Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Walking in the Rain

I had a million things to do on Sunday morning, but chose instead to go for a long walk in the rain.

I was supposed to go grocery shopping, but reckoned we could eat from the pantry for another day.

I was supposed to clean the bathrooms but knew they would still be there in the evening, when it was too dark to walk.

I was supposed to tidy the living room and dining room but reckoned that, like the bathroom, they would wait.

That's the thing about "to do" lists:  They're patient.  They'll always still be waiting for you when you get around to them.

Rainy Sunday mornings will not.

The skies were a uniform, flannel grey and the rain a steadily falling curtain when I left.  The sound of tires swishing on wet pavement provided background to the music of rain pattering on pavement and splashing in puddles.  The flow of rainwater in the gutters sang the same song a stream bed does as water finds its way downhill.

The wind, forecast to be very strong in the afternoon, was already picking up.  Trees were beginning to sway, and my neighbours, heeding the wind warning published on the weather station that day, were busy taking down hanging baskets and carrying light objects from their lawns and patios indoors.

Few people were on the streets.  It was a good time for solitude, and for noticing small details. 

At a house near mine, near-ripe grapes hung abundantly on vines trellised up a white stucco wall.  Sheltered by leaves, the grapes were not completely slicked with water but each wore perfect, round droplets that acted as tiny lenses, reflecting the garden in miniature vignettes.  It was like viewing the world through a thousand tiny crystal balls.

Cottonwood leaves, dry and skittery the day before, clattering across the streets at every breath of breeze, now lay plastered to the pavement, their bright outlines contrasting the dark concrete, the clear water's meniscus swelling against the sharp edges of each leaf.

A congress of crows gathered on the telephone lines at the intersection, their necks drawn in against the wet, as if debating whether to make the effort to pluck the ripe walnuts from a tall tree or to seek shelter within its foliage.

A soaking wet woodpecker busily mined the trunk of a birch tree, his feathers soaking wet and ruffled by the rain, so intent upon his search for a meal that he let me step within four feet of where he worked.

At the lake, raindrops hit the water with such force that they pocked its surface, each drop causing concentric ripples that, in their path outward, collided with the ripples made by other drops; an endless, entrancing, constantly shifting geometry.

Red wing blackbirds sheltered among bullrushes, as still as these active birds ever seem to be. Even in the driving rain they were not at rest for long.  They still flitted back and forth from reed to reed, resting a few moments here and there, their heads turning constantly, bright yellow eyes regarding the silvery world around them.

A small girl dressed in a bright turquoise rain coat, pink-polka-dotted boots, and a brand new rainbow umbrella, walked with her patient grandfather, plotting her path from puddle to puddle, jumping in each one and laughing in delight.

Even with my rain gear and a brand new umbrella, I was soaked through by the time I got home.  But refreshed.  Calmed.  Restored.

I'd "lost" two hours from my day and had no hope of finishing all the chores on my list, but some things are more important than turning "to do" into "to done."  

We are, after all, human beings, not human doings.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Hay Bales and Other Things

We had a period of unusually warm weather this month.  The bright sun and higher-than-usual temperatures came after a short period of revitalizing rain, and were a boon to local farmers.  Hay crops burgeoned and farmers laboured to bring in the third (or in some cases even fourth) mowing of the season.

My daily drive to and from work takes me right through the heart of our valley's farmland.  I watched with interest as the hay was cut, then fluffed and left to dry for a couple of days, and finally baled and brought in. 

One evening, I passed by a field in which the bales still stood.  They were the old fashioned kind - smaller than many modern bales, and rectangular - and I thought "That's what hay bales are supposed to look like!"

There were lots of good reasons for thinking that, but when considering my reaction I have to admit that it was mainly rooted in nostalgia.  Those smaller, rectangular bales are the bales I grew up knowing; seen on countless Sunday drives, together with the hardworking folk who gathered them from the fields.  When I think "haying" they are the image that comes to mind.

My "that's how they're supposed to look" reaction gave rise to a whole new line of thought: 

Am I getting old?  (Of course I am. Well, older anyway.)

When did I start reminiscing about the "good old days?"

And why do so many things from my childhood - although often not anything to do with me directly - seem so much better than what we have today? 

Will my grandchildren reminisce about computer games the same way I reminisce about Sunday drives?

All good questions.

I don't pretend to know all the answers but I did come to an understanding about a couple of things while following this line of thought:

Memory is flexible and selective.  Humans want to remember good things more than bad, so the past tends to take on a golden light in our memories; filled with sunshine, and happy thoughts, and good times.  There is simplicity there.  It looks, to our mind's eye, so much less complicated than our present time that we can't help but yearn for it.

Besides, some things really were simpler in the past.  All of this technology - which was touted to simplify our existence - has not helped.  Somewhere along the way, we confused labour saving with simplicity.  There are a great many things we can now do while scarcely lifting a finger and rarely leaving the house, but the processes involved in doing them are much more complex than they used to be.

Hay bales are a good example: 

An old-style rectangular bale of hay weighs about 60 pounds.  The hay is mowed with a tractor, and baled with an attachment pulled by the same machine.  Once baled, it can be lifted by human power onto a truck, or a trailer, or even a wagon pulled by horses, and taken to its storage place.  It is can then be stacked it into place in a loft, a barn, or some other storage facility. 

The equipment required for the old fashioned baling process is fairly simple.  The size and shape of the bales allows them to be moved with no machinery at all if need be, and ensures that they will fit in a compact space.  The stacked bales have an additional benefit too, insulating the building in which they're stored against both heat and cold.

More recently, though, someone looked at the haying process and thought "If we can find a machine to bale hay in larger portions, and if we can store it right in place, in the fields where the animals will eventually eat it, it will take less labour and we'll require fewer workers." 

A specialized machine was constructed that rolls the hay into vast cylinders, then wraps the cylinders in heavy plastic as protection against the weather. The wrapped bales can be left right in the fields until such time as they are needed.  It's a labour saving process that also spares the farmer the cost of specialized storage.


Those immense hay cylinders are too large to be moved without the aid of machinery.  Those who do need to move them about must purchase a forklift with a specialized attachment in order to accomplish the task.  Should the cylinders need to be transported away from the farm, they're so large they must be loaded onto the flat bed of a tractor trailer truck.  Both the forklift and the tractor trailer truck are very expensive and if they break down or become unavailable, moving the hay becomes a difficult process indeed.

If the hay cylinders are left in place in the field, the farmer need not worry about transporting them at all but must pay for the plastic needed to wrap them, and the disposal of the plastic once the time comes to use the hay.  That plastic has its own impact on the environment too.

Each method has its merits, but the second option is certainly more complex and expensive in terms of both the materials and machinery required to make it work.

The point of all of this?

I guess what I'm trying to say that I've finally arrived at a time in my life where I understand why our elders reminisce:  

They do it to seek comfort against rapidly changing times and the stress that comes with change. 

They do it out a desire to share knowledge and to help younger folk understand their thought processes. 

They do it because, sometimes, the old way of doing things really can be a better solution to a specific challenge,

and they do it because humans beings form emotional bonds through story telling.

Wish I'd understood all of that sooner.  I'd have been more patient!

So here I am: fifty-something in a time when that is neither old nor young, finally realizing that there's merit in embracing both the promise of the future and remembrance of times past.  And I'm asking you, please, to have patience with the reminiscences of your elders.  You might find something in them that can move you forward in a whole new way.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Here I Am; An Update

It's been about two months now since an unfortunate reaction to one of my prescriptions caused me to re-evaluate my approach to caring for my health. I set some pretty big goals at the time, and I thought you might like to know how I'm doing so far.

The first goal on my list was to encourage positive thinking in myself and in others.  I feel like I've done pretty well with this.  I've started a Facebook page to encourage myself and others along the way and it provides an impetus for me to turn my thoughts in the right direction.  There are lots of great resources out there and I'm having fun finding them.

The second goal on my list was to perform at least one small, anonymous act of kindness each day.  I'm so glad I set that goal!  This one small thing has gone further to brighten my outlook than anything else I've ever tried.  The emotional boost I get from mindfully watching those around me and then finding some small way to lift someone else's spirits is immeasurable.  I highly recommend it.

I've had mixed success with my third goal; to do some sort of exercise every day.  I'm a long-time couch spud and changing that mind set is requiring real effort of me.  I've been making better progress lately, though, thanks to a TED talk by Matt Cutts

Matt encourages folks to try something new for 30 days.  He says that 30 days is long enough to form a habit, but not so long as to be unendurable if it turns out to be an activity you dislike.  Makes good sense to me!

My current 30 day fitness goals are pretty basic:  I'm trying to do a beginners' calisthenics routine daily, and to go for a walk every evening. Both are attainable, although I do confess to having to talk myself into doing the calisthenics. 

I failed at my fourth goal - to be mindful of what I eat - rather spectacularly. Apparently this is a big challenge for me!  I'm an emotional eater and this process of change has been very emotional.  It's something I'll continue to work on. 

I'm still not planning to worry about weight loss but I do need to work on my love of sweets.  I've decided that rather than counting calories or going on a diet of some sort, I'll simply focus on trying to eat the five to ten servings of vegetables and fruit I should be consuming daily.  If I manage that, and eight glasses of water (the last goal on the list, and one at which I've been quite successful), there probably won't be a lot of room left for goodies. 

Fingers crossed!

Reading back over this list and my comments, I find myself feeling that I was mighty ambitious when compiling that first list, and probably bit off more than I could chew. 

It's something many of us tend to do, I think. Our initial enthusiasm for change makes us think we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. 

And we can! 

We just need to break those big goals down into a series of smaller, more attainable steps.  

It's like that old joke that asks "How do you eat an elephant?"

The answer? 

"One bite at a time!"  ;^)

How are you doing with your goals?  I'd love to hear from you. 

Stop by my Facebook page or Twitter feed so we can share our successes and encourage each other over the rough spots.  The road is much smoother, and the journey more interesting, when traveled with friends.  :^)