It’s hot. It’s not supposed to be this hot in July in the Lower Mainland. Vancouver is known for its temperate weather. Never too cold in the winter; never too hot in the summer. Yes, it snows here. And in that second half of August, we usually get one good week of really hot sun. I looked forward to that week all year long. It was the time for the beach, the pool, the water park.

This year, it’s barely July, and I am already tired of the heat. This isn’t normal weather, and it hasn’t been normal for years now. It’s hard to sleep. I don’t want to go hiking. Our planet is dying, and all I want is ice coffee and ice cream.

Tomorrow, I have a day off. Because I teach kids, a lot of them go away during the summer, and I have fewer classes. Tomorrow will be the first day in my parents’s pool. I don’t care how cold it is. I’m jumping straight in.

It’s probably not a surprise that I have a lot of art supplies. I have boxes of paper, notebooks, pencils, markers, tape, canvases, paints. I have scissors, brushes, hole punchers, paperclips, rulers. I have everything that I need to make art, except the motivation. I don’t lack ideas. I don’t lack talent or skill.

What I have is depression, which likes to tell me that nothing matters. It likes to tell me that nobody cares about what I make, so why bother. It’s hard not to listen to that voice when it’s been talking to you for your whole life.

Today, I remembered the wish tree I saw in Washington, DC last year. It’s an outdoor art installation by Yoko Ono–a tree with wishes written on paper and hanging from string. The wishes are written by the public, so the art grows and changes each time somebody adds their wish.

I knew I had tags in a box, and I knew I had string in a drawer. But as I was looking for those things, I found a box of sidewalk chalk I bought last summer at the dollar store. I wrapped a piece with masking tape to keep my fingers clean, and then I walked to work, earlier than usual.

The first thing I wrote on the road was KEEP GOING. I live halfway between the beach and uptown, and it’s a very steep hill to climb. I know how hard it is because I do it every day. Then I drew a heart because that’s what you do when you have pink chalk. But as I kept walking, all the words coming to mind sound trite.

All the streets in White Rock have names, and all the streets in Surrey have numbers. As I cross from names to numbers, there’s a water fountain on the corner. A week ago, somebody left a piece of paper with three pennies taped to it. They had written,”Make a wish, and have a good day.” Judging by the handwriting, it was probably a teenage girl.

That piece of paper is gone now, and I don’t know if anybody got their wish. But, inspired by that teenage girl, I wrote, MAKE A WISH, in pink chalk letters around the edge of the water, and then I added a wish of my own: MAKE ART IN PUBLIC.

Notes from the beach:

  • “Mermaid hair. I remember we used to say the seaweed looks like mermaid hair.”
  • Saw a jellyfish that was probably dead.
  • Do the fish stuck in tidal pools worry they’ll never get back to the ocean?
  • The couple taking photos of each other jumping at sunset are doing life right.
  • A stoned woman asked, as I was walking up the very steep hill, if I was wearing heels. (I wasn’t. But walking on the balls of your feet makes hills easier.)

The park down the block from my office is called Bakerview. I was sitting under a tree and researching the namesake when I realised it’s named Bakerview because you can see Mount Baker. At least I’m assuming you could in 1933 when they named the park. There are too many houses in the way now.

Mount Baker is across the border in Washington, but it’s a constant in the skyline. In the suburbs south of Vancouver, if you see a snub-nosed, white-capped mountain in the distance, it’s probably Baker. It’s so dominant in our landscape that many businesses, on both sides of the border, put Baker in their names and the silhouette in their logos. It’s on the Washington state license plate. But before this week, I had no idea who Baker was.

The places Canada has made into parks are filled with our stories—every mountain, every valley has a name and a history for Indigenous peoples.

Robert Jago writes about Canada’s parks as “colonial crime scenes”. It’s easy for those of us who are colonisers to protest condos and malls and casinos built on unceded Indigenous land. Those developments are very obviously evil. We can’t be as bad as them, right? Because the parks mean more to us. We believe they matter because they preserve Canada’s wilderness. We believe we’re saving Canada. Instead, we–and Parks Canada, which is offering free admission this year as a reminder that you normally have to pay for access to the land–are erasing Indigenous stories and names.

We are living on stolen land.

Mount Baker has an Indigenous name I had never heard before I looked it up: Koma Kulshan. It has as many names as there are Indigenous languages in the area. Baker, on the other hand, was the name of a lieutenant on George Vancouver’s ship. He gets his name on the most prominent mountain in the skyline because he “saw it on April 30, 1792.” He was standing on a ship and pointed at a mountain, and now his name is on the park where I spend a lot of my summer afternoons.

Emily Carr (I know, sorry, but she’s my project for the year) has many sketches and paintings marked with the initials “Q.C.I.” Those three letters stand for Queen Charlotte Islands, the northern archipelago off the coast of BC that we now call Haida Gwaii. Carr visited and painted the islands in the 1920s and 30s, but when I was in school in the 1990s, we still called them the Queen Charlotte Islands. The official name change happened only 7 years ago.

Nunavut, our third Canadian territory, didn’t exist when I was drawing maps and learning Canadian geography. That happened in 1999.

Down the hill from where I live now, beside the commercial waterfront of White Rock Beach, there used to be a park. In 1996, the Semiahmoo First Nation took the land back from the city of Surrey.

Reconciliation will not be as simple as renaming Canada’s parks. But this is something I can do right now. July 1st marks 150 years of Confederation and hundreds more years of European settlement in Canada. It’s the start of summer and the next 150 years of Canada. If we’re going to survive as a country, we have to change. I’ll be spending more time outside among the trees and paying more attention to the names that don’t belong.

I’ve claimed this land as my own too long. I need to learn more about the people who were here first. I want to hear their word for mountain.

Four Things That Are Working For Me This Week #12

  1. Not exactly sure yet what the Twitter app is doing for me this week, but we are what we repeatedly scroll. I didn’t have a cell phone when I joined Twitter in 2006, but in 2010, when I bought my first–the iPhone 4–Tweetbot was among the first apps I bought. This time around, though, I’m trying the official Twitter app, and except for the ads in my timeline, I like it.
  2. As I look at Twitter now, at 9pm on the west coast, all the brands are firing up their social media celebrations for Canada Day tomorrow. If you, like me, are looking at that celebration and finding a lot of emptiness, follow @resistance150 for some different voices.
  3. My anxiety management group ended this week. In two years, I’ve worked my way through most of the groups the mental health program has to offer. Now I wait, my name on a six-month list, for the last group, the next level: advanced self-reflection. Until then, I’ve expanded my list of little achievements in the back of my notebook to an hourly time log. It’s too easy to let the morning get away from me, but having to face the truth of catching myself four hours in a row on Twitter makes me get up and do something else.
  4. Häagen-Dazs gelato was on sale at the grocery store. Little achievements lead to little rewards. That’s how I get myself to the end of every week.

It’s the 20 year anniversary of sorting ourselves into Hogwarts houses. I still haven’t read all the books (or seen all the movies), but I’ve always been pretty sure I’m a Ravenclaw. Turns out I’m right.

Human beings love names for things. We are pattern-seeking creatures, and when we can’t find them, we make them up.

I put the Twitter app back on my iPad a few days ago. It’s a tacit admission that I’m reading Twitter anyway, so I might as well make it easy. I added more people and a few bots, which lead me to @sortingbot. All you have to do is follow, and the bot sorts you, with a clever little rhyming couplet.

As I was reading through Darius Kazemi’s post about how he wrote the code to make the rhymes, I switched back to Twitter to check if I had been sorted yet. (This app was a mistake.)

When the world is telling you something, you need to listen.

Go back to Kazemi’s post. Scroll to the bottom. All the way.

But how does it sort followers????

Oh right. That. The actual sorting part is totally random.

You need to listen, even if the world is totally random.

While I may have finished reading all of the Emily Carr books, I have not finished my Emily Carr project. I plan to put together the quotes, my writing, some drawings and photographs, and turn it into something. I’m just not sure what that something is, whether it’s a webpage or if it’s a book.

For now, I’ve picked up A Gentlewoman in Upper Canada again, which is the journals and letters written by Anne Langton, a British woman who came to Ontario in 1837. That’s 34 years before Emily Carr was born in British Columbia. I went to Wikipedia to figure out what was happening on the west coast of Canada at that time. It wasn’t even part of Canada then. Yet the first piece of history on that page is this:

The first British settlement in the area was Fort Victoria, established in 1843, which gave rise to the city of Victoria, at first the capital of the separate Colony of Vancouver Island.

In fact, you have to scroll and scroll to even find the first mention of the Indigenous people who were here first:

First Nations, the original inhabitants of the land, have a history of at least 10,000 years in the area.

As we get closer to July 1st and the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, I’m thinking a lot about Canada. To be honest, I’m often thinking a lot about Canada. Our identity is so tied up in what we are not. We are not British. We are not American.

It may feel like a hard question for me to answer as a white person today, but I cannot know what it was like to be an Indigenous person then. To know this place is your home, to know who you are, and then everything changes when a group of white people arrive.

The better Wikipedia page to read is the full History of British Columbia. Tomorrow, I’ll be at the library, now that I know what I need to read next.

In those days a man did not fritter away so much time and strength in running to and fro.

Emily Carr, in a lecture to the teaching students at the Normal School in Victoria. That was in 1935, not 2017. There have always been “those days.”

Emily Carr was born in 1871, the same year British Columbia became a province and joined Canada. She was in her 30s before she started travelling to First Nations villages, before she started her project to paint and document all their totem poles. She was in her 40s when she gave up painting after her project failed to gain any real attention from the art world. Instead, she became a landlady, the dog breeder, a potter, a rug maker, anything she could do to make money.

She was 56 years old when the director of the National Gallery in Ottawa requested her paintings for an exhibit that included the Group of Seven. Emily Carr was 56 when artists she respected told her that her work was good. She was 56 when she started painting again, going deeper into the forest.

When Emily Carr was 66, she had a heart attack and had to stop travelling and painting. She started writing instead. Her first book was published when she was 70, and it won the Governor General’s award. Emily never quite believed that she was good enough. She didn’t have a lot of people in her life who told her that. She was the youngest, and her sisters didn’t seem to understand her. Emily Carr did her own thing anyway.

It’s so easy to believe that it’s too late. But life is so damn long, and you can be a lot of things in that time.

Every night I tell myself, I’m going to go to sleep early, and I’m going to get up early. Some nights that happens, but most mornings, it does not. It doesn’t seem to matter what time I went to sleep, or how many alarms I set, I will always find a reason to stay in bed just five minutes longer.

The good thing is every night is another chance, and every morning is a new day.