Monday, February 28, 2011

Big Dogs, Shotguns, and CBC

The first thing I unpacked was my portable radio. I searched up and down the dial and finally arrived at a voice I recognized, then settled in for morning tea and toast. But the familiar voice disappeared. It was replaced by static and then a high-pitched buzz. The cats' ears twitched. No problem. I moved the radio from the top of the fridge to the windowsill, then to the counter top. I extended the antenna to its full length. When that didn't work, I changed the batteries. I searched the airwaves—up and down and back again. The voice was gone. My tea was cold. It couldn't be possible, could it? No CBC? No Dispatches or Quirks and Quarks? No As It Happens?

I checked the CBC web site and confirmed the sad truth. "But you can listen to it online," a friend tried to console. But it's not the same. How could it possibly be the same for those of us without wireless or high-tech computer speakers? Radio was meant to be consumed with cups of Earl Grey whilst curled up on a wicker chair looking out at snow-covered hills. It was meant to filter through the room like sunlight, illuminating your mind here and there, filling you with the warmth of knowing you were part of something much larger than yourself. How could this be done while sitting at a desk on the second floor while staring at a screen?

But more importantly, how could a community survive without CBC? I know I was a latecomer to the world of The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I grew up listening to Toronto pop-rock stations, and when my brothers were around, the more hard-core Q107. I wasn't introduced to CBC until I was 20. It became the soundtrack of my six seasons as a treeplanter. We listened religiously in the early morning hours while driving in pick-up trucks to the cutblocks where we'd spend our days. We could avoid talking to one another that way. And later, when alone on an endless clearcut, our minds could linger on what we'd heard rather than on the thousands of times we bent and dug and planted, or the sound of an approaching plague of mosquitoes.

CBC became the soundtrack of anywhere too north, or too remote to receive any other signal—the kinds of places where the vegetarian option was a grilled-cheese sandwich and an iceberg lettuce salad. The kinds of places where people had big dogs and shotguns but listened to Writers and Company every Sunday afternoon. They were the places where you'd stoke the fire in the woodstove and then cozy up with a hand-knitted afghan and listen to Ideas. Sometimes you'd shed a tear. Sometimes you'd laugh. Other times, you'd dance, alone, across the plywood.

It was in one such place I heard that Obama had won. The new president said what I'd always hoped but never been able to voice: "And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world—our stories are singular, but out destiny is shared..." The small radio sat innocently in the corner, transforming a dark autumn night into something infused with promise.

Hope, company, laughter. A lesson in trapping antimatter atoms, or in how bilingualism can reduce the onset of Alzheimer’s. For twenty years, whether in a pick-up truck, cabin in the woods, or apartment block, CBC has followed. Whether in MontrĂ©al or Vancouver, cities where a new language or a new neighbourhood full of yoga wear could cause loneliness, I knew I could search the airwaves and find comfort. Whether returning from six months travelling in India, or two years working on a windswept Irish isle, I knew that with the adjustment of a tiny dial, something as reassuring and Canadian as a Timbit could soon fill the room.

But now every morning as I stir milk and sugar into my tea and look out at the snow-covered hills, I do so in silence. It's not a comfortable silence. It's the silence of the absence of a much older and wiser friend. Who wouldn't mourn such a loss? And I mourn for an entire community, searching the airwaves for something beyond our singular stories, for something of our shared destiny, only to find non-stop classic country.

On this last day of a cold February, I shall push down the antenna rod of my loyal portable radio and finally accept my new CBC-less existence. So, good-bye, Q and In the Field. C'est La Vie. It's time to open The Next Chapter.

Thank you for reading.

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