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December 29, 2009

When it comes to Love we all need back up

One of my favorite movies to watch over the holidays is About a Boy with Hugh Grant. I love the ending where Markus, the geeky kid, who latches onto Hugh Grant's character, talks about the fact that two isn't enough. It isn't enough to just be a couple. It takes a lot more people because you need backup in case something happens to one of you. And Grant, after a lifetime of aimless, self-serving, bachelorhood scamming women to meet women figures out that No Man is an Island and that letting others in is the fastest way to opening up the heart.  It's a great message, seemingly trite and yet so accurate.

I looked around this Christmas and saw that reality everywhere.  In the team of caregivers that look after "my lady". In the way my co-worker works out daycare for her kids. Spending time with my Dad and marvelling at his health at 91, going for a walk with him on his hour-long route. Seeing how a friend of mine is now making connections with the neighbours of a relative who has suddenly experienced the onset of some confusing behaviour that has not previously been exhibited and needs watchful eyes and helping hands around. 

The feeling of lovingness I experience when my phone rings immediately upon my arrival home after work today to be invited for dinner by Tom and Linda so we can catch up. Seeing Konor thriving at 8 months and remembering what he looked like in the ICU at Childrens' Hospital last March. Being embraced by Peggy and Chris as always. Spending time with my sister June and her friend Sheila in a Boxing Day tradition. Meeting up with Dee and catching up. Hearing about Neil and Beth's Christmas at Fairhaven. Circles of connectedness.

I've spent half my life wishing I could be like everyone else who seemed to have no trouble being part of a couple and me thinking that's the way things should be only to discover that in fact, more often than not, being part of a couple isn't really all it's cracked up to be.

I spent half my life feeling that letting people in was too messy and that if I let them in I wouldn't get to do what I wanted. It was an either/or reality; a perception developed from watching my own surroundings while I was growing up. It has taken a long time to recognize it doesn't have to be that way.

I can not deny the irony that after so many years of wishing I could have a long-term relationship, that I now thrive in the awareness that being single has allowed me to be part of a lot of different communities - to slip in and out of those - more easily that I believe would be the case if I had been with just one other person who was consistently demanding, just by the nature of a relationship, a large part of my emotional energy and time.

It's good to finally realize that maybe you really do get what you need and what we all truly need is back up! It can be good to have one loving person for back-up, but it's much better, (a necessity really)  to have a lot of back up; as much back up as possible.

May we all strive for that reality in the new year if we have yet to manifest it to the degree we would like.

Happy New Year.

December 26, 2009

A Curried, Perogy, Sashimi Christmas

As is often the case when I come back to Vancouver to visit, it's a bit of "lets play musical houses" by the time I catch up with friends. I didn't want this visit to be a marathon of scrambling and driving around so it's been quite an enjoyable, low-key kinda meandering through Christmas visit.

I spent the 23rd with Colleen in East Van and it was very refreshing to step out of the Christmas scene for an evening and eat out at East is East on Main Street, a narrow little place with carpets on the walls, what has to be the very best Chai in the city and an atmosphere that's reminscent of the old Afghan Horseman restaurant that used to be on Broadway at Cambie, but way smaller and with a lot more light. There was a classical guitarist playing when we arrived and then someone took over playing the sitar. I love the sitar but I'm sure if Ravi Shankar had been there his advice to this fellow would have been, "Don't give up your day job!"

The wooden tables are low to the ground and it's just a really cozy atmosphere with really healthy food. I noticed that Gabor Mate was seated beside us constantly checking his cell phone and there were even a few toddlers who wanted to get as close as possible to the guitar player.

I stayed overnight with  my Dad in Surrey on the 24th and really enjoyed making him dinner and spending Christmas morning with him. My brother joined us for an omelette and bacon. My dad and I toasted Christmas with champagne and orange juice and perhaps having my twin brother and I in the same room at the same time and actually enjoying each other's company was my father's real Christmas present. 

In the late afternoon I drove over to New West to be with The Johns for some delicious turkey and stuffing (made by  Courtenay and supervised by Peggy) two kinds of perogies, cabbage rolls, yams, cranberry sauce, and special Christmas pudding followed by multiple games of Scrabble and Cranium. Finally, around midnight I dropped into a deep sleep down in the cave (the suite in the basement). It was way too short a visit. Way too short! I'm still mulling over how I can get back for a quick tea break.

But, it was time to get over to Burnaby and visit  my sister and her good friend. This has become a bit of a boxing day tradition. We went out for Japanese food at Kura in Burnaby and now I"m sitting enjoying the beauty of my sister's apartment looking at all her Christmas decorations and blogging beside the glow of the fireplace.

Tomorrow it's on to Port Moody to see Lisa's new digs and to visit with her and Konor and  I'm still hoping to catch up with a few more friends before getting back on the ferry on Monday night. This time I really feel like I'm not ready for time to be moving this fast.

If there's one thing I miss while living on Salt Spring it's the lack of ethnic diversity which gets reflected in the cultural offerings to a certain degree and even more so in the choice of decent ethnic eateries.

Most of all, however, I miss the feeling of being able to just call up my friends like I used to and just drop by, go for a walk, hang out or meet them at The Sylvia after a walk in the park. Without that person to person ongoing creation of new memories, I worry that they will slip away.

It can take no time at all to make a new friend but it takes a long time to cultivate the chemistry and the ease of connection that occurs with friendships that have grown stronger over time for reasons that aren't even always explainable.

So far, a lovely time...

December 21, 2009

It Takes a Village to Care for the most Fragile

The fragility of this spider web reminds me of the fine line between the haves and have nots. The berries are the wealth in the world and the web is the majority of the world who are barely surviving; invisible, clinging to hope.

He sort of lumbers when he walks from side to side as if his feet are sore. He's big and wide and black. He has a name from the bible. He's 57-years-old.  He brought me a Christmas card the other day because he's come into our office more than a few times and in real terms, in ways that I could really make a difference, I've done very little for him. I've been friendly. I can't fix his reality.

I don't know how he got on this island or how long he's lived here. I think he's lived here for quite a few years and prior to this year he claims he's never been homeless. He is sleeping on the cement, under the shelter of the United Church's porch roof. He has a foamy and a sleeping bag.  As long as the temperature is above freezing, there are no cold weather shelters on the island but there is a lot of support for such a small place. There's a transition centre for women and another one for men who can spend a maximum of three months there. He's already used up his three months.

When the temperature dips below freezing as it did a few weeks back, the Salt Spring Community Centre opens its doors at 6:00 pm. There were approximately 9 people who had to make use of it.
"Are you cold?" I ask him.
"No, I'm not cold," he says. "My back's sore," he says.

The difference between this man and a lot of others is that he isn't complaining. He doesn't expect anything, at least not from us. He doesn't come across as hopeless. He tells me, when I sound worried about him, that he's okay. "Things will get better," he says. "I'll get a job again in March." He lacks a sense of entitlement.

If you're homeless, you can get food on Salt Spring almost every day of the week - usually a free lunch. While there is never enough, there is quite a bit of support here from the churches and the amazing community centre which is also where the Food Bank is located. There is someone who works there whom I've never met named Jamie Alexander who is the main interface to the community and he sounds like an amazing guy.

My co-worker, on more than one occasion, has had people in her office - men and women - who end up in tears. The woman who is fleeing an abusive relationship from another province. The guy whose baby died of SIDS a few months ago and is about to head off to rehab as soon as he can catch a ride to where he needs to go off island. The woman who has used up her employment insurance and can't seem to get the type of job on island that she's qualified for but she's lived here for 10  years and this is her home. And, there's the people who have come here because they wanted to live here but had no idea that jobs were so limited. You wonder how that couldn't be obvious  - the fact that jobs are limited on a small island - but you bite your tongue.

I don't feel guilty. I feel curious. I don't feel sympathy. I feel empathy. I feel gratitude (there but for the grace of God, go I). I don't feel judgmental, but there are days when I'm very judgmental.  I feel philosophical. I don't feel responsible, I wonder about all the personal choices that have led them to where they are now. A lot of the time I feel powerless knowing that listening is the only concrete thing of value I can give.

When I lived in the West End, I passed homeless people every single day. I became hardened to them because I didn't know them and there were so many that the only way to carry on was to become oblivious. It's not so easy in a small town to do that when you get to know them as people first.

This man says he will drop in again tomorrow. I'm ready. I have something to give him to brighten his day. Afterall, he's truly the only person I know who needs a gift to remind him that strangers do care and to perhaps help, just a little, to keep his hope alive.

December 19, 2009

Ca Na Duh or Canada?

I've decided to reproduce this on my blog because it's very funny. Enjoy.


Now that Vancouver is hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, these are some questions people from all over the world are asking.

Believe it or not these questions about Canada were posted on an International Tourism Website.

Obviously the answers are a joke; but the questions were really asked!

Q: I have never seen it warm on Canadian TV, so how do the plants grow? (England)
A. We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around and watch them die.

Q: Will I be able to see Polar Bears in the street?(USA)
A: Depends on how much you've been drinking.

Q: I want to walk from Vancouver to Toronto - can I follow the Railroad tracks? (Sweden)
A: Sure, it's only Four thousand miles, take lots of water.

Q: Is it safe to run around in the bushes in Canada ?(Sweden)
A: So it's true what they say about Swedes.

Q: Are there any ATM's (cash machines) in Canada ? Can you send me a list of them in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Halifax?(England)
A: No, but you'd better bring a few extra furs for trading purposes.

Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Canada ? (USA)
A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe Ca-na-da is that big country to your North...oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Calgary Come naked.

Q: Which direction is North in Canada ? (USA)

A: Face south and then turn 180 degrees Contact us when you get here and we'll send the rest of the directions.

Q: Can I bring cutlery into Canada ? (England)
A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do.

Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys' Choir schedule? (USA)
A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is...oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Vancouver and in Calgary , straight after the hippo races. Come naked.

Q: Do you have perfume in Canada ? (Germany)
A: No, WE don't stink.

Q: I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Where can I sell it in Canada ? (USA)
A: Anywhere significant numbers of Americans gather.

Q: Can you tell me the regions in British Columbia where the female population is smaller than the male population? (Italy)
A: Yes, gay nightclubs.

Q: Do you celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada ? (USA)
A: Only at Thanksgiving.

Q: Are there supermarkets in Toronto and is milk available all year round? (Germany)
A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of Vegan hunter/gathers. Milk is illegal.

Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Canada , but I forget its name. It's a kind of big horse with horns. (USA)
A: It's called a Moose. They are tall and very violent, eating the brains of anyone walking close to them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.

Q: Will I be able to speak English most places I go? (USA)
A: Yes, but you will have to learn it first.

December 18, 2009

Whirling Dervish Dessert Diva on Salt Spring

A quilt from the Fall Fair that looks very Christmasy to me.
Did you notice that it's Christmas? I swear, until last week I was feeling completely oblivious to the incredibly limited time frame between then, now and December 25th. In fact, as late as early last week, which is a really weird but accurate way to state this, I was still at the point of  walking into the Post Office in Ganges, looking at the huge line-up and thinking to myself, What are all those people doing lined up with so many packages? Get with the program!

But, let me share with you that it is simply not possible to forget that it's Christmas when you visit Hurricane Pauline. I swear, she could charge admission.

In between having a beautiful, new Japanese-style fence built around her own place, orchestrating the ongoing construction of a new B&B (a.k.a's Gayle's future home) on her property, sourcing kitchens and aluminum siding and two by fours and designing staircases, the closer Christmas gets, the more her kitchen; well her entire house actually, looks like some poor woman has had a psychotic melt down and emptied every cupboard while depositing all sorts of amazing finds from garage sales wherever they could.

There are 63 crescent-shaped moon, icing sugar-covered cookies cooling. (Try saying that three times quickly!) There is a mince-meat cake that was made with 1/2 a bottle of brandy, cranberries, raisins and a custard topping. There are wonderful mince meat tarts - big ones - with little pastry hearts perched perfectly on top and lightly sprinkled with icing sugar.

She shows her mincemeat cake to me proudly as it has just come out of the oven. I regret that my camera is at home. There's plastic bins with flour and icing sugar overflowing and recipes taped above the work space like she's a scientist preparing some new radioactive isotope.

There's a magazine from 1995 with sugar cookies plastered across the front cover which she declares to be "lousy" but did I know that back then, even then, they were going on about Raw food, she says. She's wearing her work clothes: grey sweats, baggy jeans. Her ruddy complexion is made light with a dusting of flour.

She's got a live Christmas tree outside on her deck completely decorated. It fell over in the wind and the ornaments broke, she says.
Why's it out there? I ask, and no sooner has that stupid question left my lips when she stares at me. We stare around the room in unison and, oh ya, I get it, there IS no room in the living room for the tree. We peer at it all lit up through the french doors. I like to take my glasses off and stare at the sunburst white lights that happen as a result of a bad astigmatism. You could move the rocking chair. You could move the plaster statue of a horse that you picked up at the Sidney auction, I say, but no, it wouldn't be the same if those were gone.

The dishes are overflowing in the cottage's tiny sink and while the cake is cooling, she's stuffing holly branches with berries into this large, glass terrarium or whatever those things are called that hold floating candles. She stuffs in some gold beads, pours in water and lifts the christmas aquarium onto her fridge. "Sooooooo pretty," I exclaim with pure delight!

Outside, the house is strung with beautiful white lights. It's as if  generations of the McDonald Clan (including those arriving from Portland Island in the U.K.) are descending for a homecoming extravaganza. But, no, that isn't happening and given that, I have the $64 million question. What the hell is the motivating factor for doing all the work? Where does that come from?

I ponder this as she hands me a glass of Baileys and I sit down and update her on my last couple of days which, in Pauline work time equates in action to perhaps a mere 4 hours. Maggie, her affectionate black Scottie dog cuddles up to me on the couch. Who's crazy now I think, enjoying the taste of Baileys while I pet Maggie and revel in the pseudo Claus workshop right here on Salt Spring.

The whirling dervish dessert diva is a Christmas tradition. Mr. Bean's got nothing on Pauline.

December 14, 2009

Stream of Consciousness Colour

Sometimes when I see this type of luscious colour, it makes me wish I could dive into it and through one of the flower petals, find an opening to the most magical world just on the other side of the street; one I'd never noticed until now.
When I die, wrap me in this type of colour. Lay it at my feet so I may cross a rising stream and stay dry. See it blowing softly, flapping in the breeze. Let me wrap it round me and pretend that I am thin again. It's the colour that fuels dreams. Countries we wish we could visit. Exotic fish swimming in blue seas. Love, brand new with infinite possibilities.  Children taking their first tippy steps. Riding a bike for the first time and keeping your balance. Seeing old friends who always help you feel that everything's going to be okay. A smile. Excitement. Pleased.

What's your favorite colour and why? Tell me.

December 06, 2009

Polytechnique Montreal: Missing Herstories


to carry on


in spite of
one angry man

tearing them asunder

just a day like any other
before his rage
changed herstories

Honouring those friends and family and professors and staff who found the strength to continue after the tragedy, December 6, 1989 at Polytechnique Montreal.

Why it still matters 20 years later: Violence Against Women information

December 05, 2009

Victoria's Chinatown: A Great Fast Food Experience

Yesterday I had a meeting in Victoria in the early afternoon. As usual, I was early, so I treated myself to lunch. I wanted  to eat somewhere as inexpensive as possible but with decent food of course.

The meeting was near Chinatown anyway so on what was a stunner of a day, I wandered around and discovered that there appears to be an "it" place right across from the CRD offices that serves up all sorts of spicey noodle boxes. It was too busy.

Next, I wandered back from where I'd come and saw a little hole in the wall (my favorite kind of place when I'm in the mood for that kind of thing). My instincts said the food would be good. It was quite crowded and it looked like it had been there since the 1930s. In fact, on a wall high above were two photos of Fisgard Street from a long time ago. Actually, it didn't look all that much different.

The ceilings were really high. The walls were covered with the ugliest gold embossed wallpaper that looks like it belongs in the bedroom at a really cheap brothel. There was a fishtank, a really big fishtank, sitting right in front of my table. I kept looking at the fish, all vibrant purples, whiter than whites and a little seal fish. At least that's what I'm calling it. This fish had the head of a cute little baby seal but it had the tail of a fish. That's weirder than all those mutant miniature dogs you see in Vancouver's West End. Unlike those dogs, the little seal fish was so cute. Are you confused? When all the polar ice caps finally melt to an even greater extreme will the real life-sized seals mutate into this form I wondered?

Across from me was an elderly chinese man was eating alone. I wondered if this was his Friday lunch outing. He was very well put together. Beside me a Chinese couple were eating their wonton. I enjoyed listening to them speak Mandarin (I think?) A woman cam in and sat next to me. She put all her cycling paraphenalia on the second chair at her table. I started talking to her and she spoke about how great it was to live in Victoria (she'd been there about 3 years) and be able to ride everywhere.

I was trying to eat my shrimp udon and feeling like the guy on the other side of the room was smiling to himself as I used  chopsticks the whole time to eat my soup to get at the noodles. Not exactly proper I guess. Like eating soup with a knife?

There was only one waitress who was clearly overworked in the craziness of the lunch rush and being near the door I could watch both the activity on the street, people comign and going to the vegetable stand across the street and the people coming in. I really enjoyed the bustle of it all and even better, I didn't know and had never seen a single one of these people.

After my meeting I wandered down to the harbour and it was so crisp and sunny everything sparkled. I then decided to go into The Empress and looked at all the Christmas trees decorated by different organizations placed throughout the hotel. I walked past the tea room and thought that one day that is something I want to do with friends. I want to have tea at The Empress Hotel with friends.

I used to think that I couldn't live in Victoria, that it was too boring. Now, each time I go, I"m beginning to think my mind is being opened to being changed. But, for now, it's a great day trip!

December 03, 2009

This Planet's a Musical Island

Unfortunately, I forget the name of this family but they are an example of musical talent on Salt Spring. It's everywhere! Mom, sons and even Dad played at the Salt Spring Island Fall Fair and they are really decent musicians.

My article in the latest issue on pages 22-24 in AQUA magazine is about a great little hub of a music store in Ganges called Acoustic Planet Music. It's a cross between Corner Gas and North of 60.

November 30, 2009

Are you a Guru in Training?

sculpture by Peter McFarlane

Some time between 1999 and 2003, I lived in a teeny weeny bachelor suite  in the West End of Vancouver in a building called The King George. It had a lot of character. In fact, the biggest character in it was the landlord. His name was Dave. He was this short, wiry, three-pack-a-day, tattooed guy with a long grey beard. He always wore one of those boxy caps that are usually sold in stores that sell stuff from developing countries. His long scraggles of grey/black hair would hang out from under the cap.

When I first met him and I sat talking to him in his kitchen as he looked over my rental application. I was a little afraid of what I might be getting myself into if I rented from this guy. I thought he might have some Hell's Angel's connections. He had a really scratchy smoker's voice and he talked in a way that gives new depth to the meaning of the word cynical. He knew the entire neighborhood and he walked in a way that's hard to describe but imagine the letter I leaning kind of fluidly from one side then the next.

It was a pretty small building with only about 25 suites and my suite was right next to his. Well, it was right next to his before he moved out and took up residence across the hall from his girlfriend, about 5 feet from mine.

I can't recall his exact words but usually when he was doing some really shitty job like picking apart the recycling which too many people are too lazy and stupid to sort accurately (ya that sounds negative but it's accurate) or cleaning up some mess that some derelict had left behind when they moved out in the middle of the night, he'd comment on how it was okay. It was okay because this was the work of the soul and how he'd learned everything he needed to know about human nature and himself because of the worst paying job he'd ever had in his life. It didn't pay well. He barely survived himself but he was in daily reality guru training. My term not his.

He didn't have a big office. He didn't have a car. I'm not sure he even knew how to drive. He didn't have any degrees. He used to say that he'd lived as a monk but I always wondered what he meant by that exactly. I never quite got the full story. He also said he worked as a social worker with street youth which I believed.

In contrast to his own appearance, his apartment could have been in an architectural digest magazine It was medieval heaven. Dark wood. Rennie Mackintosh designs. Embroidered pillows. It was spotless and full of interesting artefacts from another time handcrafted and often adorned with brass.

On more than a few occasions when I was going through some rough times, Dave just seemed to materialize, sit down, have a cup of tea with me and listen. He's one of those people that come across your existence that will never know how much you appreciated them.

I was thinking of Dave today.  I was thinking of him as I listened to someone who couldn't stop talking about herself; all her accomplishments, none of which were all that interesting and I thought to myself, there's something to be said to be of that age when you don't really give a shit anymore what someone else has or hasn't done because it has nothing to do with you because your journey is not theirs and their accomplishments, however impressive, are rather meaningless to you if you know what I mean.

Life is no longer about what the outside world sees.

There is something about looking after someone as a parent or as a caregiver -  in relationship in all its complexity - that any artificial job title or accomplishment that all the world can see seems so uni-dimensional in comparison to what they can't see in the tiniest moments between two people - in conflict, helping, kindness -the interpersonal connections that act as the invisible sands on the road to the pearls of self actualization.


November 27, 2009

Christmas Window Competition

The Driftwood is holding a downtown Christmas Light-up Competition and I'm not sure why but my co-worker and I really got into the idea for the Care Employment Centre  on Salt Spring this year.

I scoured the local Thrift Shops for some Teddy Bears: Garfield, a monkey, a sad looking brown teddy were just a few of my finds.  A friend of Suzanne's brought in a tiny old-fashioned red wagon. Suzanne brought in some big Christmas-type bags and holly from her mom's tree. One of our clients had the perfect Santa and she also gave us the creative ideas related to the little signs.

We pocketed stir sticks from Salt Spring Coffee Company to make the little wooden signs for our bears to hold up which say things like: "Hire Me" or "Better Carpenter than Mike Holmes", "Care aid at your service", "15+years experience as a server", "Computer Whiz Kid", "CEO, Presents Inc." (for Santa to hold up) and  "Employers Needed. Spread the Joy."

Cotton batten is our snow. I'd purchased some white window shutters at the Fulford Flea Market a week earlier and they became the backdrop. I raided my own Christmas box for some stars and a few other things. About five trips to Mouat's Hardware later and we had the lights up and working.

We really got into this and voila, as you can see above, we have our cute little window display.

We can win $50 or $100 but even if we don't win, we had a ton of fun creating it and it might catch the attention of those people in town who have never really thought to drop in.

Tonight the judges will wander Ganges from window to window and decide who wins. 

Wish us luck!

November 24, 2009

The Chi of Fortuitous Meetings

It has taken me a very, very long time but I no longer question or doubt my feelings or inner awareness when I meet someone who right away I know will have some impact on my life or will be a part of my life in some way.

It doesn't happen often. I can count on one hand the number of times it has happened in 48 years but in each instance, when I look back, I was completely aware that at the moment I met them or at the first meeting that they were "different", "special", a soul-mate in the non romantic sense of that word.  There was always some tug, a space that demanded attention to give your inner awareness a chance to catch up with what was happening externally as your consciousness processed what was taking place in the physical world.

It's hard to explain in words the awareness that takes place if you have never been truly conscious of such a meeting but in almost every instance in the past when I have tried to negate the connection, I have been thwarted and it has risen to be front and centre in my existence in either a very positive way or a negative way or a little-of-both.

I have become aware in recent years that when I need something or someone to materialize, it or they inevitably does.

The other week I was at an event alone where about 100 people were in attendance. It was a concert. I was sitting there and a man walked into the room with his wife. I looked at him and I felt completely compelled to talk to him but as a single female, I'm not about to start chatting up some stranger, accompanied by his wife, at an entertainment event especially if it meant going out of my way to turn around.

To be clear, I'm not talking about a physical attraction, not that he wasn't physically attractive, but the compulsion was so strong that it was as if an invisible hand was pushing me towards him. This is not usually, never has been for me, the result of a one-way energy field.

The proof? Without any focused effort on my part, at intermission, he began talking to me. In a very short time we exchanged e-mails and today met up. He's from L.A. He lives here six months of the year. He treated me to a coffee and we had a very interesting exchange related to possibilities for writing work and I have no doubt that at some point in the future, I will work with him or gain work through him.

The trick is to learn when to surrender to the connection and be open to its possibilities instead of doubting it.

If you've never had this happen, you probably wonder what I'm talking about. Perhaps surrender is the topic of this blog post actually. Today, during meditation with my lady, the topic focused on surrendering, knowing when to surrender and to look, throughout your day at your choice of response.

There is always in every situation the highest possible response and a low-level response that will only add flames to the fire so to speak.

Throughout the week, when you're faced with challenging circumstances, people who push your buttons, or you feel unconsciously compelled to react without foresight, you could take a breath, get conscious, and
remind yourself that there is a choice.

There is the highest possible response which is a detour from your usual response and of course there is the lowest common denominator response.  It's a challenge we could all benefit from I think. And some people, perhaps those who are our biggest test, will inevitably always force us into the reactive behaviour until we finally learn to surrender, even if it takes more than one lifetime to get it!

November 19, 2009

Homeless on Salt Spring

I see him sitting in the cafe soaked to the bone. His curly hair hangs in damp rotini spirals and water drips off the dark brown tips adding to the sheen of his face. His eyes always seem a bit wild to me. Piercing. On alert. Stuck in the fight or flight response. On Monday, the beginning of the torrential rains, he freaks out in the office first thing. "I hate this fucking island," he yells right at me.  He lives on a boat that someone gave him that has mold and no heat or electricity but he won't go out there because the only way he has to get to it is via a canoe and he's afraid he's going to drown trying to get there in the dark and the winds.

At first, because he's been coming into the office for the entire year and I know him - or at least who he presents when he is in my presence - and it is as if his behaviour is the definition of insanity - doing something over and over again and expecting different results - instead of feeling the compassion I should, I head off in a very wrong direction in my response.

"And what's different about this winter?," I ask.
"What do you mean," he says?
Suddenly it dawns on me. Don't go there.
"What's your point?" he asks more aggressively as we stare at each other.

Another man, barely holding it together, on the phone to the Ministry of Housing and Social Development, after being on hold for at least 20  minutes gets the bad news.  No, that place isn't going to work. It's too expensive. They won't pay. The desperation that he has been keeping well hidden and at bay rises and in its place arrives a palpable hopelessness on today this International Men's Day 2009 in which the theme is  positive male role models. I expect neither of these two men had any when they were little boys or they wouldn't be so lost. Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know their stories. I would like to know their stories.

In a split second, when it dawned on me that trying to make someone who is stuck "see the light" by repeating what seems obvious to you is just as unconscious as expecting them to change a lifelong pattern and the only useful and available response has to be compassion. I quickly got that. I remained silent.

He continued to vent.  I looked at him and I said I couldn't imagine how horrible that would be. I couldn't imagine how cold that would be. I was sorry that he was in this situation. And it worked. He suddenly went quiet. He seemed appeased. He just needed someone to feel SOMETHING for him. He left.

The next day he comes in and I ask him how he is. I tell him that I was thinking about him last night and wondered how he managed. He seemed much better.
"I spent the night on a friend's boat," he says.
"I got in the canoe at 6:00 am. It was now around 1:30 pm."

When I thought of Salt Spring, before I lived here, I'd think artists. But, really, in addition to the marvellously lucky or successfully ingenious or hardworking wealthy and all those artists, there are a very large number of people living on the edge. People who have babies when they have no jobs, no high school education and skills that will keep them poor forever.

Until I moved here, I had no idea what a priviledged existence I'd led. I had no sense of the absolute lack of education and workplace skills that still existed out in the "general population". Maybe because I've spent so many years in the past, working at The University of British Columbia" with my last stint at the Department of Computer Science, that the lack of computer skills on this island by people in need of work is not just unbelievable but it's actually downright frightening. It says a lot about Canada's future and where it's headed.

Knowing how to use a computer, regardless of what you do for a living, is a basic skill for the 21st century. And, yet, there are people who have never touched a mouse. They approach it the way you expect them to, the same way we all did when first confronted by manouvering it.

I would like to kill the interface designer at Microsoft who came up with that pretty round and user-antagonistic icon in Vista that hides all the operating functions because when luddites sit down in front of a computer, they are completely baffled by what to do after they get their bottoms into the chair and suddenly I feel like I've become tech support for people who have come from some other planet in some other century who act as if computers were just invented last week or at worst, that they are evil and the cause of all the social ills in the world. I can't relate to either group. But, I can have compassion for them. That can be my lesson today.

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
Wisdom to know the difference."

November 15, 2009

True Love Comes in So Many Varieties

On this very quiet, saturated with grey and rainy Sunday, I went to the big annual booksale put on as a fundraiser for Salt Spring Community Education. I walked away with a bagful of books for $5 but I want to share with you a story I found in a book called True Love by Robert Fulghum because it made me feel so good after I read it.  The author simply asked people to tell him a short love story. Not one that they'd heard but one that they'd lived.  Here's one:

When I was a junior in college I took a course in the writing of D.H. Lawrence.  I know this sounds really stupid but I thought this was about Lawrence of Arabia, you know - the eccentric British desert warrior guy. I had seen the movie and I wanted to be him. I was not fully alert in college.

I went down to the local used book store to get everything they had. I was a little surprised by the titles: The Rainbow, Women in Love, Sons and Lovers and Lady Chatterley's Lover.  There was a side of Lawrence of Arabia I didn't know about. The clerk explained. Whoa. Bad news, but I had registered for the course and now I had the books and I needed the credits, so I was stuck, I went home to read.

Like  a lot of college students, I bought used books hoping someone else would have already underlined the important stuff. The Lawrence books I bought were thoroughly underlined, and when  I flipped through and read some of the paragraphs about making out, I was blown away. This was really hot stuff. To hell with the other Lawrence and the desert, this Lawrence was my kind of guy. And, I figured that any girls who were taking this course would be my kind of girls.

All the books I bought had the same female name in the front. I figured this girl must have taken the course and then sold the books. She really knew what to underline - not only the juicy parts, but the really beautiful passages that were about love, not just sex.  I looked her name up in the telephone book and she was there. I figured I'd just call her up and see what happened. I was hoping for anything from a date to copies of the papers she had written. College guys play all the angles.

I called her up, introduced myself and told her what I wanted. Shoa again. She was not a girl but a retired college professor of English literature. These books were extras she had sold when she moved to a smaller apartment. She laughed and said she would be glad to have a date with me and she would explain about Lawrence and tell me how to pass the course.

We liked each other right away. She lived alone and her eyes were failing. She said if I would drive her to the grocery store once a week, she would tutor me in Lawrence. During that semester she woke me up about love and sexuality and women. I spent a lot of time with her. I'm a better man because of her. A long time later I told her that if she had been 20 instead of 70 I would have asked her to marry me. She said she would have accepted.

She's dead now. I still have her books and her wisdom and her kind of love. I got an A in the course too.

November 14, 2009

Continuous Assessment and Renewal

Arbutus Trees. They're one of the reasons Salt Spring Island is so beautiful. They lean dramatically, their branches sometimes hanging out over the ocean from tiny cracks, dramatically twisting like dancers performing a modern dance, each dancer's body unique in its positioning.

They keep their leaves all year round and their reddish, mahogany bark sheds by peeling away from the trunk, dropping off in curled slivers and giving a peek to the various shades of new green bark underneath.

That's a lot like moving to a new place. At first, if you like where you are, you're ecstatic to be there. You're excited. Everything is novel and your motivation to participate in ALL of it, is at an all time high. And, then it's done. You look at what you've been doing and you begin to re-assess knowing that you better get a lot smarter in your approach if you're planning on enjoying your life on this island or anywhere so that your sole focus is not on money.

Talking to a friend last night who has been here a year longer than me, it's clear that this process is something that everyone goes through. Have a plan for the future. Don't spend time on things that utilize your talent and pay you next to nothing. If you're going to spend that type of energy, why not go after scenarios that pay well.

I've lost my focus these past 6 months all my energy being scattered between the part-time job, the Market and photography, writing for next to no money for The Driftwood and Aqua. It was fun but it's now time to get serious.

It's now time to get back to the reason I came here, to try and develop a way to live off my writing by tapping into contract work (mainly off island) so that I can eventually remove myself from being where I am four days per week as soon as that's feasible.

My friend and I have both noticed that a significant portion of Salt Spring is populated with underachievers who are okay with that. People who are okay with just getting by and are always looking for ways to just get by because they are conspiracy theorists, anti-government/establishment in a seriously unhealthy way based solely on their emotional biases and perhaps bitterness related to their personal failings.

I spend 18.75 hours a week interacting with a huge number of them. People who think computers are evil. People who are clinging to the past refusing to take personal responsibility for learning and moving forward. In short, victims who refuse to change.

Use this time, says my friend very wisely, as motivation to focusing on moving toward the reason you came here in the first place and stop underselling your own talent, in the same way you keep telling me to stop undervaluing mine.

November 12, 2009

Living with the challenge of a "Been There, Done That" Mentality

This time last year I was positively gushing about Salt Spring and the fact that I was living here on this paradise of an island.

I was going on about how I didn't want to lose sight of how I felt when I was driving and how the views from the car took my breath away. I was so busy writing and I hadn't even found my job yet but I was interacting with so many people and I was really renewed after a previous year of frustration and uncertainty.

I honestly (sorry to say) did not miss my friends from Vancouver when I moved here. Partly because most of them visited, some more than once, and partly because I was so busy and engaged.

It's a shock to miss them in this second year in a way I never missed them at all when I first got here. I just wasn't expecting that.

Now, a mere year and one month later, I'm thinking I'm feeling the way one feels when the initial infatuation of meeting someone new wears off. When suddenly all the things that you didn't want to lose sight of you've somehow managed to lose sight of.

I'm wondering if it's my usual November faced with four months of grey and rain "blahs" or is it that when you do something that you've wanted to do and you have a certain type of personality that can be summed up through "Been There, Done That, What's Next?" then you can't help but look around and think okay, now what? What's next?

On the one hand I can recognize this current discomfort as a positive feeling because once you've experienced what you hadn't experienced previously, then you can tell yourself that's the definition of progress and you are forced to begin to look around to think and feel out what your next step should be even if you have no idea what that might look like. I guess my discomfort is coming from the fact that I didn't think that would happen so fast.

Like a lot of things, the first step is really the easy part. It's beginning to feel that moving to Salt Spring was the easy part. Trying to find a way to live here and be happy and stimulated and not poverty stricken, that's a whole other challenge.

November 11, 2009

One Thing in This World

- photo taken in 2006 in New Mexico, The Painted Desert, Ghost Ranch

The Master said: There is one thing in this world which must never be forgotten. If you were to forget everything else, but did not forget that, then there would be no cause to worry; whereas if you performed and remembered and did not forget every single thing, but forgot that one thing, then you would have done nothing whatsoever.

It is just as if a king had sent you to a country to carry out a specified task. You go and perform a hundred other tasks; but if you have not performed that particular task on account of which you had gone to the country, it is as though you have performed nothing at all.

So you have come into this world for a particular task and that is your purpose; if you do not perform it, then you will have done nothing.

From Discourses of Rumi

This feels like a very timely little piece for me to read. I thought I'd share it with you. What is that one thing that you think your soul has come here for?

November 01, 2009

Halloween Torch upstages Olympic Torch

The Olympic Torch came to Salt Spring yesterday. The paper said one time. The reality was another about an hour later. As a result, like a lot of other people, I spent quite a bit of time just wandering around "down town", drinking coffee, enjoying the fantastic weather and chatting.

Now, when this type of event happens in a small town, it's just another excuse to socialize, complain, be cynical, joke and look around to see who's there. The pipe band figured out that they better entertain. A crowd began to gather.

Soon a rainbow of balloons materialized to become an archway. The girls gymnastics team sang Oh Canada. Official Driftwood photographer Derrick was there waiting to take the official photos. Salt Spring Community.com had their video camera ready to get footage to go on the web.

The torch was coming in via floatplane. People in Olympic outfits were being passed on the street by grown men wearing cow outfits and zombies with blood running down their face, little girls in angel costumes and skeletons. It was Halloween afterall.

Finally, after what seemed like a few hours of waiting, a Harbour Air floatplane landed. The anticipation rose. An RCMP officer told us to make a break in the crowd so the torch could go straight up the center of the road.

I really couldn't see much. I had my camera ready. Suddenly out of nowhere a young guy with his long brown hair flowing wearing a maroon-coloured toga came running, a torch raised high above his head. There was only one problem, this torch was made of tin foil. It was his Halloween costume.

After the split second confusion - nope, this ain't the real torch - the crowd let out a unanimous cheer. That was the highlight. It was really funny because he looked the way I think we all want the Olympic runners to look, like they used to look way back in the day, when the Olympics first began. Tradition! It happened so fast and was so unexpected that I didn't even get a photo.

Then, the real torch came. The real torch looks like a boomerang that somebody got seriously wrong. It's sleek and white with a strange little crook in it. It's sterile and kinda boring. You could barely see the flame coming out the top of it.

A woman in her 50s was carrying it for the first leg of the island journey. There was a very small RCMP presence but they had brought in enforcements. I heard there was a lone protestor. I heard that someone threw red paint and hit an innocent bystander.

The Olympic torch has been to Salt Spring.

Thank you to whomever that creative guy was. He made the wait worth it.

October 27, 2009

Dangerous Elders

It it's Tuesday morning it's time for meditation. But first the ordeal of getting an elder ready.

Today everything was going so well until we got to the door of the house. I turned to open the door and in the split second that I turned, and she moved from steadying herself with her walker to her cane, something happened and in slow motion I could see her coming towards me falling towards the front closet door.

I lurched to grab her with my left arm grabbing one of her own arms. You would think I was a football player reaching with the tips of my fingertips for the ball just before it touches the ground. As a result, I unsteadied myself and landed on my back with her on top of me. Jesus. Lucky for her, I"m a puffy one now. It's a relatively soft landing.

I got up and grabbed her under her arms from behind and righted her as if nothing had happened. I'll probably end up breaking my own hip trying to prevent her from breaking hers I thought to myself not amused. Free rent. Keep repeating that. I haven't had to repeat it yet. But, we have reached the one month mark of living in the "basement" and the 3 month mark of sleeping overnight, Monday to Thursday.

When I knew she was okay, I started laughing trying to circumvent one of those laughing fits that just keeps coming up as the memory replays in your mind.

"What is it about you and me," I say rhetorically. "How come every time I'm with you and you fall down, I fall down too? It's like a sympathy fall!I say jokingly.

We get in the car. As I'm driving her Toyota Echo along Vesuvius Bay Road she starts to stay something her in gravel-lane voice (because a former stroke has affected her voice) and then she's wincing and grabbing her chest. I'm looking at her and I'm confused. Now what?

"What's wrong," I say, not fully recovered from the early morning fall. She doesn't answer me.

"What's wrong," I say more loudly, with greater urgency already playing in my mind the route to Lady Minto Hospital.

"Are you okay?" I ask.

Yes, she finally says laughing. Was she feigning a heart attack as a joke? God only knows. My blood pressure is through the roof. Let's just get to the bloody church. Too much exciting pre-8:00 am.

We get to the church. I'm the one who needs the meditation.

We enter and it's got that slightly musty church smell. The dark wood is layed in vertical strips. There are only 5 dark pews on each side. A red carpet leads to a large alter and above that three beautiful stained-glass windows. The middle one is a picture of Jesus (I guess) wearing a flowing ruby red robe and his hand is up in the air, sort of like Superman's is when he's ready to take off.

There's a dedication under the window to two men in drowned in Ganges Harbour in 1898. There are two side windows and the morning sun is lighting the pink of what looks like a celtic cross to a sparkle. Inside the pink, a small round circle is glass in my favorite shade of green. I want to lose myself in the brightness of that green backlit by the sun.

Three people are there already and silent. Our arrival interrupts them slightly. Without saying a word we take our seats. There are two women and a young guy with a black hoodie. Who's he I wonder. Why's he doing this? What's his story? He's kinda cute. I like his salt and pepper beard. Mid to late 30s. Why? I want to know why he would want to do this? Of course, I can't speak to him.

A conservative looking woman sits to the left of Margaret. She appears to be in her mid to late 50s. Another woman is kneeling on the rug. she has a long, taupe-coloured, hand-woven shawl around her shoulders. A tibetan bowl and wooden pestle lay on the red carpet beside her.

I close my eyes feeling tired. She woke me up last night at 3:30 flushing the toilet. I marvel at this twist in my life. Now I'm sitting in an Anglican church before 8am on a Tuesday morning. How did this happen I wonder. I admire the stain glass. I want to keep my eyes open and soak up every detail of this cute little sanctuary.

We've been sitting in silence and my lady lets out a little chuckle. A big smile crosses my face. I think I know what she's laughing about. Silence returns. Another five minutes pass. Another chuckle.

I was just getting into it when suddenly, it's over. The shortest meditation in history. An ADHD child could probably do this I thought to myself. The others begin a walking meditation and Margaret indicates it's time to leave. I want to say No. I want to be a defiant child at bed time. I'm not ready to go. I just got here. I want to hear what they're going to say at the end. I want to hear that guy speak.

But, no, we leave. I ask her how long the walkling meditation is. Five minutes she says. Five minutes. Why don't we stay I say. It's a bit much for me she says. Damn.
You mean from now until Christmas I'm going to go to this Church every Tuesday and I'm never going to know who these people are because I'm never going to speak to them.

I walk away with a handout. It's not meditation. It's called centering prayer actually which is a christian form of meditation.

October 20, 2009

Morning Meditation and Two Margarets

I took the usual hot lemon and water into my lady this morning and she started to get out of bed. "I'm getting dressed," she said.
"What?" "But you haven't had breakfast!"
"Get my clothes. I'm going to meditation," she says.

I make the horrible mistake of asking, Are you sure? She refrains from saying anything like yes I'm sure you idiot. What do you think I am senile?

She told me she wanted me to take her to meditation at 8 on Tuesdays but for some reason I assumed 8pm, not 8am. And, I was a little confused because I thought, she can barely stay awake until 9pm, how's she going to go to meditation at 8pm by the time I pick her up I'll have to carry her like when parents go out for the evening and their toddlers fall asleep and have to be carried to the car. She's not very big but I'm not that strong.

I grab her clothes off the chair. Socks. shoes. Tie the laces.She pulls on her baggy sweats haphazardly. Undershirt. Cotton turtle neck. Sweater vest. You would think I'd actually had children given how good I am at taking on and off her clothes in record time. I impress myself even. You did that pretty good she says. What do you mean pretty good I wonder. How about damn good! You would think I'd had a lot of practice taking off other people's clothes alot. Not true. I hate taking other people's clothes off which is just fine because it's a skill that isn't high up on the necessary requirements in my daily life list and even, in the past, when it was, I preferred it if they took their own clothes off.

She grabs her cane and with ease I grab her other arm and we get to the passenger side of her Toyota. This is easy I think. I didn't know it would be this easy. Hell, we're not sittin'around here everynight when she's this portable. Let's see what entertainment can we take in this week that ends by 9pm. Leon Bibb is coming to Art Spring. I wonder if she'd be into that? Swing classes? (kidding) The sky's the limit.
Maybe she can take up an instrument and come with me to band practice. We could use another alto sax.

I jump in the Toyota and drive the 10 minutes to St. Mark's Church on what has to be the most dangerous corner on Salt Spring. A cop is following me all the way. My lady reminds me to slow to 30 mph in the school zone. We drive up the bumpy, dirt lane that leads to the church, past a grave stone surrounded by a fence that looks like it has been there before Christ arrived on earth.

I get her out of the car, and walk into the dark church which is the cutest thing I've ever seen inside. It's as if the late Canadian writer Margaret Laurence might be sitting in on this meditation group as well. Have we teleported to Manawaka?

A group of people are sitting talking quietly and my lady is greeted by one of them with such joy and friendliness that I'm happy that she has insisted on coming.

I bid her farewell and drive back home. Park the car. Drink my coffee. Eat my raisin bran. And depart downstairs into my cozy basement paradise to watch the deer in the field and prepare for another day before heading to work.

PS: The photo above is not a photo of St. Marks. It's a church in Chemainus, BC.

October 18, 2009

Swing Shift, Samba Lessons and Japanese Exchange Students

Saturday night I asked Karin if she wanted to go to hear the big bands that were playing at Fulford Hall. The guest band was from Courtenay. And, Salt Spring's Swingshift was playing as well. Tables were layed out cabaret-style and just about the only thing missing was Lawrence Welk and the bubble machine. Well, okay. Eligible men weren't there either.
These two bands, if you like 40s big band music, were great.

We`ve gone to so many events lately - Karin and I - that island lesbians are looking at us thinking we're just like "them". "How did I get so lucky to have such a hot babe like you as my girlfriend?" I ask jokingly.

Friday night was the art opening that kicks off a week of celebrating 150 years since the first black settlers arrived on Salt Spring. Karin had a piece in the show. She`s black. Her mother`s white. her father`s black. But, as she herself pointed out, skin colour just doesn`t seem like the defining reason to be part of something at this point in history.

"Do you ever wonder why we've come together,"I asked her earlier in the evening, a thought I'd had that afternoon. But, she's not the least bit metaphysical. She most certainly does not believe that "there are no coincidences." "Because we have good conversations," she says. "We have the same humour. Because we live here."

We both know that if this were the city not only would we never have met or become friends but we most certainly wouldn`t be hanging out on Saturday evenings. She is 11years younger than me. And, she doesn`t look like she belongs here. I once saw her pulling her suitcase through Ganges and she looked as if she was a model going off to her next shoot. I just observed her and smiled to myself.

We get out of her car outside Fulford Hall after parking along the road. The parking lot is packed. We can hear the music wafting outside, disappearing into the darkness of the night. I laugh at our "big night on the town". We`re walking down the middle of the road and not worried about a single vehicle in either direction.

We walk in and purchase our tickets for $16 and the band is already playing. There`s a lot of people there. We find some seats. I introduce myself to the man seated to my left. He looks Persian. When I ask him where he`s from he says Scotland. His wife is playing keyboards in the band. His name is Fred. They`ve lived in Courtenay for 3 years or so.

When Swingshift takes over, his wife joins him and they get up to dance. They are amazing dancers. When they take a break, they give Karin and I Samba lessons in the back corner. It was fun.

The cool thing is that the band is full of people that you`re used to seeing in other capacities. The guy who sells fish at the market is playing trumpet. The tiny, spunky Japanese woman who owns my favorite restaurant is playing trumpet. My band teacher is doing a sax solo. The conductor is the fish selling, trumpet player`s daughter.

There's wine. There's beer. There`s delicious homemade cookies and old-fashioned squares.

I notice five Japanese exchange students follow in their Canadian 'mother' like ducklings. They`re wearing black jeans and they don`t look too thrilled to be there thank you very much.

One can only imagine the warped impression they will have of Canada if they only live on Salt Spring for their entire 'exchange' year. They`d go back home claiming that Canadians only eat raw food. They never get married. They have kids with at least two or three different people. They barter for everything. They`re crazy in love with organic everything no matter the cost. They never tire of potlucks and they are fashion disasters. Thank God the sushi place here is relatively decent.

Poor things. Fun night.

PS: I just couldn't find a photo of mine that made sense so sorry, no photo.

October 17, 2009

Seeing Nature Through Native Eyes

I woke up to pouring rain and headed off to a course I'd signed up for called Seeing Nature through Native Eyes offered through Salt Spring Community Education. The instructor, Jean-Claude Catry, is thin, a raw food eater, long gray braids tied into one at the back. His brown eyes were bird-like in their intensity. He greeted us at the back of a place near Ruckle Park surrounded by forest.

The first thing I noticed about him was that in spite of the pouring rain and muck, he was walking around in leather flip flops. The sand and dirt from the ground was sticking to his toes as if they were barnacles. Around the house which was a run-down, two-storey wooden structure, there was stuff everywhere; a child's old wooden rocking horse, boxes of fruit, broken equipment and another place beside the main structure. I noticed that place had a makeshift bed outside on a second floor deck. All that covered the bed was a plexi-glass roof. I was trying to get my head around sleeping there, especially, in February.

He had a very strong French accent and I imagine that he may have spent a lot of time in school because in spite of the challenge of understanding his accent, his choice of English words was impeccable.

Three other women were there. That surprised me. I expected the participants to be more and younger. We followed Jean-Claude in the pouring rain through a couple of gates to prevent the chickens from escaping and he led us toward a big structure covered with found bits from the forest.

I found it ironic that whereas we were dressed in various bits of Goretex, Jean-Claude was wearing layers of wool sweaters, some thin, cotton khaki pants, sandals, and carried a mangled green umbrella over his head and a cloth Thrifty's bag in the other with his lunch and some books on plants and birds.

The structure was made teepee style and on top was straw, hay, branches, leaves. A 5 by 5 foot piece of fur was stretched on a hand-made, crooked wooden frame. We find out later it's sea lion. Above the entrance were four deer hooves attached to the bottom of the deer legs. Road kill he said, when I enquired.

Jean-Claude grabbed some straw, told us to take some and throw it on the ground for our seats. We sat around a circle and he began the day speaking about gratitude. The raindrop are like a percussion section above us on the tarp covering the hut making it hard to hear his soft-spoken voice.

Our first exercise requires us to go to a sit spot. Find a spot in the forest that we are drawn to and sit there for 10 minutes return and describe what we noticed.

When was the last time you just sat down in nature and were quiet and just looked? Stayed in one spot for 20 minutes and just paid attention. What did it smell like? What were the birds doing? Did you even hear the birds? Did you know what any of the plants were around you or is the natural world just a pleasing but confusing sea of earth tones? Could you make a fire from scratch, not matches, if you had to? Would you know what berries and mushrooms are edible?

He spoke a lot about two men: Jon Young and Tom Brown Jr. Tom Brown Jr. was befriended by a native elder, Stalking Wolf, who had been wandering the Americas following a vision quest. When he came upon Tom Brown Jr. at a stream, he knew that this young boy (7 years olds) was who he was supposed to coyote mentor and spend the last yeras of his life with passing on his wilderness skills and hundreds of years of Apache culture. Tom Brown Jr. has since written 16 books, his first called The Tracker, published in 1978. Jon Young who learned from Tom Brown has opened a Wilderness Awareness School in Washington State.

Other exercises included looking at 6 leaves from the forest for 20 seconds and then having to go find them and place them in the exact order that you saw. Grab a partner. Blindfolded, they lead you into the forest to a tree and return you. You then must find "your" tree. Take your shoes off, that's right, take them off, and walk properly, toes, side of foot and heel in the dirt so as not to make a sound. Listen to the birds. The birds, he tells us, can tell us so much about ourselves.
When you go to a place in the forest, it will take about 20 minutes for the birds to return to "normal" after your arrival. Listen to them. Are they agitated? They are reflecting your energy he says. Listen to the pattern of the rhythm they make. Don't worry about naming them.

He wants us to go back to our sit spot daily. At first it will be a chore. but then, you will want to go. It will be your form of meditation. It should be no further than 10 minutes from your house.

He also offers wilderness teaching to kids on Fridays, and a survival course begins next weekend where people will come together with only a blanket and a knife and must feed themselves from the forest and build a fire without matches over a weekend. I'm not going. In the summer I'd be interested. Not right now.

October 13, 2009

BitterSweet to the Core

-I finally got out on Robert's zodiac and here's a great photo of him along with some beautiful scenes from the water.

I'm not sure if you experience this but every so often I get glimpses into the bittersweetness of life with such clarity that it almost brings tears to my eyes.

The poignancy of someone's personal struggle to find their place in the world and seeing how they are feeling a little lost and yet I can see who they are - their strengths, their character - and wishing they could see what I see and then maybe they'd have more hope. Knowing that people have, in the past, felt that way about me.

Watching a deer walking tentatively down the middle of the road as I make the morning coffee. Its beauty and fragility as seen from the kitchen window.

Being privy to the challenges of old age. Not wanting to be a part of what I see and yet knowing this gift of seeing my lady is a daily reminder to live in the moment and always be conscious of the next move in life knowing that it's a balancing act between making a choice and being part of a flow that will simply lead to the next chapter.

The sorrow I feel on the one hand being there for a stranger at night and yet knowing that my own 91 year old father sits, alone, in his own house watching TV and yet he tells me, when I ask why he won't come visit, that he's just content where he is.

And, during the day, helping to manage the intensity and anxiety of people on a small island who are seeking employment and who walk through our door. Each of them seeking a way out of a transition, a new path, answers, purpose. And, being on the other end of that (because I have walked in their shoes an undoubtedly will again) I see the sheer life energy and struggle behind finding a way to find paid employment that will bring more than money even if money is the immediate need when we all know that it's never really ever just about money.

It all just strikes me so vividly at times that the intensity of feeling for a split second seems overwhelming and then it's gone. Just like life.

October 11, 2009

Norman Rockwell in real life

Walking along the boardwalk this afternoon and like a gift, this mom, her two daughters and the dog engrossed by something in the water and their reflections is straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. At least, that's what it reminded me of.

Late Afternoon walk

yesterday's walk
took me down the road
around the corner
into the sun
dirt line in the woods
sunlit solitude
led me to the rock beach
home of driftwood sculpture
and apples missing
their mother trees

October 08, 2009

Margaret Atwood's Twitter Page Causes My Own 'Trauma Farm'

Tonight I volunteered to take photos of Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party, who was speaking on Salt Spring when the guy who organized it couldn't be there and asked if I'd do it.

It has been quite a while since I've been at an event where I've had to try and take candid shots of someone in the way I used to as a community newspaper reporter. I forgot how challenging it can be at times. I forgot that I'm now approaching 50 and sitting on the floor cross legged so as not to block the view of the people behind me in order to get a good shot is, well, painful. Kundalini yoga is calling my name but obviously not loudly enough.

Bill Henderson
of Chilliwack fame was sitting behind me. Didn't want to block his view. Valdy opened the evening with a tune or two. And, Elizabeth May was on shaking hands, greeting people, smiling, and as I watched her and tried to catch her in a good light, her best side, I just kept thinking, what in the world would make a woman in Canada want to be part of the House of Commons and question period. That sexist zoo of freaks who act in a way that would not be allowed in any other environment in Canada. And, she herself said that it's much worse in person than on TV because of the constant heckling and cat calling and comments towards women like, I guess you're not on your meds today, etc.
The whole scene makes me sick. So, I just was listening to this intelligent woman thinking why in the world would anyone want to be part of that regardless of how much they might tell themselves that it's for the betterment of the country.
Anyway, I suppose I'm glad she does want to be. Good for her. I'd vote for her. Matter of fact, I think I will.

Afterwards writer Brian Brett was speaking on his new book Trauma Farm. I was going to go listen to him but there was a gap in time and whenever there's a gap in time and there's nothing for me to do, it's just easier to come home after a long day when I'm tired so I did. But, I decided to look up this Trauma Farm (great name) and find out what I was missing and while I did that, what should I come across but Margaret Atwood's Twitter page.

Call me crazy but there is something seriously wrong with the world when Margaret Atwood has a twitter page. Why? Does she really write it? Why? Margaret Atwood does not require a Twitter page! Is her publicist writing. Please god tell me that Margaret Atwood does not sit down and text in Tweets. That's nuts. That just does not fit my image of Margaret Atwood and I'm indignant that my image could be so wrong.

She does not need Twitter. She does not need anything but whatever she needs to continue doing what she does best: Writing. Not tweeting. Not some stupid, useless, waste of time less than 140 characters on how she refrained from drinking non organic coffee between flights. Are you kidding me? That's ridiculous.

I saw Margaret Atwood at UBC in the mid 1980s. She seemed kind of Wicken-like. Long black cape. Very drawl. Glib. Not the kind of personality that would give one flying you know what about Twitter. So, what gives?

Watercoloured Salt Spring

The best thing about having artists as friends is that they really see things through more intense observation or because their minds think in unusual ways or because they see how things could be, not how they are, and they pay attention in ways, I think, that other people don't or can't.

Keiko visited in June with her husband George and just the other day she sent me these .jpg images of three watercolour paintings she's completed as a result of her visit here. I love them. Especially the one of my favorite place: The barn at Ruckle and the road running past it.

Here they are. I'm sure they're for sale if you're interested. Of course they are copyright. All rights protected. Keiko See. 2009

October 05, 2009

Pear Pie with a twist

If you ever made a pie with a bone on top
would you give it to your dog
for a birthday treat?

would you eat it on all fours
gulping it quickly, past your teeth?

would you serve it to your husband
with a smile oh so sweet,
then wait for his bark
which is worse than his bite?

If you ever made a pie with a bone on top
you could eat it off the floor and forego a plate.

If you ever made a pie with a bone on top
would we have to worry 'bout you
should we check for rabies?

If you ever made a pie with a bone on top
I think I'd like you lots
for being just the right kind of freak.

October 03, 2009

VIB: Very Important Bunnies

We have this great list on Salt Spring at SaltSpringCommunity.com. Whatever you can imagine, it will be there or if you're looking for something - a hairdresser, a Playboy magazine from 1965, a piece of antique machinery, put it on the list. Ask and you shall receive. Never boring.

This ad caught my attention and brought a smile to my face...

"I am graduating next summer, and will have a difficult time keeping all of my seven rabbits, so I need to let these three go...however hard it is. I ask for two references, and an interview. [This was my favorite part - INTERVIEW!] Previous rabbit experience is not required, or even preferred- responsibilty before everything.

If I get muliple responses, the rabbits will go to the most appropriate home, not the first responder. Please remember that rabbits can live 8-12 years. If I feel that you are suitable for a rabbit, but my rabbits aren't the ones for you, I can forward you to a number of other breeders.

The rabbits will be at the Apple Festival Sunday at Fulford Hall, or contact me to come see them at my home. If I do not find a home that I am happy with I will continue to hold on to them until I do."

October 02, 2009

Happy Anniversary to Me

It's been one year on Salt Spring. Happy Anniversary to me. To celebrate, I moved. And, just as I was happy to move into the Moon Gate cottage when I got here, I was happy to leave. I'll miss the deck. I won't miss the darkness of the cottage. I won't miss the freezing cold bedroom. I'm hoping for way less spiders and after a week of being here almost, it's true. I may occasionally miss the hot tub. I will have to figure out new ways for friends to visit for free. I now have a full fridge and stove again. Does this mean I can actually buy ice cream again. NO! No it doesn't. Don't even let your mind go there.
I must keep this short because I'm starving and I'm needing to do all that goes with moving, recycling, cleaning (de ja vu) (still).
There's something incredibly free-ing about moving into a bachelor suite again. But, it's a really bright bachelor suite and I love the view. Very peaceful. Oh, and it's free. Did I mention that? Well, nothing's truly free but it's good. I'm feeling good.

Year 2 Salt Spring. Onward.

September 26, 2009

Martians and Windex and Indian Summers

Yesterday. Where do I begin? Yesterday was just one of those days. It was as if martians had landed with an extra large load of windex and got busy shining up everything to inifinity.

English please? It was so beautiful I felt like I'd entered heaven on earth. It reminded me why moving to Salt Spring in late September/October is really the only time to move here (imho) because it's too good to be true gorgeous and one even has some hope of finding a place to rent. That's second.

I was driving to the North End along the road that parallels St. Mary's Lake and hints of oranges, yellows, and tree greens reflected in the mirror of lake water. The morning sunshine, golden with Fall, was streaming through the leaves of the trees along the road and making patterns.

I was on my way to an orchard to talk to the owner for an upcoming Driftwood story and I always like driving up roads on the island because there are so many I've never known and they are full of surprises in so many ways.

I entered the property and drove past a few old cabins coming to a stop beside a beautiful pottery studio with a wooden parking sign.

An older man looking very fit sporting a 2004 BC Seniors Games T-shirt and shorts greeted me by saying, "You must be Alice?" "No," I said, "I'm Gayle."
"Good," he said, "if you'd said yes, I'd know you were the wrong person."

He has a Ph.D. in Zoology and taught Wildlife Management at the University of Alaska and lived in Fairbanks for 30 years. His wife also has a PhD in the same thing. They met at UBC in the 1950s.

They own 17 acres of property that had been owned first by early black settlers on the island (160 acres) taken over in 1922 by English settlers.

Their retirement heaven consists of the main house, a cold storage shed, pottery studio, two other old cottage-type dwellings, a round pond surrounded by a stand of Fir trees with greenery all around its edges and a raft of floating iris in the middle that bloom traditional purple in the Spring.

Bob Weeden of Whims Farm has become extremely knowledgeable about heritage apples and he began his hobby orchard in 1992 when he planted 100 trees. He never intended to have apple trees or even to live on Salt Spring (but a detour on a cycling trip) and memories from his youth in New England during the Depression era when he'd go, on weekends, to the commercial orchards to pick the windfalls in exchange for some pocket change conspired to transform dream dust into reality.

We walked through the gate into a sloping green landscape with the dappled gnarly trunks of apple trees, their waxy green leaves contrasting the hues of apples, dangling like clusters of Rubies, Amber and emeralds.

He told me about them as we passed each tree: Gravensteins. Kings or King of Tompkins County to be more precise. Lemon pippins. Ananas Reinette. The Lady. Belle de Boskoop. Glory of Boskoop and a debate about where the first apple seedling originated: Tibet.

I spent about 2 hours with him, taking his photo, hearing him speak about first the apples, moving on to lamenting how apples seems to have become a second class fruit in this day and age and speaking about John Ralston Saul's the Collapse of Globalism.

After that interesting morning, I was in such good spirits with my Friday off from the "day job", I decided to treat myself to lunch. I drove out to Raven Street Cafe which is becoming one of my favorite places to eat on the island when I eat out.

It's perfect because it's not in Ganges, and often it's very quiet and yet the food is really fantastic and it's close to the most peaceful dock: Fernwood dock. It's a great place to get away from your "regular" on-island life if you know what I mean. I parked the car, walked inside and who should be there but a friend I hadn't seen in ages.

He couldn't believe it. "I've been thinking about you all morning," he said with some exaggeration in that statement I'm sure.

We had lunch together. Got caught up. Walked on the dock and then went back to his place because he said he'd been in Victoria the day before, was at this wonderful place called Delish, and even bought a chocolate mousse with the intent of inviting me over. (Isn't that nice?). If any other guy had said that to me I'd be like, ya, sure, nice line. But, I believed him. Gayle=Chocolate. Chocolate=Gayle. How nice!

Raven Street Cafe
makes the most wonderful salads and really the only reason to eat the salad which is great is because of this "to-die-for" Miso dressing. They need to bottle that stuff. Hey, maybe they do. Maybe I should check that out.

Anyway, afterwards, we went back to his place and had tea and the most perfect chocolate mousse.

Later I went to a talk by a guy who owns one of the kayak companies here. A man who was turning 50 hired him to guide him on a kayak journey from Salt Spring to Alaska. The natural beauty and the wildlife and the feelings of accomplishment would not, in my books, overpower the hell of sleeping on rocks, trying to cook in the rain, five meter swells, and whatever else.

Gross but impressive nevertheless if that's your thing.

And, all in all, just a great day in my books.