May 30, 2014

Angels In A Blue Bus

Our new accessible blue bus, and Linda's haiku below.

55 cubics
Not for us this summer time
The blue bus will do.

For the past few years I have been helping Linda into our truck. First by assisting her legs, and later by lifting her onto a small step. For the amount we were driving this worked for us and allowed us to do what we could with what we had.

Then, about 10 days ago we hit a roadblock. A major roadblock.

I injured my back moving things in the house, and could not lift Linda onto the step any longer. Mere days before we were to hit the road our truck became useless to us. In order to proceed we needed to sell our truck and buy a wheelchair accessible vehicle.

And we had less than two weeks to do get it all done. We launched into action with nary a moment of panic. Ok, maybe a bit of panic.

Our ideal scenario was that someone with a wheelchair accessible vehicle would deliver their vehicle to us, and take our truck and drive it away at the end of the transaction.

Then, we actually got our ideal scenario.

An 82 year old gentleman whose wife had MS (and passed away last year) had the perfect blue bus for us to drive to the east coast. And he was willing to drive an hour from his home for us to see it. 

When he arrived we could see that his van was perfect with a lift and raised roof. He took a peek at our truck, but made no commitment to buy it. Then he and his daughter told us to think about it, and drove an hour back home.

A couple of days later these angels drove the van back to our parking lot. We bought it, they bought our truck, and an hour later we were the owners of our first accessible vehicle, and the angels were flying back to heaven in our truck. When it was all over Linda and I could hardly believe our good fortune.

We still only have 55 cubic feet of stuff, but it should be much easier getting it into the van. And the lift will definitely be easier and safer for my spine.

We're back on track.

May 28, 2014

Lindeeana Jones and the Lost Love Letters

When Linda and I met we lived in different cities 600 km apart. We wrote a lot of letters. Big, thick, juicy love letters. And we both kept every single one of them, which over the years merged into one big boxed love fest.

It was heavy.

After we got together we spent 3 summers apart while Linda was in Israel working on an archaeological dig at Tel Miqne/Ekron. The dig is the site of a biblical city, one of the five Philistine cities mentioned in the Old Testament.

I stayed home, so again we wrote a lot of letters. I missed Lindeeana Jones, my very own swashbuckling archaeologist of the Holy Land desert.

These letters were also archived in the big box, and over the years the treasure trove of love blended in with all the other boxes of forgotten stuff. They gathered dust and cobwebs until we unearthed them this past week.

These outpourings of written love still crackled with energy as we went through them. We randomly selected envelopes to open and read together. It felt like recent history, but it all went down on paper from 1987 to 1994.

Wow. What do you do with such artifacts? Could we dispose of them? Or did they need to be enshrined in our own personal museum after being excavated from our closet?

Since we decided that nothing about our love or relationship had changed since the beginning, we let the letters loose. But we will cherish the day we took together to go through them and enjoy them one last time.

May 26, 2014

Be Brave Monday

Image: Roger Peet, Just Seeds Artists' Cooperative

"But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet not withstanding go out and meet it."

- Thucydides

May 23, 2014

Appreciating The Little Things

A single drop of ocean water magnified 25 times reveals an entire tiny world.

In a time of global "Big Events" occurring with increasing frequency, it is easy to overlook the little things in life.

When I saw the photo depicting a whole world in a single drop of sea water, I was reminded of the beginning of William Blake's poem Auguries of Innocence:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

One thing that allows us to see a world in a grain of sand, or drop of water, is slowing down. Even better is stopping all together. When you stop, the little things make themselves known, if you lay yourself open to them.

Take a moment to slow down, stop, and appreciate the abundance of wonderful little things that make our lives so much richer. 

Noticing and appreciating the little things helps us cope with the big ones.

May 21, 2014

Affordable Sustainable Housing

For thousands of years humans built and lived in affordable, sustainable and beautiful homes. In some places of the world such homes continue to be built and enjoyed. But not in "developed" or "advanced" cultures. We like our homes unaffordable, unsustainable, and much larger than necessary.

It is pretty hard to improve on native peoples' ecologically sensitive home designs. I thought about this one year ago when severe flooding in Alberta wiped out hundreds of houses in dubious locations. If asked, local native people might have warned against building in such exposed locations.

I thought it ironic that the area's original people in a similar situation, say 200 years ago, would have simply pulled up the stakes on their low-tech tipis and moved out of harms way, then return after the silt settled. Wonderfully simple.

As it was, the flood caused 6 billion dollars of property damage and washed 10,000 people out of their homes, some never to return. This is progress?

I don't advocate that we all live in tipis, although I think in many ways it might be better if we did. But we should think more about the kinds of houses we are building, and where we are building them.

Maybe we can learn about more appropriate forms of housing and building sites from the original people that have been building solid shelters away from harm for the past several thousand years.

This tipi is very hard to move out of harms way when the creek overflows its banks.

May 19, 2014

Print Memories Monday

After a 10 km (6 mile) backpacking hike, Linda relaxes on the beach of Lake Frances in
Glacier National Park, Montana in the early 90s.

This weekend we have been going through a couple of boxes of visual memories. Hundreds and hundreds of prints, just a small portion of the 1 trillion photographic prints made worldwide during the history of film cameras.

A process to record visual memories that began in 1827 allowed our lives to flash before our eyes. As we shuffled through the years via squares and rectangles of chemical-infused plastic, we triggered neurons we didn't even know we still had.

What do you do with photos in an extreme downsize? Aren't photographs "priceless"? I have read that when people enter their burning homes it is for very specific reasons - saving loved ones, pets, and photographs.

I am not sure that I want any material thing having that kind of power over me. I would run in for Linda and nothing else.

Plan A was to keep the photos by scanning the prints into our computer, but once we saw the enormity of the task, decided we needed a Plan B.

Plan B was:

View and Cull

It took hours, but we cut the print piles down by about 70%. It was exhausting work that also had moments of exhilaration, both in the memories triggered, and in the relief in unburdening our lives of stuff we hadn't looked at for years.

The next step was to repeat, cull again, and reduce the pile by a further 50%.

At several points in the process we were ready to tip the whole memory pile right into the bin, never to be sorted, shuffled, or touched again. But we persevered, we laughed, we cried, and we let go. But it is a work in progress.

Now for the slides.

May 18, 2014

Don't Let This Happen

Want to sail the seven seas? Do it. Now.

"Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you're 65 or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn't go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? 

It's going to break your heart. Don't let this happen."

- Anne Lamott

May 16, 2014

Giving Is Natural

"Giving of any kind… taking an action… begins the process of change, and moves us to remember that we are part of a much greater universe."
- Mbali Creazzo

Never mind selling things, it can be a lot of work to just give things away. But it is worth the effort to be part of an exchange relationship not based on money and personal profit. To me it feels more natural.

This week I gifted our local public library with a wood chess table and ceramic pieces that I made in high school in 1978. When I start to think of how many times I have moved this functional furniture made by my own two troubled-teen hands, I am flooded with images of times and places passed.

I tried to tabulate how many times I moved the table over the years, but got dizzy and gave up. Considering the history, it was one of my most cherished give-aways.

A couple of days later, I visited to take a picture of the chess set in its new library home. I noticed that just inside the front door was a prominently positioned table with a display of several books on chess, along with a sign directing interested patrons to the the new acquisition.

I like the idea of leaving something behind in this place that we have come to enjoy so much.

May 14, 2014

The Hermit In Retreat

We are ready for a forest retreat.

Our home is near empty - it echoes when Linda and I laugh or shout with joy - oy - oy - oy...

I feel like I am preparing for the third stage of the Four Stages of Life in Hinduism. I am not a Hindu, but did develop an interest in all things Indian after spending several months there.

In the Hindu stages of life, which is seen as more of an ideal today rather than prescribed, a person is in the Student stage until age 25. The emphasis is on learning and practice. All the student needs, more or less, is a backpack.

Then the Householder stage begins. The material goods to support and nurture a family must be acquired during this phase.

At age 50 (a milestone I passed 2 years ago) one prepares for the third stage which is the Hermit in Retreat.

After raising a family, the focus of this stage is to remove one's self from the material pleasures of life to make room for intense personal development. The Hermit In Retreat can finally return to the backpack that was set aside at the end of the student life 25 years previously.

After a time of being a hermit in the forest, the final phase of Hindu life begins. This is the Wandering Recluse stage, or as I call it, "The Shoebox" stage of life.

The Recluse has no home, no stuff, no attachment. They have renounced all desires, fears and hopes, duties and responsibilities.

The sole concern is living in conjunction with the Universe, and to do this all you need is a piece of cloth to cover your body, and a begging bowl from which to eat.

It helps to live in a warm climate - imate - imate - imate...

May 12, 2014

Donate Stuff And Lower Your Carbon Footprint

… is good for the environment.

I would rather give things away than sell them. It is so much easier and stress free. Therefore our local thrift shops are the recipients of a lot of our stuff.

In doing research on various agencies accepting donations, Linda came across the following information about how giving to thrift shops diverts things from the waste stream and lowers your carbon footprint.

"When you donate to us you help the environment by responsibly processing your clean, gently used possessions for reuse through our thrift stores. 
Each year, our program diverts more than 48 million kilograms of clothing, household items and electronics from Canadian landfills. 
This translates into a savings of 876 million kWh of energy while reducing our donors’ carbon footprint by 120 million kilograms of CO2 emissions.  
This is equivalent to driving a car 43,000 times around the globe or saving 8.6 million trees."

May 11, 2014

Honouring Our Mothers

Gaia: Mother Earth by Christina Price

We need to start honouring our mothers, today, and every day. All of our mothers. Robin mothers, human mothers, and ultimately Mother Earth.

The painting above by Christina Price (an artist local to my area) stood out from all similar images. It was striking in that it is not as soft and decorative as some of the other depictions of the Mother of All.

But I think it is fitting that in this painting Gaia looks stern and perhaps even a little pissed. She should be upset. Some of her children have not been sincerely honouring her and her abundant gifts for a long, long time.

Western society is sadly lacking in valuing and expressing feminine energy and intuition. The overabundance of male energy has created a culture of action-at-all-costs resulting in violence and destruction.

We can honour all mothers by maintaining a balance of female and male, of yin and yang. We need both. Intuition, coupled with action, is where creativity and healing take place.

In balance we honour the feminine, and the Mother, and can do anything.

May 10, 2014

55 Cubic Feet Of Stuff

Could you fit everything you own into this vehicle? We are going to try.

Our June 1st appointment with rubber tramping is fast approaching. As of this date we will no longer have a conventional home, and the entirety of our possessions will be in our small truck.

We have about 55 cubic feet to play with, about the size of a small closet.

In order to meet our goal successfully, we need to be ruthless in making decisions about what to keep. But we have been ruthless before.

About 10 years ago we downsized our possessions by about 50%. What was left over amounted to a small rental moving truck.

This time around we are cutting what we had left by about 95%. We have a dream of some day getting it all down to a backpack each. After that, a shoebox.

For now, though, if we can fit it all into 55 cubic feet we will be happy.

May 9, 2014

The Robin's Nest

It doesn't get much better than a robin's nest filled with eggs just outside your window in the Springtime.

The faster you go, the less you see. It is easy to get going so fast that tunnel vision sets in and all you see is a target in the distance. You may eventually get to your destination, but at the cost of enjoying getting there.

Living simply allows one to live at a pace where you can notice little things. You can see what you might have missed in a rush. Lately I have been taking time to notice a busy little robin outside my window.

Over a few days of patiently watching her movements she adapted to my presence and led me to her nest. With mom perched close by I parted the branches only to have one of those classic nature moments.

I saw one perfect blue egg in an equally perfect nest. A few days later I took the picture above and was delighted to see three eggs.

Is there anything more hopeful and optimistic than a robin's nest filled with eggs in the Springtime?

May 7, 2014

Slowly, Slowly!

O snail

Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!

One of Japan's most popular poets, Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) during his lifetime wrote over 20,000 haiku. Always poor, he used the dialects of the mountain villages where he lived to write his whimsical poems.

His works had a childlike simplicity and celebrated the ordinariness and the occasional sacredness in daily life, always finding delight in the little creatures of this world.

Issa wrote 54 haiku on the snail, 15 on the toad, nearly 200 on frogs, about 230 on the firefly, more than 150 on the mosquito, 90 on flies, over 100 on fleas and nearly 90 on the cicada.

May 5, 2014

Does Decluttering Equal Enlightenment?

Our medicine cabinet has been Zenified into a clean simplicity.

The final downsizing has begun. The more we get rid of, the better it feels. The uncluttered, open emptiness of the apartment is strangely and quietly appealing.

Our surroundings and things affect the way we feel, and the way we feel affects the way we think. My increasingly simple and Zenified home is leading me to think differently and with renewed clarity.

I am realizing that stuff is not neutral - it is either adding to your life, or  it is detracting from your life. And what I am discovering is that most stuff is detracting. I am getting to the point now where I can look at an item and tell almost instantly which category it fits into.

Author Ray Bradbury said, "Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get", and perhaps in non-consumer cultures this kind of sensibility is the way.

But in "developed" or "advanced" nations, one needs to unlearn getting, and relearn letting go.

Linda and I are learning to, "Let it go, let it go, let it go", and it feels right.

Osho was talking about enlightenment when he said,

"That is the moment that you become for the first time
 an unconditioned, sane, really free human being". 

He could have just as easily been talking about decluttering, because the moment you decide to live more simply with less stuff is the moment you begin to reclaim your right to live as a really free human being.

Is that The Secret? Does decluttering equal enlightenment?

It sure does feel like it to me. I recommend you do your own experiment and see what you find.

May 4, 2014

What's a Walipini?

I want to build one of these for a four season garden.

A walipini is a partially underground greenhouse. They were pioneered about 20 years ago in South America, and were designed to enable families to increase their food security. They are also known as pit greenhouses, and pankar-huyu, depending on where they are being built.

Even in harsh mountainous climates in Bolvia, food can be grown year round in the "place of warmth".

Walipinis gain and hold their heat for free via solar radiation, high thermal mass, and the heat of the earth. When it is up and running, even the micro-organisms in the soil generate much-needed heat.

When there is snow above, under the frost line things are nice and toasty. Six to eight feet underground is a constant balmy 13 degrees Celsius (55 F) from the heat of the earth alone.

A small walipini can be dug by two people over two days, with the roof and covering taking another 2 or more, depending on how elaborate a structure is built. Underground greenhouses can vary from low tech and low cost, to fairly high-tech and pricier.

Either way you go, this is a method that can extend the growing season and therefore our food security and self-reliance. Even in the far north. Or far south.

One forward thinking group planning a self-sustaining community is going over the top in walipinis. Their designs maximize the efficiency and simplicity of these structures, and make them large enough for community-scale production.

The group is also developing aquapinis which are walipinis incorporating aquaponics. This form of food production combines the raising of fish (aquaculture) and plants (hydroponics), as practiced by the Aztecs and others throughout history.

See the designs and overall plans for community food self-sufficiency using walipinis here. For a more basic design, see here.

Now that you know what a walipini is, the only question remaining would be, "When do you want to build one?"

Walipini cross section.

May 2, 2014

Soul Of The Earth

In nature one can tap into the Soul of The Earth - Anima Mundi.

Anima mundi means "Soul of The World" in Greek. According to several systems of thought, this world spirit or mind refers to an intrinsic connection between all living things on the planet.

The idea originated with Plato:

"Therefore, we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence ... a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related."

The Stoics believed it to be the only vital force in the universe, and similar concepts also hold in systems of eastern philosophy such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Neo-Confucianism.

Other resemblances can be found in the thoughts of philosophers across the ages, and as recently as the 1960s by Gaia theorists such as James Lovelock:

"We still find alien the concept that we and the rest of life, from bacteria to whales, are parts of the much larger and diverse entity, the living Earth."

For psychologist Carl Jung, contact with Nature was a powerful way to get in contact with the universal spirit, soul or intelligence.

He felt that Earth Keeping, or the conscious tending of the ecological balances that make up the web of life, was a practice every bit as spiritual as meditation, prayer or attendance at religious services.

"Nature is an incomparable guide if you know how to follow her," he advised.

Life, Universal Soul and the Earth are an inseparable living entity  - anima mundi. We will either succeed together, or we will fail together.

It is up to us.