Ten Years On

Kristin and I in Morocco, during our final months in the country (2009).

Ten years ago, yesterday, Kristin and I left Morocco, a place that had become home to us, and returned, exiles in part, to a land once called home. I remember an absurdly early departure from Tounfite, our small Atlas Mountain town, which was still sleeping and quiet except for the feral cats and dogs that roamed quiet streets looking for scraps and mostly getting scrapes. The taxi driver, who I can picture but whose name I cannot recall, loading all our belongings while we hugged and kissed and hugged again a host family who had truly become family. Many tears were shed and words failed to express our love and gratitude for these more than kind women and a place that had seeped into our very being. Transformation is a trite word to describe how Morocco, the Eastern High Atlas Mountains, the Amazighen (“Berber”) people, and this family in particular changed us.

A different, and perhaps greater, change was to greet us upon our return home.

Ten years ago, my mom was nearly killed in a car accident that she had nothing to do with. Well, actually she had a central part in this drama, but sometimes our most important role happens when we are just sitting still. She was hit broadside on the driver’s side while waiting at a stop sign. As we hurtled out of the mountains and on across the vast Moroccan coastal plain toward the airport in Casablanca, she came within an inch of her losing her life, saved by the miracles of modern medicine.

The next day, this day ten years ago, we found out this terrible news upon our arrival in New York City. Blown away and shocked would be understatements. I didn’t know what nor how to think, it seemed, during the long drive from the city upstate to my hometown. Culture shock within culture shock. We immediately began spending our days in hospitals, malls (there was a branch of public library in it), and lawyers offices. Not places anyone wants to spend much time, except doctors and lawyers I suppose, much less two triumphantly returning Peace Corps volunteers. No parade for us it seemed. Just long days and troubling affairs.

Fast forward ten years. The sound of my girls, ages 8 and 5 can be heard. Talking, giggling and the occasional high-pitched scream as they splash and play in a cattle tank that we use as a pool. It’s big enough for a kids kayak, three pool noodles and two girls (or more when friends come over). What more do you need?

It is a hot early summer day. The irrigation is spraying happily away. I hear the soft clucks and sweet chirps of our mother hen and her four week-old chicks. An ochre ringlet butterfly flits and fluts by, and a robin sings sweetly from down near the river.

My mom and I in Copenhagen, our only trip overseas together (2006).

I sure miss my mom and I’ll probably never “get over” Morocco. Both changed….nay, both sculpted my life in such strong ways that I cannot separate out where they end and I begin, like mycelium and tree roots. They have and continue to nourish my life in ways unimaginable and seldom imagined. Life sure is a trip and you just never know what’s going to happen. Pay attention, appreciate it and live it well.

Who Am I Anyway?

Spring rain —
Coming down on me again
This hood I’ve been wearing.

~ Yosa Buson

Hobby– an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure

I have been thinking about hobbies today, which is not something that I have thought about in quite some time. Last night Kristin and I were going through some relationship cards (Gottman cards app) and one that came up was “Name two of your partner’s hobbies.”

A “hobby” is defined as an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.

This sparked a discussion not so much about our hobbies, but rather about what are hobbies and why don’t we seem to have any. Are we boring? Too much TV watching? No leisure time? Too busy working all the time for that tech company that you didn’t know we worked for?

The last one may be the closest to the truth. Our life seems just a little too full to have much “leisure time” and yet that isn’t quite it either. When we were younger we seemed to have time for hobbies or rather we had distinct work-time and leisure-time, whereas now we seem to have just one time. Being-time you could call it (which happens to be a writing by 12th Century Zen Master Eihei Dogen, called “Uji.”)

Most days or weeks I play the guitar, read and write, garden, bird watch, spend time in nature, run, hike, and the like. In the past I may have thought of these as hobbies, but now I just see them as integral parts of my life. And then there is meditation, Zen study and practice. Could I possibly think of that as a hobby or separate that from my moment-to-moment life? I don’t think so. Not possible.

And now I realize that this is how I view my “hobbies,” they are simply some of the activities of my life. Nope that isn’t quite right….they are (in part) my life. My life flows through them and they color and energize my life. Not separate from who I am and yet not exactly or only who I am. How could I call them hobbies? Many of us think of ourselves as our hobbies and create a self-identity from that partial-view of who we are. I saw partial-view because how could our hobbies be the sum total of who we are.

Who am I anyway?


by David LaFever

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.