Remembrance Day 2017

Commemorating Remembrance Day is never complete without a reading of “In Flanders Fields”. The iconic poem was written by Major John McCrae in 1915 after the death of a friend during the battle of Ypres.

It is a short poem. But the three stanzas pack a great deal of emotional power:


In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.


We are the Dead.

Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.


Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.

“In Flanders Fields” does not glorify war. Instead, the violence of war is subsumed within imagery of the natural world – poppies, wind, larks, sunrises and sunsets. The place of the fallen is within the larger world and the human community. There is a timeless, moving quality to McCrae’s verses.

The poem makes an appeal to not “break faith with us who die”. The deaths of soldiers on the battlefield will not be in vain if those to whom the torch is thrown take up “our quarrel with the foe.” The proper act of remembrance is to not abandon the cause for which they fought.

When Major McCrae composed “In Flanders Fields”, he was a military doctor and second in command of the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. McCrae was, like my grandfather who also fought at Ypres, one of “us” – a Canadian. He fought on “our” side – with Britain and her allies in the First World War. “In Flanders Fields” was therefore, “our” poem, inspired by our soldiers, our sacrifice. It was homage to our loss and our grief.

At least I have always considered it that way – until my travels this past summer brought me another perspective.

Hodonin is a small city in southeastern Czech Republic. While there, I visited their local museum. A sign on the street drew me in. It was advertising an exhibit entitled, “1914 – 1918”. Inside the museum was a large room with pictures and artifacts such as uniforms, letters and documents. The exhibit signs were in Czech without any translations available. I made sense as best I could of the photos and artifacts on display. But I was unable to decipher the descriptions and interpretations given to them by the museum curators.

One exhibit had prominence. It was larger and different in nature from the glass display cases in the rest of the room. This exhibit spilled out onto the floor of the exhibit hall. It was filled with representations of poppies on a green cloth with a photo of a cemetery as a backdrop.


The signage said all that needed to be said. It was clearly, even to my eyes, a Czech translation of “In Flanders Fields”.


As I absorbed this exhibit, a realization reached out to me across the barriers of distance, time and language. Other people in another country were also laying claim to “In Flanders Fields”. It expressed for them their loss and grief in the First World War just as it did for Canadians. McCrae’s words captured the humanity of their fallen grandfathers and forbearers just as it did for ours. The timeless power of this iconic poem was greater than I had imagined. I could not any longer consider “In Flanders Fields” exclusively “ours”.

In 1915, Hodonin was a town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Their soldiers fought on the side of Germany.


They were the foe with whom McCrae exhorted us to take up our quarrel. Yet, their descendants now find solace and meaning in the same words. It made me ask, “Just who was our foe?” 100 years later, “What was the quarrel?” The First World War and its aftermath, the Second World War, gives some urgency to understanding the answers.

What endures a century later is that both sides in that conflict share sadness and remembrances over their great loss in human lives. This realization suggests to me “our quarrel with the foe” is something other than simply identifying enemies across a no man’s land on a battlefield. The foe is more elusive and difficult to identify than that. The foe is something that has to be common to both sides.

McCrae’s profound and beautiful imagery still speaks to us. We will not break faith with “us who die”, when we recognize the common humanity we share in our opponents.

Perhaps “In Flanders Fields” still even has the power to move us. We will hold high the torch tossed to us by failing hands whenever we are able to resolve our conflicts without reaching for a gun.

Then they can sleep in Flanders fields.


*Blue Jays Baseball!

August 26 –  a beautiful summer day in Toronto. A perfect day in fact, to watch the boys of summer play baseball at the Rogers Centre.

CN Tower in Toronto, Canada
The CN Tower as seen from the Rogers Centre, Toronto, Canada

And it was definitely a Plan B* game for the Toronto Blue Jays. They had dropped their game with the Minnesota Twins the previous night, 6 – 1. Sitting in last place in their division, Toronto needed a win.


Crowd of Toronto Blue Jays fans at the  Roger Centre
Toronto Blue Jays fans enjoying a baseball game in the August stretch of the 2017 season

Despite the Blue Jays standing in the league, Toronto fans of all ages were out in force to cheer on their team.

Young child wearing protective headphones at a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game.
A young Toronto Blue Jays fan
My friend, David Arkell enjoying the game

The home town fans were not disappointed. Whatever changes the Blue Jays had made overnight worked. They racked up 10 runs on 13 hits.

Baseball player running the bases after hitting a home run.
Josh Donaldson hits a fifth inning home run with one man on base, to lift the Toronto Blue Jays by two runs
Jose Bautista at bat for the Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Bautista, at bat for the Toronto Blue Jays against the Minnesota Twins, connects with a pitch in the bottom of the 8th inning.

The Minnesota Twins did not easily go down to defeat. They kept the crowd in anxious suspense until the very end. They answered the Jays with two runs at the top of the 9th inning. The Twins finally came up short however, with 9 runs.

Final score: Toronto 10 – Minnesota 9.

Plan B* baseball. It doesn’t get more exciting than this.

Stay Tuned!

I’m currently passing through the Azore Islands. This part of Bob’s Excellent Adventure is on a freighter, The Vera D.

But we do not have Internet except for the short time we are passing through the Azores.

Look for more blogs from me after we arrive in Halifax in early August.



The World At Three Feet

When did you last travel through the world at a height of 3 feet?

I’m guessing you were 6 years old.

One of the surprising delights of riding a recumbent tricycle is that the seat is only about a foot off the ground. That means little kids of about 6 or 7 look me in the eye when I’m seated in it. Anyone older than that is looking down on me.

Cyclists standing n a city street waiting for a light
Cyclists waiting for a light, Uherske Hradiste, Czech Republic

Adults on bikes? They’re giants. I reach up to shake hands. They lean over and down. Just like when I was 6.

The sensation of travelling through the world with eyes at the 3 foot level triggers some deep, childish delight.

Everything on the ground is so much closer, so much more accessible. I’m easily distracted by the variety of flowers, the diversity of colours, the flitting of insects and the darting of butterflies.

Poppies with wheat field behind

Perhaps it’s because at 3 feet, you are so much closer to the world inhabited by flowers and insects.



Travel by trike with trailer is slow travel. Especially crawling up long hills. Even the butterflies make faster progress.

This is travel that breaks the sound barrier, though. Or perhaps more accurately, it is slow travel that breaks the silence barrier.

There’s nothing between you and the world. No windshield. No radio. No hermetically sealed cabin. No thick shell to suppress against road noise.

There is no road noise. Just the swish, swish, swish of a pant leg with each pedal I push. And the barely audible, rolling thunder sound of the trailer dutifully following along in my wake.

Sounds take on a different dimension. Cyclists and hikers know this phenomenon. The birdsong, the buzz, the chirps, the hum, the croaks that comprise nature’s chorus. Moving at three feet from the ground, you can’t help but catch snatches of creation’s hymn.


Plan B* has been re-discovering the world from a new perspective – like the perspective of those who are 6 and those who are lucky to be 6 a second time.



Europe Rocks When It Rolls

Europe holds many pleasures. Getting around by public transport is definitely one of them. Maybe, it’s because I’m a municipal guy. You know: “You can take the boy out of the City (of Calgary), but you can’t take the City (of Calgary) out of the boy.”

You may not share my interest quite as strongly. But, public transportation has an interest, even a fascination perhaps, for me. Europe, as I have discovered, has a way of feeding that interest at every turn. 

For anyone who wonders how the rest of the world gets from point A to B to C to…..without a car, Europe has lots of interesting technology and solutions on offer.

For Bob’s Excellent Adventure, I’ve wanted to get anywhere and everywhere, as much as I can without the hassle or cost of renting a car. From that stand point, European rail and public transportation have proven to be just the ticket; the cat’s meow; what the doctor ordered.

 From City to City

Eurostar train
The Eurostar in London St. Pancras Station.


The rail option between places can be fast. The Eurostar took me from London to Paris in about two and a half hours. Our top speed was 300 km/hour.

Then there are the unexpected surprises and delights of rail travel in Europe. While waiting at the Gare de Lyon in Paris for my connecting train to Zurich, I could hear beautiful piano music. It pulled me from my seat to investigate.

A man plays a piano in Gare de Lyon in Paris, France
Impromptu Concert in Gare de Lyon, Paris.


The station had thoughtfully placed a piano in a central spot for travelers to enjoy. There, was a guy in a tee shirt (a fellow traveler, perhaps?) In a beautiful operatic voice, he filled the space with aria after aria. The crowd gathered and was enthralled.

A crowd listens while a man plays a piano in Gare de Lyon in Paris, France
A crowd gathers to enjoy a free concert while waiting for their trains.


You have to love a place, a country, a transportation system where a delight like that is possible!

Concert over, it was on to Zurich.


The TVG Lyria is ready to whisk us from Gare de Lyon Paris to Zurich in 4 hours.

TGV stands for Train à Grande Vitesse or High Speed Train. Like the Eurostar, it is faster than flying from one city to the next.

By comparison to flying, a trip on the TGV Lyria has a tiny  impact on climate warming. My ticket stated that the C0₂ generated by travelling across France to Switzerland was only 2.1 kg! ( I wonder if the reason is because so much of the French electricity comes from nuclear power?)

Some trains in Europe also provide overnight accommodations.  In Zurich, I caught the night train to Prague. This was my bedroom that night.

Sleeper car on a train
Sleeper car for three. The only thing to do is roll into bed. When booking these cars, men and women are in separate compartments. On fellow traveler was from Vietnam, the other from Czech Republic. None of us really knew the languages of the others. So, after a few short “hellos”, it was lights out and a quiet night.


Shifts happen!  That Plan B* just keeps showing up. The night train to Prague from Zurich had engine trouble and had to be replaced.

Man attaching an engine to a train
Plan B* replacement engine being attached to Zurich/Prague train.


Our arrival into Prague was delayed by two hours. Engine trouble on a plane can easily delay a flight longer than that.

Prague Railway Station
Prague Railway Station


City Travels

Trains are great for whisking travelers quickly from city centre to city. centre. The rail stations have all been built in city cores. Once you arrive in a place, public transit takes over.  It’s a simple matter to walk from the train platform, down a corridor or out a door to reach bus terminals, metro underground stations, and tram lines. City accommodations and attractions are then in easy reach.

Oxford city double decker bus
Oxford City bus. It has similar technology to my Prius! The battery is recharged when the gas (diesel) motor is running. Much of the time, the battery can run the bus with just the electric motor, thus greatly improving the mileage and reducing fuel consumption. This is one of many examples where Europeans are making a shift to lower their greenhouse gas emissions.

Transit fares and day passes are affordable. For example, a three day transit pass in Budapest for all trams, buses, subway cost me approximately $20 (Canadian).

European cities treat transit as one of the family. Transit shares the road with all the other street users.

Horse and buggy travel along a Krakow, Poland street with a tram following along behind
A tourist horse and buggy travel along a Krakow, Poland street with a tram following behind.
Budapest, Hungary trams share the street with cars
Budapest, Hungary trams share the street with cars and pedestrians

It’s been fun to figure out the transit system and connections in all the cities I’ve visited.  By day two in a city, using the bus, tram or subway is generally a breeze.

Budapest underground station on the M1/yellow line
This Budapest underground metro line was the first on the European continent. It still has the 1896 vibe from when it opened.

What about when shifts happen and you take the wrong direction? Yup. It’s happened. But so far, it hasn’t been a problem. My Plan B* is pretty simple. Get off, then catch a ride back in the direction from which I’ve come. Transit service is so frequent, it’s only a matter of minutes before the needed ride shows up.

Taking public transit gives a visitor a fascinating opportunity to watch and listen to people. What are they carrying? How are they dressed? You can’t help but overhear snippets of chatter; or the one side of a cell phone conversation. I may not always know the language being used, but the tone and cadence of a voice can carry meaning.

Transit riders are also offered an unvarnished view of a city as it unfolds before their eyes. Derelict or prosperous; neo-classical  or modern apartment blocks; newly renovated, or boarded up office buildings. Every city has stories to tell, for those who want to glimpse them through the windows of a tram or bus.

Also seen from the window of a bus. A cyclist on the motorway from Oxford to London. Obviously not everyone is convinced of the merits of transit as a mode of travel!

Man riding a bicycle on a motor way in the United Kingdom
Road warrior.


That’s how I roll. And so far, it has rocked!

A Marshall Plan for Climate Action

George Marshall, Bob Hawkesworth
Bob Hawkesworth with George Marshall

George Marshall wrote the book, “Don’t Even Think About It – Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”. With a title like that, you might think George is resigned, cynical or blasé about our prospects for taking meaningful action on climate change. Quite the contrary. George Marshall is very upbeat and optimistic. He gives the distinct impression that our prospects of tackling climate have never been better. In large part, it’s because he believes he now knows what will work to spur action.

George is a key leader and sparkplug at Climate Outreach – an Oxford think tank and research centre. Climate Outreach’s work on climate communications has been recognized internationally as pioneering and groundbreaking.

George Marshall’s 2014 book has also received positive reviews:

The Shift

A big problem is that climate action has become polarized along political lines. This split is preventing meaningful progress. George contends climate advocates have used language and framing that has only alienated the political right. He believes this schism must be repaired and has made it a personal quest to figure out how.

George is adamant that everyone needs to be involved in finding solutions. No one should be left behind, especially the right:

Plan B

The Marshall Plan could not be simpler: just listen. The most radical thing we can do is just listen to those who think differently from us.

This George Marshall TED talk explains his contention in more detail:

How do we listen, especially to those with whom we disagree? A tool developed by Climate Outreach to enable industrial strength listening, is a “narrative workshop”. Narrative workshops have:

  • Rigorous research design;
  • A script and framework of tested questions that will be appropriate across linguistic, cultural and demographically diverse groups;
  • The look and feel of a focus group without the expense.

The Climate Outreach vision is that any organization, with little expense, will be able to convene narrative workshops with just about anyone, anywhere. Narrative workshops will be used in countries throughout the world. Indeed, Climate Outreach has just completed a test of these workshops in India.

Narrative workshop participants will identify, among other things, what makes them proud; what they believe makes a good person; the qualities, concerns, insights, values and frames that matter to them. As George put it, climate action groups will have what they need, “…to listen to the people they usually don’t speak to.”

He tells me to check regularly with the Climate Outreach website. The narrative workshop tool will soon be available on line.

Why is George Marshall so optimistic? He tells me that even the World Bank is now taking climate communications seriously. They have convened a task group (Alberta/BC/Ontario/Quebec are all members) to develop ways to better communicate carbon pricing policies. When the World Bank deems to listen, it feels a change of consequence has occurred.

Magdalen College Chapel
Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford, UK

George invites me to join him at Evensong in Magdalen College. We listen to the heavenly voices soar in that space as they have soared there since the 16th Century. It was easy to be transported to a place of contentment, gratitude and optimism.

If only listening to those with whom we disagree could also be so delightful!

That’s the hard road for Plan B* – being able to receive the gifts of understanding and insight from those who think differently from us.

We part with the hope that George Marshall might soon be able to visit Alberta. Our polarized debate could sure use his professional help. Alberta has a large right of centre political constituency that wants to play a constructive role developing climate solutions. They are not being engaged or well served by any political party at the moment. No one is truly listening to them.

Listen to those with whom we disagree. How hard is that? An Alberta Marshall Plan B* doesn’t seem all that radical after all. Or is it?


Magdalen College
Magdalen College, Oxford, UK

People Are Talking

The Guardian, some years ago, declared “Carbon Conversations” to be one of the 20 most promising initiatives for making a difference on climate change. It was part description and part prediction, but time has proven that assessment to be true.

The Carbon Conversations initiative is growing. Not only are people having meaningful engagement in English, growing numbers of them are experiencing it in Spanish and Lithuanian as well. The Surefoot Effect has partnered with similar organizations to offer Carbon Conversations in Spain and Lithuania. It is one of the tools they are using to help ordinary folks in those countries create a sustainable future, “step by step”.

Their project is called “Tales of 2 Futures”.

Is that ever a great definition of Plan B*! You have a choice of two futures, one of which you can set out to create!

“Tales of 2 Futures” is helping people create their alternative future. That’s exactly what a Plan B* does. And the fact that it is happening in three countries simultaneously is awesome and inspiring to me!

Diana Smaliukaite, Rasa Zilione, Alfred Blasi, Olena BiloZerova, Pamela Candea, Euri Vidal
Tales of 2 Futures leaders meet in Stirling at the offices of Transition Stirling
Diana Smaliukaite, Euri Vidal, Rasa Zilione, Olena Bilozerova, Pamela Candea
l to r: Diana Smaliukaite, Euri Vidal, Rasa Zilione, Olena Bilozerova, Pamela Candea

Just as I happened to show up in Stirling, leaders of the three organizations were meeting to share successes and report progress. They very graciously let me listen in on their discussions. Their stories were indeed inspiring. As they spoke, it was clear that people are no different in those three countries than Canadians. There is a broad hunger for meaningful engagement. People are looking for ways to participate and to make a difference, just as we are.

As an example, Mary Jo is an elementary school teacher in Reus, Spain. After taking part in Carbon Conversations, she decided to help her elementary school students acquire some tools for sustainable living. This 3 minute video her kids made about what they learned is absolutely delightful! Now here are youngsters who will have Plan B skills to last a life time:

Here are some helpful resources if you want to learn more:

The Surefoot Effect website is here:

The Tales of 2 Futures website is here:

The Tales of 2 Futures Facebook Page is here:

The Tale of 2 Futures project wants to come to Canada! If you or your group would be interested in joining this consortium, please contact me.

Yes, people are talking! In growing numbers of places and languages throughout the world.

Canadians have lots of good tales of our own we can tell, just as much as we can learn from the stories of these others. I for one, hope we will join those conversations.


“Look, Ma! They even have Plan B* cupboards.” These cupboards in the Transition Stirling offices were constructed from materials headed for the landfill.




For the Love of Nature

Diana Smaliukaite grew up loving nature. She was raised in a small village of 300 people in southern Lithuania. There is a large forested area near the home where she grew up. She has an especially fond memory from when she was young. She went skiing at night and could hear the wolves calling.


Diana Smaliukaite
Diana Smaliukaite, Ziniu Kodas Projects

The Shift

Diana now lives in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius where she is studying for a Masters degree in human resources. Big city living is much different from the village where she grew up. The city has paved over nature and done it much damage. She feels nature is absent from the city and hardly considered at all.

The values seem different in the city as well. As a child, she had been taught not to damage nature. Today, people buy things they don’t need, only to “throw them into the corner”.

Plan B

Diana participated in “Carbon Conversations” and was attracted to the social enterprise that sponsored it. That organization promotes conservation, participates in the Tale of 2 Futures project and upholds her values. She feels fortunate to be working there part time while she finishes her thesis research. She envisions a career in which she can help restore some of what has been lost.

What question is she researching? “What workplace incentives do employees most value,” she tells me.

A hint, she says, “It’s not money.”


European Energy Systems – Plan B* Trainspotting

Wind turbine in a field
Wind turbines from the train window. Trainspotting of a different kind.
Solar arrays in a UK field
Solar arrays can be spotted in numerous rural UK locations.
Smokestacks in the UK countryside
At first, these appeared to be smokestacks. The UK is committed to phasing out coal generated electricity. I thought this might be a coal powered plant. But closer inspection suggests the “smoke” could be water vapour from the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant.

Scotland The Brave

Scots have a reputation for thrift and shrewdness. Like any stereotype though, real people defy categorization. Exceptions are usually the rule.

 One aspect is evident, though. For centuries, Scots have managed to maintain a distinct identity that distinguishes them from the much larger English population to the south. I can’t help but think in this regard, Scots and Canadians have a great deal in common. I wonder if Canada’s enduring desire to remain distinct from the much larger America to our south has been in part, gifted us from the Scots who played such a formative role in our early history.

 At the heart of that Scottish identity lays Stirling. It is home of Stirling Castle, the aerie of Scotland’s kings and of Mary Queen of Scots. The castle stands high above a once marshy plain on a hill of lava left by some long extinct volcano. It has a commanding view of all directions and stands sentinel over the widened channel of the Forth River where it was at one time a port at tide water.

 It was at Stirling where horses (armies) could most easily cross south and north. They who held Stirling held the strategic entry way between the highlands and the lowlands and hence could command all of Scotland. Of fond memory in Stirling still, is the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297), Battle of Bannockburn (1314), William Wallace (think Mel Gibson in “Braveheart”. Then again, please don’t.) and Robert Bruce.

Stirling Castle, Stirling Scotland
Stirling Castle has a commanding view of the Scottish countryside

 My intention in going to Stirling was not to discover any Calgary/Scotland connection or relive ancient battles. My purpose was to meet with “The Surefoot Effect”, a not-for-profit social enterprise. They earn their income consulting on a broad range of all things “sustainability” related.

 Scotland has bravely adopted one of the most ambitious carbon dioxide (C0₂) reduction targets of any jurisdiction in the world. The Surefoot Effect has been one of their civil society partners, working with citizens, organizations and businesses to bring those targets to life. I came to Stirling to learn what they are doing.

The Shift

The amount of carbon dioxide (C0₂) in our atmosphere now exceeds 400 parts/million (ppm). At one time, before the industrial revolution began – not so long ago – it was under 300 ppm.

The miracle and gift of C0₂ is that it makes life on earth possible. C0₂ embraces our planet like a warm blanket, trapping heat. We’ve all been in a greenhouse and know how warm it can be, even on a cloudy day. Light from the sun comes through the glass and warms the space. The same glass that lets the light in, keeps the heat from escaping. It captures the heat and warms the greenhouse.

Carbon dioxide works the same way. Sunlight hits earth. Instead of radiating back into space, some of that energy is taken ransom by the C0₂ and used to warm up our planet. (Just don’t ask me to explain the physics of it.) Too little C0₂, and earth turns into a frozen wasteland (think ice ages and Game of Thrones). Too much C0₂, and….well, we can’t be entirely sure what earth turns into.

What’s the worse that can happen?

James Lovelock is the granddaddy of the environmental movement. He has written elegantly about how the global atmosphere regulates the distribution of heat around our planet:

The amount of C0₂ in the atmosphere has been “just right” for many millennia – it has kept earth not too hot and not too cold. The world we humans inhabit is a product of just the right amount of C0₂ that has kept temperatures fluctuating within a narrow range over long periods of time.

What does all this extra C0₂ in the atmosphere mean?

You would think more of a good thing would make it really good. But too much of a good thing is not always better. If a sweater is all you need, you won’t put on a down parka. And you’d never put on a parka if you could never take it off.

How does all that C0₂ get into the air in the first place?

Since the industrial revolution, humans have been extracting coal and harnessing all that energy on a massive scale. Burning coal releases C0₂ as a by-product. Burning oil and natural gas has the same effect.

It seems humans are contributing to this shift since there are so many of us consuming the products made harnessing fossil fuels.

Here’s the crux of the issue: How can harnessing fossil fuels be a bad thing?

Exploiting fossil fuels has raised the standard of living for countless numbers of us. The benefits have been enormous. Many find it very difficult to accept that the impact on our climate brings high risk. Even if the consequences are serious, what can one person do anyway?

Who wants to make a Plan B if they don’t have to?

The Surefoot Effect has engaged thousands of people in a crucial conversation that tackles these questions. They help people explore what climate change means, how to make sense of it and what can they as individuals do about it.

They are helping people create their Plan B.

I’ll tell you more about The Surefoot Effect in my next post.

Where’s Waldo?


The Heathrow Express into London! ! If things go according to plan, it’s all surface travel from here.

“If things go according to plan…” That sure is an oxymoron for a Plan B* journey. But there it is. Old habits die hard. 

I haven’t shared much about where I hope to visit and what I aim to do on this trip. I hope, gentle reader, you don’t mind remaining in suspense. Here’s a clue though. I’m not flying home unless it’s an emergency.  

For now, it’s on to England’s green and pleasant land!

Victoria Rail Station London UK
Victoria Rail Station London UK
Paddington Station, London Underground
Paddington Station, London Underground