Freedom and security

August 23rd, 2014

birds3Freedom and security are flip sides of the same coin. Both complete illusions. Both entirely within our grasp.

I struggle constantly with the idea of freedom. People see my wandering ways and they tell me they envy my freedom, but i wonder, would they trade what they think of as my ‘freedom’ for what they think of as their ‘security’? Would I trade mine for theirs?

My personal favourite flavour of dukkha is the usual first-world problem: too many choices. Its not that I fear that any of the myriad possibilities in my life will turn out regrettable or hellish – but which one to pick, which way to turn, that is my suffering. Storm-tossed i wish for some rock to cling to. Sometimes i feel completely exhausted by the options in this unfettered world and i swear i would trade my free-floating life in about half a moment for one big old anchor. For the feeling of purpose and place. For warmth in the night. For that comforting sense, that sense of security.

But of course it is only just that. A sense. A delusion. Lovers leave, children grow up and move on, homes burn to the ground, money carefully banked and invested vanishes in a spasm of politics. In spite of what the investment-fund hawkers and marriage brokers would have us believe, everything changes, everything ends, everyone dies. Nothing is really known and nothing is secure.

Roots, responsibility, grounding. When do these become a big boring drag? When our minds make them so. A man once wrote me to say he worked for the phone company, in a veal pen. He complained that he was trapped and wished he could have freedom. I mulled that over for a while … is the right and ‘free’ action in that moment of unhappiness necessarily to stand up and walk out of the office? Is that really the only expression of freedom? – and then i thought, i wished i had suggested, that all he needed to do was to choose to choose. If he chose to work for the phone company, right now in this moment, then in that moment of choosing he was completely free. In the next moment, when he might in fact choose to get up and walk out of the cubicle and away, he will then become just as free as he is right now. The freedom of this moment enables the freedom of the next. Prisoners in maximum security institutions sometimes find brilliant freedom in acceptance, while those of us with all the physical resources and options in the world can also be slaves to our own goofy and desperate patterns. I’m a free grownup, goddamit, and I am perfectly capable of being miserable in paradise—or happy in hell—if I want to be.

Tossing the coin in the air it flashes in the sun: freedom – security – freedom – security. Dazzling. Words scratched into air.

It’s my potty

August 3rd, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Where’s your bathroom?,” asks a visitor to my little green schoolbus-home in the forest.

Ummmm….well, that depends what you have in mind. If you want to take a bath i’m afraid you are SOL, but there is a lovely ocean right at the bottom of the bluff—warmish, by Canadian (not Carribean) standards. A shower? The garden hose coiled onto a hook in the fir tree delivers clean water, gravity-fed from the reservoir at the top of the hill — and because of the black pvc water line, on a sunny afternoon the shower can actually be hot! On cool days if I’m grimy I will drop by a friend’s place for a warm shower, or grab a soak in the Hollyhock hot tub. Or I heat up the kettle and take a good ol’ bucket bath—good enough for the developing world and good enough for me. I’m clean.

But the bathroom—oh, that. Right, that. Indulge me here while i boast about my minimalist toilet arrangement. My bathroom consists of a tall motor-oil bucket (nested in a milk crate for stability purposes), a board, and a rock. The board keeps the rain out, and the rock keeps the board from flying away. The restroom is accessorized by a lidded plastic ice cream tub filled with sweet-smelling cedar chips from Ian’s firewood pile, topped by the roll of TP. Shaded by the forest canopy I enjoy my beautiful outhouse-without-a-house, my million-dollar clifftop view of Mansons Lagoon unobstructed by windows. In monsoon i squat with an umbrella.

I know what you are thinking. Shit in a bucket?! Gross. But actually its not gross at all, and here is the secret: poo in the bucket, and only poo. I learned this trick last year from Ray on the itty-bitty island off Lasqueti. Ray and Eve’s gorgeous off-grid hand-built home includes a deep solar-and-wind-heated indoor bathtub, hot water on demand, and an on-deck hot-tub—but no indoor toilet. Because the rocky terrain precludes a septic system or deep-dug outhouse, the toilet was a simple outdoor bucket arrangement—with the luxuries of a tasteful pine structure and a smoothly varnished toilet seat. The bucket discreetly concealed in a fancy wooden cabinet. Ray’s stern instruction for its use: you can pee anywhere, except in the bucket. That is the key.

Granted, such deliberate excretion requires a little bladder control. Think kegel practice. First you pee, wherever you like. The rainforest is big, it can absorb a lot of pee. Then you take your seat on the bucket and switch functions. Repeat as necessary, hopping and scuttling from duty to duty. When you’re done make use of the TP, bang the bucket down a couple of times to settle the contents, throw in a couple of handfulls of sawdust, and replace the board and the rock. Done.

When the bucket gets about half full—which takes more time than I would have thought, proving that we are indeed made mostly of water—I tote it over to the deep-dug hole back in the woods and dump it in. No muss no fuss. Because the waste is mostly solid (so not heavy or festering), and thanks to the sawdust which absorbs moisture and odor, the chore is remarkably easy and un-gross. I rinse out the bucket with the hose, line it with a single sheet of newspaper, and my boudoir is back in action.

That’s it: my little potty trick. Now yours to share with the world.

Gears are for lazy people

July 17th, 2014

Shifting-GearsTrue confession:

I got an Orions 10-speed for my 15th birthday—my first real grown-up bike. It was serpent-green and had curly drop bars. It looked way cool, but I was confused and intimidated by the dual shifters. I fumbled around and eventually chose one speed at random, deciding that one would do just fine. I rode that bike for close to a decade, and I never learned how to properly use the gears. It wasn’t until I got my orange rocket with its sexy old-school Campagnolo downtube shifters that I finally learned how powerful a bicycle could be.

When I started working at the bike shop a couple of years back I was a little shocked to learn that my delayed learning curve was not unusual. Many folks, beginner cyclists in particular but even some long-time riders, don’t know how bike gears work. Most, but not all, are women—I am guessing because frequently, we just aren’t taught or expected to understand mechanical things, and are conditioned to be intimidated by them. (I’m sure there are also plenty of guys who don’t understand gears, but only the bravest were willing to admit it and let me give them a lesson.)

I love teaching people how to use the gears on their bikes, and it makes my day to hear someone say wow! when they realize how those confounding gears can ease their riding experience.

Why use gears?

Gears are there to make riding easier, not more difficult. If you want your ride to be difficult, ride a fixie. Analogy for car-drivers: imagine driving your standard-transmission car around all the time in just one gear. It would waste gas and feel awful and probably wreck the car, right? Same deal for your bike. Skilful gearing will make you and your bicycle happy.

But seriously, you say…27 gears?! Who needs that many speeds?! You do. And here is why: the more speeds you have, the smaller the increments between speeds are, and the more fluid and subtle your shifting will be. Instead of going chunka-chunka-chunk, your gears will go click-click-click-purrrrrrrrrr. It will feel sweet as butter, and you will be able to ride with much less effort because you will spin easily (if slowly) up steep hills, and find just enough satisfying resistance on the downhill swoop to motor you most of the way up the next hill. When you learn how to use them you will get way more mileage out of every cinnamon bun you feed into your engine, which in turn will make the ride to the bakery that much more fun. Gears are not hard, and you don’t need to be an engineer to use them. Gears are for lazy people, like you and me.

How do you use all those gears?

The most important thing to know about shifting gears is, don’t overthink it. There are all those numbers, all that upshifting and downshifting and low gears and high gears and hands and sprockets and…STOP THINKING ABOUT IT! The math will make you dizzy and all that calculating can make you fall off your bike. I’m going to use that car analogy again (even though i don’t actually know how drive standard but i think this is how it works): you don’t need to stop and calculate the grade every time you change gears in a car, right? You simply feel the gravitational shift in your body, sense the response of the machine, and adjust accordingly. Use the Force, Luke. Stop thinking and ride.

So first, do that: try not thinking about it (typical annoying advice from a zennie). Look up at the cherry blossoms, NOT down at your feet. Ride the bike up and down a few hills and experiment—see what happens when you shift your right (rear) shifter, and your left (front) shifter. If you shift in the wrong direction you’ll know it right away, and you’ll shift it back the right way. Ah ha! You’re doing it. Amazing.

But if you really want to know (and I know you do): Here is how it works.

Your left shifter moves the chain over the cogs (or chain rings) on the front wheel. You probably have 2 or 3 of those on your bike. This is your ‘gross’ adjustment. Within each of the 2/3 gears on the front, you have a range of fine adjustments that can be made on the rear cogset.

Your right shifter moves the chain over the cogs on the rear wheel (remember R for Right and Rear). You probably have 7 or 8 or 9 cogs (or ‘speeds’) on the back, and these allow you to fine-tune the gearing so you are running at perfect effort and efficiency. The more speeds you have on the rear wheel, the more subtle and fluid your shifting will be.

Here’s the geeky math part. What gear you are in is determined by the combination of front and rear gears. if you are in ’1′ (lowest/easiest) gear on the front, and ’1′ (lowest/easiest) gear on the back, 1×1=1 (wow) so you are in … yes, class, first gear. This would be the lowest gear, i.e., the one you need to ride up a steep hill. At this point, your chain is pulled in onto the innermost chainrings on your bike. If you are in ’3′ (highest/hardest) gear on the front, and ’9′ (highest/hardest) gear on the back, 3×9=27 so you are in 27th gear —the one you will need  to fly down that big hill with bugs in your teeth. At this point, your chain will be out on the outermost chainrings on your bike.

Your shifters should switch easily. If they don’t, your derailleurs (the parts that physically move the chain) may need adjustment, or your gear cables may need lube or replacement. If you have to strain to change gears, it is time for a chat with your friendly local bike mechanic.

How do I know what gear I should be in?

As I’ve already yammered on about, the way to know what gear you should be in in any given moment, is simply to feel it in your body (in other words, achieve a state of Oneness with your bicycle). With practice, that will come. But the next obvious question is, ok so, how do I know when to switch the front and when to switch the back? That’s a good question, and a little tougher to explain.

While there is actually no hard-and-fast rule for how and when to shift gears, you will want to avoid what is called cross-chaining. Cross-chaining is when you are on the easiest gear in front and hardest gear in back, or vise versa. When you cross-chain you are stretching the chain diagonally which puts a strain on the chain and the gears. Your bike will make an ugly ratcheting noise, and sometimes the chain will jump right off the cogs on one end or the other and then you will have to stop and get all greasy and say lots of spicy words while putting it back on (i still manage to do this now and again and get really annoyed at myself). The best way to guard against cross-chaining is, of course, to stay attuned to your bike, Luke. Remember the Force. The moment you feel your chain starting to rattle, scrape, or strain, flip the left (front) shifter into the next major gear.

If you have shifter-indicators, you can avoid cross-chaining by watching out for ‘duck feet’ or ‘pigeon toes’ – for example: 1 on left and 9 on right is BAD (duck feet). 3 on left and 1 on right is BAD (pigeon-toed). Adjust accordingly.

Whether it is time to shift the right or the left is mostly intuitive, but when I am making a very fast gear change from a steep downhill to steep uphill, I tend to shift with both hands at the same time, moving quickly through the gear range. I want to get from high gear to low gear as fast as possible, to maximize my momentum and conserve that cinnamon bun energy. When the terrain change is more gradual, you will want to shift more subtly, one hand at a time.

So once again, I harangue—don’t think about it too much. Just give those gears a shift. Once you get comfortable with your shifting you will be able to go faster and arrive at the opera on time, without unsightly sweat stains on your cummerbund. Skilful gear-shifting is what will make you look and feel like a bike pro.

Its not me. Its the bike.

July 11th, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next person who leans out a car window and gushes at me, ‘oh i really admire you it’s so amazing that you ride your bike all over the island‘ is gonna get popped in the head. Listen: Its not me. Its the bike.

I am a five-foot-nuthin 51-yr-old woman. I’m no athlete, and I’m also no masochist. I’m a lazyass. I ride my bike because its fun and because it is easier than walking. Easier?! Yes. Riding a bike is actually supposed to be easy. And here’s another shocker: it’s not supposed to hurt. Read the rest of this entry »

My heart is with the starfish

June 29th, 2014

galiano-island-purple-starfishThis is a hard post to write. The starfish are dying. Don’t panic: it is true.

The starfish are dying, right here on pristine Cortes Island. They shrivel and wither, their arms fall off, and then they are dead. They do not leave behind pretty exoskeletons to pick up on the beach and take home as vacation souvenirs. They collapse into bleached and rotting blobs, and then the surf comes and washes them away. There is no dignity in their death. Read the rest of this entry »

Beating Resistance

June 25th, 2014

wallI am locked in a fight with Resistance. She’s been kicking my ass for a while. Resistance lobs grenades at me, mortar shells, spit balls, and mean names. She shows up at my door every evening with a bottle of cheap wine and a stink bomb, hidden in bunch of fake roses. Every day she says: not here. Not now. Not you.

Resistance tells me to relax. Watch a movie. Smoke some weed. Take a day off, take a load off, take a vacation. Take a life off. Resistance whispers in my ear that I am not quite ready to do my life’s Work. Who are you, she says sarcastically, to do this? When I get riled she says hey, hey, don’t take it so personal. You can start your life’s work…tomorrow. Or the next day—I hear the weather’s supposed to be good on Thursday. Or maybe, the day after that. Read the rest of this entry »

Feeling in dreams

June 17th, 2014

fantasies__a_frank_n_furter_fanfic__ch_2_by_mistresstara-d57e4gl.pngBetween the madness of early morning birdsong, the braying of neighbor’s donkeys and peacocks, the pink-gold sunrise streaming through the forest into my bus, and the intermittent hot flashes where I wake all sweaty, mop down get chilly bundle up and go back to sleep — odd and intense dreams keep me entertained. Sleeping in my bus in the forest, my nights are busy.

Roshi Joan said, pay close attention to dreams. Not the content so much. Don’t worry about symbolism or story line. But pay very close attention to what you feel in your dreams. What you feel, and how you respond to that feeling, is the core of the dream and the stuff to bring back to waking life.

I usually don’t bore people by relating my dreams – an activity second only in tedium to detailed descriptions of acid trips — but this one was such a rocker I just gotta. Check it out: Read the rest of this entry »

Carmen changes a tire

May 29th, 2014

bicycle-tire-repair-kit-open_wm_2My sexy Panaracers were looking weary and scarred. Two years of assault by the thorns of New Mexico and the unpaved roads of Cortes Island meant the time had come to get me some new rubber.

Horny Gord at my bike shop recommended a pair of light and sturdy Continental Touring Plus tires. “They’re a little stiff,” he smirked. “Let me know if you have trouble getting them on.” I snorted. I’ve changed a million flats—and in the process, punctured a million tubes and sworn a million very bad words. I’m no mechanic, but my dignity would not permit me to let Horny Gord change my tires.

When I got home I turned the bike upside down, slid out the wheel, and popped in tire lever #1. Easy so far. Tire lever #2 sprang out and hit me in the face, but after fighting with it for awhile, I managed to pry the old tire off the rim. Then things got tricky. The new tire had a tight wire bead and every time I almost got it on, it would stretch tight and pop out the other side. I sweated (between hot flashes) as I tried to wedge it onto the rim. I cursed my ineptitude and typical female lack of training in simple mechanical tasks. I whined. My hands grew grimy and my sight grew dim. I was thinking I had to stop for the night. But then I had an idea: consult the Oracle. Read the rest of this entry »


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