Fall into this gap

by Yule Heibel on July 3, 2003

I’m going to name the names of some worthy but unsuspecting non-blogging people here in the Victoria area, and if it prompts even one to start a blog, good! First, if you’re just reading this because you’re my pal or I managed to strong-arm you somehow, but you’re wondering what a blog is, then read Neil McIntosh’s “Spread the Gospel” in The Guardian. Do it now. Drop everything and read this. It will tell you why blogging goes way beyond ephemeral, tell you why it’s politically interesting (especially right now, in the US but also elsewhere), give you ideas for how it can be made useful for your work and your passion in the place where you are right now, and provide you with important links to several well-chosen articles that explain even more. After you’ve read it, you’ll probably understand why it bothers me that there’s a conference taking place at the University of Victoria right now (July 3-6) which no one seems to be blogging. It’s The Leading Edge: Stewardship and Conservation in Canada conference, and while much of it is undoubtedly the usual mix of meetin’ ‘n greetin’ political bigwhigs, ceremonial dinners, and fundraising, there undoubtedly are some exciting things being talked about and initiated. I think we (the public) should know about it, and we should know about it not just from the establishment press or from the alternative press, from whom we won’t hear about it until the next weekly, monthly, or quarterly issue, but from the participants who are there, and who can tell us in real time. I’m not at the actual conference, but I did go to one public, pre-conference event last night (July 2), a Nature Writer’s Panel organized by Nitya Harris. It was brilliant, and it would be even better if blogged — and shared. The moderator was Briony Penn; the panel consisted of four Canadian writers who read from their work: Gordon de Frane, a young, compelling and complex story teller of Salish descent who told us the story of Camosun, and also compared our electronic toys to the trinkets and beads given to his people in exchange for land — we, too, are trading a heritage away; Sharon Butala, who spoke about coming to her own definition of landscape, wrested from the grip of (typically male) experts; Brian Brett, who read his blue heron poem, conjuring images of heron as youngest child of pterodactyls, as scrawny, soaked Englishman in the rain without his umbrella, as common as pie on the one hand, yet strange and uncanny on the other; and Jan Zwicky, who scared the daylights out of us (well, me) with a poem about what’s implied in being a 4th generation white Albertan, if you’re willing, as she is, to take that on: tepees on the horizons in old family photographs, homesteaders’ shacks, wives jumping off bridges, men’s desires to turn that Wilderness into rural England, and finally Zwicky herself, digging in the dirt behind the house, and smelling Alberta and herself and all her family, smelling the actual responsibility for what her people started, making tepees disappear and raising monuments to agribusiness. The audience response was intense. When Penn first introduced the panel, she noted that up to 89% of Canadians still identify capital-w Wilderness as emblematic of Canada. Yet in the 21st century, she added, we really should be moving toward intimacy with where and how we live: we should be learning to love not just abstractly the Wilderness that most of us never get to see anyway, but learn also to love the nature that we live with daily. If we do that, we can discover wildness in our backyards, and become better stewards of nature. She suggested, in effect, a polar tension between Wilderness and wildness, and while she didn’t say this exactly, we all know that it takes time to move from pole A to pole B. So in establishing any kind of awareness of polar tensions, you’re asking people to slow down. That slowing down was also a recurring aspect of audience response. The audience kept asking the panelists how to do that, especially in a world that’s speeding up, speeding toward crises in spades. Jan Zwicky said, “Tell the truth,” and that you can’t “grab ’em fast” and then make them slow down. Then a woman from the audience asked about intimacy, again bringing up aspects Briony Penn had touched on. At that point I thought, “there it is.” That’s what we came here for, that’s what we want to hear about. These writers had shown us very intimate ways of being in the world: being wild — unmediated — and truthful in their bodies and environments. Gordon de Frane warned us that we were giving away our birthrights to being-in-the-land by exchanging that way of being for one mediated by gadgets, by electronic trinkets and beads. We’re saturated with mediation; our media today are our second nature. Second nature will never leave us, of course. We’re divided in ourselves. But we have to make sure that we somehow keep a dialectic going between our mediated second nature and our place in first nature. This is where blogging comes into the picture. Among many, many other things, bloggers also are people using media in a weird, immediate way, sometimes irritating the established press because we’re so “unedited” …so wild and out-of-control. But bloggers can help to open up a gap, help to create a journaling and journalistic space in which one’s personal — dare I use the word authentic? — voice creates an intimate tension that compels the reader to want to slow down and travel between the worlds of our first and second (and third and fourth etc.) natures. Perhaps last night’s writers will never want to blog (although they’d be fabulous), perhaps they need to continue to distill all their words quietly. I think it would be great if they did blog, but even if they don’t, their audience should be reporting (blogging) their work and its effects. If I have to read about this panel in next week’s magazine or tomorrow’s newspaper (post editorial intervention), the gap that allows me to explore the distance between the worlds they opened up will have sealed over again, and I’ll again skid around in flatland status quo. I might never even know that a gap was there. That’s why I think conferences like this should be blogged, and ditto pre-conference Nature Writer’s Panels: this one was amazing.

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