Saving bees, seeds and sanity, one scrappy garden at a time

September 4, 2014 Leave a comment

On the news this morning: Canadian beekeepers (who tellingly, refer to themselves as a “community” rather than an “industry”) are launching a class action suit against the makers of neonicotinoid pesticides, for the damage (havoc) their products have caused to bee populations.

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It inspired me to repost this column I wrote for the Winds of Change’s Wellness Almanac.

I’ve been thinking about the Doomsday Seed Vault lately. Officially known as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, it was started in 2008 and now contains upwards of 1.5 million distinct seed samples, serving as a kind of safety deposit box of plant diversity.

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I wonder who it’s beneficiaries will be. Aliens? The handful of survivors of the next Ice Age who’ll be charged with re-wilding the Earth? Given that the highly-secured bombproof Vault was financed by Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Monsanto Corporation and the Syngenta Foundation – the latter parties being deeply invested in the patenting and genetic engineering of plant seeds and the sale of chemicals – I suspect the “benefactors” already have their own Master Plan for the seed stockpile. Sigh.

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Cindy Filipenko asked me recently to recount how last weekend’s Slow Food Cycle got started. “Every time I say something these days about Slow Food Cycle, it sounds like it had radically political roots,” I replied. It didn’t. I wasn’t politicized about food and farming 10 years ago. I just wanted to deepen my personal relationship with this place, and maybe become a better cook and gardener, less reliant on frozen pizza for sustenance.

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But the more I read about the money behind the Seed Vault, provincial farm legislation, the bee crisis, the pesticide-drenching strategy of non-organic BC blueberry farmers to combat the Spotted Winged Drosophila, the more afraid I am of collapsing in a heap of despair. And the more I appreciate living amongst dry-humoured hard-working organic farmers, community gardeners, seed-swappers and Farmers Market supporters.

This May, at the Women’s Institute Plant Sale, I picked up one of Anna Helmer’s marigold starts. I have managed to keep it alive, despite the toddler’s attempts to eat it, deluge-water it, and dig it up, and it is now a monster of blooms and vigour – nothing like the tragic little marigolds one picks up from any major Canadian retailer to protect the lettuce from slugs. (Note: most of those plants have been treated with neonicotinoids, a systemic insecticide that renders them fatal to bees and other pollinators. Resume foetal position.)

The marigold seeds were originally given to Jeanette Helmer at a seed swap she hosted. Jeanette showed Anna how to save the seed and plant it, and now Anna starts a hundred plants to give to friends and the WI Plant Sale.

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“I love them,” Anna told me. “They are such a good landscaping solution – with minimal attention they get really big and bushy and block out all kinds of things. At their flowering peak at Slow Food Cycle Sunday, magnificent Taj Mahal Marigold hedges protect broken-down machinery, compost heaps piled high with weeds just pulled in a frenzy of preparation, and maybe my sister who isn’t really a people person.”

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Years ago, when I interviewed Lil’wat storyteller Marie Abraham, she said to me, “I’ve listened to stories since I was a child. Our parents didn’t read to us. They told stories. It was our family thing. Both my parents were very good storytellers, as well as my grandmother on my mom’s side. My grandma was our cultural centre. She was a walking talking totem pole!”

That idea, that ordinary people, rather than an edifice or an institution, are the custodians of culture, took deep root in me. And the more I think about the Global Seed Vault, the more I want to pull seeds, untreated unengineered seeds, out of frozen storage and start passing them around, swapping them, saving them, sharing them. PLANTING them. Engineering a different kind of future by growing from swapped seeds, year after year. And this is what keeps me from that curled heap on the floor: a big bushy marigold, some Pemberton potatoes and a dozen tomato plants that were gifted by a friend (thanks Rachel and Derek!) in an experimental garden, that couldn’t feed my family, yet, but that anchors me to this place, this earth, this community, and a future that just might be okay.

How’s Motherhood?! Did you really just ask me that?

March 9, 2014 6 comments
I wrote this a few months ago but was too shy to share it. Maybe these particular nerves feel less raw this morning. For some reason, today, I feel like parading my naked self around. That will pass and I’ll soon be struck by a wave of publishing-remorse and go searching for the Great Undo Button in the Sky. Then more time will pass and I’ll turn 70 and no one will really care.  I read a post today that said the big fear gap we need to cross is not between doing bad work and doing great work, but doing something instead of nothing at all. For some reason that inspired me to stretch…
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People ask. “How’s it going? You know… How’s motherhood?”

My responses change, depending on how well I know them, how much sleep (or wine) I’ve had…Sweeter than I expected, goes one. Too complicated to have distilled into a 2 sentence soundbyte yet.  Steepest learning curve ever. Boot camp for Buddhists. Can’t believe I ever thought a zen meditation retreat would be fun. I thought I’d come up with the perfect answer the other day: like learning to see in the dark. But when I sobered up, even I didn’t really understand what I was getting at.

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I’ve been trying to pin words to this experience for eight months now…

and last night, sometime between 1 and 2am, this occurred to me.

Immersive.

I am continually perplexed by what a slow learner I am. I think I know something, and yet it keeps coming at me, and I’m all “I know, I know,” and the universe is like, “yeah, but Lisa, you don’t really KNOW this yet.” Oh, cellular adoption required. Okay. As you were.

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So, this is another one of those. Becoming a family, becoming parents, becoming a mother… all these things for me have been like an immersion program in learning another language.

Like being dropped in the middle of Paris with a 25 year old guide book and an impractical pair of shoes (that seemed “Paris” worthy at the time.)

Yes, I was woefully underprepared.

It has been foreign. Daunting. Dizzying. Brain-melting.

But also, an adventure upon which, I have discovered, I didn’t need anything apart from myself. My Self. Whatever I’ve managed to pick up along the way thus far.

It’s stunning, glorious, mindblowing, unexpectedly romantic.

My eyes are drying out because they’re peeled back so wide just from the wonder of it.

(And maybe the sleep deprivation contributes. But even Paris at night is wondrous, right? And you know you’re not going to be here for long.)

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Now and then, it makes me head hurt. Every now and then, it’s like, holy shit, this is hard, everything being so new and foreign and strange and difficult to translate. Every now and then, I have moments where I’m like, god, could I just go somewhere quiet and safe where everyone speaks English. Where I am fluent. (I miss being fluent.) Instead of grasping for the right word, all the freaking time.

(And there are places like that… I think they’re called mother’s groups. I haven’t hit one up yet. But I suddenly get it. And I also get why new moms always seemed to have the most inane conversations about diapers and feeding and sleep and schedules… because SO FUCKING MUCH has happened to you, so much is swirling, so much is transforming, that you just grab a safe anchor. And poo is safe. Whereas the way your marriage is shifting around, the way your relationship with your own mother or your self or your body is shifting around, is moving and mysterious and hard to put a finger on and changing every day and you suspect it’s deeply different for everyone, but you’re pretty sure it’s all up for grabs, and that all makes them tricky things to talk about. At least, they have been for me. So, diapers and sleep schedules offer a kind of a safe place for conversation…)

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I’m also discovering that every now and then, like learning a language, something suddenly clicks and stops being hard. It happens so seamlessly, you don’t even realise that suddenly, you’re able to order meals. Or suddenly, you’re able to read all the street signs. Or suddenly, you’re dreaming in another language. You don’t notice, I think, because you’re onto the next big learning. But every day, you’re becoming fluent, you’re being transformed. It just, for me, takes a while. (I know, I know. No, Lisa, not yet.)

Free the Radicals is live

January 28, 2014 Leave a comment

“Humanity is going to need a substantially new way of thinking if it is to survive.” –Albert Einstein

Free the Radicals

I WOULDN’T FOLLOW just anyone down a rabbit hole. I’m a seeker, not a sucker. But when Nassim Haramein went bouncing across my field, I followed. I knew him once, and I couldn’t help but wonder where he’d been. Who hasn’t pondered the fate of the long-haired, pot-smoking ski-bum genius they inevitably meet when they first ride into a ski town? The one who skis like a master, lives in a van, free solo rock climbs (no rope, no partner, no protection), reads the heaviest esoteric books he can borrow from the library, and has stepped so far out of the mainstream you wonder if he’s riding a different set of rapids entirely? “The guy’s uncovered the ultimate secret to everything,” a friend says. “So I hear.” Follow that flash and you’re headed straight to Wonderland.

In 1994, Nassim Haramein was a top-level ski instructor working on Blackcomb. He was living rent-free in a basement apartment owned by tour operator Mike Dempsey, in exchange for keeping an eye on the dozen Australian kids on a ski-improvement course who were living upstairs. To us, Haramein was a bit of a guru; he had both a Level 4 Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance certification and a tolerance for our beer-drinking, weed-smoking ways. And even though Haramein was keen to engage with us about skiing, the mysteries of the pyramids, the recurrence of spirals and circles and patterns in nature, the Coriolis effect and the weird fact that water goes down the drain in one direction in Whistler and the opposite direction Down Under, we couldn’t have known that 15 years on, people would genuinely call him Guru.

The Universe According to Nassim

He would be also be called woo-woo merchant, nutter, physicist, autodidact, mystic, genius, New Age prophet, and emissary of the Galactic Federation. He would spend more than a decade refining the theories he developed while living in his van after teaching back-to-back ski seasons, following the trail of his curiosity and seeking out partners and patrons who could help him develop them. He would teach himself enough higher mathematics and physics that he could present his theories in a format the scientific establishment could understand. He would present his theories at physics conferences and endure the mockery and disdain of that same establishment. He would be unashamed that he believed ancient civilizations offered insights as valuable as those provided by quantum physics. And finally, in 2008, he would attend a conference in Brussels, Belgium, where his presentation, The Schwarzschild Proton, which set out to prove that every point in space is a black hole containing an infinite amount of energy would, instead of generating the usual heckles, receive the award for Best Paper, a standing ovation and subsequent publication in the American Journal of Physics.

Something had changed.

Was it possible a self-taught “scientist,” high-school dropout, ski instructor and climbing bum, who had lived in his van for 15 years, could conceive the ultimate theory of everything? A unified field theory that would not only explain how the universe works in such a way that any observation can fit into the theory, but would bridge the chasm between the acolytes of Einstein and students of the mystic? To most members of the scientific establishment, tenure-track professors and researchers, it was completely incongruous. What the hell were his qualifications?

But Haramein’s theory didn’t really surprise the ski bums. They had always been bumping up against the structured world of reality. “When you’re living that lifestyle, things are really simple, in general,” says Lee Anne Patterson, a career skier and climber, who shared a house with Haramein during the summer of 1993. “It allows you a lot of time to think about other things. You’re not clouded by all the other little things that go on, as long as you’re getting your fix, and if skiing is your fix and you do it 8 hours a day, you have a lot of other time.”

This story, which appeared in the premiere issue of Coast Mountain Culture magazine, is now available at http://mount.ai/n/articles/free-radicals, where the CMC and KMC folk are housing longform in a beautiful digital container. But be warned. It might make your head explode.

Hey Self, You Forgetful Wench, I’m Talking to You.

Honestly. Writing letters to your future self is the pinnacle of self absorption. (I’m talking to you, Ethan Hawke.) Of all the people you could reach out to – old friends, a long ago mentor, your grandmother, whomever, you pick your self?
But 365 days ago, future.me (letters to the future) made me forget my reservations for long enough to dash off a quick New Year’s greeting which I promptly forgot about.
(I was 7 months pregnant at the time and particularly prone to bouts of self-absorption (followed by stretches of forgetfulness.))
Ping. Email landing:

The following is an e-mail from the past, composed 11 months and 30 days ago, on December 31, 2012. It is being delivered from the past through FutureMe.org

Dear FutureMe,
Any other year, standing at the Turning of the Calendar, I could kind of count on what was to come. Little tweaks, improvements, resolutions – sure. The possibility of some unforeseen random event – sure. But this year is weird, because I know, 365 days from now, everything will have changed. This basketball I am smuggling will emerge (out of my body!?!?!) in about 10 weeks time. And instead of being lisandave, we’ll be a family. We’ll be looking after a human being. We’ll be responsible. I don’t know what this means or what it will look like. I don’t know if there’s any point in making resolutions, in trying to promise myself that I’ll write one blog post a week, a poem a day, will remember to floss, will try and hold on to the spirit of this year, in which we have tried to cherish each other, and cherish every adventure and unencumbered moment and experience… I don’t know what kind of person I’ll be if I’m chronically overtired. So, I slip sideways into the New Year just holding space for all-possibility. And hoping that one planetary cycle from now, I will be able to look back and say, yes, on the whole, I cherished more than I squandered, I laughed more than I scowled, and I created more than I wallowed. Happy New Year. I’m rooting for you.
Lx

My response to Past Me? (Apart from being a bit gobsmacked at how kind I was…)
Honey, on that laugh more than you scowl thing? I know how etched your face is going to look a year from now, so let me reiterate – laugh. As often as you can.
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Categories: Uncategorized

Whistler Blackcomb Opening Day – the Wait is Over

November 12, 2013 1 comment

I don’t really want to write about my kid. I think he should be the narrator of his own life, not the subject of my anecdotes. And “mommy blogger” is an ugly word when you’ve busted your ass to become a “journalist” or “contributing writer” or whatever it is that I actually am.

That said, this video, released a month ago from Whistler Blackcomb as part of the #winteriscoming hype, made me think of him.

I worked on Whistler Blackcomb’s Wonder campaign at Origin Design + Communications before popping out for a year of mat leave (creative work of a completely different nature.)

Nine months has passed, so I can’t be sure whether I crafted the opening copy or not. The collaborative process means I never quite know what I can claim as mine… nor do I care to. Brainstorming and creative development go better when you’re willing to take full responsibility for bringing great stuff to the table but don’t need to claim any of the credit once it’s live. (Credit is for the client. The booze drawer is for the creative team.)

Regardless, this pretty much sums up my state of mind in February last year, after 38 weeks of gestating.

WB Wonder Reels

Or, as I told friends at the time: I feel I’m packing a waist-belt full of explosives. Detonation is inevitable, but the when, where and how is in someone else’s hands.

Advice from one buddy: “Just stay away from school buses.”

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Opening Day has just been announced. November 16. The waiting game is over.

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#wbsnowready. Yep.

I’m thinking I’ll go in to get the kid his first season pass. After all, Whistler Blackcomb has been part of his family story from the beginning.

It’s where his dad and I met 18 years ago.

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Which means, we’ve been around long enough to be regulars at the Length of Service dinner for seasonal staff. Last winter we went to honour a friend who was being recognised for 30 years with the mountain. We rode the gondola up to the Roundhouse to celebrate. I snuck a glass of wine when my husband wasn’t watching. Joked with senior WB staff about keeping ski patrol close, just in case. “If I have my baby in the gondola, can he have a free lifetime season pass?” I asked Rob McSkimming, (me, ever the dirtbag angling for a free pass.) The infamous kids instructor Princess Stephanie had a long conversation with my belly, “Come on out, baby. I want to meet you. I want to go skiing with you.” At the end of the night, we parted from friends by the Day Lots, and one clicked his thumb like a bomb trigger, over and over. Twenty minutes later, as we were pulling into Pemberton, I said to Dave, “Um. I have a strange feeling tonight is the night.” He spun the car around, double-backed to the gas station to fill the tank.

Quite a few revolutions of the gondola later, we welcomed a big fat dose of Wonder into our lives.

And here we are, heading back into winter. Deeper and deeper into the riddle of it all.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Stopping to Celebrate: the Crankworx 10th Anniversary Anthology

August 18, 2013 2 comments

So, that window of time in which I should have been learning how to express milk, bottle-feed, attempt early weaning etc? I was busy compiling an anthology of Crankworx’ greatest moments. (Think: nap-time meets triple espresso-fuelled heart palpitations.)

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Meaning that, when the event itself rolled around and an invitation pinged into my in-box to attend the party launching the book, it wasn’t remotely conceivable that I attend in person. (And suddenly all that helpful advice that I had so easily shrugged off about “extending the leash” made perfect sense. Ah, grasshopper.)

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I’m thinking woman-with-baby-on-breast would have had trouble going incognito amongst this crew…

But it was okay.

Because, my partner-in-crime, the leaves-me-speechless-she’s-so-talented Susan Butler was there.

As was the equally brilliant Blake Jorgenson, whose portrait work next-levelled the book.

Collaborating with them, under the steady hand of Cap’n of the good ship Crankworx, Darren Kinnaird, has given me the confidence to keep sharing my 2am idea-bursts out-loud.

(“So, I’m thinking, Annie Liebovitz meets the Crankworx influencers…” “Like it. “Needs to happen in the next two weeks.” “Let’s do it.”)

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Admittedly I was a little scared to hear the feedback from the industry’s legends, in case it was critical. (Cue the crumple-face.)

But mostly because, as much as my Ego would have enjoyed the celebration and the schmoozing with some of the greatest athletes in freeride mountain biking history, I wasn’t actually needed there. I was needed on the couch. (Prioritizing time and tasks is that black and white right now.)

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The book nearly didn’t happen. Team Crankworx had plenty to do just running the 10th event, without stopping to put together a coffee table book commemorating the fact. The logistics were daunting. It sat in the Great Ideas Parking Lot for a while, before we circled back and said, “you know, this is an opportunity that would be a shame to miss.”

I’d written it last year in an article about the Bike Park, which welcomed its millionth rider without a moment of retrospection.

The thing about downhill mountain biking is, it doesn’t serve to look back. When you’re charging down a mountain at 50 km/hr, you’ve got to stay focused on where you’re going.”

And I’d discovered it again, when I attended the ceremony for the totem pole on top of Whistler.

It was a hot day, there were a ton of speeches, and the part of the ceremony in which the women danced around the pole  went on and on. I felt my attention start to wander, okay, we get it, let’s keep this thing moving. Then Chief Ian Campbell took the microphone and explained, “The artist needs to be free to move on to his next project, so we are awakening the spirit of the work itself, so it can stand on its own and he can move on.” Oh, that almost hurts, it feels so good. The ceremony of completion is worth its own chunk of time.

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So, this nap-time, I let the to-do list languish, and I sit down quietly with a G&T and my copy of the book. I flick through it – the portraits, the timeline of game-changing moments from every year, the image selects that 10 of the best bike photographers in the world shared along with their tales from the frontlines, (thank you Sterling Lorence, Harookz, John Gibson, Sven Martin, Mattias Fredriksson, Ian Hylands, Malcolm Mclaws, Robin O’Neill, Yorick Carroux, Dan Barham, and Blake Jorgenson) and the Encyclopedia of Champions that the incredible Nathalie Grether compiled.

So, thanks to all you crazy ones – game-changers, thrill-seekers, onlookers, all. Whether you were behind the scenes, behind the lens or behind a sign, you helped make Crankworx what it is today: All Time. All in. 10 Years Deep. Here’s to you. Now go make history.

And I raise my glass, to all that went into this moment.

Even as we make the hard decisions about where our energy and focus is most needed and best deployed, it’s worth setting aside the time to celebrate.

Even if it’s quietly, on your own, at 2pm, with a drink. (That’s why they call it mother’s little helper. Ah, grasshopper.)

Sherpas Cinema prepares to strike again with Into the Mind

Earlier this summer, I had the chance to check in with Sherpas Cinema’s Dave Mossop, for a story about world-famous sherpas for a new coffee table book coming out from the Mountain Life crew, the Mountain Life Annual.

MountainlifeimageMossop was wrapping up 2 years of filming for the Sherpas’ next opus, Into the Mind, preparing for the launch of FlyOver Canada, packing for a last minute shoot in France, and fielded about 12 phone calls during our conversation. Oh yeah, he’d just been ordained as one of Outside Magazine’s Adventurers of the Year.  Dubbed “the auteur”, no less. 

“They called you an auteur, Dave. I looked it up. It’s a real compliment.”

“I know. I had to look it up, too.”

Busy, yes.

FlyOver Canada TV Commercial from FlyOver Canada on Vimeo.

It was a great interview and I can’t wait to share it. It was also a deja vu moment. The last time we’d checked in, he was deep in the Editing Hurt Locker on All.I.Can, a pain triggered by the Sherpas’ approach of releasing a teaser and announcing a launch date, before the film is even storyboarded. Committing, yes.

Into The Mind – Official Teaser from Sherpas Cinema on Vimeo.

Our conversation, and Mossop’s commitment to the same modus operandi, inspired me to revisit this blog post that I wrote for Origin Design + Communications’ blog back then –  How to Make Something Awesome, Sherpa–style.

1. Don’t be afraid of a big idea.

2. Commit yourself, boldly and publicly.

3. Give yourself a deadline. That you must meet. Or suffer public humiliation.

4. Trust your obsessions.

5. Make the process as fun as possible. Explore a question you are passionate and curious about. Take the dream trips for your research and shooting. Work with people you love and admire and have a blast hanging out with.

6. Be disciplined and dig in for the hard yards.

As Scott Belsky, founder of Behance says, great work is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

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2 years later… same song, different tune. A bigger crew, better equipment, an incredible profile… and the same feeling of over-reaching to try and serve a creative vision. As Mossop joked, about Into the Mind, “I’ve been dreaming of this film for a long time.  It seems like we’re constantly calibrating our aspirations to be just an inch beyond what we’re capable of, no matter what.”

Can’t wait.

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