Jun 28, 2009

Duncan Pride

Just got back from Duncan's first ever Pride celebration, organized by the youth. Got there too late for the drag shows and the biggest crowds, but it was still an open, joyous celebration of diversity and acceptance. When we asked Galen what he liked most about today, he said "Pride." When we pressed further with "What did you see when you looked around at there?", he said,
I saw happy people. I saw people dancing. I saw people trying to look sexy. I saw people smiling.
That's what Pride is all about. People, families, lovers young and old, friends, fellow community members sharing their Joy, open in their love and choices, free with who they are.

Someday we'll talk to our boys about why it isn't like this everyday. But today, he understood the underlying truth in the pure, beautiful way that we should all view the world.

Jun 26, 2009

This old hat

This old pink baseball cap and I have shared some times. Maybe Sarah's right and it is time for a new hat - it doesn't really hold on tight anymore or even keep my hair out of my eyes, and the tatters off the rim are a bit distracting. This is already feeling like a country song, but it'll be hard to let go, and even harder to find a new one to see me through this new era.

She (the hat) came to me as a mercy gift in 1995. A group of American visitors in my Tanzanian village decided to give me a haircut. 14 culture-shocked Americans ringed around the bare cement walls of the village hospital guesthouse, taking turns with my hippy mane by the light of a kerosene lantern. Me trying hard to trust, then remembering that as the only white man on the lake I looked funny no matter what I did, then giving up all hope when Wendy came up for her turn.

Wendy was a big African-American gospel-singing powerhouse of a woman who brought over-confidence and overpowering energy and humour to every moment. On the worksite she'd sit in a director's chair and praise everyone else's sweat equity labour, and we'd have to drive her back to the guesthouse during breaks because she was physically unable to squat over the pit latrines. I often picture Wendy when the kids and I read our Southern revision of the creation story, Big Mama Creates the World - "What Big Mama wants, Big Mama gets. That's just the way it is."

As Wendy started aggressively rushing in where the other fools had feared to tread, groans and shrieks of horrified laughter echoed through the room. When asked if she'd ever cut hair before, she said, "Honey, I cut all my dollies' hair growin' up." When further pressed if she'd ever cut a white man's hair, she came back with what I now understand to be a cutting indictment of America's white-dominated culture - "Honey, all my dollies were white."

When the groans were over and the kerosene lantern was flickering, a lovely lass named Dexter Manley handed me her favourite pink cap and said, "You'll need this."

She was right. I've needed that cap through a civil war in Zaire and deep personal despair in Ghana. I've loved that cap on rainy BC camping trips and a sunny Mt. Ranier honeymoon. I've made a ski-boat turn around to retrieve it on Cultas Lake, and had it fly off while cliff-jumping on a canoe trip.

So after 4 years and 13 countries in Africa, courtship and marriage in Zambia, 3 years and a baby in Texas, more birth and loss in Vancouver, and now 2 cows and play-at-home dad paradise on the island, how does one say goodbye to an old friend, let alone replace her?


I started writing this four months ago, but didn't know how to end it. But sometimes we're meant to leave things in the ground for a while, trusting that something new will grow when it's time. Last week my mother unexpectedly brought over my grandpa's old straw farming hat. The one he wore with his gardening suit - the one that was the work suit in year one, the leisure suit in year two, then the after-work balance-restoring gardening suit thereafter. It will now grace his long-haired and purple Hulk-pants grandson.

Grandpa, the row I hoe isn't that far off the one you grew up on, and I wear your hat in the same spirit of grounded humility and connection that made you so grand. And to my beloved pink hat, I bid you a soft fare-thee-well with the promise that over the next 14 years I will be just as adventurous, growing, open, learning and loving as I have been along the twisting path that led me here. To traditions, adventure and growth, I tip my hat.

Jun 23, 2009

Bovine Boobs and Behinds - a loving tribute

God wants us to breastfeed. Don't believe me? Just ask my cows - they are anatomically designed for it.

Briefly (which is tough - this is so fascinating I could go on and on about it), cows have 4 stomachs. A grown-up cow eats grass in a hurry and swallows it down to the rumen (hence, "ruminants"), then later coughs it back up to to chew on at a more leisurely time (hence, "chewing your cud"), then swallows it again down to the second and third stomachs, then finally to the fourth stomach where real digestion begins.

The cool part is that, for a nursing calf, the sucking reflex sends a signal to the brain that this is the good stuff. The brain responds by creating a temporary extension of the esophagus that bypasses the first 3 stomachs completely, so that the mother's milk goes directly to the true stomach. If that same milk is put into a bucket for the calf to drink, it instead goes to the other stomachs first, and essential nutrients are lost.

In other words, mother's milk is so important that an elaborate system is built-in to ensure that the calf fully benefits from every drop. Could we fellow mammals be that different?

Continuing on this theme, cows are also living proof that our obsession with tits and ass (to quote the song from A Chorus Line) is indeed a natural mammalian trait. Remember how my inner maternal instincts helped me to get our baby calves to bottle feed for the first time? Well, it turns out that in addition to expressing milk and working the youngsters' jaws, I should have been feeling up those bull buttocks. Or kissing them.

That's right - my favourite late night book these days is "A Guide to Raising Beef Cattle", in which we are encouraged to
Rub the calf's buttocks (as the cow does when licking him - she pushes him toward the udder as she licks his hind end.) This stimulates him to nurse and may also stimulate him to pass his first bowel movement.
7 years ago, a memorable initiation with my human baby Galen came when I was holding him naked above me on the front porch and he pood in my face. Not so sure I want that same bonding with my bulls...

Jun 21, 2009

Every Day is Fathers Day

My childhood memory of fathers day was reading the Hallmark cards at the drugstore, then rushing home to copy one of them into my own handmade card. And some present that I had to buy, always a challenge. It was a time to please my dad, but not in my memory a time that I was more acutely aware of appreciative of his role in my life.

Fast forward to today, where my family were bursting with excitement to shower me with their love and appreciation. Unexpected hugs and I-love-you's all day, hand-stitched presents that they've been eagerly working on all week (a pouch for my swiss army knife, a finger-knitted string to decorate the christmas tree), ice cream dessert, and Sarah's blessing to disappear for large parts of the weekend to attend a sustainable agriculture conference. I felt showers of smiles falling down all around me and gushing from within me all day.

Part of it is the kids getting older and more able to embrace traditions, feel enough empathy to understand what I give them, and be more creative in their expressions. Part of it is our family having more time to celebrate big and tiny passages and moments. And a big part of it is the deeper and more constant bond I've developed with the boys since becoming the Play-at-Home parent.

This wasn't a one-off day to be together, to be followed by going back to the office tomorrow. It was spiced with our Big Plans for our first week of summer vacation together, to be kick-started with starting to build Galen a new bike, starting on the long-awaited tree fort, trying out the canoe we've been lent for the summer, getting a barn cat to protect our winter hay supply from rats, and of course a whack of garden work. We have a rhythm together, an easy confidence and unhurriedness from knowing that we're in this together, learning and growing and adventuring as each day unfolds. Every day is fathers day - today was just the chance for us all to say thanks for the richness this new parenting path has brought to all of us.

Jun 18, 2009

Child Labour Pumpkins

A while back we had Zekiah's kindergarten class come to Farmer Rick's for a field trip. After 2 intense days of weeding, we had 2 rows ready for the kids to turn in some compost, push little holes in with their little fingers, and bury far too many seeds in a haphazard fashion.

Perhaps not the most efficient planting method, but did those kids ever enjoy being busy, touching the earth, planting little miracle seeds that they'll come back in October to harvest. Waldorf emphasizes that this age is all about Doing, learning through being actively engaged and exploring.

What fun it was to have a place that the kids could do just that - also enjoying a walk through the forest, a spirited game of haybale tag in the freshly-cut pasture (whoops, that was another 11-child playtime a month later, but still true of our land), snack and story time under grandfather tree, and discovering little wool White Birds hidden among the ferns. Kindergarten with Ruth and Mima is a truly magical time; all we "grown-ups" have to do is hold that space of Wonder then enjoy the ride.That last line reminds me of a song i wrote in my young travelling hippy days, something like:
Be aware of wonder, don't let it go
Don't you know complacency's a sign of getting old

Jun 15, 2009

morning garden haiku

I've been fondling Mother Earth. Incessantly, passionately, reverently. Sarah, Nathalie, Joe and I have fondled, massaged, cupped and crumbled every square inch of the growing garden we are creating, each row being 3 feet deep, 4 feet wide and many too many feet long. We dig up each little pitchfork-full, rub it through our hands, shake the weed roots, pick through the crumbs to find more weeds and wire worms, and sift some more before shaping into the fertile mound that will miraculously yield our family's sustenance.

I wrote a while back about eyes per acre, but really it's fingers per inch. An exquisitely slow and sensual process of becoming intimate with our land, a lover of the earth in all her richness.

fleshy, rich moistness
crumbled through my trembling hands
farmer is lover

Jun 12, 2009

Our dicks have grown up

When I was young and green about the ways of men, she told me this:"Don't you know, Robin? All men think with their dicks."

This comment on my recent posting on male-female friendships made me rethink my easy dismissal of sexual tension. After some more soul searching and consultation with other men, I can't (and shouldn't) deny that Robin's friend speaks a truth; what I can still argue is that it doesn't have to be a barrier to true friendship.

It's true that most of us men think about sex more than most women. We strain our necks at cleavage, fantasize, and dwell in sweet memories more than we tend to admit to the women or even men in our daily lives. Maybe makes you uncomfortable. Actually makes me uncomfortable, sometimes wishing my male mind wasn't so wandering. And undoubtedly makes my wife uncomfortable.

As one man in our recent men's circle said, our wives don't want us to be that open about our sexuality. A sad part of the monogamous culture we have created isn't that we are expected to behave property, but that we are expected to turn off this part of our natural energy, or at least hide it deeply and pretend it doesn't exist.

But that same libidinal energy - that same raw natural hunger and appreciation and creative expression that perhaps in this blog makes me sound lecherous and untrustworthy - was once an important, powerful part of my identity. As a young single man it attracted as many young women as it scared away.

Yes, there were many times that that energy was too dominant, led to bad decisions or hurt or misplaced priorities, and was indeed the barrier to friendship that Robin's friend pointed out. But the problem wasn't the existence of the energy, but my immature inability or unwillingness to channel it appropriately.

All this is a prelude to a more simple response to Robin's friend: we grow up. While we still have a natural attraction and interest and appreciation of women - however deeply repressed or hidden - we learn how to work with it. It gets sublimated into our art, fed into our hunger for our wives, and tasted in the smiles of our sweet memories. But it doesn't have to be acted on, and doesn't have to block our friendships. My hands have learned to stay on the back of a back massage, and my heart has learned how to keep a friendship a friendship.

So, Robin's friend, you were probably very wise in warning your young innocent friend about wild young men like me. And there are many men - and women - who still haven't learned or chosen to harness that energy in a healthy way. But please tell your older and wiser Robin that men do grow up, do calm down, and do become more and more worthy of trust and friendship. Let's together - women and men - find that place of trusting ourselves and each other, and open a space for the more mutual understanding and beautiful connections.

Jun 8, 2009

Big or small, i love her All

My wife turns 40 next month, and has been literally working her ass off to enter the next decade in the body and spirit she desires. It's been a pure inspiration to watch her commitment, her shift to a positive energy and self-image, and her emerging physical and inner strength.

I don't love or even desire her any more because she's 20 pounds lighter and tauter (though it is awful nice). But wow, the energy that pulses out of her is exhilarating, and I have a new-found respect for her physically that only adds to my life-long awe at her artistic and interpersonal and spiritual and professional and culinary and musical and and and... strengths.

Here's a poem I wrote way back in our early days, when I was in Africa missing her while she finished her school year in the third-world republic of Texas. She's just mentioned it in her fantastic Mama Renew blog about this same weight-loss quest, so it's a good excuse to dredge out the whole darn thang:

oh you! my quiet corner
i come into you to rest
oh i! down of your nest

oh you! window above my door
flood my gray with dappled light
oh i! your sleepless night

oh you! my checkered floor
i dance your broad expanse
oh i! your beating core

You're every-thing this house is
And every-where that Home is is you
Home is where i lay my head on your breast
Oh you! my sleeping, my dancing, my place of rest
Oh us! Oh we! Oh you-and-me!

Jun 3, 2009

Men need not apply

I'm sick of women. Women's solidarity, that is. Women's circles, girls night out, blessing ways, birthday brunch with the girlfriends... there seems to be no end to this conspiracy to exclude men.

It happens so often, and so blatantly that I just know the women don't have any awareness of the men they're passing over. A mutual friend calls and asks me to hand the phone to Sarah to invite her for a morning walk. A moms-only blessing way is organized for the 3 pregnant parents in our kindergarten. A neighbour leaves a phone message thanking me for our children's' recent playdate, asking me to borrow some honey, then inviting Sarah for a get-to-know-each-other-deeper tea.

Are men that crude, that shallow that we can only be enjoyed in public and at a surface level? Even if we're in the minority, I know many men who are sensitive, good listeners, and eager to enter into a deeper friendship based on mutual trust and sharing. They don't want to talk about hockey and strippers; they want to know what goes on inside their friends' hearts and souls, and share what moves and challenges them in their lives and relationships.

Are we really incapable of understanding? Genuine empathy does not require having experienced the same thing. We can, and should, hear and seek to understand and reflect back the feelings and experiences of our women friends. If those experiences are unique to women, then it's an opportunity for me to ask more questions and elicit more sharing - hallmarks of good communication and building blocks of good friendships.

Do we have to take sides? Relationships one of the taboo subjects for crossing gender lines. We have several friends who talk quite openly with both of us about their lives, but only to Sarah about their marriages or sex lives. Seems to me this just entrenches the (perceived or real) gender barrier in relationships, rather than creating an opportunity to better understand each other.

Did everyone take Billy Crystal too seriously when Harry tells Sally that "men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way"? Intimacy is beautiful, and can be experienced in so many levels that it doesn't have to be expressed sexually. I trust myself, my friends and my partner to deliberately not invest energy in that direction, and equally trust us to deal with it openly if such feelings did arise. We are adults; we can direct our energies and actions and trust ourselves.

So those are my rant questions. That's what's in my head when I roll my eyes every time Sarah gets (or organizes) another gender-exclusive activity. But I do know there's another side to this. Each time it happens I have to get past the knee-jerk and see that in some cases there may be very valid reasons, such as:

Men are loud and dominate conversations. Many women tend to lose their voice in a mixed crowd. At our last full-weekend Oxfam Canada board meeting - a leading women's rights non-profit organization with very strong women comprising almost 2/3 of the board - over 2/3 of comments and questions came from the minority of men. Whether that stat would hold true, or perhaps even be reversed, in a mixed gathering dialogue around deeper personal subjects is another question.

Mixed gatherings tend to go less deep. But I would suggest that's because of social expectations and intention-setting more than the gender mix. At retreats and quiet gatherings with an explicit intention to plumb the depths, I have experienced profound sharing. Our understanding of how men and women communicate should not be based on what happens at the company barbecue.

Some topics are just a bit too tender. Yes, most men are happy to be excluded from certain anatomical discussions, but I'd like to think that women don't devote too much time to talking about PMS and cracked nipples, just as men don't chat that much about prostrates and scratchy scrotums (scrota?). And once again, even though we'll never experience menopause in the way that women will, there just might be real mutual value in exploring and sharing it with us, and exploring with us the little understood male transitions and rhythms.

Women have a shared cultural experience of having grown up with this particular society's expectations and pressures, which makes certain types of sharing and trust easier and more natural. I get that some women have had experiences that make it hard to trust a man or men in general, and that almost all women have grown up in a culture that doesn't encourage or inspire trusting friendships with men. But putting us all in the same box denies the possibility for growth and sadly limits the potential for true connections.

The biggest reason of all for this inequity is probably that I'm married to a person who is vastly more wise, compassionate, empathic, big-eared and deep-souled than I am. I fully accept and expect that if one needs to choose between us, that she is most often the number one choice. If I had to turn to one person, especially to share hard times or feelings with, I'd choose her too.

All I'm really calling for here is an openness to men. We can be nice, we can be good listeners and sharers, we can be trusted. We can actually be really wonderful friends. We like to go on morning hikes and afternoon playdates and evening coffee shops. And the world would go along a little smoother if we understood and were understood by the fair sex a little better.

I will continue to do my best to understand when women decide that they need to be with just other women. And trust before making that decision, that those women openly and bravely considered whether the inclusion of men would be possible, a worthwhile investment in bridge-building, or even a valuable or enjoyable addition.


Post-script: Just for fun, here's the expansion on Harry's theory when, decades later, he invites Sally to a just-friends dinner:
They can't be friends. Unless both of them are involved with other people, then they can... This is an amendment to the earlier rule. If the two people are in relationships, the pressure of possible involvement is lifted... That doesn't work either, because what happens then is, the person you're involved with can't understand why you need to be friends with the person you're just friends with. Like it means something is missing from the relationship and why do you have to go outside to get it? And when you say "No, no, no it's not true, nothing is missing from the relationship," the person you're involved with then accuses you of being secretly attracted to the person you're just friends with, which you probably are. I mean, come on, who the hell are we kidding, let's face it. Which brings us back to the earlier rule before the amendment, which is men and women can't be friends.

Jun 1, 2009

Slow Farmer Playing

I just can't run in the garden. Nothing to do with the gumboots. It just feels wrong. I walk, even amble, and still get there and get lots done, trugs of weeds each day, but don't blow the grass over with my to's and fro's. Slowly and steadily I grow into awareness and fullness with my crops.

I do still make lists sometimes, but then forget to look at 'em as the day flows along. Long gently-concentrated times on one task are accented by a drift to another thing that comes into awareness - filling in that hole from where we removed the lemon balm last week, a wheelbarrow that needs emptying, finally putting in a nail to hang that hoe. The same circularity that would make me dreadfully inefficient in my old office here sounds its own rhythm, like a retriever making wider and wider circles to find the lost ball. Nothing is rushed and little is programmed, but much is accomplished.