In and Out of Colonial Canada on the Path of the Gulls

The gulls, eh. Restless at dusk. Maybe they can show us a path away from the colonial mapped and fenced landscape.

They do circle around, don’t they!  Imagine the interlocking fields of view of all those eyes! More simply, their movement drew my eye to them; in effect, their movement and my looking at them are the same event. Even their multiplicity and my looking are the same event. Without multiplicity within me, I would not experience them as multiple. Without pattern within me, I would not see pattern in their flight, which you can see, I’m sure, without my having to do anything more than frame it. The frame is basically a gesture. It says: look! It is that place between my seeing and yours, that is the same as that between their display and my seeing. It’s a path we can walk through, so to speak.

Similarly, without multiplicity within the flock, drawing the birds back into a centre, they would not have displayed the multiplicity that caught my eye. I would have followed the flight of one gull leaving or perhaps circling around in curiosity. If it had done that, circled back in curiosity that is, I would have been at the centre of the circling that made the pattern above. There would have been a difference though. The gull would have been swing ing out, rather than drawing back into social relationship with the flock.  In effect, gull and I would have had a social relationship but not one based on the competition above. It would have been between us. It’s not bird or man who makes these unified relationships but points at which display, or showing, and sight unite to be one. But what then? I can leave this behind in aesthetic territory, and write a poem about gulls that is ultimately a poem about a human mind. I can write about God. I can enact land-use legislation, or plan water use, or draft hunting regulations, and so on, in order to protect the gulls from habitat loss or human predation, but that is all a stepping aside from the path that leads between me, you and gull and back. It is an open flow. To step out of the flow is an abstraction that requires the union between us to be broken and then reconstructed within human social rules, that are no gull-full. They are positive gestures. They look out with generosity and extend human care beyond human space. They all require us to break our intimacy. They leave us with a sense of helplessness, that is not about our gestures of generosity and care, but about how colonial life forces us to break them. It’s the breakage, that betrayal, that leaves us confused. Or me, at least. Perhaps everyone else is happy with this. I think not, though. I think the books below show this clearly. First:

I agree with contributor Keith Maillard, when he sums up this dumpster fire with one word: Burn.

is about, among other things, the ruins of literature in Canada because of some ugly behaviour with deep roots. Second:

is, among others things, about the ruins of the Canadian landscape because of some ugly behaviour with deep roots (that is virtually identical to the elite behaviour in Re-Fuse.) Both describe situations driven by possessive power and extractive economics. Both display frustration between self and society’s rules, especially Re-Fuse — yet not so much that it walks away from the mess (which I would advise doing, for what it’s worth.) It’s still a book of Canlit. It frames it, setting its academic editors outside of the fray. They are cool observers, gently and sensitively taking the matter in hand. That’s smart and contextual and should do some good. It’s also colonial, to use the word in a non-judgemental way. Slick Water also portrays frustration, also very real, between land-as-experienced and land-as-governed-and-manipulated. It listens. It protests. It provides deeply-researched context. It displays passion as an alternative to distrust. Fair enough. Although it’s less colonial than Re-Fuse, it’s still colonial — again in a non-judgemental way. Truth is, we can’t escape colonialism in Canada, because Canada is a colonial project, with colonial institutions, faiths, histories and languages. I have always found this to be depressing, but there is a way. I showed you the gulls. Look again. Look how quickly the light has turned blue. Look quick. Soon the camera is only going to pick up photons here and there and we’re going to have to snap the lens cap on and say no more to that old thing.

And the gulls will still be there, and if you go down to the lake, if you are actually there, you will still see them. Well, if you were there yesterday afternoon as the Earth turned away from the sun. Still, I think we can all imagine here that intimate opening in the sky between you, me and gulls going on and on. For me it’s real, but all I have is this stupid technology and this prose-based colonial English to pass it on between with, in the trust that the opening I have entered is framed well enough by word and image that it opens for you as well. The thing is, neither of those books are about gulls, or the life of writing, what it is to write, or what literature might be if it’s not this silly nationalist stuff called Canlit, or the life of rock, or anything that has these openings. Sure, these are books about social and environmental problems, and shouldn’t be about gulls and rocks, but it still is annoying that they aren’t, because they contain the distance and the turning away. Re-Fuse argues for inclusion and entrance, but does not take the step into be-ing. Slick Water argues for healthy water and healthy industrial and governmental practices by showing their opposite, yet for all its brilliance it does not become water. That is left for others. Only in the bodies of individual people will it become being. It will be planted there, a seed, and will open, and somehow these people will walk down to the water and experience it in its purity and work for that. Those are important things, and colonial ones, because of their human bias. It is all-pervasive in Canada. Currently, the colonialism that rises from it is being used as a term of judgement and dismissal, tipped against a decolonialism that is equally humanist, but to do that is not the same as walking down a path of millions of years, one with a gull flying down the same path to you. It is not the same as staying there on that path-that-is-not-an-end-or-a-beginning, even when Canada (and fracking and Canlit) demands attention. In this world, Canada is a distraction. It is artificial intelligence, when the non-artificial kind is being turned from, with pain. Against that, one can only say, “Look,” and hope the path opens. One can only keep an eye on the goal, to keep the path open.

For more images, please click & view: Hunting the Winter Migration.


I wanted to set this context clearly, before moving on to samples of shared forms of power. You know, poetry, language, land-use policy, urban planning, water planning and things like that in this great task of stepping away from creativity, that great distraction.


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