Monday, September 27, 2010

Finding your balance: by Luanne Armstrong

Equinox and balance:

This year, full moon and Equinox happened at the same time. For the first two weeks before Equinox and the week after, bad new filtered in from various friends. Many people were ill with deep chest colds; three friends had floods in their houses. One who had a flood also had a beloved family member die suddenly. All kinds of tension and sadness suddenly pervades our lives.
Just coincidence, of course. The moon, the seasons, the rhythms of life don’t affect us anymore. So most people believe. And yet, there are many rhythms in this world and the animals and plants play no attention to human lives and go on living to the rhythms of light and seasons and the turning planet.
I read a sad and moving article this week in New Yorker about the people of a small town in Colorado named Uravan, where once they made a living mining uranimum. The main point of the article was that, even though many former residents of the town had died of lung cancer, and that after uranium mining was shut down and the whole town shredded and stored away as toxic waste, people still missed it, wanted to move back, wanted the mine to re-open. Both the writer and the people he interviewed seemed unable to articulate why the people would miss this place except for the fact that it had once been their home. Once a year, they have a reunion. They press their faces up against the barbed wire fence around their former home and feel nostalgic. They remember the voices of children playing and they long for a place that was never really their home and that killed many of them.
I do something similar to this as well. Five miles from our farm is another farm, known in our family as the Mannarino Place, after Jimmy and Victoria Mannarino, who cleared it and farmed it and then sold it to my grandfather as a wedding present for my mom and dad. We lived there until I was two and then my parents moved away to a small mining town and then to our present farm on Kootenay Lake, where I have now lived since I was five.
And yet, I still miss the Mannarino place. I loved to go there when I was a child. I felt peculiarly at home there and I still do. And I dream about this place. Over and over, I go back there, but it has changed. A strange family is there, a man I hate and despise and try to get rid of. Whenever I come to this place in my dream, I recognize it, even though it is much different than the real farm. There are houses around it; there is mine high on the mountain, there is a deep woods, there is a huge frightening house full of ghosts.
I rarely go there now in reality. The place has been sold and sold again. And still I miss it, long for it, scheme as to how I could get it back. Why? I have no idea, other than in my child’s wild true heart, the place was, is mine.
Once I was riding my mare home from the farm where I had left her to get bred. On the way, we passed through the place where I had bought her. We went by the temporary corral where the owner had housed her with another more. The barbed wire was falling down, the fenceposts were leaning, and yet my mare went eagerly towards this corral. I let her, curious to see what she would do. She went inside, nosed around, sniffed the ground, poked her nose, sniffed the empty feed bin. Then she stopped and relaxed, obviously expecting me to slide to off, take off her saddle and bridle, let her be at home and relax. I disappointed her, made her leave that place she had once felt at home, and continue on to my home.
Do the places we have once lived leave shadows and ghosts within us? Are we, as biological creatures, tuned into these places in ways we don’t understand. Why do my dreams of the Mannarino place haunt me, in particular, the old house, long destroyed and in my dreams, full of terrifying voices from the distant upstairs.
And what scars are left within people torn from their homes and displaced by war, genocide, famine, industrialization or any of the other infinite ways in which people have been shoved around the globe from place to place, particularly in the past two centuries of colonization, exploitation, industrialization and globalization?
Before modern industrialized warfare, there was also war, but a different kind of war – over territory and boundaries and resources but this rarely resulted in a mass displacement of whole peoples. What scars and traumas are left in such people? No one asks this question? Does anyone even want to know?
I am still determined someday to go back to Scotland. I want to find the place from which my ancestors left so long, long ago. I want to imagine myself back into the scene that must have taken place, somehow, when a whole family of Armstrongs, the mother, the father, and their seven children, made the decision to leave for Canada, to leave the place that had been their home for as long as anyone could remember, and make an entirely new life. In my lifetime, I have never been displaced. I have camped in many locations but always lived at ‘home’, at the farm. So it will take a writer’s leap of imagination to sit in that place, with my ancestors’ blood thrummng in my veins, and understand why they did that, and what it meant.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Killing the Hare by K.L. Kivi

It’s been over a month since the morning I stood, shovel raised, over the wide-eyed, trembling snowshoe hare and spoke to it in the softest words I could find, but the moment is still vivid in my mind’s eye. The hare’s soft brown ears and long whiskers twitched but the rest of its body was still, paralysed by the well placed bite of a predator. Around midnight the night before, I’d been jolted from my half-sleep by a scream that could have been human if there had been any babies out in the dark forest. I rummaged for my headlamp and rushed outside. I found the hare sprawled on its side on the bare ground near the shed, wounded at the neck. I hesitated, not knowing what to do.

Not knowing what to do: what a familiar feeling. I feel it almost every day and have for many years. It’s not that I don’t do things. I do. I’m active in the campaign to keep the Purcell Mountains wild and keep the Jumbo Glacier Resort at bay. I chair my local watershed committee. Etc, etc. I walk, shout, talk, write and live in protest. All of this activity and the capitalist madness that Luanne describes in her last blog entry has indeed become “normal” for many of us. However, as Bruce Cockburn so aptly sings, “the trouble with normal is that it only gets worse.”

At the same time, I try to live a mindful, conscious life, attempting to embody the values Robert Jensen (previous blog entry) places outside the realm of capitalist culture - solidarity, compassion, creativity, ethics, joy. These things I know how to do, for the most part, at least when it comes to the small world of people, flora, fauna and land that I call my home. But the more the capitalist/industrial/military mindset permeates my homeplace, the more problematic right action becomes. How to express compassion towards those whose only interest is profit? How to participate in a broader culture that is imbued with the ethics of mass consumption and outrageous waste? How to accept what is and lean toward a vision of what could be?

That night, facing the bright, terrified eye of the injured hare, I had to make a quick decision. I decided to step out of the picture and let nature take its course. An animal had attacked the hare, no doubt in hopes of a supper. If it was still around, it may finish its work, eat its meal. I turned my light off and walked away, climbing into my bed, wide awake and trembling, wondering if the hare was in pain. Had I scared the predator away? I could not take my interruption back. Regret would serve no purpose. These are the things I said to myself.

What are the things I say to myself when I don’t know what to do? Last night, I attended the showing of an excellent documentary by Liz Marshall called “Water on the Table.” The film featured Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians in her attempts to establish water as a human right. She leads the campaign for public control over water resources in the face of a push for commercialization and corporate, profit-oriented control. The film was beautiful, poignant, evocative, well-constructed and to the point. Maude Barlow, well, she’s one of a kind. My partner and I walked away energized but, ultimately, despairing. It often feels like the predator has already bitten our neck, severed the flow of democracy, hell in a handbasket and all that stuff. Still, wide in my eyes is the fear, the desire to fight, the desire to claim my rightful space in the world. Tar sands: what more can we do? Water privatization: regardless of my opposition, that beast marches on.

In the morning, I went to the place of the snowshoe hare right away. It was with great sadness that I found the animal still there, prone in the dirt, eyes still open, whiskers still trembling, pieces of its fur torn out and its flesh lightly nibbled. The corners of my mouth turned down in consternation and anguish. I knew what I must do. But I didn’t want to do it. I kneeled down and petted the soft, soft flanks of the still paralysed hare all the while knowing that this would only frighten the animal more and change nothing. I considered getting one of my land mates but this too would only delay the inevitable and drag someone else into the distress I was feeling. I went for the shovel.

Is there a time coming in which I’ll have to make a similar, horribly uncomfortable decision about how to end other, irrevocable pain? What will be the edge, the sharpness that will speed the inevitable? Who will we be? Will we finally know what to do after so many of years of not knowing?

Even with the shovel raised in the air, I hesitated; it is not a simple thing to extinguish a spark of life. I stood over the hare for many minutes, swallowing and swallowing at the lump in my throat, shaking, still looking for a way out. And then I steeled myself. Shovel still in hand, I bowed, honouring the snowshoe hare’s life. The line between compassion and violence blurred. What was I doing? And then I thrust the blade into the ground at the place of its neck. Blood squirted and the body leapt into action, the legs flailing. When all motion quieted, I carried the body into the woods and laid it on the ground. And it stays with me. It all stays with me.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Eating Peaches by Luanne Armstrong

“Capitalism is the most wildly productive economic system in history, but the one thing it cannot produce is meaning. Even more troubling is the way, through its promotion of narcissism and mindless consumption, that capitalism undermines the larger culture’s ability to create real meaning. Virtually all of what is good in society—solidarity, compassion, creativity, ethics, joy—comes from outside capitalism, giving the illusion that capitalism is a civilized system. It’s a cliché, but important enough that we sing it over and over: Money can’t buy you love. Capitalism cannot create a healthy human community, and it undermines the aspect of human nature rooted in solidarity and love.
The other obvious failure of capitalism is its contribution to the erosion of the health of the ecosystem. Humans have been drawing down the ecological capital of the planet since the invention of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, but that process has intensified dramatically in the capitalist/imperialist/industrial era. Our culture is filled with talk about the success of capitalism even though that system degrades our relationships and threatens our existence. That’s an odd definition of success.”
From an interview with Robert Jensen, (journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin.)

The amazing golden beauty and bounty of September has returned again. Really, the only way to eat peaches is to stand under a tree of ripe peaches that the wind has shaken, and eat windfall peaches, one after another, dripping juice down my hands and face. Which I do.
And then later, lying in bed, listening to the wind, and distant rumbles of thunder, of course the worries come in. September, winter coming, work beginning, cold again, how much I dread the cold; it all comes down to fear. Nothing is coming that I can’t cope with, but that thought doesn’t stop the fear coming in the window with the thunder.
Lately, the tune, “Walk Me Out into the Morning Dew,” has been haunting my head. It’s a beautiful song about an unknown doomsday. I even went to ITunes and played three versions to get it to go away but it’s still there. Why is it haunting me so persistently?
The farm is, as always, beautiful, peaceful, and productive. The world far from the farm is so not peaceful. This year was the hottest summer in the hottest year since weather records have been kept. There were floods in China and Pakistan, fires in Russia, Bolivia, an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and unabated war in Afghanistan. I sat on the beach, as I do every summer, and watched the summer people go round and round and round in their boats and seadoos. Long lines of RV’s rolled by on the road. Normal, everything normal. And mad as can be.
Stephen Henighan wrote a great piece in, this week, called The Phony War, comparing this time in history to the time before World War Two began. But this is a very long quiet time and we are protected in North America by the enormous resilience of the ecosystems in which we live. Other places in the world are not so lucky. I have yet to read a comprehensive environmental analysis of the floods in Pakistan, but I am sure someone will do one soon.
But surely and steadily, a kind of ‘war’ is coming to the Kootenays. The proposed Jumbo Ski resort lumbers along, despite the fact that no one wants it, it will cost a small fortune to build, it will probably go broke – eventually, as the price of gas rises and no one will want to drive forty miles into the mountains to ski, it will destroy the grizzly population in the Purcells. What kind of person looks at the pristine mountain valley and decides to build a city there?
And, in addition, the Glacier Howser private power project at the north end of Kootenay Lake is back, a project that will only make money for a few corporate suits and their lackeys, that will destroy two large and beautiful fish bearing creeks that flow into Kootenay Lake, that will bring roads, lights, dynamite, noise, destruction, to a pristine area. And for what?
Yes, anyone who burns gasoline and uses electricity is implicated but corporations and their bought government hacks who make decisions that destroy landscapes and ecosystems in order to only enrich a few, are far more implicated. And yes, many of us will go to the phony ‘public hearings’ and many more of us will protest and some will be arrested but the game is rigged from the beginning and no one in government or industry is listening.
I wish I knew what more to do. I write, I teach, I read, I farm, I grow food and store it away -- I walk through the blazing beauty of September, both joyful and fearful. I stop to pick a windfall Gravenstein apple and go to the beach, sit in the sun, come home in the blue dusk and read some more.