Thursday, 28 November 2013

Grateful for Change

Living where there are four distinct seasons is a reminder of preparing for and welcoming change, mostly a change in the weather. The accompanying  visual and visceral experiences range from the position of sunrise and sunset to variations in temperatures and colors and mother nature at her best.  On this Thanksgiving morning the sun bathed the clouds in a deep coral hue and then the color shifted slowly to a silvery, feathered array of scattered altostratus.

We have had some snow, more at the higher elevations where the ski areas are opening today as we hover ever closer to winter solstice in a little over three weeks.  The trees are bare and appear dormant as they overwinter in a resting phase with essential life processes continuing at a minimal rate. Full-on root growth resumes in spring, shortly after soils become free of frost, usually sometime before bud break.

Here in the high desert our first frost comes as early as October 15 and the last one as late as May 15.  While that makes for a short growing season, some of my farmer neighbors have found numerous ways to extend that on both ends of the cycle and thus we all benefit from their creative, dedicated energy and commitment.  If you have a local CSA, consider joining if you have not this past year.

As we plan to move from The River House after almost 9 years here in the midst of such natural beauty replete with various animals in our miniature peaceable kingdom, it’s an opportunity for a transition from one place to another, from one lifestyle to another with less maintenance and worldly cares.  This offers a measure of freedom and independence for us to work less and travel more. This change has been in the works for about a year and is now coming to fruition.

For all the time and pleasures we have enjoyed here with ourselves, our animals, our families and friends and good neighbors, we are enormously grateful.  We have been richly blessed by their presence, their genuine caring and generous sharing and we appreciate so many good times together.  We are grateful to now be able to choose to make this change while we have the time, the resources and good health to do so. There will be more changes, and as we all know well, not all may be the most desirable, but for those that are, thanks be to the gods of change!

Friday, 22 November 2013


(Moving toward Thanksgiving, November 28, 2013)
This phrase, “less is more” appeared in a love poem (line78) in 1855 by Robert Browning , “Andrea del Sarto” called The Faultless Painter. The phrase was adopted by Mies van der Rohe, an architect whom I studied briefly in an undergraduate course called “The House.”  He, along with a number of others, including Frank Lloyd Wright, were leaders in the minimalist movement that tried to scale things down rather than up, clean lines, good design. 
Since then that phrase “less is more” has been popularized by all kinds of movements and people from philosophers to musicans.  Most notable among these are St. Francis,  Ghandi, Albert Schweizer, Henry David Thoreau, and more recently, E. F. Schumacher in his 1973 work, Small is Beautiful, a study of economics as if people mattered.   Two musicians known for their work in this genre are Steve Reich and John Cage.   There are numerous others from many fields, some in the environmental movement.
Living a more simple life has been espoused by various religious and secular groups, including the Quakers. Related notions such as self-sufficiency, conspicuous consumption, sustainability, downsizing, intentional community, and the slow movement are all expressions from those who do not necessarily agree with the economics of a culture where GNP is the measure of success.  There are many people who believe that there are other values that could contribute to a meaningful and productive life so that that we do not base our worth on the market value of goods and services produced in one year.
What if we looked at a quality of life based not on how much we have but how much we can give?   What if the measure of a man or woman at the end of their lives was not how much they had accumulated but how much they had been able to give away?  Then we might have a bumper sticker that says the one who ends up with the least wins instead of the one who ends up with the most toys wins.  It seems to be true that simplicity and clarity which lead to good design applies to much more than objects. How about designing our lives around simple and clear rather than complicated and cluttered? 
The small house movement has gained in popularity the past few years as more and more people discover how efficient and economical it is to live in fewer square feet.  There is even a small house society whose tag line is “better living through simplicity.”  (  Thas is quite different from better living through chemistry!
You can find many people who live full time on boats of various sizes all over the world and we have met many fellow travelers on the road whose only residence is their RV or recreational vehicle.  These range in size and kind from small to large and ones that you pull behind a truck or that are self propelled by their own gas or diesel engines.  Most are self contained and are able to provide adequate and comfortable space along with the necessary functions of heat, light, cooking, bathing and even connectivity with the rest of the world.
We are taking a step in that direction ourselves.  We put our house and six acres on the market.  It’s currently under contract and we are planning to live for awhile in a house on wheels, read motor home, even if it doesn't sell.  Gypsies, someone said. No house or apartment, just wandering here and there, working and living on the road.  Our theme song could be Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again”
That is but one illustration that affords a level of freedom, independence and a significant reduction in possessions, equipment and property that must be cared for, maintained and supported.  More importantly perhaps is asking this question. What would improve the quality of your life that is within your reach?  The answer may or may not have to do with “living space” but chances are at some point you will arrive at a time of transition and then you can design the change and make the choice.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Getting Ready, Set, Go

Last night was the full moon known as the Beaver Moon.  I did not know for sure why it was called that so looked it up in the Old Farmer's Almanac, a trusted source for many years, and here's what it said, "Full Beaver Moon – November This was the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Full Beaver Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now actively preparing for winter. It is sometimes also referred to as the Frosty Moon."

That set me to thinking about how we, at least in the northern hemisphere, and in the northern climes of the northern hemisphere, prepare for winter.  On the farm, that preparation began with the Fall harvest, illustrated by the horn of plenty and the abundance of food.  That time was also characterized by putting up hay and straw in the barn, corn into the cribs, meat into the smokehouse, wood chopped and split for stove and fireplace, and canning that had been done from the garden supply of vegetables and fruits.  Those storehouses of supplies lasted well throughout the winter to feed family and animals while the ground was frozen and often covered with snow. 

Thanksgiving, a time to count our blessings, in just another ten days, is also a time of gathering family and friends who sit down for a meal featuring turkey with stuffing and all the preferred side dishes of cranberry this or that, sweet potatoes, vegetables, pies and cakes and you name it.  It is doubtful that the first Thanksgiving in 1621 had any turkey at all and Thanksgiving was not declared to be a national holiday until 1916.  While national holidays are largely symbolic, what we make of them personally and in the context of our families is up to us.  There are many ways to make them meaningful and memorable.

There is something about Fall, probably the change in the weather, that signals preparation for Winter and Thanksgiving used to be the time when it was OK to start thinking about the next holiday of Christmas.  Commercial enterprise has changed much of that and now it seems the stores make the shift at Halloween as in sooner is better, at least for the cash register.  Getting ready, the act of preparation, can be more important than the event itself.  I think about painting, for example.
Adequate preparation is at least half the job and most of us know the adage that poor preparation leads to a poor performance or outcome.  Yes, there are times when improvisation is just fine but change, whether in the seasons or in celebrations, requires a process of preparation that is valuable and worthwhile.

Here's a final note.  There appears to be some tension between all of the time and energy invested in getting ready and than being fully present in the moment for which one has prepared.  Perhaps the key lies in balance and being sure we can do both with the requisite and genuine enthusiasm that makes both getting ready and celebrating truly enjoyable and even exciting.   Get ready, set the table, celebrate!  Share the blessing and the joy in giving thanks and give that some thought in the next ten days, and beyond.

Friday, 15 November 2013

No Virtue in Being Busy

I receive at least a dozen or more emails, telephone calls or messages each week (I don’t text) that are filled with comments about how busy someone is and I am often guilty of the same kind of remark.   And for those who must travel for work, that adds a layer of time consumption, creating more pressure and stress on the schedule, calendar and one’s self.  Add up the demands and expectations of a family, a specific job or task, running a household, managing a business, dealing with the oxymoronic customer service, absorbing the news, being entertained, using the social media networks, watching and listening to others, and perhaps most importantly and more often neglected than not, taking care of ones own mind, body and spirit.

Yesterday my wife and I set out to winterize our mist away system for the elimination of mosquitoes.  Without going into the details of installation early last summer, let me say simply that it is an engineering and chemical mystery and marvel that sprays pyrethrin (an organic compound) around our house and garden according to a programmed computer system and a 55 gallon drum of the mixture inside a shed adjacent to our house.  It has to be “winterized” and now I laugh at the scene although at the time it was anything but funny.  We had to call the “source” three times to accomplish what should have been a simple task.  It took over an hour and a half.
I now watch or listen with some degree of amusement as a friend or colleague refers to an electronic calendar to find a slot where a meeting is possible or impossible and I do the same thing although my calendar and schedule have more leeway for the first time in 49 years.  When I served as an interim head of a school last year, I remarked that I was fortunate to be able to work half time.  That was 6 to 6!  And there were those evenings and weekends that added hours of work, most of it meaningful and productive.

Another thing I am fond of saying although it does not resonate all that well with some others goes like this:   A friend or colleague says, “It was a very long day” and I know what they mean but I have the audacity to respond with, “I have news for you. They are all the same length, 24 hours.”  The point is that we all have the same amount of time and it’s simply how we use it, how we spend it, how we choose to invest ourselves in the moment or the hour or in the day that has been given to us.

Maybe there is a way of looking at the day or the week not as something to be filled up but rather as this miraculous and precious gift of time which, in fact, could be our last day.  If that were to be, how would we spend it?  The point is not to create a personal drama but to be sure that we are including some of those things that we value the most and not postpone them until we find the time or have the time.  Now, go put some of those into your schedule and on your calendar and see if it makes a difference.  Go ahead.  Just do it!