Martin Heidegger’s term, Dasein – loosely refereeing to ‘being there’, and my own pursuits in to an authentic life while supporting my privilege to pursue an authentic life has led me to two distinct spaces of authentic exploration: 1) Ravenhill Herb Farm in Central Saanich on Vancouver Island, and 2) Gilford Island salmon spawning stream systems in remote locations in the Broughton Archipelago.
Massive clouds of sage, lambs ear, and lavender pollen engulf my sun burnt face entering my bloodstream to contribute to the nitrogen based histamine levels that fog my reality. Tiny hygroscopic crystals form causing inflammation, and irritation. Histamine increases the permeability of the capillaries to white blood cells and some proteins, to allow them to engage pathogens in the infected tissues. But that’s another story.
I am both a slave and free amongst the herbs, avoiding my subordination to the world of things. Yet while I interact intimately with the intoxicated, scented, environment of herbs, small creatures worlds, bugs, insects, and birds – I must work to pay for the lifestyle that supports my exploration of this. A mediocre balance is struck between the satiation of (childlike?) authenticity, and an inauthentic truth of my cultural throwness: we are slaves to the tools that we should have mastered. Why do I weed one plant, and not another. To what function determines the value of one plant – a herb – and another – a weed? And how have I become determinate?
In an ironic post-apocalyptic move, I turn to the gasmask for salvation from airborne allergens of goats, chickens, tall grasses, cats, dogs, and trees. It buffers my unfortunately accurate physical knowledge of what plants are releasing pollens at what times of the day, what temperatures, wind flows, and rain patterns for varying degrees of allergenic response. Have I exchanged inauthentic comfort, for authentic relationality with my surroundings?
Our strange and rational habit of institutionalizing everything from life to death has resulted in some fascinating, yet often blank spaces. Hospitals for example, are places that are both void of certain elements of culture, humanity, and authenticity. Yet, they are also one of the richest places for the same things. They are our institutionalized manifestations of what we have produced as ‘needs’ for what can be argued as the two most important aspects of life – Birth (giving and experiencing) and Death.
Imagine for a moment – a hospital that was having its dependent surroundings destroyed, chipped away at, degraded, and overlooked. The power lines, plumbing, road systems, and the network of systems that allow for a hospital to function – all being degraded, while the humans that are both entering and leaving our living experience within this institution are losing their populations, and are not returning to hospitals in their expected numbers.
Whatever image you may have conjured up of how that might look, perhaps a war torn European village during world war two, perhaps a third world country ravaged by American colonial oil conquest, or perhaps a small town in North BC with inadequate facilities to support a local first nations reserve population due to federal budget cuts.
What you are imagining, is the state of our salmon spawning streams and rivers. Salmon enter life in the stream, and return to give birth and die in the same space – as we do with hospitals.
As I walk along a small creek that once supported thousands of spawning salmon of multiple runs, my eyes cannot look to either side of the forest, just beyond the 30-meter buffer zone for logging. Whoever came up with the buffer zone concept sucks, frankly. And overlooked something as simple as light. Only a year before I walked the same stream clutched by a womblike darkness that is necessary for the ecosystem to retain temperatures that allow it to have the ecological composure that makes it the very ecosystem that it is – coastal temperate rainforest.
And while I blaze a small clear-cut of my own – a trail for fall spawning-counters to document returning numbers (which last year were in the low- double digits) – I imagine a loved one giving birth to a new homo sapien in Vancouver, or Nanaimo, or Anywhere. She is engaged in an act of ancient and new creation – authentic, indeed. However, the doctors and nurses are struggling to help and provide services because the floor and delicate instruments are clogged and coated with silt from nearby logging in the watershed. And one wall has caved in and covered half of the room because the slope that leads down to the stream no longer has intricate root structures that hold the slope walls together intact.
And why is it that the first peoples that once lived on that same island for thousands of years, are now told by western engineers that their traditional village site is not safe for them, and are now in a socio-economic situation that requires for them to log heavily only a matter of a few kilometers from their Animal Kingdom origin story cave?
This situation is beyond words, beyond my mind. How now, as I sit on my lunch break fixing a chainsaw, eating trail mix, drinking-face down from this wounded stream, reconcile my own paradox in terms of an authentic life. How can I regulate the technology and systems that I (and we) should be the master(s) of, but that control me (and we), and my ability to pursue an authentic sense of respect for what transcends me?