The Pattern Which Connects – Part One

My wife now calls me “The Phoenix” but my older son prefers “The Revenant” … in either case, it’s good to be back from the dead. It’s also good to be able to contribute again to my community as a writer and storyteller. It’s sort of like that challenge in “Saving Private Ryan” – you’ve been given a second chance at life, now earn it.

crystal ballI remember asking my father when I was a child, “Dad, how do you become a good person?” HIs answer became my raison’d’etre as an educator:  “Son, hang out with wise people, read what wise people write, listen to what wise people say, practice what wise people do, and then one day you too may become wise.” It takes some of us longer than others.

In my long and slow healing process, I began to reread some of my early influences and finally came to understand a few of them. One of those wise people was the incredible anthropologist, Gregory Bateson. His “Mind and Nature” and “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” were huge influences in my quest to become a wise teacher. From him, I learned that a wise teacher asks questions that demand far more than simple yes or no answers; instead, they demand a depth of thought and reflection and inquiry.

Gregory Bateson first articulated the idea that human ideas and communities are connected by a process similar to the natural selection process found in evolution. Why do some ideas resonate throughout history and others become extinct? He asked:“The pattern which connects. Why do schools teach almost nothing about the pattern which connects? …What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me? And me to you? And all the six of us to the amoeba in one direction and to the back-ward schitzophrenic in another?”

His daughter, after his death, produced a wonderful memorial film by the more grammatically correct title, “The Pattern That Connects.” I’ll stick with the original.

So, what connects me to you to songbirds and pesticides in Central and South America to Rachel Carson and a Silent Spring to an Inuit mother in the Arctic who can’t feed her child with breast milk because it contains too many toxic chemicals grasshoppered up from the “developed” world?

What is the pattern which connects my best buddy in Eureka, California and my lawyer in Toronto, Ontario to all older men with prostate problems, to an ancient African tea made from Pygeum africanum, to a quest for the “Origins of Spirituality” by members of the Fairlawn United Church.

And now I understand. The pattern which connects all of human interaction is simply that quest for the answers to the age old questions of; “Who are we?”, “From where did we come?”, and “To where are we going?” The first human child that could articulate asked these questions over a million years ago. Gaugin asked the same questions reflecting on the meaning of his existence while painting in Tahiti. The ideas that survive are the ones that keep us thinking and wondering and surviving and developing as humans.

And the human patterns which connect are inextricably linked to all of the ecological connections from which life continues to evolve. Understand the patterns, and we begin to understand our place in the universe. Then we become humble in the knowledge that some of the answers to those great questions are beyond human comprehension, but the quest for those answers may just be the purpose of human existence.


… to be continued … in Part Two: What is the pattern which connects Dr. Heather J. Ross and her cardiac team in Toronto to a remote community in Nunavut to space travel to tribal warfare in the Congo to cell phones. What connects me to the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa (father) to the Niger Delta to prehistoric plants to the Ogoni people to Royal Dutch Shell, to my grade seven students to my choice of gasoline, to the recent passing of Ken Wiwa (son)? Life and death on Planet Earth …











Phoenix Rising

IMG_3766It took heart failure and a stroke to reaffirm my suspicions that men are essentially stupid, and intelligent women should be running the world. My wife had seen the signs building long before the state of my health reached emergency proportions. How many men have heard their loving partners say, “Have you seen your doctor lately?” or “I think you need to go for a check-up.” Men dismiss these early warnings as an assault on their invulnerability. And an only child male, supremely independent  as I am, is even more difficult to advise.

When I finally said, “I think I need to go to the doctor,” it was almost too late. The only things open were the hospital Emergency wards. The first one we went to admitted me immediately into cardiac care.  At 3:00 am the next morning, they called my wife to gather our family together to come down and say their goodbyes. It was that close.

When I shocked everyone by reviving, they sent me by ambulance to the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at Toronto General Hospital where I spent the next 28 days. For the first two weeks, I was bed-ridden in Intensive Care with tubes on IV drips coming out of both arms and a plethora of chest stickers wired to monitors. Then I graduated to the care of the Cardiac team, who spent the next two weeks monitoring my cocktail of  heart medications. They got me out of bed and walking the corridors, stressing the need to get mobile and begin mild exercise every day – slow and steady.

When the team finally determined that the blood clots had cleared from my heart and lungs, they shocked my heart to stop and then shocked it to start again, When I woke up (to the smell of burning chest hair), they told me that my heart was back in regular sinus rhythm. Best news ever! No transplant, no artificial heart, no more excessively rapid atrial fibrillation. A few days later I was cleared to go home.

My wonderful, exhausted wife, who had spent the entire month of August driving back and forth from Caledon to Toronto General, looked at me and said, “The Phoenix, rising from the ashes. You’ve been given a second chance.”  Now I had to earn it.

The primary culprit in this health decline was stress. Stress over financial concerns that I had been trying to deal with by myself, and fighting a losing battle. I wonder how many other retired, economically illiterate males fall into the same category, hiding their weaknesses and becoming more isolated day by day. According to recent news reports, quite a few. There are an increasing number of retirees and seniors falling into high debt. With that must come the stress of trying to successsfully meet all of the needs of our families, and realizing we are falling short, My advice to all stubborn senior males is to share the burden with your loved ones, work out the solutions together, as we are doing now, and get rid of the depression.  I am certain that there is a direct link between an overload of the stress hormone, cortisol, and heart failure. It is not worth preserving the myth of male omnipotence. Find humility.

And listen to our partners when they tell you you’re not looking so well. They may, after all, be just a little more perceptive than we are.


Skid Crease, Caledon

WORTH REPEATING: Only Children Hunt for Sport

I first wrote this post several years ago in reponse to a Ducks Unlimited challenge. The furor created over Walter James Palmer’s poaching of Cecil the Lion motivated me to republish it here: Nothing has changed.


HuntingTrophiesAfter a recent post, I was asked if I were anti-hunting, and my answer was a clear, “NO.” I will ensure that my soon-to-be teenager is skilled in marksmanship with both gun and bow and arrow, and knows how to fish with rod and net. I will ensure that hunter safety trainlng is part of his curriculum for the twenty-first century. I will teach him that if he ever needs to take the life of an animal for food, that he will do it quickly, skillfully and respectfully. But under no circumstances do I support trophy hunting. Big boys with big guns and bigger egos.

For over a million years the hominids that eventually came to be known as homo sapiens were hunter gatherers, so you could safely say that there are some pretty basic skills hard wired into our DNA. The agricultural aspects of our existence didn’t apppear until about 10,000 years ago after the last Ice Age had significantly melted back to the poles.

in what we know of our human history, generally women and children were small game hunters and gatherers of every seed, nut, fruit, and edible leaf that they could find. They basically kept the community alive – not much has changed for women. The men appear to have been the chest pounders and the hunters of larger prey. Given our primate chain of development, protein was a highly valued resource and we worked hard to get it. We became so good at it that post ice age hunters crossing from northern Asia into North America are thought to have been partially responsible for the extinction of several large ungulates.

The toys that children were given in those days were toys that would teach them basic hunting skills through play – the wooden spear, the sling shot, the small bow and arrow, the knife. In those days you had to get pretty close to your prey to kill it. You had to know the habits and habitat of that animal thoroughly. You had to know where the heart and lungs pumped so your shot would make a clean kill. You and the animals knew each other very well. Consider the skill necessary to get within 10m of a deer for a clean shot with bow and arrow. Some of my greatest outdoor nature skills were learned from real hunters and trappers who had an absolutely intimate knowledge and respect for their environment, and only ever took what they needed off the land and water.

I still remember receiving my first rifle from my father, one I used very effectively to clear an infestation of groundhogs from a cattle field on his farm near Cobourg – my dad taught me how to skin and clean them – my first real lessons in anatomy and how to avoid those nasty scent glands that could spoil your stew. (I learned later that the groundhogs not only had seniority, but an invaluable role in the food chain and energy cycle – I stopped hunting them). I still remember my first fishing rod and “the big trip” every spring to Inverlochy Lodge with “the men” to fish for the  mighty northern pike. Everything we caught, we ate. Nothing got stuffed and mounted.

I hunt with a computer now, feeding my family with a whole different set of skills. But when the machine breaks down, and I need to feed my family from the land and water once again, I know exactly how to do it skillfully and respectfully.

On a trip with my students to the North West Territories several years ago, we were out on the tundra with our Inuit hosts, preparing the tradional snack of tea and pilot biscuits, when one of the hunters jumped on his snowmobile and headed over a ridge. We heard the sharp crack of a fifle shot, and he was back in minutes with a caribou slung over his komatiq. He knelt by the caribou’s head for a moment saying something in Inuktituk, then skillfully removed the skin, rolled it up and put it on the sled, butchered the caribou on the spot, and we had lunch – abolutely one of the best teaching moments of my long career. My big city students for the first time saw that direct connection to the land and their food source. They learned later that the hunter had whispered a thank you to the caribou for presenting itself so that the hunter could feed us, his family.

But trophy hunters, that’s a whole different class of human. So called sport hunting is a huge global industry – just check out all the things you can buy at Pro Bass. But using a laser guided scope and a high powered rifle to kill an animal 300 m away, remove only the head for a wall trophy, and call it sport is ludicrous in the extreme and deserves a good Gary Larson cartoon. End of discussion.

Real adults hunt to feed their families. Only children hunt for sport.


Skid Crease, Caledon

Harper and Aglukkaq Missing In Action

CSOTAI spent three days this past week as part of the media team covering the Climate Summit of the Americas, and the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Toronto. It was my first experience as an accredited reporter and a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists. Being a member of the press has its privileges and its responsibilities.

One of those privileges was the chance to spend three intense days with our Premier, Environment and Climate Change Minister, First Nations Grand Chiefs and Chiefs, Governors, Mayors, and former Presidents and Vice-Presidents, including every climate change denier’s nemesis, Al Gore.

But the majority of the delegates were business leaders, entrepreneurs, engineers, and community leaders. They were there to acknowledge that the tide had turned, that the change to a low-carbon economy and society was already underway, and that the era of fossil fuel energy was going the way of the dinosaurs.

One of the responsibilities of the press is to report honestly and accurately, without bias or exclusion, in a news report. An editorial commentary has free reign for opinion. This is an editorial.

While two cabinet ministers from “Our Government™”, Tony Clement and Lisa Raitt, attended the Economic Forum, no one from the federal government showed up at the Climate Summit, prompting Governor Jerry Brown of California to tell Stephen Harper to “Get with it!”

While Leona Aglukkaq frolicked in Nunavut, and Stephen Harper picknicked in Rouge Park with Earth Rangers attired children in the photo op, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Inuk defender and a member of the Order of Canada spoke to the Climate Summit delegates from her heart and soul. She stated: “What is needed is a debate on human rights – it is a moral and ethical imperative.”

This is much more than an issue of climate science and economic opportunity. In the Arctic this is a critical issue of social justice and the failure to address it is criminal.

ERHarperWhen the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Environment fail to show up for the debate, it sends a very clear signal to Canadians. It says, “We really just don’t care.” The road to to Paris, like the road to Hell,  is paved with election photo-ops. So while Harper posed for the press with his new children’s crusade, and Aglukkaq fiddled in the far north while the Arctic melted, the Province of Ontario stood up, was counted, and took action.

On Thursday, July 9, 2015, Ontario and 21 other states, provinces and regions signed the first-ever Pan American Climate Action Statement. Felipe Calderon, former President of Mexico, best summed up the significance of this event: “We now have clear evidence of states, provinces, cities, and businesses leading the way on climate action and achieving strong economic growth at the same time. This Summit has been an incredible demonstration of this bottom-up momentum and should inspire more ambition by all on the road to Paris.”

Our current federal government is missing in action. Sending Stephen Harper or one of his minions to Paris, would be as embarrassing for Canada on the world stage as if Rob Ford had still been in office to open Toronto’s Pan-Am and Para-Pan-Am Games. In October we will have the opportunity to pick a different team to represent Canada at the Climate Summit in Paris. Let’s hope that we pick a team that understands the science and cares about the human condition.


Skid Crease, Caledon




Praise Be To You, Francis

images-9Laudato Si’, the Encyclical released on June 18th by Pope Francis, has brought the issue of accelerating climate change back to the front burner of religious, business, and political discussion. And he made it quite clear he doesn’t want bitumen fueling the burner.

Naturally, the encyclical was immediately praised by environmental groups, alternative energy entrepreneurs, and green politicians. And as equally predictable, it was denied by Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Business, Conservatives and Republicans. Jeb Bush, U.S. presidential candidate and a Catholic, quipped about Francis’s encyclical, “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.” No, Jeb, but I have a good idea from where you do get your economic policies. And it’s a lot warmer than Florida.

The entire encyclical is available online. To read it is almost like having a conversation with the Pope. And it is a direct and honest conversation. He wastes no time acknowledging humanity’s fingerprints on the acceleration of climate change and the desecration of Our Common Home, the Earth. His main focus is on the ecological crisis, but he spends equal time on social justice issues, recognizing that the poor in both developed and developing countries will pay the greatest price for our consumptive sins.

Most notably, he makes it absolutely clear that the biblical line giving humans dominion over Earth, does not mean we can greedily consume it into extinction. It means we have to live wisely and well for the common good of all creatures, and for the well being of generations to come.

He also holds to account all government leaders who have talked big on the global stage and have done little of significance in policy and practice. He bravely exposed the myth that trading carbon credits, or carbon cap-and-trade deals are solutions to reducing our dependence on fossil fuel extraction and use. All the Canadian political leaders might want to re-examine their policies on that one.

For me, the key point of the encyclical was to make clear that our current Conservative Reform Alliance Party government, and the Canadians who voted for them, could be going straight to Hell if we don’t immediately get back to science-based decision making and come up with some actual policies to deal with and mitigate the impacts of accelerating climate change.

Laudato Si’, Francis!


Skid Crease, Caledon