December 30, 2019

2019 Was Interesting - I Hope 2020 Isn't

My back yard will soon see the Sun rising on a new year and a new decade.

2019 is coming to a close. It was interesting.

Interesting as in “May you live in interesting times”. 

I always thought that quote was of Chinese origin. Turns out it’s not.

In 1836 a British diplomat named John Francis Davis referred to a similar adage which circulated in China. 

He wrote,

“Better be a dog in peace than a man in war,” is a common maxim.  

“It is a general rule,” they say, “that the worst of men are fondest of change and commotion, hoping that they may thereby benefit themselves.  

But by adherence to a steady, quiet system, affairs proceed without confusion, and bad men have nothing to gain.”

The best evidence shows it was a Brit riffing off the Chinese maxim that coined the “Interesting times” quote that was meant as a curse.  

In that way, 2020 is likely to be just as interesting as this year was. Maybe more interesting.

It makes one hanker for less interesting times. 

However, society is so jacked up on fear, technology, and adrenalin that people are hooked on the stuff. It might be hard to quit. As a friend of mine asked once, "Wouldn't most people find enlightenment boring?" 

Not me. I am ready for a new year that is blissfully quiet, plain, and uninteresting. Let’s stretch and yawn, then proceed with clarity and calm to resolve our differences and common challenges.

When the time is right, let's lay out the mats and nap for a while. 

Preferably we can proceed in peace, without all the thrilling and ego-stimulating dramas that drive popular narratives. It is better to do nothing than a wasteful thing.

In the next 365 days we can collectively create a new story. We can work toward the development of alternative approaches to life that allow us to realize health, tranquility, and spiritual liberation.

Steady as she goes, I say. Don't over think things. Do everything by doing nothing. It's Nature's way.

Go ahead, 2020 - bore me to tears with your steady, unstimulating, ordinary, garden variety evolution guiding us toward a better world. 

December 28, 2019

Extinction Events

Will the plastic straw go extinct in 2020?

It's more than plastic straws. All kinds of things made a disappearing act in 2019. This trend is likely to continue at a rapid rate in 2020 as the battles of capitalism vs environmental limits, and the 99% vs the 1%, rages on.

A few things that have gone the way of the Dodo, or continue to go that way, or have begun to go that way in 2019 include:

- Plastic straws. It is largely symbolic, but will give a boost to the end of not only single use plastic, but single use anything. The beginning of the end of the throw away society.

- Single use plastic bags. See above. Many cities are banning single use plastic bags. Next to disappear will be all the blighted garbage bag trees. After a few decades, trees will just have leaves on them.

- Jobs in extractive industries. Automation, efficiencies, and reduced demand will ensure that these jobs continue to go 'poof'. Change can be harsh when it is your job that is vanishing in the haze.

- Physical retail outlets. On line shopping is taking over (overall spending was up 3.4 %, while online spending was up 19% this shopping season). Consumers are voting with their computers and devices. It is the "Retail Apocalypse", and it is changing the landscape of shopping and communities.

- Meat based diets. Even meat eaters are eating less meat. Health, ethical, and environmental issues are all contributing to the rise of plant based diets. Remember "Revenge of the Nerds"? This is "Revenge of the Vegans".

- Car ownership. Globally car sales are down. Millennials and Get Zers prefer car sharing services to the hassle of ownership, and what these two generations want will change things for decades to come. 

- Truth. First the thrill was gone. Now the truth is gone, too. They say we are living in a post-truth world. Doesn't that mean we are post-lie as well? 

- Bunker fuel in ships, fossil fuels generally. The new year promises a cleaner atmosphere. As of January 1st, oceangoing vessels will no longer be able to use the cheapest, dirtiest fuel available. The switch to low-sulphur fuels (0.5% instead of 3.5%) will be the biggest maritime transportation energy shift since moving from dirty coal to dirty bunker fuel in the early 1900s.

- Anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 species go extinct every year. The loss is so vast that it is hard to keep track. It happened this year, and it will happen again in 2020.

- Vinyl. Just kidding. Far from disappearing, as the nerds predicted when recordings went digital, low tech vinyl recordings are making a comeback. People in the know say the quality of vinyl can not be beat. 

I wonder what other ideas will make a comeback next year? We have tossed many good ones down the memory hole in our rush toward a techno utopia, and no doubt some of them will return. 

I also wonder what else will disappear as things continue to change in new and unexpected ways. 

My hope is for war and violence to vanish from the face of the Earth. And lying. Imagine how that would change things, since they seem to go together.

December 24, 2019

Reverse Santa

Reverse Santa was here.

Beware of ordinary Santa. Every year, he brings more junk into your home, whether you need it or not. Reverse Santa is different.

First of all, Reverse Santa takes things instead of giving things.

Next, Reverse Santa is a woman.This is what she says - "Oh, Oh, Oh". The reason she says that is because she can see all the clutter in our homes.

"Oh, Oh, Oh, That Crap Has Got To Go," is her motto.

Reverse Santa (some think it is Marie Kondo in a green and white suit) slides down the chimney with ease because she watches what she eats and get regular exercise.

Once in a home, she fills her empty reusable giant green sack with all the things that people own that don't actually make their lives better.

Into the green sack goes all the stuff that has to be cleaned and maintained and dusted and fixed and stored, even though you don't really want, need, or use it. 

Even so, if you are like the rest of us, you may be having a tough time letting go of those anchors. 

No problem - Reverse Santa will whisk it all away with a twitch of her nose and a twinkle of her eye.

Those boxes in the basement that haven't been opened for years? 


The garage that hasn't had a car in it since the 80s? 

Cleared, cleaned, and organized. 

When Reverse Santa pushes her bulging sack of superfluous stuff up and out of the chimney, every closet and drawer in that home will be near empty and tidy.

Aided by her minimalist magic, Reverse Santa, or Kondo Kringle as she is also known, will leave in your home only the things you consider to be beautiful and useful. 

You will be left with only the things that "speak to your heart" and "spark joy". 

After a visit from the jolly minimalist elf, what will be left will be severely downsized, but it will be enough. 

Freed from the mandatory maintenance of consumer hell, the less materialist life is different, considerably lighter, and flows easily with plenty of physical and mental breathing space.

In the days after, you will not miss anything that Reverse Santa was compassionate enough to take away. We quickly realize that we are better off without many of the trappings of a modern consumer existence.

What a true gift it is that Kondo Kringle brings - freedom from the crushing burden of the mountains of consumer crapola that take over our homes.

Welcome back to our home on Reverse Consumer Christmas, Reverse Santa. 

Only one more sleep before we see what you take away in your big green sack this year.

Thank you for relieving the burden.

December 22, 2019

Solstice Poetry Reading Day 3

Linda and I like to stretch our celebrations out. Therefore, our birthdays are a month long, and celestial events like Winter Solstice usually include the week before and the week after. You know what that means... more poetry!

When it comes to poetry and simplicity, there is no more fitting form than haiku.  

Writing your own can be fun when approached spontaneously and working quickly while allowing the moment to guide the words.

I took a crack at my own winter haiku. They are harder to create than they appear, as a haiku demands just the right amount of words. 

They are delicate and fragile. Careful!

Here we go:

Short days are stretching out now

and yet all is dark.

Sitting quietly - no light.

Here is an unpublished effort from Allen Ginsberg:

Another year has past.

The world

is no different.

Or here is Juma:

Frost covered garden.

Let's plant plump yellow pansies -

Little golden suns!

To get the most haiku-ish experience one must go to a master. I leave you with an example from Basho:

Winter solitude -

in a world of one colour

the sound of the wind.


December 21, 2019

Solstice Poetry Reading Day 2

“We have done what we could: 

walked on these golden leaves let drop by the cycle of time, 

touched by the gift of sight the purple asters by the road, 

noted the ragged raven who sits in the old cottonwood, 

uttering his dark-shadowed gutturals. 

On this night a full-blown moon rises behind the mountain, 

its light mixed with wood smoke, tree branches, and restless moving clouds. 

All the loved world moves now toward the unfailing crest of time. 

We have fulfilled the constant pattern; 

we cannot stay the solstice.”

- Elizabeth Searle Lamb

December 19, 2019

NBA Winter Solstice Virtual Poetry Reading

People have gathered at this dark time of year for millennia. Whenever people gather stories are told. 

Still today, in some parts of the world, poetry readings are an important part of any winter solstice gathering. 

It is in that spirit that I share some of my picks for a virtual reading, right here at NBA. 

Read a bit out loud. You are part of it!

Here is today's selection.

Winter's Cloak by Joyce Rupp, Macrina Weiderkehr

This year I do not want
the dark to leave me.
I need its wrap
of silent stillness,
its cloak
of long lasting embrace.
Too much light
has pulled me away
from the chamber
of gestation.
Let the dawns
come late,
let the sunsets
arrive early,
let the evenings
extend themselves
while I lean into
the abyss of my being.
Let me lie in the cave
of my soul,
for too much light
blinds me,
steals the source
of revelation.
Let me seek solace
in the empty places
of winter's passage,
those vast dark nights
that never fail to shelter me.

Do you have a favourite winter poem?

December 17, 2019

10 Ways To Celebrate Winter Solstice

This weekend those of us in the northern hemisphere will experience the darkest day of the year. December 21, 2019 is Winter Solstice, the celestial holiday celebrated through the ages as the beginning of light. 

It is the oldest known winter celebration, and its influence can be seen in many of the ways we respond to this time of year today.

Here are 10 natural and mostly free ways to enjoy this important day in our annual voyage around my favourite star in the whole Universe, the Sun. 

10 Ways To Celebrate Winter Solstice 

1. Stay up all night to welcome the return of the light at daybreak (see Stargazing below). Whoever falls asleep first makes breakfast after the sun comes up.

2. Decorate an outdoor edible Solstice Tree for wildlife. Strings of popcorn, suet balls, bird feeders, peanuts and other foods are appreciated by local animals during cold days and nights.

3. On the night of Solstice light a candle. Make it your only light. Have a candle light dinner. Eat seasonal foods, drink seasonal beverages, and sing seasonal songs. Use care. With the candles and everything else.

4. Eat a Solstice Orange. See if you can get the whole skin off without breaking it. Oranges at this time of year represent little, tasty orbs of sunlight. You can taste the photons in there.

5. Stargaze. The Ursid meteor shower, considered a minor shower of 10 to 20 shooting stars per hour, peaks right at Solstice. It will be a nearly moonless sky, so viewing will be good if you have clear skies. Best viewing time is in the early hours Sunday morning. 

6. Light a bonfire. Or have a fire inside in your wood stove or fireplace. Can't do either? Settle in and watch a Yule log burning on video.

7. Go out at noon on Solstice and throw a shadow, if it is sunny. Because the Sun is the lowest in the sky that it will get, your shadow at noontime will be the longest of the year on this day. 

8. Take a hike. Watch for signs of wildlife, and collect natural objects of beauty. Back at home, decorate a space with your items such as spruce twigs, winter berries, and animal scat (ok, kidding about the scat. But it is fun to see and identify what dropped it). Acorns and pine cones can add a nice touch (to the decorations, not the scat).

9. Rest, recharge, go within. The dark days outside invite us to contemplate the dark space inside, between our ears. Be like bear and seek refuge in your hibernaculum. As you lay low, breathe and flow. 

10. Reflect. This is a great time to review the past year, and make your intentions known for the year ahead. What did you learn during the last trip around the Sun? Think about all the things you are grateful for in 2019, and about the richness of life that you will attract over the coming year. 

However you choose to celebrate at this time of year, chances are you will be enjoying something derived from the original Pagan winter Solstice rituals. That is because they are a meaningful and enduring part of an Earthling's experience.

On the weekend we mark the changing of seasons, the return of the light, and our connection to both the past, each other, and the greater natural world.

Happy Solstice. 

Time To "Culture Jam" The Brands

There is something rotten in the world, and its stench has been growing my whole life. It is coming to a head now, like no other time in my almost 6 decades. 

I welcome the disruption because it is becoming obvious that we are losing our fight for freedom, and that powerful undemocratic forces have taken over. 

Most of us didn't notice this global coup that is now steamrolling over the planet. We were too busy shopping, and staring at screens with their endless vomitorum of putrid propagandistic programming.

Kalle Lasn, cofounder of Adbusters Media Foundation, a Canadian-based not-for-profit, pro-environmental organization founded in 1989, has been watching this all unfold. In his book, "Culture Jam", he explains what he has seen, and what we might do about it.

"America is no longer a country. It's a multitrillion-dollar brand. Amer-
ica™ is essentially no different from McDonald's, Marlboro or General
Motors. It's an image "sold" not only to the citizens of the U.S.A., but to consumers worldwide.  
The American brand is associated with catch- words such as "democracy," "opportunity" and "freedom." But like cigarettes that are sold as symbols of vitality and youthful rebellion, the American reality is very different from its brand image.  
America™ has been subverted by corporate agendas. Its elected officials bow before corporate power as a condition of their survival in office. A collective sense of powerlessness and disillusionment has set in. A deeply felt sense of betrayal is brewing." 

You can read Lasn's book for free here at the online Internet Archive

But get ready for a wake up call, even if you consider yourself informed. After reading this, shopping will never be the same again. Nor will your ideas about freedom, democracy, effective government, or the truth.

Are you ready for a revolution that will reclaim what is rightly ours and has been stolen by a small group of power hungry, greedy, and very dangerous people?

Kalle Lasn has a plan.

December 15, 2019

Alternatives To Big Business Consumer Santa

“No one needs more shit in their life than they already have, and Christmas has turned into one big shit-giving day that leaves rubbish bins filled to the brim, and storage cupboards bursting at the seams.“ 
- Kate Hall

Not everyone participates in the over the top shit-giving of Consumer Christmas. Nor should they - it is ultimately harmful to the very Earth that we celebrate at this time of year. What has turned into a shopping frenzy once was a time that people celebrated the Earth's cycles and mutual support in small, sensible ways.

Some people still do that. Roughly about 10% of Americans do not buy any gifts on Christmas at all. Imagine how much money would be saved, resources conserved, and frayed nerves avoided if you were one of that small group of non-participators looking for alternatives to Consumer Santa's demands for you to buy, buy, buy.

When surveyed, 30% of people said they do not buy gifts for co-workers, and 67% of pet owners said they will not be buying gifts for their critters. 60% of people will also not be buying gifts for the service people in their lives, like hair dressers, cleaners, or baristas.

That does not mean we can't make giving part of our holiday celebration. But there are many ways to give other than running off to the mall, or going on line, to buy a brand new something or another latest doodad for that special person.

We can make them something. Perhaps you are artistic, or would like to be. This might be a good time to start. Take a photo, paint a picture, knit a sweater, or write and perform a song. Creativity, unlike the stock at the big box store, is unlimited.

Or give experiences, like a ticket for a play or concert. Buy two tickets and go with them. Make your own tickets that the recipient can cash in for things like taking a hike with you, sitting and having tea and biscuits, or volunteering at the food bank.

Consumables are always appreciated. Everyone needs food, which will surely be more appreciated than a plastic gag gift.

While not as exciting as the latest plastic toy, practical gifts such as the classic socks and underwear can go a long way toward helping family and friends cope with providing the basics for themselves.

Donating to a charity in the name of others can also be an alternative to gifting people that don't need anything.

I have always thought that buying brand new superfluous gifts just because Big Business Consumer Santa tells us to, is a weird warping of a special moment that initially started as an observation of an important day in the cycle of the seasons.

There is a reason that the Sun was once considered the one and only "God". Let us celebrate what our nearest star gives us each and every day by thanking it for the totality of life on Earth. 

Then, over the coming weeks, let us notice the great relief we experience as the Sun returns, along with its precious heat and energy, without which everything would cease to be.

That is the origin of this special moment in our annual transit around the Sun. We made it through harvest, we will huddle together now till it gets warm again, and with each other, we will carry on and make our next annual trip through space even more special than the last.

I wonder how Big Business Consumer Santa would like that? Would he approve, or is he just the Grinch in a bearded and red and white disguise trying to destroy everything by turning our own greed upon ourselves?

December 11, 2019

Nature's Dance

It has been a while since I have been in our back yard woods to unify with the life of the Cosmos. I have been missing that union. 

When the temperature rose to 12 degrees above zero, it was time to once again join the dance.

Everything is attractive in Nature's Dance. It is pure. The processes here do not create garbage or pollution. They are harmonious. Everything is in synch with everything else.

There is no wasted movement in Nature's dance as life shakes and shimmies in a celebration of diversity, cooperation, and sustainable growth. 

It is the way of the Cosmos, and since we are also it, that is our way as well. When we ignore the way, or consciously work against it, our project is sure to fail.

Here, in my back yard woods, "peace and quiet govern the world". Soothing sounds are the music of this community's orchestra. 

In the beauty, I become the dance. Moments are filled with nature-inspired songs rhythmically pulsating around me, through me, beating the membrane of every cell of my body like so many microscopic tabla.

We move as one. All there is, is the Dance.

If it is beautiful, and it is, then so are we. Or we could be, if we were more aware of the importance of yielding to the universal music, and flowing with its direction.

When we are tangential from the way of things, the results are destructive. 

To regain the melody, the beat of life, it is necessary first to honour our universal responsibility toward each other, the Earth, and the Universe.

We do this through practicing unconditional love, compassion, clear thinking and simple living. All of these have a indelible vibration that resonates with all of creation.

When we dance with them, all results are beneficial and harmonious.

Here we are. Everything we need is freely available in this abundant Universe where life is bursting everywhere we look. All there is to do is be aware of what is taking place, and spin along with everything else.

This is Nature's Dance, and it is inviting you to join. 

December 9, 2019

Weapons of Mass Deception

In reading an article about the world's biggest money hoarder, I came across a bit that highlighted the forces mounted against the human race. 

It reveals a lot about how our natural tendency toward frugality, and care for Mother Nature, is under relentless attack by cold, calculating, self-interested individuals.

"While other companies have tended to keep economists in centralized units, often working on forecasting or policy issues, Amazon takes a different approach. 
It distributes economists across a range of teams, where they can, among other things, run controlled experiments that permit scientific, and therefore effective, manipulation of consumer behavior."   

It is the manipulation that is the problem. And it isn't just the mentally ill money hoarders that are doing it. State governments have always been big purveyors of manipulation themselves. Both are getting more sophisticated in their efforts all the time.

When the forces of politics come together with the forces of commerce, it makes it difficult to see exactly where our freedom is that is so talked about.  

9 days after the World Trade Centre attack, George W. Bush told us it happened because the "terrorists hated the West's freedom". 

What freedom? All I see is manipulation and deception. Powerful forces are acting to manipulate the way we think, vote, act and buy. Their lies deceive us at every turn.

Unless we want to live as neo-serfs settling for a shrinking virtual freedom, or freedom-ish, or freedom light, we will have to resist the manipulation of one percenters and selfish political hacks.

A good start would be to 

1) start thinking for ourselves (it's a mental prophylactic). The truth is the best disinfectant, and each of us can do our part to seek and share facts that counter the corporate/government narrative formed through weaponized propaganda.

2) quit supporting the status quo through our buying of things we don't need, and

3) form a decentralized network together to tear the whole shaky shit house down by weakening trust in the lier's programming.

Will that be hard? Indeed, it will. 

However, being manipulated and deceived from birth to death for the profit of the few is not exactly easy, either.

December 4, 2019

Gardening And Green Garlic

Green garlic, potatoes, carrot from our last harvest beginning of December.

I took advantage of some recent warm weather to do our final harvest and close up our garden for another year. It was easy as there were only a few carrots, potatoes, beets, and our immature garlic. 

What also made it easy is that for the past 2 seasons we have not been cleaning our garden in the fall. Now we are done after we harvest, leaving the messiness to clean in the spring. 

From what I have read, insects find an uncleaned garden a more welcoming winter haven with lots of places to take shelter from the cold. I don't mind waiting until spring to do the tidying up after the winter residents have emerged.

Our crop of green garlic frozen for storage.

The most experimental part of our garden this year was planting our garlic late. Very late. Well into June late. We were not sure how it would turn out, but could not contemplate our garden without it.

The last time I posted about our garlic experiment, a reader (thanks, Alex) commented that green garlic was very good. We had never heard about eating garlic in this stage before, so this tip expanded our minds, our diet, and our garden.

We pulled up all the immature garlic and processed it. The top green parts we cut and froze. The bottom bits were baked, cooled, and then frozen with the greens. 

Some parts were baked to brown and crispy, and WOW were those bits tasty.

Initially everything went into a ziplock bag, but it still smelled strong (and by strong I mean yummy) in the freezer. I transferred the contents into two 500 ml canning jars, and this eliminated the odour leakage.

We thought we wouldn't be able to store garlic this year, because we did not get mature bulbs we could cure and hang in our pantry. We were wrong. Green garlic is great, and we have a quantity that should last a while.

For a moment I thought we might actually have to buy some from the grocery store. 

Not just yet. Garlic independence is still ours.

December 2, 2019

Catholics Condemn Crass Consumerism

While I think that Pope Francis is a good man, he and I disagree on many things. However, we are in agreement when it comes to consumerism. 

Here are a few things he said yesterday on the topic:

“Consumerism is a virus that attacks faith at the roots because it makes us believe that life depends only on what we have…”

“Things are not enough. Our greed grows and others become obstacles, so we end up feeling threatened, always dissatisfied and angry, raising the level of hatred. We see it today where consumerism reigns.”

“We must overcome the temptation that the meaning of life is accumulation, and resist the dazzling lights of consumption which will shine everywhere this month.”

“When we open our hearts, we gain the most precious gift that material things can never give us: peace.”

It is priceless to be neither troubled, nor afraid. That is the gift of peace, the antidote to consumerism.

Francis is right about that.

“While Santa brings an abundance of good things, Christ often condemned these things and the wealth they represent. 

- Russell W. Belk

November 30, 2019

It May Be Better Not To Have

The less I need, the better I feel. 

Right now I own less stuff than at any point in my adult life. And I feel great.

Poet Charles Bukowski felt that way, and I am sure monks feel that way, too. If you want to live as simply as possible, you may also know this feeling.

Henry David Thoreau said something along the lines that a perfectly prepared person could walk away from their village with nothing, and experience no problems.

It is a fortunate, and rare, person that could pull off such a feat (Peace Pilgrim comes to mind). But imagine the unlimited freedom one must feel in that unencumbered state.

This is something to remember during a time we are being arm-twisted to give gifts to everyone, whether they need anything or not. 

Here's a liberating thought - perhaps they would be better off without a gift. It is hard to fathom in an acquisitive culture, but it may be better not to have, than to have.

Sometimes when I am gifted something, my first sense is that it is a burden and responsibility that I would rather not have. I own something I may not need, my life is complicated, and my carefully nurtured simplicity has been thrown out of whack. 

Gift giving is a nice thought, and comes from a good place.  In the times such as we live in today, though, not gift giving might be even nicer. 

Not just today. It has always been this way. 

In this regard I give you Chinese Chan Master Ummon Zenji (862-949 CE). He would remind his students that: 

"however wonderful a thing is, it may be that it is better not to have it at all."

I end with my own Zen koan: 

What is the gift of no gift? 

And my answer (does a koan have an answer?): 

Freedom, simplicity, joy.