I notice my ambition to produce Chronicles from the tenth decade of my life has been suspended for almost a month, which is to say only 19 weeks after my tenth decade actually began when I turned 90 on March 21, suspended while I have been dealing with various health issues. A feeble excuse, but mine own.
Instead of keeping my nose pressed to the keyboard grindstone, as any real writer would have done, I have been submitting to repeated tests designed to discover what has caused that pain on the right side of my chest: a totally fruitless exercise, all these tests, because, as I told the doctors in mid-flight, if you keep testing a 90-year-old body, testing it and testing it, each time you will find something new that is not functioning as it should. So these tests, with their dramatic results, are endless.
Meantime, while I have been so preoccupied, the world has been going crazy around my head, all sorts of highly significant events piling up around my almost lifeless body.
One of the most important of these events has been the unforgivable disappearance from the McGill University campus of something I had come to accept as a permanent fixture, the wonderful bigger-than-lifesize, completely naturalistic statue in painted bronze, of a wolf by the great Saskatchewan artist Joe Fafard, who, until I saw this giant and impressive wolf, I had always associated with tiny works.The statue was one of several that were installed in the McGill campus last summer, as part of the celebration of the foundation of Montreal 375 years ago, almost all of them except this one being either monstrously ugly or impressionistic or abstract in nature. I remember a heavy, heavy stone statue that was said to represent tai-chi, that lighter than air Chinese physical exercise for the aged. And, queen of the uglies was a huge, multi-coloured caricature of a woman that cast its baleful presence over Sherbrooke street during the summer. Apart from Joe’s wolf, the most striking installation was the presence of eight squatting Chinese men in a circle, called “the meeting”, a work that had been already exhibited in Europe and elsewhere, and whose disappearance I regretted as the autumn descended upon us.
Only one other statue survived to accompany Joe’s Wolf into the winter. It was a comfort every day I walked through the campus among the throngs of students and their teachers thoughout the bleakest days of winter to look over and be re-asssured that the Wolf was still there, looking after us, guarding us all, making sure that nothing could go wrong for us.
Until the day I looked over as the winter morphed into spring, to discover the Wolf had disappeared. If only I knew who to write to in the vast corporation that is McGill University, I would have written indignantly to inquire what they mean by letting their protector go in this way. Where has it gone, and why? Could it possibly be that the hugely wealthy university could not afford to buy such an important and (eventually) indispensible part of their landscape, one that would guarantee the institution’s safety far into the future? Or was it just that they had a lease on it that ran out? Or that some idiot within their decision-making corpus decided that the beautiful animal was too fine, too straight-forward, too easily understandable, to grace the increasingly complex values of a great modern university?
Well, that’s my number one global catastrophe that has occurred during my days of pre-occupation. Of course, of more prominence has been the clown-show happening every day in Washington D.C. which would be very amusing were it not so serious. And then the invasion of a similar scenario into Ontario, whose citizens, a notably capricious bunch, have decided to elevate a member of the semi-literate majority into a position of power, from which no good can possibly emerge.
And then, one final thing, I have noted an extraordinary phenomenon that I never expected to see, which is that our political, media, and corporate elites appear to have coalesced around the idea that the potentially planet-destroying Tar Sands of Alberta, which have already laid waste vast tracts of beautiful wilderness in the greedy search for oil, should be extended and increased, an action that will make nonsense of our national promise to work towards the reduction of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, which are already galloping along towards a disastrous increase in the heat of the planet that could conceivably have the effect of either wiping out the human race, or very much reducing its size, leaving only a fraction of what exists now in the way of civilization and its achievements, to be presided over by a confused remnant of homo sapiens, stumbling around in desperation as we try, finally, but too late, to adjust to the new reality of an Earth whose fundamental building blocks we would have destroyed.
And for what? So that we can sell this cancerous oil at a higher price to Asians than we can get for it now from the United States. In fufilment of which purpose our befuddled government has already spent $7.4 billion (of an expected $15 billion total price), that could have been better spent to bring clean water to First Nations reserves, or build affordable houses for lower-income or homeless people, or to clean up our polluted waters, damaged soils and choking air, the fundaments of all life.
What are Canadians thinking about their government that has persisted in arguing that this is all simply a matter of jurisdiction, of federal against provincial powers, leaving aside completely the essential question as to the future of the Tar Sands and the drastic impact of their oil on all life, as if it were a matter of no consequence?
I wonder if Joe Fafard’s Wolf, in its infinite wisdom, could have saved us from this folly. The inscription that accompanied it read:
“This monumental sculpture is more kind than threatening. The Wolf, or mahihkan in Cree, is an animal known for its subservience to hierarchy and its solidarity with its brethren. In fact, when hunting, wolves never feed on their prey until they are able to share it with their pack. This lesson, central to the First Nations values, who view the mahihkan as a symbol of empathy towards others, also carries a universal message.”