The Planet is a Single Integrated Life Support System
Curled up on the couch with my wife, Jen, we saw our TV screen
fill with snarling flames. Kelowna, BC’s third-largest
city was on fire, one of the over 800 forest fires burning
in our province. The week before we had seen every home in
Louis Creek destroyed along with their only employer, the
Ironically, the Secwepemc First Nation families who lost
everything, had kept the land safe from devastating fires
when they controlled the landscape for thousands of years
before colonisation. Their complex system of husbandry used
controlled fires at chosen locations each year, creating rich
new forage for game animals, keeping edible starchy roots
from being choked out, and preventing the colossal blazes
which are now standard occurrences.
They had developed a system of stewardship where each extended
family had a spiritual connection to a certain valley, which
was harvested under their careful oversight. Each such family
had their own great house in the winter village where archaeologists
find stone tools in each house made from quarries in their
particular valley. The evidence tells us of peace so profound
that not one house changed hands in over 3000 years.
So now we realize
shaggy giants of the BC coastal Old
Growth forests are breathing out
the rain seeds which will help
keep Saskatchewan green.
Now the TV showed a Saskatchewan farmer bent over, scratching
at cracked earth. One hundred years of family living and dying
claimed this place they called their own. They made it through
the dirty thirties but this drought tore them away from their
home place. They and their land were now separate commodities
in the real estate and labour markets.
Here in Victoria, BC, children’s voices and rumbling
thunder called us over to the window. Four children about
8 years old had been lured away from the flames on TV by the
thunder. Hands waving at the sky they danced around and cried
out for “rain, really hard rain.” After two months
without any real rain their prayers were answered with a downpour.
We packed up for a much needed spiritual retreat.
At Port Renfrew, facing the open Pacific at the mouth of
the Juan de Fuca strait, we found no rain had fallen. “Absolutely
no open fires allowed.” We pitched our tent on the Pacheedaht
First Nation campsite underneath towering Sitka Spruce and
facing the rolling surf on the two and one half mile long
arc of San Juan beach. After a day of trying to cook on a
propane hibachi we had a night of blessed rain. The next morning
we made our coffee on a crackling wood fire.
We sat with our backs to a huge log and let the cares and
tensions drain away, our ears bathed in the unhurried, powerful
roar of the surf. Osprey and Humpback Whales frolicked close
up, fishboats came and went from the river mouth, and brave
folks swam out with their surf boards. The Pacheedaht hauled
their net up on the beach, silver fish gleaming in the sunlight.
A poor catch this year. And now we know that the returning
salmon bring a load of PCBs from Asia which continue to concentrate
in the mid-ocean food chain. Not yet harmful to eat, they
say, unless, of course, salmon is the staple of your diet
as it has been for the BC First Nations since the salmon first
started to come. We are all in each other’s backyard.
Each morning we watched clouds of mist form out of clear
air in the Old Growth forest across the river. Our sense of
beauty and magic was heightened by our recently acquired awareness
that the trees literally breathe out the mist. Water vapour
in the air will remain vapour forever, at temperatures above
the dew point, unless there is a seed around which a droplet
can form. Trees on land and green plankton in the sea breathe
out DiMethylSulphide (DMS), the molecules of which are the
ideal seed for rain drops. Particles of dust or salt can also
work but without the DMS breathed out by living green plants
much water vapour will pass overhead uselessly and drought
will be widespread.
So now we realise that the shaggy giants of the BC coastal
Old Growth forests are breathing out the rain seeds which
will help to keep Saskatchewan green. Accelerating massive
clear-cuts of Old Growth in BC are causing drought in the
prairies and forest fires across Canada. Yes, we are all in
each other’s backyards because the planet is a single
integrated life support system. We are destroying working
parts en masse without even knowing what they all are or how
they work. We do know that our present course is suicidal.
By delaying real change we are inflicting needless suffering
and death on ourselves and our children.
Our political and economic systems have failed us. But we
must also confess to a personal spiritual bondage that keeps
us feeling helpless. In fact we are free, as soon as we realise
we are free, to make the necessary changes. The people rule,
as they have shown, even in dictatorships. It will be sad
if we are too “polite” or befuddled to demand
what is necessary for our children.
Stephen Bradley is a merchant mariner
and free-lance journalist living on Vancouver Island, BC.
Contact information: Box 362, Brentwood Bay, BC V8M 1R3, or