This weekend saw me making my first proper foray into Canada, having previously not been further across the border than Windsor, Ontario, and that only for lunch after having my green card approved. This time we headed to Cameron, Ontario on the far side of Toronto for Culture Is Not Optional‘s Practicing Resurrection conference.
The conference seemed to go extremely well and was a great time away with friends and meeting new people. It took place on a farm owned and operated by Brian Walsh, Sylvia Keesmaat and Henry and Sarah Bakker. Their experiment in sustainable farming provided a great location that was also appropriate for the conference which, whether purposefully or not, ended up adopting an agrarian theme.
That theme was largely implicit as talks focussed on design, fashion, food, fair trade, place, and more, but emerged consistently as discussion raised questions about how to maintain awareness of our impact on and interconnectedness with others as we go about our daily lives. Much of that came back to maintaining a commitment to a physical space, not only through the now familiar refrain of purchasing locally but also through a commitment to understanding your place’s history and nature.
That discussion became (al)most heated after the second keynote address by Norman Wirzba. Whilst I’m assured that Wirzba is most definitely not anti-city or anti-technology, it was possible to hear his keynotes as such, and that revealed a tension that runs right through the ‘sustainability movement’ between agrarianism and urbanism.
As most attendees seemed to agree, true rural and urban settlements are usually complementary and it is the sub- and ex-urban spaces that tend to have an abrasive effect on their surroundings, but coming to an understanding of what it means to appreciate the beauty of urban spaces and commit to environments that are so often transient is difficult, and hopefully future events will be able to address that more directly. With Wendell Berry being so frequently quoted, I found myself wishing for a similarly wise and articulate writer to speak into the conversation from an urban life.
The key question I was left with was what it means to commit to place in the context of an innately displaced lifestyle, such as that of a transatlantic marriage. While ideals of young people returning to their place of origin after studying are noble, I’m not sure I’m willing to accept that they’re the only way or even necessarily more good than alternatives. Even if they were, it’s too late for us! We will always have one eye on another place, and I wonder what, given that, commitment to the one place means.