Confession time: I am well-educated by institutional standards. Healthy. Some readers find me thoughtful (some of the time).
I read, write, appreciate art, love people, and have the pleasurable company of a happy dog. And I live in a wonderfully alive part of the world.
Sure, but not so fast.
Even with this hale and hearty dose of positive, I’m still swimming in a river of doubt. When it comes to issues like global warming, species extinction, drought, famine, war, rotten politics and disease, I don’t know what I can do to really make much of a difference.
I know and practise the eco-be-here-now drill: I conserve whenever possible and recycle every product and container I can. I have dramatically powered down and when I need light I use environmentally correct bulbs.
I walk to work. I make every effort to give and not take. I contribute time and money to various activist causes. I practise yoga, pilates, dance, breathe in, out, in, out, centre, all with the aim of helping me find my place in the bigger scheme of things.
I seriously and critically think about what I do, what I use, and what I say.
But I also think the world keeps right on going as if I were but a ripple in the water.
I am being swept along in the losing game of global warming, famine and war by forces greater than my own.
The planet gets hotter, species vanish. Oil becomes precious, then dries up. Water begins to taste like petroleum and is priced like it. War rages on in the name of race, religion, oil and water, or better still, just because war is good business. Yes sir, war is good for business alright.
In the face of such odds how could I believe I am anything but insignificant? I am a literal minutia in a world pulled apart at the seams.
Bang! The osprey hits the water. Splash! She comes up empty handed. The big bird rises slowly, gains altitude and circles.
Bang! Success this time. She lifts with greater effort, flies north onto shore, sits and picks at the trout she has clawed from the lake.
Kootenay Lake is large enough to make its own weather. It kicks up now and then. This is one of the now and thens.
I put Bonnie in the centre of the canoe and cinch her to the yoke with enough slack so she can swim out from under the boat if we capsize. Right now I need her weight right in the centre.
Heavy clouds are quickly building to the north and they begin to suck up the light.
Drizzle is now steady rain and small pellets of sleet bounce off the bow seat and deck plates.
The wind strengthens. All at once the canoe twists on its pivot point. I am at least 30 minutes out and about to get real cold and very wet. The shoreline fades as the sky literally falls upon the surface of the lake.
The world around me becomes a greenish-blue liquid. I am in trouble.
Paddle, don’t think. Paddle, don’t think.
The fingers of my left hand dig deep into the grip and I squeeze the throat of the paddle with the other. The powerblade strikes the surface of the lake with greater and greater determination as I pull the canoe through the water one metre at a time. Bonnie senses a change of mood and curls into a tight ball up against my thighs.
Straightening my back and tucking in my stomach I increase the force I put into every stroke and I feel my balance improve.
In 10 minutes everything stalls. Lifts. The sun hits the surface of the lake and there is warmth in its reflection. I ease off and let the canoe glide. Bonnie raises her ears.
Immediately the wind dies. The lake is pulled tight around the edges. Smooth as glass. I feel a great sense of relief. I am alone and safe in the middle of the lake.
All of a sudden, with the luxury of good weather and clear sailing, my mind falls back into old patterns.
This storm passes and bang, I am back swirling once more in a mental river of doubt. As one sky lifts, another descends.
Little me: insignificant still in the face of all this environmental and social doom and gloom.
Catching myself, I grab the paddle, clutch the throat, straighten my back, and pound the powerblade hard in the water.
The storms of global warming, starvation and drought, war, are something I must endure. They will come wave after wave over the duration of my lifetime. All I can do is cut through them one meter at a time and take great pride in any contribution I might make no matter how insignificant that might be.
I will paddle when I must, glide when I can. Conserve my strength.
When I reach shore I plop on the sand with bird book in hand. It paints me a picture of osprey as birds that are less than pure grace of flight: “Except when migrating at a height, they flap more than sail.”
They flap yes, but they do what they must and they endure.
In the warmth of the fall sun I grab my binoculars and watch my osprey hit the water time and again.
Gregory Heming is a writer and optimist living in Nelson, British Columbia.