It’s the Labour Day weekend in North America, signalling the end of summer. From here on in, the mornings become crisper and the nights cooler. Children return to school and the whole family adjusts to new routines. At the same time, it’s a time of bounty in the garden and in nature. Our tomatoes and zucchini are producing prolifically, and while blueberry season is over in most parts of Canada, in our corner of the world wild blueberries are still abundant. The best picking is often in the first few weeks of September. It’s a chance to get out in the bush and to enjoy both the beauty of the wilderness and the company of good friends (picking blueberries alone is not recommended, as it is a favourite food of black bears as well as people!). Berry picking is also a good time to remind myself of why I’m a climate activist; we live in such a beautiful and abundant world, why wouldn’t we want to preserve that heritage for our children?
Those of you who follow this blog will know that my family and I spent last week canoeing in the Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in northern Ontario’s boreal forest. It seems that the world has done as well (or poorly) as usual without my daily posts here, and I confess to some reluctance about getting back into cyberspace. It’s a world which can very easily eat up the minutes in a day until minutes turn into hours which turn into whole days lost at my desk.
Life in the wilderness was physically challenging (we did a total of 55 portages over our seven days of canoeing) but spiritually refreshing. We canoed routes that had been traveled since time before memory by the First Peoples of this continent. We saw drawings they left behind, amazingly still visible on the rock face rising out of the lake. We saw turtles, otters, loons, kingfishers, moose, and even a bear. We gratefully ate fish that had been plucked from the lake an hour earlier.
Civilization just doesn’t seem that civilized after a week in the wilderness. I don’t know the whole answer to how one stays sane and hopeful in an insane and often cruel world. But I do know that I just had the good fortune to spend a week canoeing in our beautiful Canadian wilderness, and I will cherish it. I think it might be that cherishing the people and experiences, even uncomfortable ones, in one’s life is part of the answer. Now I’m off to do just that.
Woodland Caribou Provincial Park is a wilderness park located between Red Lake, Ontario and the Manitoba border. As Ontario’s 5th largest provincial park, covering 1.2 million acres (that’s 486,235 hectares) it offers over 1,600 kilometres of canoe routes over historic waterways. In Woodland Caribou, you can paddle the fur trade routes of the Hudson Bay and Northwest Companies, see ancient pictographs, and – if you are lucky – catch a glimpse of the caribou that give the park its name.
We are lucky enough to live in Red Lake, so Woodland Caribou is on our doorstep. This blog is going unattended for the next couple of days while we take a fossil-fuel free holiday in the amazing Canadian boreal forest. See you next week!
The picture below is what, last Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called “nature’s biggest unusable oil spill”:
Unlike our Prime Minister, the First Nations who call Northern Alberta home don’t think of this land of muskeg and forest as an oil spill. They call it home, home for them and for the animals and plants that live there and have provided sustenance for them since time before memory.
Harper’s comment is illustrative of the kind of thinking that has got us to the brink of environmental collapse, with global climate destabilization a reality and ocean acidification poised to destroy marine biodiversity. Wendell Berry, American farmer and poet, argues that wherever we are living, we are in trouble because of a “land-destroying economy” that pursues “production-by-exhaustion”. Mountain-top removal to mine coal is one clear example of this, but extraction of oil in the tar sands is another one. Berry recently addressed a gathering at the Land Institute in Salinas, Kansas:
Extracting fossil fuels from the ground is dangerous, and so is the way those fuels are used to work the ground in farming.
The mining of the forests and soil, along with the extraction of fossil fuels, may have started innocently, but since the European conquest of the Americas, “It took us only a little more than 200 years to pass from intentions sometimes approximately good to this horrible result, in which our education, our religion, our politics, and our daily lives all are implicated,” Berry tells the packed house in The Land’s barn.
If we continue to be led by politicians who view the world around us as an untapped resource waiting to be exploited, we are doomed. Berry condemns Harper and his ilk for putting us into the situation we are in, but he also says that because of the “carelessness of our economic life” we all play a part in the destruction of our ecosystem. The solution, Berry says, is for us to learn to do better:
“We can learn where we are, we can look around us and see,” he suggests. We also can rely on land health, “the capacity of the land for self-renewal,” and work at conservation, “our effort to understand and preserve that capacity.”
It won’t be the politicians that push for the paradigm shift that is required. While it’s tempting to get a bumper sticker that says “Ditch Harper. Save the Planet“, the reality is more complicated; it turns out, it’s up to us to change ourselves and then work to change the world:
Berry doesn’t look to educational, political, or corporate institutions for much help in those efforts, suggesting that we instead look to “leadership from the bottom” that can be provided by groups and individuals “who without official permission or support or knowledge are seeing what needs to be done and doing it.”
As was demonstrated by the Global Work Parties held this past weekend, it’s up to us, you and me and the millions around the world who recognize what destruction we have wrought, to change what “business as usual” means. I’m rolling up my sleeves – how about you?
I’m lucky enough to live on a lake, in the middle of the boreal forest in the Canadian Shield. My bedroom window looks out onto a forested slope that ends in the water. When I woke up at 5:30 this morning our bedroom was bathed in pink. I got up and looked out the window, and the sky, forest, and lake were also glowing a brilliant rose from the rising sun. Five minutes later, the glow had faded to a light orange and in ten minutes everything was back to “normal”. But those five minutes were awe-inspiring.
Because of what humans have been doing to our environment, we are poised on the precipice of ecological disaster. Climate change and ocean acidification are two of the most pressing examples of reaping what we’ve sowed. These words, attributed to Chief Seattle of the Duwamish Tribe, ring especially true today:
“This we know. The earth does not belong to humans, but humans belong to the earth.
This, also we know – humanity does not spin this web of life. We are merely a strand in it. It is like the lifeblood that ties us all together. And, whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”
If we are to successfully rise to the challenges that face us, it will be the energy of love that will power our transformation. Love for our children and grandchildren, and for the creatures with which we share this world. Love for the amazing world we find ourselves in, our planetary home; that “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam“, as Carl Sagan described earth. And the love and awe that I felt today, looking out at the beauty of the sunrise in the boreal forest.
“Understanding is another name for love; love is another name for understanding.”