Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Friday, August 05, 2011

Murders & Mountains

Despite my best of intentions, I've been remiss in making regular entries on this site during the summer holidays. It's been a combination of things that have resulted in my general scribbing lethargy: the infamous "honey-do" list supplied by my wife, lots of camping and Mountaineering, trying to improve my overall level of fitness and shed a few pounds from my aging frame and it's ever-slowing metabolism, immersing myself in a plethora of good books, etc. Ultimately: LIFE has intervened, and life is good.

...unless you live in Edmonton. You see, typically Canadians just don't kill each other as much as you would expect, given our general cultural Americanisation. In our fair town of approximately 1 million people, we would see an annual homicide rate in the area or 25-30 in previous years. Not this year, however. as we commence the eighth month of 2011, we presently sit at 34 murders, causing some of the sensationalist newspapers and FOX News wannabe stations to coin us "Deadmonton". (Just a side note: our Prairie town was first called "Deadmonton" by a British journalist some years back when he was here to cover some big event, making the reference to our lack of nightlife and attractions.) The mayor is giving guff to the Edmonton Police Service (after all, someone needs to be blamed) and one criminologist is stating the obvious that our oil-rich economy attracts lots of organised crime and, in a moment of hyperbole, that all Edmontonians walk around armed (if referring to upper limbs, I'm totally with him... Yes, we are a city rife with sensationalism and fear-mongering. But isn't that simply what most news reporting has become?

But now, let's pause for a deep Yoga breath and perspective, shall we?

Firstly, let us look at the majority of victims: most have been known to Police and lived lifestyles that often strayed into illegal activity and the occupational hazards therein. I am not stating that any of the victims who fall into this category deserved their fate, however, I must say that we all are personally responsible for our actions. Having worked as an Officer for 5 years in a maximum security prison personally, I saw a lot of sad stories and individual's train wrecks that certainly made one empathise with many of the inmates, but that did not negate their personal responsibility whatsoever. I'm not saying, either, that I do not care if bad people are killing bad people as there are always innocents caught in the crossfire (and one of our murders this year was a case of mistaken identity), but neither am I overly upset.

It is alleged by the Police that very few of this year's homicides are gang related. Many of the murders have happened at "parties" where those involved have been drinking or using drugs. I do not see how we can hold the Police responsible for controlling this as the majority of it is taking place in private homes and not out in the open. While we may criticise Police for not cracking down enough on the city's drug trade (I personally believe we should legalise all drugs - and, for the record, I've never tried drugs myself; not even pot - tax the dickens out of it, knock out the organised crime element and sink all the money spent on the Sisyphusian task of the war on drugs on education so that, when it comes to making choices, we can do so responsibly), there's far more to the picture. For example, alcohol - which I do enjoy in moderation and have consumed copious amounts of over my life - is legal. And what about the city's responsibility? You can walk into a mall and places that sell cigarettes must have their products veiled behind curtains and in drawers, while their display cases are full of hash pipes, bongs and other drug paraphernalia. Knives are also readily available in a number of shops, with little or no regulation on sales. What of the responsibility of our Correctional Services and funding to addictions programmes? What of the responsibility of the individual?

What truly scares me about the whole thing is that, with the media coverage and brewhaha, many of the gang banger wannabes around town will take it upon themselves to enhance this culture of killing and attempt to emulate it further. Sadly, this is how many of these baggy trousered idiots think. Not to beat up on the whole Hip Hop culture as there is a lot of positive stuff being produced, but one can not turn a blind eye to the influence it is having on today's youth. Again, having worked in a prison for half a decade, I can attest to this point.

So, is there any wonder why I seek the solitude of the mountains? the point of this rather awkward segue, I might add that I am typing this with a broken finger; an injury incurred during a fall down a mountain. Fortunately, it is not one of the two fingers that I type with. It is, however, my middle finger and, living in a rough part of Deadmonton, I do worry that some hoodlum will perceive me as giving him the finger and, being the only unarmed Edmontonian, am living in perpetual hyberbolised terror.

The handle of Deadmonton is not fair, when it comes to living here from an activity perspective. We have a gorgeous river valley - one of the largest in the world - full of bike paths and trails and many wonderful festivals (most of which I don't attend because I don't like crowds or people). Yes, many know us as being the city with "The Mall" and the Oilers and Eskimos have their supporters. Elk Island National Park is a beautiful area full of bison, elk, moose, etc. with lots of trails, lakes and ponds. There are three things that kill me about Edmonton, though:

  1. Too many right wing conservatives and rednecks
  2. The insanely cold winters
  3. The proximity to anything (except Elk Island)
It is just over 300 km from Edmonton to the Rockies. Each summer I try to get to the Jasper area to do some hiking, scrambles, mountain biking, kayaking, camping, etc. It is an oasis of sorts amidst all that is Alberta. I do not mean to beat up on Alberta, but it is a place of fast money with a very right wing corporate culture. Much of what here is all pretty new - cities that sprawl with undistinguished suburbs and box stores. I admit, that Alberta is not what is wrong with Alberta, but, rather I am. I grew up in Nova Scotia which is a different kind of culture, and have lived quite a bit in Europe. I have different sensibilities, and would be a bit of a snob (which I admit to being) to impose my sense of culture on others. Being a vegetarian in the land of Alberta Beef says it all! Still, Jasper is a delight. It is rather rustic, in contrast to Banff, and, during the summer, filled with outgoing travelers who seek the hiking trails and mountain peaks which are plentiful in the vicinity.

The mountains offer me something of a spiritual experience, though I shudder at such terminology. I love the solitude and the overall sense of masochism and risks offered by the trails and climbs. While I would not say I'm completely anti-social, I don't really like people. That is to say, I do not deal well with superficial socialisation. Small-talk and introductions kill me, as does attempting to adhere to a proscribed role demanded by one's station in life. When I speak with someone, I want to have conversations with substance and honesty; discussions about books, ideas and the lot, or to play a game such as Chess or Carcassonne. I find many people tiresome - I know this sounds bad - because they are simply too busy with the tedium of their days and mindless distractions to truly live. Everyone needs a passion - film, Art, fishing - whatever! Sadly, many do not and have become complete bores and non-entities. In fact, Lord Byron said something to that effect: "society is but a flagrant horde, comprised of two tribes: the bores and the bored"...

...anyway, that was getting off track somewhat...

Right, where were we? Spiritual, masochism, risk. Right! I first read Frederich Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" during my undergrad at Dalhousie University some twenty or so years ago. I was truly inspired by the Superman of which Freddy wrote. The writings instilled a sense to always push myself to the limit; a mantra that does not always end well as my multiple injuries over the year and required surgeries to fix stuff can attest! The mountains offer me the perfect arena to apply this notion (though I have tempered my exploits a bit with age and take a lot more time to enjoy the beauty of the whole place as a result of my many readings in the areas of Eastern Philosophy and Yoga texts): risk, testing one's mental resolve and physical ability.  This, for me, is an integral component of living. And, as an aside, though Nietzsche stated that "God is dead", their is no evidence to indicate it had anything to do with Deadmonton...

Some of the more memorable hikes this summer included a shot at the summit of Mt. Wilcox, and introducing my wife and daughter to the Wilcox Pass. I think that this is one of the loveliest areas around Jasper and one of my favourite scrambles and hikes. As you press near the end of July and early August, the alpine flowers are in full bloom and, for me, reminders of how life and beauty can exist in the harshest of conditions - a thought all to necessary to keep within one's perspective as part one of my ramblings will attest. A golden eagle soared overhead, ground squirrels ran about and one general gets back to a sense of basic instinct - the balance and being of existence. The battle between mind and body as you push yourself up the mountainside is a wonderful-but-masochistic duel within the self, rewarded with spectacular views of glaciers, meadow and mountains. Again, for me, this awakens a very basic sense of being and a simpler, primal self. This is why I love the mountains and what I do.

The mountains also enlighten us to our place and impact on the world as a whole. A site that brought me close to tears was when we were driving from our camp site into Jasper town and came upon a scene where a car had just struck a young black bear. The dying creature was laying in the middle of the road, and as I slowly drove up to the site, I saw its head move upwards along the ground in an arc, marked in blood on the asphalt from its snout, and, as I passed, saw the pool of blood under it's body and stared directly into what seemed to be lifeless eyes. I've seen a lot of horrible things in my life including murdered people and suicides, but this seemed to affect me on a deeper level. I know that sounds whacked, but it's the truth. Ultimately, it is a direct sign of how we are impacting our world and wildlife habitats, and far less subtle than the receding glaciers and extreme weather that seems to be direct results of humankind's impact on our planet. I'm not a radical environmentalist, but I do believe that we need to keep our sense of excess in check. This includes my personal desires to enter wildlife habitat - something I try to do with leaving a minimal trace.

The most epic trip (I feel so young and hip saying that) saw myself and a friend enter cougar habitat (the cat, not the woman) as we attempted, unsuccessfully, to summit Roch Miette. As this is my blog, I can state, unchallenged, that the reason we ended up in a rather nasty situation (resulting in my broken finger) was because my partner sent us up the wrong way. I say this in jest as it is a bit of a running gag between us... though I did trust his ability to correctly read the bloody scrambles book directions... Anyway, as we ascended the base of this mountain, it turned out (we realised after returning) we had taken the climbers route as opposed to the scramble. As a result, we ended up traversing a long and steep bowl that was covered in roundish limestone scree on a very hard pack. This is where the mountain teaches you about your personal mortality. Upon beginning our descent after failing to arrive at the summit, I ended up falling like a frieght train some 60m down the scree coated slope, attempting to self arrest with my hands (I did not have an mountaineering axe... but do now) and heels while arching my back so as to keep the slide in my pack as opposed to my bottom. I managed to stop myself by heeling into a fixed, larger rock, and it was at that point I realised that I had injured my finger (I believed it to be a jam or minor dislocation at the time, and it wasn't until I went to the doctor four days later and had it x-rayed that I discovered it was broken). Seconds after stopping, I felt a crack in the back of my neck, the result of being hit by a falling stone. My partner shouted out to me and, when I turned to face uphill, saw that I had caused a small rock slide and was pretty much frozen as I saw a rock about the size of a soccer ball come hurtling towards me, bouncing like a cricket ball bowled by a hell of a fast bowler, and veer off to my right. Needless to say, upon reaching town (after a beer) I purchased an alpinists helmet! I managed to work my way down from this point, rather gingerly, with abrasions all over and an a leg with pretty good road rash, bleeding like a bugger, to the treeline, only to see my partner go through the exact same deal. When I was going through the fall myself, I remember telling myself to stay calm and focus on what I needed to do. Watching my partner go through it was terrifying. Fortunately, he made it okay, despite shredding his pants, having a purple bum and sore thumb.

Which leaves us to the epic part - the stuff that you simply can not make up...

...So we finally arrived back to our truck some seven hours later and began to change from our sweaty, dusty garb into something more relaxing. This is in the middle of nowhere and rather secluded. My partner, a large man of Finnish heritage, was struggling to free his leg from his thermals, having got it caught on his foot, and asked my to assist. I, of course, obliged, and, with my one good hand, did my best to assist my partner who was hopping on one of his feet in an effort to maintain balance, while I attempted to pull the thermal free of his foot. It was then that I looked up and told my partner to look behind him. There we beheld two very attractive women dressed in surveying gear watching us. Unbelievable! My partner apologised, they smiled and that is the anticlimactic end to this tale. Craziness! Another teaching of the mountains....

The plan is to tackle Roch Miette next weekend in which will be, most likely, my last trip to Jasper this summer. My Yoga teacher training begins at the middle of the month and then I'm back to the classroom.

I imagine that I've lost most of my readers by now, so will come to an unconventional and abrupt ending, without even attempting the corniest of segues back to my murder theme. And so....


  • At 2:46 p.m. , Blogger michael boone said...

    does anyone who does jams know how many times purple has been called this month? there supposed to call it twice a month..??


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