Thursday, June 13, 2013

the tree of life on my morning path

The other day I went for a morning walk upstream McVicar's Creek. I went with my friend Lilian Mattar Patey. I first bicycled to Shuniah Knox United Church, where Lilian is interim minister, to meet her. We then walked north through the neighbourhood, behind Balsam Pit and along Margaret Street to reach the trail by the creek. Along the path, we saw a bunch of marsh marigolds ringing a swamp. Swamps always catch my eye as 'swamp' or 'bog,' which translate to 'suo' in Finnish, is in the very name of Finland in the Finnish language: Suomi. A few steps later on our path, we saw this amazing tree in someone's backyard. It was shining in the morning light; there was no missing it. The tree reminded me of the comforting and desirous beauty of the Tree of Life. It's sheltering arms, perfect symmetry, expansive canopy, circular space, and dusting of white flower petals caught our eye.  
Continuing on our way, we saw this pile of huge stones. I told Lilian that in Suomenusko, the old Finnish beliefs before Christianity came to Finland, stones as well as trees were seen to have spirits. People conversed with stones and trees for healing and for wisdom, going out into the forest for the medicine of trees and stones. Of course, stones and trees have been symbolically important to many peoples and cultures. I told Lilian, well, I don't need to tell a Palestinian like you of the importance of stones. Today stones are the remnants of the Palestinian houses that Israel has destroyed and demolished. Palestinian youth take up stones as resistance against occupation. Indeed,  a new documentary called The Stones Cry Out uses the metaphor, reality, and spiritual strength of stones to tell the story of the ongoing Nakba of Palestine, focusing on its Christian population and heritage.
Lilian's family story is part of the larger dispossession of Christians from Palestine. In the short 6 m. video above you can hear Lilian tell some of the story of her family's displacement from Palestine. She was born in Haifa, but because of the Zionist militia takeover in 1948 her family was forced to flee and found refuge in Al Quds / Jerusalem; however, they eventually met more tragedy. By telling her family's story, Rev. Mattar Patey hopes that people will broaden their understanding of the Palestinian heritage of what is now called  Israel. In 1948, Jerusalem was designated an international administration zone yet, as Lilian's story is an example, since 1967 Israel has taken large parts of it by force and today by demolition and the continuing displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem. Since burying her father, Lilian has not been back to her home.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

fledgling crow

There are all sorts of things to worry about in the world, from the increasing brutality meted out to the peaceful demonstrators at Taksim Park in Turkey who just want to preserve a small urban green space, the US turning its surveillance state upon itself and blanket-spying on its own citizens through the collecting of their digital metadata (and anyone who sends an email, text, or phones someone in the US), to the Senate scandal in Canada where welfare cheats like Senator Mike Duffy  live high off the hog on the public purse and the ongoing violence in Syria and its spillover into northern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, causing the Lebanese Army to deploy in Tripoli in hopes of stopping the snipers and machine gun battles. Just the other day, the old souk where I loved roaming about in the heart of Tripoli was the scene of sniping and shooting. Depressing.  

So, why do I worry about one fledgling crow that was kicked out of its nest four days ago by mom and dad crow? I was worried that the neighbourhood cats would get it at night, especially the first few days when fledgling crow was ground level. I was relieved to see that in trying out its wings it managed to hop onto the bottom rung of the railing outside my garage. It stayed there a long while and at one point, when its  head was bobbing downward, I thought it was dying. Was it even eating anything?

However, I shouldn't have worried at all about that scruffy looking fledgling crow. It's perfectly natural for crows to boot out their fledglings to teach them how to survive, to get on with life. I found that out after I dug out a few worms and threw them to fledgling. He looked at me with alarm, squawked, and, frightened, clumsily jumped away. I thought it would injure its wings in getting away from me. Leave it alone, I read. Do not interfere.

The parents still keep a close watch on fledgling crow and swoop in now and then to give it some food. One of the crows dive bombed my head as I was working in the garden, sending me a warning to leave its child alone. I can hear another fledgling, too, two doors to the west. Fledgling must have a sibling. The parents, the resident crows, have been busy scaring off people and squirrels, flying around, and encouraging the fledglings in their crow arts.
The next day, the fledgling had progressed to the top railing and began short hop flights from one post to the other, trying out its wings. It looked awful clumsy. Yesterday I saw it skim fly downwards across the back yard, over the hedges to the back lane. It cawed plaintively there until its parents came to the tell it what to do.

With its parents in the neighbour's plum tree cawing loudly and hammering and gouging the tree's branches to get its attention, it managed to fly to the tree's lower branches, although its wings first tangled in the foliage before it steadied itself.  It spent the night there.

Today, thankfully, it is sitting even higher, on a top branch of the still higher Manitoba Maple, surveying the area that will be eventually become its territory. No wonder crows notice everything. Since they are fledglings they have been patiently looking everything over, casing the place for danger. Soon fledgling crow will lose its awkwardness and learn its predator ways.   

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Calling of Directions

image source

In April, which is poetry month, I attended a poetry workshop with Marilyn Dumont, one of my favourite poets. To prepare for the workshop, she asked us to collect words that are part of a history, or that someone at a specific time would use. Naturally, and because I had recently attended a Finno-Ugric drum workshop with Dalva Lamminmaki, I turned to my Finnish heritage. Also, I had been thinking of words that can call up beauty, so I had been scribbling words of pleasing sounds into my scribbler. In the end, I wrote up 10 lists of words. 

Here are two lists: 

reindeer skin
birch bark headdress
spirit animal


At the workshop, Marilyn asked us to play with the word cache we had collected and let the words lead us to new patterns and sounds. We were to convey something palpable through juxtapositions, through sound synchronicities. Dwell in disorder, she said. Pay attention to images, textures, colours. Commit to unfolding language, following sound to discover meaning. Above all, we were not to think about product, but to enjoy playing with language. In my playing, I combined some of the words I had collected and, eventually, playing with space too, I shaped the poem below. I added a title and fiddled with a few words and phrases.

The Calling of Directions
Itään: to the East

As stars slept
rocks journeyed
Deep blue dreamt of dancing
Gifts scattered, flying from
the rumble of reindeer,
the utterance unnameable.

Etelään: to the South

On the mountain carved with syllabics
in the forest of illusions
Whispers dreamt red ochre
Rattle rained flying antlers
in a shaman language
          old, drunk, ancestral.

Länteen: to the West

Rattle scattered blue sound,
echoing soft inscriptions
Small bells dreamt cold water pearls,
falling forever forward
River rained moon-eyed fish,
          silver-skinned delicious.

Pohjoiseen: to the North

A shape-shifting old woman,
skiing overhead, on the horizon
a surprise of animal gifts
Lime green sky laughing
Snow-maiden follows Drum across
the upper branches of the Great Tree

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Travels on a Finno-Ugric drum journey

The scent of burning sage signals the opening of ritual space.

Small bells circle, gently breaking up energy.  As the drum stick swishes across the reindeer skin stretched over the frame, sussuring sounds spiral outward.  

Soon, the drum begins its song, and she is sent on her journey into a tunnel of darkness.

As the beat of the drum vibrates through her, different animals' faces appear one by one before her closed eyes. Squirrel. Blue Jay. Crow. Rabbit. Deer. Dog. Moose. Raccoon. Mole. Bee. Wasp. Butterfly., it was too big. Was it Rat? No, it was Mouse. Mouse! she wondered incredulously, was Mouse to be her Spirit Animal?

No. Suddenly Ilves appeared.

Image source

His large yellow eyes loomed before her, staring into her soul.

Suddenly, she was on the back of Ilves, the  large huntress. The cat ran through the back woods. It was night, winter, snow covered the ground. Ilves ran powerfully through the dark woods, snaking through the trees, comfortable in its territory. Running, running. The dark night sky, a canopy of indigo overhead, was filled with glittering stars that glinted back from the snow fields. Running, running. Flying past snow covered trees. Flying over snow encrusted ground.

Suddenly, she was sucked into a small hole in the earth, pulled down a vortex, her arms and hands last, waving. The lovi had opened up, sending her deeper on her journey.

She found herself under the earth, swimming amongst the tangled roots of trees, of the birches, poplars, balsams and black spruce above. She pushed the roots aside, swimming through their tentacles. She was unimpeded. Her arms were strong, her hair long, weaving smoothly through the tendrils of roots. She swam and swam. 

She entered deep indigo blue water, dark blue like the sky above. She was swimming deep along the bottom of Lake Superior. The place where silence was born.
image source

A large sturgeon floated by.

A white door opened to the right, a ghostly portal beckoning her. Light emanates from it, pulsing soft rays of haunting enticement. She swam through the watery portal, passing through it.

She found herself on a cliff. But now she is Ilves. Her hands are large powerful paws and she is running in the forest, along the edge of a high cliff. She runs and runs. Her energy is boundless.

There is a large valley below. She stops to bask in the sunlight, curls up on the edge of the cliff. It is a sunny day, spring.  All seems calm and fresh. Then, she is told to fly off the cliff.

She jumps. She sails, soars through the sky. She lands on all fours on the earth in the forest. She is on a canyon floor. She starts to dig and dig. The earth is black, soft and rich with decay. The scent of decomposing earth fills the air.

She finds a bone, one bone. It is not big. She digs and digs. She finds some pages. They are loose; they flutter in the wind. Then, her digging done, she leaps and flies straight up into the sky.
image source

It is is night again, indigo blue, the sky covered in stars. She is a woman again. She is floating on her back, streaming through the night sky as if floating downstream in a river. She floats and floats, restful like a baby calmed by a warm bath until she lands by a big rock at the shore of a lake.

She climbs up on the rock and sits and looks across the water. It is Midsummer Day. The waves lap softly. The sun is warm. The air is calm.

She stands up. She is naked.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Canada vs Finland

Team Canada vs. Team Finland, April 5, 2013, the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championships. Photograph: Wayne Cuddington, Ottawa Citizen

While there is plenty to say about hockey in relation to Canada and Finland, it is debatable which nation tops the other. 
On the other hand, on the topic of mothers, Finland clearly beats us: Save the Children’s  2012 report ranks Finland no.1 in the world for mothers; Canada trails at no. 22. What holds us back? No universal daycare and shocking numbers of impoverished children—indeed, 4800 in Thunder Bay (2006, Thunder Bay Economic Justice Committee Poverty Report) [pdf]—whose mothers, unsurprisingly, are also poor, contribute to our lacklustre ranking. A shocking 50% of Aboriginal children in Thunder Bay live in poverty (2012, LSPC) [pdf]. These shameful political and social realities reveal that on supporting mothers in all our diversities, our government is negligent, lagging behind Finland.  

That is not to say that Finland is a utopia for, like Canada, it too participates in the policies and ravages of neoliberal economics. So Finland’s ranking as #1 for mothers must be seen in the context of global-wide neoliberal cutbacks on social spending. 

However, unlike Canada, Finland keeps changing its national identity with an eye to a better world for everyone. Finland strives not only to improve the well-being of its citizens but also to spearhead positive change for the most deprived people globally. 

This is especially evident in Finland’s progressive position on Palestine. Finland, along with Denmark, recently granted full diplomatic status to Palestine, upgrading theirPalestinian missions to embassies. Finland, a member of the advisory commission of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), focuses its monetary aid to Palestine on education and improving water supplies and sanitation, along with developing freedom of the press and a civilian police. 

Since 1997, PALFEP, the Palestinian-Finnish Education Programme, has worked on assisting the educational goals of Palestinians. Even Finnish Church Aid unequivocally assists Palestinians as part of their mandate of “working with the poorest people, regardless of their religious beliefs, ethnic background or political conviction.” 

While some churches in Canada, such as the United Church, have a progressive position on Palestine, the Christian Zionism of the religious right has sway over the federal government, buttressing a fervent support of Israel even while Israel builds illegal settlements in the West Bank, dispossesses Palestinians from East Jerusalem, and regulates and humiliates Palestinians daily at checkpoints and the ‘security wall.’  

Recently, Canada’s actions have served to bring hardships to—even offend—Palestinians and their dreams of a self-determining nation state. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird recently met with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in occupied East Jerusalem. Nabil Shaath, a former Palestinian foreign minister, called this action a “slap in the face to the Palestinian people” and an “unprecedented offence that severely damages” Canada’s relationship with Palestine and the Arab world.

Canada’s seven-year-long support of the blockade against Gaza continues; a blockade which The International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Human Rights Council consider illegal. In 2012, Canada strongly opposed granting Palestine non-observer status at the UN General Assembly. Why? Baird expressed fears that Palestinians will file war crimes against Israel in the International Criminal Court and demand the stop of settlements. 

This is nothing less than confounding: The Jewish settlements on Palestinian land are illegal according to international law. Why would we want to stop a nation from filing war crimes? Aren’t we for justice? For using legal methods to get results? 

This is also a contradiction as the majority of Canadian aid to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank so far has focused on security, prosecution services, and the criminal justice system, including $50 m. for building a court house. We give them money to develop legal and security infrastructure, yet we don’t support Palestine’s legal claims internationally?
It seems we have no shame in exposing our hypocrisy and, once again, scorning and abandoning international standards as we see fit. 

Canada’s training of Palestinian security forces is to the benefit of Israel.
(Issam Rimawi / APA images)

But it is building security forces that Canada is most interested in; as Yves Engler, writing for Electronic Intifada reports, "Most of the Canadian aid money has gone to building up a Palestinian security force overseen by a US general," a security force which benefits Israel.  Engler cites former deputy foreign minister Peter Kent as saying the bulk of the $300m. in aid went to security, and Canadian security personnel numbers in Palestine are the second largest deployment after Afghanistan.

The above aid, which also included private sector economic development and lastly, flip to Finland’s humanitarian focus, health and education assistance, expired in March. It is now under review. In punishment for the Palestinians seeking (and gaining) non-observer state status at the UN, Canada suspended the renewal of $300 m. in aid to the West Bank Palestinians. Baird has threatened that the Palestinians will have “consequences” if they take Israel to the ICC. Baird also demands that the Palestinians “immediately resume negotiations with Israel without preconditions.” 

It is unclear why Baird believes Canada has the global clout—or reputation—to demand acquiescence of another sovereign nation. Does he believe that the Palestinians will bow to Canada’s demands in fear of losing $300 m.? In light of the Jerusalem Post recently reporting that PM Harper has transformed Canada into Israel’s most dependable ally, why would Palestinians grovel for more slaps in the face?   

Canada’s new global identity as arrogant bully is troubling. On the other hand, one thing that marks Finland as exceptional is its commitment to prescient thinking to enable peaceful global co-existence for all peoples, including the Palestinians.  

On the question of Palestine, Finland leads Canada.
political cartoon from the Halifax Herald; image source

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Israeli General on 'security fencing': "it is indeed a monster"

Israel has recently completed its 'security fence' along its border with Egypt. This line snakes ominously through the Negev Desert.

Q: beside Israel, what other nation is entirely physically fenced in?

True, the US has built a separation wall on its border with Mexico, but it does not yet have a physical wall on its northern border with Canada, although it had been suggested by some. That plan was scrapped; instead, drones, "boots on the ground and greater integration with Canadian law enforcement" will be manning the border (and I think 'manning' is not sexist in this usage as most of those "boots" will be male and the ideology of militarism and security come firmly from militarised masculinity and the power of the male military hierarchy, even though there are women eager to perform hegemonic masculine militarism).  

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said the fence [through the Negev]

"was a sign of improved Israeli security. He has called the fence evidence of his efforts to insulate Israel from the turmoil of the Arab Spring revolutions and the influx of mostly Eritrean and Sudanese migrants, which he has portrayed as a national-security threat. ... Israeli security officials say Sinai has increasingly become a haven for militants from the Gaza Strip, local Bedouin tribes and global jihadist groups. Israel is also building a fence on the border with Syria, the prime minister's office said."

Netanyahu's rationale echoes the security apparatus and Islamophobic discourse common in Western nation states such as Canada and the US, a discourse embedded with racism of which Israel has its own multiple forms.

Ironically, the workers who have been building the barrier along Israel's border with Egypt are the very people that Israel wants to keep out of the country and one of the reasons it is building the 'fence': the Sudanese.

Israel already has a 'fence' along most of its border with Syria, but Israel is adding to it as well as fortifying it (appropriate word, 'fortifying' as it is linked to settler colonials building forts against the so-called natives).

Below is a photo of part of the Israeli security wall along what Israel defines as its border with Syria.
After finishing the 'security fence' along the Egyptian border, Israel will then build a 'security fence' along its border with Jordan.

Also, Israel has been busy fortifying its 'fence' along its border with Lebanon:
I wonder if these are "Arab Isreali" workers building the 'security fence'?

Of the 'security fence' being built along Israel's border with Egypt, deputy director general of the Israeli Defense Ministry, Brig. Gen. (res. ) Bezalel Treiber states:"It is indeed a monster...Seen from the Egyptian side, the fence overall is quite frightening."

Mice may well burrow their way to the other side, but will other desert animals pass in their migratory routes? And what of the Bedouin, whose traditional migratory land this is?

The 'fences' mapping out the borders of Israel are part of its system of segregation, of which the Apartheid Wall is its most heinous human rights abuser. It not only appropriates Palestinian land, but causes untold suffering to Palestinians caught in its oppressive encircling through restricting and preventing access to lands, education, health, recreations, community, religious institutions and is a formidable military tool of death, injury, and humiliation to Palestinians. 
image source: Tear Down the Wall 

This image is very gothic. I'm reminded of Frankenstein. It is dystopian. The wall is, of course, horrifically detrimental to the Palestinians, but what must it be like for the Israeli soldiers who go inside this dungeon?