The foot of the mountain: looking back at 2018, and forward to the new year

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There's gotta be a better way! GoPro, care to send me some goodies to test out?
Here I am taping a GoPro to the top of a 10 ft bird cage in preparation for filming Eastern loggerhead shrikes with Wildlife Preservation Canada. The tape liked to break on the splinters and nails and stuff. As you can see, it was a piece of cake.

Last Year

So much happened in 2018. There were wildfires, wars, shootings, famines, refugees, climate change, climate change refugees – standard global events these days. Personally, I spent a lot of 2018 feeling unsure, lost or anxious about one thing or another be it: how I felt about the day’s selection of political outrage, dealing with the ongoing loss of our natural world to pollution and human greed, or musing about whether or not I should pick up apples on my way home, and picturing the number of apples left in the bottom of the crisper and their individual wrinkle-levels. Hopefully I’ll keep better track of them in the new year.

Well into the first calendar month of 2019, I continue to spend a lot of time wondering and worrying. I particularly worry if I’m steering my career off a cliff, because the most important resolution I made in 2018 was to purposefully move into the field of video and photographic story telling, rather than sticking mostly with writing and editing words. I want to tell visual stories that inspire people to care for our planet and the people and creatures who live here. I get excited thinking about the possibilities and the future, but the biggest hurdle to getting started has been… getting started.

When I compare where I’d like to be with where I am in my career, I feel as though I’m standing at the foot of a mountain. The unyielding rock takes up my entire field of view. I crane my neck to try and see a path to the top, but there is no path, and the mountain’s top is covered in cloud and mist. I have no idea how to start this journey. I feel overwhelmed. It’s very tempting to stop.

Sometimes you have to look back

That said, when I take a moment to review what I did accomplish in 2018 and all that I have to look forward to in 2019, I buck up a little. Besides having the honour of interviewing Jane Goodall for an upcoming article in Alternatives Journal, two main projects come to mind. First, I served as the video lead for Alternatives Journal’s video exploration on Indigenous initiatives in Southwestern Ontario. I led every aspect of this project including story development, finding and collaborating with elders and story tellers, and writing, shooting and editing video. I worked with Mary Caibaiosai to tell her story of leading the All Nations Walk for the Grand River in September (see her video here), and with Becky Big Canoe to talk about her project EnviroNative Training Initiatives, to teach Indigenous women how to build their own naturally sourced homes. This initiative simultaneously tackles two of the largest problems our country faces – the susceptibility of Indigenous women to murder and kidnapping due to the precariousness of their housing and living situations, and the lack of adequate, healthy housing for Indigenous communities in Canada. I get tingles thinking about the power of this project and its potential to make change (see her video here). I also worked with Andrew Judge to help him highlight his Minjimendan garden of remembering project to re-discover Indigenous ways of growing food in cooperation with nature. These projects were all very life-giving.

I also volunteered with Wildlife Preservation Canada to write, shoot and edit a short film documenting their program to save the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike. I was able to get to know this plucky bird and the scientists like Hazel Wheeler who work long hours to try and keep it from disappearing forever. I learned how best to tell their story with a lens and on a screen. Using my gifts as a story teller to share about this Ontario bird on the brink of extinction left me feeling satisfied and inspired to continue working in this field.

Protect what you love

Both of these projects in their own way reiterated the same universal lesson, which hit me in the heart and ultimately inspired the re-design of my website: people protect what they love, and they love what they know. It’s the fundamental, ancient truth that fuels all story telling. As Hazel Wheeler said in her interview, we must be curious about our world. If we aren’t, then little by little, species by species, it will all slip through our fingers.

Sudan, the last male white rhino died in March last year. One of my heroes, Ami Vitale, documented Sudan for National Geographic. It looks like Banksy took note as well and commemorated him. Photo courtesy of Flikr.
Sudan, the last male white rhino died in March last year. One of my heroes, Ami Vitale, documented Sudan for National Geographic. It looks like Banksy took note as well and commemorated him. Photo credit: Flikr.

I want to create work that invites people into relationship with our planet. Through my experiences in 2018, I’ve come to see our water, oceans, forests, air and land not as resources, but as family members. I’d like to see 2019 be the year people across the globe take up the mantel of our true roles as caretakers. I’d like to see us caring for and protecting what we love in each of our little corners of the world. So far, the video work I’ve done has been in service to this, and that’s something I can be proud of. I intend to carry this forward in to 2019. All that to say, I guess I have made a start up the mountain. Small. But it’s a start.