i learned some news yesterday that i feel quite heartbroken over. to heal my heart, and hopefully to bring inspired tenderness to yours, i would like to offer a story from my past.
the summer of 1994, after i graduated from college, i took the little bit of my gram’s inheritance that i had left, and i bought a train ticket to british columbia. as i think back now, i really have no idea why i settled on canada. it just occured to me that i had no idea what it was like and i wanted to find out. i also had a very difficult senior year, i felt shattered, and i needed new horizons.
i had fallen in love with hostelling international when i was 19 and drove around the u.s,. so naturally i booked into the vancouver hostel. i rented a bicycle and spent several days touring the city, seeing plays, playing at jericho beach, eating fabulous vegetarian food at The Nam, and watching the rats on granville island. i acquired a deep appreciation for the coast salish totem poles, especially those with the trickster, Raven. i also took a ferry to vancouver island and explored the botanical gardens in victoria. it was while i was at the victoria hostel that i met an australian woman named lisa.
the day i was due to go back to vancouver, lisa told me about a remote hostel she was headed to. five hours north, accessible only by boat and far out in the rainforest wilderness, tourists were required to book a week at a time, and work exchange was possible. i was enamored with doing trade for lodging at hostels and i knew a good adventure when i heard of one. in the span of an hour, with very little idea of what i was getting into, i packed my bags and spent the rest of the day on a train again, headed north, to fiddlehead farm.
when we arrived in the town of powell river (think “northern exposure”), after a very long train ride and two ferries, we then had to make our way to the very big powell lake, where a boat was to pick us up. that was all we knew. i hadn’t even told them i was coming and wasn’t sure there was even room for me. so we waited. and waited. and after about 2 hours a little outboard motor boat made it’s appearance far over the water. it was captained by the farm’s gardener, who’s name i no longer recall. he tossed in our gear, tossed us preservers and off we went. i remember the ride vividly. the mist on the lake, the silhouette of the trees against the sky, the cold of the water and the rising alarm as the boat ride went on and on. 45 minutes later, we disembarked on a little dock, which seemed to be settled straight into a hillside. i looked up at the steep path and dark forest in front of me, summoned my strength, hoisted my heavy as hell backpack and began to hike on the last leg of my journey. after another 45 minutes, i heard announcements ahead of me “we’re here!” and i saw this:
it was a moment that stopped all mind, all thought, all feeling. then suddenly a tremendous rush of excitement flooded through me, and i realized that i was about to have an experience to last a life time.
in short, the farm was owned and run by a wonderful lady named linda, and her grown children, a very small staff, and rotating seasonal workers. it was completely off the grid, run by hydro power, generators and wood heat. there are so many stories, or even just one very, very long one that i could tell you. there was beauty, laughter, friendship, love, sex, betrayal, cruelty and tragedy. and i thought that perhaps i would tell you. but in a sense i want to keep it as simple as possible, to somehow communicate and share the joyous mystery, which is ultimately what i took away in the end. so here are a few visions, and a few explanations, and maybe a wee bit of story here and there.
the common house. kitchen, dining room, upstairs rec room, and The Porch out front. the porch was the gathering place where tales, cigarettes and coffee were shared, and it also had a large iron triangle that would be rung by the cook when breakfast, lunch or dinner was served. it echoed all through the 100+ acres of the farm.
looking back down the hill towards the common house.
there were hiking trails all over the property. this one in particular led up to a beautiful lake where canoes were just waiting for you.
canoe at your own risk.
hey, who’s that blonde girl?
the bath house. hot water was only available a few times a week, when the fire for the sauna was heated. i have sharp memories of sitting in the sauna, dripping with sweat, and then running outside with my new friends, shrieking and butt naked, down to the creek to jump in and cool off. and then doing it all over again.
the meditation hut and the view from inside. the hut was built over a creek, and was very small and cozy inside, with the soothing voice of the water underneath you. i have some very sweet, and very funny memories of times spent in here.
the young bull, jesus. (yes. jesus.). the farm grew and raised most of their own food, through a large permaculture garden, chickens and cows for dairy and meat. jesus did eventually become dinner in the fall. but this was taken in june, and he and i became friends. he was a very sweet little boy.
the workshop with sweet smiling tjark in the window. one of things i discovered on this trip was the concept of the traveling german carpenter, or journeyman. in order to complete their craft’s apprenticeship, journeymen are required to travel for 3 years and a day, both in germany and abroad. they wear special uniforms that signify what they are doing and what particular trade they specialize in (e.g. building houses, furniture and cabinetry, etc.). because they are easily recognized, they are offered work wherever they go, and so work their way around the world if they like.
i don’t know these fellas. i pulled it off of a website (http://www.stevecarter.com) to give you an example.
there were two journeymen at the farm when i was there…jens and tjark. they built the lodge you see pictured below.
that one initial week turned into three, and i fell in love with the staff in general and jens in particular. this picture was taken on my last day there. on the left of me, with the head that we shaved while i was there, is another aussie named vicki, who i became good friends with during my stay. on the right is jens, and on the far right is linda, the owner. i returned again in the fall, with the intention to stay over winter as the cook. but as the season had changed, so did the configuration of the community, and so did the hearts of jens and vicki. after only a month plus, i had to leave. my final experience there was a very painful and difficult one for me, and that’s all i will say of that. but take note of the body language of the three of us in that photo…. i should have payed attention!
yesterday i learned that linda sold the farm in 2002. to whom, and why, i do not know. but what i also found out is that shortly after, the farm was destroyed and the land logged.
sometimes i have great and abiding hope for the salvation of our natural world and our species. when i hear news such as the above, that hope turns into despair. i cannot fathom the heart that could set foot upon that land, and subsequently murder it for short term profit.
what i have been remembering since i heard the news yesterday, is a memory of only a few seconds from my last week there in june. the eggs from the hen house had been turning up short for several days, and it was a great mystery among the staff. one evening as afternoon sunlight turned to dusk, i was sitting on the porch after working, and looking out at the darkening trees. suddenly i noticed something white floating through the air. as i squinted and looked closer, i saw a darker shadow behind it. and then i realized what it was, and laughed.
it was that trickster, Raven, flying merrily towards home, with a chicken egg in his mouth.
love what you have and where you are, as often and as hard as you can.