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  • Writer's pictureKevin Graham

Darkness had fallen on the land

Once a year, I indulge myself with an absolutely stunning drive across upstate New York and south of Syracuse through the Onondaga Nation. This year, I made the trek on October 14th, en route to visiting a school in Delaware. Unfortunately, I missed out on it this year. For the most part, I saw only hints of the usual Autumn colours. Whereas mid-October usually greets me on this journey with vibrant reds and oranges and yellows over a distance of hundreds of miles, this trip presented little more than muted colours, with many trees still full and green with a tinge of brown. Too much rain? Too little rain? Too warm? Who knows? I’m no meteorologist, but I am disappointed to have missed one of those spectacular treasures of the landscape situated to the south of me. Too much lately, I look to the south and shake my head in disappointment. I’ll try not to read too much into this one, though, and conclude only that I was too early or the spectacle was too late. On a related journey, twilight was advancing one evening two weeks ago. I figured it wasn’t too late to break out the blower and push some leaves around the yard. Personally, I’ve long lost my enthusiasm for pushing leaves around. I’ve come, rather, to appreciate the diversity of colours and nutritional enrichment they bring to my home’s land. What’s more, the oak tree out back is always the last to give up its collection. Spanning a forty foot drip line, it was still half full of leaves. Any effort to clear leaves serves only as a warmup. Here’s the thing. My wife and our elderly houseguests had spent the entire afternoon gardening and clearing leaves in the front yard, the old-fashioned way with rakes, so I was feeling a bit guilty. I needed at least to make the appearance of contributing to maintenance of the home land, so out came the blower. No matter what I felt about the value of leaves to our existence, I went along. Sometimes, it’s easier to just go along. As darkness fell on the land, my journey into allegory continued. Standing at the top of the hill, I took stock of the task. From the house to the border river is a long steep hill, in places a hundred feet wide… mostly covered with leaves. On either side lies rough ravine, my intended destination for the leaves. In human terms, cutting the grass from the house to the river leaves my Fitbit reading 15,000 steps and 59 floors. Thank goodness for the neighbour’s son on that account. No doubt, you’ve already guessed that this journey into darkness was temporary. Ten minutes in, I’d transported no more than a fifteen foot depth worth of leaves. Pushing one pile behind the shed and over into the ravine, I met resistance. The colourful collection just wouldn’t move. I stepped in, bringing more force to the task, but to no avail. Adjusting the blower motion from side to side, individual leaves kicked up in the air, but the bulk of the mound stood fast. Darkness was rapidly descending so I stepped in for a closer look. Preparing to kick the mound into the ravine, I hesitated just in time. As I began to kick, my eye caught something white, waving back and forth, and I was able to stop my forward motion. At that very moment, the light cover of leaves flew into the air and I was faced with the back end of a skunk, tail in the air. Needless to say, this encounter quickly terminated my efforts to clear leaves that dark night, and disaster was averted once again. Maybe I’ll just mow the lawn in daylight, mulching and blending the richness of these leaves into my homeland, grateful for what they bring, and happy to have them stay. There’s a skunk in the story here, to be sure. Who the skunk is and what this skunk means – I’ll leave for you to interpret for yourself. To each his own, I say. As for me, I take it as a sign to leave the leaf blower in the garage. As a friend regularly declares, “it’s human nature to screw up mother nature.” Welcoming a diverse and rich and beautiful collection of colours to my homeland is and should be a natural and continuous event. ….. My son, Sasha, is currently in his second year of doctoral studies at the University of Waterloo. Armed with an undergraduate degree – you’ll love this – Bachelor of Knowledge Integration, and a Master’s from the department of Sociology and Legal Studies, Sasha is a data hound. Who would have guessed that my son would be a data hound? His Master’s thesis was entitled: Measuring Intellectual Diversity in Groups, and Its Effects on Scientific Impact and Productivity. (I had to skip about 45 pages of the math to protect my brain from imploding.) His doctoral studies are an extension of this work, as a data-driven exploration of diversity, and its connections to creativity, innovation, and productivity. When I suggested that a slight broadening of scope in this exploration could make truly meaningful impact on a world bent on suppressing diversity and promoting so-called ‘purity’, his reaction was simply, “let’s save that for post-doc.” Eager to make a difference sooner rather than later, I disagreed and have co-opted his skills accordingly. He and I are now collaborating on a project for a school I’ve been working with for 20 years. We’ve just finished collecting survey data for Juniors and Seniors, polling their attitudes on a variety of measures related to the topic of diversity. At the end of the school year, we’ll repeat the survey. Able to identify which students are now enrolled in diversity-related courses, and which are not, the hope is to better understand the impacts, if any, of these courses on students’ attitudes, feelings, comfort levels, and self-appraised preparedness related to the topic of diversity. At this point, we have only begun the exploration, but nonetheless are very excited at the prospect for discovering something of value. Hopefully, it won’t have a white tail. With respect,

Kevin Graham

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