August 27, 2014

Opting Out - Gene Wilder

The consumer lifestyle can be hypnotizing, yet resistance is not futile.

Some people get it. They know the pitfalls of fame, wealth and excessive lifestyles, and turn away from the temptations on offer. They decide to opt out.

There are many examples of individuals strong enough to say NO to the alluring yet destructive ways of the modern world. This is what Gene Wilder said about why he doesn't make movies anymore:

"I like writing books. I'd rather be at home with my wife. I can write, take a break, come out, have a glass of tea, give my wife a kiss, and go back in and write some more. It's not so bad. I am really lucky."

As a consumer dropout, this sounds good to me. It is more proof that resistance in not futile, and we can choose to opt out.

Now I'm off to take a break and kiss Linda.

August 25, 2014

Jungle Zen

It does not take much to be happy - just ask these two.

In 1967 singer/songwriter Terry Gilkyson wrote The Bare Necessities for a movie called The Jungle Book. When the first version of the movie was scrapped Gilkyson's song was the only thing that was kept. I am glad it made the cut.

I discovered the influence of these words as a lad of 7 or 8 years old. I was unused to big entertainments since my family did not own a TV, and we did not have money to take our 7 member brood out on the town very often.

I can't remember who took that younger version of me to the Paramount Theatre to see the movie, but I do remember being blown away by the whole spectacle.

The Bare Necessities scene was my favourite part at the time, and now when I revisit this song I think that the struggling songwriter must have known the simple life. When I read parts of the song it reads like a Zen poem rather than a mickey mouse made movie.

For me this song represents "Jungle Zen", and I do think that it must have steered me as a child towards more sensible ideas of consumption and expectations. Even then it appealed to me and made sense.

The Bare Necessities

...don't spend your time looking around

For something you want that can't be found.
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinking about it
I'll tell you something true -

The bare necessities of life will come to you.

- Terry Gilkyson

August 24, 2014

The Necessities Of Life

Life does not need to be a struggle if our wants are few, and we can find joy in the little things. 

In some small way each move toward reducing complexity and speed in our lives relieves us of the superfluous. Each time we get closer to defining the necessities of life.

The less we need to get by the less we have to engage in paid labour. We can spend more time following our passions.

There are many ways to spend the moments we steal back from multi-tasking modern lifestyles. Many people find they enjoy being with loved ones, pursuing an art or craft, or volunteering in their communities.

My local newspaper had a story today about a 96 year old that passed recently. He was well known in the area not only for his sense of humour, but also for the fact that he built a hockey rink in the yard to get his kids off the street.

That was in 1958, and after many improvements, the rink is still used by hockey teams and skaters from far around. Perhaps this community volunteer found extra time due to his simple approach to life.

His son said of his father's view on things,

"All he needed was the necessities. Luxurious things he didn’t care about. He didn’t care about trips or having the fanciest cars or anything, just what he needed to get by.”

Sounds like a great epitaph for a man that discovered that life does not need to be a passionless struggle filled with the things and situations modern complexity requires.

We can choose slower, less resource-intensive lives that enable us to live more. Acquiring the necessities should not have to be a punishment.

August 22, 2014

Daigu Ryokan: Zen Simplicity

Sitting at my table watching sunbeams track across the floor. Drinking a mug of steamy beverage and reading Daigu Ryokan's poetry.

The rain has stopped, the clouds have drifted away,
and the weather is clear again.
If your heart is pure, then all things in your world are pure.
Abandon this fleeting world, abandon yourself,
Then the moon and flowers will guide you along the way.

Ryokan lived from 1758-1831 and has been referred to as "The Zen/Monk poet of Japan" as well as "The Great Fool". As a young man he rebelled against going into business and politics like his father.

How can I possibly sleep 
This moonlit evening? 
Come, my friends, 
Let’s sing and dance 
All night long.

Ryokan became a Zen monk and eventually lived 20 years in a tiny, one-window forest hut surrounded by stands of bamboo. He drew his water from a nearby spring. He invited guests, but only if they "were not averse to solitude".

Don't say my hut has nothing of offer
come and I will share with you 
the cool breeze that fills my window.

Today I will let the light, the clouds, the wind and the butterflies guide me. There are no negative energies here. Only this moment.

There is a bamboo grove in front of my hut
Every day I see it a thousand times
yet never tire of it.

August 20, 2014

Simple Pallet Furniture

This simple pallet couch reminds me of a Turkish hookah lounge chill space.

Linda and I both like frugal and functional when it comes to furniture, but neither of us have ever considered stuff made out of pallets. It turns out that these ubiquitous wooden shipping flats can be used to make all sorts of fun furniture on the cheap.

In "Trying To Keep It Simple", NBA community member Marion left a comment that introduced me to the world of pallet furniture.

She said, "We found that pallets could be a nice, cheap and easy way to make temporary furniture during these empty-house periods. Add a bunch of wild flowers in a glass, and home you are."

Pallet coffee table is a simple centre piece.

I had never thought of pallet furniture before so turned to an image search to see what was possible. The results got me as excited about building stuff as the last time I researched alternative furniture made out of cardboard.

I was intrigued with pallet furniture since I like the idea of upcycling this valuable, untapped resource. 500 million pallets are manufactured every year in the US alone. 30% of those are only used once, then stockpiled or discarded.

Platform bed made out of repurposed pallet wood.

While I don't have the resources currently to transform lowly pallets into lowly functional furniture, it would fun to make a few things when I get my tool bench built up to production-level standards.

A lot of pallet furniture is built for outside, but there is no reason it could not be used inside as well.

The world doesn't need another single-use pallet tossed on the pile, but it sure could use more affordable furnishings built in a sustainable way.

A funky desk can be built for next to nothing with a few tools and some creativity.

August 18, 2014

A New View On Life

The recent full moon rising over the forest outside our living room window.

Our new home is giving us a new view on life, and one which we are enjoying very much so far. I think that what we see out of the windows of our homes affects the brain and quality of life. I am happiest when I can see nature when I turn my attention to outside.

A far-away view from my home is essential. I like a vista that my eyes can saunter over as I enjoy a hot beverage at sunrise, or while I cook or do dishes at the end of the day. 

I don't want to see straight lines and 90 degree angles, nor steel, concrete, and pavement. Or traffic. When I look outward I want to see wildlife, big skies and glorious sunrises and sunsets.

Every window in our new home is an idyllic painting full of light and colour.

Once while living in the big city I looked at a cheap apartment in the basement of a 10 suite 1950s building. The bachelor unit had one high window - it looked out at the blank brick wall of the building next door 3 feet away.

As I looked around I wondered how long it would be before I lost my mind if I actually lived in this marginal location. Or would it be motivation for meditation? I didn't stick around to contemplate that one.

I ran to the street, lungs gasping for air and my eyes searching for a more enjoyable, expansive view.

The view looking north east toward the Bay of Fundy and Annapolis Valley.

In our previous home on the west coast we were among the last North Americans to watch the sun set. Now we are among the first to watch the sun rise. After years of witnessing sunsets from the comfort of our home, the sunrises we see from home now have the power to draw us out of bed at ungodly hours of the early morning.

It is difficult to witness the spectacle and not feel invigorated for the rest of the day.

Linda birdwatching in a sunbeam at one of our bedroom windows (before
we moved our bed in from the van).

Our kitchen window makes doing dishes preferable over using the dishwasher.
This is a spot in which I don't mind lingering as the sun sets.

Our neighbour mowing his hayfield with his son along for the ride.

I was doing dishes a few days ago and watched my neighbour mow his hayfield. The next day I watched him collect the hay into bales. The day after that, and every day since, I have been entertained by a woodchuck whose burrow was exposed when the grasses were cut low.

I have never seen a woodchuck anywhere before, let alone from the window of my home. It is a whole new, and exciting view of life here on the east coast.

August 15, 2014

Not Buying Equals More Time And Freedom

Taking time at an outdoor piano - better than shopping.

"I can't, I don't have enough time" is a phrase often heard among groups of non-hunter/gathering humans. Freedom and time both seem limited when we choose to engage in consumer-based lifestyles. But it is a choice we make.

We can also choose not to participate in the endless work/spend cycle that places unreasonable restrictions on our lives. Currently, the way our system is set up everyone MUST do some sort of work to earn money to survive. But no one is forcing us to spend the money that we sacrifice so much of our freedom and time to amass.

When we cut our consumption we reduce our spending and are less reliant on jobs that don't fire our passions. When we spend less we can choose work that is more fun and less harmful. If you cut most of the shopping out of your life imagine how much more time you would have.

Having more time is like winning a lottery, but a lottery that matters. Having a lot of money is not necessarily freedom - having lots of time is.

In Nothing To Lose But Our Illusions David Edwards  says, "Once you start to see through the myth of status, possessions, and unlimited consumption as a path to happiness, you'll find that you have all kinds of freedom and time. It's like a deal you can make with the universe: I'll give up greed for freedom. Then you can start putting your time to good use."

The wage slave/consumer life just doesn't offer the same payoffs as living a more spontaneous, unencumbered life free of excess, waste and greed.

What would you do with more time? More freedom? For me my non-consumer lifestyle has freed up time for writing, walking, playing guitar and singing, cooking and baking, and caring for Linda, my best friend.

And some day I would like to gather a crowd while singing and playing an outdoor piano. Or a guitar. Or a kazoo.

August 13, 2014

The Bunkie Blues

The mythical Eastern Canadian bunkie provides simple, basic shelter and relief from excess.

Before visiting eastern Canada I had never heard of a bunkie. After finding out what they are, I have wanted one of my own.

A bunk, bunkie, or bunkhouse is a sensibly small economical shelter that provides sleeping space that may or may not be in shared quarters. They are usually used to provide extra space for guests, but also provide space away from a main home or cottage. They are often used as space for artistic pursuits, and many are off-grid due to being in remote locations.

From the cottage country of Ontario all the way to the Maritimes the bunkie is the thing. They are on to something, but you can keep the cottage. All I need is the little bunkie.

I am not the only one attracted to the antonym of McMansion. Other tiny shelter enthusiasts have described these diminutive dwellings as, "quiet retreats", or "the perfect sanctuaries along life's journey", and "small detached hideaways".

Bunkies are usually in beautiful locations close to nature.

Bunkies are remembered fondly by those that have stayed in them. An extended stay in a bunkie can even change lives.

Poet Ellery Channing knew the creative potential of time spent in a small shelter set in beautiful natural surroundings. In a letter to Henry David Thoreau he advised that Thoreau build a bunkie in the woods, "and there begin the grand process of devouring yourself alive. I see no other alternative, no other hope for you."

Modern bunkie.

Henry David took up the bunkie challenge and not only saved himself, but experienced there a burst of creative inspiration that still profoundly influences us today.

The bunkie that inspired Thoreau to write "Walden".
Like Thoureau hankering for his original bunkie in the woods after returning to civilization in Concord  at the end of his year, I have the bunkie blues. But I don't want the cottage to go with it - just the bunkie in the woods by the lake.

That would be enough.

August 11, 2014

Trying To Keep It Simple

Minimalism in action. Our landlords took pity on us and brought over a table and a chair for
us to use until we get things of our own… if we get things of our own.

After living in the efficient simplicity of our van for a while, we are loath to start collecting things again while in our new home.  However, some things are quite nice to have.

Like a table and somewhere comfortable to sit. Or a cheese grater, or bed big enough that my feet don't hang over the end (we moved the bed from our van into our bedroom).

The van had just enough room for us and a limited number of things and no more. In comparison our new home feels downright huge. And empty.

We are in a situation we have not been in for many, many years. We need more stuff.

Having said that, we are enjoying some parts of going majorly minimal. When a place is not crammed full of things it has a beautiful open and airy feel. There aren't so many things to run in to, or get in the way when stumbling to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Doing dishes is a snap when you only own three plates, two cups and a handful of cutlery. Our kitchen seems huge with drawers and cupboards looking sparse and clean. Counter tops are clear and usable.

Minimalism now seems like the way to go since more than likely there will be another move in our future, perhaps as soon as next fall. Considering that, it would be nice to not have a bunch of junk to move, or otherwise get rid of. We have just been through that exercise when we left the west coast and I don't want to do it again for a while.

But how do you make cookies without a cookie sheet? And can you ask guests to sit on the floor and share a plate and cup between them? How do you clean a floor without a vacuum or broom?

I don't like needing to acquire more stuff, but when it comes down to it, a few functional things are what make our lives more enjoyable. People need stuff. Not much stuff, but at least some.

The challenge during this acquisition phase will be to keep it simple and not catch Consumeritis. As you know, this disease is as widespread and virulent as the common cold, and about as welcome.

Keep it simple, keep it simple, keep it simple...

August 8, 2014

All Mining Is Dangerous

Art by the Taring Padi Artist Collective, Indonesia

I don't think that it is an exaggeration to say that all mining is dangerous and with harmful outcomes. The recent Mount Polley gold and copper mine tailings pond breach in British Columbia is only one on a long list of examples of what we have done to our fair sister in our pursuit of the consumer lifestyle that mining brings.

With consumerism, and the extractive industries that make it possible firmly entrenched already by the 1960s, poet Jim Morrison could see what we were doing to the Earth:

ravaged and plundered
and ripped her and bit her. 
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn, 
and tied her with fences 
and dragged, her, down.

What are the consequences of all this ravaging and plundering for profit? Imperial Metals, the owners of the 5 billion liters of waste water and 3 million cubic feet of toxic sludge that released into surrounding forests, waterways and lakes in northern BC, might be fined one million dollars.

Or the company could take the course that is common in the mining world - go bankrupt and walk away from all responsibility for their catastrophic failure of engineering and common sense. That means the taxpayer becomes responsible for the damages and cleanup (if cleaning up is possible).

The Canadian government has a $3.5-billion Federal Contaminated Site fund to clean up the 21,000 sites, some of which are abandoned toxic mining messes. That is a $3.5 billion dollar subsidy to the industry for which we all pay. Our grandkids grandkids will still be paying for mitigating the effects of the mining and consumption of the past 50 years.

In northern Canada there resides yet another mining tragedy. The Faro project in the Yukon Territory was the world's largest lead/zinc mine until it closed in 1998.

"It will take 45 years to seal Faro’s toxic tailings off from the rest of the world, making it one of the most expensive mine remediation projects in Canadian history. 
Closing Faro’s tomb will cost over $450 million and require constant maintenance for at least 500 years. 
Not a cent will come from the companies that operated the Faro mine for over 30 years. The mine went through several closures throughout its lifetime. The last one was in 1998, when the Anvil Range Mining Corporation went bankrupt."

If the public did not pay for messes like at Mount Polley, or the Faro mine, or the multi-billion dollar Lapindo Mudflow Disaster in Indonesia that resulted from "blatant human errors", the companies would cease to be profitable. Therefore cease to be.

If all mining is dangerous, then all consumerism is as well. Every single thing we buy causes some sort of harm. Because of that it seems wise to consume consciously, take care of the things you do buy, and live as simply as possible.

"A 2009 UN report found that a third of the profits of the world’s biggest 3,000 companies would be wiped out if firms were forced to pay for the use, loss and damage to the environment they cause.  In other words, truly effective environmental regulation would render capitalism impossible."  
- author David Cromwell 

August 4, 2014

Home For A Year

Scallop boats in Digby Harbour, NS
photo: Tim Hewett
Sometimes you don't choose a place to visit or to live. Sometimes a place will choose you.

When we moved in to our place on Vancouver Island a decade ago, Linda walked in the front door with a heavy box in her hands. When we left in June I helped her transfer over the threshold of our patio doors into her chair before our quest could commence.

A big part of our journey was toward a more appropriate home that would be easier on both of us. It took a while, but we found it.

Similar to how we found the perfect van for our quest, we found a fully accessible home in a beautiful rural setting 5 minutes outside of Digby, Nova Scotia, a small fishing village of 2,000 in the southern part of the province.

After contacting many rentals that were not wheelchair friendly I saw the following ad on line:

For Rent: Wheelchair Accessible Seniors Duplex. 2 Bedroom, 2 Bathroom (one with roll-in shower, the other with tub).

Built in 2013, this unit has a pellet stove, in-floor heat and a heat recovery ventilation system.

Rent includes fridge, stove, washer, dryer and lawn care/snow removal.

While we aren't seniors yet, we require a similar level of accessibility.  Linda and I went to look at the unit, and were pleased to see it had everything we have been looking for. Now we have a home that suits our needs for the next year in a rural farming area.

A bonus is it comes with a wonderful, supportive community that immediately came to our aid helping us get settled in. After our landlord's whole family emptied the contents of our van into our home, he asked why we chose Digby. We feel like Digby chose us. 

August 2, 2014

Processed Food - For Emergencies Only

While living in our van the thing we missed most was preparing fresh food.
It feels great to get cooking again.

While we were crossing the country we did not cook a single meal. We prepared many meals, but in the name of simplicity, convenience and being in emergency mode, none of them required heat.

Usually on a trip like this Linda and I would cook all our own meals, but this time was different. We have never travelled with Linda in a wheelchair before, and I have never been as physically affected by an injury as after my disk herniation back in May.

As a result our voyage was hard, but a bittersweet kind of hard. It was so exciting that adrenalin went a long way toward making it possible, but something had to go due to our physical limitations. One of those things was cooking.

But there were many cold dishes that we enjoyed:

  • Refrigerator Oatmeal - prepared in a mason jar the night before.
  • Cold Soya Burgers in buns - they are a little gross cold, but perfectly edible and filling.
  • Refried beans and tortilla wraps - we made several burritos at a time so they were instantly ready when we got hungry. Complement with plain yogurt inside just before eating.
  • Baked Beans with Dinner Rolls - the beans were eaten right out of the can by candle light. One spoon -  cheap, easy, romantic.
  • Fresh Fruit - bananas, apples, nectarines.
  • Sandwiches - cheese, peanut butter and jam.
  • Breakfast cookies - before we left Nelson my beautiful mother baked us a giant bag of whole oat based cookies with nuts and raisins. They got us all the way to Ontario.
  • Plain Yogurt - scoop right out of the container for instant protein.
  • Cold Cereal - with milk prepared from powder.

We also had to rely more than we usually do on convenience foods, prepared foods, and fast food. Places with drive-through windows saved us because it was a challenge for me to walk inside to order.

Before long we began to tire of our new road diet, and developed an intense craving for fresh, wholesome and nutritious food. We missed our own home-cooked, whole food diet.

Our faux food fest reaffirmed everything we believe about processed stuff - it's convenient, but yucky. Processed food may give you calories, but it isn't really nutritious. It will keep you alive for a while, but  should be taken for emergencies only, and even then in moderation.