The Tao of Not Running

I can no longer run. After 7 or 8 years of not running, I no longer think of myself as a runner. I am a walker, a cyclist, sometimes a swimmer – but I’m not a runner. Life goes on.

However, when I read this description of what it is to be a runner in Kate Atkinson’s most recent Jackson Brodie novel “Big Sky”, I was slammed back into the past! A single paragraph on page 142…that’s all it took.

“Running wasn’t pointless, of course. Sometimes you did it to try to outrun your thoughts, sometimes you did it to chase them and bring them down. Sometimes you did it so that you didn’t think at all. Jackson had tried meditation (he had, honestly) but he just couldn’t sit and think of nothing. Could anyone, really? He imagined the Buddha cross-legged beneath his tree with a cartoon speech balloon filled with things like ‘Remember to buy dog food, check tyre pressures, phone my accountant.’ But running – running was mediation.”

Has anyone ever described running better? Not from where I sit…er, walk.


Wood in Heaven

“Daddy…who is that man?”

“What man, son?”

“That man, the one in the picture by your desk.”

“Oh…that’s my great grandfather…your great great grandad.”

“My great great…” Finn repeated hesitantly.

“Yes…he’s…so, Pops is my dad, right?”


“So that man is Pop’s grandad, which makes him my great grandad, and your great great grandad.”

“Was he a great guy? Finn asked?

“I think so,” Michael replied. “But I didn’t know him. He died a long long time ago. But he was great grandad’s dad, and Pop’s grandad, so I think he was probably a pretty good guy. What do you think?”

Finn nodded. “I think so too.”

“Can you read the words under the picture?” asked Michael.

Finn read slowly “I…wonder…if…there is…wood…in heaven. I wonder if there is wood in heaven. What does it mean?”

“Well, there’s a story. Do you want to hear it?”

“Yes. I do.”

“OK. A long time ago, more than 100 years ago, your great great grandfather came to Canada from England. His name was William Lawson Hepher, but everyone called him Lawson.”

“I never knew that name before.”

“No? It’s Pop’s middle name, and great grandad’s middle name as well. Anyway…Lawson came to Canada and he came to the wilderness. He had been a carpenter in England, and out here, he had to learn to build houses for himself.”

“Didn’t he know how before he came?”

“I don’t know. But if he did, he had to learn to build with lumber and other materials that were available here. Remember, this was the frontier. And in his spare time, he learned to carve wood. He bought or maybe made some carving chisels, and he carved some heads and other figures, and built desks and tables and cabinets for himself and his family and friends. And he did these things all his life.”

“He made that desk with the bird carvings, right?” asked Finn.

“That’s right. Anyway, some time before he died he said those words to a friend of his.”

“What words?”

“The words you read. ‘I wonder if there is wood in heaven’.”

“Was that because he loved carving so much?”

“I think so, yes.”

Michael and Finn were silent for a minute or two.

Then Finn asked “IS there wood in heaven?”

“I don’t know,” Michael replied. “What do you think?”

“I think there is wood in heaven,” replied Finn. “And I think our great great grandad is carving it right now!”


…and the starfish died anyway.

If you are familiar with the starfish story written by Loren Eisley, you’ll remember that it ended with a man picking up a starfish stranded on the beach and and tossing it gently back into the ocean. “Why do you bother?” asks his young companion. “You can’t save them all!” “I saved that one”, replied the man. A wonderful teaching, I always thought, and I’ve shared it with many people over the years. Now, however, I fear there might be a coda: “…but the starfish drifted to the ocean floor, where it ingested part of a plastic bag and died anyway”.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about plastics lately, partly because they are so much in the news, and partly because they play so big a part in my life. (There is a connection with the starfish story – please be patient). Oh, I’ve thought about them for a long time, and even worried a bit about my own contributions to plastic pollution and the desecration of our world, particularly the ocean, and even made choices in favour of non-plastics when convenient. But guess what! Now the Government of Canada says it is going to ban single-use plastics by 2021! Even though it might turn out to be the only useful thing they accomplish, I feel like it’s a call to arms. And I ask myself, what can I do right now to be ready for this? Are there ways to anticipate the elimination of plastic bags and other products from my life?

I guess I could hoard bags, probably enough for a couple of years if I worked at it. The Canadian Plastics Association (yes, there is such a group), asserts: “Studies prove that in most cases plastic shopping bags & packaging are a better environmental choice. Bans are not the answer, but rather managing plastic at their end of life is.” Sure…tobacco is good for you and climate change is a hoax. Ok, no hoarding for me…it wasn’t in the cards anyway.

The place for me to begin is by being mindful. I always have reusable bags in the car, but sometimes I forget them until I am at the cashier. From now on, when that happens I will say “Oops, just a minute” and retrieve the bags. Even though I rather enjoy drinking a cappuccino out of a paper cup with a plastic lid, I’ll take my go-cup with me or drink in the shop. I will use steel or reusable straws and biodegradable doggy bags. I will hunt down reusable zip-loc containers for vegetable and fruit purchases and storage. I won’t buy items sold in plastic containers without a number on them. I will reduce my use of Amazon prime because even small items are shipped in hugely oversized padded plastic bags. I will, in short, identify and consider all the plastics that I encounter, and evaluate them to see if there is an alternative.

Hopeless, you say? Well, I can’t keep every plastic bag out of the ocean, but I can keep that one out. And that one. And that one…


You Read it Here First #5

It’s all hubris. Trump is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. And here is what’s going to happen over North Korea.

Trump is trumpet to the world his great success in negotiating with Kim Jong Un. He is after all the alleged author of “The Art of the Deal” however, and this is his proof. But once on the plane, or back home, the deal will fall through. Kim Jong Un will deny that he said something, or make a comment about Trump’s tactics, or his hands, or his hair, and suddenly he and Trump will no longer be the best of friends. Enemies again, the world will be just as it was, only perhaps a bit more dangerous. And nothing will be accomplished except that the many Trump supporters will rally ’round their guy, with stories about what a great job he has done, and how he has made America great again, and how everything that’s wrong with the US is someone else’s fault, and he will win more seats than any reasonable person is predicting in the November mid-terms.

It would be great if all this does not come to pass, but I’m not holding out much hope. This president is a man who attacks his greatest allies, and bullies everyone that he perceives as weak.

It’s all hubris, and there will be a day of reckoning, but I don’t think quite yet.

Image result for gary larson trickery

You Read it Here First #4

This is about Marijuana…weed, pot, ganja – whatever you want to call it. Yes, the plant once regarded by the law as a narcotic, and as a gateway drug to other highly addictive substances by policy makers and psychologists will soon be legal. Yippee.

We are going ahead. The decision is made. Marijuana will be legalized in a few short months. Not merely de-criminalized, but legalized. It will be ok to grow pot at home and in your garden, to share it with family and friends, to bake it into brownies – whatever you want.

So here is my prediction. The legalization of pot will create many more problems than it will solve. Whatever the age of permission, it will filter down to teens and pre-teens. It WILL turn out to be a gateway drug for many people. It will cause unimaginable problems for police departments who are scrambling to set policies about how impaired (stoned) drivers should be dealt with. The courts – already dumping cases because of long delays – will be besieged with legal challenges about what constitutes impairment, and how it can be proven. In a year or two, drug treatment centres will be overrun by young people sent by their parents because they are unmotivated and disinterested.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that marijuana and all its derivatives should be de-criminalized. Possession and use should not lead to a criminal offense. I support continued research into medical use of marijuana, as it seems to show great promise. I have nothing against pot users, and I wouldn’t even mind the cautious gradual introduction of its use. But what’s the rush? I simply can’t understand why Canada could not wait a few years, to see what happens in Colorado, Oregon, and other states that have taken this step. We are, I’m afraid, going to learn the hard way and on the national level what might have been learned from observing those who have gone before.

I can’t understand why, of all election promises foisted on Canadian society prior to the last election, the Liberal government has focused on this one for follow through. There are more important issues, right, like child poverty, the conditions on First Nations communities, and so on? Why the rush? I think it might be all about money. In the last couple of years, smoke shops have popped up all over the place, which only makes sense if big business is positioning itself to sell weed in every mall. Of course, the federal and provincial governments will be big winners too.

Personally, I think a provincial sales tax makes more sense – for now, at least.

You Read it Here First #3

We are moving closer and closer to a cash-less society. Many people do not carry change or bills at all, and some businesses – stores and restaurants – only allow payment by debit or credit card. It’s rare in Canada, but much more common in places like Sweden.

It’s coming, I’m sure. Within the next decade or two, nobody will carry cash, because no business will accept it. It will be too much trouble.

And here is my prediction. As soon as that happens – or perhaps before – the banks will begin to charge everyone for debit and credit transactions. And why wouldn’t they? They will have us all over a barrel! We won’t have any choice in the matter. It would only take a surcharge of a few cents on each transaction for the banks to make millions of dollars.

The World Needs More Petes

Travelling back from our BC cabin with my son Rob, I popped in a Pete Seeger CD. Actually, it was a double CD that I picked up at the local independent record store, but had never listened to. We listened to both discs, Robin and I…and I got thinking about old Pete.

I knew some things about him, of course. What old folkie (that’s folkie, not fogey) from the sixties does not? I knew that he started his musical career in the 1940’s, that he was a charter member of the Almanac Singers and then The Weaver’s, a seminal folk group (famous for recording “Goodnight Irene”, a chart topping single in 1950), that several of his several also contributed to the pantheon of folk music in their own right (Peggy, who married and performed with Ewan McColl, and Mike, who was a member of the New Lost City Ramblers), that he was a social activist until his death at 92 (January 27, 2014), that he was black-listed by the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy Era, that he had some connection with Elizabeth Cotton, who wrote “Freight Train”. I suspected that there was more, much more, to know about Pete. For now, here are some of the thoughts that percolated in my mind as we drifted through the Rockies, supplemented by a little bit of research.

Born May 3, 1919, he was only 18 months old when he embarked on a journey through the south with his father, a university professor and founder of the discipline now known as ethnomusicology, and mother, in a homemade trailer to  “…bring musical uplift to the working people in the American South”. (Thanks, Wikipedia.). The seeds were sown early, it seems. He remarks on one of his live recordings that his home of origin was filled with musicians and singers of the day – Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Allan and John Lomax, and so on. And as he was saying that, I remembered a video I once saw of Bob Dylan performing Mr. Tambourine Man at the first Newport Folk Festival. There, in the background, is Pete, who, having introduced him, looks on with an interested but bemused expression.

Elizabeth Cotton was the family’s maid. She became a fixture in the Seeger household when she returned Peggy, lost in a department store, to her parents. She hadn’t played a guitar in 40 years, but in the Seeger home, music was everywhere, and Pete’s brother Mike began to record her after finding her strumming away in the kitchen.  Freight Train is only one of many songs she wrote, interpreted, and recorded. (In the video, note that she plays the guitar upside down.) The song became a big skiffle hit in Britain, with authorship claimed by another group; typically, the Seeger family supported her in getting her authorship acknowledged.

Seeger’s own catalogue included some very well known songs. He was, of course, an interpreter as well as a song writer. Consider the following list, and his contributions to folk music and music in general. He wrote and interpreted hundreds of songs, including many from other lands, bringing them all into the public eye. In no particular order

  • Goodnight Irene – a Leadbelly song, recorded by The Weavers, 13 weeks at number 1 in 1950
  • Tzena Tzena Tzena – an Israeli song
  • Wim-oh- weh – later popularized by the Tokens as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”
  • Where Have all the Flowers Gone -written by Pete
  • If I Had a Hammer – written by Pete and Lee Hays of the Weavers
  • Turn Turn Turn (To Everything There is a Season) – From Ecclesiastes, long before The Byrds recorded it
  • The Bells of Rhymney
  • This Land is Your Land
  • Little Boxes
  • Guantanamera – Cuban, but brought by Seeger to American audiences
  • We Shall Overcome – an spritual in which he changed “will” to “shall” to make it more compelling and more singable
  • and a great many more.

In 1955 Pete was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He was the only person called who refused to plead the Fifth Amendment. Here is how he responded: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.” (Wikipedia). “I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers”, he said, but he refused to sing for HUAC. The transcript of his testimony makes for interesting reading. He was convicted, and sentenced to ten 1 year terms in prison (simultaneous), though an appeals court overturned his convictions.

He never lost his personal convictions, and remained an activist throughout his life – a vocal supporter of international disarmament, unions, civil rights, counter-culture, and environmental causes such as the Hudson River cleanup. Regarding the Hudson, Robert Kennedy (quoted in The Guardian) pointed out that “…his genius was in recognising that the salvation of the river could come from grassroots activism…he didn’t go to Albany and lobby. He didn’t go to Washington, and he didn’t go to court. He used his guitar and his voice and his joyful manner to summon people”.

That’s Pete Seeger. What a man! The real deal, as Robin said.

You deserve your rest, Pete…but you should know that we could use you down here on earth these days.

Feb. 21, 2018