Last month I wrote from Newfoundland and Labrador, and now I am in Vancouver, at the other end of the country. Returning from St. John’s, my plane was delayed by fog and then by Hurricane Sandy — and now I am delayed by snow in Calgary (I am actually writing this on the floor of the Calgary airport, en route from Vancouver to Hamilton; I will probably arrive home around 4:00 a.m. instead of the projected midnight). Still, despite logistical and weather problems, travelling has shown me yet again how vast this country is — and yet how beautiful, wherever you go, and how connected we all are, despite our different locations. I loved flying into St. John’s, seeing the fingers of rock jutting into the sea — and then the flat fields, like a monochrome Mondrian painting, as we descended toward Calgary on my outward journey, last Saturday. Vancouver actually had sunny weather for several days, and my friends and I walked in Lighthouse Park in West Van, seeing the old-growth forest (trees 500 and even 800 years old, cedar and fir) and rocks that are millions of years old — unlike the much younger rocks around most of the city. The place was green, growing, filled with spirit and power. And yet, a sign told us how many species — plant and animals — were disappearing from this habitat in the past 30 years. A few days later, I attended a lecture by Tzeporah Berman on her book This Crazy Time, at the Vancouver Jewish Book Festival, and was heartsick to hear how so many old-growth trees and forests were clear-cut to make toilet paper, telephone books, and Victoria’s Secret catalogues!! There has to be a better way to treat the earth. Now, Tzeporah told us, her attention has moved from logging to climate change, as global warming is affecting the pine-beetle’s life cycle: the winters are warmer, the beetles do not die in the cold, and so they continue to attack and destroy trees. Individuals can do our part in recycling and cutting down our energy use — but we ALSO need to join together to influence our government (on all levels, starting with the Federal government) to first acknowledge that climate change is real and is happening “at the speed of darkness”, and then to use the technology already available (as other governments around the world are doing) to fight these changes on a large scale, and improve life on earth into the next generations.
My colleague Lil Blume and I also spoke at the Jewish Book Festival, on our recent anthology Letters & Pictures from the Old Suitcase. Three authors from the book — Janice Masur, Carolynne Veffer, and Joi Freed-Garrod — joined us to read from their work (and, in Joi’s case, play music), and Lil and I also read from our pieces in the book, as well as talked about our intentions in creating this collection of stories about letters, photos, and treasured objects from our pasts. Even people who have no tangible mementoes, who had to flee the old world to the new with no suitcases at all, have memories, stories, skills like cooking, singing, stitching, that can be handed down to children and grandchildren.
Even when we have photographs (as in several of my poems) they often raise more questions than they answer — who? when? where? And yet just asking the questions, finding ways to get in touch with our family history is important. Like listening to and re-telling the sacred and complex story of the earth, knowing our own personal and cultural stories helps us feel more connected in the present, to our ancestors, ourselves, and our children. Einstein talked about the “spacetime” of the universe, and we are all travellers in this spacetime, changing time zones as we fly across the country, as we remember our great-grandparents moving from shtetls and steppes, rice-fields and deserts, to this country of Canada, and even as we remember the dinosaurs and their relatives. Life is always changing — human, animal, vegetable, geological — and though we can’t stop this, we can try to preserve what is important for life, for making the world a better place right now, right here.