Apr 30, 2009

Green Drinks

It's springtime, when every few days a new type of flower unfolds to the world after a winter of hibernation and internal growth. I too am feeling ready to bloom, to make connections and get plugged in.

For the first 9 months here we cocooned, getting to know our land, school, new roles and identities. Haven't volunteered or joined any boards or parents association, haven't learned the political players, haven't figured out the non-profit scene or even attended a neighbourhood association meeting. Haven't really announced ourselves beyond our school community and neighbours.

This week, just as Galen was in ecstasy over the newest yellow tulip discovery, I was discovering "Green Drinks", a monthly informal pub gathering of eco-activists. I guess I haven't been quite as isolated as I thought, because I recognized and was recognized by all 8 people at the table when I arrived - met variously through the ecovillage, Earth Day booths, ulti, a house concert, and the recent music festival. It's a small community that's been waiting to welcome us.

As we chatted about the usual fun topics like "Climate Chaos", carbon tax, raw food, linguistic patterns of the Cowichan tribe, and natural fibres, I felt the familiar buzz of connection. It was exciting to be involved in social change, to learn about the movements and how they fit together. And to start opening to finding my place in the middle of it all.

The next morning I visited the Cowichan Land Trust, which works to restore and protect agricultural and environmentally-sensitive lands. I walked in a stranger and quickly became an insider, a kindred spirit. They suggested the "Cowichan Green Community" - more on the personal and societal change angle that I've traditionally been involved in - to be next on the visitation list.

This morning I sat in on the organizing committee for our school fundraising auction, then finally sent in our application to the bio-diesel co-op. This afternoon we go to K's farm for the first milk pick-up of our new cow-share membership, and tonight I go to my first ultimate frisbee game. Look out Cowichan Valley, we've arrived.

Apr 25, 2009

Earth Day blah's

I feel strangely unmoved by Earth Day. Uninspired, and also un-annoyed. Just flat.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great excuse for a party. The boys and I took in a school event yesterday, and today will do a nature walk then the downtown festival. I'd much rather be part of a gathering to celebrate the Earth than to celebrate an war or labour or even nationhood. This is an important, truly global reason for concern and celebration, and collectively honouring the basis of our lives is a good thing, and usually a fun one too.

But what does it really do? There have been no events around here that do anything to really address the earth's needs. A few trees planted, a special prize draw just for people walk/ride/bus to the downtown celebration, the usual change-your-lightbulb booths at the fair... nothing that will surprise or challenge most of us. As I've written before, we need more than band-aid fixes, and a quick event engenders quick fixes, not the long-term work that's needed.

That's not a criticism of anything that's been organized - it's more a reflection on the state of the movement. I believe we have raised awareness about the basic issues enough that a single day won't do much more to put environment on the map - it's already there. We made the same decision with ACCES about AIDS education in Kenya - enough people knew about and believed in the existence of the disease that the Stage One community actions were no longer needed. So we dropped the "have you heard about AIDS" songs and skits and moved on to a deeper level of education and behaviour-change activities that took more time and commitment from all involved. Surely we've reached the same stage in North America where people are aware of climate change and a wounded Mother Earth and now need ongoing support to become more engaged in solutions.

I look forward to seeing friends, tie-dye, local musicians and maybe even organic fair food today, and will enjoy the energy of friends around the world doing the same thing. And here's to hoping that I'm wrong, that this does serve as an annual Call for more and more people to join in the lifetime movement to leave something healthy for our grandchildren.

Earth Day: maybe, or hopefully, a great idea whose time has past?

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Apr 22, 2009

Eating Aliens and Flower Worship

Ah, the things we do to get food inside our children. Especially nutritious left-overs for lunch. Pictured here: oatmeal-millet-egg pancakes, green stinging-nettle sauce, yogurt, carrots (organic but from California - shame on me!), snap peas and cheese.

The boys have been loving eating wild food, claiming it makes them stronger. Raw stinging nettle (picked on the top side and folded, then rubbed to neutralize the stinging poison before chewing), dandelion leaves, and blue violet petals. Dandelion flowers have become the war paint of choice, bringing jaundiced-looking kids to the table each evening. Tomorrow we'll dip dandelion flowers in egg and cornmeal then fry them for our snack.

We don't just eat flowers, we worship them. Especially Galen, who tours the land hourly to find new varieties in this our first season of discovery here. We skip down the driveway hand-in-hand to show me how much more the red tulip has opened up, and then runs off to inspect all the tulips in the forest to see what colours they will open into. He picks and arranges new bouquets daily for our table, his teacher, the doctor's office, the cars parked in our driveway for Sarah's Mama Renew class... This is a world that feels healthy for these boys to grow into.

Last week we visited dear friends in Vancouver, and ended up hanging out in the paved alley for a fun long playtime together with 3 other neighbour kids and their moms. It was wonderfully similar to the easy in-and-out we have with the neighbours here, such a healthy vibrant feeling of community, and yet such a vastly different physical environment. I had to jump over fences into three different neighbour yards to retrieve rockets and balls, hoping their Beware of Dog signs weren't for real.

I celebrate my friends' ability to create a great social environment, and the beautiful child they are raising. There are as many healthy ways to raise a family as their are families, and within any chosen path there are advantages and disadvantages. I fully respect that not everyone can or wants to or should live in the country - just feeling thankful for the experiences that this particular garden path we've chosen has created for our children, and how they are opening daily to embrace it and live it fully.

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Apr 20, 2009

Walking the land

Eyes per acre - that's what we taught at the Heifer Project demonstration farm in Arkansas back in 1992. Small-scale farms are better because we stewards more intimately know our land and know how to respect and care for it.

This morning I slipped away from my sleeping family for a sunrise walk around our land. What better celebration of their return to school today, of my first morning without either the boys or Chad (my garage reno contractor), of blissful freedom and capacity to finally do things I want to do, than to walk around and list the things needed to keep these 5.2 acres growing and happy?

Here are some of the projects I've been dying to get to, and finally can have some space to address (in between getting the farm going, final touches on the garage, and of course ongoing parenting and writing and living):
  • firewood for next year, including taking care of the 4 trees that came down this winter
  • chicken fence so our chickens can have a more restricted free-range area - 40 chickens running around our property and our neighbours' seems a bit excessive, especially since i just learned that they have been laying eggs outside
  • deer fence around the big garden
  • walking/biking trails through our forest
  • zip line or ropes course from the top of the barn down into the trees
  • clean out the barn for summer guest accommodations (including solar light and shower)
  • bonfire pit
  • level the land from the excavator ruts ("Replace all divots")
  • new summer hottub location down in the garden
  • remove the maple taps until next winter
  • Sarah's downstairs office so she can have more separation from our indoor-playing kids (so i can enjoy playing indoors instead of always saying "Shh, mama's working!")
  • get the furnace installation guy back to finish sealing it so we're not whistling dixie on cold days
  • build a bike shed with a walk-on living roof
  • lower the basketball hoop for the kids
This rebirth of me as a man who feels this deep land connection and responsibility has been the surprising new path of this journey. This morning was a good start in walking that path.

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Apr 19, 2009

Killing worms

Wire worms, that is. Evil little squiggles that will eat all the precious grains we are learning to grow. Today we planted red fife wheat, white hard wheat, oats and emmer. All part of a brave, visionary experiment called Island Grains, to return us to a healthier era when we did indeed grow our own grains (yes, granola and bread can fit within a hundred-mile diet, or hopefully a hundred-yard diet!)

Our neighbours two farms up the road, Brock and Heather of Makaria Farms, got tired of urban government life 2 years ago and became organic farmers. Not content with just growing the most delicious strawberries and other produce on the planet, they've decided to learn how to grow grain, and to bring others along for the journey. Over 50 families (plus a waiting list) have signed up for a series of hands-on workshops where we learn about the traditions and technicalities of growing grains, then work on a designated plot on their farm to put words to action.

One of the speakers today - the editor of Small Farm Canada magazine - remarked that this is probably the biggest experiment in Canada of this nature. 57 families planting over 20 varieties of grains, using a variety of techniques, side-by-side for an entire growing season, with the intention of then taking that learning back to our own farms and backyards and community gardens. That a young new-farmer couple could have and manifest this vision is extraordinary; that so many families would rise to the challenge is testimony to the hunger we are increasingly experiencing for personal involvement in our food economy.

As for the wire worms, I guess they're just hungry like us, not evil. But they do decimate entire crops, and our dream of grinding our own oatmeal and picking our own quinoa is worth a bit of worm-guts on my hands.

Apr 16, 2009

A typical stay-at-home dad day

What does a stay-at-home dad do with his Spring Break boys? Well, it's 10:24 in the morning and we're almost ready to go outside. So far, we've:
  • eaten breakfast sundaes (homemade whipped cream, granola, blueberries), eggs from our chickens and toast with homemade butter
  • taken 3 loads of laundry off the line and put them away
  • cleaned the clogged P-Trap under the bathroom and laundry sinks
  • showered Zekiah
  • collected eggs and fed the chickens
  • washed and put away yesterday's dishes while the boys washed the table and swept the floor
  • read a very cluttered library book
  • played piano, card game, drums, wrestling (unfortunately better known around here as "bum, bum, wiener" - trying to break that one) and leggo
  • arranged playdates for this afternoon and tomorrow
  • checked email
And still I wonder if I'm going to "get anything done" today. I'd muse more, but they're dressed and ready to go prune the apple and pear trees.

12:45 update:
  • pruned one old apple tree
  • dug a drainage ditch
  • chatted with the renters
  • dried the garage storage shed roof for gluing on the pond liner, so it can be a living roof where the renters can open their kitchen window and pick herbs and flowers
  • tuna melts and rice with tamari and gomachio for lunch
Now it's 9:43 and i could add to the list another tree pruned while zekiah slept, cherry tomato planting with the neighbour kids, a nerve-wracking visit to the new dirt bmx track with another family, a scrumptuous stinging-nettle-soup dinner (Sarah's the queen of 100-yard-diet creativity!) and grouting the garage suite shower wall.

A wonderful, varied, connected and satisfying day. Didn't get the concentrated Work done that Sarah did in her office (occasionally seeing and hearing us laughing out her window), but alot of little bits and bits adding up to a megabyte of meaning.

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Apr 11, 2009

Extreme Non-Violence

I recently had an article published in the Canadian Friend, a nation-wide Quaker publication. The theme was "justice", and what came out was an exploration called Street Justice (click to read).

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Apr 6, 2009

A return to the Here and Now

We've done the impossible, or rather the inadvisable - turned and old garage into a warm cosy rental suite in just over 2 months. But the price, as I've already written, has been a collapse of balance. For two months, anytime I've been anywhere but in the garage I've felt a pressure, an inability to be fully present with anyone or any activity. That finally changed over the weekend.

It started on Saturday, when I blew off the garage and rallied 5 families for a long-overdue birthday hike up Mt. Tzouhalem - the one we see each morning out our breakfast window. It was fresh and fun and one more big step and understanding where we live, like a dog circling closer and closer before tucking tail. But as much as I enjoyed the easy mixing of adult conversation, the kids running rampant through the woods and just up to the cliff edge, and friends who readily agreed with just 15 hours' notice to come celebrate my birthday and Spring in this clear way, there was still a cloud of knowing I should be finishing up the garage suite for move-in day tomorrow.

Sunday, on the other hand, was a fantastically busy morning of scrubbing the old fridge, site clearing, etc. We made the spiritually enlightened decision to forego Quaker meeting and spent that extra hour with a vacuum and sponge in every nook, shelf and baseboard of the suite, while the kids picked up all the wood and garbage from outside. Instead of rushing to a worship meeting and spending the hour fretting about the suite, we arrived right at the end with a huge weight off our shoulders and photos to prove that it was ready for move-in (OK, minus a bathroom and a few other details...).

The rest of the day was the definition of mindfulness, of living in the moment instead of always knowing that something else is calling. Went for a Peaceful nature walk with Friends, then to an all-afternoon musical cabaret featuring local musicians and music students. Fiddle, African drumming and dancing, accordion, choirs, storytelling, harp, improv modern dance, didgeridoo... all the while a big gang of Waldorf kids running around the beautiful Providence Farm property then back in to listen and dance more, then back out again, free and wild as the music.

The cabaret, organized by our unstoppable community-builder friend Cari, was a pure local celebration of local talent and Joy. Nothing overly-professional, although the quality was excellent, a feeling more of sharing than performing or listening. We planned to stop in for an hour and ended up staying the full 5 hours then going for dinner with a group of friends we met up with there. We knew about half the performers and at least a quarter of the listening folk. This is the small-town, know thy neighbour life we came to find.

The splendid irony of the event was that it was a fundraiser to build the community yurt that we were supposed to live in last year. All things have their time and place, I guess. And as of Sunday, I believe that I'm back to that centred place of presence, with my watch reading Now and my compass pointing to Here.

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