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Styles & Fashions
By Mike Lushington

    We live in a huge country. Canada is, in fact, the second largest in the world in total land area.. Only Russia is larger.

    Paradoxically, Canada's population is well on its way to becoming one of the most highly urbanised in the world. The most recent population statistics tell us that more than eighty-five percent of us live in a definably urban environment - that is, in a town or city with a population of more than 5 000 people. Only 2.5 percent of Canadians still live on farms.

    As Canadians move to the cities in increasing numbers, those of us who remain in the countryside are bound to become ever more marginalised. I realise this whenever I take the time to sit down with a large daily newspaper like The Globe and Mail. The Saturday edition of this paper has a wealth of reading in it. I rarely finish with it until Monday or Tuesday of the following week, in part because I relish the opportunity to absorb the weekend book reviews, the travel sections and the fine "Focus" section which treats important news stories and features in depth. However, I confess to an almost prurient delight in reading over some of the items on the sections on style and fashion.

    No, I'm not into the latest in clothing fashions, or cosmetics. However, I am fascinated with some of the items that pop up in these sections, if only because they illustrate just how far many of us have drifted from the fundamental frugality and utilitarianism of our not-so-distant ancestors. A case in point? There was a feature in last weekend's paper on the latest in tools and accessories for the would-be urban gardener. Among the "must have" items was a sterling silver watering can(!!!) for a mere $670.00. And I thought that one offered by Lee Valley Tools for a mere $45.00 was expensive. After all, I use a plastic one that might have cost five or six dollars, that is, when I don't just grab an old fruit juice can with a few holes punched into it. The strange thing is that I suspect that my plants get watered just as well with that old tin can as do those that receive their libations from sterling silverware.

    The time was when I might have been outraged by such conspicuous consumerism, but now, having mellowed over the years, I content myself with the old adage about fools and their money being soon parted. Instead, what fascinates me about an item such as this one is that it seems to reflect just how far we have come from those concerns that motivated our ancestors. Frugality, innovation, and self-reliance have given way to a mad chase to "make a statement" about how well we are doing. ("Look at me, I am so rich that I can afford flower pots that cost $155.00 each - I'll take a dozen of them, please. And, while I'm at it, I'll take one of those potting tables for my garden shed - the one made of teak for $1 800.")

    Anyone who places value on such things is a world away from people who live off the land. Although the vast majority of people who live in cities cannot afford these extravagances either, they are influenced in their thinking by their neighbours who can, far more than by what they no longer know about life "out there" beyond the city limits. In itself, my fixation with such things might seem trivial, but I believe that as values become skewed the issues that really matter, such as environmental integrity and the innate worth of the land, become lost in preoccupations with consumerism and conspicuous "one-upmanship." Surely, the end result of having a garden should have to do with satisfaction with the work done rather more than with being perceived as being able to do it more lavishly and extravagantly than my neighbour.


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