Fishing For Friends

No matter how deplorable in life one has been, there is something sad about watching the death throes of another living thing.

In the case of the fish that continuously nips and harasses the rest of the school in the aquarium, that moment comes when one evening, it slowly starts swimming on its side. By morning, it has been transformed into a tiny floating skeleton, as the rest of the school swims around innocently.

For Uncle Scar in The Lion King, the turning point came when the bullied hyenas who had seemed such spineless followers, realized the power had shifted and there was a new King on the veldt. Scar, like the little fish, was also devoured – when the bullied mob turns, there is no mercy.

When a nasty alpha female wild dog shows the first signs of losing status, the bad bitch is quickly torn to shreds by her pack. I witnessed this once on a remote BC beach hiking the Wild Side Trail. The dogs were part of a wild pack that roamed between the Nuu-chah-nulth community of Maaqtusiis and Mount Flores. Our Ahousaht First Nations guide had told us they were the most dangerous animals on Flores Island.

Humans are no different. The bully is easily recognized by aggressive behaviour, threats, and intimidation. Donald Trump would be a classic case, following the mantra of lie, threaten, and sue until you win. It is also easy to recognize when he is floundering at the bottom of the aquarium – his Twitterstorms increase, he holds a rally of the deplorable base, and he gives himself Fake News Awards for his terrific accomplishments.

Trump tends to Twitter because of the alliteration, but others prefer Facebook for their social media rants because it is one of the easiest ways to let the dogs out and spread chaos with misinformation. It is why I generally avoid Facebook – the postings require no safeguards. Any fanatic with an axe to grind and an unshuffled deck with a few ethical cards missing can post absolute El-Toro-Pooh-Pooh online and have their adoring acolytes sharing it around the world in a matter of minutes. And as several victims of this kind of *maliteracy have discovered, the effect can be devastating, even fatal.

When I post a news article, it goes through three fact-checks and two editors before it goes to print. If we have made an error, an immediate apology and retraction are issued. I began editing and writing for professional publications in 1986. I remember it well, because as the editor of Anee,  then the official journal of the Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario, I was accredited as a journalist to attend and report on an historic event. UN delegates had just completed a three-year journey around Earth to ask its inhabitants one simple question: “What is the preferred future you want for yourself, your family, and your community?”

The answers to that question were synthesized into Our Common Future, the groundbreaking United Nations publication that received its Canadian launch at Ontario Place in Toronto. This seminal work, authored by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and her team, first introduced the term “sustainable development” to the world. I was in awe, ushered in through high security and surrounded by international dignitaries. It was my privilege that day to interview Ms. Brundtland, who I later dubbed “the most powerful woman in the world.”

I had no idea how profoundly that experience would change my life. Since that day I hold every politician to the standards she set for ethics and intelligence in governance. And Our Common Future set a blueprint for human survival into the twenty-first century and became my moral compass. Some older works might be fine for ancient goat herding Semitic nomads from the Middle East, but as an evolving human I’ll stick with Brundtland and Dawkins. I choose to write and speak truth to power, to bring light into the darkness, to .. but I digress.

Where was I? Ah, bullies who lie and intimidate  Now, every once in a while on social media, a bully starts to lose status. People stop reading the rants, begin to realize the information has been negatively skewed, and begin to delete posts and unfriend. There is nothing more terrifying to a bully on social media than to be unfriended and deleted.

In response, like the thrashing fish, or the cowering lion, or the submissive dog, the bully begins posturing for acceptance. In social media terms this is referred to as going on a “fishing for friends” expedition. It is usually signaled by a frenzy of “friend” requests to everyone under the sun in the hopes of maintaining status.

For all out there who don’t want to get hooked, line and sinker hooked, recognize the frantic last gasps of a deeply troubled being who deserves our forgiveness and empathy. Be kind but be careful when you get one of those random “friend” requests from out of the blue. It could be genuine, or it could just be a bully going through the death throes, desperately seeking solace.

* maliteracy = malicious literacy

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

 

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The Ignorance of the Elders, Part 3

Well, I thought they would have all been down in Virginia defending their statues, but no. As I walked into a local coffee shop this morning, I was accosted by a balding older man who started to shout insults and obscenities at me. When I tried to get a closer look, he challenged me for even looking at him. Now, since my stroke and heart failure last summer, my memory recall on faces and events is a little foggy at times, so I genuinely didn’t remember this angy old white man, until I came out of the restaurant.

As I left the coffee shop he challenged me with more epithets, including the news that he had checked me out, that I must think I was pretty “special” and that I had given oral pleasures, to put it in the Pulp Fiction vernacular, to our current Prime Minister.  Then he made the mistake of saying, “There’s a group of guys waiting for you at McDonald’s (Bolton) – they’re going to get you.”

His verbal threat clicked my memory bank all back in place. One of the basket of deplorables right here in Caledon.Then I recognized him – one of the “ignorant elders” gang I had written about back in the spring of this year. TThis was the collective who adores Donald Trump, wants to put our Premier and Prime Minister in their “crosshairs”, and gets all their fake news from outlets like Fox, Breitbart, and the Drudge Report.

I told him exactly what I thought of his threats as he followed me to my car. After asking him to get out of my space, I took a deep breathe to relieve the stress, and drove home. Cortisol surge is not good for heart patients., so I regarded his verbal assault as a potentially life-threatening situation.

Well. Dear readers, a verbal threat of assault is worth reporting. So once again, a call to the Ontario Provincial Police to record the time (8:00am), location (Tim Horton’s south, Bolton), and description of the elder offender (older white male, slim, grey hair comb back, 5’8”ish.) Hopefully, I won’t get the “right to free speech” lecture I got last time.

Now it is out of my hands and into the legal process. Report called in and registered.  I’m looking forward to a coffee next week. Sure wish the PM could be there.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

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Henry and Harry Take a Hike

One day Harry felt like going for a hike. He missed his parent’s farm and woodlot trails, but he knew a friend who had a farm nearby. He called his friend.

“Johanna,” said Harry, “I need to go on a hike.”

“Well,” answered Johanna, “My young son Henry is just getting home from school. He would be a great guide for a hike.”

“Done,” said Harry. He jumped in his car and drove over to the farm. Henry had just arrived home. His dogs, big Burke and little Bruno met Harry in the driveway.

Big Burke normally ate visitors to the farm, but she liked Harry. She licked his ear and he rubbed her head and they were ready to go.

Henry knew all of the trails on his farm. With Burke leading the way, Henry and Harry made their way past the horses and the chickens and the goat and headed into the forest. There were trilliums and trout lilies blooming everywhere. Spring was finally really here!

“You have to watch out for the arrows,” said Henry, casually.

“What?” exclaimed Harry, getting ready to duck.

“Before we moved here, they used to do archery,” explained Henry. “Sometimes I find arrows in the forest. You have to look for the yellow ends.”

“Ahh,” replied Harry, relaxing. “So old arrows on the ground with yellow nocks. I get it,” said Harry. “You know, Henry, I have bow collection of my own.”

“Really?!” said Henry.

“Yes indeedy. All wood, old school – I used to pretend I was Robin Hood on my farm. I’ll bring them over next time.”

“When I find the arrows, I fix them up,” said Henry.

“Then we’ll have to call you Henry Fletcher,” laughed Harry. “A fletcher is a person who fixes arrows.”

They walked and talked for quite a while, and then Henry said, “There’s a big old house back here, near the toboggan hill. It’s abandoned.”

“Seriously,” asked Harry.

“Yes. I got in trouble there once. I went hiking over with another kid and we looked in and he threw rocks and we went inside and a can of paint sprayed all over me and when we got back home he blamed me but my dad called his dad and he apologized.”

“Well,” said Harry, “You don’t need friends like that.”

“He wasn’t a friend,” replied Henry, matter of factly, “just a boy visiting.”

Harry smiled. Innocence keeps it all so simple. Then he looked up and saw the house across the field. The toboggan hill loomed off to one side, but there was no mistaking the house, if you could call it that. It looked like a big white monster mansion, not what you’d expect to find in the back forty.

“There it is,” said Henry. “Nothing inside now, they took the insides away. Just some old junk now. And broken stuff.” Harry had his theories about who would build something like this way back here. Being an investigative reporter he was going to do a little “Clark Kent” on this one.

“Henry,” he mused, “How about if you and I take a little closer look next time we go on a hike? Like detectives. With your parent’s permission of course.”

“Sure!” exclaimed Henry.

Harry’s cell phone alarm vibrated. “Henry, we have to head back. Not only do I tell stories, and write the news, and have bows and arrows, but I am also the cook and I have a dinner to prepare.”

“Follow me,” said Henry, and they headed back through the beautiful woods to the farm with Burke leading the way.  Suddenly Henry stopped. “Hey, look at this!”

It was a pile of feathers on the ground. Some bird had been plucked for dinner. “I wonder if it’s coyotes.” said Henry, “They took the head off one of our chickens last night.” He picked up a feather. “I wonder how they put this on an arrow?”

Harry thought the chicken killer was more likely a weasel or a raccoon or even an owl, but he’d keep that for the next hike. “Well, then it’s a good thing we’re hiking with Burke,” he exclaimed, “Don’t want any old coyotes plucking off our heads! And keep that feather – next time I’ll bring over an arrow and you can fletch it.”  Henry smiled.

When they got back to the farm, Henry shook Harry’s hand, and took off to play. Henry’s Mom came over to say goodbye.

“Quite a boy,” said Harry, “Great guide on the trails. I’m going to write down his stories. I’m already looking forward to our next hike. Thank you for sharing.”

“Thank you for caring,” answered Johanna, “Henry will love the story.”

Harry patted Burke and Bruno goodbye and got in his car. “I wonder,” he thought as he drove home, “who owned that big abandoned mansion hidden in the back forty? Curious and curiouser ….” Harry knew exactly what he and Henry were going to do on their next hike.

***

Coming soon: Part 2 – Henry and Harry, fletchers and detectives

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Life With the Raven Haired Angel

 

It has been a rejuvenation over the past several months, to have met some of the most wonderful people I will have ever known right here in my own community.  I didn’t have to travel to Tibet for Xanadu meditations. I didn’t have to visit Rome for spiritual enrichment. I didn’t have to climb to Machu Pichu for to understand the brilliance of past civilizations. No, everything I needed to make me laugh, share in community, to make my heart soar like an eagle, to make me feel young again was right here in my own backyard.

Sometimes, just sitting with friends, sharing stories, breaking bread together around a table surrounded by adults and children and dogs and yes, once in a while, even the goat, is all you really need.

This past weekend, in a totally unplanned twist, while I was visiting an old friend’s new property in Caledon, he got an invitation to the home of “The Raven Haired Angel” … “Bring Skid,” she said. The next thing I knew, I was walking past their chickens and cows and horses, and goat, nuzzled by two beautiful dogs, surrounded by a pack of children running, laughing and having fun. The property was a new purchase and a work in progress. It was heaven.

A little background for those readers who think this does not sound like their idea of heaven. My father sold our farm in Northumberland County in the late 70’s. I used to help clear our fields of groundhogs so that Everett Cole could pasture his cattle on our acreage. Dogs and cows and horses and old beaters to repair and barn roofs to cover with a fresh coat of aluminum paint and space to explore. I started teaching in North York in the late sixties, a pretty tough inner city school, and our farm was my escape on the weekends.

As soon as I’d get there on a Friday night, I’d head to the back forty, with our dogs at my side, to a beautiful woodlot, a small pond, and a high point outlook;  the worries of the world would wash away. I ended up taking all of my classes from my that school camping there on the weekends, but that’s another story…

Needless to say, it was special. My parents both passed away in the early nineties and that was the last time I visited the farm. So, it brought back a flood of memories to walk this new landscape with my friend, the Raven Haired Angel. The wooded acreage behind the fields was filled with trilliums and trout lilies just beginning to bloom. Back in heaven.

***

Raven Family Wisdoms:

On watching a whirlwind of children play around her home, the farm fields, the forest trails, unfettered by constant adult leashing:

“I raise free-range children.”

On having a tough day on the job, arriving home exhausted, and discovering the goat standing in your newly finished kitchen:

“It’s a “goat-in-the-kitchen” kind of day.”

On how to judge people, as her French Mastiff licked my ear then put his head between my legs for a good jowls rub:

“Looks like he’s accepted you. Usually he bites people.”

On dealing with the acrid scent of manure drifting across the farm field:

“I have no sense of smell. But we’re still not getting pigs.”

On how to deal with the stress of the job and coming home to children’s enthusiasm and the “work in progress” property:

“Well aged Italian grape juice.”

From the Raven’s spouse on comparing his fabulous beef sausages to venison pepperettes:

“My sausages are better; the venison pepperettes are delicious but they give you those real bad explosive farts the next day.”     Note to self: only go for the venison if you are taking a long hike the next day, and stay at the back.

 ***

Postscript: A Raven Family discussion about pigs:

Spouse: “We are getting those pigs,”  Raven: “We are NOT getting pigs.”   Spouse: “Oh yes we are, we ARE getting those pigs.”

Stay tuned , dear readers; I’m betting that I won’t be seeing pigs there anytime soon. Raven Haired Angels have their ways.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

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Preserve, Conserve, Renew

 

The year was 1969. I was in my second year of teaching in Canada when an American environmentalist named John McConnell proposed a global holiday to celebrate peace, justice and the integrity of creation. It was named, simply, Earth Day.  In October, 1969, at the National UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, McConnell announced his intention to organize a worldwide awareness campaign to honour the diversity of life on Earth.

The organizers selected March 21, the vernal equinox, the return of the light and a renewal of life in our little corner of the Northern Hemisphere. That day, in the city of San Francisco, McConnell made the first Earth Day Proclamation about the need to preserve, conserve, and renew the threatened ecosystems upon which all life on Earth depends.

Those were heady days for the emerging environmental movement in North America. Acid rain, oil spills, topsoil erosion, groundwater depletion, contamination of the oceans, and air pollution dominated the headlines. The passion for change was thick in the air as we demanded social justice, nuclear disarmament, and environmental literacy. They truly were the days of peace, love, and groovy. I missed Woodstock, but my Grade Five class added their voices to that first Earth Day Proclamation, still celebrated today on March 21 by the United Nations.

At the same time that McConnell was organizing, a young American law student named Denis Hayes was conscripted by Senator Gaylord Nelson to organize the first Earth Day marches in the United States on April 22 to coordinate with Arbor Day.

“The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy,” Senator Nelson said, “and, finally, force this issue permanently onto the national political agenda.” It succeeded beyond his expectations, Millions joined in celebratory marches across the U.S.A. and Canada, my class included, to demand an end to unsustainable exponential economic growth.

It was the beginning of massive arbor day tree plantings, garbage-less lunch campaigns, recycling programs, and resource conservation projects from classrooms to business offices.

In June 1970 McConnell created the Earth Day Proclamation for worldwide use and awareness. The Earth Day Proclamation declared the principles and responsibilities the signers undertook to care for the Earth. It was signed by 36 world leaders, including UN Secretary General U Thant, Margaret Mead, John Gardner and others. The last signature by Mikhail Gorbachev was added in 2000.

Earth Day indeed had increased environmental awareness in America, and in December 2, 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established by special executive order to regulate and enforce national pollution legislation. On April 22, 1990, the 20th anniversary of Arbor Earth Day, more than 200 million people in 141 countries participated in celebrations.

Few remember though, that it was the partnership of John F. Kennedy and Rachel Carson that tilled the soil that would become our Earth Days. When Kennedy championed Silent Spring and defended Carson against the rage of the chemical industry, it began to stir an awareness across North America that it was time to get informed, stand up and speak out for the defense of our Home Planet. In 1963, Congress passed the Clean Air Act to deal with cross-border pollution from the Ohio valley into the Great Lakes and Canada. The war on acid rain had begun in earnest, and Big Coal was not happy.

On, November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Barely six months later, on April 14, 1964, Rachel Carson died of cancer. The seeds of our modern environmental awareness had been planted and they germinated in 1970 with our two Earth Day celebrations. Perhaps these two days are as much a tribute to Kennedy and Carson as to Earth. They serve as a constant reminder that greater love hath no one than this.

These Earth Days should remind us of the sacrifices made by women and men  around the world, like the legendary Gaura Devi of India’s Chipko (tree-hugging) movement, or Wangari Maathai of Kenya sowing seeds of hope across Africa, or Lois Gibbs of Niagara Falls, New York, who exposed the toxic wastes of the Love Canal, or Jacques Cousteau and Sam Labudde and Rob Stewart who fought for the sanctity of our ocean ecosystems, or Jeton Anjain of the Marshall Islands, sick to death with cancer, fighting to expose the dangers of nuclear waste and nuclear war.

This is what our Earth Days are about. It’s a lot more than planting one little sapling that may not make it through the summer, but looks good in a political photo-op with smiling children. It’s about speaking truth to power. It’s about campaigning for the security of the EPA, The same EPA that brought us the Clean Air Act and is now threatened with castration by Donald Trump and Scott Pruit. It’s about making certain that Kevin O’Leary never becomes a candidate for political leadership in Canada. It’s about standing up to hate speech and hateful actions that bring fear and division into our lives and thoughts. It’s about supporting the building of sustainable communities, of learning how to live elegantly with less, of realizing at last that, as E.F. Schumacher tried to teach us years ago, that “Small is Beautiful” in home and national budgets.

Earth Days are a celebration of participatory democracy, honouring the responsibility of a people to protect their families, their communities, their environment. A wise mentor once told me, “You know, we have no rights without responsibilities first. I do not have the right to clean water unless I make sure I’m not putting any pollutants into the global chain. I don’t have the right to breathe clean air if I leave my SUV idling to keep my winter heat up, or my summer air conditioning on.”

Game on. Time to accept our individual and collective responsibilities and truly celebrate the miraculous beauty of our Home Planet in words and deeds and responsible political actions.

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