Deer in the headlights, and the intelligence of mushrooms


Just after night settled in here – about 6 p.m. in mid-November – I was driving slowly along Cathedral Drive when suddenly my headlights lit up two white-tailed deer a short distance ahead. I had plenty of time to slow down more in case they panicked the wrong way into my van; and time to get a good look at the beautiful creatures as they literally high-tailed it off the road and into the woods. Continue reading

My Buddy


My big boy, my best friend, my Buddy

Startles me with his sudden barking.

Are there coyotes prowling outside in the black night

I ask, as he lifts his head and his bark almost becomes a howl,

A warning, followed each time by a low grumble of concern.

Maybe it’s just the deer in the garden again, browsing on what’s left of the kale.

Something is nearby, prowling through this black night, claiming it as its own.

The woods are full of eyes, solitary beings, or packs of them we can only imagine.

The night belongs to them now. My ownership means nothing.

My loyal shepherd wants out to defend us.

But I pat his handsome head as he looks at me with worried, loving eyes.

And I tell him, don’t worry, we’re safe in the light behind these walls

And in the morning you’ll have new scents to pick up and territory to mark

To your heart’s content, my big, beautiful boy, my loyal friend.

And he inclines his head in that curious way Shepherds have, listening carefully.

We’re okay, I tell him gently, I’m okay. And he lifts his paw for a touch of my hand.

He knows.


The necessity of Remembrance


The Canadian National Vimy Memorial

The First World War Battle of Vimy Ridge, fought and won by the four divisions of the Canadian Corps with much loss of life in April, 1917 is rightly celebrated as a formidable military achievement and notable nation-building event for Canada. Earlier attacks by British and French forces had failed to take the heavily-defended German position.

The striking memorial on the ridge that commemorates the battle and the 3,600 Canadians who died there is widely regarded as one of the most impressive of such monuments. German troops were even assigned to guard the site after the fall of France in June, 1940.

The celebration of the 100th anniversary of that battle this year has notably improved remembrance of it among Canadians of all ages.

But remembrance of another even more deadly battle in which the Canadian Corps played a decisive role in victory, also fought 100 years ago, is sadly lacking. Continue reading

Life goes on


On the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, on the Bruce Peninsula

It’s remarkable surely that people the world over continue to go about their daily lives and business – living, loving, making plans and so on as if the world isn’t on the edge. What strange creatures we mortals are: somehow able to keep on keeping on as if the future is not in clear and imminent . . . well, mortal danger.

What are we supposed to do? Stop living? It suddenly occurs to me maybe some have. Who knows how many have made that choice on account of the political situation in the United States of America, and its impact on the rest of the world.

Someone, it appears, has taken the lid of Pandora’s box, and all manner of craziness has been set loose to run amok.

Yet, one way or another, most of us carry on with our lives. Continue reading

In praise of Gord Downie


Mortality is the fundamental reality of human existence. We can make plans for the future, and that may indeed be prudent. But this present moment in which you and I live is the only one we can be sure of, though I daresay most of us, myself included, have lived as though we’re immortal.

Otherwise why would we devote our lives to the accumulation of wealth and material happiness? It’s an illusion, the pursuit of which blinds us to the life we could be living and the person we could be if only we could stop denying the existential truth.

Easily said then done, of course. Even now, as I am reminded daily that I am growing old, with all that entails, I struggle to break that habit of denial.

This may sound morbid; but it’s not really. I’m talking about the possibility of a liberating event, when the reality of mortality stares you right in the face in no uncertain terms; when it forces you to make the most important decision of your life. That is, to live with new or renewed dedication and meaning, and be the best person you can possibly be, for your own sake, and the good of everyone around you – and the wider world.

The great 19th Century Russian author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, faced such a moment when he and other youthful political activists were convicted by the Tsarist government of the time of subversive activity and sentenced to death in 1849. Their graves were dug before them and the firing squad was lined up when suddenly a horseman arrived with a message from Tsar Nicolas 1 commuting their sentence to years of squalid Siberian exile.

One has to be careful not to justify such acts of authoritarian brutality, then and now. But that moment is regarded as formative for Dostoyevsky’s mature genius. As the encyclopedia Britannica says, “The mock execution led Dostoyevsky to appreciate the very process of life as an incomparable gift and . . . to value freedom, integrity, and individual responsibility all the more strongly.”

By all accounts Gord Downie, lead singer and front man of the Tragically Hip was already a good man — a good family man, good friend, and Canadian performer of well-deserved acclaim before the announcement on May 24, 2016 that he had incurable brain cancer.

“No one worked harder on every part of their life than Gord. No one,” his family and the Tragically Hip said in a shared statement this week.

Downie is now also a shining and inspiring example of a person who made the most of their last moment of living — however long. As it turned out it was 19 months.

I think it’s fair to say Canada was held spellbound by his courage and creative energy – his heroism, really, in the face of death.

He died Tuesday. He was only 53.

Gord Downie was born and raised in historic Kingston, Ontario and got his musical start there along with other members of “The Hip.”

His love for Canada expressed in his music and his actions was palpable, but he was no narrow-minded nationalist. He called it like it was, especially after his diagnosis, when he focused much of his still formidable creative energy and attention drawing attention to indigenous issues.

For example, in his October 2016 multimedia project “Secret Path,” he told the story of Chanie Wenjack, the 12-year-old boy who died after running away from a residential school in Kenora in 1966.

The boy’s body was found along railroad tracks, 60 kilometres from the school. He was trying to make it home to his First Nation community 1,000 kms farther north.

The proceeds from the sale of Downie’s solo project are being donated to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, representing 49 First Nations in northern Ontafrio, issued a heartfelt statement:

“I have been deeply moved by Gord’s work with the Wenjack family to bring the history of the Indian Residential School system to a national audience,” he said. “Gord restored the dignity and innocence of a little boy who only wanted to go home, and we have been humbled by his determination to share the story of Chanie and all of our youth who never made it home.”

“We will forever be touched by Gord’s compassion and commitment to guide us along the path to reconciliation. Gord knew this wouldn’t be easy, but I pray that my friend has inspired us all to get moving.”

Last December the Assembly of First Nations awarded Downie its highest honour, a Star blanket, at the AFN’s Special Chiefs assembly in Gatineau, Quebec.

“In the wake of his diagnosis, Gord only fought harder for what he believed in: social justice, environmentalism, and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie said in a written statement.

For his work raising awareness of Indigenous issues, Gord Downie was inducted as a member of the Order of Canada in 2017.

“(The) terminal brain cancer didn’t faze who Gord was. If anything, it galvanized him. He was a true humanist,” an emotional Sean McCann, singer and former Great Big Sea guitarist who knew Mr. Downie for many years, told the National Post.

No doubt Gord Downie had so much more to give, as is often said about a remarkable person who dies too young.

And yet, he gave so much in the time he had left. There’s a really important lesson there for all of us to take to heart as we try to be the best we can be, and work together to build this good country.

A version of this post was originally published in The Sun Times October, 2017.

A hopeful Hope Ness morning


It won’t be long now, I expect, being a Hope Ness resident long enough to know this is a precious jewel of a day for October 21, just south of the 45th Parallel in Ontario, Canada: winter snow and freezing temperatures are coming soon enough. So this is a joy indeed for an old sun-lover like me, even if I take advantage of the warm, sunny weather to do the work that still needs to be done to get ready for winter. Continue reading

Have courage, speak up, do not succumb



I look out my second-floor office window here at Cathedral Drive Farm in Hope Ness and all is calm: the morning sun is shining on the second-growth of tender, young buckwheat still managing to survive the cooling nights. There is little wind, though 100 km/hr winds are forecast for this weekend. And I wonder if I will get a chance today to start putting plastic on the windows to help keep out the winter cold.

But, I confess, the state of the world has got me down: the increasingly destabilized, insecure, dangerous world and the threat that poses for ordinary people like me who just want to get on with their lives, do right by their children – and the human family – yes, that too, because we are all in this together, whether you live down the road and around the corner, or on the other side of the planet. Continue reading

No way to treat a friend

There’s nothing like a wall, real or virtual, to make a point about the promise to “Make America Great Again” even if it means offending an entire nation on its southern border, or hitting your best friend and ally to the north with a sucker punch.

Even the giant U.S. aircraft maker, Boeing, was surprised by the 220 percent “anti-dumping” tariff the U.S. Commerce department recently inflicted on the prospective sale of Bombardier’s new C-Series passenger jets to Delta Airlines.


Two, beautiful, Canadian-made Bombardier C-Series passenger jets

Bombardier is a Canadian company that has signed a deal with Delta Airlines in the U.S. for the sale of 75 of Bombardier’s new C-series, 100-passenger jets. Delivery was supposed to begin in 2018. But Boeing said the jets were being sold below cost with the help of Canadian and Quebec government subsidies, and asked the U.S. Commerce department to investigate. The protectionist administration of President Donald Trump was only too happy to oblige, and then some. Continue reading