Where on Earth are we going?

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by admin on April 7, 2010

By Phil Jenkins

Over the past couple of years, I’ve attended several public meetings in Wakefield and Chelsea, Quebec that, to my writer’s eye, resembled scenes from plays. The drama acted out was wrapped up in a couple of simple questions: where are we going, and how are we going to get there? The answers are: we are going into the future, and, as far as I can tell, we are going to get there by chasing short-term money at the expense of long-term community benefit. We’re punching our nose to spite our face.

There was one such meeting at the Black Sheep, another when the divisive Chelsea Creek invasion was in full hue and cry. In both cases, the mayor was down front expounding the bottom-line theory of municipal growth, while many in the crowd were advocating the melody line. By that I mean the mayors were concerned primarily with the financial, while much of the audience favoured what I call, without embarrassment, the poetic.

Our lives – as one, family, community – are a daily struggle between the poetic and the financial. We fall in love, raise a family and then struggle with mortgages and banks. In the Gatineau Hills, a region of natural, poetic beauty, we have made our homes in the trees or by the water and now must witness the ongoing uglification of the landscape by the narrow-minded forces of finance, of the disciples of money.
In the case of Chelsea Creek, an alien land-hunter who, in defending his invasive approach to making money, never said anything I’d call poetic, proposed something that many felt would desecrate the rural heart of the villages by turning fields into a subdivision. The poetic side of Chelsea was, literally, under siege. They attempted to uphold their commitment to the melody line of where they live and they lost. Then came the divisive community centre, reopening a wound not yet healed, and all the while no one suggested that the truly rural thing to do, what would make us proud, was to build it ourselves. That would be the poetic, the soulful way.
At the Black Sheep last week, this division in vision was made clear by the contest of wills and wishes into which the afternoon developed. I could sit at my desk all day and not come up with a phrase as good as ”Eco Echo versus Light Industrial Park” to spell out what I am talking about here. The opening lines of a poem teach you how to read it. How then to read Wakefield, which opens either with a cheap strip mall or a spiritless subdivision? And now here comes an oxymoronic industrial park? Welcome to Uglyville.

There will be many more such meetings as the Hills grow and the elected continue to pursue the holy grail of ”increasing our tax base” and designing our homeland for passersby, for tourists. Rather than having things, as they usually do, get worse before they get worser, let’s try and get to the future by reversing that sad trend. How? By allowing the poetic to be part of the decision-making – by looking at the beauty around us – and saying as many here and elsewhere already do, how can I serve that beauty, not desecrate it. The deepest root in our communities is the one that taps into the beauty around us. Take an axe to that root, or hand it to outsiders, and each blow kills a poem, a songline, that we are all writing.

Phil Jenkins is a writer who lives in Chelsea, Quebec.