I Hope I’m Wrong. Please Let Me Be Wrong.

If I were younger and had a lot more energy, I would campaign against candidates for public office that deny climate change is more than an inconvenience that disproportionately impacts low-income people.  I am, however, older than dirt and neither my brain nor body function as efficiently as they once did and so instead, I send $5 and $10 donations to political candidates that are not obviously brain dead.  

And I think about how to prepare our grandchildren to solve the problems we will leave behind – a bittersweet gift that we will pass on to the next few generations.

The gift we give our grandchildren may take a little longer to reach those living in North America than say, children and grandchildren in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. Still, it’s unlikely that even affluent North American children will be able to deny the scope of environmental devastation beyond another fifteen years.

Although our ten to fifteen-year-old children and grandchildren on the mid-to-top economic scale will probably be able to focus on simulated video game disasters a few years longer.  If protected by gated communities and parents that believe degrees in law, dentistry and other money generating fields will shelter their offspring from rising tides, forest fires, flood and drought for generations to come, they may be able to ignore reality for as much as a couple of decades.  It’s unlikely but not impossible. 

I am nonetheless stunned by intelligent, caring friends that cling to the notion that Super Storms and devastating disasters are just business as usual so long as the devastation is not in their neighbourhoods. Climate writers Sam Kriss and Ellie Mae O’Hagan suggest “the problem is not an overabundance of humans but a dearth of humanity”. I think they may be onto something. Ignore the suffering of the world at your peril, I say. Eventually it will bite you in the ass.

Last spring I had a long conversation with a former student who has served as a member and/or president of a school board in a Southern California community for over twenty years.  I was curious about how the curriculum for elementary school students in her school district was preparing for the kind of devastation that hit the town of Paradise, California, or Houston, Texas, during Hurricane Harvey.  Were students even being psychologically prepared for the “thousand year floods” that drowned Ellicott, Maryland, not once but twice between 2016 – 2018?

After every shooting spree in the United States, community and city leaders rush to action with plans to arm teachers, install more sophisticated security systems, and enact more punitive measures to deter the shooters as well as the hapless guards already in place to protect school children from random acts of violence.  What kinds of lesson plans are in place to discuss solutions to severe food shortages, the kinds of heat waves that already endanger the lives of populations in Europe, southern Russia, and Tbilisi?  Do America’s or Canada’s school children know about fire tsunamis and the kinds of typhoons that recently forced the evacuation of 2.45 million people in China?

As it turns out, not much planning and prep were in place when I talked to my friend on the school board in Southern California.  I suppose the thinking of my friend’s school district, shared by most if not all school districts in the United States, had been shaped not only by revenue challenges for important, well-established programs but by the rationale in which so many take comfort: “it’s not happening here”.

And yet it is.  It’s happening in Denver, Miami, Los Angeles, New Jersey and New Orleans.  Even in northern countries like Canada, a sometimes though not lately, favored US trade partner, populations are not immune to crippling heat.  In 2018, fifty-four people in Quebec died from heat stroke.  Billions of dollars in damages have also occurred in Alberta, Canada, which pales in comparison with the expense to reconstruct American communities from flooding, mudslides, forest fires, heat waves, hurricanes and tornadoes in 2018. Which is still chump change compared to the $5 trillion the US spends on subsidies for the oil industry each year. 

As it turns out, my friend’s school district has access to curriculum for the sixth grade that teaches children to be stewards of the earth.  Talking about the Big Picture is a positive start but I wonder if learning to stuff sand bags and the development of an appropriate response in an evacuation could be snuck into a geography or science or Phys Ed class.  Learning about what to do if water systems are compromised might be a good thing to know. How to communicate if computer/ phone usage is not feasible during an extended black out might be a useful discussion in a social issues class.

Yesterday, depending on whose calculations we want to accept, between one and nine million people lost power on the East Coast.  Simultaneously, massive power outages occurred in San Francisco and Los Angeles.   Might be a good idea to have a few candles, lanterns and board games in the closet when this happens.  The Mayor of New York predicts all power will be restored in four – seven days but still, think of the First World trauma if computers, video games, hair dryers, and hot water are not available for a week.  Sweet Jesus, it’s not to be borne.  Unless, of course, you’ve been caught in an arid Hell where even a gallon of cold, clean water is a luxury and food for infants is non-existent.  A world without hair dryers and video games might then be viewed by the Less Fortunate (which is most of the world) as no big deal.  For the LF’s, this truly is “business as usual”.

 Is the danger of alarming children with doom and gloom scenarios greater than the dangers of PTSD after they’ve experienced the actual destruction of a school, their neighbourhoods, even the death of pets?

I realize suggesting the students in my wonderful friend’s school district get a reality check about the world they will shortly inherit is putting a lot of responsibility on one small school district and a beloved former protege.  But as parents, grandparents, teachers and planners, are we doing our children and grandchildren a favour by letting them believe their greatest problem ten years down the road will be getting into a “good” university and subsequently scoring a “good” job.  Is it inappropriate to suggest the feasibility of a few survival courses? 

Even if we introduce them (and their teachers) to some of the less threatening passages of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (a notoriously conservative document, albeit the gold standard assessment of the state of the planet), we’d be taking the focus off a curriculum that might serve them well if we were living in, say, the early 1900s.  They’ve already seen movies like “Mad Max” and “Interstellar” and survived the doom and gloom of a dozen dystopian YA novels.  Relating those stories and films to their own future might be scarier than losing access to video games when the lights on the East Coast go out (either through storms or sabotage) for months rather than days.

In the meantime, I will enjoy and cling to the beauty of a sunset, continue to do what I can to enjoy  friends who also think doing something is better than doing nothing, and try to figure out how to persuade my own children they should do more to prepare their children for the world they will inherit.  The problem, of course, is that both my sons are well-informed about environmental issues and if I say, “Yeah, but, it’s worse, much worse than you think it is”, they may be even more alarmed than their children will be.  One will sink into a quiet depression and the other will become more enraged than he already is and bay at the moon in the voice of God (or the voice of  Alanis Morisette if the film “Dogma” tickles your fancy).

Dealing with the thoughtless destruction of the Earth is a challenge for all of us but for well-informed, caring North American educators, it must be a heartbreaker. They must feel, as poet / musician Kate Tempest says, their students are “staring into a screen so that don’t have to see the planet die”.

The By Stander Effect makes fire tsunamis look like child’s play.

Winning by Losing (at best, a bittersweet victory)

I’ve begun to think, recently, that the most effective allies of happy, conspicuous polluters are not Right Wing donors who profit in spectacular fashion from our addiction to consumption and comfort but rather, angry, depressed, intense environmental advocates. 

I understand the anger, depression, and the intensity of scientists and other environmental advocates that know too much, care too passionately and abhor the inevitable pain and hopelessness of future generations. How could they not be Doomers, depressed and angry and so intense people at cocktail parties old guy immediately volunteer to wash the dishes or escape outside to detail the host’s car when they see them approaching?  If acceptance of their views can be described as “winning”, scientists and advocates will only win when all is irrevocably lost.  Cold comfort in having a climate change deny-er look at submerged coastal cities and remark, “You know, that tiresome old guy at the Super Bowl party may have been onto something!”

That could take the spring out of anyone’s step. 

Still, anger and intensity do scare people away.  Most people are not indifferent about the environment but we all frighten easily.  We want to believe we can still make a difference even if facts and logic tell us otherwise.  A really angry and intense Doomer can turn uninformed listeners, many genuinely wanting to know more, into grievers in less time than it takes to burn toast.

I also understand the grievers; the uninformed; those that simply withdraw from the fray; and people too poor to worry about how to put food on the table for their children or how to pay another week’s rent.  The poor can’t take time to worry about death on a dying planet when they know they can starve to death in weeks if they can’t buy, beg or steal food today.

 I have a harder time understanding the profiteers invested in misleading the population and lining their own pockets at the expense of clean water, clean air and industries like fishing, farming, and forestry.  Are these people not the Face of Evil? And just for the record, I am not talking about Republicans.  Certainly not ALL Republicans or White House residents masquerading as Republicans. It’s far too easy to demonize groups with whom we disagree, to blame them for all the ills of the world and to ignore the Liberals and legions of Democrats that don’t even vote.  It’s hardly fair to blame a group whose sins include operating an effective Get Out the Vote campaign.  Ain’t nuthin’ preventing you and me from driving people to the polls or from refusing to vote in primary races for Liberals and Democrats  that are wishy washy on environmental issues.

But I also have a hard time understanding and finding a label for my own views.  I know that the status of the planet is much, much worse than anyone can bear to admit.  And although cheered by, I am not optimistic about the probability that technology and innovation will save the day.  Just as climate change moves faster than we can imagine, technology and innovation move at a slower pace than we want to believe it does.  I heed the warnings of author / environmental activist Bill Mc Kibben who said “If we don’t quickly move on a global scale, environmental problems will become insoluble.  The decisions we make in 2075 won’t matter.”

I am a lazy activist who spends an obscene amount of time on my deck watching sunsets, boats coming in and going out of “the Gut”, eating good food, reading and nursing a daily glass of chilled wine.  I also spend a lot of time thinking about red herring issues (plastic pollution and the death of bees come to mind).  Sometimes I actually move off my deck to support bans on issues like the continued use of single use plastics.  I do this because it’s one of the few things I can do that seems more productive than howling at the moon.  It may be like taking a whiz in the ocean but it’s still a tiny move in the right direction.  It also allows me to hang out with a fine group of people who find purpose in doing something that is not destructive to the world we have come to know and love.  Something that draws attention to the plight of the earth in ways that don’t frighten people at cocktail parties or bore other passionate people struggling to find justice for refugees, cures for diseases or taking on challenges like improving the inhuman plight of the children caged in Texas detention centers.  Climate change has a more permanent and global impact than abused and frightened refugee children but if someone you know is doing something about that TODAY, cut them a little slack on raising money for Extinction Rebellion.  Extinction Rebellion and those other wonderful young European activists will live to fight another day. 

 The sun will come up tomorrow.  I hope.  Extinction Rebellion and not technology may, in fact, be our Best and possibly Only Hope.

Chief Seattle Got It Right

Take only memories, leaving nothing but footprints. Chief Seattle, 1786 – 1866

Some people leave bigger footprints on the earth than others.  Celebrities, philosophers, elected officials, military leaders and even sports heroes leave an impression on the earth that we, and possibly they, think will last forever. And indeed, many do cast a shadow for decades or even centuries.  Socrates is still quoted and there are many elderly people who still “like Ike”.  For the most part, however, highly visible athletes, film stars, and “influencers” move through our consciousness with the speed of small meteors hurtling through space.  Their flame diminishes as or even before they hit earth and we soon forget why we were so worked up and / or infatuated with Gary Hart, Marilyn Monroe, Che Guevara, and Evita.

A few flashes in the cosmic pan may leave behind, no pun intended, butt-prints instead of foot or fingerprints.

Kim Kardashian has recently riled up an entire nation with her bottom-hugging line of lingerie labeled “Kimono”.  Since the original kimono, a lovely ankle length garment, originated in the Early Nara period (645 – 710), normally restrained (WWII notwithstanding) Japanese men and women are venting, albeit in measured tones, their displeasure.  Cultural appropriation is perhaps the kindest criticism aimed at the icon with the big booty.  The controversy can be checked out on #KimOhNo but next week a different country will be enraged by a different pop icon.

Even my current crush, the Toronto Raptors, arguably Canada’s Team, will be forgotten like yesterday’s mullet if they trip and fall on the way to a game with Oakland or the Bucks next season.  And if Kawhi Leonard heads for the brighter lights of Los Angeles, those “Stay” signs visible in the thousands at the Toronto Victory Parade and Rally, will be replaced with placards asking “Kawhi Who?”  It is the nature of those who create heroes to move on quickly unless, of course, they were survivors of WWII and truly did like Ike.

The footprints that most interest me are those left behind by extraordinary “everyday people”.  People that shovel snow in the winter for their elderly neighbours, children that take it upon themselves to clean beaches or take the time to play with the developmentally disabled child in their class at school are the real deal.  I want my grandchildren to be more like the beach cleaners and the women at church that have sewn hundreds of cloth grocery bags to replace the planet-damaging plastic bags distributed at grocery stores.  I’d like to have the determination and huevos of  that elderly (destitute) woman in China who took it upon herself to collect discarded car batteries so that children playing in the dumps would not suffer from the poisons in the imported trash sent from the West to their Eastern neighbours.  A sixteen- year- old boy, now twenty-four, named Boyan Slat is trying to remove 90% of the plastic waste in the seas before 2040.  He has experienced a few bumps and taken a few lumps along the way but he still says “I don’t know if what I want to do is possible.  And that’s exactly why I’m doing it.” 

Now there’s a footprint to preserve in bronze.  Next to, I hope, the unassuming footprint of Greta Thunberg, the courageous teenager who spoke at the United Nations about the destruction of the earth in which most of us might logically be assumed to have an investment.

In a few weeks, his neighbours and admirers in Annapolis Royal will be celebrating the footprint left behind by the late Duncan Draper.  Duncan died a few months ago but his generosity and joy have ensured that he will not easily be forgotten.  His friends and fellow musicians will be honoring his work during a concert at the King’s Theatre on July 20th.  Always available to make beautiful music at any and every celebration, outdoor concert, festival, or kitchen party, Duncan carried a half-dozen instruments in his van.   The instruments were always tuned and he was always ready and willing, sometimes for too little money but more often, for the love of it or the hell of it, to make a joyful noise.

The King’s Kitchen Party will be preceded by the Duncan Draper Doodah Parade.  A ragtag march through the town from Fort Anne to the theatre at the end of St. George Street, featuring a group of friends bedecked in outrageous outfits, will accompany a six-piece band led by one of Duncan’s best friends.  Former collaborators, playing spoons and cymbals, banging pots and pans and tambourines, students, senior citizens, and merchants will all do their best to remind the town and the gate keepers in Heaven that Duncan was a gentle, talented force of nature whose footprints will be preserved and whose spirit and music will be remembered. 

We’re talkin’ real footprints, now, not those manufactured by PR hacks and flacks, or purchased by lipstick and lingerie endorsements.

President Obama said the world needs more Canada.  I’m not sure about that but if  “ordinary” is defined as joyous, kind, gentle and talented, I do think our town needs more extraordinary ordinary people like Greta, Boyan, and especially Duncan Draper.

Renovations, Rainbows and New Kitchen Cabinets

Tools of the trade.

Renovations and new construction are not for the faint of heart. Nor homeowners on a budget or residents of communities where it rains 138 days a year. If a contractor says “replacing your old cabinets and creating a backsplash will cost $3500 and take four days”, this means it will cost $3500 and take four days IF no one finds dry rot, carpenter ants, and faulty wiring in the walls behind the old cabinets. And if local suppliers have the right tile and lumber in stock, the inspectors show up in a timely fashion and the sun appears for five consecutive hours at least three days a week.

That said, no one living in Cambodia or Nigeria wants to hear about my First World problems. Hell, no one living in Brighton, Nova Scotia, wants to hear about my efforts to incorporate beautiful handmade Lucky Rabbit tiles into my new back splash.

Ray and Debra’s beautiful tiles…soon to appear in a Victoria Beach kitchen.

The sensible thing to do is grin and bear what cannot be changed. Like inclement weather. Wiring jerry-rigged eighty years ago can be replaced and a sleep-deprived building inspector will appear when he appears. Ostensibly he appears to view new wiring but in reality, he has to put in his time admiring a dozen photographs of the contractor’s new infant (who looks disturbingly like an aging Winston Churchill). Such delays give me time to save more money for materials I never knew I needed and escalating labour costs that are still about a third of the going rate in California. Or Alberta.

Sometime this year I will have a beautiful kitchen because in Annapolis County, the sun does shine more often than it rains. Much more often if you count sunny winter days and we should because there’s nothing quite as beautiful as sun glistening on a new snowfall. Although a trifecta of daffodils, sleek new cabinets and rainbows are hard to beat.

The Upside of Spring Sunshine and Showers.

Work in Progress.

Wanted: A New Generation of Leaders (preferably female, preferably young)

A few hopeful women in the Great Hall of the People twenty years ago.  It’s high time for their successors to storm the citadels.
As more and more women and amazingly, teenagers, assume leadership roles, the faint echo of sanity can be heard bouncing off global walls too long protected by elderly men. I almost said “elderly white men” but then remembered the elderly Chinese men still ruling The Middle Kingdom with iron, albeit arthritic, hands. And then there are the men in the Middle East, young and old, who appear to place a low value on reason, vision and dare I say, justice.
Let’s just say we need more and younger women (and enlightened men) in leadership roles, acknowledging that Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, and modern day Evitas in South America were and are also not the kinds of leaders we’d invite to collectively lead a beloved daughter’s Brownie troop.
That said, today we seem to have a few outstanding female leaders and youth organizations in countries all over the world, including the USA, we’d do well to take seriously. For example, Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, is standing up to make the point that countries with a strong hunting culture may be able to put food on their tables without an arsenal of assault weapons at their disposal.
See below or Google Jacinda Ardern gun control New Zealand.
At a certain point, I hope that reasonable gun control advocates connect with reasonable (and relentless) climate change advocates. As resources, like clean and plentiful water supplies, become harder and harder to come by, gun collectors and fear mongers will start stockpiling more and more assault weapons. Conversations should begin now between groups and organizations that may not be advocates for precisely the same issue but each of whom still wants a safe and sane world for a few future generations to inherit .
Hey, Parkland Students, isn’t there an Extinction Rebellion activist you’d like to invite to the Prom?  And Sias International University, a few scholarships for migrant students from the USA and Mexico would only strengthen Sias.  Whether you like it or not, the future truly is in their hands.
Wouldn’t any of these young people do a better job of managing the world than we’ve done?  Photos include World Academy for the Future of Women members; Sias University students; Migrant students; and a few (mostly White) grandchildren.

Swimming With Salmon


Each time I return to Canada, and especially when I come home after visiting the USA, I am struck by how different Canadians are from most Americans living outside Maine and Vermont.  We may look like our Southern brothers and sisters, speak the same language and enjoy most of the same foods, but I have only to watch a film or television show produced in Canada, listen to comics in Montreal and Toronto, to a fiddler from Cape Breton Island or to read a book written by Margaret Atwood or Alistair MacLean to realize we are different in body, soul, and spirit.  We’re different in our bones (particularly our funny bones) and in our way of acknowledging our patriotism.

Hockey notwithstanding, even our very favorite recreational activities would gain few followers in Chicago, Atlanta, New York or Los Angeles.  But taste is privileged and an article in today’s weekend section of The Chronicle Herald listed recreational experiences the writer thought would have great appeal for Canadians from British Columbia to Nova Scotia.

In no particular order, the must-see-and-sample activities included Hunting Sasquatch.  The national search for Canada’s answer to the Yeti and Bigfoot is centered in British Columbia, which is where Canadians also gather to fish for Monster Fish.  Being Canadians, they usually catch and release monster sturgeon, a pal of the huge monster catfish fisherfolk find in Manitoba.

Another favorite Canadian pastime, especially during 2019 (The Year of the Salmon), is Swimming With Salmon.  Hawaii and California may exploit dolphins for the amusement of tourists but I doubt many American thrill seekers will be visiting Fundy National Park in September to swim with Atlantic salmon.  But if a bus load of salmon lovers from Idaho or Arizona do show up, I want to be on hand to watch.

I must not fail to mention visits to Gopher Hole Museum near Calgary.  Visitors to the eccentric seasonal museum can view dozens of taxidermied gophers dressed in fetching outfits, all posed in dioramas where the little buggers curl, kiss, and cavort.

There’s no business like show business!

Although Tidal Bore Rafting, the Danceland Ballroom with its unique horsehair dance floor, and Forest Bathing pass for big time entertainment in Canada, my favorite nearby must see is the Shag Harbour UFO Interpretive Center tucked in between Yarmouth and Shelburne in Nova Scotia.  In 1967, a dozen or so credible Shag Harbour witnesses saw an object with flashing lights perform an airshow before crashing into the ocean, an incident that is celebrated by an annual conference in Shag Harbour each autumn.  Not to be outdone, Manitobans actually witnessed cigar-shaped flying objects land near Whiteshell Provincial Park in the same year.  Both encounters boast a paper trail of military, medical and police reports.

There’s something endearing about a country that finds gopher dioramas and fish more fascinating than the Biggest and Best, or the Most Violent and Costly Everything.  Its bumper crop of Nobel Prize winners (every village seems to have at least one) and Dr. David Suzuki have more fans in Canada than the Kardashians and Trumps.  Even handsome Trudeau heirs during these cruel pre-election days must envy the relative popularity of the country’s poets and scientists.

And Canadians have long memories.  We still honor the veterans and battles of WWI and II.  The very late Norman Bethune and Alexander Graham Bell are still remembered North of the Border with the same reverence bestowed on contemporary heroes such as Wayne Gretzky, Joni Mitchell, Bobby Orr, and astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Maybe the eccentricity and humility of Canadians can be attributed to being lifetime second class citizens (we are so often described as people with our noses pressed against the imaginary window along the Canadian – USA border, staring longingly at our wealthier, more glamorous neighbours), leery of wanting too much for fear we don’t deserve more than we already have.

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Perhaps scale and isolation inevitably nurture restraint and a certain modesty seldom seen in places like Washington, San Franciso, New York, and more recently, Beijing.   Canada has roughly the same population of California and many of us live in towns and villages of 40 – 4000 citizens.  Those of us outside Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal tend to live in our heads, through books and films and imagination.  We depend on interpreters like Yann Martel, Joseph Boyden, and Alice Munro to show us reflections of ourselves and when they don’t, we find horsehair dance floors and in the most restrained way possible, dance the long winter nights away.









Leaving Never Never Land for Forever Land




It’s good to be home.  It was also good to be gone and to enjoy all the obvious benefits of Never Never Land, of family reunions, visits all over Los Angeles County,  and to spend time with students I’d known and enjoyed almost fifty years ago.  I enjoyed dinners and parties hosted by the most gracious hosts in the region, most attended by artists I’ve admired for years, friends and neighbours I’d met when I was not yet thirty, beloved former employees and Hmong godchildren.

Being in Ohio and Virginia at just the right time of year is a gift and the reality of Hawaii, of course, continues to be more glorious than any Pacific Island of the imagination.


But it’s good to be home after the rains and winds of a Nova Scotian Spring evolve into long days of sunshine, fields of tulips and daffodils and Maritime sunsets so vivid, every photograph looks enhanced or painted by an artist mad for magenta and orange.

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It’s also good to be settled in when the snowbirds start to drift back to their summer nests.  All those lovely people with their winter suntans, energized by new ideas, old books, the ways of different, gentler people and long naps stolen from afternoons on Thai, Cuban and Mexican beaches.

Even they, I think, are glad to be back in Nova Scotia for another summer.  We all sense, I think, that our halcyon days of warm seasons and easy friendships are numbered, which makes each of us even more determined to  wrap ourselves in blankets (or in Nova Scotia, quilts) of golden moments while we watch the tides rise.  And rise and rise.

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