Life Versus Death or Young Versus Old
It was on Haida Gwaii, that I visited last year
I got to know a famous ecologist and anthropologist there.
A tiny woman, with a big warm smile and dark curls, that both of her daughters had inherited too. They were chasing each other on the overgrown path.
“Hey girls! You know what Haida says? Walk gently on mother Earth. Touch nature only with your heart.”
Our Haida guide and her friend nodded heads.
Then he pointed to the big cabbagelike leaves growing wild all around.
Severn turned to me: “Our bears eat those leaves. Plenty of them around.”
I cautiously followed them through the rich, green and lush rainforest. Everything that you touched was slippery and wet. My boots squeaked in the sticky mud. The water was running everywhere around me in waterfalls, big and little.
Among the giant, moss covered trees, they stopped near a glistening creek and stared at a big greyish white bear, bathing there with her cubs. Hidden by the early morning mist, they looked almost unnatural.
Severn talked quietly with her friend, in his native tongue. He bowed into my direction and she translated for me:
“Haidu welcome you into their home that they have kept pristine and unchanged for more than 10,000 years.”
I bowed to him in respect, daring to inch closer
to the bank where the girls stood:
“Don’t be afraid. They know we are here. We see them everyday.”
One of the girls turned to me.
“We share the same island you know. We depend on each other for survival - us and them.
The other girl smiled as the big mother bear sniffed at us across the water, wading through it with her two little cubs, like we were a part of the nature that she knew. And we truly were…
I felt Severn’s gentle touch on my sleeve:
“You know that the mainland tribe of my Haidu people are fighting with the government to stop the sport hunting of these magnificent creatures? Nature is sacred to Haidu. It keeps us alive. Why is it not stopped if it's sacred to us?”
It was in Vancouver on my first overseas trip in 1994
Introducing her to me, her father said proudly: “Meet my girl who silenced the world for six minutes.”
As the daughter of an environmental scientist,
Severn was raised with an accurate awareness of the environmental destruction that all face today.
Two years back, she gave her speech to the United Nations Climate conference in Rio de Janeiro.
“You must change your ways,” she said to the delegates: “Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market.”
“It changed nothing,” the thin teenager in her baggy clothes and her crown of dark curls told me then: “World leaders aren’t accustomed to listening to children lecture them and probably never will be. But they have to realize that even kindergarten kids can grasp now that there is an existential threat to humanity -and politicians can’t.”
Her father patted her on the back: “It is sad that we refuse to listen to our children. They are saying - we believe in the facts, we believe in the science. We don’t want to live in the post-truth world that you old folk choose to live in.”
We all looked up from the porch as a shiny new big Ford pick up turned around in front of the house.
Looking straight at Severn, he showed her his middle finger while pumping more black smoke from his exhaust.
Severn stared him down, not moving an inch.
“An anti-environmentalist who visits us daily,”
her father said sadly, looking at the driver’s grey hair. “It's his protest that he calls Prius dusting.”
Fourteen-year-old Severn smiled dryly: “You told me once Dad, that wisdom comes with age, right?"
The last time that I chatted with Severn was just one month ago. The pandemic had not touched her, nor her Haida tribe. She sent me pictures of the mother bear with her new cubs.
"I had the privilege of meeting thousands of young environmentalists on an online forum last year. My speech was uploaded on YouTube. They want my advice on how to act on the environmental crisis that we are all experiencing right now.
“Did your ‘Prius Duster’ contact you too, with an apology?”
She laughed: “He is probably dead now. You know, sometimes it is best just to let them die and move on. Right?”
I typed back: “The young people of today demand more from those Prius Dusters who still occupy government posts.
She typed back: “Many of the climate activists are younger than I was when I gave that speech, you know.
They struggle with anxiety and depression. They don’t want to have children because of the chaos that they will inherit:
Temperatures rising beyond the threshold,
worsening hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires, agricultural disasters that shrink
the world’s food supply, pandemics.
Who can blame them? It is the inheritance that the Prius Dusters have left them. And they do not seem to care a bit about leaving this behind them.”