A Good-News Blog

It’s the last day of August as I write this, a warm and humid day here on Prince Edward Island. The leaves on the poplar trees are starting to turn yellow, the rowan berries are full, and there is a sense of fall (autumn) in the air. Last night I stayed at my daughter’s place, chicken-, duck- and dog-sitting, while she and a friend had an ‘away-day’ to explore the delights of Halifax. It was cool enough that I lit the fire.

I have decided to try and focus on good news in this blog, so it will probably be quite short. 😊 We have had a lot of doom and gloom lately, and I think it’s time, in the immortal words of Eric Idle, as sung by Graham Chapman in The Life of Brian, to look on the bright side of life.

Hands up if you just said to yourself, “de-dum, de-diddly-dum-de-dum.”

Where to begin?

The robin who nests in the rafters of my StudioShed raised three clutches of eggs this summer. I have lost count of how many goldfish are in my pond, but they have been highly reproductive again this year.

The Pond

Our borders have started to reopen and the tourists and summer residents to return, and we’ve seen friends who haven’t been able to visit for nearly two years. The Farmers’ Market has been incredibly busy and my Saturday morning job at the Charlottetown Cheese Company stall continues to keep me busy and amused. I think if I hadn’t decided to see the world, I could have had a good career at the Leeds Market.

My chapter on Leadership in education in challenging global times, which has been written for a forthcoming Handbook on Educational Leadership, is nearly finished. It was due today, so my timing is as brilliant as always. I’m planning on being ‘fashionably late’ with the submission, and hopefully the Editor will receive it early next week.

Our youngest daughter, Kate, and her husband, Andrew, are living the dream out on the west coast, just north of Vancouver. We have bought flight pass tickets and as soon as things calm down, will go out to visit. They can watch seals and porpoises from the dock at the edge of their property!

A friend came out to the StudioShed, and we installed a solar power system, so now I have lights, plus the ability to recharge my phone and my computer while I am working. All mod cons for off-grid working.

We’ve been to a couple of concerts recently and had the pleasure of seeing performances from both Lennie Gallant and Richard Wood. You can check out the wonderful singing and song writing of Lennie at https://www.youtube.com/user/lenniegallant or the manic fiddle playing of Richard at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5csbc-r_ZG_arUY3syJbtw

We also went to a couple of plays put on by a local theatre company. One was OK 😊

It said on the news that many of the fires in British Columbia are out, with just over 200 still active, down from the seasonal high of 750+.

I had an excellent harvest of gooseberries, tomatoes, garlic, and beans. The carrots, potatoes, celeriac, leeks and onions are all looking good and will be harvested soon. The pole beans are starting to dry on the vine.

Garden Tomatoes

CBC News has reported that the Americans and their allies airlifted 123,000 people from Kabul in the last 18 days. That means that Canada, who brought out 3700, was responsible for 3%. The group includes two of the 36 people with whom I worked during my time in Afghanistan, and the young man who in 2006 was the interpreter for my daughter, Nichola, and in the convoy when she was killed. I am delighted that he is safe.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/rocket-attack-kabul-1.6157938

A large bull moose stuck up to its neck in mud was rescued by two prospectors in the Canadian bush.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/timmins-moose-mud-rescue-1.6158057

In addition to running the Charlottetown Cheese Company, my daughter, Victoria, who posts this blog for me (which is why it seems to come from Victoria Scribens – that’s her username, not mine!), has had a very successful year of writing her novels, which fall into the genre of Literary Fantasy. If that is an area of interest for you, you can check out her books at www.victoriagoddard.ca.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are top of the Canadian Football League, three games into the season and still undefeated. Go Riders! I hope that my watermelons are ripe enough that I can pick one to make into a hat for the ‘prairie derby’ game against the Calgary Stampeders in early October. Don’t believe me? Go to your favourite search engine and enter [melon head Saskatchewan roughriders]

The United Nations has reported that highly polluting leaded petrol has now been eradicated worldwide.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-58388810

My nephew, Jack, has published his first video game. Full disclosure: I have never played a video game in my life. However, if any of you are so inclined, it was released on 31st May and is available here: MENOS: PSI-SHATTER on Steam According to the reviewers it was received well and is appropriately violent.

For the oenophiles among us, near-perfect growing conditions mean that the 2021 vintage of wines from both Australia and Chile, plus the 2020 vintage from Bordeaux, will all be excellent.

https://www.theguardian.com/food/2021/jul/20/near-perfect-how-to-make-the-most-of-australias-bumper-wine-vintage

https://vinous.com/articles/2020-bordeaux-en-primeur-almost-back-to-normal-jun-2021

And if you haven’t yet discovered the incredible wines from Portugal, look for the Douro Valley reds. From personal experience I would recommend any from Quinta de La Rosa, Quinta de Pacheca, Quinta das Carvalhas, or Quinta do Crasto. In truth, though, if it says ‘Douro’ you probably can’t go wrong.

A glass of wine from any of these places would be a perfect way to celebrate that my first novel has been published! Unlike the books written by Victoria, this is more of a mystery/thriller kind of story that is set in western Canada.

It is called TRACES and is available from Amazon and by ordering from your local bookstore (print isbn: 9781988908403 should find it).

Both print and ebook editions are now available. Kobo and the library ebook sites are still working through the listings but should be available soon.

If you buy it, and read it, then please let me know what you think. I’m in the middle of writing the sequel, so your ideas might be grist for the mill.

What are the good things happening in your world?

So, there you are, a blog full of good news, and lots of links to keep you amused if you happen to be bored one evening (and have finished reading Traces). Not a word about the fourth wave of COVID, the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Afghanistan, the hurricane devastating New Orleans (again), the unprecedented rainfall amounts in Greenland, the choreographed chaos of an unnecessary Canadian election, the ongoing conflagration of California, or the fact that Leeds United have not won a premier league game yet this season. Sigh.

I wish you all a bright, Sun Shiny kind of day.

Sunflowers

An International Disgrace

I am writing this as someone with a strong personal connection to Afghanistan. Some of you know this, but there are a number of readers of this blog who I do not know personally and who I assume do not know my ‘back story’. This next paragraph is mainly for them.

My eldest daughter, Captain Nichola Goddard, MSM, served in the Canadian Army and was killed in combat during operations against the Taliban in 2006. From 2011 to 2016, I had the privilege of being the Project Director for an education development initiative funded by the Government of Canada. I visited Afghanistan many times, mainly Kabul but also some of the regions, and got to know a little bit about both the country and the people.

Given that context, you will understand that I have watched recent events with shock, horror, and dismay.

After the US announced its full withdrawal from Afghanistan, I was delighted when the Government of Canada announced that it was “taking steps, effective immediately, to resettle the Afghan nationals with whom Canada had a significant and/or enduring relationship; the Government recognizes that these individuals were integral to Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan.”

That was less than four weeks ago and was excellent news for those of us who were already working to assist certain Afghans to leave their country because they were considered, solely due to their relationship with Canada, to be in danger of Taliban reprisals. These people included interpreters and others who had worked with Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, Embassy staff, and key members of non-government organization teams who worked on Canadian-funded development initiatives. Including many of my colleagues and friends.

Like many Canadians who served or worked in Afghanistan, I received e-mails from people who were looking for advice on how to escape that country. I wrote letters of support for those whom I knew personally and encouraged them to apply for the special visa.

I did so, knowing that not everyone will qualify. I understand that there must be processes in place and that some people will not meet our criteria. But I would hope that, in times of crisis such as these, we would be human enough to minimize the bureaucratic hurdles which might limit the ability of people to apply. Indeed, our goal should be to maximise the opportunities for us to provide help to those who, when we needed it, decided to help us. Isn’t that the Canadian way?

Canada, however, fell short. There was a lot of talk, but not a lot of action. Irrespective of what they were saying, our government was not following through. It showed no urgency and did not appear to be facilitating a rapid resettlement process.

In a time of great chaos, when the Taliban were taking over great swathes of the country, when western governments were deploying huge numbers of military personnel to ensure the safe evacuation of their Embassies, Afghans whose initial application to the Canadian special program was positively received were being given that good news. They were then told that they could now start an application.

This process required each applicant to complete and submit Form IMM0008– Generic Application Form for Canada. As this form only had space for 5 names, if there were more than 5 people in your family then you also had to complete Form MM0008DEP – Additional Dependants / Declaration Form for each additional family member.

They next had to complete Schedule A, a Background/Declaration Form, for themselves and all dependants 18 years old and above. It was highlighted that “Question 10 asks you to list all government positions you have held before or after retirement. Not providing information for the entire period or leaving gaps could delay your application.”

Applicants then had to complete the IMM5406 (for themselves and all individuals 18 years old or over), plus include a scan or photo of the passport or Tazkira (national identity card) for every member of the family. It was made clear that everyone needed to get their own passport.

If your application is approved, it is your responsibility to ensure you have a passport before presenting yourself to the airport at the time flights may be scheduled. If you do NOT hold a passport, local authorities will prevent you from departing Afghanistan on a flight to Canada. Please note that the Government of Canada cannot assist you in the passport application process and cannot respond to individual questions pertaining to obtaining a passport in Afghanistan.

Finally, for any de facto family members, for example relatives who lived in the household, like a grandparent or a widowed sister, the applicant had to describe how this individual was dependent upon them financially and/or emotionally and, for each de facto dependant, submit another IMM0008 as well as a Schedule A (for all individuals 18 years old or over) and an IMM5406 (for all individuals 18 years old or over), together with a scan of the passport or Tazkira for every person (if available).

Once the completed application was submitted, reviewed, and approved, successful applicants had to go for biometric assessment, and then for a COVID19 test. Once all these steps were completed, they were then to go home and wait until they got called. At that point they would be told when they could go to the airport, where they would have to exit the country using the normal passport and border control channels.

I am wondering how much more complex this process could have been made. It is a textbook example of people, in this case employees of the Government of Canada, making sure that their actions were ‘by the book’ and could not possibly be questioned. In following established procedures, they prioritized bureaucratic processes over humanitarian intervention.

It is a national disgrace.

I hope that there is a “lesson learned” from this debacle, for when something like this happens again. As it surely will. That lesson is: first extract, then evaluate.

In times where prompt and concrete action is required, those in power must focus on making that action happen, not mouth platitudes. People on the ground, in this case at the Embassy in Kabul, will be immediately authorized to take actions as they deem necessary, not wait until approved by Ottawa. Most problems are best solved by people close to the situation.

If the Government of Canada was serious about resettling those “Afghan nationals with whom Canada had a significant and/or enduring relationship”, then it should have dropped the bureaucratic barriers that hindered their prompt and speedy extraction. This should not have been not difficult. If the Government of Canada was not serious, then it should not have spread false hope. Instead, it should have thanked everyone for their service and wished them good luck in the future.

If we accept that the Government of Canada was serious about helping people, all it had to do was accept the documents which people could provide. It would have recognized that going to an internet café to download and print forms was probably not a good idea, especially for former interpreters who had been moved to safe houses for their own protection. If necessary, it could have asked applicants to provide the name and contact information of a Canadian with whom they worked and have someone from Ottawa contact that person and seek confirmation. They could have extracted people directly through the military side of Kabul airport to a waiting RCAF or chartered civilian plane. They could have worried about COVID-19 by imposing a mandatory 14-day isolation at CFB Trenton once people arrived safely in Canada.

The process of resettlement only becomes difficult when you lose trust in people and try to make the system fool-proof. When policies are focused on stopping one potential threat from entering Canada, irrespective of the impact on the many left behind. Most of the Afghans with whom I have spoken don’t really want to leave Afghanistan, but they understand the necessity to do so. They are competent, educated professionals. Most speak English as well as Pashto and Dari; many speak French as well, or Russian, or German. They deserve our support.

It is even more frustrating to recognize that this is not simply a Canadian problem. No western country is coming out of this situation with their reputations intact. It is truly an international disgrace.

In Canada, we have one small opportunity to make things happen. We have just entered into an election campaign. I would encourage all my Canadian readers to talk to all the candidates in their riding, not just those seeking re-election, and keep this abandonment of our friends and allies at the front of their minds. Yes, there has been a horrible earthquake in Haiti. Yes, there are many important domestic issues which need to be addressed. But if you seek power, you have to deal with all events, you cannot pick and choose. You also have to deal with the consequences of your actions.

In Afghanistan there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who stepped forward and worked with Canadians at a time when we needed them. Where are we now, when they need us?

—-

A version of this blog was published in The Guardian, a local newspaper on Prince Edward Island, on 20 August 2021.

Are We There Yet?

I remember a family trip when I was very young, my parents taking my brothers and I to the seaside for a day out. Exasperated at the constant bickering of three small boys in the back seat of a small car, all of us taking turns to shout “are we there yet?”, my dad pulled into a layby on the side of the road. “Yes,” he said, and distributed the sandwiches. We were on a hill, I remember, and watched some cows in a field as we ate. Then we turned around and drove home.

It seems to me that at some point we shall just have to decide that we have arrived at the end of the COVID tunnel. As Senator George Aiken is reputed to have said, some 55 years ago in reference to the Vietnam War, perhaps we should just declare victory and go home.

Sixteen months. 487 days and counting. That’s how long this journey has been, since the pandemic was declared on 13 March 2020.

It’s not actually a long time, at least not in the temporal sense. Our history books are littered with references that suggest a much longer assault – the first voyage of Captain Cook to circumnavigate the globe, 3 years, 1768-1771; World War Two, 6 years, 1939-1945; the Black Death, 7 years, 1346-1353; prohibition, 13 years, 1920-1933; the Hundred Years war, 116 years, 1337-1453; and the residential school system, 169 years, 1828-1997.

We’re not even at the two-year mark of this one and we’re all getting bored with it all. Having to wear masks, not being able to hug or shake hands, sitting in ‘sold-out’ venues that are actually half-full of cordoned off empty seats; BORING!

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s summer now, and that makes it worse. We want to go to the beach, to eat ice cream, to sit out under shading trees and listen to live music, to wander and browse through farmers’ markets. When the autumn comes, and then goes, we will probably manage to hide ourselves back inside for another winter.

And the politicians know and understand this. Now is a time to celebrate, they tell us, a time to declare the end of the journey. Are we there yet? Yes!

We believe them, because we want to. Even though we know it’s not true. We can read the news reports as well as any commentator or anchor desk, we see the havoc wreaked by each new variant.

We know that there are still countries in the world where no vaccinations have happened. None. We know that there are countries where vaccination rates are low, or where only a favoured few have received the two doses required to be considered fully immunized.

I check Our World in Data’s vaccination data, sometimes, to see how things are going in those places where I have lived and worked, where friends and family live. Afghanistan, 0.5%; Kosovo, 3.2%; Australia, 8.3%; New Zealand, 10.2%; Colombia, 16%; Sweden, 34.3%; United States, 48.2%; United Kingdom, 51.3%; There are no data for Papua New Guinea.

Here in Canada, we are at 40.5%. And, as of Friday 9 July, that includes me. I got my second shot, Moderna again, and this time did have a bit of a reaction. It was over quickly, though, and I seem to be OK now. They gave me a little sticker that read: “I got my shot. Did you?”

It seems that I shall have to wait another two weeks before the vaccination is actually working. Even then, it doesn’t mean that I won’t catch COVID, only that I probably won’t die from it. Which is comforting. A comfort that only lasts as long as a new variant, I guess, but it’s better than nothing. Am I there yet? Not quite.

It seemed appropriate, then, to sit on my double-dose pinnacle and have a look in both directions, forward and back. What did I do during the pandemic? What are my plans for the future?

To look in the rear-view mirror first. I must confess that I spent most of the pandemic in a cocoon, pulling the blankets over my head and trying to pretend nothing was happening. Not very mature, I concede, but it worked. It helped that I was not alone.

Here on Prince Edward Island, our biggest regret was that the Confederation Bridge had been designed and marketed as “the longest bridge in the world crossing ice covered water.” With the ferries and the airport closed, we would have been much happier with being able to say that we had “pulled up the longest drawbridge in the world.” That way we would not have had to report out-of-province number plates for stopping at shops when they were supposed to drive straight through or write letters to the paper about summer residents sneaking in when they weren’t supposed to be at their cottages.

We were so fortunate here, in so many ways. Over the last sixteen months we have had 208 cases, with no deaths and only one hospitalization. To put that in context, our total resident population is 160,000 people. We had what were considered by some to be draconian rules about mask wearing, indoor and outdoor gatherings, health checks at the border for rotational workers and other ‘essential visitors’, and so forth. These rules worked, no matter what the seventeen protesters with their “Shamdemic” placards tried to say, every Sunday afternoon in front of the War Memorial.

My favourite coffee shop remained open, they moved tables around until they were 2 metres apart and my friends and I wore our masks until we were sitting down with our latte and our pain au chocolat. One of our local entrepreneurs found a way to keep his venue open, albeit only with 50 guests, but by raising ticket prices a tad he was able to put on shows which covered his rent and paid the musicians, so I got to a concert every month or so. Gas prices stayed low until a few weeks ago, so I was able to drive out to the big garden nearly every day without bankrupting myself. And on rainy days, there was always the cocoon.

When I ventured out from the cocoon, I took on a couple of desk-based contracts which kept my consultancy company afloat. I reviewed some articles for a couple of journals. I was appointed to the Council of the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Prince Edward Island and then, at the first meeting, elected chair! This continued participation in the edges of the academy no doubt contributed to my being appointed Professor Emeritus at the University of Prince Edward Island, an honour which I greatly appreciate and of which I am unquestionably proud.

My home-town soccer club, Leeds United, were promoted to the Premier League, and thanks to international television broadcasters I was able to watch every single one of their 38 league games during the year, plus a couple of cup ties. We finished the season in 9th place, which was not too shabby at all. This year promises even greater glory! MOT.

Of course, I did not really take full advantage of this pause in our lives. I did not learn how to play a musical instrument, nor did I improve my conversational French or any other language. I didn’t even deep clean the house and downsize boxes of ‘stuff’ out to the charity shop or Kijiji.

I did write a novel, though. My first one, Traces, is a simple story. According to the publishers’ blurb:

Traumatized after witnessing a military incursion, a man flees his hometown in a quest to reunite with his family. A modern-day voyageur, he lives off the land, and his wits, as he traverses the prairies and waterways of western Canada. As he tries to evade whoever might be pursuing him, he inadvertently leaves traces of his passing. Traces which will reveal the man he really is. Or will they?

It will be published on 1 September 2021. You can pre-order an e-book version now on Amazon, and both other formats and print copies ought to be available at the end of August. If you read it, please let me know what you think.

And yes, I’m already working on the second!

Which is a nice segue into the future plans part of today’s blog. I have been asked to write a chapter for a forthcoming handbook on Educational Leadership, so that’s a priority, as is working on my second novel. In two weeks, I shall be able to apply for the PEI Pass, a new document you can get which acts as a sort of vaccination passport and means that you don’t have to quarantine for 2 weeks if you travel anywhere.

I’m hoping that flights will start to get back to normal soon, as it would be wonderful to travel to British Columbia and visit with our youngest daughter and her husband, who live just north of Vancouver. I am still not sure when international travel will be normalized again, but hopefully 2022 will see some movement on that front.

The pandemic has also shown us that perhaps we don’t need such a big house, and so we are starting to consider that very trendy word, downsizing. I’ve no idea where we’d put all our stuff, though, if we go through with the idea. What does one do with two thousand (+) books, with walls of paintings and prints, with shelves of sculptures and artefacts? Where would I put George the General, a 2/3 scale replica of one of the terracotta warriors, who I had shipped back from Xi’an? What about the clay pots that we bought nearly 50 years ago, in isolated villages on the Sepik River? How does one differentiate between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’, and put comparative values on each? Is that possible?

With regard to the question of downsizing and relocating, then, are we there yet? No, not at all.

Friends help friends keep away from the sewer

In two weeks, we shall celebrate Canada Day, which marks 154 years since the passage of the British North America Act. On July 1, 1867, the Dominion of Canada was officially established as a self-governing entity within the British Empire. There were three provinces which came together to form the Dominion – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and what was known as the Province of Canada, which consisted of Canada West (former Upper Canada, current day Ontario) and Canada East (former Lower Canada, current day Quebec).

Other provinces joined later – Manitoba and the Northwest Territories (NWT) were created in 1870, when Rupert’s Land was purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company for three hundred thousand pounds, or $1.5 million. Not wanting to be left on the margins, British Columbia joined in 1871, and PEI in 1873. Both Alberta and Saskatchewan were formed in 1905, carved out of the NWT by federal government decree. Newfoundland and Labrador did not join the confederation of Canada until 1949, and Nunavut was created in 1999.

So really, Canada as we know it today has only existed since 1 April 1999 – some twenty-two years. Still, any excuse for a party, eh?

Although in truth, it is a hard time to be Canadian, and there are a growing number of people who are suggesting that we don’t celebrate Canada Day this year.

Normally, we would describe the stereotypical Canuck as polite, quiet, reserved, and generally nice. We are passionate about our local community and our province. Nearly all of us ice skate or play hockey. Even if we can’t play, we watch, and whichever team we support, we all boo Toronto. We drink coffee from a certain store because it happened to be once owned by a hockey player. We are proud that basketball and 5 pin bowling were both invented by Canadians (James Naismith, 1891, and T. E. Ryan, 1909, respectively), as were zippers, snow blowers, lawn sprinklers, instant mashed potatoes, peanut butter, insulin, cardiac pacemakers, canola, acetylene, the snowmobile, and many more1.

We consider ourselves more peaceable than our neighbours to the south, the loud and violent Americans. We consider ourselves more egalitarian than their colonial forebears, be they from the United Kingdom or France. We consider ourselves a welcoming country, open to refugees and economic migrants alike. We are proud that Lester B. Pearson, a former Prime Minister, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for organizing the United Nations Emergency Force to resolve the Suez Canal Crisis. Most of us are proud that another prime minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, introduced the Official Languages Act in 1979 to ensure that federal government services would be provided in both official languages, wherever population size warranted it.

Most of us are proud that peacekeeping is a celebrated part of what Canada is as a nation, and who Canadians are as a people, with over 125,000 Canadian military personnel serving in UN peacekeeping missions since 1947. We pride ourselves on being a modern, multicultural, secular society.

We don’t see ourselves as bigoted, racist, misogynistic, intolerant, homophobic or angry.

And yet, and yet.

Two weeks ago, the remains of 215 children were found buried in the grounds of what used to be the Kamloops Indian Residential School. These were ‘undocumented deaths’ – no known paper trail describes who they are, when they died, or how they died. They simply were taken away from their parents and sent to the school, and never went home.

This event was shocking in the numbers involved, but sadly not in the fact that it happened. The terror of the residential schools has been an open secret in First Nations communities for years, of families torn apart, of siblings and cousins never seen again. Six years ago, in 2015, “in order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation”, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) made 94 Calls to Action.

The TRC noted that large numbers of Indigenous children who were sent to residential schools never returned to their home communities. Some children ran away, and others died at the schools. The Missing Children Project documents the deaths and the burial places of children who died while attending the schools. To date, more than 4,100 children who died while attending a residential school have been identified2. The fear is that there are many more. The discovery at Kamloops has prompted many First Nations to initiate searches of the grounds of the residential schools that existed in their communities. Who knows what the ground penetrating radar will find?

Hopefully, the horror of Kamloops has also prompted many Canadians to realize that so far there has been very little progress on any of the TRC Calls to Action. There has been a lot of talk, but according to a CBC report, as of last week eight of the Calls had been implemented.3

Eight.

Last week the Federal Government produced a ‘National Action Plan’ in response to the findings and numerous recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). The actual report of the MMIWG Inquiry was released two years ago, on June 3, 2019, and caused a stir because it described the disproportionate level of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada as a “genocide.”

I think that Mariah Charleson, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council vice-president, described it best in her interview with a reporter from the Toronto Star4. Noting that it took two years for the federal government to come up with 23 short-term priorities and seven goals, her response was: “It fell far short of what we were expecting.”

She did not state the obvious – if an action plan has no deliverables, no landmarks, no immediate goals, no long-term goals, no timelines, and no budget, then can it actually be called a plan? No doubt there will be another committee struck to develop activities to address the priorities and goals. Meanwhile, the murders and the disappearances continue, with rationales and excuses justifying the lack of any appropriate consequences.

The National Action Plan was released a day before the one-year anniversary of Chantel Moore’s death – the 26-year-old Indigenous woman was fatally shot outside her New Brunswick apartment during a wellness check by an Edmundston police officer. No charges were laid against the involved officer, apparently because Ms. Moore had been drinking and approached him holding a small steak knife. The officer found himself trapped on a balcony and felt justified in shooting her to defend himself. He fired four times.

Earlier this week, a man in Thunder Bay, Ontario, was sentenced to eight years in prison for manslaughter. In 2017 he was 18 years old. He had been out drinking all day, and as he and friends were driving around that evening, he leaned out of the car window and threw a trailer hitch at two women, sisters, who were walking in their residential neighbourhood. “I got one”, he yelled. Barbara Kentner, of the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway First Nation, died of her injuries following what the judge called a misogynist, thrill-seeking and callous attack. Observing that eggs, bricks, garbage and bottles are frequently thrown at Indigenous people in the northern Ontario city, the judge said the man did not know this, he attacked her solely because she was female.

It is not just Indigenous people who are suffering. This past weekend, a family went out for an evening stroll in London, Ontario. It’s a small city, fewer than half a million people live there, and it is known for the parks and green space that extend along the banks of the Thames River. As one might expect, it is a predominantly Anglo community, with 75% of the population reporting they speak only English at home. But there is a growing population of new immigrants to Canada, with over 20% of the population claiming a language other than English or French as a mother tongue5. The family out for a walk last Sunday evening, who had lived in London for 14 years, were originally from Pakistan. And they were Muslim.

As they waited at an intersection for the ‘green man’ to indicate that they could cross safely, a man in a pick-up truck drove up onto the curb, at high speed, and ran them down. A 15-year-old girl, Yumna, her parents, Salmon and Mahida Afzaal, and her grandmother were all killed. Her nine-year-old brother Fayez survived, albeit with serious injuries. The man, who I shall not name, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder, and the police are considering whether to lay terrorism charges.

This is not the only case of Islamophobia we have witnessed in Canada recently, In January 2017, six men were killed, and 19 others seriously injured, in a shooting at mosque in Quebec. Last year, a volunteer caretaker at a mosque on Toronto was stabbed to death by a man whose social media posts included the sharing of content from a site affiliated with a satanic neo-Nazi group. Even here on Prince Edward Island we have witnessed disturbing acts of intimidation and vandalism – a pig’s head was nailed to a post at the mosque, the truck of a contractor working at the site was set on fire, and so on. Small acts compared with the others, but no less disturbing.

It is hard to speculate why there is so much hate around. The perpetrators of these crimes tend to have one thing in common – they are usually young white males. They are often described as ‘normal’ men, who play hockey and drink coffee, who love pets. They are spoken of as being polite, quiet, reserved, and generally nice. Except when they are drinking, or sitting at a computer accessing racist, misogynistic, homophobic and politically inflammatory websites, I guess.

I recognize that we can do very little to influence these events. The Internet is like the open sewers you see in some cities, running parallel to the street and sluicing away a lot of garbage. There is usually a concrete berm which tries to control the direction of the flow, but sometimes the sewer is full and stuff splashes over the edges onto the street. Sometimes you see people down at the edge of the berm, picking through to see if anything interesting has washed up. You feel sorry for them, but you can’t, and don’t, do anything about it.

It seems to me that this is part of the problem. In doing nothing, we are doing something. The fact that we take no action is an action in itself. As those of us working in the north used to joke, in many cases the policy of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was to not have a policy. Many of us follow that same path. We are not calling out to those people who are picking through the edges of the Internet sewer, telling them about the dangers they are facing, the dangers of contamination from the filth they are handling, the dangers of falling in and being swept away by the flow.

When we receive a forwarded e-mail or tweet that is bigoted, racist, misogynistic, intolerant, homophobic or angry, we simply delete it. We might even shake our heads in dismay or disgust. But we don’t contact the sender, the friend or relative or co-worker who thought we might find it funny. We don’t want to upset anyone, or to be seen as overly sensitive, or be accused on political correctness, so we don’t say, “stop sending me this kind of thing”. And by not calling them out, we inadvertently help to perpetuate the problem.

I’ve decided that I am going to celebrate Canada Day this year. If our ever-changing COVID19 protocols allow people to get together, I’m going to go downtown and mingle with the other citizens of my city. If we are corralled in an online environment, I’ll go there instead, at least for a short time. In either space I shall take special care to say hello to everyone, especially those who don’t look like me. It might not mean a lot in the greater scheme of things, but it will to me.

1 Bellis, Mary. (2021, February 16). Top 100 Inventions Made in Canada. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/made-in-canada-1991456

2 http://www.trc.ca/events-and-projects/missing-children-project.html

3 https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/let-s-get-on-with-it-indigenous-advocates-demand-completion-of-trc-calls-to-action-1.5456200

4 https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/06/08/leaders-say-mmiwg-national-action-plan-falls-short.html

5 https://www.citypopulation.de/en/canada/ontario/admin/_/3539036__london/

Happy Easter

Although the spring equinox has come and gone, supposedly signalling the end of winter, you would not know it from the weather outside. We are in the last stages of an ice storm, a night of freezing rain and high winds having left roads icy and scattered full of downed branches. It is not a good day to be in the garden, but it is a good day to write a blog.

There was a full moon a week ago, one of those ‘super moons’ that looks brighter and larger than usual because it coincides with the perigee, when the orbit of the moon is closest to earth. These moons tend to have names; this was the Worm Moon, so called because the light is supposed to bring the earthworms to the surface of the newly unfrozen earth. The tides were extra strong that day, over 18 inches higher than normal, and that helped float the super-tanker which had managed to get itself stuck in the Suez Canal.

Here on the Island, we noticed the higher tides in the bay at Ellen’s Creek, but they weren’t strong enough to shift the old shopping cart that’s been stuck in the mud there for the past few months. It’s really only visible at low tide, sitting on a sandbank about three metres from the causeway. It must have been a very strong or cranky person who threw it there, unless (more likely) it was wheeled out one night during a winter storm, when the ice was strong enough to support its weight but there was nobody around to watch.

Today is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the northern spring equinox, and therefore it is Easter Day. As you unwrap your chocolate eggs or prepare the leg of lamb for dinner tonight, please say a word of thanks to the Council of Nicaea, a group of men who met, in 325 A.D., in a small city near present-day Istanbul and established the rule which sets the date for Easter, much to the chagrin of those who can’t understand why their holiday weekend keeps moving, “why can’t they just fix a date like they do with all the others?”. I’m not sure who “they” are, no doubt the same people who will hopefully decide that there will be no more springing forward and falling back with the clocks, just a simple year-round time.

Today also marks the end of Lent, that period of 40 days (plus Sundays) that precedes Easter and commemorates the 40 days Christ spent in the wilderness, getting tempted. It is traditional to give something up for Lent, although nowadays a lot of people try to add something to their lives instead. Rather that not eating French fries, or whatever, they try to do positive acts. One friend with whom I spoke yesterday has spent the past six weeks writing letters, one a day, to friends and family around the world. She did observe that she hasn’t received any letters back though, just e-mails saying thank you for writing! I gave up alcohol and red meat and, despite the nay-sayers who said this would be an impossible task for me, I kept my pledge. I must say that I am very much looking forward to the leg of lamb we’re having for dinner tonight, and to the red wine which will accompany it. I’ve got a couple of bottles of a nice cabernet franc that to my palate is a perfect match for lamb.

This morning when we were coming back from church the tide was going out, the shopping cart visible but ignored by the black ducks and ring billed gulls that bobbed in the channels. We don’t go to church a lot these days, what with all the limits on social gatherings, but truth to tell I didn’t really go that often even when I didn’t have the pandemic to blame. I suppose I’m part of that collective called C and E Christians, a pun on ‘Church of England’ (or Anglican) but really meaning ‘Christmas and Easter’, as those are the two big feast days.

For what it’s worth, today is the bigger of the two festivals, for although Christmas (Christ’s Mass) celebrates the birth of Jesus, Easter celebrates the resurrection – which is nowhere near as common an event. According to the Venerable Bede, writing 1318 years ago, the day is named in honour of Eostre, sometimes known as Ostara, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility.

Easter has long been a time of celebration, of bright new clothes and decorated eggs. The bright new clothes reflect the bright new growth one hopes to see in the garden while the decorated eggs, according to Germanic tradition, are from a time when Eostre was out for a walk and found a wounded bird. Worried that it could not fly, she turned it into a hare, but because she was in a bit of a rush, she didn’t finish the job properly. The next spring, the hare found that instead of having live young, it was laying eggs. This reminded it that it had been a bird. So, it decorated a couple of eggs and left them as a gift for the goddess, to say thank you for saving its life. One does wonder why a goddess couldn’t have simply fixed the wing.

In the 1700s there was a large immigration of settlers from Germany to the United States, mainly into Pennsylvania, some of whom then moved north to Canada in the 1780s. With them they brought their stories, including the ideas of decorated eggs and of Osterhase, the Easter Hare. Children would build ‘nests’ of sticks, and on Easter morning they would find decorated eggs lying in those nests. Over the next century or so the decorated eggs evolved into chocolate ones, and Osterhase morphed into the Easter Bunny, and with the help of early 20th century manufacturing and marketing skills, chocolate eggs became synonymous with Easter. It is perhaps no accident that Hershey’s is headquartered in Pennsylvania.

If nothing else, then, Easter should remind us to recognize that there were old ceremonies that the new religions commandeered. Colonization of the soul, as our First Nations friends have long tried to teach us, has a history of following close on from colonization of the land. But that’s a topic for another blog.

It’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me

I came across this traditional folk song the other day, it popped up when I was searching the internet for something completely different. No, not the Spanish Inquisition, which actually should have been expected as people took great pleasure in denouncing their neighbours. More on that later. The version of the folk song I found was the one made famous by The Dubliners, so I wasted a bit of time listening to it, as one does, procrastination being the number one outcome from web-surfing, and it caused me to pause and take stock.

It was a year ago today that I ran away from my holiday, not on a Yankee clipper ship bound for California but in my car heading to Heathrow, and thence post haste to Charlottetown. I had been in Liverpool for four days, checking out some interesting ‘modern art’ at the Tate, the river and the docks, the ruins of a church bombed during the Blitz, the duelling cathedrals.

I went on the Mystery Tour that took a bus load of tourists to the gates of the orphanage called Strawberry Fields, and past the Cavern Club, where I had my photograph taken next to the bronze statue of John Lennon that stands across the street from those hallowed doors. On Penny Lane we saw the barber’s shop on the corner, and even the shelter in the middle of the roundabout, although there was no pretty nurse selling poppies. Anyone would think the Beatles drew upon the local context for their music.

On the Tuesday, Liverpool played at home against Athletico Madrid, and that evening the hotel was full of very happy Spaniards whose team had won the game. When I got back from dinner, there was a bottle of hand sanitizer on a small table by the lifts (elevators), together with a bowl of apples, but that was the extent of the anti-virus activities.

I knew from the newspapers and television news shows, which being a news junkie I devour even on holiday, that there were 25,000 cases in Italy, which had seen 600 deaths, and hospitals were starting to implode. Indeed, case counts were rising all over Europe. The number of positive cases in Spain had reached 6000 and was doubling every day (it is now at 3.1 million), yet soccer fans were criss-crossing the continent, and in the lobby, I had watched as Spanish and Liverpudlian fans linked arms and sang alcohol-fueled songs which made no sense in either language.

When I spoke to the guide on the tour bus, however, he thought all the doom and gloom stories were just to sell newspapers. Another person on the tour, who had been listening to our conversation, contributed that he thought this was all just a European phenomenon, something which could probably be blamed on the poor sanitation habits of continentals. There were murmurs of agreement.

Not being convinced, and as I mentioned in my blog at the time, somewhat discombobulated by the relentless media coverage, I called Air Canada and got a seat on the first available flight. I left the city, driving past Prince’s Landing where the ferry leaves to ’cross the Mersey, another famous song, and down Skelhorne Street past Lime Street Station. I didn’t see Maggie Mae, I’m afraid, nor any crazy coons running around in their underpants. It was early, though.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you obviously never listened to the Let it Be album, or to Lime Street Blues on the B side of Procol Harem’s Whiter Shade of Pale!

Anyway, I got back to Prince Edward Island on the Saturday, isolated myself for 14 days as requested, and have only been off the island twice since then. During the summer the case numbers in eastern Canada were very low, and an Atlantic Bubble was established. This permitted people to move unhindered between Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI, and I managed to get to both of our neighbouring provinces, albeit only for a couple of days.

Then the numbers in New Brunswick spiked, and the bubble burst. Since then, we’ve been hunkered down throughout the winter, where the biggest news has been the reports of people who ‘came from away’ and didn’t self-isolate properly, or who had gatherings of more than 10 people, or who weren’t wearing face masks when they should be. The habits of six hundred years ago, when people took great pleasure in denouncing their neighbours to the Spanish Inquisition, die hard. So far, the city hasn’t acted on my suggestion that in addition to the fines levied, they also publish the names and photographs of those involved, and erect stocks in the main square downtown for multiple offenders, but I’m sure they’ll come around.

It’s not just people who are breaking the rules, though. The other day someone coming over from New Brunswick was surprised to see a fox going the other way – just trotting along across the bridge! I hope he filled in the Public Health Form first. This is one of the good things emerging from the past year. The relative lack of traffic has helped re-introduce people to the idea that this is shared world. In Barcelona, the city reported that in June 2020 there was an increase of 74% in the number of butterflies, compared to June 2019. Yes, they have someone who counts them. The increase was put down to COVID, because months of lockdown restricted the number of maintenance crews cutting grass and spraying for weeds, aided and abetted by a wetter than normal spring, and less smog as fewer people were commuting to work. It is good to learn that both the pandemic and climate change can have a positive impact in some spheres.

Those of us in the northern latitudes are getting ready for the official end of winter, the Spring Equinox, which takes place on 20 March. It has just been announced that the Atlantic premiers are meeting next week, to discuss the re-opening of the Atlantic bubble and the potential for local tourism to start up again. Our clocks ‘spring forward’ on Saturday night. These are all signs that the summer is coming, and with it the chance to get back into the garden. For those of you in the southern hemisphere who are getting ready for autumn, enjoy!

As we mark the official one year anniversary of the pandemic, I think its time to try to refocus on the positives. I hope that people continue to buy local, even when the big superstores get their supply lines straightened out. I hope that society invests time and money into resolving the staffing crisis at long-term residential care homes. I hope that musicians will be able to play live gigs again, and artists to have gallery openings. I hope some people will continue to work from home, and the number of daily commutes remains lower than it was a year ago. I hope that governments put as many resources into fighting climate change as they did into developing vaccines. I hope that Leeds United finish in the top six of the Premier League.

Ah well, it’s good to have one that you know won’t happen.

The World is Starting to Breathe Again

That big ppfffffftt you heard on Wednesday was the world starting to breathe again, as the inauguration of President Biden took place without riotous QAnon crazies, outrageous Twitter messages, or an Anwar Sadat style assassination. All of which were very much on the cards and, in truth, would have been met with a general “thought that might happen” sort of vibe. Please give thanks, to whomever or whatever you thank for such things, that the general sense was that the ceremonies were traditional, almost boring.

That the status quo was being shaken was evident in two special ways – the inauguration of Vice President Harris, and the poem written and recited by Amanda Gorman. However, these were not flouted or exaggerated, at least not by the Canadian media I was watching, but rather simply reported. The commentary included statements like “oh by the way, not only is she the first African American in the post, she’s also the first ‘she’.” As if that wasn’t one of the most amazing things, especially given the age of the President. And then, the kicker that summed up the past four years:

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.

I hope that schools across America, and indeed around the world, have added “The hill we climb” to their curriculum. Those of us in education have spent many years talking about cross-curricula learning – well, a critical reading of that poem would give the class a platform to discuss history, geography, politics, English language, social studies, civics, science … one could build a whole integrated curriculum unit from that poem alone.

Now that sanity has prevailed, and news will once again be distributed though policy documents and regular briefings rather than manic rantings on social media, we can give our heads a long and collective shake and watch the new President move on to some of the other things which need to concern his administration. There are many of those to keep him busy! But of course, action on none of these issues will be successful unless he can somehow bridge the partisan divides which exist in American politics. I fear that the shadow of the Past President is going to be hard and dark for a long time to come.

Indeed, it’s hard to keep writing this blog without dipping back into the well of outrage which has been accumulated over the past four years. I have an urgent desire to start sentences with “Do you remember when he …”. I am going to try to resist that urge, and instead look forward. Where do we go from here?

Personally, I’m looking forward to visiting America again. I’ve had my own private boycott going for the past four years, one exacerbated but not caused by COVID. I’m sure nobody noticed but it made me feel better. I’ve always tried to avoid authoritarian states and after the last inauguration I determined that I could not, in good conscience, travel to a country under such leadership. I’ve avoided conferences, holidays, and even flights requiring stop-overs, and as a result have missed seeing many friends and colleagues over the past while. I’m hopeful that once our current travel restrictions ease, and the longest unmilitarized border in the world is reopened, then ‘normal relations’ will resume. There are lots of great places I’d like to visit.

Until then, there are six issues on which I hope to see new leadership from the United States. Although conceptually clear, these issues are experientially incoherent. Each one has so many sub-sets of challenge, so many degrees of risk, so opaque a policy lens, that it is almost impossible to determine what might be prioritized. But we must try.

Actually, I’d like to set this as a task for you, dear readers of this blog. Imagine for a moment that you have been hired as an advisor for the new administration in Washington. You are presented with a list of six pressing issues, and asked: do you agree with these, or would you substitute one (or more) for something else? If so, what changes would you make? Of the six issues that remain, how would you prioritize them, in terms of urgency and immediacy of action?

The six issues I am putting before you have, of necessity, been simplified. ‘Climate change’, for example, has multiple layers of policy implication, from agricultural productivity to pipelines, from weather events to windfarms. I recognize that I have collapsed all these sub-sets into these six topics which are, in alphabetical order:

  • Climate change.
  • COVID19 pandemic.
  • Economic, social, and racial inequality.
  • Global human migrations.
  • Militarization of space.
  • Political and trade relationships with other nations.

Although I am presenting these as matters of interest to the incoming US government, they are in truth areas of interest to all of us. Every political jurisdiction in the world, from the smallest hamlet to the largest country, is being impacted by these issues, often in very direct and specific ways. I believe that as individuals we have to be part of the solution as well as part of the problem and so, if you are willing to share your thoughts on these things, I would love to hear them.

As a collective the readership of this blog is global in nature, something which truly amazes and humbles me. As such, your ideas and perspectives will ensure that I broaden my own lens to something beyond a Canadian view. You can contribute via the Comments feature on the blog, but beware that this will place your ideas in the full public domain. Or you can e-mail me directly, and if I decide to share anything you write with others (for example, by a summary in a future blog) then I shall do so in an anonymised way that protects your privacy. For those that don’t know it, or have forgotten it which is why I didn’t get a Christmas card, my e-mail address is jtg045@gmail.com

There are a few reasons why I am interested in how you view these matters. First, my general default position is one of intellectual magpie, so I like to collect shiny things like ideas. You never know when they might come in useful! Second, I’ve been asked to write a book chapter that focuses on educational leadership in a time of global uncertainty, and all these matters impact on that theme, so <see first point>. Third, I need provocative things to talk about at my irregular coffee mornings, when I and a couple of friends get together to discuss the issues of the day <again, see first point>.

I apologise to those of you under severe lockdown restrictions who’ve forgotten what it’s like to visit with others, but here on the Island we still have cafes open and we are allowed to sit inside with small groups of friends. We’re probably allowed to sit outside as well, but right now it’s minus fifteen Celsius, so nobody does. That’s the downside of winter. But that’s another blog.

300 Days

I had intended to start this first blog of the new year with something like: “Well, we made it. Hello 2021. Everything’s going to be different this year.”

As the adage says, “Be careful what you wish for.”

I never thought that I would invoke my inner Dolly Parton, but at times like these, her latest song has some prescient lyrics.

Even though we’re walkin’ through the valley of death
Scared and wonderin’ what happens next
Uncertainty, division, anger and the rest
I still believe

Questions of what and why and when
What is it, why it happened or when will it end
These are strange and crazy times that we’re living in
But I still believe

I believe to my very core
We’ll walk again in the sunshine by the seashore
That we’ll dance and we’ll sing and be happy again
Don’t know how or when but we will again, you’ll see
I still believe (I believe)

If you missed the Holly Dolly Christmas Special on TV, then check out the song on YouTube https://youtu.be/s9j5cxP1GZQ

Or simply Google “dolly parton I still believe lyrics”. It really is a positive way to start the year.

Which is much needed. After the warmest (and greenest) Christmas since records have been kept on the Island, the New Year arrived with a dump of 27 centimetres of snow. I thought that perhaps, at last, a modicum of normalcy was returning to the world. Although that’s a difficult claim to make, as five days later I saw a Northern Cardinal in my backyard. This is quite a rare bird here, a marginal visitor at best, and was the first one I’ve ever seen on the Island. So perhaps, I thought, we’re not quite ‘normal’ yet.

Then I checked what was happening in the rest of the world. Mass arrests in Hong Kong. The United Kingdom moving to a new level of COVID emergency. The President of Brazil saying the vaccine might turn people into crocodiles. Nope, everything’s still pretty 2020.

Personally, I think Boris Johnson did quite a smart thing, having the COVID emergency tiers start at 1 and go up. It gives him all sorts of latitude. In terms of threat, most alerts go from three (low), to two (medium), to one (high). So, what happens when you reach one? The same for the colour system. Canadian provinces tend to go green, yellow, orange, and then red, in levels of increasing severity. What does one do after red? Boris, however, can simply add another level each time things go sideways. Actually, the other day quite a funny cartoon to that effect made the rounds.

Still, I thought, at least things are going to transition to ‘more or less normal’ in the US, as that country moves from one president to another. Then Wednesday happened. It’s Dolly time again.

In fact, I can’t even articulate what I think about what took place in Washington. It’s too raw right now. Perhaps in a future blog. Instead, I would like to share an anniversary.

Today, 8 January 2021, marks the 300th consecutive day I have remained in the same time zone.

This has not happened for 25 years, and not just because of holidays! In every year that I was a university professor there were conferences and meetings, research trips and seminars, events which kept me on the road two or three (or more) times a year. In my quest to become full professor I made sure that my work was widely disseminated – I tried to present a paper or be part of a symposium in at least one local, national, and international conference a year. In addition, there was my educational development work, which gave me the opportunity to work around the world, in many wonderful countries such as Kosovo, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Sweden. The travel became strangely addictive, and I got a great sense of enjoyment out of knowing which were the best airline lounges. When I learned of the Air Canada Million Mile program, there was a tangible reward in sight, and it was with glee that I unpacked my model aeroplane once it arrived. Appropriately it’s a model of a Boeing Dreamliner – appropriate because now the only place I’m flying is in my dreams. C’est la vie.

But if I could, where would I go? I have made my bucket list and prioritized the top 5 places I’d like to visit as soon as travel becomes feasible again. I’ve ignored issues like cost, time, and the convenience to other people, these are my dreams!

First, the west coast, and a chance to see our youngest daughter’s new house, on the Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver. That part of the country is ironically named, as it has some of the heaviest precipitation in the country and supports a temperate rain forest. At least they don’t have to shovel it. From there one can drive to Inuvik, on the shore of the Beaufort Sea, a 3800 kilometers (2300 miles) odyssey that encompasses northern British Columbia, the Yukon, and the Dempster Highway. According to Google Maps it is a 51-hour drive, so allowing for sightseeing and other stops that would be a 10- or 12-day trip, with four or five hours of driving each day. I’ve never been to the Yukon, or to that side of the Arctic, so that would be fun. Of course, it’s 3800 klicks back as well, but that would be faster as it’s all down the map.

Second, I want (and need) to get back to the UK, to see family and friends and to resume the trip which was rudely interrupted last March. I’ve never been up to the very north of Scotland and would love to see that part of the country. A quick side-trip into Europe would be good as well, to visit friends in France. Luckily, Brexit has no impact on my travel into the European Union.

Third, Australia beckons me back. I’ve never been to Tasmania and would like to complete my ‘set’ of states. There are many friends to visit on the north and eastern coasts, and a trip across the Top End from Cairns to Broome has always been something I’ve wanted to do.

In fact, I would probably try to go the other way, arriving first in Perth and then going from Broome to Cairns, and then down the coast to Tasmania. That would leave me in the correct geographical location to start trip 4, which would involve a cruise across the Pacific to the west coast of Canada or the US. It would be magnificent to drop in at all the islands of Micronesia and Polynesia, visited by Captain James Cook (and Paul Gauguin) so many years ago. Plus, I’ve never been on a cruise.

Finally, closer to home and not requiring an aeroplane to facilitate, another road trip is the one which goes from Red Bay, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence river, all the way round Labrador to Tadoussac, near Montreal. It’s almost 2400 kilometers (1500 miles), so about a two-week drive. Plus of course the three days it would take to get to Red Bay, which requires a long drive up the northern peninsular of Newfoundland and then a ferry across the Strait of Belle Isle from St. Barbe to Blanc Sablon. That narrow channel is also known as ‘ice-berg alley’, so one’s timing has to be pretty careful! And the two days to drive back from Montreal. So about three weeks in all, and not an airport lounge in sight.

After that … well, I’d love to visit with friends from Umeå to Ottawa, Boston to Bretagne, Massachusetts to Medellín, New York to New Zealand, and places in between. That’s the problem of staying in the same time zone for 300 days – it gives you too much time to dwell on the wider world outside. Still, that’s where the Dreamliner comes in useful.

Of course, I’d better hope I can achieve these trips quickly. I was thinking the other day of the Mayan calendar, and of Michael Coe, who wrote that “there is a suggestion … that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the 13th [bʼakʼtun]. Thus … our present universe [would] be annihilated … when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion” (1966, p. 149). The date of this ‘completion’ was set as 21 December 2012, and many people were happy when that date came and went without any major catastrophe. But what if he was a bit dyslexic, and simply got his numbers inverted? Perhaps he really meant 12 December 2021.

Just saying.

You read it here first!

—–

Coe, M. D. (1966). The Maya. Ancient peoples and places series, no. 52 (1st ed.). London: Thames and Hudson.

(Re)defining Normal

So here we are, ten days until Christmas, a year since the Coronavirus was first reported, and nine months since the pandemic was declared. I think we’re all getting tired of it. I know I am.

I’m not the only one who is finding it hard to achieve anything these days. Russell Wangersky is a Newfoundland writer, who is also one of my favourite newspaper columnists. He recently described how his reactions to adversity are changing.

An axe sticks in the log he’s trying to split, he stops splitting wood; the glue won’t hold on a repair, it takes three times as long to fix the problem; a shed roof leaks but he can’t replace the material because the pandemic has interrupted the supply chain, and none is available.

His response to all this? He gives up and goes for a walk in the woods, wishing things were back to normal. Those three little things have thrown him. Three little things which, in the past, he would no doubt have resolved with ease. Three little things which, in the wider scheme of things, are nothing more than irritations and inconveniences. And yet his day is ruined. He is starting to feel depressed. He wants to return to normal.

But do we remember what ‘normal’ was like? Earlier this morning I re-read my ‘End Time Blues’ blog from last December, which reported that there were so many not-good things happening and yet made no mention whatsoever of COVID-19 or a possible global pandemic. The thing is, those not-good things have continued happening, we have all just been ignoring them as we grapple to learn the language of social-distancing, face masks, and hand-sanitizers.

My response to the chaos of 2019 was to dry a selection of pole beans, various heritage varieties which I had grown over the summer, and then sell them at the Christmas Craft Market as Apocalixir Beans. The basic premise was that if the Zombie Apocalypse arrived, one could hide in the basement and cook the beans and live on them, the elixir of life, until things quietened down. And if there was no Zombie Apocalypse by June (2020), you could plant them in your garden and grow your own crop for next year. I sold a number of jars, mostly to people who thought they’d make a great ‘gag gift’ for someone.

The Farmers’ Market was closed down in March, and then reopened as an outdoor market during the summer. Unfortunately, my daughter owns and operates a cheese supply company and was therefore not able to participate, as the Health inspectors were not keen on her sitting in a parking lot cutting up wheels of Brie. Eventually, in late October, it was decided that the indoor market could open again, albeit with a limited number of customers, and I got my Saturday job back.

As the customers returned, I met up once more with some of the people who had bought my beans last year. They reported two things. First, some told me that they had been pleased to have the little jars on hand during the shortages of spring, providing a modicum of comfort when food, toilet paper and other essentials were in short supply. Second, others said that they had planted the beans in a sunny spot and grew their own vines, and in some cases even got the plants to harvest.

So, both advertised options were apparently feasible and illustrated the foresight of the purchasers, as well as the old adage that many a truth is spoken in jest. Sadly, the Christmas Craft Market was cancelled this year, due to COVID restrictions and a mini-outbreak here on the Island. Which is sad because I had another good harvest and could have tried to sell my Apocalixir Beans again. If things were normal.

It seems to me that this might be part of the problem. We’re having a hard time getting our heads around the possibility (fact?) that things are probably not going to be going ‘back to normal’.

Indeed, perhaps it is time that we recognized that we are going to have to create a new normal for our lives. What might that look like? How might we adapt to life with COVID?

Our adaptations will no doubt be based on three hopes. But these are just hopes, they are not predictions. Because really, who knows what the heck is going to happen next? And let’s face it, even hope has a serious downside these days.

First, we hope that the supply chain will ensure that the newly developed vaccines get to everyone who wants to have them. That said, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the process of vaccinating the population won’t be completed until towards the end of 2021, and that’s only for those of us fortunate enough to live in a western industrialized country with a strong infrastructure.

There are many parts of the world where the ability to store a vaccine at -80 simply does not exist. Even within the WEIRD countries (i.e., those that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic), populations who are unable to travel to the place where the vaccine can be stored are going to be out of luck for a while, as apparently the people have to go to the needle, not the other way round. So, unless you are independently mobile, and live in an urban centre with a designated freezer, your time will come later rather than sooner.

Second, we hope that we will not have terrible forest or bush fires, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, significant conflicts, asteroid impacts, winter storms, plagues of locusts and other pestilences. The effects of a changing climate are being experienced across the planet and are visible everywhere except on the 24 hours news channels. According to Copernicus, the EU Climate Change Service, November 2020 was the warmest November since records began.

The Arctic Institute notes that the Arctic region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet and the permafrost is melting, leading not only to an impact on infrastructure but also to the release of carbon into the atmosphere. Oh, and just for fun, that is raising a concern that viruses which have been frozen for thousands of years will begin to thaw out and bring old pestilences back to life. Soon we might be saying, “move over, COVID, there’s a new game in town.”

Third, we hope that we shall all get to travel internationally again. The reliance of so many economies on unfettered tourism has been exposed this year. Those of us who live in places that others like to visit found that the pandemic exacerbated the chasm between those who own tourist operations and those who work in the industry. The large resorts were able to pivot and restructure themselves as ‘isolation hotels’, where returning residents and essential workers could stay for their required quarantines. The people who sold the gifts in the craft shops, meanwhile, were laid off and forced onto government support. They will probably not be hired back until the cruise ships return, or the airlines resume service.

One day, perhaps towards the end of next year but perhaps more likely in 2022, the WEIRD countries will have reached ‘herd immunity’ against COVID-19. We still may not know whether this requires just the one vaccination, or becomes an annual event like the flu shot, but at least most people will be immunized. There seems to be an agreement among epidemiologists that 70% of the population need to be either recovered from the coronavirus or else vaccinated against it in order for herd immunity to be achieved.

That might work on a local or even national level in many countries, but it will be very difficult in others. There are currently 7.8 billion people in the world, which means that someone will have to make 5.46 billion doses, sometimes double ones. Media reports indicate that “according to health officials, each box containing the vaccines … will need to be opened and unpacked manually at specially licensed sites. The shots also have to be checked by a specialist medical logistics company to ensure there was no damage in transit.”

How is the vaccine going to be delivered to the islands of Papua New Guinea, the mountains of central Afghanistan, the villages of the Šar region of the Balkans, all places where I have lived and worked? It’s going to take months, if not years, to get this vaccine out to the global community.

I had intended that this would be a ‘feel good’ blog, something to cheer me up (and hopefully you as well!) in the days before this most unChristmaslike of Christmases. I was thinking of the year ahead, of all the things I’d like to do, of all the places I’d like to visit. Sadly, the world got in the way, and those thoughts will have to wait until another blog.

till, I am grateful that I can follow Russell Wangersky’s lead, and go for a walk in my garden and the adjacent fields and woods. I’ve just got to find my mask.

Bubbling Along

There are farm stands all over the Island selling pumpkins and squash, corn cobs and hay bales, turnips and zucchini. Some of these are eaten, most become decorative so as not to interfere with Burger Love (seriously: https://peiburgerlove.ca/); at least there’s no Porktoberfest this year.

Some of the huge orange pumpkins are no doubt being kept and will be carved for Halloween, the next festival in the run-up to Christmas, but many are being used now. As you drive around you see them sitting on many doorsteps, and often there is a display of corn stalks, large green zucchini and yellow squash as well, all artfully arranged on a hay bale and offset by a pot of red or orange chrysanthemums, or a planter of multicoloured kale. A colourful cornucopia of all that this land can offer us.

No wonder my First Nation friends call it the “You’re Welcome” weekend.

In the USA they celebrate Thanksgiving in November. After the election.

Our main meal tends to be a big roast turkey, with a breaded sage and onion stuffing at one end and sausage meat at the other, served with mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, roasted squash, carrots, gravy, etc., as side dishes. On the Island there is a certain pride at stake as well, as it is acceptable to murmur (not brag!) that “I grew all these myself, you know.” Unfortunately, we can’t have any guests this year, so I’ll mention it to you instead!

A week or so ago, in my first blog for six months, I managed to avoid focusing on the two items which have dominated our news cycles recently. I tried to encapsulate some of the things that have been going on as well as the global pandemic, but which might have been lost in the noise of COVID19. Indeed, of the 25 stories that I mentioned, only 3 related to the coronavirus, and only one referred to the US election.

I’ve since heard from a few of you who’ve agreed that it’s been a dismal year, or a totally f**ked up one as someone phrased it, and I’ve heard from others who’ve told me in no uncertain terms that my litany of woes wasn’t really helping! I agree – but as I asked in my ‘End Time Blues’ blog of last December, before this all started, “Does one simply turn off all the newsfeeds and pretend nothing is happening?”

Perhaps we should. In Canada, we have been very fortunate when compared to many other countries. We have not experienced the tragedies that have occurred in Italy, Spain, the UK, or other parts of Europe. We have not been exposed to the chaos and carnage of Mexico, Brazil, India, or the United States. So, in many ways, living in Canada is to live in a small little bubble in the world.

Within Canada, the Maritime provinces are in their own little bubble as well. Most of the Canadian cases are in the larger and more urbanized provinces of Quebec and Ontario, with significant numbers also in Alberta and British Columbia. Here on the east coast our numbers have been a lot lower, with fewer than 2000 cases and less than 100 deaths across all four provinces.

And within the Maritimes, our little Island seems to be in its own bubble as well, with 59 reported cases that have all recovered, and no hospitalizations or deaths at all.

So, if I turn off the news and ignore what has been happening in the world these past six months, here are some of my experiences from living in a bubble in a bubble in a bubble, as cocooned from reality as one might possibly be without pharmaceutical assistance.

The first couple of months of COVID were challenging here, as they were everywhere. The Island pretty much closed itself off from the world. The ferry service was cancelled, as were most flights, and a checkpoint was established on the Confederation bridge. A few ‘essential workers’ were still allowed in, plus Islanders who had been stuck somewhere else and were coming home, but that was it. Seasonal residents and tourists were banned. ‘Foreign’ number plates (from Ontario or Quebec, for example!) were identified and reported. Restaurants and bars were closed, as were many shops and service providers. We were allowed to travel pretty freely on the Island, but there wasn’t anywhere to go. My working life stopped – it’s hard to be an international consultant when there are no planes flying. I did manage to teach a course for the University of Saskatchewan, but instead of having a couple of weeks in Saskatoon, which the late great Leonard Cohen described as the ‘Paris of the Prairies’, I had to pivot online.

Slowly things started to ease up a little and by the beginning of July, the Atlantic bubble was established. At the same time live music returned to the Island, with small concerts being organized. These were limited to 50 people, seated at socially distant tables, and were nerve-wracking for all concerned. For the audience, we weren’t sure quite how things were going to work. For the musicians, some hadn’t been on a stage since February and were learning their craft all over again. But it was good to get out, good to support people who needed it, good to be part of an audience. We have a lot of fabulous musicians here on the Island, and with the Atlantic Bubble we even managed to attract a couple from Nova Scotia. So that was all good.

And as we moved into July, we were blessed with an incredible summer, with 99 days where the temperature exceeded 20 degrees Celsius. It was supposed to be 100 days but on the last day the ‘official’ thermometer at the airport stopped at 19.6, so we can’t claim it. Even though my car told me it was 21 degrees outside.

I spent the summer in my garden, planting flowers and growing food. Victoria and I grew lots of things from seed and most of them transplanted well. I have nearly finished landscaping the pond, and that has now attracted a dozen frogs from two distinct species. Five of my goldfish survived the winter, to my amazement, and were a joyful sight in the early spring. Then they disappeared. I found a couple of dozen corn husks lying around and figured they had been brought down by racoons, who often wash their food before eating it. Perhaps they had then scooped out my fish as well. After a couple of weeks, I went back to the pet shop and bought seven new goldfish. They seemed to acclimatise pretty well. Then one day there were twelve goldfish in the pond, five big ones and seven little ones.

This was a bit of a shock, as the pond is only about 4 feet deep. I have no idea where the missing five had been for three weeks. But I know what they were doing.

In mid-summer, the seven new goldfish were now medium sized, and all 12 would swim around, in and out of the lily pads, all very dramatic. Then I saw some minnows. Half a dozen or so, very small black fish. I was flummoxed. The pond is a self-contained unit, with no stream or creek connecting it to anywhere else. Where could minnows have come from, I wondered.

Victoria told me, authoritatively, that ducks often transported small minnows from one water source to another. She described in detail how the duck, swimming around in pond or stream A, would not realize that a minnow had got caught up in its leg feathers. The bird would then fly to pond or stream B, where it would paddle around, and the minnow would get shaken off into the new body of water. This of course made perfect sense to me and in the absence of any other information, became the accepted origin story.

The next day there were 20 or so minnows, the day after another 20. There are now over a 100 of them, and they have not only grown but many have also changed colour. There are gold ones and white ones and multihued ones … they look wonderful, darting through the shallows at the edge of the pond. Not minnows, but baby goldfish. Duck-assisted travellers indeed. Victoria still laughs that I believed her.

I’m not sure how many of my minnows will survive the winter, being stuck under the ice for two or three months. Some are getting to the size of my little finger now, so they might have a chance, but it seems like there have been three hatchings (is that what one calls it, when fish eggs become fish?) because there are three distinctly different sizes of minnow. It will be fun to see what the spring looks like – but if there are a lot then that might be problematic. The pond is rain-filled only, and I don’t know how many fish it can support.

I might have to get one of those long-handled nets and try to catch some. I could put a selection of old jam jars in the back tray of my truck, some empty and some filled with water (and a goldfish), then charge small children $1 to throw a ping pong ball and see if they can land it in a jar with a fish. $2 for three balls. That should be an interesting way to spend a Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market and would no doubt make me really popular with parents!

Of course, this summer was enhanced mightily by the football (soccer) news from England. As some of you know, I am a born and bred Leeds United supporter. Indeed, one of the last things I was able to do, pre-pandemic, was go to Elland Road with my brothers and watch Leeds win. Little did we know it would be the last game in front of spectators for that year, and even for this year so far. Everything got put on hold for over three months, and when the league restarted in early July, we continued to win games, and the Championship, and were promoted to the Premier League. Where we belong. So now, as the winter nights start to draw in, and the cold winds blow, I am warmed by the knowledge that nearly every weekend there will be a Leeds game on TV, and I’ll be Marching On Together with other like-minded souls. Ah bliss.

So that was the summer of 2020. I spent a lot of time in my garden, growing stuff that we have frozen and pickled and canned in the hope that if (or when) things go sideways again, at least we’ll have something to eat. Leeds United won the Championship and got promoted back where they belong. I got to go to a half-dozen or so concerts and thoroughly enjoyed being in one of the few places in the world with live music. I took advantage of the Atlantic Bubble and managed a weekend in Nova Scotia, visiting friends in Cape Breton.

I didn’t learn to speak French properly, or to play the guitar, or to develop any other new skill. I didn’t have to cope with losing family or friends to COVID. I didn’t get restricted to my house except for an hour a day of exercise or limited to a 3-mile radius except for shopping. I didn’t run out of toilet paper or yeast. I just carried on, as one does.

That said, I did lose some good friends. I chafed at not being able to grieve properly, at not being able to provide support to their surviving partners or children, at not being able to attend a funeral or a wake. If 2020 is the year of COVID, it seems like 2021 will be the year of memorial services and celebrations of life.

So, on that note, in closing I would like to use this space to remember five particular people who were lost this year. Richard Rusk, a renowned architect who was my daughter Kate’s father-in-law and who provided much needed help (and comic relief) when we tried to show the wedding guests how to open a lobster; John MacLeod, a good friend and mentor, who for many years was a professor at the University of Saskatchewan and who introduced me to the statistical concept of ‘optical significance’; Roni Godwin, the much-loved wife of another friend, Debbie, who taught with me in the Dene community of Black Lake, northern Saskatchewan; Uncle David, my father’s youngest brother and the last of that generation, who used to go shark fishing off Cornwall. All will be missed.

As will be Dr. Steve Wilde, one of my best and longest-standing friends, whom I met on our first day of teachers’ college, in 1971. He was from London, I was from ‘up North’. He was a rabid Tottenham Hotspur fan, which I could never understand, and he played a mean guitar. Over the years we have been a regular part of each others lives, celebrating momentous occasions together. He carried me home from my 21st birthday party, I dragged him out of many ill-advised arguments. With some other friends we were hippie travellers in an old Volkswagen camper across Europe and the Middle-East, on the “Katmandu for Christmas” route, having all the adventures you might imagine five 20-somethings would have at such a time and in such a place.

In India he was struck by the life conditions of the people he met and came back from that trip determined to retrain as a medical doctor, which he did. He visited me in Papua New Guinea, exploring the villages of the Sepik River by canoe and crashing my new truck on a mountain highway, something I never let him forget. I could find his house in England without a map, as he could many of mine in Canada, and rare was the year in the last 49 that didn’t include an evening of food and drink and conversation, not only reminiscing but considering the current issues of the day, before finishing with a wee dram and a song or two from Tom Paxton or Leonard Cohen. My deepest condolences to his wife, Anne, and to his sons Adam and Tim.

Steve, this one’s for you. COYS.