Aug 27, 2011

Did I Love Jack Layton Enough?

First off, kudos to Stephen Harper. I won't get to say that much, so let's give him a bit of credit for comprehending the significance of Jack Layton's passing and declaring and extra-ordinary state funeral. Whatever his motivation, he apparently has belatedly understood the profound impact and depth of character of the opposition leader.

I seem to share with Mr. Harper that belated understanding. When I blogged about strategic voting back in May, I was clever enough to foresee the surge in NDP popularity, but pretty much laughed at the idea of a Prime Minister Layton.

Now many of us are finally learning about the man and his convictions, and gaining a new-found respect for him. I still have trouble seeing him as Prime Minister, but with the rare exception of Barack Obama it's generally hard to see anyone as a leader until after the fact. It's why promoting from within is so difficult; it's why we have trouble trusting our kids to take on new responsibilities; it's why we keep electing the same people again and again to political office, to school committees, to host the Oscars. There was a time when Billy Crystal would have topped most of our Least-Likely-To lists, then an era when it seemed he was the only one who could. Just because one person gave him the chance.

So here's the recognizing prophets in our own lands. To believing in new bands and new candidates, embarking on new paths and new beginnings, building brave new worlds. If Jack Layton could inspire so many not only through his death but through his life, why not anyone else? Why not everyone else? What could my children, my friends, the boy bagging my groceries, even me - especially me - what could we achieve if we truly believed in the potential of each and every human being? Here's to healthy dose of Jack Layton commitment, drive and optimism.
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. --- Jack Layton

Good night, farm

Left a beautiful fireside OUR Ecovillage sing-along to put the family to bed - the whole family. While Sarah prepped the boys, I tucked in the Buff Brahmah chickens in the garden coop, bottle-fed Baryshnikov the water buffalo, let the neighbour cats in for the night, fed the roaster (meat) chickens and closed up their coop, collected eggs and closed up the layer chicken coop, and then returned to the garden to crank on four timers to water the plants. Then inside just in time for a final snuggle with the boys before they and Sarah all drifted off to sleep.

Then onto the computer for just (hopefully) 15 minutes to check messages for the first time since lunch, check phone messages, prepare a things-to-do-before-mom-arrives-tomorrow list, and say this sleepy good night to you. Now to curl up on the purple couch with an earthen-plaster book to plan the finish for the bedroom extension, happy complete bedtime by 11. Good night new moon, good night farm.

Aug 24, 2011

Morning quickie

When the visiting grandparents whisked the boys away for breakfast, Sarah and I took advantage of the alone time for a morning quickie.

While they drove down the highway, we snuck out to the garden to gather fresh kale, eggs and blueberries. As they were waiting for the short-order cook to fry up their vittles, we were whisking up a cheese omelet, green drink and blueberry granola (with a devilish sprinkling of chocolate-zucchini cake). As they wolfed down all-you-can-eat white flour pancakes in the noisy din of the hotel restaurant, we calmly enjoyed an organic local breakfast at a peaceful table overlooking the garden and Mt. Tzouhalem.

And while they reveled in the treat of a special breakfast with Grandma and Grandpa, we reveled in the treat of a special breakfast with each other. Guess in spite of all the surface differences, eating at Smitty's or at Wildside Farm ain't all that different. Thank you, Grandpa Bob and Grandma Sheri, for treating us all to a special breakfast this morning.

Aug 22, 2011

Signs of Aging

The flu bug kept our children down for one night and one day. I spent that glorious night squished in between them, comforting, soothing, being a beautiful papa. The next day they both snuggled and slept much, didn't eat, we finished Lassie, and put them in bed in time to cook myself and our guests a chocolate-zucchini cake.

As I licked the beater I felt the fever come on, strong and sudden, and left our friends with 10 minutes on the timer to go once again squeeze in between the kids, this time to keep Sarah away from my bug and to use them as little heaters during my night-long fever.

My stomach is strong from a lifetime of ill-advised food choices, so one vomiting session was enough. But where it took the boys 8 hours to regain energy and vigor, it took old me 2 days. Two days of slowly getting stronger, taking naps, going slow, catching up on emails and videos. Stacking a wheel-barrow load of kindling wiped me out. Recovery takes longer for us old people.

My first hernia at age 22 (induced by a cross-country bicycle trek) took a month to get over. My second at age 42 took 3 months to even start the recovery process (leading to my first lamentation on getting old.)

And today, the doctor confirmed that i have the ultimate old-person ailment. No, not a broken hip, but TENNIS ELBOW. Doesn't that just sound like a topic for the senior games? (No offense, ma, I'm mighty proud of the gold medals you just brought home, just not ready to be there quite yet). And what macho act of bravery brought on this injury? Not riding across the country, but 4 hours of re-stacking my firewood shed on Fathers Day. And now of course exacerbated by mud plaster work.

Earlier in this building year I majorly threw out my back and had to go to a massage therapist - another thing my younger healthy body would have scorned. But she did reassure me that I have the healthy tissue of a 30-year-old, thanks (she said) to healthy living, drinking lotsa water, and no alcohol or coffee.

Oh, one final sign of aging - people are still telling me in a very complimentary way that my short hair makes me look younger. For my first 40 years I've always looked too young - good at the beach but not so good at the job interview. Now suddenly I've turned that corner (come over that hill?) and it's good to look younger than I really am.

I've got no deep moral lesson from all this, and will likely continue to act 20 years younger than I am or ought to act, and am alternately amused and bemused when occasionally my body refuses to act the same age as my mind thinks I am. We are getting older, friends, even if not old, and even if few of us believe that we're aging quite as quickly as our peers. I'll go to our next high school reunion and likely have the same honest reaction as I did at our 20th - "I must be in the wrong room - these people are so OLD!"

Aug 14, 2011

FreeRange Kids

When you come to pick up your kids from a playdate here on WildSide Farm, I may not know where they are. "They were here a while ago," I'll muse, then probably break into the old Bob & Doug McKenzie call that's become our family locator (though it tends to attract middle-aged beer-bellied Canadian campers too).

I am somewhere around if they need me, usually outside in the garden or reno project, but not hovering. Just gently in the radar, keeping them on the edge of my awareness, ready to respond to a cry or an injustice they can't work out for themselves. Stepping in to redirect play into a healthier mode. Helping fix a flat tire or hoist a log into some new playground invention.

Every so often I stop hammering and wonder where they are. I listen in the direction of the forest, where they might be making a fairy grove or challenging the bike jump. I lean on the hoe and listen for delighted squeals as they feed Baryshnikov the baby water buffalo. I look up from the laptop to see if they're still on the Lego blanket under the tree outside, or inside playing dress-up or quietly reading National Geographic on the purple couch. It could be hockey in the neighbour's driveway, or soccer/volleyball/baseball/badminton down in the field, or ping-pong/foosball in the hayloft. The other day I finally found them down by my workshop industriously sawing bamboo into little cups and telescopes.

Often, just as I start wondering if I should check in on them, they have the same stirrings, the vague need to reconnect. They drift my way, showing off a painting or recounting some great adventure, then move off into a new activity. They feel me out there close enough for comfort, and that provides the security and safe boundary to freely play and explore. They are being held, even from across the yard.

What a blessing to have 5.2 acres of safety. No busy roads to cross, no ponds to sink under, and only friends coming up the drive. Sure they get hurt and sure there's potential for danger, but it's as controlled a jungle as any child could wish for. Our children are learning to trust themselves and each other, trust the natural world to be a stage for their great and small dramas, and trust me to still be there when needed.

Where are your kids? They're roaming free-range and romping Joyously on the WildSide.

Aug 13, 2011

How to find (and lose) a baby Water Buffalo

3 pieces you should know about water buffalo (sounds a bit like the Gremlins trailer): they like to stay at home, they can be contained by a single strand of electric fence, and they don't jump. All lies.

When i surprised my vegetarian wife with two baby beef cows, that was all me. Two years later, this was HER impulse to buy a baby water buffalo. If there was ever any question how we've flourished for 12 years of marriage, Baryshnikov is the answer.

Her birthday B&B at Fairburn Farm, a nearby water-buffalo ranch with a beautiful old farmhouse was perfect in every way but one - no postcards or cow-in-snowflake-bubble gift-shop. So we came home with the only thing for sale - a baby water buffalo. Actually the owner just kinda casually mentioned that the baby needed a good home (they only keep the females for milk), and Sarah's eyes lit up with her characteristic "what if" look and i knew we had a new family member.

A new member who, like Rose and Blossom two years ago, needs to be bottle fed three times a day. A task that we all gloriously fight over, it's such a nourishing nurturing relationship-building task. This baby is getting all the loving he needs to feel free and at home here for the next 18-24 months.

Hopefully that loving will be enough to get over the major morning-after regrets. He wasn't there. He's defied the first two lies - he's run away, and walked right through a 3-strand electric fence (and then a low gap in the wire fence) to do so. We spent the entire morning entertaining the community by going door-to-door, accosting joggers, posting notices and calling the police with the apparently unusual question, "Have you seen a baby water buffalo?"

We never did find him; just suddenly reappeared in the field at lunchtime. It is possible that he'd been laying down in some tall grass the whole time, but we didn't care - we wrestled him into the cow pen, boarded it up, and fed him some milk. Problem solved.

Until he head-butted the plywood barrier down and started heading straight for that electric fence again. This time I boarded it much sturdier and walked away satisfied.

Two minutes later he was out again, exposing the third lie - he'd jumped over (hence the name Baryshnikov). So for the third time we wrestled a rather large 3-week-old baby across the field and put up even higher wood slats that he'll need Olympic training to overcome. Now we're giving him uber-attention and loving so he does become attached to us and the land before we let him out (and fixing that hole in the fence).

It all started with 10 chickens. Then more. Then 2 cows. Then meat birds. Now water buffalo. Where will this Extreme Animal Husbandry addiction lead us next?

Aug 10, 2011

Natural Building

Playin' in the mud, that's what I'm a-doin' these days. And building a house in the process.

Our cute little 1-bedroom rental cabin, fashioned out of the old garage, is perfect for a bachelor but we just keep getting blessed by beautiful families who need a little more room to spread out. So we decided to add on a lil' office and big ol' bedroom in a way that would be attractive, functional, relatively cheap, and eco-friendly. Enter natural building.

We had already had some trees taken down to let more sunlight onto our house and garden, and to better steward the overcrowded forest, so the first natural choice was to have a portable sawmill brought in to cut beautiful, sustainably-harvested, zero-mile lumber. With that frame up, we then imported clay from the gravel pit 4 km up the road, stirred in wood shavings from the mill 10 km away, and voila - we have one-foot thick "chip & slip" walls that'll provide amazing insulation and thermal mass with zero off-gassing, transport, waste, etc.

This weekend we're applying a plaster coat of mud, sand and straw (imported from the mainland, unfortunately I learned too late that we could have used our own cow manure for fibre instead). Stop by anytime this Fri, Sat, Sun or Mon and enjoy getting muddy while learning a new craft.

The windows, sad to say, are vinyl (just couldn't afford the beautiful locally-made wooden ones) but they are made just down by Seattle and of course are energy-efficient, sold by a locally-owned business, and allow plenty of natural light.

The "living roof" is supported by our own massive 4'x12' fir beams, then our own 2x8 tongue-and-groove ceiling board, then some (sorry again) rigid insulation, then a layer of cardboard for more insulation, and finally some pond liner and a layer of dirt into which we'll plant flowers and grasses. We'll not put it on until after the plaster's had time to dry.

The drawbacks?
Well, it's darn slow. I started in April and have worked as quickly as the process will allow, but the mud takes about 1 week per inch to dry, and won't be hurried no-how.

The 12-inch-thick walls mean a larger footprint and more roofing materials.

It's taken a huge amount of manual labour. Huge. I'd guess that we put in over 300 hours of people-time (thanks to so many volunteer friends) just to mix and pack mud, and probably another 300 for mud plaster. Plus a huge effort to collect all the materials, and of course do all the foundation, wall structure, roof, electric, etc. I've done as much as I can myself, and have a master builder from OUR Ecovillage working with me when necessary - he leaves me a list of tasks to do, then comes back the next week to correct all my mistakes and set us on course for the next week of homework, and incredibly patient man to work with me!

The benefits? A deep sense of place and right relationship to use our own timber and our own muscle and our own wits. A rich community-building to have friends pitch in and learn together. A drastically-reduced carbon footprint and a healthier living environment by using local, natural materials. New construction at less than $100/foot, compared with maybe $150/foot for conventional building. And a building so beautiful that we're already eying it as our future empty-nester home.

In a society where we've learned to hire out construction (and pretty much everything) to "professionals" and "experts", it is truly liberating to reclaim our historic rights and powers to build our own shelter. We can do it, and end up with - in the words of the amazing Elke Cole who helped with the design - "a house that loves us back."

See more step-by-step photos on my facebook page

Aug 7, 2011

Camping on the Wild Side

I want a 4x4. Finally, after 3 years in the country, I want a truck. A big truck with high suspension, 4-wheel drive, power.

No I don't want to race (though we did stumble upon an intriguing hidden 4x4 race track outside Port Alberni). I don't want to spend my days burning fossil fuels while challenging tough terrain. I just want to go camping.

After decades of Provincial Park camping throughout Canada, we've finally discovered an abundance of free camping in BC. Free in all senses of the word - no pay, no neighbours, no noise, no rules. Just us and nature and a stocked fishing lake (starting to sound like a Brad Paisely song).

Last year we followed the Backroads book to Khartoum Lake outside Powell River. This year it was a water taxi from Toffino to Flores Island, being dropped off on a rock outcropping then hiking along the "WildSide Trail" and white sand shoreline through a myriad of secluded white sand beaches. Next year we'll seek even more remote hike-in or canoe-in sites, with the one limitation being the roads to reach the launch point.

Not to diss our truly beautiful provincial parks, but there's just nothing like being alone on a mountain top or shoreline with good friends and nothing else. Well, nothing except a wolf that visited our picnic site, seals and sea otters popping up for a visit, grey whales spouting off-shore, bear prints in the morning, bald eagles and ravens watching from above. Was this worth hoisting an impossibly heavy backpack on my ol' back and on my amazingly-low-complaining boys' backs? You betchya!

Are we slowly moving into Extreme Camping? Sarah did spend 2 days dehydrating everything from beef jerky to rice & beans to chocolate pudding and granola bars. We had to boil water from a tidal river that never quite lost its salt and never quite quenched our thirst. We had to limit ourselves to one S'more per night (is that an oxymoron, "one s'more"?) Even my guitar had to stay home.

But in the end we still managed to pack in way too much delicious food, enough blankets and tents to keep warm in the wet coast mists, and enough bathing suits (none) to enjoy the surf and river fun. Toys for the kids - none. They delighted in shells and sticks and sand, games of tag and whale spotting and fire building. For all the complex planning and packing required, it was in its final expression a true gesture of simplicity.