Monday, October 30, 2017

Family, Small Towns, and Fall Fairs

I grew up in a small Canadian town. As a child, I loved that little town and fully intended to live there forever. But my story turned out differently.

I had aspirations to go to university. Looking around, as an adolescent, it was clear to see that there were not many career opportunities in my small town, especially for women. Going to university meant leaving my town to move to a big city far away.

After leaving to go to university, I came back to my home town for a few summers, but I never lived there full-time again. I became qualified in a profession that did not require living in a large city to obtain employment, but by that time, there also was my my husband's career to consider. Finding satisfying work for both of us ultimately meant choosing to live in larger centers.

Later, I made a career switch and was fortunate to find a great position in my new field. I relocated to a mid-sized city within driving distance of my home town. A decade later, I moved even closer, and lived in a small city only 200 kilometers away.

During all these years, several of my family members have continued to live in the little town. So I have returned again and again to visit, celebrate Christmas, go skiing, go hiking, and attend the Fall Fair.

The Fall Fair is an annual highlight that takes place in the late summer. Although I have attended similar fairs in other places, there is no Fall Fair quite like the one in my town. Recently, I attended the Fall Fair again.

Fall Fair Parade
The Fall Fair starts with a parade. The weather always seems to be terrible during Fall Fair week. This year we went early to get good seats on the curb to watch the parade, and found ourselves shivering in a cold wind. Someone made a run back to the house to get blankets and warm sweaters, and even so, we were thoroughly chilled off before the last tractor and dancing cow had meandered up the main street of town.

The next day, my young nieces were exhibiting some of their animals in the 4-H events. The whole family got involved in leading the sheep to their stalls in the sheep barn.

Preparing for the 4-H Sheep Event
There were two large buildings hosting the agricultural and handicraft exhibits. My mom and I strolled up and down the long tables examining the tomatoes and zucchinis; the homemade bread, biscuits, pies, and brownies; the homemade wines and jams; and the flower arrangements. When my dad was still alive, he always entered his homemade wines and usually came away with several ribbons. This is one of the first years that my mom, now in her eighties, has not entered her homemade jams and jellies.

We also spent a long time admiring the art categories. One of my brothers and my sister in law won ribbons for their photography, and my brother and both nieces won several ribbons for their art. I recalled entering my own paintings and drawings in the Fall Fair when I was a child. I also used to enter flowers from my own little garden during my teen years.

We ate perogies and sauerkraut, and corn on the cob and fries. We spent time hanging out at the barns enjoying a brief period of sunshine. Rob said that sitting around in the hay barn was his favourite part of the fair!

Robby Hayseed

Uncle Hayseed
Later on, there was a rodeo, and we cheered for my sister in law's younger brother as he rode the bucking bronc. And of course, the kids were thrilled about going on the circus rides and eating cotton candy.

I am grateful that I have family who still live there. I can go back year after year, and feel as if I still have a foot in my hometown. There is a wonderful sense of continuity of the generations that I sometimes miss, having chosen instead to lead a more transient life.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

One Small Action

Spawning Sockeye*

Underwater Photography

As we get to know our new community, we have gradually begun to participate in activities and events here. Recently I attended a talk by a noted local underwater and landscape photographer, Eiko Jones. I was not familiar with Jones' work and had no idea what to expect.

As it turned out, I was completely blown away by his fabulous photos. Eiko Jones takes many of his underwater photos in local rivers and swamps on Vancouver Island, as well as in the ocean. His story of how he obtains his amazing underwater or split screen shots is almost as fascinating as the photos themselves. Essentially, he dives down and lies on the bottom of the riverbed, sometimes for more than two hours, taking hundreds of shots to get those one or two perfect images.

British Columbia (BC) and Alaska have one of the world's last great salmon habitats. Many of Eiko's photos showed the five species of returning and spawning salmon, and young salmon fry. Lately, in order to not disturb salmon in spawning beds with the bubbles from his scuba gear, he has taken to free diving.

I have lived in the watersheds of two of BC's major salmon bearing rivers most of my life, and am well aware of the importance of salmon to the ecology as well as to people, especially the First Nations peoples whose livelihoods depend on salmon. Eiko's photos of salmon who had fought their way back to their native stream to spawn and then die, along with his accounts of successful salmon stream rehabilitation, almost brought me to tears. Please click on the links to see examples of his photography.

Elder College Public Lecture

I have just discovered that there is an active Elder College program in my area. They are hosting a series of three public lectures in a nearby community centre. The topic for the speaker series is: Achieving Global Sustainability: A Decent Life For All. Unfortunately I missed the first talk, but I went to the second one in the series, which focused on global climate change and sustainable development.

I am deeply concerned about climate change. An obligation that rests heavily on my shoulders, now that I have retired, is to find ways to contribute meaningfully to society, and, in some small way, to help work toward solutions to the overwhelming and urgent problems that face humanity on a global scale. Climate change is one of many huge, interrelated problems, along with poverty, overpopulation, food insecurity, violence, gender inequity, and so on. It can seem overwhelming and hopeless. How does one even know where to start? How can one person's actions make any difference in the face of such urgent and difficult problems?

But thinking about it that way is defeatist. Trying to put pressing world issues out of mind and doing nothing does not alleviate my worrying about them because I still know the problems are there, like a monster in the closet. Having been present in Eiko Jones' talk, it was fresh in my mind how one person, through his exceptional photography, was gently educating people about ways to rejuvenate salmon streams, and why it is important.

As I listened to the sustainability speaker, I realized a couple of things. One is that almost nothing that he said about the causes and solutions to climate change and global sustainability was new information for me. Over the years, I have been reading and educating myself about these issues.

Another thing I realized is that many people from all countries of the world have been working for years to establish and implement global sustainability goals. In 2015, countries around the world adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This global agenda identifies 17 sustainability goals, readily available on the United Nations website. Also in 2015, signatories to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change agreed to take action to limit temperature change to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius.

So, in contributing my part, I am not alone. I am joining people around the world working toward a shared vision. One plus one plus one is how we get there.

A third thing that I realized is that I have been making choices for decades now to live in ways that are more environmentally conscious. In many little ways, I already have been doing things that align with the UN's 17 sustainability goals. Of course, there are many more changes that I could make. Just as people can join in one by one to work toward a shared goal, an individual can make personal changes one by one, and it all adds up. Here is a list of easy things to do: The Lazy Person's Guide to Saving the World. It is a great starting point.

One Small Act: #globalgoals

Upon coming home from the sustainability talk, I went online and read the UN's 17 sustainability goals. In doing so, I almost plunged into helplessness and hopelessness again. The problems are so big. The goals are so idealistic. 2030 is only 13 short years away!

But then, I decided that although I couldn't solve the problems of the world today, I could do one small thing today.

Goal 2 is to end hunger and increase food security, globally. This is one area in which we have made significant strides over the last 30 years. Although the world population has continued to rise, the absolute number of people in extreme poverty without access to adequate food has decreased. However, poor nutrition remains the biggest single cause of child mortality for children under five. For decades, we have known that the best way to improve the nutrition and health of babies and young children is for mothers to breastfeed. Yet Nestle corporation continues to market baby formula and powdered milk to the poorest countries of the world, making false claims that it is a more healthy choice.

So today, I joined the boycott of Nestle products. This link is to the most up-to-date list I could find for Canada. It includes links to the boycott lists for the USA, UK, and Australia. I printed the list and put it on my fridge. Then I sent it to three other people. That was my one small act for today.

*This is a free public domain photo by an unknown photographer. Follow the links to see Eiko Jones' photographs.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

What Really Matters

There was a time, not so long ago, that I thought I was doing pretty important stuff. Every day, Monday to Friday, I went to my office at 8:30 am and worked very hard. I went to meetings, figured out budgets, prepared agendas, mentored staff, and developed programs. Emails about important issues dropped into my email box all day long, some requiring immediate decisions and action, and others were from colleagues outlining their concerns about initiatives, or sending project updates, or communicating about personnel situations.

I worked so hard that I didn’t have time for lunch. I ate at my desk while reading through an eighty-five page agenda with attachments for the 1:00 pm meeting. I worked so hard that when most of the staff left for the day at 4:30, I would sigh with relief that the texts and phone calls had stopped coming in, and finally sit down to respond to the day’s worth of e-mails, or read a draft proposal, or write a report, or put together an agenda for a meeting of one of the many committees I chaired.

I worked so hard that I didn’t have time for supper. I would eat a snack at my desk and keep on working, finally heading home around 7:30 or 8:00 pm. On my nights to cook, we didn’t sit down to dinner until 8:30 or 9:00. As I hadn’t had time to exercise during the day, aside from rushing between buildings for meetings, I tried to go for a walk each night after dinner. But often I was just too tired. I missed my friends and family, all living so far away, so sometimes in the evening I would phone them, or they would phone me.

It was such important work. I had to give all my time to it. But, even working so hard, and even with a wonderful team who worked just as hard as me, I could never keep up with everything.

The weekends were for catching up on life. There were chores to do, exercise (because I hadn’t had time during the week), excursions with Rob, and gardening. And of course, sometimes there were work events on the weekends too. Even when I wasn’t at work, thoughts and emotions about work issues tended to predominate.

The work was so important.

Except it wasn’t. Now that I have retired, I look back at the life I was living, and I realize that it was crazy. As I wrote the description above, I just kept thinking, “Really???? Did I really believe that working such long hours was my only option, or that it was a good choice?” The new me wishes I could go back in time and shake some sense into the old me.

Stepping out of the workplace into my new retired life has been an experience of major perspectival shift. Not only do my old points of view seem foreign to me and somewhat bizarre, but I am seeing the other nonwork pieces of my life in a new way. No longer bits in the margins of my all-consuming worklife, it turns out that those parts of life are, in fact, what really matters.

I knew that I loved being a grandma. Visiting from afar every three months supplemented by occasional FaceTime was not enough. I could not do spontaneous things with the kids, like I can now that I have retired and moved closer to family members. For example Rob and I recently visited a Naval Base open house with my daughter’s family, as pictured below. My two little grandsons were very impressed with the helicopter, navy ships, and zodiacs at the base.

Captain of the Navy Vessel

Being physically closer to my grandkids, I can sometimes do grandma duty, giving their parents a chance to get away to do something together. Even though our move did not bring us physically closer to our other set of grandkids, we now have more time to travel to their community for visits, or to welcome visitors to our place.

One of the big surprises is how much I love being closer to my adult kids. Now it is possible to go to weekly yoga classes with one daughter, schedule a weekend in Vancouver to attend another daughter’s art show, and go for a hike on the local trails with my son. Yes, we did get together in the past too, but it always involved an airplane flight, and I was always in a state of exhaustion from work. It put a damper on spontaneity.

Fun with Auntie

I have realized that, just as when they were younger, having time to spend with my kids is one of the things that really matters. It doesn’t always have to be a special event. It can be having a cup of tea together, playing together with the grandkids, or walking on the beach. Of course, now that my adult kids are in the stage of life where they are very busy with little time off, my greater time flexibility as a retiree is helpful for making those moments possible.

Digging into Chocolate Cheesecake

My family and friends are at the top of the list of what really matters. This realization does not negate the value of my work contributions over the past decades. In the future I will continue to pursue intellectual, creative, and physical/health interests and activities. In the present moment, I am grateful that I have transitioned to this new and satisfying stage of life.