About Me

My photo
Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Farm dance

© Breanna Rogers & Delisa Myles, 2011
I love to dance. I know. Best kept secret in town. The most recent dance class I took was a belly-dancing class in January 2009, a much-needed respite from the cold winter on Prince Edward Island, in Canada. That was the first dance class I had taken since 2004 when I took a flamenco class for about a month before moving to Canada to pursue my Master's degree. Growing up, my world revolved around gymnastics. But gymnastics involves quite a lot of dance, so I took jazz dance, ballet, and even a bit of tap dancing along the way. By the time I was in high school though, I had quit everything but the ballet required for gymnastics. Pointed toes, arials and chains of back flips were my world. I only had one career aspiration through most of high school, and that was the Olympics. Then, at age 16, I was given the ultimatum: move back to the US and enter full-time training, or accept that I would never reach my dream. With my parents and all of my friends living in the Mediterranean, the thought of leaving them all behind was too much. I gave up my sport, and spent the remainder of high school focused on my academic work.

© Breanna Rogers & Delisa Myles, 2011
In 1996, I had the opportunity to take a modern dance class in Cyprus with an amazing dancer and choreographer named Arianna Economou. She encouraged me to re-inhabit my body, and move from within instead of always being focused on having perfectly pointed toes and straight legs. It was a new world for me, and I loved it. In 1998 I moved to Arizona to attend Prescott College. I had not intended to take a dance class, but I needed something to balance out my other, more academic classes, so I registered for Intro to Dance and Improvisation with Delisa Myles. I did not know it at the time, but Delisa had been a gymnast as well, before turning her focus towards dance. Still relatively self-conscious when I entered her class, the environment that she created within the dance studio to explore movement both alone and with others was one in which I felt free to experience a great deal of transformation. I formed deep, life-long friendships with women who are still some of my closest friends; I started letting go of the fear of making a mistake, or the need to be whatever I envisioned as being "perfect" at the time; and I was invited to dance some very important stories that brought together my love for poetry and creative movement. That I still have the journal that I kept during that class is an indication of what an important formative experience the class was to my development as a writer and creative artist.

© Breanna Rogers & Delisa Myles, 2011
Delisa and I have kept in touch over the years through Facebook, and this week I noticed that she had posted some spectacular photographs for a course that she will be co-teaching with Breanna Rogers this summer (June13th - July1) at Prescott College called "Farm Dance." I wrote to Delisa, asking for more information, and received the following:

"This class provides a forum to begin a dialogue between artists and farmers, bringing to the table a conversation that investigates the relationship of the cultural and the agricultural. We will visit nearby farms and gardens, observe and participate in land cultivation practices, and allow our artistic impulses to be informed by each site. We will examine and experience how aesthetics and labor interplay and how one feeds the other. We will look at the connections and crossovers between food cultivation and art making processes. Our artistic training will involve volunteering labor at local farms and studying the aesthetics of dance composition and site specific work. Focus will be on the body and how it responds to imagery, hard work, and our connection with the cycles of nature. The mediums of dance, performance, and visual art will be used as vehicles to increase awareness in the local community about how and where our food is grown in the Prescott area."

© Breanna Rogers & Delisa Myles, 2011
I don't know about you, but the idea of bringing together two things that I love to do -- farm and dance -- sounds sublime. And having spent the last few years working with, interviewing, writing about and photographing farmers on their land, I have become very aware of how powerful the stories of the relationships between those who grow our food and their farmland is. Our farmers are people who have intimate relationships with and knowledge of the natural world and the shift of the seasons at a level that many of us have lost simply by virtue of living in towns and cities, and not being present for the small daily changes and miracles that farmers witness every minute of every day. With all of the unpredictable changes going on in our world and economy, farmers generally manage to remain hopeful and optimistic. They have seen the ups and they have seen the downs, and they know that life moves in cycles. As one farmer told me once: "Farmers are natural optimists. How can you do a job that involves planting seeds in the soil and then seeing the miracle of the rain and sun working together to make them grow into edible plants, and not believe in miracles?" Delisa went on to explain the rationale behind the class. She says:

"Farm Dance is a course designed to makes connections between the art we make and the food we eat. It is the intent of this course to create art that helps bring greater visibility, appreciation and support to local farms. The course provides our students with an interdisciplinary approach to learning and allows art and performance to intertwine with agriculture and ecology. There is a trend of festivals and forums popping up around the nation that bring diverse creative thinkers together for collaboration and exchange. There is a growing need to allow a wider spectrum of creativity to interrelate, rather than being highly specified and separate. This course provides a model for experimentation between disciplines and creates new connections within the community. Farm Dance is one of a series of courses being proposed for the summer which address sustainability, art and embodiment."

© Breanna Rogers & Delisa Myles, 2011
So many of the problems with our food systems right now involve a lack of collaboration and interrelationships. People going to the grocery store to buy a tomato that has been marked up ten times its original price so that the store is making an enormous profit, while a few miles out of the city the farmer who grew the tomato is being paid the same amount he/she was earning in the 1940s (if that). Children who do not know that their food was grown in the earth, or that cauliflowers and broccoli are flowers. Communities that are so concerned about keeping the price of their food low that they would rather buy food that is saturated in chemicals that could, in the long-run, result in soaring medical bills later in life. Communities that have no idea who grew the food they are eating, or where it was grown. Communities that no longer have the knowledge to be able to grow their own food. All relationships that we have be taught to not think about, but that are vitally important parts of being conscious, well-informed and responsible eaters.

Artists have been painting, drawing and photographing farmland for generations. The creative and visual arts are, in a sense, a way of refocusing our attention on something from a new perspective. A painting of farmland makes us stop and take notice and reflect. Farm dance, similarly, makes us pause and rethink our relationship to the land. Farmers' relationships to the land. The relationship between the seed and the earth; between the rain and the crops; between the wind and the snow and ice and the health of our soil. It invites us to ask ourselves: how would I listen if my existence were dependent upon, and interconnected with the natural world and the seasons? How would I interact with my community and the natural world around me if the health of each was dependent upon the health of the other? How does my relationship to and awareness of the earth, the sun, the rain, and the tiny details of the day and night change when I live in such intimate, close relationship with the land?

© Breanna Rogers & Delisa Myles, 2011
Intrigued? Prescott College is an experiential education liberal arts college offering Bachelor's, Master's and P.h.D programs in a wide-range of subject areas. Located in northern Arizona, the college is known for its creative and innovative teaching practices that use the southwestern landscape as a classroom for students to gain hands-on, real life experience in their field of expertise (or in this case, to dance on and with beautiful agricultural land!). I received my Bachelor's degree from Prescott College, and consider it to be one of the best choices I have ever made. It transformed my vision of what education is, and can be, and opened me to new ways of seeing and relating to the world and my community, wherever I live (and no, in case you are wondering, I was not paid to say that ;-)). If you would like to contact the admissions office, you can do so here.

I am a big fan of anyone doing anything creative, but both Delisa and Breanna have spent their lives engaged in some exceptionally amazing projects, and encouraging others on their own creative journeys. You can learn more about Delisa, and enjoy some delicious photographs of her work here

And with that, I will leave you with another of Breanna's beautiful photographs of Delisa. It you get a chance over the next two weeks as we head into spring, do some spontaneous dancing somewhere that you usually would not -- preferably out of doors. A beach. A farm. an outdoor farmer's market. A park. Maybe find yourself a partner to dance with. I find that makes it all the more fun. Let go. Explore that line between your body and the natural world around you. And if you feel like it, write a poem or take a photograph, and share it with me here. Have a great week!

© Breanna Rogers & Delisa Myles, 2011

The supermoon that wasn't

Copyright Ariana Salvo, 2011
The day before yesterday there was supposed to be an a huge moon hung high in the sky, its face appearing 19 times larger than usual. Having an overactive imagination, as I do, I conjured up images of it all day in my head. The moon lighting up the city like it was daytime. The moon that was so big that we all became silhouettes against its warm yellow cheek. Being in exactly the right place as precisely the right moment and capturing the giant moon in all her glory -- her light flooding into my camera lens.

Problem is, it has been raining here for about three weeks, give or take a couple of days. Spring started off beautifully. I was down to tank-tops and sandals. But then these massive clouds rushed in, and brought rain shower after rain shower, wind, and torrential downpours. I love rain. I enjoyed it for the first week straight. I enjoyed it for the second week. And the third. But now that the full heads of blossoms are getting knocked off of branches and blanketing the ground all over the city, I am growing slightly wary. Still, I had great hopes that I would have a clear view of the super moon, even if it was through a tangled canvas of oak tree branches outside. But no such luck. It rained all night last night. I spent the evening at the home of some friends eating a multi-course Italian meal and playing board games instead of photographing the moon.

Starting yesterday at sunset, and ending tonight at sunset was the Baha'i new year or Naw Ruz, in Farsi. I am a Baha'i, and have been taking part in the Baha'i fast for the past 19 days from sunrise 'til sunset. Last night I broke my fast with some beautiful readings from the Baha'i writings and absolutely delicious food, surrounded by friends, and tonight my community had another big celebration. It has been 24 hours of joyful festivities, and I am feeling incredibly grateful. Through Facebook, I have been watching friends all over the planet celebrating alongside me, each in their own unique ways. My dear friend Nasrin enjoying her first cup of coffee and a gluten free dessert in London, with an expression of sheer delight on her face; my friends in Athens spinning around the room, arms interlocked as they did a Greek dance; and friends back on Prince Edward Island enjoying a delicious feast together at the Baha'i centre. Everywhere around the world Baha'is are celebrating the new year, and the beginning of spring.

In addition to celebrating the beginning of a new year, I am in the thick of preparing for my trip to the Dominican Republic. I will be leaving this Saturday, and will be gone for two weeks. I will be staying in a farming community that has no power or running water, so unfortunately I will not be able to write blog entries while I am there, but I am taking a journal, and I promise to share loads of photographs and great stories about the organic cocoa plantations when I get back home on April 10th.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about cocoa farming in the Dominican Republic, or Green & Black's, please post them here, and I will be sure to answer them upon my return. While I am away you can also check out the updates that those with power access will be posting on the Green & Black's USA Facebook page.

Did any of you see the supermoon? If you did, and would like to share your photos, please do so here. I would love to see some more images of it!

Happy new year to you all!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Beauty on my doorstep

My dear friend Pascale recently wrote a SoulPancake post challenging others to find beauty even in the midst of chaos. We have a lot of chaos around us at the moment, between the upheaval all over the Middle East, the plate-tectonic upheaval along the ring of fire, nuclear disasters, floods, fires, and war and violence. I spent part of my morning scrolling through hundreds of photographs of the lives of those whose entire cities were literally obliterated in mere seconds by the Japanese tsunami a few days ago. It made me feel deeply sad for the thousands of people who have just lost everything except for their lives.

After I finished looking at the photographs, I found myself wishing that I were closer so that I could help out. I do not have a lot of financial resources right now, but I do have my time, and if I were in Japan I might have been able to volunteer and make myself useful. Being so far away from Japan, I was feeling tremendously helpless, so I decided to take Pascale up on her challenge, and head out for a walk in my neighbourhood looking for the endless sources of beauty and hope in my world, that help to balance out the vast amounts of loss of life and destruction. It is springtime in Sacramento. An incredibly wet springtime, but springtime nonetheless, and everywhere I looked there was beauty pressing up through the soil, out of branches, out from between leaves, and through fresh stems. I walked through lots of puddles, and wandered into numerous gardens. I also spent some time in the park near my house, and in the amazing rock garden that is in the park, that is filled with plants from all over the world. It was chilly, with a breeze blowing. The air was sweet, and large and small birds crossed my path many times. The sun started to break through the clouds while I was out there, casting that magical, surreal light that saturates the landscape when light shines through cloud over everything.  I thought I would share some of the beauty that I came across with you here. Bring a little beauty to you, mid-week.

I challenge you to find and photograph, draw, paint, write or sing about something beautiful on your doorstep. If you do, post it in Pascale's SoulPancake entry, and bring a little more beauty into her life. Life post-earthquake is tough when you have no home, and your business has no customers because everyone is struggling to get by...since so many of us have so much beauty, perhaps we could share some of ours with her until things start looking up in New Zealand.

Have a beautiful Wednesday! 

Zero degrees of separation

Me in my Green & Black's community development t-shirt that arrived in the mail today

It is almost midnight, and is raining. The past three weeks it has been raining more often than not raining, and the sound of water falling has become a part of my internal rhythm as I move through my days. I have been thinking a lot about community this week. What got me started was the group of women that are sharing the amazing journey that our collective, round the world journal is currently on. Listening to Pascale's experiences over the past few weeks since the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand destroyed her family home (and many other homes and buildings in her community), and watching as she struggles to find ways to contribute to re-building her community, has moved me deeply. Life has been incredibly difficult for her, but instead of isolating herself from the suffering that is happening all around her, she has reached out, recognizing that a single person or family cannot achieve happiness and prosperity alone. It requires teamwork. So she has been out making meals for volunteers, baking for her friends and family, returning to her family home, that she and her parents had to abandon when the earthquake damaged it beyond repair, to feed the resident ducks, and wandering around Christchurch filming positive quotes and poetry that some amazing human being had been writing on rubber hearts and posting in random places all over the city to help improve morale. The following is a short video of Pascale's latest community adventures:

Another thing that has me thinking about community is this quote: "Do you not see that we are one? You cultivate your purity in me; I feed my mud in you. You support me; I support you-- and together, we flower love and joy." (From Rapport with Thich Nhat Hanh on Interrelationship). The quote is on the front of a card that my close friend Ahava left on my desk before I took her to the train station. I have it standing on the corner of my desk still, and I look up at it often. It reminds me that even though I feel incredibly alone a lot of the time right now, that I am in reality part of a very strong, closely knit community that stretches all the way around the globe, and for which I am incredibly grateful.

One way that I have decided to nurture my writing is to create writing time with friends. I do not have any close friends here that write, so while my friend and fellow poet Ahava was visiting, the two of us went out on a writing date. We sat in a coffee shop, set our timer, wrote for short periods of time on different subjects, and then shared what we had written and gave each other feedback. It was such a positive experience for me that I asked her if we could continue to do this even once she was back on Saltspring Island, in BC, and she agreed. So today was our first writing date. It was shorter than planned, but with the aide of Skype, we could see each other and hear each other, and we could sit writing with each other. It was an incredible experience, and I am really looking forward to our next writing date. One of the amazing things about technology is that it enables us to see the context that a person exists in. I have not yet visited Ahava on the organic farm she lives on, but within a few minutes, she had given me a panoramic view of her writing and yoga studio, the creek bubbling past outside and the forest behind it, and the hand-made gate right outside her window. I could see the light that she is surrounded by, and I even got to meet her partner via webcam, which was a first! I give technology a hard time, but today it provided me with a gift. At one point during our writing session my neighbour blew his car horn, startling both me and my friend in British Columbia. We had to laugh at that one. To be able to be so present with each other across such an enormous distance on so many levels totally transforms human relationships, and our definition of community.

Another thing that made me think of community today was another Skype conversation I had with a friend in Cyprus. I miss my friends from back home tremendously, and I rarely get to talk to them, so our conversation today was like a drink of fresh spring water after a long hike. Deeply refreshing. There are words that I grew up using to communicate affection that I do not use in my everyday conversations in North America. Speaking with Helen back in Cyprus, I notice our common language and understanding come bubbling back up, and I realize that no matter how far apart we are, she, and my other childhood friends, will always be a very real, very present part of my community. Having strong friendships with people who I have known for so many years keeps me grounded and strong in my beliefs and values.

I received a big box in the mail today. It was from Raleigh -- the organization leading my upcoming expedition to the Dominican Republic, and contained a first aid kit, water bottles, a mess tin, sleeping mat, and a number of Green & Black's community development t-shirts. Receiving this box made me reflect on the fact that in two weeks I will be expanding my community yet again -- this time to include my fellow expedition colleagues from all over the US and the UK; our expedition leaders and medic; and the organic cocoa farmers from the Dominican Republic that we will be working with and living with for two weeks. Community is fluid. Always changing, growing, and becoming more diverse. 

Every time I get into the car to drive anywhere I hear more about what is happening in Japan. Disaster after disaster in Japan. It is heartbreaking. But amidst all the heartbreak, there is story after story of people risking their lives to save other people. Those who are working to prevent further disasters at the nuclear plants even though they know that by doing so they are jeopardizing their own lives. Those who are going into the areas destroyed by the tsunami to help distribute food or search for survivors. Individuals who, while most are fleeing to the south of Japan, are heading to the worst-hit areas to lend a hand in any way they can...the list is endless. Today I read an article by Ed West, about how unlike pretty much every other country that has experienced a major natural disaster of any kind recently, Japan has reported no looting. The reason given is that the Japanese feel it is wrong to steal even when you are destitute. That values still matter even when things are tough...perhaps especially when things are tough. Obviously the Japanese have a thing of two to teach the rest of the world about community ethics and mutual support and collaboration. Being thrown into collapse and chaos has a way of peeling back the layers and exposing what is at the heart of a culture or peoples. The heart of the Japanese people leaves me silent with awe and respect for their courage and integrity.

Tonight I had seven friends over for supper. We are currently on day 14 of the Baha'i 19 day fast, and so we are not eating or drinking from sunrise 'til sunset. My friends and I broke our fast with healthy servings of tomato artichoke pesto pasta with mushrooms and turkey sausage, parmesan cheese and fresh basil. We were gathering to study the Kitab-i-Aqdas, which is our Most Holy Book. After filling our bellies with pasta, and making hot cups of tea, we settled down to a couple of hours worth of study and deepening on our holy writings. It was an evening of deep spiritual conversation and connection, and we all went away from it feeling rejuvenated and inspired. I did not know any of the people in this group this time last year. And now we are a community. It is amazing to me how quickly community develops when I am willing to open my heart and be present with it.

All of these thoughts are reminding me that in reality there is no separation. My separateness from those in Japan, BC, Cyprus, and New Zealand is nothing but an illusion. In reality we are one. Any shift in the earth on one side of the planet necessarily means a shift in the planet on the other side of the world. A loss in New Zealand or Japan is a loss here. Tiny acts of kindness, compassion or courage in Japan are a reflection of the capacity of humankind to show kindness and compassion; to act with courage.  

And now it is almost 1am, and it is time to rest so that I can get up again before the sun rises to eat breakfast and drink before another full day of fasting.

As you move through your Wednesday, maybe you could reflect on what community means to you. Where do you find community? How do you create it? What communities are you a part of? I would love to hear your experiences within community. Have a great Wednesday. See you soon!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Believing in the door I do not (yet) see

"...your own knowledge that a certain event is to occur, or your desire that it should happen, is not and never can be the reason for its occurrence." -Baha'u'llah-

I am going through one of those periods in life where I am obviously supposed to be learning something very important. I know that I am going through one of those periods because I have set some very clear goals for what I want to be accomplishing, and so far no matter how hard I work at achieving them, none of them are materializing in the way that I had hoped. The biggest of these is supporting myself. Although I am not someone who has career goals like many of my friends, I am at a point in my life where it is very important to me to have full time, long-term, stable work. When I arrived in California last spring, my intention was to remain for a few months and then move to China or elsewhere for a while to work. But as I reflected, I realized that while my nomadic lifestyle has been amazing, and I do want to travel more, I am really ready to have a home to return to, and work that is ongoing. So I set my priority as finding life-giving work that I love and am passionate about, and have spent the past few months writing proposals for magazines, sending my resume to companies whose ethics reflect my own, and spending hours and hours job hunting.

I have never before placed my work as my priority in life, so this decision to stay put until I am certain that my next move will lead to stable and sustainable work has been a big one for me. Life has always been for living and enjoying, and although I have been fortunate to have work that I loved quite a bit in my life, opportunities have always seemed to come to me relatively easily. Sure -- I did work hard, but I always ran into the right person at the right time, and a job would materialize out of the conversation. So having made the commitment to pursue work that involves writing, and poured my energy into this effort for so long now with very little result thus far, the fact that I am feeling rather discouraged is not surprising. While the intention to pursue work that I am passionate about and love was one that my friends and family supported wholeheartedly when I started on this journey, many of them have started suggesting that maybe it would be a good idea to find work doing any old job to pay the bills -- at least until things start falling into place with my writing.

I am inclined to think that they are probably right. Maybe this whole writing idea is just not the right thing for me. Maybe I should go get an office job. Maybe I am just being stubborn. Maybe I need to get over the fact that what I think I want is not what God intends for me to do with my life. Maybe...but maybe it is time for me to learn that when you really want something in life, it requires some struggle. Maybe this is my time for learning how to dedicate myself to my dreams and not back down even when things aren't working out. It is easy to say "this is just not working...I give up." But it is harder to recognize that I am feeling uncertain and insecure and fearful. It is hard to face up to the reality that maybe the lessons I need to learn are not when to give up and go do something else, but how to be content with the things I have been given at this time in my life. How to recognize the small accomplishments. How to be patient with the fact that things do not seem to be going how I had hoped, and at the same time persevere in my job search. Because the truth is that while I have had to stop eating meals out, shopping and spending multiple days a week in coffee shops; have not been able to travel internationally for a while now, and have to borrow a car when I need to travel long distances, I have gotten to know many new friends since arriving here. I attend a devotional gathering every Friday night that is usually followed by a great evening of socializing. This Friday I looked around me and realized that there were 19 people in the room who I would now call good friends. Nineteen people that I did not even know this time last year. Last night, after returning from a full day of Baha'i activities in San Francisco, I was just too tired to go out gallery hopping with friends, and two other friends decided to come keep me company, and spent the evening chilling out and drinking tea and chatting. My parents have very generously offered me a place to live until I figure stuff out, and I currently have a lot of free time that I am using to volunteer on a local farm helping to educate children and youth about how food is grown, why the environment is so vitally important, and how a personal relationship with the land changes one's perspective on life completely. I have time to cook meals for my parents who are working very hard, and come home tired. I have more time to read books and educate myself about new areas of agriculture and free-trade products; I have more time to write friends hand-written notes, and I have more time to pray and meditate. I am not doing what I think I should be doing, but I am doing quite a lot, and I have a great deal to be grateful for. 

I have been thinking a lot about how important it is to find a balance between my dreams and desires and the will of God. We all want things in life. My dear friend Pascale just started her own business as a personal trainer in New Zealand, only to have her entire city destroyed by an earthquake leaving few people with extra funds to hire personal trainers. My friend Alanna back on PEI had applied for, taken multiple exams for, and been offered a year-long job posting in France that she was very excited about, only to be told a month before she was due to leave that those hiring her had not realized that they should not have even allowed her to interview for the position because it would be a demotion, and they had no mechanism for demotions of higher-paid employees. I imagine that those in Japan who just lost loved ones, property, agricultural fields, and livelihoods had other things in mind for their lives. But ultimately it is our will versus a larger Will. What we want versus what is best for us. How we think we would best be of service to the world versus how the world needs us to be of service.

I have yet to figure it all out, but I do have a sense that learning to put my will into line with a larger will gracefully, energetically, courageously, and with perseverance, enthusiasm, contentment and humility may just be a greater priority right now. And who knows. Maybe practicing bringing my will into line with His Will more is the element that is not yet in place. Perhaps shifting my understanding and perspective will make a door appear that I had not previously noticed. Obviously, I cannot know for sure. I am focusing on continuing to move forward with faith that something unexpected could very likely be right around the next corner. As my friend Ahava said before she left on the train, "anything is possible." 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday prayers for Japan

It is Friday afternoon, and I am curled up on my bed with the sun shining in on me warm and golden. I have reached the time of day past which I, for one, am completely brain dead from fasting all day. Some people do just fine with not eating or drinking from sunrise 'til sunset. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I notice my energy level drop by late morning, and from then on I am not good for much of anything that requires any degree of mental sharpness. I spent most of my Friday working on my Canadian taxes and student loan consolidation paperwork, which meant lots of number crunching, which used up my brain food early on.

Fortunately it is Friday, and it is almost 4pm, so I only have a little over two hours to go 'til I break my fast for the day. The fast, while physically challenging, is spiritually rejuvenating, and I also find that because I feel so tired, it makes me slow way down. Slowing down makes me reflect more deeply, and notice details that I otherwise might not notice (and no, I am not referring to the detail work on the package of Green & Black's Maya Gold chocolate that is sitting on the table next to me, although I will admit that the chocolate was the first thing that my eyes passed over as I typed that).

I have been thinking about Japan all day. Some of you may not know this, but my work back on PEI was very interwoven with Japan because it was our main export market. While working for Springwillow Farms and Anne's PEI Farm, I farmed with many WWOOFers from Japan, and interacted with many business people who came to PEI to visit us and learn more about our agricultural products. Anne's PEI Farm actually has two main owners: Raymond Loo, and Kosaku Morita. Kosaku and his family are currently in Japan, and Raymond is traveling in New Zealand, on his way to Japan. In addition to the Japanese people that I met through work, there was a lovely group of Japanese pilgrims with me at the Baha'i World Centre last spring when I went on pilgrimage. I have also mentioned my dear friend Pascale many times in my blog. What I did not mention is that she had been living in Japan for the past few years, and only recently moved back to New Zealand to start her business. Her brother, his wife, and their child still live in Japan. So I have been thinking about Pascale a lot today, and the amount of upheaval that she has experienced over the last month, from losing her family home to the earthquake in Christchurch, to worrying about her brother and his family yesterday during the massive earthquake in Japan.

I have mentioned the round-the-world journal that I am working on with eleven of my friends a number of times in my blog. The journal miraculously reached New Zealand despite the earthquake, and Pascale has been recording her thoughts, ideas and inspiration in its pages through the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, and now through the earthquake in Japan. While I would feel profoundly affected by the devastation in Japan regardless of whether the journal existed or not, its existence is connecting the eleven women scattered around the globe together in new ways. It is making us more conscious of the on-the-ground details of what is happening in other places around the world, and at the same time reminding us that those "other places around the world" are actually home to people just like us, who happen to be going through an overwhelmingly challenging time right now.

As the Japanese reel from the havoc wreaked on their homeland. As they feel fear of aftershocks. As they locate loved ones who were missing, or are forced to deal with the death of family members and friends, maybe we could all slow down a little bit and say a prayer for them as our fellow human beings. Throughout what promises to be a gloriously sunny and blue-skied weekend, maybe we could pause and acknowledge that what is happening to them could just as easily be happening to us in the community that we call home. I don't think it matters how you pray. Silently or out loud. If you sing it or whisper it into the evening. Just send some positive energy rippling over the waters to our brothers and sisters in Japan.

On that note I will leave you. I have to put together some prayers for a devotional gathering tonight with a bunch of friends. I am thinking of suggesting that the theme be healing and supportive prayers for Japan. As you move through your weekend, slow down and notice the seemingly small details that bring you joy. The branches starting to bud or blossom. The reflection of sky on the wet pavement. Melting snow. A misty moon. The sound of migrating birds headed north. The feeling of holding someone you love close. Making a friend or family member laugh. The taste of a hot cup of Darjeeling tea. The little joys that you have that make your life beautiful. You never know when you will lose your home, or your job, or those you love. Take the time to savour this moment. To appreciate your blessings. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Double digging on Louise's birthday

Today is a special day. It is one of my best friend's birthdays. Louise has been reading my blog faithfully since my first entry. There are few things as encouraging as knowing that a brilliant artist and well-read librarian reads your blog on a regular basis. If I had been on Prince Edward Island today, I would have been enjoying her excellent company. As it was, today was double digging day in the youth garden on Soil Born Farms, so I spent the day outside, immersed in the promise of happy plants! To get myself in a digging mood, I listened to the upbeat and incredibly energizing Vishten tunes all the way to the farm, and by the time I got there, I was revving to get my hands on a shovel and get those beds turned!

It was a rather grey day on the farm, and showers kept moving in over the valley, so we did not get as much done as we would have liked, but we did make some progress, and given that this was my first digging of the season, and the fact that I am in the middle of a 19 day religious fast in which I do not eat or drink from sunrise til sunset, my body was content with having our day cut short by rain. Even the short distance we did cover had us sweating despite the cool wind and rain.

Double digging is a way of mixing the soil up, circulating nutrients, and breaking up the soil so that it is looser and better facilitates the growth of the plants that we will be transplanting out into the garden in the next few weeks. Basically you dig a trench across the bed that is a bit wider than the width of the shovel, piling the soil from the trench on the soil bed. You then loosen up the bottom of the trench with the fork, and once the compacted soil is loose and airy, you move onto the next trench, emptying the soil in it into the first trench that you dug. Sufficiently confused? You have to give it a try. It is really quite simple once you start digging. And your plants will be very grateful, and reflect their gratitude in the form of a plentiful harvest.

This is Guy, my digging partner in crime and director of the education programs on the farm. His faithful companion's name is Natoma, named after a nearby lake.

Despite the cold weather and the rain, it felt really good to get outside today and do some intense physical work. I have been feeling really discouraged about the lack of work opportunities lately. Lots of doors not opening at all no matter how much I knock. So the digging was good for the body and the heart today. 

We also got to see more Sandhill Cranes migrating overhead. They make a beautiful sound -- very different from Canada Geese, and one that I am starting to recognize, when they are passing overhead. Watching them fly over the farm today made me wonder where they are going. Do you know? I will have to look it up. Below is a short video of the Cranes flying over the farm. I could not keep them in the viewfinder the whole time, but you can hear their distinctive call. My apologies for the buckets at the end. Will have to work on my video skills. :-)

It is evening now. The sun will be setting in 15 minutes, and I will be breaking my fast with a nice hot cup of sweet tea. Although I would have liked to get more of our beds done before the rains moved in over the farm, getting home early today meant that I got to call Louise and wish her a happy birthday in person before she headed to bed. I am incredibly grateful that the universe brought Louise into this world on this spring day. She has brought an amazing amount of colour into the world for one woman, she has added beautiful and sensitive songs to the world's melodies, and she has always been good for a cup of tea and a long and deep chat about anything and everything. She also has one of the most enthusiastic puppies I have ever met, which must say something about her too, right?

Spring is on its way. The rains are bringing much-needed moisture to the valley. The sun is setting in four minutes. And I am grateful for awesome, inspiring and encouraging friends like Louise. Happy Thursday, and happy, happy birthday, Louise.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sunglasses, magnolia blossoms, and poetry: Day I

The last few days I have been practicing playful presence. A very close friend of mine, Ahava Shira, was doing a month-long silent retreat at Spirit Rock which ended this past Saturday. I had promised her that I would be there to pick her up and whisk her away for a few days together before she headed home to British Columbia. So on Saturday morning I set off for Spirit Rock, winding my way through picturesque towns up into lush hills dotted with professional cyclists pumping their way up steep inclines at speeds that I shall only ever dream of. As the road leveled out slightly, I saw a driveway to my right, and a sign for Spirit Rock Meditation Centre, so I swung my car into the driveway, and headed off to find Ahava. Ahava and I met on Prince Edward Island at a conference on Poetics. You know those "random" meetings that happen to be far more than "random"? Well meeting Ahava was one such encounter for me. I met her at a time when things in my life were starting to shift, and I was ready for some major life changes. Since then I have moved to California and started writing for myself, and Ahava has completed her P.h.D., launched a poetry CD, and started her own business leading retreats and writing workshops for women.

The parking lot at Spirit Rock was full of cars, but there were no people around. I decided to head up a hill towards the dining hall in the hope of locating my friend. I had barely started up the incline when a sprightly figure with long, full, bouncing honeyed curls came bounding down the hill at me. I had to smile. Ahava has a way of filling my chest with laughter, and seeing her racing towards me over the lush green hills of northern California made me laugh out loud.

I have never been the first person to come into contact with someone who has not spoken for a month, so I was not quite sure what to expect. As it turned out, Ahava's re-integration into life outside Spirit Rock was a joyful one, filled with a steady stream of exclamations. I had been thinking of ways to help Ahava integrate back into the fast-paced life of California gradually, for days, and had relocated a lovely little spa in San Anselmo that a friend had taken me years earlier that I had loved. Us being of like mind, my suggestion of going to relax in a hot tub in our very own little Japanese garden was one that Ahava approved of immensely, so we set off in search of Shibui Gardens Hot Tub Spa, and before long were immersed in warm water, surrounded by greenery. It slightly more run down than the last time I had visited, but still exceptionally relaxing and rejuvenating. I listened while Ahava started sharing about her retreat while we enjoyed the steam and warmth of the water.

From San Anselmo, Ahava and I headed across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. Ahava cracked out her camera, rolled down the window, and snapped shots of the powerful cables, the geometric shapes of sky between steel beams, the bay below us, and other tourists exploring the bridge. As I navigated the city traffic, she delighted herself with shooting photos of colourful fruit stands, people, shop windows, side-streets, reflections and street signs (while giving me kind and reassuring support that I could, in fact, stop on an intimidatingly steep hill and start up again without causing an accident or stalling). We arrived in San Francisco and stopped briefly at the MOMA before heading across the street to Samovar Tea Lounge. A relaxing evening of tea-sipping and catching up had been the reason for this trip into the city. I had figured heading out into the city proper or trying to go gallery hopping might be a bit much with the crowds. So tea it was. We wandered through Yerba Buena Garden on our way to Samovar, enjoying the blossoming magnolia trees. It seems to be the season for these spectacular trees. With the rain showers of the previous days, some of the petals had fallen to the grass below, carpeting it in pink petals. Ahava and I stood under one tree in particular, studying the blossoms and attempting to photograph them despite the rain that had begun to fall on the city.

The back side of Yerba Buena Gardens has an amazing waterfall memorial to the civil rights movement, with a series of glass panels displaying Martin Luther King quotes in many different languages. There were many beautiful quotes, but I was still surprised to see Greek among the languages represented:

Ahava and I finally made it into Samovar, where we settled into cozy chairs and ordered an Indian-inspired meal of tofu curry and rice, with cucumber yogurt, that was accompanied by hot mugs of their masala chai, which is to die for. For desert we had a delicious sweet that I have written about before, and that is just as good the second time around as it was the first: rose-infused Greek yoghurt with dates, toasted walnuts, fresh mint, pieces of sliced apple, and coconut syrup. While we ate and drank, and enjoyed the complex, rich flavours, we also talked, shared our dreams, thoughts and struggles over the last year and a half. It was a sublimely relaxing evening, and we were reluctant to leave....

...so we were still there three hours later when the tea lounge shut, emerging into the rain for a slow walk back to the car, faces upturned to feel the shower against our cheeks, enjoying the sound of the fountains bubbling and water falling and sliding over stone, and the reflection of lights against the wet city streets.

We made the drive up out of the Bay area with the windshield wipers going steady, Ahava's bare feet tapping on the dashboard, both of us singing to David Francey's fantastic tunes (which, if you are not already familiar with them, I highly recommend you have a listen to here).

Friday, March 4, 2011

I. Love. My. Life.

I really do. And since it is Friday and I think I might be getting sick despite only being on day 3 of my 19 day Baha'i fast, and am home on a Friday night, in bed, I think it is time for a list. I suggest you join me and make a list too, just for the hell of it. Random reasons why your world rocks. I will go first. But I would love to read your reasons if you feel like posting them here. Here goes. Random reasons my (currently delirious) world rocks:

1. I spent my entire day on Thursday on a farm in the sunshine harvesting vegetables, weeding an herb garden, and canvasing a local neighbourhood with some very cool high school students. We were trying to find out if people with fruit trees in their gardens wanted us to harvest their fruit through a program called Harvest Sacramento. The owner can keep as much of the harvested fruit as they want, and the rest is donated to the food bank.

The Youth Garden at Soil Born Farms
Waiting for the youth to arrive at Soil Born Farms
Youth cooking healthy meal at Soil Born Farms
One of my favourite activities is planting seeds in springtime, like these fancy mamas (a.k.a. Bachelor's Buttons):

and these beans, that are going to be mighty tasty in soup:

And not only do I get to plant seeds, but sometimes something miraculous happens from one Thursday to the next. Something that looks like this:

And if you knew me as my friends back in Canada do, you would know that when I see these little fellas pressing up through the earth, I am imagining something like this:

I am told that the seeds above in the foreground are Lupins. I have yet to see whether they grow quite as tall at the PEI variety! 
Oh. I almost forgot. If that was not enough to make me the happiest woman on the planet, I also got to see this yesterday above the farm:

I hope you can make them out here. There were huge flocks of Sandhill Cranes migrating north. They were beautiful!
2. I have amazing friends all over the world who make me laugh; who go running with me; pray with me, and are always there when I need to talk:

California friends
Three Canadian women whose friendship has changed my life

3. I am having my first tea descriptions printed on Lady Baker's Tea Trolley tea packages this week. Will post photos when I see the labels on the bags!

4. The round the world journal that I am working on with eleven of my amazing friends made it safely to New Zealand despite the earthquake and the fact that the house it was addressed to was so damaged by the earthquake that my dear friend Pascale had to abandon it. You can keep updated on the whereabouts of our journal, and see a few peeks of the beautiful and inspiring content at unconventionallyinspired12.wordpress.com

5. Tomorrow I am driving to the Bay Area to pick up a soulmate from BC, who will be spending the weekend with me. A fellow writer, we are going to take long walks, drink tea, and write together. I cannot wait to see her radiant face tomorrow!

Ahava, looking radiant on the organic farm she lives on in British Columbia, Canada
 6. I received a package in the mail today from Green & Black's organic chocolate containing a gift certificate for REI so that I can go and start purchasing the gear I need for my expedition at the end of the month. The days are passing so incredibly quickly! I cannot believe that I head to the Dominican Republic in only a few weeks! You can see the monthly updates from the five of us from the US that will be headed down to the organic cocoa farms at the end of the month here.

7. I got my Master's degree in island studies. And although people always look at me funny when I say that, the reality is that it means that I get to go to places like this, and call it work:

8. Spending so much of my time on islands means that I get to experience truly spectacular natural landscapes and wildlife on a regular basis. The natural world, and my relationship to it, is an integral part of what I value most about the world. I will finish up this entry with a video clip from one of my favourite places in the world -- a cape that I used to drive to often after long summer and fall days working on a farm on PEI, in Canada. I would lie in the tall grass and listen to and watch the cormorants. There are hundreds of them nesting in these cliffs on PEI. The ocean crashes up on the rocks. It is wild and spectacularly beautiful.

And with that, I wish you a wonderful Friday night, an excellent weekend, and an enjoyable list-making session! (I would love to read your lists here, if you would like to share). I will be out exploring the world with Ahava this weekend, but I will write a full post on Monday to share some of our adventures with you.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The blessings of sacrifice

Day 1 of the Baha'i fast ended tonight at sunset, and although I had an amazing prayer time at dawn this morning and an extremely productive day, I was, nevertheless, very ready to eat come sunset. I find that the first few days of the 19 day fast are really tough, and today was no exception. By late morning I already had a headache despite having a good breakfast and four large glasses of water before sunrise (which, come to think of it, may be why I had a headache...)

Tonight we had a devotional gathering at our home. The topic was the blessings of sacrifice. I recall that when the woman in our group who came up with that theme suggested it when we were coming up with monthly themes many months ago, I felt myself physically recoil for some reason. So I have to admit that I was not sure how tonight was going to go.

As it turned out, there were only four of us at the devotional tonight (which meant we were left with most of a pie and almost an entire quiche in the fridge, in a household with three people who are not eating during daylight hours for the next 18 days....someone please come raid our fridge!) and my mom came up with a wonderful program with readings that approached sacrifice from many different perspectives. She then led a discussion about instances that we could recall in which we sacrificed something in the short term that ended up resulting in unforeseen blessings further down the road. The discussion was an interesting one, and the other two participants said that they probably do make sacrifices on a regular basis, but that they do not feel that they are making sacrifices at the time that they are making the decision to either do or not do something. 

Given that what is most present in my mind and heart at the moment is the decision of whether moving back to PEI, whether it be for a year to house sit for a friend, or beyond, is the right thing for me right now, I started reflecting on my six years on PEI, and how tough those years were for me socially. I met many fantastic people who are lifelong friends, but I did not not have the close circle of friends that were close to me in age that I had grown accustomed to having before moving to PEI. I was very conscious of this the entire time I lived on PEI. It meant that in the evenings I was usually home reading a book or writing. Not being a drinker, the bar scene was not for me, and I just never really found a group of like-minded folks my own age. I did not really mind, but of course it meant that I spent a lot of time alone over the six years that I was living on the island. I enjoy alone time, but I also really love the company of friends. I am generally quite social. So learning to adjust to so much time alone was definitely a challenge for me -- one which I am not entirely sure I ever fully conquered. Living on PEI, I felt as though my social life was definitely an area in which I had to make sacrifices.

There were other things on PEI that I loved though. Things that made it all worthwhile for me. The beautiful beaches and natural areas that I could get to easily in short periods of time. The farmer's market, which I adored. The trail right across from my house that I ran on regularly. The close proximity to farmland that I could spend full days on planting, weeding or harvesting crops. The community of amazing people who shared things with me that I would never have learned if I had been limiting my social life to my peers. People who had the skills to build their own homes, haul their own firewood out of the forest and chop it up themselves, and grow their own food. I really valued being surrounded by such skilled people, and I hope that some of their do-it-yourself mentality rubbed off on me, because Prince Edward Islanders are definitely empowered people. I also valued that the bank clerks knew me by voice, so that when I would call in they knew who was speaking. The tiny yet huge details of a small town that are lost in a large city.

I have been thinking a lot about whether I might take one of my best friends up on her offer to house-sit for the year that she is away working in France. Part of me is jumping with joy at this offer. The part that misses the natural environment on PEI like crazy, and that still gets tears in her eyes when she talks about pretty much anyone in my closely-knit community. It is amazing to me that although it has been over a year since I left the island, I still think of everyone there as my community and family, and miss their presence in my life deeply every day. I guess that is what happens when you open yourself to a place completely. It comes rushing in, and becomes an integral part of who you are.

I am not at all settled in California. I am constantly looking for work elsewhere, and hoping that I will find work that will enable me to relocate to the Mediterranean or Central America. But over the last few months I have been working really hard at my writing, and I am finally starting to make some progress. This week I sent off three article pitches to magazines, and I am now writing tea descriptions for a tea company that, interestingly, is back on PEI. I am also in the process of talking to a friend about interviewing her for an article about a very interesting project she is working on in Mali (which I will share with you once it is done!) I have a large group of friends that I socialize with regularly here. I am loving my regular runs in the park near our house and my yoga practice, which helps keep me grounded. I am heading off to the Dominican Republic to build a gravity-fed drinking water system for cocoa farmers in a few weeks. And I am hoping to be able to spend a week or two in Portugal this summer. Things are definitely looking up.

So when I got the news that this spring may be one of my last chances to move back to PEI and re-establish myself before my visa expires late this summer, it is understandable that I would feel conflicted. I left PEI for a social life and to pursue my own writing career. Now both of these things are taking off, but I am missing my closely knit small rural community. There has to be a balance somewhere, it seems. I have just not found it yet.

So when we were talking about sacrifice tonight, I found it ironic that back on PEI I consciously sacrificed a more active social life in order to live in a beautiful, small, rural community; and now that I have the social life, by choosing to remain here, I am also choosing, at least for the time-being, to live in a big, noisy city in which I have to worry about personal safety, rarely get to see the stars, and do not even know the names of the couple that live next door. The topic of sacrifice was chosen because of the Fast, but it has much further reaching relevance to my life as a while right now.

It is getting late, and I have to be up at dawn, so had better turn in. I am heading to bed thinking about sacrifices. The ones I make. The ones I am not willing to make. The ones I was willing to make in the past, but am not entirely sure I am still willing to make today. Reflecting on sacrifice brings priorities and dreams in life bubbling to the surface. Priorities and dreams that I know I have to be true to, even if it means I have to make painful sacrifices.

What are your thoughts on sacrifice? Are there any sacrifices that you have made (perhaps without realizing it at the time) that have resulted in blessings in the long-term?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

At 6.37am

the sun rises. Tomorrow morning I will rise before it, in darkness. I will have my breakfast in half light. Sip my tea bundled up warm in the kitchen, drawing my body gently out of its cocoon of sleep. I will sit and pray, and read from the Baha'i writings as the fiery red ball of the sun rises up over the city. In the Koran, dawn is defined as the moment that a white thread can be distinguished from a black thread with the naked eye. I will feel the warmth of first-light against my closed eye-lids and cheeks. I will hear birdcall. I will write in my journal by those delicate first rays of sun. Maybe I will practice yoga as I did this morning. Later the rain will come. I will have many hours to work on my writing and listen to the showers drumming on our rooftop. I will not be planting sunflowers with pre-schoolers tomorrow. The earth will be too heavy with water for tiny hands to be digging in it. That will have to wait 'til next week. I will have a quiet first day of fasting, with plenty of time to reflect on the question burning in my heart right now: should I move back to PEI for a year this April?

I love the Baha'i nineteen day fast. It is a time of re-gathering for me before I burst into springtime and then beyond that into my season -- summer. The last six years in Canada I loved waking at dawn to watch the sun rise over the snowy landscape. It would rise from the horizon and get caught in the shattered lattice of bare branches that were dipped in ice, clattering against each other in the wind. There is something pure about the sunrise anywhere on the planet, but a sun rising over a white, snowy landscape is truly magnificent. Every tiny ice crystal reflects the light, and it is dazzling.

Here there is no snow. The branches are blossoming. Hummingbirds buzz outside our kitchen window, feeding on nectar from the flowering bush outside.

For me the fast is a time for spiritual rejuvenation. I find that I spend more time praying. More time writing. More time taking long walks and listening to the sounds of nature. More time nestled into the hammock of silence. It is not a sad time. Much of it is actually very joyful. But I find myself feeling deeply pensive and reflective, and often wanting more time alone. I am really looking forward to this fast because it gives me a set period of time in which to concentrate on the questions in my heart and the yearnings of my soul.

Tomorrow evening we have a devotional gathering here at our home right after sunset. The topic of the devotional tomorrow night will be sacrifice. Our devotional gatherings always have themes, but this theme was chosen by one of the other women in the group. She chose it because for her this time of fasting symbolizes sacrifice of physical comfort. It is true that during the fast I become extremely aware of how much of my day normally revolves around eating and drinking. Living in an affluent society as I do, I do not go more than an hour or two without eating or drinking something, and much of my social life revolves around eating or drinking with friends, so I find myself withdrawing from many social activities during the fast because I am not eating, and it is rather challenging to be surrounded by the aromas of delicious food when I am not eating.

But not eating or drinking between the hours of sunrise and sunset is also a blessing because I am reminded, every time I feel hunger pangs, of my spiritual reality, and of the great blessing that this time of the year is providing me: time to immerse my soul in spiritually uplifting activities. I also find that I suddenly have SO MUCH FREE TIME on my hands without all that meal and snack preparation time! And there can be no tea-making procrastination sagas, so I suddenly become far more productive, although I do have to get my most concentrated work done in the first half of the day because my mind tends to get rather fuzzy by late afternoon!

It is getting late, and time to give my body rest before it has to be up again to eat. I hope that all of you who are fasting have a beautiful fast this year. And for those of you who are not, perhaps you could join me in paying more attention to your spiritual self over the next 19 days. The Baha'i new year is on the spring equinox (March 21st), which is a time of opening up to the world. Using these next 19 days as time to reflect on how you want to grow this spring might help to bring more attention to the quality of the life you are living, and the spiritual energy that you are putting into that growth. Here are a couple of quotes about fasting from the Baha'i writings:

"All praise be unto God, Who hath...enjoined on them the Fast that those possessed of means may become apprised of the woes and sufferings of the destitute." -Baha'u'llah

"Cling firmly to obligatory prayer and fasting. Verily, the religion of God is like unto heaven; fasting is its sun, and obligatory prayer is its moon. In truth, they are the pillars of religion..." -Baha'u'llah