Friday, November 30, 2012

Seeing The Forest Through The Trees

We’re driving through The Redwood Forest. I am awestruck by the trees that line the road and flow into the woods. Tree trunks stand solid and straight. Symmetrical layers of bark climb up towards sprouting branches, majestic umbrellas of living green. I imagine the depth of the roots and the mass of growth under the ground stabilizing each tree and providing strength for growth. It is spectacular.

We stop the car in a clearing and take off in different directions to explore. As I stroll, I absorb  the natural energy and I am awakened to my spiritual awareness. There is profundity in the life of a forest. It is deep, strong and simple.

Sometimes you have to look at the trees through the forest. Each individual tree has its own character and purpose. Some trees stand alone, majestically. The treetops reach towards the sky’s light. Others gather in groups, absorbing energy from each other. They depend on the same space and the same source of nutrients, and successfully share nature’s energy for survival. They don’t always grow as big, but they grow in depth and are strong. There are some trees that have fallen, not quite able to withstand the natural elements - young stumps that were never strong enough to survive, and older ones who have lived long quiet lives. All of them lie grounded in their place, replenishing earth and making room for others.

Sometimes seeing the forest through the trees is helpful. We often don’t realize what we have until we are able to see the bigger picture. I consider my dad who enjoyed the pleasures of planting small flowers in his garden. Occasionally he would plant a tree and marvel at its beauty and how it affected his landscape. I remember one day as we walked down a neighbouring street together, my dad tossed his head toward a beautiful home, exquisitely landscaped with many of the same plants that he had planted on his own property. “I wish I had a garden like that,” he said. “Dad… you do have a garden like that!” I answered him with a sly smile. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the bounty of what we have.

Solving problems would be so much easier if we considered seeing the trees through the forest. Problems, often seeming insurmountable, become so much more manageable when we break it down to its many smaller parts. Sometimes recognizing the various types of trees in the forest, categorizing them according to the age and height and specific needs, might help us organize more efficiently and care for the forests more successfully. Prioritizing in life; separating what really matters for the moment, and what can wait until later simplifies decision making and helps us solve challenging issues more easily.

Trees, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. Some are tall and strong. Some are evergreen and thrive brilliantly even during freezing and snowy weather. Some conform obediently to their environment, shedding their leaves after changing colours and adapting to changes in climate. Others weaken considerably during change, often succumbing to the environment and becoming sick and dying. Attending to individual needs gives strength and fosters resiliency. Seeing each tree as part of a whole forest reinforces the ability for shared responsibility and combined strength. 

We create forests as we develop community, from individual and unique trees.Forests are rich diverse, sensual, beautiful communities that touch our souls and envelop us in their sacred space. Individual trees draw us closer and call to our specific yearning. Others beckon us closer and help us understand the energy of the forest where we are. Each of us exists in a unique, rich and complex place. Together we make up the great wholesome forest.

Friday, November 16, 2012

B.C. Ferries

The ferry system in British Columbia is an excellent model of mutual respect in the public sector. BC Ferries are awesome! I love travelling between Vancouver to Nanaimo on the ferry. I find the whole system to be very respectful and pleasant. Travelling for 1 hour and 45 minutes doesn’t have to be enjoyable. I think the ferry system makes it work.

“Attention passengers on the upstairs deck. Please be aware that the horn will be sounding very soon. It is a very loud horn. We want you to be prepared!” Being respectful doesn’t have to be a challenge!

The food in the cafeteria-style restaurant is good. I like their clam chowder. The coffee is excellent, and they serve beautiful full meals and it’s possible to substitute yam fries for the French fries if you like. “Would you like to warm up your cinnamon bun? The oven is just around that counter”, instructs the cashier as she rings up our coffee and dessert.

When I travel in the morning, there is hot, natural oatmeal. Who could ask for more? The seating in the cafeteria is open and sunny. The view out on the water is always spectacular! Seeing whales is a possibility and makes the occasional glance necessary. Today’s trip included an announcement. “Attention passengers! For those of you who are interested there is a pod of porpoises following our ferry. Look out the starboard side of the ferry to see a spectacular sight!” Sure enough, as I glance out, I see at least 50 porpoises swimming together! Diving in and out of the water, dancing through the ocean waves…  playfully struggling (without a hope) to keep up with us.

Other announcements can be heard during a trip: “Attention passengers! A wallet has been found on the counter in the women’s washroom. Please come to the lost and found to retrieve it.” Or “Attention passengers! Will the owner of a blue Subaru, license plates 574 WKN please return to your car. You left your lights on.”

There are televisions on the walls of certain decks. There is a gorgeous safe and comfortable sundeck that is inviting and welcoming. Young lovers sit on the floor with their backs supported by the wall. The sun shines down upon them and they shine upon each other as they kiss, as if no one else can see. A separate place for smokers is provided.

Children’s play area and video game machines occupy one area of the ferry. Another room has jungle gym and equipment for the more active soul. Everyone has what he or she needs. An hour into the ride, a young woman invites young people (and older too) to a short seminar on some topic unique to British Columbia waters. Wildlife, fisheries, canoe making are some topics I have heard about.

I particularly notice how respectful our BC Ferries are, when I had the chance to travel on the Washington ferry line from Anacortes to Victoria. There’s nothing really wrong with their line. There’s just not much ‘right’ about it. People seem a little gruffer. The accommodations are older and more used, dirtier. There’s good popcorn, but nothing else in the menu interested me. There are no public announcements other than to tell passengers what is prohibited and what are the consequences of poor behaviour.

As I join other passengers on the BC Ferry line at the end of our trip, we are all waiting to disembark. People smile. It has been a fun trip. The ferry workers are already out with their cloths and brooms, cleaning the areas and preparing for the next passengers. “Thank you so much.” I say as I leave. “You are so very welcome…come again!” And I definitely will.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Joyce, Oscar and Life Cycle Reality

Today is the yarzheit (memorial) of my dear friend Joyce. I look at her picture and I feel close…. so close.

Joyce was a wild woman! She laughed hysterically at times, and at other times settled into serious, sad conversations. She smoked cigarettes, drank a lot of alcohol, revelled in good food, good drink and just loved being with people she cared about. She cared about so many. Family was the most important part of her life, and so many people felt like ‘family’.

Joyce Daniels was my good friend. I met her while travelling in Trinidad in 1985.  I was there as a gift from another friend as payment for helping him get his resort established there. I did all the hiring for the resort from Toronto. The resort didn’t last very long. It was one of those places that looked spectacular from the pictures, and when you arrived it was actually a run down, cockroach infested place, with dirty swimming pools and not enough food at the buffet (all you can eat) kitchen.

Joyce chose that ‘all inclusive’ resort for herself and her family: Richard, her partner, and 3 kids, two daughters from her first marriage and one son from Richard’s. Though they had loads of money, Joyce was always open for a bargain, and as a travel agent and avid traveller she chose Trinidad as an adventure for that winter break. It was a big mistake from a comfort point of view, but I think we both agreed, we found each other via that experience. It was worth it.

At the time, Joyce and Rich were living together, not yet married. They were in the midst of the challenges of blending a family of children from previous marriages. They did so consciously and mindfully. They had money, which made travel and general living just a bit easier. Prior to meeting Richard, Joyce struggled to make ends meet. She was a teacher like I, working in the inner city schools in special needs, and immersing herself in the life issues of so many youth. I was a beginner teacher at the time, learning how to engage and still stay balanced.

I was a single parent of two young teen aged boys at the time, struggling with money, trying to keep my head above the proverbial waters, and still maintaining some sort of comfortable life for my boys.

She was smart too, delving into areas of realization that few others in my life would dare to go. Conversations about sex, childrearing, money challenges ... Joyce listened to me through my divorce, change of jobs, and varying ventures in my own life. She counselled, advised, encouraged and loved me unconditionally, and was there to share the love I eventually attained in my own life. My life, not so coincidentally, in many ways mirrored her life. Blending family, travelling extensively, absorbed in teaching, living alternatively, I feel the soul connection deeply.

Joyce was fun! Her laissez faire attitude towards life kept her smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and supported her desire to experiment and explore. With a conniving twinkle in her eye she would say, “Come on. Let’s just try this once.” She played hard that girl.

And, in her harsh, rough voice she would yell out “Asshole! What the fuck do you want from me?” She was crass and loud and involved and aware. She was curious and involved and, in a special way exhibited her New York self-absorbed attitude.

I flew to New York from Toronto to attend Joyce’s funeral, say good-bye to my dear friend and to comfort and be comforted by other friends and family there. It was an important time for me to connect with others who loved Joyce as I did. She has so many dear friends and an exceptionally closely-knit family. On my way home, while waiting to board my plane back to Toronto, my grandson Oscar was born.  How beautiful, I thought. My grandson enters this world as my loving and cherished friend leaves it. Oscar…may you have the depth of character, joy for life, and love for people that Joyce experienced in her life. May you dance, laugh, sing, work hard and play. May you love unconditionally, feel deeply, learn and explore as intensely. And, too, dear Oscar, may you have the love of life that my dear friend, Joyce Daniel left with us. Happy Birthday!