Next Time Won’t You Sing With Me?

Spence here: I am assessing this summer already as a way to slow time down. Is the summer half over, or do we have more than half to go? A fellow yesterday said not to worry, the Fall is better anyway. Sometimes I start to get panicky around July, as I start to figure out there is limited time for all the things I have yet to do! Explore a new part of the woods, play music, see and make more art, float the river, build a deck, and a roof, and a bike… Well, I started this week off in the woods… my good friends were having their first camp-out with their nearly one year old little happy ball of smiles named Gus. I was honored to share his first moments with my friends and introduce Gus to the moss, pine cones, cold creeks and bouncy logs. Gus is such a happy kid. It is a reminder to me to have that kind of attitude and intent–to just soak up life. We read childish books and sang childish songs–we even made funny noises for no reason other than it was amusing! We camped near Mt. Hood at a place called Camp Creek. In the morning, I hiked up a ridge trail called Still Creek. It was a slight trail through towering Douglas Fir, which opened up to a deciduous paradise on the opposite side of the ridge. At the end was a cool hidden old mossy forest road and another beautiful creek.

Billy and I hit the beach this week, on Sauvie Island, just outside of Portland. We spent the afternoon with sand in our hair, watching tug boats, eating chips, splashing in the cool Columbia River and watching kite boarders catch sick air! We might have had a few beers also! I have built several bikes this week, as an apprentice at the bike shop, Cat Six. I am learning new skills hourly there. Different types of bikes have been coming through the shop lately, including a few that have the new-ish internal Shimano Nexus hub. The shop is A-1; decked out, highly organized and top-notch. I am very grateful for the expertise and integrity (and humor!) of the mechanic who is teaching me.

Our efforts to be more involved in the outer regions of our own star cluster (i.e., get out of our house more and open the hermit envelope), have been fairly successful. I think we have done a good job of balancing home life with engaging the neighbors, which has been very fulfilling. Last night I talked our neighbor Ted’s ears off about tinctures, bikes, humanure, the high desert and living roof systems. He had much to say as well–telling stories about kids he teaches who have never pooped outdoors, let alone gone camping. Wow. Not really something one can experience through a video game. He also passed along to me a helping of homegrown blueberry cobbler and a hearty laugh. Maybe that sounds cheesy, but it meant a lot to me. Next week, hopefully, I can help him with a few projects he has had on his back-burner. Time slips away just as fast across the street! In between more chapters of “Swamp Thing” and conversations about plant consciousness, we managed to get our Cabana looking better than ever, with a new paint job and some fancy salvaged shingles. They really dress up the side of the house that faces the street and our roommates abode. New (rebuilt) screens installed over the last few weeks, help keep the spiders curious and the flies and mosquitoes out of our mouths when we’re sleeping! I took on another amazing “Bushcraft” assignment by making a “Rocket Stove“. This tin-can beauty claims to boil water in a minute using sticks and twigs for fuel. Hopefully, after the county fire ban lets up we can start using this stove in our outdoor kitchen. Morning coffee never tasted so good, made over a fire on a wet Autumn dawn. I would love to squash our reliance on propane altogether, but we’re not there yet. Inventing ways, or rather re-instituting old ways, may be the next step. In August, I swear, is a deck-building project–creating a homey space off the music studio and a roof to match–I know I keep talking about it, but it has to happen before ‘the rains’. As much as I freak out about the seasons changing, I really love it when they do and couldn’t imagine living in a place where it doesn’t happen. I think it is good practice to let go of what we thought would happen in a certain amount of time and embrace what has happened and most of all, what is happening. Part of feeling rich and healthy is acknowledgement of our strengths and friendships. I read a blurb sent to me from a credit card company that said something to the effect of honing one’s skills in ‘wealth management’. That is a good idea! I will take that perspective into consideration, as I have much to be grateful for. The cat is on the table and the sun is going down. Cheers to another day.

Billy here. Last night Spence and I joined the neighborhood at a dinner fundraiser at the farm across the street for a young man named Kenel Pierre, a farm volunteer and food activist from Haiti. He is planning to start a small farm and community education center to help his hometown back in Haiti grow food for themselves and restore ecological balance back to the land. He has started a fundraiser on Indiegogo. I don’t usually post such things, but reading his story is inspiring, and most of all, I found his genuine loving presence a gift to be around.

Kenel’s Story and Fundraiser on Indiegogo

People like Kenel remind me that we all can have hard upbringings and despite this we all similarly have the choice to be a happy and loving person who works hard to give back to the world. Kenel is all smiles. It seems he would never even have a judgmental thought. I found myself moved when the woman who has been hosting Kenel spoke about how incredibly difficult it is for him to ask anyone for anything. It took him great courage to get together to make this fundraiser happen, but he did it because he believes in healing the people and the land of his home and he cannot do it by himself. He needs land and tools, among other things. He talked about how the people of Hinche, where he grew up, would walk for miles to market. Everyone has to walk these miles, whether they are pregnant or carrying infants or baskets on their heads. His family labored hard just to grow food for the family to eat, having very little left to sell at the market. The young of Haiti often die of malnutrition. Growing conditions are harsh.

It makes me rethink my city crutches. When I lived in the mountains I literally walked over a mile to my mailbox one way. But lately in the heat, now that I live in the city and have disposable income, I have been driving to the grocery store instead of walking a mere 2.5 miles. It is also a powerful reminder to realize that I do have disposable income, even if I don’t feel like I do and make well under the poverty line of this country. This is because I have enough food and shelter; because I can go out to eat sometimes, even if it is only a couple of times a month. It’s easy to get into a poverty mentality, to think: Oh, I’m poor. But are we really? Monetarily speaking, it’s not true of course, as the average person in the world makes less than $3,000 a year. But it is not true in many other senses either. The life we live is abundant. There is fresh, clean water. The air is clean enough to breathe without a mask, as in some places like parts of Vietnam, as my dental assistant was telling me about her native country. We have access to amazing food. We have good beer. I am able to support myself with a part time job so that I can make art and music. I am truly feeling like one of the richest on Earth. Money comes and goes. Health and happiness and joy is the work that I strive to do.

This week we have been going to the beach and soaking up sun, I been playing a new electric guitar I bought from a friend, making art, drinking homebrew, working on our little cabin – putting up shingles and painting, and generally enjoying the outdoors and abundance of the garden. Life is good.

It’s all a part of the healthy life: the joy and the grief together. I am thankful for being opened by the awareness of adversity and trauma in the world, however painful it might be. It’s not a guilty grief but a deep reciprocity, a gratitude. In order to deeply feel the joys in life I believe we must face the difficulties as well. It is easy in the modern Westernized world to have trouble digesting anything that is not sanitized or processed, both in a very physical and literal sense and in an emotional and spiritual sense. Wholeness means to me understanding that we can’t get away from suffering, hardship, and death. This is not necessarily morbid, because without it life has no meaning. What would doing anything mean if we lived forever and did not age? Stephen Jenkinson, who has worked with the dying and writes about the dominant cultural fear of death and grief that keeps us from fully living, says it better in his interview with The Sun in the just pressed August issue.

If you’re lucky, something comes along that ruptures your artificial sense of well-being, which is preventing you from really living. In our current day the moment of awakening is not…welcome. No relief comes with it. It’s a moment of blistering realization that your entire existence as a Westerner has been a massive assault on the natural order of things, that you’re on the take. The first impulse is to fix it: go vegan, plant trees, get out of the cash economy, retreat into the woods and wait for society to collapse…the unwelcome news that is much more devastating, is that your favorite pin-up ecologist or indigenous tribe is on the take, too.

But once you realize this, you can become better. Your better self is born of grief. The guilt will pass, but the grief will not, because it is composted into something much more life-loving – but not human-hating. There’s no hating, no resigning, no withdrawing or running or transcending. Stay here. Stay long enough that the grief can have its way with you, and you begin to realize that this grief is a wisdom, a recognition that human beings are maintained by the death of other living things.

Death – not a symbolic or hypothetical end, but real, kick-ass human death – can raise up into the light the fundamental realization of much much had to die to keep you alive. What will your death feed? What will it keep alive for a time? The whole point is that, if you’re a human being, you can’t get off the hook of your obligation to life. You’re on the meat hook if you’re an omnivore, the green hook if you’re not. You’re impaled on it, and you can’t climb down. But you’re not guilty, because it can’t be otherwise.

And that’s just the food chain…trying to have a “zero carbon footprint” is a refusal to be a part of the story, as if you could exist without anyone else. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use fewer resources, but the idea that we’re going to be able to break even if we do everything right is a fundamental obscenity.

Once you come to this realization, which can all but kill you, the rest of your life can be lived in response to it, not in flight from it. You can live your life as someone who has an enduring obligation to that which has kept you alive.

– Stephen Jenkinson

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