Strawberry Vale Community Hall
One of my volunteer activities is serving on the board that runs the Strawberry Vale Community Hall. The hall is conveniently located at the other end of the block from me, and is similar to countless others found across the country. In our case, the hall is totally self-sustaining and receives no external funding. It stands on donated land, and the main part of the building was constructed over one hundred years ago, with a major renovation in the late 1940s.
Over the years, there have been a variety of uses and activities in the hall. Saturday dances with live music used to be a regular occurrence but that faded away a generation ago. Currently there is a Wednesday night Bingo that continues to draw the regulars, and for many of those players this is a significant social event. Badminton, swing dancing, highland dancing, and the fish and game club are some of the ongoing activities. Apart from that, the hall is rented out for parties and weddings and other purposes. All the funds go into the upkeep and maintenance of the hall and some funds are redistributed within the local community as needs arise.
For me, it provides a tangible and vital connection to the community and the people who live here. I think its vitally important to do more than just pay lip service to the sense of community so whether its cleaning the floors or the chairs, sweeping out the basement, or sorting through old records I am happy to lend a hand. Tonight is the regular monthly meeting where a small handful of us sit down and run through the regular agenda items and decide what needs fixing, what needs doing, and what can be left alone. For a very small investment of my personal time, I have gained an absolute treasure of satisfaction, participation, and connectedness.
Sometimes it can be overwhelming paying attention to the news and what’s going on around us in our country, our continent, and our planet. It often seems as if the end of the world is just around the corner, yet at the same time most of us are just struggling to stay afloat, or rather nihilistically, we are out partying. Entertainment is one of the biggest industries around, and we spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the silly lives of silly people who happen to photograph well. At the same time we have a whole range of significant problems and challenges that just aren’t being addressed in an adequate way by politicians or bureaucracies or boardroom decision makers. Some of these challenges have the potential to vastly alter our way of life and even threaten the planet with mass extinction. The list is long and this just a sample: climate change, deforestation, over-fishing, genetically modified food, nuclear disasters, chemical waste, shrinking aquifers, fracking underground, and chemtrails overhead. We have superbugs that are resistant to our medicines and we are encountering street drugs that have brought what we once naively thought were fictional stories of a zombie apocalypse to real life. As floods, fire and pestilence rain down, far too many of us just shut the front door, grab a beverage of choice and hunker down in front of the TV or computer screen to escape reality, crossing our fingers against the possibility that our senses are actually working. We watch hours and hours of something called reality television which has no connection to the reality outside the door and we hope that the world will stay the same. And outside all those doors, a few brave souls tilt at windmills and fight the good fight. Usually though, they fight alone, or at least their fights are isolated to each particular issue or problem.
When it comes down to it though, there is only one struggle, one fight and one game. It really is as elemental and fundamental as Good versus Evil, and it has been going on as long as our species has been around, and probably much longer. War, disease, slavery, poverty, torture, corruption, exploitation and greed are arrayed against environmentalists, social activists, and the vast majority of the arts community, health care providers and for the most part, scientists.
Mother Nature, so to speak, is pitted against the so-called market economy and the military/industrial complex, as we used to call it. At the same time, mainstream culture creates a distortion effect where we end up not believing the evidence before our eyes because we still have faith in the institutions of a just and lawful society. Yet look around at the failings of the justice system, not just locally but all the way to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Look at the corruption and mean-spirited conniving at the political level. What else do we see? Environmental and regulatory functions curtailed. Research projects being terminated. Coast guard operations being shut down. Cuts to the funding for archives and libraries. If it isn’t broken yet, it’s falling apart. But we keep on believing that everything is still okay and that it’s all being looked after by the system, that all is right with our world. Sadly, it doesn’t appear that it is.
Everyone plays a role, as either a passive or as an active participant. And every single moment we make choices that have implications for the forces of Good and for the forces of Evil. Of course, it isn’t always easy to keep the battle lines distinct, and most of us lead great chunks of our lives totally oblivious to issues of social justice, community interest or public health, or any of the other theatres of battle swirling about. I can pretty much guarantee that if someone was to examine any of our lives up close, and pointedly our closets and cupboards, there would undoubtedly be some evidence found of complicity with the forces of the dark side. After all, who’s supporting those factories that produce all that cheap merchandise we pick up as consumers? Us. And what about those factories? Well in case you hadn’t heard, there are horror stories aplenty about the violent and terrifying lives led by those factory workers. People working in factories in Latin America, Asia, and last but not least Africa labour in abysmal conditions rivaling the dystopian novels of Huxley, Orwell, and the recently deceased Ray Bradbury. Of course a disproportionate number of the workers die young through neglect and abuse. If one could lead a forensic audit from the factory floor to the consumer, we’d probably learn some very interesting stories that I can only speculate about. These are the factories that churn out our TV’s and tee shirts, our toys, our clothes and even our food. In the Ivory Coast, the centre of world production for the cocoa bean, something like 200,000 children work at various stages of chocolate production. The International Labour Organization’s 2005 report estimates that of these, some 6% are victims of either child slavery or child trafficking. So unless you are buying an ethically produced, fair traded product, and have done so all your life and in all cases we can all unfortunately, assume at least some measure of guilt by association. I used to love chocolate bars, and hence my guilt is visible to the world in my over-large belly.
I’ll always recall one of my profs at university who had been a minor functionary in Chile’s Allende government, who had to flee the country after the assassination of the elected socialist President and the installation, with the assistance of the CIA, of a military junta. He impressed upon us that in the “two thirds” world as he characterized it, artists and musicians did not have the choice to sit on the sidelines and avoid politics. It was a revelation to me that each image, each song, each inspired created object became, in a war zone, a political statement. Double, triple and hidden meanings abound in the art and culture produced in such crucibles. The very absence of a political statement in a piece of art labeled the creator as a reactionary or collaborator.
Thus, the reaction of the Chinese government to Li Wangyang’s poem that added to the call for democracy more than 20 years ago in Tiananmen Square is perhaps not that surprising. As I hope at least some of us recall, after crushing the nascent democracy movement with shocking violence they rounded up any surviving dissidents and locked them away, in most cases for years. The recent news that Li Wangyang has been found dead in rather mysterious circumstances is indeed sad, and for me as someone who finds great creative expression through poetry, it stands as a cautionary tale. Because don’t forget, there is only one war going on, albeit one with many battlefronts. It is obvious and oppressive in so much of the world, increasingly so here in Canada where state sponsored terror tactics, like kettling, are used to counter peaceful demonstrations.
Which brings me to a dilemma most of us have come up against before, where do we marshal our forces, where do we pitch in on this fight? I say forces, but for most of us, when it comes right down to it, we are talking about an army of one. That one can only be the face staring back at you in the mirror every morning. And really what we have to do is make value judgments all the time about practically everything we do. If you have a strong ethical compass, follow it, and if you don’t have an ethical compass, develop one, please.
Here is my gratuitous advice on how to be on the side of Good, offered for your consideration:
It isn’t always necessary to continually join protest movements or to be involved in something that might smack of being a movement in order to fight the good fight. Simple everyday choices can provide an opportunity for being on the side of good. It might be as easy as avoiding fast food and franchise restaurants and seeking out the mom and pop joints that make a town unique. Support charities. Try to understand the sourcing practices of the brands and labels before you add something to your shopping cart. The inter-connectedness of the universe brings the fundamental conflict into plain sight when you understand where to look.
How you join the fight depends on all sorts of factors like your age, your abilities and your interests. Understand that you don’t always have to be on the front lines, but when you are needed stand up and get involved. Go to the Parent Advisory Council meetings at your kid’s school, get involved with the strata council, or wherever else your interests and destiny takes you. Volunteer. Research issues to the best of your abilities before forming opinions. Strong evidence based on facts is better than a heated opinion. Think strategically and don’t spread yourself too thin. Your own health is just as precious as the giant issue you might be confronting so remember to keep your life in balance with exercise, meditation and social networks. Be happy, and practice smiling. Say thank you frequently. Support others in their struggles when possible. Find delight and joy in the world as it unfolds around you. Try to understand any negative emotions you might be feeling and see if they are based on incorrect assumptions or needless fears. Master unnecessary desires. Appreciate art. Read for pleasure. Listen to music. Choose love.
David Trudel © 2012
Mr. Trudel lives in Victoria where he volunteers on a regular basis with several different non-profit agencies.
I am experiencing conflicted feelings concerning the Olympics. While I admire the display of talent and ability by gifted and dedicated athletes I wonder at the huge expense of staging this kind of spectacle when austerity is de rigueur throughout much of the world these days, with of course Europe its poster child. Yet, every couple of years governments manage to find the enormous sums of money to build the venues and generally tart the place up, even as they chip away at social programs. Let’s not forget the IOC and its financial scandals and gold-plated perks for the sports aristocracy, but perhaps, for the sake of my health I should put that aside until my blood pressure drops back to normal. Then along comes a moment of drama and excitement and I lose my critical stance for a moment. The men’s eights in the rowing competition is an example, with a stirring Canadian finish as they edged out Great Britain for a silver medal. It’s always easy to slip back into being a fan again, particularly for sports that haven’t been tainted by scandal, at least as yet. And then during a commercial break, I’ll have a moment to reflect on other Olympic irritants, like the chest-beating displays of jingoism in the opening ceremonies both in London and yes, also in Vancouver in 2010. The nationalism and super patriotism has really gone overboard during the past few decades. What happened to the pure celebration of sport, and global fellowship that the Olympics first aspired to showcase? Can’t we admire great feats of strength and endurance by the world’s best, regardless of which nation they come from? Can’t we welcome the world instead of just riffing on the theme of “we’re wonderful” over and over? But against long odds, we do manage to find small pieces of that ideal, witness the global interest that the blind Korean archer received right at the beginning of the games. But for every heartwarming story, there seems to be some ugly truth around the corner, such as the badminton debacle that resulted in four teams getting the boot for attempting to throw their matches. So I remain in a curious state where my cynicism and criticism are counterbalanced by my appreciation for the high performance athletes and the level of play they achieve. Rather than watching a lot of TV coverage I catch brief reports on the news, and pay attention elsewhere; print or online. And so I celebrate the individual successes but grieve for the excessive cost spent on frills and puffery.
David Trudel © 2012
The recent decision by the federal and provincial governments to flatly reject the claims of sexual harassment by RCMP Corporal Catherine Galliford and in so doing to viciously attack her character and credibility is troubling in the extreme. It has already been publicly acknowledged that a problem of gender inequality and harassment exists in the RCMP, along with all sorts of soporific claims that they are working to change the culture. Yet this decision clearly shows that while it’s easy to pay lip service to a difficult issue, when push comes to shove the good old boys lock arms and kick the victim.
This case exemplifies the cognitive dissonance we have come to expect from the institutions that should be the pillars of a strong and just society. They say one thing, but then they do another. They claim to be working on fixing the problem and then they go and make it worse. For once it would be nice to see these institutions simply accept the blame instead of using a host of lawyers on attack dog setting to mitigate the potential verdict and damages. For me, and for many others, it is quite clear that Corporal Galliford deserves support and an apology, not the demeaning character attacks she is receiving from the government lawyers.
Our legal system is barely functioning these days, due to underfunding and understaffing on the one hand, and pigheaded decisions such as this that tie up resources on specious court battles. Can you imagine a world where people and institutions started to take some responsibility and simply own up to their mistakes without going through a ridiculous dance of denial, supported by as many crafty lawyers as can be bought to try to prove that white is black and black is white? While we can’t expect individuals to give up their rights to a legal defense, it would be refreshing to see a government or corporation step up and admit their culpability at the outset and save us all the time and expense of unnecessary court proceedings. If we do ever start seeing such a phenomenon, it might even reduce the level of cynicism we all feel today. For now, I remain as cynical as ever that anything like gender equality is remotely possible in the RCMP, and the governments that are enabling this shameful behavior.
David Trudel © 2012
I belong to an exclusive club, one that has no doors or windows, admission fees or structure. Its membership is open to anyone but it is limited to those of us who are able to appreciate and connect with nature on a daily basis. We understand that in order to be grounded, you have to get off the pavement, and out of the car, out of the house and off the sidewalk and find a piece of the natural landscape where you can walk the earth amidst the trees, the seaside, or the cactus in the desert or the fields of a rural scene. Walking in a natural setting gives you the opportunity to hear the buzz of the bumblebees and birds calling back and forth, to hear the great chorus of the wind in the trees, and achieve a measure of peace through simply marveling at the beauty of the physical world. When this can be accomplished in relative safety, with no need for protection, no fear and just a peaceful sense of enjoyment, you have joined the club.
Here at the edge of Victoria, I live on a hillside beside a mystic and mythic park. There are trails that lead through oaken groves that seem to be transported from the Middle Earth of Tolkien’s mind and wind past craggy rocks scored by the crush of the last ice age when glaciers soared high above the ground. For thousands of years this has been a sacred site, a place of mystery and delight. Last year, this was reaffirmed when a group of followers of the late Katharine Maltwood arrived to dedicate the hilltop as the Heart of Virgo, in the physical manifestation of the Zodiac as proclaimed by Katherine, who came from Glastonbury England and was adept in metaphysics, philosophy, and mysticism. I should mention that she was also a fine artist and sculptor, and that her husband made a fortune with Oxo, the beef bouillon company. And so, decades after her death a group of seekers appeared on the hill to invoke a new rite for an old place. Was it serendipity that brought me there as witness that afternoon? Stewardship of a place that still has its old spirits, sprites and cosmic doorways intact can be fun. They poke and prod, shimmering at the edge of sight, elemental to the core.
All this, is simply to share a small measure of where I walk and what I see. I often wonder though, what my counterparts in distant lands experience on their walks. There must be some wonderful places where other feet tromp on their daily rounds out beyond the distant horizon. Places like the Normandy coast, the Cotswold hills, Grecian Islands, fragrant tropical coastlines, and a thousand more rush through my mind faster than a husband flipping channels on the bigscreen. We walk, our club, in blessed peace, bathed in beauty, absorbing grace.
Yet, even as I take spiritual refreshment on these nature walks, I feel a twinge of guilt. Because after all, why should I be so lucky and so privileged to be where I am? I know that millions more suffer lives so bleak it makes you cry. I mean just for starters, living in a big city in some tiny urban cave that looks out at thousands of other electrified cave dwellings, can be pretty soul destroying. A lot of folks are stuck and never see the country, just over-used and trampled urban parks, littered with needles and shell casings, a haven for the dark. Whole cities live in violent terror, calling into question what we mean by the term modern civilization. Millions live trapped and corralled, without freedom and for them each walk beyond their personal safety zone is a walk of terror, waiting for a bullet or a landmine or a jeep full of gunmen to cut them down. Squalid refugee camps proliferate, slums expand and then are subject to eviction, the forgotten armies of the undone hang on in desperation. Prisons holding poets and social activists along with petty thieves, maintain a chokehold on self-expression and personal beliefs.
So what gives me the temerity to celebrate yet another exclusive club, yet another privilege, yet another luxury beyond capacity? I can only try to imagine what someone trapped in a horrid place might feel, and I don’t doubt that my club is for the most part lumped in with everything else of the privileged few, and resented unreservedly. But perhaps it may also be that this idea of natural beauty, being grounded with nature and being able to experience that without fear might also serve as a beacon of hope for the more forgiving of those different sisters and brothers across the miles. At least, I tell myself, I will appreciate the world’s beauty to my full capacity, and enjoy the gifts that have been put before me. And far away, some lonely soul, beaten and downtrodden but still alive can find a measure of understanding as I revel in the glory of the land.
David Trudel © 2012
The Eagle’s Way
I live in a special place, near a forest on a hill that is full of magic and mystery. It sits at the edge of urban Victoria; from one side of the hill you can see the city laid out before you while from the other side you look across a few farms to the greenbelt that contains the urban sprawl. Here is one story of how this land came to be, years and years ago when the people first came to this place:
The Wives of the Stars
There once was a chief who had two daughters. During the summer the people moved to a camp where they fished for salmon. One day the girls went into to the meadows to harvest camas. At night they lay down among the trees and looked at the stars. The elder sister said, “I wish the big star up there (Jupiter) would be my husband.” And the younger said, “I wish the red star there (Mars) would be my husband.” Then they fell asleep. When they woke again, they found themselves in a strange land. The stars had taken them into the sky. Now they saw that the stars were men. What they wished for had come to pass and the stars became their husbands. The following day, their husbands told them to go out and collect camas. But they forbade them to dig up the bulbs as is done on earth. Instead, they were only allowed to cut off the stalks. To start with, the women obeyed, but one day the older sister said, “I must eat a camas bulb again!” She dug one up and, to their amazement, they were looking down upon the earth through the hole. When they arrived home, they didn’t say anything about this. They still went to the forest as before to gather camas. But now they made a long rope there, without anyone knowing about it. When they thought that it was long enough, they made a big hole in the ground and the eldest daughter crawled down. She said to her sister, “You wait here. When I have arrived down there safely, I’ll shake the rope. Then follow me down. Otherwise, assume that I’ve fallen into the sea.” The younger sister held the rope as she went down. The woman landed on would be known as Knockan Hill. There, she walked back and forth over a long distance and pulled the rope to and fro. Thus, she was able at last to shake it a little bit and her sister in the sky felt some very weak movements. She tied the rope to a tree up there, clasped it with her hands and legs and climbed down. The elder sister sat down below and looked up. Finally she saw a small moving dot. It grew bigger and bigger and then she recognized her sister. Her legs had become quite crooked from climbing so long. She had scarcely arrived at the bottom when the rope fell down. The people in the sky had missed the women and when they discovered the rope, they cut it. Then the women went to their home where they were welcomed with much excitement. Some people say that the rope has turned into the rocky outcroppings around the hill, while others say that the rope is invisible except to the pure of heart.
The land around Victoria used to be characterized by rolling meadows of camas and ancient Garry Oaks. After the founding of the Fort of Victoria right down to the present, the camas meadows have been whittled away and now only a few original sites persist. Something like only 1% of what used to be camas meadows survive on southern Vancouver Island. The park behind my house is one of those rare places. Every year, we locals spend hours battling the invasive plants in the meadows and the forest and every spring we are rewarded by the carpets of purple camas that continue to flourish on Knockan Hill. The hill is also home to wildlife of all kinds, from insects to lizards to mammals and birds. A few years ago, the park became home to a pair of eagles who built a nest in a tall tree in the centre of the forest. Some years have been better than others for the eagles, but I’ll never forget a couple of years back when two eaglets successfully hatched and fledged and learned to fly. By the end of the summer one of the young eagles moved on, perhaps to Goldstream park for some easy fishing. The other young eagle wasn’t quite so eager to move on. Instead he remained in the nest until finally the parents decided it was time for junior to grow up, and to move out. So they very simply started to deconstruct the nest, until there simply wasn’t any choice left for the young one, it was time to move on. Many of the eagles’ two-legged neighbours took notes on the process and smiled knowingly to one another along the trail.
A short time later however, disaster struck. It was around Easter and the eagles had been nesting for some time. We weren’t sure if the eggs had hatched yet but clearly something was going on. Then the weather turned, a low pressure system moved in and the winds picked up and before we knew it, gale-force winds began blowing. After a day of strong winds I had a visit from my nephew and his girlfriend and so despite the breezy weather I took them on a tour of the park. All went well until we got close to the eagle tree. Looking down the trail, something was wrong…the tree was missing! Rounding a bend we saw the downed tree lying straight across the trail. Disaster – we searched for the nest but couldn’t find a trace. As we scrambled through the brush, from overhead came a loud and pitiful cry as one of the adult eagles circled in distress. It seemed to be calling “What happened? Where’d it go? Where’s my nest?” over and over and over again.
The neighbours and I wondered if that was it for the eagles, would they go away for good now? But no, after a week or so, we started to see them flying overhead again, into and out of the forest. Then a few days later they started carrying sticks and branches and began rebuilding their nest in a different place. When we consider this story as a metaphor it has a lot to teach us. Human parents sometimes pick the wrong place to build their nests. From up above it’s hard to see if a tree is rotten down below or if its roots are too shallow in the rocky terrain to withstand a big windstorm. Sometimes, even though the parents are caring, a big wind can come up and knock down the tree and crush the nest. Sometimes, the original landscape has been altered so much that the only place left for the eagles to build is a tree that they wouldn’t pick if they had a choice.
So if we consider why there are so many aboriginal kids in government care it’s instructive to think about the eagle nest on Knockan Hill. Just because parents have to pick a rotten tree to build their nest doesn’t mean that they aren’t good parents. Just because a big wind comes up and blows down the nest, it isn’t necessarily justification to take kids away from their parents. None of us are responsible for the big strong winds of social change, for the forces beyond our control. It’s my personal opinion that all too often it appears that society, and in particular mainstream social workers, are quick to judgment about the lifestyles of aboriginal families. What appears not to be taken into account is that the substandard reserve housing was never the choice of aboriginal people. The reserves themselves were more often than not marginal lands doled out as consolation prizes after traditional territories had been conquered and stolen. Years of systemic abuse and attempts to de-culturate indigenous peoples have been followed by decades of benign neglect and broken promises. The different levels of government point to each other as reasons for not providing support while along the way families suffer in poverty. Through it all social workers, police, teachers and health professionals mostly look at the homes of indigenous families through the perspective of their own quite different experiences.
It’s time to think about that eagle nest again. Just because the nest didn’t survive is no reason to say that the eagles didn’t know how to parent. None of us should be judged for not withstanding a windstorm. Instead we need to make sure that there are enough strong trees around, with deep roots reaching into rich soil. We need to make sure that those trees are flexible and can bend and twist in the wind. We need to pick up the pieces, without condemnation and with empathy. That’s the teaching of the eagles’ way.
David Trudel © 2012