Archive | September, 2013

Reviewing the past 2 weeks, beginning September 16

30 Sep


The week or 10 days that was September 16 to September 26, 2013 in 2 parts, this being part 1

I’ve had an intense couple of weeks. I’ve been in Vancouver, and not on Bowen Island, for a whole week due to the generosity of my good friend Sonya allowing me and my girls the benefit of an apartment sit while she is away. Here goes, going back 2 weeks.

Monday, September 16– Prior to my evening shift at Insite I was walking through the Downtown Eastside and encountered an older man having a grand mal seizure on the sidewalk. I was waiting for a walk light and heard his bike crash to the ground. I ran across the street and he was lying on his side, seizing with his bicycle helmet still on. Kind of perfect as far as first aid protocols go- already lying on his side and no risk of head injury. I have taken on the habit of leaving work with a few pairs of those blue disposable gloves you see used by emergency services personnel in my pocket. Nothing says you know what you’re doing more than being in civilian wear and whipping out the disposable blue gloves. Works better than lights and a siren. Two other men were there, one phoning 911, and additionally one of my esteemed work colleagues Duncan saw me as he was driving by and stopped to lend some much valued support as well. Everything went well, the ambulance attended and took him to the hospital. I took his bike to my workplace to keep it safe until he returned from the hospital and the younger of the 2 men, kind of adrenalized by the rush of being a saviour (as opposed to me, I’m so well adapted to it), wrote him a note with my workplace address and some brief well-wishing. After leaving his bike safe at the back of my workplace I still had enough time to grab a coffee before my shift started. While doing so the same man, quickly back from his hospital visit, retrieved his bike, being helped by one of my day co-workers who was well up to speed as to what had happened. His gratitude was obvious but what was also obvious was his confusion- he still had no idea what had happened. So let’s review- a man has a medical crisis on the street, is helped by no less than 4 strangers at the scene, then by ambulance and hospital, then by another man at an unfamiliar medical facility who helps him retrieve his belongings, walking through it all in a confusing miasma, and understands nothing except that he’s been well cared for. A beautiful metaphor.

Tuesday, September 17– Prior to my evening shift at Insite I was walking through the Downtown Eastside and encountered a man, known to me, beating the shit out of a garbage can. In his pronounced psychosis, the garbage can eventually got tossed into the busy rush hour intersection, him chasing after it. Garbage can and contents continue being abused, garbage strewn the length of the crosswalk. Cars, of course, didn’t stop and barely slowed, swerving to avoid being late or inconvenienced or making an insurance claim. I called out to him by name from the sidewalk and asked him to let me help him (blue gloves to the rescue) and he waved me over. I went into the intersection, grabbed the garbage can as he began to collect the garbage he had just liberated, putting it back into the can and stating that we should just say that we found it like this. Traffic still not in our favour I returned by stating that he’s either going to get hurt or in trouble if he doesn’t get out of the intersection and guided him to the sidewalk. I turned away, leaving him in order to continue on my way to work, and noticed no less than 3 people on various corners of the intersection recording the events on their phones. So let’s review- a medical crisis of a physical nature, people rush to help using their phones to gather help. A medical crisis of a mental health nature people use their phones to… shield themselves? protect themselves? entertain themselves? Mental health, admittedly a huge frightening mystery, could use a substantial effort at demystification. I can’t help but connect this kind of fear and passivity to a teenager getting shot to death by police on a streetcar, among other current tragedies.

Wednesday, September 18– Prior to my evening shift at Insite I was walking through the Downtown Eastside and encountered (I’m not making this stuff up) a police incident. I could hear the escalating voice of a man who was around a corner in a lane. I looked around the corner and saw a young man overly well known to me, handcuffed, sitting on the ground, starting to pontificate about injustice, bleeding from a large gash in his forehead. This one requires some background so this is where I’ll defer to part 2.


Imogen turned 10 this past week. A tribute.

26 Sep


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I’m trying to write about a child, my youngest daughter Imogen, while a pillow fight is storming around me. She is the youngest and the smallest. She is 9, a week away from her 10th birthday. And she is being ganged up on by the older 2, her sister and their friend Morgan. I try to verbally referee, try to shame the older 2, try to get them to understand how little value there is in winning in this manner. But her older sister Ramona explains it all in a short outburst- “She’s impossible to beat!” And soon enough, after enduring many audible whacks to her head from the others, never failing to smile while doing so, she has all 3 pillows in her possession and has delivered her share of audible whacks.


Imogen was named after Shakespeare’s Imogen, from one his more obscure plays Cymbeline. Credit my Imogen’s mother with being educated in the Shakespearean obscurata. She is said to be Shakespeare’s strongest female character, who forfeits everything to pursue the path of love. As a princess she forfeits her title disguising herself as a man, thereby also forfeiting her gender identity, to escape her country, forfeiting her language and ethnicity, in order to evade an arranged marriage, forfeiting wealth and security. And she eventually finds her love. I love the image, unaware of it when Imogen was so named. I described this character to a friend recently and her response was that she sounds like a little Buddha. All these my little one wears well.



She is. She is uninterested in ambition- very strong yet has no desire to dominate. She sits on my lap and does situps, feet hooked under one leg, lowering her shoulders to the floor then back up. She will do pullups on the bus each time the bus pulls into a stop, counting how many total in a trip. She is offended if I cut down a tree let alone kill a rat, cries when distanced from the friends she loves but never when she is hurt. Literally, never. I encourage her towards martial arts but she feels she’s already pretty good at fighting. She is.



During our recent vacation, on Bowen Island prior to finding this cabin opportunity, in one day this is her account, about 2 hours worth- 1. fall off bike faceplant so hard helmet pops off. Father wipes dirt off- teeth, lips, face, clothes. Constant smile but an acknowledgement that that kinda hurt and needs to take a break. Break lasts 5 minutes 2. Continue riding bike into village a further 30 minutes. Push bike up a hiking trail. Find a snake. Pick it up by the belly as it thrashes about and sprays everywhere. Responds by saying “I think I need to put it down” Realizes it was snake excrement. Finds bathroom to wash said excrement off.. 3. Continues bike ride into village, riding through a parking lot. Father hears loud tearing sound behind him. Turns around to see big smile on face of girl in question. Knowing the answer, proceeds to ask question anyway “Did you just toot?” Knew the answer. Continues day, her consistently unamazed by these kinds of day.



Along with her sister and amazing little friends she is endlessly creative with an uncanny sense of proportion- preferring to make her own toys and costumes on her own. She is remarkably resilient, enduring physical hurt in a remarkable manner. One occasion as a 7 year old she fell off her bike on the Vancouver seawall. I waited a short distance away for her response while strangers rushed to her aid. Her loud laughter at herself and her predicament alarmed the strangers who looked to me for direction, receiving only a shrug. She has good friends and offers an intuitive, unpremeditated grace to one’s learning disability that makes it virtually disappear when they’re together.



She collects rocks, stones, runs outside when it’s raining, tries to protect moss from sunshine, set up an animal sanctuary with her sister and best friend Zoe, builds vignettes out of these collections for crickets and bugs to play in, dreams of the animals to which she can give care. As a 2 year old visiting a barn we found her with her hand fully inserted in a suckling calf’s mouth. Another occasion, last summer at Wagon Wheel Ranch near Sudbury, Ontario, a baby llama kissed and nibbled her nose (their noses were pretty much identical heights from the ground) for ages, put his head on her shoulder, but would skitter off if I came within 6 feet of him. Later a mule pushed her from behind with its long nose and she smiled knowing that it just wanted her to love it a little (dad thought it wanted a punch in the same long nose but dad gets a little overprotective sometimes). She lives in this world assuming Mother Nature knows she loves her and assuming Mother Nature loves her back.

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She dislikes candy, sugar, icing makes her squeamish, craves carrots, fruit, berries. At her 6th birthday party I had prepared an array of food. She pointed to a bowl of steamed broccoli drizzled with flaxseed oil and sprinkled with a little sea salt and loudly declared “This stuff’s awesome”. Has the best food instincts of anyone I know, without exaggeration. At her 9th birthday party I purchased a truffle cake, kind of upscale for a 9 year old but knowing she likes dark chocolate (only) I thought this would satisfy. She smiled glowingly, said no thanks when offered a slice of the pastried finery, and only ate a little of the curled chocolate garnish from the top, which she also happily shared with all her little guests.



She follows me. Sometimes like a shadow. It’s these times I know she’s hurting or anxious. Just a quiet shadow, accepting of hugs, loving contact, jokes but resistant to questions, prying, efforts at forming an articulate understanding. I frequently find it difficult figuring out how to guide, how to push towards excellence, such a seemingly self-possessed child. What ends up being required of me is to simply honour the entrustment I’ve been given and observe. Observe when the adjustments need to be made in her and in the others around her, especially myself. These adjustments are generally accomplished quite easily as she doesn’t suffer complicated relationships easily. I love her.



And she hates the cabin.



The unlikeliest child to do so, but she hates it. Except, last week we went over to hike around, have a campfire (cabin life in small doses) and despite still insisting that she hates it, agreed to have her birthday party over there. Progress, methinks.



Happy Birthday honey. I love you very much even though you’re going to hate me for the photos I’ve posted.

A trip to the pet store

A trip to the pet store

A trip to the rodeo

A trip to the rodeo

A quiet morning at church

A quiet morning at church




Let’s talk about the week, last week that is (a little late)

19 Sep


A review of the week, September 8 to 15, 2013


Sunday, September 8, 2013– just before my night shift at Insite begins it is confirmed that the owner of the cabin I’m renting will indeed not be providing materials for the renovation, which was our original agreement. The implications are that… I’m potentially homeless. Meaning the cabin is not liveable, especially for children and I need to come up with a plan B. I haven’t totally given up on my cabin dreams but…


Monday, September 9, 2013– I gain a new hero in a co-worker, known locally as the Rat Killer but in his civilian life it’s Brandon Yau. While heading down an antediluvian outside stairway leading to our storage area, Brandon stepped on a rat as big as my shoe and killed it clean. I was able to participate by achieving an apprenticeship in rat- handling. (Might be an important skillset for my cabin future).

Downtown Eastside rats are real rats

Rat handler Downtown Eastside rats are real rats

Later in the week, I think it was Saturday, my youngest daughter Imogen questioned my technique by asking, if the rat was already dead and I had gloves on, why didn’t I hold it properly by the body? And did I bury it? And how would I feel if I were dead and someone held me up by my foot? The answer I gave sounded like a sputtering “Honey,.. I didn’t know for sure,… Honey…” What I thought about saying was “I would feel crappy if I were dead and held up by my foot” or “Shut up farthead” or “I was too scared to touch its body so don’t make fun of me” or “That took some guts just to hold its tail” It’s hard living with a mini Buddha who doesn’t suffer bullshit well. That same day she also asked if I could buy a packaged frozen rabbit from a Chinatown meat counter so we could bury it properly. Straight faced.



Also Monday, September 9, 2013– In my workplace I participate in supporting a young man kicked out of a detox. My most significant effort was directed toward the friend who brought him my way, who I deliberately asked to hand off this person’s care to me. The friend and I had a frank discussion about the difficulties of loving and supporting while realizing the necessity of limits and boundaries. The hand-off being official I told her the most important work she can do is the transcendent work, pray if you pray- she said she would light a candle. Well done I says. The young man will find his way, I’m confident.



Wednesday, September 11, 2013– I crossed from Bowen Island to Vancouver by water taxi. Intoxicating.

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We had a workplace meeting, so instead of working my regular shift hours it meant staff meeting, then the real meeting, meaning beer with co-workers. So I stay out too late in Gastown and while outside on the end of the night sidewalk I realized that I hadn’t gone to the washroom in quite a while, and my realization came urgently. I hustled to one of Vancouver’s fetid laneways and began to pee my unstoppable beer river. A kindly passerby interrupted my bliss with a “Cops, buddy!” and I glanced quickly around to see a cruiser stopped at the lane entrance, then turning while I’m trying unsuccessfully to truncate the unstoppable beer river. The cruiser pulled up beside me to the singsong of the young female constable’s voice saying “Busted”. Lecture. Beyond embarrassed. And the male cop says “Don’t I recognize you from somewhere?” Then after a lengthy description of my Insite function, and satisfied with the length of lecture and embarrassment, they didn’t ticket me, saving me some $200 or so I’ve heard. Between living in the Downtown Eastside or a mountainside, I thought the whole world was my urinal. Guess I need to make some adjustments to that understanding.



Friday to Sunday, stayed with such generous friends all weekend. In fact, including the cabin I slept in 6 different places that week. No wait, 7 including the night under the stars at the cabin. I was doing a little side painting job also last week so my cabin visits were unfortunately fleeting. One visit included visiting with Tracy and Zoe for the first time in the 6 weeks since we moved out of that house. Let’s just say it feels so good to feel at home in so many homes. As in, great to see you guys, mind if I just stretch out on your couch for a minute?

Action shot

Action shot



Friday, September 13, 2013– Although there is plenty of work left to be done and much of life left to be lived, and although I feel kinda crazy and unorthodox and constantly misfitted, and although the questioning and self-doubt still have their breeding ground though that ground is increasingly shallow, and although I’m often tempted by the modern myth that I have nothing, this day I received confirmation that I have lived life successfully. This, via my 12 year old daughter Ramona from a grade 7 school project she has been working on describing different aspects of her life.

Action shot of me thinking thoughtfully

Another action shot of me thinking thoughtfully

A reminder that life is indeed a gift


Alright, muster time… part 1

9 Sep


It has been more than a week since my last blog update so let’s review the critical events of the past week:


The rat status– After 2 sleepless nights listening to the rodent’s open-mouthed chewing on something, presumably my breakfast, 10 feet away from where I’m sleeping, I guess it was time. I bought one of those massive snap traps and prepared to sleep outside on the picnic table under the stars. I fumbled with the trap until I finally had it set and baited, with a little smoked salmon bread ball, but by the time I figured it out I was completing the task outside by candlelight (it is remarkably still up the mountain- most nights a candle will burn straight; the cabin is in a bit of a wind shadow or something which adds to its beauty and uniqueness).



After finally getting adequate sleep under the stars, you guessed well, the trap was picked clean and still set, improperly but still set nonetheless. It was a workday and I was leaving Bowen Island early that day in order to meet my honeymooning cousins from Toronto. Packing up for my commute I hear little footsteps above me. The ceiling is a wrinkled drywall, leaky half open mess, and sitting on the plastic vapour barrier above me was my little foe, GROOMING HISSELF. He might as well have burped and gave me the thumbs up for the dinner I had prepared for him. I did the only thing accessible to me at the moment. I reached up and gave him one of my patented finger flicks (ask my oldest nieces about their childhood) right on what I imagined to be his little rat nards. He jumped and scurried for cover and we have yet to meet again.



The commute- A big challenge. I work 4 nights per week in Vancouver with my shifts ending at 4am- 2 hours before any buses or ferries are running. Staying awake until the buses start sets up a steady night shift scenario which is decidedly unhealthy, especially during the sunless merciless Pacific Northwest winter months. I goes a little loco with the absence of any daylight. In light (haha) of this I’m trying to work out an intermittent sleep rhythm wherein I sleep 2 or 3 hours immediately after work, like in my staffroom or something, commute back to the island, do cabin stuff for a couple of hours, catch maybe 3 more hours sleep, then head back to work in Vancouver. Tuesday of last week started great- finish work, take a little snooze, get up, pedal my bike through the rain to my bus stop, put it on the bike rack on the front of the bus, and as a bonus, fall asleep on the bus straight away as it heads off to the ferry terminal. A short time later the bus driver’s announcement awakens me telling me there is an express bus going to the ferry terminal just in front of us. I jump up, bleary-eyed, grab my pack and run onto the other bus, like a champ. The bus pulls away and in an early morning moment of clarity I say to the driver- “My bike is on the front of that bus up there”. The driver, trying to make contact with the correct bus, keeps asking me “Sir (cringeworthy), what would you like to do?” I explain that I’ve just woken up and might need a second or so, then finally blurt out, like a gigantic toddler, “I want the bike on that bus to be on the front of this bus.” At the next bus stop, I jump out and in the pouring rain transfer my bike to the preferred bus and things work out perfectly, right?



Sort of except that the next day on the return commute I wake up from my afternoon nap, jump on that heavy old beast of a bike, when combined with gravity and this (heavy) guy, makes the ride down the mountain to the Island ferry terminal a fascinating descent. Swirly beard in full flight. I end up missing the ferry that would get me into the city an hour before work and am then faced with the following ferry getting me to work barely on time or perhaps a touch late. While waiting another option presents itself- a water taxi that runs across Howe Sound directly to Coal Harbour in Vancouver, making the crossing in approximately 35 minutes. My workplace is maybe a further 10 minutes on my bike so despite the increased cost I thought I’d give it a whirl and get to work in ample time. The crossing is beautiful and in all my years of living in Vancouver I’ve never been on the water around Stanley Park and under the Lions Gate Bridge. I stand outside on the stern of the water taxi next to my trusty pedaled steed, try to get some decent photos with my crappy phone, and arrive in Coal Harbour. I grab my bike, start off to work when half way there I realize that my pack was still on the water taxi- my computer, notebooks, and all that other stuff. The taxi had left to return to the island already but 24 hours later I was able to retrieve my commuter pack. I mentioned a little something about having the ADD, right?



Challenges always emerge. The rat and the commute are little. What are bigger challenges, however, are 2 people. The first is the owner of the farm where the cabin is located, who has emerging priorities that seem to be making a cabin renovation a low priority. The second is my youngest daughter, Imogen, who hates the place. A very unexpected response from her, but she hates it. So it looks like it’s time to muster.


Okay, so… what?

1 Sep

A cabin invokes a number of romantic images. Solace, solitude, nature, simplicity, beauty. A cabin in the woods furthers the imagery. A cabin in the woods that is also on a mountain, talk to you later. But a cabin, in the woods, on a mountain, and said mountain is on an island, what the precious f…, wait!! The cabin in the woods is on a mountain which is on an island that is in the EVER-LOVING PACIFIC OCEAN!!

But what about work? What about it? This cabin in the woods on a mountain on an island in the ocean is commutable, as in 2 hours by transit from downtown Vancouver. Add a vehicle or your own ferry boat and your commute times diminish significantly.

But, but.. how did this cabin get there? The best answer I’ve heard about this particular cabin in the woods on a mountain on an island in the ocean is that this section of this (admittedly modest) mountain was logged in the not too distant (40 or 50 years) past. Three simple logging cabins were built and this is the best one that remains.

So it’s nice right? I mean… wrongo! It’s derelict. The roof looks like it could be planted it’s so… organic.

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It’s desecrated. The most recent inhabitants were squatters and left a mess and graffitti’d the place. Here’s a pleasant sample, sorry to offend any sensitivities but it looks a colonic is in my future

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Please note, I don’t mean to make light of anyone’s mental health status nor their substance abuse issues. The woman who was squatting here was under the delusion that she was in her father’s old house, which is not the case. Generally I like to make light of problems, It seems to disempower the problem in some manner

? Despite living mostly central city in either Toronto or Vancouver for the past 15 years or so, and perhaps beyond, I’ve long felt the desire for something extra-urban. Food self-sufficiency, living off-grid away from the economic organization we’ve been handed, health, nature. Uncertainties exist, but opportunities present themselves as well. My intention has never been to isolate; quite the contrary, my desire is to create an open space of hospitality in natural surroundings without all the expense of retreats, spas, or whatever.

I think next question needs to be how, as in how did this come about, am I right?