Abundance

These days there is a lushness to the garden that we aren’t used to. We live in a semi-arid area where the rain clouds seem to veer left or right, north or south, before getting to us. I’ve watched great banks of cloud separate and the north half drops a curtain of rain onto the mainland (we are an island jutting out 21 miles into lake Ontario, yet hugging the mainland), while the southern half heads to the south shore of the lake to give the Northern New York folk a spectacular rainfall complete with light show. On the horizon I can see the flashes from my bedroom window as I notice there is clear sky overhead.

So the rain we are receiving is a treat for the farmers, but not so much, I imagine, for the winemakers. To much rain makes the plants leafy, and I believe the grapes that come are supposed to be in response to dry weather. I planted grapes this year so no doubt I can put that theory to the test.

However, neighbours and locals are talking about the incredible growing season and I am watching so many differences, not sure whether to attribute it all to the different weather patterns and perhaps climate change, or the pandemic and the changes it has brought about. There is a vast amount of growth and in this picture you see our old apple tree out back has provided a bumper crop this year. The grass under the tree has been tramped down by deer, I think and perhaps coyotes. And I have been paying regular visits and eating the apples then and there as I pick them. Back home, as a kid, we were never great at growing anything to eat, other than our crab apple tree –– it was too shady, the soil too compact –– so anything you can pull off of a bush, a tree or out of the ground and munch on is pretty miraculous to me.

You can’t really think about our rich growing season without thinking of others who are not enjoying the same good fortune. Land is burning up. People are on the move, whether climate or political refugees. They aren’t picking apples off of trees. They might be hoping a care package falls from the sky and will be enormously grateful for the offerings. Nowadays it is all too easy to switch the channel, turn down the volume or put our hands over our ears and worry about when we can next sit on an outdoor patio at a local café and ‘enjoy life’. I feel powerless in the face of these huge stories. It is all too easy to forget there is a segment of our own population between the apple tree and the news on the television that is very much in need. Those who can’t afford housing and those who have no access to clean drinking water, simple respect or equality. With the approaching election there will be a tsunami of promises, which, like Peter and the Wolf I am now becoming immune –– bad choice of word –– desensitized to.

And I have started to wonder what a normal day on this planet is supposed look like.

Eternity

We spend time when we can, at this beach. Early summer we have it to ourselves. Even the flies haven’t found us. The beach is comprised of limestone pebbles and rocks that have been ground into smooth discs with the likenesses of thick pancakes. At this particular beach, unlike the other local ones, there is, interspersed, a large amount of varied smaller rocks, some of which have ended up in my garden at the base of our buddha.

The rocks are a variety of colours from greens to reds, some have lines and layers through them, thread thin, or some are half and half. These patterns have grasped at my imagination, taking me onto that extended journey through time and geologic activity, far below the surface of the earth and even farther back in time.

Very often at the beach I try to have a moment of meditation, with my head in the clouds, contemplating the vastness “out there” in that immense horizon off into the stars way beyond that sun that is warming my skin on these days. I envision myself opening to that expanse to become one with it. (Which I am whether I like it or not.)

But it was on one of those days, eyes wide open, wandering along the beach, my poodle piddling here, sniffing there, and me delighting in the array of gems (I’ll call them) at my feet, that my gaze was taken even farther downward, beneath the surface of the earth and time, to really try to understand the organic connection of me to this world.

I thought, to heck with the spiritual, get familiar with this water and rock from which you crawled. Yes, of course, we are stardust, but between the stardust and my full flesh and blood frame there have been eons of growth, while the whole world, every tree and rock grew alongside, all of us evolving at our own rate. I realized how much I owe to mother earth and how much a child of mother earth I really am. I realized how equal I am to my surroundings, no greater, no less. It was embracing, enlightening and reassuring to know that I really am a part of it.

Like the indigenous say “All my relations,” meaning everything and the spirit within everything. I may be so presumptuous to think I have started to understand what this means, in my own limited way. There, it was a feeling, and elsewhere, as I travel through this world, away from my special beach, littered with magical stones and vibrating with my footprints and my dog’s as well, that it is something so easily forgotten and something I need to remind myself. It is the ground beneath my feet, the air I breath, the trees, flowers, birds, bugs and furry things racing around my yard. It is everything, and it us and we have all arrived and we are here, now.

Truth First

I was born and raised in Ottawa, the son of a politician. Obviously Canada day was in the picture, whether guests at the family cottage or trips to Parliament Hill. As the years went on the celebrations on the hill became even more of a spectacle with the Snowbirds, concerts, and mega fireworks.
I’m not sure I knew what it meant to describe myself as a proud Canadian. I was reminded that I lived in a free and fairly liberal place that other people wanted to come to. I knew some Colonial history and had no idea about the history of this land before the Europeans arrived. I had a romantic idea of the noble savage, but not much else.
On the banks of the Ottawa river, at our cottage we argued about whether the path to the beach was made by loggers or “Indians”. We envisioned convoys of boats filled with European explorers led by first nations guides in canoes. (The river, originally know as the Kitchisippi, a rich watershed of wildlife and home to the Huron, Algonquin and Iroquois, later polluted by a Nuclear plant, paper processing and other industry, we were warned that the fish we caught might have too much mercury in it.)
But the aboriginals were always either non-existent, part of a diorama at the national museum or living on someplace called a ‘reserve’.
This year I took advantage of the free course in aboriginal history https://www.ualberta.ca/admissions-programs/online-courses/indigenous-canada/index.html and my eyes were finally opened to the light and the lie I have been living all these years.
I say lie. Passively I have been aware of substandard living conditions for indigenous in this country for many years. Through the press it had come to my attention that developers or oil companies wanted to build golf courses/ pipelines on aboriginal land, still do, and that there were protests and still are. I listened to other non-aboriginals complain about the ‘Indian problem’ and those protests. And passively I tut-tutted, nodded in sadness and sympathy for the First Nations but did little else.
I’ve watched Canadian governments tearfully apologize to the natives, again and again, more heart felt and chest thumping each time. I’ve heard the promises and voted on those hopes.
The U of A course opened my eyes to the absolute fraud of treaty negotiations, the Indian act, the White Paper, and of course residential schools.
I say lie because I was born in 1958 and the last residential school closed in 1997. The math says I was living in a country––and all governments during my lifetime––that supported true appropriation of culture, children, absolute disrespect and meanspiritedness in the true sense of the word. And I had no idea this was going on.
Now, for those leaders and others who say that cancelling Canada Day is tantamount to dismantling the country I say this: Imagine you have lived in a family where Uncle Bob has regularly and secretly raped your siblings for years. Everyone in your family “kind of” knew but wasn’t going to say anything. Your family lived a stilted and perhaps unhappy kind of existence. Gatherings, weddings, new members were celebrated with fake smiles and you may have presented yourself well while deep down knowing the truth. And if you didn’t know the truth you knew something was somehow wrong. Really you were living a half life under the controlling hand of Uncle Bob. Wouldn’t you like to finally break the pattern of continuous lies and abuse.
I say this: I dismantled my crooked deck last summer and got to the root of the problem. It now stands level. Dismantling is sometimes a very worthwhile thing.
This is what has been going on here in Canada. We know a little of our history and we have been living a lie, trying to ignore what we do know. Celebrating every July first, celebrating when Newfoundland joined confederation, tearfully sighing with relief when Quebec didn’t ‘leave’ this great country.
I would say that to heal this country we must know the truth, we must learn just what is here worth celebrating. At this point to ignore the sins created by our leaders, carried out by the Catholic church and condoned by the rest of us who turned a blind eye, is not cause for any means of celebration. There is nowhere to point a finger except towards ourselves for knowingly living the lie.
We talk about aboriginal anger or black rage, well, tell me, whose rage put 150,000 children in residential schools? Whose rage has hidden the truth about their deaths. Whose rage last year arrested an aboriginal journalist for merely putting pen to paper? I will tell you that rage did not originate with the aboriginals. Whose rage continues to lynch and kill blacks, transgender, anyone outside of ‘normal’. Who has the rage? It’s so sadly obvious.
It will take far more than money to rectify this crime, this genocide. It will take upheaval, a paradigm shift and a new way of respecting and acknowledging the true founders and original care takers of this land.
To proudly travel the world, or welcome immigrants to this land, as Canadians we will have to make all aware of the new fabric of what we are truly made.
My wish for this country is that the truth does in fact set us free and that we can be a model for human rights around the world. There will be no reconciliation without truth.

I am (written for St. Andrew’s Pride Service)

I was born in April. White. Male. Gay.

One strike against me

I could masquerade, cause confusion.

Not like the others who have their work cut out

for them

But it was March, in my adolescence, when I sat by the

bedroom window watching our middle class neighbourhood

emerge from winter, that I cried at knowing I

would grow up to be a homo and queer, words

that weren’t yet mine to own. Pervert. Fairy. Faggot. I wept

and felt a  darkness inside

at knowing that I would break my parents’ hearts and that their

raised eyebrows, smug glances and attitudes towards men together

were now meant for the likes of me.

March lasted a very long time, it moved in and

I dreamed of my older self comforting the younger one.

It wasn’t until my twenties that I told them and by

then they already knew – my colours were showing. Before my mother died

she told me that Priscilla Queen of the Desert was her favourite movie. I have been

one of the lucky ones – others leave home, are kicked out, turned away. Yes, I

have had friends who backed away, sat across rather than beside, but

others are shunned, put out of their community. Still it’s been a small

minefield of strangers throwing insults from cars, or empowered by their buddies

using the f-word while I look for the nearest exit, the fastest way to safety. And

I have watched friends die at the will of a strange disease with little effort to

find a vaccine. The fewer of us…

Where others have been beaten and beaten down, I have lived another day.

But now it’s June and what a month to be LGBTQ Gay. A gay month filled with

perfume in the air, peonies, poppies and lilacs, pollen bursting from buds and blossoms, rich

with mating and birth and all of the unexpected delights that nature seeds the path with. All rejoicing in being alive.

Nature has no agenda to eliminate the anomalies. The law of the jungle may be to eat

or be eaten but it has never been to beat or be beaten because your buds and blossoms aren’t like the rest.

Some say why pride? The work has been done, but no, there is still a world frozen by

religion, trapped by prejudice, fear, rhetoric, language and superstition. We cannot

ignore it – we know too much – our eyes are opened ever wider.

So here’s to you who still has to come out every day, whoever you are – has to teach the

world what it is to be you. To those of us who know sooner than later and the ones who arrived late to the party.

Here’s to you who still has to say I am…

And I am proud.

Out loud.

India

Sonnet 34: Why didst thous promise such a beauteous day

And make me travel forth without my cloak…

I think of this often when I am either optimistic about the weather, be it a cool spring morning––too cool––or a summer’s day when the storm clouds are just beyond the horizon and when I am beyond the point of no return and I hear the thunder roll and see the puffy white edges present themselves above the treetops the beginnings of a billowing boiling storm.

Today we headed out the door and went east as we sometimes do, a grey overcast May morning, high cloud like the underside of some soft quilt happening above. And yes we were well on our way when the poodle stopped and looked at me. What? We’re doing what you want. A walk to the lookout, lots of sniffing, in the moment. We continued until I heard it too, the low growling of thunder back towards the west, back towards where the clouds are thick and dark, back towards where I had not looked until that moment. He’d heard it long before me.

Yes I thought, oh shit, done it again. We’ll have to run to get back before getting drenched or hit by a bolt of lightening. But this thought, to which I had become accustomed, because of my habitual carelessness, was replaced by a larger, heavier and far more resonant feeling.

India, I thought. That sound, that thunder is coming all the way, through the earth, from India. The sounds of pain and deep, deep tragedy. It was India. I had read about India and the pandemic, at times not trying to follow the headlines and other times being drawn in to the news of this sad disaster. Both responses akin to trying to not look at a train wreck as it slowly progresses from bad to worse to worst. And there I was walking along a country road, dark clouds gathering and thinking as far removed as I was from India that it was there, somewhere in my consciousness. Very real. Very loud. Roaring in pain and anguish.

It’s odd to be in this world, in this bubble, fairly isolated while a humanitarian disaster of such magnitude takes place on the same planet. Do I want to jinx things by saying “why them?” Closer to home, people are dying while angels hold their hands in place of family, sad stories replay over and over. Care workers are worn to the quick. Raw, spent, yet managing to fight to steer the ship, hold the oars against the tide.

The thunder today caught me by surprise. Spoke volumes.