Archive for November 2014
The Paddler’s Planet by Christian Wagley
I was recently reminded of the joys of the simple life when I joined the celebration of the life of an old friend on the one year anniversary of his death. We gathered at a local bookstore for an afternoon of art, music, readings, and stories about Mack and his incredibly interesting life.
Mack was a folk musician, writer, poet, and activist. He lived in a small cabin moved from a World War II Army base and placed on a wooded lot one block from the fertile waters of a north Florida bay. The cabin’s wood plank walls featured painted circus scenes from an earlier time.
I met Mack in the summer of 1996, while on a 1500 mile bicycle ride along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. I rode into the tiny coastal town of Panacea to visit a well-known marine lab and its founder. But first, I met Mack. I arrived at the ramshackle old buildings of the lab on a typically hot and quiet Sunday afternoon. Leaning my overloaded bicycle against a fence, I immediately heard a radio inside pouring the sweet sounds of jazz through the door.
Mack was running the lab visitor center on Sunday afternoons in return for a percentage of the day’s admission, and he brought his love of music along with him. We became quick friends, each interested in the alternative path the other was following. I loved his stories of a life of travel, writing, and activism.
He spent part of the 1950s driving around a car with a message painted on top: “DON’T BOMB ME,” and wherever he pulled over he sang anti-nuclear songs. Mack traveled from the Pacific islands to Europe and the Caribbean, and across every part of the U.S. There were performances for troops and in big-city clubs, a top-floor apartment overlooking the ocean in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, and enough settling down to bring a wonderful son into the world.
I was still very much exploring how I wanted to live my life, and the way he lived help me stretch the bounds of what I knew was possible. Yet it was the simplicity of his life that made the deepest impression.
He had a solid roof over his head, a couple of dobros, and an old manual typewriter on which he produced thousands of pages of manuscripts. His 25 year old station wagon took him over to his favorite beaches for a swim, and 30 miles into Tallahassee for the rare item he needed or for a bit of urban culture. An occasional music or teaching gig supplemented the income from his tending the lab one afternoon a week.
Mack chose to live without running water and electricity, complaining of the frustration of fees and deposits that the local utility always charged him if he wanted to disconnect and reconnect service in his perennial comings and goings. It may have been a convenient excuse that allowed him to justify the untethered life he really wanted. Despite lacking the usual comforts of late 20th Century living, I described Mack in one of my weekly newspaper stories chronicling my bicycle journey as “one of the happiest people I’ve ever met.” Our friendship grew over the years as we visited each other occasionally and kept in-touch through hand-written letters and postcards. Yes, there was simplicity in our communication, too.
Knowing Mack helped to convince me that the simple life really does set the stage for better living. While happiness ultimately comes from within, avoiding the distractions of too much technology, or too much meaningless work, or too much stuff helps keep that inner self focused.
That simplicity is also the environmental way of living, with fewer demands on Earth’s finite resources and more space and time to live fully. When we live fully, we’re spending time with friends and family, fulfilling our lives doing the things we love to do. There’s no need to buy more cars or a bigger home, or to drive frantically around town in constant pursuit of wealth.
The simple life delivers all the wealth we ever need. Thanks, Mack, for a young life lesson for me that continues to help me live simply and well.
Standing Up for the Planet by Bob Purdy
I’m trying to be patient, it’s taking forever!…
In another life I owned and operated a waterski school. Shortly after I opened the school I received a call from a man wanting to book lessons for the entire summer. Turns out he was a custodian with the School District in Langley to the south of us here in the Okanagan, he had summers off, and to say the least loved to waterski. That was the beginning of a friendship that continues today, some 20 years later. That call was made by John Anderson, and as he likes to tell it, he is a self-confessed “Turkey and a Brat”…
John is a bright light, and wise beyond his years. He is also determined. John taught me more than I ever taught him during our ski days together. He made me a better coach, and a better person. He challenged me like no other to come up with different ways to explain technique, as he has some difficulty learning, especially concepts. He had struggled with one aspect of his slalom skiing, and for 2 or 3 years I struggled to find a way to explain this bit that would resonate with him. We were working on this particular aspect of his technique one day, and as often happened, he had a fall. Not for the first time, I idled up to him in the water, and went back to basics to try and find a way of enabling him to grasp the concept of “Patience in the Turn”. He had heard the spiel a number of times in a number of ways, and I sensed frustration on his part when I said it again. John does not usually get frustrated so I asked him what was going on. He then told me his story of “Patience”.
He told me that when he was younger, and struggling, and getting into trouble, he realized he needed to learn about patience. John is very devoted to his church and a student of the bible. When he was being a “Turkey” (his word) he realized he needed to start doing things differently and asked for patience. He was a bit of a hot head back in the day, and he figured patience might help him face the challenges he was creating for himself. He would create a challenge, and then he would ask for patience. He would get a challenge come at him from left field and he would ask for patience. Challenge, ask, challenge, ask, and on it went for a number of years. He finally got sick of all the challenges coming at him and stopped asking for patience. Miraculously, the challenges ebbed a bit.
After he shared all that with me from his space in the water that day waterskiing, he looked up at me with his big doe eyes and said, “When I ask for patience, I get challenges, so I don’t ask for patience anymore, can you stop asking me to be patient”.
The Universe works in mysterious Ways, and from that day forward I never asked John to demonstrate patience in his turn. I found another way to explain what had eluded us both for so long, and within a week, he got the piece of the puzzle that seemed to take forever to get!
Standing Up for the Planet by Bob Purdy
Abuse of power is the oldest story in the book.
Abuse of power is born from the illusion of superiority.Superiority is born from the illusion of belief.
Belief is born from the illusion of morals and values, or lack thereof.
Morals and values are born from the illusion of insecurity.
Insecurity is born from the illusion of inferiority.
Inferiority is born from the illusion of fear.
Fear is the illusion that fuels the oldest story in the book.
Empowerment is power of a totally different kind. Empowerment literally means “to give power to”. Empowerment gives us license to live into our own potential. By living into our own potential, we give ourselves permission to bring the best out in others. Living with empowerment we live into our own potential, learning all there is to learn about what makes us tick, and in that living, willingly share all that we have learned. Empowerment does not need religion, laws, or government to shape us because empowerment lives according to the laws that are written in our hearts. The laws that are written in our heart guide us from a knowing of what is right and what is wrong, a knowing that is born of empowerment.
Change is going to happen. When people are pushed to the limit by abuse of power, lines are drawn in the sand and action is taken. When people are empowered, change is a welcome byproduct of life well lived. Either Way, change is going to happen.
We have a municipal election coming up here in Kelowna in short order. Candidates who are running for the available Mayor and Council positions are under full public scrutiny. The cross section of people, platforms and positioning fascinates me, let the games begin!
There is a buzz about this election like I have never seen before, and that’s after living here for 50 years. Forums are actually being attended and watched. Platforms are actually being scrutinized. Background checks on candidates are in full swing. There is actually word on the street, it would appear that the “Silent Majority” is done being silent.
Battle lines have been drawn, and for a change, at least so far, there is no mud slinging. Candidates this time around are going to earn their seats with solid platforms, a clear vision, and dare I say, strong values and morals. There is little tolerance among the electorate for disrespectful behavior. The environment is a topic of discussion, candidates and voters alike are taking a moment to consider the effects of their planned actions in a sustainable light. Community is a word that is being tossed around, as in actually building one. Leadership is more than a buzzword and a campaign slogan, there are actually candidates demonstrating it. Concern for the environment, transportation, infrastructure, arts and culture, development, population growth, clean industry, youth programs and employment, parks, city hall operations, and more are all on the table this election.
To be sure, there are the usual band of would be manipulators in the form of special interest groups, one of those groups influenced the outcome of the last election. This time around the people seem to be wary of these groups, and are reacting to them with suspicion, indignation and open eyes. This time around the people are going to do the research and make up their own minds, no more blind leading the blind, no disrespect to the blind.
It is shaping up to be a two horse race for the mayor’s seat, one former mayor with experience, one current councillor with enthusiasm, both with a vision for Kelowna, both passionate about their city and their potential role in shaping it. Both are quality candidates, one the elder statesperson with a vision, the other a younger up and comer with youthful enthusiasm and a vision. This promises to be a match of epic proportions!
The council race is no less interesting, made all the more interesting by the retirement of more than one long time councillors, leaving empty seats to be filled by new eager beavers. People new to politics, people re-entering politics, and current people looking for re-election, there is a full roster to choose from.
The future in Kelowna is looking bright!
Fact of fiction?…
We’ll see, the litmus test will be voter turnout!…
The Paddler’s Planet by Christian Wagley
One of my favorite things about travel is seeing and appreciating the natural differences that uniquely shape each place and lead thinking people and communities to adapt to live in harmony. Those differences are the reason that landscapes and buildings look different in New Mexico than they do in Florida.
Over the years, I have become much more attuned to my surroundings and anxious to learn about the local conditions wherever I go. Climate, physical forces like waves in the sea and fire on the land, soils, plant communities, and many other natural forces determine the look and feel of every place on Earth. In order to effect positive change on environmental and community issues, this base of knowledge is the foundation of well-informed action.
A recent trip to Amelia Island, Florida —nearly 400 miles to my east—allowed me to experience the uniqueness of northeast Florida. It’s the same latitude as my home in Pensacola, but the differences between the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean sides of Florida are pronounced. Observing and experiencing the differences helps me refine my own level of awareness and ability to discern what drives the uniqueness of every place.
The coastal landscape of north Florida comes into view many miles from the island, as broad expanses of salt marsh extend nearly to the horizon next to a long and winding road across river and bay. Once in my hotel room, I leave open the sliding glass door so I can clearly see the rising light of dawn and enjoy the sounds of the ocean as waves pushed across the mighty breadth of the Atlantic crash upon the shore.
Walking out through the dunes, beaches are wide and flat–a reflection of the high energy of the ocean waves and the broad range of the tides that rise and fall up to eight feet on each cycle. Sands are full of shells whole and broken, indicating the richness of life in the nutrient-rich nearshore waters. The Gulf and inshore waters are dark with life, flowing full of tiny plant life and organic matter swept from the vast marshes and sustaining a very rich aquatic food web that includes the massive piles of oysters exposed at low tide.
All of this contrasts with the coast where I live. Along the northern Gulf waves are small, tidal ranges are only about one foot, beaches are narrower, and pure white sands of mostly quartz cover the beach. Our shorelines have very little salt marsh, and coastal waters run clearer, reflecting a relative paucity of life when compared to the turbid east coast waters.
As one who loves to explore how humans traditionally adapt to local conditions, I set-out to walk the streets. The town of Fernandina Beach is the original settlement on the Island, with many 19th century buildings lining a walkable downtown. Shops, restaurants, and a beautiful 1912 Renaissance Revival-style post office are tucked closely along the street. Wood frame houses with deep porches and live oak trees draped with Spanish moss provide welcome shade from the hot sun.
In an area of many large old homes, there is one street of smaller wood frame homes close along the street—each one with a front porch. I come to one home a little less kempt than the others but ironically showing the most life.
I hear voices from a loud television, as the front door of the home is open, and a well-used wooden screen door allows the sights and sounds of life to flow across a porch that sags just a bit. There’s the silhouette of an older man sitting easily in his big chair in front of the television, with an announcer calling-out election night returns. It looks like he may have lived in this home for much of his life, and I feel some comfort in how many of our basic human actions—including enjoying the familiarity and security of our living spaces—are universal across regions.
Once again I’ve called upon my powers of observation–walking the marshes and beaches, bicycling the town, exploring and observing the wildness of nature and the habits of people. It’s the first thing to do when visiting a new place, and should continue wherever we live and visit. Only by first gathering information, by touching the land and listening to its people, can we know enough to make good decisions about our future.