Friday, August 24, 2012

An Abomination



The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated. - Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve spent a lot of time painting on location in our “sister” tourism and wine-growing region, Niagara Falls. One of my mentors, Jacqueline Baldini, lives there and has been my guide to the area for almost a decade. The paint-outs she hosts there are really exciting, fun venues. Passionately devoted to nature, Jacq often sends out pleas to help her make others aware of her pet cause: putting an end to the mistreatment of animals at the local aquarium park, Marineland.

Beside the gorgeous natural water monument that is the Falls lurks an abomination. Marineland is no small rescue sanctuary or 4-H petting zoo. It is a lucrative, privately owned business, with ticket prices set at $48.53 for adults and $35.95 for children.

Recently, The Toronto Star featured a lengthy article condemning the marine park. (“Marineland animals suffering, former staffers say,” August 16, 2012) National Affairs Writer Linda Diebel details the brutal conditions at the attraction, which include unhealthy water problems and a depressed walrus lying neglected in his own excrement, which have led to staffers resigning over the blatant mistreatment of the resident animals. Accompanying photos are heartbreaking evidence of what goes on that the public does not get to see from their seats whilst being sprayed on command by the animal tricksters.

Lifetime County resident, and former employee at the now closed-to-the-public Bergeron’s Exotic Animal Sanctuary, Tammy Thompson states, “I’m definitely not against zoos by any means, in fact I love them when they are doing right by the animals there. This place is a mish-mash of theme park/zoo/aquarium. It’s as bad as the article states. The animals are in really bad shape and by what I saw about 10 years ago hungry and deprived of anything natural. Their purpose there is to entertain us humans. I hated it!”

I loathed Marineland as well. Compelled to join in on a visit there with some young members of my extended family, I was absolutely horrified by the unsanitary conditions and disrespectful attitudes displayed toward animals during the show. I left in anger. And this was before I read about what happens behind the scenes! One of the less graphic descriptions of the zoo from the Star article reads:

“Five female dolphins… swam almost continuously in bad water in a concrete pool in a facility called the barn. Former employees say they lay at the bottom in murky green water or breeched and thrashed wildly, their reactions changing with the chemicals. Their skin fell off in chunks, their colour darkened and they refused to eat. This lasted intermittently for eight months, from October 2011 until just before show season began in May 2012 when their water was changed.”

That’s entertainment? Vacationers, you have a choice. Families, teach your children well. Choose a decently managed, natural attraction or a rescue/teaching zoo, not these shameful atrocities designed to merely entertain us at the expense of animals. Why not take the tribe out to sea on a whale-watching boat and let them bask in the sheer awe and wonder of seeing these magnificent creatures in their wild habitat? That’s building memories.

We are all stewards of the Earth, and compassion for our fellow creatures is a cause we can all embrace in good conscience. We might ask ourselves, what would Gandhi think of Canada were he to visit Marineland?

Read and comment on the article here

Friday, August 10, 2012

Enjoy the moment

“Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.” – Virginia Woolfe

In the July 21 issue of The National Post, commenter David Frum pushed the envelope about city versus County dwellers here in Prince Edward. Musing about his “more than 20 summers in the village of Wellington, Ont.,” Frum managed to distill his estival experiences down to a level of triteness and petty goading.

The afterbirth of this fluff piece, published during prime city-dweller vacation time, was a flood of letters and online commentary from the locals of the County. While a few praised Frum, others were deeply offended. An undeniable and ever-present rift between residents and outsiders was reopened yet again for examination.

While on holiday, we may not be thinking about such things. We enjoy the moment. But upon reflection once home, we may analyze impressions that might be best left undisturbed.
However, the alternate can also be true if we are open to it.

This morning, I recalled a flight of pelicans that flew so very close above a friend and me on a West Coast beach. The woodcut topography of their bodies and shagbark feathers against a cobalt sky provoked a striking image: ships launched in sepia tone V formation, headed into the waves in search of fish.

Such descriptive words at the time eluded me because I was in a state of pure feeling, like those prehistoric birds who do not know what a wristwatch is. Time didn’t matter.

I can never think of a poem in the moment… and language becomes something else. Maybe that is why we say, “That’s nice,” and just look at one another and smile with our eyes when we are exploring a new place on holiday. And then later the cells remember and bring back the memory, as this one did for me while walking along the beach here in the County.

We have a choice in what we take home, and what we share about a place after we have left it behind. Places that are somebody else’s home. I’d rather write to you about the gorgeous moment described above than about the rude locals on the beach fornicating, or what the political atmosphere there was (which really is none of my business).

Prince Edward County is a beautiful, special place. Tourism is an industry that is here to stay, one that is all the more precious because of how it can help foster the success of local businesses old and new. Regardless of your position on the old days versus the new, today we are all in this boat together. On a trip to either city or country, we carry our own personal packet of expectations. Is it really wise to let those expectations blight the wonderful unexpected or unsought experiences that separate the travellers among us from the summer tourists?

On a personal note: What was in the envelope? Something more valuable than gold: a handwritten note from Dad with an accompanying poem. Not one he composed himself, but by another poet, its message intended to gently nudge me toward the good island and away from the pirates. In my oft-rudderless ship, I tend to get caught in the reeds of worry and concern over what others think about my choices and path. This paper sleeve filled with love, hope, ethics and honesty cut through all my selfcriticism. The world needs more of that.

Read the article here in The Wellington Times - August 10, 2012

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

High Desert

High desert

“It is a waste of time to be angry about my disability. One has to get on with life and I haven’t done badly. People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.”— Stephen Hawking.

Physicist Hawking speaks here of his experience with motor neurone disease, which is a complication of ALS, a visually discernible condition. But sometimes a person’s handicap isn’t obvious to all.
With the aid of dictation software, I write to you from Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix after a visit with my parents. The flight is delayed due to the hilariously named Tropical Storm Fabio, so Dad and I have some time to hang out before I depart.

I decided to take this trip—planned a while ago—regardless of recent post-eye surgery complications. On bad days, I am unable to focus on the boarding pass-emitting kiosk screens or see if I am headed to the right seat. Rather than try everyone’s patience, I asked for support when I needed it. United Airlines’ staff were fabulous.

Standing in line in Toronto at the Premier Members Only portal to which I had been directed for assistance, I noticed a man huffing and puffing in front of me in a most perturbed fashion. He asked me where my gold card was. “Do you have one of THESE?” he sneered, too loudly and brandishing his own.

I explained that I was temporarily vision-impaired and that’s why I had been sent to this lineup. He seemed to be offended that he had to share his prestige status with lesser individuals with unseen physical problems.

The invaluable gift of my usually inexhaustible good nature allowed me to keep a cool head regardless of his continued indignant snorts. Helpful, caring gate and flight attendants made sure I was in the correct seat on the right flight.

My intrepid travel plans continued with my other senses more engaged than usual. I was especially attuned to the temperature.

The wall of fire that hits you when you disembark at Sky Harbor Airport was all the more “feelable” –Mom says it is like standing in front of a roaring campfire, but all around you – not cool in the back. Hot hot hot! Or, as my friend MaryJane says, “Christing hot!”

Fortunately, I was headed 200 miles east, to the White Mountains near the New Mexico border. En route, I observed the Burgess Shale snaking its way through the strata on its way north to the Canadian Rockies. Even the rocks want to go somewhere cool.

After a scorching pause at the bottom of Salt River Canyon, we wend our way up to the high desert. The smell of pinesap permeates the car. At my parents’ summer cottage near Show Low we spend mornings hiking desert and forest, afternoons sweltering by the pool. A flashing thunderstorm in the purple desert sky offers a night of relief. We finish up the holiday watching a documentary about Antarctica.

Too soon, I am delivered back to the airport. Hugging me goodbye, Dad hands me a small white envelope, with instructions to read the contents once I am in the air. “It’s not money,” he adds with a grin. Tucking it in my carry-on, I make my way to the gate.

Full article here