All Blogged Out

After almost a year of not blogging, or checking other blogs, or doing anything at all blogger-ly, it is time to admit I’m all blogged out.

What has happened?

I’ve fallen back in love with pens and paper and receiving epistolary goodness in the mail . . . and fountain pens and bottles of ink, decorating envelopes with Sharpies and watercolours, and on and on . . .


Letter with hand painted envelope going to New Zealand this week

There’s just nothing like a walk to the mailbox on a cold grey winter day, then returning home to settle in next to the fire with a cup of tea (probably Yorkshire Gold) and a stack of letters from friends and penpals near and far. Nor is there anything like finishing off the evening with yet another cup of tea (definitely Yorkshire Gold at this time of night), one’s favourite pens, and indulging in the very private, intimate, generous, attentive act of letter writing, holding that one special person in your mind as you write with the goal of informing, inspiring, entertaining, and uplifting in that particular, personal way suited only to them.

My letter writing HQ

My letter writing HQ

Letter writing and pen-palling is fun, creative, satisfying and an anecdote to our rushed, hurried, inattentive culture that has no time for paying attention, being kind, and quietly focusing on the things that matter. It is everything our increasingly impersonal world is not.

If you want in on the action, please add your address to my postable:

And, in the meantime, thank you to Julia, Nicole, and Monique for all the years of wonderful, therapeutic correspondence. Seriously, we wouldn’t need anti-depressants if everyone had letters like yours lurking in their mailboxes on a regular basis. And thanks to Tina for her recent letter (complete with a card and photos and the most exquisite cursive script of all time). Hopefully, it will be the first of many.

For those of you who’ve felt the pull of getting back into letter writing, here are a few of the wonders I’ve found on my journey:

The League of Extraordinary Pen Pals – The friendliest, happiest, most enthusiastic group of letter writing, pen-loving, mail-art making nerds on the planet.

Wonder Pens – An independent shop in Toronto for that moment when you get serious and buy your fountain pen

ImagePen-pal of the Week – A blog by Julie in Quebec, stationery designer and the mastermind behind League of Extraordinary Penpals, and the kind of person who makes you realize, that despite Rob Ford, Canadians are still the warmest, friendliest, most helpful people on earth

And some Etsy shops for stationery:

La Papierre
Scoutaroo Paper Co.

and for that must-have personalized return address rubber stamp:

SayaBell Stamps

Two fabulous books:

To the Letter – by Simon Garfield, a joy, an absolute joy, true to its subtitle : A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing

Good Mail Day – Ideas and inspiration for creating awesome mail art

And the preferred beverage of correspondents everywhere:

Yorkshire Gold – In Canada you can buy it at London Drugs. Sadly my nearest London Drugs is over 100 km away and I’m on my last few teaspoons of leaves!!! Desperate times . . .

yorkshire gold

There you go. Now you’re all set to put pen to paper and rediscover the joys of letter writing.



I was thrilled recently to discover that a little film had been made about one of my favourite people ever, possibly the wildest, wisest, most alive person I’ve ever known. For those not fortunate enough to have worked with him, this is your chance to meet him.

Reading Season

Winter is my reading season, the only opportunity I get to spend uninterrupted time with books. It is dark, cold, and frozen outdoors. There is no garden to cultivate, no markets to attend, and no building projects to complete. Time for books and tea!

This year’s reading season was one of the best in years. A few highlights:

Since I’d just built my own electricity-free 12 x12 cabin, I couldn’t help but pick this title up when I saw it:

12 x12 A one-room cabin off the grid and beyond the American Dream

12 x12 A one-room cabin off the grid and beyond the American Dream

This was an excellent book written by a former international development worker who was questioning just what his “development” work had been accomplishing, beyond expanding Western economic imperialism. He borrowed the 12 x12 home of a tax-resisting, pacifist, physician friend and spent a season there. The book was a gripping commentary on the interrelated nature of the crises we face locally and globally. There is no “getting away from it all” anymore. I loved how he framed the book with a question he had been asked by a spiritual elder in South America, “What is the shape of the world?” In this book he asked, “Did the world have to be flat? Was it too late to imagine other shapes?” His friend, in her 12 x12, through her deliberate choices and decisions, was creating a soulful contour in our increasingly soul-less flat world.

In 12 x 12, the author, Williams Powers referred to a book by Chellis Glendinning called “My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization.” I read the title and thought, “Me too!”

My Name is Chellis and I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization

My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization

This turned out to be one of those, “Where have you been all my life?” kind of books. In this book the author posits that as homo sapiens has lived in a wild hunter-gatherer state for the vast majority of the species’ time on earth and civilization is such a recent and unnatural development, our true, wild selves are actually traumatized by the civilization we are forced to live within. It is about the conflict between the wild self and the civilized self and the pain, suffering, and subjugation that results. A fascinating read and if you happen to accept her basic premise, or have, like me, felt it in your bones all your life, you will never again be able to look at yourself, your life, your species, your history, or your culture in the same way as you did before you picked up the book. It can be  a little overwhelming, I wouldn’t recommend it if you aren’t feeling brave.

Saving the best for last,  Bill Plotkin’s “Nature and the Human Soul”:

nature and soul book cover

Nature and the Human Soul – Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World

Have you ever questioned why most of what passes for stories (i.e. culture – music, movies, books, etc.) seems to be aimed at adolescents? “Who,” you wonder,”but a 12-year-old boy made temporarily insane by puberty could actually be enjoying this crap?” This book suggests this is because we don’t grow up. It suggests, very convincingly, that the vast majority of us are stuck in adolescence, and not a healthy version thereof, from age 12 until the day we die.

The consequences are dire and go much further  and deeper than one might first imagine, becoming deeply entrenched in the ways we raise our children, the immature values we hold, and the meaningless goals we strive for. In fact, true maturity is so rare we don’t even know what it looks like.

This book is a cornucopia of interesting ideas  such as the distinction between our survival work and our soul work, and the introduction of a life cycle (wheel of life) congruent with the natural, healthy, soul-imbued creatures we are meant to be. Each stage, the author explains, sets before us simultaneous cultural tasks and nature tasks that must be fulfilled before we move on to the next. And each aspect must be attended to – both how we fit into the cosmos and the natural world, and how we  contribute to our culture and find our niche therein.  He paints a picture of what is possible when we choose to live what he calls a soulcentric life, as opposed to being imprisoned by the egocentric lives we are encouraged to live.

His eight soulcentric life stages have beautiful, poetic names to denote the mystery and grandeur of each – the Innocent in the Nest (early childhood), the Explorer in the Garden (middle childhood), the Thespian at the Oasis (early adolescence), the Wanderer in the Cocoon (late adolescence), the Soul Apprentice at the Wellspring (early adulthood), the Artisan in the Wild Orchard (late adulthood), the Master in the Grove of Elders (early elderhood), and the Sage in the Mountain Cave (late elderhood).

He proposes most of us, due to our increasing lack of immersion in nature in childhood, being raised either to be an obedient “good” child or a spoiled, entitled prince or princess, and then drowning in the onslaught of our adolescent egocentric culture, rarely mature past the third stage of early adolescence. And here our development becomes arrested as we adopt egocentric roles of conformist or rebel and and fail to move on. We believe having a job, owning a home, producing offspring, and buying a lot of stuff constitutes adulthood. But these are often empty roles we adapt while remaining muddled adolescents who never find our souls’ purpose, perfect the crafts and skills needed to develop that purpose, achieve mastery, effect cultural change and adaptation, and develop the wisdom and perspective to guide and give back to those younger than ourselves. This is not a “career path” that is being described here, but so much more than that, a life path that challenges, nourishes, and ultimately spills over with riches.

Photos du Jour: March 8-10th

I couldn’t possibly fiddle around posting  photos on a daily basis, so I’m going to aim for once a week, a week in review as it were, each Sunday. Since I started halfway through this week and already posted for Thursday, I only have three this week.

March 8th, Friday

March 8 ApronLook what came in the mail? Despite owning a fabulous 1960’s sewing machine I picked up for $10 at a garage sale, the kind of sewing machine that is really built (i.e. will give you a hernia lifting it onto the table) and really works  well, I  really can’t sew. But my new penchant for sourdough baking combined with my naturally messy nature was taking it’s toll on my clothing. Etsy to the rescue! I got this gem mailed to me from Robbie in Oregon.

Arboreal armchairMarch9th, Saturday

It was sunny, it was warm, a whole lot of melting had been going on  . . . so I dared attempt to walk down to the pond without snow shoes. Bad move. The white stuff was still deep enough to fill my boots. Halfway there, though, I found this perfect arboreal armchair. The two roots are perfect armrests and the trunk leans back at just the right angle.  The ground beneath was soft and dry and I enjoyed my first outdoor afternoon nap of the year.

March 9 birch trees in snow

March 10th, Sunday

Usually, by March, I’m loathing snow and trying to make it melt by the burning intensity of my hateful glare. But this year, something really weird is happening – I’m still madly in love with the snow and I feel I am going to miss it! I went to Vancouver Island last month, thinking I’d appreciate some respite from the snow but, much to my shock, I found myself missing it and was thrilled to come home to the bright white wilderness after three snow-free coastal days.

Photo of the Day

Years ago, May 1995 to be exact,  when living (temporarily) in a tent on a tiny island on the Queen Charlotte’s, I met a fascinating man. He was an archeologist between projects and he and I were both volunteer/wannabee organic farmers on this incredibly beautiful, secluded island farm.

This was back in the days when you put film in a camera, so you couldn’t carelessly snap a dozen  shots and hope one turned out okay. He had an interesting habit of taking one photo a day, every day, and only one photo. This way,  he spent each of his days  looking for something beautiful, something meaningful, something worth remembering.

I remembered him and his one-photo-a-day discipline just yesterday . . . I was thinking of a friend on the West Coast who has met a lovely new man who loves to kayak and, thinking of their  kayaking trips to come, this made me recall  how this fellow and I would explore the tiny islands around the  farm   in kayaks borrowed from the farmers.  We loved going out after lunch (usually something with brown rice and nettles and other wild spring greens) getting in the little boats and heading off to sea. We would pull up on a rugged, pebbled beach and lie in the afternoon sun,  or hide under the boughs of a sheltering cedar in the rain, listening to the crashing waves and looking out over endless Pacific ocean stretching all the way to Japan.

To my delight, I found I still have a couple of photos from my days there, one of the farm-in-progress, which I understand has for many years been a thriving market garden operation:

And one of us setting out on our afternoon kayak expeditions (I’d forgotten about the dog making a ruckus every time we paddled off – he’s on the right howling away):


I want to try out his practice of taking just one photo a day, and see what kind of story that ends up telling.  Here’s today’s photo, taken while I was out in my cabin writing letters (seriously, the kind you deposit in a mailbox)  this afternoon:

March 7 2012

Little Cabin in the Big Woods – Ready for Winter

It snowed again, and this time I was ready! Just last weekend we put the finishing touches on the cabin. My brother had helped us get the roof on just in time.

I call it my cabin, but everyone else seems to have a different name for it, referring to it as “your studio,” “your writing cabin,” “your meditation cabin,” your man cave,” or “your retreat.” Whatever you want to call it, it’s all of those things to me and more  (well, not sure “man cave” applies)  but, above all, a sanctuary.

I find myself going down there just to “check on it for a few minutes” only to find myself waking up down there hours later after falling asleep in front of the cozy fire.

The hearth – this lovely little stove, a bit beaten up but sturdy, was destined for the landfill. I’m pleased to have rescued it. The door is the old kitchen door from our house – we saved that too; and the tile platform for the stove was a generous gift a few years ago  from one of my husband’s customers who made these by hand

The writing cabin. Leftover bamboo from a counter top job years ago made a perfect desk  and some shelving too.  I henceforth shall not complain about my husband’s pack rat tendencies

The tea cabin

the meditation cabin

View from writing desk through my favourite window .

What a pleasure to be surrounded by trees! This massive window was saved from a renovation job at a BC Liquor Store; I had to scrape the “We accept Visa and Mastercard” stickers off the window. The stained glass another garage sale find

No electricity here – just candlelight. I found this lantern years ago at a garage sale and squirreled it away until I created just the right place for it. It casts kaleidoscopic patterns of light across the ceiling on dark nights.

cabin interior

Books, tea,  a place to hang one’s hat , and a cozy spot to fall asleep in front of the fire – what more does one need?

What Did I Say About Snow?

As for my modest wish of having luxuries like a roof and not having the snow drift in before the windows and doors were in, this is about the size of it:

I like snow, in certain circumstances, but never on October 2nd! Jumbo flakes if ever I’ve seen them.

Cabin Update

Work on my cabin-of-no-intent has been progressing rapidly lately. After all the tedious, long-winded, and unrewarding work of digging holes, pouring concrete into sonotubes, and finally creating a floor, we put a big blue tarp over the work site. The blue glow through the trees looked  like aliens had landed in the woods. We then went  indoors  to build wall SIPS and machine the timber frame.  (The original notion of building  with stack wall construction fell flat months ago due to various concerns, so SIPS it is.)

This was followed by  painting, staining, etc., until last week something exciting happened – we put the walls SIPS and timber frame up! Now we have something that resembles a cabin (minus roof, windows, doors) and looks less like an alien space ship landing pad.

I didn’t realize, when this clever idea came upon me, how much work it would be to build a cabin in which to do nothing.  Turns out it takes a lot of doing to get to the point of doing nothing.  We have spent the better part of the last three days building roof SIPS and will be painting them tomorrow and working on the ridge beam for the roof. I have no idea how we will get that massive beam in place but am hoping we do (maybe some burly visitors will fortuitously stop by , maybe the scaffolding we are about to acquire from a friend will help somehow . . . ) and that I will have photos soon  of a cabin with  not only a  roof, but windows and doors before the snow starts drifting in. Until then, this is the best I’ve got:

This doesn’t look very impressive, but getting to this point was the hardest part, creating something of a road to get the tractor in, measuring, leveling (this slope is steeper than it looks), digging holes, mixing and pouring concrete

Finishing the floor . . . it felt monumental to get to this point, like driving in The Last Spike, and I was overjoyed to have a flat, level surface to walk on after tripping over roots and rocks and watching things (that needed to be retrieved) tumble down the slope over and over again. You will see in this photo The World’s Biggest Straight Edge and the World’s Biggest Square – evidence that I am building this cabin with a cabinetmaker, not a carpenter, and part of the reason everything has been taking so long. We have done much screwing where there would have been nailing; much measuring (and remeasuring)  to the nearest millimeter where there would have been eyeballing; much questing for perfection, where “good enough” may have sufficed . Painful while it is happening, but worth it forever after.

. . . and then this was it for weeks

. . . as we worked on all of these

and these . . .

and refinished the lovely window I snagged at a garage sale many years ago

and made 14 of these SIPS

and then voila, all within a day one SIP goes up

the others follow

and you have a lovely, windowless view

and a roofless cabin, at which point we threw the tarp back over top and retreated indoors to start working on the roof SIPs

No nails here – pegged mortise and tenon construction with  fir timber frame

A tad medieval, but it works.

and the timber frame construction goes well with the hobbit house look of that odd window I found and fell in love with years ago. Surely it was part of a pair at one point.

We couldn’t have gotten this far without our project manager. Wait until he finds out this isn’t a new dog house!

Cariboo Mountains

More summer, more mountains. This trip was pure joy, and so close to home:

Mountain Peaks: 4
Alpine Lakes: 2
Moose: 2
Mosquitoes: Zero
Other people on the trails: Zero
Days Hiking: 2
Blueberries, currants, and thimble berries: Many delicious handfuls (did not have to share with hungry bears)
Wildflower Meadows: Endless
Temperature: Perfect
Km walked: 35ish but mostly straight up so that must count for more
Driving Time: only 2 hours round trip, just enough to thoroughly stiffen up the joints on the way home

The flowers were past their best but the less vibrant colours were worth it for mosquito-free days. Still, I saw more wild Valerian and arnica than I’ve ever seen in one place it was everywhere (just not in this photo!)

The perfect spot for a lunch break

This sunny, mossy slope was the perfect place for an afternoon nap with bees buzzing round my ears . . . though the enormous birds of prey surveying overhead were slightly unnerving

Looking to strike it rich? Call Gary.

The old fire tower. A summer working in a fire tower has always been on the top of my list of dream jobs. Sadly, this tower, like most in BC, is no longer in use.


One may well wonder why anyone would strap a heavy pack to one’s back and set out on an agonizing, calf-burning, knee-crunching, mosquito infested trek through the back country of Jasper National Park.

I thought, after all these years, I knew how painful such journeys can be, but I tend to be a September hiker, after the mosquitoes have died, when the air is frosty and I can wear a lovely padded jacket that spares me the agony of bruises from straps digging into my shoulders and hips mile after uphill mile. After ending this trek covered in layers of sweat, blood (my own, thanks mozzies), bug spray, sun screen, bites,  squashed bugs, and bruises, I have every intention of returning to my strictly autumn hiking habit – give me freezing cold, teeth-chattering nights any day over the trials of sweaty, buggy summer days and stormy summer nights (three hour displays of sheet lightening followed by hailstorms at 4:00 a.m. do not a peaceful night’s sleep make).

But to answer that question, “Why do it?” see below:

First viewpoint over the Athabasca River after 7.5 km on the first day of hiking

First view upon breaking through the trees on the first day and that Group of Seven feeling overcomes you

The Fryatt Valley deep in the heart of Jasper. I was continually awestruck and grateful to be alone in this vast wild valley in an overcrowded world of 7 plus billion people. I felt like the luckiest person on earth, though it had less to do with luck and more to do with stubborn determination and a willingness to endure

It may not look like a comfy bed but after a seemingly endless day on the trail the valley bottom at Brussels campsite was the perfect place to crawl into a tent and pass out

Morning sun on the slopes above Brussels campsite

A wet year and water was everywhere, seeming to ooze out of the mountainsides all around us

Setting out on the second day without the packs after leaving camp felt like true liberation

It may be the most enormous slide covered in loose, ankle twisting rocks, but without the packs who could complain?

We had plenty of streams to ford thanks to a snowy winter followed by a rainy spring. Fortunately, I never fell off any logs or boulders and got a boot full of icy glacier water but my companions were not so lucky!

Approaching Fryatt Lake over the slide


Fryatt Lake. Just as stunning as Lake Louise but we didn’t have to share it with anyone!

Again, Lake Louise without the pavement, the tourists, the bawling ice cream smeared children who could care less about visiting UNESCO world heritage sites, people taking photos of themselves on their phones, and other horrors . . .

High water this year meant the lake shore trail was sometimes underwater. . . more wet feet.

Beyond Fryatt Lake, approaching the falls

Glacial fed beauty

The falls above Fryatt Lake. The snow had just melted here but there was still enough left for a snow ball fight.

Returning to the valley via Fryatt Lake


Evening at Fryatt Creek, lower Fryatt campsite. Fortunately there was a foot bridge over this one and we didn’t have to ford it!

Lower Fryatt Campsite. Pretty Basic. The sum total of amenities – a semi-flat patch of gravel strewn ground for your tent and a bear cache for your food

Morning at Lower Fryatt after the lightening storm that kept me awake

Morning at Lower Fryatt

The trails at Miette Hot Springs (a hot soak was in order after the Fryatt Valley) seemed tame with the wide gravel paths and foreign tourists sporting those tinny mini cow bells intended to frighten bears and annoy the locals