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“Can we read the book of love?”
— Richard Terdiman
It’s just me and the loon in the gloaming on the world’s largest lake, the loon snickering. I keep my paddle blade under the surface to push me along quietly.
The forty-five thousand square miles of the largest lake in the world easily dwarf the figures for its nearest contender, Superior, yet amongst white people the lake goes unnamed. Superior, by contrast, has thirty-two thousand square miles of surface and a name. Do you know the name of the largest lake in the world?
The largest lake in the world arcs in a big pulmonary crescent shape from Chicago in the west to Georgian Bay in the east and narrows in the middle at the deep straights called Mackinac. Its surface is a single vast unbroken sheet. Superior has more volume than the largest lake in the world, but to a canoeist the salient fact is the sea-like immensity of the greatest lake of all. A seawalker cast off upon, or casting off upon, such a plane need never come to port, to portage, but can follow the flat eternal geometry of surfacing, of being on the surface, gerunding along like a water strider striding. Surfacing.
More loon snicker, like a Greek chorus.
As a bioregion this area around the greatest lake in the world has a coherence that might or might not be comprehensible to the patrists with their child-like faith in daddy nation states and nation-states. As a mental construct, the bioregion is a big blobby thing that, like a nation, could show up on a map. Now it’s true that I have seldom had much energy to care about the beliefs of the patrists. Patrists, yuck. Green party faithfuls, say, who believe in things like “America” or in a giant military budget (as does the green party in Canada) or voting for evils dubbed lesser. The endless rites of collusion. Not that we don’t have to play along sometimes for strategic purposes when our heads are held down. But we keep our fingers crossed. The best thing I can think about that green party in Canada is they must have some big-ass fingers.
The patrists have stolen our women and made them sing by the waters of Babylon or, failing that, given them good jobs and a portfolio stocked with Raytheon. We’re not in a good mood about the patrists. My state, temporary: a surge of rancour in my heart at the romper-room-colored confectionary flag of the usurper, at the stu- or cu-pidity of those dazzled by the flag. The leaf of a maple, seriously? Resentment drifts me out of the time of paddling into the time of writing. Then I settle a little. Our people, here as far outside the protocols of the patrists as we can get, may have been living the way we always have for tens of thousands of years (such a life has nothing to do with the corporate patrist idea of “blood” that even native peoples often buy into; ours is an inheritance of action, not aristocracy), but in the tumult of this past half millennium it can feel a little lonely. So one tries to get along.
In this spirit I find myself continuing to search for common water with the patrists. Trying to move beyond bitterness. If a patrist is someone who believes in politics and nations and things like making Canada “better,” and a seawalker by contrast is someone who believes in, say, watersheds and in fighting usurpers like Canada to her or his dying breath (i.e. making Canada worse), could there be common water?
So I tender the greatest lake in the world as an olive branch to you, my patrist acquaintances. A lake by any other name. Also, I toss in free of charge the lands adjacent. And you can have Superior, what the hell, plus some gratuitous caps: The Greatest Lake Bioregion. To the extent that I speak for (and it’s not much of an extent) the three billion of us on the planet who never vote or ratify the system of the patrist usurpers, I also agree to forgive your outrageous mental line?it is yours, isn’t it??across the middle of the lake, your at-once silly and brutal frontera, your border. Given that Raytheon spends a good deal of shareholder money trying to think up rays for injuring people at a distance, that mental line across the middle of the lake might even be a real one, for all I know.
I’m not the first to suggest bioregions as common water or common ground as opposed to the scribbles and colorings of old men on a Mercator Projection (not that I don’t understand the basic idea of nation states?old men like that guy Mrs. Clinton are disappointed in love and have to go fuck something). The idea of bioregions has been kicking around since our days on the African savanna, and has been appearing in Western discourse since at least the 1970’s. My offer here is worthy of note mostly because our traditional view as see/walkers has been more modest: we inhabit niche watersheds where defenders of food and water know each other enough to coordinate resistance. If we have had the temerity to offer contact with the three billion others who are like us, it has been by way of celebrating our common method of ungovernability rather than by suggesting that we group ourselves into a political, corruptible federation and anoint something so unworkable as a leader. We’re not pie-in-the-sky dreamers like democratists and other patrists, but practical folk. We have said before that we are the fissure kings, each man his own sovereign, crack wise but ignorant of the ways of our superiors, and we’ve never figured out what a leader could do for us that we couldn’t do better for ourselves (could a leader find the wild lines of poetry necessary to bring a lost woman in synch with the desolate heart of a man? Uh, for example.)
If we agree to go along with the notion of something so extensive as a whole large bioregion as an organizing principle, it is in the spirit of concession and conciliation. We will have no leaders, but we might be swayed to think of ourselves as part of a larger bioregion. And not just a boreal forest or that coherent line I adore of earthcrust from Georgian Bay down through the Adirondacks, but a bioregion like the Greatest Lake with a serious chunk of human population.
The loon disappears, replaced by a cormorant. The writing dissolves, the paddle surfaces again in the narrative. The barely moving paddle establishes an echo formation of minor wavelets against the bow waves angled off a rock wall. The pattern quickly complicates to infinity, shards some moonlight, disappears.
The water has always been ours, but not ours to give. Unlike imperial possession, bioregion understood as resistance to empire is a disowning, a casting off. At c-wok-the-ungoogleable we have long since dispossessed the empire and its leaders, emancipated them to something useful like tending the garden, retracted our names from a thousand imperial endeavors on the order of, for example, using massive truck onslaughts to bring genetically clustermucked food to cities from farms in distant bioregions (clustertrucking). In our most local manifestation, we are the reefers on the nameless lake, moving along the pink granite barrier reefs of its eastern islands. But here we make a concession to the age, to its inability to understand anything but nation, and we agree to cast in our lot with a bioregion as diverse and multi-regioned as a nation. Something big.
White people like canoes, eh? But is there such a thing as white people? Are we white people at some game, or are we of a countenance variously mottled or strangely hued? Do we paddle whitely or will we hang the politicians who attack our water and food on the trees of an over-mined, undermined, thrice-logged landscape? See the previous seventy or eighty essays at this site on practical strategies for living in a landscape where the trees bear the weight of such symbolism.
Not mad by halves, the patrists have placed the continent’s largest nuclear station here on the largest lake in the world. This is directly upwind of the hundred miles of reefs and islands of Georgian Bay, an archipelago that is the largest collection of freshwater islands in the world. Stay tuned for disaster-cum-coverup.
Working together as a bioregion, sane people on both sides of the Raytheonic border could do [and have been doing] their best to help build a weak America and a weaker Canada, getting rid of the system that underwrites murder and mayhem. What has patristism ever done for us besides kill, maim, and?I may have mentioned this?steal our women? What an ugly word, patristism. Who thought that up? Oh. Right. It lacks the euphony of Thomas Naylor’s “affluenza,” the dominant mode of the patrists, but its muddled syllables are only required to trip over themselves to adequately render parasitic/statist practice, not to mention having a sad little triste at its heart, also not mentioning?so many things to not mention, so little time?the unfaithful tryst at the syllabic heart of such a word. And you should see all the things I really haven’t mentioned. Geez, sometimes spelling is poetry, eh? In any case we offer to go along with a nation-size bioregion if that will help us to defeat the aggressor.
Here on the greatest lake in the world it’s ten o’clock at night but the sunlight lingers. Pink cloud islands mass on the western horizon, inverting the curvature of the planet oddly named “earth,” making it seem as if you could paddle right up into the cosmos. Stars and islands intertwinkle. We will be dead as stardust for a long time, but for some reason we’re alive right now.
Where are you from? I’ll be from the Greatest Lake Bioregion if you will. I’m not sure how far it extends, but maybe you can help me out on that.
Bleed Space: the transmission line that extends to Milton, Ontario, from North America’s biggest nuclear plant on the Bruce Peninsula, bleeding power along its length. I get up close with a tale of two towers.
David Ker Thomson lives in a big city on one of the smaller lakes in the Greatest Lake Bioregion. dave dot thomson at utoronto dot ca