Monthly Archives: August 2010

Our Excellent Yellowknife Adventure #yzf

So, up we went to Yellowknife (Northwest Territories, Canada), Graeme Gibson and self, en route to Kugluktuk, where we were supposed to join the Clipper Adventurer (ship) and Adventure Canada (group) on a Northwest Passage journey. But:

Our ship hit an uncharted rock

It made the boat to list so,

We had to stay in Yellowknife

And eat at Bullock’s Bistro.

(Old Sea Chanty.)

Luckily we had a plucky group: they read the “No Sniveling” sign at Bullock’s (pictured) and made use of it, as well as the last Dene Law (pictured), though we all saved “I Brake for Ptarmigan” for another day. The Yellowknifers were very friendly, and in the Black Knight pub (the NWT is riddled with knights) I learned what a B52 Shooter was, as Richard and his table sent one over. The Wildcat and Bullocks are both in Heritage Buildings, made with Ye Olde Knightly Logges in the days of distant yore. You find this out after drinking the Shooter.

Yellowknife was showing at its best, with many Land of the Almost Midnight Sun flowers in bloom (pictured) and the spectacular Great Slave Lake looking gorgeous.  Our group vowed to take another crack at the NW Passage next year. Meanwhile we had many an in-depth chat, about Animal Tracking and its relationship to reading (James C. Halfpenny,, and I bought “Scats and Tracks of North America,” ultra useful when you find a mysterious something on you porch); and Scottish history and/or  folklore (Lizanne and Ted Cowan); and Mark and Carolyn Mallory (Fulmars, seabirds, Arctic wildflowers), who turned into Our Fearless Leaders, never having filled that position before.

My last adventure of the trip — apart from getting jumped by the CBC as we were sadly but not snivellingly checking in at the airport on our homeward leg — was that I got locked into my trousers because the clicky thing on my Adventurous Pants broke. But nail scissors were not invented by the Black Knights of Yellowknife for nothing, and it took but several instants of thought (“This may be a case for ‘Scats and Tracks of North America’… no, there must be another way”) before I was liberated from the sinsister fabric predicament.

Thank you, Yellowknife #yzf, and especially Ariel at Overlanders, and Richard (who also sent over 5 Mimosas, once he realized that I had poured the B52 into the rum and coke and passed the curdled but lethal mixture  around my table in a Bonding Ritual), and all the Merrie Groupe!! Including Murray the stranded New Zealander, who is having coffee in our kitchen even as I write… And congratulations to Adventure Canada staff, who worked through the nights, fought the Airline Booking dragons, and got everyone sorted out!

On the flight out, we had a spectacular view not only of Great Slave Lake, but also of the land south of it — looked like muskeg, with squiggly rivers and many (probably) kettle bogs, in deep blue, ochre green, copper orange… wonderful.

Next year we’ll take another run at it. Brace yourself, Yellowknife. We’ll be baaack…

See Ship & Rock Story at:


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PEN America’s statement re: New York mosque/community centre


For more information contact:

David Haglund, PEN, (212) 334-1660 ext. 115,

Larry Siems, PEN, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105; cell (646) 359-0594,

Writers Support Park51 Project, Religious Freedom

New York City, August 25, 2010—PEN American Center, the New York-based
center of the 89-year-old international literary and human rights
organization PEN, today released a statement in support of the proposed
Park51 Community Center project, declaring that the organization stands with
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and with “all who support and celebrate the
freedom” to establish the center on its city-approved site in lower
Manhattan. The statement, signed by PEN American Center President Kwame
Anthony Appiah on behalf of PEN’s Board of Trustees, calls the freedoms
enumerated in the First Amendment “the birthright of all and our best

“We oppose all efforts to circumscribe this freedom; we deplore the rhetoric
of suspicion that seeks to deny our common humanity and shared aspirations;
and we emphatically reject the tyranny of fear,” the statement reads. “None
of this is to deny the anguish of those who lost family and friends in the
terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, nor is it to diminish the trauma
we experienced and still clearly share. Nevertheless, we are sure no lasting
comfort or peace can come from abridging the rights of others or yielding to
distrust and fear.”

Appiah said the organization was moved to speak out by the increasingly
rancorous tenor of the debate. “PEN’s historic mission, starting in the
aftermath of the Great War, was to place the literary community at the heart
of the project of building comity across nations,” he explained. “Today,
when the world’s divides are as much religious as national, we know the need
for conversation across our differences is as urgent as ever.”

“If you want an argument that writers have a key place in this moment,”
Appiah added, “remember that Rumi and Ibn Arabi, great Sufi masters, were
also great poets: Rumi, at whose funeral Moslems, Christians, and Jews
gathered in mourning more than seven centuries ago; Ibn Arabi, who wrote
that his heart could assume the form of a Christian cloister, or the tables
of the Torah or the holy Koran.” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who leads Park51
Center’s backers, is a follower of Sufism, the richly literary tradition of
Islamic mysticism.

The full text of PEN American Center’s statement follows:

PEN American Center Statement in Support of the Park51 Community Center

As members of the American literary community who believe in the
universality of human experience and human rights,

As proud citizens and residents of a country that recognizes the free
exercise of religion as a fundamental benchmark of freedom of thought and

And as PEN members pledged to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of
expression in our community and country, as in the world elsewhere,

We stand with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with religious leaders of all faiths,
with political leaders of both major parties, and with all our friends and
neighbors who support and celebrate the freedom to construct the Park51
Islamic Community Center on its city-approved site in lower Manhattan.

We oppose all efforts to circumscribe this freedom; we deplore the rhetoric
of suspicion that seeks to deny our common humanity and shared aspirations;
and we emphatically reject the tyranny of fear.

None of this is to deny the anguish of those who lost family and friends in
the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, nor is it to diminish the
trauma we experienced and still clearly share.

Nevertheless, we are sure no lasting comfort or peace can come from
abridging the rights of others or yielding to distrust and fear.

We have faith that the freedoms enumerated in our Bill of Rights are both
the birthright of all and our best defense.

We invite everyone to join with us in reaffirming those freedoms and the
power of civil discourse as the true vehicle for healing.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, President

for the Board of PEN American Center

PEN American Center is the U.S. arm of the world’s oldest international
literary and human rights organization. International PEN was founded in
1921 as a direct response to the ethnic and national divisions that
contributed to the outbreak of the First World War. Its mission remains the
advancement of literature, the defense of free expression, and the promotion
of international literary fellowship. PEN American Center was founded in
1922 and is the largest of the 145 PEN centers in 102 countries that
constitute International PEN. Its distinguished members carry on the
achievements in literature and the contributions to defending human rights
of such past members as W.H. Auden, James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Robert
Frost, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Marianne
Moore, Eugene O’Neill, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck. For more
information on PEN’s work, please visit


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The Seventh Future: Israel/Palestine

Below is the full text of “The Seventh Future,” which appeared in Ha’aretz this past weekend and in The Times (U.K.) on Saturday, in a slightly shorter form. (It turns out you can’t get the Times one online without signing up.) Many thanks to the several better-informed friends who helped with this piece by commenting on the drafts. Please note that none of the futures — even those that seem too good or too bad — are unimaginable. The things in all seven have happened to human beings before.

Here is a link from one of my correspondents: “I think that imagining the future, and remembering how we got there, can serve as a great tool for conflict resolution.  Are you familiar with the work of the Quaker Sociologist Elise M. Boulding? I would guess you are, but in case you are not, check out how she developed imagining forward <>  as a technique in conflict resolution workshop.”

Here is a link to a Charlie Rose May 28 interview with the head of Hamas, for those who think that no agreement will ever be possible:

And here is an alarming sign that neither the second nor the third futures in “The Seventh Future” is out of the question:

For earlier pieces on this subject, scroll back to “The Shadow over Israel,” and to the three pieces that report what people actually said to me in Israel and the West Bank.



Picture a minor prophet. Perhaps he’d be working today as an astrologer. He’s looking towards Israel and Palestine, consulting his charts and stars, getting a handle on the future. But the future is never single — there are too many variables – so what he sees is a number of futures.

In the first one, there’s no Israel: it’s been destroyed in war and all the Israelis have been killed. (Unlikely, but not impossible.) In the second, there’s no Palestine: it’s been merged with Israel, and the Palestinians either slaughtered or driven beyond its borders. Israel has become completely isolated: international opinion has been outraged, boycott measures have been successful, financial aid from the U.S. — both public and private – has evaporated, and the United States government, weakened by the huge debt caused by its Iraqi and Afghani wars and lured by the promise of mineral wealth and oil, has cooled towards Israel and swung towards entente with the Muslim world. Israel has become like North Korea or Burma – an embattled military state – and civilian rights have suffered accordingly. The moderate Israelis have emigrated, and live as exiles, in a state of bitterness over wasted opportunities and blighted dreams.

In the third future there’s one state, but a civil war has resulted, since the enlarged population couldn’t agree on a common flag, a common history, a common set of laws, or a common set of commemoration days — “victory” for some being “catastrophe” for others. In the fourth, the one-state solution has had better results: it’s a true one-person, one-vote secular democracy, with equal rights for all. (Again, unlikely in the immediate future, but not impossible in the long run.)

In the fifth future, neither Israel nor Palestine exist: several atomic bombs have cleared the land of human beings, though wildlife is flourishing, as at Chernobyl. In the sixth, climate change has turned the area into a waterless desert.

But there’s another future: the seventh future. In this future there are two states, “Israel” and “Palestine.” Both are flourishing, and both are members of a regional council that deals with matters affecting the whole area. Trade flows harmoniously between the two viable states, joint development enterprises have been established, know-how is being shared, and, as in Northern Ireland, peace is paying dividends.

That, surely, is a desirable outcome, thinks the stargazer; but how was it achieved? Since he has the gift of virtual time travel, he leaps into the seventh future and looks back at the steps taken to get there.

The impetus came from within Israel. The Israeli leaders saw that the wind had shifted: it was now blowing against the earlier policy of crushing force and the appropriation of occupied lands. What had caused this change? Was it the international reaction to the destructive Cast Lead invasion of Gaza? The misjudged killing of flotilla activists? The gathering boycott activities in the United States and Europe? The lobbying of organizations such as J-Street? The 2010 World Zionist Congress vote to support a settlement freeze and endorse a two-state solution?

For whatever reasons, Israel had lost control of its own story. It was no longer Jack confronting a big bad Giant: the narrative of the small country struggling bravely against overwhelming odds had moved over to the Palestinians. The mantra, “Plant a tree in Israel,” was no longer respectable, as it evoked images of bulldozers knocking down Palestinian olive groves. Israel could not continue along its current path without altering its own self-image beyond recognition. The leadership read the signs correctly and decided to act before a peaceful resolution slipped forever beyond reach. Leaders are supposed to guide their people towards a better and more secure future, they thought: not over the edge of a cliff.

First, the Golan Heights was returned to Syria under a pact that created a demilitarized zone with international supervision. The few Israeli inhabitants were allowed to remain if they wished, though they then paid taxes to Syria.

Then, with the help of a now-friendly Syria, Hamas was invited to the peace negotiations. The enlightened leaders – with an eye to Northern Ireland — realized that they couldn’t set as a precondition something that remained to be negotiated, so they didn’t demand the pre-recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Hamas, to the surprise of many, accepted the invitation, as it had nothing to lose by doing so. Peace was made between Fatah and Hamas, and Palestine was thus able to present a single negotiating team.

The negotiations were complex, but people worked hard not to lose their tempers. Several North American First Nations negotiators were invited as coaches, as they had much long-term experience and patience, and –remembering South Africa – they knew that yelling and denouncing would not accomplish anything. As soon as they stepped off the plane, they smudged with sage to cleanse the region of its buildup of fear, anger, and hatred, and despair, and with sweetgrass to attract positive emotions.

The agreement took less time than expected, as happens when people are serious. Then the Occupation – disastrous for those in both countries, both physically and morally — was over, and Palestinian independence was declared. A mutual defense pact was signed, along with a trade and development pact. As Israel had realized that it could not rest its foundation on international law while also violating that law, the borders reverted to those of 1967, with a few land swaps along the edges. Jerusalem was declared an international city, with both an Israeli parliament building and a Palestinian one, and access to the various holy sites for believers.

Gaza was joined to the West Bank by corridors, as in the East/West Germany of old; the ports were opened, and the fishing boats could sail once more. Development money poured in, creating full employment. The water situation was rectified, with fair-access agreements signed, pollution cleaned up, and more fresh water created through a new cheap solar-driven desalination process.

What about the difficult matter of the Settlements? The First Nations advisors cited some of their own precedents: settlers could stay in Palestine if they wished, under lease agreements. The leases and taxes paid by the settlers were a source of income to the Palestinian state, and as their products were no longer boycotted, the Settlements did better. On the whole, peace and security reigned. There was even a shared Memorial Day, in which all those fallen in past wars were honoured.

The seventh future is within reach — the stars favour it — but the stargazer knows that many prefer the status quo: there can be advantage as well as profit in conflict. However, change often comes abruptly, like the fall of the Berlin Wall, the storming of the Bastille, or the end of Apartheid. The amount of blood shed during such transitions – from none to a great deal — depends on the wisdom of the leadership.

How to promote such wisdom? It’s a prophet’s traditional duty to lay out the alternatives – the good futures, and also the bad ones. Prophets – unlike yes-men — tell the powerful not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. “How can I put this?” thinks the stargazer. “Something beginning with the handwriting on the wall…?”


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Winterset in Summer, Eastport, Newfoundland, August 13-15

Graeme Gibson and I finally succumbed to the blandishments of Michael Enright and Richard Gwyn and attended the Winterset in Summer three-day writers’ festival in Eastport, Newfoundland, this August 13-15. For the full lineup and news of future events, see Many old friends and some new ones were there, and the place was pretty much sold out.

First, however, we went to visit our friend and erstwhile travel companion, photographer Dennis Minty and his fabulous-cook wife Antje Springmann (, and their two large dogs – one a Newfoundland – and cat, and flock of chickens, at Clarke’s Beach. We walked the Bay Roberts trail to Mad Rocks (pictured), ate at the Mad Rocks Café (pictured), visited Cupids — the oldest English-speaking settlement in North America — and saw the Elizabethan-style theatre, where a Rabbittown Theatre Company production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was afoot ( (Puck and Sprite pictured).  We had a great dinner at Sophia’s in Carbonear (, and an exciting time searching for the dogs when they went awol.

We also visited Brigus, home of Captain Robert Bartlett, Arctic explorer  and made off with a copy of The Viking, 1931, one of the first “talkies” ever shot, in which Bartlett plays the captain of a sealing ship.

Once at Eastport — and having realized that our GPS was ineffectual there — we stayed at Aunt May’s B&B,, where we were very well looked after. In between the events and receptions and celebrations, we ate at Vicky’s Internet Cafe (yes! It has WiFi!), visited Eastport Organics (pictured), and went out to Salvage and hiked up to the big rock overlooking the bay. The weather was kind to us — sunny and warm, but not too warm —  and so were the people, and so were the biting insects, which had mostly gone away. And so were the blueberries, which were in season.

Tired but happy, the travellers returned, and after a memorable dinner in misty St. John’s with two of our fellow Aunt Mayers, we made off home with two striking Dennis Minty photographs done up in bubble cloth (one pictured).

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