The last few days have been packed with interviews, meetings and exploring the incredible landscapes of Thunder Bay. Here are only some (of many) shots from our week:
Photos by Rebecca Wolff
If you’ve heard my personal story you’ll know that my life is like a patchwork quilt of living in different places. A childhood spent moving, teenage years spent wandering and finally dividing my time between Peru and Ontario.
Moving permanently to Toronto after school was not an easy decision, at the time it felt like I had to choose: Peru or Canada. I could not continue my work in both.
I care deeply about the work I am doing in Toronto, looking at how to integrate Indigenous health into medical education. I had chosen to be in Canada to give myself no other choice but to be immersed in the issues facing my own nation, and to recognize the role I play in perpetuating broken systems. I wanted to be fully present in my learning, and project. To do this I thought I needed to distance myself from wanting to act, engage or respond to events in Peru. But ever since deciding to look at culturally-focused health equity in Ontario, I’ve struggled to be so far from Peru and wondered about my decision.
Well over the last few weeks it’s become impossible to separate my Peru life from my Canadian life. In the Amazon there have been 3 major oil spills , the most recent of which occurred last week. I wake up to see more news about oil pouring into the rivers, not being cleaned up and I am consumed with thinking about the consequences of this…what it means for individuals, communities, the environment. (BBC article on oil spills)
It always felt like I was in a personal conflict of what place I was allowed to resonate and empathize with. Until today….
I got up early this morning, sipped some coffee to keep warm while I prepped for interviews about medical education at Canadian medical schools. How can we teach students about Indigenous health, giving them skills to be culturally safe practitioners who don’t perpetuate stereotyping, systemic racism or cultural bias?
I had a meeting with the local coordinators of Elder Sessions at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. We discussed strategies for collaborating with community Elders to engage students in Anishnawbe teachings and prepare them for working in communities as bio-medically trained doctors.
After we had finished our interview, I stayed to chat. I explained a bit about myself, in particular my background working in Peru, which led to my focus in Indigenous health.
Suddenly, without my prompting, we began engaging in a dialogue about the current oil spill crisis in Peru. It turned out I was sitting a table with an Anishnawbe attendee to a UN event, where other Indigenous representatives from the Peruvian Sierra and Amazon had been in attendance. Even in Thunder Bay I had found persons with whom I shared mutual feelings of concern, fear, and empathy for the issues being faced by communities in the Amazon.
With three months left of Studio Y I don’t think I’ll ever stop questioning where I am and where I should be, but I do see that I should never have tried to push myself away from continuing to engage and care about people in both the places I live and work.
I cannot be one without the other, and today showed me I don’t have to choose.
By Stephen (Team Deep Earth)
Before diving into research in Sudbury proper, Team Deep Earth has holed up for the weekend in a cozy cabin on the shores of La Cloche Lake, about an hour and a half west of Sudbury. Part of a beautiful little fishing retreat overseen by site supervisors/gracious hosts John and Anne (La Cloche Lake Camp), it’s the sort of place that seems to exist outside of time. The guest registry in our cabin goes back almost two decades. “Our first week here was spent as our honeymoon,” reads one entry from 2002. “Rick’s parents honeymooned 26 years ago here in this very camp.”
Another entry, somewhat less adorable, documents the local wildlife. There were sightings of beavers, loons, snakes, a fox, and a turtle. Regarding the turtle, the journaler, to Dave’s horror, writes “We watched as they cleaned him and we plan to cook the meat tomorrow.”
After six months in downtown Toronto, I find the white and empty frozen lake breathtaking. The first thing I saw as I came into the kitchen this morning was a pair of deer trotting out of the forest and onto the ice. They seemed unconcerned by evidence of human life, namely the half dozen ice fishing huts that dot the lake, as they made their way to the opposite shore.
After a magnificent pancake breakfast we, too, made our way onto the lake. Although the thickness of the ice was earlier demonstrated by the fishermen driving on it in pickup trucks, our first steps were trepidatious, and made more tentative still when we felt the snow give way and saw water bubbling up in our tracks. The days preceding our arrival had been above 0 Celsius, i.e. unseasonably warm – Sudbury’s all-time record February high is 9.6 degrees. I suspect this melted a few centimeters of ice on top of the lake, not all of which refroze overnight, leaving puddles of water all over the lake hidden by a thin layer of ice and snow.
In the city I never, in my day-to-day life, experience space like that desert of ice. I felt smaller and smaller as we walked further out to the lake’s center. Even my senses were reduced; sounds were muted by distance and I had to squint into the glare of the sun. Only random gusts of wind evidenced time passing.
We followed a trail off the lake and into the forest where snowmobiles had cut a slippery scar of ice into the crunchy white snow. Here I paused a moment and looked into the woods. The uncountable tree trunks made a messy tapestry before my eyes.I noticed in the chaos of so much crowded life how the hemlock trees, in their competition for sunlight and water, neatly spaced themselves a few feet from each neighbor. Each tree had claimed a few square feet to call home, in which to stretch out and drink in sunlight and water. Each tree standing in that spot for years, decades. Existing here before my time and after it. I felt the life around and within me and I realized that it would go on, silent and unseen, long after I left this place and returned to Toronto.
Dave scratched off a sliver of bark from one of the trees and let the sticky resin within ooze out. He scooped the glistening amber bead up with a twig and made us smell it. It was sharp and fresh and enlivening. It smelled like nourishing air; it smelled like long walks on twisting forest paths; it smelled like life itself.
I wanted to spend some time during our Quest at a place like this to remember smells like the hemlock resin. The passion that drives my environmental work was ignited during a childhood spent outdoors climbing trees, skipping stones, and chasing squirrels. I remember feeling the trees as a kid. I remember my hands sticky with hemlock sap. I remember wide open spaces. It’s when I forget those things that I struggle to get up in the morning and go to work, and instead lie in bed wondering what this is all about.
Another thing I remember: that our environmental crisis is fundamentally a matter of change. Human society is too frantic, dynamic, and is disrupting the natural world at rates it’s not equipped to handle. We’re too quickly burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests, and dumping garbage in the ocean. We’re too quickly changing the world in which we live. And as quiet and eternal as the frozen lake I’m look at appears, the changes are all too real here.
In truth, this place doesn’t exist outside of time. Last week La Cloche was unseasonably warm, approaching record temperatures. Warm enough to melt parts of a lake that should stay frozen all through the winter. Now consider climate change: in ten or twenty years will there be ice fishing in February on Lacloche Lake? Will deer be walking out at dawn in search of food for the winter? What new species will migrate north with warmer temperatures, and how will they alter the delicate ecosystem processes that have led to the hemlock trees’ neighborly spacing?
I honestly don’t know, but I’d rather not have to find out. La Cloche, like so many sacred and important places around the world, is melting away before us. I guess that’s what this is all about.