Post #1977: Knowing the flowers

On Saturday, I drove up to the cabin with one of our land partners so we could drop off a loveseat that we got for free from someone in the city. It was a quick trip up and back on the same day, but we wanted to get in there before more snow hit the ground. Although it’s pretty bare in Princeton at the moment, the hills around and the elevation our place is at has definitely seen some cold temps and precipitation. There was just enough that I could take my showshoes for a spin up above our place, following the trail that Brian and I flagged in the summer.


Now the we have the cabin really underway, I am starting to know the landscape around our lot. I’ve taken up my plant guides for the interior, and started to photograph what I think might be edible for further verification. We’ve found the moose wallows, and noted the tracks of various animals – including snowshoe hare on this most recent trip. We’re cutting old trails back into place and following ones made by the deer. It’s a process – to really know a place deeply – and one that I feel is just beginning for us after two years of hanging around this place.

At the zen-do on Sunday, we talked about the climate change summit, and a poem by Gary Snyder was read. The last three lines of the poem sounded:

“stay together
learn the flowers
go light”

And it brought me to thinking about this long process of getting to know a place – to “learn the flowers” and how the transience of our current society makes it very hard for us to know places deeply enough to care for and caretake them. Some of that transience is forced – as in the migrations out of the Middle East right now – but in the North American context there is a sense that to be transient is to be free. And freedom is of high value in our context – thus to be tied down, to know a place, to live in a grounded and rooted way is to be unfree and that is deeply unhip.

But if we don’t know the flowers, follow the animal trails, learn the parts of our landscape which sustain life – then how can we in turn sustain more than just lifestyle?

I expect that is in effect the difference that this hinges on – we value lifestyle over life, and confuse the two in the process.

I don’t have a punchy way to finish this post – the thoughts are still in formation as I type and I’ve just flown across the country to attend a week of meetings in Ottawa. And that speaks to my own issues with status and lifestyle that are too much to get into right now.

So – to being grounded, placed, rooted, and a little bit stuck – I am increasingly of the mind that this is the only way we are going to get out of the mess that we are in. Dig in, plant a garden, watch the seasons rise and fall.


Post #1975: We never stand still

I have been away from my life most of the last two weeks – first in meditation retreat, and then I left almost straight for Gatineau (the lesser cousin to Ottawa) where I post from now. It feels like forever that I have been gone, and I’m reminded of the years in which I lived like this non-stop. The years before I met Brian and we made a home together, when I didn’t mind whether I was home or in a hotel.

That it makes such a difference to me now speaks to how my life has changed in the last eight years. I remember telling Brian when I met him that he was just going to have to live with the fact that I was on the road all the time. And he was totally willing to accept that! But as it turned out….. I wasn’t. The last significant period of travel for me – when I was on the road for about three months solid – came to a close five years ago this month (I remember, because I’ve got a date on my collective agreement that proves it).

We are so often faced with moments that remind us of where we have been, and where we belong now. I am having one of them tonight – lonely in a Ramada in the wasteland of a casino district, processing another loss from my past, thinking about how easy it is to fail to notice what’s important, how we are conditioned to forget to awaken to our lives before they are over.

While I make no pretenses to having discovered my true nature, I do take some comfort in a life that is more settled now than it was ten years ago – and a love that has built a home where I would far rather spend my days than in the hotels of *any* country.

Post #1974: Dear World…..

I went away to meditate for seven days, and in his remarks closing the retreat, our teacher Norman Fischer said “Kindness is the only response that makes any sense”. And then we emerged from that silence by the lake to find a world the same as we left it, torn apart by violence and riddled with fear. But also still a world that contains the possibility for change, and a hope that we can do better. Since coming home on Friday I have felt that growing in me, an impossible shoot coming up through the cracks on the concrete – a steady and flowering need to do something positive in this suffering world.

And so I will. I will do what I can in this world right now to meet life with an open heart. I’m not entirely sure what that looks like yet – but as I figure it out I’ll post more here.


Post #1973: Back from the cabin with a progress report

The cabin at Link Lake now has siding *and* soffits *and* insulation. And if I do say so myself, it looks fabulous (and in need of a paint job next summer). More importantly, it retains heat. No more open rafters with birds flying in – this is the real deal, now that it can be used all-season.

We went up on Friday morning, driving to Keremeos first to pick up a secondhand spinning wheel (more on that in a future post), and some beets and apples for canning ($16 for 20 pounds of beets, $8 for 10 pounds of apples). Since we were already stopped at Sanderson’s fruit market, we decided that this trip was the time to try out their adjunct Indian restaurant – Samosa Gardens – for a late lunch. Let me just say that *by far* this is the best restaurant in Keremeos – and for Indian food it is on par with anything I’ve eaten in Vancouver. For $13 each, Brian and I were so full that we couldn’t even finish the naan bread – and we love naan! Also, they are building a new facility out back of the store and restaurant in order to process their own cherry and apple juice which is now for sale at the fruit stand year round. I just can’t say enough good things about this fruit stand and the family who run it.

PA310145-EFFECTSAnyhow – after a pretty great day driving around and eating Indian food on Friday, we spent the rest of the weekend at the cabin – luxuriating in the newly-sealed environment, cooking on the wood stove, and hiking up above our place. I did some mushroom hunting on Saturday and found what I think were Pine mushrooms and Sweet Tooths. Since I am no mushroom expert, I decided to forgo eating them until I learn more – but this was my first step in learning what grows around our place that is edible. I left a couple of interior BC plant books up there for future foraging endeavours.

I also took a lot of flora photographs, since the weather up there is definitely turning towards winter, and the bareness of things in the mountains makes for some stark beauty. The trail up the hillside above our cabin is most certainly not used by other people (we see no human traces besides ours) – giving both a delicious and desolate feeling at this time of year. We are never alone when we are out there though, for the tracks and evidence of animal life are everywhere. Black bears, moose, deer, and the occasional grizzly all roam close by.

We had a couple small financial hiccups related to the cabin last week, just a couple days before we went up – so as we headed out, my stress levels were high around the whole enterprise. But as usual, being at the cabin is the reminder of *why* we are engaged in this project – expensive and a little precarious for us – but something that we both deeply felt the need for in our lives. It’s a place to go and be quiet, to work on, to build for ourselves and our friends, and to give home to ourselves outside of the city. When I am there, I don’t want to leave, and I am forever plotting free weekends to make the drive up. Even now that it’s started to snow in the passes (Sunday morning, we were one of the first vehicles caught driving in the surprise snow storm!) – I’m determined to get good with winter driving so that I can take my snowshoes and head into the hills as often as my schedule allows. It’s not that I want to live out there, but the possibility of escape is a great comfort when work is getting me down.





Post #1972: Finished items and new projects – from knitting to radio.

That up there is a picture of me wearing the Beacon Shawl to work yesterday. That is my third finished object from the materials documented in the top left photo below (which I blogged about back here in September) :


For the record, the above items are a Woodland Stroll Cape, a Cappuccino Dress, and the Beacon Shawl. All three have now been worn – the first two on more than one occasion. Although we still have six more weeks of fall – this feels like the culmination of my autumn projects and that everything afterwards constitutes winter. This is probably true in that my current WIPs probably won’t be finished until winter officially starts in December!

Since the dress, my sewing has been at a bit of a standstill, though my knitting continues apace. On the needles currently are a Paulie Sweater (I’m halfway done the second sleeve!), a Christmas gift cowl, and the Cowichan-style vest that I blogged about a couple of posts ago. I’ve got a very busy travel schedule coming up and so I am not starting any new sewing projects – and really am not interested in anything that isn’t portable at this point.

In other project-y news, after some recent realizations about radio-worthiness, Brian and I are embarking on a new project together – the Live from the Urban Crow podcast. While we still have to figure out how to make our recording devices work (we own two, and a mixing board, plus computers – but have never made a serious study of audio) – we’ve got some big plans for a bi-weekly show featuring a lot of what this blog covers: making, recipes, how-tos, interviews, throwing great parties – and so on. The difference will be that you get to hear Brian and I in conversation about these topics, which might be hilarious (or not). So far we’ve got a bunch of segment ideas plotted, so stay tuned and when we learn how to use our equipment I’ll let you know.

It’s been awhile since we did a new project together (if you don’t count the fact that our whole life is a project together) – and while I have thought about doing a podcast before, I never thought of asking Brian if he would be interested in doing something like that with me. Turns out, he is very interested – and when we canvassed our friends for subject-matter yesterday, we realized that they are also excited by the idea. So I’m encouraged that this might actually happen, and soon.

We’re headed to the cabin tomorrow – and I’m really looking forward to seeing (and sharing) all the work that’s been done this fall.

Post #1971: I am no zombie expert, but I make a mean pickle….

It has come time to let you know that if you want to hear my voice, and my friend Garth’s take on the connection between community activism, capitalist collapse, colonization, and the zombie apocalypse – there is now an Ideas Documentary that covers all of that. Click on the image below to go to the CBC page on the show, and then click listen to hear a bunch of smart, and sometimes funny, people talk. I think that I come across as relatively sane, if a little too focused on food storage. Anyhow – the whole thing is worth a listen:



Post #2070: A death, a visit to the past, a meditation.

Sometimes when we meditate, the ghosts come knocking. This morning at the zen-do was one of those sits.

A friend from years past – Mike Low – died over the weekend, hiking the Cerise Creek trail outside of Pemberton. When he didn’t arrive at a friends for dinner on Saturday night, the RCMP were called and on Sunday search and rescue found his body in a crevasse. It’s been in the papers here, of course, though hiker deaths are not infrequent on the west coast so it would be easy to miss. I had glossed over the story about it yesterday morning, not realizing that I was reading about someone I knew until much later.

I hadn’t seen him in ten years – and it had been a full twenty years since we were anything approximating good friends. But there was a time during which he was a very good friend to me, and so his passing stings – because he was one of the good guys, the ones who *shouldn’t* die as young as 49. The fact that he no longer exists in the form that I might run into on the street is troubling – even though it’s very likely I would have never bumped into him again – so different were our social circles.

This morning during my sit, the memory of how he supported me when I was twenty and flailing – once driving me from Victoria to Port McNeil where I was starting a job, once taking me aside to counsel that my intelligence should probably get going to college instead of just dissipating in coffee shops and bars – came to me strongly. And with that slideshow, came all the other ghosts of that time in my life: the person I was, the moments I shared with others, that crew you see in the photo above (Mike is the furthest left in the photo – leaning backwards) who pretty much epitomize 1993 for me. And though everyone in that photo is still alive except Mike – the moment in which this snapshot was taken (late after a party at a bar called Rumors) is a ghost. It became one the second after the image was taken – that moment passed on, for the next one, and the one after that.

Twenty-two years (and millions of moments) later – I am looking at a snapshot of myself and others who no longer exist. Those selves *existed* but the present incarnations of them (right this second) exist.

And so I feel a tug at my heart for Mike’s passing, but more than that – what came sailing through during my practice this morning – was a gentle grief for all of who we were together many millions of moments ago. And who I was, at twenty-one – flailing, brash, unafraid of the world – replaced by the person I am now (who I also like quite a lot, really, if that old me had to pass on to become me now, it’s all for the best)…..

I’ve been reading Brad Warner’s book There is no God and He is Always With You  in which he talks about this relationship between death and meditation – the moment by moment nature of being and non-being – and this came back to me in part this morning:

One of my favourite stoner rock bands, Om, has a song called “Meditation is the practice of Death.” It’s an interesting phrase. It sounds sort of morbid. Or else it sounds like it’s implying that meditation prepares one for death the way practicing bass prepares one for playing bass onstage.

But there’s another way to interpret that phrase that neither sounds morbid nor implies that we are preparing ourselves for something that will occur in the future. Meditation is how we practice death as it occurs in the midst of life. It’s how we see for ourselves our own annihilation and what it really means. It’s how we learn that annihilation isn’t some scary thing that happens at the end of life. Annihilation occurs all the time, faster than we can even be aware of it.

We imagine that we are a single being and that we exist across a series of moments. But that’s not really what happens. There is no real different between the moment in which we exist and we who exist within it. “Each moment is the universe,” is how Katagiri said it. It makes no sense to fear annihilation when we experience it every moment. Annihilation is nothing to fear. Annihilation is the meaning of life.

And so it goes. We sit. The ghosts come to speak to us. And then we let them go.

Peace to you Mike – the world is less without the fact of you in it.


Mike and Pagan – circa 1993.


Post #2069: Knitting on the edge of the Salish Sea.

I’m sure everyone reading this knows that today is election day in Canada – and it’s important! By tomorrow morning we’re either going to have a new government or a constitutional crisis on our hands – and either way it looks like voter turnout is high. (In case you haven’t been following along, Canadians really, really don’t like the current government, but we’ve been having some trouble getting our shit together to vote them out).

But since all of us Canadians are on the edge of our seats and will be until sometime tonight – let’s not talk about that. Instead, I want to talk about another Canadian thing that I’ve been learning about recently – and that thing is Coast Salish style knitting. That hat above is an example of the knitting technique which produces something that many of us on the west coast grew up with – the so-called “Indian Sweater” also known as Cowichan knitting even though it doesn’t particularly originate with the Cowichan band (one group of Coast Salish people). As the style was practiced by many people along the BC coast, it is most rightfully known as Coast Salish style because that’s inclusive to all the peoples who practiced it (and doesn’t reduce all native people to a single band, which they are not).

Anyhow. I grew up on Vancouver Island in the seventies and eighties – during which time pretty much every household had a toque or a sweater in this style. Made of bulky wool, in a base of three shades (black, white, grey) – I can’t say I thought about them too much. Like any colonial legacy, Coast Salish knitting was just part of what was, not noticeable even though a very rich history and tradition surrounded these items.

For a full history of this style of knitting, I recommend that you pick up Sylvia Olsen’s book Working with Wool: A Coast Salish legacy and the Cowichan Sweater from your local library – which is the only account that I know of and full of fabulous historic documents and photographs.

Anyhow. I have been learning to knit (since June of this year) and one of the things I love about learning a totally new craft is that it doesn’t matter if I’m bad at at it. That is, I’ll try everything knowing that it’s probably going to have some problems, because everything new has problems – this is a liberating thing! So at the end of September, I signed myself up for the Fringe and Friends Knit Along which I thought looked pretty straight forward. I mean, I hadn’t done colourwork before – but still, how hard could it be to knit a Cowichan-style vest?

The answer to that, of course, is mixed. No, it’s not particularly hard, but if you don’t know the technique for trapping floats *and* you knit continental – well – there just aren’t a lot of people out there who can show you how. Also (as I learned on Friday) true Coast Salish knitting requires that you trap the floats with every stitch, creating a backside to the fabric that is pebbled and where no strands are carried without being trapped – and there are no videos online that show that (but there will be soon). So I started out on the vest, trying at first to do a gauge swatch and trap the floats – and pretty much immediately got stuck. I just could not see it from the Fair Isle You Tube videos. Also, I was working with bulky yarn and big needles – something I found much harder than I thought I would – so rather than powering through, I set the whole thing aside and figured I’d get back to it next year.

Cue: Perfectly timed workshop.

Early last week I noted on Ravelry that Sylvia Olsen was coming to Vancouver to teach some Coast Salish knitting workshop *and* one of them happened to be on Friday night when I had nothing else planned. So I signed up (how could I not – that was stupidly fortuitous) and went over to Wet Coast Wools to learn about this knitting form that was so dominant in the place where I grew up. Sylvia got us started with the knitting project, and while we were doing the unstranded grey brim of the hat, told some of the story of her history with Coast Salish knitting, and the colonial relationship that it developed out of. So we learned both the style and some of the history of what is Canada’s *only* indigenous knitting practice (by which I mean something that emerged from Canada in a singular fashion, Coast Salish knitting is the fusion of European-brought knitting and Coast Salish weaving traditions).

While I can’t say that I trapped my floats perfectly – I think I’m only averaging every other one here:

IMAG1654_1I did start to get the hang of the technique and by the end of the class I had started the colourwork and was on the way to my hat. Saturday allowed me lots of knitting time and fueled by my desire to practice I powered through to a finish!

Not only that, I wore it out of the house on Sunday when I went to pick up chickens from our friends who raise meat-birds in the interior, and everyone in that little hunting/farming crew of ours were very impressed. It’s not hideous! But nor is it perfect.

Yesterday I pulled out the KAL project again and since we were having a lazy Sunday after errands, watching TV and eating moose meat tacos for dinner (such an easy thing now that we have a freezer full of the stuff) – I got lots of knitting time in to start off the project. Again, this has some issues – the bottom band cable got screwed up and I was well into the project before I noticed, and it’s hard to get even stockinette on large needles with bulky yarn – but it’s really just another piece on which to practice Coast Salish knitting techniques so that I can prep myself for a really large project like a sweater for Brian.

This vest requires that I knit and purl (it’s knitted flat) which mean that part of yesterday’s practice was figuring out how to trap the floats on the purl side – which I think I’ve got down now that I’m partway up the back panel of the vest.


Election watching at the bar tonight means that I’m not going to get anything done on this today – but I’m finding the colourwork process addictive – and I’m hoping that this panel will be finished by the end of this week (I’ve got a ferry ride to the island on Friday and one home on Sunday – that’s several hours right there!), plus Brian is out of town for a few days….. Not to get too carried away, but I could have this vest done before the end of October if I dedicate myself to it (and abandon my other sweater project for a couple of weeks)….

If you are interested in this style of knitting, or want to know more about Sylvia Olsen’s workshops, books, and stories – please check her out at her blog – she told us in class that she will be posting some technique videos to YouTube in the next couple of weeks – which I am looking forward to. In-person workshops are great, but videos really help to reinforce the learning.

As a final note, I want to acknowledge that the Coast Salish knitting techniques come out of a brutal colonial relationship which my people were a part of perpetuating in the interior of British Columbia (as homesteaders in Secwepemc territory), and which I perpetuate as a white person living on unceded native land. This does not erase the fact that I am from this land, and that Coast Salish knitting has a strong resonance for me and my family because is is such a place-based form of handwork – and so I learn it in respect of the people who have always lived here, and in the hopes that we can change future relationships through acknowledgement, reparations, and mutual governance of this place where we live.



Post #2068: Counting down the days

(Photo by Jonathan Moogk – My band Lone Crow Jubilee playing last Saturday night)

I haven’t much to say today except that we are three days away from the Candian federal election on Monday and I have read every single constitutional scenario for a minority government outcome on the Internet. We have had minority governments before, not that long ago, but this is a bit different because of the intense unpopularity of the current Conservative government. I’m curious to see how it all goes down, and am hoping ferociously that we will be all done with Tories after next week.

Either way, I’ll be crying on election night. I pretty much always do.