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COFFEE WITH WARREN: A view from another world helps us see our own better

This week’s column is by our son James Harbeck, an editor, linguist, writer, and photographer (sesquiotic.com), who is enjoying life in Toronto with his wife, Aina. James? I CAN SEE IT out my window, but it’s another world.
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Dazzling downtown Toronto as seen from the ferry dock on Centre Island, one of the Toronto Islands. Photo by James Harbeck

This week’s column is by our son James Harbeck, an editor, linguist, writer, and photographer (sesquiotic.com), who is enjoying life in Toronto with his wife, Aina. James?

I CAN SEE IT out my window, but it’s another world.

Fifty years ago, on July 20, 1969, the first humans landed on the moon. After countless centuries of gazing across the gap, at first not even understanding what we were looking at, we finally ferried a few of us to the Sea of Tranquility for a look-see. We found a calm, quiet place with a lovely view of our only home, the Earth. But it wasn’t just a scenic getaway; it was a high-water mark in human exploration.

As I look out my high-rise window in downtown Toronto, near the lake shore, I can see the moon. I can see where they landed. And I can look down just slightly and see another world, one just a short journey from where we live but so different – a calm, quiet place with a lovely view of our home. The Toronto Islands.

Aina and I can walk out our door and be at the ferry dock in 15 minutes. Once we’re on the ferry, it’s another 15 minutes across a tranquil little sea – the harbour guarded by the islands – and we step off the boat and take a giant leap into a place that might as well be on another planet. Where downtown is a crowded, busy, noisy colony of concrete cliffs and clumping cars, these islands are a peaceful park of trees and grass where pedestrians and bicycles own the thoroughfares. From the near side of it you can see the downtown – we can even see our home. From the far side of it you can look across the lake towards another country on the far shore.

When the astronauts on the moon looked at the Earth, they saw its shining beauty and loved it – to quote an Anglican prayer, “this fragile earth, our island home.”

When Aina and I look from the islands to our home, we love it, too: the shining city, our daily lives, all those things we all have made. And when, back in our home, we look again across the harbour, we love that as well: the little piece of country off the shore of the city, the fragile islands.

The flooded islands. This year has been a high-water mark in recorded history for Lake Ontario. Only once before has the lake water level come even close to this. A beach that is usually more than ten metres from trees to waves now barely affords a metre of space. People whose homes are on the islands – their only homes, not vacation cottages – have needed many sandbags to keep from being washed out. And the water level is not lowering quickly.

When Apollo 11 was launched, there were those who said we should have spent the money helping the planet. But the mission gave us a wonderful perspective on how important, beautiful, and vulnerable our world is. And we still had enough money then to help the planet. We have always had enough; we just haven’t always used it wisely.

We need to do better. Our island home is indeed fragile. And it’s the only home we have.

© 2019 James Harbeck

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