April 29, 2015

Reconnecting With Nature

Deer in the back yard at dawn.
"For the 99 percent of the time we've been on Earth, we were hunter and gatherers, our lives dependent on knowing the fine, small details of our world.  Deep inside, we still have a longing to be reconnected with the nature that shaped our imagination, our language, our song and dance, our sense of the divine."
- Janine M. Benyus

Our new home that we moved in to last summer is right in the middle of an old potato farm. Nature has begun to reclaim what human hands once altered, and wild creatures are returning.

One of the things that strikes me the most here is the quiet. No sirens, no constant traffic, no unnatural sounds at all. 

What we do have in this soundscape is wind, rain, and bird calls. It is very soothing after living most of my life in more highly populated urban surroundings.

Every morning I get up at the silent arrival of dawn to draw the curtains and let the sun's heat in to the house. 

On many mornings I have seen a small herd of deer in the back yard grazing on the new meadow grasses. 

For a few minutes as I stand in the sun's beams at my window, everything is perfect.

At these moments I feel that most of the world's problems would take care of themselves if we would only give in to our longing, and reconnect with the nature from which we all came.

We must learn to love it all over, to again see it as divine. In my experience, people won't knowingly harm the things that they love, honour and cherish.

This is what I think about in the morning as I watch nature unfolding on the old potato farm. 

April 27, 2015

Baking Bread Might Be Good For You

"Going gluten-free seems somewhat faddish."

I am perplexed by the current anti-bread movement. How did such an ancient dietary staple get so badly burned?

I can understand if we are talking about the mass produced cardboard-like stuff that grocery chains sell. I bought some last week because it was half price. At 97 cents a loaf it still wasn't worth it.

What will we break if we don't break bread? Can we still refer to money as 'dough' or 'bread' as we once did in more leavened days? What will we give for wedding presents if toasters are now obsolete kitchen clutter?

Linda and I have been baking our own bread products for the past 13 years, and baking has become a welcome weekly ritual that nourishes physically, mentally and spiritually. Preparing bread is an intimate interaction with your food that is well worth making time in your life for.

How fortunate that I don't have celiac disease, a gluten intolerance, wheat allergy or other sensitivity to grains. It seems that not many other people do either, and that perhaps this whole anti-bread trend is a tad half-baked.

"There are certainly people who have a problem with gluten that’s not autoimmune or allergic. And yet, the data suggest that almost two-thirds of people who think they are gluten-intolerant really aren’t." 
- Darshak Sanghavi, paediatric cardiologist writing at Slate.com

If you have a wheat intolerance and can't eat bread I am sorry. If you don't, baking your own bread is a worthwhile, money saving, health bolstering activity you may wish to try. 

April 25, 2015

Children Love The Earth

When I was teaching in the grade school system I infused everything I did with my passion for nature. For a few years I taught grade four science, and it was there that the curriculum covered a section called "Waste and our World".

In class we did activities associated with the 3 Rs - reduce, reuse, recycle, and added several more after some raucous R brainstorming. The students always displayed an unbridled passion for anything they could do that would protect the Earth, like refusing, repurposing, restoring and recovering.

One day the mother of one of my students was dropping off her child after lunch. She told me that whatever we were doing in science was working. I asked her why and she relayed a story that had just occurred.

The mom was making lunch for her daughter, and after emptying some soup into a pot, went to the garbage and threw the empty can in. When she turned around her daughter was standing behind her crying.

"What is the matter?" the mom asked.

"Don't throw that away", her child responded while sniffling back tears and pointing at the garbage, "That can goes into the recycling!"

Teaching is like living simply - you are rarely shown how your efforts affect the people around you. But like this story, we can be assured that people and conditions are being affected, and that our hard work does indeed make a difference.

I thanked the parent for sharing her daughter's emotional environmental moment with me. I will never forget it, and I imagine they won't either.

Children love the earth deeply. We should too.

April 22, 2015

Mother Earth Is Sick

Yes, it is an emergency.

Mother Earth just called. She's in the emergency ward of the hospital and won't be able to make it to any of today's celebrations.

In lieu of flowers she would like us all to make changes that will improve her health. She said she loves us very much and wants us to be healthy, which can only happen if she is healthy.

Then she thanked everyone that is working toward getting her home in one piece, and reminded us to take comfort in her beauty. And there truly is lots of that left, if one takes the time to look.

"Where is it?" I asked. She responded without hesitation.

Beauty above.
Beauty below.
Beauty before.
Beauty behind.
Beauty all around.

Then she fell asleep and I hung up the phone. Shortly after a pileated woodpecker flew by and landed in a tree in the yard, red crest brilliant in the morning sun.

April 20, 2015

Indignation and Solace

You shouldn't mess with Mother Nature.

Mother Nature, and therefore all of life on earth, is in peril. Like many people, I am pissed off.

Many people are knowledgeable and aware of the ongoing mistreatment of the Earth. Some of those that are highly sensitive to this mistreatment "tremble with indignation at every injustice". One can only do so much trembling before balance needs to be restored.

The group Psychologists for Social Responsibility say,

Millions of people are likely to exhibit some of the following symptoms in response to climate change’s stressors:
  • Anxiety 
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Depression
  • Interpersonal conflict and societal conflict
  • Family stress
  • Persistent grief
  • Child behavioral and developmental problems and academic decline
  • Eco-anxiety, hopelessness, and avoidance from the awareness of climate change

Add the collapse of the Pacific Ocean, GMOs, chemical poisons like Monsanto's glyphosate, and increased levels of nuclear radiation and the situation becomes even more dire. How do we seek solace from this onslaught and move from indignation to a calm healthy state of mind?

Far from wanting to harsh anyones buzz, as a student of psychology, I believe it is important to be aware of the potential harms to our mental health as we work toward a more sane planet.  The pyschologist's organization quoted above has a general suggestion that won't be popular with the people pushing infinite growth:
"Clearly, if we are to deter the psychological -- much less physical and planetary -- harm that climate change portends, strong, quick action is needed now to implement energy and consumption alternatives that prevent this risk to our collective psychological well-being."
In other words, one way of dealing with the harms of a deteriorating planet, and our reaction to them, is to shift from energy and consumption excess towards lifestyles that are wise to the limits and potential of natural systems.

Taking action may be the most important way to assuage the mental madness, but thankfully it is not the only way. Doing things to take your mind off of the state of things can go a long way to calming the demons of environmental dread.

Some of the ways my sweety and I use to scrub our minds of detrimental detritus are:

  1. Relationships - with each other, friends and family.
  2. Music - ahh, if it can calm a savage soul it can heal a gentle one.
  3. Cooking and Baking - we love to make our own food from scratch.
  4. Nature - how can you think of anything else when watching a bird soar, or a tree leaf out in the Spring?
  5. Gardening - nurturing a garden is good green therapy, plus you get clean food.

How do you maintain your mental health in trying times?

April 17, 2015

Spring Blessing

Spring Blessing

One day you wake up
able to name the weight 
you’ve been carrying.
Realizing it’s not part of your body or your being,
not essential in any way to journeying or joy,
you set it down gently, without fanfare
in the long soft grass at the side of the road
and walk on
surprised to find yourself
smiling in the warm sun
for no particular reason.

- Oriah Mountain Dreamer

April 16, 2015

Free Your Space, Free Your Mind

Get rid of a bit of stuff and I guarantee that everything will feel a bit better for a while. The idea of creating more space in your life is a good one - most people would benefit from having less stuff, crap, things, gadgets and gizmos.

When I am creating more space in my life I like to concentrate on the space freed up, not the stuff I am getting rid of. Ultimately, the space I am freeing up is in my head, not my closet.

Less stuff = less thinking about stuff. Less thinking about stuff = more thinking about the things that are truly important. Or not thinking at all.

Most stuff is toxic and should come with a warning label.

Warning: This item is toxic to your environmental space, physical space and mental space.

After establishing your de-cluttered Nirvana, prevention is the key. Be very, very selective about what kind of crap is allowed to enter your space. I treat every potential purchase with a critical eye, looking for the hidden (or not so hidden) downsides. Then I consider the Stuff Rule #1.

Stuff Rule #1 - there are always downsides. 

Get rid of it. You WILL feel better. Then be militant about not allowing more in. Your freedom is worth it.

April 13, 2015

Save on Groceries: Check Your Bill

One of my favourite ways to save money on groceries is also one of the easiest - I check my bill. Then I check it again. I almost always end up finding a mistake in the store's favour.

I would estimate that about 75% of the time I am overcharged. I don't think it is some sort of dark, covert plan to increase corporate profits, just honest mistakes made by hard working cashiers.

Usually I steer my cart towards customer service and take a moment to go over my bill BEFORE I leave the store. The times I can't wait to get out of the store I check when I get home.

It has become a bit like a detective game, and playing Inspector helps me find pricey irregularities.

Regardless of whether I check right away, or come back later with a problem bill, the store is always 100% accommodating. Without fail the overcharge is refunded with a smile... so I can buy more food from them.

People make mistakes, but that doesn't mean that you should have to pay for them. Check your bill and save even more on your groceries.

April 10, 2015


Since our pursuit for more everything has created multiple environmental crises, and hasn't made us any happier, perhaps we should try less. Less everything, more happiness?

I like what John Michael Greer, an author and blogger that writes on peak oil and the demise of industrial society, has to say about the importance of cutting back on excessive consumption.

He wraps it all up in the acronym L.E.S.S., which stands for Less Energy, Stuff and Stimulation.
"The non-negotiable foundation of any meaningful response to the crisis of our time, as I’ve pointed out more than once here, can be summed up conveniently with the acronym L.E.S.S.—that is, Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation. 
We are all going to have much less of these things at our disposal in the future.  Using less of them now frees up time, money, and other resources that can be used to get ready for the inevitable transformations. 
It also makes for decreased dependence on systems and resources that in many cases are already beginning to fail, and in any case will not be there indefinitely in a future of hard limits and inevitable scarcities."

Doing more with more is long gone. Doing more with less isn't looking good either. Now is the time for doing less with less. Perhaps then we can restore balance in both our environment and our lives.

Perhaps then we will rediscover true happiness.

“The less I needed, the better I felt.” Charles Bukowski

April 8, 2015

Spring Is Possible

A bit of salal from the British Columbia Pacific forest starting to flower in Nova Scotia.

What a difference a few thousand kilometres make. Our previous home on the west coast has experienced what someone has called the "winter without winter". At the same time the east coast is still recovering after one of the coldest and snowiest on record. What a time to move!

Here in Nova Scotia gardeners are keen to get some of their plantings outside which I am told, would normally be happening around this time of year. But big drifts of snow persist and there is little ground showing.

After 9 years of living in our west coast Mediterranean climate (which could see signs of spring in January or February), I had to take evasive action to assure me that the season is changing.

I had bought some cut flowers a couple of weeks ago and they had some west coast salal in them. After a while I noticed flower buds breaking. Spring. There it is. It's inside, but it is happening.

Salal flowers - one of the only signs of spring so far, but I will take what I can get.

I had also collected a bit of branch off of a deer-browsed tree while on a snowshoe hike. I wanted to try to identify the tree that the deer were eating, but had little luck without leaves to help out. Linda suggested we put the branch in water and see what happens.

Another bit of spring is what happened, and we were rewarded with one tiny white flower. I still haven't identified the tree it came from, but I recognize spring when I see it.

So small, so significant, so reassuring - "Spring is possible".

April 6, 2015

Rule #1: Do No Harm

Living simply is, well, simple. It requires little more than cultivating a conscious effort to do no harm. Or at least as little harm as possible. All the rest follows from that effort.

It is hard to spend money these days and NOT do harm. Therefore, deciding to reduce the harm one does also means saving money. And any time we harm anything else we are actually harming ourselves in the end. But we can stop.

Think of all the things you would quit doing if you were trying to do no harm. You would eat less meat, fly less often (or not at all), and divest from all investments in fossil fuels, nuclear, weapons, and tobacco.

War and violence would be totally out of the question and would be relegated to the dust bin of history. These would be replaced with love, and we would become creators rather than destroyers.

Reducing the amount of harm one does leads to doing as much for yourself as possible rather than relying on corporations to provide for us. It would lead to things like cooking for yourself rather than eating fast and prepared foods. Self-reliance and building a supportive, loving community become priorities.

There are many, many other things that would help in becoming less harmful to the environment and all the things living in it. The possibilities are only limited by our imagination. The quest becomes even more exciting because there are always additional things one can do to reach a state of harmlessness, or at least as close as one can get.

Unbelievers like to point out things like, "Carrots feel pain when you pull them out of the ground", and they may be making a valid point - it is unlikely we can ever eliminate harm entirely (sorry carrots). But that does not mean we can't reduce it to an acceptable level.

Perhaps what simple living detractors are really saying is that consumerism is fun, and convenient and easy. Who would want to give all that up? And how exactly does one show their placement in a certain social class if we can't do harm?

The higher we go up the social ladder the more we tend to do harm. This is because we show our wealth by waste and destruction. The more we use and waste, the richer we appear.

If we can reduce the amount of harm we do in our short period on this troubled planet, why wouldn't we choose to do so?

It is simple.

Just cultivate a conscious effort to do no harm. The rest follows naturally.

April 4, 2015

Weekend Affirmation

I discovered a wonderful new affirmation this weekend. It is appropriate since so many right now are celebrating forgiveness and unconditional love.

My affirmation riffs off of what Gertrude Weaver, the world's oldest person at 116 years, said explains her longevity.

To me it can be explained by the following nugget of wisdom that I am enjoying saying in my head and out loud the past couple of days.

"I love everybody and everything around me."

Gertrude was also a big believer in kindness as the way to live a longer and better life. One smart woman.

Happy love and kindness weekend.

April 1, 2015

Simple Pleasures: Reading Out Loud

When I was an elementary teacher I read out loud to my students every day. Without fail their response to this decidedly low tech experience was one of complete rapture. They were always sad when reading time was over. So was I.

Sometimes I would tease my class and close the book we were reading early. A communal groan of complaint would rise up.


Then I would open the book and they would cheer.


Sometimes I would push it farther and open and close the book in rapid succession, and my class would oblige with a chorus of "Awwww, yaaaa, awwww, yaaaa..." We would all laugh and I would carry on reading and enjoying our shared, convivial activity .

But reading out loud is not just for kids. Books can be shared among grown ups as well with equally excellent results.

When Linda and I passed through Nelson, BC on our way to Nova Scotia last summer, my sister gifted us a set of fantasy novels. I started reading them out loud every night while we were on the road. Such a wonderful no-tech, totally portable, off grid activity.

Reading out loud approximates the way all stories were told until fairly recently - out loud. It is a link to oral story telling in that we are listening to a human voice with all the benefits of such a sound.

Was Reynolds Price exaggerating the importance of oral story telling when he said, "A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter"? I think not.

Reading out loud is a pleasure that is as simple, basic and essential as it gets.

Read to someone today.