All posts by jackcaseros

Reading 2017 into 1886

I don’t particularly like to write in books. I know people who keep Foster Wallace footnotes in the margins of all their books.

Like most things, I have an exception: my Nietzsche books. They are fair game. Friedrich Nietzsche’s works, when not aphorisms, are dense–they are difficult to scan.

I read and re-read Nietzsche, the same way I mull Patañjali or the Bhagavad-Gita or Kerouac or Baudelaire.

The passage below struck me when I read it last night. It was hard not feel a it like Nietzsche was sitting on the other side of the sofa, sunk and uncomfortable in his Bismarck-era get-up, smoking all my ganja and rambling about decadence.

This excerpt is Section 242, in ‘Part Eight: Peoples and Fatherlands’, from Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1886 work, Beyond Good and Evil. This translation is by Michael Tanner in 1973; the italics are Nietzsche’s, the underlining is mine.

“Whether that which now distinguishes the European be called ‘civilization’ or ‘humanization’ or ‘progress’; whether one calls it simply, without implying any praise or blame, the democratic movement in Europe: behind all the moral and political foregrounds indicated by such formulas a great physiological process is taking place and gathering greater and ever greater impetus–the process of the assimilation of all Europeans, their growing detachment from the conditions under which races independent on climate and class originate, their increasing independence of any definite milieu which, through making the same demands for centuries, would like to inscribe itself on soil and body–that is today, the slow emergence of an essentially supra-national and nomadic type of man which, physiologically speaking, possesses as its typical distinction a maximum of the art and power of adaptation. This process of the becoming European, the tempo of which can be retarded by great relapses but which will perhaps precisely through them gain in vehemence and depth–the still-raging storm and stress of ‘national’ feelings belongs here, likewise the anarchism now emerging–: this process will probably lead to results which its naïve propagators and panegyrists, the apostles of ‘modern ideas’, would be at least inclined to anticipate. The same novel conditions which will on average create a levelling and mediocritizing of man–a useful, industrious, highly serviceable and able herd-animal–are adapted in the highest degree to giving rise to exceptional men of the most dangerous and enticing quality. For while that power of adaptation which continually tries out changing conditions and begins a new labour with every new generation, almost with every new decade, cannot make possible the powerfulness of the type; while the total impression produced by such future Europeans will probably be that of multifarious, garrulous, weak-willed and highly employable workers who need a master, a commander, as they need their daily bread; while, therefore, the democratization of Europe will lead to the production of a type prepared for slavery in the subtlest sense: in individual and exceptional cases the strong man will be found to turn out stronger and richer than has perhaps ever happened before–thanks to the unprejudiced nature of his schooling, thanks to the tremendous multiplicity of practice, art and mask. What I mean to say is that the democratization of Europe is at the same time an involuntary arrangement for the breeding of tyrants–in every sense of that word, including the most spiritual.”

God is Whoever Will Recognize Your Sacrifice (A Spring Poem)

When the heat rose

It brought the ants out with it—


The bedrock slumbers under the shivering topsoil,

All winter huddled up—


Now comes the tilt of the earth—

Now comes hibernation hangovers—


The creak in your elbow

Only you can hear—


Now comes the sun again—

Now the snakes sun on gravel roads—


God is whoever

Will recognize your sacrifice—


So every bud, rosette, and bug eye

Turns to the blinding star—


Half a life

Lived in chrysalis—


Half a life

Lived in fits—


Spring demands stridency,

Summer demands sweat—


Autumn begs for acceptance,

Winter requires sacrifice—


No one pouts as the beetle

Strains over mustard seeds—


Whimpering is pathetic,

Go gnash teeth instead—

Burn It Down Slow: On Canadian Cannabis Legalization

Today, millions of cannabis users light up in solidarity around the world. In Canada, it is an especially interesting day, given that last week the Liberal government proposed the Cannabis Act, to de-schedule and heavily regulate cannabis in Canada. While imperfect, the bill is yet another nail pulled from the coffin in which prudes and other social conservatives had tried to bury cannabis alive.

I am 110% for cannabis legalization (that is 10% more support than I have for legalizing all psychoactive substances). I know the proposed legislation isn’t ideal, but for me, it is a sigh of relief. I am surely not alone, whether in Canada or around the world.

I Have a Name

Marijuana, as with many monikers for cannabis—weed, pot, dope, reefer, chronic, devil’s grass—and euphemisms for intoxication—stoned, baked, fried, twisted, blitzed—all carry negative implications. These names betray the demonization which the plant, and the people who have been custodians to this plant, have garnered ever since the U.S. government was threatened by highly-productive-but-high Mexican labourers in the 1930’s, and then industrialized a military to pass on their gospel.

It is a good choice to frame the newly proposed legislation as The Cannabis Act. There are so many beautiful names for the plant, and maybe something that preceded the Scythian‘s word cannabis, which Dr. Linnaeus adopted to taxonomically classify the species. To date, Canada has been particular about using marijuana. But of course, calling it marijuana would have ousted the government’s uneasy hand on the whole matter.

For 15 years, I have used cannabis recreationally, spiritually, and medicinally. Apparently, I continue the relationship people have kept with the plant for millennia. Terrence McKenna would even go so far to propose the Stoned Ape Theory, which postulated that psychedelics substances (primarily psilocybin mushrooms) were the catalysts for evolution from apes to Homo erectus (or whatever the hell you can call us now).

Sometime between getting lifted for the first time in the Cradle of Civilization and now, humanity has come a long way. That relationship with the plant has become strained in many parts of the world. Within the last century (or so), a global effort has been spent criminalizing an autonomous plant, and punishing those people who get involved with the plant.

More than that, prohibition also criminalizes a state of consciousness. In the realist world view, being high is the North Korea of the mind.

(Ironically enough, North Korea has a very liberal approach to cannabis. There is absolutely nothing otherwise enviable about North Korea).

North Korea comes to Canadaupon Parliamentary and Senate approvalon or before Canada Day, 2018. The complete bill can be viewed here, but CBC has a good summary, which didn’t vary much from the leaks earlier this week.

It isn’t legalization in its idealist sense, but it is workable…although equally vague and questionable. But regulatory changes happen slowlyunless they happen bloodily, in which case, enough people have to be willing to pay that price. I don’t think that would be a sustained hurrah from cannabisseurs (cannabissoirs? cannabians??).

If I have this many questions as a 110%er, I can understand how those against this idea are ready to chant it down

and I was going to get into (700 words of) thoughtful and nuanced questions on each piece of the bill. The Cannabis Act is not ideal. It shows a profound misunderstanding of the plant, its uses, and its users. But I get to burn in my backyard without risking my job, my family, or my freedom. That is a concession I will take with caveats.

“All I want to do is get high by the beach…” – Lana Del Rey

True, there are many parts of the proposed bill that are ridiculous. The proposed driving rules are harsh and seem emotional rather than factual. There should always be caution when operating a vehicle impairedbut assholes aren’t typically pulled over for the sole reason of being assholes (a.k.a. assholiphilia), although they are likewisely impaired. (Note: If you start making up words, you probably shouldn’t drive regardless of what’s in your saliva.)

When The Cannabis Act was released, purists raised their hard heads. Larsen, the Emery’s, and other respectable voices in the Canadian cannabis community, seemed appalled by a step in the right direction. It wasn’t ‘legalization-y’ enough. Larsen laid out some decent arguments, but it became apparent that Marc Emery was just as happy to get back to watching the Maple Leafs play hockey before he (possibly) goes to prison again.

It took me a while to remember that for any ’cause’, there will have been the activists who offered themselves up as martyrs and who want a stake in the freedom fries. That’s legiteven Che got to sign the Cuban currency.

Either way, there is no light switch that any legislation can enact that will win the hearts & minds of the general populaceand the whole world, who will be watching with intent as their own reformists become encouraged by Canada’s lead. It seems naive to hope that a flick of some bureaucratic pens will suddenly erase decades of psychological warfare. It will take sustained, destigmatized experience to exhibit cannabis users’ general responsibility. Popular opinion will eventually come to commonly understand the fear & loathing was exaggerated.

A Lame, But Revealing, Ending

All these herbalists and not a one remembers how A Clockwork Orange ends. Sure, an external force was able to soften Alex’s behaviour, but once they returned Alex to his regular state, it took a good dose of banality and a chance meeting with an evolved friend for Alex to realize he could—and would—change. The moral I am trying to draw? Self-transformation is the most powerful transformation. Let’s not make the same mistake every doe-eyed teenager makes—no forced, external revolution will ever change the world.

Cannabis has to prove itself in public view. People have to understand that for every loser (who arguably would be a loser regardless), there is a doctor, a lawyer, and a candlestick maker who smoke up, up, and away. That will not happen while the plant remains illegal.

The underground has not done cannabis justicethose who understand it and advocate it overstand, but it is still difficult to convince your family at Thanksgiving dinner that your daily joint doesn’t make you a scandalous fiend.

Anything besides prohibition gets the conversation started. Issues and benefits have the opportunity to become illuminated. So far, the government’s “educational” approach has included web advertisements that direct you to Health Canada’s cannabis page, or Reefer Madness 2: Selective Science Madness. Some of the acute risks of cannabis include stroke and heart attack. No mention of pre-existing condition or other substances that were consumed, because, of course, as Dr. Kellie Leitch knows and will fight for: marihuana is a dangherous drhug.

I think at this point in our history, it is clear that the “War on Drugs” has failed. Starting from failure, it is hard to do wrong. Like the free-climber who falls to break eighty bones in their body, success cannot be measured by reaching a treacherous summit—success can be making it up one single stair. We’re on that first step. Let’s not let our egos handicap us. Let’s not crumple on the floor like we will never get to the mountaintop again.

I have a method to get to a mountaintop. It starts in an unfertilized flower bud and ends with smoky curlicues. That’s what’s important here. The devil may be in the legislation’s details, but as any cannabis user knows, the devil is currently around every goddamn corner, just waiting for enough evidence to pull you into its bowels. Between the two, I think we stand a better chance parsing through grey regulations than facing black-and-white zero-tolerance.

As Dr. Dre proselytizes: “We roll shit that burn slow as fucking molasses/probably won’t pass it, smoke until the last hit.” The value of a smooth, slow burn is known to any cannabissarian. It’s a sentiment that can be translated to anyone pursuing legalization. All the ugliness that has suppressed cannabis will burn away—responsible users will help burn it down—but it will burn down slowly…

…slower than a fat blunt of fresh Trainwreck buds.

Now light up the fatty, jump in my Caddy, pull your seat back—yup, I know you need that…” – Snoop Doggy Dogg

⇐ BOM BOM MAHADEV ⇒

The End of the Era of Blakean Patience

Just for the flair of it

we abandon the fairest before they plummet—

 

Before the end is done

it’s better to look like the clever one who seen it come—

 

Showered in shards of glass kicked up from your sandbox,

Running from the rain with hot slag in our socks—

 

Soon unblocked, like hips opening up in a squat—

Soon unlocked, like a juiced kumquat—

 

For now, stuck in your garden variety pot,

an heirloom fruit of the tomb fettered in thought knots—

 

A feral hairless ape who has finally heard enough,

who resides in the time to buy lace only to tear it up—

 

It’s the end of an era

and any end summons terror—

 

But there’s a secret sharer between the burning sensations

intercepting fate’s fishnets while we stroke our impatience—

Canada 150 – Coast to Boundless Coast

I know patriot comes loaded with whatever hero narrative your country or culture loves and/or hates. For me, it’s somewhat of a slander. It comes with the kind of fanaticism that tears apart populations and upholds borders for the sake of a population’s “purity”.

But I guess in some vague definitions, I am a patriot. Don’t hold it against me. It doesn’t singularly define me—it just happens that I enjoy the expanse of land within the boundaries which enclose my country.

2017-03-18 NWT (2)
Inukshuk stands on guard for thee (Northwest Territories)

The entire planet is equally beautiful (obv).  But the way humans have overlapped a political net over the globe, access to that entire planet isn’t always easy and is definitely never free. But for me, within Canada, it’s far easier and accessible (besides airfare, which everyone knows is the country’s biggest scam).

2017-03-18 AB MT
A little less accessible part of Canada (Alberta Rockies)

It took a calendar and some serious pencil-and-eraser sketching to help me realize that over the two months straddling Canada’s 150th anniversary (July 1), a series of happenstances and conveniences will give me the opportunity to take in five provinces.

It’s so Canadian, you may call it a simple plan (I channeled Steve Patterson for that pun) (I’m also sorry). Two months split amongst British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and (the one I’ve yet to visit) Newfoundland.

017-03-18 drunken_sailors_5912
Newfoundland Police File Photo (Credit TV Tropes)

The itinerary isn’t sequential, of course. It’s haphazard enough to keep the suspense tuned to exhilaration. I live and work in two of the provinces regularly, so there is some mediocrity within the timeframe, but I’m on the road enough I can consider any week a trip.

2017-03-18 - Central Alberta
I can see right through Alberta to Saskatchewan

Winter is the hardest and most unreliable time to get around Canada, so it always makes sense that summers crush in a lot of regional tourist time. If I had my way, I would criss-cross the country in those two months behind the wheel. What’s ¬18,000 km between friends?

2017-03-18 - Sask
Land of living daydreams (Saskatchewan)

I don’t have my way, which is probably a good thing in this case. Whether I get to see it kilometer by kilometer or not, I still value the freedom I have to travel so vastly, so freely. I know many people do not have that freedom. Some people reading this may not be able to escape beyond what you can search on the internet.

And those traps come from so many different fall-outs of that political netting, and some come from the fall-out of being human. Some people can’t leave their bedrooms because of what is happening within their own skull. Some people can’t leave their home because otherwise they would step into an urban warzone.

2017-03-18-Vancouver Island
Why leave your bedroom if you had a view like this? (Vancouver Island, B.C.)

With all this talk about boundaries in the news, I can appreciate why so many people cherish boundaries. It is the most practical way to conduct international relations in such a diverse planet. More than that, without the boundaries of the body or the mind, life in its most general sense likely would not persist.

Although I agree with Alan Watt’s aphorism that “Nature is always undifferentiated unity, not unified differences”, humanity’s perception tends towards the latter easier than the former. And that is where boundaries become so potent in the political sense. There is such emotion, such fear, because even if your skin becomes breached, you could be dead.

But being able to travel so widely and so freely—to be able to take in so many different cultures under the guise of one flag—belittles the notion of nationalist protectionism, for me. Many regions or provinces within Canada, as many other countries, have threatened to rise up and succeed, and rightfully so in certain cases. In the end, squabbles are put aside because anyone who experiences the value in being able to rove a mari usque ad mare (from the sea to sea) eventually figures out that fence lines are technicalities more than realities.

 

2017-03-18 - Edradour Path
Moss covered stone fence on the Eradour Path (Scotland)

 

I think the Scottish have a good sense of this. From what locals proudly told me, tramping across the countryside is perfectly legit as long as you’re respectful.

Which is perfectly respectable. Contrary to popular American myth, there are not droves of gypsies strung out across fields and city parks, waiting to steal jobs or blow up buildings, whichever comes faster.

The nefarious aside, I think all of us strives to break boundaries. Yogi and mystic Sadhguru often speaks about humanity’s calling to break boundaries—and how that possibility can so often become a pitfall.

The mystic in me agrees with Sadhguru. I prefer the boundless. I say, drop all the political, cultural, and personal boundaries. Then we might have the proper perspective to construct and manage these limitations.

2017-03-18 - Where I Lay My Head
I lay my head alongside your rocky spine

Anyway, I am just super-appreciative that I get to roam from the Atlantic to the Arctic to the Pacific seas. There are enough thresholds to cross already—time zones, jurisdictional boundaries, cultural regions, language barriers, climate zones. But at least there are no walls in my way.

I want to know: Do you have the opportunity to experience your region, country, continent, planet? Is it important for you to be able to move freely?

What I want to know even more: What boundaries do you enjoy breaking? What boundaries do you cherish?

Break the boundary of space & time and comment below!

 

Uh Yeah, Me Neither… (A Poem)

Do you take

all your poems

out ‘round back?

Fantasize

about them

during teleconferences?

Sketch them

from memory by candlelight

when the wind sounds

like orgasmic gasps?

Does your blood

burst in your genitals

when you feel

the line break?

Do you try

to conjure their smell

and end up hyperventilating?

Tell me, do you ask

all your poems

to stay for breakfast?

Taking a Trip Through Love Canal: The Residuum

About 2.5 years ago, I heard Lois Gibbs speak. Her story, as a resident affected by the environmental disaster at Love Canal, NY, served as a touchstone for the work I do IRL—as an environmental scientist, a large part of what I do is contaminant remediation. As I mark five years of doing my best to reduce contamination and the risks it poses, I see Love Canal rise in the news again.

People often hear “environmental scientist” and automatically translate this to “environmentalist” (I need a whole other post to explain what’s wrong with that misnomer). Moreover, people usually think my main focus is climate change. To the wary public, I am the guy who wants ‘everyone to live as if we were in the stone age’.

I have very little defense to that, besides sighing quietly to myself.

I am not of the inclination to hold climate change as the biggest environmental threat to humanity. The dangers posed by climate change are largely out of our control. Perhaps how change is initiated is within our control (or so popular scientific opinion postulates)—but the outcomes, once change in the system is initiated, are outside of humanity’s grasp.

Realistically, we cannot stop a hurricane once it’s formed. We cannot guide tornadoes to gracefully sweep between rural communities. We cannot negotiate amounts of radiation the sun outputs.

In western society, we are increasingly overloaded with this guilt that we need to do something about everything. As I get older, I am starting to appreciate my small radius of influence. Many adverse environmental effects caused by the human hand are reasonably controllable. For what I can reasonably affect in my professional and personal roles, climate change doesn’t even hit my top five concerns.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s a valuable topic. But my concerns about climate change are not about what will happen to humanity. My concern is that humanity, in its current (generalized) state, has a questionable chance of being the kind of resilient species that spans eons of history.

Maybe you don’t believe in your body, but it is intimately connected to this earth. From what we understand about ecology, as long as there is an ecological function that a species can perform, that species will continue to find a place within its ecosystem.

We are an adaptive species—if it rains we try to remain dry, if it’s cold we try to stay warm, when it’s warm we try to keep cool. My study of yoga has further re-enforced my belief that as long as your system is maintained in a certain way, what’s happening externally is inconsequential. If your system is damaged in any way, your ability to flexibly adapt to a situation is going to be impinged upon.

Try this fun experiment.

Go to a summer music festival. Have a blast, but don’t take drugs or alcohol. Eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of water. Take regular, qualitative notes on your body temperature, sweat, and urine colour. Wake up the next morning and take some notes on how you physically feel.

Ask a friend to join in on your experiment. Ideally, this friend is similar to you in body shape and medical history. Tell them to a have a blast, but they get to drink as much alcohol as they desire. Ask them to eat only spicy, greasy food. Take matching qualitative notes on your friend’s body temperature, sweat, and urine colour. Ask them the next morning how they feel (if they don’t spend the night in the medic’s tent).

I think it’s obvious what the outcome of the experiment is. I don’t even have to be a pedantic asshole and ask leading questions. You and your friend are experiencing the same external conditions. The difference is in the physical condition of the body. By what has been put into the body, a dramatically different experience—and a different outcome—can be induced. You may wake up with ringing in your ears from loud music. Your friend may spend the next week recovering from dehydration or sun stroke.

Of course, the acute and chronic effects of alcohol are self-evident. It’s easy enough to say, “You knew drinking nothing but vodka all day was going to lead to. Smarten up.”

Fair enough. Humanity doesn’t have a great record on being kind to its self. We have been around on the planet long enough to have figured out that we can get away with recreationally harming ourselves. If a substance hits our brain’s reward centres, chances are, we will put up with a lot of damage to our systems before we stop.

In a similar vein, we quest for comfort, convenience, and compulsion. Since the late 18th century, this quest has been characterized by the Industrial Revolution. In the short period that this has begun, humanity has synthesized a number of chemicals and substances that we would never otherwise find in nature.

With the exception of the well-known tryptamines, phenylethylamines, and other psychoactive substances we have created (mostly within the last century), many of the new, synthesized substances are not the kind of chemicals hipsters ingest so that their peers acknowledge how cool they are.

I am talking about substances that have practical uses in our industrial processes (or are by-products of those processes)—the substances that help drive our comforts, conveniences, and compulsions. Here, I am talking about halogenated compounds, pesticides, plastics, and polymers.

And then there are the natural compounds that we use in high concentrations or expose ourselves to in a way we very rarely would otherwise: heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and minerals.

These contaminants are ubiquitous in our environment. And not a benign ubiquity, like up-talk. In Canada, we have had a real knack of picking interesting locations for our most intense industrial activities. Think Hamilton Harbor, Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, Edmonton’s Refinery Row, Montreal’s industrial hub, and Vancouver’s Dockside Green.

And if you don’t live in one of these centres, don’t think you are immune. Even some of our remotest outposts have long-lived residual contamination in soil and groundwater (e.g. Ontario’s Grassy Narrows First Nation). And even then, if you think you are far and free from the dirty crowd, there is that thing that keeps coming in and out of your lungs: the air.

Toxicology is a relatively new science, and environmental technology is newer yet. It was thalidomide in the late 1950’s that first brought attention to the teratogenic effects of drugs (Rachel Carson followed up in the early 1960’s and brought the effects of pesticides to light). And in all reality, the thalidomide connection was made because it was directly following the drug’s release in 1957 that thousands of babies were born with deformed limbs and other defects. It was the immediacy of the impact that made the effects apparent.

Since then, we have started to understand the acute effects of the usual suspects on the human body. Year after year, we are learning about the effects of more and more chemicals, both the ones we take willingly and the ones we are exposed to in our environment.

And it’s not just acute effects. The chronic effects are starting to become obvious. Now, common substances we liberally used in our homes—plastics, fabrics with flame retardants, household cleaning & garage products—are being considered straight-up toxic.

Canada (Chemicals Management Plan) and the U.S. (Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act) have poorly funded programs to investigate the many chemicals used in our countries. Apart from that, we rely on companies to willingly identify their chemicals as toxic, or wait for universities to publish research.

Here’s a fun example.

Ever have your clothes dry cleaned? Ever use Brakleen to degrease something in your garage? Ever handle refrigerants?

If so, you have very likely been exposed to tricholoroethylene (TCE). The EPA announced in 2016 that TCE is deemed as toxic (it was also recently added to Canada’s toxic substances list). The US EPA recognizes TCE as a carcinogen and teratogen, with a number of effects on the respiratory and central nervous systems. In Canada, it has been detected in ambient air, the air inside homes, drinking water, and surface water.

But don’t worry! You can still have full access to it. The EPA is just now in the process of proposing a ban on TCE in commercial vapor degreasing. That will not stop its use in a multitude of other industrial and residential uses.

As we start to understand the effects of a multitude of chemicals, we are starting to understand how we might have fucked ourselves over. I can’t put a quantitative value to it, but we have a shitload of our vast landscape that is effectively poisoned. We are also finding out places we didn’t think would be impacted indeed are.

Which brings me back to resiliency. Compare two men in their 50’s. One worked in a garage, exposed day in and day out to a degreaser with TCE. Another worked in an office, and for arguments sake, we will say he was never exposed to TCE (or at least to a significantly less amount). Let’s turn up the heat in the room they are sitting in together. Let’s change the composition of the air they are breathing. Let’s throw some disasters at them. All things being the same, who do you think would fare better?

This is why contamination, to me, is head and shoulders above climate change. Sure, we may not have a home if the climate changes. That’s no problem—we are gone, end of story. But we all know nature doesn’t work in black & white. If doom is on its way, it will happen periodically and incrementally. There will a long, hellish road for humans before this planet is human-free.

If we continue to expose ourselves to chemicals, and allow contaminated sites to remain unmitigated, it won’t matter much whether the climate changes or not.

Which brings me back to Love Canal. This month, residents of North Tonawanda, NY have filed notices of claim for $60 million apiece against the neighbouring Town of Wheatfield (totaling a nearly $1 billion claim). The town’s inactive landfill historically accepted the spectrum of hazardous wastes, including material from Love Canal.

Residents paid for an independent soil investigation. Results showed hazardous chemicals, including those from Love Canal, were present on their properties after having migrated from the boundaries of the landfill. Additionally, the landfill was so poorly managed that lack of fencing and supervision meant people used it to dirtbike or jog. The plaintiffs in the proceedings have all been affected by cancer, headaches, respiratory issues, and nervous system disorders.

This may appear to be an isolated incident, and it may be right now. But this is primarily how we handle our hazardous chemicals. We choose a sacrificial area, call it a landfill, and then rely on public or private companies to monitor and manage the waste into the undefined future. The private companies will do their jobs as long as there is money. Love Canal became the first SuperFund site because the Hooker Chemical Company left their liability behind. It’s not unheard of for owners of environmental liability to go bankrupt, dissolve, or disappear.

These sacrificial areas may not be so unrealistic. Even in the body, there are distinct areas suited for handling ‘waste’ for our physical systems. The liver is a vital organ because it is such a dirty place—if toxins were everywhere else in the system, we could be dead. But because toxins accumulate in the liver, we have a buffering capacity. A little bit of bad exposure won’t kill a healthy liver.

But overwhelm or inhibit maintenance of the liver, and the body falls into trouble. The Wheatfield Landfill is a liver with cirrhosis. It is very likely not the only one like it. Just like any other addict, we are damn good at hiding that we get blotto and our livers whimper through our daily hangover.

Love Canal contains waste dating back almost 100 years. We are still dealing with its devastating consequences. “Climate change” may be fighting words in some parts, and guaranteed to spark a strongly opinionated conversation anywhere else. Some of that is the perception of deniability. But there is no denying environmental contamination. There is no doubt that certain chemicals have a detrimental effect on our bodies. The argument comes down to risk of exposure, which is always nuanced but is unable to dismiss the inherent adverse effects of those chemicals.

Technologies available to actually denature contaminants, or manage them in a reliable, long-term manner, are rare and expensive. If the money that went into climate change research went into contaminant remediation research, we could be so much farther along in enjoying a healthy environment.

To me, belabouring over climate change as opposed to something like contamination is like the yoga enthusiast who reads that through samyama, you can control other peoples’ minds. Cool! So this yoga enthusiast makes this their highest ideal. But this eager yogi can’t even sit straight or touch their toes.

That’s where we are at. As a society, our bodies and minds are in such a poor condition that we cannot touch our proverbial toes—we cannot control ourselves, yet we want to control something outside of ourselves.

In the legend of Saint George, a malicious dragon holds a Libyan empire under its long-clawed thumb. It lives in the emperor’s lake and requires two sheep (or children) per day to appease it or else it will poison the countryside. Saint George tames the dragon and convinces the pagans he saved to convert to Christianity. In one heroic swoop, Saint George conquers the problem and also convinces everyone to think like he does. In a way, climate change advocates are attempting to re-create this narrative.

I can sympathize with climate warriors. I get it. It’s much more rewarding to go to war with the dragon. Victory is so much sweeter, and failure is forgivable because it was a dragon, after all.

Presence

I have been absent. This blog hasn’t had much of an update in some time, and I have no illusions that this is a bad thing.

Then again, I consider myself a writer—or at least I aspire to be a writer—and a substantial part of being an active, contributing artist in our modern society means having a presence.

Of course, that primarily means an internet presence. The flashy artists, the ones who show up in trendy magazines or are renowned in the lit scene, they live in big cities and can attend live events, buy drinks for fellow poets, or have a one night stand with that cute up-and-coming singer/songwriter. More than anything else they do, they show up.

More than anything else I do, I don’t show up.

I have a measly internet presence. Years ago, a woman wearing too much make-up laughed at me. How the fuck could I even be human if I didn’t have Facebook? It was a naïvely idealist view, at the time. Something I could roll my eyes at and dismiss. But since then, it has become more and more true.

Not that I feel any less human. In fact, in the past year of neglecting the internet—after too many years trying to coyly join in on the party—I feel more alive than I ever have. But then again, as the Millenials say (and let’s face it, Millenials will become the dominant force as Baby Boomers vegetate & die): if you did it but didn’t record it, did it happen at all?

None of it happened. Because life never happened. It is happening, or it is not. Anything besides what is currently happening is either memory or imagination. Life itself is an existential experience, a matter of the present—of being present—of presence—and there we are again, with that goddamn pejorative.

What really gets me about presence is Definition 1.1 in the Oxford Dictionary: “A person or thing that exists or is present in a place but is not seen.” That is essentially internet presence, although of course, with the narcissistic twist that the internet produces, this usage gets confused with 1.3: “The impressive manner or appearance of a person.”

The first definition speaks to something beyond the self, something beyond the senses. The second speaks to ego, the self, the senses. The way we interact with the internet is that: it’s beyond the senses, beyond the self, beyond the ego—and yet it engages the senses, the self, and the ego. It’s an empty egg, and we’re subsisting on an imagined yolk.

I prefer the first definition. I even take it to heart and let it expand: “A person or thing that exists or is present in a place but is not seen, heard, felt, smelled, or tasted.”

Then what is it?

I don’t know. Maybe that is what I am endeavoring to find out.

Somewhere Up Meander River Way

For the past couple weeks, in my part of the world, there has been a disheartening deep freeze. That damn “polar vortex”. Or for those whose memories stretch past this decade’s latest fad, or don’t care about feigning a peripheral knowledge of meteorology, it’s more cozily known as a “Canadian winter”.

Nationalities aside, we are talking about temperatures that are unfriendly to a hairless ape. At -25⁰C (-13⁰F) to -40⁰C (-40⁰F), the outside becomes intolerable very quickly. At the bottom of the range, the inside of your nostrils freeze, your eyelids feel cold, and your fingers become utterly useless unless they are bound in mitts or gloves.

The coldest wind chill I personally experienced was just below -50⁰C. But you don’t need to get to those extremes to empathize. The experiential difference between -25⁰C and -50⁰C is often negligible. It’s the difference of a few minutes of toleration. It’s fucking cold.

So when I am out, unable to feel my face, I often wonder what the hell all those pioneers were thinking. Who thought Europeanized “civilization” belonged in a place where the air hurts your skin?

And I think even more fundamentally about all the people who called the northernmost reaches of Turtle Island home for millennia.

For many First Nations, centuries of oppression and white-washing have rendered them not all that different than the paler naked apes who have flung their shit all over the place. Biologically speaking, it is difficult to discern whether aboriginal peoples are better equipped than any other human from any other continent to manage the cold. I am sure there are some epigenetic triggers from living in the northern environment generation after generation.

For the purposes of being equitable form the perspective of the overall energy system we consider an individual human being—there is biological adaptation, but no super-human difference (I am open to compelling evidence otherwise). Particularly after any cultural techniques to bear the cold were forcefully rubbed out by residential schools. Particularly after the environment that influenced those genetics for so long changed so quickly.

But where Wasichu have high-efficiency natural gas furnaces and pink insulation, First Nations often have woodstoves and plywood walls.

segó͔łį gots’ę jo͔ deneilé

“I lived here since I was born”

So my mind, detached from my frostbitten senses, goes to a Dene Tha’ community in northern Alberta, where earlier this year I was wandering around with hurt in my heart and a chill in my bones (my cold tolerance was lower then, the freezing point felt brutal).

I had Meander River, AB specifically marked as a stop on our road trip to the Northwest Territories (NWT), Canada. If you are travelling through Alberta, there are two ways into the Territories. The more travelled is Highway 35. Also known as the Mackenzie Highway, it heads north from High Level, AB (once poised as the new capital city of Canada II), until it turns into Highway 1 at the border but maintains its moniker until Fort Simpson, NWT.

Even Wikipedia notes Meander River, AB is a highway service centre on that route. Otherwise, there is a stretch of ~175 km (109 mi) between the gas stations in High Level and the gas station at Indian Cabins, which is the last stop for gas before Enterprise, ~100 km (62 mi) north.

If we could gas up in Meander River, we could get to our campsite in the NWT for the night, and gas up in nearby Enterprise the next morning. It was all set.

Dark was a few hours away, but it had been dim all day. Rained steady the day before. We woke to more of the same. As we crossed degrees of latitude the air became chillier and some of the rain became sleet. I fueled up in Fort Vermilion, AB and passed clean through bustling High Level.

It started raining again as soon as we hitched off the highway around bridge construction, through the red clay that lay underneath the dense forest we were starting to see more regularly. I knew I had 151 km (94 mi) to Meander River. Right around the sign that said 1 km Up Ahead I prepared myself.

And then I saw the 1 km Up Ahead sign again, in my sideview mirror. We passed no gas station, no highway service centre. I pulled over on an approach, rocking our 1973 Boler as I cranked us around to head south. I drove slower this time, and passed both signs for Meander River again without seeing so much as another vehicle on the highway.

I made another U-turn and decided to take the first unmarked road after the sign. There was another unmarked road further north. They were the only access points on the town’s side of the highway. I took us on a loop, trying to keep my bearings and hoping I didn’t run into any dead ends–turning the Boler around was a pain in the ass.

Behind an outcrop of trees we started seeing houses. They were large and spaced out. They weren’t surveyed on proper streets, it seemed, but their placements seemed to work. There were outcroppings of the town, undulating westwards to the Meander River.

This reserve was not unlike other reserves I had been on. It appeared neglected, with a noticeable need for up-keep. Siding was missing, windows were busted, shingles peeled, cars rusted, garbage clumped in tall grasses. There were cars at almost all the houses, but it felt like a ghost town.

The road I took looped us back to the Mackenzie Highway. At this northern access, there was the service centre. But where there would have been pavement or gravel or something to drive on, there was grass and weeds. The pumps stood in the middle of the clearing, white and shiny.

I parked on the road and took a walk around the abandoned gas station. The door to the store was locked. The windows were covered with plywood, except one. The interior was gutted. I checked the pumps. Their Measurement Canada inspection was still valid. The pumps looked hardly used.

The cold was making me paranoid. This was no place to spend the night, mostly because it would be below zero that night and we would feel it inside the un-insulated Boler. We would later find out from a woman in Hay River that they didn’t ever want to end up stranded on the Mackenzie Highway. Too many anecdotes of sexual assaults on that long, lonesome highway [Note: I wasn’t able to find anyway to link, though].

No gas at Meander River made this leg of the journey ~250 km (155 mi). That doesn’t sound so bad, but on a loaded crossover’s 55 L tank hauling a 1000 lb Boler with headwinds on the western jogs, it was cutting it a little closer than I liked. If there were troubles at Indian Cabins getting gas, we would have another ~100 km (62 mi) to Enterprise which we probably would not make.

Cell coverage was spotty. I could load a map, but not do much with it. I have done most of my travelling without the crutch of everything a Google search away, so it didn’t bother me. I was in a town and there was bound to be someone around that could help me.

So I left the car parked and went for a walk into Meander River. I could go north and check out some houses, but there were some on the same road I was on. So I started for the first house. There were four vehicles parked in front of the house. There was no noise from inside but I knocked anyway. When no one came to the door, I started to the next house.

On my way a black pick-up truck was coming down the road. I made eye contact with the driver and waved to him. He took a corner and disappeared.

Before I reached the next house, I could hear people. That was promising. There were no windows on the top floor, so I could track down the voices to a corner room. There must have been about a half dozen people. They were shouting at each other. Screaming, and it didn’t sound like anyone was listening. The television played infomercials on full blast, filling in the space of what sounded like a party.

There was a thin bed sheet that looked like it was meant to cover the window, but it did nothing. Half of it hung out the window, the rest of it barely attached to the rod. The icy rain blew into the room, and still they all shouted like it was just another Saturday afternoon in Meander River.

I tried to outdo their roar. I shouted Hello! and Yo! and Can I get some help? and Anyone there?

That last question seemed stupid. No one was there. At least not for me.

I eventually found someone on a bicycle, who felt safest shouting at me across a patch of tall grass that was too wet for either of us to cross. She was perfectly fine with me not getting any closer. She was already on her bicycle and heading away before she finished explaining that I couldn’t get gas until Indian Cabins.

On my way back to the vehicle, I passed the house with no windows. They were no quieter. I tried to get their attention again. I wanted to ask them about the windows. If they were planning on replacing them. It was only fall, things would get colder. What would they do in January? What happened to all the snow that came in through the windows? Were they okay? Was there anything I could do?

That last question seemed stupid. Of course they were not okay. And there was nothing I could do.

Things became colder, of course. Like, 40⁰C colder. In that cold, when each icy breath rasps the back of my throat, and my hands became bricks, and frost starts to build on my eyelashes, I think back to that house with no windows in Meander River.

The memory doesn’t stop the cold. Doesn’t help my sunless mood, either. Whether I shunt reality or try to embrace it, I have to live through it all the same. And maybe that was what they were doing in that house that afternoon. They were living through it, all the same. Heat-trapping windows be damned.

On Where to Stick Your Free Parks Canada Discovery Pass

WARNING: This blog entry contains unapologetically elitist opinions. Reasonable arguments are included, but I’m going to make you read through my opinion first.

About a week ago, Canadian news reported that the Parks Canada website had crashed when traffic overwhelmed its servers. The reason for the traffic? The free Discovery Pass up for grabs in 2017.

The Liberal government announced that, as part of its platform and in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, national parks and historic sites would be free for every Canadian citizen. It was a very minor platform plank, something to tout Canadian heritage and maybe win over some newer Canadians who feel disconnected with the natural abundance of our great landscape.

A minor platform plank—but for me, this was a sticking point. And it still is.

Before the 2015 election, my father and I were standing in Banff National Park, waiting for the Canada Day parade. He offhandedly brought up this policy idea. I didn’t even have to tell him how stupid of a platform plank that was. He just had to look around.

For those not in the know, Canada Day is probably the worst time to visit the mountain parks. The crowds become mobs, drivers become the me-first-and-fuck-you-very-much kind of motorists you find in any city, and the roadside attractions become mere backdrops for narcissistic selfies. I put up with the parade for my parents. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be within earshot of the place.

In brief, the Banff townsite becomes a diorama of everything I find sad about modern society. And the Liberal government only wants to proliferate this tragic diorama.

Let me unpack that statement a little. I am no old stock Canadian, fearful of immigrants starting to infiltrate parks and historical sites. Despite that—or at least, despite the image propagated by the Liberal government—I am an avid outdoorsman, hopelessly devoted to the Canadian landscape.

That doesn’t mean I am the best at everything outdoors, or that I have fancy expensive equipment. In fact, I pack lo-fi gear as a rule. My friends ask for gear tips for the backcountry, and I have nothing to offer them.

Quite frankly, you only need two things to enjoy nature: the capacity to be present, and a will to survive.

And let’s face it. Our society has a massive attention deficit problem. As a culture, we do not have the capacity to be present. It’s just not a value that is promoted. Even the Lululemon aphorisms or optimistic Instagram quotes about ‘staying in the moment’ are bullshit lip service. The true capacity to remain focused, and to maintain that focus for a prolonged period, is very difficult.

I don’t claim to have this capacity any more than you. But I sure do value it. And our national parks, typically being the largest, wildest places a public citizen can visit, offer a brilliant opportunity to practice. There’s no better place to get in touch with your animalistic nature than being wildly unprepared in a place that offers no help, no comfort, no easy way out.

Trudeau sees—or so he says—an opportunity for new and old Canadians alike to get to know their country. What does that mean, in our current cultural mode, for a place like Banff National Park? It means more commercial properties, more roads so we don’t have to actually walk, more intrusion, more fragmented ecosystems, more big name brand stores so you can shop for the same shit you would buy in any suburban mall—but with a mountain in the background!

National Geographic had a lengthy look this year at how this same model operates in Yellowstone National Park. With the intent to try to infuse nature back into our lives, we impose our lives on that very nature and hope that seeing it in small glimpses out the side of a tour bus will be the placebo we need.

I will say, from personal experience, this opera glass experience is useless. If you go into the wild and don’t break a sweat, or feel lost, or get the minutest sense that all your synthesized identities are a facade of the mind, to convince itself it is something other than nature—forgetting you are nature—well, you might as well throw in an episode of Planet Earth in between binge-watching the newest season of Fuller House.

That’s my elitism about it. No Kardashians allowed, basically.

Now for a little more reason.

It is easy to forget that little over a year ago, Canadians had a very different federal government. Not only was our national leader a lot less prone to selfies, he had a fundamentally different approach to our natural resources. For the Harper regime, Parks Canada was just another department that needed to cut its budget…you know, so Harper could spend money saving Christians and advertising about how great it is.

Since 2012, Parks Canada had its budget drastically cut, seeing 600 jobs lost, winter service suspended for many locations, and a doubling of entry rates. More than $27M was cut from the 2014/2015 budget, even though Parks Canada identified a $2.8B backlog of maintenance and repair work for its buildings in “poor and very poor” condition. At the same time, Parks Canada generated $3.3B for the economy, spread across 400 communities in the country. And still, Harper let it bleed out.

Now, after all these cuts, the Trudeau government is throwing open the gates. Harper starved the beast, and now Trudeau is putting it on display in a cage.

Revenues account for ~25%  of Parks Canada’s permanent budget, with approximately half of this revenue from entry fees. This ~12.5% will need to be accounted for by the federal government, so in a way, we’re all paying anyway. But what’s worse is that the use of government funding is notoriously inefficient. Generated revenues are probably the most carefully spent 25% of the budget. Will this be the same when it’s coming from government coffers?

That doesn’t matter to Trudeau and Catherine McKenna, because they obsess that the experience isn’t accessible. How is a decimated public service going to be any more accessible to people? How is overcrowding and development of a wild area going to help that? Should this experience be easily accessible?

Liberal MP John Aldag, formerly in parks management, put it best: “[…] when you do have crowding conditions, it impacts the entire visitor experience and it can have ecological or cultural integrity impacts.” The current visitor experience manager for Banff National Park echoed these concerns.

Aldag’s solution? “In some ways, it’s managing visitor experience.”

Oh ok, great. So in order to gain an experience of our national parks and historic sites, we have to compromise that experience. That makes a lot of sense.

Overall, this minor opinion won’t change a minor policy. So I am appealing to you, dear Reader.

Sure, take advantage of whatever bonus the government is providing. They are few and far between. But don’t be an asshole about it. Go to the parks, see the sites, but leave some of your civilization at home. Park your car (if you can find parking), leave behind your entitlement for comfort and convenience, and try to immerse yourself in our natural wonder.

Value that experience that can’t be had anywhere else. You can manage your own experience, without compromise, without the government patting you on the back and saying “You’re a real Canadian now!” Make this more than a reprise of a Black Friday sale.

 

Think radicals like me shouldn’t have so much to say about Parks Canada? Then get in on this federal consultation on the Parks Canada Agency Act, because you’re fucking right that I’m bringing my opinion: http://www.letstalkparkscanada.ca/