Sunday, March 30, 2014

Moments Of Transcendence

First of all: a million and one thank yous to all of you who have supported our campaign by donating, spreading the word and sending prayers and love. I don't really have words for how grateful I am for it all. It makes me so happy to know that so many sweet good people stand behind our dreams and hopes for our future. Know that I hold the same for you all. Thank. You.

These last few months, I've actually been thinking a lot about happiness, how elusive it can be, not as a whole, but the feeling of it; how hard to define, how fickle and unpredictable. How it can be absent in the most obvious moments we should feel it, and how sometimes it makes its appearance in the unlikeliest of situations.

How some people seem born happy, with positive attitudes and open arms, while others wear their permanently bruised hearts on their sleeves and knit their brow in fury as a default.

I've certainly been a little bit of both in my own life; a naturally sunny person, who's been worn down  by outside forces. For the last ten years, I've been working on the more positive side of my personality, but I  do feel that I've grown to be a more anxious, more melancholy and certainly less open than my original countenance.

Maybe it's because of this, but I'm often surprised by my own happiness, the way it comes and goes unannounced. What small things evoke it.

Often the things I think should make me happy, don't. Big life events, adventures, excitement… I frequently find myself setting up potential future happiness around concrete life goals; "when I do this", "when I get that". From new books, to garden spaces, to learning something, to traveling, to successes, I often center my hopes for joy and fulfillment around one heavenly body of expectation, only to discover when I reach it, that though I may be richer in skills, experiences, or even material goods, any happiness I achieved in the process was, at best, fleeting.

I'm not alone in this. Most research into happiness shows that beyond basic needs of food, shelter, and companionship, people in general achieve happiness through slow build-up, that happiness comprises not of concrete events, or possessions, or even relationships, but something less tangible.

There are two kinds of "happiness" in my mind. The actual experience, and the kind that is there even when we ignore it. The latter doesn't necessarily always manifest as a feeling, but in the long-term builds a happy life. In other words, we may be happy, but not constantly experience happiness.

Human-relationships, partnership, friendship, community, are all important building-blocks of this tangible, more constant happiness. People living in tight-knit, mycelial communities with many connections of various strengths, seem to have more room for happiness and interestingly, this communal feeling encourages people to do things selflessly, one key way to promote lasting contentment and joy. That the feeling of belonging, to a place and to a people, even under the worst of circumstances, creates a framework onto which we weave ourselves in and which catches us when we're feeling down.

According to much of "happiness research" there are certain concrete habits and experiences that help create that sustain the flow of endorphins, as well as build long-term effects in the brain, that are consistent throughout most populations. Exercise produces and promotes happiness in most folks, as does meditation, and the experience of "flow", the sense of doing something well and fluidly, in one's work, or other endeavors.

What's interesting about these happiness-inducing behaviors, is that they often have little to do with the material realm, possessions, inter-personal relations, feelings, or in fact, the self itself, the entity which experiences happiness. In fact they often involve the temporary suspension, or even momentary erasure of "self". A point when we seize being a psychological-physiological-social-entities (as one definition of human selfhood goes) and simply…well, be.

It is telling of the power of meditation that our happiness often appears when we are "not thinking of anything", that it resides in being "present in the moment" (a phrase ruined with overuse by so many self-help books and mommy-blog blurbs), something that's grown increasingly elusive and difficult in our society.

It's also fascinating how much we as a society seem to struggle with trying to be happy. For people, who by and large, have everything, we are also remarkably unhappy. In a world that's constantly tuned in and turned on (all puns are the product of your own mind here;) and busyness has replaced hard work as a value, it can be overwhelming to even think about reaching this state of "mindless" being.

The more one practices happiness inducing behaviors, the more often one feels the emotion of it, which in my mind is, bigger, more all encompassing, than other emotions. The feelings of grief, or anger, or hate, are not an antidote to anything, but love and happiness can unmake all of them.

For myself, I'm discovering that that while I don't have a lot of power over the things that make me stressed out, bummed, exhausted, sad, I have some say in what the final outcome of those feelings is; whether I'm able to shrug them off and keep moving, or whether I choose to dwell on my unhappiness. What I've found is that I'm almost always able to shake off a bad, or a blue mood by moving my body, going outside, or emptying my mind in meditation. There are days and weeks though, when those feelings get the better of me The time spent sitting still seems, to my busy mind, time wasted, even though I know better.

Last week, I came home from a particularly long day, at the end of stretch of long days and nights to find this enigmatic note on the kitchen table.

I dropped my bags, adding them to the mess of the kitchen, leaving behind dishes and laundry and groceries to be put away and followed its instructions.

Outside, in the gentle afternoon sunlight, it occurred to me that this was probably the moment when the plum trees were at the peak of their bloom. That I had almost missed it, because i was to busy to go stand in my own backyard. I walked slowly. The air smelled of blossoms and sunlight and all around it birds were calling each other, in an absurdly melodious and beautiful cacophony.

As I approached the biggest of the plum trees, I could hear it hum, as though an invisible breeze was moving through it. Straining my eyes against the sun, focusing on one of the lower branches, there it was. Suddenly and inexplicably, the world fell away, with all its chores and complications. I was alone with hundreds, maybe thousands of honeybees, drinking in the first nectar of the spring. The whole tree was alive with moving, dancing, sugar-drunk bees.

Now, how do I explain this, something that you can't really put into words? That sense of having the world reduced to the simplest of terms, so simple that they are in fact beyond words. I'm sure you've had experiences like that, looking at the ocean, a small child, the perfect fruit you grew, a good sentence you wrote, a bird landing close enough to touch, something you built, the night sky, when the world contracts and expands all at once, with you standing in it's center, seeing, hearing everything, yet forgetting that you are a separate body, an independent nervous system from it. Moments of transcendence.

I don't know how much time passed, but after a while I turned, walked back in, put the groceries away, did my chores. Though the experience had passed, the feeling of joy and contentment remained, for the rest of the day.

This sense of belonging, of time suspended, of the self shifting away and becoming part of the landscape, is happiness. When you loose yourself to a task completely, when after trying long and hard, you suddenly find yourself effortlessly doing what was difficult or tedious before.

When you suddenly look around you and realize that you're content to be where you are, doing what you're doing, or see some small detail that reminds you that you're part of a bigger whole. Moments when small simple things, suddenly fill you with a joy much bigger than they seemingly ought to.

The reason why they can sometimes be hard to catch, is that they are often infinitely small in all the hubbub of our lives, that we barely have time to notice them. Since I first started thinking about this, I've haphazardly been keeping track of that which makes me truly happy and the notes I have seem almost insignificant: the moment right before falling asleep, finding a small, hidden place in the trees, reading my book while everyone else sleeps, a room full of people silently working on art projects, mixing the perfect color, being able to correctly recite a favorite legend, a cat curled up on the inside of my knee, the perfect chain of stitches coming off my needle, that Julie bought me a currant from the plant sale, seeing the sun light up an eagle's wings...

There are bigger sources of happiness of course: our love, our health, having food on the table, having a roof over our heads, having friends and family who love us, but it seems to me that they exist to make room for these smaller joys, that the like the devil, the divine is truly in the details...

Each day, I try to remember to notice at least one of them and when it appears stand still enough to hold it for a brief while.

What is your happiness?

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Friends, readers, online wanderers…

I've said this before, but it seems evident to me that this is, the Year of The Horse, is a year of galloping movement, fits starts and sudden advances, of forward momentum, of big, radical change. I see it all around me: friends moving, having babies, going back to school, buying land, expanding, learning, growing, reaching toward the sun like so many sprouting seeds. Spring makes it all the more evident and urgent.

While all this motion and energy is a wonderful thing, I sometimes often feel like it's a little overwhelming.  Anne recently summed it up for me perfectly, writing that "Change can be hard even when it's what we wanted."

This is a little bit of a though post for me to write, because I'm not usually one for asking for favors. I'm more of the fiercely independent, "If can't figure it out myself…"-type of person. Whether its my personality, upbringing, or a combination of these, asking others for help does not come naturally to me. Yet any time I've had to, or managed to do that, asking for help has yielded not only the extra hands and physical strength I've needed to accomplish something, but also the emotional support we often also need at times of troubles, or big changes.

Being able to ask for help when you truly need it, is a valuable skill for sure, so long as you don't expect other people to be constantly rushing to your aid, right? I suppose it's something we would all benefit from learning, because every once in a while, we all need a little help from our friends.

With that in mind…some of you may remember that my husband Charlie has been working on what'll hopefully become his lifework, taking over a local toolmaking business.

As I mentioned before, one of the big considerations for us in taking on this venture was finances. He had a decent job, that could have been a career and we were as secure as one can be in this topsy-turvy world. We had a little savings, but beyond that not much in the way of capital. Well, except for supportive friends, family and community and Charlie's evident skill and calling for this work.

Still, as necessary as the change seemed, it has in many ways been a step into the complete unknown, like big changes often are. 

In the end we decided to take a chance and trust that with hard work, a little luck and some help we could make this happen. 
With that in mind, we decided pretty early on to try our hand at crowdfunding, not only because we don't have a wealthy relative, or a rich benefactor who could help bankroll our endeavor, but because the reason we're doing this, the reason Gregg has kept making these tools well beyond retirement, is that this business means a lot to more folks than just the two of them and their families. These tools are an essential part of the creative process of many of the finest makers of Northwest Coast art, something that both of these guys are keenly aware of. It's not simply a family business, tied to the lives and livelihoods of a few individuals, but part of a bigger tradition. It's all of our hope that this will inspire people to learn more about and support this art, as well as helping us get a leg up in keeping an amazing small artisan business going. 

I'm sharing this here because it's a huge part of our lives right now and also 'cos some of you kindly mentioned you'd like to know if there was anything you could do to help.

(You wanna help these two fools make a go of it?)

Of course, we would be ever so grateful if you would donate us a few of your dollars, euros, or pounds, but I know none of y'all are made of money either, so if you can't donate, you can always help us spread the word instead by sharing our page, website and liking us on Facebook.  Prayers and good thoughts are much appreciated and essential. Most importantly, I simply want to share this venture here with you, because you guys are a big, sweet part of my life and I want to take this opportunity express my gratitude for all your encouragement and kindness. Thank you. I couldn't ask for a better community of sweet, caring, smart, funny people.

Here's our video, which shows a lot more of everything these guys do, the tools and some of the art too. 

Kestrel Tool from Charlie Prince on Vimeo

all photos courtesy of Gregg Blomberg and Irene Skyriver
video by Karjam Saeji 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Balancing Act

Do you guys read Julie's blog? Well, if you don't, you should. Because from time to time, when she isn't too busy farming and raising her little long-haired boy dude and hanging out with her husband, she writes these pieces that are like golden eggs, laid by some magical goose. Not only are they shiny and pretty, beautiful images and evocative words, but inside there's the rich and nourishing wisdom.The girl can write out a moral, emotional, or physical dilemma like only a few can. She doesn't necessarily offer the answers, but rather poses the questions that yield them.

In recent months, I have thoroughly enjoyed her thoughts on slaughtering one's own animalsmaking your path even as you change, on people's insensitivity to boys with long, lovely locks and today, on patience, learning and frustration and farming.

Her posts always evoke dormant thoughts in me, or resonate on a deep level. It's not often that something comes along on your mundane journeys through the internet, from email, to news, to facebook, that actually alters your perception, or wanders down some unused pathway in your brain.

It struck me, as I read her latest post, that this discussion of balance, of patience and urgency, is the perfect topic for this season, the moment when day and night are equally long and summer hangs in the balance, ready to charge down the hill; arms open, warm, smelling of wet earth and blossoms, her yellow skirts swaying.

It's the season of planting and calving, of chicks and kids and babying along fragile plant starts. It's Growing Season, delight to farmers, homesteaders and gardeners.

Unlike Julie, I've never wanted to be a bona fide farmer. I've always known that my dreams for living off the land were small, manageable, not wild and ambitious and juggernauting. Having known small-scale farmers most of my life, I never had the dream of being one, because I've seen what it takes and I don't have it in me. One needs a real passion to want to be a farmer. I don't have it, not for that pursuit.

However, like Julie, I am a really impatient person. One that wishes to know already, to be good, not to practice, or cram, or wait. And like Julie, I often project this impatience to my experiences, counting that which I do not know and have not mastered and forgetting to account for all the things I have learned, all the things I am good at, or all the things that I, god forbid, am still learning.

And of course, for a while now, I've been interested in growing some of our own food, trying to be a little more self-sufficient.

In her latest post, she also talks about their accomplishments, about the eggs their fowls have laid, the Kombucha they've brewed, the bread they've baked. Lessons learned, sometimes, in spite of the impatience to master all of it already.

In that spirit I thought I would list the many things I've learned since we started this homesteading adventure, most of them, it bears noting, through trial and error, countless mistakes, messes, hard work wasted, or so it seemed at the time. Compounded though, those mistakes make up the bulk of my knowledge about growing a little bit of your own food. And those mishaps are what makes the triumphs seem that much more glorious.

-Grow what you eat. Basics first. Don't try to grow everything. Grow what you eat.
-Save yourself some heart brake, grow brassicas and peas and green beans and zucchini. They are forgiving and you'll end up with something to eat.
-But also grow flowers. I've never regretted flowers, but I have regretted not having them. Be practical, but fanciful.
-Grow herbs. They're expensive in the dry goods isle and cheap and easy in the garden.
-Fermenting is more fun than canning, but canning has its place. There's nothing like opening a can of homemade tomato sauce in midwinter. Nothing.
-Screw jam. Freeze it, or do one days worth, but sweating in the kitchen over a stove in August for a week is not worth some sugary stuffs.
-Mend your fences. When you see they need mending. Not the day after the deer eat everything in your garden.
-Everything dies. In a long enough timeline the survival rate of every fowl turns to zero (the Tyler Durden school of animal husbandry). In my experience this timeline is anywhere from birth to three years. Do your best, mourn your losses and learn from your mistakes.
-What you can't grow, buy, or trade. Strawberries for preserving, tomatoes for canning, cucumbers for pickling, there's a farmer out there who has these in abundance.
-I can learn anything. No really. The idea of chickens, or bees, or kicking cows, may seem like a wild, impossible idea, especially from a city apartment, but it's not. You do it, you f*** up and it becomes second nature.
-The novelty of making/ growing/ preserving your own never gets old.

Oh and plant your favas with the "eye" down. Every spring, I have to look that up again.

Happy Equinox Folks! 

Care to share some lessons you've learned?

ps. This is not traditional gardening garb. I noticed I needed to toss some more favas into the ground and I didn't feel like changing. My friend Candace gave me this perfect Equinox cardigan, it's like spring in a garment.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The 365 Dollar Oven-Warm Cat

Have you ever added up out how much your pets end up costing each year? Well, I figured recently that barring unforeseen medical expenses and such, our cats each cost a dollar a day to feed. This isn't a post  topic, by the way, just an observation. I'm much too tired and harried for post topics. Inane blather will follow. Enjoy.

I can still scarcely believe the bevy of blossoms that unfolds from the back-stoop, so many old fruit trees and wild plums.

This was the first day in a long time without driving rain, so I took a long brake to work on tilling some soil in front of the house's two "wings" and starting some seeds outside. Cress, parsley and peas, thank you for being unfussy.

I was thinking that this could be an outfit-post, but really I'm wearing dirty overalls and a blouse I found (to my delight as I thought I had lost it) under the bed. And my mucking-around-boots. Which I guess I'm lucky to have...

There is such a bounty of growing, living things all around me, it seems like a sin to sit inside typing and budgeting and translating. It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it. And then, someone's gotta plant some favas in some actual dirt.

Spring is a fickle time, rain and shine, computer chores and gardening. Hopefully I'll be back at the end of the week, depending on putting together our crowdfunding effort goes. Wish me luck.

How's your dirty jobs? 

Saturday, March 15, 2014


Today I have a piece up at NEST MAG, who's wonderful, kind creator Inga contacted me a while back asking if I was interested in writing about home. You can bet I jumped at the opportunity. Not only is it something I think about often, but its also a really complicated topic for me, so having this kind of an assignment was a nice framework within which I had the freedom to organize my thoughts and feelings.

Be sure to keep an eye on NEST, because each week, they publish the story of another interesting abode, or a person's place in space. Whether it be a small shack built from flotsam and jetsam North of the sun, a tiny cabin, a rowing van, a old house in the moors, a hammock in some mesoamerican jungle, I for one, am forever fascinated by how and why other people live and excited for this window into their idea of home and belonging.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bonfire Nights And Hummingbird Days...

…actually, these are also the days of the butterflies, daffodils, redwing blackbirds, newts, baby chicks, mating eagles. Last night as I was working on some never-ending computer business, I saw the reflection of two somethings behind me on the screen. I turned to look and there were two Anna's Hummingbirds hovering outside my window, looking in at me. 
These are the days when it's impossible to stay inside, when all the blooming, marvelous life calls you out with all it's chittering, chattering, screeching, whispering might.

When everything around you is about ready to burst.

New babies and new lambs and new buds.

Only old bones are resting quietly.

Explorers of the fogs.

Future foods.

Birds of all feathers.

The yellow sun repeating its image everywhere.

A little one's first spring and Pisces by the bunch.

Bright, burning, glorious futures.

The first of the season's parties.

I find that these days it takes a lot to stay in, work on the computer, compose things.

It's not that there's not words for spring, there are many, too many in fact. Would you like me to list them off, one by one?  Too many small miracles unfurling every damn day, too many frog choruses singing in the moonlight, too many eagles circling overhead, too many deer walking through the yard right before sunset, herons rising from the pond, baby bunnies under the walkways, currants blooming, plums blossoming, cats prowling, wind bursting with clouds of cedar pollen... too much of every single, glorious thing to recount with words!

Though the days are getting longer, time seems to be slipping away ever faster, the days too short to spend indoors, to not sit on the porch watching the birds, to not walk in the woods looking for food and treasure...

Happy Spring! All absences excused!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Going To America

We don't go off-Island a lot. In the past year, Charlie and I have gone off together exactly four times, one of which was just for him to pick me up from the airport. I've gone off seven or eight times, he six. The last time we went to Seattle together was more than a year ago
Most islanders call it going "off-island", "to the mainland", or even "to America". To leave, you set your schedule to the 6-8 ferries that go to and fro between us and another island that's connected to the rest of Washington state by a bridge. You try to pile up errands, because each trip costs between $40 and $60. You try to mix fun and practical matters. Some folks go off almost weekly, figuring that the cheaper groceries and gasoline practically pay for the trips. These folks seem to often refer to it as "going to town". 
Sometimes going off is a grand time. We get up early to catch the red-eye, giddy with the thought of all the food we're going to eat, planning our meals in the car: "Breakfast, Mexican, Thai, pizza, sushi, Indian, macarons, pho…" 

On our way we dream of the fun things to do, the antique stores,thrift stores, strange folk, book shops, the music, unfamiliar bars... 

Once there we marvel at everything. No, really. Once we gave a ride to a friend of a friend from Oakland, who after the first half-hour, proclaimed "You guys are so excited about every thing!". And we are. We laugh at the weird vanity plates, the funny names of taco shops, crane our necks to see the signs of the funeral parlor, discuss the symbolism of the changing displays in the local casino's fountains, we marvel at the old man carrying a metal lunchbox, smoking his pipe, looking every bit like a time-traveler...  

I guess we really see things, not being numbed to the them the way one is when you live surrounded by strangers and strip malls and pho-shops. 
The ferry itself is a transitional place. Its forty-minute journey is an acclimatization process. We need it to brace ourselves against the world we've mostly forgotten about and again on the way home to slip back into a slower pace.

Our ferry ride has got to be among the most beautiful in the world. Cascades to the East, the Olympics to the West, a pack of furry-backed islands riding on the waves, the landscape all greens and blues, mysterious and dark and dotted with the white shadows of seagulls. The first time I ever rode on one of these ferries,  I knew right away that this was a special place, and I still feel that way most every time I get on the boat.
I always try to go outside the warm, well-lit cabin, especially in the winter and in foul weather, partly because it makes me feel more connected to my surroundings and also, I'm realizing more and more, because I miss extreme, wild weather. Rain, wind, or shine. Standing in the bow, or stern of the ferry, you feel this exhilaration of moving almost as fast as the seals and porpoises, the seagulls that follow the ferry. 
Observing seagulls close up, is actually one of the main perks of the ride.

They circle the stern on their fast wings, catch a ride in the air current that the boat cuts through, hitch a ride for a moment, then disappear again in search of fish and more interesting things. 

They can visit the mainland anytime. Comfortable in air and water, they are not bound to a speck of  the way we are. 

I wonder if they ever come back tired of the hubbub, the junk food, overstimulation? 
We don't go off often partly because we chose to be here, we don't feel like we need those things that make the mainland so appealing: swimming pools and movies and music and variety. The ferry isn't an inconvenience, but a luxury. It allows us to visit this exotic world and then come home, roll off the ferry and up the hill and breathe a big sigh of relief to be home.