• Elders Circle Blog

Welcome to the Elders Circle Blog

From time to time, Elders Circle members share thoughts about eldership. Please enjoy!

Key Contributors:

Paul Myers

Paul is a man of many talents and writing is decidedly one of them. From the practical and profane to the profound and philosophical, his reflections capture things we know we know, things we feel but hadn’t to put into words. He dashes off a regular column for the Gibson’s Farm Collective Newsletter, a weekly publication listing the produce on offer to members of the Collective. He writes with brevity and wisdom about whatever is on his mind and always brings it back to the practice of growing food. He and Dawn are deep ecology advocates, serious permaculture enthusiasts, and creators of BrookBank Farm – a veritable Garden of Eden and model of sustainable agriculture for the 21st Century. Paul has agreed to an ongoing republishing of his musings for our Elders Blog.

  • 11 Sep 2018 12:29 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Paul Myers

    –Piece originally published in the Gibsons Farm Collective newsletter–

    Every niche in society does it. In lieu of crude truths we speak euphemisms. For instance, we do not say outright much anymore that someone has “died.” That’s too blunt, too unsympathetic by half. Instead we say they “passed away” or worse, “entered their rest.” The military has perfected the art of not saying what they are saying. Civilians who get killed are called “collateral damage”, while carefully aimed bombing is a “surgical strike.” The corporate world is another niche that uses a host of benign terms to shroud darker realities. "Correction" means the shareholders are not going to get what they signed on for. "Outsourcing" means employees at home are going to lose their job to cheap labour abroad. And anything with the word "green" in it usually means they have a creative public relations department. Yet another term is "redundant", which applies to those who found out one day that they had a doppelgänger in the company doing what they already do, making them expendable.
    As to the latter, I'm hoping someday that Brookbank Farm – and me with it – becomes redundant. You heard me correctly: I want you to be my doppelgänger. Please, take my job away. You see, in the Edenic world of my mind, everyone has a garden of their own, where they grow food for themselves, plus a bit more for those cannot.
    Of course I know that for the time being I am perfectly safe from unemployment. But why not add to your diet some food of your very own? It’s not so daunting to do, truly, and it does not take much time or space. Call it your Personal Victory Garden. Grow a bit, and sense your small victory over supermarket servitude! And if you are already doing it, then perhaps you could add one more corner. It is amazing the quantity and diversity of food that can be grown in the most humble of spaces.
    Last week I went to visit my pal Jay, where I got a sudden renewed rush of hopefulness for my own unemployment. I squinted my eyes. Impossible! But no, it was not an illusion. I saw tomatoes growing. I know, “no big deal” you say. Well it’s not…but wait a sec, it is, because Jay does not have any garden space and would not ever want one. He is the archetypal city-dwelling, career white collar worker, lifelong bachelor living in a modest apartment and dedicated in his free time to sports and more sports. Do you see this picture? Work, hockey, beer, more work. No, Jay would not like to garden. But he does love tomatoes, thanks to a Mom who spoiled him as a kid on the real ones. Friends, those few pots on his balcony, with those plants that needed some pruning and tying up, and Jay beaming…well, it felt like my redundancy was finally drawing near.

    Paul Myers

  • 04 Sep 2018 12:55 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Paul Myers

    –Piece originally published in the Gibsons Farm Collective newsletter–

    Before I wised up, the Protestant Work Ethic nearly killed me. You know it: work hard, save your pennies, then work harder. Then die. This principle, and not piety alone, will redeem you. Or so it is said. Today I have a new ethic, and I say it without shame: I’m trying to find ways to do less work. There are a few methods to go about practising my new principle. One is to just get lazier. I’d like that. Seriously, and it sounds really good on paper. That might be possible somewhere; say, in a goofproof job where it would cost more to fire me than keep me. Or possibly, if work is more of time-filler than a stomach-filler (which it isn’t). But on a farm this method will not fly. Yes, you can skip weeding the potatoes and they will probably give you some return anyway because, after all, tubers live mostly bombproof, hermetic lives below ground. But if you choose not to feed dozens of livestock you might end up with a scene out of Jurassic Park. No, there’s no escaping work around here. The other method is to obtain a greater reward for the work you do.  This, of course, is the smart way. How can we do less and get more? Double or triple the current return on every calorie burned, every hour clocked, every buck spent?
    Once again Nature provides us with instructions. For instance, mulching around trees (as Nature does) or, better yet, introducing perennials that are symbiotic with that tree are one such way (goodbye Weed whacker!). Another way is to ease up some on the penchant for tidy edges and other very non-Nature human obsessions for order, predictability and calm. It is actually just fine to just “let it go” here and there. “Wilding” parts of the landscape are both beautiful and provide habitat for beneficial species of birds, insects and other creatures. These, in turn, will work for you; birds, for instance, being Nature’s best pesticide, while bees and dragonflies will happily pollinate the crops. Yet another is to “multi-task” plants, animals and structures. A plant may in succession or all-at-once provide shade, windbreak and food. Before an animal becomes your dinner, it can mow your grass and provide fertilizer. A structure can have one use in Spring (such as propagating seeds) and another in winter (such as cold storage).  The more hats we can put on various farm elements, the less work we will end up doing. Multiple functions reduce work and waste, maximizes resources, and strengthens your systems with the homerun power of Nature, diversity. Even around the house, finding and then using objects that do more than one thing will save us work, money and space, and reduce our consumption. Let’s find creative ways to get the real down-time we deserve.
    Dawn and I have finally got hold of a principle that becomes more important with every advancing year: Success is succession! We are so pleased to now have two outstanding farmers doing much of the work this season at Brookbank Farm. Stephanie Grindon is a permaculture enthusiast, has her own landscaping business on the Sunshine Coast, and is an observant and skilled market gardener. Elly Rakhmetouline brings equal talent with seed and soil. She recently had a flower farm in Richmond, lives in Vancouver and spends 3-4 days a week here on the farm growing great food and beautiful flowers.

    They form a very dynamic duo, and they are growing some amazing annual food crops and flowers, provided to you through GFC and at the farmstand. If you see them wandering about, be sure to say “hello and kudos!”

  • 31 Aug 2018 12:31 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Paul Myers

    –Piece originally published in the Gibsons Farm Collective newsletter–

    At the supermarket there’s an entire aisle of non-food crap dedicated to a scientific truth: human evolution is such that we naturally crave salt, fat, and sugar. (My own scientific truth adds to that list expensive shiny new things, massive recognition, and a back rub that possibly leads to other things, but I’ll save that for another post). I must be still crawling out of the primordial soup myself, because I’m still largely a single-crave creature: sugar. I have such tender memories of wheedling a dime off my mother and heading straight to the Village Market with it, there to plumb the Gnostic depths of the longest, most beautiful candy counter ever created. What should I get this time? The perfectly created Crunch bar? A box of Milk Duds because they stick to the roof of my mouth? Or something sassy perhaps, like Necco or Red Hots? Average sugar consumption in North America rose from 3 kilos annually per person in 1900, to 55 kilos per person in 2000. Well folks, for evolution and for the Motherland, I certainly did my part. Cookies. Cokes. Frosted Flakes. Gum. Ice cream. Cotton Candy. Oh yes, and fruit too: pulverized, reconstituted, shot through with food colour, corn starch, and more sugar, and sent back to me as a delectable little Hostess Pie.   

    I’ll skip the story of my own long, sometimes tortured, sometimes still-faulty, journey away from non-food crap and go right to the good ending. The good ending isn’t about me. The good ending is in the accompanying photo. Yes, that gaggle of kids you see there, two of them my grandkids, who took part – rather, could not be restrained ­– from picking the-low-hanging-fruit-of-the-Earth-as-manifest-in-apples. It was a great time, and, on at least two counts, also another eye opener for me.
    First, I saw an ancient tree as a long candy counter. While a sugar crave may be hard-wired into humans, a Crunch bar isn’t. I was joyed to watch kids gorge on Nature’s provision (and I was grateful to their parents). In fact, Nature deftly provides a veritable procession of sweetness through most of the year. Strawberries and other early berries, both domestic and wild. Cherries next, and when these fade the plums arrive. Midsummer brings currants, thimbleberries and blueberries. August is here with apples, sundry melons, and blackberries. In September there will be pears, grapes, crab apples, cranberries and huckleberries. In the colder months we can reach for the same food that we preserved in advance.
    Second, I saw my teachers again. I mean the kids, of course. The little Yodas all around us, who have not yet been sullied by adult refinements. Who are still unpretentious and thrill in simple pleasures. Who live on the surface, who say what they see, and most of all, who gravitate to goodness. Hence, they lead us back to where we need to be. Back to the low hanging fruit in life. There to pluck the uncomplicated delight, and to harvest the least work for the greatest gain. 

    Back to the easy sugar.  
    Paul Myers

  • 23 Aug 2018 2:32 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Paul Myers

    –Piece originally published in the Gibsons Farm Collective newsletter–

    A rich, loamy earth is a thing of beauty. But farming is not only about what’s in the soil.

    There are many influences on the land that are not fixed to the land. In the lingua franca of agriculture we call these “sectors.” Tops on the list of sectors, of course, are sun, wind, and water. But there are many others; for instance, people, animal, bird and other creaturely movement, noise, frost, and lightning. Politics, social trends, and bylaws are all invisible, but they also deeply influence our land.  Earthquakes come and go, but they might create a canyon on your back forty where one never was.

    A sector is always a head scratcher. Do we want it here? Can we get more of it? Or do we not want it? Can we prevent it from entering? Or perhaps we want it, but differently than it now is. You can alter the influence of full sun merely by plopping a baseball cap on your head. If you need more shade than that, you can erect structures, or plant trees for dapple light. Likewise, water is generally a welcome sector, but if it’s pounding down on your tomatoes or running across your driveway, you may want to attempt to channel it. Here at Brookbank Farm, for instance, we channeled the water energy sector with our ponds and waterways development. To add to these conundrums, at times a sector may be wanted, and at other times not.
    The game of sectors is a particularly dicey one, for the simple reason that we are not omnipotent. In the last week or two I curtailed all physical activity and, at length, had to settle myself into a state of resignation, all for two sectors that I had no power to influence. Truly, I wish I could say that I got “zen”, but it really was more akin to simple misery. I coughed. I wheezed. I dosed myself on synthetic pharmaceuticals. I speak first, of course, of the pervasive, inescapable, sector of air pollution we have had due to forest fire smoke. Second, there was an almost complete absence of any wind sector. Did you notice that the smoke drifted but did not blow? When a particulate is two microns in length (that’s two millionths of a meter) there is not a lot that can be done about not breathing it. When the wind goes still – and, ask any sailor, sometimes you live or die by that wind - you can only wait out the doldrums. The insidious Slow Death Fog lingered, and it would stay that way until either fires were quenched or the now most welcome sector of wind returned.
    Well thank God there’s been a sector change.  And as I resume a life of normalcy (to the extent I may be accused of such) I think retrospectively on the powerlessness of that experience. We do what we can to influence the influences. But we are not omnipotent. Whether by zen or by misery, we accept our finitude. 

  • 16 Aug 2018 3:54 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By Paul Myers

    –Piece originally published in the Gibsons Farm Collective newsletter–

    My father grew up poor in southside Chicago, a clapboard housewith no insulation, and rail tracks out back where the freight trains rolled past on their way to the Blue Island Yards. Like many, his family appropriated a small plot off the siding there to eke out some vegetables, and to keep a few hens. Today we might call it “urban guerilla gardening”, but in the meagre 1930’s it was perfectly normal behaviour. Everyone did it, or at least, everyone poor did. As a child my Dad worked that rank, oily soil, and though he hated chores, the soil did what soil does: it went into his skin.

    Then came Abundant America. Giddy with victory, flush with resources, beguiled by prosperity. And the concrete trucks came and made freeways, and suburbia was born. The pull of ‘more, better, and bigger’ became inexorable. Food gardens gave way to more lawns, fringed by a regimented brew of ornamental foliage, incongruous and - save for eye appeal alone – without function: Pampas Grass beside Ajuga beside Viburnum beside Jade Plant beside Mock Orange. That’s how I grew up, a kid on a Schwinn bike riding over fresh blacktop, past yards festooned in green bling.

    My Dad bought in to the prevailing doctrine of the times. But, just like all of us, he never really sloughed his roots altogether. Or rather, the dirt never really got out of him. So we had lawns, but we also had vegetables. As a child, I did chores in the garden. And, as I would later discover, the soil did what it does. When my father died last year, at age 93, his body was completely expended. But all around his home – lawn long since be damned – he had vegetables growing.

    My partner Dawn’s story is similar: a love for a garden that came from her father. This is the story of nearly all of us, in fact, because this is how life once was, not so long ago. When our mothers and fathers (city folk, country folk, no matter) got their nails messy, grew a bit of food. When they saw seedlings grow, blossom, and fruit. When they harvested and served. They experienced this everyday joy, and had a measure of food sovereignty too. We don’t need to reach back far to find a farmer/gardener in everyone’s lineage. It was not so long ago.

    I, for one, believe it is also not so far from returning. Look closely at your hands. I’m venturing it is just beneath your skin.

  • 17 Jul 2018 7:43 PM | Robin Hadac (Administrator)

    By SPEC President, Dr. Carole Christopher

    We went to see “Will you be my neighbour” and were stunned by how little we knew of Fred Rogers.  We were already in our twenties, a generation ahead of his success and only knew he was somehow enormously popular with children and their parents.  He was an astounding media anomaly, doing everything opposite to what producers believed “worked” on TV, yet he was a media megastar.  

    What made him so?  The documentary stressed his vivid and enduring recollection of his own childhood.  He spent long hours of imaginative play due to childhood illness and he had a natural inclination to  introspection.  He drew on on these resources in relating to children.  It’s unclear if he had any formal training in child psychology but he obviously and intuitively understood how to engender in children a sense of safety and respect.  He enabled them to believe in their own innate specialness and acceptance. One friend, who described herself as not particularly popular in school, rushed home ......

    He was criticized for instilling an unrealistic belief in ‘specialness’ that didn’t prepare children for “the real world of adulthood” as if believing in our specialness stunts our capacity to mature.  I firmly disagree with that and believe that children and adults inherently need a sense of being valued just as we are without further need for justification.   I don’t think our culture does a particularly good job of valuing children on that basis and it stunts our ability to explore the full range of our self expression.  He was a role model for remedying that deficiency.    Person after person in the film spoke about how important it was to find a refuge in the assurance of Mr Rogers that  “It’s You I Like.”  

    I recently heard a child psychologist speak about the long term effects of child abuse and how it can warp a child’s experience throughout life.  Wounded children grow up to be wounded adults.  The psychologist was asked if this can be remedied and he said yes but it takes skill and compassion to intervene and create the safety we should all grow up with.   Some children suffer horrific abuse but many, perhaps most suffer a more subtle form of erosion of confidence by our cultural beliefs that little boys should be strong and little girls should be obedient, both persistent forms of cultural abuse that undermine the uniqueness and diversity of children.  We like to think that as we grow up to adulthood we cease to need that validation but that forfeiture is a product of giving up not growing up and it’s likely the basis of our adult cynicism.

    Listening to interviews with people who worked with him, seeing him ‘earn’ $20,000,000 for PBS by speaking plainly and genuinely from his heart to a grumpy congressman; and hearing the message he delivered on behalf of PBS to a severely frightened public after 9/11, reveals that he carried a banner for children and adults.  And the banner was quite simply LOVE and the positive and supportive feelings that come with love such as: respect, patience, kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, forgiveness.  

    Mr Rogers had no difficultly, shame or shyness in talking about love and because he exuded love, he could also talk about a number of other more challenging issues like assassination, self-hatred, racism, and more.  One particularly poignant scene depicted a puppet who decried his fear that he was a mistake in a heart wrenching song of self-doubt.  When a human character entered the scene to tell him he was loved just as he was the producer in her booth was anxious that they might take the easy road of assuming all is well when we’re told not to doubt ourselves.  What happened next brought tears to her eyes – well, maybe it was my eyes, – as their respective songs become a duet .  She realized that Fred was once again going for the deeper message that we may not be able to shut off the ingrained messages of self abuse but we can learn to hear the duet partner that bolsters and buoys our self love.  That’s real psychological sophistication and support. 

    Please go and see this film (I hear it's also playing on PBS) and as you do, consider The possibly that a small hopeful figure somewhere in you wants to bring out your version of Mr Rogers.  The world needs us as good neighbours.    

  • 07 May 2017 3:55 PM | Barbara Joughin

    Some Questions and Thoughts

    by Lydia

    March 29, 2017

    How to admit you love everyone?

    Under all the nervously constructed top layer of our interactions?

    Is that love stronger than ...

    Or perhaps the cause of ...

    The death fear,

    The not doing it good enough fear,

    The wasting precious time fear?

    Constructing peace; I got some way on that today.

    My home rests better in better order. Or so it feels to me.

    Where does my love live when it is in quiescent?

    Is it everywhere - waiting for the stillness -

    To shine its light thru' me onto some dear morsel of creation?

    Words - to speak of what ........? 

    Life is the gift - the journey, the opening ... 

    Proceeding ahead like a really, really old car;

    Engine stalling and sputtering on a bumpy road

    Through the most astoundingly beautiful scenic route.

    May I serve your majestic presence? 

    Dip your brush in this can of paint.

    How can I move with the grace of a dear, precious, garden snake?

    Through these fears of harming your world;

    Making irrelevant noise,

    Stirring up dust,

    Leaving crap around that you need to get rid of.

    Under all of this; deep blessing ...

    The ephemeral gift of each other.

    God gazing in creation's mirror

    Alleviating  loneliness of singularity;

    With confusion, marvellous adventure, and playmates.

    Be delighted, peaceful my beloveds.

    Your light is the holy fire.

  • 24 Mar 2017 9:58 PM | Barbara Joughin

    The SPEC Elders Circle has chosen “reclaiming elder wisdom” as its catch-phrase. In the Elder Circle Salons, core team meetings, casual conversations, and email exchanges we have clarified and elaborated the nature of such “wisdom.”

    In no particular order, here are some characteristics:

    ·         paying attention

    ·         showing up; being there

    ·         not being judgmental

    ·         encouraging others

    ·         meeting others with a loving gaze

    ·         flexibility and openness

    ·         an ongoing willingness to learn and engage

    ·         a sense of humour

    ·         not taking yourself too seriously

    ·         humility

    ·         gratitude

    ·         willingness to admit where, when, and how we've been part of any problem

    ·         willingness to change your mind and the way you live

    ·         willingness and ability to accept the changes in our bodies

    ·         willingness to accept help graciously

    ·         generosity

    ·         generativity

  • 16 Mar 2017 9:27 PM | Barbara Joughin

    Recently I was reminded of an epiphany I had while working in my peach orchard years ago. It was early in the year when the trees need to be pruned. It is amazing how many branches have to come off. When that job is finished, the orchard is littered with twigs which need to disposed of in some way. In those days, we made a big pile in an open area in the orchard, let the prunings dry, and then had a big bonfire where, at the end of the day, supper was cooked over the embers.

    If you pile the branches the way they come off the tree, the pile becomes huge and there are many spaces between the branches. This makes it nearly impossible to get a fire going. So, before they were gathered, I cut them apart so they could be bundled. The children always complained about this because it meant more bending over, more picking up. But in the end they enjoyed the big fire and loved to tend it.

    One day, while I was snipping the branches apart and thinking about bundling, I recalled a long-ago lesson about the Roman symbol of a bundle of sticks meant to represent community and strength. A single stick or branch can be broken easily but not a bundle. I also remembered what this bundle was called, a “fasces.” And that it was when the epiphany occurred. Rome was an empire. The strength they were after required bundling, required conformity. Everyone needed to be lined up, pointing in the same direction.

    I stopped cutting branches, rested my pruning shears, and looked up into one of the peach trees. There the branches were pointing in all directions, nicely spaced so that light and air could have easy access to every part of the tree. In a healthy, well-tended tree branches are not lined up in parallel, aren't bundled. Cleaning up an orchard may require bundling; but that is perhaps not what we should expect of people.

    I also recalled that “fasces” is the root of “fascism.” Uniqueness, variety, originality, difference, and non-conformity are features of a healthy society. Welcoming and making room for those who live and think in a different direction from us is a challenge but makes for a better world – just like a more fruitful peach tree.

    I am currently reading Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times, by Olive Patricia Dickason. It is a comprehensive and detailed history. In the pages that recount the aftermath of the 1885 Rebellion, Dickason writes, “In the rough and tumble of building nation-states and extending them into empires, unity and conformity were the social and political ideals. Much as Amerindians might have been appreciated on their own merits in philosophic or artistic circles, in the political arena they were expected to conform to the prevailing ethos as exemplified by the dominant power. The idea of a cultural mosaic within the borders of a single nation-state was not yet taken seriously, if considered at all.”

    It was this passage that brought to mind that epiphany in the orchard all those years ago. I suggest it is worth our while to think about non-conformity at this point in history. We too live in an empire which exerts pressures for us to conform, to fall into line, to be bundled. Let us resist these pressures and encourage each other to think for ourselves. Let us be open to those who think and live otherwise.

  • 08 Mar 2017 10:13 AM | Barbara Joughin

    I was asked to make available my opening remarks to the latest SPEC Elders Circle event on February 28th, 2017.

    The overall theme of the evening was Contributing Positively in Negative Times.

    The old view about aging was that at a certain age we stop growing and in fact stultify in our learning and ability to absorb and integrate new experience. That’s the view that says, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” However, neuroscience information tells us that our brains remain plastic and open to learning and growing throughout life. Increasingly, gerontologists and authors on aging speak of a new developmental stage of life opened up by the expanded life expectancy of elders. A key element of that developmental stage is consolidating and expressing elder wisdom.

    We’ve worked during this year with the founding theme of the Elders Circle, Reclaiming Elder Wisdom. We believe it is both a dignified and important role in society at any time, and particularly in the turmoil and inherent uncertainty of our current historical moment, when every bit of wisdom is important.

    Developing wisdom is a continuing process throughout life. It includes our learned experience from a life well lived. Additionally, it involves a further developmental process that supports a big inner shift. We’ve already grown into a familiar personality that we carry in this life. Hopefully we feel reasonably satisfied and mature in that personality – but it’s a limited role in life. The next stage of growth is to let that personality settle back into a less prominent role, and let an even deeper and unlimited self develop – what some call the “true self.” This is a shift from the personality to the “mature human being,” with your full potential awake and aware of your deep unity with your body, with each other and with the whole of creation. Even the most stable and healthy personality cannot make this shift if it can’t get beyond itself.

    The first time I heard that phrase, “Mature human being” I was already past 65 and had accomplished many things in my life – yet my heart leapt at the idea. I knew that was what I wanted to become. We can miss this developmental stage, this shift if we’re not encouraged and supported, because it means letting go of our familiar patterns and embracing new ones. What we lose is only the limited range of our personality and its views. What we gain is supportive community, a whole new range of freedom and ease of well-being, and a conviction that our views emerge out of a deeper wisdom. It’s a courageous journey, but it is life-giving way beyond its sacrifices.

    It’s both a scientific and a spiritual journey; spiritual because it expands beyond our everyday selves, and scientific because it requires us to investigate into ourselves with the positive attitudes of uncertainty, openness, diligence, rigour, and a willingness to let go of false assumptions. We learn tools that help us assess what’s actually present in our lives, whether it’s encouraging or discouraging of our growth, how it was supported to arise, and how to support or interrupt it depending on its nature. These are scientific tools of inquiry.

    The impetus to this journey often emerges out of crisis, though it can happen anytime, to anybody, at any age. If you think of it, coming to the end of life often engages a low-level sense of urgency, even a crisis of meaning, and for many of us an accompanying wish to fulfill our purpose, to give back to life, and to leave a legacy of support and encouragement to next generations. It is wisdom that supports our engaging the journey and this developmental stage. The good news is that it’s naturally a part of who we already are, it’s already present and just needs to be uncovered.

    That’s the big picture and I’m passionate about it – as are the other elders in our core team. There are day-to-day attitudes and skills that we can learn and support that we give each other to help us along this path. Learning about and adding some tools for how to contribute positively in negative times is the topic for this gathering, and practicing these skills enhances our capacity to engage with the world in a generative and wise way.

    Dr. Carole Christopher

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