May 29, 2010

Expensive lessons

Wandering through the woods with a friend's pole saw (chainsaw on the end of a 15-foot extension pole) after trimming branches away from the power lines, I thought I'd just quickly cut down a tree to feel more manly than the little branches did. Halfway through the cut I realized why pole saws aren't for tree-cutting - it got stuck.

So, I had to go pick up my chainsaw from the repair shop and start a new cut above it. By now not in the best mood at having to be away from planting the garden this long, I made a bad cut and got chainsaw #2 stuck.

Enter the ax - an amazingly satisfying way of denuding nature, but in an increasingly foul and hurried mood not the best weapon of choice. On the fourth swing, I managed to hit the blade of my chainsaw. I also stopped long enough to notice that the tree was leaning toward the house, not the forest.

So finally I stopped and made the long-overdue phone call to the tree-cutting specialist, who came a few days later to fell 3 trees that had grown too close to the house, and to rescue the 2 chainsaws. Imagine my mortification at having to show this professional man my half-fallen tree, half-hacked trough with rough axe marks, leaning toward the house with two chainsaws stuck in it. Quite the homesteader legend I'm turning out to be.

$210 of chainsaw repair and a big mouthful of humble pie later, I suppose I've learned a lesson in there somewhere. Just not sure which one - use the right tool, take your time, sometimes professionals are there for a good reason, do jobs at the right time and attitude.

If you're on the island, it's Craig from Heartwood Tree Service - 812-4204. He's now taken down the 3 dangerous ones, and today 3 more to allow two sunlight corridors into our unnecessarily shaded house and yard. A bright sunshiny world of difference, and I live to tell the tale.

May 25, 2010

Simple, not Plain (please)

When you live in paradise, where do you go for vacation? We are so thoroughly happy here on this blessed land with our beautiful neighbours, abundant garden, etc etc that the idea of leaving is always hard. Foreign travel doesn't beckon, and even a 20-minute drive to get to a beautiful hiking spot or beach seems unnecessary when we could be just as happy and together here at home.

BUT... are we resting our contented heads a bit too deeply in this sacred sand, and missing other layers of richness? Would taking Mt. Tzouhalem or Bamberton Beach as mistresses cheapen our committed connection here?

How many layers do we need to strip away before we've reached a level of simplicity where life is pure, uncluttered and enriching in its clarity, without going so far that it's just plain boring? Or if not boring, at least missing out on some core life experiences that would bring even more colour and Joy to our world.

It's not just travel. Less furniture and toys and wall hangings clears a room of heavy energy, but at some point some fun and functionality and personal quirks also need to shine through to make it Home. Meal schedules and bedtime rituals bring a sense of security, but the occasional late-night marshmallow roast provides a sweet point-counterpoint that sharpens the positive impact of both the routine and the treat.

We made the difficult decision to spend last weekend at our annual Quaker gathering with Friends from across Western Canada. It cost us $700, some frantic late nights getting work and house in order to be able to go, and 1,140.3 km of carbon footprint. The whole beautiful drive up, and most of the weekend, I wondered if it was worth it.

We could have had a beautiful long weekend at home, playing with friends long-overdue for visits and a garden long-overdue for planting. Instead we chose a 5-year family tradition with a group of like-minded friends of all ages, a once-a-year community that we have chosen to make a commitment to. It was a deep, fun, grounding, inspiring weekend, the kids thrived and mark their spring calendars by it. Yes, it was worth it.

I guess the question isn't whether this experience was worth it, but how many such experiences do we need, and why this particular one? There are other yearly Quaker gatherings, music camps, multi-family camping trips, music festivals... we all have found traditions that punctuate our normal reality, and we all opt out on many others that could be equally rich.

There is, of course, no answer to this question. Just a measuring stick by which we look at all the wonderful opportunities in our daily and annual calendars, then pick out just enough to make special memories without wiping out the beautiful everyday.

May 11, 2010

One Jest Too Far

Living Big is an extreme sport. There's a danger in being so open, in letting myself bubble up and over so freely. Last weekend I was flowing, funny, Very Out-There, and woke up the next morning with that familiar What Did I Do Last Night hangover.

The parents association made the brave decision to appoint me as Jester in the annual MayFair celebration. Always up for a new role - especially an undefined one like that - I donned my Shakespearean garb from a Y2K Amsterdam garage sale, an African trumpet made from 2 brightly-painted bull horns, and an edgy, bawdy Monty-Python comedic posture.

The boys kept asking what I was going to do to be funny, and I answered that I didn't know until we got there. It wasn't something that could be rehearsed, it just had to come out somehow. Being funny is intimidating - I couldn't expect to memorize 4 hours worth of one-liners and fall-down gags. I just trusted that something mirthful would emerge, like when we arrived and I instinctively cycled right into the outdoor dining area, wobbling and crashing into tables shouting at my imaginary horse. The comedic gauntlet had been thrown.

And flow it did. The whole day was pure fun, a chance to play with friends old and young, to lightly and cleverly and cunningly tickle and delight and even shock. I played with the edge between magical and worldly, listening to one-liners jump out of my mouth that floated over the innocent minds while "busting the guts" of the adults. When I repeatedly couldn't coax a noise out of my bull-horn and a fellow dad then blasted a pure powerful tone, I blurted out, "Just goes to show that it isn't the horn, it's how you blow it."

Now for the hangover. The problem with playing on the edge is that, almost by definition, you fall to the other side sometimes. In the sobering waters of the hot tub that night, the gentle stars and my wise wife reflected back some moments that were inappropriate in the family-day context. The pure high of a day of fanciful jest and appreciative laughter was swept away in the recollection of jokes that I would have held back given a second chance.

"But there is no second chance in improv," I protested. There's precious little time for self-monitoring and filtering as jokes and jests erupt in the spontaneous, reactive flow that makes them funny. I'm nowhere good or experienced enough at this to be free and flowing and funny if I have to hold back and check-in before every comment.

"Did anyone ask you to do stand-up comedy?" was Sarah's gentle reply. Hmmm, I had to settle back down in the frothy hot-tub waters to let that one wash over. I was asked to be Jester, with the interpretation left up to me. It was me who chose the sharp Monty Python humour, the bawdy British edge, and the historical Speak-the-Unspeakable function of the true jesters of old. I played it well and for the most part got it right, but was it the right role to play?

Not only was this a family event, where comments about eager brides might be better saved for the parents-only Who Knew night, but it was a Waldorf festival. This education system we've chosen and deeply believe in goes to great lengths to preserve the innocence of childhood, to let them live in a magical and imaginative and creative, good world for as long as possible. They'll join us in the big raw corporate dangerous high-tech media-laden brand-name consumer-driven world soon enough - for now, we let them be children. In my noble quest for jest, I didn't always keep that principle in front of me.

But beyond inappropriate jokes and anachronistic playacting, the biggest cause of my week-long funk was the repeat of a life-long pattern of going too far. Starting way back in grade 12, my girlfriend would help me analyze each party the next morning, where I'd been too loud, too in-your-face, too forward, too attention-seeking, too disrespecting of the group or the situation. Over the decades I've learned to channel a very genuine abundance of energy and freedom in appropriate venues and volume levels, while inwardly enjoying an even fuller and raunchier and more outrageous litany of comments and actions that y'all would never even guess at. I don't live smaller, just am careful about when and how and with whom to express it all.

So the biggest personal disappointment of Mayfest was the all-too-familiar malfunction of this filter that lets me enjoy and be enjoyed by the precious community and world around me. I'm very aware that it wasn't as catastrophic as this long exploration and week-long cloud would suggest, but after a quarter century of learning to look before my enthusiastic leap it's disheartening to realize that I landed right back in Grade 12 Social Ethics class.

After a week of roller-coaster emotions, including serious doubts about my fit and role in the Waldorf world, I'm being a bit more forgiving of myself. Maybe I was just being the outrageous Me that people love, even respect, and perhaps occasionally need. Maybe I hit it just right: that historic role of the Jester who can and must say the things to the King that the populace feels but can't express. And maybe I just took another important backward step into understanding and embracing my place in the Waldorf community.

Ending on a positive note, I'm deeply grateful to the legion of friends and smiling parking-lot parents who are still thanking me for my contribution to the event, and who have held and supported me in these ponderings. Whatever self-flagellation I feel necessary, I feel very loved and appreciated by the beautiful people around me. One friend spontaneously what I've been trying to hold onto:
I was sorry to see you look a bit down today about your Jester role at the May Day event. I am reading a wonderful book about Waldorf education right now and realize how the form, unspoken rules and aesthetic of our school is less important than the spirit that lies underneath. To that end, you are a bright light, a much needed Fool, in the deck of tired archetypes. You are a blessing to us all. You are not too much. You are just right. I hold you in that light as you process through your efforts which sustain us all.
I'm not too much. I do sometimes express too much of that abundant Me for the people and situations around me, but I'm not too much. I'm just me - a whole lotta me - and sharing that is my gift. Even if sometimes I end up feeling like the Fool.

May 2, 2010

Only Occasionally Organic

Every time I think I've "made it", I find another way that I'm falling short. Or to be more positive, an amusing self-realization showing that there's still a long way to go to living out my ideals.

Today it was the hummingbird feeder, which has been empty for 3 blissful days. Blissful days where we can get through an entire sentence at the dinner table without being interrupted by "Look, a hummingbird!". Empty because we used up the last of our cheap Rogers white sugar, and the fair-trade organic cane sugar in the cupboard is too expensive to waste on little birds.

But wait a minute, do we buy organic foods just because of the health and taste benefits only to us? Surely God's tiny little marvel that can hover and fly backwards is equally deserving of wholesome goodness?

Just kidding, that's not the big quandary (someday I might in fact have moved spiritually to a place of equality with all creatures, but it's not on the agenda these days). What jumped out at me was that health and taste aren't the only motivating factors to buy organic, fair-trade and local food. Equally important are social justice, carbon footprint, local economy, and the environment.

Regardless of whether the sugar goes into my greedy mouth or a hummingbird's delicate beak, how that sugar is produced and marketed is important. My dollars should always be supporting fair workers' rights and compensation, organic farming practices that care for the earth and reduce water consumption, avoidance of petroleum-based fertilizers, and local sources where possible to supporting local producers and decrease carbon emissions of transport.

Someday I'll have room in my consciousness to worry about whether Rogers refined sugar is good for brother hummingbird. For today, it's enough to remember that my ethical purchasing commitment is not conditional on how the product is used. And to swallow a bit of humble pie (or perhaps hope) in realizing that as much as we strive to live right, there's always more to reach for.