Editor’s Let­ter

The Walrus - - CONTENTS -

My fa­ther lives in ru­ral Saskatchewan, and when I was vis­it­ing re­cently, he took me down to the base­ment. “I won’t be here for­ever,” he said. “Some­one needs to know how to use this stuff.” “This stuff ” re­ferred to a cream separa­tor from our old fam­ily farm

(“In case you can get your hands on a cow”). It was one of many ref­er­ences to off­the­grid liv­ing: on a shelf were her­itage seeds in water­proof bins and a wood stove that could be hooked up to the house’s cen­tral­heat­ing sys­tem.

Back in Toronto the fol­low­ing week, The Wal­rus ed­i­tors gath­ered to re­view the sto­ries in this is­sue for the first time. There were sto­ries about the opi­oid cri­sis in Al­berta and about the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of “go bags” — emer­gency food­and­sup­plies kits that were once the purview of doom­say­ers and are now sold on Ama­zon. “The End of an Em­pire,” a pow­er­ful es­say by Stephen Marche, re­flected the cul­mi­na­tion of the au­thor’s think­ing since the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump: Is that coun­try poised for an­other civil war? Even a re­view by An­dré For­get of Randy Boy­agoda’s new novel, Orig­i­nal Prin, seemed to un­der­score the de­cline of mod­ern uni­ver­si­ties as places for in­de­pen­dent thought.

Af­ter a mo­ment, some­one glumly said what we were all think­ing: “It’s like we’re ex­pect­ing the end of the world.”

It’s true that, like jour­nal­ists else­where, we feel a re­newed sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to cover se­ri­ous is­sues. The cur­rent Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tion, among other fac­tors, has forced a dis­cus­sion of im­mi­gra­tion, in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, and threats to democ­racy (dig­i­tal and oth­er­wise). Still, I don’t think we’ve reached peak doom. We are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a time of rapid po­lit­i­cal, tech­no­log­i­cal, and so­cial change, which puts a corol­lary strain on our in­sti­tu­tions and ways of think­ing. If talk­ing about such sub­jects has a pur­pose, it is not to dwell on de­spair but to in­form our progress to­ward newer, bet­ter ways of do­ing things.

In his large­for­mat im­ages, Ed­ward Bur­tyn­sky has al­ways bal­anced in­for­ma­tion and ac­tivism. His cover story “Peo­ple vs. the Planet,” with text coau­thored by Jen­nifer Baich­wal and Ni­cholas de Pencier, ex­plores the en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic para­dox of the global forestry in­dus­try. The An­thro­pocene Project, which is also fea­tured this fall at the Art Gallery of On­tario and the Na­tional Gallery of Canada, refers to the term some have adopted to de­scribe this pe­riod in the Earth’s his­tory, which they ar­gue is de­fined by the ef­fects of hu­man ac­tiv­ity on the planet. The project, which also in­cludes a film and a 360­de­gree aug­ment­e­dreal­ity in­stal­la­tion, is a primer of sorts on ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues fac­ing the planet, in­clud­ing ur­ban­iza­tion, man­u­fac­tur­ing, and agri­cul­ture. We are for­tu­nate to be par­tic­i­pat­ing in this am­bi­tious ef­fort (our third col­lab­o­ra­tion with Bur­tyn­sky in the fif­teen­year his­tory of The Wal­rus).

In the cur­rent cli­mate, it’s help­ful to look at ex­am­ples of how we’ve sur­vived calami­ties in the past, such as in Har­ley Rus­tad’s mov­ing story about his grand­par­ents, “All My Love,” set against the back­drop of the Se­cond World War. There are other in­di­ca­tions about how far we’ve come since. In “Pal­ette Cleanser,” art critic Caoimhe Mor­gan­feir writes of In the Mak­ing, a dar­ing and in­no­va­tive CBC pro­gram that shows the rise of diver­sity in the arts in Canada.

Equally, there are times when strug­gle has no sil­ver lin­ing, but we must find ways to carry on re­gard­less. When I saw a mes­sage of con­do­lence that Fa­ther Tom Gib­bons, a Paulist priest now based in Los An­ge­les, posted to the peo­ple of Toronto af­ter the Dan­forth shoot­ing, I asked him to write about how peo­ple in his po­si­tion know what to say in times when there are no words. His re­sponse (“Call to Com­fort”) is not to sim­ply ac­knowl­edge the vi­o­lence but to give peo­ple rea­sons to go on.

A few days ago, I called my fa­ther to make sure I had un­der­stood his in­ten­tions in shar­ing the sup­plies. “Do you re­ally fear the worst?”

“I grew up with it, and it was al­ways just part of my life,” he said, re­fer­ring to the na­ture of Saskatchewan farm­ers to prepare for fire, flood, or any in­fra­struc­ture fail­ure that would re­quire them to sub­sist in­de­pen­dently. “I don’t think the world is ac­tu­ally go­ing to come to an end,” he added. “It just changes.”

—Jes­sica John­son

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