A Little Practice

Practice

noun

  1. the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it.
  2. the customary, habitual, or expected procedure or way of doing of something.

verb

  1. perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.
  2. carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly.

It’s approximately seven miles on a paved road from town to our land. The road winds it’s way around the hulking block of McClure Mountain, in whose shadow lies the town of Twisp. We seem to drive this road everyday, following the Methow River downstream, which is just a part of rural living these days. Driving the same road can be boring, habitual, something to ignore. Our bodies seem to do the driving while our brains wander aimlessly. Mindless. But it can also be a chance to re-engage, to pay attention and to be mindful. The ever-present possibility of a deer running out in the road should make us pay attention, if nothing else. And yet it is all too easy to be lost in my thoughts as I drive this stretch of known road.

When I was growing up in rural upstate New York in the 1980s and 1990s, people waved to each other on rural roads. This was certainly true on our road which was not properly paved until much later. I remember watching my dad wave at neighbors and seeing them wave back. Sometimes it was a full wave, emanating friendliness in its fullness, while other times it was simply raising the hand or a couple of fingers in habitual movement. I vividly remember old man Donny Driscoll, who lived down the road from us, in his white Ford pick up truck driving basically down the middle of the road, two hands on the top of the wheel. He was pretty near-sighted as I recall his coke-bottle thick glasses. He just raised his index finger, nothing more and nothing less.

You always waved on our road, that’s just the way it was. On other roads, however, the rules of engagement were a bit different. Perhaps you waved at everyone, if you were particularly friendly. You always waved at tractors. And if you were driving a pickup truck, you waved at other pickup trucks. Such was the culture, at that time, on the back roads and byways of upstate New York.

Since moving here to rural North-Central Washington, I have re-engaged with this practice. As I drive the seven miles to and from town, I wave at everyone I meet, and I do it for two reasons. First, I want to cultivate rural friendliness and neighborliness, which I do not want to see go away in our country. It is a simple way to connect with each other, like saying hi in the post office. Secondly, I do it as a practice of both mindfulness and connection.

Doing this everyday gives me the chance to see my own mind, my own preferences and my own prejudices more clearly. Because I try to wave at everyone, I notice more astutely when I do and do not wave. When I don’t wave at someone, I realize that my mind has been wandering. I am lost in thought and this practice helps me to return to the present, to what I am actually doing. Driving and being neighborly.

I also notice who I do and do not want to wave at, which shows me the subtle and, I have to say, idiotic, judgments I make based on the car that someone is driving. Do I wave at that big-ass redneck looking truck? Do I greet the all-too wealthy looking BMW-driving liberal city slicker? You betcha I do! I get to see my prejudices and how quickly I make distinctions and then let them go with the wave of a hand. Yes, I get to say, this car too I will wave at. This person too, regardless of my opinion, I connect with ever so briefly as we zoom past each other. Getting to practice with myself in this way, everyday, is an important way to see myself more clearly and to let go of it with a kindly gesture. Some days I just go through the motions while others I am more kindly.

What I am realizing is that simple acts, like waving on rural roads brings me more fully into this very real and present moment. It shows me where I am dividing the world apart and where I am reconnecting it in its natural wholeness. Awareness and present-mindedness are cultivated and most importantly practiced. Over and over and over again, the never ending practice of being human.


by David LaFever

Presence

*I must begin with a warning: this post includes a discussion of our bathroom, yet again. I don’t know why this seems to be a theme for me right now but if this bothers you, be forewarned and don’t read on.


There are many wonderful things about living in a tiny home – closeness to one another, simplicity, less stuff, being outdoors often, and sustainability to name a few – and there are some annoying things too – bumping into each other, quick to clutter, lack of indoor space to be alone. One of the positive things about living in a tiny home is having a bath house that is separate from our living space. The irony is that separation is actually promoting connection and here is how.

Several months ago now, my younger daughter, Juniper, who just turned five a few days ago, told me that she likes going #2 more than #1. Slightly surprised, I asked her why, and she replied, “because we get to talk.” I smiled, and said, “yeah, you are right.” And she still feels this way. So do I.

So why is this important and why does she appreciate it? This very natural of human processes allows us to have time and space together to talk or just quietly be with one another. If we lived in a “normal” house, with indoor plumbing, then I would be more likely to just ask her to call me when she needed help, and off I would go to do all of the “important” adult things that I think I have to be doing all the time. What are these anyway?

But because we have a bathroom that is separate from our house, I go with her to do her business and then I just hang out. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t, sometimes we just think, and sometimes we think about nothing at all. The magical part is that with nowhere to go and with nothing else to do, I can relax and just be with my daughter, and in that ordinariness is the most magical thing of all. Presence.


by David LaFever

Simple Delight

Someone once said that the “best things in life are free,” but I think it is the simple things in life that are free. Free from money, perhaps, but more importantly free from want, free from worry, freely given, and free for the taking because it’s not taking when it is freely given.

We have now been living in a valley tucked into the North Cascades for the last two winters. It is snowy here and can be rather cold (the lowest recorded temperature in Washington, – 48 degrees F, was recorded here.) We live simply – in a school bus converted into a tiny home, no running water (it would freeze beneath the bus this time of year), and a stand-alone bathhouse (uninsulated right now) behind the bus. Since we have lived in the bus, it has dropped to perhaps -10 degrees F or so, and just a few days ago it was -8. Squeaky-snow, nose freezing, lungs hurting kind of cold.

Have you ever sat on a toilet seat in an unheated, uninsulated bathroom in the morning when it is that cold? Well, I have, and I was thinking that it wasn’t that bad. And what’s the big deal? Typical myopic response from someone who pees standing up.

It has also been said that “love conquers all.” Perhaps even stupidity? Maybe it was love or simply sympathy for my wife that finally got me to cut a hole out of a scrap of rigid foam insulation that has been just laying around and to put it on top of the toilet seat. This took me literally five minutes or less and it has been ABSOLUTELY REVOLUTIONARY! I am shocked and delighted by how warm it feels and I now can feel how cold the toilet seat used to feel. Funny how it can be retroactive like that. I still pee outside always, but I sometimes just go in there to feel how warm the foam feels. It is amazing stuff!

The lesson here folks – if there is something that is simple and that you have been meaning to do for a long time, do it! And keep your life simple because then the small acts seem wondrous. And they are!


by David LaFever

Reflecting Pure Light

It was 6 degrees when I woke up this morning. I slipped quietly out of a warm bed, put on my down jacket, grabbed gloves and a hat, crammed my feet into winter boots and stepped outside. My nose instantly hurt as did breathing. The moon, crescent-shaped, was still hanging in the southern sky and the sun had not yet risen above the eastern ridge. Snow-covered peaks glowed in first light as if some internal energy were emanating forth.

I stepped into the yurt, bowing to enter the low threshold. My breath was frosty in the cold air. I settled onto my zafu, a small, round black meditation cushion, and wrapped myself in a green, down sleeping bag. I pulled it up over my back and settled my body and breath.

Thirty minutes or so later, I exited the yurt, bowing into the now brilliant light of the rising sun. Snow-flowers, small crystals that form on top of snow, had blossomed during the night, seeming to emanate from the cold itself. They were now radiating brilliance and sparkling with pure light. It was as if they had captured the twinkling of the stars and were now sharing that beauty with the daytime world. I looked closely at these crystals, squatting to get a closer look. Each rose up, erect off the snow’s surface like a tiny sail or fern frond, and seemed to reflect every other one in a beginningless and endless dance of sparkling delight. I wondered, if I could only look closely enough, could see the entire world reflected in each one?


By David LaFever

Long Overdue

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I cannot believe that it has been nearly four months since I last wrote. How can that be? What have I been doing with my life that has kept me from writing about my life? WTF!!

Well, moving to new property for one thing. Yes, the Cozy Turtle (our tiny school bus home) was unmoored from the place where we lived for a year or so and it made it’s way 20 minutes or so to our new home. Also, we bought and put up a yurt, which required building a round deck for it to sit on. We moved our chickens and chicken coop (at night we loaded it, loaded with chickens onto a trailer and stole away into the dark). We have also started a Friday homeschool thingy – the great outdoors and the yurt are the classrooms and we are delighted to have approximately 14 kids any given Friday. We do now have internet here at home so the possibility for regular blog posts is there but we try to not spend any extra time on the computer. 

So, where do I begin? How do I catch all of you dear, delightful readers up on our life…..they say that a picture says a word or to, so perhaps I will start there.

August 2018 – Smoke, smoke, smoke.

September 2018 – Moved to our new place, cooling temperatures and clearing skies. David turns 39! Our new Community Homeschool in the yurt begins with Friday field trips or adventures at our homestead.

Our new land came with – 7 fully irrigated acres, a home (800 square feet, one bedroom), two-acre fenced in yard with garden beds, lots of flowers, sheds, and chicken coops), and access out the back gate onto State-owned public land up Booth Canyon. The house was immediately rented to a friend of friends who has two kids. We have all become like a large family and it’s wonderful!

Our “backyard,” the public land behind our place.

October 2018 – Amazing Fall weather just kept going and going and we were insanely busy with settling in. Firewood collecting resulted in a couple of seriously smashed pinkies (one of which is still swollen) and a huge load of logs to buck, split and stack.  Mongolian ger (yurt) was erected with the help of many friends. Ancestors were honored during an Ancestors Feast held in the new ger.

November 2018 – Autumn lingered on long and lovely and then it got cold quickly. Snow at Thanksgiving that melted. We visited Kristin’s wonderful family in Portland which was a nice getaway from the seemingly endless chore list to get “ready for winter,” whatever that means. How could we not be ready for winter when it hit?

December 2018 – Here is where we find ourselves. Cold, dry conditions created perfect lake/pond skating but now snow has finally come and some rain too. Snow-people have been made, and shoveling has been done. Our plow truck hasn’t been functioning well so I shoveled our new driveway after the first storm – 480 feet long, more or less. Yowza!

The girls absolutely love playing in the snow but not when it is too wet. Then again, I guess that’s what comes with living in Carlton, “The Mediterranean of the Methow.” Yes, our mailing address remains in Twisp, but we are now closer to Carlton, a town consisting of a Post Office, a church and a cannabis store. What more do you need?

We live approximately 7 miles down the Twisp-Carlton Road from Twisp and 3.5 miles up the same road from Carlton. While it is snowing up the Valley, it may be raining here. Lower elevation, warmer and much better growing (food) condition which is why we are here.

Real Life Blue Sky

Juni in smoke mask

“A mind full of questions and a teacher in my soul.”
~ Eddie Vedder

 

She awoke, looked out of the bus’s tiny windows and exclaimed, “It’s real life blue sky!” Then she jumped up and ran outside to more clearly see this amazing sight!

How many days do you or I not even notice how beautiful the blue sky is? How many times do we wake up and not even think about what a gift a new day is or how remarkable the world around us is? I can speak for myself – it’s far too many days.

After several weeks of moderate to heavy smoke in our valley, it was amazing to wake up to clear skies. It was amazing to see the landscape again, especially the mountains. And it was amazing to see clouds again, just ordinary, glorious clouds!

This August has been called “Smokust” and it has been much August 2017. We think of this as the “new normal” but Cliff Mass (WA meteorologist) says that it’s actually the “old”normal” which we are just not used. Apparently, this many fires and this much smoke was much more common in the early 20th Century and before, or so says Cliff Mass (http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2018/08/northwest-wildfires-are-we-seeing-new.html).

Whether or not this is the new normal, old normal or something else altogether, we are strongly affected by weeks of smoke and it’s having its psychological and emotional impact. The impacts are not only physical, but also mental. People tend to go out less and so suffer from a feeling of isolation. We tend to do less of the physical things that make us feel good such as running, biking and hiking. And we suffer from the loss of seeing and connecting with the places that we love. It is being called the “Lost Summer”, and it does feel as though summer just suddenly ended. No more swimming in rivers and lakes, no more trips to Black Pine Lake, no hiking or backpacking. There is a great article from The Narwhal that discusses this further:

https://thenarwhal.ca/the-lost-summer-the-emotional-and-spiritual-toll-of-the-smoke-apocalypse/

For myself I ran for the first time in weeks this morning before the smoke came back. It felt great and I connected with a promontory above the Methow River that I have not seen in weeks. I love this spot and it’s like connecting with a part of myself. In that way, the Smokust is keeping me from feeling my sense of self in this place. And that is always distressing.

So what do we do with this “new-old normal?” What do we do when our habits and passions are suddenly put on hold? And what do we do with this sense of self when the places and rhythms that define it are altered so greatly? Questions are thick like the smoke, but answers may come suddenly and miraculously like the “real life blue sky,” which is always there shining through the haze.


By David LaFever

 

Where there is fire there is smoke

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Society, your a crazy breed. I hope you are not lonely without me.
~ Eddie Vedder “Society”

I step out into the smoky morning street and make my way along the wooden clapboard sidewalk of the old western town. I am wearing a mask, an N95, which is the best cheap one you can get to keep the tiny particles of air pollution out of your lungs. I feel self-conscious and am uncomfortably, literally from wearing a mask, although I am getting used to it, and socially because I am the only one wearing a mask. Tourists go about their day – poking in and out of shops and stopping at Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe for ice cream and candy. They seem unaware and oblivious of the smoke and its harmful effects.

The air quality here has been rated as “unhealthy” or “very unhealthy” for weeks now and I am surprised at how few people, locals and tourists alike, are wearing masks. Today seems clearer than it has been lately – I can almost see sun and sky – yet the WAQA (Washington Air Quality Advisor, which is more stringent than the EPA’s Air Quality Index or AQI) for Winthrop is 198, which is just two points shy of moving into “very unhealthy.” It smells like smoke outside and you can’t see the mountains. We should all limit our time outdoors, and need to be wearing masks if we do.

I have a book waiting for me at the library and so I am walking over there to pick it up. I feel very self-conscious about wearing the mask and find myself actually walking with my head down and not making eye contact with anyone. Wow, I am shocked by how strongly I feel and am affected by social pressure and the need to “fit in.” No one is probably even judging me but I act as though they are. I walk fast, head down, eyes averted. It is so interesting how the need to be a part of the crowd can influence us so strongly, even when I am someone who has often done things my own way and a little bit out of the norm. I mean I live in a freaking bus for crying out loud!

Yet, we are a socially adapted and dependent species and so I too feel that wearing a mask around town.

I reach the library and take it off as quickly as possible. I leave it dangling around my neck and there is a part of me that hopes people see it and think that maybe they need to wear one too. There are a growing number of us wearing masks and I think it is important to lead into my discomfort and wear one anyway. By me wearing one, I give “permission” to others to wear them also, to make it “normal” or at least not super-weird. So while I am wearing one for my own personal health, I wear it for others as well.

Are there other places in our lives where this is true as well? Places where we can embrace the discomfort in order to encourage others to act appropriately, or to say that a certain behavior is not okay? I am thinking of times when someone says something that just isn’t cool. Do I say so or just shrug it off to keep my position as part of the in-crowd? Do I wear the mask or not, and who am I wearing it for?

These questions rattle around in my brain as I pull the strap over my head, securing the mask for my walk back from the library. My eyeglasses fog with each exhalation and I can’t see the strange looks that I imagine I am getting for walking through the discomfort on this smoky, hazy summer day.


by David LaFever