Other great intelligences

Mel and I finished putting up the stakes to support our borlotti beans over the weekend. The beans were starting to look good and had just shot out their windings a few days before. And literally within hours of putting up the stakes, the windings reached over and across to find the stakes and begin their upward journey. It didn’t take days for the plants to sort of grow haphazardly and find themselves climbing the mountain. No. They somehow knew immediately that support was available and that it was time to aim for the stars.

So many things have amazed me since I started growing a lot of food. The resilience of life is definitely one of them. For sure, we have developed different seed strains over the years and they have certain properties that we like and that taste good to us etc. But then there is this fundamental dynamic of all life: Life wants to live.

I’ve planted out all kinds of things over the last several years, sometimes in ideal conditions and sometimes in truly awful conditions. Blistering heat. Relentless wind. Cold spells. Slashing rain. And yes, sometimes what I’ve planted succumbs. But often, the wee broccolis and lettuces and everyone else – they just endure the harsh moments and find ways to surge forward when conditions are favourable. The wisdom, quiet intensity, beauty and deliciousness of the food I grow never ceases to amaze me.

And speaking of other great intelligences, gosh – wouldn’t more human intelligence (and kindness and understanding and decency and compassion and wisdom etc.) be really welcome?

I hadn’t watched any of the January 6 hearings before yesterday. I actually don’t watch any TV/current affairs news of any kind. I do listen to the radio and I do read news/current affairs and I do check the Twitter feeds of various smart people (Maggie Haberman at the New York Times, Greta Thunberg, Masha Gessen at the New Yorker and a handful of others), though I am not on Twitter myself. But I did watch yesterday’s hearings online. Wow.

Maybe the only good thing I can think of out of all the twisted, sordid messes (Donald Trump is somehow always at the top of that list isn’t he?) is that my ability to be surprised and astonished remains somewhat intact, even as the scar tissue around my heart bears careful watching.

If an election were held today in the US would Donald Trump be elected president? Entirely possible. That would be funny of course, if the US – staggered and broken as it is – wasn’t still the world’s most powerful country.

There’s a certain kind of whistling past the graveyard that is required for people who live in countries immediately beside countries that pose a great global menace. So it is for Canadians anyway. At least those of us who don’t love Donald Trump (80% of Conservative Party voters here say they would vote for him if they could).

Has the world always been a dangerous place? Yes. Has it ever been more dangerous than it is now? No, on a broad, planetary scale – no, not ever.

Has the world always been a breathtakingly beautiful, awe inspiring place? Yes. Is it still? Well, yes – despite the efforts of the cruel and ugly who prevail far too often.

Here’s to great intelligence and to us humans showing more of it in more generative ways more often.

The photo is from a few days ago. The borlotti beans beside brassicas and green onions. They make me happy and they all taste great too!

Exposure/standing up

Tomorrow night I’ll speak to hundreds of people. It’ll be brief – my speaking slot is only four minutes. I’ll be talking about the importance of reconciliation with Indigenous People in Canada. And a specific issue that has arisen here where we live, with the neighbouring Tla’amin Nation. They have asked our city council to change the name of Powell River. That’s because Israel Powell was the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in British Columbia for many years. He believed in the forced erasure of Indigenous cultures. And he believed in residential schools, which were a key part of Canada’s genocide against Indigenous People. The town is, inexplicably, named after him, even though he never set foot here.

Of the hundreds of people in the room tomorrow night, many will be there supporting reconciliation and the name change. Many will be there in opposition. Since the name change request was made one year ago, there has been a surge in racist acts against Indigenous People. It has been a disgusting, disheartening display of white privilege, ignorance and white supremacy. It’s been terribly handled by our city council: They’ve actually made local dynamics worse and failed to lead or even just be decent people (with one luminous exception – thank you CaroleAnn Leishman).

In my life of advocacy and various positions of leadership, I spoke to large numbers of people from time to time. But they were generally all supportive of what I was speaking about. Tomorrow night will be different. A room with a lot of actual racists in it. And a politics – nationally and locally – that has been poisoned by the Trumpocalypse. Now we have menace and ugliness for all to see in our politics. Journalists are spat on. Death threats are common.

I think the last time I spoke to a lot of people was just before I moved here. I was on the prominent national CBC radio show, The Current. Live, national radio with millions of daily listeners. That was a while ago and even though there were a lot of people listening, I was in a tiny studio sound booth in Ottawa with headphones on while the show’s host was in Toronto with her headphones on. So, talking to a lot of people in a high exposure moment, yes. But in a little booth all on my own.

Tomorrow night I’ll be on stage in front of the crowd, many of whom I have come to have disdain for: I’m not proud of that and I am working on it. But I’d be lying if I said that I do not have disdain for people who say and do ugly, mean, menacing racist things.

As I head into tomorrow night, I’m preparing by reminding myself that it is not about me. At all. I’m a reasonably articulate person and I’m a pretty good speechwriter. So I will bring those skills to the stage and *practice* to simply let them come through me, so that I might be of service to the greater good of improved understanding of reconciliation and maybe even a minute uptick in support for the name change.

It’s been 15 years since I packed a little container of Ativan with me everywhere I went. I definitely leaned on those little fellows in all my high exposure moments. Not tomorrow.

I’m thinking about who I want to bring with me up on the stage, who’s presence I want to invite to animate my efforts so that I can be courageous, calm, effective and not stuck in the egoic moment of me (me!) being exposed up there in front of all those people; many of whom I do no like and who will not like me either. I’ll be taking a few people with me when I get up on the stage.

I’ve been reflecting on how this kind of advocacy is optional for someone like me. Though I’ve essentially thrown my privilege away, I still show up as a straight white man with a deep voice. I can choose which “progressive causes” I wish to support. But it’s optional. In my brief discussions and meetings with Tla’amin members lately it has dropped in profoundly for me, how not optional this is for them. How they live with racism every day. How they’ve lived, and died, with racism every single day since people who look like me showed up here. It’s an appalling thing and even at my most empathic, I can only truly feel it a little bit.

I took the photo the day before yesterday. I went fishing with a friend who knows this majestic coast intimately. All of it is the traditional territory of the Tla’amin Nation and other Nations. I’m a guest here. I’m doing my best to be a good and gracious guest. Hopefully I will demonstrate that tomorrow night.

Anniversary the third

Today is Mel and my third wedding anniversary. We plan to have about 40 or so more (I am 58 at the time of this writing!).

I thought I would share the short “speech” I gave at our wedding. Mel gave one too and she can post hers in her posty places should she wish. Here it is (I should reformat but I printed it in BIG letters so I could read it on the day while crying – so you get the original!):

SOME OF YOU PROBABLY KNOW THE TEACHING OF RAM DASS – A WISE MAN WHO HAS BEEN A GUIDE TO MANY. HE TELLS A STORY ABOUT HIS REVERED TEACHER, A RENOWNED MASTER IN INDIA……FROM THE TIME WHEN RAM DASS WAS AN ASCETIC DEVOTEE LIVING IN INDIA…..PRAYING, CHANTING, FASTING, MEDITATING – ACHIEVING EXALTED STATES OF REFINED CONSCIOUSNESS. 

IT WAS WIDELY BELIEVED – BASED ON COUNTLESS UNCANNY EXPERIENCES – THAT RAM DASS’ REVERED TEACHER COULD SEE INTO THE MIND OF ANY AND ALL WHO CAME BEFORE HIM. HE COULD LITERALLY SEE YOUR THOUGHTS. AND YOUR FEELINGS. ALL OF THEM. THE ONES YOU WOULD BE PROUD TO SHARE WITH YOUR FELLOW ASCETIC DEVOTEES. AND THE ONES YOU WOULD BE HORRIFIED TO SEE PRINTED IN YOUR LOCAL PAPER.

THE STORY GOES THAT ONE DAY RAM DASS WAS ATTENDING A TALK BY HIS BELOVED TEACHER. DURING THE TALK  – RAM DASS WAS AWARE THAT…DEPSITE HIS FLOWING WHITE ROBE AND HIS SPARE ASCETIC PRESENCE AND DESPITE THE GOLDEN LIGHT THAT SEEMED TO RADIATE FROM HIS VERY BEING…IN SPITE OF ALL THAT – HE WAS HAVING ONE LUSTFUL, LASCIVIOUS, MEAN, PETTY, SELFISH, UTTERLY UNSPIRITUAL THOUGHT AFTER ANOTHER.

AND AS HE BECAME AWARE OF HIS MIND AND WHAT IT WAS DOING – HE REMEMBERED THAT HIS REVERED TEACHER COULD SEE EVERYTHING….EVERY….SINGLE…THING….

AND JUST AS HE REMEMBERED THAT – HIS TEACHER TURNED TO HIM, LOOKING DIRECTLY AT HIM WITH THE PIERCING GAZE OF THE TRULY ENLIGHTENED ….HE TURNED TO HIM AND GAVE HIM THE MOST BEATIFIC, LOVING, ALL EMBRACING SMILE….

AND – IN THAT MOMENT – RAM DASS REALIZED – THAT IN SPITE OF WHO HE WAS…IN SPITE OF HOW HIS MIND COULD BE…IN SPITE OF HOW VERY BELOW AVERAGE HE WAS FROM TIME TO TIME – HIS TEACHER LOVED HIM ANYWAY….WITH ABSOLUTE, CLEAR, UNCONDITIONAL, ENDLESS LOVE.

WHICH BRINGS ME TO MEL!

……IN THE NOT QUITE FOUR YEARS MEL AND I HAVE KNOWN ONE ANOTHER – WE’VE BEEN THROUGH A GREAT DEAL. WE’VE SPENT HUNDREDS OF DAYS AND NIGHTS TOGETHER. LAUGHING. DANCING. TALKING. SNUGGLING. READING. MARVELING IN SILENCE AT THE MAJESTIC BEAUTY OF THIS PLACE. MEDITATING. CRYING. SUPPORTING ONE ANOTHER. FEELING HOPEFUL. FEELING CRUSHED BY DESPAIR…..WE’VE BEEN THROUGH A LOT.

THROUGH IT ALL….THROUGH ALL THE WAYS I CAN BE IMPOSSIBLE….THROUGH MY MOM’S HARD DECLINE AND THROUGH HER SURREAL DEATH……THROUGH ALL OF MY VERY BEST AND THROUGH ALL OF MY VERY WORST – MEL HAS BEEN THERE…..MEL HAS BEEN HERE…..WANTING TO BE HERE, WITH ME…

BUT SHE’S BEEN HERE. HER LOVE HAS BEEN A STEADY, STRONG, UNRELENTING RIVER…..IT HAS BEEN HUMBLING AND INSPIRING AND AMAZING AND I LEARN MORE ABOUT LOVE EVERY DAY FROM HER…..THERE ARE A LOT OF GOOD AND USEFUL THINGS TO LEARN ABOUT IN LIFE….BUT WHAT COULD BE MORE IMPORTANT THAN A LOVE THAT IS ENDLESSLY GENEROUS? LOVE THAT IS ALWAYS THERE? IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT? ON RAINY, COLD AFTERNOONS? AS THE BEST NEWS ARRIVES AND AS THE WORST TRAGEDY UNFOLDS? WHAT COULD BE BETTER THAN LOVE AND WHAT COULD BE BETTER THAN HAVING SOMEONE AT THE CENTRE OF ALL YOU DO WHO LOVES YOU IN THAT WAY?

WELL – THERE ISN’T ANYTHING BETTER…..AND IT’S STRIKING THAT IT TOOK ME A LITTLE WHILE TO UNDERSTAND….TO ACCEPT…TO SURRENDER AND EMBRACE THIS REMARKABLE PERSON AND HER ABUNDANT LOVE.

…..MY MOTHER LOVED MEL……SHE REALLY DIDN’T WANT ME TO SCREW THIS UP 🙂 

…..I MISS MY MUM EVERY DAY AND I WISH SHE WAS HERE TODAY.

MEL WAS PATIENT AND KIND AND GENEROUS AND LOVING WITH MY MUM THROUGH HER VERY DIFFICULT DECLINE. IT WAS A PAINFUL, CRAZY-MAKING, HEARTBREAKING SITUATION. AND MEL WAS THERE – BEING LOVE. ALWAYS.

THEY SAY THE GIFT IS IN THE WOUND. AND SO IT IS….SO IT WAS – IN SOME WAYS – WITH MY MOM’S DECLINE AND DEATH. MEL’S COURAGE TO BE PRESENT WITH EVERYTHING….HER NEVER SHRINKING FROM THE VERY ROUGH EDGES OF MY FAMILY STORY….HER HOLDING ME THROUGH THE LONG NIGHTS…..ALL OF THAT IS PART OF THIS….ALL OF THAT HELPED ME BELIEVE IN LOVE…..HELPED ME BELIEVE IN A HAPPINESS ROOTED IN LOVE…..

I WISH MY MUM COULD BE HERE TODAY. SHE WOULD BE SO DELIGHTED…..SHE WOULD BE SO RELIEVED….TO KNOW I AM MARRYING A LOVING, CARING, KIND, SMART, WARM, GENEROUS, WISE, COURAGEOUS WOMAN.

MEL AND I OFTEN FEEL AS IF WE ARE LIVING OUR DREAMS COME TRUE. AN ORGANIC FARM. A PUBLIC LIBRARY. MEANINGFUL WORK ALIGNED WITH WHAT WE VALUE IN A HUMAN REALM THAT OFTEN MAKES NO SENSE TO US……A DOG AND CAT WHO LOVE US AND ONE ANOTHER. GOOD HEALTH AND STRONG BODIES. A SALT SEA. MOUNTAINS THAT LEAP EVER UPWARD. EVERY KIND OF WEATHER CARRYING EAGLE SONG AND THE MUSIC OF LIFE. 

THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE WITH US TO CELEBRATE THESE GIFTS. MAY THEY CONTINUE TO GROW – FOR MEL AND ME AND FOR ALL OF YOU AS WELL.

The feeling of a warm egg in your hand

Have I mentioned that it has been a cold, wet spring? Good lord. It really has been. We were working on various projects today and the sun came out and we were in t-shirts and weeding raspberries and prepping a spot for a joyous long row of sunflowers and mapping where all the brassicas and squashes are about to go. It was so nice. And then the clouds moved in and the rain started. Again.

I put layers on and kept working anyway. I am *usually* just fine with whatever the weather is: I have all the gear and I work in all the weather. Farm life and I like it that way. But! There is a time when the body knows what is supposed to happen. This time of year is supposed to have a lot of warm and ease to it, or at least steady hints of their reliable presence in prospect. But it has been a dance of seven (at least) veils this spring.

I keep splitting just a bit more kindling and loading just a bit more firewood on the front porch. Thinking, well we are pretty much done with needing a fire in the wood stove. But no. The mornings need a fire to take the edge off and then the afternoons settle in to a cold rain and it is time again. We’re well prepared with years of cedar kindling I cut and at least another year of firewood stacked and waiting. But honestly.

Every day has chickens in it and checking the nesting boxes and shooing whoever is broody out into the day (right now it is Esmerelda) and reaching under the hens and retrieving eggs. One of the nicest things on a cold day is to reach gently under a hen, while saying nice things to her, and gathering an egg or two or however many she happens to be sitting. I did that just a short while ago and the feeling on my cold hands was so lovely. A warm egg in each hand. Aglow with very local protein. Tactile, relational, heartwarming and hand warming too.

A warm egg in each hand. The stuff of today’s gratitude.

Where the good things are

For those of us who believe that women and men and all genders in the wide spectrum of identity and sexuality should have sovereignty over their bodies and who they love and how they love and whether or not they wish to celebrate love in marriage.

For those of us who believe that peace really is better than war.

For those of us who believe that a healthy, engaged, engaging democracy might be a very good thing.

For those of us who believe that reining in and maybe even throwing out entirely an economic system that produces cruel inequality and ecological devastation is long overdue.

For those of us who believe in expansive education for all for free and learning of all kinds and intellectual pluralism.

For those of us who believe that anyone and everyone should be able to walk freely and safely anywhere anytime.

For those of us who believe that guns kill people and so people shouldn’t have guns.

For those of us who believe that wise, generous, honest, radical, system changing governments would be so good.

For those of us who believe these things (and more) and who also pay attention all around – it is a cruel moment that can only be heartbreaking at least a good deal of the time.

And yet. For many of us (?) there are still so many sweet things, on the margins, around the edges, in the safe places – the ones that have not yet been monetized or otherwise polluted.

For me, the very small village of my marriage is a miracle of sorts. Having grown up in my parents’ marriage, I never learned how to be good at it. I learned how to be bad at it and that is helpful in its way. But limited. So it is truly a miracle to find myself happily married with Melissa Doune Lawson Edgar (a.k.a. Mel). Our relationship gets better every year, easier, more fun, sweeter. I don’t take that for granted and a healthy measure of vigilance is definitely required. But miracles of all dimensions are most welcome.

My relationship with Grace the Dog continues to grow ever more indescribably loving, The same is true with Bisous the Cat. We all seem to be settling into this loving, happy family thing. Which is a gift and scary too, since change is a constant and smooth sailing stretches have a way of hitting the storm tossed sea every now and then.

Even though it is a cold and wet spring in these parts, the micro-farm is rocking and everything in the ground and in the greenhouses is just waiting for some heat. Looks like next week so just hang on everyone!

The other day I went fishing for lingcod in one of my favourite places, up the coast about 20 minutes from our place. It was a stellar day. Sparkling sun and a northwest breeze. I didn’t catch any lingcod but I did see a sea lion so close I could count his whiskers. Ok, not that close – but really close. Eagles wheeling aloft. Waves lapping the rock slabs pouring into the sea. And flowers flourishing in the soaked mosses climbing the rocks, water seeping and dripping and nourishing treacly brown soil (photo above).

It’s a terrifying time on planet earth. It doesn’t seem to be getting better. It does seem to be getting worse. It is a mystery why a relatively small number of people (ok, men) want to wreck the place and slaughter the living beings. But they are triumphant in this time of fear and chaos.

May we all continue to find the sweet moments and generative places in spite of the evil all around.

What to do when peace breaks out

When peace breaks out, drop to your knees in a way that is either ceremonious or not, it’s up to you.

Once there, on your knees, invite gratitude, the real thing, to suffuse every part of you. If it feels forced or inauthentic – well – that happens sometimes. Wait for a moment and then call to mind something for which you were profoundly grateful. Then it will be alive in you, the gratitude.

When peace breaks out, do not, under any circumstances, get cocky. Hold in your mind and heart all of those millions living and dying in wars of every kind. Know that peace is precious and that all things are impermanent.

When peace breaks out, take the time, for every second it is there, to really get to know it. What it feels like. Where it lives in your body. Whether it causes tears or laughter to well up and bubble over at inappropriate moments. Get to know it so that you develop the ability to provide it with a good home. So that it can find you again in the future and maybe stay longer next time.

When peace breaks out, take that feeling that you now know intimately (see above) and offer that feeling however you can to those who have little to no peace. If this feels strange and exposed – that’s ok. It’s the intention that matters.

When peace breaks out, celebrate a true moment of non-violence. It is so rare. Our species so violent; with shooting wars as the ultimate permissioned space for indescribably cruel male violence.

When peace breaks out, hold everyone you love as close to your physical body as you possibly can without annoying them too much.

When peace breaks out, be peace.

The joy of learning useful things

Much to my surprise I am closer to 60 than 50. Having been the kind of person who hurls all of myself at things that interest me or that I care about for most of my life, I’ve learned a few useful things. And it’s been a really pleasant unfolding that some of the most useful things I have learned have come later in life, in my 40s and 50s.

As a younger person, I would have strongly suspected that one’s time of important learning happens early and then flatlines. Maybe that’s true in some cases? I really don’t know.

In sort of sequential order, the most useful, meaningful and joyful things I have learned include:

Music. As a child I loved music, being transported by sounds and lyrics. I took some guitar lessons. Not for long and I wasn’t all that serious about it as I was taking lessons (my sister, on the other hand, knew from birth that she would be a musician and she has devoted most of her waking hours to music, resulting in being a world class musician). To the degree I got serious about music, that happened through my teen years and most especially when I started busking. I played on the street a lot. In the city where I grew up (Ottawa), in every city I visited and in all my travels through my early twenties. NYC/Greenwich Village, The eastern market in Washington DC, Amsterdam, Paris, Dublin etc. A lot of places. I played because I loved playing. I sang my heart out on the street and made some money. The greatest joy took flight in those magical moments when the music was flowing through me, sometimes when I was playing with other musicians. A crowd would gather because magic was happening. The crowd stayed as long as magic’s visit lasted. It was exhilarating, especially for a very young person.

Next came fatherhood. I became a father at 25. I was instantly and profoundly in love with my son, completely devoted even before he was born. I was also not very good at parenting (having had parents who were sometimes appallingly bad at it) or adulting. But I applied myself with love and determination and I made many mistakes that my son can tell you about when he writes his memoirs! I’m now 58 and my son is 33. He is my closest male friend and one of very few people I go to for advice.

Then came my professional years, probably more of a fallow time in terms of joyful learning than anything else. But I became good at understanding politics and complex public policy issues. I became good at writing and talking about those issues for various audiences. I became good at advocacy in fairly high profile settings. But I don’t think much, if any, of all that was particularly excellent for my humanity. Ego. Anger. Judgement. They were part of the whole process, along with my idealism and genuine wish to make a difference in the world.

Then I became good at heart opening spiritual journey and meditation. Like many westerners, I found myself inspired and remade by Buddhist teaching and spiritual community. My struggles with anxiety and depression – at times utterly dark and seemingly final – were so transformed through meditation/practice and immersion in kind spiritual community. I thought I would live the rest of my life in a monastery. Ultimately I decided to leave. But not before learning some very important things about being human, in general, and being me, in particular.

The most recent joyful and useful thing I have learned is how to grow and preserve food (also how to forage and fish). I’d worked on a few organic farms in my 20s and then much later too. And I became a passionate gardener when I moved back to this coast (west coast, Canada) seven years ago. But it wasn’t until I leased a small organic/biodynamic farm and farmed commercially for two years that I really got good at growing food and the many associated pieces. When I leased the farm, I was lucky that the farmer who had created the place was still living on the land. I had access to his mind and expertise every single day for months and months. Initially I asked him scores of questions. Over time, that settled down and I began to focus more on close observation of the land, plants, insects, weather etc.

Now, on our own land, I am confident and sometimes even playful in growing all of our food and preserving it through the year. Growing food year-round is an art. Knowing when seeds need to start so that you can be harvesting constantly, from one crop to another. Knowing how to spot trouble. Knowing how to make a 50 gallon barrel of compost tea and what to do with it. Knowing how to make a great homemade organic potting mix. Knowing how to save seeds. Knowing what the soil needs and being willing to do the work – gathering and hauling hundreds of buckets of seaweed, shovelling manure and letting it compost for at least a year etc.

The learning that a master farmer gathers through the decades is an epic poem and I may or may not ever become a true master. But I grow a lot of food. It’s delicious. It is a big part of our health and happiness and sense of meaning. Practical poetry and a modest revolution unto itself.

Last night I went dancing for the first time since the Covid came. It was wonderful to be on a sweaty dance floor with joyful humans. I never learned how to dance so I am totally free on the dance floor!

The photo: Some of our apple sauce from our apple trees and a jar of tomato sauce from last year’s abundance. This year we’ll have tomato sauce until our early tomatoes are ripe around July 1. And potatoes and garlic from last year’s plantings. Yum!

Reconciliation

Here in Canada, part of the political/cultural conversation is about reconciliation with Indigenous People. In fits and starts and with various degrees of sincerity that sometimes manifest in substantive change, this conversation has been increasingly public for several years, certainly since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by the remarkable Justice Murray Sinclair, did its work starting in 2008 and ending with voluminous findings and 94 calls to action in 2015.

As a Canadian and as a human being, I am deeply ashamed of Canada’s colonial history and of the deliberate, cruel policy of genocide (as described here by the Canadian Historical Association) carried out over the course of more than 100 years. Every government was complicit in the genocide. And it was aided and abetted by many churches, most notably the Catholic Church, which ran more of the residential school system than any other religious organization.

I went to decent public schools and then I went to good universities. I became political at a very young age. And I’ve always been on the far left politically (actually that label doesn’t fit, its just political shorthand for what I consider common sense + paying attention + human decency)). One of the enormous oversights in my own political education, which flowed from the enormous “oversight” in our school system, is the total absence of teaching and learning about Canada’s genocide against Indigenous People and the role of residential schools in the genocide.

It has really only been in the last fifteen years or so that I have learned some of the story of Canada’s history and current reality for Indigenous People.

The town where I live, Powell River, is named after a former Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Israel Powell. He believed that residential schools and their explicit purpose of destroying Indigenous culture were a good thing. The First Nation here – the Tla’amin Nation – on whose traditional territory we live, has made an official request of the local government to rename the town, so as not to be crudely and needlessly reminded, day after day, year after year of the brutal impact of residential schools as part of Canada’s larger genocidal policy.

The request to change the name has led to a racist backlash against the Nation and those of us who strongly support the name change. As is the case with all racism and the ignorance and privilege and shrunken humanity behind it – it is an ugly moment that can hopefully become a redemptive moment. I’m about to start working with a local organization called The Name Matters to do what I can in support of changing the town’s name.

On a much more personal note, I spoke with my sister for the first time since my Mom died three-and-a-half years ago last week. My Mom’s decline and death were incredibly hard and there were some incredibly hard feelings that came out of the long process. It took a few years for the anger to burn away. It was wonderful to reconnect. It wasn’t and isn’t as if all the hard things didn’t happen. They most certainly did. But we are still here. My sister is my only sibling. There has been a lot of tragedy and loss in our family. We had a shared epiphany of sorts and decided enough was enough. 

Along with all the other things my life is about these days, suddenly it is also about reconciliation. And that seems like a very good thing.

The photo is of my son Liam and my niece Sarah, my sister’s eldest daughter. The photo is from a few years ago when we all descended on Vancouver to have a visit with my Mom just as her decline was becoming frighteningly evident. We had such a great visit. We all miss my Mom every day. She would be so pleased to know that my sister and I have reconciled.

The parable of Maddy Hen

We brought Maddy and her sister Rose home from a neighbour’s farm around this time last year. They were just a few months old. We often fed them by hand and that led to their habit of following us everywhere. They are farm animals and not pets. But they are farm animals with names and they will live a long time. It is a joy (almost all the time!) to care for them.

Up until recently we’d been letting our flock of ten hens roam wherever they wanted to go on the property. Which meant a lot of chicken poop everywhere. No big deal and we enjoyed their company when kneeling and weeding or digging or whatever; their quiet voices and benign presence.

But chickens are scratchers. Scratch, scratch, scratch – forever seeking a protein supplement that the good earth might yield. And they were scratching in the herb beds. And in the asparagus. And in the garlic. Scratching at the feeder roots.

Then Mel had a great idea for building them a new run, down along the blackberry alley behind their coop to the little cluster of ancient apple trees at the far end of the property. They could roam and be free and they would no longer be able to get to prized plants and roots.

We built the run and reconfigured the electric fence and celebrated a harmonious marital agricultural construction project. Yay!

It’s working great. Except that Maddy has found a way out. And we have not yet observed her in the act. So, every day involves various rounds of pursuing one small and mostly very nice chicken so that she can be popped back over the fence with her sister and friends.

Here’s the parable part. Maddy clearly loves going walkabout, for the grass is always greener. But she can’t yet find her way back over or through the fence. So she spends a good part of her walkabout time right beside the fence, talking with her sister and friends and clearly wanting to to be with them.

As someone who spent some decades fairly constantly changing the outer conditions of my life (jobs, partners, countries), it is only in recent years that I have become better at staying right where I am. Sometimes the urge to change the outer conditions can still be powerful. For example, right now in our small town there is a surge of ignorance and racism around an issue that should be simple when it comes to reconciliation with Indigenous People. When I let my anger and judgement surge, it can take me all the way to thinking about selling our place and moving to France, to be close to the monastery where I spent profoundly transformative time.

But France is in the final stages of an election that has the neoliberal moderate candidate in a dead heat with the racist right wing populist candidate. As a wise person once said, wherever you go there you are. Yes.

Maddy has a hard time finding her way home and I have compassion for her. On a good day, I can be wiser than a walkabout chicken: I know how to find my way  home.