a world away

The distance is just 60 km, as the crow flies. We’re talking the distance between Vancouver and Salt Spring Island. But as my students and I experienced this summer, 60 km of ocean can mean a huge difference on many different levels.


Travel studies provide an opportunity to experience a place close up. Allyson Jule of the TWU School of Education commented on her travel studies experience in Cameroon in the Globe and Mail recently:  “The trip was a total hit. The students loved it. And, though I was dreading the loss of my own time and living in close quarters with my students – sharing meals and jet lag and culture shock – these experiences were powerful. Who needs the comforts of electricity or running water when you can walk side by side along a red-dirt African road with young people who are so excited to see the world, haven’t seen much of it yet and desperately want to understand it.”

On Salt Spring Island we are much closer to home. Yet the whole culture of the place – or should I say “counterculture of the place” is different. Much of Salt Spring Island culture is rooted in the 1960s when many came to the island to seek out the alternative lifestyles popularized in the hippy movement of that decade. But do not dismiss what has blossomed from this flower child too lightly. What have emerged are some refreshingly different ways of thinking and refreshingly different ways of doing things.

It is hard for me to explain the island ways without actually taking you there but I can at least mention a few things my students experienced living there for a month during the travel study.

Conservation ecology in bold, green strokes.

We met up with a number of islanders striving to make a difference. Robin Annschild of the Salt Spring Island Conservancy lead us on a hike up Mt. Tuam and explained just a few of the numerous ways the Conservancy is detecting and protecting endangered species like the lichen Usnea intermedia that one of our own students spotted there (just the second time it had been found).


Jean Brouard of Isabella Point Forestry gave us an inside look at the pitched battle being fought against an invading weed first found in Canada on Salt Spring – carpet burweed.


Michael Nickels of Seven Ravens Farm showed us how through many innovative ways of thinking and doing one can be an ecological forester, sustaining the forest and sustaining the bottom line. For example, we saw furniture made from limbs of still living bigleaf maple trees that was to die for.


Acting locally, thinking globally.

Attendance at the Salt Spring Island Saturday market is a course requirement on this travel study. The market exhibits the quintessential essence of Salt Spring Island thinking, with numerous islanders displaying their handicrafts, locally produced food, and their commitment to causes relating to justice and peace, many of which extend well beyond the island.

Likewise when we attended church on the island we met up with islanders committed to the peace that passes all understanding embodied in Jesus Christ. Interestingly we went to the same church building during the week to attend a lecture by ethnobotanist Marilyn Walker who has a home on Salt Spring and who urged us to take a second look at the amazing medicinal properties of many plants, based on her experiences throughout the world, particularly in Siberia. Jesus likewise taught us to “consider the lily…” Indeed, we did consider the chocolate lily as part of my plant ecology course.  It’s an incredible plant, as shown below on our TWU Crow’s Nest Ecological Research Area.

chocolate lily

The art of living artfully.

Often as we drove around this peaceful, bucolic isle we wondered “what do these people do for living?” In this dimension, the 60 km from busy, downtown Vancouver is magnified many times. Most of my students were studying to become scientists or doctors, professions that make considerable demands on one’s time – a far cry from the relaxed pace we saw of island life. These professions also can eclipse the perspective that Jesus was promoting when he said:  And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28-29)

Many Salt Spring islanders do art for a living. There are 33 stops on the Salt Spring Island studio tour, and many other artists or people who do just do art, whether it earns them a living or not. My students took a turn at this too. They fashioned musical instruments first (a home-made fiberglass violin, a can-jo and a gut-bucket bass) and then regaled passers-by at the Saturday market with their impromptu band. One onlooker complemented me on my music students – “no I’m actually teaching them biology” I said…or was I?




Last updated Jul. 16th, 2011 at 10:50pm by David Clements