Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Gates of Hell

Eleven years ago, my then partner and I embarked on a world tour. We literally left Toronto flying east and didn’t stop until we bumped into Toronto again. The circumnavigation of the world took nine months and more then forty-two thousand kilometres of travel.

During the trip, I saw many things that inspired awe in a forty year old heart. I‘ve had a bull elephant wander to within twenty feet of our truck in Africa, presumable checking us out as we were him. I’ve seen cheetahs take down a gazelle. I’ve had a wild boar pull a knapsack through the wall of a tent with me holding the other end… buck naked in the middle of Africa. I’ve climbed Mount Sinai in the pitch black of a moonless night only to see the most spectacular desert sunrise I have ever witnessed.

I’ve been privy to the underground capitalist economy in Viet Nam. I’ve stood in the Parthenon and felt the history of the ancients embrace me. I’ve been diving at the Poor Knight islands with the same stingrays that that ultimately brought on the untimely death of Steve Irwin. I’ve body surfed thirty foot swells off Kuda Beach in Bali.

I’ve stood in the streets of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic with a little girl in a pink dress tugging at my trousers knowing all too well that if I looked down at her again, I would scoop her up in my arms and bring her back to the safety and prosperity of my home. While all these events are etched in my mind, none are as vivid as my time in Germany. 

We went to Dachau Concentration Camp.

When I walked onto the grounds at Dachau, I was struck by the grey bleakness. It was a sunny day, yet a palpable pall hung in the air. I could see where the barracks had been. Each barrack was designed to house 250 people. There were 1600 housed in each. 32,000 people were liberated from the camp on April 29, 1945. Over 200,000 political prisoners came through Dachau during the war. Except for those liberated, none left alive.

Further on, I saw the rail lines where prisoners were shuttled in like cattle. Near the end of the war, many didn’t make it to the camps at all. They were executed in the cars or beside a nearby ditch where the dead were rolled in a bloody heaping stench.

I saw the ovens designed to cook human beings while they were still alive. At Dachau, unlike Auschwitz, the ovens were never used. Still, that anything as insidious could be conceived is beyond the realm of a sane imagination. I stood in one spot in front of the ovens; my feet anchored to the concrete floor and wept.

Later, I found that I was unable to look anyone in the eye lest they see what I had seen.

There is a plaque at Dachau which reads, “Never Again” in five languages. Yet it has happened time and again. It would seem we are not so far removed from our primordial ancestors after all.

While we are honouring those who have fought for our countries and the liberation of others, let us not forget those who needed our help. Those who have fallen simply because someone believed they were the wrong creed, colour, religion or sex need to be remembered as well. Those unidentifiable masses who were slaughtered at the whim of madmen.

When leaving Dachau, I recall being speechless. Nothing could have lessened the darkness I felt as I stumbled away from the Gates of Hell.

Lest We Forget.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


I've fallen and have no inclination to get up.

Why are there not cutsie poems about Fall? Something like we have for Spring: “Spring has sprung, The grass is riz, I wonder where the hotties is.” I think it’s a little difficult to write about a season that is the shoulder between summer and winter. While Fall colours are beautiful, it’s also the time of year that is a harbinger of freezing your butt off. I mean, it’s not called fall for nothing right? Anything I think of for verse seems to come out somewhat colourless despite the flush of the surrounding hills. 

Fall is flung,
A carpet of paint,
Where you are,
Is where I ain’t.

Maybe it’s the visual of falling back rather than springing ahead that’s making it difficult.

And why is it called Fall anyway? Because leaves fall from the trees or the temperature falls? Perhaps it’s the time of year the stock market traditionally plunges to a fiery death in a plume of ticker tape burning smoke. Maybe it’s supposed to be when we fall in love so we have someone to cuddle with and aren’t so wretchedly cold through the winter.

In true Fall tradition, I pulled a couple of boats, a dock and a set of boat rails out of the water. During the surgically precise procedure, I bruised a heel, cut a finger, strained a shoulder and cursed more than a few times. Oh! And I lost a critical bolt I’m going to need in the spring somewhere in the primordial muck at the bottom of the lake. Yup. Watched it fall right into the murky depths.

The season seems to be going perfectly according to Hoyle.

Which brings me to thinking about winterising and storing away my summer in the first place. I have a deeply ingrained love-hate relationship with stuff. On the one hand I know the more things I have, the more responsibility I have for taking care of them and the more time I spend doing the caretaking. On the other, I like the idea of having what I need when I need or want it. The question is, do I really need all of this stuff? Have I become so ingrained in the “have” society that I am simply a collector of items of convenience; things I might someday need and are simply magnets for dust?

I wonder sometimes, if I didn’t have all this stuff, would I then have time saved by not having to care for them (as opposed to time saved by owning every gadget known to human kind). If I had more time, I might actually go down the street to a neighbour’s and, heaven forbid, socialize?

In modern society, I have need of certain things and we all aspire to better. It’s not as if I can live in tents and at the same time, I know I own some things because I wanted them, not necessarily because they were an absolute necessity. I need to be careful in the choices I make as to what I have. Careful that I am not buying them because I think they will make me happy.

No thing will ever make me happy. That’s my job alone.

That same thought process applies to people. While I do need intimate connection (I believe it’s universal among all of us) I also recognise that no person is truly responsible for making me happy or sad. Only my reaction to what they may say or do is responsible for my emotional response and I am ultimately responsible for my reaction.

Taking care of the things I have ensures they remain in good working order. In the end, relationships I have are much more important than things. Taking care with the relationships I have ensures they remain in good working order... and stand up to the test of time.

Perhaps this is a good time of year to fall in love.


Monday, 15 October 2012

Where to Start

As with most projects, it can be difficult to know where to fire up the coal burning synapses. Becoming belligerent and launching the first shot over the bow can not only be hazardous (people have an uncanny knack of firing back), it can be downright rude.

Of course, I could just start with my name, rank and serial number which is dry as eating Death Valley dirt and generates about as much interest as a two AM info-mercial about the next stunning technological advances in cleaning your toilet with some form of duck thingy.

As I said, I could be incendiary; trying to blow things up right from the beginning. While it might generate interest, it could also spawn a law suit right from the start and I would rather get a few words in edgewise before being hauled away to a federally funded home away from home with free TV dinners, a weight room and bars of soap all over the shower floor.
I wonder sometimes about starting anything at all. What’s the incentive?

In the case of a blog, sometimes we simply have a need to say our piece and leave it at that. Other times, we wish to raise an issue and join the voices of thousands of others in an attempt to right a wrong. Maybe we are just letting our inner Shakespeare wobble his booty.

Whatever the reason, I think there needs to be an incentive to start on a path. Having a dream is sometimes enough for some folks. For others, it takes a bit more than that. Particularly when it comes to change. Change seldom happens until the pain of where we are becomes more unbearable than the pain of making the change. The idea is, like water, we’ll follow the path of least resistance.

In some cases though, we are not like water. We are more like a magnet to steel. We make changes because something is drawing us in that direction. That is, there is a draw we can’t seem to resist.

So the question remains, “Where do I begin?”

At the beginning, of course. Silly man.

And so it begins.