2013 – 2014

We’re All in This Together
January 2013

Well, if you’re reading this column we survived another year, including the Mayan prediction of the end of the world on December 21st. Woohoo! It is indeed a very Happy New Year. With the possibility of that event hanging over our heads, there must have been some extra boisterous celebrations all over the planet.

What sort of resolutions did you make, if any? I myself have proven to be terrible at keeping resolutions, especially the specific goal-oriented kind. In past years I tried to make a resolution to get into shape but when I began to jog the ice cubes kept falling out of my glass. Kidding!

What I prefer to do instead, some time just before the end of December, is spend some time thinking about my year—the things I may have accomplished, where my efforts fell short and could improve—so I can both pat myself on the back and gently nudge myself to do better.

This year I have resolved to laugh more and keep my eye on living closer to my heart. Too often during the past year I was impatient. Too many times I forgot about compassion and loving kindness. Whatever our own individual behaviour or beliefs, we all wish to make fewer mistakes and take our cue from Benjamin Franklin who said, “Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better [person].”

Speaking of being at peace with our neighbours, this anonymous quote might tickle the funny bone of some of the elder folks: God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.

Humour aside, entering a new year is a time for communities to start fresh. Whether that happens on January 1st or some other day, we humans really need special dates and the rituals which accompany them to lend life that sparkle of renewed meaning and progress.

I don’t know about you, but in the last few years I’ve been yearning for new and more meaningful ways to honour the passing of another year. The way we celebrate Christmas and New Years now, with an excess of consumption, mostly leaves me needing to jog and anxious about incoming credit card bills.

So I’m looking to other cultures for ideas and inspiration. Columbia, Puerto Rico and Cuba have an interesting ritual. Families stuff a life-sized doll called Mr. Old Year with memories of the outgoing year and dress him in old clothes from each family member. At midnight the doll is set on fire, burning away the year’s bad memories. Isn’t that cool?

Once, many years ago when I was a backpacker travelling in Asia, I witnessed the Lunar New Year celebrations of the Lisu hill tribe peoples in northern Thailand. Their activities included keeping an unbroken circle of dancers going around and around a tall tree for three days and three nights. Hand in hand, everyone sang a repetitive, hypnotic song. Their feet stamped out a slow, comforting rhythm into the earth. Each villager was expected to join the circle and go around at least once; many people went around and around for hours.

Each person was reminded that none of us is above or below, we are all on the same level and we are all in this together. As people moved in circle around the tree, each person’s misdeeds or misfortune from the old year were given formal, communal acknowledgement and release. At the end of the three days, the tree was taken outside the village and burned, ensuring the village was cleansed and fresh for the coming year.

Isn’t that powerful? A ritual won’t magically change who we are. Once it’s over we go back to the same people with the same challenges, the same wounds, the same grievances. But at least it invigorates and deeply stirs the heart. And though we are often a magnificent species, we need regular reminders to rise above our petty natures, to be larger in spirit, and especially to let the past go to where it belongs, in the past.

And of course, maybe you know what I’m going to say next: could this beautiful mountain village benefit from an annual tree dance ceremony?

We are all here on this beautiful planet Earth together now. In a hundred more years like this one, all of us will be gone. We are, in the truest sense of the word, community. Our lives are precious, finite and deeply interconnected. So let us get creative in our approach and search for new ways of being and doing, and remember to be gentle and patient with ourselves and one another.

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Got a Wheat Belly?
March 2013

Bread is the staff of life. Bread is wholesome and good for us, especially if it’s whole wheat or whole grain. We believe these things to be true. But are they? Not according to one doctor.

In his excellent book, Wheat Belly, William Davis, MD illustrates how in the last fifty years commercial industry has turned wheat from a grain that was good for us into a mass produced product making us sick from head to toe.

As Davis chronicles, wheat has been genetically modified at least 100 times without a single study done to see if there are any adverse effect upon human health. Agricultural science has been aggressively applied. The wheat we have for centuries considered a staple of life is no more.

Wheat strains have been hybridized and crossbred to resist environmental conditions such as drought or pathogens such as fungi. Genetic changes have increased yield per acre to ten times what it used to be. Chemicals have been added to make flour soft, to extend shelf life, and to prevent the flour from clumping.

But most egregious is the addition of gluten to the grain, which renders bread dough elastic and stretchable. According to Davis, gluten has a 16-chromosome structure and our body can only read a 4-chromosome structure. Each and every time we eat anything that includes wheat in the ingredients, our immune system reads it as an intruder and goes into battle mode.

Gradually over time our body loses the fight and then disease starts to manifest—including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, and even some cancers, depression and dementia.

I recently met a woman who has celiac disease. Like so many other people, if she eats wheat her digestive system causes her excruciating pain. She told me how she went to Cuba and, lo and behold, she discovered she could eat their bread. The wheat they grow is the same strain they’ve been growing for over 50 years. It’s called Einkorn wheat and it’s what we used to grow before mass market forces turned it into a Frankenfood, the word used to describe scary, agribusiness creations.

I have my own personal story about this. A few years ago, I started getting pains in all my leg joints and I couldn’t figure out why. Someone commented that maybe I was getting arthritis. A light bulb went off. I remembered what a naturopathic doctor had predicted twenty years earlier. After doing some food allergy testing, he told me I had a mild allergy to wheat, as most people do, and that unless I stopped eating it, one day I would probably be diagnosed with arthritis and a doctor would put me on medication.

At the time, I dismissed his advice. Give up bread? Not to mention breakfast cereals, muffins, cookies and crackers, are you kidding? What would I eat? But fast forward twenty years and with each step my joints creaked and groaned. My body was sending me signal after signal that it was in distress. So I decided to just give it a try. I could go without wheat for one week.

Three days later all the pains in my joints disappeared. I felt like a brand new person. My memory sharpened, my mood lifted. In the first month, without even trying, I dropped twenty pounds. The weight came off so easily I went to the doctor and asked her if she thought I could have cancer. In total I lost over forty pounds and never felt better in my entire life. I felt happy, light and at peace.

But it’s amazing how soon we can forget. Gradually over the next few years I reverted back to my old habits. I told myself it couldn’t hurt to just have the occasional treat. A slice of pizza here, a muffin there, a few crackers would be nice. Sure enough, some of the weight climbed back on and all my leg joints began to ache.

I was stuck in the craving cycle. No matter what I ate, my body just never felt satisfied. An hour after eating anything I was thinking about what I could eat next. And worse, my self-esteem was slipping, my moods were not stable or calm and my memory felt foggy and slow to respond.

So I am off the wheat again and I feel fantastic. Just in time for spring. I don’t know about you, but these days I seem to be taking more things out of my diet than putting them in. And I sure am getting tired of my food being so complicated and so compromised.

* * *

Tip of the Iceberg
June 2013

What’s fair about this: if I underpay my taxes by even $5, Revenue Canada will sick their collection dogs on me and make my life a living hell until I pay up. They can and will threaten me with all sorts of punishments, including jail. They will send threatening emails and letters, demand to see the books, and then question every expense, however minor. They’ll treat me like a criminal and put the cold dread of fear into my heart.

A similar situation happened recently to someone I know. Due to working super hard trying to keep her business afloat she didn’t have the time to deal with her taxes properly. To make a very long story short, she got into trouble with Revenue Canada over an amount that was less than $1000. The tales she told me about her experience were ghastly.

But a senator spends $90,000 of our hard-earned tax dollars when he had no legal right to do so and when this becomes public knowledge, his buddy at the Prime Minister’s office, Nigel Wright, bails him out. Furthermore, the Prime Minister claims he knew nothing of the matter. Anybody else smell the rot of hypocrisy and lies? Anybody else hear the whirring of paper shredders?

In my mind, this is how the Duffy scandal played out behind the scenes. When a journalist exposed Duffy for cheating the Canadian taxpayer (thank the gods for journalists), the PM was informed that soon a media firestorm would be upon them. So the PM and his most trusted right hand man, Nigel Wright, concocted a damage control plan.

Someone would have to take the fallout and it wouldn’t be the PM. It would have to be Wright. They struck a deal: Wright’s political career would take a hit in the short term, but the PM would make sure he was handsomely compensated in the form of perks and career advancement. And once the media firestorm has died down, everybody could go back to business as usual.

Who knows the real story. All I know is this: Senator Duffy is only one of 105 senators in only one level of government. What we’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg. It’s time to clean house. Shame on those who would abuse our trust. My gut tells me that a culture of entitlement has crept into governments high and low all across this land. And this must stop.

Public officials of all stripes need to be reminded, in no uncertain terms, that they cannot misuse our money. Bilking taxpayers is a crime and any who think they’re entitled to cheat the public purse should be yanked from office and charged. Holding public office is a privilege and must go to the people who choose to serve with honesty and integrity.
No wonder Revenue Canada threatens any citizen who doesn’t pay their taxes on time, what they’re really doing is protecting the spending habits of Ottawa fatcats.

* * *

Invite them and they will come
September 2013

I recently read a story in this paper about the creation of four new committees which will provide input into Council’s decisions. The committee that really made my pulse quicken was the Arts and Cultural Advisory Committee, whose role includes the exploration of hosting major events and festivals. And to that idea I say woohoo, hallelujah and it’s about time!

This rugged little gold nugget of a town is gorgeous, driving in here on any road is a tour de force of landscape. Once people get here, they see there’s also a friendly and surprisingly diverse community. And the proximity to major centers—two hours from Kamloops, one and a half hours from Whistler, four hours from Vancouver—makes Lillooet an easy destination.

So what kind of festival could this little town host? My imagination has been whirring. I got thinking about the Guaranteed Rugged brand and how that could be fully utilized as an economic driver. An event could be called Rugged Days, a Guaranteed Challenge and it could be promoted with a slogan something like this: You’ve done the Tough Mudder, now try The Rugged! I imagined participants would cycle some of the Duffy Lake Road, then paddle/kayak/canoe part of Seton Lake, then finish with a hike along a historical trail into town. Now there’s a fitness challenge!

Another idea could be a Reel Rugged competition with prizes given for the best amateur photographers and videographers of B.C.’s wilderness. The festival could take place over a couple of days in a large field where there could be a big white screen like the old drive-ins (but tents and blankets instead of cars) where the images/videos would screen. Highlights could be uploaded to YouTube or other social media hubs for celebration and promotion.

Of course when we think of festivals we usually think of music, so for evening entertainment why not a Rugged Rock Jamboree? I recently heard about an exciting initiative. An English band, Mumford and Sons, has a boutique road tour they call the Gentlemen of the Road Tour. (www.Gentlemenoftheroadtour.com) The band plays concerts in small towns that need an economic boost and would otherwise never get to see a concert of that size.

Or what about this idea. Everybody is fascinated by bears. We could create and host The Grin and Bear It Festival. A weekend of camping, everything celebrating the bear. There could be Indigenous story telling, bear dancing, an open mic for the telling tales of personal bear encounters, prizes for the best bear costumes. There could even be night bear watching tours where people get into a small bus with all the windows open and follow the sound of barking dogs until they find a bear. (just kidding!)

My wacky ramblings aside, there must be many good ideas for events or festivals floating around town. Let’s hope some make it to the Arts and Cultural Advisory Committee.

* * *

When Fracking Comes to Town
December 2013

Here we are in a province rich with abundant clean drinking water, in a world where drinking water is increasingly rare and in many places, non-existent—and the government wants to sell out to the gas industry. Why give away the gold palace because a stranger with a briefcase comes offering a few shiny coins?

In the U.S., whole states have learned the hard way what happens when you allow hydraulic fracturing—otherwise known as fracking—to mess up your environment. People got numerous cancers. Their animals sickened and died. Imagine putting a lighter up to your water faucet, turning it on, and having flames shoot out. That’s what happened when the gas industry came to town. Check out the documentary, Gasland, if you want to know more. It’s in the library.

If you think the water here in Lillooet is safe, think again. Water eco-systems are far more complex than the rivers and tributaries we see on maps. The planet’s water is a complex interconnected web of motion, not unlike the billions of capillaries inside the human body. Constant motion and exchange is a law of nature.

Fracking is a process where deep holes are drilled down into the earth, then massive chemical brews are inserted and detonated so that gas will be released and pushed up to the surface—a dirty, highly stupid method. You cannot quarantine poisonous chemicals in one place and expect the poison to stay put.

Gas corporations have deep financial pockets and will deny and stonewall for as long as the courts will allow, which is a long long time; when their business harms the land and harms the people, they employ an army of lawyers. Nobody can stop them, not even governments.

Recently my friend and I watched a demonstration in Waterfront station in Vancouver comprised of about fifty people–native elders and drummers, grandfathers, a few feisty Ma Murray types, students, etc—all peaceful, bringing their message into the heart of the city, saying a loud public NO to the insanity of fracking in their communities.

After a few minutes, my friend became angry, her cheeks turned red. She said she wanted to punch a protester. Surprised, I said, Why? They’re being peaceful and they have a right to protest, fracking is brutal. She said that she heard there was another group behind the protestors, controlling them, sending in troublemakers who would smash things and destroy public property. This made zero sense. I wanted to ask her who that group was, how she knew this to be true. But she turned heels and was gone. She left me there.

Everybody is anxious. We all know we need fundamental, monumental change. The relentless profit machine will eat up every last good thing left on earth unless we stick together and say stop, enough is enough. No fracking, no more crimes against the planet. There has to be a better way.

* * *

The Words We Live By
February 2014

Well spoken words at the right time can heal a wounded heart. Words hurled like javelins can start wars. Words spoken in haste or jocularity by politicians can make or break their political careers. Words spoken with wisdom can guide and inspire. However words are used, we are bound by their power and beauty.

A dear friend of mine has these words tattooed on his forearm in large, indigo blue ink: Just Breathe. He got the tattoo during an especially stressful part of his life to remind himself to simplify, maintain perspective and stay in the present moment. Whenever I see his tattoo, I find myself taking a deep breath.

Though I won’t have them tattooed on my forearm, I myself have two powerful words I use in times of stress: Let go. Letting go diminishes my blind spots—blind spots that come from being too attached to an issue or an outcome. If I’m caught up in something unpleasant and experiencing feelings of frustration or anger then the first thing to do is to let go. By that I mean, let go of my own thoughts. This is not avoidance; rather, letting go makes space for new thought, for better ways of approaching a problem. Letting go is my way to peace. Once I have inner peace, then I have a feeling of greater clarity, which in turn helps me to problem solve.

Words can also stifle. My grandmother grew up in the Victorian age when they had sayings such as, Children should be seen and not heard; spare the rod, spoil the child. Boy, those must have been hard times for children! She also used to say, If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. This seemed like good advice—we should not sow the seeds of negativity—until I got a bit older and realized those words were double-edged and could really stifle dissent. And I believe that dissent is an essential part of personal growth and human progress.

Her husband, my grandfather, was a stern German patriarch and a bit of a loner. When the sound of talking and my grandmother’s voice would become too much for him to bear, (when she was perhaps winning an argument), he would bellow, Silence! And my grandmother would automatically shrink into mute invisibility. I wonder if it ever occurred to her that she could—or should—disobey his order. Which reminds me of more words, this time spoken by Bob Marley: “The truth is, everybody you love is going to hurt you, you just have to find the ones worth suffering for”.

Wise, witty or wicked, words are keys. They open doors to freedom, happiness and harmony—or keep them closed and locked. So we need to be careful with how we use words, and be even more careful with how we let them use us.

* * *

The Orenda, a review–The Indigenous point of view from Indigenous voices
May 2014

Like so many people, I’m a big reader. Long cold winters are ideal for the escape that books provide—as are hot summers and staying in the shade. Sometimes I read fiction, sometimes non-fiction; but always I am reading to learn, to know more about the world, about human nature, and about myself.

Recently I read The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden, a book of fiction which won first place in this year’s CBC Canada Reads competition. The point of the competition is to find the one book that all Canadians should read, one book that could change the way we think. Now, I’m not one for following the herd; just because some people say something is good doesn’t make it so. And I am suspicious of the motivations behind efforts to change the way we think. But I was intrigued by the subject matter and the historical time frame. The story is about first contact between First Nations and Europeans and is set in the 1600s in the area that was to become Ontario and Quebec.

Many questions arose. What does this book choice say about where we are as a nation? Are we ready to open this discussion, to air the dirty laundry, to heal and move forward? I wanted to see how the writer handled the tensions. Would the story favour one point of view over the other? Was the writer going to revisit tired clichés of the noble savage? Would he end up justifying colonialism? Would he vilify the white man?

Turns out Boyden toyed with all these angles and nobody came out smelling good. In essence the story is a gritty, compelling examination of human nature at the confluence of power and religion. It’s written from three points of view, two of which are Indigenous. The writing is visceral and muscular and I could not put the book down.

If the story is flawed it’s because by the end the reader is left with the impression that colonialism was inevitable: Indigenous peoples were engaged in warfare among themselves which weakened them and made them vulnerable; European incursions found purchase because they exploited the need for allies in warfare; more contact with Europeans weakened Indigenous peoples further because of the mysterious plagues that were wiping them out; brutal winters, unpredictable weather and crop failures finished off their resistance.

If at this point in our history this book is considered a must-read for all Canadians then I would say this: as we move forward with truth and reconciliation, the Idle No More movement, as we approach a time when reparations are made for the devastating legacy of residential schools, broken treaties and a myriad of other abuses, let us think about the result of incomplete histories, flawed perceptions and the real cost of misunderstanding. Let us think about the need to hear more of the Indigenous point of view from Indigenous voices.

* * *

Recipes for Reality

August 2014
Recently I asked a young guy what he wanted to do for a living and he said he wanted to become a chef. Being a foodie and gourmet cook myself, I was delighted. Here was a kindred soul; we were copacetic and going to have lots of common ground to talk about.

I inquired further. What was it about making food that he found appealing? The divine bouquet of spices? Smelling heavenly aromas coming from the ovens? The endless possibility of recipe creation? The joy of feeding people and seeing their happy faces?

Nope, not really. He admired those celebrity chefs on the reality TV shows. There was a gleam in his eye as he imagined his career path. He would climb the ladder, start out as one of those brave, young apprentices, he would love all the competition, he would not crack under the pressure and time constraint, he would look fabulous and handsome on camera, he would create an amazing, delicious plate of food art and win the judges’ approval, and more than anything he would be loved and praised by a famous, ego-bloated ogre he would have to address as Chef.

My heart sank for him but I said nothing. (And he now lives in Arizona so the chances of him reading this column are nil.) He has so much to learn about life, not to mention testosterone. I thought about the odds of a person’s “success” and all the “losers” who are voted off those shows and disappear into the oblivion otherwise known as real life. And I thought about the fact that I have become so middle-aged and cranky.

But seriously, those food shows reflect such a distortion in perception and reality. How ethically bankrupt that food is reduced to competition, entertainment, viewer ratings and delivering an audience to advertisers. And of course there’s the whole class thing going on: some eaters being so into art and so much more upper than lower. The whole business is ghastly.

Even more so because urgent truths about the state of food production and supply are mostly being ignored by the media. To name only a few of the problems, climate change is making large scale farming perilous and harvests unpredictable. California agriculture, upon which we in B.C. rely heavily, especially in winter, is threatened by lack of water. Bee colonies, which pollinate many of the foods we eat, are dying off at an alarming rate. Corporate monsters like Monsanto are beholden only to shareholders and maximizing profit and doing everything in their power—which is substantial—to silence critics and squash education. Meanwhile, the massive majority of people otherwise known as consumers are addicted to cheap junk food and now experiencing epidemics of disease including diabetes, obesity, cancers, and heart attacks.

I am sorry this sounds so alarmist and glum and in late summer when gardens are bursting with plenty. But I believe we are fast approaching a crisis point. And like many people I keep wondering how bad it could be. When and if the food trucks stop rolling into town, store shelves would be empty within hours or days. What then?

As far as I can see, here’s how a successful future looks. We get back to growing our own food, we get our hands in the soil, think about the sun and weather, the ultimate importance of water, the health benefits of a balanced, respected eco-system. We relearn the relationship between clean, locally-grown food and our health and well-being. We learn how to preserve food for winter. We ask the elders how it used to be done.

I wish my young friend would turn off the TV and turn on his self respect instead. I wish he got wise to the motives of mass food producers and the humans who have lost their bearings. I wish he dreamed of becoming a small plot farmer who paid attention to the vast wisdom of nature. I wish that he knew that the ultimate in cool involves making delicious nutritious meals in an environment of fun, friendly cooperation. Because food made with love, integrity and an awareness of deep ecology trumps the foolishness of a TV chef celebrity any day.

* * *

Get Your Vote On
November 2014
Now that I know better, I wish I’d become a voter sooner. In my 20s and 30s I had too much attitude to believe in the political process. Why bother, I always said, nothing will change, the system is corrupt.
But life has proved me wrong. Tremendous changes have occurred, thanks to many determined, effective organizations such as Greenpeace, the Suzuki Foundation and the Sierra Club, to name only a few.
Along with my bad attitude I also carried some guilt. For years I had admired Greenpeace, rooted for them, applauded their victories. Just this one organization alone gave me so much hope. And what was I doing in return? Nothing, besides griping about how bad things were. Then one day it dawned on me—if I wasn’t going to help with making change, how could I justify complaining about the world not being the way I wanted? The only way change happens is when people make it happen. I finally connected the dots. And I realized that I was one of those dots.
The thing I often have to remind myself is that the “system” I believe is corrupt is actually just buildings and machinery. The system is just some ideas that people came up with and then turned into something tangible. Every single thing in that system can be taken down or changed if we don’t like it. Same goes for politics. If we don’t like what’s going on, if the people running the show are abusing their power or not serving in the correct manner, we can vote them out. Every single one of us are the Democracy. So when we don’t pay attention, or don’t care enough to even vote, then who’s really to blame for all the corruption?
When I first began voting, what I liked most about it was simply the showing up. It felt really good to be a part of the people streaming into a voting station, like I was also casting a vote for myself. Showing up to vote is symbolic and powerful, it lets everybody know that I am the kind of person who will be there, not only to vote but also if called upon, if things got really bad and I was needed, I would be there. It’s important for us to show this to one another.
One time, two federal elections ago, I got creative with my vote. I voted for the Green Party’s first-ever candidate who didn’t have a hope of winning. I’d learned that if the Greens received a million votes, they would receive a million dollars to put toward their next campaign in four years’ time. When I told a friend what I’d done he wagged his finger and said I had thrown my vote away. But guess what, in the following federal election, the Green Party candidate was elected. Because I put my vote to work, in some teensy but crucial way, I was a part of that milestone. Boy, did that feel good.

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