Thursday, November 01, 2001

Garden Reflective-Philosopher's Walk

I am sitting in the middle of Philosopher's Walk on a bench dedicated to the memory of Genny Blackwell. A black squirrel has just come running up to me to see if I have anything good to offer it. The squirrel is sadly out of luck. I find the squirrels here much bolder than the ones in the Wilson Hall Quad. I think it must be because people feed them. Ah hah! My hypothesis has just been confirmed. A woman has just stopped to leave some bread for them. The first thing I noticed, however, about this garden were the spectacular trees. Closer to Hoskins Avenue, the trees are towering, reaching horse chestnuts, maples and what I think are oaks. They shade parts of the path and give the garden a depth that almost reminds me of a forest. I love the way they stretch over parts of the garden as if they are protecting it. I also notice the trees further along the path which are varied and colorful, turning wonderful shades of fall. Interspersed within the trees are hedges and bushes which really add to the esthetic appeal of the garden. The terrain is what I would call rolling and the meandering path follows the old Taddle Creek ravine. It is a very pretty garden, although I feel that the Varsity Arena building does detract from this space. However, it is not the first thing that the eye falls on when entering this garden. I also observe people taking in this garden space, walking to and from class, feeding the wildlife, biking, spending time with their families or seeking a bit of a break from the rush of the city. Indeed, Philosopher's Walk is designed to draw people to it with its plaques, benches, trees and pretty bricked path. There is even a helpful, informative sign, guiding people along the path with markers and pointing out places of interest along the way. Once I enter the garden, I notice that my walking pace slows and I take the time to observe the things around me. I notice this of other people as well. I can hear the trees above me as well as the scurrying of the squirrels across fallen leaves, behind me, who periodically check to see if I have changed my mind about feeding them. I also hear the strains of a piano piece and a few, tentative practice notes from an oboe. It was an excellent idea to place such a garden behind the Royal Conservatory of Music building thus allowing the patrons to imagine themselves in a place far removed from the bustle of the city. In the distance, the traffic on Bloor and the noise of a plane can be heard too. A man just asked me if I feel cold, sitting on the bench. I am not cold but I feel conspicuous as I sit here watching people watching me record my thoughts. I wish that this garden had benches that were in slightly more private places, perhaps away from the main footpath. I also feel peaceful. Another man has just stopped to read the sign about this pathway. I never realized how much people might appreciate a space such as this. I find this place relaxing and soothing. Not too many people are enjoying this garden tonight but it could be because the sky is gloomy and night is falling quickly. In the summer, I imagine this garden to be a user-friendly, cheerful place attracting many people. I wonder what this garden is like in the winter, with snow. I will have to make a return visit.

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Chapters 5-7 of Redeeming the Time

I have to admit that when I first started this book, I was overwhelmed with the task laid out by Stephen Scharper. I was unsure of what lay ahead and wondered what could be included in 240 pages that I might understand. After reading through the different approaches to the environment, I have to say that much of what was discussed gave me considerable food for thought. Out of all the approaches discussed by Scharper, I most closely related with the ecofeminist approach. I agree with Ruether who argues that we can never go back to a world that is untouched by humans. I was also stunned by the parallels between the status of women in society and the treatment of nature. The dualism was striking and insightful. Christianity must also take some responsibility for propagating this dualism, argues McFague. Her arguments regarding the division of the world in to opposites were very persuasive. After all, it was Christianity, centred around the Bible, that delineated the division between Christian and Non-Christian, poor and rich, man and woman. However, I realize that other factors have propagated these notions and contributed to our unconnected and independent state. Another idea that resonated with me was the myth that modern science trancends social and political boundaries to arrive at pure truth. Science has always been filtered through political and social lenses, from the time of Copernicus through to the science practiced by the Nazis. It continues to be influenced by these forces today. One just has to examine the race to decipher the human genome and the desire to patent sections of it. Since when does our DNA come under the legal ownership of a company? I also strongly agree with Shiva who writes that consumerism is turning the world into a monoculture. The patriarchal ideas from Western countries is spread to non-Western countries, further propagating these patterns. From my studies in geography, I know that tradltional peasant knowledge and economies have not been taken seriously which has led to considerable destruction of much of the world's biodiversity and ecosystems. Local solutions and ways of life are often a better way to manage the resources of third world countries while balancing the needs of both the environment and the people who live there. I find it truly terrifying to think that multinational corporations and banks are slowly concentrating the power to make these kinds of decisions into their own hands. With the explosion of debate regarding genetic cloning, this scenario takes on even more apocalyptic proportions.

One thing that I did not understand regarding the New Cosmology approach with this notion of "text with no context" put forth by Berry. I cannot conceive of a new theology or approach to the environment as not being in some sort of context. As both Ruether and Gutierrez point out, It is important to focus on the poor, the downtrodden, the children and the women of society when formulating any viable theology. How can one not consider the huge disparities between groups in society when formulating a new life ideology?

One of the themes I found emerged in approach after approach ws the idea of cooperation and mutualism. Increasingly, it has been argued that we must move away from the Cartesian mechanistic view of nature towards a view that sees us as "person(s)-in-community." I think this makes a lot of sense as we move towards a sustainable future for ourselves. Picturing ourselves as being masters of our universe has not only created problems with our health and our environment but with our way of life. If we keep consuming at the rate that we have been, we won't have any natural resources left. Mutualism is an idea that is very appealing. Seeing ourselves as part of the fabric of nature and the entire universe levies on us a responsibility towards the rest of the world. Theology must also hold some responsibility. As a uniting factor in people's lives, religion has a duty to incorporate the themes of humanity and the environment into its teachings. As Stephen Scharper points out, the goal of a sustainable future is daunting indeed.

Monday, October 29, 2001

Garden Reflective-Wilson Hall Residence Quad

It is a beautiful Monday afternoon, especially for the end of October. More people are outside today than in previous days because a bit of the chill has been taken out of the weather. The sun is shining, giving us a brief respite from the dull, gray skies of the oncoming winter. Spring jackets and shorts have made a fleeting comeback today. The trees are a gorgeous, brilliant mix of hues, including orange, yellow, gold, rust, red and green. One can hear the rustling of the trees in the wind and the crunching of dry leaves on the paths of people passing through this area. Many are slowing down to talk and carry on conversations with eachother. Others are having lunch out on the park benches. I am sitting underneath a great spreading maple tree that is starting to turn yellow on top. Further to my right is an old, weary tree, stripped of all its leaves. It looks dead and appropriate, considering Halloween is just two days away. I'm sure it is just dormant. There is a fall crispness to the smell of the air that combines with the fragrant odor of the dry leaves. If a person sits here long enough, they can actually witness the falling of the leaves from the trees. A leaf has just fallen from my tree. There is still a bit of coolness to the air...a reminder that fall is giving way to winter and that the cold will be with us for awhile. A black quirrel is busy gathering food for the winter, picking up what it can near the garbage bin. It is methodical really, searching underneath the leaves for something good. I hear the far off chirping of a sparrow intermingled with the conversation and laughter of people. A pigeon pecks around the edges of the paths. A crow has just flown over, cawing and complaining. The sun makes pretty dappled patterns on the ground as it filters through the colorful trees. The squirrel has gone. Probably to squire away the fruits of its labours. A fly just landed on my knee, which surprises me. Since the weather has been so cold lately, I would have though that hardly any insects would have survived. The bells from Trinity College are ringing. There are always people and creatures in this space. The squirrel has returned and is now chasing its mate around the trunk of a tree. A ladybug has decided to come for a visit. Despite all this activity, I still find this a restful, peaceful place.