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Out of The Frying Pan…

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Over my years I’ve scuba-dived and sky-dived.

I’ve ziplined and schussed, tobogganed down a volcano and parasailed. I’ve munched on guinea pig and bull’s testicles, and sipped snake wine.

But… now? Who needs bungee jumping, speed-skiing, or parachuting for that adrenaline shot?

Not me… anymore… because…

I live in British Columbia.

Living on Canada’s west coast in British Columbia today is living life on the edge.

Over the decades I’ve not-so-humbly gloated over the incredible natural wonders of this place I’ve chosen to spend almost all of my adult life.

Clean air and water are mere add-ons to the glories of spectacular mountains, pristine lakes and forests, and the fruit-laden valley that I wake up to each day. Yes, I live in an earthly Garden of Eden.

Magnifying this wonder I’ve seen and experienced, has been the abundant peacefulness of this province’s climate and geology.

Hot, non-humid summers, and mild’ish low-snow winters (in the valleys) make my home a bona fide Jewel in the Crown.

Now comes the BUT…

Today, while I love this place with fervour, I recognize the jewel is becoming badly scratched and the crown’s gold adornments tarnished.

A one-off, freak occurrence I brush off like early November snowflakes on my nose.

Two times and I get suspicious…

News reports that hold the power to fill us with impending doom… well, used to be, I’d lazily gloss over, utter a tsk tsk, and have another sip of my sweet-scented Gewurtztraminer (what does this say about my empathy gene?).

We’re all cracked, damaged, dinged yet simultaneously comforted because “it” hasn’t happened to us. We happily read books filled with sordid stories that provide us a safe place to “feel and heal”. 

Earthquakes and floods, tornados, hurricanes and fires are things that usually happen to someone else, the same kind of stuff that we think about when fatal motor vehicle crashes and home invasions happen… until… they happen to us.

Danger and tragedy are far more meaningful when they are in our own world space.

We all expect the very occasional “once-in-a-hundred-years” event to drop down on us. But once-in-a-hundred loses all meaning when it comes around yearly or every couple of years.

The freak climactic occurrences of BC are now the new normal.

Summer forest fires threaten huge tracts of land and thousands of homes, not to mention the innocent wildlife that succumbs to the infernos.

The odd year where summer fire doesn’t cause evacuations of thousands of homes is the “freak” year.

Huge atmospheric rain storms have just unleashed massive flooding, extensive highway and rail damage, caused the deaths of tens of thousands of livestock, and dislodged thousands of people from their homes due to this water torrent.

(https://globalnews.ca/video/8381738/b-c-floods-heroic-horse-rescue-amid-heavy-flooding-in-merritt)

Me and my family here in the Okanagan Valley have been hugely lucky to have barely felt a scratch due to this latest weather phenomenon. My biggest concern? Stores have no milk or yogourt. Kale is missing on the shelves. Big deal.

I’d love to once again gloss over with my wine glass and see this as one more oddity, that once-in-a-lifetime thing that we still talk about 50 years later (like the big flood of 1948 in BC that my in-laws often spoke of) because it was so unusual… but… I know it’s not.

This water deluge, like the perennial summer fires, is now part of the new everyday.

You may have a new normal in your part of the world too… in fact, I suspect you do. Get used to it.

This all makes me sad because it’s been largely preventable, and even now, when we see the writing on the wall, we continue to say the right things but live our lives in contradiction to what we see and know to be true.

I’m as guilty as anyone out there. I’m complicit.

I can point out areas where I may be more “saintly” than others, but my halo is still tattered and I know it.

Our lifestyle choices… the world’s lifestyle choices… is akin to drinking demons from a fire hose.

My home is in a place I call a Garden of Eden, but the reality says my backyard has been sown with the seeds of a Garden from Hell.

Checking Your NAVEL in COVID Times…

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navel gazing

I’m cycling… no, not on my bike, although I have been doing a fair bit of that lately too!

Nope, it’s my focus that’s cycling. Up, up, up … and then a little down…

Remember St. Patrick’s Day almost 5 months ago?

I do. And not only for the 6 glasses of green beer I quaffed (which truly I CAN’T remember).

On March 17, my wife and I were volunteering at our local Trout Creek Elementary School, popping dishes into the small kitchen’s dishwasher after the once weekly school lunch.

Hot dogs and fruit smoothies, it was an easy clean-up. Fun.

You wouldn’t want to see the mess made when the lunch menu had the angel-faced Kindergarten to Grade 5 kids getting mixed up with spaghetti and its mucky blood-red sauce and Parmesan cheese. Those are Freddie Kruger movie days.

On March 17, we could see dark, infectious clouds forming. Change – like virus particles – was in the air.

Things were beginning to grow more intense on the Coronavirus front and speculation was growing about what might happen after the upcoming 2 week Spring Break.

We were in the very early stages of not hugging or shaking hands with others. When we said goodbye to anyone, it was happening awkwardly at a distance with an embarrassed, somewhat bemused “what the hell are we doing?” look on our faces.

not shaking hands

The school Principal’s voice erupted over the loudspeakers, “We hope we’ll see you all in 2 weeks kids, but it could be longer. Stay safe.”

Nailed that one.

On March 17, face masks were something worn for sterility purposes by medical personnel in hospitals and by a few East Asians concerned about “germs” in general.

It felt like the door was opening to a Twilight Zone episode written years ago by Don McLean who penned the song “American Pie” and the iconic words, the day the music died.

  • I stopped washing school dishes on March 17, 2020.
  • I stopped actively investing on March 17.
  • I stopped chopping vegetables at the soup kitchen on March 17.
  • I stopped visiting the college to tutor a young man in nearby Penticton on March 17.
  • I stopped eating movie theatre popcorn on March 17.
  • I stopped eating in restaurants on March 17.
  • I stopped shipping wine from my little “retirement” job on March 17.
  • I stopped using my own reusable bags at the supermarket on March 17.
  • I stopped waiting for my Hamilton Tiger Cat football team to fire up training camp after March 17.
  • I stopped visiting and playing music at Open Mics on March 17.
  • I stopped babysitting my energetic grandson one day a week on March 17.
  • I stopped attending boot camp, yoga classes, and the swimming pool on March 17.

Noticing a trend? Does it sound exactly like your life except for the specifics?

Anything and everything tilted on March 17.

world tilted

The precise date might be slightly different in your world but otherwise… sameness. Everywhere in the world. India, Peru, Egypt, France, Australia… all the same.

Normal became… disinfectant flowing like flood waters… masks more widespread than at Halloween… line-ups outside of stores (those that were open)… health questionnaires and temperature checks… distancing “dots” on store floors. Dystopia days…

Yes, lots of things stopped on March 17th.

But… March 17 was also the day something fired up again … my focus.

On March 17, I found my “navel” and it was good.

I had been so involved in floating downstream when I really needed to paddle upstream against the current.

Songwriting. For some years I had been internally lamenting that I just couldn’t make myself focus on the arduous, but ultimately rewarding task of songwriting. I wanted to, I longed to… but a million other little things interjected time after time.

Yes, I found my focus.

The modern cycle of busyness was slowed by the virus and almost came to a stop. Routines changed. Rush and diversion backed away like sheep from ravenous wolves.

My mind and and body settled and relaxed. It was almost like full-time yoga.

This new-found focus had me adjusting my blog posts so that I wrote song lyrics every 3rd week.

I zeroed in on lyrics and melodies and harmonies and guitar licks as if I was back in my old laboratory job. I concentrated for hours in the way I used to sit in dark rooms searching for tiny, fluorescent Chlamydia antigens under the microscope (and never broke my oath of confidentiality on any of you!)

The near-stoppage of time because of this nasty virus cloud gave me permission to concentrate deeply, to focus.

Things were clicking and the work was paying off. I started and completed maybe 6 or 7 songs over these past 5 months. A groove, a muse, nestled in and it didn’t feel as hard as it had for many years. It was exhilarating.

And then… gradually in the last month or so… I sensed a creeping slippage.

Former “normals” were filtering back….

  • My little job of shipping wine fired up once more as wine sippage continued enthusiastically in homes, then restarted in reduced-seat restaurants.
  • Lineups dissipated and I toted my reusable bags to the grocery store again and paid the tab across a plexiglass shield.
  • I sweated profusely to Boot Camp videos on YouTube.
  • I (with my wife’s tutelage and patience) looked after my little grandson weekly.
  • Although my physical attendance at the college for tutoring stopped, my student and I have continued uninterrupted with online learning sessions.

Bit-by-little-bit, despite this novel virus not taking a holiday, most of us, myself included, have begun to take tentative steps back to the world of “before”.

And now, I only hope I haven’t fallen off my new cycle.

Sure, we’re not the same people we were before March 17. We don’t measure our days in the same way.

We’ve adapted, lamented, adjusted, fumed … and maybe, just maybe…

… we’ve re-discovered some tiny store of focus for one or two of the things we’ve been waiting to delve into for so long…  those navel gazing wonders that pump up our spirits and enthusiasm.

………………………………..

PS As a sign of my diminished focus, I have a backlog of song lyrics that still need their musical component to make it to the finish line.

Therefore… no song lyrics this week as has been my practice lately. But, on the positive side of things, I have been working away on my guitar “Travis picking”. Travis picking (named for Merle Travis) involves picking an underlying bass line on the lower guitar strings while simultaneously carving out a melody part on the higher strings. Below is a sampling of a song I recently recorded called Foxglove, written by guitar guru Bruce Cockburn in the 1970’s. Hope you enjoy.