Tag Archives: University of Victoria

Dave Turpin’s Tribute

“Everything he was he pulled upwards”

– Lorna Crozier from the Poem ‘How Do You Measure a Life” dedicated to Dave Turpin

Last night, artists, poets, the governor-general, business leaders and scientists honoured Dave Turpin, the affable, dedicated, and out-going (two meanings) president of the University of Victoria.  Social Science Dean Peter Keller told a story about the young biologist Dave who was submitting an academic paper to an average scientific journal.  Dave bumped into a senior Biology colleague who asked him what he was doing.  Dave said, “Oh I’m going over this manuscript to submit to Journal B”  The colleague said, “Why not make it better and submit it to an A Journal?”  Dave did just that.


Dave Turpin

A lesson we all can learn from Dave in his thirteen years of leadership is: Why settle for average when we can achieve excellence?  The University of Victoria has been setting the standard in areas such as indigenous health, climate change, ageing and fostering world class arts.  Under Dave’s presidency, The University of Victoria recently awarded Vandana Shiva an honorary degree.  The University is doing so many things right.  The evening, titled ‘Celebrating Discovery’ had themed candle lights celebrating various discoveries made in a dozen or so fields.  I shared a table with several accomplished and interesting folks, including Ian McDougall trombonist, Kate Moran and John Evans.  Here are the table lights celebrating music, exploration and who-knows-what.  The gentleman to my left, a Computer Scientist didn’t know what it was either….  (Feel free to comment)


At the podium to recite “How Do You Measure a Life”, Lorna Crozier quipped that she felt like Marilyn Monroe.  Suromitra, Dave’s wife humorously put Lorna in her place.  Those two exchanged hugs afterwards so it was all unscripted fun.  Or wasn’t it?  (I jest – it was all fun).  Here is Suromitra after giving a warm and moving speech:


Suromitra Sanitani after giving a moving speech in tribute to Dave Turpin

I got to meet Ian MacPherson, author of ‘Reaching Outward and Upward”  He signed my book which I can’t wait to open with some “calma.”  I like the title, reminding me of my alma mater’s motto, “Onwards and Upwards.”


Me and Ian MacPherson, trying to spell Gurdeep. I should have just said Deepa (fewer letters to misspell)


Pianist and singer Dr Louise Rose received an honorary Doctorate from UVic in 2001.  We had a hilarious conversation.   I told her my name was Deepa.  She said, “That’s a lovely name.  You know, we must embrace the names given to us by our parents.”  Louise told me that she hated her name until someone called her Weezie.  After that she loved her name Louise. Opening a can of worms (why can’t I just bite my tongue), I explained to Weezie that actually, my given name is Gurdeep.  Her eyes went crazy wide.  She told me I should use Gurdeep, not Deepa.  I told her I did use Gurdeep.  But I also use Deepa.  Louise insisted I use Gurdeep since my parents gave me that name.  I laughed and said that Deepa was the name that they actually used when I was a kid.  She left me brandishing an admonition to use my name.  Perhaps this conversation should be a post in and of itself – I’ve condensed it for brevity’s sake.  Anyway, Dr Louise Rose played beautifully.  Here she is singing some blues and swinging with Joey Smith on the Upright bass.


An Italian friend told me once that he’d never gotten anything easily.  Nothing, at least, that was worth having.  In order to get things worth having, we must strive for what we think is impossible.  We must continuously improve upon our efforts, like young Dr Turpin and his Journal submission.  Celebrating discovery last night, I celebrate Dave Turpin for encouraging and striving for excellence.

Go Go Garry Oak – (To weed, To leave, or To seed)

“It is never too late to be what we might have been”

– George Eliot

Trying to begin to understand how to gently turn our garden back in time without sacrificing its mature, elegant plantings has taken patience and sage advice from the wise.  We’re just at the beginning.  And since a garden is alive, this will be a forever-changing labour of love.


Uplands Park.  Oh to meander about native plants and Garry Oak meadow environments

When the Europeans came to Vancouver Island there were these glorious Garry Oak meadows filled with purple-blue camas flowers, native white and speckled tiger lilies, yellow monkey flowers, woodland stars, nodding onions, pink sea blush and dozens of others plants native only to this eco-system, this precious patch of Madre Tierra, this glorious gift of Gaia.  Many of these flowers have a unique pollinator.  To the ignorant, these seemingly unused meadows were just land for the grabbing.  Our area was claimed by the Hudson’s Bay Company and turned into a cattle ranch.  Little did these Europeans care to know that the land was actually tended like gardens by the First Nations.  They would weed and sow the camas, then dig up the bulbs, cook them, eat them and trade them.  So although the land seemed rather uninhabited, it was actually carefully cultivated.  Whenever I step into a Garry Oak meadow, I feel peace and a sense of magic sparkling through the air.  One of my neighbours had burial site on their property.  That doesn’t surprise me; Garry Oak meadows are a place one would want to rest forever.  To re-become the soil in the circle of life.

Garry Oak Trees are living sculptures,  gnarled, twisted, mossy with lichens.   They abound in Victoria but mostly stand in lawns, not meadows any more   I met a lady whose parents had lived down the road.  She said that when they first came to Oak Bay, their backyard was a stunning  meadow of greens, blues and yellows.  Cool!  I said, “Id love to see it.”  Too late, they had long ago installed a lawn, daffodils certainly. Probably a rhodo or two, turning their garden into an English ideal of “garden”.


Some gnarled Garry Oak-ness. Especially when the trees lose their leaves, they are living sculptures

Piece by piece, the Garry Oak Ecosystems declined and now there are less than 10 Percent left.   A pamphlet of Wildflowers of the Garry Oak Ecosystems, states that these ecosystems are among the most endangered areas in Canada.  Learning about its history was crucial to understanding what to encourage in our garden, which has camas and white fawn lilies, licorice ferns and others.  Before understanding this, l had no idea what to weed.  I just knew that the mossy rocks had to be kept free of grass and the dandelions at bay.  Originally I was perplexed with the camas wondering what they were. Before they flowered, I supposed them to be strange blue-bells or weeds and initially took several of them out.  I fell in love with the white fawn lily (the sublimely beautiful flowers at the top of the blog) but wondered why I didn’t see more of them.  Why did most of the neighbours not have them?  Why weren’t they sold in garden stores next to roses and tulips?

Initially, I puzzled at each green shoot that came up through the soil and rocks.  Was I to leave it, weed it or seed it?  Slowly I started to recognize plants and gained some confidence. However, as time went on, I realized just how much of our garden wasn’t native.  Wanting to honour the heritage of this unique part of the world, I started to fret.  If one takes the principle of planting only native plants to the extreme, I would have to cut down beautiful Japanese maples and mature Rhodos, blooming azaleas and so on.  Thus, I was moderately apprehensive when I first sought the advice of Nancy Turner of just how far to go.  Nancy, The Wise Woman of the Seed, distinguished professor at UVic, knows more about BC’s plants than anyone since she assimilates knowledge of elders of different regions.  She gave me such reassuring advice that I giddily  proclaimed her the Godmother of my Garden.  You may wonder what this advice was.  Well, to give it some real weight, on it own separate line…

…Nancy’s advice was: “You don’t have to be a purist”.

I breathed a huge operatic sigh of relief and sang a line of Handel’s Halleluja.  Fast forwarding, the ivy and scotch broom are gone.  The Daffodils (a poisonous plant) are being dug out bulb by bulb.  I’ve started to remove the cotoneaster, desert plants, English laurel.


A couple hours worth of Cotoneaster Removal on the pavement. It grows right into the rocks and takes up space and light I want to reserve for Native Plants of the Garry Oak Ecosystems

It’s quite an enjoyable task to remove a non-native plant one doesn’t love.  But it’s conversely a conundrum for the ones you do like.  Our garden teems with cyclamens that pop up in the fall and violets that are blooming now.  Although both are so pretty, I would rather plant and encourage the chocolate lily, orange honeysuckle and the hairy honeysuckle.  I think the hairy honeysuckle is a plant I need to have if only to say its name over and over and over again.  Nancy told me that I was lucky to have over 20 different species of Mosses and lichens growing on the rocks that I’ve been assiduously weeding the grass out of for the last 3+ years.  I was excited to identify native “field chickweed” 2 weeks ago.  Last year I didn’t know what it was and plucked it from the rocks with a satisfying wrench.    Now, knowing that it has a native pollinator, I would love that buzzing creature to find some nectar in our garden.


Before making an island to seed wildflowers


After making the island of soil to seed wild-flowers

It has been a slow start to change but now I’m pleased to share that I’ve gathered momentum born of understanding some history of the land and a nano-sliver of plant lore.  One might ask, if the garden was already so beautiful, why change it?  Our garden (even with the invasives) breathes, pulsates  delight due to decades of loving care by the previous keepers who bequeathed this glory to us.  When the Europeans settled in Vancouver Island they were trying to re-create their inherited notions of use, purpose and beauty which were tied to another ecosystem.  To their credit, they never imagined this once-wild land would be populated by humans to its current extent.  To them, changing a little piece here and there was harmless.  But, piece by piece, our wilderness and cultivated lands have become all staked out in parcels, the biodiversity replaced with houses and international, common garden plant varieties.  Genetic diversity is the root of our biological existence.  In every instance where people have cultivated too much of one type of any one thing (ie: GMO production, Irish potato famine), devastation occurs.

Biodiversity has been the key to our success as a species.  We rely on diversity as a modus operendus for life.  Our local climate and soils have evolved over thousands of years along with all the 5 main branches of the tree of life, bacteria: lichens, amoebas, plants and animals.  How we must honour and respect that.

Our ideals of gardens must be adapted so that we foster native ecosystems and value their unique diversity.  It’s kind of circular logic but undeniable: What makes our native ecosystem different is what makes it unique, special and indescribably beautiful.

Changing our garden, steering it forwards but also backwards towards its evolved purpose can only benefit each and every one of us.

An Isha Moment at the Dr. Vandana Shiva Lecture Part 2

I dream of fearlessness in the path of injustice.  I feel joy for conquering my fear.

“[How do I do it?] Well, it’s always a mystery, because you don’t know why you get depleted or recharged. But this much I know. I do not allow myself to be overcome by hopelessness, no matter how tough the situation. I believe that if you just do your little bit without thinking of the bigness of what you stand against, if you turn to the enlargement of your own capacities, just that itself creates new potential. And I’ve learned from the Bhagavad-Gita and other teachings of our culture to detach myself from the results of what I do, because those are not in my hands. The context is not in your control, but your commitment is yours to make, and you can make the deepest commitment with a total detachment about where it will take you. You want it to lead to a better world, and you shape your actions and take full responsibility for them, but then you have detachment. And that combination of deep passion and deep detachment allows me to take on the next challenge, because I don’t cripple myself, I don’t tie myself in knots. I function like a free being. I think getting that freedom is a social duty because I think we owe it to each not to burden each other with prescription and demands. I think what we owe each other is a celebration of life and to replace fear and hopelessness with fearlessness and joy.”
― Vandana Shiva

So I’m sitting there at the President’s Distinguished lecture Dr Vandana Shiva’s Lecture at UVIC March 27, 2013 with Isha who’s doing her usual squirming about. Fortunately, there are so many people in this hall that one squirming kid will not disrupt things too much. I hope.  But she does move constantly.  She wants to sit with her father, then next to her great Uncle Godfrey, then moi, then change seats with her sister and each of us in turn, the whole lot of us, including Aunty Megan.  I always marvel at kids who sit down and stay down for 5 minutes.  Isha is not like that.

I can’t say that I was *enjoying* the lecture by Dr Vandana Shiva.  This wasn’t entertainment but a trumpet call to rise.  This amazing woman is an Eco-Prophet, a Gandhi for our time, fighting for the inherent right of the seed. For life.  I’m sitting there overcome with the over two hundred and seventy thousand farmer suicides (they drink Monsanto’s pesticides in a field to die), the enslavement of the farmers, the destruction of our soils through agent orange and DDT, the loss of biodiversity, the misinformation put out by the chemical companies profiting from selling pesticides.  For example the majority of GMOs grown are not grown for human food but for biofuel.  But they wrongly convince the public they are ending world hunger because of our rising population.  So on one hand I’m being completely shaken to the core with an over-riding sense of justice and purpose.  On the other hand, my six year old is physically shaking me for attention.  She will not.  Sit. Still.

After standing ovations and tears and fierce applause  I sigh with relief – I got to hear the talk without having to escort a 6 year-old to the washroom.  We sit back for a Question and Answer session. The hall is packed, sold out and must fit at least a thousand or two thousand or so people. Five different mikes have been set up all over the hall on three different levels.

Esther Mujawayo and Vandana Shiva during the S...


The second question was “Dr Shiva, you are as beautiful as the seeds you preserve – and – Can I have a hug?”  Very graciously, Dr Shiva called the woman down for a public hug to much delight and ‘awws’ and applause.
The photo is a shot of Esther Mujawayo and Vandana Shiva during the Save the World Awards 2009 (Zwentendorf Nuclear Power Plant, Lower Austria). Photo credit: Wikipedia.  This photo is not from this lecture, nor was it taken by me.  Unfortunately, my photos were not clear enough.



At that hug-‘question’,  Isha sat up straight and stopped moving – the kid was moved into

stillness.  Then the Social Science Dean Peter Keller limited questions to ‘questions with a

real question’.  Isha, at that point, turned to me.

“Mamma I want to ask a question!” she stage whispered in my ear.

This demand was not a question, and there was no question about it.

I swallowed really hard.

“You do?”

She bobbed her head up and down.

“Uh-huh.  Come-on mom I want to ask a question,” she tugged on my sleeve.

“In front of all these people?” I whispered back “Are you sure?”

I didn’t want to dissuade harshly but I know what she’s capable of.  This was something to gently discourage.  This is the kid who even last year, would stick her finger in the guts  of men with a large abdomens and ask where the baby is.    (Yes, we have explained for years to her that men can’t bear children.)

She grinned a two-front-teeth-missing-kind-of-grin.

“I want to ask my question now.  Over there at the microphone.”  She pointed to it with her little hand.  In case I hadn’t heard her clearly.

I bit my fist.

(To come: Part 3, in which Isha asks her question)