Saturday, April 2, 2011

Time in the Mountains

Time in the mountains:

“…the character of lived time is changing in radical and unprecedented ways: temporal discomforts are widely expressed and felt and the question of time, previously left to professional philosophers or Slav ruminators has become a public issue as well as a private problem.” Eva Hoffman.

Time is mysterious and somewhat incomprehensible. We live in so many different kinds of time but rarely notice.
I was graphically reminded of this recently when I spent an action packed week in Vancouver away from the farm. There’s always a frisson of nervousness leaving the farm and my animals – but in this case, it had to be done. I needed a new car. Mine had been smashed to smithereens when some addled person drove off the road and hit me.
First there is the road trip, a familiar one, traveling down out of the mountains, five mountains passes later, sailing down that steep long hill into Hope, out of the snow and into the rain and then the grey sad boredom of the endless ‘free’ way stretch of road past Chilliwack and Abbotsford and Langley and Surrey, that seems to take as long as the whole rest of the trip combined.
And then while in Vancouver – time was equally mysterious. It stretched and twisted in strange ways. It seemed somehow possible in a week, to cram in an almost endless series of events. I wrote, taught, watched films, had tea and lunch with various friends, went to the university several times, bought a used car, bought books, cooked, played with my grandson. And then got in my new used car and drove home. Back to the mountains. Back to mountain time.
It always takes me three days to get back to the farm from anywhere, regardless of where my body is. The first day is for rushing around, checking to see if anything all has changed while I was gone and for unpacking, laundry, dishes and walking. The second day is exhaustion day, and by the middle of the third day, everything starts to feel normal and it is hard to remember that I was ever away. And the odd thing is that no one notices. What felt so momentous and jam packed with events was just another week to the folks living here. And since they usually only see me once or twice a week, (everyone in town seems to meet everyone else in town at the grocery store) unless they read Facebook, they don’t even know when I am away.
Definitely, time moves more slowly here in the mountains. And of course, there is a place here, as well, where there is almost no time and if I sit still long enough and stare at the mountains, the sky and the lake, I can almost get there. Or walking, or staring at water, the sense of immediate time falls away. There is another sense of time. After all, the land was here a zillion years before there was a me or a thought of me, and it will be here in whatever shape or form for many zillions more. It changes slowly and constantly all the time. Trees emerge; animals come and go, rocks erode but my existence has little impact.
On the other hand, for me, the small changes I make, a fruit tree here or there, a garden bed, a fence, new animals, have a huge impact even though they are infinitely small and easily overrun by natural processes.
But to me, to me they mean there will be food for another meal, another season, another year.
I spent the first week home planting seeds in the greenhouse. Seeds are amazing; they are like a small explosion of time in a speck. A barely discernible seed means a tomato plant covered with fruit in August. Or the rich scent of basil spun into pesto. An hour spent planting seeds in small pots in the greenhouse produces such amazing benefits two or three months down the road.
The first time I really noticed the utter variability of time was walking with my grandson, Gaelin, when he was two. One day, while his parents were eating lunch, it took us almost an hour to walk a city block. We looked at ants, and dandelions, at the cars across the street, at sun on tree leaves. We explored a bus stop, a fence, a gate, and chased a bee. It was great. I learned a lot.
Time has been variable and problematic this winter and spring; whenever something happens like a car accident, a fight with a friend, an illness, (all of which happened to me recently) I try to remember that someday soon, these incidents will be in the past and that the emotional storm I am living through will soon be gone. It’s not so much about living in the moment as it is about surfing time’s many and variable waves. And staying afloat, -- whatever the weather.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Naming and Claiming by K.Linda Kivi

My last blog entry was about the Ktnuaxa Qat’muk Declaration affecting the Jumbo Valley and the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort. At a recent Jumbo Wild! rally in Nelson which was organized by the NDP a leaflet was distributed by Settlers for Sinixt Sovereignty commenting on that very same Declaration. Most of it is excerpted below. As a Jumbo Wild activist I've been acutely conscious of and troubled by the Sinixt/Ktunaxa conflict for a long time. Summarized very briefly, this conflict is about the Ktunaxa claiming lands that include Sinixt traditional territory. As the Sinixt were declared extinct for the purposes of the Indian Act in Canada in 1956 (though aren’t) their territory has been seen as up for grabs by neighbouring nations. This has been deeply upsetting for both the Sinixt and people like myself who support them.

Hence, I would like to add the commentary of the Settlers for Sinixt Sovereignty to the mix. As Luanne wrote in her previous blog entry, there is such power in naming and in who does the naming of what. Naming is claiming, as we well know from the history of settlement in North America. With the Qat’muk Declaration, my glee was about indigenous people claiming and naming the Jumbo Valley. In that glee, I momentarily overlooked the complexity of that naming, even among indigenous people. My fantasy that all of us who oppose the machinery of consumer, capitalist, imperialist culture could always get along, work together and present a united front against the fundamental forces of exploitative power is a long, long way from being realized.

So, in the meanwhile, how do we in the west kootenay, who suppport both Sinixt sovereignty and Jumbo Wild! situate ourselves vis-a-vis this situation? I don't believe there is an easy answer to this question. I keep hoping for some healing between the Ktunaxa and the Sinixt but I know this is not even remotely possible as long as the Ktunaxa continue to ignore and attempt to obliterate the Sinixt claim to their own territory. How then do we effectively refuse to be divided and ruled?

“The Qat'muk Declaration, Ktunaxa Collaborators, and the theft of Sinixt Land and Culture

The Ktunaxa Nation council's Qat'muk Declaration at first glance looks like an assertion of Indigenous sovereignty to protect a large watershed, grizzly bears and an endangered fragile ecosystem from development but is actually a plot created by native and non-native politicians to quicken the theft of traditional sovereign Sinixt territory through false land claims and the BC
Treaty Process in the interests of industry, business and the dominant settler society.

Kathryn Teneese is the recently appointed Chair (Council chief) of the Ktunaxa Nation Council. Since 1996, she has also been the nation's Chief negotiator. Teneese recently lead a delegation of Ktunaxa Nation members to the BC legislature in Victoria to declare opposition to the controversial Jumbo Glacier Resort and declared it as Ktunaxa Nation territory and as a sacred place to the Ktunaxa.

The problem with the Qat'muk declaration is that the Jumbo Glacier is traditional Sinixt Territory.

Stories surrounding the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers tell of an ancient Salish mother tribe (Sinixt). Through the Indian Act the Sinixt (Arrow Lakes Indian Band) were declared extinct in 1956 after the uninhabitable Oatscott Reserve was found empty. Even though hundreds if not thousands of Sinixt were elsewhere in their traditional territory, predominately south of the US/Canada border (or wherever one could take refuge from racist bounty killings, and the overall impact of disease and settler society). Today the Ktunaxa Council and BC government through the BC Treaty Process are trying to strip the Sinixt of their traditional lands.

Three weeks prior to the Ktunaxa council's Qat'muk declaration trek to Victoria, Kathryn Teneese and the Ktunaxa council made a “Strategic Engagement Agreement” with the BC government receiving nearly 1.7 million dollars to further engage in the land use planning, resource extraction and treaty making over Sinixt territories. A photo of this so-called historic agreement shows Teneese with the biggest smile in the room, signing the document with the Minister of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources Bill Bennett, and Pat Bell the BC Minister of Forest and Range.

With millions of dollars in funding from the BC Treaty Process the Ktunaxa Council has been engaged in the land theft, cultural whitewashing, and profiting from the development of Sinixt territory for years. According to Sinixt elders, the Ktunaxa are outsiders to the area with their namesake, the Kootenays. Historical evidence suggests that the Ktunaxa are from east of the rockies with possible relations to Algonquins who traveled with the fur traders west. Other evidence suggests that they most definitely traveled westward from the Plains after possibly being chased out of occupied lands in the Rocky Mountain foothills by the Blackfoot.

The Ktunaxa council goes as far as to claim ancient Sinixt cultural sites, and Sinixt stories and legends as their own to further their business, political and economic interests at the expense of the Sinixt.

After (a) historic battle the Sinixt who were also suffering from the impacts of disease epidemics granted the Ktunaxa use of some fishing and hunting grounds within portions of traditional Sinixt territories.

Canada's and BC's control over Indigenous nations has taken many forms, including police & military violence, churches, Residential Schools, & Indian Agents. Today, chiefs & councilors acting as collaborators have become a vital part of the colonial regime's ability to control indigenous peoples. Colonialism always prefers to deal with collaborator chiefs, who can more effectively control their people than can direct government agencies. This is most often done by setting up puppet governments comprised of indigenous collaborators. The state gives its full support and recognizes only them as the legitimate representatives of the nation. This strategy is known as neocolonialism.

These chiefs serve to pacify & confuse native populations, appearing to fight for 'rights & title' when in reality they are working along side the government & corporations. Many, like Ktunaxa Nation Chair Kathryn Teneese and Treaty Commissioner Sophie Pierre, are themselves politicians, businesspeople, and lawyers, who gain wealth, status and power from the colonial system. This involves acting as a legal agent (i.e., as a band council or political organization) on behalf of Native nations, legalizing the theft & exploitation of ancestral territories (in the case of the Ktunaxa... other nations ancestral territory). By helping government impose its policies & strategies on Natives, these types of collaborators aid in the assimilation of their own people.

The BC Treaty Commissioner and former Ktunaxa Nation Administrator Sophie Pierre was a strong advocate for the 2010 Olympics and encourages VANOC's Olympic vision of dealing with indigenous nations and their unceded land bases through the BC treaty process, according to the introduction by Ms. Pierre in the BCTC 2010 annual report.

Pierre and the Ktunaxa Nation, have a 40-million dollar stake in the St. Eugene Mission Resort, a BC residential school turned upscale 4.5 star, 125 room resort and casino just minutes from the Cranbrook airport. Pierre is also the acting President of the holdings company that operates the resort.

Major economic interests and benefits are behind the Ktunaxa Nation council's fraudulent claims to Sinixt lands. The Ktunaxa council and its councilors are trying to make agreements and treaties with the BC government on lands they have NOT inhabited “since time immemorial” as some politicians would suggest. Traditional Sinixt families use and occupy these lands to this day with archeological evidence supporting their existence and use of these lands for over 12,000 years.

It is unfortunate that the Ktunaxa Nation council has jumped on the band-wagon (no pun intended) to “Keep Jumbo Wild” while trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the local settler society and their own people. Their declaration against the Jumbo development holds no integrity in the context of the larger violation of indigenous sovereignty. Put simply, the Chief and Council are opportunists against Jumbo.”

Friday, February 18, 2011

Naming Our Places:


One of the fundamental rights that people have is the ability to name where they live. Last fall, Canada Post, with no consultation, changed my post office address from what it had been for thirty years, Boswell, to a new address, Kuskanook.
And even though this is a small change, and with no big impact on my life, I found it irritating. So lately, I have been examining why this arbitrary address change disturbs me so much.
I am a Canadian writer, a university professor and an academic researcher. And, I am also a lifelong organic farmer on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake in south-eastern BC. I have written a number of books set around Kootenay Lake. I have also written a memoir about my life growing up here on our beautiful farm on the East Shore. In all of these books, I have referred to the area where I live and where our farm is, as Boswell. When I go on book tours or travel to teach, I tell people I live in Boswell. No one knows where it is, of course, so then I happily explain that Boswell is more a concept than a place, a thirty mile long community where everyone is your next-door neighbour. Interestingly Boswell got its name from Earl Grey making a literary reference to Samuel Johnson, who wrote a book called, the Life of Boswell.

So being a Boswellian, born and bred, is a big part of my identity as a person and also as a writer. Sense of place and sense of ecological identity, is also an important area of my research.
On the other hand, the name, Kuskanook, (or Kuskonook) has never played much of a role in our collective community identity, either historically, geographically, or currently.
Kuskanook, for me, was the place where my beloved friend for my whole life, Alan Wilson, was born, grew up and then died tragically from brain cancer. His house and his parent's house are gone now -- buried under a mud slide. So Kuskanook is now identified by most people in the broader region as a place with a boat ramp and a beach. It’s not seen by anyone as a name for a region, nor is it a name that is used by people, local and otherwise for our area. And in fact, historically, it never has been use, as a generic regional name or a 'civic' (As Canada Post terms it) name, for our area. Why Canada Post has suddenly decided I live in “Kuskanook” and where they got such information is a complete mystery to me.

In the last few years, as more people have moved here, Boswell, as a regional description of a place, has begun to acquire specific place names within itself, Armstrong Bay, Kootenay Bay, Sanca Park (Sanka?), Destiny Bay, Mountain Shores. Traditionally, all of us have been served by the Boswell Post Office, we go to the Boswell Community Hall for wonderful dinners, and a few years ago, we all celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the community of Boswell.

But last November, Canada Post, and the Regional District, together or separately, it's not clear which, designated a post office name change for our community, with no community input or opportunity for reaction, which strikes me as an oddly undemocratic way to make such a change.
Since then, despite many people emailing and phoning both Canada Post and the Regional District asking for a community meeting or an opportunity to at least have their say but so far, nothing has been done.
So what bothers me is two things; the arbitrariness of this change, that it was done with no community input, but also the fact that someone from far away with no knowledge of this place and obviously little understanding of the nature of this community, has decided what it will be called.
The issue is about community identity and our sense of where we live and our right to name our place for ourselves and to each other, and to our friends and business colleagues.
Our farm is a bit of a community hub; people come here to garden, to take writing classes, to swim with our family, to visit, to buy books, to have dinners and lunches and partake of other events. And to all of these people, I say, and will continue to say, "Oh, yes, I'm in Boswell."
I would very much appreciate a community meeting to discuss all this and have asked for one, but the silence from Canada Post around the name change, and the community reaction to it, has continued.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Farmer Politics

Farmer Politics:
I still haven’t given up my faith in democracy or even in the common sense of most human beings. But I also find it increasingly difficult to feel as if I have a political home or even much in common with most of the political rhetoric being thrown around these days. I don’t fit into any of the slots that politics or the media think people like me should be slotted into. And I have no one party to vote for with which I entirely agree.
On any given day, I can wear any number of occupational hats; farmer, writer, teacher, mother, grandmother, cook, bottle washer. And, I can wear any number of political labels, none of which quite fit, but all of which fit some of the time, radical, feminist, environmentalist, redneck, conservative, anarchist, socialist, right-wing, left-wing, ranter, crank. None of them mean very much and some aspects of some varieties of political ideology apply to me only some of the time. And in fact, I am pretty much allergic to any forms of ideology.
In part, because I am a farmer, and because it is how I was raised, and because these ideas make sense to me, I value independence, honesty, strength, endurance, caring for the land, and caring for others. I want to live my own life on my own terms, be responsible for myself, and be free to take the risks I think I want or need to take. I want to raise my own food and be free to share or sell this food to my friends and neighbours. I believe in taking care of my family, my friends and my community. I believe in sharing, in cooperation and in independence. Those things go together.
When my brothers and sister and I were small, we took all kinds of chances that would be frowned on, forbidden, regulated and banned today. We were wild kids. We had matches, guns, hatchets, knives, fishing rods, and boats. We ran loose in the woods. We lit fires, we went swimming on our own right after eating, we hunted, fished, drove tractors, climbed enormous fruit trees, ran barefoot all summer, and worked our guts out. No one ever showed us how to do things; we learned by doing. Our father’s simple words to us were, “You see, you do.”
I think kids need time alone in the woods. I think they need independence, they need to learn to work, and they need to learn to survive. Survival and endurance are learned skills.
Generousity and caring for others is also learned.
As a farmer, I also think small entrepreneurial businesses are great. They are the backbone of small communities.
But big multi-national corporations are not ‘businesses’; they are something else entirely, something destructive and demonstrably uncaring of ordinary people’s lives and of non-human lives.
My parents were small business people. They survived by selling what they grew; meat, milk, eggs, butter, chickens, fruit and vegetables. Almost all of what my parents did would be illegal today. And yet, they fed themselves and their kids, and they fed their neighbours. They had simple values of hard work and friendship. But my parents weren’t conservative. My father was born in Saskatchewan, the birthplace of social caring in Canada. My parents voted NDP all their lives. When my father worked at the mine in Riondel, he was a union man, as were all the miners. Otherwise, they would have been forced to work for peanuts in unsafe conditions by mine owners that cared nothing for their lives. We were always poor but this poverty was not frightening because we ate so well and we had an arrogant sense of our own individuality. I’ve been poor my whole life and what for me, is frightening, is not poverty but lack of being able to do anything about it. What is even more frightening is being so afraid of poverty that I give up my sense of my true self.
But these days, the media and whatever powers seek to control our lives want to put us all in little slots. If you’re pro business and pro-family, then somehow you are also pro giant corporations and pro right wing religious patriarchy and anti-taxation and pro-religion.
No, thanks. I am pro-family and pro-small business and pro-independence and pro society taking care of people who need help and pro-my community. I am also pro-clean air and clean water and wild animals and above all, I am pro-honesty.
And I don’t care what religious beliefs someone has as long as I don’t have to hear about them. And I care far more about how they behave toward other humans and other non-humans than I do about what they believe. I don’t mind paying taxes for schools and health care and roads. I do mind paying taxes for huge corporations that don’t need subsidies, for stupid wars in foreign countries that achieve nothing, for more and more regulations and inspectors and bureaucrats with nothing much to do but complicate people’s lives.
Human beings and non-human beings are facing enormous challenges of many, many kinds. More than ever, people need to be able to speak their minds or write their minds without fear of reprisal. They need to do this is in a caring, mannerly way. They need to do this with honest information, not information that is slanted to make them believe one thing or another.
I’m not right wing, left wing or in the middle of anything. I am just out here in the woods, living a semi-independent farmer’s life, going for long walks and trying to make sense out of it all.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Is January the meanest month??


There is some dispute around our farm and in the family as to whether January is the grimmest month to get through or February. January tends to be a grey month, warmth locked far away in the ground, frozen snow crusted on the fields, the clouds lid locked over the lake. Not much to do but stay in and work, and for relief, look at gardening catalogues and go for walks, but even walks are a challenge when the snow is crusted and frozen.
I teach online, and I always have stacks of writing and reading to do, so in many ways I welcome winter and semi-solitude it brings. I think writers are fortunate. We are never without something that needs doing. When I talked to my cousin Kerrie, a rancher in Alberta, this fall, she said winters were difficult for her and her husband. Not much to do but feed the stock and plow the driveway. Her husband watched a lot of football and she had various hobbies but winters can be hard for farmers who want to be out and doing. I can’t imagine spending my winter watching television.
February around here is a bit easier since we tend to get some days when it is warm enough to go out and rake the sawdust, prune fruit trees, light a fire. But February is also a tease, warm one day and frozen the next and it drives people crazy. It’s the curse of anticipation and thinking that any day now it will be spring. It’s warmer, but not warm enough. March is when planting in the greenhouses begins but we can’t really garden, can’t actually get digging, raking and planting until the middle of April.
But that doesn’t stop us dedicated gardeners from getting together to go over seed catalogues together. Last year several of us had a seed catalogue afternoon, where we all brought our collected seed catalogues and made lists (not orders yet) of things we might want to grow. An imaginary garden is much easier than a real one.
Gardening is always one of those activities (the opposite of writing) that begins in order and hope and descends quickly into chaos. On the other hand, it is pretty much simplicity itself. Given warmth, light and nutrition, things will grow.
But they have their quirks. I love the fact that there are several happy volunteer wild cherry trees on the farm growing under cedar trees, where no gardener in his or her right mind would ever plant them. Every year, flowers fail where they should flourish and flowers I’ve neglected thrive or bloom on their own in the ‘wrong’ place. Vegetables that should be productive fail, like the giant broccoli plants I grew one year, healthy plants, no broccoli. The pigs loved them.
Last year, the peas and beans, which are normally productive, were eaten off to the root by deer and never recovered. I love the idea of a farm at peace but there are too many deer and not enough predators. I’m cheering for the cougars this winter.
Right now, when the dogs and I go for walks, I can see what they smell, a mosaic of tracks overlaid, deer and coyotes, mice and squirrels, and at the beach, duck tracks that end in spots of blood and wing brushes in the snow. Eagles harass the coots. Coyotes have scraped away the snow to get at mice in the long grass. I love my warm safe house. At night I close the curtains, open the computer and sail away. But in the afternoons, after a morning of teaching and writing, when it is time to go outside, I miss the garden.
But it will soon return.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fear and Survival

Fear and Time:
On A Friday night, I made it to through slush and a dimming light, to the Kootenay Lake ferry. It was late -- dark and snowing hard. I knew I would have a precarious fifty kilometre drive home. As I rode the ferry, I was reminded about something my sister had said on her last visit, how, every time she rode the ferry, she though about the terrfiying depths of black freezing water beneath her. My sister is the most fearless, intrepid, and amazing woman I know. She trains horses. She rides across country jumping over fences, up and down steep banks and in and out of water. She can walk up to the toughest and scariest horse in the world and make it behave. I was surprised to hear her say this but I understood. Kootenay Lake is big and deep; it has a reputation for eating boats of all sizes. I looked at the black snowy mountains and thought about the creatures there, and the combination of fear, adrenaline, and alertness that kept them alive. I thought about how all of us, human and non-human, ride an edge of awareness and fear, especially in the winter.
I had been teaching all day, my eyes were tired and sore, and I had already been held up on the highway because of an accident. As I drove off the ferry and up the steep hill, I realized he road was even worse than I thought it would be. Because of the thick blowing snow, I couldn’t actually see the highway. Instead, all I could was watch the dim fuzzy line of snowbank beside the right hand of the car. As long as I could see that snowbank, I could assume there was a road. I should have been terrified but as I set off up the hill and into the blackness, I felt an odd sort of exhilaration set in. Perhaps, I thought, it was a small particle of what adventure junkies and risk takers feel.
I had a long drive with a lot of time to think. I wondered if this combination of awareness, exhilaration and hyperalertness is what some people experience in battle. I thought, again, about the mountains above me and the many many inhabitants of those mountains; I wondered about their lives, their careful alertness, their constant awareness of risk, and survival. Did they feel like this all the time or was mine just a human moment?
I have always known that will and determination play a big part in survival. I have always known, since I was a small child, playing by myself in the mountains, riding crazy wild horses, climbing cliffs, that, in risky situations, I could make decisions to survive. I kept this awareness as an adult, I remember once, coming home from a long hike and having to traverse a section of steep hill in the dark. The darkness had come more swiftly than I was prepared for and I couldn’t see where I was going. I decided, very calmly and carefully, that I would feel every step, check every hold, that I would not slip and fall there in the dark and that I would make it home safely. And so I did.
I decided something similar on the way home in the snow. I knew the road. I would drive slowly. I would be alert and cautious and take no chances. It was almost exhilarating. I caught myself driving too fast as I got closer to home and had to make myself slow down. And I made it, came in the warm house, made myself tea, took a while to calm down and get to sleep.
Now, in the mornings, often at first light, the pair of coyotes that live next door are out hunting mice in the tall grass in the field below my house. The black flocks of coots huddle on the lake as the eagles hunt them. Winter, for some creatures, is a time of rest and recuperation, and for others, a time when the odds of surviving are sharpened. Every morning, I silently say hello and send respect to these coyotes, savvy, alert, and secure in their coyote world.
At night, I draw the drapes against the dark, the snow, and the cold. I go to bed under a huddle of quilts. I send my thoughts out to the coyotes in their den, the ravens in their tall trees, the eagles, the coots on the black water, the queen wasps sleeping in the cracks of the logs of my house, the frogs buried in mud, the sleeping bears, all of us, surviving, alert, aware, on edge, but not fearful. This isn’t fear but its opposite, this is calm, alert awareness. The world is not a fearful place but neither is it an easy place. Joy and tragedy, exhilaration and terror, we all ride them, together, on a thin and icy edge.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Natives of the Outside by K.L. Kivi

“The street is a world where people in flight from the traumas that happen inside houses become natives of the outside.”
Rebecca Solnit

This line from Solnit’s book “Wanderlust: A History of Walking” reached out and grabbed me the other day. Solnit has a knack for a trenchant turn of phrase as was evidenced in the brilliant first essay in her book “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” as well as in “Wanderlust.” She seems to be preoccupied by similar topics as I am: the way our modern culture has caused us to diverge from a more basic, physical and conscious state of being, the dichotomy of inside/outside being a key concern.

I think myself as a “native of the outside” but not because of traumas suffered within houses. I suppose each of us has our own route to the places we end up. I’d say I’ve had an inexorable draw to the outdoors that is probably encoded in my peasant DNA. That said, I also have felt like an outsider to mainstream culture most of my life. Did that propel me to connect more profoundly with non-human life or was it the other way around. Solnit’s traumatized natives of the outside are people for whom the world is turned upside down; once the notion of safety of home is undermined, then perhaps it’s not difficult to cast off its companion notion that outside is dangerous. Or maybe, the unveiling of the lie of home sweet home puts other mainstream notions in question, creating an easier avenue of exit from said mainstream.

Solnit’s book is certainly good at unveiling aspects of our culture that often remain unexamined. She delves succinctly into the twists and turns of our culture and their impact on us as individuals and communities. I love the way she speaks of the human body as a “sensing, breathing, living moving body (that) can be a primary experience of nature too: new technologies and spaces can bring about alienation from both body and space.” I too have pondered the impact on our psyches of having bodies whose primary functions are recreational rather than utilitarian. Instead of our feet carrying us to gather food and shelter, we now drive to work and take our bodies to specific places for specific activities, be they hiking, soccer, etc, for them/us to get their/our necessary movement. Bitingly, she writes, “the body that used to have the status of a work animal now has the status of a pet;…(it) is exercised as one might walk a dog.”

She goes even further, noting that in our modern car culture, walking could be seen as an “indicator species” for our physical, psychological and psychic health. Walking can be seen as “an ancient and profound relationship between body, world, and imagination.” She draws on the relationship between writing and creativity, talking about the walking habits of writers from Dickens to modern day adventurers. When we are no longer able to walk because of a scarcity of time, a scarcity of walking spaces, a scarcity of cultural values that honour walking, the gym becomes “a kind of wildlife preserve for bodily exertion” which accommodates something essential after we abandon the original modes of human physical activity. But what kind of wildlife preserve can a gym be in you think of bodily motion being as much about a beckoning to the imagination and an experience of place as physical exercise? In teasing apart too many strands of this rope, one might end up with a pile of tattered, useless sisal instead of a functioning whole.

I could go on, as this subject has strands that connect to so many other topics. In the meanwhile, I highly recommend Solnit’s work, especially if you’re interested in erudite, thought provoking and well researched non-fiction. But, a better conclusion yet might be to spare your eyes and sitting weary body and get out for a walk.