Tag Archives: Nature

Why I live here: Answering the Trevor Noah questions

Nailed it! Traffic mess, great show.

The city of Ottawa received more snow in January than in any other January ever before. And most of that white stuff fell in the days just before Trevor Noah arrived.

The narrow streets that surround the stadium where he performed barely accommodate two cars in sunny summer weather. With snowbanks? One car, and it had better be small.

Unprecedented snow + rush hour traffic + Trevor Noah = Mayhem.

The bus we were taking to the stadium stopped dead in the gridlock. We hopped off and walked on the snowy, icy sidewalks for more than a mile to get there on time. We bustled along with people in the same situation. We acknowledged each other with:

“Trevor Noah?”

“Yep.”

People who didn’t have tickets to the event saw the mess and wondered about it. “What’s going on?” they asked.

“Trevor Noah,” was the answer.

The words Trevor Noah are likely to raise the blood pressure of many Ottawans for the next while.

But a little snow (or a lot) didn’t stop us. We arrived in time for the start of his show. He started with questions a South African who doesn’t like snow and cold would ask.

Why do we live here?

Why do we not move?

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since, because I love it here. But what exactly do I love, and how, and why?

Trevor Noah wasn’t a fan of our showpiece attraction – the Rideau Canal Skateway. But for us, it is JOY itself to skate for what feels like forever.

And we feel vindicated by the Lonely Planet’s selection of the skateway as one of their top 10 winter destinations.

And, if I don’t want to venture as far as the canal, I love that volunteers from my neighbourhood flood the area around the play structures so people can skate in a circuitous loop.

I love that I can drive for half an hour and go downhill skiing.

I love that the snowbanks serve as sofas when waiting for a bus.

I love that neighbours played a pick-up “Super Bowl” football game, with dogs, in two feet of snow in the park, and it was WAY more entertaining than the real Super Bowl.

I love that it’s just plain beautiful.

And I love that I know that proper clothing makes enjoying the beauty possible. Short coats and jeans? NO. Long coats and windproof pants? YES>

And those are just the winter thoughts . . .

I love that in May our parks fill up with displays of tulips like you will see nowhere else.

I love that the Rideau Canal that we skate on in the winter becomes a canoe/kayak/boat/picnic paradise in the summer.

I love that Ottawa is the capital of a country that is not perfect, but tries really hard to be so.

I love that we acknowledge our failings and work to improve.

And most of all, I love that we can laugh at ourselves, and our stereotypes – the accurate and the not-so-accurate. (A-boot? Huh?)

The nature of healing after holocausts

A re-visit to an earlier post in honour of International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I’ve never been to Auschwitz, but I will never forget Dachau.

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Years ago, my husband and I arrived at a quaint German town. We strolled in the sun along a picturesque main street steeped in hundreds of years of European culture. We passed flower beds brimming with brilliant red and yellow flowers nodding their heads in the summer sun. When we entered the tourist bureau, the staff greeted us warmly, but with reserve. They knew why we were there. They handed us a brochure that read, “Welcome to Dachau.”

dachauWhen we had set our car in the direction of Dachau earlier that morning, the rising sun and warm temperatures had suited the moment. We had spent the previous evening enjoying steins of beer and German oompah music at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich.

But as we got closer and closer to Dachau, we became quiet and sombre. I expected the skies to cloud over and a cold drizzle to soak our skins. I had always pictured Dachau as cold and grey and dreary; the sun and the lush green grass that greeted us seemed an insult to the memory of what happened there.

What was such beauty doing in a place of such horror?

In the book, Left to Tell, ImmaculĂ©e Ilibagiza relates her personal story of the Rwandan Holocaust. She took refuge in a hidden bathroom in pastor’s home to avoid being murdered. From inside her bathroom cell, she could hear the killing squads outside the house shouting, “I have killed 399 cockroaches. ImmaculĂ©e will make 400. It’s a good number to kill.” Hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered while gentle breezes drifted “down from the hills and through the pine and cedar forests scented with the sweet aroma of lilies and chrysanthemums.”

Why do chrysanthemum breezes blow around wielded machetes?

My friend, Jennifer, recently travelled to southeast Asia. While there she spent a sobering day at the Killing Fields in Cambodia. She arrived that day at a schoolyard. The sun shone brightly in the sky and birds chirped. If it had been any other place on any other day, this would have been a carefree place of children’s games and laughter. But instead she walked through classrooms that had been used as torture chambers by Pol Pot’s regime. She saw pictures of the victims as they were found in each room when the horror ended. The Killing Fields themselves were pitted with indentations left by bones dug out of the ground. She stood by a tree—an ordinary tree. The killers swung small children against the trunk of the tree to crack their skulls. Standing there, Jennifer thought, “The birds should not tweet here. The sun should not shine here.”

Why is nature stubbornly beautiful there?

As I trembled in the furnace room at Dachau, as ImmaculĂ©e prayed in a pastor’s bathroom for 91 days, as Jennifer stood in the shadow of a monument seven or eight stories high made of human bones, we were all awed into silence by the potential of humans for horrific violence. We were overwhelmed by our disbelief that ordinary people could forget their compassion and become part of such brutal group insanity.

The horror hasn’t been cleansed from these places yet. The atmospheres still weigh heavily, dense with pain. But the sun does shine, and the flowers do nod their heads in the sun. Chrysanthemum breezes do waft through trees that bud in the spring while birds twitter in their branches.

Nature beats on ceaselessly through the insanity: beautiful, restorative, and relentless in its pursuit of healing.

 

Community rhubarb

rhubarb

The rhubarb patch at the front of my house soaks up full sun and produces a crop robust enough to nourish many families in my community. My neighbours know they are welcome to wander down any time and harvest a few stalks. Goodness knows, I could never use all that rhubarb.

Sharing my rhubarb wealth takes me back to my roots on a farm outside a small town where neighbourhood sharing was the norm, not an aberration, and where natural foods grew wild for the picking. I smile when I see my friends bent over the huge leaves looking for thick, juicy stalks. (I will need to thin the plant next year. They stalks are getting a little spindly.) I reminds me that as a child I broke off rhubarb stalks and munched them down raw. It makes my mouth pucker at the memory of bitter chokecherries we picked to make sweet jelly, or salivate at thoughts of juicy, tiny wild strawberries plucked carefully from their tender plants growing close to the forest ground.

My community rhubarb makes my city home feel like a country place. It reminds me that nature can never really be owned but is there for the picking.