Freedom versus Freedumb

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WARNING: This semi-satiric opinion piece contains descriptions of ghastly violence not suitable for young children or politically correct adults.

Freedumb" Sticker by Michaelnilson | Redbubble

Ah, remember being stirred by the dying shout from the actor Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart”  as he screamed out “FREEDOM!” from the executioner’s block?  Many people forget that the movie was a fictional account of the life of the real William Wallace. There is the reel world, and then there is the real world.

In actual historical fact, when Wallace was captured by the English, he was strangled by hanging but released while still alive. That act alone, causing bilateral vocal chord paralysis, would have rendered him unable to speak.

But then he was “emasculated, eviscerated and his bowels burned before him, beheaded, then cut into four parts. His silent head was dipped in tar and displayed on a pike atop London Bridge.” His body parts were distributed to four towns and cities across England and Scotland. This is how King Edward I dealt with uprisings in 1305, his own style of our much more humane Emergencies Act.

After tallying the cost, damages, pollution, and desecration of our Capital City and sacred memorials by the so-called “freedom convoy”, Edward’s way may have been a more permanent solution to ending the illegal occupation and subsequent threats of a summer repeat. “Freedom” can quickly turn into “Freedumb” when in the heads, hearts and hands of far-right, racist, homophobic, anti-science, misinformation mob mentality, Q-Anon conspiracy theory cultists.

These home-grown “Freedumb” terrorists tried to appropriate our national flag as their symbol, as if their selfish and stupid, fossil fuelled occupation had anything to do with true Canadian values of freedom and the right to dissenting expression. No, I thought the Emergencies Act came in way too late and was far too gentle.

The French use of the guillotine is faster, but a return to the slower but equally permanent punishment of gibbeting would greatly deter disturbances by freedumb fanatics this summer.  Gibbeting was a punishment whereby the criminals could be left hanging in iron cages outside the entrance to the town until they starved to death and the crows and insects finished the job.

Have a safe and happy summer responsibly enjoying our hard won democracy. Let’s try our best to keep the “dumb” out of our freedoms. A little tar might help, the way I see it.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

Inspiration From “The Trail”

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Recently, it was my honour to be asked to be the “Inspirational Speaker” at the Toronto Bruce Trail Club’s Annual General Meeting. For the second year in a row, their AGM had to go online because of pandemic concerns. This was going to be a challenge, partly because I am a technophobe, and partly because the Bruce Trail is sacred ground for me. In these chaotic times, I wanted to ensure I would deliver that much needed inspiration.

For those new to Ontario, the Bruce Trail was founded in 1960 when four members of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists – Norman Pearson, Ray Lowes, Dr. Robert MacLaren and Dr. Philip Gosling – met to discuss Lowes’s vision of a hiking path that would span the entire Niagara Escarpment.

By 1963, the Bruce Trail Association had incorporated – three years from vision to action. The journey continues to this day with Clubs from nine different sections united in care, conservation and education for the Bruce Trail Conservancy. The Toronto Section runs from Kelso to Cheltenham where my own Caledon Section begins.

My personal history with the Trail began in 1968, with many a solo hike to release the stress of the first years of teaching. In those days there were overnight campsites and cooking areas and access to springs. In 1972, I switched from Elementary to Middle School and thus began eight years of leading student hikes on a “5 day 50 mile” Bruce Trail hike during the last week of September. That was the beginning of a long term relationship culminating with my decade at the Mono Cliffs Outdoor Education Centre right beside the Bruce Trail.

This keynote was much more than another speaking engagement. This was a thank you from the heart and I didn’t want to miss. However, as a public speaker, I am used to live audiences where you can interact, feel the energy, work the room, and physically engage the participants. This online concept was actually making me a little nervous.

Add to that, the frequent and detailed reminders that hit my emailbox alerting me that the meeting was coming, and to get ready for the rehearsal.  Usually when I speak at a conference, I am given a theme, I arrive, get a feel for the audience and then hit the stage, often for an hour straight. This one had a rehearsal. With a script. I was worried. I don’t do rehearsals. And I have never used a script.

When the day for their AGM rehearsal came, I prepared my computer for a ZOOM meeting and waited anxiously. I need not have worried. This rehearsal was to make sure that all of their online connections were working so that their 100 plus members attending in a week could engage, interact, ask questions, and vote. And the script was simply the organizational agenda for the meeting.

Best of all, I got to meet the thirteen members of the Board online  This Toronto Bruce Trail Club Board was organized and efficient and diverse. Too often on hiking trails in the past few years, I kept encountering kindly elderly folk in their Tilley hats and pants with their walking sticks eagerly sharing their nature wisdoms.

Well, this Board, while appearing to certainly be kind and sharing, was anything but homogenised milk about to meet its due date. The thirteen faces I met on the screen were a diverse combination of cultural backgrounds, genders and ages. It was like a breath of fresh air. And to boot, they were technologically literate! The joke around our home is that I can light a fire in the pouring rain with a flint and steel, but I can’t turn on my cell phone.

The sequence of the meeting was confirmed, all the ZOOM buttons tested, the voting boxes checked, and the two hour meeting set for April 10, 2022.

It went off without a hitch. All of the Board’s careful planning smoothed the AGM into a much shorter online time and still managed to cover all of the business, financials, awards and tributes. During that time I learned more about the Toronto Club, the first to publish a statement on the need to encourage cultural diversity, inclusion, and awareness of social justice issues surrounding us all.

I was also reminded of the hard work of the volunteers who maintain and improve the trails through the GTA along the 45 km Toronto section that services the largest Club in the Bruce Trail’s 900 plus kilometres from Niagara to Tobermory. This Club has the biggest membership in the Conservancy and possibly the greatest responsibility to teach the very diverse Toronto Area population about how to walk lightly and responsibly on the land.

As more and more people come to our cities from around the world, we cannot assume that they all had joyous summer camp experiences or outdoor education opportunities in school or nature-based excursions with their parents. More and more the exact opposite is true. The Toronto Bruce Trail Club recognizes this, and the energy to deliver on that responsibility is reflected in their new Board of Directors, the “old wisdoms” of their many volunteers, and the enthusiasm of their members.

When it came time to conclude the meeting, my “inspirational keynote” spontaneously came straight from the heart. All I could see on my computer were a hundred little faces in boxes scrolling at top of my screen. It was hard to know if I had done my job, but the time for questions at the end turned into a series of thank-yous from the participants. I’m hoping it was enough to get this Toronto Bruce Trail Club inspired to take on another year of protecting the legacy and vision of our founders.

Every trail has a story. Every person is a storyteller. This is our story. The way I see it.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

 

 

 

 

 

2022 – From Local Chaos to Global Crisis

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We were hoping it would get better.In Ontario, We seemed to be turning the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic and things were about to get back to “normal” this year. Then came the temper-tantrum truckers who terrorized Ottawa for three weeks because they couldn’t handle the mask or the needle. We had Conservative members of Parliament cheering them on from the bridges of Ottawa. We had to bring in the Emergencies Act to get them out of town because the local police felt helpless to stop the honking diesel fume spewing trucks, and the harassment of local citizens.

They blocked borders, disrupted trade and commerce, sickened a city and forced our democratically elected government to invoke the Emergencies Act for the first time in history. Some of the terrorists got arrested but the rest of them all just went home. The border crossing mask mandate they were protesting still held, and it looks like the legitimate government they were trying to overthrow is sitting pretty until 2025.

The estimated cost to the City of Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, for the so-called “Freedom” Convoy’s selfish stupidity is an estimated $36 million and counting.  We thought that we had it bad.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine and all of our troubles faded in comparison. President Vladimir Putin claimed he was defending Russia’s borders. The UN knew otherwise and condemned his actions. The Kremlin was angry that international leaders were calling Putin a “war criminal” but what do you call a man who shells maternity hospitals and cluster bombs residential neighbourhoods? The UN called it a humanitarian crisis as four  million people fled Ukraine with more than half of those refugees entering neighbouring Poland. More than 10 million people, a quarter of the population, have been forced to leave their homes and belongings. NATO leaders talked about help but refused to call for a “no fly” zone over Ukraine. So much for diplomacy.

Meanwhile, as I write this, Ukraine continues to be pulverized by the Russian war machine. What’s stopping NATO? The very real fear that Putin may retaliate with nuclear weapons leading to a cataclysmic World War Three. While we delay, Ukraine is paying the price for our cowardly failure to admit them to the European Union and NATO. We have colleagues at the Kyiv Osokorky Elementary School currently under siege and begging for European and western assistance. Sometimes there is only one way to stop a bully.

Meanwhile in Ontario, the “Scientific and Chamber of Commerce Advisory Panel” has lifted the mask mandate and begun to Open Ontario for Business once again. Boss Ford faces a provincial election in June, Asphalt Annie wants to run for Mayor of Caledon in our October municipal election, and the weather, after a brief fling with spring, is turning back to cold and snow again. The least of our worries.

2022 is going to be a very interesting year. The way I see it.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

In the Beginning …

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Shab-e Yalda from Persia, Dong Zhi from China, Saturnalia from the Roman Empire, Toji from Japan, Yule from Scandinavia, along with the Anasazi’s Shalako from the Zuni and Soyal from the Hopi all have one thing in common. These sacred events all mark the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and the beginning of a New Year. South of the equator where their winter falls in June, the shortest day of the year was celebrated as Inti Raymi by the Inca in Peru. These sacred days are  embedded in our reptilian brain stems and preserved in the collective consciousness of humankind.

These festivals all mark the seasonal tilt of Earth towards and away from the sun bringing the end to one season and the beginning of another. These are not to be confused with the artificial religious holidays that replaced them when the cult of Judeo-Christianity swept across the Roman Empire in 300 BCE, courtesy of Emperor Constantine’s mother. Nor should they be confused with culturally created holidays like the recent addition of Kwanzaa to the Winter Solstice wannabe list.

The scientific tilt of Earth does not care if you are black, brown, white, yellow, red, green or blue; it does not care if you are from the North, South, East or West. Every octant of Earth in this epoch is guaranteed the same regular passage of the sun’s energy over its lands and waters. It is the human storytellers who imbue these seasonal changes with ritual and myth.

All of the sacred days mentioned in the introduction have one thing in common. They all mark the solar journey from Shortest Day and Longest Night into a New Year. They are not dependent for their existence on the dedication of a temple or the birth of a godson or cultural neediness. Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa are to the Winter Solstice what The Church of Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ is to Christianity. Bridesmaids who came late to the party all acting like they are the bride.

Still, even if you are late to the party, you can have a lot of fun – tell stories, sing songs, dance, drink and feast. There are a thousand different ways to celebrate our origins born of Fire, Earth, Water, and Air as we honour The Great Mystery That Loves Life. The arts mythologize what science knows. It’s in our nature. Happy New Year!

The way I see it.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

On Being Pagan

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I often get asked why I celebrate the Winter Solstice as a natural sacred day rather than the artificial holyday known as Christmas. I was raised in the cult of Christianity for many years, submerged as an infant, believing all the stories with the innocence of childhood. Gradually life experiences and meticulous research into the birth of religious beliefs pulled the holey wool from my eyes.  I threw off the cloak of liturgical oppression and returned to nature.

To quote Uhtred Ragnarson, “Destiny is all!” In this case, geography is all. What I discovered is that in the beginning, based on where the storytellers evolved, humans created gods. If your clan lived in a temperate climate with four seasons, there tended to be a cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth in the god myths. If your clan was in an equatorial community, your god myths tended to a two season mythology of wet and dry.

Early storytelling humans created “god” myths for almost every wonder of nature that we needed to explain. Thunder and lightning, rainbows, fire and ice, flood and drought, the powers of animals, the cycles of plant growth, and the great mysteries of the universe from creation to storytelling humans. Why we went from the spectacular diversity of this sacred pantheon to a single god created by a desert wandering, camel herding, goat breeding tribe from the middle east is probably one of the greatest mysteries of all.

And not just any god, but a spiteful, vengeful, sexist male patriarch who personifies Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump more than Albert Schweitzer or Herbert Hoover. The kind of god that exercises the horrific power of a King/god’s right to the First Night. That’s where a king gets to take a newly betrothed virgin bride and have his way with her, usually facilitated by a trusted general.

So when Michael visited Mary and told her she had a date with “god” she really didn’t have much of a choice. And Joseph had to suck it up, later arrange a trip to the stables, and accept a life raising the god’s bastard child. Mary’s only comment was to look skyward and say, “You did this to me!” The first #MeToo act of defiance. The “king” ordered the scribes to remove that incident from his tribe’s version of middle eastern history in those great anthologies known as the Tanakh and the New Testament.

What madness possessed us to allow Baal and Astarte to be replaced by celibate priests and cloistered virgins? The answer is simple. Party pooping, power hungry,  anally retentive, far right, ultra orthodox male conservatives and their zealous female acolytes!

That’s a long way of explaining why I went back to Earth’s natural cycles as my unwavering sacred days. Today, December 21, 2021, as the sun begins to set at 4:30 I will light the sacred solstice fire and keep it burning until sunrise and the return of The Sun King for a New Year. There will be a pot of wassail on the fire, and Loreena McKennitt in my ear, and like minded friends sharing stories about Dagda and Danu and the Great Mystery That Loves Life. 

Wishing a Wonderful Winter Solstice (and a Merry Christmas to all) until the next sacred day, The Vernal Equinox, brings balance back to the universe. That’s my story. 

And that’s the way I see it.

***

Skid Crease, also known as Harry son of Harry, First Born of First Born!

Geography is all!