Talked with Shannon Sinn about his newly released book, The Haunting of Vancouver Island for an article in Mid-Island Focus. Here’s a preview.
Why do we want a god in heaven?
I asked myself that, sitting with Diana, watching the sun rise over Fairy Lake. We had parked ourselves on the gravel pan, our feet pointing southeast, as the swell of dawn pinked the sky, then glinted over the hump of a nearby mountain, then reared up in all its blazing glory.
Behind and all around us, the trees awakened too, alive to the photosynthetic light, the processes of life quickening in needle, cone, branch and trunk, their slow, competitive accretion toward heaven mutely stirring without a breeze to make them sigh.
Watching in steadfast awe, I had to remind myself I am an avowed spiritual existentialist, who denies the existence of gods, proclaims the only meaning to be found in all of this spreads out from the here-and-now of a yearning mind that questions everything down to the groveling roots of being.
Later Di and I trekked through Avatar Forest, beetling along the well-tamped trail between and beneath more towering trees. Spirit lives in tormented wood, scrabbles about on insect legs, takes flight in the feathered whoosh of a raven’s wing. It perks from the ground up; feeds on itself and the distilled nectar of light.
There are no interstices in its seeking… no room for a god in there, in the cellular urge that encompasses everything we can possibly think we know.
Yet I found myself wanting to give thanks for the brilliant shafts penetrating down to the forest floor where ferns and salal and microbial humans crave energy. Found myself saddened I could not look up and give praise for all of this, as if shared bliss was not enough and I had to invent a being above and beyond it all… a being who could have chosen not to create us.
Botanical beach opened out before us in the afternoon, the sun now arcing over the vast, thrashing Pacific. But we looked mostly down, not up; studied life taking hold in pocked pools and creviced rock, shifting sand, the bleached driftwood bones of its own ancestors.
Do I need a god to make known and knowable to me the troublesome concepts of infinite time and space? Must I have a power above who resolves the complex, confusing and dangerous world we inhabit; a being that provides certainty and who can be influenced and propitiated through prayer? Do I need priests and their promise of salvation?
Or can I simply accept my place amid the barnacles that cling, the crabs that scour, the plants that wheedle into every conceivable space and blossom so fragrantly from every cranny… can I simply accept that I am a convergence of everything I see, touch, hear and taste in this split second here-and-now, and say this is enough? This is more than enough, and that to insist on more is to turn wonder into greed, lust and ego.
Sitting on the beach at Fairy Lake, Diana and I watched a pair of otter, hunting in an area where a fish had jumped some moments earlier. As we watched, a third otter made a beeline for the same zone.
That got us thinking about the remarkable intelligence and resilience of nature, and how quick we human beings are to underestimate the other animals that share this planet.
The evening before, for instance, we spotted a young crow rustling about in the underbrush near our campsite. Later we discovered it had an injured wing, and couldn’t fly. So it was foraging on the forest floor.
A few days earlier we had watched a Facebook post about a rescued dog, which was found starved, cold and dying, abandoned to a miserable fate. A few months later that same dog was running about, playing joyfully with its adoptive family and others of its kind, oblivious to the fact that it was minus a leg and had so recently suffered such a severe trauma.
Observation, memory and experience converged as we sipped our morning coffees, our lawn-chairs parked on the beach as if we were watching a spectacular drive-in movie. A sense of wonder blossomed as the sun rose, and Diana said suddenly: “Animals never ask why; they only want to know how.”
Both of us were amazed at the obvious and profound implications of her remark.
A dog that has lost its leg doesn’t ask why that happened, why the world is so cruel and unfair. It simply gets on with its three-legged life as quickly and best it can. A crow that has broken its wing doesn’t trouble itself with questions about why, it simply gets on with the business of feeding itself and avoiding predators without flying.
We humans are forever asking why. Why is nature so harsh? Why don’t I have as much or more than my neighbour? Why am I sick? Why must I die?
How we answer those questions – those QUESTions – determines to a large degree the fate of our earth.
Of course, we also ask questions like, Why do rocks fall the way they do? Why does the sun rise each morning? Why does metal expand when heated? Why do people get cancer; and once we’ve answered that, why do cancer cells mutate the way they do? Why must we die? Why can’t I fly like a bird, run like a dog, or swim like an otter?
All of which makes us look intently and minutely into the how of things.
Diana and I drove from Chemainus up to Cape Scott, leaving Friday last, returning Monday. It was the inaugural voyage in our newly acquired Euro van, and the first holiday we’ve taken in quite a while. We had a great time!
Ever followed a log through the workings of a modern sawmill. This three minute tour of the Western Forest Products mill in Chemainus, B.C., will immerse you in the sights and sounds of a modern mill, and introduce you to the people who make it happen. For more, pick up a copy of Cowichan Valley’s Arbutus Magazine, which has run a full feature on the Chemainus mill.
Diana Durand’s McMono Show, at Duncan’s Excellent Frameworks August 2 to 31 – with the official opening Saturday, August 5 from 1 to 3 p.m. – was inspired by a discarded McDonald’s french fry box, which she found one evening, while walking her dog.
Here’s what US Homeland Security Adviser Thomas Bossert had to say about Donald Trump’s retweet (on his official Twitter account) of the President of the United States pummelling a digital effigy of a journalist: “…there’s a lot of cable news shows that reach directly into hundreds of thousands of viewers, and they’re really not always very fair to the president.”
Let’s pause for a second and think about this. Let’s forget we’ve got footage of the President of the United States beating up on some guy at a WWF wrestling event. Sure, it was before his rise to power; yeah, it was fake; but still, is this really the person you want leading the world’s most powerful nation, the man who can launch a nuclear war?
Then there’s this thing of the CNN logo blocking out the victim’s face. That doesn’t target Trump’s violence at one media outlet; that makes the object of the President’s rage the media in general. The man behind the logo is anonymous, he could be anyone, any reporter doing his job in any setting. In other words, the symbolic statement being made here is: this is what I want to do to the media.
When you’re the President of the United States (especially this president) the distinction between ‘want to do’ and ‘will do’ can be pretty fuzzy. When you are a president whose base includes people who might easily be incited to acts of right-wing terrorism, sending a message like that is not only irresponsible, it’s reprehensible and potentially dangerous.
Then there’s the repeated attempts by this president to distract people from he and his associate’s real agendas with these staged controversies. Read Naomi Klein’s book No is not enough to get an idea of how this political sleight of hand works. Daily we are exposed to media reports of Trump’s outrageous behaviour; daily, he dominates the news, building and solidifying his base by poking his opponents in the eye. Worse, he’s using these episodes to redefine what is truth? What is news?
How do we understand Trump’s apparently accurate conviction that there’s no outrage, no lie, no despicable act the President of the United States of America might commit that won’t be applauded by his more rabid supporters, ignored by law enforcement agencies and explained away with facile excuses by spineless Republican sycophants? How should the media respond to his ‘big lie’ tactics?
The people of the USA better figure that out soon. Truth is, if the citizens of a nation don’t want freedom, if they choose to support an obvious fascist in his drive to consolidate power in his kleptocratic hands, then he and his partners will gladly take their freedoms away by pitting one segment of the population against another and controlling the ensuing brawl with necessary and incremental ‘state-of-emergency’ interventions.
For those of us who are not citizens of the United States, we better get into this debate, because the threat goes beyond the borders of the USA. It’s global. Trump is a symptom, not the disease.
[From Huffington Post: Journalist Who Exposed The Racist Creator Of Trump’s CNN Tweet Gets Death Threats]
As Canada Day approaches, and Independence Day south of the boarder, I want to thank you for rousing new hopes and goals for me, and many people like me, not only on this continent, but throughout the world. You have given us a vision to respond to, and remind us daily that the kind of world we want can only be achieved through constant belief and effort. Millions the world over are rallying to your resurrection in virulent form of an image we hoped never to see again scowling at humanity like a lizard hungry for its prey – you sir, are the ugliest of ugly Americans.
I won’t darken inspiration with a long winded recital of your lies, racism, misogyny, swindling, bullying, hatred, repression and stupidity. They are things you take pride in, and to lament your pathetic shortcomings as a human being would only serve to stoke the furnace of insatiable narcissism that powers you and your ilk.
Instead, I am writing this message to remind myself of the decency, camaraderie, patience, generosity and understanding that true leaders show as they work toward a better world – and effective leadership, I should remind you, is not the preserve of the Oval Office. When people like you concentrate leadership into one room, filled with greed-inspired men, what we get is dictatorship (or kleptocracy, to be more precise), a groaning, top-heavy structure doomed to collapse at incalculable human and planetary cost. True leadership inspires, it shares, it asks; your pompous brand of leadership is sustained by fear, greed and executive dictums, delivered as if by the hand of royalty.
There are millions of leaders in the world, Mr. Trump, who are drawn to visions of inspiring leadership; you attract followers, the needy, greedy, disenchanted and hoodwinked, who either want a share of your plunder, or seek vengeance for a world that has been stripped from them by… guess who?
You often boast what ‘beautiful things’ you will achieve through your policies; at the same time, you have been known to brag about how good it feels to ‘crush’ anyone who is opposed to you. Those sentiments are incompatible in the mind-space of a sane society. We do not get to beautiful by crushing people, instead your legacy can only be a world order where the homeless and destitute confront us at every corner; where families cannot afford housing, food, medical care; where indigenous populations are denied justice; where nations bristle and threaten and eventually engage in the cataclysms of modern war; where species are driven to extinction and vast swaths of the planet submerged.
Perhaps the top one-percent will be able to avoid the worst, inevitable consequences of their continuing greed and cruelty by retreating into their ridiculously lavish, cocooned havens; the rest of us will be left to swelter, fight and die on a planet whose natural integrity has been thoroughly degraded.
Your deplorable, shocking example has reminded me to continue believing and supporting, however I can, a world that is inclusive, honest and humane – that is, a world that outgrows the stimulus to rapacious consumerism, and learns to celebrate the plenty there is to share through private and social enterprise. Canada and the USA have more to celebrate from that perspective than most nations in the world; on July 1 and 4 I’m hopeful forward-looking citizens will recommit to a better world then you are determined to achieve.
A report titled National security vs individual freedoms, posted on CBC reminds me of the factors that are gnawing away at our rights and freedoms, and how lackadaisical we are – especially we Canadians – when it comes to guarding our rights. Threats to our freedoms include:
- Powers granted to government agencies, especially security agencies, will be abused;
- When governments avoid leadership, resorting to town hall decision-making as an excuse to evade tough choices rather than a process for examining options, our freedoms are likely to be eroded by inflated perceptions of risk created by opposed, usually conservative, interests;
- A ‘ratchet effect’ takes hold as new technologies that limit our freedoms, and the drive to invent them, play off one another. In the hands of autocrats and plutocrats these technologies and the control they confer, tend to entrench anti-democratic interests in positions of power;
- The erosion of our freedoms is incremental and progresses unnoticed for the most part, except for periodic convulsions when would-be autocrats launch a coup or alarmed citizens react to a perceived threat. When there is a confrontation, entrenched powers almost always win;
- For the most part, citizens of established democracies take their freedoms for granted, forgetting that ‘freedom’ as we define it is a phenomenon which only emerged in the late 18th Century. We assume that our freedoms exist so we can get on living our lives the way we want, without having to devote time and will to preserving and protecting them. In nations like Canada, noted for an easy-going disposition, this is a particularly serious blind spot;
- Huge amounts of money are spent by corporate interests on marketing campaigns that tell us to be dissatisfied with the things we have, and to focus on acquiring more things that we should have. The consumerist mode emphasizes and confuses self-interest with the selfless collective interest that sustains and upholds freedom as we know it.
In short, freedom isn’t something conferred or sustained by a birth certificate or passport. If we don’t value our freedom, or engage consciously in the democratic processes that redefine and renew them, we will be herded back into some form of serfdom.
As well as being a place many people go to take a spin on the slot machines, or bet on the horses, or to play Blackjack Fusion, Chances is a Community Gaming Centre. That means some of the money earned goes to a long list of community organizations in the Cowichan Valley. If you’re a player, a recipient of community funding, or anyone with something to share, I’d like to hear from you.
I’m a freelance writer with a focus on the Mid-Island and Cowichan Valley. My services include: web content, videos, memoir, event coverage and magazine articles.