Category Archives: AC – Blog 2015

Sunday, December 20, 2015 — Pride

15-12-20 BLOG Ministers & Syrian refugees

Canada’s Cab­i­net Min­is­ters of Immi­gra­tion (John McCal­lum), Defense (Har­jit Saj­jan), and Health (Jane Philpott) with Syr­ian refugee children.

I’m a cur­mud­geony cynic, most of the time, so it’s not often I get to pro­claim that I’m proud of my coun­try. But the behav­iour of Cana­di­ans in the last week has filled me with pride. Last month, I posted a let­ter I sent to my Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, ask­ing that the com­mit­ment to admit­ting Syr­ian refugees to Canada be expanded to greater num­bers. My sen­ti­ments seem to be shared by most Cana­di­ans, but that is not the case else­where.

In the United States, the major­ity of politi­cians (all Repub­li­cans, of course, but many Democ­rats, too) have decided to be pals with ISIS, col­lab­o­rat­ing in their attroc­i­ties by mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for their vic­tims to find refuge. The March­ing Morons have tri­umphed, and there have been numer­ous acts of ter­ror­ism against inno­cent peo­ple, encour­aged and abet­ted by Fox Pravda and the usual Con­ser­v­a­tive scumbags.

My friend Filip Marek, in Prague, sends me dis­tress­ing news items. Miloš Zeman, the pres­i­dent of the Czech Repub­lic, has been spout­ing vile racist and xeno­pho­bic garbage of the most dis­gust­ing sort — and soar­ing to pop­u­lar­ity for it. He might as well be on the ISIS pay­roll. The news from many other Euro­pean coun­tries is just as depress­ing, if the news­pa­pers I con­sult are giv­ing an accu­rate pic­ture. There are decent peo­ple in all coun­tries who are step­ping for­ward to help the Syr­i­ans, but the depth of nas­ti­ness demon­strated by a very large num­ber of peo­ple is extremely depress­ing and dis­turb­ing.


Our Prime Min­is­ter with a Syr­ian refugee arriv­ing in Toronto.

But Cana­di­ans have responded to the refugee cri­sis in a way that glad­dens my heart. Although there was some ini­tial neg­a­tive response when the new gov­ern­ment announced its plan to quickly bring in 25,000 refugees, this melted away as pub­lic sen­ti­ment shifted to sym­pa­thy for the refugees. “Let’s live up to who we are as Cana­di­ans by tack­ling this chal­lenge, seiz­ing this oppor­tu­nity,” said David John­ston, Gov­er­nor Gen­eral (in Canada, the for­mal Head of State) at the Forum on Wel­com­ing Syr­ian Refugees to Canada, which was set-up to map out logis­tics. Groups of every reli­gious creed have orga­nized cloth­ing dri­ves, hous­ing funds, and banded together to spon­sor refugees. The very small num­ber of anti-refugee inci­dents were denounced by the vast major­ity of Cana­di­ans, and the hate-filled cranks have crawled back under the floor­boards and into the sew­ers. There are no politi­cians in any party voic­ing hos­til­ity to the Syr­i­ans. The first plane-load of refugees arrived in Toronto to be greeted per­son­ally by the Prime Min­is­ter (who was cheer­fully hand­ing out sweaters from a car­ton). Sure, this was a photo-op for the newly elected PM, but the footage left no doubt that the sen­ti­ment was sin­cere, and his sym­pa­thy real. School chil­dren and church groups from across the coun­try sent wel­com­ing greet­ings and gifts.

In my blog post, I men­tioned that among the most active in wel­com­ing Syr­ian refugees have been the com­mu­nity of Viet­namese Cana­di­ans. They know all too well the hard­ships that refugees undergo. This video appeared on the web­site of the Man­ches­ter Guardian:

Yes, it’s per­mis­si­ble for as grumpy a cynic as myself — now and then to be openly proud of his country.

Friday, November 20, 2015 — A Letter to My Member of Parliament

I just sent this let­ter to my Mem­ber of Parliament:

To Hon. Bill Morneau, House of Com­mons, Ottawa, Ontario Canada K1A 0A6

The events in France make it per­fectly clear what kind of thing the Syr­ian refugees are flee­ing from. Your party won the recent elec­tion with a man­date to accept more Syr­ian refugees and increase our par­tic­i­pa­tion in this crisis.

As my Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, I urge you to stand up in that leg­isla­tive body and pro­pose that we TRIPLE THE RECENTLY ANNOUNCED NUMBER that we will com­mit our­selves to accept.

The recent gen­er­a­tion of Cana­dian politi­cians — espe­cially those in the Con­ser­v­a­tive Party — have fallen com­pletely out of touch with Canada’s his­tory and tra­di­tions. They have grotesquely trans­formed our immi­gra­tion pol­icy into a racket where we sell Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship to the rich of the world, giv­ing a safe place for them to park their assets. Such peo­ple will never see Canada as any­thing except a con­ve­nient pied-à-terre, or a sort of tax-dodge-with-a-passport. Those aren’t the kind of peo­ple that built Canada. We are a nation built by offer­ing a home and a sec­ond chance to the poor and oppressed of other lands. That should be our pride, our glory.

We are a wealthy, under­pop­u­lated coun­try. We can eas­ily afford to take in triple the amount pro­posed by Mr. Trudeau. Think of it as “infra­struc­ture invest­ment”. The real kind.
Phil Paine, Toronto

Bring­ing in large num­bers of refugees from for­eign lands, often with lan­guages, cus­toms and reli­gions that we find exotic, many of them trau­ma­tized by ter­ror and war, and with the dis­tinct posi­bil­ity that there will be some bad apples among them (planted agents, crim­i­nals, faked iden­ti­ties) is noth­ing new to Cana­di­ans. We have done this over and over and over again in this coun­try. Scots flee­ing the bru­tal high­land clear­ances, the six Iro­quois Nations flee­ing eth­nic cleans­ing, African-Americans escap­ing slav­ery through the Under­ground Rail­road, Irish peas­ants flee­ing the potato famine, Arme­ni­ans flee­ing mass killings, Ukraini­ans flee­ing Stalin’s ter­ror, Jews flee­ing the Holo­caust, Hun­gar­i­ans flee­ing the Com­mu­nists, African Gujaratis flee­ing Idi Amin, Viet­namese boat peo­ple, Sri Lankan Tamils flee­ing civil war, Rwan­dans flee­ing eth­nic slaugh­ter.… peas­ants and slumd­wellers from around the world flee­ing poverty and sta­tic soci­eties that keep them at the bot­tom. Yes, there are costs and dif­fi­cul­ties involved in tak­ing in strangers in this way. But we know how to do it, prob­a­bly bet­ter than any­one in the world. It’s our spe­cialty. This time is no dif­fer­ent. Years ago, I saw my neigh­bours roll up their sleeves and vol­un­teer to wel­come, spon­sor, house, and help fright­ened boat peo­ple who arrived after weeks on flimsy rafts, being attacked by pirates, then months in grue­some intern­ment camps. Now those for­mer refugees are fel­low Cana­di­ans we point to with pride, and they in turn vol­un­teer for the same task. Yes­ter­day, a Toronto cou­ple were mar­ried cheaply at City Hall, and turned over the full cost of their planned fancy wed­ding to spon­sor Syr­ian refugees. They, and oth­ers like them, are the spirit of our coun­try. We must never for­get this.

As a his­to­rian, I sel­dom read the news with­out hear­ing echos from the past. Here a quote from a his­tory of Irish immi­grants to Canada, flee­ing the potato famine:

15-11-20 BLOG Irish immigrantsShocked by the num­bers flood­ing Boston, New York and other ports, the United States Con­gress passed two Pas­sen­ger Acts. One lim­ited the num­ber of pas­sen­gers a ves­sel was per­mit­ted to carry. The other increased the price of the cheap­est pas­sage to seven pounds, an amount that was well beyond what most poor Irish could afford. Start­ing in May of 1846, this resulted in increased traf­fic to Cana­dian ports. In fact, dur­ing one occa­sion, Grosse Isle [the immi­grant pro­cess­ing point in Que­bec] had a line of 40 ships, car­ry­ing 15,000 souls, wait­ing to land there. Of that num­ber, many were seri­ously ill with fever and some were already dead.

This cre­ated thou­sands of orphans, most of whom were assigned to Cana­dian fam­i­lies. A spe­cial decree ruled that these chil­dren, to be raised in French-speaking Cana­dian fam­i­lies, would retain their Irish names out of respect for their her­itage. Con­ser­v­a­tive news­pa­pers and the Orange Lodge — influ­en­tial in Cana­dian pol­i­tics and high soci­ety — screamed that these refugees would all be nasty, bomb-throwing Catholic ter­ror­ists, and that the streets of Mon­treal and Toronto would be seething with ape-like, sub-human Irish crim­i­nals. Those orphaned Irish names — Riley, Kelly, Ryan, John­son… now resound in Cana­dian his­tory and culture.

Sound famil­iar? Here’s the lat­est news from the United States:

While Democ­rats ini­tially stood up to Repub­li­can fear-mongering and big­otry, too many of them lost that con­vic­tion on the final vote for a bill that cre­ates addi­tional bar­ri­ers for Syr­ian and Iraqi refugees com­ing to the U.S. Forty-seven Democ­rats voted with Repub­li­cans in a final vote of 289–137.

The same ass­holes are always around. We have such ass­holes in Canada, but, hope­fully, fewer of them. At least we don’t have, as Amer­i­cans do, the major­ity of our politi­cians falling over them­selves to sup­port ISIS. The Syr­ian and Iraqi refugees turned away by the tri­umph of the stu­pid in the U.S.A. should be wel­comed to Canada with open arms. And we will end up all the wealth­ier, hap­pier, and wiser for it — for we are the future, not the past.

Monday, October 19, 2015 — Good Riddance

15-10-19 BLOG Good Riddance“good rid­dance”

Used to express relief that some­one or some­thing has been got­ten rid of. Also,good rid­dance to bad rub­bish. A wel­come loss or depar­ture. This expres­sion is often used as an excla­ma­tion. — from a dic­tio­nary of idioms.

For the infor­ma­tion of my non-Canadian read­ers, Stephen Harper and his Con­ser­v­a­tive Party have finally been kicked out of power by a sur­pris­ing Lib­eral Party land­slide win. There has never been any Cana­dian politi­cian that I have regarded with such loathing. He has rep­re­sented every­thing I’ve con­sid­ered vile, dis­gust­ing and immoral in Cana­dian pol­i­tics. Divided oppo­si­tion, abysmally low voter turnout and gen­eral apa­thy kept him in power for what seemed an eter­nity, but the Cana­dian peo­ple have finally woken up. As a suc­ces­sion of cor­rup­tion scan­dals weak­ened his posi­tion, Harper hired an Amer­i­can cam­paign advi­sor — a hack strate­gist from the U.S. Repub­li­can Party — who advised him to run a cam­paign designed to exploit big­otry, super­sti­tion and igno­rance in the man­ner of the Tea Party ass­holes in the U.S.. Cana­di­ans, to their credit, were largely dis­gusted by this kind of cyn­i­cal creepi­ness. Voter turnout exceeded any­thing expected. There is lit­tle doubt that this was largely an anti-Harper wave, not inspired by any high hopes for any oppo­si­tion party. “Strate­gic vot­ing”, where vot­ers care­fully voted for who­ever had the best chance of turn­ing out the Con­ser­v­a­tives, seemed to catch on, and young peo­ple seem to have flocked to the polls, too. I’m no par­tic­u­lar fan of Lib­eral leader Justin Trudeau, but he seemed to find his feet dur­ing the extended cam­paign, and his party will form a major­ity gov­ern­ment, with a plu­rar­ity in the pop­u­lar vote on top of its vic­tory in seats. The Lib­er­als have many pol­icy posi­tions that I strongly oppose (such as sup­port for the TPP and a par­tial accep­tance of the hideous Bill C-51). We’ll see how this turns out, but at least we’re rid of Harper.

Sunday, September 27, 2015 — Assiniboine

What fol­lows here took place dur­ing the sec­ond week of Sep­tem­ber. It was planned a long time ahead. A quar­ter cen­tury of friend­ship between myself and Filip Marek would be cel­e­brated with an adventure.

We both love moun­tains. The Cana­dian Rock­ies has some of the finest, and most of them have not been gelded by roads, habi­ta­tions and ski resorts. A lot of them are as wild as they were when their first human explor­ers came upon them pur­su­ing mam­moths down the “ice-free cor­ri­dor” or per­haps fil­tered in from the Pacific coast. But the choice of des­ti­na­tion had to be a com­pro­mise between the cost and time of access and the degree of wilder­ness. I had only one week free, and Filip could spare not much more.

15-09-27 BLOG the peakI chose Mt. Assini­boine, a hand­some 3,618m peak in the south-central Rock­ies, in BC but close to the Alberta bound­ary. The area around it is well pro­tected. No roads are allowed in the 4,000ha region around it. Access is lim­ited to hik­ing in or out on foot, or heli­copter. There are a lim­ited num­ber of camp­ing places, and envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion is strict. All sup­plies must be car­ried in, and noth­ing, not even a gum rap­per, should be left behind. This area is in turn sur­rounded on all sides by larger national and provin­cial parks with less strin­gent pro­tec­tion, but still kept wild. The Kanasaskis Range, pro­tect­ing its east­ern flank, puts it into a dif­fer­ent world from the ski resorts and tourist trail of Banff and Jasper. From the Alberta side, it’s rather like The Wall in Game of Thrones.

Our plan was to meet at a hos­tel in Cal­gary, then take a bus the next day to Can­more, Alberta, a ski and rid­ing resort in the Bow Val­ley. We overnighted there, which gave us an evening to explore the town, climb­ing up to some hoodoos that over­looked the town, and amus­ing our­selves look­ing at the absurd abun­dance of wild rab­bits hop­ping around the town. Almost as numer­ous were Ford 550 cab trucks. The local library was equipped with a climb­ing wall — not some­thing you expect in a library in Toronto. Its exten­sive local his­tory col­lec­tion revealed that Can­more was orig­i­nally a coal min­ing town, first set­tled by dour-looking immi­grant Finns of such prodi­geous fer­til­ity that they would have inspired the envy of the rab­bits. The present pop­u­la­tion is the usual multi-racial, multi-lingual Cana­dian mix­ture, with a notice­able pres­ence of local Black­foot, Sarcee, and Cree.

In Can­more, we faced the first strate­gic uncer­tainty in our plans. To reach Mt. Assini­boine, we would hike 28km from the trail­head, going over Assini­boine Pass to a small log cabin near Lake Magog, where we would stay for three nights. This entry hike was sup­posed to take between seven and ten hours. Overnight­ing on the trail was not encour­aged, since it’s griz­zly coun­try. So we would have to start rea­son­ably early. But to get to the trail­head at Mt. Shark, we needed to go through the nar­row pass between Mt. Run­dle and Ha Ling Peak, then fol­low a 40km gravel road. There is no pub­lic trans­porta­tion along this road, so we had no choice but to get up early and hope that we could hitch-hike to the trail­head and get there with a suf­fi­cient win­dow of day­light. For­tu­nately, we got a ride within half an hour, with a charm­ing woman who knew the moun­tains and trails.

15-09-27 BLOG trailhead res

Me at the trail­head near Mt. Shark.

The sec­ond uncer­tainty was our phys­i­cal con­di­tion. Both of us had leg injuries. I had an as-yet unhealed stress frac­ture in my left leg, that was still occa­sion­ally painful, and Filip has some kind of ongo­ing plan­tar prob­lem. Filip is a big, mus­cu­lar guy, much more ath­letic than I am. I’m a pudgy lit­tle guy, nobody’s visual image of an out­doors­man. Though I have a long his­tory of out­door activ­i­ties, in recent years I’ve been pretty urban. My last hike on this scale — a long uphill grind in the moun­tains of Tran­syl­va­nia in 2007 — left me par­a­lyzed with exhaus­tion, unable to walk the last klik to my goal. A short hike up Mont du Lac des Cygnes in Que­bec, last spring, was easy enough, but didn’t indi­cate any great degree of spry­ness. Frankly, I had no idea if I would be able to do this. It’s cus­tom­ary for peo­ple to heli­copter in to the moun­tain, then hike out over the pass, mak­ing most of the trip down­hill. I had pur­posely arranged things in reverse, so that the test of our met­tle would be at the start. The 28km hike would be uphill most of the way, start­ing with a 65m descent to the Upper Spray River, then a 650m rise to Assini­boine Pass.

Another uncer­tainty was the weather, always a gam­ble in the Rock­ies. We hiked under a grey, over­cast sky. We were both resigned to the pos­si­bil­ity that rain­storms or even snow­fall might sig­nif­i­cantly reduce both vis­i­bil­ity and com­fort. In fact, the woman who gave us the ride had informed us that Lake Magog’s alpine val­ley was snow­bound that morn­ing, but was expected to melt off by the time we got there. While there was a gen­eral pre­dic­tion of clear­ing weather in the next few days, moun­tains tend to chop up such pre­dic­tions into micro-weather, with large vari­a­tions between dif­fer­ent enclaves.

Filip behind me (as usual) near the start of Assiniboine Pass - snow starting to appear on the trail.

Filip behind me (as usual) near the start of Assini­boine Pass — snow start­ing to appear on the trail.

As it turned out, the cool, grey weather was a bless­ing. The upward trek was not nearly as dif­fi­cult as I had feared, and we made rapid progress with­out work­ing up a sweat. After only a few hours, we came upon a bull-moose. This was some­what unusual, as moose are noc­tur­nal. I have had a lot expe­ri­ence with this charm­ingly stu­pid ani­mal. This one was a young male, with a rack of antlers raw red from either fight­ing or scratch­ing. I wasn’t sure if it was rut­ting sea­son here, but I knew it was so back in Ontario. Moose can be dan­ger­ous, if you get too close to them, espe­cially rut­ting males, and we had turned a cor­ner that brought us quite close to him. But he looked at us with bored dis­dain and walked away. This was to be our only encounter with a large ani­mal. We had pur­chased a can of bear spray in Cal­gary, since it is more or less required, because there are numer­ous griz­zlies in the area. How­ever, grizzly-human encoun­ters are rare. Usu­ally, they hear the noise of humans from far off, or smell them in the air and avoid them. We met two par­ties of peo­ple mak­ing the more pop­u­lar down­ward trip. At approx­i­mately the half-way point, the val­ley we fol­lowed climbed out of the for­est and opened up into alpine meadow, hemmed in by spec­tac­u­lar cliffs. Only the last por­tion, where the trail had become muddy and nar­row, and the climb over Assini­boine pass, rather steep, bro­ken up, and still snowy, was any sort of challenge.

We made it to the cabin in good time. The snow had mostly melted, but Mt. Assini­boine was still invis­i­ble, hid­den behind a mist of clouds. We were tired, but not exhausted. There was already a fire in the stove, and we met our cabin mates. We could not have been luck­ier. They were a charm­ing fam­ily of Métis back­ground: a hus­band and wife, a teenage daugh­ter by an ear­lier mar­riage, and a dig­ni­fied elderly aunt. The hus­band had once been a ranger at Assini­boine, and knew the place by heart. Two sons were with them, but were tent­ing in the bush, rather than stay­ing in the cabin. They all had the quiet, soft-spoken calm and con­fi­dence that would make them an ide­al­ized sam­ple of exem­plo familia canaden­sis. I had expected to share the cabin with the inevitable Aus­tralians on walk­a­bout, or some noisy macho types. This fam­ily was a bless­ing to us, mak­ing the whole expe­ri­ence sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter than expected.

The fol­low­ing day was still over­cast, and Mt. Assini­boine still remained hid­den. The Lakes around the moun­tain are charm­ingly named: Gog, Magog, Og, Sun­burst, Cerulean, Mar­vel, Glo­ria and Ter­rapin. Each is strik­ingly dif­fer­ent in appear­ance. Given the weather, we decided to spend the next day walk­ing the mostly level and unde­mand­ing trail to Og Lake, which turned out to be slightly creepy-looking and des­o­late, sur­rounded by bare rock and a wide beach of peb­bles. By the time we returned to the cabin, my leg was act­ing up. I passed on a sec­ond hike, and spent time relax­ing around the camp, while Filip headed up to Won­der Pass. He returned just as it was get­ting dark. He had actu­ally crossed the pass and was able to look down at Mar­vel, Glo­ria and Ter­rapin lakes, but Mt. Assini­boine remained shrouded in cloud. We bunked down for the evening. I had wor­ried that my chronic snor­ing would be a social prob­lem, but it turned out that every­body snored. In the mid­dle of the night, I woke and went out to pee. The sky had cleared and stars come out. The North­ern Lights were shin­ing. Not a spec­tac­u­lar dis­play, with multi-coloured cur­tains, but at least a vivid glow and flicker. I told Filip about it, and he went out for a look, then the young girl came out as well.

The next day was clear and sunny. Mt. Assini­boine emerged fully and grandly. With it’s Matterhon-like shape, it dom­i­nates every­thing. The ice-bound pyra­mi­dal peak, even in a clear sky, leaves a smoke-like white plume of ice par­ti­cles as the wind swirls past it. That’s why it’s named Assini­boine. The Assini­boine are a plains tribe who never lived any­where near it. But George Daw­son, Canada’s emi­nent 19th cen­tury geol­o­gist and explorer (author of Geol­ogy and Resources of the Region in the Vicin­ity of the 49th par­al­lel from the Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Moun­tains, with Lists of Plants and Ani­mals Col­lected, and Notes on the Fos­sils from the Kil­ladeer Bad­lands) thought it resem­bled an Assini­boine teepee with smoke emerg­ing from it’s top.

On the edge of the boulder fields.

On the edge of the boul­der fields.

This was our big day. The weather was per­fect. Sunny, but never too hot. The air was as clear as crys­tal. All around were spec­tac­u­lar moun­tains, cliffs, gorges, forests, glac­i­ers, lakes, rocky wastes, moun­tain mead­ows, bogs, rivers, and giant boul­ders that might have been tossed by the gods play­ing mar­bles. But Assini­boine loomed over them all, like a mother sur­rounded by her chil­dren. First, we walked around lake Magog to the foot of the great boul­der field that descends from the glac­i­ers. Filip took a dip in the frigid lake, while I more ratio­nally soaked up the sun in the moun­tain mead­ows, men­tally play­ing Mahler’s fifth sym­phony in my head. I tested out the boul­der field, but deter­mined that it was far too unsta­ble and crevace-filled to safely spend much time on. One boul­der was about the size of a small house and looked like it had been lobbed to its place by a giant cat­a­pult. Every few min­utes you could hear some­thing falling off the moun­tain, the noise echo­ing on the sur­face of the lake. The area was so beau­ti­ful, it was dif­fi­cult to force our­selves to move on, but we found and fol­lowed the trail that would take us around the north­ern flank of the moun­tain and past Sun­burst Peak to a chain of three lakes, Sun­burst, Cerulean and Eliz­a­beth. Each of these lakes has a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter. Cerulean nes­tles against the gigan­tic, jagged wall of Sun­burst Peak. This wall looks like a huge moun­tain, loom­ing over the lake splen­didly, but it is actu­ally noth­ing more than an out­ly­ing arm of Assini­boine, dwarfed by the later. Eliz­a­beth Lake is named after Eliz­a­beth von Rum­mel, a Bavar­ian aris­to­crat whose fam­ily was dis­pos­sessed and impov­er­ished by the out­break of World War I, and fled to Canada to work as ranch hands. Eliz­a­beth grew up to be the “Baroness of the Rock­ies”, an expert moun­taineer and nat­u­ral­ist, utterly devoted to Assini­boine. We found her cabin, hardly any big­ger than the one we were sleep­ing in, where she lived until her death in 1980.

Some steep climbing.

Some steep climbing.

Filip still behind, but getting higher.

Filip still behind, but get­ting higher.

Again, my leg started act­ing up, and I rested while Filip climbed a ridge that gave a view of Nestor Peak and some more val­leys to the north and west. Filip pointed out that my ten­dency to take a faster pace prob­a­bly brought on the pain. Usu­ally, I pulled ahead of him on the trail while he kept to a slower pace, but in the end, he was often able to climb where I couldn’t. But forc­ing myself to slow down was dif­fi­cult. After see­ing the three lakes, we started up the switch­back trail that led to high ridges called the Niblet, the Nublet, and the Nub. By this time, our beauty-experiencing cir­cuits were over­loaded, but every time we climbed higher and the for­est momen­tary opened up for a view, there was another jolt of it. Finally, we came to this:

15-09-27 BLOG epiphany resThis is what we had been seek­ing, and we had found it. A place that would express, not only our friend­ship, but the best things within us. When you are at such a place, you real­ize the insipid­ness of most human pre­ten­sions to wis­dom. The silli­ness of orga­nized reli­gion and ide­olo­gies, and the pathetic, child­ish squab­bles and squalid obses­sions that we find our­selves enslaved to, all become noth­ing in the cold, pure air around these hun­dred thou­sand cathe­drals of nature. When some fatu­ous ass claims to be able to know all about God’s com­mand­ments, or the infal­li­ble Mar­ket, or the pre­des­ti­na­tion of the Dialec­tic, or what­ever else the march­ing morons are ped­dling this week or next, I will always have this scene in my head to keep me sane and unswindled.

Tired, but happy, we made our way down to the cabin. After another night’s rest, we climbed up again to the Nublet. Filip made a try at the higher van­tage of the Nub, but gave up. We came back in time to pack up and ready for the heli­copter. The pilot took us up, but took a less direct path in order to search for a hiker reported injured some­where. Some­times we seemed to be mak­ing close approaches to peaks and ridges. From above we could see range after range of moun­tains, into the infi­nite dis­tance, for this was a great ocean of moun­tains, into which you could throw a dozen Switzer­lands and lose them. We had seen but a tiny, insignif­i­cant cor­ner of it. And that was too big for us to grasp, too beau­ti­ful to find words for.

I am pro­foundly grate­ful that I was born, grew up, and live in this coun­try, which has given me a wealth of beauty and a feel­ing of free­dom that not even ver­min like Prime Min­is­ter Harper can take away from me.

Filip’s Face­book page has bet­ter pho­tographs. He has a bet­ter cam­era and is a bet­ter photographer.

Friday, July 24 2015 — My Neighbourhood in 1968

Here are four pho­tos taken in my neigh­bour­hood in Toronto, in the 1960s. The three pho­tos of kids are all from 1968. The pic­ture of Sher­bourne sub­way sta­tion is from a few years ear­lier — the women still have the bizarre bouf­fant hair­dos of the early six­ties, and the men are still wear­ing hats. Notice the pious, rev­er­ent, obe­di­ent man­ners of the kids (*NOT*).

15-07-24 BLOG Toronto1968-1

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Sunday, June 14, 2015 — Yes, We Have No Savannah

Did early hominins evolve on the savan­nah? Almost any­one who reads works on pale­oan­thro­pol­ogy would say “yes.” I would like to explain why I’m tempted to say “no.”

A long time ago, I was chat­ting with an ornithol­o­gist. We were dis­cussing the Cana­dian province of Saskatchewan, the south­ern third of which con­sists of the clas­sic North Amer­i­can prairie land­scape. I casu­ally referred to some “prairie birds”, includ­ing among them the wil­lett and the killdeer. My friend cor­rected me. “Those aren’t prairie birds at all,” he said. “They live on the river­banks. That’s a totally dif­fer­ent ecosys­tem. It doesn’t mat­ter that it’s only a few hun­dred yards wide and six hun­dred miles long, it’s not the prairie. Dif­fer­ent plants and ani­mals, liv­ing a dif­fer­ent lifestyle.” This was some­thing I hadn’t grasped. The prairies of Saskatchewan sup­port species like the lark bunting, the bobolink, the west­ern mead­owlark, and the sharp-tailed grouse, which all nest, feed and frolic on the grass­lands, and are all bona fide “prairie birds”. Fur­ther to the north, in the great Cana­dian for­est, you will find wood­land species like the black­poll and Ten­nessee war­bler, the pine siskin, and the nuthatch. But the wil­lett and the killdeer live and work in a ripar­ian niche, the com­plex ecosys­tem of river­banks and lake­sides, which is fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent from the grass­lands that sur­round them. Read more »



Saturday, October 5, 2013 — California Dreaming.…. It’s Back sev­eral gen­er­a­tions, the State of Cal­i­for­nia has been the barom­e­ter of social trends in the United States. It was the state Amer­i­cans moved to because they were young, gay, cre­ative, or just because they were sick and tired of work­ing in coal mines or being screamed at by bible-thumping ass­holes. If you have been sink­ing into acute depres­sion think­ing of the antics of the Repub­li­com­mies and their Tea Party zom­bies, and other signs of senil­ity in Amer­i­can cul­ture, then this should refresh your faith in the Amer­i­can peo­ple: Bill Maher– Cal­i­for­nia is leading

Sunday, September 15, 2013 — Homes Needed

I will have to find homes for my cat Gravitino’s lit­ter. The kit­tens — Cham­plain, Thomp­son, Macken­zie, and Brulé — are all in good health. Brulé has already been adopted.

13-09-15 BLOG Homeless kittens

Friday, August 31, 2012 — Lutheran Cats


Reykjavik´s most promi­nent visual land­mark is the Halls­grim­skirkja named after Hall­grimur Peturs­son, a 17th cen­tury poet whose haunt­ing hymns I have record­ings of at home. It´s a twen­ti­eth cen­tury struc­ture, in con­crete, but it´s style so suc­cess­fully fuses mod­ern and gothic ele­ments that it has a “time­less” look. It is equally pleas­ing in the inte­rior. The statue in front of it is of Lei­fur Eiríks­son (Leif Eric­son). The res­i­den­tial streets around it have a pleas­ant jum­ble of old and new houses. Seri­ous, Lutheran-looking cats peer from the win­dows. Next to it, there’s a rather spooky lit­tle enclosed gar­den filled with the sculp­ture of Einar Jonns­son, and a museum devoted to him. His work might best be described as “heroic fan­tasy”. In this gar­den set­ting, it is quite enchant­ing. I don´t think it would look as good in the cold light of a gallery. Read more »