Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A Tale of Two Wizards

There is more in this vein.

By 'this vein' I'm referring to the discussion of magic I began two weeks ago. I'm aware that the idea is not mine for defining; there are historically rooted practices that make up a body of knowledge and formal technique known as magic. These were well-known and widely used in many cultures for thousands of years, but in the last three hundred they've fallen so badly out of style in Western cultures that most people aren't even aware that magic has ever been more than superstition and fantasy.

Leaving aside the real magic worked by operative mages, shaman healers, and practitioners of voodoo, I want to examine a more fantastical, metaphorical branch of the art. This is the branch in which I have chosen to apprentice, and in which fantasy and metaphor are the bread and butter of the operative. The method I've chosen is both a concrete example of what I mean and an illustrative commentary on the various uses of the Art Magic. The concrete example is a story, (as if you didn't see that coming) and the commentary concerns two wizards whose deeds are commemorated in story and in song, and who followed very different paths on their journeys through this world.

The elder was named Curunír, which means 'man of skill'. He was learned in all ways of smithcraft and wheelwork, with great gifts of hand and mind. When he spoke, it was with a voice both subtle and majestic, a voice that moved the hearts of men to thoughts and deeds they would not have pondered of their own accord. In the beginning of his days he travelled far into the East and returned with much lore and learning, but after this he settled in the West, taking up his abode in an ancient tower tall and strong. Those who sought his counsel journeyed from far and wide to speak with him there.

The younger was called Mithrandir, which means 'the grey pilgrim'. His vocation was to be homeless, wandering from land to land as a friend of all. Many strange countries he knew and many strange peoples that dwelt therein. He was multifarious in tongues, having mastery of many languages both living and dead, and he was at home in the halls of the mighty and in the cottages of the weak. Quick-tempered but with a swift smile on his lips, his goings and his comings were as unpredictable as the wind, but he always seemed to appear where he was needed most.

Curunír and Mithrandir, by the sacred laws of their order, were forbidden to match their powers against the powers of darkness. Though both of them were mighty in their own right, their task was instead to strengthen the wills of all those around them who were able to resist the darkness which in their time was spreading over the earth. This Mithrandir did, and by means peculiar to his character. He travelled far and wide, risking life and limb, speaking hope where fear held sway in words best suited for each of his hearers. By his labours and constant vigilance he was able to call together a last alliance to challenge the darkness before its dominion was complete.

Curunír, on the other hand, learned all he could of the means and mechanisms of the dark arts, at first in the hope of finding a way to defeat them, later out of admiration, and finally out of a desire for mastery. He came to believe that only by appropriating the tools of power into his own hands could he order the world in accordance with wisdom. He forsook what he called the foolish hope of the weak and took upon himself the hope of the strong. He studied, and was seduced, and became himself a power of darkness, fortified in his tower of stone and commanding armies that trembled at the sound of his voice.

To each of the two wizards befell very different fates. If you know of Curunír and Mithrandir already by their more familiar names, Saruman and Gandalf, then you'll already be aware that Curunír/Saruman's path led him to a slavish imitation of the Dark Lord himself, a role which even he in his native power and intellect was not great enough to fill. His own machinations turned against him, and he was defeated and humiliated. Mithrandir/Gandalf, whose chosen path of self-sacrifice had revealed in him greater strength than any but the wisest would have supposed, himself broke the staff of Saruman and cast him from the order of wizardry. Their final confrontation on the threshold of Isengard fortress is one of the most masterful scenes in The Lord of the Rings.

I had a greater difficulty than usual in writing this post, in part because as a writer and teacher the question for me is personal. Which path will I take? On the one hand is the path of machination, of gathering followers and building up around oneself the mechanisms of power and influence. In The Lord of the Rings, this approach to power is expressed in the deceptively simple device of the Ring. It is the machine par excellence, the power one takes up to enhance one's power, perhaps with the intention of working good, but inevitably with the result of multiplying evil. On the other hand lies the path of humility, of renouncing power in order to empower others. Gandalf's gift was to enable his companions to see through the lies of machination and fear, and to envision in their place a practical hope, however fragile it seemed.

For the powers of darkness are not challenged lightly (though I dare say a pun or two here and there helps lighten the work). I have a keen interest in the project of dispelling the very real lies and machinations serving the powers of darkness as they presently stand. I have a keen interest in empowering people around me to arise and take their hope into their own hands, whether that hope looks like an ancient sword or a gardening spade. While it would be nice to build my authority and gain followers by means of the internet and related devices, it would be better if these writings could serve as a mere eye-opener, a head-scratcher, a vision of a different way of coming at things. That is, the blog is a nice thing, but it's what we do with it that matters.

In the coming week I'd like to take a look at how dark magic, as I've conceived of it here, manifests in our day and age. This will be helpful for me both in continuing to clarify my idea of magic and in practicing and promoting Defence Against the Dark Arts. The story I've told here is simplistic; that's because The Lord of the Rings is a story whose strength is in bringing to light certain deep forms hidden beneath the surfaces of things and colouring them in sharply contrasting hues to make them more readily visible. Thus it's often maligned for reading as a tale of black and white, good and evil. Of course things are more complicated in the real world, and Tolkien was not naive to this fact. In the interest of carrying forward the master's work, we'll be looking next week at how the roles of Saruman and Gandalf are taken up in our time.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Tales in Honour of Ursula K. Le Guin: The Wanderers

Begin again then, where the trail runs cold...

This is the story of the people who had forgotten their own story.

They lived, a long time from now, by the shore of a lake, in the midst of a great and ancient forest. When the sun shone it turned the waters of the lake to gold, and when the moon rose it changed them to silver, and all through the night and the day the great forest breathed and its creatures conversed with one another about what the wind and the sun and the rain were doing. The human people had enough food to eat, and enough to do getting that food, and enough to converse about, what with the doing and the eating and the wind and sun and rain, so that there was hardly time between one day and the next to snatch a minute's silence among the trees and think, or pray, or lie still and watch the leaves turn in air.

There were other places, beyond the human village on the lakeshore, where silence was. In the Stone Lake to the south, deep beyond thought, the rains pooled and fish swam under the sheer walls of rock. But this was also a favourite place to play and swim during the summer months, and the jumping cliffs more often rang with the sounds of shouts and splashes than with silence. To the west was a ruined place where no one but ghosts lived, and people went to get steel and other useful things from among the heaps of rock and pebbled glass. But here there were wolves and coywolves, and those who made the journey went warily, with the sounds of hammers and chains ringing in their ears as they harvested the good materials.

The best place to find silence was on the eastern shore of the lake, where the rays of the setting sun from across the water stole through the pine branches and turned the air to mystery and breathlessness. Young people would steal across the lake in canoes and lie down on soft beds of needles, watching the blue sky through the branches darkening into night, drinking in silence. In winter too, it was quiet there, for no fires were lit and no one chopped wood or broke the ice to fish. And when the young people returned home from the Wood-Beyond-the-Water, the wind seemed different to their ears, whispering through the branches: 'elsewhere, elsewhere,' it seemed to say. Old people would see the young ones sigh, and smile, knowing in their own hearts what it was like to be young.

This was true for years beyond memory, but there lived a young man who wanted more. He sought the Wood-Beyond more often than the others, and each time he returned from the silence of the pine groves his heart was more troubled than before. At last the words 'elsewhere, elsewhere' echoed in his ears unceasingly, and he came before the elders and said,

“I have it in my mind to cross the water and settle forever in the Wood-Beyond. There I have found silence and deep peace, and having tasted that I know that this village is no home of mine. I will take with me as many as will come.”

“Do not go,” said the elders, “for when you leave, silence will come to where we are and remain.”

But the young man was a fiery heart, and he spoke to his friends about his wish. Many decided to go with him, and they packed up their tents and trowels and dishes and deerskins and adzes and axes and withies and washing machines and seeds and smithies and all of their family remembrances, and went in a great fleet of canoes to the eastern shore of the lake. They landed there and built a new village, and dwelt among the tall groves they had grown to love.

The summer passed, and winter came, and the young people learned that the soil in the Wood-Beyond was not strong enough to return them a sufficient harvest. Before winter was at its deepest they left their village and moved out onto the land in smaller groups to hunt and to trap, scattering north, south, and east into the deep silence of the forest.

When they gathered under the pines again in spring, leaner than when they had landed, each talked about the place they had wintered in, comparing this land to that land and conversing about which had the best game, the best soil, the best access to water. All agreed that the Wood-Beyond could not support them, but no one could agree on where was best to move. An argument arose, and as the young man who had led them listened to the noise of voices rise through the branches he felt the peace of the Wood-Beyond seep away forever into the earth. It could never be called Home. The wind off the lake picked up and made the pine trees sway, and it seemed to him that they murmured, 'elsewhere, elsewhere'. Finally he spoke, urging his companions to move further east, and this they did.

They found a new place and built another village in a valley with rich earth and a broad stream with many fish. They planted and hunted and worked at the crafts that pleased them, but as the corn came up they saw that it was diseased, and that they had built on poisoned soil. Again they broke the village before midwinter and scattered north, south, and east, and again they gathered in spring to debate where next to move. This time the young man who led them thought he heard the whole valley stir with the spring wind and cry 'elsewhere! elsewhere!' Again they picked up and moved eastward in search of a place to call Home.

This continued for many years, for each place they chose proved wanting in some way or another: one was sheltered from the wind but flooded too easily, one had rich soil but no game, one was abundant in game but the springs carried the taste of bad metals. Each spring they picked up again and moved, sometimes northward, sometimes southward, but always further to the east. Children were born among them who had no memory of the birthplace of their parents. Some people died from the hardship of their journeys, and things were lost along the way, things that held memories that could not be replaced. Nowhere could they find the peace they sought.

When the young man had become a man of middle age, with forest-born children of his own, they came at last to the shore of the great sea. As he looked out over the endless waters he heard the restlessness in his own heart echoed and re-echoed: “ELSEWHERE, ELSEWHERE,” shouted the waves, and he was moved almost to tears.

“Here is the answer to our long wanderings,” he said, “for when first we yearned to cross the water, our yearning was only an echo of this greater yearning. Let us build greater canoes than before, and paddle across the Great Water to where we shall find our Home.”

Many were troubled and would not consent at first, but his fiery heart was strong, and eventually the people took their axes and adzes and made canoes from the forest that were deep and strong. Then they put their children and their belongings into the canoes and began the journey over wave and along the pathways of the wind. After long and harrowing labours, they reached at last a small village on a distant shore. As the dawn broke over the hills before them, they landed their canoes and approached the center of the village, where a woman walked alone in the shadow of the clock tower, cradling her infant child in her arms.

The leader of the wanderers approached her. “Is this Home?” he asked, his voice trembling.

“No,” she said. “I have lived here all my days, and I have never heard it called Home. What you seek is elswhere, elsewhere.”

At this the man’s long-suffering heart broke, and he wept there before the woman and all his people. But she was kind, and she asked him to tell why they had come. He told her of his people’s long wanderings, how they had lost so much, and how even their memories had perished as the young children grew up without a home. “That is why we sought, here beyond the sea, our last hope of finding peace,” he said, with tears in his eyes.

The woman nodded, and looked at all of them standing there, and then she said, “There is a place where silence is, and deep peace, a place which is called Home. But why did you ever leave it?”

And they knew that she was right, and as one they looked back at their own shadows stretching westward across the water.

“But please,” said the woman, as they made ready to go, “take me with you. I am an outcast among my own people, and there is no home here for my son.”

And that is how Hobart the Hunter and Marsiah, Mother of Tales, joined the Wanderers and journeyed Home, there to begin again in a new land.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Render Unto Caesar

In the last little while a few people have asked me what exactly I mean when I talk about magic, and I'll admit I had a hard time putting my finger on it. That was a good indication to me that some writing on the subject was required.

I don't mean the type of magic that allows one to levitate objects with one's mind or hex people from afar, or even the kind that allows one to create complex potions or machines whose workings are mysterious to the uninitiated. To my mind, magic is an art that deals with the inner world only, but it would be a mistake to say that that makes it an imaginary art, or one that deals only with the imaginary. Or perhaps it does, if our thoughts and feelings can be said to be imaginary, or if personality and will are constructs, which they may well be. But those aren't meaningful questions, to my mind.

My best explanation so far (and it's an amateur's explanation) is inspired by something I once heard a master poet say: a wizard is someone who can slip below the surfaces of things, and see the depth of meaning where others see only surface. Magic is the discipline of deepening one's awareness of those meanings and one's competence in manipulating them. I tried to think of a less sinister-sounding world than 'manipulate', but couldn't. The temptation to use magic for dark purposes is in the nature of the art itself.

Everything we see and touch and taste has layers and layers of meaning which most of the time we fail to notice. Dante, when he presented his Divine Comedy to Cangrande della Scala, instructed the Italian nobleman to read the poem on four different levels of meaning, but for the most part we live on the surface of things. Modern culture has a well-developed sense of the bigness of the world, but hardly any appreciation of its deepness.

Religious practice is often a matter of carefully drawing out the deeper meanings through ritualized reflection and contemplation, but as religious practice has waned in the West, that role has been taken over more and more by departments of literary studies. And whereas religious discourse is at ease reading meaning into almost any physical object at hand, students of literature deal almost exclusively with texts, and as a result the ability to read images and physical objects has declined almost to nothing in our time.

To illustrate this idea I'm going to set magic aside and share a pair of stories that have been on my mind this week. They both take place in first-century Palestine, where Roman colonizers had ruled since the forces of Gnaeus Pompeius invaded in 63 BCE. Pompeius had conquered Jerusalem, dared to enter the holiest inner sanctuary of the Temple, and set up a series of client kings whose job it was to ensure that tribute flowed smoothly toward Rome. That series of kings included such benevolent monarchs as the infanticidal Herod the Great, and that tribute became taxation in 6 CE, when Herod's sons were deposed and the region formally became the Roman province of Iudaea. Direct Roman rule wasn't exactly gentle either- if you got between the colonizers and their tax revenue, you got crucified.

The first story I have in mind comes from the gospel of Mark, chapter 12 (I'm quoting the English Standard Version here):
And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.
At first reading, it seems like Jesus has pulled a slick dodge by appealing to the concept of separation of church and state. But the mental categories of first-century people didn't match up with the ones in which we neatly slot 'church' and 'state' today, and even if they did, they certainly wouldn't have been separate. Caesar, the name claimed by the Roman emperors who succeeded Julius Caesar after his defeat of Gnaeus Pompeius and conquest of the Roman Republic, was by this time the name of a living god. It was a point of extreme tension in Roman Iudaea as to whether the emperor's statue would be erected as an object of veneration inside the walls of Jerusalem. What Jesus was actually saying was pretty edgy, since he was rejecting outright the authority of foreign, earthly, Roman power over his people, the Jews.

The second story goes even deeper, and it's one that Jesus himself tells. We have two versions recorded, one in Matthew 25 and one in Luke 19, but both involve a rich man who goes away on a journey, entrusts vast sums of money to his servants to manage in his absence, and then returns and judges their handling of the money. Those who have increased the master's holdings through crafty investments are given charge of more, while the one who chose to bury the money (or lay it away in a napkin, depending on the version) is either banished or slaughtered before the master's eyes, again, depending on the version.

This is almost always interpreted as an instruction to use wisely and productively the gifts God has seen fit to give us, whether those gifts are monetary or more intangible, like skills or time. The fact that the ridiculously large sums of money are called 'talents' in the Matthew story just reinforces this view of the story. But there's a very different, and much more fitting interpretation put forward by theologian Ched Myers.

Luke's version of the story begins with some extra details about the rich master: he's a nobleman who travels to a far country 'to receive for himself a kingdom and then return'. While he's away his people send a delegation after him with the message that they hate him and don't want him to be their king, but whoever's handing out kingdoms gives it to him anyway. It just so happens that a young Herod the Great made a similar journey to Rome in 40 or 39 BCE to ask for the support of the young emperor Caesar Augustus against Herod's rivals. Augustus must have agreed, because the Roman Senate appointed Herod King of the Jews and sent him home, where he ruled with an iron fist for 37 years. Jesus was born in the last years of Herod's reign, and narrowly escaped the slaughter of all the male infants of Bethlehem when rumour reached Herod that a rival 'King of the Jews' had been born.

This is the context of our quaint Bible stories about the proper uses of money. As my readers know, Roman history is a subject near and dear to my heart, but I want to now set that aside and take up the physical object at the heart of both stories I've told: the coin. Whether it's a denarius, a talent, or a mina (the last two actually represent weights of precious metals that may or may not have been converted into coinage), the currency of the realm bore Caesar's face stamped on it. No first-century Jew could have forgotten for a moment the link between Caesar's coins in their pockets and Caesar's crosses outside the city gates. To bury Caesar's likeness, or to put his likeness in a napkin resembling a burial shroud, was to symbolically wish him dead.

If you take up a coin in your hand today, you still see a face stamped on one side. In Canada our Caesar is Elizabeth, Queen of the British Commonwealth, a kindly old woman who delivers a speech on TV each year at Christmastime. But her image on a flattened disc of metal represents a power greater than that wielded by the Caesars: the power to colonize, ravage, and tax whole continents; the power to level whole forests and sell them for shipping skids; the power to make whole nations labour in dismal factories for a handful of those coins each day. Rome may have fallen, but make no mistake: Caesar is alive and well today.

I addressed these stories to a small group at the church I attend this past Sunday, and what I wanted to point out was that one of the central rituals of Christian worship services, the passing of the collection plate, is an expression of the contradiction at the heart of the life of the church. We want to have both Jesus' stories and Caesar's wealth, but because we live on the surfaces of things we remain unconscious of the irreconcilability of what the two men stood for, and stand for still if their legacies mean anything at all. I raised the issue in a church setting because religious communities are one of the rare places outside the cloisters of university English departments and corporate branding teams where questions of symbolic meaning can be discussed, and because I think that remaining collectively unconscious is a recipe for disaster.

Where does magic fit in? If my amateur's definition suits, then theologians, poets, and advertising executives are all engaged in forms of magical tinkering, some for noble ends and some not. All three are finely tuned to the deeper meanings and emotional resonances of symbols, and all three have the power to articulate and shape thoughts and longings. This is dangerous stuff, but if the David Suzuki's and Jon Young's of the world want to make a difference where it counts, in the imaginary realms of human motivation, then they're going to need to apprentice in the imaginary arts of magic.

I think that's enough ragging on two very good-hearted and hardworking men, for now at least, so I'm going to leave off this train of thought and take a story break next week. Afterward, who knows? There may be more to be explored in this vein, or there may be other avenues to explore. We'll see what the weather brings.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

A Weekend With the Elders

This past weekend was intense, what with spending Thursday evening through Sunday with Jon Young, bird language expert, and Monday evening with David Suzuki and friends, taking part in his coast-to-coast Blue Dot Tour. There's a lot to say about these two men, and even more to be said about their differing approaches to a common goal. This week's reflection will be my unpolished thoughts on the experiences, with much more to be unfolded in due time, I'm sure.

First off, my business partner and I had the opportunity Thursday evening to set up a display table for KW Forest School and do some networking at an event hosted by the Guelph Outdoor School. Jon Young was the featured speaker, and he talked to a packed high school gym about his plan to build a continent-wide culture of nature connection by teaching and modelling the lessons of bird language. Sound crazily ambitious? It probably is. But Jon is such a down-to-earth speaker and casually magical storyteller that by the time the evening drew to a close, he had us hooked.

I was off in my assessment last week that Jon is an almagist, one who seeks to explain the world in a coherent and rational system. He studied anthropology, and has done some very interesting and massively influential work 'reverse engineering a culture of nature connection', as he puts it. He grew up being mentored by the famous American tracker Tom Brown, and later lived and studied with indigenous people on three different continents in an attempt to abstract the common features of their land-based cultures into a single model that he could teach to cultures who had lost touch with the land they lived on. Again, crazily ambitious, but kind of cool.

But rather than label him an almagist, I'd say Jon Young is much more an operative mage. By this I mean that he's someone versed in the practical arts of changing awareness through experience. The Thursday night event contained almost all the elements he's identified as those that build robust, connected communities: music, storytelling, food, theatre, inter-generational contact, and of course, lots of time for mixing and mingling. The one thing left out was real, raw contact with the natural world, and that's why I had decided beforehand to register for his weekend-long Bird Language Intensive workshop at Kimbercote Farm.

Kimbercote is a swathe of re-foresting farmland near Heathcote, Ontario, home to Sticks and Stones Wilderness School, where I've visited and taken other courses previously. The image above is a view of the beautiful Beaver Valley, with the Kimbercote barn nestled among the trees. The sloping meadow dotted with maple saplings in the foreground is where my fellow workshop participants and I crouched in the chilly rain before sunrise each morning of the workshop, pencils in hand, eyes and ears wide open. After forty-five minutes, we'd meet in small groups to debrief and map our observations, then pool those observations to form a master map and an overall story of what went on in the meadow during our sit.

Here's where the magic came in. Whether or not we knew the names of the birds producing the tweets and chirrups we noted, Jon was able, with his own observations and questions, to draw out from the assembled group a precise picture of where the hawks and other predators had been moving on the land. Even though the hawks themselves were silent and sometimes invisible. For example:

WORKSHOP PARTICIPANT: This afternoon we heard the robins alarm and saw them jump a few feet higher on their tree. Then the hawk appeared, flying down the hill, and there were short alarm calls all along the line of the cedars as it passed.

JON YOUNG: Why didn't the robins dive for cover?

PARTICIPANT: I guess they weren't as worried by this predator as they would have been about other dangers.

JON YOUNG: What did the robins do after jumping up to a higher branch?

PARTICIPANT: They kept very still, facing... up the hill, away from the hawk.

JON YOUNG: Ah, posting to sentinel. What do you think they were looking at?

PARTICIPANT: Another hawk?

JON YOUNG: You can bet anything you like on that.

The 'seen' hawk turned out to be a Norther Harrier, which hunts by soaring fast and low and dropping suddenly on whatever isn't wise enough to detect it coming. But the broad-winged Harrier isn't agile, so a robin can evade it by getting only a couple of feet above its flight path. Much more dangerous to a songbird is the Cooper's Hawk, which can dive and swoop and even play some nasty tricks on its much smaller prey, like hunting in the wake of a larger, more noticeable predator like the Harrier.

Jon's detective skills and years of experience listening to birds hammered home the message again and again throughout the weekend: nothing in nature is random. Everything birds and animals do means something, and if you can learn to quieten yourself and pay attention to their signals, not only will you be able to see more wildlife, you'll be able to read powerful meaning where before you perceived only random noise. Can you see why learning bird language can be such an inspiring, even spiritual experience? Jon understands this, and he also understands that spiritual matters can't be communicated by words- they have to be experienced, and the experience has to be guided by someone who understands the language of emotions.

I arrived home from the weekend tired, cold, and looking forward to seeing David Suzuki, the other nature guru, speak Monday evening to a packed concert hall. This was a very different kind of event, and the lineup included presentations by aerial photographer Edward Burtynsky, rock band Whitehorse, and slam poet Shane Koyczan, among others. The evening both dispelled some of the prejudices I'd expressed here and confirmed certain other feelings, mainly that the mainstream environmental movement has yet to understand the language of emotions.

I have more admiration than ever for David Suzuki, the man. At seventy-eight years old he's still touring the country, speaking from a heart unclouded by cynicism, and expressing a willingness to change his mind and refine his thinking. When he speaks, he leans into his words, gripping the podium and swaying with the intensity of what he's saying. He said very little about saving the Planet, and quite a lot about how amazing it is that we are air, water, and earth, members of an extended family that includes every living thing on earth. These insights were lifted almost directly from his book The Sacred Balance, which I discussed in last week's post, and I was cheered to hear them from his own mouth, worked into the context of this moment, in this country, building this movement.

As Alex pointed out in a recent comment, the Blue Dot tour is about building a movement with a very specific goal: legislating the fundamental right to a healthy environment at all levels of Canadian government. The tour coincides with municipal election time because the plan is to convince local governments to adopt statements to that effect first, then using that precedent to leverage provincial governments into endorsing environmental rights, and finally pressuring the federal government to acknowledge healthy air, water, and food as fundamental rights, for all Canadians, for all time.

It's a beautiful idea, and it's completely practical to use law as a tool to curb destructive behaviours like those we see going on in Sarnia, Grassy Narrows, and northern Alberta. It's also crazily ambitious, since recognizing Canadians' rights to a healthy environment would necessitate re-working every aspect of how we do things in this country, including such craziness as putting human rights before financial profit. And let's remember that Canada was created in the first place so that Sir John A. Macdonald and his friends could profit from the newly constructed Canadian Pacific Railway by violating the human rights of the people in the railway's path.

My problem with David Suzuki, the movement, is that I left the event Monday night feeling angrier than when I'd come. I'd fidgeted all through the evening, as projected images of global injustice alternated with feel-good empowerment speeches and indie rock ballads that had nothing (really, nothing) to do with either. The critical point in the evening came about two thirds of the way through, when a polished young man waved a postcard at us and urged us to commit to standing up for a healthy environment. We did so, literally standing up and clapping to signal our assent to the Blue Dot plan and our commitment to action, of some kind, soon.

I walked home grateful to have seen David Suzuki in person and to have contributed financially to his movement, but restless and dissatisfied with the experience I'd just been through. The anger I felt was a reflexive response to the deep grief that had been exposed in me by Burtynsky's images of devastated landscapes and Suzuki's lament for a nation being ruined by greed. It's a grief I carry with me always, everywhere, and what I seek in the woods and in my words is a way to assuage that grief and transform mourning into active hope.

The difference between David Suzuki's and Jon Young's events, as well as I can articulate it at this point, was the difference between being told something important and being taught it. A true teacher is committed not only to speaking the truth, but to guiding the emotional development of their students toward that truth. It's easy to tell people that we need to create change, and harder to teach them how. Of course, real, raw contact with the natural world is a step in the right direction, and I wish I could have heard David Suzuki speak in a woodland meadow, or even a drafty barn. But until we meet again, it'll be back to the woods for me, with my ears open.