Category Archives: Misc.

Grandpa Rupert, war veteran


Here is a photo of Grandpa Rupert, just a teen, who enlisted to fight in WWI.  (Check out the KILT! ) I was told that he exaggerated his age to join up to fight for King and Country, eager lad that he was. He came back from Europe a broken man.  He barely survived the trenches of WWI, along with only a handful of soldiers from his regiment.  He never spoke about the war, except to say that “war is a terrible thing”.  Returning to Vancouver Island, Grandpa Rupert healed his wounds tilling the soil, growing berries.  I’ve discovered that more and more war veterans are turning to farming every day.

You may recall the post I did on the OTA awards and the young Iraq Vet turned organic farmer who led us in the marine oath to be Semper Fidelis.  With staggeringly high suicide rates and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Syndrome, war veterans kill themselves at a rate of one per day.  That’s a conservative estimate.  And who can blame them; they have seen the worst of mankind, experienced the horrors or war.  Thinking about this yesterday I discovered a new  piece of Grandpa Rupert’s puzzle (he died when I was young).  I had hitherto only thought about him as an organic farmer and songwriter.  Now I think of him as a war veteran who healed himself through the Earth.  His songs of the Earth were inspired by a love of Mother Nature.

Grandpa Rupert farmed organically in the 1950s, when his peers were starting to use chemical inputs.  Grandpa used sawdust as a mulch, seaweed as a fertilizer, and extolled the lowly earthworm.  He always would leave the soil better than he found it.  Here is a link to one his songs I recorded  I remember him this Remembrance Day.  I think of his journey, his redemption through the soil.  Through my own experience with gardening, I know that working the earth in harmony with her creatures heals the spirit and energizes the soul.

Let us all be semper fidelis to each other, to all creation from the earthworm to great ape. Let us wage not war on the earth but peace.  Let us grow food as an act of healing, of love. And let’s give peas a chance!

Finding peace

Peace is within each of us. We just need to listen to our hearts.

I was at the busy intersection of Kingsway and E 15 th in Vancouver. Kingsway is a major artery of the city. I had never seen Tai chi performed outside of a class or a tranquil park. These practitioners of this ancient art were on a strip of sidewalk, oblivious to the traffic. I happened to snap these photos with my iphone between traffic lights.  (After I posted this, a special follower of this blog sent me a private email saying that she is a member of this society and that they go outside from time to time.  The world is small indeed.  We are all connected.)

La paix, pace, Listen for it.  Search it out.



Made me stop and think. It’s easy to find peace in a quiet park, verdant, surrounded by nature. However much more tricky when vehicles are zooming past at 70 km per hour.

May we learn to shut out the un-necessary, the superfluous. Even when it is dangerously close. Even when it’s loud.  We must listen to our inner voices of reason.   Truth is out there and inside.



Cool stones on Horby

When I saw these rocks on Hornby, sentiments stirred inside me.  Curiosity, beauty, wonderment. These are as fantastical and thought-provoking as the best of modern art.  There is such value in these stone formations, aesthetically.  I wonder if the First Nations have legends about them.




 Hornby Island: Mother Nature’s Art Gallery.

Sbigoline Terracotte

The feeling of connection to tangible history makes Europe a treasure trove to the the wistful. Webs layering past to present might not immediately be apparent. But you can feel it, smell it, and taste it in the air.


I have been shopping at Sbigoline Terracotte for years. It’s a small pottery studio that lies a couple blocks from the Duomo.  Only on my last visit did I discover that this shop has been in existence since the 1850s. That’s wild.  The present owner is below.  In the past, they sold more plaster objects.  Now they made decorative and functional pottery, all in the back of the store.    The 1850s.


I’m stuck right now in the 1850s, wondering what was the gestalt of Florence in the 1850s.  It was the time of the unification of Italy.  Sbigoline survived several wars, in the 1800s, not to mention WWI, WW2.  Musically I’m thinking Puccini and Verdi and Romantic composers.  How many times was O Mio Babbino Caro was hummed along the street in front of the the store?  Although a fictitious character, I bet Lucy Honeychurch from E.M.Forester’s A Room With a View would have bought some quality souvenirs at Sbigoli.

Maybe she would have sent her mamma a couple of these terracotta roosters?


What does it say about a city that is able to sustain a store in the same place for over 150 years?  I think it gives people a sense of the secure.  Buildings that stand the test of time by virtue of still standing tall and proud deserve to be there.  I was dismayed to learn yesterday about a historical building in Victoria (that has stood for over a hundred years) that will be demolished to make way for a climbing gym.  Why take a building that could be renovated and restored to glory and destroy it?  Why not destroy a crappy building that wasn’t built to last?  Buildings made a hundred years ago were built to last…..

We must learn from the Europeans.  They have been city-making and city-dwelling for thousands of years.  We must honour our collective architectural heritage.  We must realize that by honouring the beauty and craftsmanship of the past, we honour ourselves.  In the present.

Barcelona Old and New

“Barcelona is a very old city in which you can feel the weight of history; it is haunted by history. You cannot walk around it without perceiving it.”

– Carlos Ruis Zafon

Casa Battlo is one of those marvels of architecture that stops everybody in their tracks. When I lived in Barcelona, I never tired of the supreme gaudy façade of Gaudi’s brainchild.  It hasn’t changed one bit.  Nor its effect on me.


Below, this charming, stained, antique little marble sink was in a Barcelona Bathroom.  Europeans understand that understanding one’s past is the key to understanding one’s future.  Objects of beauty are a joy forever.  Even when you can get something more functional, it is really more meaningful?  Even if it’s inconvenient, small or awkward, living in a historic building is a status symbol.  Even if you bang yourself more often than not and are cold.  Or hot.  It’s a toss up between charm and functionality.

20130710-114241.jpgThis was the view out the Bathroom window (over the sink above).  One evening it afforded me a view of a naked 70 year old man who clearly was hot (not ‘Hot’) and was trying to cool down the natural way.  How better than to take off one’s pants and shirt!  Better than AC, which gives Mother Nature heart disease.  A relative prude, blame the Indian genes, I wished I had been spared the sight of all that skin.


At Placa Catalunya this was a welcome sight:


Barcelona, a dynamic city is changing for the better, embracing the electric car.  Keeping the old, the sustainable, but wowing the world with its design, Barcelona continues to charm the pants off me and the rest of the world (especially in the Summertime).

George Saunders’ Advice

Kindness is the greatest gift.  Best of all it costs nothing to give and by giving, it enriches the giver and the receiver.  I want to share this with you from the New York Times as it inspired me.  Changing oneself to be more kind is only change for the better.  Let’s be kinder to the Earth, the bees the trees, the rivers and soils and, of course, each other.

George Saunders’s Advice to Graduates


It’s long past graduation season, but we recently learned that George Saunders delivered the convocation speech at Syracuse University for the class of 2013, and George was kind enough to send it our way and allow us to reprint it here. The speech touches on some of the moments in his life and larger themes (in his life and work) that George spoke about in the profile we ran back in January — the need for kindness and all the things working against our actually achieving it, the risk in focusing too much on “success,” the trouble with swimming in a river full of monkey feces.

George SaundersDamon Winter/The New York TimesGeorge Saunders

The entire speech, graduation season or not, is well worth reading, and is included below.

Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).

And I intend to respect that tradition.

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?”  And they’ll tell you.  Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked.  Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.

So: What do I regret?  Being poor from time to time?  Not really.  Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?”  (And don’t even ASK what that entails.)  No.  I don’t regret that.  Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked?  And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months?  Not so much.  Do I regret the occasional humiliation?  Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl?  No.  I don’t even regret that.

But here’s something I do regret:

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class.  In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.”  ELLEN was small, shy.  She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore.  When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” – that sort of thing).  I could see this hurt her.  I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear.  After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth.  At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.”  And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then – they moved.  That was it.  No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.

End of story.

Now, why do I regret that?  Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it?  Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her.  I never said an unkind word to her.  In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still.  It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. 

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly.  Reservedly.  Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope:  Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question:  What’s our problem?  Why aren’t we kinder?

Here’s what I think:

Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian.  These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).

Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.

So, the second million-dollar question:  How might we DO this?  How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?

Well, yes, good question.

Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.

So let me just say this.  There are ways.  You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter.  Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend;  establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well,everything.

One thing in our favor:  some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age.  It might be a simple matter of attrition:  as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish – how illogical, really.  We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality.  We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be.  We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now).  Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving.  I think this is true.  The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”

And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love.  YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE.   If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment.  You really won’t care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit.  That’s one reason your parents are so proud and happy today.  One of their fondest dreams has come true: you have accomplished something difficult and tangible that has enlarged you as a person and will make your life better, from here on in, forever.

Congratulations, by the way.

When young, we’re anxious – understandably – to find out if we’ve got what it takes.  Can we succeed?  Can we build a viable life for ourselves?  But you – in particular you, of this generation – may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition.  You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can….

And this is actually O.K.  If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously – as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers.  We have to do that, to be our best selves.

Still, accomplishment is unreliable.  “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up.  Speed it along.  Start right now.  There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness.  But there’s also a cure.  So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.  Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.  That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.  Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s.  Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place.  Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been.  I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.

Congratulations, Class of 2013.

I wish you great happiness, all the luck in the world, and a beautiful summer.