Total light blue

Do you know where you’re goin’ to
Do you like the things that life is showin’ you
Where are you going to?
Do you know?

It’s showing me white-tailed rabbits, cheeping towhees, and purple lupines with hidden talons that hide quick-action stamens and yellow pollen.
Falling dusk as city lights shine yellow on rusty cargo ships.
Car after car after car after car of coal train.
A bearded man riding a motor scooter (sounding like a large June bug) past a freshly painted sailboat.
If you were me, you would be grateful, and go home to supper.

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Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Uncategorized


Survival of the fittest, moving cheese, and losing my religion

Let me just say first that this is all coming from a sense of failure as a parent, as a family member in general, and a feeling that I have inherited a way of life from my culture that is dooming us all to failure. Also an undying sense of hope that there might…just…be…a..way, if only… Putting this and that piece of understanding together into a picture, dim but somewhat coherent.

First, I’ve been leading my high school students through Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. My thoughts on this have been turbocharged by reading Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene. Upshot being only those types of individuals who successfully pass on their types of genes will inherit the Earth, all others go extinct. By definition, I tell them, the only species alive now are those that proved that ability to pass on genes over the long term and in given environmental conditions. Dawkins goes further to argue that the unit of successful survival isn’t even the species, but the genes within, and these aren’t picky about the bodies they use–whatever works for the replicators gets continued into the new line.

Those are the basics, which we might say (no other species being able to join the debate) have favored the pinnacle of creation, humankind. A stupid thought, really, but perhaps born out of wonder at what we see when we step out into self-consciousness–hey, that’s me? No way!

But what about when environmental conditions change, either by acts of God in the abiotic spheres, or the evolution of entire ecosystems in the biosphere? The forest grows up and getting light is a new challenge, so the shorty plants die out. Owls’ hearing gets even better so only mice with genes that give new survival strategies survive. Humans cause mass destruction of ecosystems, disrupt environmental cycling and equilibrium, so begins the sixth massive extinction, and then what? It’s early yet, for real evolutionary change in humans to show, but what’s the trend? Or, is it all too fast for us more complex, slower evolving species and only the bacteria will survive and the whole march will start over, toward what end? The idea of an end being a Western bias, for sure, because in terms of evolution, I suppose there is no end. Even if our planet becomes uninhabitable and we don’t get off onto another one in time, some passing asteroid will  catch the microbial drift somehow.

There are some interesting trends in the human species, for sure, that seem to go against the survival of the fittest rule. One is the tendency of more technologically advanced, educated, less religious people to breed less. Unless those folks simultaneously suppress the higher reproductive success of fundamentalists and the less “educated,” can we predict that natural selection will favor the latter, all other things being equal? Maybe that’s always been the case, and the real reason for the falls of Indus, Rome, and Atlantis.

But there are density-dependent factors too, such as competition for resources, and the requirement that we llive within our means. So quietly living indigenous people, who carry very old surviving genes from people who lived that way for eons, or slipped back into the jungle when past civilizations came to similar crises, will be the means of humanity outliving this crisis, too. Most of them, I hear, practice reproductive self restraint, even without careers and luxury urban apartments. All the reproductive restraint without the economic growth that destroys the habitat. Not so nasty and brutish after all.

A few weeks ago heard a piece on CBC Ideas about the evolutionary advantage for humans of story telling ( We can assume that up until now there has been a real advantage in most populations, or we wouldn’t be still telling them. A big part of those stories are the mythologies that help people understand their place in the world and what is to be valued, feared, sought, expected.

Tying that to my own experience of losing a grip on the mythology I inherited, thanks to the Age of Reason and Science, combined with a sense of intellectual dishonesty I have frequently encountered in the religious community. Started out with Our Lord Jesus and His body the Church, prayer and sacraments and Sunday school and Resurrection Day, God made the sun, moon, and stars and the purpose of our lives is to worship God and enjoy him forever. Not without a study of molecules, other galaxies, and evolutionary marvels, and an emphasis on stewardship. What I was trying to pass on was that we are to be a blessing to the world. I had occasional real mystic experiences, and most of the time accepted that my spiritual gifts and God-given personality made me prone to listening to my head more than my heart, to nature more than preacher.

It was so easy to stop going to church, once we stopped home schooling. Our public school system, which does such a fine job here up north separating Church and State, has also, by default, conveyed the idea that religion, with its God talk, morality, and exclusivity, is a primitive, private, and personal pastime awkwardly  appended to one’s 145 hour a week push for college and career readiness. That the essence of living is success in the competitive economy, pluralism, and peer socialization. Going to church felt like an anachronism, with its emphasis on discipleship, sacrifice, and worship of the Unseen One. Formal studies in the faith had its pros and cons. Over the years my spouse and I have always openly critiqued every oversimplification of religious ideas, dogmas, and interpretations, so our kids didn’t get any sense of uncritical loyalty that might have kept them attached to church life. They found they didn’t fit in well with the youth group summer mission trip crowd, and couldn’t sign the statements of faith required to be a blessing through youth leadership or working at summer camp. We went to one of those urban, young professional type churches without a strong sense of community (and with a respect for privacy), so when we drifted off weekly attendance, no one noticed.

In homeschooling I had good friends–we all did, but only a few. We never really fit into the religious subculture there that availed itself of its right to educate its own from cradle to loose ends, all under the umbrella of the church, which provided its own sanitized version of biology and the scientific method.

Now we are at loose ends at home, without a community to come alongside and share the pain of bringing up teens to love God and enjoy him forever, without any ritual and tradition–of seasons, coming of age, or divine sacraments. It feels like we’ve lost our way, but the usual road signs offered are outdated brands. I find myself thinking, what is it we have to pass on? What was that blessing we were supposed to be offering to the world?

Is that lack of grounding in myth, in addition to the cultural angst we have absorbed, signs that our genes are not all that fit? None of my kids expresses any strong desire to be a parent. Although the traditional view is for me to look forward to being a grandparent, I’m starting to think it wouldn’t be responsible to pass these exploiter genes on. Maybe the fading of parental longings in so many moderns is a result of the signals coming back from the ecosystems we have wrecked, the zoos and Sea Worlds we have created, but which can’t give us food, shelter, and clothing enough for the propagation of the genes we house.

I do get excited about the possibility of my kids fostering and adopting, though, which seems a more just expression of parenting that adding more feet to the sun baked ground. Would have done that myself, if I could have won over the camp.

At the high school where I teach, I’ve brought up the idea of a survival skills elective (elective!) class that could be offered, and there has been universal interest among the students. Seems like the proper thing to do. I noticed that the idea is trending–there is a display of titles on the topic at the library. One ought to be able to slip off into the woods, live off the land, leaving only organic fertilizer, and footprints, and re-establishing a culture of harmony. I feel it in my genes.


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Bird encounter

Between one task and another out in the yard, I happened to look down, and there was a small olive-colored bird standing on the concrete in front of me. I bent and gently took it into my hand–it was indeed a live bird. A baby, by the looks. Brought it inside to show the family, was cautioned not to scare it, that it might die of fright.

I had some potting to do in the greenhouse, and it was cold and raining, so I brought the bird in and set its little claws on the edge of a tomato pot. It showed no sign of lifting off, so I went about my business, glad of the company and hoping for the best. Must have hit a window and needed to recover. I let it be, and took a few minutes to consult a field guide. Orange crowned warbler, it looked to be, though definitely a young one.

The next time I checked, the bird was taking a nap in the same spot I’d left it. Then five minutes later, bright eyes again, blinking at me calmly, a little tuft of feather out of place over one eye. I potted up some more tomatoes and peppers, looked again, and it had left the pot. I spotted it above my head, where it was exploring possible exits near the closed vents. I opened the swing door and tried to assist it out, but decided to let it find its own way, since surely it had the skill. Within a minute, off it flew.

Since then I have felt the presence of the bird in my greenhouse whenever I go there. It’s as if a blessing was given, and the little warbler will always be with me there.


Landing at the landing – a room of my own

Here I am in my own little office, which the Master of the Universe has seen fit to provide me on such short notice. That is, when I was willing to do my part in a serious way, instead of just whining. It was a minimal part, if I don’t count all the mental and emotional preparation. All I did was look on Craigslist for something under a certain price of a certain size, and found a little artist studio on the wharf, to be vacated the next day by the local writer for the summer, terms casual and by trust, furnished and with a view of boats and a bit of harbor. I got the keys the next day from a man who reminded me of a slightly younger version of my father, also a writer of folk history.

I’m looking out at the forested hills of my town, university at ten o’clock, downtown seven o’clock, and a 360 degree foreground of dry docked boats, cranes, and shipping containers, with the demolished pulp and paper plant, a sliver of bay, and islands behind that. Seagulls and the clinking of cables against masts penetrate the silence of my nest. Out in the hall a little old tea table has been set on the worn carpet, where young artists have lined the walls with their work. All for under $200 a month, and I am told it is safe but just keep the front door locked so the homeless won’t camp in the downstairs lounge, because we can’t always tell them from the tenants.

I didn’t even know the place was here–just another dead end off the main, but now I have a key and a parking space. The regular tenant has placed a recliner on a pedestal behind the desk for better viewing of the scenery. I took a nap there yesterday.

I didn’t get the job that opened up at my school for next year. Full time, at least four preps biology, a second science, and two electives–a very heavy load, but that’s how it is at a small school, especially for new teachers.

At first I took it well. The principal was kind and affirming in telling me, and I had prepared myself with the understanding that they really wanted a more technical person, who could teach robotics and programming–that’s the drive now, where the money is, and does interest most students more than biology and environmental science. So that was best for the students, after all. I also was concerned about the many preps–two being a lot of work, let alone four or five. I would probably have taught health/nutrition, and offered a number of others as possibilities–a course of real life living skills that used to be known as home economics, a marine biology, horticulture, animal physiology.I was prepared to work several hours a day all summer to lay out the plans. I love that kind of work, truly energizing and a good use of my background and talents.

But they found just the person they needed, with career and technical (CTE) certification and robotics experience, and so I am free. I’m happy to have most of a year’s extra experience in the classroom, at this school in particular, with all the training in project based learning (PBL) and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

The next day our offer on a house we, I especially, had hoped to buy, fell through. The owner is still over valuing it for its condition, so we let it go. “Just be patient,” said our realtor, “The right house will come along.” She felt it was a wise decision, which really is a credit to her, who has been on this journey with us for over a year without any sign of impatience herself at no commission.

So I’m grieving both losses, even as I am glad to have my new office, eat fresh spinach from my garden and see the apples swell on my young trees, see the kids all getting along reasonable well though cramped in our little house without enough beds or dressers. And we all have our health.

I warned my husband, half jokingly, that if we weren’t buying a house yet, I would have to take steps to improve the space we are in now, treat it as if it were long term, because it was always turning out that way, though we were still using hand me down and second hand furniture. He felt for me, knowing I have wanted to either add on or move for years, and something always prevents that. I’m trying to embrace the opportunity to grow from it, and grow closer to him rather than the “dream.” I also choose acknowledge my need to switch things up, though in more subtle ways—a color update for the living room, perhaps, or on the more ambitious side, an addition of a bike garage so I can get a commuter and keep it out of the weather.

I feel superfluous. From my education system, from my home, from the decision making framework about my home. I know it’s just a way of thinking, and could lead me into actually being superfluous. Mindset and vision and positive action being the thing, as I try to teach my life-weary students. Yes, you can make a difference! You must, the alternative, as I said before, being to horrible to contemplate. And so the teacher must learn to be the free agent she urges her students to be, master of my fate, in charge of my choices, informed by feelings and circumstances, not controlled. Don’t you think?




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There’s nothing good on tonight

Looked through the rental apartment ads today, thought I might just want a room of my own for a few months while the student apartments are available, since I can’t find breathing room at home, and it looks like the planned purchase of a larger home is again unlikely. The two places I go to get away are my bathroom, which isn’t much of a retreat, since someone is always wanting to use it, or my greenhouse. I put a patio recliner in there, and it’s nice in the mornings and evenings and on rainy days. No one looks for me there–just enough opacity to obscure the interior view.

I also bought a stand up paddle board, which I hope to take out, once I master the tie down. The two mornings I spent running around the local lake this week fed that desire to launch something I could dip, dip and swing, and maybe try out my new wet suit with a swim. I feel shy about that, like the way I felt when I wanted to start biking around my college town, feeling like maybe I didn’t look like a “real” cyclist. Insecurities never die completely, but I plan to fake it ’till I make it, yaw!

You might think I’m hard hearted, and not a very good mom because of this tendency to creep away. I am hard hearted, at least as much as I have managed to be–one step beyond making an appointment with grief. Now I put it on hold until I forget which line it was and the light stops flashing. And I have not made myself indispensable; they can all get along without me just fine, and in emergencies it’s better to have just one parent on hand–my husband works from home and can be roused by a serious yell. Plus when I’m not puttering around, there’s more freedom for them to cook with white flour and snack on graham crackers, leave mugs on the hearth, lights on, apple cuttings on the counter. If a kid needs something signed or a drive somewhere, they can holler and I’ll probably come out of hiding. No sense of loneliness or need for a human connection arises where the internet is a swipe away.

A student told me today I sure don’t get my feelings hurt easily. This was after a less than subtle criticism by another student of what I had to offer that day. I told them I could be induced to get offended at the end of a long day, once I got home. No, all those comments, criticisms and suggestions for improvement are water off a duck’s back in my professional life. Or, rather, something to consider and learn from, while taking with a grain of salt. I thank them for putting it all out there, iron sharpening iron and all that. I make it my goal to teach in a way that those comments come less and less and are replaced more and more by wonder, interest, engagement, but since it’s only my first year back, and this school is uniquely challenging, I can be patient with myself and try to work on a few things at a time. I’m not expecting these students all to be models of diplomacy or always to have a clear view of the higher ground anyway, so I take much of it with a grain of sea salt. But I want to be handled with care at home, though everyone else is tired, too, I suppose. I’m trying to remember that, and sad that I don’t have more to give, wondering if it might be best to cut down on work hours so I can keep my cup a little fuller to pour out at home. The challenge of modern life, eh?

When I was wiping the stove I struck my head on the corner of the metal vent hood, and by the eruption of emotion in response to the pain, realized it’s not so easy to hold it all in. But still feeling that my sadness would be misunderstood, I sneaked back out to the greenhouse and let down in my chaise there.. Time to add a box of tissues to the decor, and see if those new hammocks can be strung up in a place this size. At least until the tomatoes and peppers are in.


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Posted by on April 20, 2016 in Places & Experiences


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Shree-sherra, CAW-CAW, fweet-fweet, keeee-kew, beep beep!

Ran like I was in a dream this morning, forgetting about my feet, not noticing the usual transitions between asphalt, concrete and trail. It was all about the birds singing. Names being of limited use to convey experience here, but if it helps you to to imagine the sounds I heard coursing along the treetops and piping out of the thickets, I can say there were sparrows, robins, chickadees, crows, woodpeckers, and seagulls, among others. I try to pay attention to the sights along my route, but the sounds took over this time. As usual, I wondered how I could give my students a taste. Play recordings? Ask them, after some time immersed in sounds–eyes closed–do they recognize them? Have they heard them before? Maybe I could give them three different soundscapes and see if hey could identify the local one. How, if they had to, would they describe each song with words? I could give them a numbered list with how the ornithologists have attempted, and see if they can match these to what they hear. Talk about pitch, tone, rhythm, phrasing, all without language or music as we understand it. I want to get them out there on the trail at 6:30 am to see what I mean.

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Posted by on April 14, 2016 in Beautiful Earth, Education



Daffodil Cove

Sometimes I feel I never really go anywhere, but here I am, having captured a moment in a day last week to book this cliffside cottage on Salt Spring Island. Spur of the moment, so little planned that I didn’t know my husband had already booked a major meeting and couldn’t come. He had a hard time wishing us a bon voyage. I assured him we were scouting for another future trip. When I’d first broached the subject of a little getaway, he’d suggested making it a major one, which I just couldn’t stomach at least in terms of planning, for which there was no time, anyway. It was the last chance for my kids to all do something together, with two different spring break schedules, and the girls longed to get away somewhere pretty, if not to a beach in California. So the second time I looked online and happened upon Daffodil Cove Cottage, it was free for the two days we wanted it at a reasonable price, I nabbed it. A long ferry ride sounded better than a drive, and a stay sounded better than a tour, so we loaded up the blue van and here we are.

All windows in front facing the Strait, and islands all the way to vast Vancouver Island at the back. My two daughters are napping in the loft after a bit of fresh air and a bout of watching videos on their phones. My youngest son is bored, he says, but as he’s already used up his screen time for the day, I’m letting him figure out what to do with his discontented soul. He’s too tired to take a walk, he says, and didn’t respond to my suggestion that he bundle up and sit out on the deck and just watch the trees and waves, see if it might bring him some peace? I’m talking to myself more than him, and neither of us is listening very well. We’re all needing a detox–maybe a habit-forming three weeks in the woods with nothing but art and writing supplies (not ready to go totally mind-to-nature yet).

I’m missing the way (I think–nostalgia?) I used to be, again, able to be deeply aware in tune with wind and scents and the glory and wonder of the “natural world.” On my morning walk–made myself go out by will and not longing, reasoning that I really should go experience more of this beautiful scene–what moved me most (and that not much) was the ditch flowing with water down the hill beside the road. Why that? Because I used to go play in the ditches by my childhood home in the spring, sending leaf boats down, racing with the ones my brothers had launched. But not with peals of laughter and the joy of childhood, now that I think of it, just a  conviction that mine would never win, and if it did, the race must have been unfair, according to my big brother, who would keep racing until he tipped the balance again. But there was the relief of the long-awaited melting of the frosty ground, the smell of crushed stems and warm sandstone, first sightings of water striders and tadpoles, the trill of the red-winged blackbird. The wind off the bay was no longer too cold to face without a hooded coat, and the cumulus were higher in the sky, in my idyllic childhood.

I suppose the only reason I can take pleasure in those sounds and scents today is because of that early exposure. The meaning in the running of a ditch is relative. Is it too late for my high school students, then, who mostly suffer from nature deficit disorder? When I appeal to them to bring in their permission slips so we can walk a few blocks to the stream a few times this month, assuring them that it will be good, not tedious and uncomfortable and strange, am I mistaken? “I don’t like to go outside,” says one. “I already did that,” says another. Is it any coincidence that this person (gender uncertain) is showing signs of psychosis and suicidal tendencies? Am I being unrealistic to believe that a half hour in the woods by a stream could be balancing for all of us, and that even if we don’t get any official science done, it’s a move in the right direction in terms of their “education”? STill, a good number are willing, so I guess the protocol id to leave the rest at school with another teacher and a paper assignment.

Can’t believe how little I want to do, how unenthusiastic I am myself, about getting out there right now. I make myself do it like exercise, when I’m not planning it for others. Even try to get a bit more energetic first my drinking a cup of coffee. Really, has this too turned into a discipline? Maybe just temporarily. Sure, I’m not sucked into cyberspace to pursue endless curiosities or obsessions, nor do I feel the need to vlog the view, the cabin decor, and my kids eating lunch, but still, I’m not experiencing oneness with nature either. If I do some sketching it will do me good, I know, but it will have to be initiated by will power too. Since I’m not in my own home, there isn’t a garden I can work in, though I did get to chop some wood for the stove this morning. I was surprised how long the sense of satisfaction and pleasure in that work, along with the lighting of the fire, lasted. Better than several hours reading on the couch with a bag of Cheetos.

It’s all going on without me, without us, out there in creation. All those fishes and seaweeds floating and swimming by through the currents, barnacles and mussels filter feeding, deer and rabbits hanging out undercover until evening, when they’ll steal out onto the mossy trail and pull at the new grass coming through the matted straw and leaves. Owls are asleep, and small rodents tunnel under the thatch, and I’m missing it all–can’t see, can’t smell, can’t hear, especially behind my cozy glass where the refrigerator hums along with the wind in the trees outside. Trees falling in the forest in every windstorm. Season after season, as the trees, moss, frost and running water slowly break down the mountain and infuse it with air-sourced organic matter and deer carcasses. I collected a deer skull and vertebrae when I was out, and took a lot of photos to illustrate the process of weathering to my science students. I hope they will notice the little purple and yellow flowers, moss sporophytes, and all the beautiful colors of lichens and fungi, and I’ll try to tell them what else I saw when I looked close.


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