Sunday, June 18, 2017

Simply spring

Spring is often a bumpy ride in Nova Scotia. The weather can fluctuate wildly. In my thin-walled shelter, at 27°C and sunny, I shuck most of my clothes and sweat at my desk, while at 11°C and rainy, I sit here huddled by my small electric space heater and try to focus on work as well as I can. 

And some days, like today, I experience both of those extremes within a few hours of one another! 

Work seems to be the common thread through everything for me these days – whatever the weather. I have a lot of desk-work on the go, which is a blessing, since I am doing everything I can to gather up money to build a cabin here in the fall. 

Also, living here entails work. For one thing, I have the added responsibilities of my garden: planting, weeding, watering. And since I don't have running water or a fridge, it is work to try to keep things clean – or at least sanitary enough to prevent food-borne illnesses. The ice packs from my little chest freezer need to be swapped in and out of the cooler on a regular basis; washing the dishes is a major production that involves boiling the kettle several times. 

I try to keep things as simple as I can – with one-pan meals made in my cast-iron frying pan, which can often be wiped clean without needing to be washed per se. To be honest, I often eat my meals right out of the frying pan, too. Saves on washing plates. 

And then, there are the nightly sweeps for ticks: more efficient and faster now that I've figured out that I can run my bug-zapper racquet through my bedding before I go to sleep. 

Admittedly, this life is not always comfortable. There are times when I desperately need to wash and it's too cold (or I'm feeling too lazy) to boil the kettle and sponge myself down. Or when my hair is beyond needing a lick and a promise and needs a good hearty scrub. Fortunately, I have friends and family who are always ready to offer showers – and also refuge on the coldest nights. 

It amuses me when I think of what my life was like 10 years ago – the air conditioning, the long soaks in the tub, the consumption of clothing, housewares, appliances, and on and on. I mean, I used to think nothing of buying things like a Cuisinart ice cream maker! 

My former life feels so wasteful and empty to me now. And silly. And meaningless. And thoughtless. Just a typical white middle-class kid doing what she thought she was supposed to do – and having what she felt entitled to have. 

While I admit that I am looking forward to having hot and cold running water again eventually, I am currently enjoying the spartan pleasures of this simple life. I am focused on the deep joy of being here. I love the days when I don't have to go anywhere else. There will be many of them this summer. My garden is starting to provide fresh food on a daily basis. My pantry is well-stocked. My guitar and my muse are both here. Ideas are flowing. Feelings are fluid and plentiful. Sleep is deep and long (except when the moon is full). The trees shelter me. Salinger graces me with his fluffy presence. I am safe. I am at home

Monday, May 22, 2017

Hugelkultur – Year 2

Last year's foray into gardening was a very successful one. Not that I got a huge amount of food from my small garden, but I enjoyed the process, learned things and impressed myself by staying active in the garden throughout the summer. 

This year, I am expanding. I've spent the last couple of mornings (early, before the blackflies wake up), completing the two hugelkultur beds that I started building last summer. 

The process feels like "mud pie architecture" to me: fitting together logs, branches, twigs and rotten wood, then stuffing leaves (and sometimes cardboard) into the cracks. 

Then comes the task of mixing up some soil. 

And then spreading the soil on top of the mounds. 

One of the two new mounds is the same style and shape as the one I built last year. Let's call it Hugel II.

The other one I'm calling Flattop. This one is more of a raised bed than a mound, with about 16 square feet of gardening space on the top and no soil spread down the side. I'm looking forward to seeing how it will perform.

Next, I plan to make a raised bed with "log cabin" sides to grow some potatoes and beets. Why buy lumber when I have so many logs lying around that will contain soil without costing me a dime? Besides, converting some of the strewn-about logs into gardening space tidies the place up a little bit...

And, just because all of the photos in this post are primarily brown, here is a picture of the beautiful bouquet I got at the West Dublin Market on Saturday as my "welcome home" present to myself.

Friday, May 19, 2017


I'm in the process of moving from my winter digs back the The Crooked Wood. So far, I've brought a couple of loads of stuff. Still lots more to go.

Today, Salinger and I have come to stay and I can feel that my heart has instantly relocated.

It's a powerful feeling, the feeling of being here. The automatic shift that takes place inside me – body, heart, mind and spirit – challenges me to describe it. It is in the unconscious lengthening of my breath, the unwinding of my muscles, the music of the tree frogs, the sweet pine smell of my house, the soft warm air, the loose clothing I'm wearing, the gentle glow of the single lamp by my computer, the darkness outside – and soon within.

An occasional car whooshes by up on the road, a trill stands out from the peeper chorus, I feel my body relax another notch.

I am safe here (from everything except blackfly bites).

This place is calm and peaceful and easy and right.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fresh start

I have posted on this blog at least once a month since 2013. But this winter, I hit a dry spell. I hit the wall. I had a number of ideas for blog posts, but the gravity of my mood kept bearing them to the ground before they could get from my brain to my fingers through the keyboard and out onto the Internet. 

I don't know about you, but I found this past winter extremely demoralizing. 

Between Trump and the rhetoric of division, constant reports of war and oppression, more symptoms of ongoing environmental collapse – ugh – it felt heavy. It felt horrible

It felt like the winter of "why bother"? And worse still "Why connect"? I could feel my circle shrink. Social media lost its appeal. For a couple of months, work and Netflix owned my soul. I wanted so desperately to escape.

• • •

And now here comes spring, both literally and metaphorically. 

For better and for worse, humans have an aptitude for bouncing back. Surprise, surprise, again and again, we turn out to be resilient enough for our lives, for this world and all of the ways in which we distort and devastate it. "Oh, so this is the way it is going to be now," we say to ourselves as we begin to adapt to whatever: the horrible news, heartbreak, health problems, loss of loved ones or work or money, and/or a deluge of loved ones, of work and money, healing, falling in love, exciting news – whatever the change, challenge or circumstance, no matter how hard it knocks us down, shocks us, knocks the wind from our sails, we struggle back to our feet and try – try to figure it out, to adjust, to decide: "What next? What now?"

Seeds sprouting on my window sill.
(In my low-rent toilet paper roll "jiffy pots".)

• • •

I biked to the Farmer's Market last Thursday.

It was snowing.

The world smelled the way it does when there is a summer rainstorm – you know that scent? It's unusual here at this time of year.

I wondered if there was a word for it and discovered there is: 

Petrichor (/ˈpɛtrkɔər/) is the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. The word is constructed from Greek πέτρα petra, meaning "stone", and ἰχώρ īchōr, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. (Wikipedia). 
Isn't that an amazing word (and concept)? The life energy of the gods falls upon stone. And creates a scent that is evocative and thrilling, that wakes us up to our passion and potential.

I feel it everywhere now. It's in the return of the sun, the flowers, the osprey. 

Shy daffodil.
It is the return of hope. 

Welcome back. 

Let's do wonderful things together.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

#Banjoy (Netflix Edition)

I was watching Grace and Frankie last night, winding down after a long work day, and this song came on. The banjo is a background element here, but I love the way it pops out from behind the song, which itself popped out from behind the action in the scene on the show:

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2017 Word of the Year

Here we are, New Year's Eve and I am having a quiet evening at home, which is my preferred way to spend NYE. For me, this is a time of reflection and anticipation – looking backward and forward while sitting on the line between the old and the new. A friend will be coming over in a bit, but for now, I'm reconciling my budget, putting my house in order, reflecting on 2016 and my plans for 2017 and generally relaxing.

This past year has been a doozy. The election of Donald Trump, the too-soon deaths of many cultural icons (including my two biggest musical heroes, David Bowie and Prince), the continued degradation of our planet: pipelines, pesticides, extinctions, wars – it's no surprise that social media users are bandying about the hashtag #FU2016.

For me, 2016 had personal significance because of the work I orchestrated in The Crooked Wood – having a driveway installed and a shed built and moving my tiny house.

I feel like 2017 is going to be a gigantenormous year for me. Before the year is out I hope to have a septic system installed, a well drilled (or dug, I'm still not sure which), and a cabin built. I'm looking at about 5 or 6 times more work than last year. I'm feeling a bit anxious and overwhelmed at the thought. I only hope that things go as smoothly for these next phases as they did for the initial phase of the work.

Fortunately, once again this year, I was graced with the opportunity to join Jamie Ridler's wonderful "Planning Day/Design Your Year" workshop.

It was an awesome opportunity for me to think and plan ahead for the kind of year I'm hoping to create in 2017. It reminded me that I have many tools that I'm going to need for the work ahead – not least the ability to take deep breaths and roll with the punches. And learn. I'm certain I am going to learn a lot this year.

For the fourth year in a row, I've selected a word of the year. Keeping with my streak of R-words, this year's word is: Realization.

This is the year it happens. This is the year that all of my thoughts and yearnings for a home of my own become real.

It's going to take a lot of hard work, sacrifice and frugality, a lot of time and energy and money and love. I'm sure there will be tears and dark moments and difficult feelings.

And I am determined that it will get done. And that it will get done gently, kindly and with love.

That is my manifesto. Come on, 2017, I'm ready for you.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Seasonal Netflix recommendation

I don't usually do this, but I feel compelled to tell you about a show that's available on Netflix, especially if you're looking for some deep, darkly-funny entertainment over the holidays.

The show is called Please Like Me. It's a billed as a "comedy drama" series, but I would describe it as a sitragicom – a situation tragicomedy.

I first saw the show a few years ago when it appeared briefly as a summer fill-in show on CBC. I got hooked. CBC only showed Series 1 and 2, so after those were done I had to hunt down the episodes in Series 3 on sites like YouTube and DailyMotion (usually with terrible sound and image quality).

This fall, Series 1-3 became available on Netflix and I watched all of the episodes again.

The show is centred around a young man named Josh and his friends and family.

At first glance, the show is about Josh coming out and learning how to navigate the world and his sexual territory.

Josh and his best friend Tom seem feckless and insecure. Their friend (and Josh's former girlfriend) Claire is pretty and clever. They are all under-employed and mostly broke and obsessed with things that seem completely trivial.

It could be that show. But the young-people-learning-adulting-through-their-hilarious-experiences premise is basically a cover for a show that is dedicated to a fierce and tender exploration of how people struggle with their mental health and what that experience is like for them and for the people who love them.

Josh's mom, Rose, has bipolar disorder. In the first episode of Series 1, Rose tries to kill herself. Not for the last time, either. Rose spends time in a private psychiatric hospital, where she meets Hannah, Stewart and Ginger. Josh's main love interest, Arnold has a severe anxiety disorder and also spends time at the hospital.

There are so many poignant, funny lines, I can't even begin to tell you about them. The show is hilarious and sly and playful and painful and sad and thought-provoking. There is death and love and and hope and disappointment.

When Josh's dad, Alan (who is just as feckless and insecure as his son) says that he's always felt a bit hopeless as a dad, Josh replies, "Well, you are. I mean, we're all hopeless. I'm hopeless. Arnold's hopeless. Tom, Tom is hopeless."

There are 26 half-hour episodes on Netflix, so if you start binge watching now, you could very easily come up to the fraught and funny Christmas-themed finale of Series 3 at some point on Christmas day.

Warnings: this show contains explicit sexuality, "bad" language, abortion, chicken murder, food porn, lip-syncing, ferris wheels, babies, self-harm, suicide attempts and Australian accents, so if you are not okay with any of those things, this is not the show for you.