9 March 2020
Hello all, and apologies for being a full day late with this letter. In fact, it will a good Tuesday morning when you see it.
I had planned to write today about the Covid-19 virus, and the constant travelling of MPs and Senators (yes, and their spousal units) and the risks that poses to them and to the public, and the effects of the virus on the world’s financial markets, and the tumbling price of oil now that the “OPEC plus Russia” price-fixing consortium has fallen apart, and the urgency for the federal government to immediately switch its oilpatch subsidies to remediation before all little companies go bankrupt, and more like that. You know me, I can go on.
But, today, I beg you to pardon a personal digression.
Elizabeth and I flew out of the Victoria airport from Sidney this morning, over the Gulf Islands and across the Salish Sea to Vancouver, paused for a bit and then off again to Ottawa. Flying over southern BC in the bright March sunshine I am reminded, my heart reminds me, of how thoroughly grounded I am I this province, how this land holds me, and how my political, domestic and spiritual motivations all come from the earth.
I had the good fortune when I was a child to live in many parts of this country – born in Yellowknife, times in Montréal, Vancouver, and Toronto, but mostly in the northern bush, in wild places like Sept-Iles and Labrador. As a result, I feel “chez moi partout le Canada”, truly at home pretty much anywhere.
In 1963, my family, Dad, Mum, and us five kids from 15 to 2 ½ years old drove from Labrador to Vancouver. That was the year the Trans-Canada highway was completed –I remember well coming down the Fraser Canyon when the tunnels were still in construction, my sister Margie hiding in the back seat, terrified by my Dad’s casual one-handed driving over the little bits of cribbing and partial trestles that ran the cars around the cliffs where the tunnels were soon to be.
When we came through the open country of the Thompson Valley, the “dry belt”, I was captured. A kid in the north, I had read and reread my father’s books from the 20s and 30s about working cowboys, by Will James. Will James was actually Ernest Dubois, an orphan from Québec who had been brought to Alberta by a trapper uncle, then went south and cowboyed around for a few years, before stints in early Hollywood westerns, and then becoming one of the best of all the western writers (no “shoot-em-ups” – just ranches and working people). He was without doubt the best pen-and-ink cowboy artist of all time. The open grassland and the desert of the Thompson made those stories and pictures real, and I fell in love with the land.
I finished high school in Vancouver, and went to Ashcroft to work on the Chataway ranch. Then brief stints at military college, half-hearted attempts at university, short jobs in a shipyard, as a fish buyer, mine labourer, and cruise ship dishwasher. In 1966 I went back to Ashcroft to work at the Bar Q (now the Sundance) guest ranch, then to the Gang Ranch, and by 1967 I was at the famous Douglas Lake Cattle Company in the Nicola Valley. I spent a few years there, on a saddle horse most days.
People sometimes ask me why I’m Green – I tell them that if one is so fortunate as to spend a few years outside all day every day, mostly by oneself with a horse and a dog, riding through the forests and meadows and grassland of the Nicola Valley, then really there’s no choice. I cannot imagine a better way to be thoroughly and profoundly grounded, personally attached to the land. Indigenous peoples all over the world have this as their natural inheritance – that, it seems to me, is the source of their strength and endurance and patience.
In my later life, I became an inventor and an entrepreneur – those start with the basic understanding that the conventional wisdom is always incorrect, or at least insufficient – there is always a better way to do just about anything. Contrast that with the southern interior bunchgrass, Bluebunch Wheatgrass, Agropyron Spicatum, and the Big Sagebrush, Artemisia Tridendata, with which it’s associated – they’ve been doing exactly the same work for 20 million years or so and have no need or incentive to do it any differently. That’s why I’m Green.
I spent a couple of years in the 70s doing the first comprehensive survey of grazing land in BC – researching and writing “Rangelands of BC” took me pretty much everywhere in BC that grass grows, and a later job as the head of Co-Ordinated Resource Management Planning got me everywhere else. In the between times, I worked in mines around the south, fishing around the coast, pipelines and agriculture in the north. I know the north moderately well, but I feel the southern part of our province intimately.
Today, we flew from Vancouver Island over the Gulf Islands, out of Vancouver and over the Fraser estuary and the Fraser Valley, south of Mission (for which I now have a real fondness – what a discovery it was for me in the campaign to find such a lovely lively community), along the Fraser River until it bent north, then the Skagit and the Similkameen and the Okanagan rivers (such a view of Okanagan lake, north from Penticton with its great sharp bend at Squallie Point opposite Peachland and on up to Kelowna), then over Christina Lake and Grand Forks, Kootenay Lake, on to Cranbrook with the Steeples Range shining just north of town, the Kootenay River, the Elk River, Fernie, and finally out over Kicking Horse pass to the foothills and the prairie.
Along the way, mountains: over the Cascades and the Monashees and the Selkirks and the Front Range and the Rockies – in 1875, during the debate that brought BC into Confederation, an Ontario MP said that the Dominion of Canada should not spend one penny to bring into the new country “that sea of sterile mountains”. Hah. He should have been on this airplane.
And as we passed over the towns and cities I’ve lived in and where my children were born, the mountains and rivers and grasslands I’ve walked and ridden over, three mines and two canneries in which I used to work, three ridings in which I’ve campaigned, well, I was just overcome with love for this place. I kept distracting Elizabeth from her work to look out the window with me and exclaim “How glorious this is!” – I kept getting little stabs of guilt from seeing all the logging cutblocks – good heavens, how we have whacked the forests in recent years – I kept looking at the little places like Princeton and Hedley and Cawston and Keremeos and Okanagan Falls and remembering friends there and . . . and . . . and . . … I could go on.
And I kept, and I keep, being reminded of why we do this work. We do this work because we love the land and the people and all our relations here. Because we are, all of us, of this land. We may escape temporarily into our dwellings and our office buildings and our cars and our aeroplanes, but at the bottom, in our hearts, we arise from and we are creatures of the land.
And oh my, what we have done to it. Just the little signs here in this little piece of the planet – the cutblocks on the steep slopes, the roads everywhere to get to them, the powerline and pipeline rights-of-way, the highways, the dams, the town and cities – we are everywhere. We show no respect for the land and the earth from which we are sprung, little love for the other beings that share it with us, and few cares for our descendants and theirs who will walk in this world after us.
That’s why we must be Green.
Talking to young people across the country I’ve been working up a story. Imagine the world in a couple of hundred years, I ask. If you see a world with people like us in it, with time to tell stories, then obviously the climate crisis must have been solved. Otherwise, simple as that, nobody will be telling stories in 200 years. So, if they are telling stories, they’ll be talking about this time, right now, right here, as the myth time. The legends will be about the heroes who saved the planet back then.
Legends have a common structure – an unlikely hero or heroine, an impossible quest, and an astonishingly unlikely series of astonishingly unlikely encounters and coincidences and chance occurrences. Only with these can the impossible quest be successful. But by golly there they are, all these unlikely bits there at one time, and the unlikely combination of heroes wins the day and solves the quest. Either we, right here and right now, are the creatures of those future legends, or there will be no future legends. So let’s get to it, all of us, old, young, every race, creed, culture, gender, town and city and country. This is the mythic time, when, against all the odds, the people of legend solved the impossible quest and pulled our earth out of the fire. That’s us, here, now.
That’s why we’re Green.
Apologies for rambling on so. I’ve made this flight many times, but this morning filled me with love and inspiration and I had to share it with you.