living dharma

Invitation to the new blog
August 19, 2022, 5:28 pm
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To all of you who stop by here every now and then, please come and visit my new blog: Small Farm Big World. I was feeling a bit cramped at living dharma and needed a new space of sorts and Mel was kind (and talented) enough to make one for me. Everything I do and think and feel is/are living dharma and Dharma of one kind or another. But small farm big world feels right at this time of life. I’ll still post here now and again but I’ll mostly be over at the new spot. Thanks for visiting.

Deer friend
August 10, 2022, 11:02 am
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This young doe showed up on our land a couple of weeks ago. She looked really rough and she still doesn’t look great. We called the local wildlife rescue folks for advice (they couldn’t come and pick up a sick deer) and they advised us to put out water and apple slices. We have apple trees dropping windfall right now and so we did that right away. Another person recommended a kiddie wading pool. As you can see, our friend has been having a persistently difficult bowel experience and her back legs are coated.

We dug out the kiddie pool a friend gave us for Grace the Dog when it was really hot and I filled it up, hoping our deer friend would sit in the water and soak her encrusted hindquarters. She doesn’t appear to have done so yet. But she’s been drinking the water we are putting out for her and she is eating the apple slices (not the fresh carrots from the garden though).

That expression on her face goes straight into me. She looks me right in the eye and is definitely saying something. Mostly I am hearing, “please help me, I’m not feeling very well.” And so I have been listening and doing my best. While she is a wild being and while I am a human and while lord knows what we humans can be for deer and pretty much all the other beings – in spite of that species dynamic, this dear deer definitely vibrates enjoyment of being accompanied and talked to in soothing tones. And so I do – talk to her in gentle, soothing tones and she holds my gaze. She lets me get very close, three metres or so from her. I think she wants a hug but that is likely just me being even more foolish than usual.

I’m always personally encouraged in some way when animals choose my company, especially wild ones. I feel like my humanity must be in reasonably good condition to be chosen and trusted.

In Plum Village, the monastery where I lived for a good while, there was a song we would sing at the end of every retreat. It was called “dear friend.” A simple, pretty, loving song about appreciating one another as a departure loomed. Also in Plum Village, wild animals and domestic ones who had been abused regularly chose the monastery as a sanctuary. Gentle Buddhists are generally a good bet for other beings.

A lot of how I am living these days closely resembles the kind of life that Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh spoke about so much when I was his student in France. He talked about living a simple, beautiful life. With a light footprint. Growing organic food. Not consuming much and buying as little as possible. Being kind and wise on a planet that endures so many overlapping, overwhelming, over-performing pathologies – thanks to us, the humans.

I took the photo above about an hour ago. She’s definitely looking better than when she first showed up. And our relationship is growing day by day. I suppose I just want her to build her strength so that she is a strong, healthy young doe and then that she disappears into the woods where she will be safer than she is around the humans. Yes, I want that for her of course. But I’ll be honest and say that I will miss her when she goes. She brings out the best in me and she helps me allow my heart to break without the rest of me following suit in these times.

Remembering my godbrother – John Duffy
March 5, 2022, 9:20 am
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Terrible news arrived yesterday in a strange way. My old friend and godbrother John Duffy died suddenly. My friend David – here in our little town and also an old friend of John’s – saw a tweet from the Prime Minister, expressing his condolences and sorrow at John’s sudden death the day before. And then David wrote to me to tell me what happened.

It really was a shock. John was only 58 and, as far as I know, was not dealing with any menacing health conditions. Those many of us who knew and loved him are waiting to learn what happened, how John died. But really – the details are just that. The central hard fact is that a dynamic and brilliant person has died too soon.

John was a lifelong Liberal. He advised prime ministers and premiers and mayors. He co-founded a government relations firm in 1995 and it went on to become a big player in the world of Fortune 500 companies and politics at all levels. John loved what he did.

John was certainly one of the smartest people I ever met. Sometimes it could be humbling to spend time with him, because I could feel kind of not very smart; literally not understanding what he was saying. That was mostly on me but it was also about the speed and dimensionality of John’s mind. Fast talking, historical references, private inner language terms and all of it generally at high intensity.

Before all of the politics and power, we were children together. John’s parents, Mary Ann and Dennis, were my godparents. John’s family, my family and another family (the Castelos) were intertwined in a pretty wonderful community way. Eight children amongst the families. John and I were the only boys. We spent enormous amounts of time together, first as children and then as teenagers. As kids we did all the boy stuff; playing football, watching sports, going fishing. And because John was so precociously brilliant, we also did things like watching old Russian classic films and reading great literature or history or philosophy and discussing it together, with John doing most of the discussing.

I went to my first rock concert with John, at Maple Leaf Gardens. Rush and April Wine. Ha. John introduced me to all kinds of great music. We both loved the Grateful Dead and we watched the Grateful Dead movie that came out in 1976 a number of times. I went on to see the Dead play later in my life but I’m not sure John ever got to see them play.

As we grew into adulthood we grew apart. John embraced party politics as a Liberal and I embraced party politics as a New Democrat. John went on to become a wealthy, powerful, highly connected lobbyist – championing liberal democracy and capitalism in ways that I never really understood. Because John was so smart and because he had such an encyclopaedic knowledge of public policy and the critical issues we face as a human family – he knew climate change inside out. He knew the dynamics of soaring inequality. And he devoted himself to working within the system in the hope of making progressive change as it is understood by Liberals. I never really got it and that may, in part, be on me. Since my view is that status quo politics and business as usual are destroying life on earth – I couldn’t relate to John’s choices. And I probably stopped listening or inquiring. I wish I’d had more time with John to understand how he saw the work he did and why he did it, at a deeper level.

John was married and devoted to Jill, a high powered criminal lawyer. They had two daughters, ages 20 and 17. John’s enormous presence will be missed by many but I really can’t imagine how hard this moment is for the family he loved with all his big heart.

John traveled widely and read even more widely. But he lived in one place his almost his whole life, his beloved Toronto (not long ago John and Jill bought a place in the lovely theatre-y town of Stratford). John was a true city lover and city dweller. He never learned to drive. He walked, rode his bike, took the subway and taxis. He loved to eat and drink and laugh and tell stories. And now John’s story has ended far too soon.

Sudden death is always so shocking. Especially when it comes in the middle of a life still being fully lived. There is the disorientation that comes for those left behind. The fundamental wrongness of it. The wish for more time together.

I’m glad for John that his death was sudden, that he did not linger and suffer from some terrible illness. But he is gone too soon and he leaves many deeply saddened people behind.

The very recent photo of John above was posted by his devastated colleagues the day after he died.

Meanwhile on our home planet
February 27, 2022, 6:01 pm
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I had a pretty layered day the day before yesterday (and since then too). I was working on a funding appeal for an international organization I do bits and pieces for in my very now and again professional life – to support the 44 million people who are increasingly desperate for humanitarian aid in the Horn of Africa.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was underway.

I was painting a sign for a demonstration here in our little town.

And there were farm tasks to do.

For quite a while, I’ve had a weird ability to drop into the stories of others and then tell them onwards in ways that I’m told can be compelling, moving. And I suppose that is a good part of my value as a writer and communications consultant in those rare moments when I do that kind of stuff these days. My process in these tasks has always been a bit mystical for me. I do a great deal of research, learning the facts of the situation. Then I let them cook down in my mind and heart. I feel as much as I can possibly feel. Then I wait until I hear the opening sentence. Then I start writing and it all kind of unfolds from there.

Sometimes it all flows in an unbroken stream. Often – given the complexity of the material I work on for the organization I work for (Oxfam Canada) on such things – it’s more stop and start and add dense, hard facts and then flow onward if possible. So I was doing that on Thursday. As I have been doing, off and on and in lots of different ways, for many years.

I was also fairly obsessively tracking the news from Ukraine, mostly via The Guardian – but lots of other media sources too. It was devastating, of course. Devastating if I allowed myself to open the door on my heart all the way, before closing it back to manageable levels of pain for those of us with such privilege. The unimaginable horror. The end of the post-WWII institutions and the “protections” that endured for a while, got frayed and broken and now have evaporated for all to see, very much including insane dictators like V. Putin. It turns out that Western liberal democracies are mostly just going to watch Putin savage Ukraine. Hey, Joe Biden – how’s that going?

The very homemade sign I was painting was for a demonstration in our little town, in response to the attempted toppling of Canada’s government a few weeks ago, by a herd of truckers (the *freedom convoy*) amped up on white supremacy, bad coffee and anti-vaxxer wackadoodle fatal nonsense; funded primarily by extremist American donors (i.e. Republicans) bent on destroying democracy and tweaked out on Russian disinformation. I mean. Just read that back. How did we even get here? Yes, I know. I do know how we got here. But sometimes it is simply to weep.

The bizarre little coup that the amped truckers were attempting played out over a three-week occupation of the national capital (where I grew up), Ottawa. Right on Parliament Hill. You know. Where the government is. Much has been written about all that and much more will be as the dust settles. And I won’t go down that menacing rabbit hole right here right now. But go ahead and google it if you’re curious and put on your discernment helmet before you do because the whole thing is a case study in modern (mis/dis)information warfare.

Anyway. In towns and cities across this far too mediocre country, every Saturday has featured a sympathy trucker convoy event, including in our little town. It’s happened for a few weeks, every Saturday. After the third of these excrescences, a number of people thought it would be a good idea to hold a counter event of some kind. So we did, yesterday. I made a sign. One side says. “thank you health care workers.” I mean it. They have been amazing throughout the pandemic and they have been terrorized by the frothing anti-vaxxer horde that walks among us, yes, even here in Canada.

The other side of my sign says, “zero tolerance for Nazis.” Yes, you read that right. That’s because the crowd in Ottawa (and elsewhere, including here in our little town) have had members of their team regularly fly swastikas, Confederate flags, Gadsden flags, Trump 2024 flags and other hate symbols at their various events and attempts to overthrow a democratically elected government (yes, a terrible government – but, you know, democracy and all). The b side of my sign, the anti-Nazi message, was really for my Jewish mother.

Then there’s the farm. Our micro-farm. Our very fortunate spot that is, for now, tucked away from the cruel global insanity. The chickens have been getting into the garlic. And that is not ok. Our garlic patch will produce all the garlic we will eat in the coming year and all of our garlic seed for the year after that. It’s important to us. So I built a little wattle fence from some hazelnut wands that I cut at a friend’s place. The chickens got in anyway. I re-enforced it with some stickyuppy hazelnut wands. They got in again anyway. We wrapped it with red rope. That seemed to help.

And then Mel came home with some Tibetan prayer flags.

Tibetan Buddhism is the form of Buddhism that I probably relate to least of all, in my deep immersion in all things Buddhist for several years (still there in a very worldly way). But, ultimately, Buddha is Buddha and Lord knows we could do with a lot more Buddha these days. Plus the prayer flags are always such wondrous windblown spiritual whimsy that I decided to wrap them and tie them to the hazelnut *fence*. As I wove the flags in and around, I chanted the Avolokiteshvaraya chant from the monastery where I used to live. It just happened all on its own, the chant. It wasn’t a plan. And as I quietly walked around weaving prayer flags I was heartened by this prayer for great compassion. It surely can’t hurt.

I took the photo right after wrapping the prayer flags in and around the very organic garlic protection structure. Behind which sits our shop building, where we store all of our tools and where I start all of the seeds for all of our food.

Remembering Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh
January 21, 2022, 5:36 pm
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When I learned the news earlier today that Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay to his many students: Thay means teacher in Vietnamese) had died, I was flooded by memories.

For most of us, there are very few people who will have a radical, profound, immediate, positive and lasting impact on our lives. For me, Thay was that person in a way that no other has been.

I started reading Thay’s books on meditation and mindfulness in 2002. I was intrigued and maybe even charmed by the mix of poetry, whimsy and wisdom. And in 2005, I devoted myself to a regular daily meditation practice in my busy Vancouver professional life, following Thay’s guidance from his books and from the talks I was listening to at the time.

Without ever having sought a spiritual teacher and without ever having been to a retreat of any kind and without ever having met a Buddhist monk or nun, I decided to take a deeper step into Thay’s teaching and community by going to a three-week retreat in Plum Village; the monastery Thay had founded in France, in the exquisite Dordogne countryside, about 100 kilometres east of Bordeaux.

That retreat was utterly overwhelming, as I have written about elsewhere on this blog in years past. Two sessions of sitting meditation every day plus one session of walking mediation with the whole community. Walking silently through the French countryside, led step by step and breath by breath by this wise old man. Sometimes stopping to gaze out over oak forest and sunflower fields. Stopping to allow birdsong to drop all the way into every layer of consciousness. Stopping to breathe in silence with a thousand or so souls. There were many other scheduled daily activities in that three-week retreat. And I remember crawling into my tent every night both energized and exhausted. Tossing and turning with all the new ways of seeing and being that were offered every day. Tossing and turning with the possibility of letting go of so many of my old ways of seeing and being. And then up again at dawn the next morning to walk in silence – the few steps to the meditation hall. The great bell sounding over the monastery lands, gathering us all into meditation.

During that first retreat, Thay gave Dharma talks four days/week. Most of the talks were quite simple. All of them were profound. Sometimes he was very funny, this diminutive elderly man. The talks were simultaneously translated into several different languages, to accommodate the hundreds and hundreds of us from all over the world. Thay taught in English for that whole retreat. Later, when I went back to live in Plum Village, he would rotate his talks through the three languages he spoke best; English, French and his native Vietnamese. I came to love his talks in French best. His French was a bit better than his excellent English. And he spoke a melodious Parisian/Vietnamese French.

Toward the end of the third week of that first retreat, I decided to participate in the refuge ceremony. Receiving/taking the three refuges. I take refuge in the Buddha, the one who shows me the way in this life. I take refuge in the Dharma, the path of understanding and love. I take refuge in the Sangha, the community that lives in harmony and awareness. Sixteen years later, I still inwardly intone the three refuges when I practice sitting meditation. In fact, I did so this morning, having gotten out of bed before dawn and sat to sit and breathe silently at the beginning of the day.

I went in and out of Plum Village over a period of a few years. And I ultimately decided to become a monk in the community. My intention at the time was to live as a monk for the rest of my life.

The day of my ordination as a novice monk was one of the most extraordinary and unusual experiences of my life (the photo above is taken from that day, right after the ceremony). It was a very formal event, with hundreds of monks and nuns chanting and inviting the bell. Incense perfumed the air. My mom was in the room!

As I kneeled up for the ceremony with all the other aspirants (those who were about to enter monastic life), I had an enormous sensation of heat in every part of my body. Then Thay walked down the line of us all kneeling up and when he came to me, he put his hand on my head and recited the ceremonial words for the occasion and, in that instant, my body exploded with sauna-like heat. I began to sweat from every single pore in my body. Not in a delicate way. Gentle tears were leaking out my eyes. And sweat was pouring out of me in some kind of cathartic, transformative liquid spirituality. A couple of monks discreetly passed me some paper towels so that I could quickly mop my brow. The sensation. The tears and joy. The newness.

As it turned out, I didn’t spend the rest of my life as a monk in Plum Village. And while I am happy in my strange farmer/forager/writer/husband life here on the edge of Canada and on the edge of our society, I sometimes think I made a mistake in leaving the monastery.

There are so many things I am grateful for from the time I spent in the monastery. One that I am reflecting on today in the wake of the news of Thay’s death – is the invitation and encouragement to look deeply. To look all the way into everything and anything. All the how and why about the way I am. All the how and why about the way the world is. All the how and all the why and all the what. This encouragement, this way of being and seeing is relentless. Done well it is fearless and utterly without agenda. The *goal* is simply to see clearly. Sometimes I get it *right*. Often I don’t.

I’m remembering the dinner I had with Thay in his little cottage in the hamlet where I lived, shortly after I was ordained. I sat at the table with him, on his left hand. My monastic mentor was with us ( a French monk I liked and respected a great deal), seated at Thay’s right hand. We had a simple meal. I said little, which was what I was advised to say as a newly ordained monk! Thay talked about the life of a young monk and the importance of brotherhood on the monastic path. He offered me morsels from his plate. We drank tea.

After learning of Thay’s death today, I went and did walking meditation on our land, Thay’s most beloved practice. Then I split wood. Pruned an apple tree. And noticed that the bulbs I planted in the autumn are starting to sprout.

Finding hope in the hopeless
January 16, 2022, 11:50 am
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Not for the first time, I find myself writing about hope here. This time, my thoughts were sparked by my friend Robin’s post over at the New Dharma Bums (this post). Robin asked those of us who read the post to think about where we find hope, if, in fact, we do, find hope. So, I thought about this question. Again. And I thought again about one of my favourite pieces of writing about hope (this one, by Derrick Jensen). As I have been reflecting on hope these past few days I realized that – to the degree that I have something that could be called hope – I find some cause to hope in those who have given up on hope in a particular way.

And that way is: Having paid attention and read and thought and sat quietly with and felt all the pieces of the multidimensional puzzle we face – those who do that kind of informed, thoughtful reflecting find that they have no hope for the generative, kind, wise change that is so obviously urgently necessary in the minds and hearts of not quite enough of us. Having looked all the way into conventional politics, this community of the hopeless finds no hope in Joe Biden or Justin Trudeau or Boris Johnson etc. This community of the hopeless finds no hope in the cruel neoliberal economic agenda that drives extreme inequality even as it mints new billionaires every week (those two things are actually intimately connected – this is like this because that is like that, as they say in the monastery where I used to live). This community of the hopeless finds no hope in the soaring GHG emissions filling the air right now, at the very moment when we need to cut emissions in half if we are to leave our children and grandchildren a habitable planet. But business as usual is working around the clock to further intensify the quickening extinction event, the Anthropecene extinction, as it is now known.

So, why or how do I find hope in this community of the hopeless? I find hope in the courage of radical honesty. I take comfort when I encounter people who have a keen understanding about what is unfolding and then continue to do their best to be decent human beings diligently taking steps to not go crazy even as they hold (and sometimes let go of) all of the hard things about paying attention at this time. If we’re ever to have any kind of real hope about massive transformation then that hope and transformation will flow from a radical honesty about all the constituent elements that brought us to this perilous moment.

Because I am a card carrying member of this community of the hopeless, I’m not sure that hope is the best metric for human resilience, for the essence of the human spirit. Joy is a good one. Can I have joy in the face of the cascading terrors? Yes, I can. I do pretty much every day. That joy is almost always derived from my home and hyper-local life. Laughter and love with Mel. Snuggles and hilarity with my saving grace, who is Grace the dog. Quiet conversations with the chickens. A sea lion rolling in the blue grey sea. An eagle soaring aloft. A craggy mountain peak in the distance, made luminous by the setting sun glinting from countless billions of brilliantly distinct snowflakes. Moments of joy ever day. Right cheek by jowl with the utter hopelessness I feel when I consider conventional politics, economics and business as usual.

The photo above is of Mel and me on May 25, 2019 – our wedding day actually. There is something hopeful about love, isn’t there? Something liminal and ineffable. Love heals. Love endures. Love puts a nice smile on your face. In spite of everything.

Chicken poop and wood ash
December 31, 2021, 5:37 pm
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Well, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m thinking about chicken poop. Haha. True. My days often feature chicken poop and I don’t mind one bit.

Of the things that I am passionate about, building soil is right near the top of the list. That’s become ever more true over the course of the last several years since I moved to the Malaspina Peninsula. I have probably shoveled, raked, carried and *arranged* around fifteen tons of manure and seaweed since I starting building soil, first in the garden of the house we rented for almost five years and now on our own land.

Not long after we moved here, M and I built a new composting area; a simple model made of cedar posts and planks, set on blocks and covered by a jauntily painted sheet of thick plywood. Working the compost has been a delight since we got here, and now there is a lovely pile of the best soil on Earth cooking down and awaiting distribution in the spring. Red worms tunneling. Bugs of all sorts aerating and micro-pooping, enriching all.

Every time I take a pail of veggie scraps down to the compost, I grab the pitchfork we bought a few years ago; an ash handled, steel forged beauty. Sturdy, well made. The weight feels so good in my hands. And I use it every time I visit the compost pile. I dig in whatever I am adding and aerate the pile. People who are not soil builders probably think it must stink and be generally pretty icky. Not so at all. The fragrance is of healthy soil, alive and full of promise, singing back every forkful of stewardship with every visit.

Yesterday I shoveled the wood ash out of the woodstove that has been going constantly through this climate emergency cold stretch. Almost all fir ash. Then I went and cleaned out the prominent poops in the chicken house, with the hens clucking at my side as I crawled around. They are typically out and about on the property, scratching and chatting quietly every day. But the snow and cold has changed their routine and they are hanging out in the very nice cedar house that friend JP and I built.

Wood ash is great for the soil. So too is chicken poop. So too are the wood shavings that a farmer friend is kind enough to make available. It’s all shovel and fork driven, everything that happens on our land. It’s a labour of love in every way. And to the degree that I am a sane person who has a sense of purpose – stewarding the land, building soil and tending living beings accounts for a great deal of such sanity and purpose.

I took the photo yesterday. When we built the fence for the chicken yard, I brushed an insouciant bit of blue on the top of every cedar post (that was milled just around the corner from our house). A little bit rustic, a little bit artsy, or so I think.

Happy new year to all – may it somehow be a lot better than the one now fading. Keep your chin up, your heart open and “nolite te bastardes carborundorum.”

Winter garden
December 29, 2021, 10:42 am
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Classic Canadian winter, eh? Well, it would be if the photo was from virtually anywhere else in Canada. But we live in the little bit of Canada that is temperate rainforest. Yes, it does snow here sometimes and it also gets cold here sometimes. But we are now in week two of a very early, very cold, sustained stretch of extreme weather. Like you perhaps, I have been reading about the weather as it relates to the climate emergency. The science gets pretty complicated the further you tunnel in, especially if you were, like me, totally uninterested in all things science at school (now I think science is fascinating and I am a child when it comes to my ambient knowledge – so much to learn). While it gets complicated, the basics are pretty straightforward. Broken hydrologic stationarity. Warming oceans. Rapidly warming Arctic and Antarctic. Distortion in the jet stream and other wind/water/heat/cold dynamics. Weather systems that rarely were ever seen in large swaths of our home planet now arriving with intensifying regularity, bringing one wave of *unprecedented* extreme weather after another. So far, we are 100% for extreme weather in every season this year in our little corner of Earth. As is true in almost every other corner too. We went from the killing heat dome in the summer to the killing biblical floods in the autumn and now here we are at the killing extreme cold, in a part of Canada that is not built for extreme cold (overnight lows around -20 C, with windchill).

I took the photo above this morning, of our micro-farm/garden. Underneath all that snow are the vegetables we had planned on eating through the winter and spring. Two fifty foot beds of brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale – we finished the brussel sprouts a few days ago), a thirty foot bed of carrots, a small patch of huge beets and, in the big greenhouse, a twenty-four foot bed of chard and tatsoi. We’d been eating fresh greens every day until this wintry blast arrived. I haven’t had the heart to go look in the greenhouse: The chard and tatsoi are under a cloche but I’m guessing they are all greensicles at this point. They might recover when the cold lifts. The kale might recover. The carrots should be fine (in the soil, under winter row cover). The cabbage should be fine. The beets might be ok. But the broccoli we were looking forward to eating into the spring is almost certainly dead.

As extreme, unprecedented weather becomes the new normal (?), bringing destruction and shock to all those who are surprised by everything us *enviro* types have been (very, very, very accurately) predicting for the last thirty years – the learning for me as a farmer is that I should stop selling surplus produce in the summer. Instead, all those lovely heads of broccoli and armfuls of chard should get steamed, blanched and frozen so that we can be certain to eat our delicious hyper-local food through the winter. Yes, I’ll keep planting the winter crops anyway. This year’s unprecedented cold could be next year’s unprecedented winter warmth. That’s the thing: When you disrupt and destroy long-standing planetary life support systems, you just can’t be sure how that’s going to go. The one thing that we can surely be sure of is that nature bats last.

Since the cold blast arrived, we’ve been getting out to the chicken coop at first light every day. We take away the water buckets that have frozen solid and replace them with hot water buckets. And then we do the same thing again later in the day, once or twice, so that the gals can always have fresh water and warm water if they get to it in time. I also made some temporary additions inside the coop, so that we can roll down some old dog blankets to better seal the door and the hatch overnight. Crude but effective and protection from cold draft is key to the hens’ survival as overnight lows drop down and down and down. So far, they’re ok, the chickens. They’d just started laying again, after their seasonal break. But that seems to have stopped in the extreme cold. Our goal now is to simply keep them alive and well until the thaw comes and then they can get back to work.

One of the phrases that has been running through my mind on a bit of tape loop recently: Help is not on the way. By that I mean that Joe Biden is not coming to save us from the disasters of the quickening climate emergency. Justin Trudeau is not coming to save us. Boris Johnson is not coming to save us. Vladimir Putin is not coming to save us. Xi Jinping is not coming to save us. Jair Bolsonaro is not coming to save us. And Donald Trump is certainly not coming to save us in the bizarre and now likely event he is *re-elected* in 2024. These governments and all the interests they represent are the leading edge of the problem. They are so very clearly not the solution. Yes, rebuilding efforts will happen where extreme weather destroys lives and infrastructure. It will be (is) unbelievably expensive. It will privilege the rich, white places on the planet. The wealthy and the ultra-wealthy will push back (successfully) on the massive tax increases that would be required to mitigate against and adapt to the climate emergency: Yes, the people who keep on profiting mightily from the destruction don’t want to pay to fix it.

Anyway. The snow is really pretty. I cut and split an epic amount of firewood last year and we are toasty warm, with the woodstove cranking out the BTUs 24/7. The huge woodpile is shrinking and I am itching to start cutting more firewood.

We’ll keep looking for more and more ways to peacefully cut our ties to the death star that is business as usual. And. As a recent headline in the New York Times put it, “nowhere is safe.” That said, I hope you and yours are safe wherever you are.

December 27, 2021, 4:37 pm
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I’ve been thinking about thinking lately. More than usual I suppose and spurred by the pandemic and surprise contact with anti-vaxxers (yes, they are real it turns out and they are also everywhere it turns out). My first surprise contact came when our little city council allowed three delegations of anti-vaxxers to *present* to council over three weeks of council meetings. I have (had) a friend who is on council and so I emailed him with some of my concerns about how our council engaged the anti-vaxxer delegations (with lots of support and utterly shocking ignorance). That led to a mind-blowing exchange (no, not the good kind). My now former friend repeatedly equated the public health guidance in place here in British Columbia (and elsewhere) with the rise of the Nazis in 1930s Germany. Once I reminded him that my mother was Jewish and that, therefore, I am (technically) Jewish and that anyone who trots out the Holocaust and Nazi horror in service of their grievance or campaign does so in a way that is so disgusting and reprehensible as to be incomprehensible to anyone I would consider a decent human being….He replied simply, “so you know something about Germany in the 1930s….do you not see parallels?”

The exchange played out over several days. I cannot tell you how much it upset me. A lot. It triggered the epigenetic response I have to all things Nazi that I received from my Mom (although I gather that the *science* of epigenetics is not in favour these days). Regardless of epigenetics, the transmission from my Mom and my own reading and reflecting on the Holocaust – well, I can easily access a white hot lava flow when triggered. Because the now former friend is an elected official and because he sent me the emails in question from his government account, I considered making the whole squalid thing a public issue in the media. I spoke with a journalist I respect. And then decided not to proceed on that front for the time being. But wow. I was shocked and even though it has been several weeks since the exchange in question, I am still amazed. By the ugliness. The stupidity. The ignorance. The privilege (yes, the person I am talking about is an old white guy, even older than me).

More recently, I received an email invite to an anti-vaxxer event in our town from another (now former) friend. Our email exchange was less fiery. But honestly. It is very hard for me to respect the intelligence/moral fibre/sense of societal responsibility for those who hold the anti-vaxxer position. Unless one is a member of a community that has been treated abysmally and/or used for experimental medical cannon fodder, as is the case in the BIPOC world. But for anyone else? What are you *thinking*? How did you come to think that way? Is any of that thinking well thought out? Well researched? Well considered? Weighed carefully and measured, titrated, between personal preferences and our responsibility to one another?

Anyway. I wondered about the value of formal education as all this was happening. I looked through the biographies for the city councillors in our town. It seems none of them have a university education. Which doesn’t matter. Except that I found myself thinking that maybe it does. I have met some extraordinary autodidacts, who either never fit or could never afford to spend time at university. I’ve also met some amazingly ignorant people who have spent quite a bit of time at university. It’s no guaranteed cure for ignorance. But. I reflected on my own education and the educational backgrounds of a number of people I respect and I believe that a broad *liberal arts* education – where one has to read huge volumes of thoughtful material and then think about it and then write about it coherently and maybe develop your very own independent thinking about important things – can be very, very useful. No more so than in the case of anyone in any kind of elected position at any level of government anywhere. Critical thinking skills are vital. Fastening such skills firmly to a strong moral centre – also vital. Being able to sift through all of the disinformation and agenda-laden crap that is out there in the internet space – vital too.

How about you? Have you had encounters with anti-vaxxers? Do they all, ultimately, end up invoking the Holocaust in their *misguided* (death cult?) cause?

Relatedly (?): There are a number of benefits to living with a super over-educated, expert researcher librarian (M has one B.A., two M.A.s – just finishing the third now – one PhD and one journalism degree). One of them is that there is a steady stream of great books and periodicals that come flooding into our living room. Ours is a small town library but it is connected to the mother ship library system that spans the province and includes good universities and big city (ok, Vancouver) libraries: You can read anything you want at Alice’s restaurant. Ha. Recently, M was going through the old periodicals at the library and brought home a couple of editions of Granta, the literary journal. I used to buy it sometimes when I lived in or was passing through good cities. I’ve been reading it again the last few days and appreciating smart/wise people who focus our gaze, often on the uncomfortable and heartbreaking. In that vein, I read a piece yesterday called “The poetics of trauma (Granta – Autumn 2019)”. It’s an extraordinary piece and harrowing too. Of course, it got me thinking.

It got me thinking about why it’s important to read, think about and place into your broken heart centre the searing pain of what the humans do to the humans (and all the other species too). And yes, this piece drew on the Holocaust also (along with other hells). With great respect, clarity and unblinking witness. It laid me low for the rest of the day. Feeling sadness. Feeling everything, including the resistance to feeling anything at all, as is apparently a common feature for those who have survived the very worst traumatic cruelties.

It’s important to bear witness. To be cracked open and broken again and again. The cracks are where the light gets through. Or so I am reliably told.

Here’s a quote from an article I read today in The Guardian, about the passing of the noted scientist E.O. Wilson, who once said that, “we have stone age emotions, medieval institutions and God-like technologies.” Yes. May our emotions and institutions leap forward fast and awesome, with a depth of humanity, human decency, compassion, clarity, wise intelligence and courageous moral fibre NOW.

The photo: I took this one earlier today. Our beloved Grace with her carefully thought through response to *unprecedented* cold and piles of snow all ’round. The permanent climate emergency in all its fierce wonder.

In love with the Beatles all these years later
December 24, 2021, 10:11 am
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We’ve spent the last three nights watching the full three episodes of Peter Jackson’s utterly remarkable documentary of the Beatles, Get Back. This six+ hour extravaganza has immediately vaulted onto my list of the very best things ever. It was such a joy to see these guys working through their wild, circular, deeply personal process and then arriving, as if by magic, at some of the most amazing music.

I was four years old when the Yellow Submarine film came out in 1968. My family lived in downtown Toronto and I remember going to see the film at a great old theatre. I was transfixed and became a passionate Beatles fan right away. The posters I remember from my childhood and teenage bedrooms: The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Kandinsky prints, Chagall prints, Dali prints. As I type these words, I can see the poster I had from the Let It Be album, with the photographs of John, Paul, George and Ringo that came alive in Get Back.

Before watching the three-part film, I can’t remember the last time I put the Beatles on and had a listen. But I’ve always had a deep love for them, even if untravelled for many years. Seeing and hearing them play and watching them goof around in the studio and witnessing them struggle through their personal differences – made them all so vivid, human, alive and utterly compelling. I fell in love all over again.

Having been a passionate Beatles fan when I was a lot (lot) younger, I thought I knew quite a bit about them. But I learned so much through Peter Jackson’s artful treatment. Maybe the biggest revelation for me was/is the musical genius and far seeing joy that Paul McCartney embodied with such huge talent, humour and massive musical presence. Wow.

Watching the four lads as they found their groove on one song after another, from meandering uncertainty to epic, gotta smile a great big smile of music love – there really is nothing like it.

I remember when I played music every day, back when I was a street musician. Sometimes I played with two or three other people. Sometimes we would find a magic groove, when there was no effort, no bad notes, no wrong tunings: It is the biggest inner and outer smile experience a person can have.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had that experience and I will never have the experience of shared musical genius like the Beatles co-conjured to our great delight.

Having fallen in love forever with the Beatles in 1968, my family literally stumbled in to Woodstock the following year as were on our way to my grandmother’s house. I am not kidding. Early marks on a person’s soul, mine. The good kind of soul marking.

The photo is from one of my early gardens here in Powell River, a few years ago. A brand new fawn curled up under a cauliflower plant. Just because magic is always good.