Remembrance Day 2017

Commemorating Remembrance Day is never complete without a reading of “In Flanders Fields”. The iconic poem was written by Major John McCrae in 1915 after the death of a friend during the battle of Ypres.

It is a short poem. But the three stanzas pack a great deal of emotional power:

 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead.

Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.

“In Flanders Fields” does not glorify war. Instead, the violence of war is subsumed within imagery of the natural world – poppies, wind, larks, sunrises and sunsets. The place of the fallen is within the larger world and the human community. There is a timeless, moving quality to McCrae’s verses.

The poem makes an appeal to not “break faith with us who die”. The deaths of soldiers on the battlefield will not be in vain if those to whom the torch is thrown take up “our quarrel with the foe.” The proper act of remembrance is to not abandon the cause for which they fought.

When Major McCrae composed “In Flanders Fields”, he was a military doctor and second in command of the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. McCrae was, like my grandfather who also fought at Ypres, one of “us” – a Canadian. He fought on “our” side – with Britain and her allies in the First World War. “In Flanders Fields” was therefore, “our” poem, inspired by our soldiers, our sacrifice. It was homage to our loss and our grief.

At least I have always considered it that way – until my travels this past summer brought me another perspective.

Hodonin is a small city in southeastern Czech Republic. While there, I visited their local museum. A sign on the street drew me in. It was advertising an exhibit entitled, “1914 – 1918”. Inside the museum was a large room with pictures and artifacts such as uniforms, letters and documents. The exhibit signs were in Czech without any translations available. I made sense as best I could of the photos and artifacts on display. But I was unable to decipher the descriptions and interpretations given to them by the museum curators.

One exhibit had prominence. It was larger and different in nature from the glass display cases in the rest of the room. This exhibit spilled out onto the floor of the exhibit hall. It was filled with representations of poppies on a green cloth with a photo of a cemetery as a backdrop.

 

The signage said all that needed to be said. It was clearly, even to my eyes, a Czech translation of “In Flanders Fields”.

 

As I absorbed this exhibit, a realization reached out to me across the barriers of distance, time and language. Other people in another country were also laying claim to “In Flanders Fields”. It expressed for them their loss and grief in the First World War just as it did for Canadians. McCrae’s words captured the humanity of their fallen grandfathers and forbearers just as it did for ours. The timeless power of this iconic poem was greater than I had imagined. I could not any longer consider “In Flanders Fields” exclusively “ours”.

In 1915, Hodonin was a town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Their soldiers fought on the side of Germany.

 

They were the foe with whom McCrae exhorted us to take up our quarrel. Yet, their descendants now find solace and meaning in the same words. It made me ask, “Just who was our foe?” 100 years later, “What was the quarrel?” The First World War and its aftermath, the Second World War, gives some urgency to understanding the answers.

What endures a century later is that both sides in that conflict share sadness and remembrances over their great loss in human lives. This realization suggests to me “our quarrel with the foe” is something other than simply identifying enemies across a no man’s land on a battlefield. The foe is more elusive and difficult to identify than that. The foe is something that has to be common to both sides.

McCrae’s profound and beautiful imagery still speaks to us. We will not break faith with “us who die”, when we recognize the common humanity we share in our opponents.

Perhaps “In Flanders Fields” still even has the power to move us. We will hold high the torch tossed to us by failing hands whenever we are able to resolve our conflicts without reaching for a gun.

Then they can sleep in Flanders fields.

 

B* is for Bidding a Sad Farewell

The Czech Republic had two national holidays the same week that Canada celebrated its 150th birthday of Confederation.

Ivan and Maria were my hosts in Telč. We toasted Canada Day before I hit the road.

The first of the Czech holidays was July 5. It celebrated the missionaries that brought Christianity to the Slavs in the 9th century. One of the two, St. Cyril, invented the Cyrillic alphabet which for the first time enabled a written Slavic language. Today, over 300 million people use some variation of that script. http://www.officeholidays.com/countries/europe/cyril_and_methodius_day.php

The second holiday followed on the next day. It commemorated the martyrdom of Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415. Hus had been influenced by Wycliffe, and believed common people had every right to be able to read the bible in their own language. Hus also preached in the Czech language, when preaching in Latin was the general practice.

Jan Hus memorial statue in Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic
Jan Hus memorial statue in the middle of Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

70 years before Luther, Hus condemned the commercialization and corruption of the Christian Church. At the time, the selling of indulgences was a significant source of revenue. His views got him in trouble with the authorities to the point that it cost him his life. http://www.officeholidays.com/countries/czech_republic/jan_hus_day.php

 

It feels like the Czech national identity incorporates two competing narratives. The founders are celebrated on the first day and the rebel celebrated on the next.

Perhaps it appealed to the “Canadian” in me. In our national identity, we have had to manage the tension of competing stories between settlers of French and English origins. This accommodation has had its rough patches over the decades. But by and large, Canada has made the tension a positive, creative and inclusive force.

Czechia is another country with two competing stories. And they celebrate them both – in back to back national Czech holidays.

What impact has this had on Czechs? It’s impossible for me to say with any confidence. Has it provided them with skills and ways of thinking that will prove valuable in the world of the 21st Century? Possibly.

For whatever reasons, the Czechs maintained their unique national identity within the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire for more than 300 years.

Their national identity was also sorely tested during two occupations of the 20th Century – first by the German Nazis and then by the Russian Communists.

Their first freely elected President at the end of the cold war, was a jailed poet.

Despite not knowing the language, I felt a strong affinity with the Czechs I met. Their interactions with me were, without exception, respectful, authentic, helpful and kind.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Honza Galla and Patrik Ištok at AZUB Recumbents http://azub.eu/ were good examples. They took time to give me invaluable advice. The two helped me extensively to chose a route and to prepare for my unusual tour. They didn’t have to, but they did it anyway.

Patrik Ištok, Sales Manager, Azub Recumbent

There was a “down to earth” quality in the Czechs I met that made me feel at home. At no time when I was in the Czech Republic, did I have an unpleasant encounter. I would have a hard time saying that after spending a month in my own country!

In other words, all the Czechs I met, acted like Canadians when we are on our best behaviour.

 

The Czech Republic has so much going for it. It’s capital city, Prague, is one of the most beautiful in Europe.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Czechia has been at the heart of European history from earliest ages. Their UNESCO World Heritage sites are merited and protected for good reason. The countryside is picture postcard perfect.

Here is a gallery of some favourite sights:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Plan B* is about creating and embracing new possibilities. What happens when those possibilities greatly exceed expectations?

My experiences in the Czech Republic greatly exceeded my expectations. I was not prepared for how sad I would feel once my visit there came to an end.

I hadn’t thought of sadness as a measure for enjoyment. But in a way, it makes sense. We are usually made sad by what we have lost.

For me, bidding a sad farewell to the Czech Republic is the measure of the meaning, pleasure and enjoyment I experienced there.

What’s the Czech secret? I can’t honestly say. I’ll only suggest that a country that celebrates founders and rebels at the same time has to have something unique going for it.

 

 

The World At Three Feet

When did you last travel through the world at a height of 3 feet?

I’m guessing you were 6 years old.

One of the surprising delights of riding a recumbent tricycle is that the seat is only about a foot off the ground. That means little kids of about 6 or 7 look me in the eye when I’m seated in it. Anyone older than that is looking down on me.

Cyclists standing n a city street waiting for a light
Cyclists waiting for a light, Uherske Hradiste, Czech Republic

Adults on bikes? They’re giants. I reach up to shake hands. They lean over and down. Just like when I was 6.

The sensation of travelling through the world with eyes at the 3 foot level triggers some deep, childish delight.

Everything on the ground is so much closer, so much more accessible. I’m easily distracted by the variety of flowers, the diversity of colours, the flitting of insects and the darting of butterflies.

Poppies with wheat field behind

Perhaps it’s because at 3 feet, you are so much closer to the world inhabited by flowers and insects.

Sunflowers

 

Travel by trike with trailer is slow travel. Especially crawling up long hills. Even the butterflies make faster progress.

This is travel that breaks the sound barrier, though. Or perhaps more accurately, it is slow travel that breaks the silence barrier.

There’s nothing between you and the world. No windshield. No radio. No hermetically sealed cabin. No thick shell to suppress against road noise.

There is no road noise. Just the swish, swish, swish of a pant leg with each pedal I push. And the barely audible, rolling thunder sound of the trailer dutifully following along in my wake.

Sounds take on a different dimension. Cyclists and hikers know this phenomenon. The birdsong, the buzz, the chirps, the hum, the croaks that comprise nature’s chorus. Moving at three feet from the ground, you can’t help but catch snatches of creation’s hymn.

Dragonfly

Plan B* has been re-discovering the world from a new perspective – like the perspective of those who are 6 and those who are lucky to be 6 a second time.

 

 

There Is Magic

“Magic” is the word that captures the unexpected delights and surprises of this trip.

Each day, as I start my travel, I have a general direction. (West, through southern Moravia, following the border with Austria.)

Beyond that, I know very little about what to expect, what I will see or what I will encounter. I have no certainty where my day will end. I don’t know where I will spend the night.

This is Plan B*, after all.

Yesterday, I started pedaling. A hill rose in front of me. I crawled and strained. Then the hill fell away. I picked up speed and raced in exhilaration to the bottom.

Near Znojmo, Czech Republic

I slowed as the next hill rose in front of me. I repeated the process again. Crawl up. Race down.

And again. Crawl. Race.

There is a form of magic in that. Hard work and then fun. It may be why many people get so attached to cycling.

But then, other magic happened.

I pulled off the road to stop for a lunchtime snack.

Side road, near Lukov, Czech Republic

Why there? Why then? 10 meters down a side road was a tree loaded with black cherries. Abundant with cherries. More cherries within reach than could be eaten in a week. (Hint: You have to know how much I love cherries!)

Each day I pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread”. Yesterday, I never expected it would mean fresh, ripe cherries directly from the tree!

A person holding black cherries in their hand
The black cherries I’ve found here, look like Kalamata olives and are about the same size

“Thank you, God for answering my prayer.”

(And thank you for the magic of exceeding expectations!)

Energized and rested, I was back on the road.

Still the hills kept rising and falling. My legs began to flag. Where should I be looking to stay for the night?

I consulted the map. At my current pace, in less than an hour, was “Vranov nad Dyji”. I’d never heard of it. I wondered what was there. What would I find?

I was at least confident of finding a room. There would likely be at least one “penzion” (guesthouse), perhaps two. Every small Czech town or village I’d passed had had a least one, “penzion”.

Decision made: “Vranov nad Dyji”, here I come!

Then that magic happened again.

I came around a bend in the road. All of a sudden, Vranov nad Dyji was spread out in front of me. It was more than some non-descript name on a map. It was a place of real and unexpected beauty.

Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic

Here was a delightful, fairy tale beautiful, picturesque village hugging the river below a castle.

Like magic.

A view of Vranov nad Dyji from Vranov Chateau
A view of Vranov nad Dyji from Vranov Chateau

Vranov can take your breath away.

Vranov Chateau from the village of Vanov nad Dyji, Czech Republic
Vranov Chateau, Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic

And exploring Vranov revealed many other visual delights and treasures.

Many towns wish they had the natural beauty and historic legacies of Vranov.

Yet Vranov does not get any special promotion. It remains anonymous. Probably, it is because the Czech Republic is filled with towns that share some of Vranov’s magic. I’ve been delighted and awed at nearly every turn in the road as I’ve travelled here.

When beautiful, picture perfect places are the norm, then you know the country where they are found is exceptional.

A suitable description of the Czech Republic might be: “Small, but mighty (magical)”.

Did magic uncork Plan B*? Or did Plan B* uncork the magic?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that there is magic in Plan B*.

And so far, Plan B* in the Czech Republic have made magic happen for me.

Easy Rider

Easy Does it

Nope, I’m not Wyatt. Nor Billy.

Bob’s Excellent Adventure is not about some counterculture dude on a road trip.

Wait a minute.

Maybe it is – at least a wee bit. It is a Plan B* road trip after all!

Bob Hawkesworth sitting in recumbent tricycle
Definitely not Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper

What I want to mean by “Easy Rider” is that everyone, and I mean Everyone on wheels is faster than me.  Little kids and octogenarians alike. They all whiz past me. I have yet to overtake a single biker.

And the guys on bikes wearing the spandex?

I can hardly say “Dobrý den”, before they are half a kilometre down the road.

Two cyclists riding through a forest

Just call me your turtle traveler. Your plodder blogger. Your slacker tracker.

Motorist speed display monitor
Independent verification, if needed. No excessive speeding laws were broken in the making of this adventure (so far)

For the record, I travelled a distance of 80+ kms in the first three days. That’s an average of about 4 times faster than walking. I’m certainly not breaking any land speed records.

Pedaling a recumbent tricycle uses different muscles from walking. So, I’m taking it easy. Getting into a routine, into shape and setting a manageable pace.

View over Moravian Hills in Czech Republic
At the top of the first hill. Whew! And a view worth the effort.

Most importantly (for me) I’m taking the time to enjoy the journey. I’m learning the joys of slow travel.

Slow travel has its own rewards, something our culture has lost.

Small motor boats travelling through a lock in a canal in Moravia, Czech Republic
Another form of slow travel. Small motor boats navigate through a lock in a canal near Uhersky Ostroh, Czech Republic

It takes time to notice all the gifts hidden in plain view.

Easy does it. But easy doesn’t come easily.

 

I’ve discovered a few of those gifts by being mindful of the present without a deadline to meet or even a destination to keep. Here are a few from just one day to share with you.

 

Cherry tree
Cherries! Free! For the taking. Who in their right mind would race past an opportunity like this?

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Czech Out Plan B* – for *Beer and *Bar!

Olomouc, Czech Republic has to be one of the prettiest towns in Europe you’ve probably never heard of.

But I didn’t know that at the time I was riding the tram into town from the railway station. All I could see at my tram stop was this:

Street corner in Olomouc, Czech Republic with Plan B sign over the door
Plan B Bar, Olomouc, Czech Republic

I dropped my bags at the hotel and immediately came back. Dear readers, I had to learn more.

 

I asked the server, “Where did the name ‘Plan B’ come from?”

She said: “The owners had, you know, a club. But it went out. It closed. So, this was their next business. They wanted to try again.”

Sign Outside Plan B Bar in Olomouc, Czech Republic
Sign Outside Plan B Bar and Caffee House in Olomouc. Plan B isn’t always something you want. But it may be something you need. Just ask Mom.

So, there you have it. You can travel half way around the planet and find others who have the same name for the same experiences.

Bob’s Excellent Adventure now even has it’s own bar and coffee house!

A Marshall Plan for Climate Action

George Marshall, Bob Hawkesworth
Bob Hawkesworth with George Marshall

George Marshall wrote the book, “Don’t Even Think About It – Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”. With a title like that, you might think George is resigned, cynical or blasé about our prospects for taking meaningful action on climate change. Quite the contrary. George Marshall is very upbeat and optimistic. He gives the distinct impression that our prospects of tackling climate have never been better. In large part, it’s because he believes he now knows what will work to spur action.

George is a key leader and sparkplug at Climate Outreach – an Oxford think tank and research centre. Climate Outreach’s work on climate communications has been recognized internationally as pioneering and groundbreaking.

George Marshall’s 2014 book has also received positive reviews: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/dont-even-think-about-it-9781620401330/

The Shift

A big problem is that climate action has become polarized along political lines. This split is preventing meaningful progress. George contends climate advocates have used language and framing that has only alienated the political right. He believes this schism must be repaired and has made it a personal quest to figure out how.

George is adamant that everyone needs to be involved in finding solutions. No one should be left behind, especially the right: http://climateoutreach.org/resources/election-guide-video/

Plan B

The Marshall Plan could not be simpler: just listen. The most radical thing we can do is just listen to those who think differently from us.

This George Marshall TED talk explains his contention in more detail: http://climateoutreach.org/resources/tedxeastend-george-marshall/

How do we listen, especially to those with whom we disagree? A tool developed by Climate Outreach to enable industrial strength listening, is a “narrative workshop”. Narrative workshops have:

  • Rigorous research design;
  • A script and framework of tested questions that will be appropriate across linguistic, cultural and demographically diverse groups;
  • The look and feel of a focus group without the expense.

The Climate Outreach vision is that any organization, with little expense, will be able to convene narrative workshops with just about anyone, anywhere. Narrative workshops will be used in countries throughout the world. Indeed, Climate Outreach has just completed a test of these workshops in India.

Narrative workshop participants will identify, among other things, what makes them proud; what they believe makes a good person; the qualities, concerns, insights, values and frames that matter to them. As George put it, climate action groups will have what they need, “…to listen to the people they usually don’t speak to.”

He tells me to check regularly with the Climate Outreach website. The narrative workshop tool will soon be available on line.  http://climateoutreach.org/

Why is George Marshall so optimistic? He tells me that even the World Bank is now taking climate communications seriously. They have convened a task group (Alberta/BC/Ontario/Quebec are all members) to develop ways to better communicate carbon pricing policies. When the World Bank deems to listen, it feels a change of consequence has occurred.

Magdalen College Chapel
Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford, UK

George invites me to join him at Evensong in Magdalen College. We listen to the heavenly voices soar in that space as they have soared there since the 16th Century. It was easy to be transported to a place of contentment, gratitude and optimism.

If only listening to those with whom we disagree could also be so delightful!

That’s the hard road for Plan B* – being able to receive the gifts of understanding and insight from those who think differently from us.

We part with the hope that George Marshall might soon be able to visit Alberta. Our polarized debate could sure use his professional help. Alberta has a large right of centre political constituency that wants to play a constructive role developing climate solutions. They are not being engaged or well served by any political party at the moment. No one is truly listening to them.

Listen to those with whom we disagree. How hard is that? An Alberta Marshall Plan B* doesn’t seem all that radical after all. Or is it?

 

Magdalen College
Magdalen College, Oxford, UK

Plan B* – Nothing Moves Without Confronting Loss

What animal has the attributes most needed for responding to a shift? For Pamela Candea, it is the wolf. Even in darkness, a wolf finds its way. It is sure of its footing. Hence, when it came to picking a name for the consultancy she leads, it became “The Surefoot Effect”: http://www.surefoot-effect.com/.

Pamela Candea
Pamela Candea is the Managing Director for The Surefoot Effect

 

The Shift

Pamela was enjoying a successful IT career that took her to work in far flung places such as Hawaii and London (where she met her husband). She was between IT jobs and pregnant. So she decided to enroll in a course on environmental sustainability. It changed her life’s work.

Pamela had grown up in Michigan, a state that is still half covered in forests. As a small girl, she had often camped with her parents. These experiences gave her a strong affinity, love even, for the natural world. It is a world Pamela has always felt a strong need to protect.

She realized conservation and sustainability work was far better aligned with her values and with what she wanted for her new son than the IT work she had been doing.

Plan B

Pamela took a job promoting energy efficiency in a major public institution. She quickly learned she had no patience for interminable discussions without meaningful action. She recalls being so dispirited in a meeting one day, she ended up counting the people with blue eyes and the people with brown eyes. At that point, she knew something had to give.

Pamela’s experience was that climate change generated rhetorical heat but little light. People had opinions, but few of them were committed to actually doing anything. Even people who said they supported climate action were stuck. Something was missing that kept people from changing course. Something else was needed. That “something”, turned out to be “Carbon Conversations”.

“Carbon Conversations” is a series of facilitated conversations amongst small groups of 6 to 10 people:

http://www.carbonconversations.co.uk/p/materials.html

Every week for a couple of hours, the group tackles a topic: energy in the home; getting around; buying stuff; and waste. The conversations give people an opportunity to share what these topics mean for them and to identify any emotions these topics generate. At the series end, people share their plans for making changes in their households.

The impact on participants is often dramatic. In Carbon Conversations, people are given time, space and support to understand what lies underneath their worries and concerns. That’s enough for folks to find motivation and commitment. They can then go on to create their own Plan B*.

Pamela Candea had found that for which she had been searching. She was soon facilitating and organizing Carbon Conversations throughout Scotland and beyond. In the past half dozen or so years, Pamela and The Surefoot Effect have engaged thousands of people in homes and community halls. Increasingly, employers have been using Carbon Conversations to engage employees in the workplace.

“Carbon Conversations” was created by Rosemary Randall, a British psychotherapist: https://rorandall.org/about/

From her clinical practice, Ro knew it was often difficult for people to deal with grief and loss. Her insight was to note that people also responded to the issue of climate change as though they were coping with loss or grief. So, she developed Carbon Conversations with that as a key design principle.

Who knew? Acknowledge grief. Understand loss. Until then, we can’t respond to the shifts we feel and we can’t create our Plan B*.

 

Carbon Conversations – What Can We Learn?

I ask Pamela Candea what Alberta can learn from Carbon Conversations. She tells me:

  1. Material rewards do not sustain behaviour change. If government offers a rebate, people will act to receive the rebate. Once the rebate disappears, so does the behaviour. Material rewards are transactional in nature. They don’t connect with people’s’ values.
  2. If people have time and space to create reasons for themselves, they will change their behaviour and they will sustain that behaviour change over time.
  3. People need to have a safe space to discuss with others what climate change means. They also need time to think and reflect. Lecturing people is no help, especially on the climate issue. People need time and space to explore this issue at their own pace.
  4. Climate Conversations work with people to help them connect to their values. Governments tend to advertise a lot. But advertising by itself rarely connects enough with values to impact behaviour.
  5. Social marketing has shown that group norms are important for sustaining behaviour change. Government programs to promote behaviour change generally leave people to act alone.

In other words, we definitely need to be more “surefooted”!

The South Downs

The South Downs in West Sussex

The South Downs dominate the skyline in small villages and towns in West Sussex. Here, I visited two dear friends – Barb and Ange. Through a happy series of circumstances, we walked the South Downs Way together many years ago. Now in their 80’s the two sisters are no longer walking the Downs. But we relived the gift of warm and happy memories of a distant, special holiday.

The Shift 

Barb lost her husband Bern a couple years ago. They were married for 57 years. He was a prince of a man. I know. And Barb misses him every day.

Plan B* (for Barb) 

Barb sold her home in a town near Gatwick and moved many miles to West Sussex to be closer to her daughter and sisters. As she said, “The older you get, the more important family becomes to you.” 

Yes indeed. Our support networks can sustain us when changes call us to adapt. Let us always be mindful of those whose families are not capable of support. When shifts happen, many Plan B*s flounder because people do not have family and friends to help.