Ecological Fables and Nature Tales
Paul Leet Aird
Drawings by Thoreau MacDonald
Coach House Printing
In his Preface, Paul Aird tells us that Loon Laughter is a “book of fables and tales written about Canada’s wild plants and animals, from an ecological perspective. It presents a suite of images of people and nature interacting in the Canadian landscape.” It is refreshing to read such a text about Canadian landscape and by a Canadian.
Paul Aird is a lifelong conservationist. He grew up on a farm on the shores of the Ottawa River in Hudson. Aird has worked as a forester and forest scientist in Quebec and later as a professor of forest conservation policy in the Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto. He presently lives on the Niagara Escarpment in the village of Inglewood.
Loon Laughter is written as a collection of fables. It highlights, in part, the interaction of Nature and Human Nature. Aird suggests that these are the two forces that shape the world. His book of fables deals mostly with Nature. Later I will comment on the context of Human Nature in which Loon Laughter needs to be read.
Fables are often classified as “children’s literature.” In fact most fables are written for adults as social and political statements or satires appropriate to their times. Aird tells us that “in the traditional fable animals represented humans. In Loon Laughter the animals represent themselves.” Canada and Canadians have often had a symbiotic relationship with animals and nature. Canadian wildlife and nature have taught its citizens much.
Loon Laughter is to be recommended for reading. It contains many little gems of truth and wisdom. In one fable the fly tells the frog “your tongue is not long enough to reach me, so you are not harmful.” What cannot hurt me is perceived not to be harmful. The frog leaps and eats the fly. We are reminded that “nature photographers never disturb the natural habitat.” In the Scarecrow Jig, we are told that there is a time for everything: “there is a time to scare and a time to share.” Concrete Thinking invites us to see that there is always other options in life. As Leonard Cohen sings: “There is a crack in everything that’s how the light gets in.” In Lifeline, we learn that all reality is relational: “If I hurt one end of the line, I hurt the other end too. The end of the line is the beginning.” The Snake and the Cyclist offers a reflection: “What have you learned about snakes from the seat of your bicycle.” Little is learned in haste or by only sitting on a seat or chair. We must be interactive and involved. There are many such gems in the 33 fables of Loon Laughter.
Are taking such gems to heart enough in the world of which we find ourselves? Is thinking globally and acting locally the best response to the situation the human species finds itself in at the beginning of a new millennium? Is it enough to walk on the Niagara Escarpment and be one with nature or to recycle and sort our garbage into colourful boxes and at the same time not to question our life style or moment in history? Some writers are telling us that we humans are living in a time of major dislocation or exile. Some biblical scholars compare these times of dislocation to those of the Israelites in exile in Babylon. Some would argue that in order to find a way forward and out of exile, we need a whole new way of relating and seeing ourselves. We need to move from an individual self-consciousness to a species self-consciousness. How is it possible that we in the North of the Americas ask those living in Brazil for example not to burn their rain forest, as these are the lungs of the planet earth, when we are not willing to radically change our life style and living habits. Our life style and commodity consciousness has been built on the destruction and use of so many of the world’s natural non-renewable resources. What difference does it make over all when we opt out of Kyoto or consider buying credits from countries who pollute less than we do so that we can continue to be destructive and not have to change our way of life! Thomas Homer-Dixon in his book Ingenuity Gap wonders if we have the human ability and ingenuity to deal with the world of technology and speed that we have created. In such a context, it seems to me, that as valid as poetry is, Loon Laughter seems to be poetry in a world of prose. The insightful gems of Loon Laugher have to be translated into a context that deals with the entire planet earth and our moment on this planet. Aird’s fables are precious but they are not enough.
Paul Aird in Loon Laughter suggests that there are two forces that shape the world, nature and human nature. It is human nature that is in need of radical conversion. The pessimists feel that this is not possible. Since everything has changed except our way of thinking we are drifting to our destruction. These folks feel that Mother Nature will rid herself of that part of herself which is about her overall destruction i.e. the human species. Others feel that we will come to our senses before it is too late. The jury is still out.
I do believe that we are at a crossroads. I do believe that the clock is ticking and we do not have much time in order to come to our senses. For the believer the creator God has left footprints in the creation. Creation and quantum physics remind us that all reality is relational. The human is part of a greater whole, a more all-encompassing story. The first revelation of our God is that of the Creation. Loon Laughter in the form of a collection of fables tries to remind us of that. It is up to the reader to take the fables as an invitation to conversion and a small step into a new consciousness.
Paul E. Hansen