A new journey

First off … here’s what happened last summer as I cycled 500km across Ontario’s Greenbelt Route. A one-minute summary 🙂

So after a lengthy time away … I’ve found some new inspiration. I’ve retired Sidetracked & Wandering as I’m spending more time working on a collaborative project with my friend Serena draw.post.repeat. At the same time, I’m consolidating what I’ve written and drawn (and continue to do!) while outdoors with stuff that I’m beginning to write about minimalism and random musings or observations.

Between studying and learning new skills for my work — I also spend a lot of time reading about and pondering life in urban environments, the way we choose to live, and the things that influence our decisions. So expect a mishmash of different areas of interest that I am exploring and if you choose to follow along, I hope you enjoy the journey (and pardon the work-in-progress as I build out this new site).

Driving towards a sunrise

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Another response, re: Tree Planting Policies vs. Allergies

I received another email from the City of Toronto, except this one seemed less empathetic to the problems concerning allergies and simply providing me with facts.  Interesting and good to know although I think I prefer better understanding what they are striving towards in terms of accommodating allergy-sufferers in the long-term.

Hello Ehren;

In
response to your question regarding the planting of female and male
trees and the links you have included I provide the following
information:

The urban forest in Toronto is expansive and includes approximately 10.2 million trees, covering an area of approximately 18,000 hectares. Of this area, it should be noted that more than 6,000 hectares is forest canopy within natural areas, primarily of native forest communities, such as oak woodlands.

For natural areas under City management we advocate a diversity of native species which are adapted to the local conditions, as well as a diversity of individuals within each species to promote resiliency. Monoecious and dioecious tree species are reflected in our tree population. Monoecious tree species have both male flowers and female flowers on the same tree. Dioecious tree species have the male and female flowers on separate individuals of the same species.

More than half of Toronto’s trees 54.1% are estimated to originate from natural regeneration. The remainder 45.9% are planted. The following link will take you to our street tree planting brochure.

http://www1.toronto.ca/City%20Of%20Toronto/Parks%20Forestry%20&%20Recreation/03Trees%20and%20Ravines/Files/pdf/S/Street%20Tree%20Brochure.pdf

Achieving
the City’s objective of managing the urban forest in a sustainable
manner involves planting both female and male specimens
of dioecious trees in order to ensure natural regeneration. Increasing
species diversity to improve overall forest health and reduce
vulnerability to pests and disease and planting tree species that are
native to the Toronto area, is also an objective towards
a healthy sustainable urban forest.

Approximately
60% of land in the City is privately owned and we have no control over
the tree planting activities on private lands.
Residual pollen from private trees and its associated health issues are
beyond our control.

The
City of Toronto is also committed to improving air quality and
recognizes the role that trees play in achieving this objective
by providing a constant source of oxygen and filtering harmful
pollutants from the air we breathe. The direct benefits derived from a
healthy urban forest include air pollution uptake, reduction of the
urban heat island effect and provision of protective shade,
climate change mitigation, reduction in storm water runoff, conserving
energy use, habitat provision and enriching local biodiversity.

re:  Tree Planting Policies vs. Allergies

So after my email last week to the City of Toronto, I was happy to get a number of responses back.  Initially just informing me that they were going to provide me with a proper answer … which was nice, and then eventually the actual answer.

I always knew that this would be a complicated issue and I imagine it is still a complicated issue given that cities are dominated by male trees and you have private property and natural areas to consider as well.  Ultimately, there is no real immediate solution but it is fascinating (and terrifying, not to mention painful) to me the impact a simple decision had on people so many years later.

I’m not one to demand immediate action because I don’t want to see trees cut down but I do appreciate that allergy-sufferers are now being considered in tree-planting policy.  Perhaps in the future, we can hope for fewer allergy sufferers and maybe one day someone like me can enjoy spring without shedding so many tears 🙂

I’m part of the City of Toronto’s tree planting
team (to use the non-technical term). The issue of urban trees and
allergies has been on our radar more and more, and we are developing
strategies to accommodate people who have issues with
pollen. To be clear, or goal is to increase the City’s tree canopy by
putting the right tree in the right place, and part of that is
understanding the needs of the City’s residents.

A small amount of background concerning urban tree
planting: In the 1940s it became increasingly common for cities in North
America to plant male trees as they were considered to be less “messy”
in that they produced little or no fruit
or nut debris which could clutter walkways, etc. Growers began focusing
on male tree stock to fulfill this requirement. As a result, over 60
years later, many cities have a tree population which leans heavily on
the male side. More municipalities are now realizing
the allergy-factor in this type of planting. Added to this,
privately-owned trees and those in naturalized areas are a mixed bag.

There are competing views as to how to tackle this
issue, but a popular theory suggests trees with perfect flowers (as
opposed to dioecious and monecious) are better for people with allergies
as the pollen is potentially more isolated within
the flowers and not wind-carried. For example, a Tuliptree (perfect
flowers) has pollen but it mainly stays within the flower unless
transferred by insects, while an Oak (monecious) relies on the wind to
disperse pollen over a wider distance. At the moment
the only tree widely available that does not produce pollen is Red
Maple ‘Autumn Glory,’ which we plant to accommodate homeowner requests
for allergy reduction.

I hope this answers some questions for you on this
large topic, and indicates that the City is trying to be sensitive to
the needs of allergy sufferers while increasing and diversifying
Toronto’s valuable tree canopy.

Tree Planting Policies vs. Allergies

I love trees, but I don’t like allergies.

I’ll state upfront that I don’t know all the facts about trees nor allergies.  I just know that I am an allergy sufferer.  I get allergies year-round but every Spring, it is like going through hell.  It feels like it gets worse over time, even with medication.  This could be due to a number of factors but an interesting city-based policy on tree-planting may have more impact than we might think, and I’m curious.

I live in the city of Toronto, and I decided to write to the department responsible for tree planting and the department responsible for health to see what they have to say.  Here’s my email to them:


To:  parks@toronto.ca, publichealth@toronto.ca

Hi there,

I’m emailing both the
departments responsible for Forestry and Health in the city because I
would like to inquire if and what the plan is around the planting of
trees across the city of Toronto.

As someone who suffers
from year-round allergies, with the changes in climate – I’ve noticed
my allergies and the allergic responses of other allergy sufferers have
gotten worse over time as I’ve lived in Toronto for over 30 years.  Also
something discussed in National Geographic last year:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160408-pollen-climate-change-allergies-spring-seasons/

I’d
like to inquire if the City of Toronto is planting female trees and if
not – will there be consideration to begin the planting of female trees
and changing the policy of only planting male trees?  Given that
according to an article from 2013 in the Hamilton Spectator, male trees
in the City of Toronto represented 96% of the tree population – this is
a both a tree-planting policy and health issue for Torontonians who are
allergy sufferers or have asthma.

http://www.thespec.com/news-story/3883630-call-for-more-female-trees-to-be-planted-in-the-city/

Considering
that the City of Toronto is intending on increasing the number of trees
planted in the city, I think this is a concern that should be taken
into consideration.   As this CBC article points out, whether it is
climate change or not – there is an increasing number of people
experiencing allergies.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/the-four-seasons-of-hay-fever-1.1024941

I
appreciate the work that is being done by all parties to improve the
city, but I am hoping to learn more on what the City of Toronto is doing
(if anything) to address this growing issue.  If someone could please
inform me about what the City of Toronto is doing about this – or
direct me to the right person to speak with about these issues, that’d
be very much appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

~ Ehren

Recovering from a lack of focus

Piece by piece, I began to sell and/or give away my camera equipment.  My Canon 30D and all the lenses that I had acquired over the years, I found myself letting go of.  I had even acquired multiple compact point-and-shoot cameras over the years that I sold or gave away. It felt so freeing.

How I ended up selling all my camera gear

I have to admit, there’s a level of irony involved with my story.

Photography (and what I learned as a result) led me into nature, but nature (and my time spent outdoors) took me on a different path.

That path led me to selling off all my camera gear.

Intrigued?  Here’s my story:

I never really found interest in photography until a family road trip out to western Canada.  At the time, I didn’t have a camera but my sister had this pretty nifty waterproof camera so I made the most of it during that trip.  Learned an appreciation for the beauty of the mountains thanks to the above friendly chipmunk.

My sister's Minolta Vectis GX-4. My sister’s Minolta Vectis GX-4.

The photos I took captivated an audience back home and eventually led me to purchasing my first digital camera.  This eventually led me to what I refer to as the camera rat race.  As I’d discuss with friends the latest of camera equipment, I’d keep purchasing new camera gear (lenses, camera bodies, tripods, etc.) with the thinking that it would help me capture better photographs.  They did, but the money that I probably invested into camera gear brought me nowhere closer to a satisfactory result, and I was lugging around way too much gear.  My backpack was too heavy for me.  I was unhappy and tired.

Options and More Options:

Hiking mountains with so much camera gear really began to provide perspective. Do I want to enjoy the mountains?  Or was I just there to take a photograph to share with people?  The camera would weigh down my neck and back and my backpack containing all my lenses and the tripod would bear down on my shoulders.

Eventually, as I was travelling from place to place that everyone was essentially taking the same photograph (and posting it on Instagram), I found myself reflecting upon what I really wanted out of photography.  Was it recognition?  Was it to share with others what I had the good fortune to see?  Maybe a bit of both?  Did I even care?

Not only was it the weight that mattered but as a result of all the options I had to work with to capture a photograph — all that gear I carried around — I discovered I lost my freedom and creativity.  I essentially was a slave to my camera and its family of gear and I needed to shed all of it.

So I began to pick up sketching again.  I wasn’t any good but it didn’t matter to me — I felt like I was actually focusing on art again — something that was really unique coming from the coordination of my eyes, mind, heart, and hands.

The Cameraletting:

Piece by piece, I began to sell and/or give away my camera equipment.  My Canon 30D and all the lenses that I had acquired over the years, I found myself letting go of.  I had even acquired multiple compact point-and-shoot cameras over the years that I sold or gave away. It felt so freeing.

With some of the money that I earned back from the sale of all that gear — I picked up two cameras (Fuji X100 and Fuji X-Pro1 with a 18-55mm) — focusing on a balance between quality and weight (at the time).  That’s it (Okay fine, I picked up a GoPro since then too).

No extra zoom lenses. No additional camera bodies. No more extra gear.

Life with less:

My choice to limit and establish a constraint for myself has led to a greater satisfaction and appreciation for living in the present moment, rather than thinking about a cool photograph I will be able to share.

I don’t debate with myself anymore about whether I should use one lens or another — I will simply make do with what I have.  With the Fuji X100, there is no zoom to even think about.

I take fewer but better photographs.

I stop thinking about the next great camera that I’ll acquire. No more money getting sucked into the abyss by photography gear.

The most brilliant thing about this is that, I no longer have to worry about my back and the crazy gear that I have to lug around.  I was no longer tired from lugging around such heavy gear.  I worried less about gear being stolen or damaged.

More importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with a form of art that I hadn’t explored since I was young. For me, the fact that I can express myself with just a pen(or some pencil crayons) and piece of paperin order to describe what I saw is precisely what I may have been striving towards.

A watercolour ink sketch in the Grand Tetons from Inspiration Point A watercolour ink sketch in the Grand Tetons from Inspiration Point

Learning to Camp: Part 1

Camping was never something I yearned to do nor — but it is necessary to get outdoors.

So camping is a necessary evil?  Yes and no.

If you’re accustomed to the day-to-day luxuries like running water and electricity, then like myself — you’ll start off finding it quite the struggle.

I have a confession.

Camping was never something I yearned to do nor — but it is necessary to get outdoors.

So camping is a necessary evil?  Yes and no.

If you’re accustomed to the day-to-day luxuries like running water and electricity, then like myself — you’ll start off finding it quite the struggle.

Fear of mosquitoes and other flying insects doesn’t help either.

So what to do?

It’s easy to say, okay fine — only do day hikes and I will simply rent a room or cottage somewhere.

One of my early attempts at camping with an inexpensive Coleman's 6-person tent. One of my early attempts at camping with an inexpensive Coleman’s 6-person tent.

However if you want to go somewhere more remote, you can’t rely on that solution.  So it’s time to push beyond the threshold of your comfort zone:

Start somewhere easy.

1.  Borrow a tent or rent one for a weekend and set it up in your backyard or a friend’s backyard.  Get acquainted with how to set it up.  Sleep in it overnight and get accustomed to how it feels.

2.  Practice, and then move to a more remote location like a local provincial or state park with facilities (i.e. showers, flush toilets, etc.)

3.  Repeat steps 1 or 2 until you feel you are ready — but be prepared for discomfort.

If you can, find a friend or someone who is willing to join you.

What if … you don’t have a tent or access to one?  Local communities, provincial or state parks often run programs to help people learn how to camp.  For those in my home province, Ontario Parks offers their Learn to Camp Overnight Experience

They even have a graduates program for those who have more experience and want more.

I think this will suffice for those who find the thought of camping quite a challenge to overcome — but it is possible and I believe anyone can do it.  Stay tuned for part 2 of Learning to Camp!

Any thoughts or challenges of your own?  I’d love to hear about it.