Sunday, June 27, 2010

Home is where the compost is- Where I'm From part 2

For the last week we've been in my birthtown of Sarnia- the Russian had a week off and my mom is recovering from major surgery so we've been camped out at my friend's beach house on the shores of Lake Huron. My parents still live in the house I grew up in, less than 5 minutes walk from the beach we are currently hanging at so I've been able to wander over everyday to spend time with mom and still have plenty of down time on the beach. It's been my kinda weather, steamy hot sunny days punctuated by great thunderstorms that roll across the lake. Nights are peaceful here with the exception of the mosquitoes who seem exceptionally blood thirsty this year. It all seems so picture perfect on the surface but the reality of life here gets me stressed out in a way I never feel in the big city.

I've always had a love/hate relationship with Sarnia. Most of my immediate family resides here and I was born here so in that sense it's "home" but in my heart I've never really felt that way. Being born in Sarnia always felt more like a geographical accident. My parents were not from here; like many people my parents' age, my father took a job where he was offered one and my mother followed him here. Whither thou goest and all that .... Forty some years later they are still here- having raised a large family, now happy to be close to the grandkids, they find large cities frightening and have no plans to leave.

Both of my parents were technically 'big city folk'. Born and raised in Montreal, my mom spent much of her childhood in the small Laurentian town of Brownsburg, surrounded by multitudes of relatives. My father was born in Toronto but his family moved around frequently, eventually landing in Montreal where he went to university to be come a teacher, and met and married my mom. My earliest memories are full of traveling- train trips to Montreal, car rides up winding mountain roads, and a blur of relatives, many who spoke more French than English. In Sarnia there was only us- there's no family history here, no graves to tend, no grandparent's house to visit, no stories other than the ones I was part of. Sarnia was a great place to grow up in but a bit isolated and I was out the door and on to brighter lights as soon as I was old enough.

Whenever I come back to visit, I am struck by how much I take for granted living in a big city. Sarnia has similarities to many small Ontario towns- a virtually empty downtown core (even tho it's beautifully situated right on the water) and an ever expanding culture of big box stores on the outskirts. One the things that I used to appreciated most about Sarnia is slowly falling by the way side as well. The proximity to actual farm land used to mean local produce was readily available, even in the chain supermarkets. This week I happened upon the grand opening of the new SunRipe store ( a boutiques style produce chain) and was horrified to find only imported and picture perfect produce available at horrendous prices. Local strawberries growing less than 5 k away were no where to be found but the giant flavourless ones from California were front and centre in their pristine plastic boxes. Meanwhile the farms are being turned into cookie cutter housing, with no trees, and huge lawns to water and keep weed free with pesticides - no ban exists here.

Other things I take for granted like Toronto's multiple bin recycling system are a foreign concept here as well. The blue bins here take very little- cans and glass primarily but most plastics are still not recycled - even more disturbing when you realize that many of the petroleum based plastic polymers are produced right here in Chemical Valley. Yet plastic bags are still given away freely at every shopping establishment. Green bins for organic waste are non existent. Thankfully I learned to compost from my parents long before the city of Toronto got on board and my dad still has 4 or 5 composters scattered around the yard even tho there are only 3 people living in the family home theses days. Even leaf composting and yard waste pickup is controversial here. I spoke with someone who works for the company that holds the waste pick up contract with the city and his opinion is that it isn't worth it. He stated that the city couldn't pay them enough to collect it and they couldn't afford to do it for free. This was while he sat there admiring his new work vehicle- a Hummer, one of two the company owns and his second vehicle- his first is a BMW.

To my friends and family here I probably come across as a big city elitist but it's difficult to stay mum about what seems painfully obvious. Even basic things like transportation here are so frustrating to me. As someone who doesn't drive I find it incredibly difficult to get around and people here find it strange that neither the Russian nor I have a drivers license, let alone a car. Everyone drives everywhere here- the public transit system is so badly designed it's practically useless and bicycles are for leisure not transportation. The most frightening outcome of this is how many people I know here drink and drive routinely!

As I write this, Toronto is cleaning up from the G20 and the protests gone bad. The news reports have been depressing and I'm glad I missed all that - ironically because the two remaining daily trains from Sarnia to Toronto were cancelled this weekend because of the potential security threat. Toronto may be hectic and crowded and I'll likely never be able to afford to buy a house there but I miss my tiny garden, street cars at the door, and my green bin. I can't wait to be home.

1 comment:

  1. I think that's the same issue with any small towns anywhere really, even here in England. Recycling here is years behind Canada. Better in the city but it frustrates me when I see people putting the wrong things in the recycling bins.

    I've just returned from Glastonbury Festival, claimed it was the "greenest" festival. It wasn't. There were still tons of plastic bottles everywhere, although festival mostly used paper plates and wooden cutleries. There were just garbage everywhere. People don't even have the decency to go to the bin and dispose, even when they do, they dispose into the wrong recycling bins. The cleaning crew must have a heck of a job!

    Having said that in "Green Fields" and "Greenpeace" areas were very clean. At certain areas they have the cigarette buds disposal in huge cans filled with water, i hope they'll use that as pesticide.

    I think the greenest festival I've been was Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ontario. Mind you, Canadians are very clean to begin with compare to the Brits. Anyway, you have to buy or bring your own mug for the beer at Hillside. They don't provide cups otherwise. That alone eliminates all the paper cup waste and forces you to bring your own.