April 21, 2013

Every Day can be Earth Day with Children

I read in a local newspaper article this week that in order to care about the environment we at first have to learn to love it. The article also claimed that we are raising children with 'Nature Deficit Disorder'. Far too many children are not spending enough time climbing trees, smelling flowers, hiking up hills, picking berries and identifying plants and birds, and when they are brought up only to connect with things that entertain them like television and video games, they are disconnected with the 'hand that feeds them', meaning the earth.

Here in Canada we have a great tradition of camping out of doors as families, and of sending our children to summer camps. I spent two wonderful childhood summers attending a week-long Anglican summer camp with a friend. We learned to steer a canoe, make sand candles with recycled crayons, pound the picnic tables for food while singing Johnny Appleseed, use a map and compass, make a campfire and sing funny songs around it, and pray to God the creator on the top of a high bluff overlooking beautiful Garland Bay on the east shore of Kootenay Lake. My parents also took me on many an outdoor adventure in the mountainous, lake and river- filled place in which I grew up. By climbing mountains to pick wild huckleberries,  swimming in the lakes and streams, and even walking the back alleys with my mother to peer at our neighbours' gardens and listen to her identify flowers and vegetable varieties, I learned to love the environment like I loved anything else good in the world. If I read in my OWL Magazine, a Canadian magazine for young naturalists, that discarded chewing gum might kill a bird which tried to eat it, I would be extra careful to wrap mine in its wrapper and put it in my pocket until I could find a trash can. 'All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wide and wonderful, the Lord God made them all,' was how I was raised to think about the environment, and I think, perhaps, we need to remember to give our children this same idea, if not in the same words, at least with the same approach. We need to develop a conscience and care in our children to consider each of their actions and how they affect the environment, and through the environment, their fellow, and future, citizens of planet earth.

Some dreamers talk of humans being able to live on Mars eventually. I have absolutely no interest in living on another planet. I really, really like this one. Words can not possibly do its beauty justice, especially at this time of year, with its blossoms and newly green trees, billowing clouds in the bright blue sky (when it has stopped raining, that is), and I cannot understand why anyone would want to desecrate it with garbage, toxins and other destructive ugliness. But, as I run the roads around my town, especially up the highway to the bridge which passes over the train tracks, I see a lot of garbage in the ditches. A lot of garbage. Everything from diapers to pillows, jackets, odd shoes, rubber car mats, coffee cups, liquor bottles, beer cans, fast food packaging, and sometimes even children's toys end up in the ditch. I imagine all the drivers who have thrown these things out of their windows so they wouldn't have to carry them to the nearest garbage can or dump, and I feel sorry for their lack of conscience and care. Granted, some of the stuff could have simply flown out of the back of some unsuspecting driver's truck, but surely not all of it?

This dumping of garbage in the ditches and rivers might seem minor compared to oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico or carcinogenic toxins spewed into the air by chemical plants, but it does point to a lack of consideration for this planet and its people, and if we care to change the mindset of those who believe the earth is their garbage can, we need to start with the little things, not to mention the little people in order to make a difference. Everyone focuses on the need to look after the world for the sake of the children we will leave it to. Few mention the fact that our saving the planet will matter little if our children are not taught to keep on saving it. A previous neighbour of mine refused to recycle her cardboard, cans and bottles. "I can't be bothered," she would say. With all the information out there about landfills and toxins and the island of plastic in the ocean, and she could not be 'bothered'? She was a very nice woman, but I just could not understand her reluctance to take responsibility for her family's garbage. She was young, healthy, able-bodied, and owned a van. She even had a garage to store the recycling in until she had time and the inclination to take the stuff down the road to the recycling depot. She could have made recycling a family affair and have the kids help sort, and they would have learned something valuable in the process.

We are going to leave this world to our children, so we had better start giving them the idea that respect for the earth and its inhabitants starts with us, and it starts with them. We don't need to cajole or lecture or fill their heads with a lot of gloomy statistics, we simply need to take them outside and share the joy of nature with them. Outdoor experiences are free of charge for the most part. Especially in this part of the world, all we have to do is unplug and then open the door to the wonder of the world outside. And outdoor experiences can make a huge difference to children's lives. Once a child has been camping or has learned a skill such as building a campfire or reading a map and compass they become aware of their own abilities and gain confidence in themselves. And if camping is not an option, then a trip to the lake shore or a walk to a park that has unpaved trails and plenty of interesting plants and trees can also awaken the senses to the calming effect of nature and a desire to experience it more often and in a respectful manner. Children are natural sponges of information and sensory experiences; let's make sure that what they are absorbing is worthy of them and their future.

The photo above is a personal favourite. It was taken at Botanical Beach on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, and is of my husband and daughter examining a tidal pool. My husband, a city boy who grew up in Calgary, started his lifelong love of the outdoors during his family's annual two-week camping trips to Wasa Lake when all meals were cooked over the fire and entire days lived in the freedom of the outdoors. He spent a good part of his adult career working with kids and using an excellent book called Sharing Nature With Children by Joseph Cornell.

I am working at the annual Tulip Festival these days, and it is heartening to see so many families coming out, even in the rain, to enjoy the flowers and play in the mud. One little girl came up to me, her boots caked in mud, and very proudly showed me her feet. Her face shone with delight as she said, 'You have some great mud here!'

April 12, 2013

Why I Keep on Writing

Once every fifth post or so, I feel encouraged about my progress as a writer. I see the development in my ability to express my feelings in words and in keeping to a train of thought. I sense something new and improved in my post as a whole and am happy and satisfied for a time.

And then I read a book by a writer who blows my socks off with their insight, their incredibly knowing way of describing human emotion and motivation, and I begin to think, "Why bother writing when it has already been done this well?" I have been reading one of those 'Collected Works', an awkwardly heavy hard-cover tome containing seven novels by D.H. Lawrence. He, of course, is one of the most gifted writers of the twentieth century, and one of the most famous. Lawrence writes with a clarity, originality and depth that is astonishing to me. I find myself reading a passage and thinking, "How on earth does he do that?" and then wonder if I could manage anything in that league - ever.

I remember when I was in my late teens and my English Literature teacher told me I was a good writer. He was the first to say that to me of any of my teachers and my parents were beginning to encourage me in writing as well. I found out that the best way to learn about writing was to read well, so I started reading all kinds of classic literature and I became a little overwhelmed by the skill with which these masters framed and filled in their stories. When I expressed frustration with my own fledgling efforts, especially in comparison with the sheer craftsmanship of the novels I was gobbling up by the dozen, my mother said something very simple, yet wise, which has stuck with me always: "They do what they do, and you do what you do." Comparisons were futile and unproductive when it came to any of the arts.

I remembered my mother's words the other day when I was reading and exclaiming over D.H. Lawrence's awe-inspiring prose, and I found myself thinking about writing in a whole new way. Stopping writing just because I could not write as well as the authors I so admire was like stopping running just because I am not a 90 pound Kenyan finishing marathons in just over two hours. Or stopping cooking just because I don't have my own cooking show and a ten-book contract like Jamie Oliver or one of those types. I love to run, I love to cook and bake, and I love to write, so I do, but I will strive to improve always. I will challenge myself with long distances when my body says yes, I will continue to seek out new recipes and techniques for the pleasure and satisfaction I get out of tasting and sharing something nourishing and delicious, and I will write, write, write because not to do so creates an emotional and creative dam in me that just begs to be cleared so the thoughts and words can flow how they will. I will do what makes me happy and fulfilled, healthy in mind and body, and although for many that seems obviously the way to think about life, it has been a long journey for me to separate what and how I do things from what and how others do things.

A couple of weeks ago, I wondered if I should carry on with this blog, but after the thought processes that have come about while reading an author who inspires me, I know that for now, I must. Not in order to be a 'great' writer, but to become a better one, which is all I can continue to hope for, whether five or 500 people read my ramblings.

Thank you for reading.

April 5, 2013

Road Rage in the Alleyway

I am sometimes, okay, fairly regularly, proven wrong, especially when I make a blanket statement, a generality. The other day I was going about my business, doing my errands, and chatting with an acquaintance at her bakery. We were talking about our little town and I heard myself saying, "What I like about this town is that it is refreshingly devoid of drama." Those, my friends, were to be what Shakespeare, or somebody, called 'famous last words'.

As I left the bakery, order in hand, making my way to the after-school program I run at the church, I decided to take the little shortcut through the drive of the ambulance service building. As I turned the corner, I became witness to an episode of full-blown road rage. Two men, one in his car, the other just out of his, were shouting at each other - apparently one had tail-gated the other the full twenty minutes' drive from the city. I am not sure who initiated the shouting match, but both men were of good size and well able to cause injury to the other if the argument escalated to a physical exchange. I kept walking, wanting to be out of the way, but after about fifty yards, I turned back because the shouting had become louder and more violent and both men were now out of their cars. I saw one of them throw down his jacket like a hockey player throws down his gloves before a fight. They started posturing and circling like inexperienced boxers in a ring - or gorillas fighting over a banana - and it looked ridiculous. Suddenly, I felt a surge of indignation, and I shouted at them, "Hey! Do you want me to call the police?" One of them shouted back at me, "Yes! Go ahead and call the cops. Then I can tell them how this guy drove five feet behind my bumper all the way from (the city)!" More 'F' words from the other guy, and they were back at it, but somehow hesitating a little to start throwing punches. An older man from across the street began to walk slowly and cautiously toward the pair, and I decided to carry on to the church so I wouldn't be late for the kids who would be arriving soon. I yelled at the pair to 'for crying out loud grow up' and left. I don't think they heard me, and I didn't end up calling the police.

Maybe because I've been watching too many episodes of the BBC's Robin Hood with my girls - we've been saying to each other lately, "Where's Robin when you need him?" in certain situations - but I wished I'd had the time to go back to the scene and intervene. I knew one of the men by sight, knew who his wife and children are, too. I felt like asking him, "Is this the kind of example you want to give your family? Do you want them to hear you calling another man a 'faggot'? Do you want them to see you exercise your stupid pride, rather than just apologize to this man for riding his bumper so closely, which by law puts you in the wrong, and then leave in peace?" And I wanted to tell the other man to walk away, that fighting would get him nowhere. But, I had somewhere to be. I hope that older man was able to calm the pair down and talk some sense into them, especially because both of them were old enough to know better. I hope, above all, that he wasn't hurt. That none of them were.

The road rage scenario got me thinking on a number of levels. When we are in a car, we are in a safe bubble of anonymity in many ways, and the other person is just a stranger who, perhaps, drives more slowly than we'd like. We believe we have the right to treat that person solely as the operator of the vehicle, not as another human being, so we feel quite free to swear at them, hurl abuse if we see fit, and speed past with a honk and a raised middle finger at the first opportunity. I've seen it so many times; people who would behave somewhat politely to another stranger in person, behave like a complete ass just because they are in a vehicle. That has happened to me before, when I wasn't driving as quickly as the woman in the vehicle behind me would like, so she floored the gas at the first opportunity and screamed at me as she drove past.  She was still only a car ahead of me at the red light, seconds later, so what did her rage really get her?  I still remember her face as she stuck it out her window to scream at me, and I remember thinking that it takes an awful lot of energy to get that angry.

Why do some people need to scream at others when they are slightly inconvenienced? And why do some people, particularly men, feel that fighting with fists is the only way to make a point? Why do they not back down when they know they are in the wrong, and if they are on the receiving end of that wrong-doing, do they not just walk away? Tailgating is not exactly a cause for World War III. I am pretty sure Robin Hood wouldn't bother raising an arrow to another man just because he drove his horse-drawn cart too slowly in front of him. If that driver was endangering the lives of others by mowing them down in the road and stealing their hard-earned gold, however, that would be a different story, of course.

From what I have seen, most episodes of road rage are a lot of drama over something quite trivial - just people looking for a fight, really. Sometimes I think the world needs to go for a long hike followed by a collective yoga class, given a cup of soothing peppermint tea and be made to read a selection of enlightening books before it even thinks about getting behind the wheel.

The Photo of the gorillas is from thefabweb.com. The other is from BBC.com Have a good weekend, friends. Stay cool. 

And speaking of bananas, Stella has a great banana cake recipe over at her virtual cafe.