All posts by jackcaseros

Keys, Shellfish, and Vikings (A Newfoundland Travelogue)

There was a blur preceding the steering wheel. I had been awake nearly thirty hours, with a toddler no less, and I was in and out of airport terminals and darkened airplane cabins from Alberta’s sunset to Newfoundland’s sunrise.

There isn’t a chance for me to do anything more than just sit in an airplane seat as restfully as my poor posture will allow. I obsess about design changes that could actually help me sleep. But I am in the wrong trade for having any influence on in-flight comfort—and I would probably involve a lot more hammock technology than airplane safety rules would allow.

My echo chamber flight was worsened by the fact that I dreaded our landing. Somewhere between securing my luggage at the drop-off and sitting down in my seat, I had lost the key to the luggage. We would land to about two-thirds of our luggage, held hostage by my idiocy (and the key, which probably fell out of my pocket when I dangled in the playground to amuse my child in the Edmonton airport.

Of course, that meant as soon as we landed, I got to get smashy. The regional airport we landed in, Deer Lake, was meant to get us as close to the kick-off of the itinerary I had planned. There are many benefits to flying into regional airports…their selection of TSA master keys, the codes for which are clearly marked on most commercial luggage locks, are not one of those benefits.

The key that best fit our suitcase was a flat-headed screwdriver.

2017-07-10 - Intro Pic Optional
Smashing it against an iceberg would have also worked.

I had five hours to forget about the luggage that gaped open in the backseat of our rented minivan (I know: minivans are awful, and awfully practical). Despite my the thirty hour blur that preceded that steering wheel, the next few hours allowed the road to hypnotize me, as it’s done countless times—I was able to lock in, and read the landscape, and not make a chore out of driving but ribbon myself into the route like the gulls threaded in and out of the sea.

The road can do this to me—and Sadhguru put it better in a video published after I returned…I poorly paraphrase his words as my own: essentially, I didn’t need to possess anything to make it mine. (The possessive at the end sounds malicious, but in context, making it mine means capturing it within the boundary of what I consider myself—i.e. oneness. I think I’ve over-explained it now).

The cautious guest

who comes to the table

speaks sparingly.

Listens with ears

learns with eyes.

Such is the seeker of knowledge.

            – Havamal

It took a mere four hours to time travel from bustling industrial Newfoundland, to days-gone-by-b’y coastal coves, to the tundra-esque north where my wife swore she saw an albino moose until we reached service and could definitively say we saw a caribou—then finally to Vinland, on the Northern Peninsula’s tip nub (that’s a geological term, I think).

2017-07-10 - Caribou
Caribou on the Northern Peninsula (Newfoundland, Canada).

That tip nub was long home to the ancestors of the people we now call First Nations. For a brief time, it fooled the Vikings into thinking it was a promised land, all to themselves. For a while after that, the English and French argued in Versailles over it. Now, it’s hard to say who lives there, because the sea ice was thick and within a week of me standing on an ice floe off the Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve the Canadian government would announce $5M in support for fisherpeople and other seafolks who were held up or even trapped by atypical ice conditions.

The newcomer

needs fire

his knees are numb.

A man who has made

his way over mountains

needs food and fresh linens.

            – Havamal

The few people I did encounter were the nicest people I could have encountered after too many hours awake and too many kilometers and a hankering for the slimmest chance to lay horizontally and forget about everything. When we reached our cabin in Raleigh, Nanny & Poppy Hedderson were ready to offer us the comforts of home.

Between the drizzling day, the freezing wind that never fucking stopped, and my third or fourth wind that was threatening to stop at any point, I was just giddy to be able to parade on the roads of Raleigh and fall down if I so pleased, without driving my family into a rocky ditch.

So of course, I didn’t even hesitate when Poppy told me that the LIVE LOBSTER sign out front wasn’t even LIVE so much as it was STRAIGHT FROM THE OCEAN, which wasn’t so passive as it sounded. Poppy drove us out to the dock with a Dutch couple so that we could harvest our very own lobster.

2017-07-10 - Lobster Cages
“Would you care to sit in my parlour?”  – My Dinner Lobster

The tourist theatrics were so regular for Poppy that my ego wasn’t stroked when he asked me to help him haul the lobster cage out of the water. But it was hella fun. After the cage was opened, we fished through for the right lobster for each person, like we were fishing Valentine heart candies out of a bowl.

The lobster went straight from the ocean to a pot, and eventually to my plate with the oft-encountered pairing of garlic bread and Caesar salad. A little cod tongue to start, and some Iceberg beer to wash it down, and this is a recipe for making one sleep-deprived dude enter a semi-conscious state.

When I came to the next morning, we ate oatmeal and oranges and tea with a little cannabis honey before heading out to the Viking encampment beside a black beach. More formally, the camp is a National Historic Site. It was just above freezing, with ice stretching out to the horizon. It was surprisingly busy, but then again, national park sites like L’Anse-Aux-Meadows were free for Canadians to celebrate the sesquicentennial [Note: There were more international tourists than Canadians].

2017-07-10 - LAAM and Bay
The bay which the Viking settlement overlooked at L’Anse-Aux-Meadows (Newfoundland, Canada)

On a given June day around 1000 CE, there were alien settlers on those shores. They built angular buildings with vented roofs and forged bog iron. Although tundra now, there’s understood to have been a historically warmer climate, so Leif Erikson and his crew would have found a peninsula rich with timber.

2017-07-10 - Tundra at LAAM
A cozy tundra stroll to the seaside settlement, L’Anse-Aux-Meadows (Newfoundland, Canada)

They had already found an endless stretch of precious wood further north, and an endless beach which would later appear in Norse epics. These were men from societies who were spiralling into what we might call intellect—budding into pursuits like cartography, astronomy, literature, architecture, and metallurgy.

None of this was necessary for survival, which was proven by the people the Vikings encountered when they made the first European contact with North America. From Viking sagas we know that there were Native people who visited the Norse Vinland encampment. Trade ensued, although Leif refused to trade their weapons.

When passing

a door-post,

watch as you walk on,

inspect as you enter.

It is uncertain

where enemies lurk

or crouch in a dark corner.

            – Havamal

This is obviously where some sort of rift ensued—or at least, that was what the dramatic video at the National Historic Site insinuated. It’s not understood exactly why the Vikings built buildings, had a couple smelts (100-200 boat nails?), stayed for less than a decade, then burnt it all down and sailed into the sunrise.

My guess is that people lie. Leif had an accident in the rough waters off the North Atlantic and had to post up for a bit to make some nails and rebuild his boat. But the place was bountiful and they had enough grapes to make a lot of wine.

You have a friend

you hardly trust

in whom you cannot confide,

with fair smiles

and false words

repay cunning in kind.

            – Havamal

But then again, there were already people here. It was the same problem Christopher Columbus would face. Except he came from a more brutal time and a more brutal place. In the fifteenth century Christianity was reaching its most logical conclusion, the Inquisition, and it probably didn’t seem odd to anyone that there were some things that looked like people but were clearly beasts or demons and could be done away with or used to expand the empire.

Be your friend’s

true friend.

Return gift for gift.

Repay laughter

with laughter again

but betrayal with treachery.

            – Havamal

It is odd that the Vikings, otherwise known for slaughters and looting, bowed out from Vinland. The people of Christ who came later did not seem to have the same restraint. [I later learned that the Saga of Erik the Red describes Leif Erikson’s Vinland discovery as an accident while en route to introduce Christianity to Greenland.]

I never cared for the Viking stereotype, because like Mongolians or Berbers there are always exaggerations, no different than more recognizable stigmatization following more modern wars. The tales from the time do tell about violent clashes between the Kavdlunait (Inuit word for foreigner) and the Skraelings (Norse word for savage). Recognizing that a stable community cannot be built while under constant attack, the sagas tell us the Norse simply left.

The Vikings may have had some direction from their Norse philosophers—maybe even Odin himself, contrary to Leif’s new found messiah…or just good common sense, like the complimentary proverbs on respectively cultivating and preserving a friendship:

A true friend

whom you trust well

and wish for his good will:

go to him often

exchange gifts

and keep him company.

            – Havamal

 

Go you must.

No guest shall stay

in one place forever.

Love will be lost

if you sit too long

at a friend’s fire.

            – Havamal

It was warm inside the re-created halls that Leif and crew burned to the ground a thousand years ago. The site itself is on the tippliest nub of the tip nub—the very northern edge of Newfoundland. The wind carried the cold of the sea ice, and five-foot deep snowpack remained as a reminder of winter. It was near freezing outside, but within the six-foot thick sod walls, we were welcomed and warmed.

2017-07-10- Viking Horn
Sounding in the fog at L’Anse-Aux-Meadows (Newfoundland, Canada)

Because admission was free and I have made a point of proselytizing why that’s stupid, I wanted to make a point to pay my way and ensure a place like this doesn’t become a red line item in the budget that might as well be cut. Politicians use these sites the way they use anything else in their self-proclaimed jurisdiction. The Norse would have used Leif’s leap of faith to Vinland as a testament to their courage and knowledge of the world—the Trudeau government is using L’Anse-Aux-Meadows National Historic Site as a golden carrot. In two more years, six more years, ten more years (or however the election cycle shifts)…who knows where this tip nub falls.

Anyway, that’s all to say that I bought some shit. And I came away with a treasure: the Havamal, or The Words of the High One (the book itself was titled The Sayings of the Vikings).

If you are a collector of sacred books, or of written wisdom, or of eclectic ancient poetry, this may be the book you are missing. I hadn’t heard of the Havamal, but it has the reputation of being a northern compliment to the Tao Te Ching or the Vedas—so much so that it’s considered the ‘Wisdom of the North’.

That titled could be respectfully matched by the wisdom of the Dene, Inuit, or Sami. I wished I could have found more about the deeper history of the island’s first peoples, but it was sparse and usually more about conflict following contact rather than the ongoing lives of everyday people.

2017-07-10 - Tablelands Inukshuk
An inukshuk in the Tablelands, probably left unceremoniously by tourists for a selfie (Newfoundland, Canada)

The Vikings made a point to be remembered. I guess that’s why they burned shit down. You know, for posterity.

There is something in the Havamal that goes beyond ethnicity—the blunt, pragmatic proverbs speak to a philosophy coloured by self-reliance, exploration, and presence. It is a philosophy that I may as well have heard from a rig hand in some remote northern camp. The Icelandic literary critic Matthias Vidar Saemundsson summarizes it better than I can:

“The ethics of the Havamal are above all rooted in belief in the value of the individual, who is nonetheless not alone in the world but tied by inextricable bonds to nature and society; to adherents of such a philosophy, the cycle of life was single and indivisible, the living world in all its manifestations formed a harmonious whole. Infringement upon nature struck at the root of a man’s own existence. In the old philosophy of the North, each individual was responsible for his own life, shaped his own fortune or misfortune, and created a life for himself from his own resources.”

This is not to say that Vikings were self-sustaining saints. They were brutal in their expansion efforts and enslaved people and generally made use of Europe’s most outstanding gift to humanity, their institutional inability to give a fuck, as long as they were getting what they felt entitled to. But the weather is brutal too. At these northern climates, it’s a challenge for naked apes. We all bow to the wind.

As I continued exploring Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula, I was reminded of the philosophy of the North that Saemundsson refers to. I’ve seen it across Canada…progressively more pronounced as you get away from the southern centres that measure their success by looking further southward.

2017-07-10 - Dock at Raleigh
Old fishing dock in Raleigh (Newfoundland, Canada)

Nanny & Poppy Hedderson knew that philosophy without ever having to crack open a book. It’s writ in the way the wind cuts through you. Or in the way that no one hears you scream out at sea. Or in the way that snow doesn’t care what you consider driveway or ditch. Or the way a stomach growls if the roads are closed and the grocery truck can’t visit your hamlet.

I am no Viking. I am native to nowhere. I can’t smelt bog iron and I can’t skin a caribou with nothing more than a sliver of rock. We are in a blessed time when so many of our survival needs are taken care of. We live in comfort, and as a result, we have time to quibble about identity politics. Which is fine on certain levels—however, the North reminds me that identity in itself is useless. You have to simply be capable and present. Anything else is a luxury.

The only luxury item I had was the broken suitcase in the van’s back seat. Not even realizing it until later, we approached this minor setback with the same fundamental approach used to get on when life was hard by the Natives, and the Vikings, and seemingly everyone before the most recent generations.

Back in Deer Lake the night before our flight, I made a trip to a hardware store to buy nylon rope and Gorilla tape. Like the Viking smelter who sat over the bog fire in Vinland, I sweated over my suitcase, reviewing my bondage knots and generously applying the tape like a cast.

2017-07-10 - Luggage Conclusion
The note read, “The clasps on this suitcase are BROKEN. If you need to open for security purposes, *please* secure it closed again.”

It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. At the luggage carousel upon our return, as others impatiently huffed and begrudgingly hoisted their luggage off the conveyor, I jumped in joy that my suitcase emerged in one piece. It was the smallest, most privileged victory for self-reliance. No one else cared.

He is truly wise

who’s travelled far

and knows the ways of the world.

He who has travelled

can tell what spirit

governs the man he meets.

            – Havamal

I Only Looked (James Bay, Victoria, B.C.)

There’s a house

that calls itself Superior

somewhere near Menzies Street—

 

It’s setback from the road,

a cold huff stuck in its lungs and

vines gnarled up the cedars that guard its Western false front—

 

Overgrown with weeds, maybe

a missed paint job or two (goddamn sea breeze),

it looked to me like the house from Jumanji—

 

They leave

the door

wide                              open

like an invite

but unspoken

 

And the soft steps

that I took

brought me                                      closer

but after all

I only looked

 

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.