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Eye boogers

I have a theory. After blowing my nose one hundred times tonight, not because it is dripping or running, but just for the luxury of being able to breath through it for one fleeting breath before it stuffs back up, I have decided that the reason it is stuffing up is to prevent me from inhaling more of the terrible pollen swarming around the farm here.

For the past month the only times I have been able to breath through my nose are those that I am either on the water or in the city. At one point a while back, it was so bad that I could not even open my eyes long enough to see what the botanist, conducting a tour of the nature reserve I am living at, was talking about. That little field trip almost killed me.

To make it worse (or maybe better depending on how you look at it) I had a helluva cold last week. Usually a cold for me just means a runny nose. I have seen on TV sitcoms where people have a cold and are laying in bed. I thought it was just a part of the joke. I have had co-workers call in sick to work because they have a cold. I thought they were just wusses or lazy. I have never had a cold that caused me to miss any of my daily activities (other than breathing through my nose). This cold kicked my butt though. It was wonderful to feel such extreme misery, knowing of course that it would be over in a day (I am a fast healer).

So, my point was... combined with the hay fever, the most evilest cold I have ever had almost killed me. But I survived.

I still have the hay fever, and I have been resisting taking some manufactured medicine containing crap no one really understands. Sure it would help me to feel better now, but in the long run it would do little other than make me reliant on some expensive chemicals for the rest of my life.

Not that there are any alternatives. I went into the eco-butik (the organic goods shop here) and asked for some herbal medicine that would cure it. Henrick (the owner and my landlord) showed me some supplements that would make me more "in-balance" and make me stronger so that next year when spring rolls around I wont suffer as much. Of course, for that to work, I also have to change my diet.

At first this sounds unacceptable. But think about it. Here we are doing whatever we want, eating whatever chemicals we want to eat, breathing whatever toxins we want to breathe, always with the expectation that someone will make some drug that will fix any problems that arise from our unnatural behavior. These drugs in turn lead to some other problem that requires some other drugs. And the cycle goes on.

Is there something to changing our lifestyle to fit more with the natural systems of the earth? Is there a benefit to living within the constraints of the ecosystem (the key there being the word "system")? Is there a reason that allergies have increased between 50 and 70 percent in the last two decades? Could it have anything to do with our attitude of do whatever we want and fix it later?

I don't really know the answer. In fact the only thing I do know is that today when I went into town I resisted, once again, the almost insane urge to buy some drugs to fix problems that many have claimed to fix by simply changing their lifestyle. I don't know how much longer I will be able to resist though... I am taking the balancing vitamins. I am eating healthier than ever before (not for the allergies, but just because I eat at the eco-cafe every day). Still, I have not had one morning in three weeks where I can open my eyes without first picking off all the eye-boogers.


* * *

The photos are from a few days ago when I helped rescue a sail boat from an Island where it was shipwrecked. Wednesday I will join the owner (in the photo steering the boat) and my new housemate in a three day sailing tour of the the islands.

Geranium robertianum

One of the things I wanted to do this summer was to take a survival training course. The point of this was less about learning how to survive in an emergency situation, and more about learning how to make use of the resources available around me. Much of the resources around me (at least here in Sweden) are plants, meaning that a big part of such training would include learning what plants I can eat or put to some other use.

Being the driven, self-motivated, get-up-and-get-go type of guy that I am, I couldn't just sit around and wait for the survival class to start in order to learn about the plants, so I have been asking everyone I meet who seems to know about plants, and cracking open the plant book (in Swedish) to start identifying the plants I see around me. The more I read, the more I have found that basically everything is OK to eat. This is quite boring from a "survival" standpoint, but very exciting from a "use what is available" standpoint. It's also great fun tasting all the different plants without fear. Thus, what started as an attempt to learn which plants are edible, has blossomed into a brand-new geek fascination.

Since learning if it is edible is no longer fun, I have turned to learning to identify them, which is fun. It's almost like learning a new language... seeing a plant I now "know" is like hearing someone use a word or grammatical structure I have just learned in Swedish. It's so much more interesting to walk through a field now that I can recognize many of the plants... I notice so much more, see things I would never have seen before when they were all just weeds and flowers.

While there is little chance that I will ever remember the actual names of any of the plants, it is easier to remember what other plants are in the same family, what environment it would be found in, how it tastes, etc... On way I have been "teaching" myself, is by drawing (maybe one day painting) the plant, looking it up in the Swedish language plant book, and translating whatever it says about it. It takes a long time, but it's fun.

I was searching around on the web to learn the English or Japanese names of the plants and found that there are really no good web-sites out there with appealing photos of these plants. My niche! And so I present to you the first entry in my "i can recognize this plant" catalogue.

Please sit back and enjoy this visual tour of Geranium robertianum, or "Herb-Robert geranium". (The Swedish name, Stinknava, is much more interesting -alluding to the oder which the plant gives off). Since I really have no way to write about these plants as an authority, I will just rip off some text from various plant sites. As I don't even fully understand what they are talking about half the time, I am, for now, more interested in simply providing appealing photos.

from: Oregon State University: Weed Management In Nursery Crops Herb-Robert geranium prefers shady, moist areas.  It grows in a small clump about 12 inches high and wide.

Foliage and stems are very pubescent.   Foliage is deeply dissected, though the leaves are not typical of other geraniums (dovefoot and Carolina geranium) in this family.

Both stems and foliage have a strong and nauseating smell (in my opinion).  The smell is not disgusting like rotten eggs, but it is more of a strong chemical smell.  It's difficult to describe the scent, but I despise it and try to avoid it.

Flowers usually occur in pairs.

Flower sepals are very pubescent with long hairs, similar to leaves and stems.

Flowers have 5 petals, 10 stamens, and 1 style (thus the flowers are perfect). Petals are pink to magenta, with white streaks.

As far as other uses for this plant, besides whatever role it plays in the ecosystem (which I really wish I could find some information on), it doesn't seem to have many. Maybe the scent is a warning, and if that's not enough, Jo sampled some from the weed buffet I presented at a recent dinner party and she says it felt like a razor-blade sliced across her tongue. I did not have the same experience, but it does not taste good at all.

If you enjoy Geranium robertianum, check back later this month for Geranium columbinum L (longstalk cranesbill) which I stumbled across today!

Please don't make me go back

Some of the scenery from where I live now. Please don't make me go back to Tokyo...

Deceptive weather

On a recent kayak trip we set up camp on the western side of the island so we could watch the sun set. There had been a little wind in the evening when we arrived, but not so much that we could not start a fire. In the middle of the night however, a thunderstorm struck. The wind intensified, and Derek (pictured in yesterday's post) made a mad dash to the beach to make sure the boats were far enough on land that we would not loose them to the storm. The lightning subsided at around 3:30 or so (it is amazing having a 3am lightning storm as the sun is coming up). The wind never stopped, so strong that it threatened to blow my tent over with me in it. Although we were all awake by 8, none of us ventured out of our tents until 10. Each of us imagining the cold, dreary, windy, rainy day of paddling that lay ahead.

Eventually, nature called, and I had to venture out into the storm. I had pitched my tent in the forest, so had not noticed, but the sun was actually peaking through the clouds. I decided to follow the sun light (as well as get away from the camp to do my business) and low and behold, the eastern side of the island was completely wind-free and sunny. So warm that I was forced to strip down to a t-shirt and shorts. Had we camped on this side, we would have been up bright and early ready for a day's kayaking, rather than hiding from the imagined gloom in our cozy sleeping bags.

This is a photo of the breakfast fire that day.

Swedes in the streets

A while back Laura, from Propelling.ca, and I went out on the streets of Karlskrona, Sweden to ask people if we can shoot them. Most people agreed. Most people were a little nervous. I was nervous. But, I did get some shots I am pleased with.

running out

It's a dangerous game I'm playing now... I'm posting this second post today because some readers, who don't know the subjects, may not find my people shots as fascinating as I do.

This is the marine museum with the great photogenic wall you see in the recent people pictures.

This is also the last of prepared photos I have since my computer broke. If I don't find the time or motivation to prep and upload more photos to the site I may have to start posting reruns... or go to the "what did I post one year ago today" trick for lazy bloggers. (ironically enough, one year ago today I was not posting people photos that only appeal to myself, but I was posting bird photos that only appeal to myself.)

One less

I spent last night drinking and chatting with Kerly (pictured above and below), her roommate, and her landlord (photos soon). Kerly leaves tomorrow so I suppose there will be one final bash tonight. Then there will be one less....

Spending time at her place recently, hanging out with her roommates and landlord (great fun, that landlord!), as well as the fun I have been having out at the farm, makes me realize how crappy my dark, lonely apartment was all year.

People I know

Here are some more of the portraits I shot last week (or has it been two weeks already?). It took a long time before the people in my class got used to me pointing the camera at them all the time, but I only have two months at the farm and I am anxious to get some photos of the people around here but I am having too much fun getting to know them and I don't want to spoil it. I am especially cursing my shyness with the camera at yesterday's laughing class. There were some great shots to be taken (as so often happens when people laugh), but I didn't feel comfortable enough. Instead I took a handful of shots "from the hip", but when I look at them I am only reminded of the ones I didn't get.

You may remember Mandy, in the last photo, from my all time bestest kick-butt portrait I have ever taken.

Guilty

Once again I feel bad that I am not contributing anything of substance to the world of web-logs. I am trying to think about what to write, and there is so much... but I don't have the courage to write it because they are all such new thoughts... things I am not comfortable sharing yet. And then, by the time I am comfortable with it, I will be on to bigger and better ideas... new ideas that I am not comfortable sharing yet. And so it goes...

I could blame it on my crappy, borken iBook, but I am not sure that even if I did have more convenient access to the computer that I would be doing any better. I guess I should just accept the fact that I am not one to open up.

Some kinda dream

Went to laughing class today and learned some good warm-up techniques. This is what I have always been missing as I try to get other to laugh with me at work or in class. Usually, I just say "Hey, ok, let's laugh for thirty seconds." It works, but it always feels a little awkward. Today, we laughed for thirty minutes straight. The key was a good warm-up, starting with a "half-laugh" that only feels a little awkward. From this we could transition into full-on laughing and sustain that momentum for quite a long time. It also helped that that laugh-facilitator had a pocket full of laughing techinques, such as the elephant laugh, or the pig laugh.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening, right up until 9pm (when it has hardly even begun to get dark) working in the garden/field with Mona and Shed, the couple who takes care of the plot next to mine. I learned a lot, both about farming and Swedish language, and had the pleasure of not even seeing the computer all day.

I spoke with Tomoe on the phone ealier. She asked me (seriously) if I was planning to come back to Japan. She knows me well enough to know that I have been entertaining thoughts about how I could make this last longer... Anything to keep from going back to a dead city like Tokyo with so many people spending so much time and energy on so many things that matter so little.

Swedish Exposure

Last night I met some of the excentric neighbors (it's like Northern Exposure around here)... the silent couple who garden the plot next to ours (actually, while others have found them reclusive, she was quite talkative to me), the professor who lives with ginnie pigs in the trailor in the yard, and the caretakers dogs who spend their days roaming the reserve.

This morning I woke up to the sound of a woodpecker working on the house just outside my window. Apparently it chasaed away the family of sparrows that once lived in the hole.

I had intended to just sit in the garden, eat breakfast, and read my magazine, but soon found myself wandering around with the camera, taking 180 or so photos.

Henrick, the guy who is letting me stay here, came by and told me that tomorrow there will be a laughing class down at the cafe. I'm a big fan of laughing, so I will be there.

It's just past ten (usually I am just waking up by now). After a quick tick check and shower I guess I'll head down to the cafe to see if they need any help setting up for tomorrow.

After that I may grab my scythe and mow the lawn.

The photos today are not from the nature reserve. They are back in town on the walking path nearby school.

How can I go back?

I have lost all motivation to update my site. In fact, I have lost all motivation to do just about everything I was doing up until a few days ago... everything except take photos that is, which I did a lot of yesterday.

I am now living on the farm/nature reserve where I have been getting up early to work on the garden, take long walks, sleep in the sun, take photos, cook weed soup (with all the weeds we cleared out of the field for planting), and reading.

Today I will drink beer and play poker.

Tomorrow maybe I will kayak.

The only reason I am writing this is that I have to be online to take care of a little web work (for which I have literally no motivation other than that I am responsible for getting it done). As I wait for some big files to download and upload I thought I would take the opportunity to write a bit on the blog... but even now I get distracted by the blue sky, sun and sea I see out the window.

I thought the living conditions for the past nine months would spoil me, but how can I ever go back to Tokyo after this?

The photographer's assistant

Karl, Rebekah, and Sophia leave tomorrow. Yesterday I had a great time assisting Rebekah (wife of classmate, Karl, and professional photographer) with a fashion shoot for a local designer. More on that later, but for now, just wish to give big thanks to Rebekah for "talking shop" with me all year and teaching me some cool stuff, and to Karl and Sophia for being so photogenic.

Dang

Oh how I hate my iBook. I have never had a computer that causes me to many troubles.

So if you are trying to get ahold of me by email... you'll have to wait until I get a chance to ride my bike three days to the nearest Apple shop.

The photo above is one of the last photos I uploaded to the site before it died again. This is classmate Rene (spelling?) and family.

I think it is just the monitor which is crapped out, but an ibook without a working monitor is about worthless to me. Dang.

Epic

Three more photos of classmates and the magic wall. At top, Jo from South Africa (I love that shot). In the middle is Arash, from Sweden. At the bottom is my thesis partner, Roya, from Canada.

I got back from an epic kayak trip a few hours ago. We didn't really get far from Karlskrona, but with the high winds and waves, it took us seven hours to paddle back today.

I have learned that my boat is not made for big waves. Being collapsable, the top is made of canvas. Good for folding, but not so good for having waves break over top of it. In one particularly long crossing this afternoon, I had to stop several times to pump the water out. At one point, I was waist deep in water inside the kayak. The good news is that even 75% full of water, it does not sink. The bad news is that I am barely strong enough to paddle a kayak full of water against the wind and current. Half the time I was wondering if I was even moving forward. But, I was, and by the time we reached our lunch spot, I was ready to set up camp for the night.

Unfortunately, Amity (thesis partner) and Derek (her boyfriend) had to be back tonight because they leave Karlskrona for good first thing in the morning. They will be missed, and I thank them for the best kayak trip this year including lightning storms, charging bulls, and gourmet beans.

Since we couldn't camp out again tonight, we fired up the old sauna here in the school basement and sweated our sore muscles away, followed by a dive into the cold cold Baltic and more sauna.

Now I am just sitting here in the class lounge where I will be spending the night on a couch, then tomorrow it is off to the farm.

A rarity

Tonight was the last time I will meet many of the great people I have spent the last year with. At the graduation party, there was a magic wall, a wall I noticed the minute I walked in the room, a wall that made anyone look good. I made as many people as I could stand in front of the wall so I could get one final portrait. Unfortunately, we were all out drinking way to late tonight, and I don't have the ability to process all of the photos... so I leave you with these two rarities... photos of me, in front of the camera.

I will post much more when I return from the weekend kayak adventure.

Reunion

It has been a while since I have been out in the kayak. This weekend a couple of us are set to go out for a few days. It will be interesting to see how big the ducklings are now, or if the swans have finally hatched.

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