Canada is a great space, filled with nature and a few people clinging to the edge. We do not belong here, surrounded by nature and living in boxes thrown together and ready to collapse. Our cities were built in a century and could vanish without trace in half that time, the land reclaimed by the trees.
Nature has no soul. How could it? It has no morality. In the world of nature, there is no difference between the beauty of falling water and the terror of an earthquake. The cycle of life and death, so beloved of documentaries, is a cycle without meaning.
Stand on a mountaintop in a ring of snow-capped peaks. Ancient glaciers pour forever between them while sunlight glints off the dust of recent snows. Flowers wink from meadows, overseen by gangly trees and an eagle soaring above. The beauty of the mountains is awesome. They are symmetrical – in every direction there is more perfection, more detail than a human mind can comprehend. It doesn’t matter which way you look, for we are made of the same stuff as they – their beauty is beyond us. And so there is no story. No distinction, no discussion. We are not really here. Our mountain vista could be a circle of perfect white and it would make no difference. Perfection and nothingness are always the same.
Our lives are a tension, trapped between the horror of nature’s cruelty and the awe of her beauty. We can no more escape the one than the other, but it is that struggle to attain the beauty and escape the horror that makes something of our lives. Take us away and there is no tension – just a world without past or future, where life and death are one. Nature alone is nothing; only with us does it tell a story.
Look at a place where we have been. These stones are the scattered relics of a cabin built a century ago. The rolling echo of church bells from the valley below is a sound of love, of men marching to war and of their bodies coming home to rest. On that plain, where grasses nod in the wind, men fought and died. A scrap of paint on a timber tells of spring cleaning, a whitewashing in ages past, or perhaps it is the all that remains of the dreams of a businessman who set up shop on the edge of the wild. If you could stand here when those people saw their sons for the last time you would weep; if you could see the flowers thrown on a wedding day you would laugh aloud.
The tragedy of our country is the tragedy of an empty room. We are only passing through. It is a foreign place, an empty place, a place without a soul.
I originally wrote this in October 2002.