What an Open Mic Event Taught Me

“Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.” 

~Zelda Fittzgerald

My wife and I are hosting an Open Mic fundraiser in town in April. Some people are leery of attending because they think they’ll be dragged up on to the stage (not true), or the performers will be sub-par. To dispel whatever myths you might have on such an event, I thought I should share an incredibly memorable evening I had with my daughter many years ago.   In her “gap” year, she was participating in an environmental leadership program. At the end of each term, they have a “coffee house” where anybody who attends can sign up to recite a poem, sing a song, play music, act out a skit, or do what they like for five to ten minutes. Margaret was not sure if parents were invited, but she wanted me to attend. At first I was a bit unsure about attending an event that parents were not technically invited to, but since she was so enthusiastic about this program, how could I say no?


When I arrived, Margaret was quick to introduce me to her friends and teachers, and I was quick to realize that, indeed, I was the only parent there. No matter. I was warmly received and did not get the impression from a single soul that I did not belong. So I settled in to a comfy chair with my hot cider, ready for the show to begin.


The first performer was a young woman with a quirky, upbeat demeanor. Her stylish hat and outfit from the used-clothing rack completed the Bohemian look I am sure she was going for. She started playing her guitar well enough, but when she started singing she was so bad, I was convinced she was trying to be funny. Just before I made my conclusion that comedy was the intention and burst out laughing, I took a quick look around. The kids weren’t laughing. In fact, they were incredibly focused on the performance and gave her a resounding applause as the last chord was struck. I joined of course, but honestly, my applause was more relief with its conclusion.


The next performer was also a young woman with a shiny black guitar. She too started to play well and, thankfully, she also had tone. Before I could exhale my sigh of relief, she stumbled on the lyrics. She was so nervous she forgot the lyrics again … and again. Each time going back to the beginning. Constant apologies were part of this performance. It was disjointed and awkward to say the least, and I was embarrassed for her. No worries for the kids though, it was worth an even more resounding applause.


I began to regret my decision to come, and was dreading the next act. Another young woman approached the stage nervously and decided she was going to recite a poem. A poem she wrote herself. In fact, the first poem she had ever written. Earlier that day! As I sank into my chair wistfully wishing there was a good shot of rum in my cider, I braced myself. And this is where my story turns. Her poem was brilliantly crafted and powerful. So powerful, it became difficult for her to recite it. Then it came. The first tears jettisoned past her cheeks until a constant stream dripped from her jaw. She laid it all out there, and had a genuine meltdown in front of her peers. After what seemed to be five minutes (it was likely just one) where the only sound in the room was her sobbing, somebody in the back of the room said clearly – “take your time”. She did. When she managed to finish, the place erupted with a thunderous standing ovation. There was not a dry eye in the place.


It dawned on me in that moment that I was bearing witness to incredible acts of courage. What allowed them to bare their souls and risk standing in front of their peers and share whatever talent and level of skill they had? Where did the members of the audience find the respect and tolerance they gave to each performer after they were done, regardless of how well they performed? How could such young souls have so much compassion for each other to offer all the space to sort out what they needed, when they needed it most?


Every time we witness the courage of others, we wonder if we have it ourselves. As I reflect on that night over ten years ago, I still wonder if I can find the courage to be less judgmental of people and as compassionate as these young people taught me to be that night.  In the end, we respect people for who they really are, not how well they play a part. The courage to be vulnerable is inspirational and engaging to those that can support and “incourage” others. When I sense the authentic being of someone, it inspires trust – and hope. And I learned that night that the performers at a small coffee-house who raised their voices, can give a person all the hope they need.

The Polarity of Progress in Mexico

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Ruth and I recently embarked on an 8 day circumnavigation of Isla Espiritu Santo, a UNESCO world heritage island off of La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. It’s off the beaten path and a bit of a haul getting there from Toronto, so we decided to fly in and out of Cabos to break up the journey, stay in a decent hotel, eat some good Mexican food, meander aimlessly for a couple of days before heading out to the water and sleeping in tents.

One thing that struck me right away was the cleanliness of San Jose del Cabo. It had an abundance of upscale restaurants and shops, and million dollar properties for sale overlooking the Sea of Cortez. Many people I had spoken to before going who had been there as far back as 20 years ago said how desolate the place was. Not any more. Our consierge at the boutique Casa Natalia (highly recommended) said the transformation of Baja has been full on and has made it almost unrecognizable. She said it wistfully, as if she missed it terribly.

Casa Natalia

Casa Natalia

The Osteria restaurant in San Jose del Cabo

The Osteria in San Jose del Cabo







On our bus ride to La Paz we drove past the (new) resorts of Cabo San Lucas and through the city of San Jose. To my surprise, Home Depot, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dennys and all the other typical American franchises lined the highway. San Jose? Or San Diego? As we approached La Paz, it seemed to take forever to get through what seemed to me, a more typical Mexican town. Lots of people milling about the street with plastic bags lifted with the heat and diesel fumes pouring out of dilapitated trucks. Not such an ideal place to eat al fresco. When we got closer to town, things transformed again to a nice downtown area with great restaurants, a fabulous malecon and outdoor art – and countless new hotels being constructed on the outskirts.

The malecon in La Paz

The malecon in La Paz


IMG_4483Outdoor art on the malecon

This is progress, of sorts. The reality is, the people moving in to the new condos and seaside mansions are not Mexican, they’re Americans who found some good cheap real estate. As investment properties go, some Americans are making good coin here. Is it trickling down to the lives of Mexicans? Obviously, new jobs are being created; there’s more money to line the pockets of local politicians, er I mean improve infrastructure; and an increasing disparity between the lucky few and those “without”.

Americans who are here insist of course that it might take a little while to “trickle down”, but in my experience traveling through the Yucatan a few years ago, the same disparity exists just outside the resort area of the Mayan Riviera – which has been well established and developed many years before Baja.

Day 6 Mexico 208There is little doubt that capitalism creates much wealth, but when you venture into developing nations like Mexico you find out quickly that it doesn’t distribute it very well. It’s not difficult to comprehend why they want to be wealthier, but it’s much harder to imagine that the people I met in the small Mayan village of Ek Balam care much about yoga stretch pants made of seaweed fiber, leaf blowers or electric toothbrushes that have had more apparent research put in to them than the human genome project.

Day 6 Mexico 232Progress is tricky business. We get the impression we’re getting ahead because we can buy more new shiny objects, and bigger houses to store them in. Ronald Wright author of A Short History of Progress, called these  “progress traps”, when we believe we’re “getting ahead”, but in the end that short term gain is just an illusion that is not sustainable. And like it did for the Mayans, it ends badly. Our species seems to be built with short memories and unwilling to learn from history.



Me and Chino



As for the kayak trip, it was stark contrast to the development going on in Baja. Pedro and Chino, our guides for the trip knew profoundly what was going in La Paz, and as environmental stewards, passionate about the natural history of their domicile, even at their young age, are nostagic about the past and upset at where things are going.


The video below is testament to the natural beauty of this place. I’m happy for the sea lions, dolphins, whale sharks, blue boobies, sea turtles and countless other species on land and in the sea we bore witness too. Their little habitat is protected. Despite all the development in town, nothing will change on Isla Espiritu Santo. It is as it was hundreds of years ago, and will remain. There is some comfort knowing there are a few places here on Earth that will be immune from progress. My hope is that one day we’ll learn to be more mindful of the places we choose to live.

A Legacy of Support

My mother-in-law Joan, just passed away at 91 years of age. I could say the first 89 were heathly happy years, as the last couple were surely a challenge for her. But the reality is, Joan faced many hardships in her long life that most of us will never have to face: living in Britain in the heat of WWII, the early loss of her husband and more profoundly, the loss of a son. And yet, she had the strength, courage and grace to know what she had to do in every circumstance of her life and to look at life optimistically. When she became a widow, with the proverbial nest emptying she knew she had to move to a new home. She moved once again when that house become too much space and garden to handle, and then knew enough to move once again to assisted living. Her timing was exquisite. As real estates agents, my wife and I see the opposite too often.  One could use many more superlatives to describe Joan but as matriarch of the Knight family her undying support of each member of the family is the word what stands out the most for me.


Even though I was an extended member of that family I too was the recipient of that support. She became the first investor of my business InCourage, had a keen interest in what was happening and attended many shareholders meetings in person. Before InCourage, I recall being in one of my existential funks and struggling with what to do with my career. I thought I would give motivational speaking a go. My best friend was doing it successfully and hey, I had read a couple of self-help books, so for sure I was qualified! My friend got me a gig and I prepared for weeks. Joan was visiting us for a couple of weeks and asked to read it. At the time, I was quite happy with it, but the truth must be told, it was dreadful babble. I’d be embarrassed to share it now. To give you an idea though, it was entitled “Valuing the Value of our Values”. I’m not sure how I actually pulled it off without getting pulled off the stage but I do remember Joan coming out of the house to the front deck and said it was “jolly good” and encouraged me to keep going with it. Then she corrected my countless grammatical errors.


Which brings up the dark side of Joan. If you had the courage to challenge her to a Scrabble game, you needed to be prepared to back up every word you put down with it’s meaning. Oe – a two toed sloth. Zo – cattle. Spilth – excess from what is split. And if you misspelled something, you’d hear about that too.

Learning from the Master


“What’s that?”

“Er, Gusett”

“What, pray tell is a Gusett?”

“Umm” (caught) “I can’t define it but I’m sure it’s a word”

She gives you that all-knowing look and asks “By gusett, do you mean a triangular piece let into a garment to strengthen or enlarge it?”

“Yes, yes of course that’s what I meant”

“That’s gusset, not gusett. There’s no such word as gusett. Try again.”



She devoured books and the depth of her knowledge of the English vocabularly was like no one I have met. She could finish a crossword before I’d finish reading the clues. Despite her lack of mercy while thrashing me at Scrabble, I knew she still loved me and would give me her unqualified support whenever I needed it. Her support is her legacy and is by no irony – a seven letter word that she would, little doubt, find a triple-word placement for.

Joan at her 90th birthday party



A few years ago we cleared an area around the front of our property. It was unsightly mess created by many Manitoba Maples entwined by grapevine. Then we had to figure out what to do with the land. We figured that it would be a great place for a garden but we had two big issues. First, there really is too much land for just the two of us to grow vegetables and secondly, we are always way too busy at the time of year the garden needs attention.


We approached some of our neighbours in Eden Mills to find if they’d be interested in putting in their own garden on our land – a community garden of sorts. We could share the weeding/watering/tending while each other went away on our respective vacations, and even the crops when it was time to harvest. Issue #1 solved.


Then we thought, why not get some help. World-Wide Organization of Organic Farms (WWOOF) is an organization that matches organic farms with (usually young) travellers who will trade their brawn in exchange for a bed and food. Our daughter was a WWOOFer in New Zealand and vouched for the experience as a traveller that didn’t have much money to travel.


Despite not being a farm, we still qualified to be a host. It’s a bit like an online dating service where we post a profile of our general expectations, an idea of who we are, our accommodations and location, and they tell us where they are from and their experience etc… Either we send a note to them if they look like they could do the work, or they send their profile to us asking to stay. Obviously both parties agree.


Last year, our WOOFers from Germany, Australia and Norway help us clear the land of shoulder height weeds, and establish some garden beds. This year our WOOFers (a couple from the Netherlands) helped us clean up the mess Mother Nature left from the ice storm last year. We lost close to 50 cedar trees and it would have taken me all summer to do it myself. With the help of our WWOOFers it took about two weeks. Issue #2 resolved.


It’s clearly a win-win. The program helps young people travel abroad cheaply and the benefits of hosting WWOOFers are obvious. The benefits we didn’t really count on was the great company, conversation and close relationships we established with each of them.


The Hardest Word

One of my earliest childhood memories was when I was caught munching on a chocolate bar that I shouldn’t have been. It’s not that I wasn’t allowed chocolate. My mother, in her inquisitive ’20 questions’ though, determined that I actually lifted the chocolate bar from the store we visited earlier that day. In fact, it only took two questions. “Where did you get that bar?” and “How did you pay for it?” This was my first clue in my early life that I did not possess the artful skill of deception. I have known since that I am a lousy liar and ought not to ever put myself in a position where that might seem like an option. Without hesitation, she grabbed the bar and marched me “by the ear” back to the store where I had to make a very public apology to the store clerk. It was incredibly difficult to mutter the words “I’m sorry”.


Why is saying sorry so hard? To begin with, you are admitting you were wrong. Surely we all know though, as humans, we are not perfect, and make errors in judgement from time to time. Yet there is something in all of us that prevents us from remembering this fact and it makes it so much harder to make that admission of fallibility. We do not want to be seen as flawed or immoral. It is embarrassing and shameful to expose our dark side, though it is present in everyone.


It is not just the likes of Tiger Woods who needs to say sorry for past indiscretions, institutions have plenty of apologies to make too. When the Pope can’t apologize for obvious sins of the past, what example is he setting? Corporations have plenty to be sorry about too. United Airlines couldn’t say sorry to a musician when they destroyed his $3,000 guitar. It cost them much more than that when he wrote a song that went viral on YouTube. Has Union Carbide (or Dow Chemical who subsequently acquired UC) ever said sorry to the people of Bhopal? I am pretty sure suing women activists from Bhopal who demonstrated and demanded help to clean up the toxic pollution that still covers their community is not an apology. There really are too many examples of WHAT NOT to do when a corporate entity needs to apologize to list here.


Michael McCain the CEO of Maple Leaf Foods re-wrote the textbook of WHAT to do when people were getting sick and dying from tainted meat. He appeared immediately in front of the cameras, before speaking to lawyers, accountants and Public Relations, to take full responsibility, communicate what was being done and … to express regrets. This was no Oscar performance, you could tell by the way he looked he was genuinely distraught. Since then, Maple Leaf has recovered and trust has been regained from people who previously bought their products.


Without sincere apologies, there is no going forward. You are blocked from any success or progress you seek, whether it is in a business or personal relationship, or peace amongst groups of people.


In 2010 I went to the Parihaka Peace Festival at the base of the stunning Mount Taranaki on the western shore of New Zealand. It is mostly a music festival, but it is in the heart of the Taranaki region of Maori country. The Taranaki region is significant because it was the only Maori region that did not sign the treaty the British imposed on the Maori when they ‘settled’ New Zealand over 150 years ago.


For some reason, New Zealand was the last island settled by European marauders. They knew it was there. The French even planted a flag and remained on a tiny peninsula off the South Island. It wasn’t until the British finally arrived and decided that the South Pacific paradise was fine place to farm that Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud, became New Zealand. They promised the Maori their resources and land would be protected from those nasty French who were soon to follow. Though most Maori tribes saw little choice, the Taranaki Maori would have none of it and waged a different way to fight, a non-violent active resistance. They destroyed survey pegs, blocked road construction and ploughed confiscated lands. When the British got fed up, they waged war on them.   Soon enough Parihaka was destroyed and two million acres of land mass was confiscated and given or sold to settlers while Parihaka men were sent to prisons in the South for their belligerence. In 2010, it was the 150th anniversary of that war, and all the sins that typically happen in war. The Taranaki Maori are still bitter, yet want peace and perhaps most importantly, peace-of-mind.


There were workshops at the festival as well and one of them was an entertaining debate on the question “After 150 years, is peace still achievable?” Members of the audience voted the outcome by physically moving to the side after each debater presented their case, which made it interactive and fun. Someone made the point that peace is a ‘state of mind’ and can only come with forgiveness. The counter point was forgiveness can only come if someone asks for it.


After the debate, the audience could ask a question or make a 30 second statement. Many voiced their opinions but it was a decidedly white Scottish man with flaming red hair who moved the audience the most. He prefaced what he said with “though I was not here at the time, on behalf of my forefathers who came here and confiscated your land and brought injustices to your people …” tears welling, voice breaking … “I’m sorry”. This sincere apology was immediately met with a very appreciative and audible murmur of “tena koa”, which means “I hear (or see) you”. It was a powerful moment indeed.


At the most basic level, it is what the Taranaki Maoris want more than anything – a sincere apology from the government. Until then, they will not have peace within themselves and the tensions will continue. It seems so simple, yet so hard to do. Where is the mother of the Prime Minister of New Zealand? It is a comical thought but I can see my mother grabbing him by the ear and hauling him down to Parihaka to tell him to apologize. “Right now”!  


My mother passed away last summer. Obviously I was saddened by her death but it was also a relief she was no longer suffering from the cruel fate of Alzheimer’s. One does not die from Alzheimer disease. The fact is, an accident happened at the care facility she was staying at that resulted in massive internal bleeding and bruising on her body. It caused a stroke that no longer left her with the ability to swallow. She could not be fed intravenously so after ten days, she finally succumbed.


Tragedy enough, but more so considering the long-term care facility did not acknowledge the accident at first. Only until it was proven through persistent questioning and third party opinions, did they confess to how the accident happened. An explanation that was false and misleading. Though an apology came with the confession, it was made to mitigate whatever pending legal measures our family might take. It was an infuriating process for me. If they had quickly taken responsibility for the mistake, explained what measures they were taking to prevent it from happening again – and sincerely said sorry, that would have been the end of it for me. Instead, their denial and subsequent cover-up made a painful situation much worse. My mother deserved much more.


So do the citizens of Bhopal, the Maoris and other native groups around the Globe. When we are wrong, we need to find the courage to say “I am sorry”. And then hope the transgressed have the courage to forgive. Only then, can you both move on.

Facing Our Contradictions

I have been tuned in to contradictions recently. They seem to be everywhere.  For example, I saw an ad on a bulletin board announcing a gardening workshop on planting wildflowers.  Er, how are they wild if we are planting them?  I saw a bumper sticker on the back of a Chrysler that said “Lost your job yet?  Buy a Foreign Car.”  It was parked outside a “big box” store with a solid reputation of their stuff being made elsewhere.  Good chance the gas in the car was foreign too.  A few summers ago, my daughter Alannah and I traveled through British Columbia.  One of our stops was the small idyllic village of Tofino.  We returned home to discover Tofino had run out of water.  Startling for any community but more so considering Tofino is in the middle of the rainforest.  Running out of water in the rainforest is a disturbing contradiction. 


After some honest deliberation, I realized I live with plenty of contradictions myself.  We just built an uber energy efficient and environmentally-friendly straw-bale home.  In the back yard you will find our new electricity-gulping hot tub.  Luckily, our new neighbours in Eden Mills, a small village that’s aiming to be the first carbon-neutral community in North America, are forgiving.  They welcome us with wine, and bring along their bathing suits.  We have a share in a bio-dynamic farm which provides not just organic, but local food.  It tastes especially good with a bold Malbec from Argentina.  I eat good food because good health is important to me.  So is bliss.  Like, when I down a cold beer after a good run.  Like, after a long day canoeing when I’m on a rock warmed by the late day sun beside a calm lake, smoking a cigar.  Like, when I finish a tub of Coffee Haagen Daz before you can say “oh, did you want some?”   Even my values contradict themselves!  Health and Bliss debate daily.  If there is something consistent with me, it’s the fact I can contradict myself at any moment, like I just did in one sentence.


Corporations and lobby groups can be masters of spin and contradiction too.  Clean Coal?  I don’t think so.  How about that tired ol’ chestnut “Our people are our biggest asset” — that is, until we discard them like used kleenex when we catch a fiscal cold.  Laying off people and cutting “discretionary” spending (like training and development) is the first thing to happen in every recession.  I take little comfort with history repeating itself.  In good times, we will defend the virtues of capitalism and the survival of the fittest.  Free market capitalism has become a contradiction when our governments are free to spend taxpayers dollars to subsidize industries that are free to externalize their costs of running their businesses that ultimately citizens pay for. Quite a matrix of contradictions exist everywhere. 

Here’s the rub:  just because I know life is complicated and contradictions exist, does not mean I have to take comfort in them. Fully acknowledging the complexities and vagaries of daily life, I know part of life is to face my contradictions and work out that tension to overcome quandaries.  It is a process that leads to innovation.  Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management writes in his book The Opposable Mind, “We were born with an opposable mind we can use to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension.  We can use that tension to think our way through to a new and superior idea.”  What I am really advocating is for us to keep aware of what is happening, not turning away from the destructive patterns that we can avoid, drawing upon our courage to innovate or at least attempt alternative measures that bring more honour to our “most important assets” and our environment. 


While bail-outs may pacify us in the short-term, innovation is the balm for the long-term.  Begin by forgetting everything you “know” or think you know.  I am not suggesting “unlearning” is easy as our challenges are immense and will be more profound as the days pass.  All the more reason to seriously examine alternatives to make our way through them and move forward – in courage.


Why Travel?

No sooner than two days after arriving back from Patagonia, a good friend of mine here in the village sent out an email to his list, asking us to sign a petition he signed pledging not to fly for “recreation” in 2014. I hardly had my laundry done and was just starting to organize my photos. Talk about buzz kill. My first reaction was confusion. Glenn has been asking me to talk about my trips at our community hall, and now he’s telling me not to go anywhere? And please, define “recreation”. There’s plenty to unpack here.

To begin with …

A little context is required. Glenn is a self-professed doomsayer when it comes to our global climate change issues. He believes it’s way too late for us to do much about the mess we’re in, and the fact that precious few seem to care, he’s pretty sure we’re toast. Glenn and his wife are also among the most intelligent, articulate and well-informed people I know. There’s nothing worse than having reality shoved in your face by people that know what they’re talking about. They started (with some others) the Eden Mills Going Carbon-Neutral initiative here in the village, they built their own energy efficient strawbale home and they live very simply. Because they lead by example, I have a lot of respect for Glenn, for what he has done, but also because he’s outspoken – he’s not shy about telling it like it is.

And on most points, I don’t disagree with him. I too am frustrated by the despondency, and lack of will to meet the climate challenges facing us all. I too have built a strawbale home, drive hybrid cars, created a company and spoke to advocate for organizational sustainability, am concious about the food we eat and all our purchase decisions. My wife and I now sell ourselves as “green realtors”. So, I get it. And yet I travel to far flung places.


How can I live with myself?

Most of us are pretty good at rationalizing our contradictions and can get defensive faster than you can untag yourself on Facebook. I will acknowledge right away, that I live with contradictions. You know that strawbale house I was talking about? It has an electricity gulping hot tub out back. We belong to a biodynamic Community Supported Agriculture farm that provides us with local and delicious organic food. We often enjoy it with Argentinian Malbec. Both health and bliss are fundamental values of mine. They debate daily. It’s hard to stay ‘in shape’ when you can’t find the off-switch while enjoying a delicious meal.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman

The point is, as already stated we all live with contradictions. Life’s just a bit complicated, which opens the door to rationalize.


What exactly is recreation anyway?

Glenn and his wife fly too, and live with other contradictions. I can only guess they “rationalize” their flights because their flights are not recreational, but have purpose. Fair enough. I like to think my travel has purpose too. I fly to far away places to learn more about our world to help me make more sense of it. One could easily argue that I don’t really need to go to, say, Easter Island, Mexico, Rome to learn how civilizations did themselves in.


There are plenty of spectacular images online of Iceland, Patagonia and New Zealand – does one really need to go there to appreciate the raw beauty of nature? For me, the answer is emphatically YES.


I used to own an experiential learning company. The basic premise of the organization was to expand on what we “know” intellectually or academically, to learn more deeply through an emotional “experience”. Lasting change happens on an emotional level, not an intellectual one. For me, to set foot upon nature is viscerally and profoundly important. I also want to think that by sharing what I learn through speaking and/or writing inspires others to either think more critically or to go themselves. I believe those that want to save the world, savour the world, and you do that best by experiencing it first hand. By travel.

Another friend of mine was incredulous by a posting that encouraged people to travel to see the top 11 destinations in the world that will be most affected by climate change. Hurry, before it’s too late. The contradiction was palpable. I do postulate however, if more people did go to these places, the more they’d be incented to preserve them.

Of course, it’s not that simple. It’s too easy to judge others and what they deem recreational. Is going to a resort to lie on a beach purposeful? It is to many who live in Northern climates and are stressed with life. Is traveling to new countries so you can put a pin on a map justifiable? I find it bewildering how quick we admire people who have been to so many places, yet when you ask them about a place, they have so little to say – especially about what it meant to them. I know of a person in Portland, whose objective was to see every country in a year. Really?

“I don’t travel to collect stamps in my passport, I travel to have experiences stamped on my memory”.

In contrast, I met another Portlandian in Patagonia who quit her high paying job to spend six months in South America to learn Spanish and re-boot her life to something that’s more in line with her values. Christina is having her memory stamped – the rest of us can be inspired by her courage.

Nobody wants to be a tourist, the guy with the funny hat and loud shirt, jumping off the bus to take snapshots of each other in front of something. We all want to be travellers (or even “pilgrims”), and go on “adventures” – the most overused word in travel. I don’t believe every trip you take needs to be a pilrimage and I’m trying to be more tolerant of those who find the need to go to Disneyland, but let’s acknowledge, there’s a profound difference and it’s hard for travellers to have a lot of respect for tourists.

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”  Paul Theroux

I’m not sure if “recreational” travel is the problem to begin with? The US Dept. of Transportation says that 40% of people jumping on planes are doing it for business. As someone who has done most of my flying “on business”, most of it was not necessary. I used to jump on planes to sell video conferencing! To Glenn’s point and the real purpose of the pledge, travel is banal for too many people on planes, and we should think twice. And then think again.

So think about it, why do you travel? Sometimes the real purpose of our journey isn’t truly revealed until it’s over. I’m paraphrasing from a movie called 180° South. It’s inspired by the journey Yvon Choinard (founder of the clothing company Patagonia) took with his climbing buddies back in the day. I heard him speak in Britain a while ago and have long been inspired by him, his business practices and his philosophy. It’s partly why I felt the need to visit Patagonia – before it’s too late.

Patagonia is one of the last accessible nowhere lands on the planet. After Antarctica and Greenland, the Southern Ice Field in Patagonia is the world’s third most important reserve of fresh water. On this wilderness of glaciers and mountains, companies are primed, and supported by the Chilean government, to raise seven massive dams connected to a 70-meter-high transmission line with more than 5000 transmission towers to transport power 2400 kms away to Santiago. The line would require one of the world’s biggest clear-cuts, a 120-meter-wide corridor through ancient forests—fragmenting ecosystems, and blighting the magnificent views.


The movie suggests that Patagonia is the last wild place on Earth. Catchy, but not true. In my country, Canada, there are many similar wild places and we face the same challenges of development as mining companies lick their chops with opportunities being born from climate change. The Northwest passage is melting, providing new shipping channels for all that copper, oil and gas. The Canadian Arctic is a “minefield of opportunity”. Pipelines that cut through the Rockies will deliver oil to energy hungry China. The Great Bear Rainforest be damned, there’s serious money to be made. The Peel River watershed in the Yukon is the source of so many major rivers in the Yukon and Northern British Columbia, that acclaimed Canadian anthropologist and author Wade Davis calls it the Serengeti of the North.


It’s true, these are far away places – or are they? If you are a bonafide traveller, you know they are not that far away at all. And when you wake up to the tragedy of it all, you begin to see more clearly what’s happening in your own backyard. And trust me, the same thing is happening in your own backyard.

As for Glenn and his no-fly pledge, he was dismayed when the originators of the social media pledge had subsequently invited him to join 6,000 others in Johannesburg, South Africa for the “Climate Reality Project”. No contradiction there.