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September 2, 2011 in Social Commentary | Tags: Activism, Como un pajaro, Conventum, Council of All beings, despair, ECO Camp, eco-psychology, Fidel Gamboa, hope, Ivan Rodriguez, Jack Layton, Jaime Gamboa, Joanna Macy, lake Erie pollution, Laurie Hollis-Walker, Malpais, Manuel Obregon, Mourning and Melancholia, optimism, Peter Timmerman, Probus, Sally Ludwig, Temagami blockade, The Work that Reconnects, two-toed sloths, vegan cooking, vegetarianism | Leave a comment
My friend Laurie Hollis-Walker recruited me as cook for an August weekend gathering she organizes called ECO Camp. My friendship with Laurie goes back to the Red Squirrel Road
blockade in Temagami, Ontario in 1989, an experience that brought her to her present academic world of eco-psychology. After doing her research for her Bachelor and Master’s degrees studying the activists involved in the Temagami action, Laurie went on to design and teach the first university course in Canada in eco-psychology at Brock University in St. Catherines.
An important feature of the course for her students was a weekend spent together in the forest not far from the campus, a time for renewal of spirit in a natural setting. These class retreats evolved into a larger gathering bringing together students, academics and concerned citizens of various ages and experience. An activist and therapist from Guelph, Sally Ludwig, who is one of Laurie’s mentors, joined with her vision and together they brought ECO Camp to life.
Laurie is also a colleague of Joanna Macy, a scholar and writer in Berkeley, California, who is the brain and soul behind “The Work that Reconnects.” Her work serves to support the community of activists – academic, grassroots, political – who become overwhelmed by despair in this troubled world. Ms Macy has worked worldwide helping people overcome despondency to carry on their work against the raging Machine. Many of the rituals that make up ECO Camp are based on her work. Much of the discussion is about the burn-out inherent in environmental and social activism – considering that for so many taking on issues in this complex, troubled world it is a life-long commitment. As someone who has been paying attention to the issues since I was young, I can understand the frustration, anger and fear that arises in one’s soul as the news seems to get grimmer, the answers more complex, and the solutions further from our collective grasp.
Laurie arranged for me to stay at a small cottage on Lake Erie – the “great lake” that connects Detroit and Niagara Falls – for the week prior to the camp where I could prepare some of the food. This would then allow me to participate in parts of the program on the weekend itself. I was present at one of the first camps a few years ago. This year was the fifth year and up until now, Laurie had not only organized and facilitated the gathering, but also been the head cook. As someone who believes in only biting off as much as one can chew, I couldn’t imagine that this was an ideal situation for anyone to take on that much responsibility, so I was happy to take the job – partly for the money but as much to support Laurie, allowing her to put her energy in the workshops which I could also take part in when not stirring soup.
I enjoyed the humble home belonging to Laurie’s student Emma and her family, but I’ve never been a fan of Lake Erie. I was introduced to crystal clear lakes in the north as a child, so I have had the privilege of growing up with a high ideal of what a healthy body of water is. In my lifetime, I’ve probably been to Lake Erie at least a dozen times and only ever felt comfortable swimming in her questionable waters when we sailed far out from her shores that too often made me think of bathtub ring.
Still, I spent a relaxed week watching the seagulls frolic on the rocks under the sun, the lights of ships passing under the moon as it grew plumper each night with bright meteors exploding around her in the heavens. Each morning, I spent some time cooking, listening to CBC radio, and thought about the possibility of swimming, an idea I rejected each afternoon when I saw no change to the scum that sullied the lake edge.
The moon was full by the time we moved the boxes of food to the camp. I spent four days feeding people healthy, mostly vegetarian food. I have cooked for groups for most of my adult life in some form or other and recognize that it is important, now more than ever, to pay attention to people’s dietary requirements. Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, allergies…along with trying to eat local, organic and generally healthy, it is a challenge to get it right for everyone. But I was a vegetarian for years and never found it hard to make great food without meat and fish. Nowadays there are so many products available to replace milk, eggs and cheese that doing vegan isn’t difficult as long as you have the right attitude and pay attention.
Part of the program called for participants to, well, participate…as in help out with the necessities including in the kitchen. So I had some great helpers – Marissa, Ingrid, Drew, Helen, Russ, Jenn, Jess – who peeled, sliced, washed, tossed and took my direction with good humor. Jess arrived with donated organic produce from gardens and cooperatives in the Guelph area, bags bursting with collard greens, kale and kohlrabi. Marissa was the cheery and functional morning person who got up with me extra early to make breakfast.
In the kitchen, when pots are bubbling and hunger is looming, it can be easy to shout out quick directions minus those essential terms “please (do this) and thank
you (for doing that).” The gentle, soft-spoken, very helpful Ingrid, as well as the others, took my brusqueness in stride and accepted my thank-you’s when I managed to stop for a second and make sure the workers understood that I appreciated all they were doing.
The one vegan in the crowd, sweet Dan, was appreciative for the dishes we made that met his requirement. He told me how he is often maligned for his diet and political beliefs and was happy that I embraced him. Although I am no longer a vegetarian, and never was a vegan, I have great respect for those who follow their principles, guided by any number of good reasons, and eat what is the least offensive and most ecologically-intelligent diet. Making vegan dishes is always interesting, they can be just as tasty and are usually healthier than carnivorous fare, so it wasn’t just Dan that enjoyed the mac & cheese made with a nutritional yeast cheesy-type sauce and rice noodles or the raw nibbles made with dates and nuts. Dan became a vegetarian at 10 years of age while living in beef-fed Calgary, against the best wishes of his parents, and then moved on to being a vegan a few years later. I say, Bravo Dan! May the rest of the planet learn to live as gently and thoughtfully as you rather than shifting to super-sizing Mc-slaughterhouse fare. Be proud and live with a free conscience dear Dan, and don’t let them get you down.
The first day of ECO-Camp was devoted to the participants sharing their despair over the state of the earth, the loss of our brethren creatures, and our precarious future. Through a series of workshops and rituals, each person could express in a supportive environment their sadness, anger and overwhelming sense of loss as it pertains to our beautiful home, Mother Earth. There was a powerful presentation by Peter Timmerman, Professor of Environmental Studies at York University, titled “Mourning and Melancholia: 7 Wounds We Live With,” following the progression of environmental decline, the movements that have arisen to deal with each issue, and our collective emotional response. Starting in the 1940s and the advent of nukes, through the chemical poisoning of the land and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, acid rain killing our waters, to the extinction of species, the depleted ozone and global warming. Each one of these atrocities has caused a reaction, ecological, political, social and spiritual, that collectively we keep trying to deal with while the greedy – what I call “the Machine”, or musician/activist Manu Chao calls “the Mafia”– continue to drag us along a destructive and ultimately fatal path. The most recent, the last of the seven wounds, is the changing of life itself through cloning and genetic-modification, and Peter pointed out that the environmental movement has barely started this latest fight to keep life on our planet somewhat true to its natural form.
Peter’s discussion was joined by a beautiful, if shocking and disturbing, slide show put together by Laurie. She mounted both positive and negative images that illustrated the seven wounds and the precious body called earth that is being continuously scarred. The music that accompanied the pictures sent shivers through my body, a soundtrack of tribal rhythms, earth sounds and voices that both pummeled my heart and caressed my soul. The pieces were “My heart is moved by all I cannot save”, based on a poem by Adrienne Rich with music composed and sung by Carol McDade; “Initiation” written and composed by guitarist Tommy Emmanuel; and “Tombeau” by David R Walker – who is also Laurie’s very talented husband known in the guitar world as Dr. Dave. Magical music.
The second day featured solo walks in the surrounding forest for each of the participants – I stayed in the kitchen – and concluded with a wonderful gathering called the Council of All Beings. Time was allowed for each of us to get creative and make masks so that we could come to the council representing one of earth’s beings: we joined as trees, water, a cardinal, spider, skunk, deer, moth, and even a human being who took it upon himself to listen to the creatures as we expressed our concerns for our mutual home. It was a gathering to discuss our struggles under the assault of greed, exploitation and stupidity.
I was a two-toed sloth. My main message was that everyone – including activists, artists, teachers, and musicians – everyone needs to slow down. As I move between my jungle home on the Caribbean in Costa Rica, to busy Monteverde in the mountains and return to the northern industrial world of Canada, I find that almost everyone I know is spinning, faster and faster, trying to produce, to create, to learn, to earn, to develop – struggling over the sharing of our precious resources, making ourselves sick with stress. Perhaps if we took a lesson from the gentle peaceful sloth and slowed down, we might all live better.
Fortunately, I am generally not a person overwhelmed by despair, depression or anxiety though that isn’t to say I never feel these things. Perhaps that comes from the positive example and teachings of my mother, perhaps it is my personality, perhaps it is the fact that I have lived most of my adult life surrounded by nature which replenishes my spirit daily – most likely it is all these things together that allow me to pay attention to what is going on around me but not be overwhelmed (usually).
The best thing to do when I’m bothered by something is to take action and to surround myself with others who are taking action which has led me to many protests and peaceful gatherings. By my own design, I live as close to the earth as possible. I live well with very little and my happiness comes from things that don’t cost much – my friends, music, dancing, walks in the woods, swimming in the sea, listening to the birds. Although I am as outraged as anyone at the many injustices, rich mens’ wars, poor womens’ suffering and the corporate takeover of the world, I generally don’t hold on to rage and I work against feeling despondent. As much as I feel sick when thinking of those who are barely surviving, I also feel concern for how much stress and fear people live with, something I witness both here in North America but also in Costa Rica.
Having said that, I do find myself in a lingering moment of sadness that’s been triggered by the death of two great men. All Canadians will know that we have just lost Jack Layton, a man known for his activism, his eternal optimism, his humor, and his recent rise in the government to a position where we believe that he could affect positive social change that he has been committed to all his life. A year ago he announced he had prostate cancer, was beating it, and then a month ago, looking frail and sounding worse, he told us he was fighting a new cancer. Just weeks later, he was dead. It has been a huge loss for those of us who felt that we finally had a strong visionary in a political position of power who would speak on behalf of the poor, the disenfranchised and the environment as well as inspire youth to be involved in the process. In a final letter to Canadians he wrote words that will be a lasting part of his legacy:
“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
On Sunday I was watching the video of his memorial in Toronto, an amazing collection of eulogies and music that made my spirit soar but also brought tears. I was just beginning to recover and was ready to carry on when I read the shocking news (on Facebook) that one of the most prolific, talented and revered musicians in Costa Rica, Fidel Gamboa, had died suddenly of a heart attack just a few weeks after his fiftieth birthday.
Along with that whole tiny nation, I was devastated for the loss of a man who has composed some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. I fell under the spell of his music when it was performed by a group called Probus back in about 1994. It took my breath away with its seductive slow melody for a voice rising above discordant strings. It reminded me of music from a group from Quebec called Conventum, who had seduced me similarly back in the late 70s. I was amazed to find such similar music being played in two very distinct, distant, small societies.
Fidel grew up playing music in a musical family, graduated with a history of arts degree from the University of Habana in Cuba, and was a prolific composer as well as part of Adrián Goizueta’s experimental jazz group in Costa Rica for decades. Fidel was notoriously shy and it took his brother, Jaime, also a musician and poet, and his friends Manuel Obregón and Iván Rodríguez (presently the Minister and Vice-Minister of Culture in Costa Rica and phenomenal musicians in their own right) to convince him to join together with them to form the band Malpaís. This Costa Rican “supergroup” began gracing stages about ten years ago. To their surprise, Malpaís was not only received warmly by all ages and regions of Costa Rica but became troubadours, historians, and basically musical deities. They played the music written by the Gamboa brothers – often Jaime’s lyrics to Fidel’s music – and it spoke for the country’s past, present and future. Their music gives a melody to the landscape and resonates with the humility and heart of its people. Their music is pure poetry.
Fidel will be as missed in Costa Rica as Jack will be in Canada, but his huge catalogue of music, recorded by almost every significant musical group in the country as well as by performers elsewhere in the Latin world and gracing the soundtracks of many films and documentaries, will live on and continue to touch all who hear and feel it. I share these few words that finish Fidel’s beautiful song Como un pájaro (Like a bird) and hope you will find your way (http://www.grupomalpais.com/) to much more of his and Malpaís’ beautiful music.
“Y cantando, Y cantando así sin voz y sin aliento, Y cantando así sin voz y
sin aliento, como aquel primer amor entre tu pecho…
“Como un árbol, como un árbol sacudido por el viento, Y cantando…como un pájaro en lalluvia, vuelo lejos…”
“And singing, singing so voiceless and breathless, singing so voiceless and breathless, as when that first love enters your chest…
“Like a tree, like a tree shaken by the wind… and singing…like a bird in the rain, flying away….”
I thank both Jack and Fidel (and another man of vision, our dear Wolf Guindon – who, by the way is doing very well I am told) and the many others in the world like them who inspire us with their words and actions. They are who keep me from feeling despair and remind me to continue with hope and optimism.
October 2, 2010 in Social Commentary | Tags: Antanas Mockus, anti-open pit gold mines, banned film, Bogota-Change!, corporate tourism in Costa Rica, Cracking the Golden Egg, CRiterio Filmfest, cyanide, effective mayors, empowerment, enrique Penalosa, honesty, La Fortuna, La Sirena y el Buzo, Los Crucitas, Miskitos in Nicaragua, mooning as a statement, New Meridian Mining, power of film, public spaces, responsible tourism, social struggle, vaccine against crime, Vienen por el oro; vienen por todo; Esqual Argentina, Volcano Arenal | Leave a comment
I came to La Fortuna, near the magnificent Volcano Arenal, to visit my friend Zulay for a few days. It happened that I arrived just in time to see a number of documentaries featured on the last day of what is hopefully the first annual CRiterio Environmental Film Festival. On my first full day of gorgeous, dry sun after a week of heavy rain and Monteverde coolness, with that big ol’ constipated mountain of lava rumbling behind us, we watched four diverse documentaries covering a range of issues.
The first was La Sirena y el Buzo (The Mermaid and the Diver), a Mexican/Spanish production telling a fable of the Miskito people on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. It’s a bittersweet look at the lives of poor Miskito communities, one riverside, the other dependent on the sea which can be both generous and brutally unkind. Although the story of the film was somewhat confusing, there was great power in the images of turtles being slaughtered, women giving birth, the bewildered faces of poverty and the unforgiving strength of nature. Although light on levity, the scene of a female shaman bouncing, slapping and chanting the bad spirits from a very robust, yet sickly, baby, was welcome comedic relief.
The film that I enjoyed the most was from the Cities on Speed series from Denmark and called Bogota – Change! It looks at the renaissance of the Columbian city of Bogota in the 1990s. It was known as an urban center of high crime, corruption and unemployment, until two interesting characters were elected as independent mayors – Antanas Mockus in 1995 and a couple of years later, Enrique Peñalosa. Our first experience of Mockus is when, as chancellor of the university, he drops his pants and moons the perpetually angry and frustrated audience – “a display of both extreme violence and extreme submission,” he explains. He is fired from his academic post but soon elected as mayor of Bogota.
His major influence is his Lithuanian mother who is a well-known sculptor and more outspoken than he. She insists that “if you don’t have honesty, you can’t accomplish anything”. And so Mockus is known for being controversial but having great integrity. He deals with the dysfunctional city like a sociological experiment and makes changes through such creative, yet unheard of, solutions as “a vaccine against crime”, professional mimes teaching drivers how to behave properly on the busy roadways, and insisting that “la vida es valor” – life has more value than objects in response to people’s greater concern about theft than the murder epidemic at the time. In his first term as mayor, the murder rate dropped by 50%, water usage dropped by 40%, and numerous other statistics demonstrated that his unorthodox and often puzzling methods were working. A side-note to this is, after googling Mockus, I found that he was the presidential candidate for the Columbian Green party in 2010 and lost, but also announced that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in April of this year – a sad update.
After Mockus’ term, Peñalosa came in and worked on the infrastructure of the city, adding hundreds of miles of bike lanes, a modern public transit system, limits on vehicles in the urban core, and taking out slums and derelict areas and replacing them with parks, public spaces, and libraries. Although there seems a moment when the populous didn’t understand “public spaces”, he managed to push through much of his agenda in a short time. In Bogota, the mayor can only serve one consecutive term, (Mockus returned for a second), but either of these men may have made an even bigger impact if allowed more time. It is amazing what they accomplished in their brief 2 year terms, despite the great opposition to their extreme platforms. The film is both amusing and inspiring. From what I can tell, Bogota is now a model city on many scales, even while Columbia struggles on – and it has just moved its way up my gotta-go-see list.
On the printed agenda for the filmfest was something called “Film Sorpresa” (Surprise film). We were curious as to what that would be. What came on the screen was a documentary I am already familiar with called Cracking the Golden Egg, a critical look at corporate tourism on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It was created by an organization for responsible tourism based in Washington D.C. The president, Martha Honey, was a journalist here in Costa Rica for years. I wrote about her back in April when I saw this documentary for the first time and she chaired a panel in Monteverde. She was back again in August holding a workshop and I happened to run into one of her co-workers. He told me that the half hour doc had been banned from distribution in Costa Rica, as both the government and the tourism industry didn’t like the idea that people would see its negative evaluation of large corporate hotels versus local development and community well-being. So it made sense that the festival organizers hadn’t advertised its name on their agenda but still took the opportunity to show it. You can go to the link: http://www.responsibletravel.org/home/index.html and maybe access the video. I tried to post it but was unsuccessful. I especially recommend it for people thinking of traveling to Costa Rica.
The film that the festival organizers gave the top prize to is called Vienen por el oro; vienen por todo – “They came for the gold; They came for it all”. It was a very well-done (yet poorly sub-titled) film about the town of Esqual in Argentina which, in 2003, managed to stop a large Canadian mining company (New Meridian) from developing an open pit gold mine. The use of explosives, cyanide and other chemicals would have devastated the beautiful mountainous area, its pure water, and the health of the inhabitants. In an area of extreme unemployment and hardship, the citizenry still decided, by something like 80 % in a referendum, not to allow the mine to develop.
At this moment in Costa Rica, a Canadian mining company with a local subsidiary by the name of Infinito Gold is trying to open an open pit gold mine, in the small community of Las Crucitas, just north of where I am presently staying here in the San Carlos. They began their attempt in 1993 but have been held back by numerous legal actions against them. The new president, Laura Chinchilla, put a moratorium on any movement when she came into office in May of this year until the highest court could rule on the legality of the mine. Her predecessor, the once revered but now ethically-questionable Oscar Arias, felt it was a project that favored Costa Rica economically.
The environmental community has managed to hold off this massive assault on the area. Their main concerns are for the 190 hectares of tropical dry forest that will be destroyed (along with the residential flora and fauna) and the use of cyanide and other chemicals that will poison the watershed of the area, including the mighty Rio San Juan that forms the northern border of Costa Rica with Nicaragua. Supposedly a decision is going to be made in the following days. This film we watched last night was a powerful message for those involved in the struggle – with community co-ordination and commitment, David can beat Goliath. As Esqual’s doctor, Flavio, declared, concerning what is right versus what is wrong: “It’s for the people, you asshole, not for the millionaires”.
The worldwide struggle continues with the helplessness of poverty versus the golden dream of jobs; the difficulty of empowering the disenfranchised and arming them with knowledge and hope when television generally encourages us down the path of least resistance and seduces us with the promise of comforts and convenience through consumerism and cooperation. These struggles continue everywhere, always – and writers, journalists, bloggers, poets, musicians and film-makers have the opportunity to educate, enlighten, and encourage collective empowerment. Bravo to the organizers of CRiterio and to the many who created these powerful cine-images that maybe, just maybe, will play a big part in moving us one step closer to sanity.
November 9, 2009 in Social Commentary | Tags: cancer, development, finding solutions, Guatemala, health of the planet, information, Lake Atitlan, leaves, Mayan villgers, organic agriculture, organize, San Pedro de Laguna, Todos por el Lago, Wolf Guindon | 2 comments
The leaves, having attended their annual costume party, have been whipping around, making that inevitable trip downward from their lofty heights. I’ve been waiting for the orange cones to appear on the street, signifying that Hamilton’s big leaf-sucking trucks will be coming around the next day. I raked the thick blanket of maple leaves that has accumulated on my front yard into a big pile. I now keep watch, wondering if any of the school kids walking by will take the plunge into that soft heap of crunchy vegetation – I know I couldn’t resist when I was young. Once those work-cones appear, I’ll rake the whole lot out on the street and hopefully be here to watch the big truck suck ‘em all up like a super-duper Molly Maid. It always gives me a thrill.
We are having a mid-November week of warm temperatures and hot sun, beautiful weather to be dealing with the final stages of the gardening season. In two weeks, I’ll be on my way to Costa Rica, and at this rate I won’t see even a flake of snow before I leave. I’m anxious to get down there, as this weekend Wolf was back in the hospital with a series of seizures. He is already home again, and I’m not sure just what happened, except that he hit his head when he fell and needed stitches.
I don’t know if anyone knows what happened. I’m guessing it has to do with his medications, whether he is taking them properly or not, whether they are collectively causing problems while individually dealing with his diabetes, prostate, bipolarity and knee pain. Someone suggested that he was de-hydrated. With all that water on the mountain, particularly in the streams that the Quakers have been protecting all of these years, Wolf should be drinking lots of water even if he has to go get it straight from the stream if he doesn’t like it by the glass. I’m relieved to know that he was released quickly, which means it was a passing concern, but I know that he must be getting very discouraged and frustrated with these recurring episodes. For the moment, it would seem that Wolf is okay.
Good health is fleeting. Sometimes it disappears as quickly as it takes the heart to burst and other times it is a long slow cancer that sneaks up. You need to really appreciate good health when you have it – and it generally takes having cancer (as I did) or something chronic for that to sink in. As often as not, there are signs that things are going wrong whether with our personal health or our relationships, and we may choose to turn a blind eye and avoid the truth as long as possible. So is it also with the health of our communities and forests and waterways – the disease has been settling in for decades now. The planet is suffering from chronic illness and we can’t remain blind to the reality.
I recently received an email from friends in San Pedro de Laguna, Guatemala. I wrote a couple blogs about this lakeside town when I spent Christmas there last year (The Land of the Mayans/The Magic of San Pedro posts.) The email is a call for people to help the communities around Lake Atitlan that are trying to deal with the decreasing health of this beautiful mountainous laguna. I am copying some of that letter here with the hopes that people who come to my blog may read it and pass it on, and in this way perhaps the people who are struggling with this will get help from the rest of the world.
This is coming from a group “Todos por el Lago” but, as they state in the letter, the concern about the lake’s health has been discussed for years by a number of groups. Development and tourism on the lake is growing and putting more stress on the area without appropriate measures being implemented to deal with the inevitable problems. It is a very long, detailed letter written in Spanish and translated into English. I have edited it and only included parts, but if you want to read the whole thing or contact the group, this is their twitter account:
The following paragraphs come out of their communication:
“Unfortunately, it seems like we are about to witness a drama way more serious than we would like to believe. It has been a year now since we have started to see scary signs that something really wrong is going on with the lake water -algae, skin diseases and stomach problems of swimmers, dying fish, cyanobacteria and even sewage smells - and it feels like somehow we have chosen not to see those signs. There is no worse blindness than the one of who does not want to see and in this case, the reality we have in front of our eyes seems so terrible that it produces immediate blindness. I feel like maybe what we are witnessing is the beginning of the end of a way of life we all fell in love with at some point, that being the reason why we decided to make this our way of life. The death of this lake would be the death of a dream-like environment -one of the most beautiful in the world - of the life style of ancient Mayan villages that have a lot to teach, a lot to live, and also the death of this little sociological experiment of which we are all part, a mixture of people with different nationalities, ages and cultures that got together here in a unwritten decision to live together a different life style to the ones we left behind back home.
“From our point of view the pace in which Mayan villagers have had to adapt to the consequences of the so called industrial development has been unnatural – it did not leave them space or time to understand the negative effects of consumerism and of lack of inorganic rubbish -and other byproducts- treatment. Because of this, us ¨westerners¨ who inhabit this land that has belonged to the Mayan since the beginning of time, have the obligation of doing all we can for these people to have an understanding of how the byproducts of consumerism can affect their environment, and with it their way of life.
“We have some ideas for discussion we have obtained from neighbours and friends, that could be little seeds for community dialogue:
- Organise informative meetings that explain not only in Spanish, but also in Kakchikel, Tzutujil and English what the lake is actually suffering, what are the symptoms, what are the causes and what will be both the long term and short term effects.
- Information is the key, let’s inform everybody, let’s make signs, drawings, posters, get out there and pass the info around, the lake is seriously ill, yes, we are not exaggerating, you just have to look at the water surface, at the sewage in Tzanjuyu… let’s do something!
- We have to appeal to international organisations, whether it be realm of govnermental or non-governmental, contact everyone we can think of , Greenpeace, European Commission for Environment… we are sure there must be inhabitants and visitors of the lake with contacts, ideas, let’s use them! Let’s motivate them! There are home owners in San Lucas belonging to the entreprenereal world, let’s ask them for help! From the local business to the political world there are people who may have vested interests in the lake – take whatever steps necessary to find funds, subsidies and international aid to fund treatment plants, studies and technologies that would give us organic alternatives to harmful phosphates, that is to get SOLUTIONS. We also need information about whether it is possible not just to prevent the growth of bacterias but if there is a way to undo the damage already caused by what already exists here!
- We need to stop the sewage from going into the lake. We have all heard at some point that this and that embassy or organization has proposed to finance some treatment plant but then it has never happened, is this true? can anybody give exact information? we all need to know what has happened in order to take action…
- We need to stop the use of chemical products for agriculture. This means not only educating the workers in the agricultural sector, but maybe taking more drastic measures like prohibiting the total use of these products in the entire surrounding areas of the lake; a comment made by a neighbour in Santa Cruz: if they can make a law that prohibits smoking in public spaces, why can’t they make a law that prohibits bloody phosphates!? The huge coffee plantations should have to set an example for all and make their crops organic, in this way also giving greater worth -come on, ORGANIC is a magic word today in the west!- and more international fame to Guatemalan coffee. But what is the likelihood that civil society has the power so that this is really going to happen?
“We need to begin to organise ourselves, do something now, before it’s too late, and not sit here waiting in the hope that the algaes on the surface disappear from sight so that we can act like nothing’s happened. IT´S HAPPENED, and there’s no pretending that this is just a surface problem anymore. Let’s start the DEBATE with this fórum and hold meetings so that every single person will contribute what they can, only in this way will we be able to save the lake. We are offering what we have: our doors are open to be used as a meeting space, we offer our time to translate and our energy, the important thing is to see that everyone is ready and is going to actually SPREAD THE WORD, this will be the seed towards change, hopefully! ”
October 9, 2009 in Social Commentary | Tags: american pop-culture, Barbra streisand, buzz, CBC, celebrity, celebrity-driven-universe, children and television, consumerism, Craig Ferguson, David Letterman, family-run motels, fidelity, friends, idol-worship, important values, internet, media cloud, Michael Moore, moral accountability, newspapers, Nobel Peace Prize, normal class, Obama, Oprah, Oprah's bookclub, Oprah's favorite things, peace of nature, perspective, poor, Rape-rape, Roman Polanski, scandals, television, tranquility, truth, Whoopi | 1 comment
I spend much of my time in Costa Rica. When I’m there I have very little exposure to North American news and culture. The big scandals and important world events show up in the newspapers and on cable TV, but I have to make a real effort to see them and without any context I often don’t understand what’s going on. In Costa Rica, if we walk into Cahuita from the jungle to watch an important soccer match or to get groceries, Roberto always gets a couple of newspapers to consume till the next town trip. If we stay in a hotel in San Jose with television, we devour lots of news and movies. In Monteverde it’s the radio. The world comes to me in fits and starts.
When I’m in Canada, I’m constantly on the internet, listening to CBC on the radio, watching TVs that are mounted everywhere it would seem, talking about it all with friends – I’m full of what’s going on, listening to the buzz of pop-culture and politics, and caught up in the latest media diet.
And so - how nuts is this world? There are the horrid images of crimes and tragedies that bombard us, played over and over again until a new one replaces them. Just as disturbing are the outrageous lives that we are voyeurs of, the excess of wealth and celebrity that plays in stark contrast to the devastation of war and poverty.
After awhile a person can lose their perspective and get real confused about what is of real importance or not, and whose lives seem to be of more value or interest. Television obscures reality from both ends – for those of us consuming the edited fodder, and for those who live their lives feeding us what they think we should know.
When I get away from the media, I feel myself slow down and my breathing changes. My exasperation builds when I’m paying too much attention. I’m aware that the extreme stuff is still happening when I’m oblivious, but I don’t have to think about it when the images aren’t in my face. I can concentrate on choosing what I think are more valuable issues to fill my brain with. I feel a very different sense of tranquility when I’m living in the jungle or the bush, and it’s not just because of the beauty, power and peace of my natural surroundings.
Because I’m savvy to this huge media cloud that threatens my own truth-o-meter while telling me the-way-it-supposedly-is, and my awareness is peaked when I return to my North American life after chilling in my less-hooked-up life in the tropics, I admit that I react more to what I hear, see or read. For a brief while upon my reintroduction to North American culture, I am still thinking straight before I become blurry once again. It makes me worry for children who consume massive amounts of television, much more than we were allowed in our day - and really, we only watched nice shows like Red Skelton and Ed Sullivan.
What is considered important, normal and reasonable, that is, what is reality in the developing brains of children today?
Lately there have been a few conversations on television that have blown my mind, some by celebrities who I basically respect. Is it my imagination or are the wealthy celebrities having a little backlash to the New Order for the Common Good as suggested (if not yet implemented) by Obama (and in the new documentary by Michael Moore.) In the last week I heard Oprah and Barbra Streisand sit together and talk about just being poor girls at heart - ”if you are raised poor, you’ll always be a poor girl at heart”. And in the next breath, Barbra declared how Oprah needed to go to Spain and join her at a restaurant which I happen to know is considered one of the most expensive in the world. I appreciate that they may cherish memories of the simple life and insecurities might follow them from their humble beginnings, but these women are so beyond not even just rich anymore, it is staggering. I don’t understand how they can’t just shake their heads in disbelief at how ridiculously wealthy they are rather than claiming to still think in terms of food stamps. Maybe they could start a new fad - instead of adopting children from the third world, they could adopt whole countries and share their wealth that way since they have more money than many countries’ GNP. I know I know, Oprah does lotsa good I’m sure, probably Barbra too, but there is also a disconnect going on that grates me.
A year or two ago, I remember catching a moment of Oprah on a roadtrip with her sidekick Gayle and they had to stay in a regular motel – the family-run kind that my family certainly would be staying in (with great excitement) on the one night of the holiday when my parents let us stay in a motel instead of camping. The kind that millions use gracefully and billions more would be happy for the opportunity of visiting one day. Oprah whined and fussed about having to be there so much that I remember feeling embarrassed for the motel owners. She almost kissed the tiled floor in the lobby of the Ramada or Hyatt or whatever upscale hotel she was in the following night. I guess it was honest of her producers to keep these scenes in her show, but anyone I know who saw this bit came away shaking their heads.
My personal biggest beef with Oprah is her love of “stuff” and her desire to share “her favourite things” with the world. I guess with all the thousands of shows she’s done and the experts she’s met, she hasn’t figured out that consumerism is one of the biggest threats to the planet. Promoting more and more stuff and sharing the satisfaction she feels in accumulation of it also grates me.
I guess she won’t be putting Walking with Wolf on her bookclub list any time soon!
Another day, I saw Whoopi defending wealthy folks who do good work with their cash, not wanting to be lumped in with the wealthy folk who don’t. This was in reaction to Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story. There were many things she could have said about the doc, and the issues it raised, but that was her reaction. Of course it was only a day or two later that she defended the convicted-rapist-escapist Roman Polanski – it wasn’t really “rape-rape” (read the court transcript and decide). How would she look at the case if he wasn’t a fellow celebrity? I’ve always really liked Whoopi as both an entertainer and a smart out-spoken woman, but I’m questioning if she and I are on the same planet these days.
Then there’s the foofarah of David Letterman’s admitted trysts with female employees. Does anyone really think this stuff DOESN’T go on? If we hear that there was actual harassment as opposed to mutual consent or jobs lost because of refusing to partake – well, that is different. At this point, doesn’t one expect to hear these stories about celebrities (that alone your neighbours?)…and if you were going to marry one, would you truly be surprised if this happened? And in a celebrity-driven-universe, don’t you expect underlings to want to have their moment with the great ones? Perhaps personal morals aren’t what they used to be, but certainly in moments of idol worship, what else do you expect. I’m sure Cleopatra had the pick-of-her-groupies too.
My favorite response to Letterman’s situation was Craig Ferguson, the recovering alcoholic Scots-funny man who’s show follows Letterman’s, saying, “If we are now holding our late-night talk show hosts to the same moral accountability as our politicians and clergymen, I’m out. I’m gone.” Those standards obviously aren’t always being met by the latter gang but don’t we have more reason to be concerned about their behaviour and how it affects our daily lives? Some things are just more important than others.
I seldom write about this stuff, but it has been in my face these last couple weeks as autumn comes on. I’ve been in my house, writing, staying warm, trying not to spend money. I’m letting myself be distracted from my work to see what is going on out there on the glamorous side of the world (while tsunamis, earthquakes and wars continue to terrorize those in other hemispheres). My head is spinning from the absurdity of what I hear, my heart breaks for those who suffer in this lop-sided world, my body reminds me to leave all this behind, go outside and breathe before I’m grated raw.
I really appreciate the wonderful, down-to-earth, thoughtful people I’m lucky enough to have as friends and the time I spend with them reminds me that there is still something in the middle, a “normal” class, that crosses economic lines but is based on humane notions of accountability. I thank my friends for making it through life with kindness and humour even when we struggle (and I thank them for providing the photo-track to this blog.)
And then Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. May he get the support he needs to live up to the challenge of making this world a better place, starting in Washington.
I can turn off the TV now… I’ll go grate some cheese instead.
October 2, 2009 in Social Commentary | Tags: airplane pilot salaries, American Empire, bless the poor, Capitalism: A Love Story; greed, Carney Lake, control, corporate criminals, donating plasma, fall of the Roman Empire, feed the rich, food stamps, injustice, love and laughter, Mattawa, Michael Moore, Quiddler, radically evil, Religious RIght, Ronald Reagan, scrabble, support of neighbors, Tea Party, truth, Wall Street, Washington | Leave a comment
Last night I went to a screening of Michael Moore’s latest tell-em-like-it-is (but don’t bore em and do make em laugh) documentary called Capitalism: A Love Story. As happens with each film MM produces, I got riled by the audacity of the greedy and pissed by the injustice that exists around us, but encouraged by the fact that truth is being spoken in a way that makes it accessible to millions. I also laughed to tears cuz in the end you just have to laugh or you’ll die disgusted and that’s no way to go.
I’m so thankful that there is someone out there making documentaries like this, explaining how complicated our politico-social systems are and how deliberate is every motion by the powers-that-be to protect their interests. Mike examines why the “little people” fall into line rather than fight back. He explores all this in films that are entertaining yet shocking, which will keep the raised-on-TV-n-fast-food-nation watching when they otherwise might have given up at the first dialogue over 45 seconds and gone to get a chili dog. People pay more attention and learn easier when they are happy and endorphin-filled (Hello Sesame Street).
From the opening montage of images comparing the fall of the Roman Empire with the present state of the American Empire – bound to follow the way of all beasts that went before – you know you are in for a Moore-a-coaster ride through the good, the bad and the ugly. I obviously agree with Mike’s politics and gleefully watch him presenting ideas I have understood all my adult life. I love that he calls greed what it is and takes on that hallowed, perverted system of Capitalism. Although I would venture that the Religious Right and the Tea Party gang would defend to the death the right to make money and bear arms for all, they often seem to leave their compassion on the donation plate at their church. Mike interviews his Catholic “moral superiors” and they didn’t pull punches – they all agree that the basic creed of capitalism does not bless the poor but instead feeds the rich, is immoral and radically evil, at least the way it has been practiced in the last thirty years since Wall Street took over Washington with the help of that all-American cowboy, Ronald Reagan.
There are so many great moments in the film that all I can do is say go see it. Michael wrapping crime scene tape around the headquarters of Goldman Sachs in New York City and calling the corporate criminals out to face their punishment is priceless. In his films Mike runs around America like an overweight but tireless referee, blowing his whistle, trying to get the teams to follow the rules, play nice and be fair. When I met him briefly a couple of years ago in Traverse City Michigan, I told him “take care of yourself”. I still worry about his health. We need him.
I was real moved by the family in Miami who returned to their home after the bank had tossed them out – made me want to get a ticket and go to Florida and meet these warriors. According to the text at the end of the film, they are still there. They managed to rage against the machine by gaining the strength and support of their neighbors who can see their own fragile futures in this one family’s crisis. That’s the message – that the 99% of the nation who aren’t part of the 1% who are basically controlling the economics, politics, media and future of the country needs to stay together and fight the fight for and with each other. Here in Canada, ditto.
Two lonely isolated Canadian souls
The beauty of diversity and what happens when individuals join forces
And we all work together for the common good…
Spent a perfect few days in Mattawa with great friends last week. The kind of people you know would be there for you whenever you needed them. Smart folks, generally outraged like me by the injustices of the world but who self-medicate with love and laughter.
We spent a beautiful afternoon on Carney Lake where not a wisp of breeze rippled the water or rattled a leaf. We couldn’t get ourselves to make a move and leave until dark. We ate too much of course. And, a group of game-players all, we indulged in our new addiction, Quiddler.
My sister sent me this card game for my birthday – for Scrabble players it satisfies the need to madly arrange letters into words, for card players it has a rummy-kind of feel to it. It was extremely flexible as the group ebbed and flowed in numbers and you could get distracted yet not miss anything. Our little crowd of Quiddlers gave it 18 thumbs up.
The time is flying by and I’ve got lots of writing to do as well as a couple of book presentations. I just booked my flight to Costa Rica for November 23. In Capitalism: A Love Story, there are some interviews with airplane pilots, those professionals whose hands we put our lives in when we head into the skies. The ones Michael talked with were making less than $20,000 a year – a paltry sum for people with such a responsibility. Turns out that many are nourishing themselves with food stamps and donating plasma to make extra dollars. Gives a new slant to the dangers of flying – I hope I won’t have images of hungry, light-headed, disgruntled captains driving my airship south. Perhaps I’ll pack a lunch bag to give to them – oh right, won’t get that past security.
August 7, 2009 in Social Commentary | Tags: adobe oven, Al Gore disciple, Bank Street School, banned hunting, barking as noise pollution, biology teacher, cane toad, Cape Farewell Project, capuchins, castrating clinics, climate change, dogs, Doug Fraser, Eladio Cruz, forest guards, hurricane, Jannelle Wilkins, Kevin Fraser, Lucky Guindon, Marian Howard, Monteverde, Monteverde Institute, Monteverde Reserve, Pan Casero Artesanal, PEnas Blancas River Valley, pioneer women, Poco Sol, rescuing dogs, sourdough bread, spaying, street dogs, white-face monkeys, wildlife | Leave a comment
I’ve been in the house quite a bit lately due to the hurricane-type weather we’ve been having on the green mountain. I have lots to do on my laptop and have internet in the house I’m staying at, so I don’t need to go out in that wind and rain unless there is something on my social calendar that demands it. So Wilkens, Betsy and Cutie Pie, the K-9s, are thrilled – like most of us, they enjoy having company.
A relatively recent phenomena in Monteverde – likely all over Costa Rica – is that there are people trying to deal with the problem of street dogs. Veronica, the mistress of these three dogs, is a very kindhearted woman with a great love for animals. To see any creature suffer, no matter how small, breaks that kind heart of hers. Wilkens is a little terrier she rescued eight years ago in the U.S.; Betsy was found here in Monteverde last September, a strange tiny puppy left in a cardboard box in the middle of the road (a brutal method to let someone else in a car take care of your problem); and Cutie Pie was brought to a spaying clinic that Veronica, her friend Andrea and the local vet had arranged, and she was just too cute to let go.
The problem of hungry, homeless dogs has always been huge in Costa Rica (as it is in many places in the world) but the recent influence of North Americans – who sometimes treat their dogs better than their children – has meant that attitudes are changing. You see more purebred dogs here now. Costa Ricans have caught on to this new attitude and often are happy to get a fancy model dog, but getting them fixed isn’t necessarily a top priority or in some cases an economic reality. That’s why people like Veronica get the local vets to participate in spaying and castrating clinics – to try to limit the amount of unwanted dogs and cats left to wander the streets.
As I’ve written before, these three dogs have matured a lot in the last months but they are still a gang. We live in a house near the cliff edge surrounded by bucolic pastures, the feeding trough to a couple of horses, bordered by dense forest, and the dogs run free range out there. Around here, noise pollution means barking dogs – when one starts, the whole neighbourhood responds! The full moon of the last week has kept Betsy particularly on edge and I wake up with her nightly yowls still ringing in my ears. Although I love these dogs (usually), I have yet to totally adapt to this new reality in Monteverde.
This is a place where wildlife has always come right to your window, if not walked in your door – agouti, pizotes, monkeys, birds, olingos, amphibians, on and on – but the large presence of dogs in the community is changing things. Most houses here now have at least one dog, but many have two, three, four, even five. Once you start rescuing them, it is hard to stop when you know a little dog needs a home. Another reason for people wanting dogs is to protect their homes from the recent rash of robberies (a whole other blog there folks). But the fact that lots of these dogs run free around the houses, often barking incessantly, and more than one dog creates a pack-like mentality, has meant that there are less wildlife sightings near the houses.
I say that, yet in the next breath I will tell you a tale about the visiting white-faced monkeys. I was sitting here working on my laptop the other day, one of the few beautifully warm and sunny ones we’ve had this week. The top half of the door was open and the dogs were running around outside. I glanced up and noticed the branch of the tree just four feet from the door was frantically nodding up and down. It wasn’t long before the dogs were jumping around, barking up a storm. I went to see what was going on. As I headed out the open door, I stared right into the white-face of a capuchin monkey. I could almost touch it. On further scrutiny, I realized there were four more crawling around the branches – one very young – eating the tree’s little fruits (the kind, I’m sorry, I can’t say).
The dogs, all short-legged, were driven insane by the fact that these smaller creatures were just out of reach. The monkeys were coming down, quite aggressively as white-faced monkeys will be, barring their teeth in primate-sneers and jumping up and down on the branches. I put the puppies in the house where they stayed glued to window, watching the intruders. The monkeys stayed around for at least fifteen minutes, shaking the tree and almost smiling in glee. I’m sure they would have come in the open door if the dogs weren’t there.
So there you go, my theory of the dogs keeping the wildlife far away already disproven. But I would still assert that having all these dogs around the Monteverde houses is affecting the behavior of the wild kingdom here. Generally the wild animals have returned in the forest since hunting was banned with the creation of the Reserve and the League decades ago and the critters feel safer. But as more houses are built on the edge of the forest, there are different threats now, and the dog population is definitely one - unless they are tied up or kept inside.
We have a lot of talented cooks around here and a recent addition to the list of culinary treats is the new bread that Andy and Flori are baking. In an outdoor adobe oven, they bake beautiful sourdough, buttermilk, and whole grain breads. They have the oven working in the morning and then take their warm loaves (along with their sweet daughter Mora) around to different places in the community to sell…or you can go out to their home, which happens to be an old homesteading house on Wolf Guindon’s farm. I devoured the first loaf I bought last week while chatting with Andy as Flori and Mora sold the rest – great idea Pan Casero Artesanal!
My Canadian friends, Kevin and Doug Fraser, along with my friend Mercedes (the environmental education coordinator at the Monteverde Reserve), came to dinner the other evening. Doug is an award-winning biology teacher in northeastern Ontario, now also engaged in writing biology textbooks and creating teaching programs, who brought a student group here to San Luis, just below Monteverde, about ten years ago. There was lots of great story-telling, Doug entertaining us with his tales of going to Montreal to be part of Al Gore’s environmental disciples…the chosen ones who learn how to present a slide show based on Gore’s famous documentary spreading the word about climate change. Doug also was chosen to be part of the Cape Farewell project which took a group of students and adult mentors (Doug being one) from across Canada and a variety of other countries on a boat through the Canadian Arctic waters to Iceland and Greenland. A program developed by British artist David Buckland, it combines the creativity of art and the discipline of science along with firsthand experience to teach about the realities of climate change and through the creation of art to inspire action. What an experience!
After our interesting evening, the men left the next morning on a hike with Eladio Cruz and another local guide, heading through the Monteverde Reserve, over the Continental Divide and down the Peñas Blancas River valley to Poco Sol – the same hike that makes up the introductory chapter of Walking with Wolf. Unlike the sunny, dry weather we had back in February 1990, they walked in torrential downpours that filled the rivers as well as the paths with raging water. Both Doug and Eladio seemed to be stricken with some kind of bug as well. I had thought about them down there in these last couple days, knowing that what the weather was doing would not be kind to them. They did survive, barely, and called me to come out for a drink last night and told their tale of crossing raging streams only by luck, the constant water rolling down their backs and filling their rubber boots, and their amazement at the fortitude of 62-year-old Eladio…now just a little older than Wolf was when I went on that hike with him in 1990 (he was 60). Even Eladio doubted that they could continue on traversing the heavy waters at one point, and did twice as much walking as the others. He ran back up the steep ridges to try to get reception on his walkie-talkie and cell phone to get help. My Canadian friends were as impressed as I have always been when out in the tropical forest with Eladio, Wolf and the other men like them. What an experience!
Wolf, Lucky and I shared a panel on the history of Monteverde for a group of aspiring environmental teachers from Bank Street School in the Bronx (New York City). This gig came to me thanks to Marian Howard, a former instructor and now director at the school who hosted me in her home in the Bronx last April. It was wonderful to listen to Lucky since I haven’t heard her tell her own tales of life in early Monteverde in years. Her experiences as a young woman, mother of eight, living as a pioneer, learning to do just about everything in a different way than the way it was done in her home state of Iowa, was fascinating. Wolf, feeling pretty good and talking in a strong voice, added in stories of selling chainsaws and felling trees, the beginning of the cheese factory and the Reserve. I chimed in with additional stories that I’ve gathered, many from the book. It was a very pleasant afternoon that ended in the sale of several books. A good experience!
This weekend I’m going to help decorate the Friends meeting house for the Sunday afternoon wedding of Jannelle Wilkins, the Executive Director at the Monteverde Institute. I’ve been seeking out peace lilies (callas) and will join a few other folks to make the place beautiful for what will no doubt be a special day. May this crazy wind and rain stop before then – in fact, this morning has dawned clear and bright. And, hopefully, people will leave their dogs at home.
December 4, 2008 in Social Commentary | Tags: Art Bus, Barbara Milne, blogging, Brent Brambury, Bromelias, Cahuita, Canadian Bacon, Canadian parliament, Caribbean, CBC radio, Christopher Clause, coalition government, cooperation, Costa Rica, floodings in Cahuita, Garnet Rogers, Gary Santucci, GO show, Guatemala, Hamilton, Hamilton Arts Award, international relationships, Kim and Frank Koren, Lake Atitlan, love, Michael Moore, Monteverde, Ottawa, Pearl Company, Perth Australia, proportional representation, public radio, Roberto Levey, San Pedro Guatemala, Thomas Wilson, Tiny Bill Cody, Tom Wilson, Tor Lukassik Foss, Walking with Wolf | 3 comments
It has been a very busy couple of weeks since I last wrote a post. If people are going to keep reading, I feel a responsibility to keep writing. And, as the title of this post hints at, I’ve witnessed first hand the power of putting information out on the internet. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
The next two weeks promise to be crazy as I leave on December 15 and won’t be back till the end of March. I’m headed to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala to spend Christmas with my friends Treesa and Rick at their winter home in the community of San Pedro. I’ve wanted to go to this enchanting country as long as I can remember, specifically to this lake since my sister went there in the mid 70s. I saw the pictures and heard the stories and am already captivated by its beauty. So in my quest to go to the places I’ve been putting off over the years of working on Walking with Wolf, and despite the economic downturn – my view is I better spend money while I have it because I could be working at Tim Hortons splashing coffee down people by next year – I am making a stop in Guatemala on my way to Costa Rica.
I will be in Monteverde for New Year’s Eve when the locals put on a big Beatles show which I’ve heard about but have yet to experience. That is just the beginning of the evening and I know that the night will be filled with more music, dancing and mayhem. One of the best New Year’s I spent was the year of the millenium when we started the night under a starry sky around the firepit at Bromelias, my friend Patricia’s home and business in Monteverde. If the weather cooperates, I like to think that’s where I’ll be on December 31st.
I spent a night last weekend listening to a variety of local musicians here in Hamilton, organized by the stupendous Christopher Clause, performing the Beatles White Album. They raise money for a shelter for the homeless in the basement of the church where the concert is held. Many of their covers of the songs from this great album were truly inspired. The energy that Saint Clause must put out to organize all of these evenings (he’s pulled together many musicians to do other Beatles albums in the past) is remarkable along with his own enthusiastic singing and skill on the guitar. The Beatles night in Monteverde will have a lot to live up to – the bar has been set high.
Here in Canada we are in the middle of a very wild ride in our parliament. You’d think that we had enough excitement this fall with the American election of Barack Obama…the huge collective sigh of relief that went around the world the day after his victory was palpable. Here in Canada we had our own federal election about a month before where nothing really changed. We had a minority government with the Conservative party in control and they were returned to office with only slightly altered numbers. Following the election, the buzzword was “cooperation” – as in there was a new air of a cooperative spirit in Ottawa and the four parties with elected members would work together and get on with running the country. This of course means dealing with the economic crisis that has basically smothered us with its dire predictions, pocketbook panic, and totally inconceivable amounts of cash buckets that are bailing out the barely floating ship of commerce (protected by the ever-bouyant corporate powers-that-be).
Well, how things change…
As the Conservatives launched their economic package last week, they seemed to leave out their version of a bailing bucket except for the part where they removed the funding to the other political parties. This sent the other three parties to the backrooms to make a deal to bring down the government and organize themselves to step in as a coalition government. Our constitution and parliamentary system allows for this – when the Prime Minister loses the support of the majority of the House, he can be defeated. The politics involved in all of this seems very schmarmy, the strategy is polarizing, the result is extreme. We are now sitting listening to the pundits and party purveyors - trying to figure out the constitutional aspects of what is going on, the hidden agendas – but the speed in which we fell into this only serves to point out how fragile this new government was and how truly uncooperative the air was in Ottawa between the Conservatives and the others. Basically the opposition has had enough of dealing with the very right-wing agenda of the minority Conservatives who proceeded like they had a majority.
I’d be thrilled to see Stephen Harper and the Conservatives go – I’m obviously not a C/conservative, never have been, never will be (one of the few times I would let myself utter “never”) – and I rarely agree with any of their policies concerning taxes, social programs, the environment or war. I was saddened when they got in again, although the way our election system works there was as much support for the other parties collectively as there was for them – which only goes to support the argument for proportional representation where the numbers of elected members in parliament would truly reflect the voting numbers. I heard Michael Moore say the other day on a radio show that after all these years of telling Americans to try and think more like Canadians, it is funny that when they finally took the step in a new direction with Obama, we Canadians supported (or half of us did) the more conservative agenda here.
I have no problem with the idea of a coalition government. Canada is this huge country with so many different cultures, climates, histories and social requirements, that it only makes sense to me that our government needs to reflect all of those diversities and give them all a voice. There is this huge cry over the fact that the party that represents the majority of Quebecois, the Bloq, known for its sovereignty plan for Quebec, is now in the position of being part of the sitting government (if the coalition goes through). Which I don’t think is true – they are not actually part of this coalition, they just support it. I think the only way we can continue in this country is by having representatives of all sectors of our huge country represented. And the Bloq is voted in and represents much of Quebec. Perhaps the scariest and saddest part of this is the polarization that will likely rear its ugly head again (having only been a big napping ostrich) between the west and east of Canada, the French and English, and the left and right. Spirit of cooperation indeed!
The amount of anger on the airwaves is reflecting how unhappy and unhomogenous we truly can be in our big land of bacon and beavers. At a time of the year already fraught with darkness, coldness and pre-holiday stress, I don’t know if this political adventure is a good distraction or a bad omen.
Speaking of across-Canada-cooperation, a few days ago I took part in a CBC radio show. This is our national public radio and the GO show airs across the country on Saturday mornings. The GO crew, with host Brent Brambury, taped the live show here in Hamilton at the famous-on-my-blog Pearl Company. I got free tickets and went with my friend David.
The theme of the show was “If Hamilton were a country song…” and the musical guests were Garnet Rogers, Kim and Frank Koren (who I have written about before), Thomas Wilson (not the original Hammerhead, but an import from Winnipeg who must tire of having to share his name with the larger-than-life native son Tom Wilson), and Tiny Bill Cody. The challenge was for the songwriters to write a country song about the Hammer. The songs were truly brilliant, incorporating local legends and features of the city, and hilarious. We put out a lot of energy in laughter in that room for so early on a Saturday morning. I was asked prior to the show to be the audience plant who they would call on to be part of their trivia challenge and of course I said yes. So here I am at the mic, answering the silly questions that Brent threw at me though I had to correct him on my name (he called me Faye, I said, “That would be K! Brent”.)
The question that stumbled me was about Michael Moore’s film – Canadian Bacon – which was filmed here in Hamilton but I remember many of the scenes were in Niagara Falls – unless one of Hamilton’s 100+ waterfalls subbed for the big one. And Brent talked on the phone with Michael Moore (this is where I heard him say that thing about Canadians/Americans – somehow this blog just keeps tying it all together, no?) who has a love for the Hammer too!
A couple of days after that, Barbara Milne (who I thank for a couple of these photos) and Gary Santucci, who own the Pearl Company, won a Hamilton Arts Lifetime Achievement Award – which they totally deserve for years of supporting the arts community, as the boundless energy behind the Pearl Company as well as the Art Bus - and Tiny BIll Cody (aka Tor Lukassik Foss), a brilliant songwriter, musician and visual artist, also won a Hamilton Arts Award. (This is a wonky pic of Tiny Tor waiting to sing his song about our notorious Sheila Copps)
Now I want to tell another tale, one that began on this blog back in July. In the post “East Coast Pleasures”, I wrote about my friend, Roberto Levey, who lives in the steamy tropical forest near Cahuita on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica - okay, if you want to go and read that now, I’ll wait for you…..or you can pick up the story here…
About mid-August, when I was back in Canada, I received a comment on this blog from a woman in Perth, Australia. She wrote how she and her daughter, Gabriella, had read with interest the story about Roberto (and his father Bato) as Gaby was Roberto’s daughter. Debra and Roberto had been together for awhile eighteen years ago and she had returned home to Australia to find that she was pregnant. Debra decided to stay in Australia, always imagining that she would return to Costa Rica one day. Roberto had stayed in touch for many years, offering to do his share of parenting if Gaby was to return to Cahuita. But father and daughter never met and as the years went by, Debra eventually lost contact with Roberto.
As Gabriella is now at an age when her interest in knowing her father and visiting her Tico roots on the Caribbean is intense, Debra had plans to take her, along with her younger sister Angelique, to Cahuita. However, despite her attempts to contact him, Debra was unable to get any news about Roberto. Perhaps he wasn’t picking up his mail – I know he had gone through a rough period following a collapsed relationship a few years back. I had seen him in that period, but then had seen him again in July and he was more like the man I have known for fourteen years.
Debra had tried to get information about Roberto’s whereabouts from the police, the school, a variety of hotels in Cahuita – but either she was contacting new people who didn’t know Roberto (who has lived there almost all his life) or those who did know him were keeping their information close. People aren’t quick to give out information to foreigners in Cahuita – it can get you in more trouble than it is worth. So even as Debra went ahead and booked their tickets and proceeded with the plan to make this big trip via the United States to Costa Rica with her two daughters, she truly had no idea what they would find – thinking that it was even possible that Roberto was dead since he hadn’t returned any of her letters in a long while.
Then in August, a couple months before the proposed trip, she googled Roberto Levey’s name one more time – and this time it kicked to my blog. She wrote me that she and her daughter had cried reading my descriptions of both Roberto and his father – Gaby’s grandfather – and filled with relief knowing that Roberto was truly still alive. Debra and I began a correspondence then that continues today. I put her in touch with a friend in Cahuita, Inger, who actually uses her email once in awhile and was able to help Debra contact Roberto and tell him that he was about to meet his daughter after eighteen years.
In October, father and daughter met. Debra, Gabriella and Angel spent two wonderful weeks in Cahuita. Father and daughter got to know and love each other and all of Roberto’s family welcomed them as well. And, of course, Debra and Roberto’s own love was re-ignited, not a surprise at all to me. Roberto is easy to fall in love with, it was bound to happen. At the end of the two weeks, Debra, bit by both the coastal mosquitos and the bug of love, returned to Australia, a long long way from Costa Rica. I’m sure Roberto was also suffering in Cahuita with his heart stirred up again. Debra wrote me that she couldn’t decide what to do about the situation. Should she return to Costa Rica – where she really didn’t have any interest in living except for being with Roberto – or did she help him to go to Australia and be part of his daughter’s life there? Everything sounds good in the short term, but would he really be happy, this beach and bushman living in the suburbs of Western Australia? He had lived elsewhere before and always returned to his home, where his roots run much deeper than the shallow root systems of the tropical trees. Debra was letting herself take some time to figure out what to do, weighing her options, seeing if her feelings are strong enough for such a big commitment, looking for a sign.
Debra and I continue exchanging letters. She appreciates that I understand her feelings and the great dilemma she finds herself in. I have been in love at a distance and know how it feels to leave it behind. Because I know Roberto, I share her feeling that he is a good man but I also have watched international relationships fail quite regularly. I find myself in this very personal conversation with a woman I have never met, though have grown fond of, about a man that we both love. (They have permitted me to share this story with y’all by the way.)
Then, about two weeks ago, the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica was hit hard by torrential rains from a near cyclonic condition that moved in and just sat over the area, causing serious flooding with extreme damage to thousands of people’s homes. Roberto, who lives just outside of town in a little shack nestled in the elbow of a stream, was at home when a huge head of water came down the creekbed without warning. His home was taken away in an instant and he had a struggle just to get himself across the now raging river. He was lucky to not be washed away himself, hit by floating debris, or drowned. He lost everything he had, taken by watery force down the creekbed and out to the sea.
The last thing I heard from Debra was that they were trying to get him a visa to go to Australia. Roberto has had his little world rocked several times these last few months. I’m sure at this point he’s just grateful to be alive. The opportunity to spend time with his daughter and Debra came just when his waters were seriously shifting. I don’t know how long the visa process will take but I selfishly hope that he will still be in Costa Rica in January so I can visit him before he goes down under. Roberto would survive just fine somewhere around Cahuita – people begin again after these disastrous storms and carry on – but if Debra was looking for a sign that they should try to be together, this was it.
I was astounded when I read that first letter Debra sent me, amazed at what a small world cyberspace encompasses. I wonder if I hadn’t gone to see Roberto in July and written about him on this blog, how differently things may have happened. I’m happy that I was able to bring joy and relief to Debra and Gaby, this teenager who was wondering if her father was even alive so she could one day meet him. Through the miracle of google-dust, my blog helped the women in the suburbs of Western Australia connect with the rasta who lives his very simple life in the Caribbean jungle. Love endures despite distance, time and really bad weather. It makes me feel like … Kupid!
I am very sorry to report that the lifeless body of Wendell the Wallaby, after running, hopping and leaping through the Ottawa region for the last two weeks [see Not so Scary After All], has been found just fifteen kilometers from the animal park he escaped from. How sad is that? Almost home. They haven’t said what happened to him yet. I can only hope that he enjoyed his freedom and felt like he was flying across those fields. Hopefully he wasn’t living in sheer terror. At least he can rest now.
UPDATE: I just went to the website of Saunders Country Critters in Kemptville, near Ottawa, the people who owned Wendell. I must correct the information from the newswire – he was found in a cornfield 40 kilometers from home, so maybe wasn’t heading home at all, just hopelessly lost. The autopsy was inconclusive as to what happened to him, but he had died about five days before they found him. Says something for the scavengers of the area – maybe wallaby was just too exotic for their Ottawa Valley tastebuds…sorry, don’t mean to be flippant…I feel bad for the people who loved him, their website shows how painful this was for them.
November 8, 2008 in Social Commentary | Tags: Activism, African American, Barack Obama, Brock University, California, celebration, Central High School, Chicago, civil disobedience, civil rights, Clintons, Costa Rica, diverse, diversity, Earlham Iowa, eco-psychology, election, environmental causes, Facebook, Gretchen Schultz, Guatemala, hatred, Jesse Jackson, Laurie Hollis-Walker, Little Rock Arkansas, Little Rock Nine, Minniejean Brown Trickey, Muir Forest, Oprah Winfrey, Ottawa, peace, Quakers, rascist, redwoods, Spirit Trickey, Temagami, Temagami blockade, Tomas Guindon, Walking with Wolf, wandering, Wendell the Wallaby, wilderness, Wolf Guindon | Leave a comment
What a week! It seems that everything possible has been said about the election of Barack Obama. I follow the celebrations of my friends in phone conversations, by the internet and on Facebook – particularly the Minniejean Brown Trickey family from Little Rock, Arkansas. After a lifetime devoted to civil rights, her work now being carried on by the next generation, Jean must still be whooping and hollering in Little Rock (when not crying for the sheer joy of it all – she’s actually crying below over finally receiving her high school diploma fifty years late in 2007.)
Jean was one of the nine teenagers who stood up to the taunts, jeers and physical abuse of the indignant and racist white crowd in 1957 and desegregated Central High School, a massive tomb of an institution in that otherwise smallish southern city of Little Rock Arkansas. Perhaps my heart explodes in festive fireworks for her more than anyone, she being the personal face I can picture amidst all the happy masses. I saw Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey, tears in their eyes, in the crowd at Obama’s Chicago celebration – but I was thinking about Jean and her daughter Spirit and the rest of their clan in Little Rock and beyond and how they must be feeling.
I was at the 50th celebration of the Little Rock Nine in Arkansas last year and it was an incredible occasion – Obama’s former opponents, the Clintons, front and center – and how much more potent it would have been if they had known then that the next president was going to be an African-American. Jean was one of those who started paving this long road to change that Obama is now promising to continue to remove the barriers from.
Everyone I know personally is revelling in the results of the election, yet I know that there are many who are devastated by the election of Obama. If that is due to their extreme right-wing views, as life-long Republicans, well, fine…that is no different than any other win/lose situation in politics (and I’ve felt that kind of disappointment more times than not.) However, if their devastation is due to racism, that they have a problem with a black man, an African-American, being their leader, then I have no time for that mentality. Get over it. Open your minds. Open your hearts. Erase the hatred and widen your belief system.
Our world is small, beautifully diverse, and needs to be integrated in a peaceful and intelligent way. And equalized. Across races, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, abilities and class. We have no choice. How we can have such wide diversity in thought and desire as such a very real part of our human condition but not respect our differences is perhaps one of the biggest questions I grapple with. Yet sometimes we can’t even come to peaceful decisions with our family or neighbours, those who we know and love. Although I am not a Quaker, there is much of their wisdom that I adhere to naturally – pacifism, consensus, respect, community. Being alive and living communally is a constant challenge. If we proceed with open hearts and minds, and make positive steps forward, with love, in harmony, in health, in peace, we will get a little closer to justice and sanity bit by bit.
It is so refreshing to me to have a leader, anywhere in the world, that I can listen to for more than a minute without wanting to scream. Barack Obama is a magnetic man, a great orator, and wise person – who somehow managed to never lose his cool through the months of stressful politicking. As I continue to follow the analysis of the pundits, I listen to how his sturdiness and strength of mind is already part of his power. And the beauty of the man and his family is only icing on the visual cake that we will now be feasting on for the next four (hopefully eight) years.
On Wednesday, the morning after, I was the visiting activist at my friend Laurie Hollis-Walker’s Eco-Psychology class at Brock University in St. Catherines. Laurie and I became friends on the Temagami blockade in 1989, lost touch until she contacted me several years later to be part of her undergrad thesis she was preparing. She interviewed me, along with ten other participants from the blockade, investigating what had compelled us to be part of this civil disobedience – where we had come from, what had molded us, why we had taken part in the blockade, and what this experience had meant in our lives. It had uniformly been a very profound experience for each of us – as Laurie said, after overseeing all the interviews, we have much in common, mainly the deep belief that we had to take action when we saw injustice. It was a life-intensifying experience for most of us and also introduced me to some of the most committed, colorful, and interesting people I have ever met, many of whom I am still connected with. I believe we are going to have a twenty-year anniversary camp up in the bush of Temagami next September and look forward to reconnecting with those who I have lost contact with.
It was following that profound experience deep in the Temagami wilderness that I went to Costa Rica and, very quickly, met Wolf and started recording his stories. Although I had been involved in environmental and peace causes for years, it was the blockade that really empowered me and, I have to believe, led me to Wolf and the eventual completion of our book.
A year ago, Laurie and I reconnected in cyberspace and she took on the huge task of doing the layout of Walking with Wolf. We have now stayed in much closer contact which has included me being part of her Eco-Psych class. This is her third semester teaching this class that she developed – and my second time sitting in as specimen activist. This time I also did a presentation on the book. I am so proud of Laurie, her hard work and perseverance in following a path that helps others understand what is behind social activism. We are not deviants. We are believers. We are not criminals. We take risks according to what we believe is important and absolutely necessary for the future and well-being of our society and planet. Our power comes from our collective spirit and our firm desire for positive change with a vision, not from material wealth or social status. Laurie is now working on her PhD and studying the activists who have been protecting the redwoods in California for years, a much more aggressive and dangerous activism than what we experienced in Temagami so many years ago.
I also spoke with Wolf and Lucky today. They are at the end of their American sojourn – from Connecticut through Ohio (see Not Only Olney post), Iowa and now they are in California with their son Tomas, his wife Gretchen and their grandson Julian. They head back to Costa Rica on Monday, happy to have been present in the US at the time of this historical election. They were out yesterday in the Muir Forest, those redwoods that Laurie has been visiting. Wolf presented Walking with Wolf to Lucky’s family and their friends in Earlham, Iowa and didn’t have enough books for the demand! Hopefully those who want the book will contact me or Kathryn as is explained in the Buy this Book page of this blog and we will send them. I will be heading to Costa RIca at the end of December (after a couple weeks with friends in Guatemala) and we will work away at getting the book out in Costa Rica. We had a new plan, a renewed sense of hope and lotsa vigor! I know, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it – and that someone would be me – and the Wolf. He’s been selling so well that I have to ship more boxes down. Watch out Ticolandia! Wolf is coming home.
There is no comparison between anything I have ever done to what people like Barack Obama, Jean Trickey, Laurie Hollis-Walker or Wolf Guindon have accomplished against all odds, but I inherently understand and respect how sincere and correct their commitment has been for a better world and a more just society. I am honored and blessed to have known these people (well, not Barack of course, but maybe one day…) who have made big differences in the world and influenced so many others by the constance of their actions and the strength of their beliefs and the rightness of their vision. Perhaps, in the wake of this incredible election, the rugged path followed by some will widen into a wide boulevard filled with strong loving souls, leading us toward a more just and inclusive world.
And just an update on Wendell the Wallaby, the marsupial who walked up a fallen tree trunk and out of his enclosure in a small animal park near Ottawa, Ontario. Before the snow falls, this poor creature better get home to his woolies cause it’s a dangerous world for a wallaby out there. It has actually been a very mild week here in central Canada and I’m sure that is helping his survival. He has hopped his way across the fields far from Ottawa – almost to where my pals live in Westport – uh? remember the coyote gang? - but the most recent sightings have been back near Ottawa. He has wandered across hundreds of miles, kilometers, whatever you want to measure in. A long long way. For some reason, in this week of global elation and history-making politics, I remain highly concerned with the well-being of Wendell. Perhaps I see some symbolism in this innocent creature out there in the world, lost, no doubt scared, but obviously determined to get somewhere. Maybe he is representative of all those folks who have found themselves wandering in a strange world, trying to survive on their natural instincts and with their own strengths, only to be more lost and less powerful with each mile they travel but always with the possibility that they will make it home. Or maybe I’m just a wannabe-wallaby who has spent the last week worried over the fate of our world and who would be the next American president, and Wendell has provided a distraction from the bigger issues as well as titulated my gypsy blood. Now that the president is taken care of, and the Lucky Wolf is almost back in Monteverde, come on, Wendell, get on home.
October 6, 2008 in Social Commentary | Tags: anti-nuke activist, bad air quality, Barnesville, blogs, brain cancer, CH Television, Costa Rica, debates, deer, deer hunting, Elizabeth May, Elm Recovery Project, federal election, Firefly Books, Gerald Waldron, Green Party, growing native trees, Growing Trees from Seed, Guelph, Guelph Arboretum, Guindon, Hamilton, Hamilton Spectator, Henry Kock, Homecoming, Irene Kock, Joe Biden, John Ambrose, Lorraine Roy, Lynda Lehman, moose hunting, Ohio, Olney Friends School, OPIRG, Paul Aird, Pennsylvania, photos, power point, press releases, Quaker Monthly, Sarah Palin, Shirley Klement, textile art, Tina Fey, Tropical Forests UK, University of Guelph, vice-presidential debate, Virginia, Walking with Wolf, Wolf Guindon | Leave a comment
I can’t believe it has been two weeks since I wrote last…what was I doing? I have been on my computer quite a bit, took a couple trips to Toronto and Guelph, but really, there is no excuse.
I am sorry to announce the death of my camera – I have dropped it one time too many and the battery compartment has been taped for awhile but now the batteries aren’t lasting as long and, well, it’s time. I’m on my way the the U.S. of eh? tomorrow, the land of the free and the golly gee these days – and will have to buy a camera while I’m there. I feel very bland on my blog without photos – it took me awhile to learn how to post them, but once I did, well, I was having fun. Now I’m just about the words, and that’s great and all, but the pics are half of what inspires me to write. As my friends have found out, if the camera takes a good pic, then you’ll probably make the blog. And I now try and remember to ask people if they don’t want their full name on the blog, those who want to keep living in relative obscurity, and keep it first names only with little bits of tape across their distinguishing features in the pics. HA! As if we can really hide.
A week ago I wrote some articles – one for the Tropical Forests UK website, which was chopped down significantly since I hadn’t asked how many words they wanted and, well, I’m wordy. The other went to Quaker Monthly and I haven’t heard anything from the editor to know what she is going to do with it. I spend a lot of my time on the internet, sending press releases, contacting media folk, and seeking out places to get reviews done. I’m most disappointed with the local media specifically the Hamilton Spectator and CH Television. I mean, I just don’t think there are that many authors in Hamilton that they couldn’t do a little piece about Walking with Wolf. But I keep trying and maybe I’ll find the right hook to get their attention.
Tomorrow I start a roadtrip with my friend Shirley. The purpose of the trip is to go to Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio for their Homecoming weekend. Wolf and I are presenting the book next Saturday night – he and Lucky are coming up from Costa Rica. I’m so excited to be doing this, but extremely happy to spend some time with them. I know there will be many Guindons there as well as the families of the students who are presently enrolled. Wolf and Lucky are pretty well-known alumni and so this weekend, bringing Wolf’s book back to his alma mater, is bound to be quite emotional. That is what has kept me busy this last week, reworking the power point slides and choosing what to read. A small problem is that I’ve had a seriously big frog croaking in my throat for a few days. I’ve been trying not to talk too much but, well, that’s a hard one for me. And even sitting here at home alone working on the presentation, I’m talking as I read aloud, timing the images with the talk. I’ll have to try harder and keep quiet and let Shirley do the talking in the car. I’m not sure if it is bad air quality here in Hamilton or some kinda weird bug, but there it is. Hopefully I’ll be fine by Saturday, but if not, that’s what they make microphones and amplifiers for.
We are driving down to Virginia first to go visit some of Shirley’s family. Shirley wouldn’t do the drive herself and so I offered to take her there, kind of on our way to Ohio. The thing we’ll be looking for the most is the deer on the highways. I’ve driven at this time of the year to Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas – well, anywhere going through Ohio and Pennsylvania and West Virginia it is shocking with the amount of dead deer carcasses and blood puddles on the highways. It’s a slaughterhouse out there. It makes it unwise to drive at night which I generally don’t mind doing. It isn’t worth the risk, when those poor crazed deer come leaping across the fences out of the dark shadows. I think it’s happening at this time of the year because of hunting driving the deer out of the woods - they just run onto roads as they try to escape. I guess the other possibility is that it is mating season and they are all love-crazed but I tend to think it is the first thing that is causing the vehicular slaughter.
A few days ago I went up to the Guelph Arboretum to the launch of a new book called Growing Trees from Seed (Firefly Books). It was a project started a few years ago by a wonderful man by the name of Henry Kock. I knew Henry when I went to the University of Guelph in the early 80s and we were both on the board of the OPIRG (one of Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research Groups). I also knew his sister, Irene. Well, these two people were some of the most dynamic, hardworking, committed individuals in Ontario. Irene was an anti-nuke activist throughout her adult life. She died tragically in a car accident on New Years Eve about six years ago. Then Henry, this outstanding human being, larger than life, developed brain cancer and he died a couple of years ago on Christmas Day. I’m sure the Kock family doesn’t look forward to that week at all anymore.
Henry was known for his love of trees. He started the Elm Recovery Project, to aid in the renaissance of the elms that were wiped out years ago by disease in southern Ontario. He had a thumb so green it was emerald and a passion for nature that energized all those who knew him. He started this book before the cancer was diagnosed but at some point couldn’t continue with it, so three of his friends and co-workers at the Arboretum, Paul Aird, John Ambrose and Gerald Waldron, continued with the book. It is a coffee-table-book-sized practical guide to growing native trees, vines and shrubs and is a must have for anyone who is interested in growing themselves an arboreal garden. Or even one really beautiful tree from scratch.
Also related to Henry, I went with my friend Lynda Lehman, to see the breathtaking textile art of Lorraine Roy. Well, as a person who has worked with fabric all my life, sewing my own clothes when I was younger and then working as a furniture re-upholsterer for years, I have a natural interest in anything made of fabric. Lorraine Roy makes these textile canvases that are compositions of tiny pieces of materials laid out and sewn, quilted in a way, into intricate designs – some abstract but many of them inspired by the lifecycle of trees. She met Henry when she went to the University of Guelph and was moved by his passion which blended with her own love of nature. She has done several series of these masterpieces that feature seeds, trees, ovulation, and much more. Go to her website, (Lroytextileart.com) and take a look. The delicate power of her work is awe-inspiring. There is an incredible amount of detail that results in muted landscapes and still lifes which are not still, but living, organic creations. Her colour sense is musical. I wish I could afford to own one of her pieces, which I don’t even find that expensive, but that won’t be happening for awhile. But…wow.
The last little item that lingers in my head is watching the debates last Thursday night. Here in Canada, we have a federal election next week and the candidates for prime minister sat around a table with a moderator and had a very lively discussion. I quite liked the style of the round table which allowed for lots of real interaction. Proudly, the person who seemed to be announced the “winner” by much of the media was Elizabeth May, the head of the Green Party. I’ve known her from afar for many years and always known that she was a very intelligent spitfire. She had to fight her way into the debate, as there was disagreement about the Greens being there at all. There was a public outcry and so the other parties relented and she was allowed at the table. As it turned out, she was the hottest on many of the issues, especially hot on Steven Harper’s case. Good on you, Elizabeth, this Canadian woman was all substance, style, spit, and smarts.
The other debate that night was the infamous vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Tina Fey’s less intelligent double, Sarah Palin. I know this woman must be intelligent to have got to the post of governor of Alaska, but her hokey manner, frequent winking and subterfuge of her very right wing values made me crazy. She kept trying to sound like a mild conservative and either stayed away from answering the questions or contradicted herself. I spent the whole time with my remote, flipping between debates whenever one made me squirm or scream. My take on the Republicans is that I find them wholly irresponsible and arrogant to have put a person of so little experience and sophistication into the (hopefully not so) possible position of being the president. IF McCain were to be elected and IF something bad were to happen to him, she could be the leader of the so-called free world! It seems to me that they were more interested in choosing someone for the ticket who would appeal to the lowest common denominator of the electorate, to the religious right and perhaps (though I’m not sure how) who would appeal to the women who wanted Hillary. I am appalled that they would have put this woman in this position. What I do see is that Palin would appeal to the same folks who voted for that other hokey guy, George W. I can remember seeing an older woman from Kansas in an interview during the last election who I suspect spoke for a certain part of the population when she said that she was voting for Bush because she thought she’d like to sit and drink a pot of tea with him and couldn’t imagine doing that with John Kerry. Well, that’s all very nice and fine, but do you really want this guy as your president? I mean, is feeling comfortable in the tearoom really a prerequisite for being presidential? I mean, is anyone really surprised at what is going on in the US and the world today because of Bush’s presidency. I mean, really???
If you want to invite the woman to go moose hunting, well, go for it, but please don’t put the rest of the world at the risk of being run by Palin and her muddy morally-maverick mind (and the Republican powers-behind-the-Palin). Now that is truly scary.