Monday, June 23, 2008

places in my heart

We had a brief respite from the rain this morning. For two days we've had thunderstorms, and now at 12:30 pm, the clouds are beginning to fill the sky. But after I dropped the little one off at day care, the air was warm, and sun filled the sky. The dog and I took off to one of my newer haunts, a park at the edge of town that runs into the country, close to a riverside trail. We walk for a while, and then we sit on a bench near the river. He sleeps, I write. He wanders off to sniff things, I write.

Today Chester and I met a woman named Catherine, and her beautiful German Shepherd named Brigid. We walked together for quite a while, Chester getting bolder every minute (he was attacked about two months ago and it has been quite difficult to re-socialize him). In the end, they chased each other through the meadow grass, both leashless and carefree. Chester employed the tricks of the small dog when he felt threatened. He would whine and yelp as if in pain, even though the larger dog was nowhere near him. He followed me closely, especially when he got tired.

This is the view in front of me:

This is the view behind me:
In the early morning, it is quite peaceful. However, the swimming pool brings energy and loud voices to my lovely vista. I am usually able to tune them out.

My goal for walking and writing here is to open myself. By being in a natural place I can ground, center, and then the words flow more freely. Sometimes, upstairs in my study, the words get stuck in my brain like they used to get stuck in my throat when I was called in school to answer a question.

By this time next year, the landscape of this place will have changed. Today I wandered through a future suburban desert - another one. No one has complained about the houses that will be built here. The site is adjacent to another sub-division - these are exclusive homes with a river view. I'm sure they'll blend into the natural landscape very nicely, so that the builder can advertise to prospective homeowners that the setting is natural, park-like, close to walking trails.

But when the earth begins to move, where will the hawk nest?

You can barely see her (or him) but she's quite large, and holding a snake in her talons. I could get no closer. You may also notice a pile of rubble in the foreground, marking the edge of new development. That is how close this new development will be to existing wooded areas.

I live in this city, I am a part of this. My only defense is that I chose urban over suburban, that the cornfield on which my house stands was converted to suburbia almost one hundred years ago. It's actually more likely that my house stands in a former meadow. The cornfield would have been just north of us, where the cemetery is now located. Before that, trees.

I would rather live elsewhere, where houses and cars are few and far between. My dream is a home in the country, or a farm. No artificial lights, lots of trees, more space to plant and grow things, contemplate, wander, be. It's where I feel I am at my best. But in the meantime, living in an urban area reduces my dependence on fossil fuels. I can walk or bus to most places, if I want to. I am close to the school. Where I live is okay. Just okay. Home is somewhere else.

How does one person, or small group, stop the encroachment? How do you fight against the builders who come to hearings with the environmental impact reports, all proving that his (or her) houses, unlike other building projects, will do minimal damage to the environment? The OMB eats it up, grants permits that even municipalities fight against.

Hello Wal-Mart. Goodbye wildflowers.

On my next walk, I'll do a better job of documenting what we're throwing away.

The trail will still be there. I'm sure the builders made a hefty contribution towards its maintenance. But it will be a few meters away from someone's front door, instead of isolated and natural, as it is right now.

This land has been claimed by Six Nations. The waterway was key to their survival and their culture. They now have the right to review land use applications, zoning changes etc, and they sometimes make requests with regards to those applications - to the chagrin of the builders, who just want to get the job done, make their money, and go home. A new bridge is being built in the region - and the local politicians seem to have very little concern over the impact of traffic and construction on the environment. The only visible body that's trying to hold them accountable are the first nations peoples. Without direct power to halt a project, without the ability to negotiate (land claims issues have been tied up for years in yards of red tape), they often resort to desperate measures. They occupy building sites. They build barricades. There are bonfires. More often than not, unless tempers overflow, they practice non violence.

The police are watching, waiting for any excuse to move in, to incite to violence. Since Dudley George, the police have learned to exercise at least a bit of restraint. It cost a human life for that lesson.

And those who lose their so-called entitlement to such housing projects rise up, mutter darkly, wonder why sometimes the police stand back and watch. It's an illegal occupation, right? Someone bought this land, fair and square. The natives should honour the treaty they signed almost two hundred years ago, a paper they didn't understand, when they signed away the rights to just about everything except a small parcel of earth that gradually grows smaller, fringed by development, progress, more houses for more people.

I would barricade, too. I would fight with any measure I had, peacefully, to protect my birthright.
Didn't my ancestors?
Didn't yours?

Okay, in my case, I am second generation Canadian. My parents were born in Europe. The German occupation was more overt, but Nazi ideology threatened my grandparents' way of life. The Nazis imposed their beliefs and morals on the countries they invaded. They overran cities, claimed the harvest and animals as their own, left families to starve, and decided for sovereign nations how things would be done.

Sure, they had guns and military might. Didn't we?

Yeah, I know that it was a long time ago, and I have heard, in my own household, how they should "get used to it." But if the Germans still occupied Holland, would my family be used to it, sixty years later?

My position does not make me a popular person around here - at least in some circles. So what?

For as long as my work involved children and families, I channeled my activist heart into front-line work. There is so much to be done. For the last two years, before my job and I parted ways, I worked with ESL families, newcomers. In a child care setting. Every day I stepped outside of my official job description. I tried to find translators. I would attempt to explain to a despairing father why his welfare had been cut off. Usually he had received some kind of notification in a level of English and a ton of verbiage that he could not understand. I tried my best to make sure that the families had the information they needed - that they knew where to find food, that they understood the basics of nutrition. it's an uphill battle when a bag of corn puffs is cheaper than a bag of apples, and fills a kid up faster, although there is no nutritional value in the food. No wonder the kids are hungry, in spite of their parents' good intentions. Young mothers leave their extended families behind and have nowhere to turn for advice, for support, for child care. They lack the skills they need to parent, they have no language, they may not know how to cook, and in the case of some mothers, they have no community. (This rant is not intended to criticize the groups that are working with immigrants, but there are so many holes to fill....)

You can see the pain in their eyes. They came here to live the good life. It's a promised land for them - jobs, housing, support. When they come, they find themselves engaged in the struggles that many non-english speaking people have had - language barriers, racism, culture shock, lacck of access to traditional foods. The are promised free English classes and then discover a child care waiting list, which means that they cannot go, particularly if they are women.

I digress.

I don't miss my job. I miss the advocacy, the grassroots activism. I need to do more, I can do more to prevent myself from settling too comfortably into my North American lifestyle. I have luxuries that are the stuff of dreams - for many. I know that when my youngest goes to school in September that I will be volunteering in her classroom, helping with the breakfast program, doing what I can. But it's not enough. I need to go deeper, reach further.

Make a difference.

The only question is, how?

1 comment:

Mon said...


I just wanted to say thanks for stopping by my blog. I haven't had a chance to read yours yet, but I will when I get home. It looks like a good read.