Time to get busy again? The value of volunteering…

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They say if you want something done, ask the busiest person you know. I’m not sure if I’m the busiest person you know, but I seem to have reversed my decision of last year… the one where I decided to step BACK from taking on extra curricular challenges. Hmmm.

I am loving (seriously freaking holy awesome) LOVING my day job; it is different every day, challenges me on many levels and is near infinite in its possibilities. I have grown kids who need me very little these days, and my youngest is about to graduate. I am single again, so have time on my hands too. That all adds up to energy to spare and a willingness to bite off a bigger chunk of challenge. Either that or it adds up to a whole big pile of crazy… maybe they’re the same thing?

I have found myself on a board. Or two. Or three, now I think about it. I am really excited about this, despite the fact that I am somehow chair of one board and co-chair of another. The co-chair job is already a big bucket of work but I’m really excited and eager to start moving forward. The other boards are low output, but engaging in different ways.

So why do I do this? Why do I take on excess work? I am trying to figure this out; is it out of boredom? Maybe… to a minor degree. I know some people take on board roles to pad their resumes, gain experience and exposure, “network & leverage connections”. I think I do it because I have too much electricity running through my body and too much work gives me a productive place to put it. I’m also a creative person with more big ideas than I can find places for without the kind of forum that volunteer work provides.

The funny thing is that I somehow manage to keep board work and volunteerism separate in my head, how weird is that? I consider time spent helping out at the Food Bank or serving lunch at a soup kitchen as volunteer work, but board work is its own category in my mind. However I categorize it, I’m glad I have opportunities to stretch my mind and work with such diverse groups through this kind of activity. And how cool to be part of SOMETHING BIGGER (that deserves capitals, no?).

Crazy. I seem to step back from boards every few years; in hindsight perhaps I do that only so I can catch a second wind and hit the ground running again, with increased capacity.

Hey… join a board… it’s rewarding! You’ll meet new people, experience new challenges, have exciting adventures, learn Roberts Rules of Order… And if you want, you can even network and leverage new connections (wink). But mostly you’ll do good work for a cause you believe in. There are many not for profit groups and organizations seeking committed, talented people.

Learn who needs the skills you have to offer by contacting Volunteer Yukon or offer to serve on one of the boards highlighted on the Government of Yukon’s Boards & Committees page. And if you’re reading this and you’re not in the Yukon then find a group wherever you are that needs all the special you-ness you have to share. You’ll be glad you did. Seriously!

Has the dark side won?

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Hey Whitehorse? What happened that we think it’s okay to be just rude? I mean really really rude, publicly really rude and disrespectful of each other? We talk all the time about the need to join forces against bullying, about protecting each other and creating safe places. So… what’s this about?

Why do I see more and more Facebook groups called “Shit Parkers of Whitehorse”, “Superstore Whitehorse Sucks”, “Cinemas in Whitehorse Suck” and so on. I get that people may be dissatisfied with the service or the situation but really?

Think about Superstore for a minute, everyone yelling that they don’t have what you want on the shelves. They are trying to fill an enormously increased need with no increase in storage space… how can they do it without upsetting their customers? The people who work there are doing their best to keep things as seamless as they can…remember that, please?

And those shit parkers? Hell, that could be any one of us on a bad day. How will you feel when your car, with your bumper sticker or little family decal on the rear window shows up on that page? I know maybe it feels harmless but feels like we’re sliding further from common decency and respect.

I know, Pollyanna wishes. I’m as cranky as the next person sometimes (maybe too often). I guess even this blog post is me allowing gravity to pull me down a bit too. Oh well. Can’t fight it?

I Believe in Fur

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As a Northerner, I am rarely surprised by any of the things that might surprise southerners, but I was with my mother last weekend in Fairbanks Alaska… and she’s from “outside”.   We watched the GCI Open North American Championship Dog Sled Races… my mom was so excited, snapping picture after picture. I live in the Yukon, so dogsled races are an annual event. The Yukon Quest is our annual event…a 1,000 mile sled dog race run each February between Fairbanks and Whitehorse. Dog teams are really cool, but not once-in-a-lifetime cool.

What really captured my attention was the Alaska Trappers Association’s outdoor Fur Auction. Wow. Row after row of pelts, some tanned and some ready to be tanned. I found it fascinating; exciting. My mother found it repulsive, upsetting, anachronistic. There were wolf, Arctic fox, red fox, wolverine, ermine, weasel, coyote, lynx, beaver, squirrel, caribou, even a few bear. Although the sale of bear skins is illegal in Alaska, bears killed by conservation officers are skinned and their pelts are sold each year at this event.   The Trappers Association acts as a wholesaler working on behalf of Alaskans with traplines up and down the state, offering hundreds of furs to people like me as well as artists and those bidding on contract for retail, for designers, etc. I have never seen anything like it.

The furs were beautiful. Stunning. Heartbreaking, yes, but the sight of them reinforced a connection to the land that’s rapidly disappearing from our modern culture. It was amazing to watch the auctioneer and bidders carrying on much as I imagine they did 50 or 75 years ago, making good on a season of effort and keeping traditional trade relationships going. As a society, we don’t hold much stock in fur these days. In the North, that’s not really true. In the North we respect fur; we know it can keep us alive in winter, it can keep us warm and we know the fur trapping and trading industry can sustain families and communities.

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Before you get outraged I want you to consider a few things. I won’t go all “circle of life” on you, but I have spent a fair bit of time the last few days thinking this through in my own head. I know that fur is no longer necessary for us to stay warm or to survive winter. I know we can buy Goretex, we can wear down, we can use other, more modern technologies.

But think about this; down comes from animals. The down industry is a bit cowboy; some countries have good, ethical harvesting practices while others don’t. Some of the down sold in Canada  “is a by-product of the waterfowl meat industry.” But 80% of the world’s down comes from China, where rules are … well,  you know, not really rules at all.  Live plucking, an abhorrent practice does take place in many producing countries including China and some European suppliers of down. A Swedish news program called “Kalla Fakta” (“Cold Facts”) claimed in 2009 that between 50% and 80% of the world’s down came from live plucked birds; that’s a shameful and deeply upsetting statistic. While many countries have scrambled to refute those statistics, the numbers certainly remain higher than most of us could comfortably live with.

Artificial down (poly this or that) comes from a complex manufacturing process that sucks up resources and spits out chemicals and effluent; petroleum based down alternatives are really just another big fat question mark environmentally. How about shearling? Well, you know no sheep is going to survive very long without its skin and wool, so that’s just fur; the ubiquitous uggs are just fur too, for that matter.

The thing is this; you’ve got to stay warm. This is Canada, and it’s winter, and it’s damned cold. You have a myriad of options that cover the gamut from oil by-product down alternatives inside of a nylon shell to wild trapped fur. You can come down on the side of anti-cruelty and choose either polar opposite of the equation; is harvesting an animal after a life lived fully in nature less humane than wearing a nylon parka stuffed with petroleum based down alternative? What is the larger impact? Proper animal husbandry and humane harvesting practices allow the responsible use of a renewable resource. If we want to be honest with ourselves, we’ll consider that commercial meat production in Canada is unspeakably cruel to the animals harvested; pigs held in pens with no room to turn around, chickens are kept eternally in the dark and in tiny cages. You can’t argue that trapping is inhumane while you eat a burger with a clean conscience.  If you buy your meat neatly wrapped in plastic at Loblaw or Walmart or Superstore – or any other major food chain, you are part of the consumptive cycle – you are part of the industry raising animals for human slaughter and use. For the record, so am I. I am a meat eater and am equally a part of the problem.

I don’t agree with inhumane trapping methods, and by that I refer to leg hold traps. I don’t know enough about how traplines are run to suggest I have any real idea of the process and methods but I believe this with all my heart; it must be a better life for an animal to run, free and wild until death than to be held captive until an appropriately marketable weight is achieved before slaughter.  Responsible harvest of wild animals for use in the creation of garments designed to keep us safe and warm in extreme weather…that I can live with. Not without second thought, but I can accept it.

I don’t think I could make this argument if I lived in Los Angeles or Vancouver, but in the north… the REAL north, yes. Fur makes sense to me.  What do you think?

 

 

 

Cross your heart and hope you’ll remember?

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If you want my respect, say you’ll do something then do it. Don’t tell me what you’re going to do.  Don’t say you’ll do something then forget, or blow it off. All we have to go on in this life are our instincts and our faith in good people.  We have to trust that people will do what they say they will; what else do we really have?

I think we have to remember that we are what we say, we are what we do. When we follow through on what we promise, we are saying that we’re worth trusting, worth believing in. When we think we can decide what is and isn’t important to others and fail to do what we’ve said, we let ourselves and those counting on us down. Saying you will do something you have no intention of doing is a lie. Saying you’ll do something you make no effort to do is disingenuous. The good feeling you get from pleasing the person you’ve promised evaporates pretty quickly once you know you’ve disappointed them.

You don’t have to pinky swear, cross your heart and hope to die  for your word to be considered a promise. The simple act of saying you WILL is a promise. When you say you will, and you can or could and don’t, you’ve broken your promise.   Not fulfilling is a choice… conscious or otherwise. Sometimes there is a really good reason, sometimes not. Circumstances may prevent you from accomplishing what you intended, but if the effort is genuine, honour is maintained.

Men used to be judged on their word; in my world, they still are. What’s your handshake worth?

Lessons in Grace from the Gas Bar

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I stopped for gas this afternoon, cold and complaining to myself, huddled deep into my coat as I waited for the tank to fill. A flash of neon green caught my eye; one of our town’s more infamous characters was pulling a sled with a hot pink skipping rope handle. The sled carried a couple of black garbage bags, open to receive the day’s bounty of discarded cans and bottles retrieved from sidewalks, dumpsters and trash bins. As I watched, she approached the black plastic garbage can at the pump island where I stood.

My instinctive reaction was distaste. For some reason the sight of her and her sled made me feel something unpleasant for a moment. The idea of going through other peoples’ trash makes me so uncomfortable. It’s dirty, it’s dangerous and it just makes me shudder.  I am (I think) more generous of spirit than that, usually. In that moment though,  I was small. I’m not proud of that.

I watched her, as I pumped my gas. I could only see her bare hands from where she stood on the other side of the pump station. Such a cold day today, -25 and colder, and she dug into that garbage can with bare hands. I watched as she bent over, head going deep into the bin, digging deeply for whatever she could salvage. She retrieved a few water and pop bottles, an empty vodka mickey and a McDonald’s bag worthy of further investigation. While I watched, I started to worry. I met a street fellow in Vancouver a couple of years ago with a raging infection in his hand; he’d cut it on something while rummaging for recyclables this same way. I worried for how cold her hands must be, doing this work in the frigid weather.

As she finished up, she did something I won’t forget. She straightened the garbage bag out, making sure the sides were properly stretched down over the top before she carefully replaced the lid. She pulled out a few paper towels from the dispenser and wiped her hands clean. Most memorable to me? A small square of paper towel tore off and fell beside the garbage can. Her red, cold fingers tried four or five times until she was able to get hold of it to toss it in the bin. She moved on to the next can and started over, tidy in her work.

The cautious, careful way everything was set to rights when she was done affected me very much. The small piece of paper, so difficult to pick up with frozen fingers was not left as litter on the ground. I felt, still feel, shame for my initial reflexive distaste. While I hope I don’t have to do that in my lifetime, there is a quiet honour in what she was doing. From an environmental standpoint, she was doing us all a service. Through the salvage efforts of people like her, many discarded cans and bottles make it to recycling centres instead of the landfill. From a self sufficiency point of view she is doing something honourable too; working to earn some money despite the challenges. That effort makes liars of people who point fingers at “lazy” recipients of social assistance. From where I sit there is nothing lazy about crossing the city day after day on foot, pulling your harvest behind you in the depths of winter to make a few bucks.

I don’t ever want to have to dig through garbage to make money, but I need to feel and show respect for the people who do. All work has honour, all work has value. All people have honour and value. I need to work on empathy. It’s  easy to look away, to feel different, separate, more, better, to look for something that provides safe distance between me and “them”.   She did her work today with dignity and I respect that. I hope I don’t mean that I wouldn’t respect her if she’d left the lid off, left the trash where it fell. I hope I’d respect her no matter what, but the  grace shown in the small act of leaving the space tidy moved me in a powerful way. I hope never to be judged the way she is likely judged, every day of her life.

 

Found at the side of the road…

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I spend a fair bit of time walking, running, cycling the roads and trails of the Yukon. I have a mental gallery of images of  the sometimes bizarre items I’ve seen abandoned roadside… shoes of course, but clothes, underwear, tools and more. Expand the “roadside” idea further and we’ve found a saw in a tree during a shore lunch, a six pack of beer perched perfectly atop a rock in the middle of a wilderness river and so on.

The find that prompted me to finally do something about creating a place for all this weird random lost stuff was recent. I walked from my office to Starbucks for an afternoon coffee in June and saw, lying sadly in the gravel at my feet, broken dentures. Two pieces of eery pink plastic and chiclet teeth laying there, never again to fulfill their purpose. That’s a find I chose to leave where it lay…

So I’ve created a Facebook page entitled Found at the Side of the Road. It’s intended as a gallery of images and stories of these sometimes inexplicable finds. If you have a photo I invite you to share it. If you don’t know the story I welcome you to make one up…it might be fun.

If you don’t have a photo please, tell us the story anyway. I’ve got a great story about that six-pack of beer on the rock that I’ll tell you someday. I hope you’ll come on over and share.

And maybe someday I’ll fulfill a crazy personal dream I’ve had for a long time; a curated exhibit of single shoes found roadside…. hahahaha! Maybe I can get a Canada Council art grant… maybe lost soles can be reuinited at last!

Come on over and join the Facebook page.

Impossible Loss

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The community I live in and love has been struck hard by tragedy in the last month. Two young families have lost their Dads…quickly, shockingly, unfairly. The two families have 5 children between them, all 11 and younger.

The two men, both dedicated outdoors men were friends. They worked together, shared similar passions and lived their lives with enormous intensity and capacity for joy. They died 3 weeks apart, separately, in two completely unrelated tragedies.

Last night on my flight home from a visit to the big city I brushed up close to that pain. I sat with the sister in law of the most recently lost husband, father, friend, Daddy. Her heart was in pieces, visibly. She was lovely. She was so sad, so worried for her sister, her little niece and the shell shocked boys. Their father died trying to save them from a river; them and the son of the woman sitting next to me for 3 hours. I felt…still feel, gutted. I am grateful that I was there, able to help her with her own young daughter, be a new face, a new ear, a new mirror to look in to see who she is now.  As she told me the story, my heart broke again and again.  At one point, she said, there were six people in the river, all drowning. Half were there to save, half were being saved. All were at risk of being lost. Too few safety measures afforded by the resort they were visiting, so many people, so much crying and fear and screaming, so little anyone could do. And so, one Daddy died. One husband is gone. So many lives are forever changed.

I wasn’t there. I don’t know the family personally, though I feel so connected to them. I felt that connection even before meeting this woman who has so much to try and block from her memory, so much to move forward from. I felt that connection because I am a wife, I am a mother.   I feel that connection so much more now, having had the little girl with the saddest face I’ve ever seen sit on me, play with my phone and take sad photos of herself. This little girl has just lost her Daddy; she is 3.

The two families, linked by friendship and interest and passion and love of the outdoors are now linked by sorrow, loss and tragedy.  I am now, forever, linked to their story. I will never erase from my  heart the sight of this woman, this heartbroken sister, the aunt of these children in shock. She almost lost her own son and father to the river, lost instead her brother in law, her sister’s joy and her own sense of security in the world.

She said it was so awful. So horrible. So unbelievable. She has touched my life forever.

Yukon, we have two families who need us terribly right now. 5 children who will need all the support we can provide. Two mothers whose worlds have just been turned upside down, and who haven’t even begun to measure what lies ahead. I want to do something. I wish I could do something.