She Speaks: Sugarcoating won’t save the bees

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Our bodies move like the spring flush, dripping, then speeding, then flooding toward a new way. We are still resting as we did throughout winter, waiting for the season to actually, finally, change. Instead of the languid, molassian winter, however, we now wait with tapping toes, legs vibrating in our eagerness.

We see it coming, this spring. We know the ground is shifting: it’s evidenced in every pothole, every steady stream of melted snow cascading down steep roads. I hear it when I awaken to birdsong instead of plough-song. I see it when I walk home in the daylight after work, where two months ago would have had me adjusting my eyes to the dark. I taste the sweet lightness of warming winds in place of frigid streaks of icy air. I smell it in the dog shit from those who have decided their precious pooch’s poop is a gift for which the earth has yearned. I feel it in the sun that kisses my upturned face when I take the recycling out in my heavy coat, by force of habit but no longer needed.

I remember, again, that spring comes.

Sometimes… Well, every year, I forget that. Somehow, I relegate this certainty to a safe corner of my mind, a protected compartment that I keep in case of emergency. I can’t tell you how many times I almost busted that compartment open this long winter, desperate for evidence that the end was, if not nigh, at least possible. I resisted and rested on trust. It’s never not come before, after all – not in my lifetime.

I shovelled so much this year that my shovel broke. I fell more times walking than I ever have, once right in the middle of Minerva St in front of the library, where I gave the minivan that had to slow for me a jaunty wave, a bit of a ‘ta-da!’ to indicate I was all right. Was I, though?

That would become a regular self-directed question. I remember the first year my depression actually shifted to seasonal instead of chronic. It happened in spring, this time of year. Instead of the relentless grey that had become the familiar and foreboding background noise to a life barely lived, that spring I saw colour. It was like eighth grade when I got prescription glasses for the first time and looked up at the chalkboard – oh, those were words. Those were sentences, that was a lesson! I didn’t have to memorize it, or fake it. I could just look up when I needed a reminder. Life with depression was like life before glasses: people kept telling me what was there, but I just couldn’t see it.

This past winter was especially hard because, along with the extreme weather acting as a constant reminder of climate change, I watched our provincial government and our federal government both repeatedly fail we the people. Unlike winter, which can be momentarily defeated by the mantra of ‘this too shall pass’, I wonder what kind of irreversible damage is being done to our social-safety nets and our environment with every passing moment.

When I heard the proposed new slogan for Ontario licence plates – Open For Business – I was reminded of the quote from Alanis Obomsawin:

Canada, the most affluent of countries, operates on a depletion economy which leaves destruction in its wake. Your people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.
Alanis Obomsawin

I believe the climate crisis is creating a collective trauma. And I know, as a crisis counsellor and longtime loudmouth, that the best way to mitigate trauma is to talk about it. It’s the undercurrent of the air we are all breathing, and we choke for want of words.

No, this weather isn’t odd or unusual. It’s predictably unpredictable; it’s climate change. And don’t be fooled by the luxury of believing this is the ‘new normal’. There may never be a normal again. This record-breaking winter is a stage of deterioration the likes of which humans have never seen before – or ever survived. And lest we think Canada is safe, as I once did, new research is showing that we are impacted twice as hard as other countries.

Don’t shy away from the hard truths, because sugarcoating doesn’t keep the bees alive. Talk with your friends and family about what they’ve seen and experienced and don’t be afraid to call it what it is: a crisis. Never forget our sheer numbers as humans; they may be the only thing we have in our favour.

Spring will come, again and again. Even Neptune has seasons. For a long time, I was afraid to wear my glasses because I didn’t like that my face had changed – this surface I had known in one way for all my life suddenly had this artifact upon it, altering its nature and one of its senses. But I decided that it was better to see. When I come out of winter and that seasonal depression, I remember that it’s better to see. And when I want to bury my head in the sand (or the snow) and not read the research or watch the effects of climate change, I decide, yet again, that it’s better to see.

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Kathleen May (Photo: Kai Rannik)

Kathleen May (Photo: Kai Rannik)

Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, being a Survivor Mentor in the pilot survivor-to-survivor program through MPSSAS, co-facilitating instinct-unlocking workshops for women through I Got This, working as a host and community producer of Herstories on YourTV, volunteering with Women’s March Muskoka, and her role as a front-line counsellor at a women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development and also received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. Her dream is a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.

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4 Comments

  1. It has taken 100 years or more to bring about the environmental changes that we are having today.It will also take a very long time to undo this. Without taking any drastic measures to reverse climate change, this will happen anyway. The desire for renewable energy is growing fast. We have the technology to install non-carbon energy producing systems and the development of such systems is growing fast and probably more because there is great profit in it, rather than the desire to save the environment. Whatever the motive, we are worrying too much for a problem that is now set to undo the problem. The biggest problem this world of ours has now is OVER POPULATION. Something needs to be done to control this. Religion has a lot to do with this problem. Perhaps we should get rid of religion.

  2. Karen Wehrstein on

    This winter really took it out of me, too, and my snowblower, because wet snow doesn’t fly, more like poops out of the chute in chunks that plop down right beside the machine. It was the innumerable thaws, same thing that built up an icy base so thick on the back roads that as it melted into the usual spring washboard-with-tracks pattern, you had to drive at a crawl. Normal for my lifetime is about one thaw in each of the winter months; this winter, I lost count.
    .
    I agree that people are getting climate-change-traumatized, though it’s much worse in places like Puerto Rico, which is also getting neglect-traumatized, or the Philippines after that typhoon that caused its ambassador to beg at the UN for the polluting countries to do something, or Paradise, California, or, currently, a huge drowned swath of land right down the centre of the USA.
    .
    This is the biggest challenge our species has ever faced, and it already might be too late for civilization as we know it to survive. I hope I am wrong. Hang in there, Kathleen; be strong. You are one of the good voices, part of the solution.

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