Archive | March 2010

Author Harry Thurston – On Sand and Sea

Harry and Cathy Thurston

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing author Harry Thurston, who has had a long career as an environmental writer and as a poet, contributing to such well know publications as Equinox, Audubon and Harrowsmith.  He recently completed ‘The Atlantic – A Natural History’ which should be out later this year.  He and his wife Cathy, who hail from Nova Scotia, are staying at the Haig-Brown House until the end of March this year (2010) as part of the  Writer In Residence program, organized through the Campbell River Museum.  As Writer in Residence, he has been busy mentoring other writers and speaking at events like the Words on the Water Festival. 

Thurston feels quite at home in the Haig-Brown House and is well acquainted with the writings of Roderick Haig-Brown, Campbell River’s famous author, who wrote extensively on conservationism and who was strongly influenced by his natural surroundings and by living next to the Campbell River.  Thurston feels that Haig-Brown was “ahead of his time, and underappreciated”, discussing environmental theories that were 30 years ahead of any ‘environmental movement’. 

Thurston is a writer who has also been strongly influenced by his surroundings, having grown up on a saltwater farm on the east coast, and from a young age observed the link between progress and the devastation of his beloved fishing spot near his childhood home.  Currently, he and his wife live by a river near the community of Tidnish Bridge, which is on the isthmus connecting Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.  Although geographically the locale of their home and that of the Haig-Brown House differ (their area being flat, and the Tidnish River is more placid than the Campbell River) yet Campbell River is reminiscent of home – the nearness of the ocean, the same issues facing the environment linked to ”forestry and the protection of the forest” and fishing. 

Thurston has travelled extensively throughout his career, living in different parts of Canada like Guelph, Ontario where his wife Cathy completed her masters degree in Child Psychology.  With their divergent careers, (Cathy Thurston was the Regional Director for Mental Health in Nova Scotia) she wasn’t always able to travel with her husband, but now that Cathy is retired, this opportunity in Campbell River has allowed them the  spend time in another community together. 

“One of the most remarkable places I ever spent time in” says Thurston, was close to home, on an island called Sable Island, located 300km south of Halifax.  Sable Island is about 40km long and roughly 2.5 km wide (and takes its name from the French word for sand).  It is known for the numerous ship wrecks that are buried in the sand there, that appear and disappear with the shifting of the sands, and for its population of about 400 wild horses, commonly known as Sable Island ponies.  Thurston says that although they are referred to as ponies, many are quite large.  He was there on assignment with Audubon to do a story about a Tern colony, (Thurston has a background in biology) but ended up writing what he refers to as “an impressionist piece”. 

This would come as no surprise to those who know Thurston has a prose writer, which he refers to as a second career apart from his journalistic career.  He began writing prose in university, when he was studying biology, and at one time he both published and edited a poetry journal.  In fact, while at the Haig-Brown House he held a well received workshop on prose writing.  His latest prose project, that he has been working on while at the House, is entitled ‘Lost River’, which consists of a group of fictional stories dealing with fishing and our relationship to the natural world. 

Perhaps a time when the two writing careers converged was during his sojourn in the Sahara desert, when he stayed at an intriguing oasis called Dakleh, that had been continuously occupied by human beings for over 400,000 years.  Although he went there initially in the late ‘80’s a to write a feature article for Equinox he “realized then, that this is a book”.  He returned in 2000 and archaeologists were there conducting a long term study.  While it may have seemed incongruous for a coastal person who normally wrote about the enironment to be writing about an archaeological project in the desert, for Thurston “this is an environmental story – it’s a story about the use of water”. On the Dakleh Oasis Project website, it is stated that “The environment is seen as one of the most important influences on all human activity”. 

Yet the science was not all that intrigued the author. “The desert has a horizon like the ocean with undulating dunes like waves” he explains, and the beauty of the desert was so inspiring, that he “wrote a poem every night.” His wife Cathy was able to join him there for part of the sojourn and was fascinated to find remains of sea life in the form of shells and fossils in the dry sands.  In fact it has been said that the sand surrounding Dakleh predates the history of the Sahara. 

‘Island of the Blessed’ (the title is taken from Herodotus) is the book that was born out of his research there.  “People gravitated to that place” because it is an aquifer (a porous deposit of rock containing water that can be used to supply wells); but today that source “is being tapped aggressively” for the purposes of modern agriculture, and Thurston predicts “it’s possible that its history of occupation is coming to an end”. In ‘Island of the Blessed’, he writes that “An oasis… is also an island, a place with definite borders and finite resources. Survival depends upon wise management of those resources, for there is no way off this island.” 

And in the following poignant analogy, which sounds like pure poetry to me, Thurston concludes: “The oasis is a microcosm for the challenges we face globally. Earth is an island of fertility in outer space.” 

If you would like to hear Harry Thurston in person, he will be speaking at the Heriot Bay Inn on Saturday, March 27, an evening event which will include dinner.  You can call the Inn directly to make a reservation –   250-285-3322 .  If you are unable to hear him in person, the following is a condensed version of the above interview from the Kasha’s Corner Audio Series:  Click Here to Play Interview with H Thurston.


Local Mountaineer Philip Stone – making history happen in Strathcona Park

In July this year, photographer, author and mountaineer Philip Stone of Quadra Island will be leading a group, which will include such notables as Ron Quilter, from the Ministry of the Environment and Andy Smith of BC Parks, into Strathcona Provincial Park to replicate the expedition lead by the Honourable Price Ellison in 1910 and celebrate its centenary (The Strathcona Centennial Expedition). It was due to Ellison’s recommendations that Strathcona was designated a provincial park, the first in British Columbia.

Philip Stone himself has explored Strathcona Park extensively over the past 20 years and has written several books on hiking on Vancouver Island.  (He is currently the owner and editor of the Discovery Islander and WildIsle publications.)

Stone has always been drawn to mountains.  Growing up in Newfoundland, he has wonderful memories of hiking excursions with his father, who introduced him to the outdoors.  When the family moved to England, Stone pursued rock climbing and ice climbing, and took the Outward Bound instructor’s course.  While there, he heard about Strathcona Park Lodge and Outdoor Education Centre on Vancouver Island, and wanting to return to Canada, he went to work there in 1988.

He started out assisting on the rock bluffs and eventually became a full outdoor instructor.  As a natural extension of his work, he spent considerable time in Strathcona Park (approx 10km from the Lodge), honing his mountaineering skills and exploring the many trails the park has to offer.

“I remember clearly my first view into Strathcona Park, from the south col of Mt. Colonel Foster. It was June 1988 and looking south into the park; everything was still cloaked in a blanket of snow.  What struck me right then was what a seemingly endless sea of peaks there were.” (Philip Stone, Island Alpine xii)

Elkhorn Mountain and Strathcona peaks beyond - courtesy Philip Stone

It was at this time that the concept for the Strathcona Centennial Expedition started taking shape.  Stone read the recently published book by local author Wallace Baikie ‘Strathcona – a history of British Columbia’s first provincial park’, and he was immediately intrigued by the park’s history.  Initially he had considered marking the 100th anniversary of the William Bolton expedition of 1894 with his own expedition but didn’t have the resources.  He was aware, however, that the Price Ellison 1910 expedition centenary was in the not too distant future, and the idea of replicating Ellison’s journey was put on the backburner.

A few years later, Stone moved to Quadra Island where he knew other people affiliated with the Lodge like Rob and Laurie Wood of Read Island and Lindsay Elms who wrote about Strathcona Park in ‘Beyond Nootka’.  He says that he “made a conscious decision” to pursue photography, and this eventually lead him to get into the publishing business and buying the local newspaper. In the meantime, he wrote a guidebook to the Crest Crags climbing routes of Strathcona Park.  Beginning in 1998, he also produced a magazine ‘Wild Isle’ that was geared to the growing audience of outdoor enthusiasts and whose contributors were “people from the outdoor community”.  Then by 2003, he completed and had published ‘Island Alpine – A guide to the mountains of Strathcona Park and Vancouver Island’, a book that had taken him 15 years to write.

When asked how he initiated his current project, Stone explained that the first step in making the expedition a reality was to “write to the Premier”, and that “the SPPAC (Strathcona Provincial Park Advisory Committee) and BC Parks have been vital in getting the profile needed to have it recognized as an official reenactment’.”

Now that the wheels have been set in motion, the Expedition is looking for sponsors.  Stone has always had an active interest in preserving the park and through raising awareness of the park with this expedition, hopes to establish a legacy fund.  As he says, “Ecologically speaking, it is incredibly rich and diverse…scenery wise, it is comparable to Banff”.

It was this comparison to Banff that first excited interest in the park, with hopes of making it a popular holiday destination. The Ellison expedition was undertaken at a time when the 19th century attitudes were still prevalent in terms of looking at natural resources as something to exploit.  Although Strathcona Park was viewed as a nature preserve and ‘set apart as a public place and pleasure-ground for the benefit, advantage, and enjoyment of the people of British Columbia’. (Strathcona Park Act March 1, 1911), there were ambitious plans to build a railway into the Buttle Lake area and to construct a resort in the tradition of the Canadian Pacific hotels, like the one at Banff.

An early brochure about the park makes glowing references to its attractions:  ‘There are no venomous snakes, and no wild animals from which danger may be apprehended.  In most localities flies and mosquitoes are nearly absent, and will not interfere with the trout fishing.’

While this idealized version of the park might have eventually attracted the general public, Strathcona never did become the ‘Banff’ of Vancouver Island and despite a mine being built in the park in the 1960’s there has been relatively little development.  Stone hopes that the current expedition will raise awareness of the park and help preserve its natural state.  He will be presenting a talk about the upcoming reenactment at the Campbell River Museum on April 17, and you can find out more on his website:

With Stone in the lead, the Strathcona Centennial Expedition is an event that will be making its own history.

A Holistic Approach to Living with Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a mysterious virus.  Mysterious because many people who have it don’t know that they have it, and people who do know, may not know how they contracted it.  There is no known vaccine that can prevent it, and chances of eradicating it all together  from the body are slim.

Location of the liver

Hep C is an inflammation of the liver.  If it remains unchecked, it can slowly destroy the liver, turning into cirrhosis and eventually cancer of the liver.  People can die from Hepatitis C, but they can also survive with it for many years if they do the right things.  One difficulty with it, is that a person could have contracted it, but not be aware that they have, as the symptoms can take as many as 20 to 30 years to show up.  Contrary to other viruses like AIDS, Hep C is not necessarily transmitted through any body fluids, but usually is contracted through a transfer of blood, either through a blood transfusion, or today most often between those who share needles used in taking street drugs intravenously.  In fact, according to ‘The Immune System Cure’ (Lorna Vanderhaeghe and Dr. Patrick Bouic), there are an estimated 300,000 cases of Hep C in Canada, as a result of tainted blood transfusions prior to 1992.

Hep C is distinguished by a higher than normal level of enzymes in the liver.  Symptoms of Hep C include lack of energy, having a yellowish tinge to the whites of the eyes (jaundice) and pain in the joints.  A blood test will determine if a person has contracted Hep C, and once someone is aware they have this virus, they should be under the care of a liver specialist and have their enzyme levels frequently monitored.  A biopsy may also be required to determine the extent of damage to the liver.

Traditional medicine has come up with a treatment for Hep C – a drug called Interferon sometimes used in combination with Ribviran (both antiviral drugs).  While it can be successful in eradicating the virus in some cases, it doesn’t always work.  In ‘The Immune System Cure’ we are told that only about 35 percent of those treated derive any benefit from the treatment.  As with many drugs, the side effects can be devastating.  Those undertaking the treatment are told that they will not be able to work during the duration of the treatment, and that they should be prepared to feel as if they have a bad flu, and can expect hair loss and nausea.  These physically ill effects are usually accompanied by depression, for which counselling is recommended.  In addition, provincial insurance does not cover the cost of the drugs, which usually amounts to about $2000 per month.

Hepatitis C patients are advised to keep away from alcohol entirely, as it acts upon the damaged liver like gasoline on a fire, and the enzymes multiply and spread.  Traditional medicine also recommends avoiding herbal products. Alternative medicine on the other hand, takes a practical approach on managing the virus without taking drugs, and by improving overall health.  While alcohol definitely should be avoided, certain nutritional supplements are considered to be very beneficial to the liver.  The combination most recommended (and incidientally, these are recommended by local naturopath Dr Ingrid Pincott) is milk thistle (whose active ingredient is Silymarin which stimulates the production of new liver cells), Lipoic acid (a potent antioxidant),  and Selenium which slows down the replication of the virus and its attack on the liver.   According to Dr. Julian Whitaker, a well known practitioner of natural medicine, patients taking the above supplements see a drop in their enzyme levels, they regain energy and can avoid cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure.

As with any illness, a holistic approach is often best, and that includes getting support from friends and family.  As it can only be contracted through the blood, a sufferer with Hep C can have normal sexual relations but should be aware that their partner doesn’t share the same toothbrush or razors.  Friends and family can help by not encouraging the sufferer to ‘have a drink’ because they think a ‘small one’ won’t hurt the person.  It does hurt, and the sufferer should not consume any alcohol at all.

In addition, those suffering with Hep C can help themselves by staying on a good diet free of ‘junk’ food (fried and processed) and instead eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats, preferably organic.  Some natural health practitioners will recommend a liver cleanse as it reduces the number of toxins in the liver and leads to better overall health.  Exercise is important, as well as participating in activities that simply raise the spirits, like laughing…

For a complete story on a holistic approach to living with Hepatitis C, see