Winter Shrinkage

My contribution to Earth Day, April 22, 2020.

With sorrow for coronavirus victims—direct and indirect… past, present, and future.

With hope for humankind; hope that we change the things that brought this pandemic upon us.

 

Winter Shrinkage

by Mitchell Toews

It was an average winter. I spent idle days virtual-thumbing through online catalogues, dreaming ready-to-assemble dreams, exercising my PayPal muscles and the Charter of Rights and Free Shipping. But one morning, Janice and I were unnerved — not a little — when we were forced to climb out of bed like U.S. Marines going over the side of a troop carrier in a Turner Classic Movie.

“It’s that shrinking virus,” our doctor’s young voice boomed after a half-hour wait, my damn cell phone now the size and shape of our Trolstrop end table and just as heavy.

Shrinking? But how? This is Canada, not Skull Island! Was this to be our polio? Our influenza? Our Walking Dead, now come to pass?

And it was true. We were shrinking. All — or at least, most of — the people in the world were getting proportionately smaller. Just like The Atom or Ant-Man in the primary colour universe of my pre-teens but without the attendant super-powers. Unable to undo my lifelong sense of divinely assigned supremacy, I felt as though it was not us shrinking, but the rest of the world growing. The world was suddenly upside-down, growing enormous due to some horrendous mistake, through no fault of the people of the Earth.

I frowned through the window at the grinning, darting chickadees. The size of flying monkeys. Disturbed, I imagined a population of mutant human giants — immune, immense — clomping around in Adidas Gazelles the size of actual gazelles; amok in our shrunken Canadianopolises, now Kandors, with no tiny Supergirl, boy or man to protect us. I want to be immune, I thought, a little pouty.

#

After a month or so, for amusement, Jan and I sit atop our Frukskol serving tray. Its buoyancy — pounded out of a bucket full of ground Amazonian treetops — floated us serenely during our laps around the meltwater in the swimming pool. A cat, swaggering poolside big as a dragon, watches us with yellow eyes and we stay in the middle until it pounces on the mini-deliveryman, here to drop off our latest package of mini-toilet paper rolls. He screams like a robin chick fallen from the nest.

“Maybe we all just need to go back to eating more carbs?” I suggested as we paddled along, making smooth synchronized strokes with our Svart Svan salad serving spoons. The plastic is so light — made with real boreal forest tree flour!

Our desperation grows. We succumb, weary of our teeniness. Despondent in our miniature solitude we sit each evening in the never-ending flickering blue light that shines down upon us like our own personal drive-in movie… reclining, as we do, on a stack of expired Netflix gift cards, we watch the pandemic on TV, eating popcorn puffs the size of cantaloupe. We the shrunken, armed only with our snacks.

“I’m glad about one thing!” I posted online with cheery intent to distant unseen friends in less-effected regions — racing home before they can no longer see over their dashboards. “This malady does not affect our heroes…” I wrote. “Gretzky is as big as ever; he hasn’t shrunk an inch.”

“That CBC interview last night?” A buddy texts me back. “That’s just an old replay. He’s actually the size of an Ütfart flower vase now, I saw him on the news last week.”

How belittling. I find it on YouTube. Gretzky, his hand-puppet sweater tucked in on one side, wearing a Jofa helmet made out of a thimble.

And what about the billionaires? They too have become tiny but, their wealth remains Costco-sized. They urge us to keep doing “normal” things, to keep the economy going despite our dimunuation. “People may shrink but our economy must remain LARGE,” they say with conviction. Right… They don’t have to dodge hungry sea gulls on their way to the Wendy’s drive-thru in a Barbie Star Traveller motor home! We do — we feed the trickle; the trickle-way-way-down.

#

But then the tide turned. Stealthily, the blessed Tillväxt came among us, lifting Her cloak tails discretely as She crept along, and we began to grow. Praise Tillväxt.

“A long cool woman in a black dress,” one alleged eyewitness reported. Soon after, steady enlargement came announced only by the smallest of shudders, like a cement truck hitting a pothole outside your office building. Humankind began its journey back.

One day, I noticed how it only took me a few minutes to stamp out a text to our daughter, whose small children were like a string of ellipses, following behind her, their 14 pt. ampersand mom. I jump on the keys like Tom Hanks to send out my message, ending with, #feelingweighty. r u guys growing? I ask, with joyous smiley faces on a field of red hearts.

Incrementally, day by day, our statures grew. All of us, around the world. O blessed renewal! Some claimed it was on pace with the mercury in the thermometer. Others cleaved to the ascendant gospel of the Tillväxt, now the third-leading religion worldwide. Sun theory or benign magical Mother Almighty, I welcomed our return to normal and the coming warmth of summer. I could hardly wait to be tall enough to turn on the air conditioning!

#

Whatever it was that caused it all, whatever the scientists can cipher — once they are again big enough to operate their laboratories and not self-immolate in the flame of their Bunsen burners — the human population enlarged. Jan and I soon found ourselves standing eyeball-to-bullnose with our Fullspäckorp kitchen island countertop. Progress!

Comforted by the unknown natural vaccine, the grace of Tillväxt, or whatever, I luxuriated, expectant, my anticipation sky-high. I relished the mental imagery: Visions of humankind, rising up and reaching outwards like that pansy caught in time-lapse photography on The Nature Channel.

I renewed my password-protected online consumerism but it felt a little off, as though something had changed in me during my big-small-big passage. Disconcerting thoughts filled my head. Packed freeways. Smog-filled urban skies. Jet trails playing Hangman in the sky above. Mountains and forests and glaciers and clean water once again going, going, gone.

Yes, we’ll grow back. We’ll unshrink! Once more the human race will reach titan proportions and resume our species’ ordained privilege; our filthy, greedy, pleasure-dome domination of the planet and its lesser beings — flora, fauna, and anything else we can batter and fry, cut and pulp, exploit and extirpate.

Until that is, the next usurper comes to take away our crown — invited unknowingly by we humans and the havoc we create as we attempt to hold dominion over nature, acting för stor for our britches, as always, I fear.

End

 

CC BY ND

“Here’s what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about tackling climate change.”

“Life in a ‘degrowth’ economy, and why you might actually enjoy it.”

 

 

 

A Letter to My Conservative Friends

What do you do the day your sewer pipe freezes? I wrote this.

First of all, am I a ‘snowflake’ because I don’t want the environment to be irrevocably ruined? If so, sign me up! I’m in. Call me names if you must just don’t say I’m irresponsible or negligent.

You see, the environment, last time we checked, ignored political borders. So, yeah – I am inclined to pay attention to what goes on, south of the border, down USA way. Also, whatever disease they have right now – I’m hoping we’re immune. But I doubt it.

Therefore, I believe we need more snowflakes, dude! Banks and drifts and dunes of ’em!

More scientists, too. Scientists, most would agree, are best taught in schools, not in houses of worship. “Why?” So the scientists have the freedom to ask, “Why?” instead of stating, “Because that is our faith.”

Let our faith be that we will have the scientists ask why, over and over, and then, well, let’s go from there.

Can we not let schools be schools and their views–from crop science to medicine–be broad? Broad enough, at least, to see that the earth is not flat, appearances notwithstanding. Even at the corner of the #1 and the #12 – a plain if there ever was one.

Gather by the margin of the river? Of course! Scientists don’t prevent that. They shine a light on that Chartered pledge. Gather by any river you want.

Aliens Need Not Apply

‘Libtard’ – a shameful, ignoble word and I’m positive most of my friends don’t use it except when they are with an extreme crowd. Peer pressure. Anyway – am I a libtard because I don’t want a Canadian version of the WALL around “our” part of the sandbox? (The same sandbox we grabbed when the previous tenants weren’t looking.)

Sure, my weak-ass approach might mean sharing more of Canada with some odd Queeg Quegs who did not RSVP. Just like in 1873, when the Métis, French, the subjects of the British Queen, and all the established patches in the quilt around the Red River of the North had to get used to us. And we were a bunch of dike-building, silk-spinning, plum-growing peaceniks. Aliens? Oh bah, joh! 

We sat in our white-washed (inside and out), gender-segregated churches and argued about our ancestors –  the people who waged word wars about buttons versus hooks. (Like Dee Oolah even cared.) Oh, what a magnificent gaggle of crazed zealots we were!

“Mennonites with hooks and eyes,
are pleasing to the Holy Guise.
But Mennonites with buttons and pockets
are choice trinkets for the Devil’s lockets.”

Günter Gross, via page 503, Mennonite Low German Dictionary, Jack Thiessen

We were bonneted, bearded, stubborn, obscenely productive foreigners who spoke Plautdietsch like we really, really meant it. Deutsch issued from our lips even as Canada fought wars against Deutschland. Hmm…I would have thought that was suspicious. It was! It was, and yet they let us carry on – every Hans and Heinrich and Helen.

But we, of course, and to our ever-lasting credit (union and otherwise) made the struck pay off. “Damn it, how those Mennos can make the Red Fife grow!” happy prairie politicians said, twirling their moustaches with fingers dipped in every pie.

They all got used to us, I guess. The Englanders and colour commentators (“A good Canadian kid!”) can now pronounce our strange, umlauted names as accurately as any church elder. Now they prize our books, buy our autos, elect us to high office; even teach us graft and greed! (We’re fast learners and even offer some tricks of our own – like conflating church, and state and industry – a time-honoured way to make pigshit flow uphill.)

So be it – as we were welcomed, let us welcome others. Bring on the frintschoft, the fast-talkers, the money-changers, the dishwashers, the uber drivers and the undertakers. In fact, invite the whole madman’s rainbow garden, sown with every flavour, stripe and viewpoint and let them brandish their curly daggers and their straight laces alike. They will enrich us, and although that road may not be perfectly smooth, it’ll be worth the trip.

So be it, indeed. Even if that means acquiring some new, elastic personal boundaries, or smelling a little more garlic–or curry–or seeing a tall spire, here and there. Even on ‘your’ side of Sumas Avenue.

Also, we must remember: as the USA turns to a Hispanic majority–estimated to happen in 2044–Canada will become an Asian majority by 2050, or so. I want my children and their kids ready for that sea change, not meeting it with irrational dread and regurgitating old great-bias and great-great-hatred.

Soa doa wie doat nich

Am I a ‘sinner’ because I fear the climate is shifting and we are bringing it about?

“We don’t do it like that – it is not our way,” as author Elizabeth Reimer Bartel wrote* with a full heart.

God commanded his flock a long time ago to not worry about things like climate. “I got this,” He might have said, had He cameoed on a TV sitcom.  (Yes, you can PVR God, just not on more than two channels at once.) “You guys go ahead and sacrifice that lamb, dam that creek, burn that whale oil, domesticate those beasts – let me worry about the deets.” We made the deal and now there are nine billion of us and the creeks are all dammed and we are drowning in the deets, Big Oolah.

I’m guessing that since He has not fixed things, He’s either suffering from some major Saviour’s block or He wants us to use our miraculous brains to fix it ourselves. I expect it’s the latter.

Sunday (Afternoon) Golf

Am I a ‘leftist’, or is that just what you call all those who push back at the hate mongering that passes for leadership?

I imagine a foursome for golf. Let’s call it a politically-mixed group. It comprises the American Steve Bannon (I think he’s American? Could be Russian?), a Syrian refugee who froze off six fingers when walking over North Dakota beet fields to get to Canada, dee aforementioned Oolah, and me. The odiferous and the ornery, the omnipotent and the obstreperous.

We play the game not with clubs and golf balls, but by hurling ideas as far as we can. More like Frisbee golf, come to think of it, especially since three of us have beards and one of us wears sandals. (Not Birkenstocks, alas.)

Bannon strikes first, launching now-commonplace shock and awe as far and as wide as his amplified voice can broadcast. He flings it from a high place and some of what he throws lands in Canada. Sharp Operators observe with interest, “Hey! That could work here, too!” they say, grinding their unblemished knuckles into the eye of reason.

Next up, the four-fingered Syrian. She was an engineer back in her native land, so she has rigged a clever device to take her shots; overcoming her physical infirmity. Her prosthesis is constructed of gold and measures precisely 12 inches. Trim it, she did, with history and law, though these nostalgic indulgences were easily rubbed off. Not knowing the course we played, her powerful drives bounced badly, misbehaving and leaving her with impossible lies.

It was my turn, but Bannon’s caddy pushed me aside and said, “Here’s how we’re going to do it!” He took my shot and I admit it was much stronger than I could have managed. It travelled at least a country mile – from dit seid to yan. In comparison, my effort would have hardly made it off the tee. The gallery gave a rousing cheer and noted his black boots and brown shirt. “Natty attire,” they whispered with admiration. “That’s what we need, a man who buys his shirts and his ideology abroad. Someone to make golf great again here in Canada too!”

“You’re up, Big Hitter,” I said, but the Almighty was busy with a call from the hereafter. “Long distance, gotta take this,” He said, His words rolling like thunder. He gestured to the Syrian engineer. “Take another turn,” He said. “Knock one right down the waterline!”

She waggled, she knitted her brow, she rent her clothes, and she bowed her head. Just as she began, the florid caddy ran up with a fully automatic rulebook. “She can’t play!” he bawled, unlocking the safety on his weapon. “She’s not a member! She doesn’t belong!”

All eyes turned to the attendant elected official, whose ruling was law.

“Sorry, I have a previous engagement in St. Pierre, at the Frog Follies,” the official said and he slipped away in silence, his thousand legs churning in practiced conformity.

“Well, look, she’s with me and I’m the founding member. So slow your role,” God said, eyeing the caddy’s red hat and wondering how it could fit over that albino mink coiled on his scalp.

Who?

And it came to pass in the land of Nod–the land of vigorous, sycophantic, sanguine nod–that the lowly caddy became king. “Kiss his ring? You can’t be serious,” I say.

Really though, who would follow such a man? “Who? I scream up at the six-story bunker? Who?” I whisper to the woman, up early to do some baking – the only way she has time. (Meet Netty at the mall, go straight to work, pick up the kids after school, make dinner, work on my dissertation, get dressed for the Christmas program. Is that tonight?) Who? I demand of the once-outspoken preacher’s kid who sits drinking coffee, spezearen and smirking while his proxies inherit the earth for him. Who? I ask of the slave drivers who strain to shove a shop-worn camel through the eye of a needle, “just one more time.”

Where is the line of dissenters – each in that queue as conscientious and true to themselves and their children as Christ the carpenter? Would that line not be a raging, roaring, rippling, steel chain 7,448 KMs long?

“From Bonavista to Vancouver Island;
the Arctic Circle to the Great Lakes waters?”**

And when he shouts, “Bomb them!” we reply in unison, “Give them bread.” And when he says, “Build the wall!” the congregation sings, “Love thy neighbour!” And when he hisses, “They defile Him.” we shout, “He is in them.”

And would that unflinching line not be led by clear-eyed Mennonitisch people with their DISAVOW pens flowing dark; indelible with the ink of their antecedents? I want to believe it would be so. Unsaved, auf’jefollnah wretch that I am, I want to sign on. I want to link arms and bellow, “Not on my watch!” with the same conviction as that hollow pipsqueak who once spat those words in the face of the 98-pound high school girl in the Council Chambers.

The A-word

But, if it’s all about abortion for you, then let’s talk. Let’s take a deep breath. I respect your passion. Many are driven by their abhorrence for abortion.

So be it, I’m not arguing that issue. There might be a fifteen-year-old living on the street who has an opinion – I’ll leave you two to discuss things. Again, deets.

The US president has made clear promises about abortion. It’s off-putting to you that his lifeboat is filled with a collection of repellent Scaramucciesque characters. The US President himself is unapologetically vile in his behaviour when held to the standards we all (try to) follow–conservatives in particular– in our own lives. This US President, the caddy in the little parable above, is shunworthy by any church standard. He and his chosen crew are those who would take you down with them, but you believe it’s the last boat – the only boat.

I sense that you feel compelled because “he promised to fight against abortion for us.” And, “he’ll change the law in America and then we can vote in a Canadian clone here, right?”

Maybe. He could just as easily bail out on you, leaving you with only your heart and no sleeve upon which to wear it.

I  know that you see right through this bad caddy’s specious fake-fervour – you know what he really is. So, why do you believe he will support you when the time comes? His political needs always come first, isn’t that obvious? He’s likely to abandon you for some new expedient and he’ll do it with a tweet. A message you may not ♥.

Tally

If you hunt or are a target shooter or a collector, fill your boots. Maybe you need a .22 for the farm or at the cottage. (That last one is a stretch.) But other than that, I have reservations. I hope Canada does not copy this frightening American trait. GUNS.

The 12 months of 2017 in the United States:
🔫  61,113 total number of gun incidents
🔫  15,501 gun deaths
🔫  31,065 gun injuries
🔫  345 mass shootings
🔫  2,003 unintentional shootings
🔫  2,018 incidents of defensive gun use
🔫  3,949 children/teenagers shot or killed
Canadian numbers are creeping upwards. Do we really want to join in reckless gun ownership and proliferation? The problem is, if we get a “populist” Canadian version of the current POTUS, it might come part and parcel with Republican style anti-gun control rhetoric and policy. Surely we can leave that to our US neighbours. Do you agree?

The Bully Pulpit

As a kid, I was the owner of a late birthday and a precocious nature. I was a small boy, usually the youngest in the class, and I had shrimp-orange hair, a bumper crop of freckles and ears like London Cab doors. Teasing came my way, not unlike the Steinbach snowstorm of ’66. True to popular gingerology, I possessed the infamous redhead short fuse so black eyes and split lips ensued. (Mostly mine.)

I earned, via the court of knuckle justice, a discerning eye and ear for blow-hards. I could spot a bully who was secretly not willing to back it up in the same way some schnoddanäs pastors claim they can spot a gay congregant. I’d hone in on these posers and challenge them:

Runty me: “Shut up!”
Big bully: “Nay!”
Runty me: “Then let’s fight.”
Big bully” “Nay!”

Doing this repeatedly, I developed a keen sense of Naydar. (Nadir too, in some cases.)

When these self-professed toughs backed down, I won a small measure of street cred there on the Southwood School playground. If I was off in my assessment, I endured a physical pounding – so my iterative process, like editing, painfully discerned the true from the false.

I also learned not to lead with my right hand.

Fast forward to 2016. #45 came on the US scene and I read him as a straight up heehnaschiet. A pair of deuces acting like a flushNo doubt about it – my Naydar screamed its verdict like the in-dash Geiger counter on Bond’s Aston Martin db5.

Evidence? His unfulfilled threats against North Korea and his yellow-bellied bluster against women who accused him of a host (not heavenly) of misogyny. He’s all talk, locker room and otherwise. Vietnam deferments, I’ll remind you, made his true character clear long before he became a seedy pop-culture symbol. An unconscientious objector.

I believe Putin has a similar result on his Nyetdar, so please my friends – don’t lead with your right.

#

Fun reading for masochists: Fire & Fury Excerpts

That’s it. We may differ, but I like you, ya know? That’s why I bother with all this nertjeI hope you can still like me. Just maybe not, you know, online. I’ll understand. 🙂

_____