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We welcome spring ... and guilt

It's taking us some time to get our boat in the water. Spring is fast blooming into summer and the lake looks fabulous in the thin breeze of evening. The loons are nesting and calling to each other.

It’s taking us some time to get our boat in the water.

Spring is fast blooming into summer and the lake looks fabulous in the thin breeze of evening. The loons are nesting and calling to each other. The shore birds have come to occupy the reeds. There are otters, muskrats and the occasional beaver to be seen and it feels as though the lake calls to us everyday.

But the boat is a 5.4-metre bow-rider with a huge 120 horsepower engine. Neither of us has owned anything that big or powerful. Add to that that neither of us have ever towed anything or backed up with a trailer behind and our learning curve is steep all the way around. Still, once I’ve installed the new bilge pump we’re ready to go.

We got the boat so we could motor out, anchor and sit and enjoy the feel of being on the water. I gave up fishing a handful of years ago and neither of us water ski or wake board. No, we got the boat for the pure pleasure of sitting on the water on perfect summer evenings, watching the sun go down and feeling a part of the land. The majority of the energy that motor produces will go unused.

But we’ve languished when it comes to launching it. We bought it in March and it’s sat in our yard for nearly three months, waiting. Sure, I’ve been to the marine store for essentials, tested the battery and motor, read the engine manual but the final push out onto the water has taken some time.

Maybe it’s the anxiety of doing something for the first time. Perhaps, my age has made me less keen for new adventures. But more reasonably, I believe it’s been a sorting out of feelings over being a boat owner for the first time. We watch as our neighbours and their guests haul huge boats and motors to and from the lake and it’s hard for us not to think about the effect of all that on the water and the planet.

Every time the wake of a speeding boat crashes into the reeds we think about the recent hatchlings in their nests being drowned. We think about the evidence of a quickly eroding shoreline and the trees that will fall. We think about the oil, gasoline and human detritus added to the lake every week. We think about the influx of outside weeds on hulls and propellers. We think about how all of that is slowly choking the life from it.

Every time I stop in my morning walk with the dog and pull another empty beer carton from the water, I think about the amount of them that I can’t reach. I think about the time last summer when I left a box there so I could return later to retrieve it and how when I came back someone had picked it up and only thrown it deeper into the reeds. I think about alcohol and gasoline and how hard it is to be responsible toward anything when those two elements are mixed.

So even though the boat hasn’t made it to the landing yet, there’s a modicum of guilt attached. Do we want to be a part of the cycle of abuse? Do we want to participate in an activity that only adds to the problem and doesn’t reduce it?

The answer is, unfortunately, yes. We feel as though we have earned the right to sit out on perfect nights and admire the beauty of this planet. But it comes with guilt.

The other day as I ranted over yet another blatant indiscretion, another breach of civil and planetary responsibility on the water, my friend Ed said simply, “Nothing you can do because you can’t fix stupid.” Sadly, that’s the nature of the problem.

We’ve grown so used to the convenience of things. The convenience of our pleasures, our toys, our free hours, the things we’ve earned by right of our hard work, dammit, that we forget that we are all connected. Chief Seattle said in his famous address in the late 1880s that ‘We are but a strand on a web,” and everything we do affects something else. But we choose to forget that and lean on conveniences.

We need to learn to break our addiction to gasoline but we don’t because it’s inconvenient. We need to recycle more but all that separating is inconvenient. We need to reduce our consumption of power but being without our toys is inconvenient. We need to band together to force government to act on planet-saving issues but the time commitment is terribly inconvenient. In the end, it’s our addiction to convenience that’s killing us.

The planet is dying. How inconvenient is that?

Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, arrives in August from Doubleday. He can be reached at