Tag: Saskatchewan

His Civil Worship

Another native German Heinrich, Heinrich Böll, a great writer, and I became friends even though we had once been corporals in opposing armies. I asked him once what he believed to be the basic flaw in the character of Germans, and he replied “obedience.” When I consider the ghastly orders obeyed by underlings of Columbus, or of Aztec priests supervising human sacrifices, or of senile Chinese bureaucrats wishing to silence unarmed, peaceful protesters in Tiananmen Square only three years ago as I write, I have to wonder if obedience isn’t the basic flaw in most of humankind.

-Vonnegut, Sucker’s Portfolio, Episode Seven – The Last Tasmanian, p132

Hey Michael, I’m sorry that I spray painted your campaign sign in 2012. I mean, you still won. Twice even! I was young, angry. Now I’m slightly less young, still angry, but know better than to spray paint things on property that doesn’t belong to me, because I know you believe in the concept of property.

But, really, man, (I can call you man, right? We’re cool?) people who don’t believe in civil disobedience? They’re usually evil. Like dictator evil. Like Stalin evil. Either that, or they are so blinded by privilege that they couldn’t possibly understand that laws aren’t always fair. (I won’t get into the fact that laws themselves are made to uphold privilege for people who hold positions of power, like say, Mayor. We’ll get there in our relationship someday.)

And I don’t think you’re evil. Not yet, anyway.

But please don’t let my minor experimentation in vandalism sour you from civil disobedience altogether! It can be a fun act of friendship and community! Like setting up tents and having a fake campfire and making signs asking for donuts outside of the INAC building to try and help end a little thing called ‘genocide’ in Canada. Sure, Colonialism No More wasn’t illegal, but it didn’t stop your political counterparts from trying to come up with ways to make it so. I know you believe in the marvels of bureaucracy, but sometimes breaking the rules is the only way to get things done.

Civil disobedience is important. It can help people who have less rights, thanks to the laws passed in the Henry Baker Hall, to gain rights. You wouldn’t go as far to say that the segregation laws that Rosa Parks helped end for Blacks in America is illegitimate because she did it in an unlawful way, would you? Wait, so, you strictly opposed even the faintest suggestion that Regina Police Service might have issues with discrimination and racism? Well, then, maybe you wouldn’t like Rosa Parks.

I understand that as the Chair of the Board of Police Commissioners, you worry about people breaking the law. Because if regular citizens started breaking the law to stop injustice, then people like Constable Powers wouldn’t be able to break the law and get away with it too, and then, really, no one would be safe.

In a recent speech, Sylvia McAdam (you may have heard of her, but then again, maybe not), said to look up the legal connotations of the word ‘acquiescence‘. I’d heard the word before, but didn’t know what it meant.

Wikipedia: In law, acquiescence occurs when a person knowingly stands by without raising any objection to the infringement of their rights, while someone else unknowingly and without malice aforethought makes a claim on their rights.

In Sylvia’s case, sometimes ‘raising objection‘ means to actually lay on the road next to her land to stop forestry companies from logging and destroying the place where her people are buried. Because sometimes the lawmakers won’t listen, because the laws are made for the loggers. And if she didn’t stand up for her land rights, they would become someone elses’. If the place where your family was buried, or where your family played golf, or where your family played drums, was going to get torn up and ripped down, would you lay down in the road and stop them, or would you just write a letter to the Mayor?

Mr. Mayor, sometimes laws aren’t right, because sometimes (tough pill to swallow) lawmakers aren’t perfect. And sometimes, even with the aid of dollar-store posterboard and a megaphone right outside of your office on the 23rd (or whatever the hell) floor, you still can’t hear people.

So to say that you disagree with civil disobedience, means that you disagree with all the things that civil disobedience has accomplished. And if that’s the case, I worry for the state of our city, specifically for those who don’t benefit from the laws that you feel are so damn just.

Please reconsider.

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Borden Bridge

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Advocating for Alcohol Harm Reduction Policy in Regina, Saskatchewan

Advocating for Alcohol Harm Reduction Policy in Regina Saskatchewan
Understanding Chronic Addiction and Responsible Public Health Practices
Nicholas Olson – Housing Support Worker – Carmichael Outreach

Background

Severe alcohol dependence is common in individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Regina, Saskatchewan. For individuals who have experienced violent or psychological trauma, alcohol is often used as a way to cope with the mental and physical pain that comes when this trauma is left untreated. Aboriginal populations overrepresent those experiencing homelessness in Saskatchewan and Canada, and many of the traumas they have experienced are directly related to unstable family settings caused by the lasting effects of residential and public schools and other programs created under colonial policy. Homeless populations have a high rate of alcohol dependence and for this reason face significant barriers to stable and safe housing, and are often unable to access shelter systems. In Regina, the few housing support programs that are willing to work with individuals with severe alcohol dependence are finding that the Housing First model is not always enough to keep individuals housed, healthy, and stable. Alcohol harm reduction is the next clear step to support Regina’s most vulnerable.

What is Alcohol Harm Reduction?

Alcohol Harm Reduction aims to reduce the harms associated with the use of alcoholic substances in people that are unable or do not desire to stop (International Harm Reduction Association). Harm reduction functions under the idea that all individuals deserve the dignity and respect to be treated in a manner that best supports them as a whole person, not just as an addict, and to be treated medically in a way that is understanding, empowering, and compassionate to their specific needs as a person experiencing an alcohol addiction. For many, the traditional abstinence model is unrealistic and does not take into account the desires of the individual who may not want, or be able, to discontinue use. Alcohol Harm Reduction aims to support the individual to live a healthy life regardless of whether they intend to become abstinent. This may be done by assisting them to consume healthy forms and volumes of alcohol through different programs tailored to the individual, supporting them to be safe during and after consumption, and working with them to maintain good health and, if desired by the individual, to reduce their alcohol consumption overall.

Alcohol Treatment

The development of Alcohol Harm Reduction through a Managed Alcohol Program (MAP), Alcohol Swap Program, Beer Co-op, and/or Prescription Alcohol is the best practice in supporting the addictions of a marginalized population in Regina primarily between the ages of 30-55. Since individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness often have fixed or no incomes, beverage alcohol is unaffordable due to the high cost of controlled substances in Saskatchewan. This, coupled with the marginalization of individuals experiencing poverty, addiction, and mental health, has made beverage alcohol even more inaccessible because these individuals are often not permitted to enter establishments that sell beverage alcohol, and in many cases are unable to even access basic health and emergency services. Non-beverage alcohol (NBA) purchased in grocery stores, convenience stores, and pharmacies including mouthwash, hand sanitizer, hairspray, and rubbing alcohol is being consumed in large quantities because of its potency and availability.

Non-beverage alcohol can be any form of alcohol that is not fit for human consumption. Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is found in beverage alcohol and is safe to consume in moderate amounts. Denatured ethanol, or alcohol denat, found in products such as mouthwash, hairspray, and some hand sanitizers, is ethanol with chemical product added to make the alcohol unfit for human consumption. The chemical additives also allow the producer to avoid the product being designated as a controlled substance. Methanol, or methyl alcohol is toxic and has caused death when consumed through hand sanitizer (CBC). Isopropyl alcohol, found in rubbing alcohol and some hand sanitizers, is toxic if ingested as well. While it is often stated that the extremely high alcohol content in non-beverage alcohol is the most toxic ingredient, with sustained use and high dosage, serious risks are present from the other toxic ingredients in each solution. Hairspray, for example, can have long term effects such as internal bleeding, kidney and liver damage, respiratory problems and death (CBC). Each receptacle of non-beverage alcohol clearly warns of the risks of consumption and strongly advises to contact poison control if consumed in any volume (Pauly 10).

Alcohol Contents and Types

Table1.1
(costs listed are based on saskliquor.com)
(approximate calculations were done at http://www.cleavebooks.co.uk/scol/ccalcoh4.htm and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice)
1 The LCBO is recalling four brands of sherry (LONDON XXX SHERRY INCLUDED) that tested positive for a potential carcinogen. “This is not like E. coli or botulism where you’re acutely affected. To be affected by something like this, you would have to consume it for a long time for many years, so there is no risk at all,” he said. “It’s very, extremely difficult for anyone to get cancer from this type of chemical, unless you’re consuming it on [a] daily basis and you’re drinking large amounts of it.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/lcbo-recalls-sherry-for-carcinogen-risk-1.619474)

Table1.2
(costs listed based on retail prices at given locations)
(approximate calculations were done at http://www.cleavebooks.co.uk/scol/ccalcoh4.htm and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice)
2 Medicinal Ingredients: Eucalyptol (Eucalyptus Clobulus-Leaf) 0.092%W/V, Menthol 0.042%W/V, Methyl Calicylate 0.060%W/V, Thymol 0,064%W/V
Notice: If more than used for rinsing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a poison control centre right away.
3 Ingredients: Aqua, Ethyl Alcohol, Denatonium Benzoate, Camphor
Notice: For External Use Only, Poison, Inflammable. If swallowed, do not induce vomiting. Call a physician immediately. If patient is unconscious, give them air. Danger: Harmful or fatal if swallowed.
4 Ingredients: Alcohol denat, water (aqua), acrylates copolymer, aminomenthyl propanol, fragrance, octylacrylamide/acrylates/butylaminoethyl methacrylate copolymer, PEG-12 dimethicone, tritely citrate, hydrolyzed silk, hydrolyzed keratin. Alcohol content TBD but could be between 50-70%.
5 Medicinal Ingredient: 62% Ethyl Alcohol. Non-Medicinal Ingredients: Aqua, polysorbate 20, carbomer, aminomethyl propanol, glycerin, tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E acetate), denatonium benzoate.
Warnings: For external use only, do not ingest. In case of accidental ingestion contact your physician or a Poison Control Centre.

Limiting availability of these products has proven to be an ineffective means of managing the consumption of the toxic forms of alcohol, as many or all of those accustomed to drinking non-beverage alcohol regularly travel to the suburban areas of the city to purchase from larger box stores and centres where they haven’t yet been banned. When individuals don’t have to spend their energy finding their next source of alcohol and managing their withdrawal symptoms, it allows them to begin to spend that energy on developing life skills, focusing on housing, setting goals, and working on improving their overall health.

The only responsible, healthy, and compassionate way to support those who consistently consume non-beverage alcohol is to understand that in these cases abstinence is potentially a dangerous, unhealthy, and unrealistic treatment, and that reducing the harm they are causing to themselves means assisting them with the consumption of safe forms of alcohol. This can be done with Managed Alcohol Programs where individuals are given a regulated amount of alcohol at regular intervals during the day to help them deal with withdrawal symptoms and feel normal and well, Alcohol Swap Programs where individuals not necessarily receiving comprehensive housing supports can swap out certain quantities of non-beverage alcohol for beverage alcohol, a Beer Co-op where individuals are trained in proper and safe ways to brew their own alcohol for safe consumption, and Prescription Alcohol, which like a MAP, would regulate volumes and quantities based on medical assessments and administered in similar harm reduction models such as methadone. These programs, specifically MAPs, have been implemented across Canada and the US to reduce both the harms inflicted upon alcohol-dependent individuals, and the subsequent costs upon the health and justice systems.

While other potential treatments for alcohol dependence include medications such as benzodiazepines, which include diazepam, or Valium, the lifestyle and the desires of the patient must be taken into account, and for many, discontinuing alcohol use is not desired and is not a possible solution. Using diazepam as a treatment for alcohol withdrawals does not respond to the fact that many individuals would rather not discontinue alcohol use, and even with regulated and prescribed diazepam treatment, many individuals will continue to drink different forms of alcohol when it is presented to them. This would lead to an increased risk of addiction to diazepam, and a “high risk of overdose, loss of consciousness, coma, and death.”(American Addiction Centers) Benzodiazepines are also used as a short term treatment option, with only 1-2 percent of adults continuing treatment for 12 months or longer, and carry substantially higher risks of dependence and misuse in populations with a history of substance abuse (Longo). When supporting an individual living in community, monitoring all the substances that enter the home is impossible, therefore it is best to prescribe that which reduces the most risk and harm to the individual.

The harm reduction framework aims to support individuals to make healthy choices and this begins with offering assistance in managing quantities of beverage alcohol, and accessing beverage alcohol in a cost-effective manner, while at the same time being careful not to perpetuate the stigma of using non-beverage alcohols that is often present in community supports and medical services. Many populations are stigmatized even within social circles for drinking non-beverage alcohol, and this stigma is magnified in many professional health settings. Following the harm reduction framework means focusing on the needs and desires of the individual, not reducing addictions to a moral or ethical choice, and understanding the barriers that have led to less-safe alcohol consumption. It is important that harm reduction treatments are in place and practiced by health professionals, as professional knowledge is needed to create public health policy that can be safely and confidently administered by community entities.

Understanding

Each individual receiving alcohol harm reduction support will consume a different variety, style, and amount of beverage and non-beverage alcohol each day. It is important to understand what the approximate quantities of non-beverage alcohol are to ensure that the proper volume of beverage alcohol is supplied to each individual. Having a set schedule of beverage alcohol consumption would ensure that a moderated amount of alcohol is consumed, which, ideally could be lessened over time based on the desires of the individual. Clinical medical advisement through a MAP or prescription may be required to ensure that the individual is getting a safe dosage, and that an understanding of the individual’s history with addiction and their personal and traumatic history is taken into consideration. In an evaluation of a MAP in Vancouver, BC, alcohol consumption did not necessarily decline in six months for all of the participants, however the consumption of non-beverage alcohol did decline, and most participants reported improvements in mental health, social connectedness, and general well-being, and consumed alcohol in a safer setting with less harms that come from drinking large quantities at one time (Stockwell 6,7).

Below are some comparisons of alcohol contents. Though it is clear that the ethanol present in beverage alcohol is different than the types of alcohol present in non-beverage alcohol (denatured alcohol/ethanol, isopropyl alcohol) and the “high” achieved through using non-beverage alcohol would therefore be different, the comparisons below are a guideline for quantities consumed knowing that the denatured alcohol and isopropyl alcohol have added chemicals that are toxic for human consumption.

For example, as shown in Table 2.1, one litre (1L) of Antiseptic Mouthwash has an alcohol content of 270mL, which is equivalent to 12.5 cans (4.4L), of strong percentage beer, or nearly two bottles of a strong sherry wine. Similarly, as shown in Table 2.2, it takes nearly 10 times as much strong beer to equal the same alcohol content of 449mL that is obtained through 725mL of Hand Sanitzer Gel. While the point of alcohol harm reduction isn’t necessarily to meet the alcohol content that an individual would consume drinking non-beverage alcohol, it is important for service providers and community supports to understand just how much beverage alcohol it takes to help cope with withdrawal symptoms.

 

Table2.1-2.2

Conclusions

It is clear both to the uneducated outsider and to the affected individual that the consumption of non-beverage alcohol is extremely damaging to one’s physical and mental health. By offering support to individuals in their addiction through alcohol harm reduction programs, the dignity of these individuals is upheld as they are receiving compassionate medical treatment that views them as a whole person. Through these programs, these individuals would be able to access supports that are often only accessible to less-stigmatized populations, including detoxification programs that in Regina are inaccessible to many with reduced mobility and high physical needs.

Access to inexpensive, clinically regulated and adequately strong forms of beverage alcohol is key to the physical and mental health and well-being of the individual. Regulated quantities of alcohol must be customized to each individual based on their own personal symptoms and histories. While having professional medical advice involved is clearly the best practice, disallowing access to safe forms of alcohol because of lack of confirmed policy is irresponsible and lacks the compassion necessary in the human services sector and in a responsible community.

Policy driven by the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, monitored and planned by medical professionals, delivered by community organizations, and tailored to the needs of the individual are imperative to the success of an alcohol harm reduction program, and the timely nature of its implementation is extremely important to ensure the safety, health, and survival of a large population of vulnerable people. A responsible community and health region would not allow the continued consumption of controlled poison when clear, simple, and practical alternatives exist.

Sources
International Harm Reduction Association, What is harm reduction?, http://www.ihra.net/what-is-harm-reduction
CBC News, Hand sanitizer ingestion linked to 2 Ontario deaths, Oct 25, 2013, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/hand-sanitizer-ingestion-linked-to-2-ontario-deaths-1.2252046)
CBC News, Hairspray abuse plagues northern town, Feb 16, 2001, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hairspray-abuse-plagues-northern-town-1.293513
Pauly, B., Stockwell, T., Chow, C., Gray, E., Krysowaty, B., Vallance, K., Zhao, J. & Perkin, K. (2013) Towards alcohol harm reduction: Preliminary results from an evaluation of a Canadian managed alcohol program. Victoria, BC: Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia.
Carnahan RM, Kutscher EC, Obritsch MD, Rasmussen LD. Acute ethanol
intoxication after consumption of hairspray. Pharmacotherapy. 2005 Nov;25(11):1646-50. PubMed PMID: 16232026.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16232026?report=docsum
American Addiction Centers, Dangers in Mixing Valium and Alcohol or Drugs, http://americanaddictioncenters.org/valium-treatment/dangers/
Longo LP, Johnson B., Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines–side effects, abuse risk and alternatives. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Apr 1;61(7):2121-8. Review.,
http://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0401/p2121.html
Stockwell, T., Pauly, B., Chow, C., Vallance, K., Perkin, K. (2013). Evaluation of a managed alcohol program in Vancouver, BC: Early findings and reflections on alcohol harm reduction. CARBC Bulletin #9, Victoria, British Columbia: University of Victoria
http://www.uvic.ca/research/centres/carbc/assets/docs/bulletin9-evaluation-managed-alcohol-program.pdf

Solitaire.

Brandees is a four-and-a-half-block walk from my bachelor apartment. My building, an 88-year-old three-storey brick structure called The Kenora, is equipped with bathrooms that make phantom popping sounds like peculiar lip movements of a large-mouthed old man. Plop poppop plop pup pop. And pipes that sound like a monkey is hitting them with a hammer in the basement. And pigeons that flutter and coo, waking me like the cocks of the city.

Brandees is a convenience store with a post office open until 11pm. A convenience store that at one time sold bannock in a brown paper bag. But most importantly, a convenience store that rents DVDs for $3, or two for $4.

My laptop died several weeks ago in the first month of death. My new laptop, replacing the creator of two books and countless jeering essays, is thinner than a pancake and has fewer orifices than a three-eyed human, excluding the hardware that reads any media that can be rented at Brandees.

My friend Mike once said that the only honest place left in Regina is Country Corner Donuts on the corner of Dewdney and Broad St. A sandwich as tall as a five-dollar-bill only costs four. Stan has his own corner called Stan’s Corner. It says it is open 24-hours but you get kicked out at 11pm. (Though that seems dishonest, it isn’t.) Brandees is one of those few honest places left in the city (except the one time they fined me $25 for not returning a movie that I did indeed return, but again, honesty is subjective). Brandees is a dry oasis in a city soaked in booze.

So now I count down the days until I can no longer watch Brandees DVDs on my work laptop because I will soon be fired for doing my job too well and by then I will have absolutely no way of watching movies rented from Brandees and I will probably die from irony and desperation and chest pain from losing at solitaire too many times because I can’t just double click on every card until something happens because I have to flip the cards by hand and look at a rubbermaid coffeetable instead of a screen.

Because without Brandees movies and without the internet and without the motivation to go to the library to steal the internet I have no distraction and with no distraction I have to remember that all my friends at work are dying because good people are scared at the backlash of ignorant people when those ignorant people find out that all people are actually being treated like ‘people’ and not like the ‘ideas’ that they see them to be.

I walk to Brandees instead of biking or driving or jogging. Because the four-block journey there and back, stepping over the same dead bird four times in a week, walking past the pub and through the Safeway parking lot is guaranteeably more enjoyable than the destination, especially when the destination is in the apartment listening to popploppupploping and accidentally watching a Woody Allen movie.

I guess there’s always the arcade.

 

Season of the Badlands

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The following was originally published with photos in Of Land & Living Skies: A Community Journal on Place, Land, and Learning. For more interesting content and events, consider becoming a Sask Outdoors member at SaskOutdoors.orgDigital magazine available here.

Just west of the yard in a field of summer fallow is a rock. Its existence alone isn’t remarkable; there are a multitude of rocks in the dirt around Horse Creek. All over the prairies there are rock piles, decades or centuries of rounded stones the size of softballs or buffalo skulls or lawnmowers, stacked as monuments to the neighbouring broken earth. But the rock west of the yard, picked out of the ground to clear the way for tilling, ended up being the size of a small car. Forty paces from the road it looks substantial but unremarkable; flat and several feet high, grey brown, leaning back with a salute to the sky, the remaining clover hissing at its base. But the illusion disappears when it is approached. It juts out significantly, looking like the missing nose of the Sphinx. A nearly immovable object, even with all the trucks and tractors around, because of its size and the damage it would do to the road and the ditch. It would look good in the garden but the force needed to move it is a force we do not have. So there it sits.

My grandma was born in Horse Creek. I never knew this until a week before I headed there myself. Horse Creek is located on Treaty 4 Territory, seventeen miles south of McCord, 110 miles southwest of Swift Current and just sixteen miles as the crow flies from the American border. If you look for it on a map or even the internet, you may not find it. In a time of unions and co-operatives, grandma’s father was a carpenter in Horse Creek for her first year of life. Last November, I was in Horse Creek holding tape measures and nailing boards and starting my own imaginary union to provoke my anti-union, farming friends.

Much of that summer was spent exploring the badlands of southern Saskatchewan. The first weekend of spring meant camping with three friends at Grasslands National Park, which shares the same hill ranges as Horse Creek. In 4x4s we were guided through pastures and down ravines to Storey Lowell’s, the local folklore touting it as an early hideout for horse rustlers, when it is more modestly two adobe shacks that made the home of an old homesteader. Later we hiked in at McGowan’s Visitor Centre and camped in a coulee just steps from the moon-like landscape of dirt and cliff. Before darkness settled we walked to the highest point in sight, overlooking the crumbling badlands, with heavy clouds and bursting light advancing from the south sky. Walking back in the heavy showers we purposefully searched out the storied quicksand piles by tossing rocks on odd looking pieces of dirt, then toeing them, then stepping on them, then stomping on them, tempting our fate for a movie-like reaction from the earth. We never found any quicksand.

Later in summer we visited Castle Butte, a massive ice-age-created structure of sandstone and clay reaching to the sky of the Big Muddy. A few miles from there we navigated to Buffalo Effigy, the flat outline of rocks which shape a buffalo on the highest hill around——a sacred site now part of a pasture, luckily fenced off and somewhat preserved. A few weeks later we camped at St. Victor Petroglyph Park, timeworn carvings on horizontal rock on the top of another highest hill in the area. These three sites of identity and significance to the First Peoples, all purposefully placed on top of the highest of hills, existed long before my maternal grandparents settled in the area——around Harptree, Brooking, Radville——and began creating their own monuments in picked rock piles and homesteads.

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In the snow-covered shortgrass prairie of Horse Creek, I attempted to experience the ranching and farming life in which my family was once rooted. I picked bales and fixed fence and tried to be useful. When on break, to bolster my writing craft, I urinated poems into the snow in cursive.

When heading south to move lumber or check on cows it looked as though the clouds that rested on the hills that enclose the badlands were the end of the world, which in my own way, is the truth. The badlands are dead land and past them is a barbed wire pasture fence that is patrolled with drones and satellites of the American border guard. Other border-adjacent land is sold off to multinational companies scavenging for oil whose only identity in the land they own is corporate identity. The end of the world and the end of identity exists in deserts and robots and contracts.

I have a vested interest in preserving this land from such ominous ends because I feel connected to it in some vague, flaky kind of way. My friend who has lived here his whole life and whose family has farmed it for a century offers the same. Giving up his land would be the last thing he would do, and because of his connection to the land he acknowledges that he knows to some extent what it might have felt like when the settlers came. I identify with the land that sits atop the badlands because of personal history, but this land does not identify with me any more than it identifies with the farmers or ranchers or indigenous peoples or the Queen who leases it out or that rock west of the yard.

The connection felt from being on the land, from spending time caring for it and working it, is universal and real. I am not entitled to this land, nor is any one person or group of people. Instead the land has an entitlement to be inhabited by people who identify with it, because those who identify with the land are more apt to treat it as it ought to be treated.

To be an asset to the land, to be the type of person that the land is entitled to, I learn as much as I can about how it works and how to live well on it. About all its intricacies of connectedness, which offer lessons of how to exist and how to relate. Like the rock west of the yard, I am not out of place standing alone on the prairie, I only look that way when I am dug up from the city and thrown naked in a field. Like the rock, my ancestral composition lies in the soil, just as everyone else.

Each time I visit the badlands and hills adjacent I seek out the highest geographical point possible——to feel the wind’s unmitigated power or to fully realize the thunderstorm that approaches. Monuments that mark time, the carvings and effigies and buttes of the area, are locations of height for a reason. They are standing points that we revisit to watch the thunderstorm of the future steadily move in. The easiest place to keep your feet grounded for change and resistance is in community and identity. Strengthening our connection with these highest places is the only way to ensure the thunderstorm doesn’t come in and drown us all out and to ensure that when we are walking home, we see the pits of quicksand that would otherwise swallow us up.

I drove out of the yard and left the farm behind with a year of vagrancy and foreign experiences on the horizon. The rock west of the yard sat silent with the ice fog painted low in the background. The rock will quite likely be there when I get back.

To look just on the surface, and think that what you see from horizon to horizon is all that is needed to survive, is to misunderstand your place on the ground which you stand. To scale its heights-to learn its lessons—one must be alive to the underlying structures that support the visible and not-so-visible world around you.

-John Borrows (Kegedonce), Drawing Out Law: A Spirit’s Guide (University of Toronto Press, 2010, p72)

Lyrics of the Month: November 2015 – Geoff Berner

My city has been in a housing crisis
For fifteen years or more,
Middle class families can’t afford to live here,
And there’s a ten thousand dollar fine
For being poor.
They said if we let them build all these condo towers,
The market would pull down the rent,
Now we’ve got the most expensive city
On the whole damn continent.
Our Mayor says he wants Eco Density,
And of course it’s a sin not to be Green,
But when Mayor Happy Planet says Eco Density
What does he really mean?

He means
Sunday, condos
Monday, condos
Tuesday and Wednesday
Condos,
Thursday, Friday,
A few more condos,
Saturday, for a change,
Condos.

What happened to a thousand culture buildings and counting?
They knocked them down to build some condos.
And the social housing on Little Mountain?
Get rid of it!
(We need more condos.)
The Ridge, Richards, the Capital,
That’s a special kind of condos—
The kind of condos that you call
After the thing that you knocked down to make the

Sunday, condos
Monday, condos
Tuesday and Wednesday,
Condos,
Thursday, Friday,
A few more condos Saturday, for a change,
Townhouse condominiums.

What’s the plan for the Georgia Viaduct?
Well, they’re gonna knock it down and build some condos,
And why’s the city four hundred million dollars on the hook? —–They’re fucked!
They paid some guys to build Olympic condos.

And what about the sacred burial site?
Not as sacred as condos,
Till the Musqueam Nation actually put up a fight,
And that’s how you stop the condos.

So what’s going to happen now, for God’s sake?
Are we just going to let them build more condos?
Or could there be a time when we finally put the brakes
On Vancouver’s mad sickness for

Sunday, condos
Monday, condos
Tuesday and Wednesday Condos,
Thursday, Friday,
A few more condos,
Saturday, for a change,
Market artist live/work studios.

Geoff Berner, We Are Going To Bremen To Be Musicians, Condos

Counter Assault

We stood on the trail from the lake to our campsite, holding hands in fear of our premature deaths. What the fuck is that, I had wondered, an elk? It was a blondish brown patch of fur the size of a beach towel, stomping in the bush. It turned its body around for us to see enough of its shoulder to know that it wasn’t a charming, peaceful elk, but a medium-sized, overly curious grizzly. We backed our way down the path, jingled our keys and bear bells like distracted children at a Christmas pageant, trying to remember the advice from the Bear vs Human pamphlets. We spoke loudly, awkwardly. She recited poetry, I repeated it in booming baritone.

Not to lose the feel of the mountains
while still retaining the prairies
is a difficult thing. What’s lovely
is whatever makes the adrenalin run;
therefore I count terror and fear among
the greatest beauty. The greatest
beauty is to be alive, forgetting nothing
although remembrance hurts
like a foolish act, is a foolish act.

-John Newlove, excerpt from The Double-Headed Snake, The Wascana Poetry Anthology

The fear of death brought the idea of practice into our minds. The more your practice it, the less you fear it. The next week, (although we saw no more quadrupedal omnivores on the trail) we felt stronger, more secure, more confident in grizzly country. But the pressurized can of capiscum in my back pocket, Counter Assault Bear Spray, may have been the source of that confidence. By the tenth time I see a bear, fear will be an afterthought and the Coghlin’s Brand Survival Horn that we bought for a sense of security will be even more of a prank.

After nearly two weeks surrounded by a Matt Goud/Tim Barry/Ken Freeman/Allison Weiss tour, you learn to fear not death, but inaction. Don’t be afraid of dying, be afraid not to live, Tim would say most nights. A wasted life is worse than death. Not in a danceclub/yolo/butt-touch kind of way, but in a I’ve-wasted-enough-time-on-all-the-bullshit kind of way. These mantras ring throughout the art that most closely resonates with me. But ‘wasting’ is what needs to be discovered. What is living?

The greatest
beauty is to be alive, forgetting nothing

I’m reading books about writers. Fiction books. Bohemian authors of San Francisco or Toronto talk about the noble craft and its apparent sexual exploits. Dry literature, to me, but classic to many. It somehow puts the fear in me. Not the fear of death, but the fear of running out of things to say that are worth anything, the fear of writing about writing; writing about extramarital affairs, writing about ‘cultural eras’. So here I am, trying to scare the fear away the only way I know how. With practice.

I dream of quitting my day job to write. Drive across the country occasionally, wash dishes at the pizza place, sit in a grungy library facing a scuffed-up wall and do something as banal as ‘express myself’, being naive enough to think it might change someone’s perspective. But to me, not paying attention to your neighbour is a waste of both your life and theirs. Not living is comforts and distractions. Quitting to pursue a naive selfish dream of typing nonsense onto a dead tree or into a digital void, can seem like a waste. Is a waste.

But it may also be a waste to isolate, to work 11 hours a day even in the vague name of social justice, to sit in a stiflingly humid bachelor apartment overflowing with hats, broken bicycles, interprovincial beer. So which is it?

Not to lose the feel of the mountains
while still retaining the prairies
is a difficult thing…

It becomes a lot easier to fear not death, when it isn’t literally knocking on your fire escape window, asking your deteriorating body if you want a huff. To have the privilege to even make this choice is what eats me alive like a starved grizzly south of the Crow’s Nest Pass. And these words are my only Counter Assault.

Bigfoot

Photo by Eric Goud

Bigfoot is real. I saw him, his pecker in his hands, last week at Big Sur.

I was eating a breakfast burrito on the coast, overlooking the mist-covered cliffs and crashing Pacific waves, when several kilometers in the distance, there he was, squatting on a rock with his back-end hanging over the ocean. The Pacific Ocean, Bigfoot’s toilet. I was far away, so it could have been a walrus, a sea lion, a humpback whale, a rogue sequoia tree, or beach trash. Or, as I prefer to believe, Bigfoot relieving himself.

When I told a friend of my sighting, she scoffed and told me what I saw was just an amalgamation of seaweed and driftwood, propped up by high tide and made look real through morning haze. She proceeded to show me a very recent UFO video from Kazakhstan. Real, undeniable proof.

Another friend told me to watch out. That the wormhole of bigfoot and UFO videos is a dangerous place for people already uncertain about reality, which is a common symptom of anxiety. She then proceeded to tell me about the peaceful tenets of Buddhism.

Begrugingly I have recently come to admit that what I saw was not, in fact, Bigfoot taking a shit. But rather, simply, my desire to see Bigfoot exposing himself to the endless wonders of the bright blue ocean. But if someone sitting next to me, looking at the same cliff at the same time, believed that they saw him, truly believed that Bigfoot was there, I would support their belief. The reasons they believed with conviction could have something to do with their eyesight, their hunger levels, the animals they saw in the forest when they were children, the movie they watched the night previous, the TinTin yeti episode they saw as kids, or previous sightings of Bigfoot himself. Their previous life events made them more likely to believe, and since Bigfoot’s existence is still truly an unknown, this does not make them any less rational.

Most people’s beliefs are based on secondhand accounts, old books, or internet video footage. Stories told by credible friends over a bonfire. A belief based on a feeling they have that they cannot explain. The same for belief in ghosts, or the resurrection, or of yoga, or in science, or in nothing.

Some create elaborate hoaxes—a tall hairy figure with massive strides saunters towards a body of fresh water to wash his/her own personal holes—but their commitment to false evidence does not disprove the existence of a bipedal woodland creature. Some, presumably most, film what they believed to be the outright truth, an accidental stumbling across the unknown. Discussions of incredulity of people’s beliefs, denouncing what some hold true, break down any level of human connectedness. But people’s absolute conviction in the existence of Bigfoot, or their utter insistence on the excessive nature of his legend—people’s certainty and what they will do in its name—will forever impress, entice, and scare me.

Their desire to be part of something, whether it is the glorious triumph when scientists find the first Bigfoot skeleton in northern B.C. or by pointing and laughing when it is proven to be an elaborate folktale, is the same unexplainable, at times unproductive desire that is a side effect of the destruction of real communities, the same desire that concretes people to a sports team, a country, a tax bracket, a t-shirt company, that is, the human desire—opposite of Bigfoot’s desire to be solitary, separate, unseen, anonymous—to be part of a greater whole.


 

I visited the Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. Wandering around, haggard and tour-worn, I noticed the disproportionate number of attractive women aged 20 to 25, the flags of their home nations pinned to their blouses, welcoming wayward, lonely travellers in dozens of languages into the many ornate buildings of Mormon history. I was drawn to the domed Tabernacle where an organ rehearsal boomed triumphantly, peacefully. There I sat, recent non-believer, truly thinking how lovely it would be to fall in love with a Mormon girl, accept the general tenets of her faith, and start a simple carefree life as a closet Mormon in some foothills town in Utah, the ‘Life Elevated’ state. Sometimes, like this time, I would be elated to hand in my anxieties, loneliness, my overthought, for the absolute certainty that some can hold, and the happiness and joy that comes with being part of the greater whole. But in order to do that, one must believe.

Horse Creek 3: Moving Cow

America...? Caulk Wilbur/OrvilleIMG_5527
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Horse Creek 2: Unionize

Camper Dreams The floor with a view The Union Carnival Off Season Chickens