Monday, 18 April 2016

Winding Tracks and Unpaved Roads

I remember sitting next to my baby sister, in the back seat of my mom's battered green Austin as Mom drove down a country road with one arm extended out of the driver's side window, holding a baby bottle.  She'd packed it in a thermos of hot water so it would be ready when she needed it, but the water had done its job a little too efficiently and the milk was too warm for my sister to drink.  No problem!  "We'll just let the air cool it as we go."

That outing was just one of hundreds of rambles we took with Mom. If the weather was fair - and often even if it was not - she'd pack a lunch, bundle my brother, my sister, and I into the car, load her paints and easel in the trunk, and we'd set off adventuring.  

My mom could never resist taking the long way 'round.  Unpaved roads and winding tracks were siren calls to her; irresistible in their opportunities for exploration and discovery.  It was, perhaps, the reason she was so rarely punctual.  There was always something new to be seen; some great or small delight to be discovered.

It was an enviable way of growing up, really.  We would drive the country roads until we found a spot that caught Mom's eye and then scramble from the car to play - perhaps splashing on a river's edge, climbing trees, or chasing bugs and picking flowers in a field or clearing - enjoying the freedom just to be kids while Mom painted, or read, or simply watched us play.  A great many happy memories were made on those adventures and, in me at least, the seeds planted for rambling on my own.

Perhaps my nature predisposed me to love wandering for its own sake, perhaps it was my mom's example, or maybe a combination of the two but, whatever the reasons, I am a lover of the long way 'round.  

Highways, main roads, and direct paths to our destinations do, of course, have their places.  Sometimes when I'm tired or in need of the speediest route to my destination I take them too, but more often you'll find me budgeting twice the time I actually need in order to get somewhere just so that I can act on the impulse to explore a country road or take the scenic route.

My husband was a kindred spirit in that regard.  We had a standing date to go exploring once a week.  We'd pack a picnic lunch and set off without a destination.  Only two rules applied to these trips:  We'd spend no money other than the cost of fuel, and we drive no further than two hours distance from our home.  

We came to know our surroundings very well.  My guy was really good at noticing and admiring the small miracles all around us.  He had the gift of stillness - something I struggle with - and so could sit until the small creatures around us came to accept his presence.  Then, he would point them out to me.  He was an admirer of sunrises and sunsets, of full moons and twinkling stars, of spring flowers and bright fall foliage, and he shared that appreciation with me.  We saw amazing things together and shared some of our sweetest conversations while out on our weekend travels. 

Both my mom and my husband are gone now; passed away within three months of each other in 2015.  I miss them both terribly but I find comfort in myriad memories we made together, a great many of them by following winding tracks and unpaved roads.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

How I Measure Things

A while back, I took my old computer to the recycling centre.  It was an expensive machine in its day but by the time I dropped it off its programs and operating system were so outdated that its only value remained in what could be salvaged or re-used from its parts.  That gave me pause.  It made me think about investment versus return, not only in terms of that computer, but in terms of life in general.

Everything we acquire and everything we do requires an investment of life energy and, as I have learned all too well in the past couple of years, life energy is not something we should fritter away.  We need to invest it wisely.

I invested life energy in the hours of work required to earn the purchase price of my computer and in the effort required both to learn to use it and to maintain it.  In return, that computer provided me with a means to earn wages and it gave me many happy hours spent working on art projects and photos. During a long period of illness it also helped to keep me in touch with the world outside my walls.  All in all, my computer was a good return on the energy I'd expended to get it.

Other things have proven to be less satisfactory investments.  I've done work that has cost me joy or caused me angst without providing either satisfaction or sufficient earnings, and I've allowed some people to avail themselves of my knowledge or labour without doing me the courtesy of paying the favour forward. Both were poor investments of my life energy but I did at least gain the benefit of a lesson learned.

These days, I measure almost everything against this standard of energy investment and it has affected my approach to life a good deal more than I expected.  Sometimes it leads to curious and rather impractical decisions, like choosing to purchase yarn instead of food because a knitting project gives me more satisfaction over time than a steak dinner ever could, but it also leads to decisions that are both positive and life affirming, like choosing time outdoors instead of time in front of the TV, and spending time on friendships and family connections instead of wasting it on empty small talk with near-strangers.

I'm not sure where this change in parameters will eventually lead me.  I doubt my life energy standard of measurement is a formula for financial success, but it has certainly been good for my spirit.  It encourages me to take more risks than I used to, to be more generous with others, to be more accepting of differences, and to be more compassionate.  It leaves me with a tranquil heart at the end of the day, a clear conscience, and the knowledge that I haven't wasted my energy on things that make me or those around me unhappy.  

Life is short.  It flies by in the blink of an eye.  It's much too precious to waste on things that don't feed our souls.  It's been a hard lesson, to be sure, but one that is surely worth learning.