Mittens in the Snow 2018

Once again the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) hit a home run .. with a snowball in a snowstorm! It was hard to miss the invitation this year:

But if you did miss it, just stick a Mitten on your 2019 calendar and get ready for next February!

This is only one of the Outdoor Education workshops the SCDSB has staged  for its teachers since the initiative began in 2014. Under the guidance of Superintendent Paula Murphy and program leaders Sandy Clee and Julie Fisher, an incredible team of staff and volunteers including Becky, Cathern, Crystal, Jessica, and Marsha put together a full day event three times a year. Teachers losing hope for the future of outdoor education Professional Development opportunities in Ontario, take heart – it is alive and well in Simcoe County.

Picture over a hundred educators enthusiastically and voluntarily coming together on a Saturday in the fall, winter, and spring to learn how to engage their students in that natural world outside of those four classroom walls. The events are appropriately named Hands in the Dirt, Mittens in the Snow, and Singing in the Rain.

Over the years, the conference has taken place at different venues, including the grounds of the Board Office. But a partnership with the Beausoleil First Nation, the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA) and the Ministry of Natural Resources has given them access to Springwater Provincial Park and the Tiffin Centre for Conservation. Mittens was held at Tiffin this year and it was magical.

Besides the hundred plus educators from various Boards who attended, there were also dignitaries from the Ministry of Education and the Simcoe Board who dropped by to visit, including Director Steve Blake. And for those of us used to the local trustee stopping by for a quick handshake, the Chair of the Board, Trustee Peter Beacock spent the entire day with his teachers.

Talented facilitators like the unsinkable Bonnie Anderson who started us off with a rousing rendition of the song “Hibernation” (with full apologies to the original lyrics from “Alouette”). The highly skilled NVCA staff like Grant Wilson and his incredible quinzee (now of Twitter fame), and Maegan McConnell, who introduced us to the Tiffin porcupines, made the day all the more memorable.

With workshops on everything from winter survival shelter construction to bird feeder building, to kick-sledding, to snowshoeing, to math and science and geography and natural history and the just plain joy of being outdoors, Mittens has it all. Not to mention literacy as author Jacob Rotenburg introduced the award winning book he co-authored with naturalist Drew Monkman called, “The Big Book of Nature Activities”

And then there was that outrageous moment at l;unch when Grant Wilson and I were trying to identify the age and sex of a porcupine by its scat, and Bonnie came by and ate the “scat”  much to the shock of the packed lunchroom. More on that at the next conference.

See you in the spring when we’ll be “Singing in the Rain”, and where I’ll be doing a workshop on “scat” identification, and sharing some trade secrets …

;>) Yours outdoors,




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YENYR and the Ecohacks

NO, this is NOT an Icelandic alternative rock group! YENRY is the acronym for the Youth Environmental Network of York Region, and Ecohacks was their most recent conference held at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University.

I had the honour to be asked to be their keynote speaker, but best of all, to tour the classrooms where the Ecohackers were hard at work prior to the keynote. The participants were all highly intelligent young high school students taking on the challenge of designing apps that would help our black mirror society become more environmentally literate.

Here are just a few examples: an app on your phone so you could take a picture of a product and it would give you its entire ecological footprint. Or another that could analyze the air quality of your specific GPS location and produce a time lapse video of your air quality history. Or another that let you know how far your produce had to travel to your store so you could make better “shop local” choices. Or, how about one that would alert you if you left an appliance on – like the proverbial halfway to Florida, “Dear, did you unplug the iron?” Yes, no more turning the car around thanks to Ecohacks!

Of course, being a bit of a rabble rouser, I would walk into each pod of hard working, app designing students and ask, “So, is this the room where you’re designing the dating app?”  It always got a laugh, until one group looked up and said, “That’s a good idea!”

“No, no,” I tried to explain, “I was joking.”

“Yes, yes,” they replied, “Still, a good idea!”

Their idea was to put together an app that would identify all the members of SEN in the GTA – if you wanted to get together for a brainstorming session to make the world more sustainable, you just had to go to the SEN “dating app” and find a group of like-minded, intelligent, respectful students near you and invite them over. Parents would love it!

“Hey, those SEN kids are coming over tonight. Again.”

“That’s fine, dear, Maybe we can go out to the movies then. You know those kids take such good care of the house when we’re away. I wonder if they’ll design an app for my next recipe ingredients – I do want to make sure they are sustainable and ecologically wise.”

So, from a joke about a dating app for environmentally literate students getting together to an app about sustainable development, we’ve come a long way baby. Gro Harlem Brundtland would be proud.

“The children of today are wiser than the children of light,” as my wise old Dad used to say about any gem that I verbalized, I never knew who the “children of light were, but I think I met some of them today at SENYR Ecohacks.

Now, I just need an app to help me find my glasses .. and my keys! “Honey, where are my … ? However, the app that won the day was “Littervision” winning The People’s Choice and Best Hack Award. They had the program that allowed users to take pictures of trash and identify the materials. Also, “Locomotion” won “Best Pitch” – they created the website that allowed people to easily buy local foods.

And all this from the mouths of babes, albeit very bright, very engaged babes The wisdom of the Elders is not a chronological reference point. And although I was their “Elder” keynote speaker, they had to guide me in and out of the building. A senior’s moment, and I trusted their guidance absolutely.

Our future will be safe in their hands if we just let them guide us there.


Skid Crease, Caledon


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Why I Love My Wife

I am blessed with being married to an exceptional woman. Not only does she put up with my eccentricities in the normal ebb and flow realities of Men are From Mars and Women are From Venus, she also happens to be a really fine Principal running a wonderful public elementary school. I have very high standards of excellence in education and I can tell you quite honestly that I would be honoured to work for this particular Principal 24/7. Not only is she the epitome of a lifelong learner, a consummate professional, and a mindful arbitrator, she has a sense of humour.

Here is a classic example. As she was getting ready to leave for work at 6:30 am, she asked, “Can I borrow your Dad’s old coat?” She knew this coat was special – my Dad had left it to me to use in my outdoor education storytelling. It was a knee length deep brown Orlon fake-fur jacket that looked just like sheared beaver. When I wore it, I felt like a 17th century coureur de bois. “Sure,” I said, “Special  dress-up day?”

“I have to be a bear,” she replied as she kissed me goodbye. “Oh,” I said to the closing door. I got the full story that evening.

It turns out that one of the kindergarten classes doing an Inquiry Learning Project on habitats had built a cave in their classroom. Not only a cave, but a pond complete with frogs and fish, and Canada geese flying in a ecosystem that only primary imaginations could create. The children had just gone out for recess. My wife, the Principal, put on my Dad’s coat, tiptoed into the classroom, and curled up in the cave.

The children came back from recess. It took a few minutes, but finally one of the children whispered, “There’s something sleeping in our cave!” They gathered around. One of the braver children gingerly poked the sleeping creature. “I think it’s a bear.” The bear got another poke. This time the bear stirred and growled a little. “Maybe it’s hungry. Give it a fish!” So one of the fish from the pond was placed in the cave with the bear. The bear must have smelled the fish because it rolled over and opened its eyes.

“Principal!,” the children yelled, “We thought you were a bear!”

“Oh my, no,” said the Principal, “it was cold out on yard duty and and your cave is so nice and warm that I came inside and I suppose I fell asleep.” The Principal bear stretched and yawned and lumbered back to her office. The children put the fish back in the pond … you just never know when another hungry bear might show up

Now keep in mind that in previous incarnations this particular Principal has been a Doctor, a WWF Champion, and a Pirate to mention only a few. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be a child in a school where imagination and inquiry learning are nurtured and your administrator can not only run the ship, she can inspire the crew and the passengers to love the journey.

As soon as she told me that story tonight, I had to come and write it down to share with you. The world is full of so much bad news right now that this story made me reflect on all the good. Thank you Principal Bear.

Yes there are people out there who threaten the sanity of our social fabric; but there are far more  great people out there working their hearts out for the children and the adults in our communities. So, why do I love my wife? Because she is a constant reminder of all that is good and intelligent and caring in this world.

Thank you.


Skid Crease, Caledon


*stock image from media.gettyimages

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A Council Divided

 Original shorter version written for Just Sayin’ Caledon


“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln spoke those words in 1858 at the Illinois State Capital in Springfield after he had accepted the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination as the state’s U.S. Senator. Those words ring just as true today, and they apply as equally to governments great and small as they do to citizen movements, and to family clans, and to canoe trips.

 Picture a canot du maître in historic times with nine paddlers heading down the swollen Humber River, most of whom are paddling hard in one direction, a few  paddling in another, and one perennial lily-dipper on board. Not only is the forward progress slowed but the course becomes an erratic zig-zag despite the best efforts of the avant standing in the bow and the ­gouvernail in the stern, both trying to steer a true course.

Their route and the goods in their trade canoe have been selected by a talented team of mapmakers, clerks, accountants, and artisans, each a professional in their own right, and highly valued by the Company. They want to get those goods to markets quickly and efficiently.

Ask yourselves how successful those fur trade entrepreneurs would have been if those trade goods had not reached their outposts in the northwest of Canada or the trading posts on the Bay, or if the returning bales of beaver pelts had not reached the chapeau fashionistas of Europe. Which is why you need all the paddlers to be sharing the same vision – a successful journey for their employers, a journey most successful when all the paddlers are pulling in the same direction.

Now, apply this analogy to our Caledon Municipal Council where one of the members recently remarked that they were “very divided.” The paddlers are our Mayor, Area Councillors and Regional Councillors, the avant, the bow steering paddler, is our Town Clerk and the gouvernail, the stern steering paddler, is our CEO. The team backing them are our Town Staff, and the employer is the taxpayer, a minority of whom get off their couches to vote every four years. An even smaller minority of whom bitch and complain about every paddle stroke taken and every decision that the team makes.

Some of the “paddlers” are beginning to signal their intentions to return for another voyage. Others are getting ready to move on to other ventures. And the selection of the nine newly hired voyageurs will be decided by the good townsfolk. However, their decision this season must be to select a very competent crew for a four-year journey into the unknown.

On this voyage the canoe will travel into the uncharted waters of the 2018 to 2022 years, years of sweeping technological innovations, complex population growth, and social diversity challenges.  It will be as challenging as it was for our First Peoples when the European farmers arrived in Caledon in the early 1800’s.

As challenging as when their fur trade rivers were harnessed by grist mills and saw mills. As challenging as when their forests teeming with country foods were razed for farms. As challenging as when their spirituality and culture were almost destroyed by missionary zeal, colonial arrogance, smallpox, and broken treaties. And as challenging for us now as we face nuclear button insults, waves of environmental refugees, and the unpredictability of accelerating climate change.

Given the scope of those challenges, the new crew of paddlers must have the qualities of endurance and strength of character. They must have a skill set that will help them guide our canoe through turbulent waters as we draw our own map into the future. They must possess the qualities of an adaptive mind: curiosity, creativity, initiative, multi-discipline thinking, and empathy. These are the skills that will take them beyond being simply paddling machines in a canoe. These are the skills that make them, and us, truly human.

Hindsight gives us the wisdom of seeing what we should have done a little differently too late. Like, “Well, in hindsight, maybe we shouldn’t have built our downtown core in a river valley floodplain.” As 500-year storm insurance guidelines rewrite our town plans, we begin to realize the 10,000-year wisdom of the elders who built their villages on the high ground. Wisdom and foresight. Something we need to use in selecting our next paddlers.

We have seen the patterns in the paddling styles of our current crew. We need to take a very careful look at those who are signing on again because we can’t afford any lily-dippers or divisive contrarians who might sabotage the venture. Great people make a great team. It’s going to be a long and challenging journey – let’s pick the paddlers who will take us through safely.

A Council divided may fall, but a canoe united will carry our Town on a phenomenal journey into the future.




Skid Crease, Caledon



* images from Heritage Canada




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2018, the UN International Year of … Our Choice

Written for the King Sentinel. Thursday, January 11th edition


For the first time in recent history, the United Nations has not made a specific designation for the year 2018.  In fact, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement calling for global unity to overcome growing challenges:

“On New Year’s Day 2018 I am not issuing an appeal, I am issuing an alert – a red alert for our world. As we begin 2018, I call for unity. We can settle conflicts, overcome hatred and defend shared values. But we can only do that together.”

While the UN has already gone ahead and declared 2019 to be the International Year of Indigenous Languages, for which we say, Miigwech, it appears that the designation for 2018 is left up to us. To those who seize the initiative go the spoils, so let us step up and declare 2018 to be the International Year of Environmental Literacy.

Readers should be reminded that we previously defined “environment” as being “everything that surrounds us, everything with which we interact, everything that we are – in short, everything.” Environmental literacy, therefore, is our ability to move through the stages of awareness, knowledge, and critical thinking about “everything” to wisely put our values into action. This becomes particularly challenging in an era of “truthful hyperbole”, “fake news”, and a global leadership that boasts, “My nuclear button is bigger than your nuclear button!”  Challenging, but even more necessary than ever.

Our 2018 is a world of extremes where one part of our home planet is experiencing Arctic weather bombs, hurricane force winds and historic flooding, while another part is experiencing heat waves and drought. One part of our world is giving the richest corporations historic tax breaks while another part has left 5 million people in urgent need with a hundred thousand on the edge of starvation. While the global population growth is predicted to slow as fertility rates drop, we are at the same time predicting close to 50,000 new births in Rohingya Muslim refugee camps – that’s the population of King Township and Bolton combined – refugee camps rife with cholera and dysentery.

It is hard for us to comprehend the realities of accelerating global climate change and a steadily warming planet when we are shoveling snow. To put that into perspective, my wife and dog and I went hiking yesterday in the Happy Valley Nature Reserve where the wind chill temperature dropped to under -25ºC while the temperatures in Sydney Australia soared to over 45ºC. A temperature differential of 70ºC makes it even difficult to comprehend the realities of daily weather.

It is difficult for us to understand the cries for water, food and safety from those who have none when we are putting out our excess once a week in garbage bins, blue boxes and municipal composters. It is mind-boggling for those of us who believe in a just society to witness the rise in xenophobia and populist misogynistic nationalism in democratically elected governments.

The only cure for a world suffering from these extremes is for those who espouse positive, inclusive values to stand up and be counted, to speak up for those whose voice has been devalued, to offer solace to those who have none. Equally important is for us to use our democratic rights, while we still have them, to elect literate well-informed, respectful candidates to public office so that they make intelligent decisions on our behalf. And that requires us to be literate and well-informed citizens.

Our children tell us that they want to be the change, a change for the better. They remind us that we should be able to tell them that everything is going to be OK, that we are taking good care of them and their world, and that whether they live in King or Caledon or Syria their future will be bright.

But our children aren’t stupid. As young environmentalist Severn Suzuki reminded us at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro 25 years ago: “My dad always says, ‘You are what you do, not what you say.’ Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown-ups say you love us. But I challenge you, please, make your actions reflect your words.”

Perhaps then there is only one resolution to make for this New Year of 2018.

To finally accept that challenge, and to be the best we say we can be. Perhaps it is not so much a resolution, but a revolution and an evolution to environmental literacy. To a higher ground from where we begin to comprehend the incredible interconnectedness of our planet and the consequences of our actions. Considering the recent red alert from the United Nations Secretary-General and the remembered plea of a child, it is clear that the time has come for people of goodwill to defend their world together.

As the old biblical adage reminds us: As we sow, so shall we reap.  Here’s hoping the 2018 harvest is a good one.


Skid Crease, Caledon


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