Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

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Weekly Column: Staying Connected Can Help Us Turn The Tide

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, September 24, 2018. 

I had been at the Old Courthouse for many art exhibits and for a wedding once too. There is an air of sobriety that attaches itself to you as soon as you step inside, no matter the event: the dark wood panels and large windows, the old staircase that creaks softly as you make your way up, the echoes of people’s voices.

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Weekly Column: Stories Of Fall Magic And Why We Should Be Part Of Them

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, September 10, 2018. 

Fall has a special place in my heart. When I was a kid, until I left my parents’ home to go to university, as soon as the grapes would start to ripen, I’d go around the yard and get myself a bunch of sweetest ones, usually by holding up the bottom of my T-shirt for an impromptu fruit-picking bucket. Then I’d sit in one of my special places under the quince trees and eat them. One by one, green, black and red spheres, all juicy and sweet, their flavour divinely irresistible.

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New Year, Old Problems

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on January 8, 2018. 

As of two days ago, we are back to slush. A walk to the library yesterday had me jump over soupy snow marshes, making me pay extra attention to the sidewalk. When you do, one thing that stands out is the garbage. A straw here, a wrapper there, a disposable cup here, another one there, lids included, half-revealed by the melting snow. A couple of blocks worth of garbage.

Then come the daily walks through Peterson Creek Park. If you go far enough on the trails, there’s little or no garbage. The main trail though and the portions of trails immediately adjacent to it suffer from the same garbage litter issue. Plus, dog poop, right on the trails. ‘Tis almost the season again when it all comes out, some bagged, some not, all equally disgusting, more so if you happen to step in it. If the past years are a good reference, the worst is yet to come, I know that much.

Moving down the list, there’s the visual references from people who went up to the grasslands recently. Driving along Lac Du Bois Road takes you to a place of wondrous beauty every time, no matter the season. We are ever so lucky to be so close to the grasslands, as they truly are a wonder. They cover less than 1 percent of British Columbia and are home to more threatened and endangered species than any other habitat, according to the Grasslands Conservation Council of BC. Nothing short of magical beauty, and right in our common backyard.

The ‘common backyard’ part is where the heartache starts. It’s where I go back to the recent photos and videos I came across on social media. Loads of garbage. From pizza boxes, to diaper boxes filled with garbage, to Christmas wrappings and more, it was all dumped by the side of the road in the grasslands (could be another wild space too, such as Greenstone Mountain.) This happens every year.

Sure, there will be a cleanup organized by well-intended folks who will fill many garbage bags and remove (again!) more debris than one can possibly imagine. There will be many in fact – one in Peterson Creek, one in the grasslands, one at Riverside Park and in many other places. Thoughtful people are out there, and we need more like them. The question remains though: Will it hold?

Not really. Garbage keeps coming back. One could argue that it is worse to dump a couple of weeks worth of garbage somewhere along a dirt road outside town than it is to drop a candy wrapper in the city.

Well, size matters indeed, but mentality is the common denominator that we ought to pay attention to. It’s the care we manifest for our spaces, big or small, close to home or further away.

Single-use plastic is most commonly found out there, in town and in the back country, but it’s almost impossible to describe the worst of it all. Is it someone’s domestic garbage lying by the side of a road that cuts through beautiful landscape, or the growing heaps of nails from burnt pallets with some crushed beer cans for good measure. There’s unfortunately another shocker lying around the next bend, so you can never tell.

What can be done, one wonders? Install more garbage bins? Those who mean well already use the existing ones, but a higher density helps. Put up more signs warning of steep fines? That could work, but would be there to reinforce it? Perhaps we need to see more conservation officers and park rangers.

Yet the truth is that the most sustainable solution rests not with the reinforcers of laws and by-laws, but with each of us. Our planet is slowly but surely drowning in garbage. The more stuff we buy, the more we throw out. The less we care, the more the beauty that surrounds us shrinks and suffers. It may be that we are the ones causing the trouble, but the chilling reality is that we are also at the receiving end. If not this generation, then the next.

The writer and environmentalist George Monbiot once wrote ‘Progress is measured by the speed at which we destroy the conditions that sustain life.’ The emphasis is on ‘life’; not animal life or plant life, not wild life of any kind, but life. That means us too. It’s high time we see it that way, think it and live it, and raise ourselves and our children breathing it in as if it were oxygen. Because it is.

We Are All Guardians Of Our Breathing Space

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on November 13, 2017. 

If you hike to the top of Peterson Creek Park on any given day, more so on a cold one, you’ll see a blanket of yellowish, dirty air draped over the valley.

This is not new or unexpected. The surface inversion well-known to these parts increases the effects of air pollution. Whatever is released into that cold air trapped close to the surface, be it vehicle exhaust, mill emissions, or wood smoke, it all stagnates and makes our breathing air a lot worse than it should be.

There is no clear answer as to what is in the yellow plume. Winter smog is a terrible beast made worse by inversion phenomena, but knowing what we breathe in would be good. You can’t fix something if you don’t know where to start or how complex the issue.

It would be nice to know how much each polluting source adds to that yellowish layer. There is no heads-up information about mill emissions or slash pile burning. That affects some people more than others. It is unsettling to be exposed to air pollution by various industries in or around town, and not know when that will happen. Of course, when it does, people notice, but there is something to be said about habituation. Except that in case of our breathing air, it is not in our benefit at all to accept it as is.

On top of notifications about mill emissions and slash burning, there should be information sessions on how air quality is made worse by the inversion and a low venting index. If psychologically it is easy to shrug off the memory of many socked-in days when a better day comes along, and the valley air looks clean, our bodies react differently, as the perilous effects on health are compounded.

Air pollution is a real enemy to human health, and an increasing body of scientific evidence points to it. Short- and long-term effects of air pollution are real and, for the latter, deadly in many cases. The reluctance to recognize them as such have to do, I am willing to say, with the invisible nature of this threat. Should dirty water pour out of out taps, few if any would want to drink it. The air we breathe should be no different. It is true that industrial pollution accounts for much of the bad air in town. But some of the dirty yellow plume is caused by residential activity, be it driving or wood burning.

City traffic has been increasing over the years and that means an increased volume of exhaust gases. Adding to that is the unnecessary idling. There is no need to idle cars for more than 30 seconds on a cold day. Nor is idling while stopping to chat, or while running into a store for some quick shopping, or to keep warm while waiting. Just more toxic gases.

As for wood smoke, whether from residential use or slash pile burning (an environmentally unsound and health-costly solution for all the logging leftovers,) it tends to linger for a long time, which is exactly why in areas where inversion is present wood burning should be reconsidered. A recent study by a team at McGill University concluded that wood smoke increases the risk of heart attack in people over 65 by 19 percent. Residential wood heat accounts for 15 percent of PM2.5 in British Columbia, likely higher in areas like Kamloops where inversion is present.

Wood smoke is a mix of approximately 200 compounds, including particulate matter of various sizes, powerful cancer-causing and mutagenic agents. When it comes to particulate matter, the smaller it is, the deeper in the cells of respiratory tract they get. Not exactly what we want to have in our immediate environment for months at a time. As always, children and unborn babies are at highest risk due to their developing bodies. As for the elderly and those who with chronic respiratory diseases, life becomes a few times more dangerous just by breathing, and the constant irritation of the respiratory tract makes them prone to longer and more debilitating seasonal infections.

Interior Health recommends that wood burning should be done on those days when the venting index is good, which is close to 100. On a regular ‘socked-in’ day, the said index is a mere 10, which is classified as poor. Venting indexes can be found at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/epd/epdpa/venting/venting.html. It’s an eye-opener for sure, along with air monitors present around town (www.purpleair.com.) Tomorrow is forecasted to have a good venting index, by the way.

I know I am not the only one wondering about this. And I know that when there’s a will, a solution, or many, are found. We ought to find the will to reconsider the way we think about our air, and we ought to change our habits to help keep our air clean. At the same time, we ought to be able to get the industrial polluters to realize that pushing potentially harmful gases and particulate matter into our breathing space is no longer an option. Accountability is not a volatile concept.

Summers will be smokier, we are told. If some of that will be unavoidable, long-term exposure during other seasons can and should be avoided for all the right reasons. The most important one being that nothing matters if breathing is impacted.

You Are Human Before Anything Else; It’s What’s Left Behind

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on October 16, 2017 

Saturday was a cold, wet, and slightly dreary day, though rain was such precious commodity during the summer that I cannot get myself to dislike it, no matter how much I miss the sun. On our way to the farmer’s market, my oldest son and I bumped into Vaughn Warren, who was as enthusiastic as ever about the time capsule that was about to be attached to the new Freemont Block sign he was recently commissioned to restore. Come by the Makerspace between 3 and 5 today, he said, so you can sign a postcard for the time capsule.

Most of the day had already been scheduled for a few activities but we made it there a few minutes before 5. The sign looked beautifully vibrant and the table next to it was full of cards, photos, and other mementos to be sealed in the time capsule. We signed the guest book and then proceeded to write something on the card before writing down our names.

I had to stop a while and think. This was something that someone, a hundred years from now, will read and think about for a few moments. Much like I was taking my time trying to stretch my thoughts to the other side of the hundred years, that person, or people, will be trying to imagine what it was all like here, now.

An exercise in humbleness if you will. A hundred years from now on I will be long gone, and so will my sons, most likely. Sobering indeed. It’s a thought that makes you hear all the noises in the room suddenly, and makes you see everything around in a different light. It makes you shudder, too. there is a finality attached to you and your life, and there’s no two ways about it. It’s part of the deal. A rainy, cold day is the day you’re in, a gift like no other, and not a dreary time slot you can’t wait to be done with.

The day was already inviting to a lot of reflection regarding the thin line between life and death we’re all due to cross at some point. It was my late friend Richard Wagamese’s birthday (he would’ve turned 62,) and it was the day chosen for Christopher Seguin’s funeral service. Their passing, as well as the passing of some many people I’ve known over the years, my parents and other close relatives included, left me with a cloud of questions: What matters after all, what is worth striving for while you’re alive and what will the others remember of you once you’re gone?

From all that I’ve seen so far, it’s not the material things but the heart matters that live on. They do not only linger, but continue to grow and fill that empty space one leaves behind once they’re gone. The things we do because we choose to show and wear our humanity with pride and gratefulness is what matters; it’s what will inspire those who miss us to keep on going, choose to act with courage and joy, and leave a mark on the world by allowing their humanity to shine through as they live their days.

It is the whole range of acts that count, not just the ones that are news-worthy. It’s the mark we leave behind us when no one’s watching. The gestures, big or small, that can restore someone’s smile, restore someone’s trust in humanity and change the way people around us choose their next steps, so that their hearts show through.

When we choose to live heartfully and with compassion, there’s glowing that transcends your immediate presence. It’s the kind of hopeful shiny stuff that guides those left behind you towards decisions better suited for the greater good, less judgment and more compassion towards those who need it.

A few days ago, I read about an incident in Williams Lake. An elderly man was lying on the ground in a parking lot after having suffered a heart attack, and though many people passed by, no one stopped. Eventually, a woman stopped and called an ambulance, informed the man’s family south of the border about his condition, and took care of his vehicle and boat (the man was on his way to an annual fishing trip with friends.)

Whatever accomplishments the woman who saved his life has achieved so far or will from now on, that she showed her humanity at a time when someone needed it the most is something she will be remembered forever by the man she saved and by his family. Perhaps she will inspire many to be compassionate rather than judge.

Visuals can be awfully deceptive at times. Wearing one’s heart to be seen as we walk through life never is. That’s what I hope a hundred years from now people will still value and strive for. Because before w are anything else, we are human. That is the gift that is handed to us when we’re born, the one we’re supposed to make the most of while we’re alive, and the one we’re leaving behind when we go. That’s what I’ve learned so far from those who lived letting their hearts walk alongside. It’s the kind of legacy humans ought to bestow onto humans.

Why Some Media Outlets Should Rethink Their Ways

Originally published as column in CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on February 20, 2017. 

We are in the midst of much turmoil worldwide. Unrest is becoming the word of the day. Controversial topics and happenings pouring in with our daily news can make you feel so small and overwhelmed. The ant in the anthill.

Amidst the flurry of news over the last few weeks, the smiling face of a child kept popping up. Head tilted cutely, sweetness beaming towards whoever took that photo, likely his parents. Next to that photo was a photo of his grandparents, also smiling. Their story was so sad and heartbreaking, it brings tears every time. You may have heard or read about the little boy and his grandparents who got violently killed in Calgary in 2014. After a painful trial, justice has been served a couple of days ago: 75 years without parole.

Many media outlets followed the story, relating on yet another gruesome detail. Every time I saw another headline about the story, I cringed. I thought of the family that was going through this. I cannot imagine pain that runs that deep, though I’ve met pain in my life.

Then, two days ago, I read the little boy’s mom’s impact statement. I’d call it heartbreaking but it would be an understatement. One of the things that saddened me the most was her telling of how hard she fought to have the media leave the photos of her dead son and parents unpublished.

That was her child, those were her parents, that was her childhood home, and some of the media outlets took no notice of how the publishing of photos would affect the people whose lives have been so painfully and permanently altered by an senseless, heinous act. No one other than jurors, detectives, lawyers, and judge need to see those photos anyway.

Some people may find it compelling, and armchair detectives may get their fix perhaps, because they are detached from the story, but for those who lost so much, the photos that are now available online will make for a continuous nightmare.

I cannot find a reason for which a self-respecting journalist or media outlet would push humanity and compassion out of the way to make room for the sensational. Journalists are story tellers. They pick ideas from here and there, they are approached by people who want their story told, and then they go on hunting down stories to bring forth. It’s a tough job.

There are some amazing people out there who make the world a better place by exposing wrongness, by having the courage to stand for worthy causes, and by putting their lives on the line, metaphorically and literally. Some of the ones I follow and greatly admire share one simple quality: compassion. Hats off to them. They all know when a line should not be crossed.

Others and the outlets they represent do the opposite. If pain is an inherent, unfortunate part of the story they relate on, they dig deeper into the wound, leading to what Nathan O’Brian’s mother, Jennifer O’Brien, called ‘less than honourable work.’ While freedom of speech is a must and high ratings are important, there ought to be some conditions in place for not breaking someone’s heart further while having the privilege of earning your money by telling their story.

Because in the end, it is a privilege, in my opinion, to be able to put a story out there for people to see or read. It is a privilege that no journalist should abuse. Then there’s trust. Many times I have had people around me say ‘I’d better not say anything more about this or it’ll end up in one of your articles.’ For the record, I have yet to wade those waters. Truth is, I never will. For the above-mentioned reasons; trust first of all.

Here’s the thing. It’s been almost eleven years since my mom’s unexpected passing. It was a tough river to cross, that kind of pain; I am never too far from those waters, though time has worked its magic in dulling some of the pain. I remember the days after when everything seems to be out of place and hurting: the sky, birds’ songs, and holding my toddler’s hand. My mom could not have that anymore, so I could I enjoy it from then on?

Losing someone dear or going through heartaches of a similar nature chips at our hearts, but adds new dimensions: compassion, understanding and kindness. You know the feeling of wearing that kind of shoes. In a world that keeps on spinning, nothing makes sense anymore and yet life keeps on churning.

The sad story of the little boy and his grandparents is but a small story in the sleuth of daily news, yet it’s one story journalists are expected to tell with much sensitivity and compassion, while still delivering a powerful message. No graphic photo that the mourning family fought hard to keep from the public eye can make a story more powerful. Horrific yes, but that’s betrayal to those who matter the most in the story.

Because of all of that and more, I felt ashamed to read about that mom’s horrific ordeal that some of media made worse. I wish that all aspiring and established journalists will read those passages and I hope, just like she hopes, that one day enough public backlash will spare other families from the pain her family had to go through while fighting the media.

In fact, I hope that all respectable media outlets will add to the backlash so that there will be a consensus on how to go about telling stories. If someone would ask my opinion on how to go about it, I’d say just like I tell the boys all the time: be kind, leave a person’s dignity intact and listen. Never stomp on someone’s heart. Never.

Where To From Here (Or Why Changing Our Ways Can Spare Some Of The Trouble Ahead)

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on February 13, 2017. 

Again, a week of many happenings. Like many of you who heard the story of the Kamloops couple who stopped to offer their help at an accident scene on the Coquihalla and were hit by a car that lost control, I kept hoping that Anna and Matt Grandia, parents of two, will both survive and recover. Sadly, Anna Grandia passed due to her severe injuries. The pain her family goes through and for the rest of their lives, is impossible to put into words.

Yes, it is unfair and senseless; these things always are. Following such tragic stories, you’d expect most of us drivers would learn something and apply it. Speed can kill, speed and winter weather conditions even more so. Yet if you drive around Kamloops and outside the city limits too, you come across speedy, careless drivers whose recklessness not only puts their own lives in danger, but mine and yours too.

What are we learning from reading or watching the news? How far does the message reach? Too often, a simple shrug and the next piece of news moves our attention from stories such as this, heartbreaking as they are.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ In case of driving recklessly and the mild consequences the reckless or drunk driver faces, compared to the pain he or she causes to others, well, they are, for the most part, severely disproportionate.

This is not an argument for sacking and punishing people for the sake of doing so. It’s about protecting everyone and making sure rules that keep everyone safe are being reinforced. Because let’s face it, heartbreaking stories seen from a distance elicit a certain response. Yet being in that story changes the terms completely. No one should have to go through something that can be prevented.

Whether it is protecting all people in a community from the ill consequences of dangerous driving, or protecting the community (up to the level of province, country and beyond) from any kind of peril brought upon by someone’s actions, we all need to be able to see where changes need to be made and do all that we can to see them implemented.

Two events I attended at TRU this past week added to the argument. On Tuesday I attended a talk by Naomi Klein. True to her reputation, she said it as it is and in no way sparing the ugly bits: environmentally speaking, we are in a rough spot, our commitment to the Paris agreement not only lacking some touches here and there, but being the complete opposite of what it should be.

With a powerful wind of climate change denial blowing incessantly from the south of the border, and our provincial and federal governments’ commitment to extracting and using more fossil fuels instead of reshaping our ways to sustainable alternatives, things are really not looking good. No, such things are not immediately visible, nor are they served as reminders in our media. We want to keep a sunny optimistic attitude as a society, and we believe that somehow things work out regardless. Again, I am reminded of the definition of insanity by Einstein. Powerful stuff.

Better regulations for industrial polluters that would prevent more carbon from being added to a constantly heating atmosphere, plus better and unbreakable ways to reinforce the regulations, that would get things moving in a different direction.

A forum on air quality, also held at TRU and hosted by Dr. Michael Mehta, professor of geography and environmental science, who has been recently and diligently monitoring the air we breathe using sensors peppered all throughout Kamloops, brought yet another problem forward. The air in Kamloops is often farthest from clean.

From the pulp mill emissions to idling, to air traffic pollution and residential wood burning in town, our air, on a bad day (and they are not rare, unfortunately), is but a collection of small particles and gases that can and do cause serious health problems, in some of us more than in others.

There are solutions, the forum participants, which included the Green Party, NDP and Communist Party candidates for the May 2017 provincial elections, concluded. Things need to change if we are to see better air days.

Better regulations and better ways to reinforce them, not for the benefit of corporate profit but the well-being of the community, yes, it can be done. Our brains are wired to find solutions when a problem is identified. As it happens, denial often gets in the way.

Future bad happenings can be avoided. We now know that leaving things unchanged will have us find ourselves, yet again, to the fork in the road labeled ‘crisis’. Trouble is, which each time we return to one crisis or another, we may find that the time we have left to change things may be drawing short or that we may have had one too many freedoms normally granted by a democracy, taken away from us, which renders action and change far more difficult.

From rules pertaining civilians to those concerning the industry, locally and country-wide, if we care about our collective well-being and our children’s right to inherit not only a better world but also the courage to speak up and influence change when change is due and needed, we ought to change some of the rules we have in place.

As said many times by many wise people throughout history, change starts with bettering ourselves at a personal level by reviewing our values. That way we can be objective in seeing what needs to be change at the level of our community and beyond.

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