In 2012, I got the chance to write about snow-artist, Simon Beck, for a piece for Kootenay Mountain Culture magazine.
Passionate and quirky, he was hoping to secure some form of sponsorship, so he could keep leaving his marks in snow, improve his camera equipment and work on a book. Well, it looks like his tenacity has paid off. His self-published book was released this week. He’s been invited to present at TEDx events around the world, on topics ranging from ethics to creativity.
Icebreaker collaborated with him to debut their Art of Nature series, producing twenty garments featuring his snow-shoe-stomped designs with proceeds going to Protect Our Winters (POW). It’s a media-marketing win for the brand… but I think what makes it so successful is that perfect alignment of brand values – all the more reason for brands to be really clear in knowing what they stand for.
Here’s the 2012 article:
Tracked Out: Artist Simon Beck Has a Message and He’s Writing It In Snow For All the World To Read
Most people I know love fresh snow and want to leave their mark in it – usually in the form of a figure eight, a figure 11 or a big arcing S. Simon Beck watches the powder forecast with as much fanaticism, but a different outcome in mind.
He wants to make mandalas, crop circles and other ephemeral art, on the 1.3 hectare expanse of a frozen lake in the French Alps, by spending 6-10 hours going round and round in circles in his snowshoes.
The British artist and retired mapmaker has been making his art, and name, at Les Arcs, since 2004, when the then 45 year old, a competitive orienteer, wanted to skive off his usual evening training hike. Instead, in an inspired fit of procrastination, he took his compass, plotted 5 points on the frozen lake behind his apartment, and tramped out a pentangle. Augmenting it with little triangles and circles, he realized how beautiful his giant snow doodle was when he looked at it from the chairlift nearby.
When he subsequently quit orienteering, he decided to take snow art seriously and make it his main form of winter exercise.
Using snowshoes, an old school handheld orienteering compass, a clothes line (to make the curves, just like your elementary school protractor), and counting out his paces, he tramps out famous geometric designs like the Koch curve, Mandelbrot set and Sierpinksi triangle, without the aid of GPS, mostly by eye-balling aiming points. Beethoven and a ridiculous level of physical fitness also help him complete the designs, which often disappear by the following day. “God makes the rules. Mankind will never be above the laws of nature,” he says philosophically.
Increasingly famous on the interweb, Beck says that his current focus is to “maintain my position as world leader in my field and work towards the goal of producing a coffee table book that I hope will sell a million.” He fantasizes about acquiring a remote controlled aircraft to take aerial photographs of his art. Aside from avalanches, hypothermia, and wayward dogs messing up his tracks, getting a photo is the biggest hurdle he faces. He estimates that he has remade at least a quarter of his designs from scratch because of a failure to get a photo.
Like all true iconoclasts, he hopes to use his fame ultimately for good: “Most skiers think I am mad.. But I hope to spread the message that there are better things in life than spending time doing things you don’t want so you can spend money you don’t have to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.”
It’s the point of powder, after all. Revelling in its fleeting perfection and leaving a momentary mark. Simon Beck’s mark just happens to be art.
Turkey hangover, ColdFront and opening day on the mountain got you thinking about starting a new fitness program?
Try this. A 50 Day Wellness Challenge. All you have to do is say yes, and then tell someone.
Yep. I make it sound easy in the columns and blog posts that I’ve been putting out there, as part of a community-wide countdown to the Winds of Change’s 5th annual Wellness Gathering on November 22.
Gym workouts and rainy bike rides, yoga sessions, delicious meals, garden harvests and gratitude journals are just some of the things people are doing. But more than that, they’ve been putting themselves out there to seed a wellness uprising with a little hashtag that delivers a boost of vitality and inspiration when resolve is flagging, and that reminds us that wellness, and the Winds of Change, is essentially just this: each of us looking out for one another.
Of course, despite the noble cause and the inspired prose and the profilerating hashtags, I fell off the wagon.
At the outset, I had considered gaming the entire thing by choosing something that offered wellness without too much challenge, like breathing deeply for five minutes every day, or savouring a poem or visiting my favourite dock, or exploring the proven health benefits of chocolate every single day. But I didn’t want to squander the opportunity to try and be a better version of myself.
With a 40th birthday around the corner and a friend’s #100daysofswimming challenge (which culminated in a five and a half hour open water swim from Europe to Africa) fresh in my memory, I set the clock on Oct. 3 and began counting down.
Fifty days of wellness, for me, at the chin-up bar.
Start. Stall. Start. Stall.
I guess that’s how these things go.
Fall over. Get back up again. Come up short. Ask for help. Feel bad. Forgive yourself.
Who knew a few chin-ups would be so challenging…?
The fifth annual Wellness Gathering is set for Nov. 22. That’s about 30 days away, which means there’s plenty of time to get a personal #50DayWellnessChallenge underway, and be in peak form for both the Wellness Gathering and opening day. Just tag #50DayWellnessChallenge and feel free to share with the Facebook page @WindsofChange, (or on twitter @Winds4Change and Instagram @wellnessalmanac). – See more at: http://www.whistlerquestion.com/opinion/columnists/the-wellness-almanac-50daywellnesschallenge-start-it-now-1.1424795#sthash.DiZNmApA.dpuf
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
People ask. “How’s it going? You know… How’s motherhood?”
I’ve been trying to pin words to this experience for eight months now…
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.
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.
(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.)
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…)
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.)
“Humanity is going to need a substantially new way of thinking if it is to survive.” –Albert Einstein
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Opening Day has just been announced. November 16. The waiting game is over.
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.
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.