Summer Pondside

lilliesThis summer we have really been experiencing the abundance of our pond as it grows into it’s own beautiful and unique habitat.  Dragonflies and damselflies helicopter over our heads catching bugs on the move, and water boatmen navigate around our ankles and legs.  We have watched the progression of native tree frogs from egg sacs to tadpole to tiny green gems snuggling into the folds of the water plantain and the tall flat stems of the cattails.  We have seen the brief orange flash of a rough skinned newt, and watched puddling ducks and diving grebes, all within the close gaze from the living room window or the pond side lounge.

The pond was dug four years ago as an integral part of our lands’ water system.  It is 50 feet across both ways, 12 feet deep in the middle, and captures 50,000 gallons of spring water, holding it entirely by the natural solid clay that makes up our lower field.  The spring that emerges on our property at the base of the bedrock slope has been registered since the 1950’s and flows all year round, decreasing in the summer months when the rain stops.  Previous land owners dug down and placed a gravel bed with perforated drain pipe in the spring, which we connected to a 1175 gallon below ground concrete cistern for our domestic water.  A pump delivers this water up to the house, and the overflow from the continuous spring water pours into the pond.  In the winter, the overflow from the pond creates a small stream that we have directed towards the garden, which we plan to utilize more effectively in the next few years’ of landscaping.

Right now, being July and without rain for a month, the overflow from the cistern stops while the tank recharges from the spring whenever we use the water, taking up to several hours to trickle out once again, and the level of the pond has dropped 8 inches below the outflow to the garden.  It will most likely drop another foot before the autumn rains begin once again.

Besides water catchment and creating natural habitat, the pond is a fabulous swimming spot.  We had the excavator build two ledges at either end, one being for plants and the other for a small beach.  The beach area goes out about 10 feet before a small rock wall marks the place where it drops off into the full depth, and at one end of the beach is a large rock placed far enough out so that we can jump off into the middle of the pond.  This June we got around to building a wooden deck over the lid of the concrete cistern, which will later have a four post arbor and shade providing vines growing over top as an intimate and relaxing space.  Colin put in a small stone patio connecting the deck to a rock near the outflow pipe, and we formed the beach by building a low rock wall that separates the grass from the sand that slopes down to the entrance to the pond beside the small deck.

These small improvements, with the growing in of the water plants, have created a little oasis for us and many of our neighbours during these hot months of summer.  Almost everyday we have some friends stopping by for a late afternoon cool off, giving the pond a community feel.  All that we ask of everyone is to have respect for the life that is abundant in the natural eco-system, and to have an awareness of safety and responsibility for each other.

On the topic of maintenance, the pond has proven to be not for the faint of heart.  It is a lot of hard work as we navigate the various needs for a healthy water habitat.  We have had various years of algae blooms and have considered different aeration systems to keep the water circulating and fresh.  Really we wanted the pond to create a natural system that self regulates with filtering plants, oxygenating plants, and algae eating critters.  For a few years we left a barley bale floating around in the water, as decomposition of barley straw in water produces and releases many compounds, one of which apparently controls algae populations. The chemical compound does not eliminate existing algae cells but interferes with and prevents the growth of new algae cells. As “old” algae cells naturally die off, few new algae cells are produced and the algae population is controlled as long as the compound is being produced.  We also introduced snails, which feed on the algae growing on rocks and plants.  One year we added a large jug of microbes.  It is difficult to know if any one of these methods really worked or not, since there are so many other natural variants from year to year, and really, the pond is still very young and adapting.  This year the water is clear and clean as the plants and animals settle in.

We planted a dozen water lily plants that we acquired from a friend who was moving, and a few water iris’s and a dwarf water bamboo plant.  All other plants have naturalized, probably from ducks visiting from other ponds.  We have a growing stand of cattails, a fringe of water plantain, sedges and rushes on the edge of the water, narrow-leaved bur-reed, and an aggressive buttercup- like lily.  Now that things are filling in, I am spending more time trying to pull much of it out so that we can still swim in the pond, and so that we can control the alien invaders of the American Bullfrog, which has made itself comfortably at home on Pender in the last few years.  Two years ago we caught two males quite easily, but this year we have a huge male and a female that are quick and elusive.  All this plant matter for them to hide in doesn’t make for easy eradication.  They eat the native tree frogs, as well as dragonflies, hummingbirds, and baby goslings.  No natural predators in this area make them the top of the fresh water food chain.  So besides spending many hours ripping out the deep roots of the water buttercup (I have yet to make an actual identification of this plant), Colin and I have made nightly journeys down to the pond to hunt out the bullfrogs.  I head out in the hand crank paddle boat that my father made for us, with a high powered head lamp, and look for glowing eyes.  Colin sneaks around the pond edge with a net and tries to move faster than they can jump.  At this point, the frogs are winning, and we are increasingly concerned that they are laying masses of egg sacs which will hatch into tadpoles next spring.

Mostly though, the pond has been an important central feature in our increasingly developed vision of our gardens.  It has brought us together with our community through birthday celebrations,  musical concerts, summer picnic potlucks, work party dips, Summer Solstice ceremonies, and casual cool down hang outs.  It has also provided the opportunity for Cedar and Taeven to become stronger swimmers, and made restful and intimate memories for us as a family.  The pond is a constant reminder of the sacred abundance and presence of the spring water that we rely on as our water source.  I imagine that as we all grow, the pond will provide many more years of beautiful memories as we work to create a sanctuary of connection between us, the land and water, and our community.

Learning the Medicine of the Forest

mahonia tincture

mahonia tincture

As late winter gave its final nod to the delicacies of spring and the plants in the forest around us began to put on their greenery,  it seemed the perfect time to learn about the medicines that the natural world offers.  Our friend and neighbor has been studying and using herbs and wild plants for medicine for a number of years, and so another home schooling family and I asked if she would be willing to meet with us every few weeks and teach us about the qualities of wild medicines during this season, working with whatever plants are ready for collecting as the spring progresses into summer.

 digging mahoniaThe first plant we learned about, one that is prolific in these pacific northwest forests, is oregon grape root, or Mahonia Nervosa.  In the late winter (or in the fall) the brilliantly yellow roots of mahonia can be dug up, cleaned, chopped, and soaked in alcohol to make a very strong tincture.  It didn’t take long for our four enthusiastic children to get their hands into the dirt and gently coax up the long sections of root.  They cleaned it, tasted it, smelled it, chopped it, and covered it with alcohol.  Each step was accompanied by many observations about how the plant affected our senses, and sometimes these sensations were different for each of us.  After labeling the tincture clearly we each had a turn swishing the jar, and sending our own thoughts of love and healing into the mixture.  chopped mahonia rootWe learned about the quality of bitter as we tasted the roots, as well as when we collected the earliest spring greens that we can eat, one of which is the common dandelion.  Bitter flavours have the effect of instantly sending a message to our brains, which then send a message to our stomaches to release certain digestive juices which stimulate easier digestion.  We don’t eat very much bitter food in our diets these days, and often our bodies do not get the opportunity to use this system of response.  The root is also blood cleansing (minerals/ detoxifying), astringent (tightens and tones), anti bacterial, anti fungal, and anti parasitic. It expels heat type conditions, urinary tract infections and has long been used for skin disorders such as eczema and psoriases. This is largely due to the action that mahonia has on the blood system.

wild saladBesides dandelion leaves and flowers, we also collected chickweed, plantain, sheep sorrel and it’s garden cousin lemon sorrel, lemon balm, miners’ lettuce, peppercress, and cleavers, all of which were growing in a small area around our house and in our garden.  Because of the small size of our group, we were able to engage in rather intimate conversations about our individual observations of smell, tangy or mild flavour, and dryness or juiciness.  Our kids are all quite familiar with the practice of eating wild greens, and their openness to explore more options and use their intuitive senses is quite real.  So is their caution, however, and on a few occasions they found look alike plants that they were able to discern as being different and so unknown in safety.  We all went off in scavenger hunt fashion, to find and collect  a handful of each plant.  After mixing in some kale and early lettuce, and adding a light balsamic dressing, we sat and munched on an incredibly fresh and nourishing salad.  Ange served up lemon balm iced tea to refresh the senses even more.

straining tinctureA few weeks later we met to strain out the chopped pieces of the mahonia tincture and bottle the medicinal liquid.  We all found that it smelled horrible, and even tasted horrible, but it was evident that strong medicine was present.  Everyone took turns in the pouring, bottling, and labeling, and we learned that to evaporate the alcohol for children, we could pour boiling water over the dosage needed and mix it with honey or licorace to sweeten it up.  Mahonia heads

Then Ange turned our attention to the Douglas Fir tree that was growing right above our heads and the picnic table we were working on.  We noted the needles lying flat on either side of the stem they grew on, rather than circling in a directions like other kinds of fir.  At the very ends there was the lighter green flush of new needles.  As each of us each chewed on a few needles,  an incredible interchange of flavour and texture ensued with different observations about sensation being expressed by us all.  douglas fir needlesWe were going to make a fir vinegar.  After clipping the new growth off the branches we could reach, the stems were plucked and the luscious needles placed into a large mason jar.  Then we poured apple cider vinegar to cover it, and labeled it.  Joanne took the fir needle vinegar home to let it sit until we meet again to strain it.  I wasn’t familiar with the idea of tree medicine, and I am so grateful to learn more.  The trees hold so much for us, and I am always astounded at our forgetfulness.  fir needlesAll of the medicines we have made follow the folk method of measurement, which means approximate amounts and intuitive reasoning.  Whether adding alcohol or vinegar as the medicinal carrier, we have used just enough to completely cover the plant material without leaving too much extra liquid. If the plant material swells a little, a bit more liquid can be added to keep it covered.   The vinegar or tincture is kept in a dark place for about a month before being strained.

“A plant is always much more than it’s constituents. The action or energetics of the plant can be felt through our unique sensory organs, which can be a very personal experience. This is the foundation of herbal medicine and how we can reconnect to a beautiful wisdom.”  Thanks so much to Ange for her insightful words, and the opportunities that she has brought to us through her own journey.

Celebrating A New Christmas

As we journey through the year, Christmas comes as another little blessing.  -Taeven

Colin's hand painted Christmas card

Colin’s hand painted Christmas card

Indeed, the arrival of this time of year provides opportunities for us to step out of the routine of daily life and reflect on the greater values that we hold for ourselves and for the world.  It has taken me many years of feeling caught in a dualistic drama surrounding Christmas to be finally moving into the direction of creating the kinds of traditions that support the values and emotions that I long for at this time of year. While I trudge through the rituals that our North American society, media, and religion have handed to us, and attempt to surround myself and family with ways that feel true for me, there is a motivation to find beauty and deep connection to the light of the spirits of the people around me.  This year I feel particularly strong about creating Christmas with a certain emotional field for myself and for my family.  It seems like a great window to let in beauty, connection, laughter, joy, love, gratitude,the timelessness of days, simplicity, and prayers of peace for the world.  I find myself yearning to create this certain atmosphere, and filling myself up with warmth and the importance of being together.  I struggle with fitting these energies into the physical manifestation of the traditional ways that are expected, and sometimes feel that my hesitations to replicate what everyone else is doing may cause disappointment or misunderstandings.  How do I translate this to those around me in an honest way through such acts as giving a physical gift… a gift of the thoughts of my heart?  For in my heart I wish to give so much to everyone, but without incurring financial strain, encouraging the clutter of stuff, and widening the divide that lies between those who have and those who have not.  So much mental debris is created when we feel obligated or expected- divides between rich and poor, imbalances of wasteful and scarce proportions.  I want to give beyond these limitations,  I want my gifts to reflect my genuine motivation to give honourably and without insult or suggestion, without waste or  support of the factorization of cheap, environmentally harmful stuff.  I hope that handmade tokens, second hand presents, and gifts of food is simply enough.

our tree made with branches

our tree made with branches

I would stuff the stockings with brain teasers and jokes, art activities and clues to scavenger hunts, or with games that involve piecing together something from each persons stocking.  Personal challenges can be created and tucked in for each person, and perhaps can lead to finding a hidden gift.  Things that would keep us all giggling and silly, that keep the laughter and festivities alive throughout the day instead of the short-term, rip-it-open-and-move-on-to-the-next-thing method.  I loved the stocking moment when I was young, but I can’t seem to bring myself now to buying tons of little plastic things to quite over stuff everyone’s stockings.  Activities and collaborative team efforts to create fun and beautiful moments are the best thing I can think of to replace a huge pile of presents that get torn through before breakfast.  I struggle with the waste of cut trees of Christmas, and have created an annual tradition of building a tree by gathering large branches that have blown down on our property and standing them upright in a bucket of water, supported within a bamboo frame.  We collect different kinds of fir and cedar, and I give a blessing of thanks and respect to the diversity and importance of the life-giving forests of our island and around the world.

homemade gingerbread made with Nana

homemade gingerbread made with Nana

And what of the foods of Christmas?  How do I shed a blanket of love over the cooking of Christmas dinner?  Slow food all day, long meals made with many hands, vegetables infused with the luscious flavors of patience and love.  Conversations shared over chopping boards and simmering sauces, laughter spilling like warm drinks and fresh fruit.  A variety of children’s head levels skirting and giggling in wild joy.  Hands passing glasses and plates as if these everyday objects are in themselves, gifts to be given and received.  Eating only what is needed, and savoring each bite with gratitude, sending prayers of abundance to each corner of the world.

a winter walk

a winter walk

It is important for me to venture out into the winter world no matter what the weather is.  To walk together in the fresh crisp air and remember that the hearth of my home is also the hearth of the earth and of the global interconnectedness of the living world.  Humanity, since our slow beginning, has shared the same air molecules as every animal, plant, tree, insect, bird and fish that has ever lived on the earth, renewing and recycling the very particles that bring life into our lungs and blood, just as it brings life to the leaf cells and sap of the towering, ancient trees and young shoots.  Warm hands in mine, I want to walk through gusts, rain, sun, snow, cloud and mist, breathing in the beauty of the air, the abundance of moisture, a giving and receiving in every breath.  Sharing the crisp and glistening air and feeling the world together, the sense of home expanding into the heavens and into the soil waiting quietly for spring.  The birds snapping up the clusters of seeds heads and worms that wiggle and sway- I want to hear their joyful songs and know that their melodious calls are gifts enough.

But what if I cannot do all these physical things?  What if I had no time to hand make gifts, no money to buy games and food, no home even to wake up on Christmas day?  What if my family was gone, or I had none, or those that I had did not feel the way I do or share the same motivations and values?  What if I was limited in any way from practicing these physical rituals that reflect my emotional values…could I still hold these energies of Christmas and feel fulfilled?  Could I still be warmth and love, connection and beauty, joy and gratitude and giving?  How would I show it, share it, offer it?  How do I create physically that which I feel energetically if my physical world is not such as it is- perfectly privileged?  We are spiritual beings first, having a physical experience, but it is through our worldly ways that we express our spiritual energies and needs.  I suppose this is the constant challenge- to meditate deeply in the midst of chaos, in noise and pollution and different opinions, judgement and poverty.  To emanate my center of peace and love, and offer it to any who may wish to take it.

It is a luxury that I can consider it an easy possibility to create my ideal vision of how I want to surround myself during the Christmas season, that I can freely try on and rearrange the comforts of life that fit exactly into my spiritual center.  I understand, though, the danger of being dependent on the perfect setting to achieve such peace. I am swimming, floating even, in gratitude that all I write about is completely possible for myself and my family.  It is my wish that I can be surrounded by friends and family who share in this longing for connecting with each other, to bring with them a desire to share love and generosity, to be willing to be openhearted and tender, and to rejoice in festivities.  I want to be bursting with life, and laughing with tears, and saying thank you, thank you, thank you, for being who you are, and to have eyes to look into who say thank you, thank you, thank you, back.  I send out prayers that there will be this same luxury and privilege for everyone- to create for themselves a season of celebration that is an authentic reflection of the beauty of our hearts and spirits, filled with love for one another, and feeling the true peace of the world.

I celebrate the spirit of giving with my hands and with my heart.  I celebrate the spirit of beauty in nature.  I celebrate the spirit of joy with laughter.  I celebrate the spirit of light with candles and with my own internal source of divinity.  I celebrate the spirit of abundance with gratitude.  I celebrate the spirit of love with eyes and hands and prayer.  This is my offering in any place I may be, with whomever I may be with.

Christmas Gifts of Connection

a green star of Christmas

a green star of Christmas

Just as the winter season of Christmas begins to draw nearer and nearer and my conflicted heart starts to get all knotted up about the dualities of this holiday and what it has become in our world today, our homeschool facilitator sent out her ideas about education and the role we can take in bringing our next generation into a different understanding of the impacts of the mass consumeristic element that threatens to dismantle the magic that Christmas ultimately desires to stand for.  Instead of bringing peace,  light and joy to everyone, the time of Christmas triggers so much sadness, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and anger in too many people… a trend that I seek to change for myself and for my family in the hopes that establishing new ways of celebrating the season of love and birth will help alter the emphasis of what this holiday means.

being clear with ourselves and respectful with our earth

being clear with ourselves and respectful with our earth

I do not intend to point fingers to the one issue sorrounding consumerism and the dualities of rich and poor, as I understand that there are so many other factors in the social soup of discord that becomes many peoples’ main flavour around this time of year. Also I do not intend to say that all gifts bought from a store and given at this time are contributing to the negative cycle, as long as those who are buying things do so with love in their hearts and without feelings of obligations that work against what is personally affordable, and consideration is given to the integrity of the gift chosen.  I think it is important that we pay attention to what we are doing, and make it clear for ourselves and for our children, (to whom Christmas media is hugely targeting), that we can create new choices for the ways in which we celebrate and give to each other that do not come with economic, environmental, and emotional stresses.  I would like to reprint Julie’s article about some ideas for education around the issue of consumerism, as inspiration for untangling the heart strings.

Greenheart Education- Julie Johnston

Below are some ideas for teaching sustainability in transformative ways by “greening” the holidays along with your students (or children at home). And I’m not just talking about colouring the holidays green — I’m talking about dipping the holidays into a vat of natural dye until they are drenched in green!

Life Cycle Analysis of Christmas (and Other) Presents

Take time to discuss or reinforce the concept of needs versus wants. Many people forget the difference at “giving” times of the year. Help children see the connections between what they receive (and quickly discard) and the living conditions of their brothers and sisters — of all species — around the world.

How can we get our children to be satisfied with fewer and less expensive gifts when their friends are getting lots of (sometimes expensive) gifts?

You can’t expect kids to go cold turkey. I have found that kids are somewhat open to the understanding that this is somebody else’s birthday that we’re celebrating. If you can make the holiday joyful enough with enough points of real pleasure, parties, hikes, special activities, spending time together… if you can do enough of those things, then the focus won’t be so single-mindedly on how big the pile under the tree is.
— Bill McKibben, Hundred Dollar Holidays

This is also a great time of year to teach about life cycle analysis! As many children in different parts of the world ask for and receive lots of new “stuff” for Christmas (or other holidays), help them become aware of the environmental, social and economic impacts of their gifts.

Talk to children about where their gifts (those they give as well as those they receive) come from and go to. Extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal (the “materials economy”) all have their costs and benefits. But this is a linear system in a finite world (“cradle to grave”), and hence unsustainable.

Introduce the cradle-to-cradle life cycle, where waste = food for the next product, and Nature is regenerated by our “industrial” processes. (Visit this short primer to learn more about the cradle-to-cradle concept.)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a series of three posters (click the link to download), showing the life cycle of


Several other life cycle analysis resources are listed at Greening Schools.

Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute movie that teaches where things come from — and end up. Leonard is an American sustainability scholar, and the film was created from an American perspective (translations into several languages are in the works). If you haven’t yet seen this film, be prepared to have your view of the world rattled somewhat. (Suitable for secondary school students, and perhaps those a bit younger.)


For older students, check out Consume This! Buying That Matters.

A learningful way to teach the concept of sustainable development during this time is to have each student bring a gift from home, perhaps the favourite one they received last Christmas or sometime during the previous year for a birthday or another holiday. (Let’s ignore, for now, Annie Leonard’s statistic about how many new purchases are thrown out within a few months!) If the gift is too big to bring to school or was a service gift, they can bring a photograph or illustration of it, or simply tell a story about it.


Have each child draw a triple Venn diagram with three large overlapping circles, on their own piece of paper or on the board. Label one circle Environment, one Social Equity, and one Economy.

Next, as students start trying to picture where their gift came from, and where it will end up, have them write the answers to questions that arise in the appropriate circles or intersections. For example,

  • What natural resources were used to produce this gift?
  • Are they renewable or recyclable?
  • How far did this gift travel? Was it locally made?
  • What is its “carbon footprint”?
  • Who made this gift? Who transported it? Who sold it?
  • Were they paid a fair living wage?
  • How much did this gift cost?
  • Was that a fair price for the buyer (or Santa)? What is its cost-per-use?
  • What will happen to this gift when it’s no longer needed/wanted?
  • Is there a price to pay for getting rid of it? If so, who will pay that price?
  • How much did this gift truly cost?

(Encourage students to watch Ed Burtynsky’s Manufactured Landscapes if they don’t know the answers to these last questions.)

Answers that require research could turn this into a longer-term project.

A similar activity is written up in the Grade 5-8 Education for Sustainability Concepts section of National Sustainability Education Standards – Version 2, from the US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, under 3.2 Collective Action: “Designing a Sustainable System – Using a Venn diagram, students log environmental, social, and economic impacts of a service or system that they use (e.g., transportation of food product). Then students brainstorm a more effective “cradle to cradle” life cycle for the system or product that is effective in terms of reusing or recycling technical nutrients and returning biological nutrients to nature.”

Discuss Gifting Alternatives

Take the time to discuss questions, feelings, needs and concerns that arise. For example, this might be the first time some students have discovered their “social conscience” — and it can be disconcerting, especially if these glimmers of the Golden Rule at the global level contrast with their families’ values and holiday traditions.

Discuss ideas the children have for making their celebrations and gift-giving kinder to the planet, and to others around the world and in the future.

  • Service coupons
  • Charitable donations in the recipient’s name
  • Homemade gifts
  • Fair trade gifts
  • Handmade reuseable wrapping “paper” or gift bags
  • Plants or homecooked foods

Share your students’ ideas in a school e-newsletter.

I wish you, your students and your family a simple holiday season filled with love, peace, fun and kindness — for all.



Pear Extravaganza

pear ginger jam, quartered pears, and pear/apple sauce

My favorite time of year…pears, pears, pears and a few more pears.  While the battle between tent caterpillars and apple trees raged on this summer, the pear trees stood by and quietly unfurled their blossoms and strengthened their leaves.  Orchard stewards who took care to hold back the migrating caterpillar population as they crawled towards anything green and leafy were later filling buckets and bags with luscious fruit.

My family and I, along with a few other neighborhood families, were offered the apples and pears from an orchard in our neighborhood.  The owners leave the island for the winter, but didn’t want to see the fruit of their trees go to waste.  We brought home boxes of ripening pears and huge apples, some of which we made into juice with another neighbors small hand press.  We brought in our home made dehydrator and began coring and slicing apples and pears to fill up the trays.  My father built the dehydrator when I was a teenager, and I am very thankful that we still have it to use.

home made dehydrator

Pears and apples are the the very basics of what is possible with a dehydrator- we have made crackers, fruit leather, and dried herbs, and the possibilities are endless for vegetables, too.  Now that we have some kitchen space I hope that we can expand on our uses. It is a very simple design- a plywood box with 6 trays made with window screen stapled to a 2×2 frame that slide in to place in the box, and a hinged door on one side.  It sits above a low-heat boat/RV space heater, the kind that is meant to keep damp spaces dry.  By moving the trays down as the lower fruit dries, I can load the top trays and rotate the trays continually.

My mom and I also got the canner out and made 12 jars of pear ginger jam, a winter favorite that we alternate with the many jars of blackberry jam we made earlier in the season.  We canned pear/apple sauce for baking and eating, and we also filled a few large jars of quartered pears to preserve the luscious juiciness of the pears over the winter.

Cedar’s favorite snack

Books and references that are integral for recipes and how-to tips on canning, freezing and drying…..

Keeping The Harvest, by Nancy Chioff and Gretchen Mead (1991) covers just about every method of preserving anything.  Includes plans for a home made dehydrator, although it is more complicated than the one my dad built.  Plans for that one are in Dry It, You’ll Like It! by Gen MacManiman (1973, a classic…might be hard to find).  We also have a new book called Independence Days, A Guide To Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation, by Sharon Astyk (2009).

using the apple press to make fresh juice

Independence Days lays out the how-to’s of food preservation, as well as connecting a host of broader issues tied to the creation of local diets.

It includes information on buying in bulk, techniques of canning and drying, and what tools are and are not needed.  The author also focuses on how to live on a pantry diet year-round, how to preserve food on a community scale, and how to reduce reliance on industrial agriculture by creating vibrant local economies.

Goldstream Gem

Goldstream Provincial Park on Vancouver Island is nestled at the end of the narrow inlet of Finlayson Arm, encompassing a beautiful estuary that connects the mouth of the river from it’s journey through thick moss, dripping ferns, giant black cottonwoods, and old growth cedar trees.  The river hosts the spawning grounds for thousands of chum, coho, and chinook salmon each year, which also attracts bald eagles and supports a complex and diverse web of wild life that extends deep into the forest itself.  Three to four years previously, these same salmon were born here before traveling to the sea to grow and mature. Their return to spawn and die in their ancestral spawning beds is fascinating and the Freeman King Visitor Centre features special programs to help visitors appreciate this miraculous event.  The 388 hectare park also includes hiking trails that explore the valley floor to the ridges of Mt. Finlayson, with waterfalls along the way, an abandoned gold mine from the gold rush of the mid 19th century, and incredible views.

I have been visiting Goldstream and it’s rushing, cool waters ever since I was a child.  It was a common place for our family to stop, as it is only 17 km from Victoria and lies directly alongside the highway that takes traffic further north up Vancouver Island. Picnicking amoung the vibrant orange of the fall maple leaves mixed with the bright green of the carpeting moss lumbering over the solidity of the ancient cedar trees, or in the cool shade on a summers day, is a familiar memory.  Goldstream has become an annual visit now for our Spring Leaves home schooling group.  Each year we have visited at different times to take in the various appearances of the flora and fauna that cycle in seasonal changes, accentuated by the returning of the salmon.  The programs and park interpreters that have guided our own diverse group of children and adults have been enthusiastic, fun, informative, engaging, and respectful.  We have learned about the salmon’s cycle of life and how they have influenced the culture of the First People’s of this coastline, and watched their red bodies make the journey against the flow of the river, knowing that they will die and then become nourishment for a cascade of life.  This year we signed up for an afternoon of learning about the owls that live their lives within the park and in the southern BC areas.  We learned of the amazing adaptions that owls have developed to make their way through the night, like the silencing effect of their ruffled feather edges and lopsided ears so as to hear sounds from above and below. We also learned how to properly hoot like our local owls, and we meandered along the river looking for potential tree cavities that owls might nest in.  We also noticed all sorts of other things as we looked and observed, like woodpeckers and mushrooms and the beginnings of spring at the tips of the bare brambles.  We had a blue sky that sparkled with sun and rain together, glittering the moss in the branches of the old trees and sending us a rainbow or two.

What we also noticed was flagged markers sticking out of the river bed at intervals.  These turned out to be places for biologists to test for the residue of an oil spill that put 42,000 litres of gasoline into the river last April, 2011.  The spill happened when a Columbia Fuels truck smashed into a rock face beside the highway and rolled, damaging the tanks it was pulling and sending it’s cargo into the nearby park.  Gasoline is more toxic to wildlife than other types of oil- the only positive is that being lighter, it evaporates quickly and breaks up. Crude oil is more persistent and difficult to cleanse from the environment.  However, gasoline travels and kills quickly in water, and most of the newly emerging fry from last winter’s spawn were suffocated instantly.  Just hours before the crash, Goldstream hatchery volunteers and Tsawout First Nations members had released 8,000 coho salmon into the river. Earlier last week the hatchery had released an additional 20,000 salmon.  Thankfully, the numbers of salmon returning six months later to their ancestral homes was encouraging.  The negative effects of this contamination may be more significant in four years from now, when the 2011 hatchlings would have been returning. Of course, contamination beyond the immediate visuals available to us humans is difficult to determine, and expands into those smaller, and often highly dependent upon, micro-organisms.  I am grateful to all those who have been working to help clean, restore, and maintain this beautiful and integral habitat of Vancouver Island rain forest.  I encourage everyone to take the time to drink in the sanctuary of Goldstream, nestled amidst the growing developments of houses and highways.

The Nature House receives NO government funding!!! We Need Your Help!

     RLC Park Services, your Park Facility Operator, believes in the importance of environmental education.

 The Nature House needs park naturalists available to offer nature Programming and operate the Nature House.

Fundraising efforts and partnerships have helped us to this point. BUT…

  • No government support means we need the public to help us in the future.
  • Help us to continue offering low cost programming for school children, and free summer programs for everyone.
  • We thank each and every visitor who considers making a donation or purchases an item from our bookstore. Each one of you is helping to make a future for the Goldstream Nature House.

Unity as a New World

Unity and trust come from knowing that we are not separate from the creative forces of the universe.

I would like to celebrate the unification of all living beings of this great universe, to the oneness that we all are, to unity.  Knowing deeply that we are created from the same matter and energy that began the universe, the galaxy, and the planet is a step in understanding that we ARE creative energy.  By allowing this flowing of creation to evolve the quality of our lives and the life of that which sustains us, the earth, we can dream into being the solutions for the challenges that appear around us at this time.  We cannot do this alone, however.  We already understand the power of a collective, the magnitude of multiple and millions of us joined together.  I believe in our abilities as humans to lift the ego’s and dualities of the places that we are at this time as humanity, bringing us to a oneness with the source of divine energy and so living our daily lives with peace, joy, and equality.

There are many branches that lead us to the light of the open sky.

This will require a restructuring of the basics of our values.  In the past, groups of people living together functioned under a set of common values that guided how those people communicated, used and shared resources, ate, developed relationships, and conducted spiritual rituals.  Today, our values can be so vastly different from every one of our neighbors that we have become isolated in our communities and enveloped in ignorance, fear, or judgements about who they are and who we are.  Who is right and who is wrong?  Who is capable, worthy, rich, lucky, smart, and who is not?  We see these values as the defining qualities that make us either good or bad, or somewhere in between.  These limitations become the lens in which we view the world and everything in it, including the ideas that separate spiritual beliefs into religions.  Separating ourselves from each other in this way leads millions of people down the road to depression and anger, isolation and judgement.

But really, we are born with the solution.  We come into this world from the source of our spirits merged with the source of the spirit that created us.  In our most intelligent and intuitive state, we chose the parents we needed for this journey of physical being.  We are teachers, even as we first emerge.  We come loaded with trust and purity, with energetic receptors and unconditional love.  But we are also sponges, absorbing the words and energies of everything around us, capable of amplifying and mirroring our influences.  As we grow into adults, those influences become our lenses as well, whether we follow the same limitations or abruptly turn away from them in protest.

We are beings of emotions and senses.  We cannot help but feel.  We take on, through sight and sound, through touch and taste and smell, the emotions of the world.  We are not meant to be shut down, to be limited, to be programmed.  We are the expression of the emotions that we connect with and empathize with if only we are allowed to.  It is through these levels of expression that we process the emotions that rise and fall, and so turn emotions into revelations.  Revelations in turn spark the next steps of our actions, which become offers to those around us, gifts that may be taken up and integrated into someone else’s expression.  Good and bad become the same thing- moments that shape us with opportunities of expression and deeper understanding.  We are all in different stages of this process.  Unity does not mean that we will cease to feel the turbulence of living.  It seeks to erase the lines of separation, and so cushioning each of us with a secure knowledge of belonging and worthiness in the light of divine love.  With this understanding, compassion blossoms, and so too, the doors to unconditional love and the return to our inner child.

Something big is coming.
It’s still a secret, but arriving everywhere.
The atmosphere is charged with longing and searching.
The pilgrims and the mystery-lovers know.
They are gathering now
The sound of prayer drifts across the dawn.
It’s Muslim, Jew, Christian
All mingled
All religions
All this singing
One Song.
The differences are just illusion and vanity.
The sunlight looks a little different on this wall
Than it does on that.
And a lot different on this other one.
But it’s still one light.
We have borrowed these clothes
These time and place personalities
From a Light.
And when we praise,
We’re pouring them back in.

Joy is a return to the deep harmony of body, mind, and spirit
that was yours at birth and that can be yours again.
That openness to love, that capacity for wholeness
with the world around you, is still within you.
-Deepak Chopra

Respect for Nature – Sustainable Cooking Recipes

We are fortunate to have in our community and in our home schooling group a family that has given priority to the issue of local food security and organic practices for the health of the land and of our bodies.  They have been showing us, by methods of action and example, ways in which to honour this issue with joy, love and ease, and in celebration of earth’s bounty.  Food security issues can become causes of stress or paranoia, but the Kikuchi family, with 4 children from 2 to 11, have embraced the beauty of growing organic food with non-invasive methods as the linking puzzle piece to enjoying our full capacity for connecting our body, mind, and spirit back to wholeness.  Through personal journeys earlier in life, Sanae and Arthur have moved from Japan to come to live on this small island and establish a small farm with chickens, garden beds full of greens and annual vegetables as well as a plethora of perennial edibles that are planted, tended, and harvested by the whole family.  Recently, they have worked with their neighbors to produce a free recipe book for delicious meals from their local harvests, and inspiring thoughts on the important need for feeding ourselves from the ground we are personally connected to – either with our own hands or through the connection to our community.  I need not say much more – their own words and stories are beautiful and recipes delicious!  The document can be downloaded for free.

Enjoy!  Be inspired!  Pass it on.

Summer Solstice Celebration

“The Sun, each second, transforms four million tons of itself into light, giving itself over to become energy that we, with every meal, partake of. For four million years, humans have been feasting on the Sun’s energy stored in the form of wheat or reindeer, as each day the Sun dies as Sun and is reborn as the vitality of Earth. Every child of ours needs to learn the simple truth: She is the energy of the Sun. And we adults should organize things so her face shines with the same radiant joy. Human generosity is possible only because at the center of the solar system a magnificent stellar generosity pours forth free energy day and night without stop and without complaint and without the slightest hesitation. This is the way of the universe. This is the way of life. And this is the way in which each of us joins this cosmological lineage when we accept the Sun’s gift of energy and transform it into creative action that will enable the community to flourish.” – Brian Swimme, The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos video

The creation of our first summer solstice celebration came about so easily and quickly, moving from the seeds of suggestion to a beautifully co-created ritual, potluck, and campfire within a week.  It was like a mini process of the time between the winter solstice of idea dreaming and the final flourish of the height of the sun’s expansive energy of manifestation – a theme which also became the foundation on which we reflected during our ritual activities.  I began pondering the idea after a conversation with our friends’ Anna and Tim about what we do for solstice, if anything.  My response was that I had always wanted to do something…. but had never really acted on creating my own ritual for this time of year.  We consulted some books and discussed past experiences that elicited thoughts about what opportunities arise for us during solstice, when the sun’s light is at the most expansive, but also tipping towards the decrease.  I reflected on my past intentions to make these seasonal cycles more a part of my families and my communities awareness in celebration and ceremony, bringing to light our spiritual connection to the earth.  It seems to me that the fractions of religion have left many of us spiritually isolated in beliefs that do not centralize around a church- and although many in my community do share the same central church of the earth, community festivals and rituals that acknowledge these spiritual journeys are either missing, or take place in small, private settings.  I was very encouraged with the response to hosting a solstice celebration – everyone I invited was excited to participate and those who couldn’t come were hopeful that they could make it next year.  (There already was a next year.)  It seemed to fill a void for many I talked to, who said they usually spent the night with a few candles and a drum dancing around by themselves, or, like myself, had just never taken the time to create a celebration.  For our homeschooling group, it was a natural continuation of the Waldorf Advent Spiral that we have been celebrating together for three years on the winter solstice.  (See my older post on the Waldorf Advent Spiral.)

Once I began sprouting my ideas, I was committed –  my vague thoughts found roots in Anna and Tim’s soils of visualization.  We brought the theme of magical wood folk for everyone to dress in, and extended invitations to those we thought would like to take on a role during the evening.  We spent a day clearing a walking trail through the forest of our property, and raked up the piles of grass that our neighbor Lester had very timely scythed for us.  We set up a place on a flat rock beside the pond where Joanne created a solstice altar, and we invited everyone to bring something to add to it during the evening.  Then, after we all gathered in our magical wood folk attire in a circle of almost 50, we began with a simple meditation of grounding and listening.  As the sounds of the evening birds filled the still sunlit air, it occurred to me that I had suddenly come into a role that I had never imagined in my intentions, but that felt natural and easy despite my total lack of experience in leading a meditation to a large group and speaking about the energies of summer solstice and how we can reflect on our inner journeys at this time.  I had tried to do some writing as to what I thought I might say, and just couldn’t get it right.  But for three days I had been listening – to my inner dialogue, thoughts, revelations, and insights to help prepare myself for the time of this ritual, although it had been for my own reasons of understanding, not because I saw myself in the role of the “grand ma’am” speaking to everyone else.  There were things I forgot to say, and I tried to keep things short and simple so as to include all the children while engaging the contemplations of the adults.

We started with the time of the winter solstice when our ideas were the seeds of our dreams, and everyone received a piece of cloth and a stone.  We began our journey around the pond, contemplating the energies of germination.  At some point, we tossed our stones into the universe of the pond, and watched the expanding rings of our ideas begin the chain of action.  Then we followed the trail into the forest – empty, and ready to receive.  Along the trail, we met with a variety of beings, each offering a gift with a message.  There was a young man of the moss with a message of grounding, and a grandmother with rosemary and the words of remembrance and love.  A father and son gave cedar, for strong roots and a soaring spirit, and two sweet girls gave fennel for joy.  In a clearing there was a woman that danced and soared with the abundance of summer grain, and finally, a beautiful mother with the gift of wild rose in beauty and heart.  We explored the trail and the little treasures along the way with giggles, in contemplation, with friends hands’ near by, and with eagerness to explore.  As everyone emerged back where we started, a simple song greeted and invited new voices until all of us had returned with our gifts.  Lastly, we sent around a long white ribbon which everyone held onto – amazingly this spool of ribbon ended exactly with the circumference of our circle.  I invited everyone to take part in offering a word into the circle that described a world they deemed as sacred – so that collectively we would create a vision of a healthy, life sustaining community in which to live.  It could have been endless, I am sure – ideas cascaded into each other as we all threw inspiration into the vision – flowers, trees, birds, hugs, tears, bears, watermelon, ice cream, lego, leaves, star wars, space, the milky way, ice cream (again), friends, mothers, fathers, babies, beetles, clay, sand… all imbued into the white ribbon we all held.  Finally we went around and cut the ribbon so that each person had a little piece, which became a perfect tie for keeping together our gifts in the piece of cloth.  In this way, we sent out our individual dreams, collected skills and gifts, then came together in a group to share and build a world that supports each of us and our goals.  Then we feasted!

After dinner we spent some time folding origami boats and boxes with the help of the Kikuchi family.  We placed them on small squares of cedar wood, put a tea light candle inside, and sent them off on the pond with wishes and prayers.  We lit the altar candles, started up a fire, and got out some instruments.  Everyone made a fine effort to stay up to see the Milky Way, but eventually families and neighbors drifted back to their beds.  Except for us and two other families – we pulled out our sleeping bags and spent the night gazing at the crescent moon as it made its way across the late night sky.  It was indeed a beautiful beautiful night.

I am so happy to be finally opening up our land in this way.  This was the first gathering of any kind we have had since all the excavation took place three years ago.  The pond is alive with plants and bugs, the marshy field is dried out and level and ready for orchard plantings, the piles of construction scraps have been cleared away.  We have laid the groundwork for our sanctuary, and I am sure it will continue to change, grow and flourish with the cycles of the land and seasons as will I and the community of family and friends around us, in support and in celebration.

Thanks to Joanne and Kenta for some of these photos.  Ideas for this ceremony were learned from Earth Wisdom – A Heartwarming Mixture of the Spiritual, the Practical, and the Proactive, by Glennie Kindred, as well from our own imaginations and experiences.

Dancing the spirit sacred


On Pender Island, we have just begun dancing again.  I am sure that, looking into the long past, there have been many days and nights of such dance in these forests. In the 5 or 6 years that we have been gathering to dance- through a few different forms and names and coming and goings of people and numbers- our intent has always been strong in holding a judgement free zone of sacred honouring through movement, writing, drawing, meditation, yoga, the many facets of creative expression.  It took awhile to get going really, in the beginning we were all struggling a little to find out what actually fit- music was a little off, or nobody would have a key for the hall, setting up the sound gear was hit and miss.  Communication and organization really- but when it came together we understood the greater reason for persistence.  What we needed was a leader, a guide, who had great music and themes of contemplation, someone to give us some ground to leap from, opening us up to the possibilities.  Our friend Nicola stepped forwards- she was only just beginning herself, exploring 5 rhythms dance workshops, and having a willingness to test her own waters about facilitating such a space.  She gave us inner explorations, and outer excercises like witness dancing, mirror dancing, spoken word dancing- she gave opportunities to really throw down the barriers and be exposed to ourselves and others in trust.  She also instigated the altar- candles, colours, thematic objects, cards, paper and pencils.  In and out of a few years,  Nicola led us through her own discoveries until just last year, when she moved to a neighboring island with her family.

A few of us knew at that point that dance nights would not end because or guide was gone- but that we were ready to step up with the tools needed to continue to offer the same space to those who would come.  While we are not offering the deep guidance that Nicola had, we are opening the space to a collective presence- much like we first envisioned but stumbled to achieve in the beginning.  We invite women and men, young and old, anyone who is wanting to be in this space and uphold the sacredness.  People can sit, lie, stretch, write, draw, paint, or just breathe.  We accept anyone who would like to put together the playlist for a night, with or without a theme.  Our music is always diverse with everyone’s individual musical style, and as we share, it expands us all.  We keep a “library” of past playlists available for copying, and it is not unusual to hear a song pulled from those past nights.  We are creating a wide foundation of music.  The building of the altar, which is usually taken on by whoever is doing the playlist, (but doesn’t have to be) holds us together in beauty and sacred meditation, and allows any discussion of revelations, epiphanies, heart murmurings, or places of shadows.  We have explored earth, air, fire, water, solstices, passion, joy, healing, forgiveness, innocence, gratitude, the cosmos, and whatever other energies develop throughout the year.  Recently I read an idea put forth by Dr. Masaru Emoto, which said, “E=MC2 really means that Energy = number of people and the square of people’s consciousness.”  I have felt this to be so true during dance many times, that our collective energies are more powerfully charged when we move together, when we feel together, when we love together.  It is infectious.  We have held healing circles for friends, sent prayers to far away places, and chanted sanskrit mantras together.  We laugh in shared stories of our lives.  It is a small island- we are all connected in ways outside of these nights- in other groups, in professional jobs, in the roles we hold in our community.  I think it is brilliant that another layer of our interactions is open in the sacred way of this creative space- may it lead to a deeper honouring of each other in every day.

We are not a huge group, by any means.  I have noticed though, that since december 2010, our regular average has gone up from around 8 to 25.  It is not many still, but it makes the community hall where we dance seem like a maze of bodies to weave through.  I think the foundation is growing.  I think there is an awareness that collective consciousness, stemming from our individual self care and love, is simply just a good thing to do.  Release and refresh.  Dance and be danced.

I would like to send gratitude to those people and forces that have helped shape these beautiful evenings along the way with such a natural procession of growth and evolution.  May the journey continue.

Artwork here is by Joanne Green, Pender resident and fellow sacred dancer.  Visit her site for beautiful mandalas and images of  spirit and nature.

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