| Mar 06, 2008

Editorial - March 6, 2008

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Editorial - March 6, 2008 'Sustainability': Hardly a Word, But Often Heard...Editorial by Wilma Kenny

To begin, it’s an awkward length. Most conversations do very well using words no longer than three syllables, with the occasional four-syllable one added for emphasis. Sustainability clocks in at six syllables, enough sounds for a modest sentence. My computer primly underlines it in red, advising that the least I could do is break it into two words. The 10-year-old Canadian Dictionary doesn’t list it. Yet the word ‘sustainability’ rolls trippingly off a lot of tongues these days. Exactly what does it mean? Its root word, ‘sustain,’ means ‘to keep in existence, to maintain’: that gets us part way there.

An example of what I think ‘sustainability’ means can be found near Lanark in the Purdon Conservation Area. Here’s the story: in the 1930s, Joe Purdon found a few dozen plants of the Showy Ladies’ Slipper in a cedar bog on his property. This native orchid is a spectacular flower; tall, gloriously coloured and intricately shaped. Few people have seen one, for they are extremely particular about their growing requirements, and rarely transplant successfully into domestic gardens. Many have been destroyed in the attempt. They bloom at the height of the spring mosquito season, deep in boggy, shaded areas. Except for the few weeks they are in bloom, the plants are not noteworthy to the casual observer.

Mr Purdon took the trouble to read up on his wild orchids, and made every effort to protect them, and to maintain the growing conditions in his cedar bog at an ideal level of wetness and shade. The colony flourished. I’m not sure of the details, but the property went to the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority in 1984.

Today, the Purdon Bog shelters thousands of Ladies’ Slippers: the largest colony in Canada. It has become famous: no longer a secret, it draws busloads of tourists every spring and is the focal point of the Lanark Orchid Festival. The Conservation Authority has taken care to protect the flowers yet make them easy to see, by building a board walk that meanders through the bog. Visitors are gently but firmly warned not to stray off the walk. Admission is by donation, and the attendant staff member sells orchid-related souvenirs and information booklets.

Joe Purdon recognized the fragility of his flowers and looked after them. Had he not, they would probably have disappeared by now, dug up by admirers, trampled by cattle, destroyed by drought or too much or too little shade as the bog matured and changed. The Conservation Authority has continued to protect and manage the bog, but at the same time has found ways to make it accessible to thousands of admirers. The whole Lanark area profits economically from the spin-offs. This, to me, is sustainability.

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