Jun 29, 2011

Taking the Bull By The ....

Animal rights activists beware: Farmer Ricky not only kills animals, he emasculates them too. There's been alot of death and diminution around the WildSide Farm these days.

Death has been at the pesky hands and teeth of an overfed raccoon who apparently prefers our organic chickens to the no-name SuperStore fish-flavoured cat-food in the trap. I keep plugging more holes in the fence and coop and he keeps finding ways to diminish my stock, down to 30 as of yesterday from 56 a month ago. Every morning that I find a new pile of feathers I feel I've failed my flock. Know I've failed them.

So traps are out, and even though they are live traps there'll soon be a dead coon on my dinner table if I finally catch him. There's no cruelty in killing one animal that has killed 26 of my egg-laying chickens. It's survival.

The depriving of "manhood" has been at the hands of me and my friend Amy, courtesy of a tiny little elastic band much tighter than the pleasure-enhancing ones at the Adult shops. We fooled poor little 2-month-old SnowStar (and then Midnight, who didn't go so easily after seeing what happened to his brother) to tie them to a fencepost, then slipped the elastic over his impressive baggage and snapped it shut. Those future calf-making machines will slowly shut down from lack of fuel and work no more.

Again, no cruelty intended. This keeps our young bull - now a steer, technically - from getting too rangy and dangerous, and keeps all those yucky-tasting boy hormones out of the meat that'll eventually reach our table. If we're gonna raise cattle for beef, this is just a necessary part of the equation.

In my final defence, WildSide Farm is actually an orphanage, a cattle rescue shelter. If we hadn't picked up these calves to raise, they would have been slaughtered at birth - since they are a dairy breed, they're not as valued for their meat as pure meat-breeds, and therefore are of no commercial value to the "real" cattlemen. True I'm only giving them 18 months of life, and ball-less life at that, but they do have the run of our beautiful hayfield, the company of each other, and some daily loving from our family and visitors. A pretty decent life as Canadian cows go, and hopefully some inherent satisfaction of providing organic healthy nourishment for our family to fulfill their destiny at the end of it all.

Jun 27, 2011

Farmers' Date

Happiness is: 2 nights with no kids, and all four of my power landscaping tools working (yes, 4: ride-em mower, push mower, handlebar weedwhacker, push weedwhacker). And oh ya, my beautiful wife here too. Where to start?

We started the night before by doing what we love best - making a list. Not just any list, but divided up by categories: farm, house reno's, inside clean-up/reorganizing, Friends, and just out of a sense of duty, a little column called "Fun." Fun has a dinner out, theatre tickets, and yoga. Period.

Fact is, it's that other stuff that we consider fun. The chance to finally get the septic field cleared, 13 more species of plants and trees in the ground, and multi-coloured spoons hung on the kitchen cabinet doors is our idea of foreplay.

We were so excited about the list that we started out by skipping yoga to come home (from Galen's delightful first piano recital) to the garden. Planted broccoli, corn, tomatoes, chard, fennel, a mulberry tree and an autumn-olive tree, finished setting up irrigation tubes in the greenhouse, and raked up grass clippings for the cows before a brief twilight respite in the hot tub. Then inside to sort laundry, re-organize the guest room, and an early bed-time too happily tired to even enjoy the fruits of our funky foreplay.

Our first ever date after moving here was to a Backyard Poultry Disease Prevention workshop at the Best Western Hotel, so I suppose this is all nothing new. In Vancouver we used to go out to restaurants alot just because we weren't sure what else to do on a date. No shortage of ways to enjoy each other these days...

Increasing the overlap of work and play, obligation and passion - that's what infuses happiness and fulfillment into this marriage, this life, this rambunctious walk on the WildSide.

Jun 23, 2011

Bipolar Fathers Day

There's nothing more intimidating than a blank cheque question like "What do you want to do for Father's Day?" Like whatever I choose defines my priorities and identity, and I'd better like whatever I choose.

My two gut responses were equally strong and opposite. One was to want time alone - take the kids away, let me do some yardwork and nap. Let me take a break from the rewarding but exhausting and never-ending work of being a Father, being a responsible caregiver. The day before I spent the whole day caring for others - kids, chickens, clients, renters, plants, school committee... a day of not being responsible for anyone else would be delicious, but also rather ironic.

The other impulse was that I want to celebrate Fathers Day by doing what I love the most - being a father. Let's build a fort, play without agenda, fall asleep all together at the end of a giggle-fest day. Shed all other worldly worries and dastardly distractions and just be in the full-on Papa mode that feeds my soul and lets me shine.

In the end I did a lot of both. While Sarah took the boys to Quaker meeting I stayed home and did a fun task I'd been wanting for ages - re-stacked all the firewood in the woodshed. A task that's been too low on the priority list to get done, but that made me feel great. Fiddled on some of the rental cabin reno tasks and some other tasks with no pressure, just enjoying Doing. And also enjoyed plenty of playtime with the family, and let them Treat me to fantastic meals.

The highlight was the feverish 3 hour creativity session where the boys would not let me into the house. They sewed bean-bag juggling balls for me, and were just bursting with happiness to surprise their papa with something home-made. Guess that's the answer to this question of what I want for Fathers Day - it's not my day, it belongs to my children, gives them a chance to recognize and enjoy and reciprocate the love they receive from me.

I'm happy to say that Fathers Day is, for me, totally unnecessary. I always love the role, get enough breaks and variety, and the love and attention and appreciation feels reciprocated. But a day to officially focus on this abundant source of beauty in my life, and an excuse to demand homemade scones and whipped cream for breakfast, I'll take that as often as my beautiful family and Hallmark will dish it out.

Jun 17, 2011

Canuck riots - we were all there

As we process the post-hockey violence in Vancouver, I feel called to share this piece I published a few years back. When it happened, I somehow thought that mob mentality was a "third-world" phenomenon, but we're all human and we all get swept away and we all have the frightening potential to lose our humanity. Even over a stupid hockey game.

Thirteen years later, I can still see him lying there on the sidewalk. Still smell the urine and sweat and anger, still taste my revulsion and fear and excitement. Justice swiftly served on the hot streets of Tanzania.

I had been walking down the streets of Dar Es Salaam – which means “Harbour of Peace” –when I noticed a crowd gathered on the sidewalk. Not the normal gang hanging around a gambling card game or street performer or moneychanger. This crowd was buzzing, pulsing, hungry. There was a smell of violence, of men strongly elated and horrified by what they had become.

The crowd readily parted to let me see the cause, or result, of the gathering. A man on his back, bloody, wet urine stain down the front and leg. At first I thought he was passed out drunk, but as a few stragglers kicked idly into his inert sides so as to not feel left out, it was obvious he was dead.

This wasn’t my first experience of street justice. When a hungry barefoot boy lifted my pocketknife in a crowded ferry landing in Zaire, the local men caught and beat him. The first thing I knew of it was the sound of knuckles rapping hard, repeatedly, on the boy’s skull, and the wails of a small wounded animal with no escape. Even when I realized that the beating was on my behalf – especially then – I wanted desperately for it to stop. It was only a knife; he was only a small hungry boy.

But when a young man reached into my friend’s money belt on a bus in Uganda, I was no pacifist – I was angry. He only got his hands on Evie’s leftover sandwich, but I wanted him to be Punished. Instead, he just got off the bus and laughed at us through the window, mocking my impotent rage. Where was the Clint Eastwood Man in me teaching him a lesson? Where were the protective locals hammering a message of justice in loud resonating cracks to his skull? I could have easily joined a mob and laid my boots to his side until pain smudged that cocky smile.

Perhaps he would have “learned his lesson” and not robbed anyone ever again. Perhaps he would have still been hungry and desperate, and a bit more dangerous. Or perhaps he too would have ended up on his back in the street, lying in a pool of his own blood, a few more random kicks to make sure the job was done.

I did not want to kill him. But I did want to hurt him, or see him hurt, to assuage my anger. And behind that anger was fear – fear that this crime could happen again, to me. That scared boy in me needed to believe in the simple societal answer that punishing him would protect me. And from that place of fear, punishment would have to be violent, somehow making him suffer – a beating in Africa, incarceration in Canada, capital punishment in Texas.

That violent rage and fear I experienced is the same energy that fed the mob in Dar Es Salaam. It blocked the humanity in them that could have felt compassion or connection with him as a human being – the part that could move beyond the need for Punishment and embrace something like Restorative Justice. It also blocked the rationality and restraint in them that could have stopped it in time. The result was death rather than justice.

As the anger drug wore off the “Harbour of Peace” mob, the self-appointed street judges believed – had to believe – that they’d done the right thing. That he deserved what he got, and that this would send a message to other would-be thieves. Having arrived too late to catch the mob mentality and not being the victim, I had the luxury of condemning the violence and the curse of fully absorbing the horror. And at that moment I had the hypocrisy to judge those men for feeling and doing exactly what I felt and might have done to a young man in Uganda, for the crime of almost stealing my friend’s leftover sandwich.

Jun 15, 2011

Confessions of an Embarrased Canuck Fan

It's not that they lost - the Bruins are less talented but played better and deserved to win.

It's not this ridiculous post-game violence and burning cars that even in protest over real issues at the G20 didn't work for me - that's a minority of people that don't reflect on me.

It's the fact that I care. That I feel a bit deflated and sad tonight because a bunch of overpaid men didn't score, and that I would be giddy with teenage excitement if they had won. I really did want that group of imported hockey players to win - those men who are loyal to my old hometown because they're paid to be so.

It's the fact that I devoted a significant amount of time over the past 2 months watching highlights, bits of games, full games at the theatre, reading online commentary, listening to meaningless radio banter, wasting social time in the parking lot on such a meaningless topic. If I'd devoted that same time and energy and focus to the piano, Beethoven's second movement of the Moonlight Sonata would be mine by now.

I did enjoy the ride, and did enjoy the camaraderie of sharing that ride with the rest of BC. But the game 7 loss just reinforces the futile waste of energy and passion invested in professional sports. Why wasn't I playing ultimate frisbee with my own energy and my friends tonight, instead of sitting watching someone else win or lose?

Even if they'd won I'd likely be writing this, just a few days later - rather like that empty feeling after an ambitious one-night stand; good or bad, you wake up and wonder why you didn't just stick with your buddies at that bar.

Jun 13, 2011


I pulled a drowning kid out of the river at Bright Angel Park last year. 20 feet out from shore. Swam right past his parents, helped him in, walked back past his parents who just looked a little annoyed.

Was I wrong? Was he just a goofy 11-year-old playing around? I had ummed and ahhed for a few seconds - do I potentially make a fool out of myself if he's actually not in trouble, especially with his family right there? But this fantastic article made me glad that I decided to err on the side of caution:Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning.

The article helped me understand my own response when an older girl almost drowned me during a camping trip. In full view of my family and friends, she repeatedly dunked me (intending it to be fun). My brother was just 20 feet away and until today neither of us understood why I didn't call for help. I went into the precise "instinctive drowning response" they describe - unable to scream or wave for help, just trying to get enough breath each time she let me up to survive the next dunking, letting my body go limp to preserve energy and breath. A truly terrifying moment of my childhood.

As we finally head into summer (witness only 5 kids in line this morning when the bell rang to start the last week of school), please read that article and be clear on the real signs of drowning (not usually as active as my own experience).

"It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents), Of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening."

Enjoyed my third swim of the year at the grade one beach day last week (the first swim being January, 1, second at Crescent Beach on Easter weekend), and look forward to many more beautiful and safe swims with my family this summer.

Jun 10, 2011

Who's the Boss

In full 9-year-old mode, he whines defiantly to the teacher, "WHY do we have to wear shoes?!"

I wait for the teacher's patient response about safety, hot roads, liability waivers, etc. Instead, he turns to give his full attention to the boy and says, "Do you want to know Why? Look at me. Do you want to... look at me. Do you want to know why?"

Finally the boy looks him in the eye and more quietly says "Yes."

"Because... I ... said ... so." Slow, steady, strong. Not challenging, because there was never a challenge to this man's authority. He was and is the boss, the alpha male, and just needed to remind the boy.

The child's response? Not anger, not counterwill, and not deflation. Just relief. My universe is still safe because my teacher is still the boss. Relief, and release of anxiety. On went the shoes.

We don't have to ask for our children's compliance. We don't even have to demand it. Just expect it. We don't have to explain all our decisions - even the ones that are easy - just be confident in them. The more fully we are in the role of Adult, the more freedom they can have to enjoy and grow in their role of Child.

Jun 7, 2011

Let Them Cry it Out

I just let my little boy cry himself to sleep, and it didn't hurt a bit. In fact, it felt really good.

No, I didn't slip out to indulge in fresh whipped cream and frozen cherries (that came after) - I was right there with him. Laying as close as possible while he buried himself under blankets and thrashed. Singing "If you take my hand my son, all will be well when the day is done" through and with his sobs. By the second chorus he let my hand rest on his belly, and in the final chorus he softly rested his hand on mine and started to entwine fingers, still sobbing.

Ten more minutes of gradually softening wails and rails against the injustice of his brother's tooth coming out before his, with me doing nothing to make him feel better, just feel held and safe, safe to be sad, safe to express it, safe to stay in it as long as he needed to. He may have been crying out many other hurts that had bottled up inside, I don't know and don't need to know. The important thing for him was that I wasn't trying to solve it or stop it, just hold him through it. "Hold onto your Kids," Gord Neufeld whispers.

At long last he rolled on his side toward me, nose to nose, and, stuffed his feet in between my thighs in a classic return-to-the womb, hold-me-head-to-toe pose that his brother in particular was addicted to. After some minutes in this fetal hold I opened my eyes and found him softly staring at me. I smiled and loved him back, releasing him to close his eyes and settle down into sleepy Peace.

Sleep well, my love. Your papa loves you, and is right here. Day is Done.

Jun 5, 2011

Burning Man

Every second Friday I get the chance to be a Man. I take the garbage cans and recycling down to the street, and later pick up the empties and feel lighter, freer, Accomplished. My house once again has a clean slate, cleansed of the rhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifubbish build-up, relieved of that karmic burden. I am Man, i have provided and protected and cleared my abode.

Imagine how much more manly and satisfying a bonfire can be. In 4 hours of heavy labour this morning I reclaimed a portion of my yard as big as our old city back yard. Up in smoke went 16 months of brush, blackberry bramble, apple shooters, branches and fir needles. Over a year of wasted space, heavy energy calling me to start Takin' Care of Business.

Every year in the Black Rock Desert, thousands of pilgrims set fire to their past and reclaim their souls at Burning Man festival. I may not have helped plant the beans today, but i played the other side of Shiva and destroyed my way through to new growth.

Jun 4, 2011

The Waldorf Canucks

Yes, i'm a Canucks fan. After a couple decades of really not caring about professional sports, pointedly not devoting precious life energy to it, i'm genuinely excited about the Canucks' imminent Stanley Cup victory.

I'm also letting my children get excited, even took them to a big-screen live showing of tonight's game at the Cowichan Theatre. It was actually their first big-screen anything ever, and way against the Waldorf and our personal no-screen-time motto.

But as our wise B&B guest said the other day, "Everything in moderation - even moderation." Their excitement about the Canucks is as pure and natural as their rapture over the first peonies blooming last week. I have to believe that this brief media blast and pop-culture bandwagon is not going to shut off their vibrant imaginative life or numb them to the natural wonders of our world. Tonight was as explosive and memorable and limited as last year's midnight meteor shower or the rye grains that G is sprouting in a jar on our kitchen windowsill. All are feeding their hungry souls and active minds, and one does not negate or overshadow the other.

As for me, I "wasted" about 15 minutes a week watching highlights during the Canucks' President's Trophy season, and up to an hour or two a week now watching highlights and some periods of playoff action. Like last year's World Cup soccer and Olympics, it's a brief connect-to-the-greater-world's-energy shower that will easily fade back into longer weeding and whittling hours. As long as i can laugh at myself for valuing these overpaid imported athletes in my former home city playing a winter sport as summer finally arrives, i can safely keep it in perspective and enjoy the ride.

Canucks in 5.