Saturday, 23 February 2019

I Choose to Weave

The Crow holed up last week, conserving energy until Snowmageddon was over.

It’s over! The sun is shining, the snow is melting fast, the days are getting longer, and I think it’s safe to pop my head out of the hole and get on with life. Or is it?

What do you see when you look out at the world? There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly – but mostly, it seems, we tend to be bombarded by the bad and the ugly in our news feeds. Maybe I should just turn right around and turtle back into my hole. It’s just too much.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this because of an op-ed article in the New York Times, written by moderate conservative David Brooks. (See link, below.) Brooks says he hears stories of pain every week, stories about bullying, racism, hateful words and angry acts directed at anyone who is “not my tribe.”

“These different kinds of pain share a common thread,” he writes. “Our lack of healthy connection to each other ... results in a culture of fear, distrust, tribalism, shaming and strife.”

The social fabric – the glue which holds a society together, the bonds which people share – is tearing apart, leaving big holes for us to fall through.

Over many centuries we’ve carefully woven this fabric out of tradition, spiritual values, and civility, trying to form a culturally rich and socially cohesive community.
Over the last six decades, however, Individualism has gone front and center as a social construct.  We place high value on freedom, self-expression and personal fulfilment, all good things. But the pendulum has swung too far: we have forgotten to balance that with community, working together, civic duty, and the common good. And that’s dangerous. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

“We are born into relationships, and the measure of our life is in the quality of our relationships. “We” precedes “me”,” says Brooks.

But not so much anymore. Stereotyping, verbal assaults, abuse of the powerless, angry vindictive rants – it’s everywhere you look, sometimes even glorified. Freedom of self-expression can look pretty ugly. This is perhaps when we want to hide our head in the sand, crawl back into our holes.

But Brooks decided to escape from his hole and check out what else is out there. He looked beyond the forces that rip apart the social fabric, and found what he names Weavers, people and organizations that are not motivated by power, money, status, and a me-first mentality. They want to live in right relation with others and to serve the community. With their deeds, they are mending the social fabric.

Their stories abound. Look around you, which is what I did, and this is what I saw, just in our small community:

A fundraiser for 17 families who had lost their possessions and their rented homes in a flood was successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Rotary clubs in our Valley have raised the money to build miles and miles of trails enjoyed by all. People return dropped wallets containing vital documents and lots of money. The local Grannies are tireless in holding fundraisers to support grandmothers in Africa. Compassionate volunteers staff the Cancer Agency that one of my friends has needed lately. A neighbour uses his snowblower to clear the driveways on our street. An organization here in town pays expenses for families whose children need medical treatment in larger urban hospitals. The Coldest Night movement sends out teams of people who walk the streets in solidarity with those who live there, while raising money for our local shelter society. An anonymous thank-you note arrives in the mailbox of a committee I work on. A downtown church is open 7 days a week, hosting AA groups, a soup kitchen, food bank, clothing depot, toy lending library and more. If you look around, I’m sure it will take no time at all to make a list of ten people or organizations that are Weavers in your community. Try it! There, doesn’t that feel better?

“Being around these people has been one of the most uplifting experiences of my life,” says Brooks. “... it’s made me want to be more neighborly, to be more active and intentional in how I extend care.”

It’s very easy to be a ripper of the social fabric. I know, because too often I find myself tearing down rather than building up. It’s very easy to chime in with the loud voices that cry outrage, derision, shame, and fear. We don’t have to follow, but it’s the easy road to take.

But if being a ripper is a choice, then so is being a weaver. When we accept that we are all in this together, then it makes sense that we come together and work together, that we talk together and walk together.

And the more we spread the good news that Weavers are working in our communities, the less room there is for Rippers to do their work. So what am I waiting for? Time to crawl out of the hole.

You can read more about this at  and hear him talk about Project Weave at

PS: If you want some eye candy to go with this post, check out the art of Lillian Blades at


Saturday, 16 February 2019

The Fine Art of Holing Up

From sea to sea, our great nation is suffering under the siege of Snowmageddon. It’s brutal out there.

It’s snowing here on the island, too. We are calling it the Big Snow at our house. It started snowing steadily last Sunday morning, depositing about 18 inches of white stuff, forcing school closures, causing accidents, delaying travel plans, and even causing shortages on the shop shelves: shortages of shovels and salt, shortages of dairy products and breads because the delivery trucks can’t get through. This is serious business.

When we first moved here we believed the propaganda about Vancouver Island, Canada's banana belt: cherry blossoms and daffodils in February. Balmy climes. Ski in the morning, golf in the afternoon.  “Sure it rains, but you don’t shovel rain,” implying that we could leave our snow shovels behind forever when we left the Prairies (hence the shortage of shovels on Canadian Tire’s shelves now). But it’s not so. Fake news. The first time it snowed, our new neighbour, an ex-Albertan,  exclaimed, “Wait a minute. This isn’t what we signed up for. I’m going to write a letter to my MP, complaining.”

"At least you don't have to shovel it," they said. Ha! Fake news.

Personally, I think we should build a wall to keep snow off the island. It’s invading our territory, and it’s not funny. There should be a law against it.

We were just fine without it before, but now here it is, sneaking in without a green card, taking over our roads, wreaking havoc with schools and businesses, causing unnecessary stress on hospital emergency wards. Who knows where this will lead? Perhaps we should follow my neighbour’s lead and begin writing letters of protest to our members of parliament, agitating for stricter barriers between us and the mainland.

Just kidding. Sure, we can fight it, but we will never win this battle, so may as well make the best of it. That is why, this week, the week of the Big Snow, I’m practicing the fine art of “holing up.”

The dictionary defines “holing up” in various ways: to hide out in a hole or cave; to stay in a particular place as a refuge from something; remain secluded or in hiding. Apparently, some word police (very snooty ones, in my opinion), think we should not use this phrase – it is too slangy. Instead, we should say, “concealing oneself” or “secreting oneself” or “taking cover” or “sheltering.” Bah humbug to the word police, I say. Holing Up is a fine, earthy, robust phrase full of meaning and nuance beyond those hoity-toity phrases.

It’s an earthy term because it comes out of the animal kingdom, where some animals pass the winter in a state of hibernation, retreating to a cave or hole and snoozing away until the worst has passed. Scientists tell us that hibernation  “is a process of lowering an animal’s body temperature and slowing down its heartbeat in order to conserve energy during times of scarcity and stress.”

In winter, humans also may pass through times of scarcity and stress. Snow shovels are sold out, grocery shelves are bare, the kids are tearing up the house because school has been cancelled, so what do you do?  Hole up! Hibernate.

To me, Holing Up means that you have decided to kiss the world goodbye temporarily. Holing up means you choose to ignore what’s happening out there, and instead enjoy the comforts you have at home. Holing up may mean that you take the phone off the hook, stay in bed till noon reading umpteen books, and cook calorie-rich comfort food. You choose to do the bare minimum to keep body and soul together, but no more than that. Holing up is something you choose to do for your own good until the danger has passed.

Now some people choose to hole up in a warm, sunny climate like Florida or Arizona where they can golf and hang out with other escapees. Last year at this time, the RS and I did just that. Or they hunker down for the duration on a cruise ship, pretending there’s no such thing as winter – “Look, ma, I’m playing shuffleboard and hanging out in the pool,” they write on their postcards. And that’s all fine and good, but my theory is, and I am sticking to it, that, if we can’t get away, the good Lord means for us to use these times of severe weather to take a little Sabbath rest. It’s not only animals that hibernate; in the plant kingdom, many plants go dormant in the winter, conserving their strength to emerge from the snows stronger than ever. The daily clock ticks through its diurnal and nocturnal rhythms – hours of sunlight for growth and activity, and hours of darkness for rest and recovery. Ditto for the seasonal calendar. Everything living needs a time of rest.

And I’m taking mine, right now, so that’s the end of this blog post. Talk to you later when I emerge from my hole; if I see my shadow, it may be a while before you hear from me again.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Gobsmacked by Wonder

I came across these rules for living, and included them on my first blog post of the year, January 5:

Less than two weeks later, the poet who had written these words, Mary Oliver, died at the age of 83, having lived a life that fulfilled these rules admirably. She was the mistress of paying attention, noticing amazing things, and then putting her astonishment into words. Oliver’s verses had a power to evoke feelings of wonder and gladness as she contemplated simple things, like a blade of grass, or a goose flying overhead, or a grasshopper.

On a sunny morning shortly after Oliver’s death, I decided to pay attention...really, really pay attention... as I set out for a walk in the woods nearby. My camera was ready to capture what I might discover.

So many shades of green and brown, with flecks of red and yellow!

The sun’s rays shone through these dead leaves, so that they looked like gold.

And if I hadn’t been paying attention, I probably would have missed the tiny mushrooms just springing out of the earth.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed this enormous tree, with bright limey green moss at its base.

I would not have seen the woodpecker holes tapped into a trailside tree.

I came away astonished, invigorated, so much more appreciative of the beauty surrounding me. I felt at one with the natural world. The whole experience reminded me again that paying attention was good for growing the soul.

But why does it work that way? What is it about the tiny act of paying attention that enlarges you? Why wouldn’t it be just as effective if, instead of spending time in contemplation, we directed our energies toward meaningful, productive work? We live in a world with so many needs crying out to be heard. Shouldn’t we be up and about, contributing our gifts towards healing, reconciliation, and justice-making? Isn’t meditating on a blade of grass or watching ants build a nest just a waste of time? 

These are questions that do creep up and pounce on my conscience. I should be doing more, I should be more active, I should march for those things in which I believe. I should, I should, I should...

So it was a relief when I picked up a book that addressed these questions and more in a series of essays by leading environmental activists and philosophers. The book is called Hope Beneath Our Feet. What a great image that title conjures up; wouldn’t we all like to stand firmly planted in hope?

In her essay “Wonder: a Practice for Life”, author Munju Ravindra considers why paying attention and being astonished is so very necessary in these times of turmoil. She spent many years in the “sense of wonder” business as a Canadian park naturalist. That moment of wonder or astonishment that happens when you pay attention, when you really, really look, is a moment of transcendence and grace.  Wonder and astonishment, she writes, “re-instills in each of us a sense of what is ‘true’, thereby enhancing our resilience in time of crisis” and “connects me to something larger than myself, giving me the energy I need to keep agitating. It also gives me the reason.”

This strikes me as both a profound and practical truth. We need astonishment and wonder like a car needs fuel to run; without these essential ingredients, we will soon be running on empty and getting nowhere fast.

Ravindra goes further in her essay: she suggests we intentionally need to find ways daily to create these moments of wonder, since our busy world doesn’t encourage us to do so. We need to practice our wonder muscle, exercise it daily. “Especially when I am down or blue or lost, I just buckle down and practice wonder.”

How? Ravindra’s “wonder workout” suggestions include some simple things, like keeping something curious in your pocket to touch regularly, like an interesting pebble or an acorn; laying on your back in the grass and looking up, up, up; closing your eyes and sitting still for 10 minutes while listening to what goes on when you’re not looking; going outside at night and checking out the stars; and deliberately get uncomfortable – have you ever let a slug climb up your arm? If possible, go outside, alone, for 10 minutes every day.

And this one, which sums it up pretty well, in my experience – “Spend the day with a mystic, lunatic or writer. Or for that matter, a child (who, if schooling and society don’t manage to weld shut his door to amazement, will no doubt become a mystic, lunatic or writer). These people have their heads screwed on sideways and hobble around gobsmacked by the beauty and despair of the world. If you opt to spend the day with a child, try to find a small one, preferably raised by hippies on a commune on the coast, but really, any child will work, if you actually pay attention to what they have to show you.”

Our son so was so excited by what he saw at the seashore at age 6, he became a marine biologist!
My wish for you, dear reader, is that you are gobsmacked this week, full of wonder and astonishment at the beauty and despair of the world!