The land that salvages oursanity

With night nestled in, a mother-of-pearlhalf-moonshimmering in an indigo sky, and the bigdipperalmosttouching the roof of the sound stage, I learnedagainwhat I wastoo close to forgetting — that the land soothes.

Likemostother people, I getcaught up in things. There wassupposed to be a canoe trip thissummer, but therewasn’t the time; therehad been the winterdream of picnics and lazyintimacies in the pines thathasn’tyethappened.
So often, whenwethink of whatpleases, the land is a part. It’ssomethingthatseems to come withbeing Canadian. Itsvastnessinhabitsour souls; itsglories, our imaginations. It isourhistory and ourpresent.


What salvages oursanityis the knowledgethatitisthere. Evenwhenwe’resurrounded by concrete and sealedwindows, evenwhenwe’restuck at rush hour on the Don ValleyExpressway, we know thereisanother place where the air isunsullied, the treesbend to ourconsciousness, and wecanhear the silence…and we endure.


I had come north to attend the Western Manitoulin Folk’sFairnearSilver Water on Manitoulin Island, a bluegrass and country music festival. The purposewas to write about the Energy Action Council of Toronto whichwas to supply a portable solarenergy system to provideelectricity for the sound stage.


However, the solar panels didn’t arrive because of car trouble, and so I wasleft to muse over life’s twists and turns, to listen to somevery good fiddling (Graham and Eleanor Townsend playingclassicssuch as Orange BlossomSpecial and Mockingbird Hill), somevery good bluegrass (by Bluegrass Connection), and the Rocky West Band whichdid fine work on some Stan Rogers’ songssuch as The Mary Ellen Carter.


Westayedonly one day and so I missed the farewell performance of Smiley Bates, who, with 81 albums to hiscredit, is an institution on the country circuit.


Wewalked back to ourtent in the white glow of moonlightthatturnedspruce and pine treesbottle-green and threwvivid, taperingshadows as black as coalagainstourpath. In the middle of the night, after the moonhad set, I crawledfrom the tentintoa night lit by stars sobright I couldseewithout a flashlight.


Dawn beganwithdustyblue-greyclouds, low on the horizon, trimmed in the richtones of yellowpepperwhere the sunwasedging up.


I thought back to our drive from the Tobermory ferry and our surprise at the turquoise blue of the water along Providence Bay — solike Caribbean waters. Wehadstopped to swim off its white sands on a daythatwould have been bleaching hot but for the wind, scudding in from the westacross Lake Huron.


The light, as everywhereacross the north of the province, wasleaner, clearer, brightening the greens and softening the blues.


So much beauty, solinked to the core of ourbeingis the land, thatitis a blasphemy to treatitwithindifference. I wonder if Premier Mike Harris realizes how deeplyheisaffronting people of Ontario by looseningenvironmentalcontrolsunder the pretext of cuttingred tape?


The Folk’sFairisrun by Norm Matheson, a retired air force sergeant, born and brought up in the area, and Toronto drummer and songwriter Ben Cleveland.


Cleveland, pony-tailed and brown-eyed, wears a tattoo on hisleftchest of a divingwhale. It is, hesays, a copy of the Indian spirit card of the Whale People. « They’re the keepers of yourvoice.


« Everyperson, every animal, has itsownwhalesound. Itsown music. The whale people keepyourvoiceuntilyou’vefoundit.’’ Has hefoundhis? « I thinkso,’’ hesays.


Part of thatvoicespeaks to the land. « Wewantedthatsolar panel sowedidn’t have to use the gasgenerator,’’ hesays. « It’scrazythat all over the place we’restilldepending on gasoline and diesel and coal-fired power plants with all the stufftheythrowinto the air. We have the sun; we have the wind; we have the technology. All weneed to do isstartusingthem.’’


Are the Whale People keepingothervoiceslikehis, waiting for theirowners to claim them? I hopeso.

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