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nature 2.0


YVR theme park


It’s hard to know just what to make of these artificial rain forest dioramas that have been put in beside YVR’s international arrival and departure gates. The sound of running water is certainly soothing and the humidity sure helps juice up one’s sinuses after a dry flight. But what is *up* with those fake vine maples, sword ferns and salal ? If the intention here was to do ’green’ design, then surely they would have used living plants. Live plants after all, would have helped clean the air by absorbing giga-litres of stressed-out passenger breath and turning it back into sweet, breathable oxygen. And hey, they’re alive!, which would have offered a nice balance to the sterility of the built environment. But BC salal and vine maples wouldn’t have survived long in the season-lessness of central heating and constant artificial light. Tropical plants would have been more suitable. But that would have been ’off message.’ And therein lies the rub. These displays aren’t about green design. They’re about theme park. At YVR, the temperate rain forest is part of a brand identity with which British Columbia gets marketed to international tourists. Never mind that the real forest continues to get logged, flogged and fragmented with many of its dependent species, like the mountain caribou, spotted owl and Vancouver Island marmot, on the fast track to extinction. None of this need trouble us as we enjoy our lattés under the plastic groves of this ecological simulacrum. While the synthetic brook babbles and the last school of rock cod roils inside the art-directed confines of its 100,000 litre aquarium, we can be sure that, at least at the airport, nature will always there for us. YVR: Your Virtual Rainforest.







Well I’m off to Japan for a couple of weeks. But before leaving, in honour of the Japanese tradition of cleaning house on New Year’s, I decided to change the swamp water in the aquarium that currently takes up most of our living room. This is the home of Cousteau, a fifteen-pound Florida softshell turtle, who has lived with us ever since she was a hatchling the size of an Oreo cookie.
“Well, if she gets too big you can always eat her,” was the kindly warning from the Chinese proprietor of the East Vancouver fish store where we bought her, over a dozen years ago. At that time we laughed it off. Now, I’m not so sure.


tank cleaning time


Cousteau is increasingly resembling a small dinosaur and if her growth rate doesn’t slow down she might start taking after her late Cretaceous cousin Archelon whose remains I once photographed at Yale’s Peabody Museum. Even some of Cousteau’s non- extinct relatives are known to reach enormous size. The highly endangered Asian species, Rafetus swinhoei, attains a weight of over 140 kg. There are only six individuals known still to be surviving. An enormous specimen inhabiting Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake is regarded by the Vietnamese as a living god, reappearing from the murk from time to time, during periods of great import to the Vietnamese people. As for Cousteau, she has appeared again from the murk also. Now that her view, for the time being, is once again unobstructed, she is pressing her nose against the glass in the direction of the television whenever we watch the nightly news. While her sad reptilian eyes appear to be taking it all in, I wonder what she is thinking?