It boggles the mind

Xaayda Tiiga
Haida tea, Labrador tea
Ledum groenlandicum    -photo C. Davies

It’s summertime. At least…it’s supposed to be! These days are flying by with travel, visiting with family and friends, and getting out and about on Haida Gwaii. This is an active and fulfilling time of the year, but it doesn’t leave a lot of time for blogging, which is a little sad because I’ve discovered that blogging is something I really like doing. I very much enjoy the writing and, even more, I am the huge beneficiary of all the conversations that get generated in the process.

As summer came upon our household with all its busy-ness, I had been thinking about signing off for a couple of months and firing up again in September as winter settles in and there is more time to write and think. But I don’t really want to loose touch… disappear off the screen, so to speak. So here I am, moving on, and will post bits and pieces when I can, sort of like letters home from summer camp used to be in the old days; like when I actually took up a pen in my hand, scribbled out pages and pages of news, gossip, trivia and “deep thoughts” (all jumbled up together freeform) and posted the whole volume home snail-mail style.

So there will be fewer posts in the next little while, but guaranteed they’ll be longer than the 247 characters, or whatever it is, that can be contained in a texting message.

So far this year, the summer weeks on Haida Gwaii have been mostly cold and grey. The temperature has barely cracked 50 degrees F and we have had the household wood fire going every day. Nevertheless, the days are long and the light is good, so we do things like hike in the forest, have food and a fire on the beach (wearing wooly hats and warm jackets), swim in the ocean (not me personally, but the grandchildren do), walk along the river banks to find new mint leaves, watch (and hope) for berries to ripen, and (in my case) stumble around the peat bogs among the wildflowers and blooming shrubbery.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time this summer out wandering around the bog lands. It’s not hard to do. The wetlands are everywhere on these islands… high and low, far and wide. The highway from Tlell to Port Clements and north to Masset cuts straight through the bogs, swamps, fens and marshes of the Queen Charlotte Lowlands. Fifty miles and more of bog(!) if you are travelling up the highway in a straight line, more or less.

So today, after several expeditions into the wilds at Mayer Lake and Gold Creek over the past few weeks, I am sitting at home, still and quiet for the moment, contemplating a branch of newly bloomed and blossoming Xaayda Tiiga/Labrador Tea which I brought back with me a couple of days ago. What a beautiful thing it is… with its cloud of white-petalled blooms and its newly sprung yellow-green and fuzzy long leaves. It’s a fragrant sprig too. All along the highway there are banks of Xaayda Tiiga/Labrador Tea blooming everywhere, and if you stop to see and notice, the air is pungent and aromatic with their spicy, resinous smell.

I used to think that a swamp was a swamp, that a swamp was the same as a bog, or even a marsh. And that whatever they were, as land forms they were all wet, mucky and un-interesting. Except for Jane Austen’s literary wanderings, did I know what a moor was, or a fen? Nope, not likely.

Fortunately, in these summer days, my thinking is under dramatic revision…and has been for some time. It’s a whole world of new-to-me discovery. Through a wide-cast reading effort, and rambling observations, I am learning that the world of bog flowers, shrubs and grasses is intricate and complex…exotic even, a marvel of evolution and adaptation.

It takes hundreds of years, thousands of years in many cases, for bogs to form. It’s a matter of climate and water flow, the history of which is held deep in the ground by layers upon layers of peat deposition–the decayed and decaying remains of that ancient plant, the sphagnum moss.

Bog lands are not only one of the worlds most important carbon sinks, they are also ecosystem “powerhouses.”  A few drops of water squeezed from a wet clump of bog moss contains hundreds of microscopic species.  One scientist apparently counted a mind-boggling 32,000 tiny animals in a single clump of sphagnum moss growing in a bog pool. So that puts the mucky bogs right up there with coral reefs and tropical rain forests in terms of ecological productivity.

Who would-da thought?

I didn’t.

And here it all is, reflected in this tiny sprig of humble Xaayda Tiiga/Labrador Tea, with its lovely blooms, and its specially adapted woolly leaves and stems, found ubiquitously in all the ditches from Tlell to Port Clements and beyond.

Posted in Uncategorized

To avoid the jabberwocky, vigilance is required

It continues to amaze me that such a rigidly formalized rite as the quasi-judicial Enbridge environmental review hearings can pack such an emotional punch, and jab with such dignified persistence at the towering realms of power represented by three human beings sitting so nondescriptly at a small table on uncomfortable chairs in the anonymity of a community gymnasium.

But that is how it was when the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel returned to Haida Gwaii twice in the past few weeks to hear oral testimony from Islanders. Sheila Leggett, Hans Matthews, Kenneth Bateman and their support team were back in Old Massett June 1 and 2 and returned to Skidegate June 13 and 14.

To give the panel credit, after several months on the road, travelling often a long way from family and friends, taking food and lodging as it comes, panel members and the team that travels with them remain polite, attentive, helpful and friendly. They have a tough job and a big responsibility, working within a lot constraints, in a format that requires managing a mountain of detail with as much precision as can be mastered in difficult circumstances, and likely to receive very little thanks either at the beginning, the middle, or the end of their mandate.

Sometimes, the panel seems more than a little sharp-ish on the rules and regulations, I think, but they have come all this way to hold the hearings on-Island and, and they appear happy to do so.

My issues can be attributed more to the form of the process and its requirements than to the particularities of the people who are involved. I still believe these are good people doing a tough job, in a time and in a political climate that does not serve them well either.

I don’t believe these people are out of time or place, although I am certain they are often pushed well out of their personal comfort zones (!!), but the process and its rules often appear creaking, stodgy, culturally out of touch and unadapted to modes of communication anywhere past the 19th century.

I still don’t really understand what quasi-judicial means. Does the word quasi mean… sort of, somewhat, maybe, partly, kind-da ? Is this where the jabberwocky begins?

And then there are a lot of rules. Obviously there are formal requirements for presentation of “evidence,” but I am not sure where the rules specific to the detail of this particular process originate. And judging by the errors and numbers of corrections that appear in the transcripts, strict rules of “evidence” without doubt would have a hard time holding fast here…you would think.

And then there is the matter of proper decorum. Clapping and applauding are not allowed. Hooting and hollering are definitely not allowed. (“This is not a rally.”)

Any mention of “civil disobedience” is apparently perceived as a “threat” and not allowed. You have to wonder  what the panel response would have been to the intentions, purposes, and leadership of Mohatmas Gandhi?

Posters and placards are not allowed.

The singing of songs is sometimes not allowed; even, in one instance in Smithers when the national anthem O Canada was in question. The words were said, but not allowed to be sung.

In Skidegate, the children’s dance group requested to make a cultural presentation in song and dance. The request became a motion and was denied by the panel. The children and their teacher, Jenny Cross, were of course disappointed. The panel chair suggested the group might submit a video as late oral evidence.

A young, enthusiastic school teacher brought shore crabs in a large jar so that the panel members might have the experience of the beach that a child has when holding a small creature that tickles as it scurries across your hand. The panel denied the presence of the crabs (free of their jar, rocks and seaweed) during the oral testimony. But Joel Legasse took the denial in such good grace, and during the break everyone did have the opportunity to see and touch these omnipresent beach attractions, including, I believe, the panel members and their staff.

And, nonetheless, all that having been said: the panel sits and the people speak.

So who speaks and what do they speak about?

In Old Massett, there were 61 presenters over two days of testimony and in Skidegate there were 68 people who spoke in the 10 minute slots allocated to each speaker.

When combined with the longer presentations of those who signed up to the Joint Review Panel process as intervenors and were heard on-Island in late February and mid-March, 200 people have spoken and given evidence. Each and every one of them has said NO! to the pipeline and tanker proposal. In all, the oral evidence alone from these four sessions on Haida Gwaii, fills almost 1,000 pages of testimony. And this does not include the stacks of written submissions which are in addition and can be found on the on the JRP website here.

Thousands and thousands of words flow across these pages of testimony. Millions of words, and thoughts, knowledge, life, lore, passion, hope, fear, dread, and most of all, love and responsibility. It’s not just about NO!  It is so much more about why no pipeline should cross the rivers and mountains of the mainland, and why no tankers and no oil should travel through these waters.

Testimony from Haida Gwaii is about the relationship of human beings to these remote islands upon which we live together. The concerns of people here, and the experience and knowledge they have committed to testimony and transcript, tell about a depth of connection to the natural world that transcends the leagues of economy or politics, or even the boundaries of one culture or another.

People here fear that the nature of our undertaking, and our responsibility as human beings in a natural world, has been forgotten; that nature is usurped by greed; that willing ignorance of consequences will be catastrophic.

In the testimony I have heard, and in the transcripts I have read, I hear a collective voice of people who live here—apart from the mainstream, out on the edges—and deeply engaged in learning. The people of Haida Gwaii live the lessons that are offered in a landscape where it is still possible to be a human being in touch every moment of every day in the natural world, its teeming plenty, its beauty, its wonder and its inexorable power.

If you likened the tones of the hearings to music, you would hear not so much of shrill harangue, or ponderous wisdom, or thunderous pontificating, although we all have those moments too. The mood tones are more quiet – expressions of deep joy, reverence, respect, and beseeching pleas to the members of the panel to carry a message from here to wherever it is they deliver their decisions.

As I listened to people speaking, the range of perspectives, and the intimate detail of experiences of land, forest and sea, stretched my mind out way beyond what I know, or had even dreamed of. And I have lived here for a long time.

And who spoke? There were people who kayak, tour operators in Gwaii Hanaas, fish counters on the rivers; volunteers to the Laskeek Bay program who count ancient murrelet chicks in the dark of night as they emerge from their burrows on remote Limestone Island;  fisher people who have seen the disappearance of the abalone and the decimation of the herring; boat builders, ranchers whose cattle graze the salt meadows of the river estuary; kids who love the beaches; seaweed gatherers; many teachers from our schools where kids hatch and raise salmon in their classes to return to the creeks and rivers in which they originated; a nurse who has seen the joy on the face of an aged patient in hospital who has been brought food fresh from the sea – k’aaw especially; grandmothers, mothers, grandfathers, hereditary leaders, matriarchs. There were many, many teens who are very clear about the meaning of life on Haida Gwaii and the threat to their future that the presence of tankers and pipelines would impose.

Like most, I suppose, I often take the scope and substance of my community for granted, and–I’ll admit it– sometimes I whine too. In the way of small towns, we think we know everything about everybody…and sometimes that’s true. But in listening to people talk, one after the other, about what matters most to them, often to the point of tears, I’ve discovered there is also a lot we don’t know about our neighbours too. In listening, I am reminded anew how deeply textured and interconnected the brilliant facets of our island life actually are, and they all relate respect, love and passionate responsibility for the lands and sea of Haida Gwaii.

Of the community oral presentations, the ones that I appreciated the most, were from those brave souls who fear public speaking more than I fear spiders. There were a number of people I know who broke into an ice-cold sweat, cried tears of fear, trembled, squeaked and shook, but got up there and said their piece anyway, and it was read into the record.

It’s going to be a long engagement, this Enbridge-Northern Gateway proposition. And we have been through so many long and difficult engagements already here on Haida Gwaii. Vigilance is required; also persistence and endurance.

There is something so ultimately reassuring to just sit for hours listening to people who are your friends and neighbours talk about what really matters deeply to them, in their own thoughtful considerations and their own words. It’s a deep and quiet flow of words and experience that are a fine antidote to the nightmare of fear and dread that has sailed onto our horizon with the Enbridge pipeline and tanker proposals.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

In the drift

May evening in Skidegate Inlet

My father is a geologist—now long retired. As children, with my mother and sisters we sometimes travelled with him on summer-long field expeditions into the wild and black-fly ridden lakes and muskegs of northern Ontario and Quebec. Three kids crammed into a tiny black box of a car, called a Mayflower, with my mother and her large-ish asbestos-coated “dutch oven” packed along for camp stove cooking.

I remember the dutch oven particularly for two reasons. One, was the intense discomfort of being wedged into a tiny back seat with the edges and corners of the foot-and-a-half metal cube bashing into my ribs for 500 miles or more as we motored along as far north as the road would go, with a car-sick sister.

But the other reason I remember the dutch oven is, my mum was pretty handy with the damn thing. Once we had wandered off the end of the road and bumped down some rutted track or other into the bush, my father and the crew set up a fly-camp with axe-cut poles and a lot of canvas. My mother got down to the cooking and the feeding of three small children and the field crew. Maannn! she could crank loaves and loaves of bread, and an endless array of cakes, cookies and pies out of that bulky, clumsy contraption.

And there is no Sunday sermon about the wonders of all the saints in heaven that even come close to the miraculous and transcendent nature of the wild strawberry pies that came bubbling and steaming out of that white-washed lump of a box.

Aside from the plagues of black flies and mosquitoes, that dutch oven and the wood cook stove are among my earliest memories of learning the “wild.” In northern Quebec there were also many lakes, the boreal forest, canoes, paddles and endless hours of just being a kid in sunlight and wind, in thunder and lightning, in all the moods of light and weather. We called the it  picturesquely “The North Woods,” or more colloquially and accurately “The Bush.”

My father’s job was to sample and map rock formations in The Bush. A whole summer of rock collecting! My father was also a prof. So he lectures. As my offspring will confirm, this is a genetic and inherited tendency that we all come equipped with—to spout off profusely with, or even without, any excuse.

So, as kids, while we were paddling around in a red canoe or picking wild strawberries on a grassy hillside, and especially if we were picking wild blueberries on a rocky outcrop (and checking over our shoulders non-stop for bears which we never did see, not even one) my father often spontaneously broke into long discourses about the very rocks and landforms upon which we were standing. My father’s knowledge of Canada’s great pre-Cambrian shield flowed all around us in language that was actually quite melodic. But, being kids, I have to admit that my sisters and I were not the good listeners that we should have been. We practically put our eyes permanently out-of-joint working on the perfection of the pre-teen eye-roll.

And now, alas, I still don’t have much of a grip on the finer points of Canadian geological history. But I did get the drift about the immensity, the great ages of the earth and the mighty grandeur of it all.

And it was in those early years that my path was drawn and set. I can see that now. The long ride home from those summers took me all the way back through Ontario and eventually, right on out as far west as I could go.

So, here I am now, on Haida Gwaii, still off in the wilds of the north country, still deep in the mysteries of wild berry pies … and bedrock.

Wild strawberry in bloom

Posted in Uncategorized

The beauty of the world

I have a favorite spot in the woods where I go every spring to see the blooming of the fairy slipper orchids. I don’t have to walk very far off  a well-worn path that wanders down through the salal bushes and spruce trees and out along the dunes to the broad sandy east coast beach at Tlell.

The shoreline forest here is windswept to say the least.  Winter storms on this east-facing beach are relentless. The southeast gales of winter roar and screech full force across the wild waters of Hecate Strait and come ashore with formidable power.

Near the beach, tough pine trees have grabbed a root-hold in the dunes and survive in their own way, all stunted and gnarled, many of the branches sandblasted bare of any greenery at all. The shape of  trees is gone all one-sided, with all the surviving branches swept back away from the windward side and pointing inland.

In wind and weather, in rock and sand, it’s a rugged exposed place to be, here where land and sea meet together.

But just behind the sentinel trees and the sheltering dunes, there exists a remarkably different world. In the deeper forest, the air goes suddenly still, the roar of the wind and water recedes, and it is so calm. The forest moss is deep, deep mounded, and silent and feathery-soft underfoot, lush with dampness and a rich mustiness. The sunlight fragments and pools through the high spruce canopy, and the underworld is illuminated in all the shades of green— emerald and viridian, sap green, moss green, golden green, and dark, shiny salal green.

Here is the place where this dainty, exotic, and exceedingly delicate orchid of the forest is found.  It’s called Calypso bulbosa, after the Greek goddess Calypso, a daughter of Atlas, (or of Oceanus and Tethys, depending on who is telling the story) whose name means “concealment.”

This tiny plant will grow only in association with particular fungi that are found in the mosses of the forest floor and to which its bulb is attached with tenuous filaments. If the plant is disturbed at all, this relationship is broken and plant perishes.

I have to get down on my hands and knees and crawl around to see the blooms properly in all their solitary and stately splendor, being careful not to disturb the mossy bed in which the plants are nestled. The ground is wet from a passing rain shower, but it’s soft and a comfortable place to sit and to be still. It takes quite awhile for me settle, and even longer to come slowly into the silence of the forest and see anything at all.

The madder-purple and pink orchid blooms with their airy petals seem so fragile, so delicate. And, yet, at the same time, that there is something so fierce and powerful that can be seen while I am looking deep into the face of the flower, even as it waves sweetly in a passing breath of air.

I have been coming to this place for years and years to see these particular flowers when they bloom. Some years I missed the moment, either because they bloomed too early, or I showed up too late.

And it is over this long period of time that I have come to a state of wonder: how ancient the orchids are! Out of all the Great Ice Ages that covered Haida Gwaii, and the long coming of the forests across the bleak tundras of the north eons ago, out of what primeval dreaming of creation does this elegant presence emerge, year after year, and call me into the imminent beauty of the world?

Posted in Uncategorized

The tools of my trade

A new generation: Tlell River trout fishing summer 2011 – photo Lisa Loewen

A lot of my day revolves around the kitchen table, really. (And this is ironic, I suppose, because I don’t even have an actual kitchen table at the moment!) But you know what I mean. A good many hours of my day’s work are accomplished at the counters and chopping boards, over the stove, minding the oven, and hands in hot soapy water at the kitchen sink.

And right here beside me, on the kitchen floor, my daily trek over the years is visibly etched. The enamel paint has worn right through to bare wood from sink, to stove, to fridge, to chopping board. Epic marathons are traced in these grooves.

No matter how smart I might get to thinking I am, or how puffed up I might get about doing “important work,” at the end of my day, there I am … chopping those carrots, scrubbing the potatoes, and otherwise boiling, broiling, steaming, frying, and baking our daily bread. It is a humble and repetitive point of view, to be sure; also, a discipline, and best taken in hand as a mindful practice of gratitude.

I come from a farming “settler” culture, so, somewhere back in the 1970’s when I came to Haida Gwaii, that’s what I brought with me. Although my mother’s generation had left the farms, I knew I was following a familiar path, not far very far back in the past, where food was not taken for granted. What we ate was mostly grown, gathered, and processed, if not by ourselves, then by somebody who lived and farmed very close by.

In the villages of Ontario in my day, there were local butchers, bakers, cheese makers, dairies and the social centre of town (next in importance to church on Sunday) was the Saturday morning farmers’ market in the parking lot of the town hall.

The “milk run” on the local railway, was literally that. The train stopped at every gravelled concession crossroad along the way to pick up the large silver milk cans left by farmers beside the tracks at the rail crossings. The cannisters were loaded on the trains’ flat deck on the morning train and taken to the creamery and dairy in town. The cheese factory really stank to high heaven on a hot summer day, but the locally-made ice cream was wonderful.

My mother and grandmother jammed, jellied, canned and pickled all summer and fall. I remember boiling, frothing pots of crabapples, and raspberries and peaches, and the glowing colours of the jelly jars stored in a dark basement cupboard.

And it was for a re-imagination of all this (or so I believed) that I came to Haida Gwaii in the 1970’s. These were the “hippie” years, and what they featured most for me was a lot of hard work and an intimate connection forged with a fertile land and abundant seas, sun, water and weather.

With the help of a generous 85-year-old  neighbour, I learned how to plant, hoe, weed, harvest and store all the vegetables we ate – carrots, potatoes, beets, chard, onions, parsnips, and yard-long zucchinis. Milk came from our neighbour’s ranch, in gallon-size glass jars. Sometimes it was milk from a Jersey cow with heaps of thick yellow, butter-making cream on top.

Peanut butter came in 28-pound white buckets bulk-ordered and barged up from Vancouver. Bread was baked twice a week in eight-loaf batches. The bread dough I put together was extreme whole-wheat– made with molasses or buckwheat honey, and stone-ground brown flour. When baked it had the consistency of a brick and weight of a boulder! Healthy, though … or at least that’s what I said to the kids.

Meat, mostly beef, sometimes pork, came from the local farm slaughter house; we often helped cut-and-wrap ourselves. We helped grind hamburger and brought it home in industrial-sized plastic bags.

The kids caught fish in the river across the field. Lots of trout and coho, mostly. Not having much cash in those days, the salmon the kids caught were important to our winter food supply. We didn’t know how to smoke salmon properly back then, and have since learned how to build a proper smoke house. But we did have a little, tiny plug-in smoker, and we thought it was a treat!

Sometimes we went to dig razor clams on North Beach. And there was the year when there was a massive wash-up of cockles and scallops on North Beach after a big winter northeast storm. The scallops we ate were the size of hockey pucks and we are still talking about them.

Friends often brought us halibut, crab, ling cod, black cod, snapper, sometimes magnificent prawns.  As no one in the family is a hunter, we occasionally traded fish for a few roasts of local venison. Oh, and we had chickens too. Fresh eggs every day. One year we raised, slaughtered and cleaned 50 chickens for the freezer.

We went berry picking often in late July and August. The kids got carried and back-packed up and down through logging slash. We took along stainless steel thermoses of lemonade, and thick hunks of brown-bread sandwiches, usually made with loads of that gooey, chunky peanut butter and Gwen’s famous salmonberry jam. We picked enough red huckleberries to fill those 28-pound white buckets and put them away in all kinds of ways for the winter. We had huckleberry cobbler, huckleberry pancakes, huckleberry muffins, huckleberry jam and best of all, huckleberry pies.

At the end of the day, in the fall, we got the kids all outside in the dune meadows (long before they became the Misty Meadows Provincial Campsite) hunting mushrooms. Enormous boletus were the big prize. But there were also slippery jacks, red-capped boletus and a favourite chanterelle patch which was lush and golden … if we got there before Bob Crooks did. The mushrooms were dried on a big rack over the wood stove for soups and sauces through the winter, and were packed in jars with fancy labels for Christmas presents.

Later in the fall we picked cranberries in the bogs. There were two kinds – one a little bush berry and the other a tiny little vine that trails along through the hummocks of the muskeg. It was a lot of work for a few precious pails full, but they were real treasures brought out to the dinner table at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It was a full life of hard work. It takes a lot of thought, planning and effort to grow and gather food. Seeds have to be bought and planted, grown through good and bad weather, the bugs kept off, the fruit and vegetables harvested at the right time, cleaned, chopped, boiled, blanched, packed, and frozen. Everything has to be taken in its “raw” state and processed in one way or another. The main tools were shovel and hoe in the garden, sharp knives, fishing rods, berry pails, running water, wooden spoons, canning jars, freezer bags and busy hands in the kitchen.

It was a very good life, amid an abundance in which I still live, and for which I am thankful. But, from today’s point of view, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is just an amusing reminiscence, and basically a sentimental trip through times gone by – and I’ll grant you there is that aspect to it. Nevertheless, the threads of rural life that were followed through those years by the “back-to-the-landers” are still with us today, formalized in food security “studies” and movements such as the 100-mile diet.

Haida Gwaii is a busy place for life, land and politics. And over the years, I have done a lot of work, in different jobs and roles. But, I find, my fundamental view of what matters most in the the world was keenly shaped by those early days with a young family in Tlell.

And my idea of what I need to do about the issues of the day is still guided and affirmed by what I learn chopping vegetables, and canning fish at the kitchen table

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Canadian Lulla-bye

Global warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”

If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history.

Jim Hansen, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in the New York Times, May 10, 2012

Bad things happen when good people do nothing.

-April Churchill, vice-president of the Haida Nation, speaking in a discussion of nature and faith with a Globe and Mail panel.

In the comfort of our age of plenty, our enjoyment of richness where we found it, in our dreams about the attainability of the good life for all, we have been lulled into a long and easy sleep— from which we are waking up in a grey cold dawn.

Our lives and livelihoods have become much riskier, our governments are not what we believed, or hoped, them to be. All of a sudden, so few have so much, and so many have so little. Who benefits and who bears the brunt of our comfortable life? When does the exacerbation of climate change become a specific human rights issue? When will we have crossed the line of no return?

If the magnitude and the significance of this state of affairs, does not touch our very core sense of what is is just, fair and right in the world, then, I fear, we have fallen dead asleep at the helm, gone dead cold in the heart, and no longer know our soul.

So I find myself wandering back through memory here, wondering. In such a situation as this, how do I know what to do, how to act?  What can I rely on? What is it that I know, and how did I come by that learning?

In the way-back-when, my mother’s family traces its origins in Canada to the Irish Wesleyan Methodist farming communities of Ontario around Stirling, Tweed, Napanee and Kingston.

I grew up in the very heart beats of colonized and actively colonizing society. My grandfathers’s family were hardworking rural farmers, but they did tend to subscribe to the view: “Our way is the best way”, maybe even “the only way.”   Also “live and let live” was a popular testament to tolerance— except when it came to the Catholics. On the other hand, my father’s family origin is in the Welsh borderlands and he was new to Canada back then.  So that set lots of my foundation stories quite a-kilter.

Nonetheless,  in the limestone fortress of Sydenham School, on Clergy Street in Kingston Ontario, I began the lessons that proudly painted Canadian society as a world class model of democracy, fairness and social justice. I don’t know where that idea came from exactly. It was just something that got slurped up everyday in thought, word and deed.

In the 1960s, along with my other teenage friends, we all began developing social consciences, of course, lit up by the civil rights movements in the US, and the history of Gandhi’s movement in India. But still, the base line objectives were pretty clear — to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

I knew that there were issues of social justice, poverty and racial discrimination in Canada. . . but like somewhere else… not in my small enclave of daily life. The thought that inequality or injustice was systemically entrenched  in our society did not occur to me… not for a moment. We were the Good Guys and everybody would automatically desire and should be given the opportunity to be just like us.

It has taken years of other experiences, and a lot of patience from the good teachers of Haida Gwaii, to crack the formidable veneer of assumptions that come as part and parcel of my colonizers history. Eventually I understood that not all Canadians shared my particular privileged notions, and their life experiences were often fundamentally at huge variance to mine. Canada never was, and still is not, a level playing field. I can’t believe how long it took me to begin to figure this out.

In the place that I come from, (literally and figuratively) I think it’s easy to believe that life goes on pretty well without much effort beyond earning your daily bread. But the world has changed, in ways that I could never have imagined. Government has become something that many Canadians are not proud of…at all. And the need for good governance on a local and global scale has never been greater.

The Enbridge pipeline proposals are a specific focus of concern on Haida Gwaii these days.  Oil tanker traffic on the West Coast poses a serious threat to the very existence of all coastal peoples, and the life forms which bind us together.

It is also clear that the pipeline and tanker proposals to ship bitumen through the west coast port of Kitimat to markets in Asia, are a symptom of, and connectors to, the much larger problems of global warming and climate change.

And those are the matters that pitch us all together in our small, fragile planetary life boat.

We are standing on guard for our country, for our land, for our people. If we do not do it, nobody else will do it for us.– Monica Howard at the JRP hearings, Smithers

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

We burn as bright as comets

Comet Hyakutake in the night 1996

We burn as bright as comets across the nighttime sky. And oncoming behind us is this infinite stream of junk and debris, as inevitable and persistent as the heavenly bodies.

In my lifetime the population of the world has gone from 2 billion to 7 billion. I can’t really get my head around that. I have no idea what 7 billion looks like. Do you?

The trail of garbage has grown alongside at an exponential rate as well.

There are thousands of WW II ship wrecks in the ocean, hulks of corroding steel, unexploded bombs, ammunition, leaking bunker fuel and diesel oil. The national flower of Africa is the plastic bag blown all over the deserts and savannahs. On the beaches of Bangladesh people deconstruct enormous hulks of oil tankers with torches and their bare hands. Our streets and highways are in a constant state of litter, and landfills preoccupy our science-fiction imaginations. And I haven’t even got to global warming yet.

As I once heard the great Canadian educator, Ursula Franklin, say at a conference, “As for God, we can’t keep calling on her as if she were the great cosmic cleaning woman.”

Yaaaah, I get it.

The chaos of the past trails along behind us. The storm of the future looms ahead, veiled as it is, in clouds of speculation, fantasy, and conjecture. I really don’t want to hold my nose, close my eyes and rocket off in that direction–me and 7 billion others–without checking the rear view mirror first. Not before some of this mess is sorted out, anyways.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment