Ravensaga I.—Opening

(Note: This posting is a draft from a work in progress.)

Nothing happened, nothing out of the ordinary, that is, when Raven’s mother extruded him onto the blanket held by the midwife. Now it’s all very well for Koheleth to assert that “all are from dust, and all turn to dust again”, the second half of which may eventually turn out to be factual. Raven, however, came not from dust, except perhaps metaphorically, but from the bonding within his mother, whose name was Rose, of two half-cells, one contributed by her and the other by his father, whose name was Stanley. There was nothing visibly exceptional about either of these microscopic demi-plasms at the time, nor about the circumstances of their conjunction. Rose and Stanley had by then been married for quite some time, and had been “trying”, as the saying goes. No meteors flashed across the night sky, no Aurora Borealis, no stars appeared in the east, no cosmic sign blazoned that this birth differed in any way from the 360,000 other births taking place on Earth the same day. The result, however, was stupendous, at least for Canadians.

Rose and Stanley named the boy Raven because they wanted to imbue him with All-Embracing Canadian Spirit. After consulting range maps for everything from birch trees to chickadees, they decided that ravens had about as much Canadian Spirit as any living creature found in the country. “When we have a girl,” said Rose, now confident of her fertility, fondly watching him nurse, “we will call her Chickadee.” And when they did, they did. Her too they inducted into their quest for the All-Embracing Canadian Spirit, and their siblings thereafter. To list the whole clutch, however, even to mention them again except in passing would unduly complicate the narrative. This Saga does not really need them. It needs Raven and Chickadee, Rose and Stanley, and the four grandparents: Frank, Belle, Oscar, and Gloria. As to which grandparent belonged to which parent, the question is completely irrelevant. What is important, is that Frank’s antecedents were British, Belle’s French, Oscar’s Scandinavian-American, and Gloria’s Cree. For it was this ancestral diversity that inspired the quest for a generation with the All-Embracing Canadian Spirit.

Diversity flourished also in professions: Frank started out as a miner and logger, and became a politician; Belle had dreamed of a life on the concert stage, stayed home, and taught children to play piano; Oscar crafted fine furniture from the hard and soft woods around his farm; Gloria wove the tales and pain of her people into blankets and garments for those with money enough to purchase. Rose and Stanley ran the web sites and produced the handsomely illustrated the books that kept the family endeavours in the public eye. Business was good, all around.

“I have been thinking about the phrase: ‘can’t see the forest for the trees,” said Stanley, who was prone to pontificate with some considerable verbosity, to Rose as they sat in bed one morning after a pleasant interlude of early trying. “It doesn’t make any sense. The forest is the trees, and the shrubs, and the flowers and ferns, and the grasses, and the mosses and lichens, and the myriad cellulars all the way down to the smallest infusorium in the moisture of the soil, and the creatures who feed on them, and the creatures who feed on them, and the creatures who feed on them, and so on all the way back up the food chain.”

Rose was with him all the way, and together they plotted the scheme that would dominate their life as parents. They would have as many children as Nature and their affection for each other would provide,—a minimum of two, they hoped,—and they would raise them to appreciate their country as a whole, by immersing them in the knowledge of its details, of all kinds, and letting their imaginations do the rest. The knew that each child would be born with an imagination, but they also believed in hearty doses of cultivation. They would teach them to feel with its people and places, through all the stories of their strengths and weaknesses, their successes and failures, the things done, undone, and yet to be done or undone. And they would teach them to see what was admirable, what was human, what was funny in the antics of their compatriots, as they went about their serious national project, whatever it was. For a long face never warmed anyone’s spirit.

Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, Humour: words to live by, and to grow children by, thought Rose and Stanley, and so did Frank, Belle, Oscar, and Gloria when they found out.

And so it came to pass that Rose and Stanley’s first gift to their new-born son was a copy of the four-volume 1988 red (and to be read) edition of The Canadian Encyclopedia. For there, they reasoned, along with such supplements as technology might provide in the future, would be found on each and every page (all 2,736 of them) some trace of the All-Embracing Canadian Spirit. They knew, from reading Stephen Leacock, that these traces could be rightly interpreted using Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour. They knew already that the Forest of the All-Embracing Canadian Spirit is diverse almost to the point of chaos, as much or more so as the countryside itself. What is Canada, anyway? Does it have an all-embracing story? Is it a “forest” or simply an expanse of “trees” with nothing much in common except their conflicting ideas and interests, their sense of their own particularity? In the fresh new dawn of their lives as parents they would set out to find out, bringing their children with them.

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