Upcycling is the process of turning materials from the wastestream into new materials of higher environmental value.
Upcycle Yourself is a similar concept on a human scale, turning from agents of pollution into agents of environmental change.

May 25, 2010

We reached the outskirts of Toronto yesterday. It's a strange phenomenon when country meets city. Until this point, we had been riding through eastern Ontario, where meadows and forests were contrasted with clearcut farmland. Now that we're approaching more populated areas, clearcut farmland is contrasted against new subdivisions. In one vantage point, there is a farmers' field, a golf course, and a row of cookie-cutter houses. It's the first time since leaving Ottawa that we saw industrial parks followed by rows of commercial franchises: the McDonald's, the car dealerships, the donut shops. I wanted to take pictures of this bastardization of land and culture. But, the photos would simply show what we see every time we're on the outskirts of a large city.

This has reminded me why I don't want to live in southwestern Ontario. Even if we find a small tranquil town, it will likely be overtaken by new land developments within my lifetime. There is nothing glorious in clearcutting habitats. As a culture, we keep increasing our vision of what constitutes an appropriate size of house. We need to downsize. Generations of people before us got by with far less indoor living space. The tiny houses movement, the intentional communities movement, discovering the joys of living with roommates, the acceptance of voluntary simplicity in our own lives... these offer an opportunity to have comfortable living spaces while also putting land aside for natural spaces and habitat renewal. It's all a matter of changing our expectations, of gearing our mindset toward finding fulfillment in an ecological future.

Eastern Ontario has much more to offer in terms of natural beauty. It's true that these areas of glorious lakes and forests have been designated as tourist destinations, though at the very least they retain much of their original ecological structure.

When deciding where to live in life, I will likely find my place by bicycle. Where the cars are infrequent and the drivers are polite, where the trees line the path providing shade and comfort, where you can freely pee at the side of the road, where you can stop at a farmhouse and ask a friendly stranger if you can fill up your water bottle, where someone thought to designate bikepaths so you can ride in a carefree way lost in daydreams... that's where I want to live.


May 12, 2010

I was dreading today. On our third day of cycling, we were scheduled to do 70km with a fully loaded bike. People told me that it's not as bad as it sounds. They were right. With well-pumped tires and sunny cool weather along quiet country highways, it's a blast. Despite certain body parts being a little sore (like my shoulders), all went very well. Last night I was up until midnight helping (or attempting to help) a fellow teammate fix a bikerack, and I've been promised a shoulder massage in return, so it's shaping up to be quite a good day. Once again, worry proves to be a fairly useless emotion.

18 wheel transport trucks, another common worry on cycling trips, are a somewhat misundertood phenomenon. I will probably feel differently about this if I have any close run-ins with these gargantuan vehicles, but for the moment I've befriended them. Any time I am taking a break by the side of the road and look at the oncoming traffic racing towards me, the transport trucks fill me with fear. When I'm on the road, riding alongside them, it's like a rollercoaster when they pass. There is a whoosh of noise, and they pull you forward in a vortex of wind. There is an exhilirating thankfulness of "Wow, I'm alive!" as they barrel off into the distance.

We've left Manotick and rode into Perth today. The countryside is beautiful compared to the city, though it's still evident that the human race has been dismantling and taming nature even in more "natural" settings. We didn't see any forests. We caught occasional glimpses of wetlands and rivers, and illusions of forests in the distance that proved to be shallow lines of trees. The remaining trees of what once were forests are now simply windbreaks for farmland. I understand the need to feed ourselves, though having a system of food aquisition that is based on clearcutting, tillage, fossil-fuel powered tractors, and long-distance transport is simply destroying the habitats that took millions of years to develop and find equilibrium. No wonder people drive north to build cottages in the forests, yet another industry that is threatening natural environments.

I look forward to planting my own forest garden one day. Forest gardens, otherwise called food forests, is a type of reforestation that is focused on edible perennials. Imagine a canopy of fruit and nut trees, with grape vines climbing, a black current bush, mushrooms on fallen logs, and a groundcover of strawberries and horseradish. This is a way we can reforest, create habitats and food for wildlife, sequester carbon, create enjoyable places to unwind, all the while providing ourselves with food. Planting a forest garden now also provides a positive element to a retirement plan. Rather than investing our money in questionable stocks, we can begin to plant trees that will provide us with a plenty of nourishment in our old age... food security as an ecological pension plan.

I saw an interesting sight while riding. Someone was removing dandylions one by one from a large property. He was almost finished, and there was evidence all over the manicured lawn that he had de-lioned the whole half acre. Presumably he was being paid by the landowner, or perhaps he himself was the landowner and was determined to get every last one. The house next door hadn't mowed their lawn once since spring arrived. It had a beautiful variety of shin-high grasses, and was aglow in yellow flowers. I don't know if I'm misreading the situation, but I'm guessing that the de-lioning landowner was perhaps making a passive-aggressive statement to their neighbours, that not only are dandylions not welcome on his land, but not welcome in their neighborhood in general. I passed dozens of houses in the countryside that had lawns that made a statement of wealth... entire acres of short green grass, mowed by riding lawnmowers that spew greenhouse gases. I wonder how we will change this outdated mentality, and create a new paradigm based on habitat renewal and sustainability. Guess we need to start with the kids. And the teenagers. And the adults. And the politicians. And our neighbours. And ourselves (thanks to Olivier for reminding me to start with myself :)

With the mobile community of cyclists, I've recently started doing theatre in schools about sustainable living. The children have had wonderful suggestions about how to help the environment. I'm pleased to see that even amongst 5 year olds there is an awareness of positive efforts we can take.



Je m'excuse pour le manque de francais, les francophones! Je trouve plus facilement mes mots dans ma langue maternelle... mais heureusement, nous avons un francophone avec notre groupe, donc au moins je pratique la langue orale! :)

May 9, 2010

J'ai passe la derniere semaine avec un groupe des jeunes canadiens inspirante... les environmentalists avec plein de talent et joie de vivre. Nous sommes un groupe de 19 personnes en totale... on a reste sur un ferme pas loin d'Ottawa pendant un semaine pour notre formation. We've been praticing a play together which we'll be performing for high schools across Ontario, about the way in which individuals can make a difference in the world. Since we'll be traveling by bicycle, we aren't able to bring any props with us, so the theatre piece is done entirely with human props. I've been cast as a lamp, a turbomatic-smoothinator, a bird, and the back half of a car. Yahoo! Our first performance is in Ottawa this afternoon.

Life is going well (perhaps because I haven't had to ride a bike much during the past week). I'm becoming reacquainted with nature, sleeping and waking with the sun. The sheer number of spiders on my tent and in my shoes led me to the conclusion that my tent was on a spider's nest. After moving it to another location and still finding a plethora of jumping spiders each time I reached my tent, I realized that spiders are simply a part of southern Ontario's natural landscape. Guess I never saw it before in the cities.

Highlight of the week: one of the other Otesha members dreamt that I was her permaculture spirit guide. I showed up in her dream, dressed in a tacky ghost costume, and showed her the way toward permaculture. Fantastic.

Second highlight of the week: I've been trying for a few months to translate "decroissance conviviale" into English. Basically, "decroissance" (ungrowth) is a word that represents the alternatives to our society's growth model of progess... "decroissance conviviale" represents a convivial acceptance that society will begin to change in the coming decades, and the embracing of the new lifestyle that will come about in a post-carbon era. It's like voluntary simplicity, though extending it from a personal framework to a larger social framework. I've been struggling with an appropriate term in English, as "convivial ungrowth" just doesn't quite cut it. I had previously come up with "Embrace the great slowdown", which I'm fairly happy with as a translation, though I wondered if I could find a way to shorten it. We had two lovely folk come to talk to us this week about permaculture and humanure. During the presentation, when talking about the transition that our society will face, the woman used the words "compassionate descent". I think this could be a decent translation to get the idea across to the English-speaking world in two words :) I was thrilled to find it. If anyone else has ideas for a translation, let me know :)

I just spent six days outdoors... I don't think I've ever done that in my life. For six days straight, I was either outside, in a tent, in an outhouse, or in an open drafty barn, during rainstorms and coldsnaps, without a warm location for relief. I filled stainless steel waterbottles with hot water and put them under my sweater as a miniature space heater. I had the luxury of spending last night in an apartment. It made me appreciate the comforts that we take for granted... like doors and insulation.

Quote of the week, from another Otesha member: "No complaining when you're saving the world." It's meant as a joke, but it does help keep us centered on the over-arching aims of what we're doing when the hail is falling.


May 2, 2010

Life lesson #1: This is useful to know if you're traveling by bus with a bike. With Greyhound, in addition to charging you $30 for transporting your bike, they charge you $10 for a box. Pretty expensive box. If you think you're being clever (like I thought I was) by going to a bike shop and getting a *free* box, you're kidding yourself. Boxes from bike shops are small, and require that you remove your pedals, wheel, handlebars, and fenders. Then, it's too heavy to carry, so it costs $12 to get it to the bus station. And then, when you get to your destination (still thinking that you're clever for getting a free box) when you see someone who spent $10 on an official greyhound box, you realize that the box is twice as big, they only needed to take the front wheel off to fit it in, and, compared to you, they can put their bike back together with half the tools in a quarter of the time. `Nuff said. Buy the greyhound box.

Life lesson #2: Quand tu organises un répas communautaire avec une groupe des gens, n'oublies jamais, jamais à mentionner que tu es végétalienne.

A note with more hindsight: Several weeks later, I renege the sentiments expressed in this post about bicycle boxes (partially, anyway :) Taking my bike into pieces and putting it back together again helped me gain a basic grounding in the way my bike functions... which helped me fix the bike a week later when I dropped it and off-centered the handlebars. Get a small bike box... once at least... as long as you have someone who can help you on both ends and as long as you approach the task with patience.

May 1, 2010

On y va

Je quitte demain matin pour Ottawa, sur un autobus, mon velo dans un boite. Je me retrouve sans dictionnaire et entoure par les claviers anglophones, donc je m'excuse en avance pour tous les erreurs.

I've been preparing for this trip for the last few weeks. The most challenging aspect so far is the amount of consumption... the general aim of the trip is to inform people about a more ecological way of living, though doing this bike trip does involve acquiring a number of items (tent, sleeping bag, bike bell and lights, panniers, etc). J'ai trouve a peu pres un motie usage, mais l'autre motie j'avais besoin a acheter nouveau. So life goes... at least I have a well-equipped alternative to a car now, and should be able to be relatively self-sufficient while being self-propelled.

Voici notre intineraire pour le voyage. Je vais passer quelques jours proche de ma famille et mes amis au debut juin. Yahoo :)

Location Date
Ottawa - Monday May 3 to Monday May 10
Blackburn Hamlet - Tuesday May 11
Manotick - Wednesday May 12
Perth - Thursday May 13 to Friday May 14
Westport - Saturday May 15 to Sunday May 16
Hartington - Monday May 17
Madoc Tuesday May 18
Cambelford Wednesday May 19
Peterborough Thursday May 20 to Friday May 21
Lindsay Saturday May 22
Prince Albert Sunday May 23
Newmarket Monday May 24 to Tuesday May 25
Orangeville Wednesday May 26
Hilsburg Thursday May 27
Guelph Friday May 28 to Saturday May 29
Beamsville Sunday May 30 to Tuesday June 1
Hamilton Wednesday June 2 to Thursday June 3
Oakville Friday June 4
Mississauga Saturday June 5
Toronto Sunday June 6 to Wednesday June 9
Markham Thursday June 10
Oshawa Friday June 11
Coburg Saturday June 12
Trenton Sunday June 13
Kingston Monday June 14 to Tuesday June 15
Howe Island Wednesday June 16 to Thursday June 17
Charleston P Friday June 18
North Augusta Saturday June 19
Russel Sunday June 20
Alfred Monday June 21
Rockland Tuesday June 22,
Ottawa Wednesday June 23 to Friday June 25

Pendant le voyage, je vais avoir l'access a l'internet de temps en temps, mais pas souvent... with our Otesha bike tour, there is also a group blog that you can take a look at to find out more about our progress: http://www.otesha.ca/bike+tours/2010+tours/ferocious+farm/notes+from+the+road.en.html