens in the coop until at least 7am, since they can be as noisy as roosters. And apparently raccoons and mink love chicken as much as I do, so the coop gives some protection against predators.

It turns out that you can actually rent hens too. Who-da thunk it? They come complete with a chicken coop, and you can rent them for up to 5 or 6 months. You can even adopt them if you decide you enjoy having chickens around.

Of course, it’s inevitable that a hen will escape every now and then.

One day on my walk a couple of years ago, I came across a piece of paper tacked to a utility post, as you can see here. It made me laugh. Especially the last line: “VERY sneaky!” I kept my eyes out, but never caught sight of the foxy fowl. Hopefully she realized there was better food back at the coop and she eventually flew home.

Right. Chickens don’t fly.

But a couple of weeks back, I noticed a chicken poking around on someone’s front lawn. She was a good size and didn’t look too worse for wear, so she was likely a more recent escapee. The street we were on is relatively quiet, and she seemed savvy enough to stay to the side and just peck around on the ground. I took a picture of her and then, just like that, she disappeared.

A few days ago as I was walking down the same street, I saw a young couple shoo shooing something as a truck came slowly up the road. You guessed it. Probably the same chicken. Brown feathers, says “cluck”.

The couple and I stood on opposite sides of the street and chatted about her as the bird strutted over to them. Definitely a people hen. They seemed to enjoy her attention, and I couldn’t help myself. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” We all laughed.

Eventually, we carried on our separate ways and the chicken got back to her lawn pecking.

I kept thinking about her as I continued my walk. Did she have a fight with one of the other hens? Was she really just a drifter at heart? Maybe she simply found a hole in the coop and decided to make her escape, ready for a new experience.

I mean, I don’t blame her. In fact, I really can relate. I feel that same need to get out, to get away, to have an adventure somewhere different for a change. It’s been so long.

Just like the chicken, we’ve all been feeling pretty cooped up for awhile, haven’t we?

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Cycling – One Driver’s View

“Never argue with a bus!” my Dad used to laugh. He was a bus driver in downtown Vancouver for more than 40 years, and he’d pretty much seen it all.

Other vehicles were always trying to outrun or outmaneuver his bus, sometimes to their peril. They weren’t thinking about the fact that a bus is a heck of a lot bigger and heavier, and that a small vehicle would not fare well if the two were to come into contact. All they could think about was getting ahead of the bus.

I was reminded of that the other day when I was in my car right behind a cyclist at a stop light. The cyclist didn’t gesture his intentions, but when the light turned green, he immediately fumbled his way out into the intersection and turned left in front of an oncoming car. All that cyclist was thinking about was beating the car.

Fortunately, the car driver saw what was happening just in time and hit the brakes. And honked.

In the last couple of years, especially since COVID-19 has come into play, there have been a lot more people out there cycling. It’s one of the few things a person can do these days that’s enjoyable and healthy. Unless you make a sudden left turn in front of an oncoming car, that is.

Cycling stores are literally running out of bikes because of the high demand. More and more bike lanes are being built, creating corridors into the downtown Victoria area.

Now, a lot of drivers will roll their eyes at the news of yet another bike lane. But I think they’re a good thing.

A few years ago, my husband and I were in Copenhagen in Denmark and I marveled at how co-operative and respectful cyclists and drivers were with each other. Pretty much every main road in Copenhagen has a bicycle lane with its own signs and signals. Drivers and cyclists alike know the rules and, for the most part, stick to them. Except for children, you don’t see too many people with bicycle helmets. Far fewer 2-wheel-versus-4-wheel incidents, I’d guess.

Cycling has been a big thing in Denmark since the 1880s, and these days, 9 out of 10 Danes own a bike. But it’s also a small country, and mostly flat. Victoria and Vancouver Island don’t have that advantage.

Back in the 1990s, like many families, we had a big van. For the most part I was used to its berth, but passing a cyclist was another matter. One day, long before cycle lanes had come to town, I had to pass a cyclist on a busy street. I got past him okay, and then came up to a red light.

Well, I guess he didn’t like how close I’d come to him when I passed. Or maybe it was something else. But he pulled his bike up along the sidewalk to the right of me as I sat at the light, came around to the front, and spat on the hood of the van. Have a good day.

To this day I still get nervous when I drive up behind a cyclist on a road with no bike lane. Especially on a certain stretch of Bay Street that is particularly narrow. I want to give them lots of room, but if the road is busy, that’s not easy to do. And then there’s the collection of cars coming up behind me to contend with. Sometimes they get impatient waiting for me to make up my mind and lean on the horn. Gimme a break.

Let’s face it; there are good and bad drivers, and the same goes for cyclists. But the reason we have rules for the road is so that nobody gets hurt in the process. And I’m going to need all of you drivers out there to pay attention and do your best.

Because, you see, I’m planning on getting myself a bike one of these days. Maybe a nice e-bike to give me some help up those hills. Because I’m old.

So I’ll need you all to be prepared for that stupid left turn I’m bound to make right in front of you.

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Lost In Space

It was the middle of February 2020, just before COVID-19 changed everything. My husband, daughter and I were at a luau in Hawaii, celebrating my daughter’s birthday.

Just after the outdoor show began, an hour or so past sunset, somebody at our table pointed to the western horizon. “Look at that!” Flying low in the sky was a series of lights in a straight line. There were maybe 10 or 12 of them. We’d never seen anything like it. Were they birds? Were they shooting stars? Was it the second coming? What the heck??

We asked some of the hotel staff “Have you ever seen this before?” No, they all answered. We watched until the string of lights slowly drifted out of sight.

The next day our astronomer friend, who was also visiting Hawaii at the time, gave us the explanation. Only a few days before, SpaceX had launched 60 Starlink satellites. What we saw were a few of them still following each other in the same orbit. Eventually, they would drift apart and orbit on their own.

When I think of it now, it seemed like a strange omen. We didn’t realize then that this would be our last trip for a very long time.

Just the other day, May 4th, known as “Star Wars Day”, SpaceX launched another 60 Starlink satellites. A string of them were visible in the night sky here on Vancouver Island for a short time.

There are roughly 6000 satellites orbiting around our little blue planet at this time, with more coming. Some of these satellites are not even operational. Space junk.

They float along with lots of other bits and pieces like old bolts, equipment fragments, fuel sludge and paint chips that have been orbiting for years. One of the main concerns is the possibility of collisions with important working satellites.

The International Space Station is constantly adjusting direction in order to avoid this space junk. At a high velocity, even the smallest bit can do great damage.

Environmental issues, it seems, are not just confined within our atmosphere. Believe it or not, there are “space debris experts” out there trying to sound the alarm and to come up with ways to safely remove space junk before something catastrophic happens.

Why, at the very moment of this writing, there is a 10-story, 23-ton piece of rocket about to crash to earth, with no one knowing for sure where it might end up. Alert the “space debris experts.”

It could splash harmlessly into the ocean, but it could also smash into a populated area. Some of it will burn up on re-entry, but not all 23 tons of it.

Back in 1969, I remember watching the blurry image of the first step onto the moon. I was at my best friend Shirley’s house and we watched this incredible event on her black and white TV. “The Eagle has landed.” Looking at the moon that night, I was amazed to think that people were actually up there walking on it.

Now we’ve got NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance roaming the red planet, looking for past signs of life. The technological advances in space exploration have been astounding, and we keep learning more and more, not only about our solar system, but also about our home, the earth.

And, as my astronomer friend would point out, a lot of that technology and research has also benefited us as individuals too.

Oh, oh, watch out!

Phew…

Just figure out a way to get rid of all of that space junk, will ya?

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Has It Been A Year Already?

Well, happy anniversary everyone! We are now officially past the year mark since the W.H.O. declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. And it’s been a year like no other.

Back on March 11, 2020, we couldn’t have imagined what we were in for. COVID-19 was a mystery, and we had no idea what to expect. The phrase “new normal” suddenly became popular.

Our initial reaction to the big shut down was positive, sometimes comical. We can DO this! We hoarded toilet paper. We baked bread, made Quarantinis, and we stood outside every evening at 6pm and banged our pots and pans to honour our health care workers. We laughingly wore pajama pants during video calls. We put hearts and signs of support in our windows for our front line workers, and donated money to local charities like Rapid Relief.

Businesses that sold them, ran out of hot tubs. Gardens flourished, home renovations abounded. We found heroes in people like Dr. Bonnie Henry, whose calm and compassion gave us much comfort. A global pandemic wasn’t going to keep US down!

Then reality kicked at us a little harder. The novelty began to wear off. Day after day we somberly donned our masks, washed our hands, and kept our distance from each other. Well some of us did. Others screamed in protest. Tempers flared. And all the while, more and more people were getting sick or dying.

Our hair grew long, beards became unruly. Zoom calls that started out as great fun, began to wear on us. Living and working and learning at home got more and more boring and intolerable for many. Not being able to see or hug our family and friends was depressing us. In fact, anxiety and depression was on the rise in all age groups, but especially in young people. We were exhausted. And all of this happened before winter had even hit.

As we said goodbye with great relief to 2020, COVID continued its ominous advance. New cases and new variants sprang up everywhere when a second wave hit. Long, dark days with no end to this pandemic in sight, left us mourning and miserable.

But there were some small hints of hope. Pharmaceutical companies around the world who had been working around the clock to come up with a vaccine, started to have some success. A few countries that were initially hit hard by the pandemic, were beginning to see their COVID numbers level off, or even come down as a result of shut downs. There was just a little bit of light appearing at the end of that very long tunnel.

And now spring is almost here. As of March 12th, almost 3 million vaccines have been administered in Canada. We have, most of us, adapted to this new reality, to the shut downs, the social distancing, and the masks. Handwashing and sanitizing is more habitual. But we are so looking forward to the day when we can actually spend time together in person again, and that day comes ever closer. Still, as the expression goes, the last few miles of a marathon are the hardest.

I know, I know. Kilometers.

So what have we learned from this past year so far? I would venture to guess it will take a long time to completely assess that. Businesses, governments and communities will gather their list of lessons learned. As individuals, we will each write our own epilogues. Ultimately, you might say that we are forever changed.

But in spite of it all, babies were still being born and people were still marking milestones. All this time, life was forging ahead and hopeful. And now, here on the west coast, the trees are starting to burst new buds, robins are laying their eggs, and cherry blossoms are blooming.

And vaccines are here. At long last. Ah, spring.

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Hot Pot Politics

I don’t think I could handle being a politician. In fact, I’d guess that the majority of us couldn’t handle it. And wouldn’t want to.

All you have to do is peruse the “letters to the editor” page in any paper, or scroll through Twitter and news feeds, and you immediately see why. Many people despise politicians, and no matter what mayors or premiers or prime ministers try to do, somebody’s going to be in a rage.

These days, that vitriol seems even more intense. Some of it, I’m sure, is because we are living through an exceptionally stressful time and leaders of any sort are an easy target for that pent up frustration.

Some of it, though, is because these days it seems we have been given permission to be hateful.

Those of us who live here in Victoria, the provincial capital, are pretty close to the political action when it fires up. Many of my students and friends over the years have been government employees in one capacity or another, so I’ve heard lots of stories, good and bad, about the people who run our government.

I became involved in a campaign many years ago when someone talked me into volunteering for a political party during a provincial election. I was pretty young and naïve, and I thought it would be kind of exciting. Well, it certainly was an eye opener.

One of my first jobs was canvassing, which meant going to a designated area within the riding and knocking on every door in the neighbourhood. A lot of volunteers didn’t like canvassing, for reasons I was about to find out. But I was game.

To be fair, many people whose doorbells I rang were polite and took the leaflet I handed them with a smile. But there were others who called me every name in the book, some even slamming the door in my face. It was humiliating. And here I was, thinking I was doing something positive and helpful.

I was supposed to canvass the whole area three times during the course of the campaign, but I think I probably only managed one cycle. That was enough for me.

I also worked the telephones at campaign headquarters. One day, our candidate walked in to meet with all of the office workers and volunteers. He made the time to come up and sit by my desk, chit chat a little, and thank me for volunteering. I immediately liked him and was suddenly filled with that sense of purpose I’d been seeking. Our little chat was the best thing about the whole campaign for me.

Years later, that candidate became the Premier of B.C.

There are many good people out there who truly want to make a difference in their community, province or country. They work hard and they put in long hours, often against all odds, to effect change. They are the ones who are passionate about their work, who try to reach across the aisle and find compromise. They’re the ones who will sit down at the desk of a lowly campaign worker and sincerely thank them for their efforts.

But as sincere and as passionate as these people might be, even if they succeed at getting something done, sometimes they just can’t win. Somebody’s always going to be seething.

Maybe we should consider being a little kinder to them. We can certainly disagree, but don’t make it personal.

Oh, I know there are the bad apples too: those with a sense of entitlement who care more about themselves and their rise to the top than they do their constituents. But that will always be true, in any career.

What I really hope for is that there will be enough younger people interested in fulfilling those important rolls in the future, because we really do need them. Experience is one thing. A fresh, new outlook is another. And hopefully, they’ll have a thicker skin than I did when they go out on their first round of canvassing.

The only constituents I have to deal with these days are the members of my household. We disagree on a lot of things sometimes, but when it comes to Sunday dinner, this is an autocracy. I hold all the power.