Jerrine Verkaik

This is my personal space, where I will indulge in a little blogging. Here are a couple of rants and a few quotations I like to get it started. Once I get my act in gear there will be more.

Tornado vultures

After a tornado struck near our home I spent days watching crowds try to catch the scent of disaster. Thousands of people wandered the roads, scrambling about in fields of debris, stumbling in an out of the lives of families who had been struck by catastrophe. The tornado which ripped through our region brought out both the best and the worst in human nature. It's the worst .... the vulture in us all .... that I'd like to address here.

Imagine for a moment that within 15 seconds everything you have built up in your life is shredded and strewn over fields for miles around. Imagine the shock and pain you would be feeling. Imagine how impossible it would seem to retrieve anything of personal value from the melee of wreckage that represents the life history of your entire neighbourhood.

Then watch as hundreds of strangers go stomping about in what remains of your life, making it well-nigh impossible for you to continue your methodical search for the family photos, your wedding ring, your daughter's teddy bear ... Grin and bear it as the umpteenth stranger asks you to tell the story of what happened, responding with an astonished shake of the head but no word of compassion. Most of them just nose around and then drive off. Most of them don't even offer to help.

Why do we allow our curiosity to overcome our compassion and common sense when disaster strikes? I don't want to belittle the overwhelming compassionate response of the community .... I saw hundreds of people coming to the aid of their family, friends and neighbours, providing shelter, helping them sort through the debris and trying to protect them from the intrusion of thrill seekers.

But far too many behaved like vultures circling their prey. Are our lives so dull that we need to get our kicks out of other people's catastrophe? I understand that a tornado is a very rare event .... a natural wonder .... hard to believe unless you see the evidence with your own eyes. But the media can give us a look at the wreckage. We don't all have to see it first hand.

So, unless you are prepared to pitch in and help, unless you are ready to spend hours slogging through the mud searching for pieces of people lives, unless you are willing to be a shoulder to cry on, a steady and willing hand, a thoughtful and respectful neighbour ... please leave the victims of disaster alone. When your life is in shreds, when your heart is an open wound, the last thing you need is to be circled by vultures.

Road(work) rage

We live in is a very beautiful area. It is rare to find the mixture of hills, forests, rivers, and meadows that we enjoy here. It's the landscape that drew us here. It offers a taste of wilderness that is rare in Southern Ontario.

People move to, or stay in, rural municipalities like ours because of a love of place. They are willing to sacrifice income and convenience for a quality of life they want. But the very things they treasure most -- their reasons for being where they are -- are constantly under threat from poorly thought out actions by local authorities.

You would think that our decision-makers would recognize the value of our natural heritage. After all, it is said that the first step in developing a plan for a community is to find out what its inhabitants care about ... what it is about a particular place that brings it close to our hearts.

It stands to reason that all facets of a rural municipality's efforts would be working to safeguard those things we value. It would be reasonable to expect, for example, that all roads projects would be reviewed at the planning stage for their impact on our natural heritage and the beauty of our countryside. We value our trees, our hills, our rivers, our wetlands ... and we enjoy the unhurried silence of our rural roads.

Why, then, do local decision makers allow roads departments to slash through beautiful countryside with machines better suited to warfare? This kind of work is defended on the basis that curves must be straightened and hills flattened so cars can move faster, and, supposedly, more safely.

But should we be encouraging drivers to speed more than they already do on our gravel roads? Do we want to disturb our peace or our wildlife with the screeches and crashes of drivers who won't take the time to enjoy their journey? Do we want to leave slopes open to erosion, creating dreadful eyesores and longterm degradation of our soil and vegetation?

Many years ago a philosopher said "Give a small boy a hammer and he'll proceed to hammer everything in sight." Rural municipalities often remind me of that small boy.

There is more to life than straight lines, speeding cars and expensive machinery. The greater value lies in the natural beauty which quietly enriches our daily lives. The hills, curves, tree-lined backroads and small bridges of the countryside are central to its appeal. We love them .... we value them, and we must protect them.

We could all benefit from heeding William Blake's advice: "Improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are the roads of genius."