A few weeks ago, I organized a speaking event to bring two speakers to Montreal to talk about the Tar Sands and their impacts on Indigenous communities. Crystal Lameman and Garth Lenz, who came to speak, were incredibly moving, and the event itself was very well attended and a big success. Afterward, the organizing team, speakers, and I headed out for a celebratory dinner. I was exhausted but also very pleased with how everything had gone, and I was looking forward to eating a big poutine and beer and hanging out with my new and old friends.
On our way there, amidst thoughtful conversations, we were approached several times by homeless men asking for change in the bitterly cold night. I had been feeling so great and refreshed by the event, but each time they asked me, my heart dropped. I felt like I could do nothing, that I had done nothing, and it was a searing reminder that the work is never, ever done. That no matter how much I or anyone does, no matter the small successes, there is always more to do. And it's often overwhelming and disheartening.
My birthday was in October, and when I blew out the candle last year, my wish was to maintain balance. When I get involved in something, whether it's a friend or a project, I tend to give it my all. I'm the friend who will listen to you for hours, I'm the sister who will always proof-read your cover letters, I'm the coworker who will spend the extra hours making something great, I'm the girlfriend who is always supportive. I tend to do something all the way; I give it my whole heart. I've learned lately that this is one of my best qualities, but it's also the most dangerous for myself. I've been trying to find the balance of how to care deeply for people and projects and places that are impermanent, how to give so much but still keep some for myself.
Last year, I struggled with balancing my multiple part-time jobs, a relationship, my climate justice volunteer work, and spending time with friends, family, a needy cat. I've gotten much better at it these past few months, and although most of the time things seem under control, sometimes I still feel like I'm pulled in too many directions, and I'm not sure where the source of this energy is coming from. Over the summer, I bought this beautiful poster by the Beehive Collective that says "For the long haul", which I framed and put on my wall as a reminder to pace myself. I can't save everything by tomorrow, I can't save everything in a year, and I'm not even entirely sure I can save anything ever.
I've been incredibly lucky in my life to have so much privilege and purpose for living. But I find it hard to have an endless source of positive energy. Sometimes it feels so difficult to feel optimistic, to wake up every and keep fighting, to care so deeply for people and places that I will inevitably lose. Sometimes it feels that I am putting so much of myself into people or projects that I love, and they end up breaking my heart.
Some days I find myself angry - angry about oppression, angry about racism, sexism, homophobia that I see around me almost every day, and what's perhaps increasingly more frustrating is not the overt oppression that most of us would readily recognize, but the millions of small ways that we keep the hetero-normative, white patriarchy systems in place, the systems that are built to keep things the way they are. I become frustrated with my ability to explain these issues to people who haven't been exposed to them before, especially in French. I become frustrated with being frustrated itself, since I feel that being an angry activist is alienating to others, isn't a good way to engage people, and also it just feels shitty to be angry and offended all of the time.
Where can I find the strength?
For some people, that strength comes from community or a partner or family, and certainly some of my strength comes from that as well.
But I think for me, a lot of that strength comes from the land. From standing quietly in the forest when it's snowing, with hardly any sound except the beating of my own heart. From discovering a track or a flower. From catching a glimpse of a deer running away from me, which reminds me that all of my actions have repercussions. From watching the bees in my hive bring in pollen, dancing for their sisters to show them the way. From the pride and awe in observing a seed that I planted grow into a carrot that I plucked from the earth to feed myself.
Those moments have always seemed so heavy with meaning, but I find them so far away in the city. I live downtown: instead of owls and coyotes calling to me from autumn open windows, I fall asleep to sirens and snow plow trucks and drunk people screaming outside my window. My attempts at indoor gardening end in my cat knocking dirt all over the table. I walk to work enviously looking up at the mountain, torn between escaping and making a living at my sustainability job.
Maybe all of this writing means that I just need to escape to the cottage again, that I need to spend more quiet time outside. I'm insanely lucky to have grown up with acres and acres to safely explore, and weekends at my cottage for sure at times is the only thing that keeps me sane. When I leave the land on Sunday evenings to head back to the city, I make my feet leave, get in the car, but my heart stays.
In some twisted way, the only way to save the land I love is by leaving it. For now, all of my work and friends and community are in the city. To fight the pipeline that threatens my riverbank, to fight climate change which threatens my forest, to learn the skills to fight well and fight forever, I need to be here.
When I get back to the mountains, it takes some time to quiet my mind. But soon, my thoughts slow, I notice more around me, it's easier to stay still. I feel reconnected, and I know that I can keep going.
And sometimes, if I'm being honest, sometimes when I'm at the riverbank all alone, I whisper, "Thank you. It's all for you."
Next weekend, I'm going to plant my garden. I bought the seeds, I know where I want the plot at my cottage, and I have a list of what plants should be grown together (this is called companion planting). However, I have no idea what to do. Sure, I know what I should theoretically do- I've taken plant biology classes and even an entire university course about ecological gardening. I've read books, heard my friends talk about it, and I've asked my grandfather for advice every time I see him. But I've never actually planted a garden myself. How big should I make it? When is a good time to plant? How much compost should I put on it? How often do I need to weed or water?
I think it's really important to know how to be as independent as possible. Ideally, I will eventually know how to do everything that I depend on in life myself. To me, this means knowing how to grow all my own food without a huge amount of oil, preserving vegetables so they last all year, being able to find medicinal plants, and living off of renewable energy. But don't get me wrong- I am a city kid. Well, a suburb kid. I was raised on Kraft Dinner and canned soup, surrounded by hundreds of houses that looked exactly like mine. My family is the typical mom and dad, two kids, white picket fence type. The only thing that was missing was a dog. I was lucky though- my family went on mandatory bike rides and hikes through national parks, and we visited the cottage every other weekend. So while I was almost totally surrounded by mainstream American culture, I always had an interest to live a more alternative lifestyle.
I eat food every day, and most of it comes from California. I would like to change that. My first step is to grow a garden this summer. This feeling of knowing how to do things theoretically, but having zero confidence in the ability to do things in real life has led me to take a permaculture class. It has taken me a little while to figure out how to define permaculture, but it's basically designing human and agricultural systems to mimic patterns found in nature. Instead of planting a monoculture of just a corn field, a permaculture system would collect rainwater, increase soil fertility, integrate wild species to reduce pests, and grow several different crops so that it wasn't totally dependent on just one species. That's one example of a permaculture way of thinking. I'm taking a 72 hour Permaculture Design Certification class to learn more. It's really interesting, and I have enough notes scribbled in my notebook to keep this blog filled for months.
There are a few workshops offered at Co-Op La Maison Verte, if you would like to learn more about worm composting (May 10th), sprouting and fermentation (May 12), or nutrition (May 17th).
I'm an eco-conscious girl from Montreal, Quebec. I'm currently an adjunct science professor at Champlain College of Vermont (Montreal Campus). I'm interested in any opportunities to expand my experience with grassroots activism, climate change legislation, or environmental education.