Sunday, June 15, 2003

This is the first of an ongoing series of collaborative blog posts written alongside members of The Ecotone blogging community. This post is a reponse to the question of how we came to write about place. Other writers on this subject can be read at The Ecotone wiki.

When I was a boy, probably aged 11 or 12 I had a strong experience of being and ex-patriot. I was living in England at the time, and not getting along very well with several of my school mates in the boy's school I was attending. For many of them, small differences were enough to put targets on one's back, and I suffered some fairly alarming indignities at the hands of a few louts.

It was just after one of these episodes that I was sitting in a music class, idly flipping through a book of folk songs, when I stumbled across "Un Canadien Errant." It's the song of a rebel, exiled after the rebellions of 1837-38. If you don't know the words, the English goes like this:

Once a Canadian lad,

Exiled from hearth and home,

Wandered, alone and sad,

Through alien lands unknown.

Down by a rushing stream,

Thoughtful and sad one day,

He watched the water pass

And to it he did say:

"If you should reach my land,

My most unhappy land,

Please speak to all my friends

So they will understand.

Tell them how much I wish

That I could be once more

In my beloved land

That I will see no more.

"My own beloved land

I'll not forget till death,

And I will speak of her

With my last dying breath.

My own beloved land

I'll not forget till death,

And I will speak of her

With my last dying breath."

I wept reading these words. I had never before read anything that evoked in me a sense of place so strongly that I wanted to return. From that moment I became a keen reader of things which evoked the sensations of Canada, the feelings I was missing living thousands of miles away.

After I returned to Canada and as I grew through my teen years, I paid a lot of attention to reading and writing. A part of me always has always sought out writers that connect their words to the land, and especially northern lands. Farley Mowat, W.O Mitchell, Alice Munro, Margaret Laurence, Hugh Brody, Stan Rogers, Bruce Cockburn, and Barry Lopez all held me spellbound with their songs and writings about the place I lived in, the Canada I knew. Many of these people were writing about the towns I knew in Ontario, giving them a whole new treatment in my mind's eye.

I was also a fanatical fan of Morningside, a program that ran on CBC Radio from 1982 until 1997. For much of that time it was hosted by Peter Gzowski, who was a remarkable man. He made his major contribution to Canadian life by interviewing our people and telling our stories back to us. And his attachment to First Nations communities gave him a particular insight into what it means to have an attachment to land and place. He was a major influence on how I and many others grew to think of Canada, and how we were situated in it.

In 1994 I moved from Ottawa, Ontario to Vancouver, British Columbia which is five thousand kilometers away. In many ways this part of the country is like another world. Geographically I am as far away from my birthplace in Toronto as London is from Cairo. When I moved here I had a very strong sense on myself as an outsider, and the gift of this perspective is that I am able to see things here almost like an anthropologist. I am no longer a fish unaware of the water. My writing immediately began to take on the flavour of a participant-observer account of my life, and that perspective stays with me to this day.

Moving to Bowen Island in 2001, combined with the samizdat opportunity of blogging led me to start this weblog to capture my experiences for myself, for my family who are scattered across North America and for friends in Israel, South Africa, America and the UK. As I have been writing about my life here, I am increasingly conscious of how blogging has brought a sharper awareness and attention to my life here. For me, blogging place is drawing attention to links in the elements that make up the landscape. As this blog has evolved, I have become acutely aware of the landscape that is forming in my mind and heart of who I am and what Bowen Island is as a place and what relationship exists between us. I have even begun posting stories of my life here on an interactive GeoLibrary which in essence returns the stories to the place that birthed them, and coincidently introduces my readers to these places in a more concrete and connected way.

A project that started in exile, now continues with an exile's eyes, writing a landscape that surrounds and holds me, and constantly inspires.

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