GEORGE: It will never be like that again

I recently caught the end of a radio program on CBC. The announcer asked if there was any one thing that listeners had kept from their childhood that still had special significance to us today. I pondered that question on the balance of my drive home. And I would have to say, that for me, it is my memories of how the world was.

I have lived most of my life in the Southern Interior of British Columbia. I spent my childhood in Kamloops and my teenage years in a small town called Avola in the North Thompson Valley. A consistent part of my childhood was the summers my family would spend on Shuswap Lake near Celista.

Sand, rocks, water, and horseflies play a large part in memories of those summers on the lake. I clearly remember a summer afternoon when I was 17 or 18 spent on a floating dock killing horseflies. A friend and I accounted for over 100 in less than an hour. We were pretty stubborn about enjoying our day at the lake and weren't about to let a bunch of insects ruin our fun. We eventually figured out that if we got far enough away from shore, they mainly stopped hunting us.

Another memory that stands out clearly is diving down to the edge of the drop off in front of the beach to fetch interesting looking rocks from the bottom. Floating on the gentle swells, looking down through the crystal clear water at the rocks on the bottom, picking a target and swimming down, eyes open, for the grab. The bottom was typically eight to ten feet below. You had to get out past the sand and just before the drop off to find anything interesting.

Avola was a wonderful place to grow up. Snowmobiling, hiking, dirt biking, camping, fishing, rock climbing; the pursuits and the geographical opportunities were endless. Another one of those moments of clarity stands out for me. I was standing on the highway bridge deck, 35 feet above the surface of the North Thompson River, looking down through fifteen feet of water at the rocks of the riverbed and salmon, swimming upstream to the north.

In my early twenties, I revisited one of these memories. The beach at Celista was being sold by my aunt and uncle, and I went for a farewell afternoon of swimming. I had a mask and snorkel with me and when I went out to dive for rocks, I was horrified. The bottom was covered with a layer of algae and the water was almost... murky. At least when compared to my memory.

My memory of standing on the bridge at Avola includes the time I stopped there only five or six years after that boy of fourteen had looked down at the salmon. I was traveling to Blue River to work and stopped to reminisce. Standing on that bridge looking down on a warm September morning, I saw nothing but brown and green water flowing by. They had cut the road up into the source of the North Thompson River the year we moved from Avola and this was the first time I got to see the impact of the logging on the river.

I think of the world I live in today and compare it to both sets of these memories. In forty years we have changed our province and I don't think it is all for the better. The quality of the water in our lakes and rivers may still be rated as "good", but I guess that would depend on your scale.

Perhaps it is my memory that is awry. Maybe our lakes and rivers have always been this silted with tiny things, both living and dead. Maybe I just didn't notice it or maybe I was just imagining how I wished the world could be.

But I fear my memories are accurate. In less than one man's lifetime, we have degraded our patch of paradise to the point where what we pass on will be nothing like what was passed on to us. Some will immediately argue that this is normal, how things have always been from one generation to the next. I would argue that we are among the first people living who can afford to prioritize leaving a better material world to our kids over three hots and a cot.

That we haven't and aren't even really having the conversation yet is a shame and an indictment of who we have chosen to be. The world I grew up in was something else. The insect density was higher, the water was clearer, and there will still vast tracts of this province where the ecosystem was still intact.

Today we pat ourselves on the back for preserving ever-shrinking slices of habitat, while consigning river systems to the waste heap, both by accident and by design. Today I live less than 5 miles (as the crow flies) from the Adams River and Roderick Haig-Brown provincial park. The river is home to a world-class salmon run. Given the numbers of returning fish lately, that world-class designation makes me weep for the waterways in the rest of the world.

I will hold onto my memories of that different world. I refuse to normalize the willful decimation of it. I will make sure my children understand what has been lost and do my best to show by my actions in the here and now that what has been lost had value, beyond the balance sheets and ledgers of corporations and yes, beyond our individual animal needs.

We could have done things differently. We still can. But it isn't going to happen unless we are willing to change our thinking.

— Chris George believes one measure of a just society is found in how well it balances fiscally conservative economics with social responsibility and environmental soundness in all of its living arrangements.


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