Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Last Post

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the harvest of the growing season, and to acknowledge the perpetual circle of life on this planet. As one season dies and bears fruit, the seeds become dormant, waiting patiently through the long winter’s night for a chance of rebirth next spring. It is the miracle of life – unique in the known universe.

This Thanksgiving, I have the bittersweet task of passing the seeds of my thoughts onto others, hoping that they germinate and bear fruit. After more than 20 years, this will be my very last Your Earth column.

The best way to end anything is to start at the beginning.

In the summer of 1989, I was a young mother living in the country with our two small sons. When the eldest had been born, my husband Brian and I flipped a coin to see which one of us would stay home and be the caregiver, while the other trekked into the city to earn our keep.

We have often joked about which one of us won the toss that day, but suffice to say, I stayed home. I took my new job very seriously, and like most new moms, I worked hard to create a safe haven for our babies. Once I’d childproofed our home, I stepped outside to our little piece of heaven - the two remaining acres of my husband’s family homestead. There I encountered such non-urban threats as deadly nightshade, stinging nettles and hawthorn trees.

Beyond our driveway lay another potential threat – the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station – the largest of its kind in the world. Soon after came the threat of a new low-level radioactive waste facility and a proposal to expropriate nearby farmland to accommodate 11 million tones of Toronto’s garbage.

These were the very early days of the environmental movement. I soon found myself on the phone for hours every day, fielding questions from my neighbors about how we should be reacting to the changes that we saw happening around us.

It was Brian who suggested that there was a need to get information out to the public in a more efficient manner. This was long before the Internet or email, so I approached our local newspaper about writing an advice column on environmental issues. I gave them a couple of samples and suggested that people could write in their questions (rather than phoning me at home) and I would answer them in print.

To my absolutely amazement, the column was accepted. I was totally elated for about 10 minutes, until I realized that I might run out of things to write about. Forget that I had virtually no experience as a writer!

That was 20 years ago.

It has been my greatest joy - and my greatest sadness - that I have never run out of things to write about. I learned to love the pure joy of writing very quickly. My first efforts were unnecessarily long and poorly crafted, but I persevered. As my awareness of environmental issues grew, so did my concern for this brilliant blue jewel we call Earth.

My writing took me to the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, and to the Biosphere in Arizona in 1998. On September 11, 2001, I was traveling to New York City with my family to participate in a special United Nations session on Children, Peace and the Environment when terrorists cut a gaping hole in that city’s skyline and changed the world forever.

I have had the opportunity meet some of the greatest environmental heroes of our time, many of whom I have had the privilege of calling friends: Dr. Rosalie Bertell, Irene Kock, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, Dr. Steven Schneider, Paul Hawken, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Elizabeth May, Dr. David Suzuki, Chris Winter and Dr. Ursula Franklin.

I have also had the gift of getting to know many of my readers – many of whom I now call friends. We are kindred spirits, called together in the race to save the planet. I thank them now for the gift they have been to my life, and to my work.

Sadly, as George Harrison once wrote, “All things must pass.”

The world is changing rapidly, and so is the medium in which I write. My column will no longer appear in print locally. In exchange, I will have a chance to write nationally for Sun Media – not as a columnist with a heartfelt opinion, but as a seasoned writer, providing much needed information and tools for the task at hand.

The goal of my column has always been to empower others to take action and ownership. What I have learned over the past 20 years is that the environment is not something else to worry about – it is the context in which everything happens. Caring for the environment is the most selfish and altruistic thing any of us can do.

It’s time to say goodbye and thank my readers and the editors who have provided me with the space each week to speak to the heart of everyone about the need to save the seed that contains the future of all.

And so I pass the torch to you, dear reader. May you carry it well. It is, after all, your Earth.