Aug 29, 2008

New place, but new beginning?

In Hollywood, bad things are always preceded by sinister music, stormy weather, and dark lighting. What skill it would take to capture a real low moment that can just as easily happen in the midst of beauty. A shot of a man sitting in a canoe with the snow-capped mountains reflecting on the still waters rocking gently around him, crying and shivering and alone.

Today was a day of doubts, of fears, of being Tired in the midst of a through and through good day. From hanging out the morning wash on a windy clothes line, to a canoe ride and meadow walk with four boys who chose to sit in a circle and meditate, to the subsequent game of Meditate & Hide and a visit to the pigs and turkeys. The usual bounty of homegrown organic foods, crafted into individual pizzas by the woman who takes loving care of our bellies each day.

It was an afternoon jaunt to the Waldorf School that set my thoughts a-wondering and my faith a-wandering. On the way over I felt shy (yes, me!) of joining in with the set of parents already established from two years of kindergarten together – the exact reaction of our boys on the playground two days ago when a bunch of other big kids were there, eying the new kids curiously.

I was the only parent who showed up for the afternoon get-the-school-ready work session, so Galen’s teacher – Miss Jewel – accurately assessed my construction “expertise” and asked me to cut tackpaper for the supply shelves. As she left for a home visit (Waldorf teachers meet with each student and family before the year begins to establish a relationship) I sat alone on the floor with my scisssors and crayon and tacky paper and began to feel the same old adolescent fears of belonging.

Will we really be embraced by the community in a deep, dependable and consistent way? Will Galen fit in, will his old friends be loyal, will the new kids see beauty? Will Miss Jewel be the magical mentor and support that Suzanne was in Kindergarten? Is Waldorf really any better than other schools, or did we just get lucky with one teacher?

We are so temporary and adrift, living in a tent for the next month, waiting for house and school and real patterns to start. We are new farmers-at-heart who won’t get to plant this season. As idyllic as the day was, being in the school brought the reality of Tuesdays, of rainy afterschool walks home to a dusky garden needing weeding. To the ever-present work of building and nurturing friendships and community. Why on earth would anything be different in this new strange place?

But the winds brought out the afternoon sun, flapping and warming our happy new orange tent as I napped the woes away. I woke to find our children picking nasturtium flowers for the evening salad, while crickets are chirping and I’m in an open air curvaceous mud-walled shelter writing to people I do believe care and are with me on this journey. A symphony of stars will watch over us tonight as we slide out of a wood-burning sauna with a slew of international volunteers, here at the ecovillage to learn what they need for their own journeys.

Will my own insecurities and doubts magically go away in this new place? Of course not; but we are in an environment that is healthy, connected to nature, in tune with the rhythm of community. After low moments, it is so much easier to recharge and reconnect with what is healthy and true. When doubts come, I will work my land, lean on the community, walk a dirt road, pick blackberries, borrow a cucumber from a neighbour, breathe in the moon’s cycle, pull beets from the root cellar, dance with the wind, chop wood to keep my family warm, go barefoot, howl to the mountains, bake bread, drink deep from the source and feel grounded and connected and Home.

Aug 26, 2008

A Day in the Country

Our new country life opened up to us on Friday; a day that just couldn’t have breathed in “The Big Smoke” (as we islanders affectionately call Vancouver). The morning started with a berry-picking walk along the quiet road our friends live on. The 3 boys rode their bikes – zekiah increasingly confident on two wheels – racing ahead to the next blackberry, huckleberry, wild raspberry, salmonberry or mulberry bush. The one time a car came by we could hear it for months before it arrived – lotsa time to get off our bikes and wave to our neighbour.

The berries were added to homemade yoghurt and granola, which together with a fruit smoothie and scrambled farm-fresh free-range eggs made a happy breakfast crew of our merged families (camping in their basement for a few weeks). The kids ran out to big yard where we feel safe to let them roam, while we four escaped to the whirring 4-computer office downstairs for a quick hectic check-in with the world.

Opting for some nuclear family time, sarah & took our boys out for the day. First stop was to visit Hank, our water inspector who gave us the happy news that the well water at our new house is in great shape. He went into great detail about the condition of each well in the area – all of which he tests and maintains – and we now know more about pressure systems and bladders than we’d ever dreamt.

Then next door to “Granny’s Stoves” to explore the wood-burning options to heat our new space. We hope to quickly transition from $450/month electric baseboard heaters to a wood-burning furnace or stove that will use about 3 cords of wood per year, much of which will be sustainably harvested from our own land or salvaged from nearby roof framing shops.

Back out the winding Wolf Creek Road to Kristina and Hector’s farm to collect the week’s rations of whole milk. While visiting there, the kids of course went straight for the mile-high swing that gives a view of the horses, cows, chickens etc and the clear-cut mountain up the other wide. Katarina was just finishing hooking up her two horses to her antique carriage, then we waved as she trotted off down a grassy lane and into the wooded path that winds through their property. She’s preparing for a national traditional-carriage competition next week.

Next stop was Marty & Heather’s, who together with our hosts are part-owners of this “cow-share” milk scheme. They weren’t home, so we let ourselves in to their unlocked house to put their milk in the fridge and left a note inviting them to dinner tomorrow, while the kids played with the dog they are dog-sitting. We had been here on our first week-end in town for Marty’s 70-person birthday bash complete with the local marimba band, warmly welcomed by many of the neighbours, Waldorf parents and fellow urban refugees we will call friends in the coming years.

Popped by Makaria Farm, where Brock and Heather had ready for us a scanadously fresh basked of organic goodies for our party – strawberries, kale, carrots, eggs, zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes, etc. Just a mile up the road from our new home, they are into the second year of their country transition, and plan to be fully self-supporting with agriculture within 3 years.

In case you haven’t noticed the theme here, it’s first names. It’s connection. It’s people, neighbours, fellow sojourners. Even doing business feels like a neighbour extending a hand. Three weeks into our new life and we’re enveloped in the sweet, sticky web of rural community.

Aug 19, 2008

Canoe trip

aint nothin better in this world you know
than lying in the sun with a radio

or with my family and a dearly beloved other family, canoes pulled up on Rainbow Island, kids out on the canoes while we lay naked on the sand or plunge in for one of the fifteen daily swims in the crystal clear waters of Buttle Lake in Strathcona Provincial Park. Five days of gentle paddling or setting up tarp sails, swimming, shared meals, our Lord of the Flies kids growing to own the island, sunshine, sleep, cliffs, fish jumping everywhere but near our lines

and the most beautiful expression of love and support, our friends making a financial and spiritual and time investment into the community we're building, even if they may never make it their full time home. "We just love you and love what you're doing and want to show our support, to know that you're not alone. This is our toe-hold; we're in, whatever that means and grows to mean." Sarah cried, I breathed a huge sigh of Joyful relief and release of that feeling of vast openness, of a putt with too much green, of having jumped into a huge pre-announced Paradise that we now have to build and honour. We're not alone, and we're not crazy. We're just continuing on a journey, growing from the people and community and learnings we've gathered along the way and deepening commitments. This isn't a new path, just a few more huge steps along one we've been on for a long time, and never alone.

as always, all 3 children shone and gloried in the freedom and time and openness of a camping trip, but Galen in particular was a Joy to watch as he unfolded and blossomed. He swam for the first time, spent as much time as he could paddling - alone or with others - until he could handle a 6-person canoe on his own and take the two younger boys out on his own. Upon returning the rental canoes to the lodge, he convinced the worker to let him try a river kayak, which he quickly gained control over with no instruction. Our sometimes timid little boy gave hints of the older boy and man he can become when given space. All 3 boys showed a growing confidence in themselves and their surroundings, their Rainbow Island, and created their own adventures and worlds independent of us old folks, or drawing us in in creative ways. Is this how life will (sometimes) be on our own land, our boys owning and creating and marking their space and patterns on it?

it felt great to drive past the ferry turnoff on the way home and just keep driving down the island. Perhaps i haven't earned it yet, but i feel more and more like an Islander, like this truly is home and where we belong. Not a bit of me longs to return to "the Big Smog" (vancouver), i just want to be here and in this life. Of course i miss friends and will enjoy seeing them there and here, but the pace and energy and big skies of our new home open up to us like the lake at the mouth of the river, calling us deeper into the journey. Thanks for gunnelling up with us, friends.

Aug 10, 2008

The universe provides

Mary says we have a halo, Steve says we have a horseshoe up our bums. I say the universe provides.

I can't deny that good things seem to happen to us, especially lately. Maybe we do have a horseshoe somewhere up there. But in addition to the good luck that brought the perfect land to us at the right time, I also know other factors underlying or contributing to it:

1. We have faith that things will unfold in a healthy way if we just stay open to it.
2. We take Monty Python's advice to always look on the bright side of life (though not the next line about life - in sticking with the attitude theme, life is better described as a rich life-providing compost pile)
3. We work hard to create, manifest, bring vision to reality. The dream land didn't just pop up on day one of arriving here, but rather at the end of a year-long discernment process to be clear on what we were looking for, intensive research into the market, daily scouring of the internet, networking with friends on the island, and several trips over to check out properties.

Again, I'm not denying nor under-appreciating luck as one factor. We had two communal land deals fall apart in Texas, and have friends who have put just as much effort and faith into land searches or other endeavors that haven't worked out. Sarah and I lost a baby in whom we fully believed. Bad things happen to good people. But good things happen more often - and often looking like luck - when we invest positive energy, faith and focussed hard work in a clear direction.

Case in point (and by way of a life update), we are today into a new phase of homelessness. Homeless homeowners, a fun and frustrating state of mind. Closing date on our house is end of September, and we never did manage to line up a long-term rental before arriving. It was a huge stress - particularly for Sarah - to be packing up in Vancouver without knowing where we'd be unpacking. I was more on the faith side, and luckily (for me) the universe and our network has indeed provided. We've spent the first 10 days housesitting for some Quaker friends in a beautiful mountain-side house, tickling the grand piano overlooking Shawnigan Lake, the ocean, and the whole Cowichan Valley to the North. And now homeless but far from hopeless, we're juggling options of an old friend's basement, a new friend's yurt, another house-sitting gig for a fellow Waldorf family, or tenting for a month in an ecovillage.

The big yurt we were dreaming of living in is, as feared, progressing slowly, so it's just a 10-foot yurt we've been offered in the interim. It is actually a disappointment in a way to have found land so quickly, losing the chance to live for a year in a yurt, on land with a wonderful family, free from renos and responsibility and fully focussed on just living simply as a family in a new way. A gentle entry would have been lovely, but that doesn't seem to be our way - the universe provides, but not always on the schedule we try to impose, nor in the exact way we think it will.

My mother once asked where I had found such faith to live in this optimistic and trusting way. Part of it is a conscious effort, part a confidence from having such a priviledged upbringing - Canadian, educated, etc - but part has to be from traveling. Through a year and a half of back-packing through North America, Latin America and Africa, I always found somewhere to sleep. Some mornings I wouldn't know what country I'd end up in, or if I`d end up on a park bench, or with a few items less in the backpack or with one eye open, but the day would always end and i'd be sleeping somewhere, and tomorrow the sun would always rise (Hemingway, not me).

One rainy dusk in North Dakota on a cross-country solo bike trip in 1991, I was standing exhausted in a grocery line-up buying my pasta, dreading a cold wet tent night in the town centre park, when the man in front of me paid for my groceries. He invited me back to his place for a warm shower, hot meal, and couch to sleep on. OK, he did tell me the lock on the bathroom door was broken and cranked ACDC so loud that I wouldn't have heard the door open during my shower, and did ask for a hug as I set up for sleep, but I had a glorious uninterrupted sleep with just half an eye open, and a big breakfast ready at sunrise to send me back on the road strong and believing in the people of the world, and thankful that I'd taken the chance to believe in him and let him give to me in that way. If he has a blog, he's probably written about the random broken Canadian he helped back onto his bike, and it makes him smile.

I wake up today thankful that the universe, and the Cowichan Valley`s corner thereof, is once again responding to the clear call we've sent forth. New home and temporary homes, wonderful new friends, children loving the adventure and time with us - it's unfolding so miraculously and beautifully. It's different than we'd planned and everything we'd hoped for. I'm thankful to every experience and every person along our path who's taught us to believe and is now helping (tangibly or supportively) to turn that faith into a brave new reality.

Aug 7, 2008

New Home

We are land owners! Dream land owners! OK, in typical real estate talk we're supposed to say we have land under contract and have to do all our due diligence and inspections, and closing's not until end of September (until which we are homeless homeowners, looking for a friend's backyard to pitch our brand new family tent in), but we were up late last night plotting where to put the guest house (barn renovation), sarah's office (downstairs storage shed), hot tub, what fruit trees to plant, where there might be maple trees to make our own syrup, when to plant saspirila (and how to spell it) to make our own rootbeer, arranging a cowshare with a beautiful young new farming couple up the road, opening up another storage shed to be a covered party shed with couches, table, pingpong, firepit... Faerie groves along the paths through the forested slope down to the creek, frisbee in the big grassy open spaces

It's a property that just lends itself to so many visions and playspaces for quirky folks like us. We hope to quickly take in a roommate to add to our community and help pay for improvements, and are ready to find the right family to invest and be full partners. Our dear dear friends Seanna and Laurie and their son Emmet have already pledged money to be
part of the community, likely as a second home (at least until we can convince them to fully leave the evil big city - affectionately known here as The Big Smog). The other family we'd planned to invest with had to back out for now due to financial constraints, but the door is still open for them, and for others, and for the world, for the fantastic neighbours (one of them being a family of two waldorf teachers and 3 waldorf students, one of whom is in Zekiah's kindergarten class)

As usual, we went through an amazing (and quick) discernment process. Viewed the land on Thursday in the midst of the move and knew it was right. Talked it over late at night with our land partners and agreed to move forward. Second viewing Friday, then sat with our agent and submitted an offer of $720,000 for both the main property and an adjoining .2 acre lot. They countered with $750,000 - asking price. In the meantime, we got the sad news from our land partners that we'd have to go it alone for now, so did a huge reassessment of our finances, placed many phone calls and miraculously drummed up $80,000 more downpayment and help with monthly payments from family/friends, meaning we could stretch and make it at full price. We tried to split the difference at 735, which they just rejected, sending a clear message that they believe in the price they set and were not going to negotiate. So, we ummed and awed and ummed some more, should we stretch so much and tap out our family, then suddenly hit a clear patch knowing that we could let go of the adjoining property and easily afford the main land. It means we're giving up control over who's in the other property - ie, the chance to add 2 more families to our community - but the main land can and will accomodate many people - possibly up to four legal full-time families plus various squatters partners woofers and vagabounds. We let go of needing to set the stage for the maximum number of other families we haven't even met, and instead made a healthy decision for our family, securing land that will make us very very happy and be able to manifest our dream of community in myriad ways. We were suddenly so clear that we decided that even if they suddenly accepted our lower offer for both parcels we'd refuse. So we bid full price (595) Sat night, spent all day yesterday waiting in agony until we heard that they'd accepted, then all night giddy and dreaming.

Now two weeks of Due Diligence just to satisfy our agent before lifting the subjects, then an agonizing month of waiting to move in. There's a big (and a small) greenhouse for us to have winter crops, a stone-built cold storage built into a hill for our potatos and onions, the barn, 3 storage sheds, a woodshed, and unfinished half-basement for laundry and play and whatever, the barn has a long low narrow hayloft for kids' play or silent meditation. Two-acre hayfield to generate a bit of income and make us eligible for agricultural tax exemption (plus all the income from selling eggs, milk, veggies, whatever - i dream of an occasional table at the farmers market, though sarah scoffs. Maybe my homegrown zucchini in a chocolate loaf would sell well...)

Oh, the house, forgot to mention the house that sarah fell instantly in love with. 1936, well maintained, simple, 1300 square feet (which was always our exact idea of what would work, though we've lowered that in more recent times), 3 bedroom, gorgeous south-facing living room, and my favourite is the a-bit-too-small dining room overlooking the gardens, hayfield and neighbour's farm. It really won't require us to do anything except put in an efficient wood-burning stove to replace the electric baseboard heaters.

The location needs also to be raved about. 1.6 km (1 mile) walk to the school, also can walk/ride to Bright Angel Park with a suspension bridge over the river, rope swings into said river, walking paths and picnic areas along the river. Just on the edge of a small farming community of maybe 50 small houses clustered along the river by the old flag-stop train station, beautiful old church turned into a B&B, no stores or anything but a strong community in the midst of big rolling farms. We can cycle to Duncan without getting on the highway, can definitely keep our driving to a minimum, rather than being constantly in our car as many people have warned us that rural life would entail.

And the land, that beautiful land. The driveway goes alongside the little parcel of land that we won't be buying, so that might become a house, but then ends at the top of a hill with the garage to the left and house straight ahead, and you have no idea that you've just come off of a road, you're just there, no car noise, no sight of the houses you just passed, just our home, a gentle grassy slope dotted with all the outbuildings and blackberry bushes and flowers, down at the bottom begins the 2 acre hayfield, behind which is the neighbour's bigger hayfield going back up the other side, with his big new house at the top way back. To the right of the house is a huge sloped wooded area with paths curling down around the base of the hill and back up to the driveway, a seasonal creek at the bottom. This path we will use to start the walk/bike ride to school each day. So much space to roam, create, explore. The kids will be free to roam and ramble. They're already entrhalled with the "haunted houses" (old sheds and chicken coops). Galen has already announced his egg-selling business, and is eager to help me kill and skin a rabbit. We found several methods for killing online, including one graphic video, none of which looked all that appealing

A fun part of putting such visioning in writing is knowing that even by the end of September it will have changed again, and even moreso once we're living in Eden and getting to know it all better. But we own land, have a piece of land on which to plant dreams and grow visions. We've longed for this since Texas, since seeing our friends' similar land in Seattle, since deeply knowing that we want to live in community.

On our last, restless night of sleep in our Vancouver house, Sarah woke up with a start, thinking we'd forgotten to pack the welcome sign on the back gate. She then remembered that we'd never got around to making it - a telling sign of how that beautiful, community-filled home was perfect for that step, but still just a step towards this new space and way. It'll be the first thing we do in our new home, carving or creating a happy sign that quotes Balou from Jungle Book - "Come fall apart in our backyard."

We celebrated by watching Bridges of Madison County, and feel like Clint was talking about us when he said "All our lives have been focused on reaching these four days." Or to quote John Lennon, "All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arrive." Or to simply answer our friend's question, "Yes, we are happy."