I found it half-hidden in the seam of a decorative pillar.
A standard white 8.5″ x 11″, filled with printed text on one-side. The font is size 11 Calibri, Microsoft Word’s most recent default. The first thing I can tell is that someone opened the program and started typing before firing it off to the printer. This was a passion plea.
Olympic Plaza is Calgary’s inner-city monument to the 1988 winter games. It’s now well-lit, to keep away the junkies who found the grass and water fountain soothing. They go nine blocks west now, to Century Gardens. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter what the police do to them–their own dealers are serving up fentanyl/carfentanil-laced powders. That’s a different story than now. Or maybe not. I can’t really say, I guess.
There were two police vans parked on an open pedestrian cobblestone path. One van passed me slowly as I approached. I didn’t think anything of it.
I made a roundabout around the fountains, where a man asked me for a cigertte, then hounded me when I refused. He even dropped the hockey bag he was carrying and stomped towards me from behind. That might have been bravery, but I saw how shallow it was when I spun around and stomped toward shim one step. Mahatma Gandhi could beat me in a boxing match, but I know that most people are scared shitless when you call them on their bullshit.
After that mess, I stopped at the commemorative larger-than-life sculptures of Canada’s Famous Five–suffragists who helped Canada realize that woman were in fact persons in 1919.
I was even reading each of the pillars. The French side first, for practice.
At the third pillar from the left, I saw the thin hint of a paper.
I’m a writer. I check out edges of pages like frat boys lose themselves in cleavage. When I saw the full block of text I felt a flutter in my chest.
My first guess was that it was one of those Artificial Intelligence experiments. You know, random computer-generated words strung together through iterative algorithms. Some kid thought it would be brilliant if some unknowing idiot picked it up.
I read the first line. Then I remembered the police vans. I stashed the letter in my coat pocket and started for my hotel room.
Before I even undressed, I pulled up a chair under a lamp, rested my elbows on my knees, and read everything through before moving:
[Verbatim & sic. Some private contact information has been obfuscated with Xs.]
Sep17th2017.Csis in Calgary are hounding me24-7,Zerzetsen,Zersetsung,Gang stalking/mi6 and csis stops my mail calls emails to my family in Plymouth England since I was deported to Canada by mi6 in 2002/Auntie Pamela X Abbotsbury way lowerham Plymouth Devon pl22hs. Tel XXX5X-5XX5XX/csis had Richard Kovac try to frame me up ask lee walklin about the hand guns ,csis blackmailed kovac to do this as he had sunk his boat in Vancouver Bc for the insurance, lees a witness-X Patna place north road west Plymouth Devon pl15ay uk-telXXXX-66X6XX,lee was fooled by kovac/csis try to break your will so you comply to them as a slave would to his master pure torture (Sound device) covertly done and hard to prove but not the hand guns, Brain numb, poor vision, slurred speech,headaches,teeth,penis,lungs hard to breath,ears,skin,feet,joints,eyes,Ass,hard too walk,spine lower back all painful, sleep deprivation for years here in the (TRUE NORTH).People who know what csis is doing help csis cover this up-David Eby was Bc civil liberties shouted at me while I had no sleep for days at his office and refused to help me which is my right as a Canadian citizen, he is a MLA now in Vancouver ask him 6XX-66XXXXX/Gail Davidson Human rights lawyer lied to me on her doorstep for csis, she told me she only helped People in war she works for lawyers watch ask her XXX-XXX-XXXX,just before I talked with her 2 female Agents walked past me and said hello to me one was British/Don Wright of Amnesty international lied to me ,he told me he had phoned my Auntie Pamela McCormac and spoke with her which is Bullshit when I returned to talk with him at his new office he told me he would get the police on to me if I returned, he knows that I know he lied to me for csis/ Wally oppal helped csis, wally told me that he had not got a note from me that I had handed him at a bookstore in Vancouver so I gave him another note and csis were standing right beside him snarling at me ,again I had no sleep for days, ask him TEL 6XX-6XX-6XXX – XXXXXXXX@XXXXXXXXLAW.COM I ALSO WENT TO HIS OFFICE/Kent hehr MP lied to me and put on a good act for csis and told me he was sorry which he will be when this goes to court, he has 4 notes that I handed him in persion-4XX-X44-XXXX/Joan crockat MP lie to me at her office on 17th Ave Calgary, she told me csis had more important things to do then hound me and did nothing/Mayor of Calgary Naheed Nanshi has a Note that I handed him in person at the library Ask Naheed -XXX-XXX-XXXX- if he can help me or csis .office of Mayor City of Calgary PO Box 2100 station M Calgary,AB T2P2M5/Csis had RCMP in Vancouver coerced me sign blank forms for a mock crime while I had no sleep for days and had me go to the police station for finger printing yet I was witness ?(2018- Bent Female cop)more Bent csis cops 5329-2511-who have used their power for csis/RCMP here in Calgary have helped csis they covered their numbers they would wake me up 2 AM when I lived outside in the snow and say hello Sammy are you cold or Turn on their lamp into my eyes or tell me to get going/Peoples commission network–csis watch–know about csis but not me Emails stopped and mail/Csis had Retard agent offer me $200-000 Bucks to work for them and a house and even a girlfriend, I told the Dumbass to stick it where the sun never shines/At first csis befriends you then they frame you up to blackmail you to be a (human labrat)/I have come across others like me one in a food line years ago in Vancouver he did not know his mates were csis till I told him so which pissed csis off, more torture (SOUND LOW FREQUENCY)/BRAIN LOCKS ON/Agent bumps into me for a week to piss me off then just walks past me the next day hoping i will attack, there is a camera above my head recording if I do the police have Evidence/Agent dressed like me in every way walks about shouting at people on the street, police are called they stop me/Remanded for attacking Agent who I never attacked, KIM ROSS my so called lawyer said he would not talk about my penis in court nor did he talk about csis either case thrown out Agent did not turn up at court ask Kim XXX-XXXXXXX,he talked to csis/ please contact Journalist to go to address( NOT YOUR OWN COMPUTER OK –TRACE )csis will not let me leave Canada to go home I stay at the DI staff helps csis, Agents live at DI.ME SAMMYMCLOUGHLIN,SINS–NE505944B-725514236.thank you. Stops me working, no welfare.
When I was finished, the phone in the hotel room rang. I didn’t answer it. I copied the letter before tearing it into tiny pieces and tossing it out the suicide-proof window. The pieces fluttered down like confetti onto the rail tracks the downtown hotel backed onto.
The phone rang again. I waited until it was clear it wasn’t an accident. Then I answered it.
“Your pizza is in the lobby.”
It occurred to me that I had gone for the walk to wait out the forty-five minute pizza delivery. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I told the front desk I would be down shortly.
I put on my sweater, coat & toque before I left the room. The delivery guy met me in the lobby, and didn’t know what to do when I followed him out.
From the hotel, it was only a couple blocks back to Olympic Plaza. I roamed around with my pizza. After long enough that I could feel the warmth from the box fading, I found a group of men with long beards. They had big backpacks and carried bags of empties. They were settling down for a smoke in the shadows beyond the well-lit fountain.
With pizza box under my arm, I strolled up to them–straight-on and with a smile–and when they saw me I held out the pizza and asked if they were hungry.
Of course they were, they told me. I sat down and cracked open the box.
“Alright…” I said as they rested back on their elbows eating folded slices of pizza. “Tell me, what do you guys know about Sammy McCloughlin?”
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.
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
Listens with ears
learns with eyes.
Such is the seeker of knowledge.
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).
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.
his knees are numb.
A man who has made
his way over mountains
needs food and fresh linens.
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.
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].
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.
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.
watch as you walk on,
inspect as you enter.
It is uncertain
where enemies lurk
or crouch in a dark corner.
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.
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
Return gift for gift.
with laughter again
but betrayal with treachery.
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
and keep him company.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
It isn’t legalization in its idealist sense, but it is workable…although equally vague and questionable. But regulatory changes happen slowly—unless 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.
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 impaired—but 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 legit—even 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 populace—and 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 justice—those 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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/
Oh boy. I am so psyched right now. I want to share my excitement with you.
Someday, maybe a couple decades out, I will beckon to the call of public life, and may run as a politician (…you know, once my syphilis kicks in, my brain lesions, and I start to lose my mind). It is a noble job, and as participants in a democracy, we all owe each other the thankless job of helping to keep our public systems functioning.
But that job may already be out of my reach. It’s not that in my current perspective politicians appear to be the most disingenuous variety of people on the planet, and I want nothing to do with their circus right now. Nope. It’s because, like millions of Millenials, and the forthcoming millions of post-Millenials, I have an internet history.
Not my browser history, which is kept clean like a serial killer’s murder scene would be. I mean a social media history, that thread of unreal reality which increasingly captures so much of our lives.
The story has already played out—a young political candidate starts making waves because of a historic social media message, and then has to apologize profusely, like they never meant to say it or didn’t know better. In Canada, we have had it happen at least twice in recent elections. Most recently it has involved Ala Buzreba, a candidate in Calgary.
Is what she posted offensive? Mildly to some, severely to others. That is not something I care to debate—the subjectivity of morality is too often overlooked, and for the sake of mainstream political correctness, it is easier just to concede with the whiniest.
What I find most absurd of Buzreba’s ordeal, and many similar ones, is the expectation that is insinuated whenever there is “public outrage” about a political figure’s past. It is absurd to expect our public representatives to be squeaky-clean automatons that say all the right things and have always said all the right things.
It begs the question—is that person even human? Is that person even ready to represent a nebulous, heterogeneous population? Can we really expect a plain white square of tile to represent the multi-coloured, fragmented mosaic that so proudly symbolizes Canada?
While I was thinking about this, I started thinking about my caving experience. It is not extensive. I have been inside one limestone cave in the Rockies one time. I spent a couple hours within, with a guide. I dressed the part, did the deed, and although I will not call myself a cave-diver, I have topically observed it.
So am I ready to lead you on a caving expedition? Would you trust me to safely guide you through each squeeze, around every drop, and to the coolest depths carved by unpredictable natural forces?
You would be a risk-taking adrenalin junkie to agree to that. Caving is dangerous. The people who do it well have hundreds of hours of experience, and have taken huge risks themselves. There are pioneers of various cave systems around the world, who push to the furthest reaches of unexplored caves, know them intimately, and know where the average person without training or experience can go.
The guides I had while caving were experienced like that. My direct guide was from Kentucky, and had risked broken bones and suffocation to understand the threshold between safe and dangerous, sanity and insanity, naivety and caution.
In a similar way, can we really trust a public representative who has not explored humanity’s liminal experiences?
The mainstream says yes.
I say, fuck that.
Humans learn via play. A lot of the time, that includes experimenting. You know, throw a towel around your neck and be a superhero, or set some blocks up then smash them down.
But wait—Jesus, does that child expect to be a politician some day? Did you see the way he knocked down those building blocks?? And that gaudy superhero voice he was using, didn’t it sound a bit like he was making fun of [insert your ethnicity here]? And the way he yelled to his sister that he was going to save her, like the misogynist mansplainer he is and will forever be??
That is an obviously absurd example. To me, it is just as absurd to look back to a teenager’s messages on message boards, news sites, or social media sites. Sometimes, a kid has to say ‘screw the Jews’ to really understand that they do not feel that way at all. And sometimes, a kid will use a commonly-used cliché, however brash, to get their point across (e.g. “Your mother should have used a coat hanger”).
We expect less from saints—I mean, how many pages of the Christian Bible is taken up by archaic blog posts of a guy who tortured and killed Christians? [That’s the Pauline epistles, for those unfamiliar with Christianity.]
We are electing most politicians to create and review legislation. It is mind-boggling boring shit most of the time. A lot of the fun stuff comes in the interpretation, which technically should not be the job of a legislator. That is the job of the regulatory bodies and the courts, which are not elected in Canada.
How a law can be interpreted is part of the review process, and that is one of the reasons why a legislator needs to have the wildest mind—to anticipate how things can go awry. Consider why Dexter was so good at evading detection…and alternately, why Dexter was so good at blood splatter analysis. The cliché says something like ‘the best policemen were the best criminals’ (Frank Abagnale is a great example).
A poet needs access to as many words as possible to do their job well. Even the ones that make your grandmother’s lungs crackle when she gasps. A politician needs access to as many experiences as possible to do their job well. How can any understanding be formed when an experience is completely foreign to a politician? It takes a politician born out of our weird white-bread expectations to create a law like NO ABORTIONS PERIOD. It takes a more experienced, multi-grain-bread kind of politician that understands the complexities and says, well, it’s not as simple as that…
I guess I am disarming, because I hear all kinds of people say all kinds of shit I am sure they wouldn’t want on ‘public record’. Even sitting politicians. You also probably know one person in a profession that has these upright expectations of personal conduct, who has a really harsh racist joke or eye-fucks waitresses or maybe lost their temper in their adolescence and said something they didn’t really mean.
Again, another question is begged: does it matter if it’s public or if it’s in private? Would Buzreba really be that much different of a person if, instead of typing the words into social media, she said them to her friend who was sitting beside her?
As more of our communication becomes digitized and trackable, that is a question that will become more important to debate.
Anyway, for Ala Buzreba, she has already crumbled to the outrage. It is unfortunate, because she had already become so endeared to me…regardless of my thoughts on her party’s platform. Imagine that, a politician who is actually similar to me and the people I know. What a fucking novelty.
Whether you like my thoughts on the matter or not, you will have to hear a lot more about it than what I am quickly typing down right now. Eventually, there will be a time when every single candidate will have been a teenager during the social media era (plus whatever comes next). Great! Another distraction from the actual issues—maybe future debates will be simply quoting re-tweets and tallying the number of views on questionable YouTube videos.
It will take a candidate who owns their past, understands and defends it as a youthful learning, and moves forward (not drop out or bend to false outrage), that will break the static mannequin image of a politician we currently have.
So that is why I am excited. Because maybe that candidate will be me—it will have to be one of us, sooner or later. And I am saving some detractor hours of work digging through my past with this one blog post. Please thank me when you begin your line of questioning or write that editorial.