The Michelangelo Test

Central Coast - Quotation

It is said that the sculptor Michelangelo considered it a productive day if there was a pile of marble chips on the floor at the end of the day. I like to think of this as the “Michelangelo Test” for a good day – a day where I have made progress toward my goals. I may not have finished anything, but if that pile of chips is there I can feel good that the day has not been wasted.

This test can be applied to just about everything we do. It can, for example, be the basis of your time management system. Think of those big assignments that you can’t seem to get around to, those tasks that are just so daunting that you don’t know where to start. Think of each of them as a slab of marble that you are going to shape into something brilliant, then make sure that every day you chip away at each of those slabs. Some days you will get more done on one project than on another, but if you try every day to work a bit on each you will ultimately achieve your goals.

I have used this same approach to direct major projects, such as land acquisition campaigns, fundraising and public awareness campaigns, intricate projects such as software development, as well as for daily living chores like chopping and stacking firewood.  It’s universal.  It also allows us to think big – to set our goals and our expectations high, without being overwhelmed and with full confidence that we will be able to achieve them.

I’ve never had a problem with big ideas.  As Michelangelo says, it’s better to aim high than aim low.  That was the approach when I started working to establish The Land Conservancy, twenty years ago.  And it’s the same approach we have now with the National Trust for Land and Culture – we may be starting small and moving cautiously, step by step, but we have a grand vision to build the kind of organization that is desperately needed in Canada (and that is successful elsewhere).

This approach has served us well.  The acquisition and protection of the Sooke Hills (including the Sooke Potholes), the Wycliffe Wildlife Corridor and the Horsefly Riparian Conservation Area, for example, could not have succeeded in any other way.  The Sooke Hills project began with a couple of very small parcels around Ayum Creek, then, over a 15-year period, a multi-million dollar purchase of the Seraphim lands was added, the Sooke Potholes property followed, and finally two massive acquisitions of forest land for park and community water supply purposes.  From the beginning we knew what we wanted the project to look like in the end, but we chipped away one step at a time. We also had to fund raise for this one step at a time. Along the way, there were many who were terrified by the scale of the vision and that fear caused them to oppose it every step of the way.  But in the end, one step at a time, we were able to achieve what many said was impossible.

On a smaller scale, chopping and staking firewood, or working on a massive computer software project, I use the same approach. When I have had one of those days when too many distractions, too many necessary tasks have forced me to put aside the important tasks, I get a certain amount of satisfaction from chopping and stacking firewood for even 20 minutes and then working on software for 20 minutes – a few chips of marble – keeps me moving ahead.  Michelangelo got it right!

Everything is Connected

East Sooke Park - Quotation 4Stand still in the forest, and listen carefully. The trees are talking about you.

Well, perhaps not in quite the way we’d understand that as humans – it’s unlikely they’re passing judgment on your dress code, for example – but they are communicating with one another.

Through their roots and through massive interconnected networks of fungal strands, called micorrhizae, trees and other plants share chemical messages, passing back and forth between them, letting each other know of changes in the environmental conditions affecting them – providing information about their world and the many things that influence it. Instead of simply competing for things like light, water and nutrients, they actually act as a community, sharing resources and supporting one another.

It may not be communication as we usually think about it – using primarily sound and gestures – but it is communication nonetheless. In fact, it is not at all unlike the way our brain cells function to enable coordination and a coherent response to our interactions with the world about us. (For more on this, check out this video , one of many).

Of course, none of this is new. Wise people and those closely connected with the natural world, such as First Nations, have, for millennia, intrinsically understood the interconnectedness among living things. The Nuu-Chah-Nulth people on the west coast of Vancouver Island, for example, have a saying: “Hishuk-ish Tsawalk” which means “Everything is Connected.” That includes us. It’s a perspective and a lesson we could all benefit from.
For me, this changes the whole way I think about the forest (and my garden), and when I walk among the trees and plants I do so with a great deal more respect. We may never know exactly what the trees are saying about us, but it’s nice to imagine the possibilities.


A few years ago I had the responsibility and the great pleasure to organize the 14th International Conference of National Trusts. Held for the first time in Canada (in Victoria), this week-long gathering brought together representatives of National Trust organizations from around the world, along with many conservationists and heritage advocates from our local area and from across Canada. National Trusts represent more than 7 million members, in some 50 countries in all corners of the world. The Victoria conference adopted the Nuu-Chah-Nulth perspective – “Hishuk-ish Tsawalk” – as the underlying principle for our discussions and for our quest to find collective solutions to advance our cause of conserving the world’s special places.

It was a principle that was readily and wholeheartedly embraced by the participants. The National Trust movement has learned throughout its 120 year history that true conservation success comes best with a holistic, comprehensive and community-centred approach. It has always understood that providing the opportunity for individuals to step forward and take direction action to protect and care for those special places that mean so much to them is like “tugging on that single thing in nature” – they quickly find that it is connected to the rest of the world, and before long a larger, more comprehensive culture of conservation evolves. This culture of conservation is what it will take to protect our natural and our cultural heritage, and make the world a better and healthier place for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

This is why my colleagues and I continue to work hard to build a proactive, community-based National Trust for British Columbia and for Canada. If you’d like to help us with this, I’d encourage you to become a member, or make a donation. See our website for more details:

Remembrance Day


Poppy - 1Here’s a short video for Remembrance Day. Please take 2 minutes out of your day to watch it, and to remember. Remember what’s important. Remember those who came before, and who laid the foundation for the life you enjoy. Remember your own stories, for they are the building blocks of your character, and your future.

Remembrance is one of the greatest responsibilities we have, as humans, and one of the greatest gifts. It falls to us to tell the stories for those who can no longer do so, to bridge the generations and enrich all of our lives.

Remembrance Day, for me, transcends the memories of war. I’m fortunate to have no direct memories of war or violent strife, only those that come to me through others. It’s the respect for those others, and for their stories of their efforts to build a happier, more peaceful and more decent world – whether on the battlefield or at home – that, for me, is at the heart of Remembrance Day.

That respect for our own history – told through so many personal remembrances – and how it shapes the present and informs the future, is also why I put so much of my time into promoting and working to establish a National Trust organization here in British Columbia, and across Canada. To build the infrastructure necessary to ensure that our communities can protect and celebrate the special places that are important to them, and through which our collective stories can be told, seems to me to be one of the best ways we can honour and respect those who helped to build this wonderful country, and to fulfill our role as citizens.

INTO Survey

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INTO is working with Manchester University to conduct a survey for members of the public under the age of 30.

The International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) is an international network of National Trusts and similar non-governmental organisations, globally diverse but united by a shared commitment to conserving and sustaining our shared heritage, such as buildings, gardens and monuments. Through cooperation, coordination and comradeship between the international community of National Trusts, INTO works to develop and promote best conservation practices, increase the capacity of individual organisations, establish Trusts where they do not presently exist, and advocate in the interests of heritage conservation. Think of INTO as the umbrella organisation for all national trusts around the world. With it being an international organisation it could be an ideal GAP year provider as the destinations to choose from are almost limitless, including Australia, USA and Canada.

GMJ Consultants is a group of consultants from Manchester Metropolitan University. We are conducting a survey on the brand awareness of the INTO and seeking to find out whether young adults would be interested in doing a GAP year with them at one of their international heritage locations. Using your feedback, the INTO can develop a world class product for young adults, an experience that would be truly life changing.

We thank you for your time in participating in this study and will keep you informed about the outcome of this study.

It would be a great assistance if you would take 10 minutes to complete this Questionaire.

Nathan Creek Farm

Posted February 23, 2014

The National Trust has now assumed the lease from the provincial crown on Nathan Creek Farm in the Township of Langley. By doing so we have assured the future for Nathan Creek Farm for at least another 30 years. Nathan Creek Farm operates a CSA program. At the moment there are a few places open on their list. Act fast to secure a place and do good while eating well. For more information see their website.