Oh, Sweet Canada

This is a White-throated Sparrow. It is a spring migrant here in Minnesota, and then spends its summers in its nesting grounds in Canada.

As it passes through, we are blessed to hear the males court the females with their distinctive voice, a syncopated series of clear, high-pitched notes that is rendered as: “Oh, Sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada”.    You can listen to its beautiful song on this site, from which I’ve also borrowed the picture:     http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/white-throated-sparrow

Early this morning, when I stepped outside, I was greeted by its call.

But things are not so sweet in Canada at this moment….

[picture from: http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/out-of-control-wildfire-could-reach-saskatchewan-1.2892380%5D

The Canadian Wilderness has always held a magnetic pull for me.  The boreal forest of pines and spruces and firs and birch and aspens, punctuated with thousands of lakes and streams, with its granite bedrock still laid bare from the scraping of the glaciers 10,000 years ago, it is a remarkably primeval landscape.  It is a wilderness in which one feels truly close to the raw elements of creation and to the Creator itself.  Its siren call has lured me north time and time again, at least in spirit if not always in body.

As a wilderness guide in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Ontario during my college years, I led many groups of boys and young men on canoe expeditions through that enchanted land. And then for a period of 10 years in my later adulthood I introduced groups of spiritual seekers into that enchantment.

Nature touches us all, and there countless sacred niches and sublime landscapes throughout this majestic planet of ours, but few have touched me as deeply as this primitive land; and I believe that every one I ever led there was, to varying degrees, transformed by their experience. To paddle a canoe through this rugged environment, from lake to lake, never seeing a building or hearing a motor for days on end,  soaking in the bliss of fair weather and enduring the challenges and discomforts of foul, it was always a journey of the body and the spirit.

The adventure camp where I worked summers during my college years was reachable only by water; one had to drive to the very end of the Gunflint Trail, and then make the rest of the journey by boat or canoe. Even when not out on trail, we were always immersed in the elements – the cabins and dining lodge had pine wood walls only the first four feet up from the ground, the remaining four feet being simply screened in. We slept in pine-scented breezes every night. There was no electricity.  Even in basecamp we were camping.  The official song of the camp captured the spirit of that wilderness so richly, in both tone and lyrics. Sung under the stars by the light of a crackling fire, it was an entrancing drone of solemn male voices, who, out of reverence and sentimentality, did their best to carry the tune. Here are the words:


The Life of the Voyageur

The life of the Voyageur
that of a sojourner
travels around and round
but not from town to town

Paddles the lakes and streams
follows his distant dreams
peace on the waterways
blue sky and cloudy days

My heart has but one home
from which I’ll never roam
land of true happiness
Canadian wilderness

The call of the lonely loon
wolves are howling at the moon
wind rustles through the trees
that’s a Canadian breeze

Smoke rising from the fire
up through the trees in a stately spire
all is calm in the evening glow
sun goes the down the north wind blows

My heart has but one home
from which I’ll never roam
land of true happiness
Canadian wilderness

You can listen to a young man sing the song here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wu23BgovCjg

Given my deep connection to this land and its spirit, I have been deeply distressed by the intense wild-fire that is burning near Fort McMurray, Alberta. I have been intently following the news since Wednesday.

Here in Minneapolis, about 2:00 am Saturday morning, I was awakened to heavy smoke in the air and had to close my all of my windows. At 6:00 am there was white haze in the sky, covering the city. The air quality was considered “Very Unhealthy”, given all the suspended particulate matter.  We were warned to not engage in strenuous outdoor activity.  It turned out that the smoke was from the Fort McMurray fire, 1,500 miles away. Southerly winds soon cleared the air, but at its worst, the acrid air could bring tears to one’s eyes.

I later learned that the smoke had reached all the way to Florida. Truly, what happens in distant parts of the planet can affect us all, and the forces of nature know no boundaries.  As of yesterday, the fire was nearing a half million acres in size and is considered uncontrollable; it is speculated that it may burn for months.

Today, Sunday morning, when I stepped outside,  and heard “Oh, Sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada” resounding through the clear air, it brought so many emotions home. And, once again, Canada brought tears to my eyes.

Our northern brotherland has had a warm, dry winter and spring.  Millions upon millions of acres of forests are stressed and highly vulnerable to fire.  And the fire season is just beginning.

Add to this, after an extraordinary winter of unheard of warmth, the arctic ice cap is in the poorest spring condition it has been in for hundreds of years.   The ice, already greatly diminished in thickness and volume over the last 20 years, is the thinnest and weakest and the smallest extent ever recorded for this time of year. And it is melting rapidly.  The weather of the next four months will determine how much of it melts.  Some scientists fear the worst.

Should the arctic become ice-free, or nearly so, during the summer melt season, it has the potential to disrupt climatic and weather systems around the world.  The impacts upon daily life and food production could be catastrophic.  Again, some scientists are concerned that we could experience this within a few short years.   The conditions this year do not bode well.

The addition of the CO2 and soot entering the atmosphere from the forest fires is considered a “positive feed-back loop” of global warming.  The increase in forest fires that results from global warming in turn contributes to increased warming. It adds vast amounts of CO2, and the dark soot, landing upon sea and glacial ice, accelerates its melting.

Perhaps I will get in to more of the science in a subsequent post. But, for the moment, I ask that, as we are moved, we all take stray moments out our days, to send prayers of healing and to hold a vision of the Canadian wilderness in all of its sweet splendor.


For those interested in more of the hard facts and a scientific account of the fire and arctic conditions, please check out the exceptional and highly respected blog by Robert Scribbler:



9 thoughts on “Oh, Sweet Canada

  1. Oh, Cnawan, I am so so sorry! Your love of Canada and the forest and lakes is evident. Your heart must be breaking. We have catastrophic fires around here too. The biggest was a couple of years ago – 560,000 acres. Such grief. And it was so hard to breathe, not to mention see more that 1/8 of a mile.

    It is so sad what is happening to our planet, and how much we continue to kill it even knowing what we are doing. I believe we will see the collapse in our lifetime. It is just snowballing (pardon the pun).

    We have been lucky here, this year, with a fairly good snow pack. When we have years like this people become even more complacent and won’t see the facts. The drought of the last 10 years is worse than the dust bowl, and people just don’t seem to have a clue, or their heads are so deeply buried they just can’t see it.

    Those of us who know what is coming are merely scoffed at, and not given a second thought. It is just so weird. I don’t get it. Is money and greed that powerful? Yes!

    I just do what I can, you know all the standards – recycle, walk instead of drive, send out good energy, use less paper, write to senators, vote…but it is so far beyond all of that. I just have to find my happiness and love and stay in that place.

    It must be such a hard Mother’s Day for you today, watching out Mother burn. I am deeply sorry. My heart and good thoughts are with you.

    Peace and Love,

    • Mary, thank you so much for all of your heartfelt words. I agree with you, it is likely that we could see the collapse in our lifetimes – in the not-too-distant future. So excruciatingly sad. As I shared with a friend recently, when I was perhaps 7 years old this eventuality was revealed to me. I still remember the profound sorrow I felt as this truth sunk into my being. I have watched this coming my entire life, and worked to forestall it for many years.

      Physically, we passed the point of no return years ago….but, metaphysically, there may still be hope. I intend to write about this as well. Thank you for all your work that blesses Mother Earth.
      Warm blessings to you,

  2. Wow, 7! That is so young. I really like what you said – that metaphysically there is still hope, though physically we have past the tipping point. I feel that way too.
    By the way – what a sweet little sparrow!!! And what it says!

    Warm blessings back, Cnawan

  3. How wonderful you had those experiences a youth and at that camp. I have only been to Western Canada, Banff and Lake Louise. It is beautiful.

    I truly believe there is a shift into the light coming and that there is a huge number of light ET’s that will be bringing amazing technologies to add to the many technologies that are available to use now, but just held back by the dark secret govt. So once the shift happens, I believe we will be quickly healing our planet. And that is what was shown to me as a child.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Katelon!

      Lake Louise is so beautiful. I was there about 10 years ago. Loved the tea houses on the mountain paths surrounding the lake – still remember how delicious the fresh-baked bread was. I spent a week backpacking in the Rockies there. Such beautiful mountains!

  4. Thanks Cnawan…took the canoe trip up into the boundary waters in my boy scout days too….astonishing! I remember Lake Agnes…a crystal light milky blue color all the way down…

    • Loved Lake Agnes! I remember one time in particular, bright sunny day, fair-weather clouds reflected in the blue of the water – it was so hot that we grouped the canoes together in the middle of the lake and let the kids dive into the water – one of the most refreshing swims ever…and watching the kids swim through and emerge from the reflections of the clouds…thanks for the good memory!

  5. thank you for making us aware of this huge wildfire. I get most of my info from alternative news, but had not heard of it! I take comfort in the people entering the Druid path, who will do what they can to mitigate the situation (also the Dark Mountain Project in UK & Canada). May be too late, but at least these people are recognizing and doing something about it! thanks again …

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