Oscar

The shadowy figure of loss, death and departure is something that lingers with every meeting within our lives. Each person, place and thing that I will encounter on this journey will one day leave. The darkness of departure can be a simple spec on the horizon, or it can be an ominous swooping shadow that pulls all light from your life and leaves you in a pit of despair.

That shadow swept into my life on the morning of October 28, 2018, when Oscar, my dog, left his physical form on this earth and moved onto his next adventure. He got sick on Thursday evening, had emergency surgery, was stable enough to be transferred to the emergency veterinary clinic in Edmonton, the drive was nerve-wracking, but with my fiancee and my cat, our family of four turned the vehicle south with Oscar laying down in the back.

He was in a drug-induced haze, not himself. The odd moan would come out of him, he was struggling, and then we reached our destination, the technicians wheeled him into Guardian veterinary centre and began working on him. Saturday would see him improve after a blood transfusion, but then Sunday morning he went into cardiac arrest and would not recover.

It was with my mother and my fiancee that I would say goodbye to his body, I held his paws, scratched his chest, and kissed his head.

In June of 2016, I had the opportunity to attend a Buddhist Conference where Ajahn Brahm, a well-known monk, was speaking. I got to ask him about the euthanasia of pets, and how to reconcile a religion of non-violence with the ending of a life. He merely told me that the decision is not for me to make, it is for the animal to make, so look the animal in the eye and ask them "Are you ready to go?"

On Thursday evening before any surgery, the vet had given me a choice, euthanasia was on the table. So, I asked Oscar, I looked into his eyes and asked if he was ready to go, he looked back at me and looked down, he said he wasn't. We continued with treatment, and over the next two days, while he was in the hospital, I had time to play with the possibility of a life without Oscar, and when he left, it was after two days of talking, thinking, praying, contemplating and tears I was more prepared.

On Thursday night, when I asked Oscar if he was ready, he was, but he knew I wasn't, so he granted me two days, made sure my mom was with me, made sure I had a strong hug from my dad, had long conversation with my sister in Vancouver, the strength from my sister in Edmonton and a smile from my niece. He also gave me and my fiancee time together in the car to listen to Harry Potter hold hands and be with each other. I carry him with me, now and forever.

I love you my boo boo.

If you would like to make a memorial donation we are collecting here, you will be sent a postcard of Oscar pics: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/oscars-memorial-postcards-tickets-51983972461

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Ya wanna cup teach?

The guttural sound of a percolator greets me as I step into the student lounge. "Coffee's on, ya wanna cup teach?" It's 9:07, class started at 9:00 and the entirety of my class are here; my intention was to collect them, to usher them into the classroom. Instead, we mill about as the machine grunts and steams its way to expounding the black liquid. In the world of the Keurig, the single cup movement, I look at my students and sincerely wonder if we are destroying more than just the planet with our drive towards efficiency.

In the corporate world, I had a coffee machine on my desk. Between emails, reports and updating Facebook, a solitary cup would brew and without even leaving my office, I would take my "break". I wonder now what I missed. This communal sharing of a single pot, the waiting, brewing, and then re-brewing to make sure the next person can feel the warmth through a ceramic cup is a ceremony that nourishes the community.

I realize that I am the one who is late, not my students. In the hustle of preparing my classroom, getting handouts printed and powerpoints polished I almost missed the true start to the day. The ritual of greeting one and other as people, not as a pupil at the teacher, not across a desk, but across a powerdery bowl of Coffeemate and a spoon of suspect origin.

When the student is ready the master appears, it's not even 10:00 am and I have learned so much.

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Pioneer

The sound of compressing gravel underfoot as I stepped out of the pickup truck was the catalyst for a flood of nervousness this morning as I arrived on campus to teach. It is the strange sound of the unpaved parking lot that brings the realization of just how far away I am from home.

This program is an experiment, a pilot, a test, an innovative education model that includes indigenous knowledge with western science. I am a pioneer, and right now I feel as if I will perish from dysentery before I reach my destination.

In the lights of the open atrium adorned with borrowed artwork and racks with outdated brochures, I sit with my students as councillors, elders and program administrators welcomed all of us.

I expect an unremarkable opening to this program, however cutting through the drab of polite conversation, abandoned styrofoam cups, and distracted faces staring at iPhones, Two Elders from the community stood up and blessed the students.

Two Elders whose lives were torn apart by residential schools, two people who had to fight for the right to speak their language, two women who had so much taken away from them were here, to blessed students in their journey of education.

The icy hand of guilt knots in my stomach, I am a product of western education, and it was at the hands of western educators these two women had some much hope torn from there lives.

These women have sat in planning meetings, advocated for the inclusion of indigenous knowledge, collaborated, fought, and persevered to give this program, this gift of Education to these students.

Like the pioneers before me, I incorrectly assumed that I am the first, that I am alone, that I am unsupported. The truth is that today, with my students, I walk a well-worn path, carved by the elders who have come before, who have cleared the way and although my feet may be used to the paved asphalt of the south, someone laid down gravel to guide my way.

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Fort Chipewyan

The flight path from Fort McMurray to Fort Chipewyan flies over some of the most beautiful section of the Boreal Forest, looking east out the window of the small plane trees, shrubs and bushes are far as the eye can see broken up by snaking rivers that reach up to the expanse of Lake Athabasca.

However, if you look west out the plane, you will see the oil sands, mine sites, tailings ponds and the place that I worked for six years. I left that job, but it has left its mark on me and now, I’m not sure how I feel about development at the scale that it takes place in the north.

I am on my way to teach Environmental Monitoring, as part of my new job I get to travel to remote communities and teach with indigenous knowledge holders. Somehow, I have landed at the intersection of Western Science and Indigenous Wisdom. This road has been long complicated, I am, after all, a western scientist. I trust statistics and hard numbers to give me answers. But I will say that I have always had something in me that has guided me off that path, something that has spoken to look beyond the numbers see past the hypothesis and try to find the life that exists as part of the ecosystem that is being measured.

I am a Buddhist, and as such, I believe that all sentient beings deserve love and respect in this world, but I see the way trees breath in the air, I can feel the life that a forest brings, I can touch the fungi that is the only organism that through death carries life. I believe that something exists that is more than the sum of its parts.

I feel like I am standing on the precipice of something incredible.

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