Aug 31, 2010

The summer i turned Old

It’s easier than you think, getting old. You just slow down, become more careful, say No more often. It’s a habit that fits loose but binds tight, made of the lightest and softest fabrics that somehow still pull heavy on the shoulders. And once you’ve put it on, you’re not sure if it’s safe to take it off again.

July 10, the day after my hernia operation, I wasn’t so resigned. Spurning the pain meds, I took the family to our community fair, hobnobbing with the politicians, laughing with the farmers and eating the worst pancake breakfast in the history of church fundraisers. But half an hour into it I was already beyond hurting and seeing white, needing to sit down before being driven home. Slept the afternoon away, and popped some Advil to get through the night.

For the first two weeks of mandatory docility, I followed the rule of not lifting anything more than 5 pounds – a small bag of sugar. It was hard, but in a way fun, learning to ask others to cart the chicken feed or pour me water from our big jug. The Happy Invalid, taking daily naps and enjoying a respite from being the man who always pushes the limits.

The next two weeks I followed doctor’s orders and very gradually increased activity and the weight of lifting. VERY gradually, almost shockingly gradually. Still no running, still no picking up my children, and still long daily naps. Was I erring on the side of caution to not reinjure it, or respecting that my 43-year-old body really does need longer to recover than when I had the same operation at 24, or just getting lazy?

By August I was officially out of the danger zone, but didn’t suddenly become the invincible Rick Who Believes He’s Still 25. When the boys asked when I could pick them up again, I told them maybe when school started. I still walked slowly through the property, carried half-loads, and took my beloved naps. Told myself I was just being extra-careful, but somewhere inside I started to worry that this was it. This was the new me, finally admitting and acting my age.

So this is what it’s like to be old. Before jumping into an activity having to think if I’ll have the energy to complete it. Saying “no” to fun and adventure if it might be “too much.” Letting younger friends and Woofers carry the heavy stuff. Watching the children run and smiling at their youthful energy. Sitting on the couch for a snuggle instead of scooping the boys up for a big spin-around hug. Hearing my own tired voice say, “No, you kids go for a swim, I’m comfortable here on the blanket.”

The motor runs fine; it’s the starter engine that’s wonky. This premature old age was no longer by doctor’s orders, no longer because I could only drive slow or had run out of gas; it was a choice not to drive. It was easier to not turn the key, not get the engine fired up.

This deliberate decrepitness cost our family a much-anticipated backcountry hiking trip to Cathedral Lakes, settling for a forestry-road drive-in trip that fortunately was also beautiful. It cost me a summer of active gardening, relying on Sarah and woofers to produce our year’s bounty. It cost my boys two months of exuberant interaction with their papa as they learned too well to be careful and gentle with their fragile Old Man. It cost me a full season of being fully Me.

The road back to Me had two milestones. It started on our last morning of camping, in the last 2 minutes when Zekiah fell just before our final goodbye with our friends. He was hurt, sad, and not about to go do our traditional rousing rendition of Brown Squirrel (this year augmented by a spastic Wild Things wild rumpus). “My boy needs me, all of me, right now,” I thought, and I picked him up and carried him over, hugging him close. His teary eyes grew wide with wonder and delight as he whispered, almost in awe, “Papa, you’re carrying me!” I didn’t tell him that the doctor would have let me pick him up two weeks ago. We both needed this moment right then. His Papa was there, all there.

The other marker was the next day when Sarah took me to Bikram (hot) yoga for the first time in 4 years. My first yoga at all since spring – somehow I’d convinced myself that my sore body couldn’t even handle gentle stretches, that atrophy and stiffness were also part of the new Old me.

Just entering the 104 degree room triggered an old pattern of striving and pushing boundaries; set an intention of health and strength. As of the first breathing exercise I was out of the rocking chair, back to being back. I pushed too hard of course and hurt my lower back, but the rest of the week still went every day and did the poses I could to bring energy and power back to my body.

I’ve lost significant core strength for the first time in my life, but it’s already coming back, and for the first time ever I’m aware of it. I’ve always just had strength and energy, but now as I work to bring it back I’m appreciative in a new way. It doesn’t just exist, it has to be summoned and nurtured and honoured.

I’m not 25 anymore, and that’s OK. I don’t have to pretend that I could still make Wimbledon if I set my mind to it – I am older than Jimmy Connors when he made his 39-year-old amazing Aging Athlete run at the US Open in 1991. But I don’t have to focus on limitations, don’t have to dwell on what I can’t do or lose momentum worrying about losing momentum. I can decide to be healthy, to be strong, to have the energy to create energy. I spent two months respecting my limitations; now I’m back to respecting my power.

Aug 23, 2010


This blogging thing is dangerous. It's teaching me to use my own voice, express my own opinion, find my own style. The result was the potentially harrowing experience of being Edited!

I was recently requested to write an article for, Canada's top website and newsletter for nonprofits. What I wrote was a deliberately unbalanced, personal and strong condemnation of corporate give-away contests using online voting. Good writing, but not exactly in the neutral forgiving style of a national publication.

So they wrote back and said they'd be editing it, with my approval before publication. With a huge gulp! i agreed, and waited anxiously to see how much it would be watered down. But instead of becoming generic and neutral, it came back better. By removing Opinionated Rick from the narrative, it became a more authoritative treatise. In removing the few direct digs at corporate greed, it became less reactionary and more investigative.

I'm not about to change my blog style. In a world where we (quite rightly) need to be sensitive and two-way and careful, this site is a place to explore and share just what goes on in my own brain and soul and world, without worrying (much) about how it's received at the readers' end. In that way it's much like the unconditional love of a psychologist.

But I did learn a powerful lesson about employing other writing styles in other venues. Sometimes an op-ed isn't the best way to teach or share an idea. Sometimes, it would seem, the thoughts I have to share are more important than the fact that it's Me sharing them.

Anyways, for those of you interested in the professional side that I've been reawakening through FreeRange Consulting (which works with non-profit fundraising and organizational development, by the way, not farming advice!), here's the article.

Aug 20, 2010

When the cows (and campers) come home

An intriguing moment of our camping trip was the decision to come home a day early. Usually in BC that means that you're sick of being wet and cold, or tired of the crowded sites, or want to escape the other family you're with, or really crave a bath and a home-cooked meal. None of the above for us.

The trip had been perfect, and still was. We'd woken up that morning to chipmunks raining pine cones down onto our Peaceful oceanside campsite, then taken the kids fishing, exploring tide pools and jumping rocks. I'd had my cleansing morning skinny-dip, diving in off of Dinner Rock. Hot oatmeal filled our bellies and cinnamon buns were ready for the morning hike to a 200-year-old tree. We were deep into the groove of being together, being away from work and farm and hurry, just deep into Being.

Then, quiet and sure as a sunrise, the Knowing came that another day wouldn't add anything. We didn't need another day of Bliss; the trip was perfect right where it was. And just as miraculous as that Knowing, all 7 of us - big and small - had the wisdom to honour it and go home.

The result was a final day of calm, carrying with us the inner beauty and connection we'd built up over 5 days. An extra day of rest and togetherness before setting off on the next adventure (kids at "Camp Grandma Dia", us at home without kids for 5 days). And home just in time to once again wrangle an escaped cow back into the pasture and re-build the fence (but that's another story).

These days I'm trying to listen to my body before taking a second helping of dinner or dessert; to be completely satisfied and full with a first kiss; to be able to pick just one juicy strawberry. Applying this lesson to a camping trip was an utter and delightful surprise, and the perfect ending to a perfect trip.

Aug 17, 2010

Free Camping

Yes, the best things in life are free - beautiful friends, inspiring environments, creative food, and thanks to BC Forestry: camping. At long last we dared to trust our backcountry road map, heading up very dusty but driveable forestry roads along the Sunshine Coast to free, quiet campgrounds.

The first night was actually $12, but had a private dock for swimming/fishing and was close to the spectacular Skukumchuck Narrows. The next 3 nights were outside Powell River at Kartoum Lake - just one of many lakes where we could camp lakeside, explore the river, paddle out on our friends' inflatable dingy to fish, skinny-dip day and night, and just relax into the summer's perfectly-timed heat wave.

Then we changed gears and stayed on the coast at Dinner Rock, watching the sun set over the ocean and Savoury Island. The ever-optimistic boys switched from trout to salmon lures (equally unsuccessful), and started collecting seastars and crabs instead of the millions of baby frogs up the mountain.

True we had to boil our water and use pit latrines, and suffer without any electric hook-ups. But that kept the crowds and RVs away, giving the perfect illusion of a backcountry hike-in paradise without losing the convenience of drive-in.

The drawbacks?
- We have to begrudgingly give thanks to the forestry companies who maintain the roads and the campsites, even if they are only doing it out of legal mandate or perhaps PR
- Trying to explain to our innocent boys the devastated barren landscape of irresponsible unsustainable clearcuts
- It's hard to pay $20 for a provincial campsite ever again
- Remembering that it's still worth it to hike or canoe in, if only to feel the heightened sense of "earning it"

Regardless of the last bullet point, I am totally inspired to get a canoe or kayak, to be able to access even more remote and pristine spots; spots that the weekend partiers and 4x4-ers can't get to. To be able to paddle out before sunrise or moonrise to fish or swim or explore. Anyone with recommendations of what type/size/style is good for a family (or with one to sell) please do let me know.

Aug 8, 2010

A loud, cold beginning to a marriage

This day 11 years ago I was waking up a married man, a beautiful wife beside me, and (gulp) a blaring ALARM clock at 7am. None of the blissful slow awakenings of these days to the sound of birds outside the window and kids singing Annie down the hall. No sleepy-eyed memories of the night of dancing & singing, no philosophical musings on the new path together.

While the sound of our first morning together was atypical of the ensuing 11 years, the theme sure set the tone. We had to get up and GO. Interact and lead our community on an adventure. Make some more memories. Laugh. Create. All the things that still bind us 11 years later.

On this first morning the "task" was simply to convince as many wedding guests as possible to plunge into the glacier-fed river. The reward - a turn at cutting my shaggy shaggy locks. One by one, screaming loved ones from around the continent took the plunge, then celebrated the Big Plunge sarah and i had taken by hacking off 4 years of blond African growth. Malcolm finished the job with a razor, and I started my new life with a new, clean look.

A typically busy morning-after followed with a community breakfast, clean-up, present-opening, and bidding goodbye to guests. Later that afternoon we finally put on our brand new backpacks and headed into the woods of Mt. Ranier for a honeymoon camping adventure. The leftover wedding cake (chocolate-raspberry truffle) sustained us for a week of no alarms, no Doing, no nothing except being together and looking ahead to a future we could never have guessed at.

This fine summer morning 11 years later I woke up with the same even-more-beautiful woman, the same longer blond hair that aint goin' nowhere, and a deeper (and quieter) Peace than we could ever have imagined on that first clear, fresh-start morning. And rippling over that same deep body of Peaceful water is a day full of purpose and adventure, and even a packing of those same backpacks for another backcountry camping trip.

And the same open wonder and appreciation of each other and the universe, the same passion and purpose and daring that threw us into a glacier-fed river that first morning and into each other's lives the day before, propels us to a busy day of planting over-winter crops, finishing 3 work proposals, 4 loads of laundry to hang dry, a pancake brunch with our tenants, and the all the busy-ness that goes with leaving for a trip tomorrow.

Who needs an alarm when you've got Life to wake you up and a beautiful Wife to meet it with?