A Cooperative Harvest

Denman potato co-op effort reaping the benefits of community teamwork.

Masters has her fingers in more pies than most of us could keep track of—although she seems to keep on top of it all.

“I belong to 23 animal rights organizations, 28 environmental organizations, and 30 to 40 peace, women’s rights, third-world misery and medical organizations,” she says matter-of-factly.

But for Masters, there’s nothing quite so immediately effective as the placement of her diminutive body in between a tree and a chainsaw.

“I remember the fight to save MacDonald Wood in Comox; it was 10 years ago September 1. We came within a hair of losing it. I got a call from Fran Johnson who was organizing things. She said the chainsaws are going in there—get going! Well, that was the second-fastest trip I’ve ever made to Comox—rivalling the time I almost became a midwife!

“I rushed in to stop the chainsaws. I was standing right by this big old fir, and this one logger, he said, ‘Get out of the way lady, it’s coming down.’ Well, I know enough about logging to know that tree wasn’t going to fall on me, so I stood my ground and answered right back, ‘Drop it on me if you dare!’

“The police ushered us out eventually, but the chainsaws stopped,” says Masters. Today MacDonald Wood is a 9-acre park.

Masters can be equally ferocious defending animals.

“Back when they had that insane show in the Driftwood Mall a few years ago—kids could get their picture taken with a tiger in an enclosure there—I went in to stop that,” Masters reminisces. “A big guard grabbed me. As he spun me round I popped him in the gut with my elbow.

“Well, they threw me in the police car and left me there for quite a while.”

While she waited, Masters made good use of her time. “There was a plastic barrier between the back seat and the front, and it was covered with graffiti from the criminals who’d sat back there. So to pass the time I engraved ‘Ruthie was here’ and the date.”

“They let me go later,” she adds. “I’ve never been arrested, you know. I couldn’t —I had to go to work.”

It’s the third time she’s mentioned that. I can’t read her tone of voice—is there pride, or regret? I ask her; she pretends not to hear me, in the way of older people who figure they’ve earned the right not to answer all the pesky questions put their way. I repeat the question and she just laughs and looks away.

Masters displays impressive skill at deflecting questions, offering up instead her irreverent, self-deprecating humour, generally with an underlay of down-to-earth wisdom.

Where do you get your courage? I ask her.

“Oh, I’m not being heroic. I’m just standing up to some of the bullshit out there. When people who are in charge of managing things mess up, we have a duty to rush in and save what we can. I’m just doing my duty.”

Of all the campaigns you’ve been part of, everything you’ve done, what do you think is most important? I ask.

“Let’s see… no, I couldn’t single anything out. It’s all just been a procession of trying to head off disasters of one kind or another,” she says, chuckling.

A question about whether things are getting worse or better leads to a string of gleefully-told jokes. “On the one hand, it seems that the message about global warming is sinking in. But the most powerful man on earth is an idiot… do you know who I’m referring to?” she asks.

I nod.

“I’ve got a whole book of jokes about him. Actually, they’re things he’s really said that are so stupid they’re funny. For instance, ‘The problem is not pollution. The problem is particles in the air and water.’” She laughs and goes to on share a few more favorites from her book.

One question, however, she answers with utter seriousness, even passion—what motivates her to do all this activism?

“I was in the war, you know. I saw 15 to 16 months of steady bombing in London. When I was headed oversees—it was the end of ’43 and we were sailing out of Halifax on the Mauritania; they told us there were 6500 to 8000 of us on board—you’d think they could have counted us a bit more precisely.

“I remember standing up on the top deck and looking out as Canada got smaller and smaller, and thinking to myself, ‘No one tells me not to look after Canada!’ Well, that’s how I’ve felt all these years.”