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2007 11 28
Techne-City III: What it’s Like to be a Seagull

The green rush is on. Latest instance: Monday’s Globe and Mail reported how Jack Layton rushes to greener political pastures.

Great idea. No doubt politically inspired. Since “Australia's 'climate-change' election inspires Layton to emulate green platform”. And since, as the article alerts,
Mr. Layton will argue that many of his own environmental ideas are now in the international mainstream… Mr. Layton's wave of international name-dropping is designed to win over Canadian voters who normally turn up their noses at the NDP.
Some Globe commentators, though, seemed dubious whether to appreciate Jack’s aspirations. However politically inspired. For instance, dallas mcquarrie wrote:
For some time it's been quite clear that the 'environmental' party in Canada is the Green Party. Layton and the NDP's belated embrace of environmentalism is more a product of the fact they are losing supporters to the Green Party than any 'conversion' experience. It's easy for the NDP to jump on the environmental bandwagon now that environmentalism is 'cool,' but Jack Layton is only following in Elizabeth May's footsteps. Unlike the NDP, the Green Party was environmentalist before it became popular. Now that the Green Party has caught up to the NDP in the polls, Jack Layton's hoisting of the environmental banner is a desperate political gambit from a leader reacting to events rather than shaping them.
Vickky Angstrom disagreed completely:
Dallas: The NDP has always had environmental protections as part of its platform. Jack Layton has put forward green policies from his early days in city politics. I am very uncomfortable with the greens, who are another right wing party apart from their environmental platform -- the last thing we need.
Increasingly, the debating ceased pretending anything green. Ceased pretending anything but political ideology. James Pearson wrote, “The NDP will be the Official Opposition after the next election (whenever that is).” Darmok and Jilad from Tanagra contradicted:
The NDP will lose the not-quite-so-left side to the Liberals, and the Kermit the Frog Party (Greens) will eat up some of the other side, leaving Taliban Jack holding his thong after the next election (sorry for the disturbing visual).
Too predictably, George Bishop had declared,
..Canadians for too long have been taken for granted in that people with Money seem to blame everything on others, its time for average Canadians to speak up and demand a greater piece of the 'pie'
And, just as predictably, p m scorned,
its time for average Canadians to speak up and demand a greater piece of the 'pie' ....another 'lefty' heard from.. hey buddy, the pie is made in the kitchen ...by hard work...it is not handed out the serving window by the government.....get real!! you want more pie, get in the kitchen and make it yourself...just like the rest of us!!
Ayup. Great metaphor. Flawless. How we keep bickering for ever more pie than we can scarf, binge or purge -– while devastating, annihilating, demolishing, decimating and wasting what little natural habitat remains. If any habitat even remains at all natural. As if greener pastures should be made whole by our spinning the political hay. Or by our slashing, burning and contaminating in business as usual.

Nothing remotely “green” gets inspired by our petty politics. There shall be no rescue by governments. No rescue by regulation, legislation or completely inadequate accords like Kyoto. Regardless how warped, our governments can reflect nothing but our selves -– our convenient and terminally ignorant self-involvement. We’ll get nothing better from governance than we deserve. Nor can we expect corporate bailouts. Corporations can do nothing economic but cater our consumptions. Nothing but supply our demand for more pie to stuff down our endless bickering pie-holes. It is by our internal and eternal bickering that many of us starve while the whole earth is made waste. It is by our internal and eternal self-involved bickering we are each, every and single one of us implicated. By our ever increasing pie-choked bickering. That’s why there can be no hope for greener pastures which does not arise from personal and cultural grass-roots. From first and foremost principles.

The media monger such fears of global warming that the majority of my first-year students report feeling numbed and paralysed. None even recall media’s prior fear-mongering frenzy –- “nuclear winter”. Never mind beginning to appreciate how myriad the ways we make waste of our environment have become. As if, but for greenhouse gases or nuclear catastrophe, everything would be all right.

As if. We don’t need greenhouse gases. We don’t require nuclear catastrophe. We don’t depend on all our mercurial contaminants to utterly waste the natural. We’ve been overkilling and extincting in spectacular style ever since swinging that damned club of Moon-Watcher’s. Nuclear catastrophe? All we need is sticks and stones. Literally. Where are the Sabretooth Cats? The American lions? The Short-faced bears, standing near twice tall as Grizzlies? Where are the tremendous Longhorned bison and Mastodon those fabulous carnivores hunted? Where the magnificent vegetation which this continent’s tremendous herbivores browsed?

Where indeed. Absolutely nowhere. Extinct. We require no nuclear catastrophes. We did just great genociding with sticks and stones 10,000 years back. What’s absurd is how now “nature lovers” discover Chernobyl. How, after the worst nuclear catastrophe, nature came back to life. Not because the catastrophe failed devastating. Just because the catastrophe proved sufficiently devastating to frighten away most human intrusion. Just because absenting ordinary humanity everyday for a couple decades restored the natural like nothing else ever could. That’s how implicated each, every and single one of us are.

It’s at about this point that students lose all interest in whatever else I might have planned addressing -– and demand knowing what we can do about it. And, having no political inspiration or aspiration, I tell them straight: got no clue. I can only convey some of what I try and do about it. Merely on generally green principles. Only hoping for some less self-involved awareness at grass roots.

Only hoping. Couple weeks back, for instance, while rummaging the garbage for food, I was gently accosted by two female students.

“We’ve been watching you,” declared one.

“Are you lost?” asked the other. “Are you in some kind of trouble? Can we help you?”

For a moment, I felt like deer do in headlights. Or, in human terms, like the least legitimate of red-headed stepchildren. Then, recalling myself somewhat, I replied, “Sure you can help -– want to help feed the animals?”

Blinking, they glanced at each other. Gamely struggling with consuming preconceptions. Preconceptions of proper consuming.

“Maybe?” ventured one -- while the other nodded just barely. Both hesitant like I'd offered them candy. From the garbage.

“See,” I elaborated, “those hotdog buns you’re about to toss? Why send what you can’t finish to landfill far away? Winter’s here -– and the way we humans demolish every natural habitat, it’s much too hard for many animals. So why not share? Why throw perfectly good food in the garbage when birds and animals right outside go without?”

“Yeah,” they agreed, just about in unison. Almost enthused.

And we had plenty to share. Them with unfinished lunches. Me with five pounds of rescued organics. Trouble was, we couldn’t find any animals to share with. None. Everywhere birds and animals had clustered was deserted.

The longer we searched, the more chirping, whistling and clacking come hither sounds I made, the more suspicious they got. I was glad when they left. Relieved. Grateful they’d mostly contained giggling at the garbage digging loser –- i.e., me.

That’s how it was for about a week. Getting bitter roaming around campus. Not just the cold. I kept thinking how Turing-readily we get fooled into believing ought which mimics us intelligent. How utterly and persistently we fail recognizing -– never mind approaching -– any intelligence not entirely oriented and prejudiced precisely as our own. How despite my best human efforts, I couldn’t manage communicating any what I hoped to share with birds and animals about campus. What to do when -– in winter -– they no longer sought me out? I was getting bitter for, no matter how I kept whistling, jumping and throwing apple cores up in air, no single high-drifting seagull deigned batting one wingtip my way.

I’d ceased roaming campus by late last week. Mostly accepted my human ignorance. Just stood there throwing crumbs at the ground. Waiting for any pigeon to alight between the roaring of buses. Dimly kept hearing seagulls. Thought it was imagination but got to thinking, eventually. What’s it like to be a seagull? Cold is cold. Lee side to the wind is better. So I crossed to the other side. The lee side. And there they were. At least that day. In the open yet partly protected spaces between Stedman Lecture Halls and Vanier. Squirrels digging. Seagulls winging low.

The best part? There were two. When seagulls replied my pidgin “Found something –- out’ta the way!” whistles. And yet more so when they came wheeling, skimming, feet touching no snow and beaks snagging the apple cores I spilled.

It’s winter. Hard times. No more turning beaks up at apple cores. And the way they snagged those apple cores? Balanced on transparent breaths of air, curving perfect asymptotes against the snow? I have seen no grace more pure.

[Peter Fruchter teaches in the Division of Humanities at York University. His related essay, "Acts of Salvage", was recently published in GreenTOpia (Coach House, 2007)]

[Seagull image by Bryan and used via Creative Commons.]
[email this story] Posted by Peter Fruchter on 11/28 at 02:41 PM

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