Don't know why but am feeling paralyzed. I have lots I could be doing but I'm not. Don't feel like going out or socializing, don't feel like doing anything. Except sit in front of the fire and read or scroll through Facebook, looking for interesting links. Feels like an addiction I can't break.
Saw "Paterson" yesterday, a film about a bus driver who writes poetry. His name is Paterson and he lives in Paterson, NJ. Strange movie. Kept waiting for something to happen, and the background music was kind of ominous so I kept expecting something bad to happen. All the way through the bus driver writes poetry in a little notebook he carries around with him. His poetry seemed so ordinary that after the film was over I was thinking, Damn, I could write that stuff! I'm not a poet, I've never thought I could write poetry, ever. Until last night. That's more about how ordinary his poems were than my ability to write poetry, which as far as I know is just as nonexistent as it ever was.
Saturday night I volunteer ushered at a performance of the Vienna Boys Choir. They break the choir up into small touring groups, so we only saw twenty-four (or five, not sure) boys. Their voices are like female soprano voices, but different. Can't say what was different, just was. I'm not musically literate. Mostly Austrian boys but also some from other countries around the world: Japan, Mexico, Germany, USA, and so forth. It was very enjoyable and the house was packed. We ushers were very busy.
After the performance three of us went out for drinks at a local pub (Joe's). One of the women is someone I don't really know that well but at one point I asked her a question, I think I asked her something about her childhood, or where she grew up or something like that, and she began to tell us about her life. She is francophone and has a lovely musical voice, but very quiet and we were in a noisy pub (full of students) so it was hard to hear. Anyway it was an interesting story and it made us all think about Life.
She told me that she was glad I had asked her out for a drink after the show because she liked me and wanted to know me better. I was enthralled with her story. It made me think about my own life in a different way. I think I am still digesting it. There's an art show going on in a nearby town and she has some paintings in it, I would like to go see them.
When something seems blatantly obvious to you and yet you know that there are people out there with the same access to knowledge as you but radically different opinions on the subject, it is sometimes mind-wrenching. How can people believe that? Don't they know [X]?? What kind of nutcases are they anyway? Or, maybe they're just Evil.
Years ago I had the experience of driving across the northern USA in a truck that had undiagnosed mechanical problems. Randomly, it wouldn't start. I'd camp somewhere and it wouldn't start in the morning. I'd stop for a rest break and it wouldn't start when I was ready to move on. But randomly, I never knew when it was going to happen. I had tried to get it diagnosed and fixed before I left on this trip but to no avail. As it turned out it was a relatively simple problem and cheap fix; something about the ignition computer? Whatever. I didn't know my 1991 truck even had a computer, but it did.
Back to the story. The upside of travelling with a mechanical problem is that you find out the kindness of strangers. Lots of people tried to help me. In Wisconsin I ended up spending a weekend camped on the front lawn of a family that really tried hard to help me. The fellow virtually dismantled my truck trying to locate the problem. At one point he thought he had fixed it and I left the next morning. I stopped at the next town for gas and the truck wouldn't start. I knew this guy had a tow truck, I phoned him and he and his wife came to bring me and my truck back to their place so he could figure out what wasn't working. On the trip back the three of us were crammed into the cab of the tow truck and they began to tell me about their religious beliefs. They belonged to a small but wealthy evangelistic Christian sect that among other things believed in The Rapture but not in Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Anyone who knows me knows that my beliefs are pretty much the polar opposite to theirs. So I sat there quietly listening, not wanting to bite the hand that was currently trying to help me out.
In listening, I got where they were coming from, I understood why they believed what they did and I even kind of agreed with them. Out of Darwin's theory comes Social Darwinism, the so-called Survival of the Fittest. Competition is all, and to hell with those who are not Fit enough to Survive. Not that most proponents of the theory of evolution believe that now, but it is an unfortunate extension of the original theory to human history. In Darwin's time it was entirely believable, some people, some races of people, are just not Fit enough to Survive and we do the Fitness of the Human Race as a whole a disservice by trying to help them. My benefactors obviously did not believe that at all, otherwise they would have just shrugged their shoulders at my misfortune. I ended up going to church with them on Sunday and learned some more. This was in the Bush era and they had a photo of President Bush in the lobby of their church. They also had photos of various young members of their congregation currently serving in Iraq lining the back of the church hall. After the service the pastor's wife introduced me to each one of them, clearly in pain about the possibility of losing them. Several people took me aside to whisper they wouldn't be voting Republican again, they were deeply disappointed in Bush. They had wanted an end to abortion and homosexuality and they got a war in Iraq instead.
It helps to understand where people with opposing opinions are coming from. Sometimes there is an element of truth in what they are saying, it helps to find something to agree on. We will never have peace and freedom until we do.
So all of that is just a preamble to something I read (on Facebook) today. Here is the link:
In this article the man is being interviewed about what he experienced and learned in the course of his hike and he talks about the different attitudes toward fossil fuels and climate change that he encountered during his hike. The following paragraph about some climate change deniers really struck me:
"These are folks who see themselves as hardy, self-sufficient, small government individualists. If you believe in climate change, you’re giving in to the idea of government coming in to fix things, collective action to impose greenhouse gas limits, and reining in the evils of the free market with stricter regulation. This conflicts with so much of that heartland identity."
The link between individualism and climate change denial was made clear to me. Living in a country where we don't have such a strong belief in rugged individualism and we see the value in government-provided welfare and healthcare, it is nevertheless clear that there is a price for that. We have more regulation and less personal freedom, more personal taxes and less emphasis on self-reliance. And if we accept the belief that drastic climate change is human-caused and ultimately disastrous for humanity, then we also have to accept the belief that humanity as a whole has to do something about it. Self-reliance and rugged individualism is not going to accomplish that, like it or not we will have to resort to Big Government Regulation to enforce the kind of drastic change necessary. I get that that is a tough nut to swallow for people used to taking care of themselves and disliking infringement on personal freedoms.
There are over seven billion of us now, and growing. In spite of progress made in birth control and birth rate reductions this number will only increase in the foreseeable future. We live on a planet that is not really setup for those numbers and in the natural order of things there would be considerably fewer of us in a balanced natural ecology. North America is an enclave of relatively low human population living in a very large area. Granted, most of it is not suitable for human habitation, but still. Preserving that luxury by building walls around us might work in the short term but long term it is not a solution. Our future here is inextricably linked to the future of humanity everywhere on the planet. Due to the huge number of us that is going to mean more government-enforced regulation, not less. I totally get the sense of loss of freedom. In my own lifetime I remember greater freedoms a few decades ago than exist now. It is sad. I don't like it. We have to do it.
I am house-sitting/dog-sitting. Murph is a 13-year-old labradoodle who has a lot of difficulty standing and walking due to arthritis. But he really likes Hapi and that motivates him to stand up and walk. His owner tells me that in his heyday he'd be mounting her and she wouldn't like that, but getting up on his hind legs is a bit beyond him now so Hapi likes him.
When I first arrived I brought along a cooler of food, including some pork for Hapi's dinner. Then I went out to visit a neighbour, leaving the cooler in the house with Murph. Bad idea. He opened the cooler and ate all the pork. So I'm a little more careful about leaving food where he can get at it, the cooler is now in the car. Murph likes chewing bones but he doesn't eat them. After he's done chewing Hapi takes the bone and eats it. Murph is okay with that.
We went for two walks today, once up the road and once down the road. Murph does his best to keep up but he's an even slower walker than I am. Hapi leaves us both in the dust. On the walk down the road, Hapi crawled into a culvert under the road. She loves culverts and if they are big enough she crawls in. I'm scared she's somehow going to end up trapped under the road but so far it hasn't happened. Murph thought it was interesting but he wasn't about to follow her. We got to a stream and I went off the road to look at the stream, the dogs followed. Then Murph started barking, there was a woman walking down the stream towards us. I thought she looked familiar and sure enough it was someone I knew. Here I am in the middle of nowhere and a friend comes out of the woods towards me. She told me that there was a waterfall further up the stream out of sight from the road and it was a favourite place of hers to just go and sit. I'd have liked to go see but I didn't think Murph would make it so another time I guess.
We walked back to the house I was staying at. My friend said she thought it was a cute house, at least from the outside. I said it was cute inside too, I was quite enjoying staying there.
Tomorrow I go home. It's going to be cold and my car battery is old so I don't know if it will start. We'll see.
I think we got all of our February snow in one week, since then it's been melting and evaporating (lots of fog). In that one week we got almost as much snow as we did in February of the Dreadful Winter of 2015. It sure felt like it! But a lot of it is gone now, and there are no big storms forecast for the near future. I bought new skis and snowshoes last week but I may not get to try them out until next winter.
Since the week of blizzards I've only been able to shovel for a few minutes at a time before I start getting chest tightness, but no other strenuous activity affects me that way. I have a theory about that. I think I have a hiatal hernia and the twisting motion of shovelling just corkscrews my stomach up through my diaphragm causing the hernia to get worse. So right now I am concentrating on deep breathing from the abdomen to strengthen my diaphragm and a form of self-massage to help push my stomach back down where it belongs in order to relieve the hiatal hernia.
A couple of days ago I went to an author reading associated with Black History Month here. The book was Steal Away Home and the author Karolyn Smardz Frost. It was so much better than I expected! Quite an amazing experience in fact!
First of all, the author was introduced by Lynn Jones, a prominent black Nova Scotian activist, an amazing person herself. I'd never heard of her before (I am woefully ignorant of such things), but she radiated joyful wisdom and loving attention, her critical message couched in gentle but direct terms. She started by saying that in her culture it was appropriate to ask permission of the Elders present before speaking, so she was going to do that first thing. She said you are an Elder if you think you are and then asked permission to speak. She got a firm and loud "Yes!" Then she spoke about how her people followed an arduous journey seeking freedom, and that in coming to what would soon become Canada they brought a huge contribution to Canadian life that deserved honour and recognition. She believed that Karolyn Smardz Frost's book gave honour and recognition to that contribution and deserved to be widely distributed and read. She then lead us in singing the traditional spiritual "Steal Away Home" for which the book was titled.
Karolyn (I'm going to refer to her by her first name because it's simpler) then told us about the subject of her book, Cecelia Reynolds. She did a little bit of reading but mostly she told us the story. Clearly she loved her subject and was very excited to tell us about Cecelia. Her love and excitement was contagious, I don't think anyone left that event unaffected.
Cecelia was a 15 year old slave who left Kentucky to journey to Toronto in search of freedom. She was aided in her journey by a very sophisticated system known as the Underground Railroad. Like many former slaves who successfully journeyed to freedom she then spent a good deal of her life aiding others to make the same journey. Karolyn is an archaeologist who was involved in the excavation of the first Underground Railroad station in Canada, in downtown Toronto. It was the home of one of the men who helped Cecelia and who she eventually married. He was heavily involved in helping other slaves on their journeys to freedom. At one point he even travelled to Australia to participate in the 1852 gold rush there to make money to pay for the release of slaves in the United States.
There were several things I was struck by that evening. One was Lynn Jones' reference to her people as freedom seekers. They weren't escaping, they weren't runaway slaves, they were freedom seekers: heroes. A twist in one's way of thinking about what was happening there. Another was the sophistication of the Underground Railroad. I rather had the impression that this was somehow the work of idealistic do-gooder whites but it wasn't. It was a widespread movement of both free and enslaved African people who worked behind the scenes to help any freedom seekers find their way. While slave owners permitted some slaves to learn to read, allowing them to learn to write was strictly forbidden for fear that slaves would use that knowledge to escape.
The first thing Cecelia did after attaining her own freedom was to learn to write (she could already read). She used that skill to write to her former owner to negotiate the release of her mother and brother. There was an extensive written exchange between them, a few of those letters still survive and are probably the only letters extant between an owner and a former slave. In any case the letters were couched in affectionate terms but the owner insisted on an exorbitant price for the release of Cecelia's remaining family (her father had been literally "sold down the river" as retaliation for her escape).
I also learned a lot about black history both in Canada and in the United States. It's not the same as what is taught in schools, or at least what was taught when I was in school. The evening was definitely an eye opener. History is in the eye of the beholder, depending on who is telling it the story can be quite different.