Thoughts After Driving Across Canada - June 10, 2021
My drive was an incredibly eye opening experience, the vast expanse of this land is indescribable until you move through it (anyone who knows me personally knows I am chronically under travelled so all of this is just my experience and opinion). The might of Lake Superior is real and palpable, I was denied many of its most exquisite vistas by a thick fog for most of that stretch, but I felt as if I were ascending and descending the clouds themselves. The Prairies are breathtaking in the duality of spareness and breadth, and Big Sky has a whole new meaning for me. And of course there are the mountains, rivers and valleys of Alberta and BC, a place that seems like it could be the last bastion of giants, dragons and life-force beyond our human understanding, hiding in the deep and towering features.
The thing that struck me the most, is that the Canada that is accessible to most of us (ie the little several 100 km east west stretch along the US border) can’t possibly be referred to as wild or natural. The Anthropocene has long taken hold, and I couldn’t help but imagine the highway as a huge scar cut across our Mother’s body. We are a land of fences. We must have been a painful birth and rearing for her, and we only continue to pile on top of our own machinations, manipulating and extracting her bounty to our own selfish aims. It’s better (but not exact) to describe our settler society as being adopted by this place, and we have moved in, killed, abused and disenfranchised our adopted brothers and sisters (and her faithful stewards) and relegated them to the pieces of her that we value the least. I couldn’t help but think of Chanie Wenjack, the 215 in Kamloops, every other horror show story we’ve heard, and the countless others whose stories and bodies we have not uncovered yet. I was gonna publish this closer to my arrival over the weekend, but then a young man in London decided to end the lives of a family because they’re Muslim and I felt that further reflection was necessary. While I may be pulling at straws here, I can’t help but entertain this terrifying feeling that these perverse relationships our society has with both our “natural” surroundings and our unenlightened ideas of “the interloper” are all connected. The human ability to fear and hate and manifest that fear and hate in powerful world changing ways seems to be even more potent than our ability to love and make that love make a difference. I would be glad to be wrong on this and many other things, but even if the path of love is harder, I feel in my bones that It Is Easier To Try (title of a forthcoming song I wrote yesterday) - we're all already twisted by it, and twisting further still each moment we don’t.
There is still life, and as Leonard Cohen said “there are cracks in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” I saw a mama moose nursing a new calf just off the shoulder of the road between Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay (I saw 6 moose in all in Ontario, but that was so special). I saw herds of Pronghorns in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and hawks, a bald eagle, and birds of all sorts, shapes and colours throughout the drive. It is important that we do better, we must do better - we must do better by those in society who our settler-notions of “modernity” and “progress” has shut out and left behind, we must do better as stewards of this Anthropocene garden we have created (there is no going back methinks). We must open our hearts to the commonality of all human suffering, but realize that some of us are in grave and urgent danger simply because of the skin colour or beliefs. There are many many more voices than mine whose experience, knowledge, research and dedication should be guiding these projects, but the one thing we can all do now is not look away. We all have a stake in these things, for ourselves, for our families, for our children and their children, and for our local, national and international communities. People are important, everyone, everywhere - but people are ultimately not in charge of our destiny as a species, and if we veer too far off a righteous path that brings everyone along with compassion and individuality, Mother Earth will easily wipe us from her breast and swallow us whole.
I am trying to see the both things of everything. Our country is beautiful and ugly. The answers are simple yet maddeningly complex. There can still be wonder alongside disgust. We can mourn, recognize and work to correct the past while still living in our present with joy, truth and hope for our future. No more us and them, no more left and right, its all one and you can choose to see that or not, but you know in the deepest recesses of your heart that its true. We were all children once, innocents who did not ask to be here - but now it falls to us to be the living answer and to guard, maintain and then pass the torch (possibly solar powered by the that time!).
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee, but we guard thee from thyself.