Toronto Star column – published July 26th, 2014
It is the last week of July and the summer is flying by. Time to slow it down just a bit, linger a little over the Saturday paper and indulge me for a minute. I have been saving up some random bits of news for you.
The relationship of a newspaper writer with their readers is an interesting one. I imagine years ago that the odd letter would trickle in to the office in response to something that someone said in the ‘opinion’ column but, for the most part, there was not much heard from out there. We write, you read, and if we don’t hear anything, we continue with our current trajectory until someone tells us differently.
That was then, this is now. People are very responsive to news that they either don’t like
or [gladly] to news that they do. Electronic media has changed everything in this
I wrote a column early in May this year in which I suggested that you should really seriously consider replacing impatiens in your garden with some other flowering plant as they are under attack virtually across the country by downy mildew. Here in the Ontario market I suggested that if you found impatiens at your local retailer, you should go the other way. I referred to the sellers as ‘unscrupulous’. That got a reaction.
One independent retailer wrote to me to say that, “Given all of the followers that [you] have you should know better. Our job is hard enough.” In other words, they decided to sell impatiens and explain to all of their customers that they had been grown in ‘clean’ greenhouse facilities and that they MAY become susceptible to downy mildew come mid summer. They were outraged that I would label them as unscrupulous.
Another retailer in North Bay took out an ad in their local newspaper and published a direct quote from my article with the headline, “We made the right decision” [not to sell impatiens].
A reader sent me a copy of this ad and asked, “What ever happened to ‘buyer beware’” to which I responded that I have a great deal of respect for the retailer who placed the ad and that I meant what I said. Professionals in this industry are often privy to information that is best relayed to the public in their interest. On the other hand, much of what we know is best kept to ourselves as it has no relevance to the general public. The impatiens issue needed to be talked about openly. ‘Buyer, be informed’ is my response to the question.
I don’t use language like that very often in the paper, unless I feel very strongly about a thing. I have done this when describing the urgent need to plant more trees in our urban spaces and for men to get their PSA checked [more on that in a moment].
The Urgent Need For Trees
The subject of our urban tree canopy gets me going, as regular readers know. The new organisation, Trees For Life, is alive and well: we have a full time executive director [Carla Grant previously with Forestry Ontario], a budget, patrons, a line up of politicians who favour our plan to double the urban tree canopy and [halleluiah!] a gaggle of not-for-profit organisations that are cooperating in an effort to help each other do more tree planting and maintenance of existing trees. In other words Trees For Life is providing a forum in which more can be done with existing resources. There is no need to create a duplicate organisation to plant trees, just help the ones that exist do more of what they already do so well.
Trees For Life is an idea that was hatched in these pages of the Star. Three years ago this week I wrote to the new mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford [remember how hopeful we were that he might actually make a difference to this city?] about the City’s commitment to planting trees. Mr. Ford had nothing to say to me. But when I shouted out to anyone who would listen through these pages I found that there are many citizens and not-for-profit organizations who really want to work at getting more trees in the ground.
People care so much about this city. We live in a great one, no argument. We just want to make it better. And to ensure a bright future for the next few generations who live here. Details at www.treesforlifecanada.org.
The stories that I have written about community gardens and community kitchens have generated a similarly enthusiastic response. When I wrote about STOP and the success of Nick Saul and the new Community Food Centres Canada. I heard from the people at the United Way who arranged to take me to some of their community gardens and explain why we need more. There are great organisations led by committed people who just want to help people feed themselves quality food. Health and wellness is connected to a strong, economically viable city. Details at http://cfccanada.ca/ and http://www.unitedway.ca/.
One patron put it this way, ‘Environmental resilience and social resilience are interconnected’. I would add that full tummies and healthy bodies are connected to social resilience also.
The greatest response to any column that I have ever written for the Star was the first one of this year where I reflected on the meaning of the year behind me. I had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in May of 2013 and underwent a radical prostatectomy in June [the medical system worked extremely well, in my case].
I was the most surprised guy in the world when I was faced with the news as I felt 100% fine. That is the thing about prostate cancer: it is one sneaky bugger that creeps up on you without you necessarily knowing. I mentioned in my column how important it is that men get their PSA checked and note whether or not it has moved since your last annual medical checkup. Get quality medical advice, I suggested.
I received hundreds – no kidding – of responses to that column. Most of them came from women who thanked me for giving them ammo that they could use in their effort to get their husband/boyfriend to go get their PSA checked out.
I receive enormous satisfaction from my work, thanks to you. Do you suppose I enjoy hearing from you even when you have a complaint or a suggestion? You bet I do.
It was exactly a year ago this week that I was able to play my first [bad] game of golf. I made one spectacular drive on a par 3 that landed within a yard of the hole. As it rolled to its resting place I turned to my buddy and remarked, “You see, I am not just a pretty face.” To which he replied without hesitation, “We know. We’ve seen the commercials.”
If laughter and delight are indeed the best medicine, I hope to be well and cancer free for a long time still.
Perhaps this is my greatest wish for readers on a sunny Saturday in July and every other day of the year, that we can laugh together and enjoy what nature has given us. There is laughter and delight in the garden. That is why I enjoy writing about it. I hope that you find it there.