Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The pits!

It was Grootmoeder's birthday, so the Canadians also participated in the annual cherry pit spitting contest! Adrian won, with a distance of 9.4m! And everybody won!
Markus taking his turn. We think distance achieved correlates with height, so Mum suggests that tall people should have to dig holes to stand in while spitting!

Shorter people can also tie knots with stems.

The ocean was sparkly.

The heron pretended a massive dock hadn't been installed at his home.

The kids swam all evening.

And the sun set. Happy birthday, Grootmoeder!

Friday, June 26, 2015


It all started so innocently. So sweetly. I asked my daughter what she felt about the lovely classroom program I'm hoping she'll join this coming year, and she showed me an image of a baby swaddled in a colourful patchwork quilt, nestled in a beautifully ornate little wooden chest, and attended by sparkling and joyful fairies - fairies!! The baby's blonde hair and round pink cheeks reminded me of my own sweet one when she was a baby, and even though she's ten, now, it warmed my heart to see her holding that image. I felt so full of love: that cosy, cooing kind of love that comes from holding my children's dear faces close to my own. "Oh that's adorable!" I exclaimed, and that's where the dream broke.

You see, the program I want her to join is built around attachment parenting ideals. It's the community she's grown up in, and she's participated in some of the activities at this place with her friends. Parents are deeply involved in the centre's operation, whether through duty days, parent jobs, organizing outings or activities, involvement with the council or just by participating with the children in whatever interests them. On the face of it, this is ideal to me. The photo my daughter showed me epitomized the cherishing, swaddling, adoring feeling I associate with the school. In my heart it's a community of loving parents, creating a nest of support and safety for our children to grow in, and from that support out into the beautiful world. I saw my own darling daughter's beautiful whisps of hair, her sweet baby lips, and the colourful blanket of love surrounding her. All in a gorgeous wooden chest, keeping her safe but still open with a view to the fairies and the outside world. And I opened my eyes and heart and mouth and exclaimed "Oh that's adorable!" And she scowled.

"No it's not!" She retorted, in the most shockingly discordant tone.

"What?!" My idealism hit the sullen brick wall of a ten-year-old's indignation.

"It's exactly the problem!" She said. "The parents are always around. Everything is the parents' idea! You always have the parents helping and you never just get to do anything that you want!"

"Well you have more say in your activities than you would at a regular school, where the teachers are still in charge," I said, confused.

"Right but they're not your parents."

(How did we come from 'Mama I always want to do everything with you and never anything away', to this??)

The girl herself, 10 years ago, when swaddling was appropriate.
There is a great difference between having ideals and idealism. Having ideals is where we act with a view toward some beautiful thing that we understand not to be absolutely certain or attainable. Idealism is the unrealistic pursuit of those things, without regard for change. Change is essential. Change is what makes life worth living - what makes everything possible at all. Idealism locks in ideals so they can't shift and grow.

That beautiful ornate chest and patchwork quilt were not keeping the baby safe any more; they were keeping her imprisoned. My baby has grown up. Well... she is growing up. Hopefully she, like all of us, will never stop growing up. And I needed to grow up, too. I needed to shift my understanding to keep pace with the changes in my daughter's heart.

The next time she and I went to participate in her homelearner's group, I happily followed along with the other parent. I don't usually involve myself in her activities, but at that place I felt so welcome. She seemed to be happy I was there. She was comfortable. Then I remembered the photo of the baby, and I asked her if she'd like me to go. "Yes!" She said, delightedly, and I did.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Earth Day Every Day: 2

Earth Day Every Day is a bi-monthly series of essays I write for the Bowen Bulletin, re-published here for fun!

A couple of sixteen-year-old sweethearts out for a late-evening walk around the lake. They had all the summer ahead of them, and no time to keep. They stopped for a long kiss on the boardwalk. Maybe it was a very long kiss, because somehow night fell, just then, and as they carried on along the trail, the forest closed around them and they were enveloped in darkness. He reached for her hand and she felt responsible – after all, this island was her home, and she should know the way back even with her eyes closed. Which they may as well have been, for all that she could see. She slowed the pace. She felt her boyfriend's arm on one side, the springy root trail beneath her, and to her left, a small log.

Oh! Wait! The trail builders had recently put these logs here, and she was sure they were all on the uphill side of the trail! She must have led him to the wrong side of the log! Thankful for the night concealing her blush of embarrassment, she said, “Just step over this little log, here...” and she did – into mid-air. Well, the mid-air part was a fraction of a second long, before she crumpled down past roots and stones and salal, came to rest on the ground and clambered quickly to stand again – this time aware of his knee in front of her face, as he stood there on the path, confused.

“Um. Actually not that way.” He helped her back up, never laughing at her, and thankfully never noticing the scrapes on her legs that she felt swelling up as they walked, this time much more slowly, along the trail. She closed her eyes. Given the fresh opportunity to be lost in her own environment, she used her free hand to navigate, feeling about at the warm summer air, the leaves, branches, and trunks as they went by. She discovered that she recognized some of the trees. She discovered that she knew by the change in slope that they were closer to the road, and by the smell of water that they were nearing the gravel spit. She became attuned to her senses in a way to which she wasn't accustomed, and delighted in the sound of her boyfriend's feet on the ground, the feeling of the breeze passing between their arms, and the glimpses of light as they neared the open alder forest. She loved the smell of the forest floor.

That was me, twenty-three years ago. I remember this often, and now try to make a habit of falling – at least metaphorically – off the beaten path. After all, falling lacks purpose, so the places I find myself are so much more surprising.

Last week, walking on the south side of the island, I picked my way carefully between thigh-deep snarls of blackberries toward the parched and crumbling moss deserts of the dry hillside. Even the blackberries were drying up, their vines like desperate brittle arms, reaching out to grab my clothing. I was so focused on the area immediately around my ankles, that I came unexpectedly upon a stand of cattails – a little marsh tucked into the rocks. What? I looked around: Pines, Douglas Fir, yellowing grass, moss and bracken, some cedars approaching death as their roots sought water in the dusty ground; insects resting on the brown-stemmed flowers. And the little stand of cattail. Their roots found some hidden source of water in the fold of the bedrock.

I looked up and discovered I was so far off the trail as to have to follow my senses back through the blazing white sun. So I stood and listened. Crowned sparrows called from various perches and the wind whipped the foxgloves so that they flopped against each other now and then. The grass whispered and my feet crunched the dried plants on my way home. I felt the stinging heat of the sun. Each of these experiences was a gift, like falling off a trail on a dark night. It is a gift just to give ourselves opportunities to discover.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Grown-up Play

Recently my sister Bree delightedly shared that she'd been at the beach building forts with our brother in law. Most of us realize, I think, how essential play is for children's physical, cognitive and social development, but what about for adults? Do we assume that once we reach a certain shoe size we stop developing? I certainly haven't. I feel like I grow every time I have a conversation; every time I cook or paint; every time I have to sit waiting in a line up and have a moment to tread in my own thoughts, and quietly observe the things around me.

Play is a time for processing prior information and experience, and it's also a chance for putting that cognitive processing into action. It's a time to experiment! We adults need that as much as our children do.

My brother is one of the most playful people I know. There's nothing contrived about it for him. It's just is who he is: always exploring; always growing.
So how can we encourage play in our lives? I am not naturally a very playful person, and am also very self-critical, especially when what I'm doing doesn't seem productive, in the classical western sense. So I need to remind myself that playing is acceptable. I also need to make space in my life and mind for play to happen. These are some of the things that help me:

Allowing: This is the most challenging, for me. Despite many years of practising this with children, and even in groups of adults, I find it incredibly difficult to just allow the ship of my intentions or expectations to go adrift, on my own activities. But when I do manage to let go, the world welcomes me with enthusiasm. Many of the best adventures I've had were those that happened when I stopped the car at a random spot and went exploring. My lack of knowledge or expectation about the place I was in allowed me to see with fresh eyes, to wander to new discoveries, to run with abandon into the water or the mud or the wind, and to look back on the adventure with delight.

Taking time: While it's absolutely possible to play on the go, to take small opportunities for delight, discovery, and exploration throughout a busy "work" day, I really treasure the experiences I've had that were unbounded by time. A whole day or a weekend is fabulous. But even just an afternoon is wonderful, too. The best way to find time on a budget, for me, is to pack up a simple dinner in the afternoon, and just go. So I'm only carrying one meal, and there are absolutely no obligations hanging over my head until the next day. I can go home and sleep whenever I want, so my time exploring is limited only by my own energy level. A group of friends and I used to go out to the pub after our adult ballet class and have a tequila. We called ourselves the tequilerinas. More often recently I seem to find myself at the beach with the family, usually some friends, and truly meagre dinner and fire supplies - and endless time. Sometimes I swim, talk, draw or sculpt in the sand or pebbles. Sometimes I find myself lying still on the darkening beach, taking time to absorb and contemplate the sounds and smells and feelings that surround me. And I don't deal with the wet towels until the next morning.

Redefining: The language we use really does make a difference to our ability to incorporate play in our lives. If we call something "work", we are less likely to relax into it; maybe less likely to enjoy it. Then again, if we call something "play", we may be less likely to value it. So for me there is a necessary balance of finding play in work - in allowing work to be fun, and in valuing play, everywhere I can find it. My friend Dave Pollard suggests calling intentional adult gatherings "Playshops" instead of "Workshops". I like it! I think I may try that terminology out this summer! After all, even when the gathering is intended to solve real world problems or develop very structured plans, the act of playing together helps us explore and find creative solutions, as well as helping us to relate to each other and the topic at hand.

Being intentional: Especially when redefining is difficult, I find that taking dedicated time for intentional play helps. It sounds like an oxymoron, to use a schedule or structure in order to go astray from patterns and expectations... but hey, sometimes I need that just to break out in the first place! Other people are the easiest way to lead myself away from my expectations: If I can get a friend to meet me at the beach I'm much more likely to stay! Taking a workshop (Playshop!) where play has an integral role (or is the entire purpose!) also is wonderful. Even taking time for individual exploration can be intentional. I used to take a few hours once a week to go out and photograph the vegetation throughout the seasons. This was different than the time I took for creative pursuits like writing and painting, because unguided exploration of the wilderness was essential to discovering new subjects to photograph. I probably spent about 5 minutes photographing for every hour exploring. And I climbed trees.

Now goodbye. I'm going out to play.