My corner apartment looks over mature urban forest and 100-year-old rooftops toward the crystalline downtown. Sight, sound and smell of the nearby lake are obscured by skyscrapers, smog and an expressway.
But raccoons nap on the roof below, and the door-hinge call of red-winged blackbirds rasps from a still-naked maple tree. On this spring evening, robins sing from a tall pine just outside my window, perhaps the same pair that raised chicks there last year.
In defiance of feng shui principles, we sleep at this corner, the raw energies of the city irradiating the bed, the oceanic murmur of night traffic breaking against the windows.
My urban-animal mate sleeps soundly, but I awake often to wails, animal and human, that thread through the caverns of the sleeping city. This is heaven: this is hell. As winter broke, dawn breaks. A gull's cry cracks the wall of sound erected by thousands of heating/cooling units. Migrant songbirds join in, the ancient morning music of planet Earth washing over us.
Soon, their voices are drowned as the traffic swells and another day of chugging and bellowing begins.
Except for a few robins, the songbirds are just travelling through, scrambling for sustenance on this scab of smoking concrete as they make their way north.
For thousands of years they flew this route over forest and meadow, a continent-long buffet of fresh, organic food. In view of what they've lost, the little lard cake I've hung on my balcony doesn't seem like much of an offering.
When I hit the morning streets with my fellow workers, sleek black-clad swells pass me, talking into invisible mobile phones. I'm living in the future. Over 30 years after the first Earth Day, we somehow made it into the third millennium, escaping the nuclear war that for decades seemed inevitable.
We've had a grace period, time to steer this civilization into sustainability. Here in the future, the expertise exists to design energy and food self-sufficiency right into our buildings and communities. Toronto could become an oasis instead of an expanding blight on the land.
Unlike fossil fuel and nuclear technologies, solar, wind and cogeneration are inherently decentralized and democratic. Thinking about why they haven't become a big part of our lives helps us realize why human rights and ecology are inextricably linked, and why we're losing ground on both fronts.
Thirty-five years ago, corporate America rushed to declare that, given time to make the switch, it could be trusted to operate ecologically. (Chevrolet, 1971: "You've changed. We've changed.') Decades, later, as the planet heats up, farmland and species disappear and our waste overwhelms us, the talk is still of recycling, stop-gap measures and "someday.'
But "someday' has arrived. At this point, it's going to take confrontation and commitment to stop the whole enterprise from tipping into hell. It'll be a tough struggle, but we've no right to complain. We've had decades to make good choices, and we really aren't having that much fun any more.
We're overworked or unemployed, stressed and deeply in debt, frightened at where the death of compassion is leading us. During the blackout a few years ago, stars returned to the sky over the city and neighbours started talking again.
Wherever the destruction stops, the life-givers return and something beautiful inside us revives.