This summer I’m spending as much time as I can with my family at our cottage. It’s a little piece of heaven in Muskoka on Mary Lake. I’d like to say that Muskoka is a hidden gem but it’s not all that much of a secret. In fact, many celebrities have millionaire cottages on lakes throughout the region. “Look, there’s Goldie Hawn’s place! And that one over there belongs to Cindy Crawford. Shania Twain owns a place on Such-And-Such lake. Even Kenny G has one close by.”
Other than March Break and a week between Christmas and New Year’s, I generally work every week of the year except for the summer when I save up my holiday time so we can get to the lake as much as possible. We manage to make it most weekends because it’s only about an hour away from the hospital so even when I’m on call it means I just get up a little earlier that morning and drive right there.
But it’s the week-long breaks I most look forward to. I seem so get so much more sleep up there, and I recharge my batteries at the cottage better than any other method I’ve discovered, all by simply breathing in the fresh lake air. And we get to do so many outdoor activities that are tougher to do back home. Things like biking, hiking, kayaking, sailing, and swimming. So I get much more exercise than the busy weeks working as a cardiologist allow.
One morning when I was kayaking this week—I tend to go out around 8 a.m. when the lake is particularly placid—I started to imagine what it would be like if Muskoka sat on top of a large deposit of bitumen instead of the Canadian Shield as it does in reality. If this part of the world was like northern Alberta, I imagine companies would try to buy up the land so they could start to develop it and ultimately export the products of their efforts to China and the US. My little piece of heaven would get destroyed in the name of the economy.
Now most of the land in Muskoka is privately owned so these companies would have to spend a lot of money to acquire it. I expect a lot of people would want to hold out but if the price was right, it’s likely many would eventually sell so they’d have to relocate their cottages elsewhere. That way nobody would be forced to do anything they didn’t want to. The free market economy allowed them to sell their rights to this land fair and square. And once big companies owned it, it becomes theirs to do with as they please. That’s the system we’ve set up for ourselves.
But I then realized that the ecosystems here would be damaged terribly by such development. Nobody asks the families of ducks, geese, loons, deer, and moose how they feel about their land being destroyed for the economy. As it is, they don’t have any such rights to protect them. It’s only fair to take into account how people feel about such things. And people can be bought.
So when I think about what’s happening in Alberta with the tar sands, I realize there are many families whose lives have been destroyed by their development. But no one cares about those families and their ecosystems because they don’t vote in elections. I suppose in that case, it really doesn’t matter what we do to them.
I began to care about the environment much more than I ever had about five years ago. People often ask me what it was to get me on this path. I usually answer that it’s around that time I started to really learn more about the science behind global warming and started to study it more. But I now know the real reason: it’s because five years ago was when we bought our cottage. Five years ago was when we put nature back into our lives. Five years ago was when I learned that we’re only one species on the planet. And just because other species might not have the same degree of intelligence as we do—although even then I wonder about that sometimes—that doesn’t mean we should destroy their habitats so readily simply because we can.
I’m glad Muskoka doesn’t sit on top of a large source of a fossil fuel that the world requires to feed its addiction. It’s very unlikely to get destroyed for economic reasons so my little piece of heaven is likely to survive for many years to come. But it makes me sad that northern Alberta with its beautiful boreal forest isn’t so lucky. Nor are the many (non-voting) lives that depend on it for their survival.
If everyone on the planet had a chance to really get back to nature and commune with it as we were fortunate enough to get to do five years ago, I truly believe more people would start to see their role on the planet differently. We all share it. But human beings have to stop being the bullies of Earth, forcing other species to go play in other playgrounds or die trying to get there.
This sort of behaviour doesn’t become, considering how we’re “the most intelligent” on the planet.