Wangari Maathai – The Hummingbird Story

A beautiful message from a lovely and inspirational woman. Yeah, yeah, I know…Starfish, hummingbirds… In lieu of my incessant nagging, picture one of these lovely animals on your shoulders every day! 🙂


Cold Weather Is Cold



Saving Echinoderms

Is anyone else bored of watching me work through the 10 factors of resilience?  I am.  Honestly, I did not mean to kick off the blog with what has become a self-indulgent stream of monotony (who knew it would take so long?!).  Until that nattering monkey is off my back, I will pepper resilience posts with other things.  Today, something lovely from someone I don’t know how to credit.  I have never found a source for this one, but thank you, whoever you are.  🙂  And Happy Riders in the Grey Cup Day to you, readers!

While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.

He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”Image

Inability to Cope, Part 2

The first component of resilience that I actually seem to have is a moral compass.  In my child-world, the single worst thing I could do was lie to my parents.  Life would pass in a carefree breeze until, in a moment of laziness or poorly-planned insolence, I would tell an untruth.  Invariably, my mom or dad would discover my deviance and mete out punishment accordingly.


Jody’s front yard, early evening, c. 1980.  A group of neighborhood children engages in an intense game of tag.  Mom appears in the front doorway, looks through the group of approximately 25 children, and pinpoints Jody with laser efficiency.


Did you brush your teeth after supper?

Jody glances around, realizes she has been caught.  A hesitation, oh-so-slight but loaded with significance to an experienced parent.



Mom disappears into the house.  Jody, vaguely uneasy, turns in a sharp buttonhook-style pattern to avoid a slap on the back from “It.”  Mom reappears in the doorway.


Come here.  Now.

Jody freezes, seeming to hope that Mom cannot see her anywhere on the treeless lawn.  A second passes.  Her shoulders sag slightly and, as a netted fish being slowly towed toward a ship, trudges over to Mom, who she now notices is holding her toothbrush and indicating its lack of moisture.  Jody is whisked into the house where she is presumably presented with a list of chores including but not limited to: washing dishes, brushing carrots, cleaning the toilet, weeding, and taking out the garbage for the next ______ days/weeks.


This tiny excerpt from my childhood demonstrates several things, sadly not the least of which is that I was not the brightest star in the sky.  Later, I would learn to wet the toothbrush after supper (because that was so much easier than simply brushing my teeth), but this subterfuge never seemed to foil my mom either.  Over time, the realization that I would be caught in any and all attempts at deception caused me simply to stop lying.  The times I felt forced to lie later in life were not pretty for anyone involved and ruined many a surprise party and job opportunity.

What started out as a child’s terror at being caught in lies (and subsequently grounded without TV privileges) marinated in grandparental stories of what the devil would do to sinners and was bolstered by the folksy wisdom of Yoda and the righteousness of the Jedi.  Much later, I would become heady with the book-learning of Sociology and Native Studies 110 (THE PATRIARCHY/RACISM/HOMOPHOBIA/OTHERING/-ISMS!/INJUSTICE!).  I don’t know when exactly it happened, but the previously externally-imposed ideas of right and wrong had become internal and morphed into an ever-growing sense of how I need to behave in the world in order to get a good night’s sleep.

At this point I plead with you not to assume that my discussion about having a moral compass means I want you all to throw a party for me and my special awesomeness.  Knowing what I want to do is approximately 1% of my battle in trying to be a good person.  The other 99% is comprised mostly of failures and missteps and the odd moment of positive action.  Can I even pretend I have called out everyone who told a racist joke in my presence?  Has my language always been pristine?  Was I really too tired to ride my bike to work last Thursday?  Have images of my plastic Starbucks glass lodged inside a blue whale’s stomach always prevented me from having a green tea lemonade when my re-usable glass was at home?  The answers to these questions are: No, non, nyet, and nein.  The compass often points to true north while I hover somewhere around the SSE point.

Let’s get back to Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges again, where Southwick and Charney write, “In studies on personal values, researchers have. . . found that thinking about and affirming one’s values can diminish perceptions of threat, reduce defensive responses to threatening information, and decrease rumination after failure.  Focusing on personal values has even been found to buffer physiological and psychological responses during a challenging laboratory test (76).”

I certainly don’t feel as if my moral compass has buffered my stress, and I ruminate aplenty post-failure.  Does gut-wrenching guilt build resilience in me?  Doubtful.  I actually believe that knowing what I want to do and falling short is what makes life difficult for me.  Yet I also believe I will not be changing core beliefs anytime soon, so I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that the moral compass confers some strength in me so I can live to fight another day.Image



My Lack of Resilience and Powerful Inability to Cope

I am not a strong coper.  This fact is well known to colleagues, family, and anyone else who has witnessed my reactions to minor illness, the threat of bedbugs, species extinction, failed projects, bad things happening to children and animals, and most things that Stephen Harper has done while in office.  Many people are able to take a wait-and-see attitude with things and deal with adversity as it arises.  I, on the other hand, fret about things long before and after they happen, if they happen at all.

Wishing to be proactive and to arm myself against future trauma, I recently began reading Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges (by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. 2012).  The authors’ research involved speaking with people who had not only endured the seemingly unendurable, but who appeared to thrive after experiencing POW camps, war, or sexual assault.  Among the people interviewed, the authors found that the survivors had 10 key “resilience factors” in common: 1. realistic optimism, 2. facing fear, 3. moral compass, 4. religion and spirituality, 5. social support, 6. resilient role models, 7. physical fitness, 8. brain fitness, 9. cognitive and emotional flexibility, and 10. meaning and purpose.

Given my aforementioned lack of stoicism in all matters, I thought I would search for the presence of these factors in myself.  If you have read The Whale Weeps ever before today, you will already have an inkling that I will not fare well in all categories, to say the least.

I would love to say that my life is characterized by realistic optimism.  I believe I am realistic, but this leads me down a path most definitely not optimistic.  For the love of pearl there is an island of plastic larger than Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean!!  The population of the earth has long passed its carrying capacity.  Radioactive waste and oil gush into the ocean by the second.  People care what other people wear on the red carpet of the Academy Awards!  How does this realistically look as if it bodes well for us all and for the planet?



Facing fear is no friend of mine either.  How do people do it?  When I am scared, my favorite countermeasures include sleeping, playing online Spades, and otherwise diverting my attention (yes, I, shamefully, am one who keeps TV’s Match Game afloat).  These tactics are equally ineffective in my bid to work through frightening things and to strengthen my character.  A brave person sees scary situations as an opportunity to confront and tame, to punch terror in the nut-sack.  Not I, friends.  Not I.


Bubble Tea Diaries 1

A good friend and I have spend hundreds of hours going for bubble tea and chatting about the world.  As we are polar opposites on almost every topic, some tea sessions have been cut short and many have featured lengthy frosty silences.  But where better to discuss elections, utilitarianism, current wars, and the ATP tour than while sucking up delicious tapioca balls?  Nowhere, I say.     Bubble tea diaries 1

A Solar Energy Leak Is Just Another Sunny Day

To say that I am not a morning person is the understatement of the decade.  Oh, the opportunities I have missed in favor of an extra half hour of sleep!  This very morn I woke up earlier than I wanted to (cursed alarm!) and stumbled about my house contemplating my dehydration headache and my wish to ball up in my comfy chair and watch some crap I had PVR’d.  In short, I wanted to do anything but leave my house for hours and walk in the ice and snow to participate in a climate change demonstration.  I thought of every excuse known to humankind for why I shouldn’t go.  Wait…is that the scratchy beginnings of a sore throat?  I do feel a bit snuffly.  Shouldn’t I be doing some work?  SO tired.  What’s the point, anyway?  As if anyone will care.  And then, painfully slowly, I thought about how in a way there are no second chances in life, and I thought of some words I had read not so long ago:

“I appeal to the whole world, I appeal to leaders from all over the world, to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face. I appeal to ministers. The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by 7 billion people.

“I appeal to all, please, no more delays, no more excuses. Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around. Please, let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to find the will to take responsibility for the future we want. I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”

Who remember these words, so eloquently spoken last year by Naderev “Yeb” Saño?  Saño, the lead negotiator for the Philippines at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Doha, tearfully addressed delegates in an attempt to encourage decisive action to address climate change.  At that time, a typhoon had just ravaged his home country, killing more than 500 people.

Today, Saño’s plea resonates even more strongly.  Typhoon Haiyan, which leveled several islands in the Philippines on November 7th, caused anywhere from 2,000 to over 10,000 deaths and millions displaced (exact numbers still not known).  Images of crying children and people scrambling to put their houses back together have moved the world to swoop in with monetary and material aid (which is fantastic).  But has much of the world failed to see the big picture?  As recently as today I was reading articles online that say that Haiyan was not caused by climate change.

On a bright note, Saño’s words inspired me to haul my lazy ass out of the house on this snowy day,  and soon I stood with dozens of other sign-holding chanters in front of Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar MP Kelly Block’s office.  In its relatively short time in power, Block’s Conservative government has been responsible for (among other things) scrapping environmental consultation and protection protocols, withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol, gagging scientists whose findings or research are not in Harper’s interests, and proposing the Canada/China FIPA, which – as per free trade agreements – allows corporations from other countries to sue if environmental restrictions are applied to them (as with the LonePine fracking suit in Quebec).

We had reached the end of the walking portion of the demonstration and I felt happy to be part of the community, but also, I felt angry.  Angry because the pursuit of money has since the beginning of memory trumped human rights and environmental justice.  Angry because nobody can even pretend anymore that our current course of action is sustainable.  Most of all, I was angry because this fight seems so unnecessary.  It should be a given that we as a species would protect the very earth that sustains us, that no human-created monetary system should have a value that surpasses that of clean water and breathable air.  To quote a ball-playing acquaintance who once appealed to an umpire after his team made a play to their detriment based on misunderstanding a rule, “Nobody would be stupid enough to do what we just did!”  Indeed.  Nobody would be stupid enough to pour chemicals into the earth, jeopardize the ocean with plastic and radioactive waste and toxify the air we breathe.

And yet…here we stood, shouting over those very things.  Our voices were strong but disappeared soon into the chilly November air.  By the day I feel a stronger sense of desperation.  This fight is not new to me, nor is it new to the world.  We have had enough time to prove over and over again that we, as a society, will not make the right choices and put sustainability before profit.  For this, my tears mingle across the ocean with those of Yeb Saño.

*I cannot take credit for this delightful title; it was on a poster at today’s demonstration.  The dude holding the poster said it wasn’t his saying but didn’t know whose it is.  Props and kudos to whoever thought it up!

Animals Could Not Be More Cool Part 1

I am in a bleak mood about the world today.  The world is burning up and we watch idiotic TV and worry about saving a cent/L on gas.  SO…I thought I would combat these feelings and pass along this excellent video of an octopus.  Enjoy!


Thank You, Web 2.0

I do not have a clue why I spend any time reading the comments accompanying stories on news sites (for example,  In advance, I know that I will wish to throw my computer through a window in frustration, yet as a train-wreck appearing letter-by-letter on the screen, I must read.  I read on as eloquent messages are paired with (and apparently given equal credence to) rebuttals that might have been authored by the racist family hamster.  Consider the following example:

“The notion that supporters of the Idle No More movement are ‘terrorists’ is absurd.  That a group of people concerned about the quality of the water they drink are vilified while corporations are given carte blanche in the interest of making money is unbelievable.”


REPLY  “Get a job LOL.”


What did I do before the world of intelligent discourse was opened up to me in this way?  I can barely remember the days where I had to worry only about individual journalists advancing corporate ideologies.  Now, I can rest easy knowing that someone who skims the headline of an article on climate change can add at the bottom, “imo climate change is made up by socialists to line they’re pockets” can garner as much attention as the original article.  Don’t worry, I am aware that dissing Web 2.0 in a blog is highly hypocritical, but let’s just say I recognize both the potential and the downside of this medium.  🙂

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