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Essays

The True North, Flawed and Free

My dear and long suffering reader, July 1 is a special day for many people around the world. In Singapore for example today is Armed Forces Day. Pakistan marks this day as Children’s Day. The country of Burundi celebrates its independence on July 1. In Australia and New Zealand, today marks international Tartan Day, which makes for a colourful holiday to be sure. And of course, we must not forget that July 1 is also Creative Ice Cream Flavours Day, so now’s the time to break out that Zucchini Almond Ripple recipe you’ve been dying to try.

As I myself hail from Canadia-Land, today is also the day when we mark the birthday of this big glorious mess we call home. At 152 years of age, (though truthfully, she doesn’t look a day over 110) this country of mine is as beautiful as ever, from the 49th parallel to the arctic circle, from the Left Coast to the Far East.

You may be forgiven dear reader, for assuming that the remainder of this missive will be a jingoistic cavalcade of everything that makes Canadia-Land the Greatest Country on Earth. Indeed, there is much to be proud of, and I will outline a few of the more interesting ones in a moment. However, I think it’s important to avoid the glossing-over that often occurs on days such as this. In our noble attempts to focus on the positive, we forget that the negative offers a much-needed contrast (not to mention a solid kick in our collective self-approbation and vaingloriousness). Our achievements deserve to be celebrated to be sure, but our flaws must not be ignored. They require attention as well, especially if we truly wish to address them.

The simple truth is, we as a nation have made many mistakes and will likely make many more. We’ve treated our indigenous brothers and sisters shamefully, and struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with the embarrassment of environmental riches with which we’ve been blessed. Racism, sexism and violence are an issue here as they are in many other places in the world. Any temptation to smugness when watching the antics of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-And-Will-Only-Be-Called-President-When-He-Acts-Like-One-Dammit below the 49th parallel must be tempered with the knowledge that we’re equally capable of such behaviour. Stone throwing, glass houses and all that.

Truthfully, the Big Wide Open has far to go to live up to the utopias envisioned by poets and dreamers. That said, this remains my country and my home, and living here means I play an active role in making it a better place in whatever small way I can. From voting and the way I interact with my natural environment, to the way in which I treat my fellow citizens, my actions (and inactions) are an important part of the tapestry that is this True North Strong and Free(zing).

We can see the most glaring issues, and we know what needs to be done to address them. What remains now, is the willingness to do so.

Allow me now to share some interesting (and true) factoids about this amazing country of mine:

  • Canadians consume more macaroni and cheese than any other nation on Earth. There’s a reason the box says, “Kraft Dinner” here and “Kraft Macaroni and Cheese” everywhere else.
  • Canada was invaded by America in 1775 and in 1812. They failed both times. Just saying.
  • In 2015, a Canadian man tied 100 balloons to a garden chair and flew over the city of Calgary. We’ll get our frequent flier points anyway we can.
  • There is a town in the province of Newfoundland called “Dildo,” and it’s not far from a place called, “Spread Eagle.” Yes, really.
  • Canada has a strategic maple syrup reserve in case of emergencies. Priorities kids, priorities.
  • Canadians invented the electric wheelchair, IMAX, Trivial Pursuit, the baseball glove and the Tilley hat. You’re welcome.
  • There is a municipality in the province of Québec called “Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!” Because reasons.
  • Canadian kids can write to Santa at the North Pole (postal code: H0H 0H0) AND GET A REPLY. Deal with it.
  • Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling. Consider them an apology for Justin Bieber.

My carbon-based compadres, our world seems more tumultuous and divisive than ever before. Whatever this day means for you, whether it’s filled with tartan, independence celebrations or weird ice cream flavours, I hope that it points you to a better future.

In the meantime… Happy 152nd birthday! I am Canadian. Je suis Canadien. Loud and proud!

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Essays

Waste Not…

My dear and long suffering reader, I’ve been thinking a great deal of late about waste. Ok… it’s not the most salubrious of subjects I grant you, but I think you’ll agree, one that’s on many people’s minds in our modern age.

What I’ve found so intriguing is that “waste” is entirely a human concept. Nowhere else in nature will you find waste as we know it.

“Now hang on,” I hear you exclaim in that exacerbated and vaguely italicized way I find so endearing. “Surely nature has waste. What about, well… you know… that stuff?”

By “that stuff” I assume you are referring to excreta, feces, urine or other such biological debris. I must apologize for being so hopelessly gauche, but it’s as well to be accurate about these things, n’est-ce pas?

To answer your question, technically yes, such material could be considered “waste.” However, I think you’ll find that it does not remain waste for long. It becomes food and fuel for all manner of plants and microorganisms. Everything, from the abandoned shell of a hermit crab to the leaves that fall from trees, is recycled and reused in some form or another.

The concept of garbage dumps, landfills and waste disposal facilities are an entirely mad-made creation, and the increased need for them is an entirely man-made problem.

When you compare our noisy, aggressive and frankly wasteful modern civilization with the perfectly balanced, entirely self-sustaining natural world in which we live, it’s difficult to see our supposed superiority.

It seems that from time to time Nature must show us, her most arrogant of children, exactly where we fit in the “superiority” scale. If you’ve ever seen a tornado, or endured an earthquake, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Nature has no concept of waste, and we human-flavoured humans, for all our technological wiz-bangery and clumsy hubris, will, at some point, be recycled back to the dust from which we came.

Waste not, want not.

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Essays

An Astronaut on Spaceship Earth

Dear reader, in a moment I’m going to ask you to stop reading this essay.

No, I haven’t taken leave of my senses. I assure you there is a madness to my method.

I want you to stop reading this essay and just take a few moments to look at the image accompanying this particular selection of literary litter.

Take a few moments and LOOK at it. Take it in, allow your mind to free-associate for a few moments, and then come back. I’ll wait.

Welcome back. Now you may be wondering why I made such a peculiar request of you. The image is certainly well known. In fact, it’s one of the most famous images ever published by man.

It was taken as Apollo 8 emerged from the dark side of the moon on Christmas Eve, 1968. The crew, Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders, held a live broadcast from lunar orbit to describe what they were seeing.

It’s called, “Earthrise.”

Sadly this photo has lost some of its impact due to its ubiquity. We see it as pretty, but we often fail to percieve the significance of it.

Allow me, if you would be so groovy, to confess something. For a long time, I thought there was something “wrong” with me. The reason for my consternation over my psychological health was that when I looked at that photo, and others similar to it, I had a far stronger reaction to it.

Simply put, it brings me to near tears.

Now steady on my fine and decidedly unfeathered friends, before you break out your Sigmund Freud-issue Sanity Decoder Rings, I can assure you that I’m not mad. Well… not like that at any rate.

No, my reaction to that photo is based entirely on the profundity of it, on the implications it has for all of us carbon-based lifeforms. It’s an object lesson, a message to us all that says “You are here. You are ONLY here.”

I’ll give you a moment to rattle that little nugget about in your cranial cavities for a few temporal increments.

Consider that every thing that has ever happened in human history – every conflict, every peace treaty, every work of art, music, literature and theatre, every birth and death and every breath ever taken by the human animal – has occurred on that tiny blue and white marble.

Every human-shaped human – from Hitler to Mother Theresa, Amelia Earhart to Genghis Khan, Buddy Holly to Aristophenes, Hypatia to your Uncle Phil – owes their existence, for better or worse, to that fragile orb… all alone in the night.

When you see it from that perspective, when the mighty works of humanity can be compressed down to something that can be blocked from view with a single hand, the preciousness and fragility of our beloved Starship Earth becomes clear.

The responsibility to preserve this tiny oasis in the Dark becomes paramount.

Doesn’t it?