A Yarrow woman recently made a 15-hour, round-trip journey from her home to a school in Vancouver without using a car as a way to show kids, and herself, how people can reduce their eco footprint.
It was all part of Barbara Nickel’s Earth Day action on Friday, April 21.
That day, she rode more than 80 kilometres on her bike and took the West Coast Express to visit her sister’s Grade 3 class at Queen Alexandra Elementary and watch them as they recited poems while jumping rope.
“It was the most amazing day,” she said.
And it all started with a poem of her own.
Years ago, the Chilliwack writer had one of her poems called ‘Reduce Your Eco Footprint’ framed and installed on buses as part of BC Transit’s Poetry in Transit program. That poem was written in April 2014 as part of an artist-in-residency she did at Yarrow Elementary. While there, she wrote poems with the kids about how they can help the Earth.
That residency at Yarrow Elementary was the seed for a book project. Nickel continued to write more poems and paired them with healthy and green actions kids could do, such as planting seeds, physical activities and using recipes.
“I love that idea of poetry meshing with action.”
That book project led to another poetry project with young students, and this time is was a lot further away.
Her sister Cindy Nickel teaches Grade 3 at Queen Alexandra Elementary in Vancouver. Earlier this year, over the course of about a month, Barbara worked on jumprope poems with the kids. She’d give them feedback via email or video chats.
Why jumprope poems?
“It does so many things. First of all, it puts poetry in your body because you’re feeling the rhythm, it gets you reading poems out loud, and from an Earth perspective in terms of action, it gets those refrains in your head.”
Cindy invited Barbara to meet the kids on Friday, April 21 where they presented their poems.
Barbara thought about Cindy, who has ridden her bike to work every day for the past 35 years, and thought back to her poem ‘Reduce Your Eco Footprint’ that was on BC Transit.
“(I) can’t write a footprint poem like that… and not try to do my very best to follow the instructions of the poem.”
So, with the help of her husband who did “meticulous” research, they started routing her carless journey.
Before the sun was even up on April 21, Barbara was on her bike at 4:45 a.m. Fellow running partner Sylvie Ingram, who teaches at an Abbotsford elementary school, joined her for the first 23 kilometres of her journey.
Barbara rode 34 kilometres from her Yarrow home to the West Coast Express station in Mission. She arrived soaking wet and shivering, but with 25 minutes to spare before hopping onto the 7:25 a.m. train. The train arrived at Waterfront Station at 8:40 a.m. and from there she got back on her bike and rode another five and a half kilometres to Queen Alexandra.
After attending an Earth Day assembly and watching the kids jump rope inside the classroom and perform their poems in pairs, Barbara started on her journey back home in the afternoon. She took a longer route and made some extra stops along the way and arrived home around 8 p.m.
Barbara summed up her journey in one word: grateful.
“Gratitude is what got me through this journey which was hard in a lot of ways. It was scary.”
She said she was grateful for the people who designed the Mission Bridge with its protected bike lanes, for those who redesigned Vancouver’s bike lanes, for her sister who has biked to work for 35 years, for her friend Sylvie Ingram for starting the ride with her, and for her husband for planning the route.
When she was at Queen Alexandra, she showed the kids photos of what she saw on her ride to the school.
“Beautiful, beautiful, two-way bike lanes. Special little bike lanes all the way down Dunsmuir. It’s amazing.”
She showed the young students images of the protected bike lanes on the Mission Bridge. She recalled looking one way while on the bridge and it being so peaceful, and then looking the other way and seeing a constant roar of vehicles.
She said she can imagine the number of vehicles taken off the roads if the West Coast Express extended out to Chilliwack.
Barbara found many little oases on her route. She stopped to snap a photo of a flower in Matsqui.
“Here in the midst of this urban (area) there’s beauty and you don’t notice that as much when you’re enclosed in your little bubble of a car worrying about getting to your next deadline.”
“Not to take for granted the things that people are doing to help the Earth,” she said. “It gives me inspiration to keep doing the things I can do.”
She admits her journey was a “tiny, tiny, tiny little minuscule tiny little thing,” but maybe it’ll get some folks thinking about how people get into Vancouver.
“I think our whole mentality has to change about time if we want to do something about this crisis.”
She points to the summer of 2021 with its heat dome and raging wildfires and said she doesn’t want to forget that. She wants people to remember what that was like and to do something about it.
“That’s not how I want our Earth to be. That is going to be more and more our reality if we don’t do anything.”
She’s a firm believer in problems being solved from the bottom up.
“Little things matter and it can be contagious,” Barbara said. “Look at what can grow from a tiny little seed that you thought didn’t matter. To me, that’s what this is all about.”