earthweal weekly challenge: FLATTENING THE CURVE

 

Hi friends,

Sherry Marr here—Numbers of those affected by the coronavirus change by the hour, and are rising rapidly. As of my final edit at 9 a.m., Sunday, March 29, globally we have 685,913 known cases, with 32,239 deaths.

In Canada, we have a total of 5,886 with the virus, and 63 deaths. My province of B.C. has 884 current cases, with 17  deaths.

On Friday, I was shocked to hear that the United States already has more cases than China had, now documenting 120,000 infected, reporting 2100 deaths. Infectious disease specialists predict a very dire spread of this voracious virus in the U.S.

This is very alarming. I worry for my friends and neighbours to the south. I worry for us all. Stay in your two-metre bubbles, kids.

Clearly, self-isolation is the only way to flatten the curve and slow this voracious monster. But it took too long for enough people to get the message.  A week ago, Vancouver, B.C., parks and beaches showed up on the news with hordes of people out enjoying the sun, oblivious. It was outrageous. It has gotten better since. Officials were in tears on the news, begging people to stay home, fearing our health care system could well collapse under the weight of what is to come.

Prime Minister Trudeau himself is in self-isolation, working from home, as his wife Sophie has the virus. He appears outside his front door every morning for his daily briefing, and works on facetime the rest of the day. I am pleased that the Canadian government is doing its utmost to take care of us and help us through this time. Leadership is clear and active, with constant updates. (My sympathy is with my neighbours in the U.S. at this time. I am glad state leaders are taking the reins and doing what needs to be done.)

On the graphs, the curve is spiking steeply, with no sign of it leveling, and by the time this posts, the increase will be definitive. Officials exhort us to practice social and physical distancing, in a desperate effort to flatten the curve. (In Italy, cases went from a thousand in one week, to 40,000 the next week. Canada was at the thousand mark as I began writing this last weekend. It has since doubled.)

Tofino is, as always, taking a leadership role. Before mandates were issued, the mayor requested tourists to not travel here, to wait till this is over. Resorts and small businesses and restaurants voluntarily began closing their doors. Tourists already here were asked to leave.

Tla-o-qui-ahts took action early, meeting traffic coming through Sutton Pass, on our only highway in. Locals and essential traffic were allowed through; tourists (many of them from the U.S.) were asked to turn around and go home. They have closed off their communities to non-residents in order to protect their vulnerable population.

Tofino hospital (photo: Joseph Bob)

Our small Tofino Hospital has ten beds, two ambulances and ONE respirator. We service Tofino, Ucluelet and all of the Nuu chah nulth reserves on the West Coast and on outlying islands. Our front line workers will be stressed to the max and beyond with what they know is coming.

Our local representatives are doing a remarkable and reassuring job of keeping us informed. Local front line workers and essential businesses are doing a heroic job of taking care of us. But they are not allowed to tell us whether it is in our community or not. The head doctor at the hospital is requesting permission from the provincial health officials. Knowledge helps us look after ourselves even more pro-actively.

The Canadian government has earmarked a financial package totalling $82 billion dollars, to help individuals and small businesses survive the lack of income involved in work stoppages and business closures. Wow. The government has set aside $55 billion in tax deferrals for businesses and families.  Families will soon feel some assistance with increased monthly child benefit payments. Low income singles (me) and families will receive a higher GST payment in April. Further financial mortgage and housing relief measures are being taken, and workers who do not qualify for Employment Insurance benefits can apply for direct payments without a wait period. One MILLION Employment Insurance claims were filed this past week. That is a lot of households who don’t know how they’re going to pay the rent.

(The Credit Union where my sister is a small business manager immediately announced that all loan and mortgage payments are suspended for six months.)

Yesterday the streets of Victoria, down-Island, usually jammed with tourists, were empty. Two major hotels, including the famous Empress, closed their doors. So many hourly wage earners have been laid off in all sectors.

My own daughters are self-isolating, as am I. My son is an essential service worker.

Industries are being asked to start producing health supplies, such as respirators and masks, that are in short supply across Canada. I am impressed by how government has stepped up to take care of those of us with the least resources. But I wonder what will happen as this continues long-term. They keep telling us this is a marathon, not a sprint.

How is it in your part of the world? How is your country doing at flattening the curve?

It has been heartening to watch world leaders come together to fight this common foe. (I only wish they would come together around the climate crisis with the same dedication and focus. Maybe after the virus abates, they will.) Most people are following directives around social distancing (staying home, avoiding crowds, keeping two metres between oneself and another person). It has been astonishing to note how many ignore the directives, putting others at risk.

We have become such an entitled species; it is disappointing to see how many All-About-Me examples we have heard about on the news: like the couple in Kelowna, B.C., who bought up the entire meat section of a chain store.  (There could be a whole other conversation about the connection between our meat-eating, the terrible lives of factory animals, and the climate crisis.) People were still gathering, so as of  March 22, malls, parks and beaches were being closed. There will be steep fines for noncompliance with physical distancing.

Because we have become such global travellers, all of the first instances of the virus in Canada were related to people coming back from travelling. But now travel has been restricted; ominously, more cases are now coming from community spread.

All over Vancouver Island, we are watching businesses closing, airline, bus and ferry service being reduced, only essential services continuing. People are working in solidarity to try to keep themselves and each other safe.

By the time this posts, I am wondering if the mandate will have advanced from social distancing to sheltering in place. I suspect that is not far off, judging by officials’ frustration at public noncompliance. But people are becoming more aware, as the days go on.

I have been staying home, since I have a compromised immune system. I have been out only twice, for groceries. I hope to not go out again for the next while. I take in the fresh air on my balcony.

Right now, our CoOp reserves the first hour of the day for seniors to shop, to minimize our exposure.  A guard stands at the door to let only we elderly through. (I don’t need to show I.D. LOL.) It’s peaceful with so few of us in the store. I am happy the cashiers, on the front lines and very exposed, wear rubber gloves. I am so grateful to them for coming to work when they are nervous. May they stay safe.  I bought extra groceries the last time I went, so I won’t have to go back, just in case we get to the point where our only grocery store gets closed. Right now, they are on reduced hours.

These times bring out the best and the worst in human nature.

The Italians were first to inspire us, singing from their balconies at six every evening. My heart lifted at the sight and sound of them, that first evening, so beautifully sharing songs and smiles with the world. It fell next morning, when I saw the long line of military trucks hauling away the bodies.

People in Greece and Spain and Vancouver, B.C.,  applaud on their balconies to thank the health care workers and front line people looking after us in this crisis. Some howls have even been heard in Tofino and Ucluelet. Our debt to the doctors, nurses and health care professionals has never been more clearly demonstrated, as they risk their own lives to keep us safe.  Some of them, sadly, world-wide, have succumbed to the virus.

On TV, health officials BEG us, sometimes in tears, to stay home, the only way to flatten the curve. The trajectory of how quickly and exponentially this virus moves is terrifying. From one day to the next, from one week to the next, this virus spreads in frightening leaps. Those who ignore this advice are risking other lives along with their own.

Of concern is the homeless population, who have nowhere to self-isolate. In Canada, the North West Territories, in the first weeks, had no incidences of the virus, and tried to prevent all non-essential travel to keep out the virus. Sadly, on March 21, the first case was documented. Around this time, the virus showed up in South Africa. The spread in both Africa and India will be difficult, if not impossible, to control, given how many people live closely together, lacking adequate shelter and resources.

Amazingly, China spiked and not only flattened, but conquered the curve in their country by enforcing very stern measures. This shows it can be stopped.

But in many of our countries, accustomed as we are to our “rights and freedoms,” governments are faced with a harder task, asking people to comply and trusting that we will be responsible. So it will take longer for them to take the next step, giving the virus more time to spread.

Of special concern are the homeless, as well as First Nations communities, many of which lack clean drinking water and access to medical care and basic medical supplies. These communities will be hit hard.

People are staying home here; the village is quiet. We writers are fortunate in these times. We have our poetry community online; we have a platform for sharing our feelings and thoughts; we have friends around the world to stay in touch with.

This is scarier than any science fiction book or movie predicted. We feel helpless in the onslaught, but we do what we can. I am being careful. But I live in an old apartment building. How many other residents will be as careful? How many germs are lurking on the railings going downstairs, on the door we all go in and out of, in the laundry room?

How are you weathering this threat? In your comments, tell us how things are in your area, in your country, state or province. How are you doing personally? What are you doing to get through self-isolation? Do you know anyone who has come down with the virus? How are they doing?

I told Brendan that he began this site at exactly the right moment, when we need to come together, to share experiences, fears, wisdom, hope – and our poems, as we write our way through the strange and frightening times we live in. Looking back at what I agonized over last year, I realize we were not as bad off then as we thought we were.

Sadly, it seems only when humans’ actual survival is threatened, do we wake up to the world we have made and the damage we have done. When Mother Earth’s message wasn’t heeded in wind and storm and fire, what is left is this terrible pandemic, in which the message is loud and clear: we are interconnected across all perceived boundaries of time and space and geography, with every other living being on the planet. What happens to one, happens to us all. The aboriginal people have known this for millennia, and have tried to tell us. We are suddenly hearing their wisdom now.

For your challenge, write about whatever aspect of this issue speaks to you: self-isolation, social distancing, fear of contagion. Or, conversely, you might write about our increased awareness of our interconnectedness, and how people are rising to the challenge, showing the best side of all we can be. There are many heroic stories we are not yet hearing. Maybe you know of some. I look forward to whatever you bring back to the communal fire.

Stay safe, my friends.

—Sherry

  

earthweal weekly challenge: BEATING THE DRUMS OF CHANGE

Chief Howilhkat, Freda Huson, stands in ceremony while police arrive to enforce Coastal GasLink’s injunction at Unist’ot’en Healing Centre near Houston, B.C. on Monday, February 10, 2020.

Source: The Narwhal

 

The Rise of Indigenous People and their Allies Across Canada

By Sherry Marr

On February 10, 2020, RCMP invaded Unist’ot’en territory and arrested elder Freda Huson, in prayer, during ceremony, along with other land defenders, as they peacefully stood on their own road protecting their unceded lands and waters from a proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline that will threaten their traditional way of life. As a non-indigenous person, I observed this disrespect with outrage.

In support, blockades rose up across Canada. For two weeks railway lines, ports, bridges, intersections and commuter trains were shut down, as indigenous and non-indigenous people across Canada stood in solidarity with the Wet’sowet’en people. Canada’s commerce ground to a halt. Protests are still being held on the steps of the Government Building in Victoria, and outside the Parliament Building in Ottawa. Blockades are still occurring at significant points of entry to ports and at key intersections.

The blockade set up in solidarity by the Mohawk nation, in Tyendinaga territory, east of Belleville, Ontario, has been much in the news, echoing the Oka crisis in 1990. Wounds from that 78-day standoff have not healed. On February 24,2020, RCMP moved in and made arrests. More blockades sprang up. Land defenders and their allies plan to protest until the RCMP withdraw from Wet’sowet’en territory, and “until the demands of the Wet’sowet’en hereditary chiefs are met”.

Frustrations mount. Commuters feel “inconvenienced.”

“There is inconvenience. And then there is injustice,” a B.C. chief responded. For 300 years, First Nations have lived under oppressive colonial rule on land that had been theirs for thousands of years. Many reserves do not even have clean drinking water. Prime Minister Trudeau found billions to buy an old pipeline to carry oil, but can’t find money for pipelines to carry drinking water to the people, some of whom have had boil water advisories for 25 years. On some reserves, people can’t even use the water for bathing or washing dishes, it is so contaminated. This is unacceptable.

“Reconciliation is dead,” First Nations are saying. This has gone far beyond the issue of the pipeline. The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the rights of indigenous people to their land, stating they hold title and cannot be removed from it. The United Nations has told Canada to stop the pipeline, which will cause irreparable harm to indigenous peoples’ land, rights, and way of life.

First Nations are tired of oppression, of government-backed corporations taking resources from the land they have left. They wish to be regarded as the sovereign nations they are, and to make their own decisions about their traditional territories.

The hereditary chiefs remain willing to talk to government, on a nation to nation basis, but only after RCMP have withdrawn from their territory. And traditionally, it behooves the government to go to talk to them, not demand the hereditary chiefs come to Ottawa.

An environmental assessment of the proposed pipeline has rejected the project.

It makes neither economic nor environmental sense. But capitalism only knows one way to proceed: money and jobs, they keep saying. Money and jobs. The few temporary jobs created by the project won’t benefit very many, and the proposed route across northern Canada and along the B.C. coast will put entire ecosystems at risk. The gas will be shipped to China. Also, the government actually has to subsidize these projects. It seems insane, to me, to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize corporations flogging our fossil fuel dependency, the way of death, rather than to develop clean energy alternatives, providing jobs for people across the country. We need to turn away from fossil fuels and replace them with clean energy projects.

What isn’t being said on the news is that the hereditary chiefs offered an alternate route to GasLink, away from the river, but the company rejected it.

In an unexpected bit of good news in February, another giant, Teck, withdrew plans to expand the oil sands in Alberta. “Shareholders have little interest in investing money in a sunset industry,” they said. Light is beginning to dawn.

“The government only understands the language of money,” said one land defender. “So we are shutting down their avenues of commerce.” It definitely got everyone’s attention.

Civil disobedience is how we saved the old growth forests of Clayoquot Sound in 1993. When all other avenues fail, civil disobedience is what we have left. Our voices, in large numbers, have impact.

I spoke to a young woman yesterday who gave me hope. She said this is the shift we have been waiting for. It is a time of turmoil, unpleasant to live through, as the old systems are no longer working and are breaking down. In the upheaval, something new is being birthed. Never has support for and solidarity with the first peoples of this land been so strong. The environmental crisis has finally gone mainstream, and is spoken of daily on the news.

We have the knowledge, the science and the technology to make the leap away from fossil fuels and the ways of death of the past, to new clean energy sources and towards the healing and restoration of the land and people. The time is now to vote out leaders who do not hold visions of a clean and livable earth. It is time to join hands and voices across the land to insist on respect: for First Nations, and for the earth herself, who has given herself nearly to the point of extinction, and who is crying out through all of her systems and creatures for our help and healing.

The indigenous people of this land have lived on Turtle Island in harmony for thousands of years. It only took us a couple of hundred years to cause so much destruction. We can learn from their leadership, and stand in solidarity with them to protect Mother Earth. We must.

Indigenous elders say we humans must walk lightly on the earth, for we are treading on the faces (and the futures) of our children. Let’s envision the world we want, and add our energies to the shift happening across this land – and this planet.

FOR YOUR CHALLENGE:

Let’s beat the drums of change. Write whatever you are inspired to write by this situation or information, or about the need for social justice, especially for indigenous people, world-wide.

Or you might like to look back at the indigenous world, pre-contact. Or re-vision a future where non-indigenous folk have learned from the people of the land how to live on and with Mother Earth in a respectful sustainable way.

The Nuu-chah-nulth people, where I live on the West Coast of Canada, have no word for the wild world. “The only word for wilderness is Home” they say.

The challenge is wide open for you to write whatever comes. I look forward to reading your thoughts, in prose or poetry.

—All My Relations, Sherry

Update:

Since the time of writing, provincial and national government officials finally travelled up north to meet with Wet’suwet’en Chiefs. Word is Prime Minister Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan will become involved after the preliminary talks. News anchors note “There is a fundamental shift in tone in the dialogues.” Perhaps Canada is finally recognizing they are dealing with sovereign nations, and accord them the measure of respect of any other governing body. We live in hope.

Work is paused on the GasLink pipeline, while talks continue. We have learned one valuable fact: in large numbers, united, we can bring the country to a halt and impact government. Good to know. Many of those joining the protest were taking a stand for the environment, as well as supporting the Wet’suwet’en people.

On Sunday, government officials left the north, saying they and Wet’suwet’en elected representatives have reached a proposed preliminary agreement with regard to Wet’suwet’en rights and title to their territory (rights that already had been established). This proposal will now be taken to the hereditary chiefs, and to the various clan houses for input.

But spokesperson for the Gidimt’en camp, Molly Wickham, says the agreement does not address the presence of GasLink and RCMP occupation of their territory, which is still a problem. And the hereditary chiefs continue to oppose the pipeline.

Solidarity protests continue.

weekly challenge: FINDING HOPE

By Sherry Marr

Seed Mother Rahibai Soma Papere (India)

 

Do not lose hope – we were made for these times. Look out over the prow; there are millions of righteous souls in the water with you. We have been training for a dark time such as this since the day we assented to come to earth.

When a great ship is moored and in the harbor, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. It is not given to us to know which acts…will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

— Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I am glad to note that this sage still believes in the transformation of consciousness on the planet. Whether before or after cataclysm, I suppose mankind will be forced to re-learn the Old Ways of being with the natural world.

Pam Houston, in her book Deep Creek, ponders: “How to be with the incandescent beauty of the iceberg without grieving the loss of polar bear habitat? How to hang on to that full-body joy and still understand it as elegy?”

That is the dilemma I find myself in. Exactly. Beauty / Elegy.

Pam says it is the best time to write odes to nature, when she is critically wounded at our hands. “I wait to feel a glimmer, a vibration, that says, ‘Hey writer, look over here.’ [It is the way] I have written every single thing I have written. It is also the primary way I worship, the way I kneel down and kiss the earth.”

Me, too. I was happy to read both of these quotes this past week and, especially, Pam Houston’s book.

Clarissa and Pam have put it into words far better than I ever could. These days I feel I am living with the two sides of my heart – joy and gratitude at the incredible beauty of the landscape around me, at the same time feeling such grief and guilt at what our species is doing to Mother Earth in this Age of Extraction.

How do we stay hopeful, yet not in denial, fully here in the present moment?

I have been in love with the natural world all my life, walking with head tipped back, and grinning at the sky. It is a hard thing to see her suffering. A friend, a lifelong environmentalist, told me once, “Mother Earth feels your pain. Let her feel your joy too.” I have always remembered that.

I marvel at how faithfully Mother Earth moves through her cycles, no matter what imbalances are happening. There is so much life everywhere! Everything in the natural world is trying so hard to live. Everywhere there is a wound, I watch little green tendrils begin to grow, to repair and heal the area. One of the lushest places on earth is Chernobyl, which began to thrive once all the humans were gone.

Indigenous people live with strict protocols for how they live upon the land. If they strip bark from a tree for basket making, they leave that tree alone for 150 years to heal. If they take one tree for building a canoe, they leave the entire forest alone for 250 years – they view clearcutting with horror. There is a great learning curve for us in their teachings.

Each walk on the beach fills me with awe. From the tiniest velellas to the wildest winter tides, Mother Earth is alive, constantly in a state of growth, renewal and healing. She needs us to give her some help. And many are doing so, all over the world.

Joanna Macy says “You are alive now for a reason. Because the truth is speaking in the work, it unlocks the heart.”

An open heart means pain. But a closed heart that turns away doesn’t get anything done. Those of us who are strong enough are called to the work: of bearing witness, of sharing information, of protecting trees, of making conscious choices that help the earth. (In Tofino, we are boycotting buying the CoOp’s avocadoes, since they come from Mexico. Environmental activist Homero Gomez Gonzalez, who opposed destruction of habitat of the endangered Monarch butterfly for growing the green fruit, recently died, likely murdered, as have been 19 other environmental activists, killed by local cartels fighting over the avocado trade.)

One person can do a lot, as we see with Jadav Payeng of India, a poor farmer from a marginalized tribe, who spent thirty years planting trees, turning a barren area into a thriving forest, when he noted snakes were suffering and dying.  Or Seed Mother Rahibai Soma Papere of India, who protects and preserves India’s indigenous seeds, and encourages farmers to switch to local varieties.

Then, of course, there is Greta Thunberg, one small, humble girl, a clear-eyed truth-teller.

Each of these people gives me hope, showing how much one person, one voice, can do. I see our poems as part of that work – to celebrate and love the natural world, and, sometimes, to write poems that help others see what we see and begin to care, too. Our love of Mother Earth motivates us to do what we can to try to save her.

Perhaps the most hopeful thing of all is looking to the more spiritual side of life. Life is not just physical; when we remember we are Soul and Spirit, and that there has always been a spiritual dimension in all cultures since time began, perhaps therein lies our greatest hope. There is an energy at work in the world that we can align with and tap into. Through Spirit-Eyes, we can envision a more viable world: a world of sustainable practices, of social justice, of clean energy, of rebalancing the earth so all may live. This is how we were meant to live, in harmony with the natural world and other creatures. One way or the other, I believe we will re-learn how to do this. (The indigenous peoples of the world can teach us how.)  The transformation of consciousness is happening. The fact we are discussing this now, in a poetry forum, when five years ago this conversation would not be happening, tells me we are waking up. We are waking to difficult times, but we can clearly see what needs changing.

Today we’ll sing a hopeful song. Tomorrow maybe we will plant a tree! Or a garden that invites bees and butterflies to our yards. We might turn our front yard into a veggie garden, so we can eat local, without pesticides – and in case the system breaks down, as Tofino’s did the other week when the only road in through the mountains collapsed. (I plan to grow kale and scarlet runner beans on my tiny balcony this spring.)

The vastness and power of the sea, the cathedral of the old-growth forest, sunrises and sunsets beautiful enough to break your heart – so much to love! Let’s send our poems out like love songs. Love heals. And hope gives us strength for the days ahead.

How and where do you find hope? Write big picture, if you wish. Or find that tiny miracle that makes you catch your breath in awe. Let’s add our small push to the transformation of consciousness that is trying so hard to happen across the globe. I look forward to reading how you hold onto hope, and we invite you to join in the discussion in the comments section.

— Sherry

 

In earthweal weekly challenges, poets are asked to submit their perspective on global events in verse. Local flavor is especially welcome—include your state or country with your name in the link. The challenge launches first thing Monday (EST) and remains open until Friday afternoon. Feel free to contribute multiple times if it magnifies the theme.

Friday afternoons at 4 PM EST we launch an open link weekend where poets are invited to contribute more widely