A Council Divided

 Original shorter version written for Just Sayin’ Caledon

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“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln spoke those words in 1858 at the Illinois State Capital in Springfield after he had accepted the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination as the state’s U.S. Senator. Those words ring just as true today, and they apply as equally to governments great and small as they do to citizen movements, and to family clans, and to canoe trips.

 Picture a canot du maître in historic times with nine paddlers heading down the swollen Humber River, most of whom are paddling hard in one direction, a few  paddling in another, and one perennial lily-dipper on board. Not only is the forward progress slowed but the course becomes an erratic zig-zag despite the best efforts of the avant standing in the bow and the ­gouvernail in the stern, both trying to steer a true course.

Their route and the goods in their trade canoe have been selected by a talented team of mapmakers, clerks, accountants, and artisans, each a professional in their own right, and highly valued by the Company. They want to get those goods to markets quickly and efficiently.

Ask yourselves how successful those fur trade entrepreneurs would have been if those trade goods had not reached their outposts in the northwest of Canada or the trading posts on the Bay, or if the returning bales of beaver pelts had not reached the chapeau fashionistas of Europe. Which is why you need all the paddlers to be sharing the same vision – a successful journey for their employers, a journey most successful when all the paddlers are pulling in the same direction.

Now, apply this analogy to our Caledon Municipal Council where one of the members recently remarked that they were “very divided.” The paddlers are our Mayor, Area Councillors and Regional Councillors, the avant, the bow steering paddler, is our Town Clerk and the gouvernail, the stern steering paddler, is our CEO. The team backing them are our Town Staff, and the employer is the taxpayer, a minority of whom get off their couches to vote every four years. An even smaller minority of whom bitch and complain about every paddle stroke taken and every decision that the team makes.

Some of the “paddlers” are beginning to signal their intentions to return for another voyage. Others are getting ready to move on to other ventures. And the selection of the nine newly hired voyageurs will be decided by the good townsfolk. However, their decision this season must be to select a very competent crew for a four-year journey into the unknown.

On this voyage the canoe will travel into the uncharted waters of the 2018 to 2022 years, years of sweeping technological innovations, complex population growth, and social diversity challenges.  It will be as challenging as it was for our First Peoples when the European farmers arrived in Caledon in the early 1800’s.

As challenging as when their fur trade rivers were harnessed by grist mills and saw mills. As challenging as when their forests teeming with country foods were razed for farms. As challenging as when their spirituality and culture were almost destroyed by missionary zeal, colonial arrogance, smallpox, and broken treaties. And as challenging for us now as we face nuclear button insults, waves of environmental refugees, and the unpredictability of accelerating climate change.

Given the scope of those challenges, the new crew of paddlers must have the qualities of endurance and strength of character. They must have a skill set that will help them guide our canoe through turbulent waters as we draw our own map into the future. They must possess the qualities of an adaptive mind: curiosity, creativity, initiative, multi-discipline thinking, and empathy. These are the skills that will take them beyond being simply paddling machines in a canoe. These are the skills that make them, and us, truly human.

Hindsight gives us the wisdom of seeing what we should have done a little differently too late. Like, “Well, in hindsight, maybe we shouldn’t have built our downtown core in a river valley floodplain.” As 500-year storm insurance guidelines rewrite our town plans, we begin to realize the 10,000-year wisdom of the elders who built their villages on the high ground. Wisdom and foresight. Something we need to use in selecting our next paddlers.

We have seen the patterns in the paddling styles of our current crew. We need to take a very careful look at those who are signing on again because we can’t afford any lily-dippers or divisive contrarians who might sabotage the venture. Great people make a great team. It’s going to be a long and challenging journey – let’s pick the paddlers who will take us through safely.

A Council divided may fall, but a canoe united will carry our Town on a phenomenal journey into the future.

 

 

 

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

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* images from Heritage Canada

 

 

 

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2018, the UN International Year of … Our Choice

Written for the King Sentinel. Thursday, January 11th edition

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For the first time in recent history, the United Nations has not made a specific designation for the year 2018.  In fact, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement calling for global unity to overcome growing challenges:

“On New Year’s Day 2018 I am not issuing an appeal, I am issuing an alert – a red alert for our world. As we begin 2018, I call for unity. We can settle conflicts, overcome hatred and defend shared values. But we can only do that together.”

While the UN has already gone ahead and declared 2019 to be the International Year of Indigenous Languages, for which we say, Miigwech, it appears that the designation for 2018 is left up to us. To those who seize the initiative go the spoils, so let us step up and declare 2018 to be the International Year of Environmental Literacy.

Readers should be reminded that we previously defined “environment” as being “everything that surrounds us, everything with which we interact, everything that we are – in short, everything.” Environmental literacy, therefore, is our ability to move through the stages of awareness, knowledge, and critical thinking about “everything” to wisely put our values into action. This becomes particularly challenging in an era of “truthful hyperbole”, “fake news”, and a global leadership that boasts, “My nuclear button is bigger than your nuclear button!”  Challenging, but even more necessary than ever.

Our 2018 is a world of extremes where one part of our home planet is experiencing Arctic weather bombs, hurricane force winds and historic flooding, while another part is experiencing heat waves and drought. One part of our world is giving the richest corporations historic tax breaks while another part has left 5 million people in urgent need with a hundred thousand on the edge of starvation. While the global population growth is predicted to slow as fertility rates drop, we are at the same time predicting close to 50,000 new births in Rohingya Muslim refugee camps – that’s the population of King Township and Bolton combined – refugee camps rife with cholera and dysentery.

It is hard for us to comprehend the realities of accelerating global climate change and a steadily warming planet when we are shoveling snow. To put that into perspective, my wife and dog and I went hiking yesterday in the Happy Valley Nature Reserve where the wind chill temperature dropped to under -25ºC while the temperatures in Sydney Australia soared to over 45ºC. A temperature differential of 70ºC makes it even difficult to comprehend the realities of daily weather.

It is difficult for us to understand the cries for water, food and safety from those who have none when we are putting out our excess once a week in garbage bins, blue boxes and municipal composters. It is mind-boggling for those of us who believe in a just society to witness the rise in xenophobia and populist misogynistic nationalism in democratically elected governments.

The only cure for a world suffering from these extremes is for those who espouse positive, inclusive values to stand up and be counted, to speak up for those whose voice has been devalued, to offer solace to those who have none. Equally important is for us to use our democratic rights, while we still have them, to elect literate well-informed, respectful candidates to public office so that they make intelligent decisions on our behalf. And that requires us to be literate and well-informed citizens.

Our children tell us that they want to be the change, a change for the better. They remind us that we should be able to tell them that everything is going to be OK, that we are taking good care of them and their world, and that whether they live in King or Caledon or Syria their future will be bright.

But our children aren’t stupid. As young environmentalist Severn Suzuki reminded us at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro 25 years ago: “My dad always says, ‘You are what you do, not what you say.’ Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown-ups say you love us. But I challenge you, please, make your actions reflect your words.”

Perhaps then there is only one resolution to make for this New Year of 2018.

To finally accept that challenge, and to be the best we say we can be. Perhaps it is not so much a resolution, but a revolution and an evolution to environmental literacy. To a higher ground from where we begin to comprehend the incredible interconnectedness of our planet and the consequences of our actions. Considering the recent red alert from the United Nations Secretary-General and the remembered plea of a child, it is clear that the time has come for people of goodwill to defend their world together.

As the old biblical adage reminds us: As we sow, so shall we reap.  Here’s hoping the 2018 harvest is a good one.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

 

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To Integrity and Beyond

A New Year’s social commentary

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Vizzini: He didn’t fall?! Inconceivable!

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

These quotes from The Princess Bride could just as easily have been about the word “integrity” – it does not mean what many of us think it means.

Integrity is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “the quality of being of sound moral principle; uprightness, honesty, and sincerity.”

Integrity comes from the Latin integritas, meaning complete and entire. It was the word the Legionnaires would listen for when they struck the armor above their hearts to test its material wholeness. If the Centurion heard a solid ring, he would shout “Integritas” indicating that the armor was sound and that the soldier was protected in his service of the community.

According to the historical researcher J.D. Kern, the less than moral Praetorian Guard, the Roman emperor’s equivalent of the Nazi S.S., changed this ritual to a “Hail Caesar” indicating their devotion to a man and not to an institution and its code of ideals. In modern times, this bastardized tribute to integrity was replaced with “Sieg Heil” in 1930’s Berlin or “Heil Trump” in 2016 Charlottesville.  Integritas had lost its integrity.

Let us propose to take back the origins of this wonderful word. The synonym for integrity is ethics, which means “morality, morals, decency, principles, values; a code of right and wrong, a categorical imperative. Let us further propose that we demand integrity from ourselves, our family members, our community leaders, and the professionals with whom we deal for education, health care, news, and appliance repair.

Now, keep in mind, integrity can be a double-edged sword. If you define integrity as “firm adherence to a code of moral principles” then Donald Trump could be said to have integrity – he has not wavered from his code of “Lie, sue,

and attack until you win!”  From his perspective it would show a total lack of integrity if the Donald told the truth.

We often take the moral high ground with the phrase, “Speak Truth to Power!” The truth, it appears is dependent upon one’s perspectives and code of ethics, or lack thereof. Fundamentalist religious terrorists and mercenaries could be said to possess integrity, as we said of the Crusaders during the “Holy Wars” of the Middle Ages. If you were Christian, these men were heroes; if you were a Muslim Saracen defending the Holy Lands with integrity, the Crusaders were barbarian savages.

If the truth is all about perspectives, then integrity is a moving target, as difficult to achieve as going beyond infinity.

That phrase, “To Infinity and Beyond” comes from Buzz Lightyear, the Toy Story character who is shouting to everyone that he can do the impossible. Perhaps “To Integrity and Beyond” is an impossible dream. If one person’s commitment to truth and integrity may be perceived as another person’s road to hell, then everything is relative.

In the end, we can only judge those measures of truth and integrity by our own beliefs. Perhaps others do not share what we consider to be our search for intelligent dialogue and fact-based reports. Perhaps some see as “true” what we see as incendiary “Breaking News” and sensationalized gossip and innuendo and alternative facts and truthful hyperbole.

I asked a wise mentor years ago, what I could do as a young teacher to make the world a better place. He responded simply, “Teach your students First Aid. Then they will see others as people they can assist and protect. They will see themselves as people who care for others.” It sounded so simple, but he was right.

We still struggle with that level of care. Call us judgmental, but when we see a bully threatening someone, when we encounter prejudice, when we see someone in need of first aid, do we intervene or walk away? What is the shade of integrity that moves our values into action? We realize that all cats are grey in the dark, but sometimes we just want to see the world in an easy choice of light versus darkness, good versus evil, “us” versus “them”.

As my mother used to say, “Sometimes there are just bad people in the world. Karma will thin the herd.” Sometimes, we have trouble waiting for Karma. We dream longingly, every once in a while, about the hungry, impatient vulture sitting in the bare tree branches of a Gary Larsen cartoon, “Patience my ass! I’m gonna kill something.”

Perhaps when we ask our elected representatives. our media spokespeople, our fellow citizens to show us “Integrity and Beyond,” we are asking them to do the impossible. Perhaps, but it’s worth a try. I

Like the ancient Legionnaires defending Rome, it’s worth the quest this New Year 2018 to rediscover the true meaning of integritas. iAnd it would be so much easier if we all learned First Aid.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

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Fighting Fire with Fire

This political satire was first prepared for Just Sayin’ Caledon

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There is a new horror story in Town … BEAKS! Just when you thought it was safe to walk back into the coop, it turns out that those pesky Backyard Hens are pyromaniacs at heart, just waiting for the chance to turn themselves into rotisserie sacrifices for Colonel Sanders.

In Part One of this trilogy, titled Get Crackin’, Henny Penny and Chicken Little had squawked about the Backyard Hens waging biological warfare on Caledon.They raised fears of salmonella poisoning wiping out our children and avian flu spreading to our factory farms and wiping out our economy. That turned out to be false. The proverbial Fox News in the chicken coop, so to speak.

Now, in Part Two, Henny Penny is back at it again, this time raising fears of Caledon burning to the ground from unattended chicken coop heaters. Henny Penny reportedly found a story on her favourite Backyard Chicken site on the dark web. Some person improperly heating their coop sadly lost their pet chickens in a fire that nearly spread to their house. Note to self: 1. Don’t build your residential coop close to your house. 2. Don’t heat it.

Fortunately, Rooster Cogburn researched fire safety in Ontario, Canada and found the following: zero fatalities from backyard chicken coop fires. Turns out the number one cause of fires is home cooking, especially those deep fat fryers used for southern fried chicken and chips. In fact, cooking, smoking and arson were the top three causes of house fires, with heating equipment, electrical malfunction and candles coming in at the end.

You are, therefore, in greater danger of burning down your house and the Town by cooking your chickens than getting fresh eggs from them. Fortunately, your chickens, in a properly built coop, don’t need winter heating. The exception being their water supply. That, of course, you will make sure is on a Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI) circuit.

Chickens can withstand cold winter temperatures, especially our hardy Canadian breed, the Chantecler. Also, lighting and heating their coop over the winter will only force them into egg laying in the season when the girls should be getting a break. If the nest box area is insulated, the floor covered with deep shavings, a little passive solar input for sunny days, and the ventilation properly situated, your hens will be just fine. They are, after all, wearing down jackets. Keep the door to the run open in the daytime, because you’ll find them out playing in the snow – nobody likes to be “cooped up” all winter.

In a really cold snap, like the one we are experiencing now, a single 60watt red light bulb (available from any pet store as a reptile heat bulb (about $20.00 for a 2pack) will do the trick. NOTE: Do NOT use a white light bulb which will throw off their winter diurnal cycle and force unseasonal egg laying.

Do not do stupid things, like heating the coop with candles, or a wood burning stove, or an open filament electrical heater, or a gas BBQ. It’s to be hoped that the caregivers are smarter than the chickens. Most of us in Caledon who are interested in backyard hens won’t be starting up until the spring, so we have months to prepare to do it properly. For those who need to see it in action, visit the Albion Hills Community Farm this spring where the two model demonstration coops will be open for viewing. For those wanting more information now, contact Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs for your FREE resource kit on backyard poultry titled “Keeping Your Birds Healthy” :  ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca

Note to Self: order a resource kit for Henny Penny…

Above all, please remember the old adage: good research does not mean pressing Google on your computer screen and going to the first site that appears. If we did that, everyone with a headache to diagnose would have concluded that they have a tumour, or meningitis, or subdural and epidural hematomas, or cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. Oh, my! And please remind Henny Penny:  If you play with fire, you’re likely to get burned.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Tis the Season

A few weeks ago, my wife and I joined up with the Caledon chapter of the Bruce Trail Association for their annual Pot-Luck Walk and Talk. I had the good fortune to be asked to give the late lunch talk and share stories from over forty years of hiking the Bruce Trail with students and family

The morning hike included the chance to reconnect with some old friends and meet a lot of new ones on our Forks of the Credit journey that morning. One of those reconnections was with Sally Moule, a fellow teacher from North York in the heady days of Outdoor and Environmental Education when our students could actually experience the Bruce Trail.

Conversation turned to getting ready for the holiday season and we mentioned that we would be looking for a balsam fir tree the next weekend. Well, as luck would have it, Sally and Dave Moule run the Hockleycrest Farm on the east side of Airport Road, about 4.5 km north of Hwy.9. Beside a wide variety of cut-your-own and precut trees, they also have assorted boughs, baskets and wreaths available. And “all proceeds go towards the Bruce Trail’s Conservancy Program to secure, protect and maintain a continuous corridor containing the Trail along the Niagara Escarpment.”

Not only that, but their woodworking son, Rick, turns and carves custom wooden bowls and utensils, one of which will stirring my bourguignon this weekend. Ah, the joys of hiking outdoors – a reconnection with friends that blessed us with a tree, a spoon, and a Trail protected. All from accepting an invitation to a pot-luck luncheon.

Only one week to go until we celebrate a Wonderful Winter Solstice and a Happy New Year!  May yours be healthy and happy and filled with peace.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

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