Front yard or back yard reports

An analogy came to me today regarding the mountains of “reports” out there on salmon (or other topics) – this following up on a few days of trying to wade through over 500 pages of three volumes that the Marine Stewardship Council pumped out recently. (Nothing like a 9 year process, over 500 pages of reports, and only 15-days to send along any objections…)

Today in the suburban neighborhood where we live, we walked to the nearby playground in the winter afternoon setting soon. We needed to get out for a walk and the kids needed a good run. When we walk to the park, about four blocks, we generally take an alley as there’s no traffic and the kids can pull the wagon down the narrow icy lane burning off a little more energy.

The analogy is this: these mountains of reports often have a look resembling the front yards of suburban neighborhoods – clean, freshly painted, latest siding, manicured lawns, trimmed hedges, shoveled driveways (in northern neighborhoods that is). Yet, when you get into the back alleys you start to find out what each house is really about –

  • ‘Tyvek’ plastic peeling and flapping in the wind as old cracked siding rots away from chipboard walls;
  • tired rusted station wagons and Ford Broncos missing a wheel or two,  hoods open, and that really weren’t much good for anything in the first place – and certainly not now 25 years later;
  • tired old dogs barking and pacing in yellow and brown snow,  thrown in the backyard to keep them out of the house on football playoffs Sunday;
  • old faded plastic Fisher Price kids toys and fallen over swings;
  • abandoned Christmas trees with remnants of tinsel fluttering; and
  • today, bags and bags of old Free Press newspapers – each weeks edition fading and blowing in the wind, chronologically laid out down the lane.

Every now and again, a house has a backyard almost as prim and proper as the front. There’s even one that has a small ice rink with snowbanks for boards – and fresh skate tracks from little feet.

These are the occasional reports that actually have something to say – not the air pie sandwiched between pretty salmon pictures on front and back covers.

The air pie that is riddled with such empty, bumpfy language that says so much without saying much at all.

I got a lovely book given to me for Christmas – The Surface of Meaning: Books and Book Design in Canada by Robert Brinhurst – the B.C.-based writer, typographer, poet, linguist and thinker.Talk about a book with beautiful covers, and fantastic content in between.

In the Prologue, Bringhurst suggests:

Individual readers and whole societies can and do see themselves reflected in their printing, whether or not they are conscious of it as such.

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