Good Sunday Morning!
My letter reaches you as John and I make our way towards Ottawa on VIA Rail. The Canadian, cross-country train left Vancouver Central Station on Friday, August 11. We will arrive in Toronto on Tuesday, August 15. We are also taking the train west, leaving Toronto August 23rd and back to Vancouver on August 28. In between we will get the train to Ottawa. All of this was a very last-minute decision – sadly instead of a planned Cape Breton Island beach holiday with John and Cate and visiting family in Margaree. That will have to wait until next year.
Many of you will know that I had been looking forward to my doctor’s appointment on August 9th and hoping that the medical experts’ review of the MRI (done August 5th) will confirm I am good to go – or at least “go a little.” I had been hoping to fly to Ottawa and then train to Montreal for today’s Montreal Pride Parade, catching the train to Nova Scotia later today. Boy can I be unrealistically optimistic post-stroke about “good to go!”!
And despite always asking questions and trying to get a good factual grip on what happened to me medically with a mild hemorrhagic stroke, I was operating in ignorance of what they were checking with the MRI. I learned a lot more on the 9th. Turns out I am a long way from “good to go” – and at least 8 weeks from any medical approval for flying anywhere. Yes, I am healing and will be fine, and my health has not worsened since I wrote you last but the hematoma in my brain – the residue of the blood vessel bursting – has not shrunk enough to allow taking any chances with pressure from altitude changes etc. So no flying and a much longer period of brain resting (restorative sleep) than I had imagined.
John and I could not believe our luck that it was even possible to book round trip for two in a bedroom from BC to Ottawa. The train is always sold out in vacation months. Always. So, this must have been meant to be. I do rest very well on the train. One bonus – no internet! Quick messages possible and rarely when we are in a station.
We made it to Sidney’s Thursday market – first time for me all year – and to Tanner’s to stock up on more Louise Penny novels for the long train journeys.
All good and very lucky.
Apologies for last week’s letter. As Blaise Pascal once famously wrote, “If I had had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” This is sometimes attributed to Mark Twain, but I think not. I have a deep familiarity with Sam Clemens and think of him as an old friend. My first employment was as a teenage guide at the Mark Twain House in Hartford. We guides had access to his journals and letters. The house was so much alive with him and Livvy and the girls. I always have an inner ear and when someone claims a witticism was Mark Twain I get a gut sense, “yeah, but no. Not Sam Clemens.” My favourite Mark Twain line occurs to me regularly given the state of things. “Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction is obliged to stick to the possibilities.”
One of my friends reading last Sunday’s letter helpfully sent me this link to an easy way to put political pressure on Canadian leaders to support the Treaty for the prohibition on nuclear weapons. Please sign and share. Petition sponsors include VOW WILPF, CFPI and World Beyond War.
This week’s reflections are very much caught up in the horror and grief of the Maui fires. The staggering death toll and the increasingly familiar narrative are hard to shake off.
We also packed John Vaillant’s Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast. I wanted more time to re-read it slowly. The first time was speed-reading to turn in a book review to Policy magazine, co-written with John Kidder and also reviewing Chris Turner’s Making of a Climate Optimist. Both are friends and such good writers.
John Vaillant began his deep research into the nature of fire and the impacts of the climate crisis in super-charging the new phenomenon of fire weather in the aftermath of the Fort McMurray fire of May 2016.
His detailed and powerful insights into the reactions of firefighters and municipal officials, the indecision about if and when to evacuate the whole city and its suburbs closely mirrors the news articles chronicling the multiple failures of local officials in Hawaii to warn people to get to safety and fast.
As Vaillant writes in Fire Weather, “Once the (fire) crews were on scene, it was difficult for them to see the houses, or even each other, and it was impossible to hear anything over the growing roar of the fire, which witnesses compared variously to a jet engine and a freight train. The unremitting din was further intensified by the constant snap and crack of sundering timber – trees and houses alike – and by the sporadic explosions of electrical transformers and fuel tanks. The heat between the burning houses, now comparable to the planet Venus, was unbearable, and so was the smoke. It quickly became clear that, not only was no way to fight this fire, there was no time. There was only time to get residents out before they were overrun.”
“This spontaneous transition from firefighting operation to lifesaving operation has become the hallmark of twenty-first-century urban fire – from Portugal and Greece to Australia and California.”
A lesson too late for Maui.
I support Richard Cannings, my NDP friend and colleague from South Okanagan West Kootenay in his call that we be better prepared for fires across Canada with a national fire fighting force. I have also been pressing the new Minister for Emergency Preparedness, the Hon Harjit Sajjan. to make an inventory of Canadian water bomber capacity and order more water bombers. Greens called for that in Mission Possible back in 2019: (bullet point 18) They are made right here in Sidney by Viking Air – the de Havilland Buffalo is a great workhorse of a water bomber. Earlier this fire season in May as wildfires swept my home province of Nova Scotia, I called Viking to ask if they had any Buffalos ready for purchase. The answer- none and none on order either.
Adam Olsen (our fantastic BC Green MLA) and I are also pressing our local authority, the Central Regional District (CRD), to know the detailed plans for a fire emergency in our area. I am particularly concerned for the Gulf Islands where a single road to the ferry could be an impassible escape route. More on that when we get our briefing. Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith assured John when he was stocking up on books at Tanner’s that town officials have binders of detailed plans.
The 2023 fire season is not over yet as hundreds of fires burn across Canada. You can check here for daily situation updates. Hot and dry conditions are forecast for the rest of the summer and into September.
And flooding remains a life-threatening risk. While the federal government continues to throw gasoline on the crisis with fake solutions like carbon capture and storage and weak clean electricity standards to allow fossil generated electricity. The Liberals Greenwashing of Gas and Oil Must Stop
Some great good news! Charges dropped against Fairy Creek land defenders!
All for now. Thank you for all the lovely messages and good wishes and prayers. I am really going to be good as new and soon, but back to resting for me!! I promise not to overdo it in a few little tasks in Ottawa.
Saanich-Gulf Islands Greens