I leave today. Tomorrow I'm gone.
Twenty minutes till the taxi comes.
It's been a while since I proclaimed my new project -to post photos of the plants I am learning about here. I have not forgotten. In fact, I remember all too well. I have taken way to many photos and just can't seem to find the time to sort through them. Then there is also the problem that flowers don't really last that long and plants are always changing. The plant I may have taken a photo of last week looks totally different today, so what photos do I post? It seems that the most thorough method would be to take photos of each plant all year long, and then post them in a way that documents their life. But if I had the patience for that I would be painting instead of taking photos anyway.
Well, just to show that I have not forgotten, I have spent some time today both taking pictures of a plant (the flowers are long gone), editing, and POSTING them.
Dear reader, please meet Aquilegia vulgaris (Columbine).
I have yet to find a really great plant site that tells me everything I want to know about each plant, such as "can i eat it?", "can it be used for medicine?", "what other uses are there?", "what role does this plant play in it's local ecosystem?" So, for now, I just google their names and read as many sites as I can. So all I know about this one is that it is part of the buttercup family, which I hear is poison, so I am glad I didn't eat it today. Yet, none of the other sites I have found writing about this plant mention any nasty poison attributes.
One site seems to indicate that it can be used to regulate the female menstrual cycle.
The USDA site shows where it fits in in the kingdom, subkingdom, superdivision, division...family, genus, species.
. That's interesting I guess.
Aquilegia. Aquilegia vulgaris, L. Columbine.A perennial herbaceous plant of the Fam. Ranunculaceae, indigenous to Europe, but cultivated in our gardens. At one time considered diuretic and diaphoretic, columbine is not at present used in practical medicine. For further information concerning this drug, see U. S. D., 19th ed., p. 1394.
One thing that is clear is that this is native to Europe, but is also found in the US now, having escaped from someone's garden. Dot Flowers lists the states in which it can be found.
Many more photos of Aquilegia vulgaris.
Don't eat this berry. But know this... It is mighty tasty.
I tried a few of these Red Elderberries two days ago, waited a while, felt fine, and proceeded to snack on them all day. Nothing happened to me, but I found later that they are technically poisonous, causing upset stomach and diarrhea. It's a good thing I found out before I went kayaking last night, because the island I camped on was full of these and I am sure I would have spent the whole night gorging myself.
I did read that they are OK once cooked, so I have made jam with the remaining harvest. If I don't post here for a while somebody call 911.
I get so many hits from search engines where people are looking for porn. I thought I should give them what they (maybe?) want.
I have bird skit (that's Swedish for sh*t) on my shoulder again. Such a lovely feeling.
Today my housemate brought home a new friend. We all seem to get along, even Victoria, the cat I often see lounging on the couch... I wonder how she gets in here...
It's been almost two months since I became a "Master" of Strategic Leadership Toward Sustainability, and it feels like I have not accomplished anything in connection with a long-term goal over these past two months.
When I really think about it, I realize that I may have actually learned a great deal more in these two months than in the year at school. But two months of vacation is not "accredited". Nor did I save money for my future.
Why is it that unless an activity can be added to my formal resume, a part of me feels like it was just worthless play? I mean, it's not like I have just been sitting around on my ass for the past few weeks (although I did a great deal of that too). There are now chicken coops I have built, tables and benches I have built and repaired, walls I have painted, gardens I have planted and tended, wood I have chopped, people I have met, plants I have learned to identify, people I have fed in the cafe, photographs I have taken for other other people... even the times when I was just sitting around, I have been either learning new perspectives from people I would never have met in a job in Tokyo or classroom at the university, watching and noticing the world around me, and sometimes reading (although I have finished far fewer books than I had planned to).
Perhaps part of the anxiety I feel about "not having accomplished anything", is due to a perceived loss of motivation on my part... at least the kind of motivation I am used to, the kind that employers want, or the kind that makes entrepreneurs successful. I am afraid that if I start to feel OK with just sitting outside and watching birds, or looking closely at the leaf of a tree, I will never be able to accomplish anything that I can call my own. What happened to my drive? What happened to that voice that kept me on track, making sure that at least some of my daily activities were adding some value to my skills or knowledge in the job market? Is it possible that I have used it all up at the age of thirty? If so, what does this mean for my future? What will I do when I get back to Tokyo if I can't get back into "real life" mode? And what will I loose if I do?
Today has been a sit inside day. With the exception of my usual breakfast in the garden (big bowl of muesli filled with fruits, nuts, and fresh strawberries), I have been resisting the urge to go play in the sun. I am a little dismayed to find that all of my creative outlets require a computer, and since the display on my crappy iBook just fell apart a while ago, I can't use it as a lap-top as it was intended. Instead, If I want to write or edit photos, I am confined to a desk with an external monitor.
In my efforts to find creative outlets that do not require the computer, I have been trying to write in a regular old notebook, but that doesn't work so well. I have grown too accustomed to editing and deleting and being able to read what I have written -all the things that aren't so easy to do with paper and pencil.
I have tried drawing, but I have no patience for it anymore. Not after having the instantaneous capture ability of the camera.
My paints are still in my backpack where I put them a month ago in anticipation of whipping them out as I sit on a rock overlooking the archipelago.
Another problem is that the unedited, unsorted photos have really been piling up. When I can't edit my photos, I find myself taking more... and the more I take, the more I have to edit. My hard-drive is just about filled up now with images waiting to be sorted through, and some of them are photos I have promised to other people, so I had no choice but to spend the day inside today.
The benefits of having spent the day indoors however (besides less risk of developing skin cancer) is that I can catch up on my NPR. I just got done listening to a great show about the history of marriage on Diane Rehm. It's always fascinating to hear the true story behind the myths we tell ourselves about our culture. It's scary too. So many of our decisions are based on so little reality. Although I assume that -even though people like to pretend that it is a tradition that has not changed for thousands of years since biblical times- it is common knowledge that what we currently see as marriage is a very recent invention. What I had never stopped to think about, and I would guess is not common knowledge, is how much it has changed in just the past century.
I can't wait until the book (Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage) comes to the library in Tokyo.
The photos are from an art class for kids held a few weekends ago. I was glad that the teacher asked me to take photos for her, as it might look a little strange for someone like me, with not kids of my own there, running around taking hundreds of photos of children. When I edit them I am taking a guess I have been de-saturating them, just because that is a new "phase" I am going through. I am finding I can raise the contrast higher and keep more detail without all that dang color to get in the way, but I am not yet to the black and white phase. Some of the over-working is due to the fuzziness of my favorite broken lens. Another big problem is that even when I calibrate the monitor I am using, the photos look different than what I am used to. I have no idea how they look on other people's screens usually, but now I don't even have any idea how they look on my screen. When I work on them, I am really only guessing what might look good (because it doesn't look that great to me on this monitor... not bad, but not great).
As all of my classmates are now gone from Karlskrona, I am having trouble identifying what I am feeling... perhaps it is guilt at being the most irresponsible member of my class, that only one who has not begun the process of re-integrating into real life.
Nah. I don't feel guilty at all. As I was swiming in the Baltic yesterday, or laying on a rock today, or walking through a forest stopping to look as long as I wanted to at whatever caught my fancy, or sitting in the garden driking a beer and reading a book, or watching the sunset over a mirror calm sea... as all of this was going on, I took a moment or two to remember my classmates, and to feel sorry that they are missing this. I also feel a bit superior. After all, I was the only one smart enough to spend the summer here.
Nellie Mckay has been nominated for the position of "sexiest vegeiatirain". I second that.
In other news, I have been taking lots of photos, but they are all turning out like crap. My wide angle lense broke a month or so ago and no longer focuses correctly. It is still "usable", but...
Amazing how everything works out so well. I canceled my survival training here, and then Tomoe canceled her trip to Malaysia. Since I will now be in Malaysia (where I have a two week layover on my way back to Tokyo) alone for some time (other times I will be visiting a classmate in Kuala Lumpur), I have decided to take my survival training there instead. Now, certainly the training in northern Sweden would be a little closer to what would help me if I am ever in a survival situation in Japan or Michigan, but the jungle training sure sounds like a lot of fun. And the best thing is.... get this... it only costs $118 US, compared to about $500 for the Sweden training.
Below is the run-down of what I get for that $118.
Meet up with UBAT representative at the Police Counter located INSIDE Pudu Raya bus station 30 mins B4 departure of 930pm. Departure using a Taiping Holidays Express Bus heading towards Changkat Jering on the North-South Highway. Arrival Base Camp(BC) in Kg Ulu Cheh@1-30am - immediate distribution of equipment and food rations Male and female participants sleep in separate quarters!
NOTE ; For private groups, departure will be discussed.
Wake up call@7-00am light breakfast provided - Trek begins @8-30am passing village houses, rubber plantations, fruit orchards and secondary forests.
The following PRACTICAL lessons to be taught are;
There will several fixed rest stops along the trail B4 stopping at CheckPoint Lima 1
The next PRACTICAL class will be starting fires using available natural resources . Participants are to start and maintain their own for signaling and lunch preparation (theyre to prepare cooking/boiling some food supplies provided) PRACTICAL skills in cooking/packing rice for dinner using wild leaves secured by wild vines will also be taught.
Immediate departure for the first camp Bravo 1 Camp (BC 1) - all litter should be carried forward to BC 1 and all fires be put out B4 leaving CheckPoint 1 CP1. Participants are to carry water as there is no water supply in BC 1. The trail enters into the wild "Bertam" forest. PRACTICAL skills in setting up shelters & natural torches using Bertam fronds, leaves & fibres. Participants to set up their own shelters & spend 12 hours alone in the jungles. PRACTICAL skills in cooking & preserving canned food for several weeks & predicting weather will be taught. Lectures on perceiving & understanding dangers in nighttime will also be organized as well as signaling methods in the nite. Instructors will make regular shelter site inspection every few hours unannounced.
Wake up call from Gibbons & Co @7-00am PRACTICAL classes resume ;
Departure for KC @ 1230 noon with a stopover at CP2 for a short 15 minutes break. A class on identifying poisonous vines and plants will be done along the trail. There will be a stopover to see possible blooming Rafflesias!
Collection of edible kulim fruits along the trail to KC.
Possible arrival KC @4-00pm with an immediate set up of the shelters, collection of firewood and starting/maintaining of fires organized by participants. KC is flanked by two running mountain streams with excellent washing and bathing areas. The waters are extremely clean, fit for washing and drinking.
For dinner, UBAT educators will provide hot porridge and bread whilst participants are to boil their own drink. There will be a discussion on the previous 32 hours activities.
Wake up call from Gibbons & Co @7-00am - UBAT educators will provide coffee only the following practical classes will be organised@9-00am;
Overnite at KC with participants to collectively prepare their own meals. UBAT instructors will only provide hot drinks. A further discussion on the days activities will commence immediately after dinner.
Forth & Final day
Wake up call by Gibbons & Co @ 730am light breakfast provided break camp - depart back for BC@9-00am and expected arrival@1-30 noon with light refreshments provided.
Depart back for KL @4-20pm - Arrival KL@8-30pm
NOTE ; Where and when possible, we will try to add in more practical subjects depending on the participants responsive attitude.
Yeah yeah, too many photos of people most of you don't know. Well.... suck it up! I like these photos. I realize I have some really photogenic friends. Especially that guy leaning against the wall. What a stud.
The other photos are Roya. Of course she would kill me when she sees them... if she could reach me in Tokyo. I have to say though, that Roya was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. I worked with her on a project in the beginning of the year and thought "never, NEVER will I work with her again!" Little did I know that I would spend the last half of the year working with her on the thesis project... even less did I know that I would have a great time. One of the best friends of the year, and one of the people I would definitely volunteer to work with again.
As the end of our year long break from real life draws near, many of my classmates and I are faced with figuring out what to do next. Currently, what I tell people when asked, is that I am going to go back to Tokyo, join some clubs or organizations, get the lay of the land, see what's up, who's who, and where opportunities are before committing myself to something. I do however, have some "visions" of what my life could be like. I assume though, that I am not alone in the degree to which my "vision" of my (near) future vacillates. At times, I see myself in Tokyo trying to get a little project off the ground involving willing and local small/family businesses cooperating with each other to "move toward sustainability". This is perhaps the path that most closely follows what I have learn this year (in class). There are some details which I will skip for now, mostly because I am too unsure of it, and fear that to express a plan with so many holes in it only exposes my ignorance.
There are other plans as well. I can't vouch for the practicality of them, but these are just things that pop into my head when I am day-dreaming. Some sound like nothing more than an attempt to further prolong my re-entry into the world of "doers", such as looking for something to study for a PhD. I have a few ideas I would be happy to spend time on. The problem with this though, is that I am not sure I can stay focused on one thing long enough to finish several years of research. What's more, I know that the only reason I am really thinking of this is that I am unsure of what to do next and looking to escape responsibility. It's awfully tempting to run back to the comfortable world of school, a world I already have experience with, a world which would let me put off my "what do I do?" question for a few more years.
Some ideas are just plain irresponsible. Deliciously irresponsible. If you have read my site for long enough, you will remember me having written about a crazy idea to ride my bike around Japan taking photos and meeting people and capturing their stories (this was my backup plan for when I quit my job... in case I didn't get accepted to school and had no money). Maybe I could make money off of it, maybe not, but I would meet people, get connections, and something would eventually come out of it. This would be cheap, fun, creative, free, everything I have ever wanted. The big problem, of course, is that that is something one does when one is twenty-three. At thirty, perhaps I am a bit too old. On the other hand, my original idea was not focused solely on environmental / sustainability issues, though it would surely have had such a slant. Now if I should do something like that, such a theme would give me more focus and make it easier to make something (like money) out of it. Again, this is clearly just an effort to escape taking any responsibility for anything.
Recently, perhaps the longest held vision of mine has come to look more "realistic". This is the vision which I haven't dared to articulate for it's sheer audacity, a vision that I have had no reason to believe I could succeed at. This is a vision of me working outside. No office. No computer in front of me all day. It is a vision in which I am burdened with more responsibility than I have ever known.
To get a house in the country, work outside, work with your hands, work with the earth, strengthen your connection with the land... blah blah blah. It's such a cliche. at some point or another everyone seems to have this dream (what does that say about the lives we are currently living?). Until now, I have dismissed it as just that, a cliched romanticized dream that everyone has and is as grounded in reality as becoming an astronaut.
Of course, having met several people recently who have lived this way, and having had an opportunity finally to see what such a life looks like for real (not the TV version). I see that my way of thinking is closer to that of these people than it is to the people I have known most of my adult life. I feel myself agreeing more with their ideas and ideals than I do even with those of many of my classmates, and the course philosophy which was priming us to enter the corporate world as "sustainability consultants". Recently I am beginning to rethink my premature dismissal of that cliched vision.
Of course, moving to the country is not something I would just go and do in August, but it is something I could begin researching, something I can begin trying out, discovering if it really is what I think and want. Maybe my time when I get back is focused on finding people in Japan who are living such a lifestyle. Maybe I can learn from helping them, get a better idea of how "realistic" it is for me. Even if it should turn out to be nothing more than a dream, as least by learning about it I will be moving in the right direction toward finding something I would like to do. Maybe thirty years old is not too old to learn to do something that I have absolutely no experience with. Maybe thirty years old is not too old to find something I both enjoy and that does not assault my moral and ethical senses...
But wait, that's not all... there are other visions as well. For some time now I have had an idea of spending at least a year or two working in some developing country. If it is paid, that's great. If not, I count it as the second year of my one-year degree, which ironically was focused on "sustainability", but had little if anything to say about how realistically the ideas can be applied in the majority world. If I should ever end up in a decision making position regarding "sustainability policy" it would be completely irresponsible for me to do so without having any idea how those policies will effect the rest of the world.
If all else fails, I have a crappy vision of me taking a job at some company answering emails, writing memos, press-releases, and perhaps even inadequate "sustainability plans", helping them to look as though they are actually doing more to create a better world than they are destroying what we have left. Oh well, at least I will be able to afford to pay my rent and buy enough booze that I can forget what a shitty future I am contributing to.
I'm off to ride my bike around the region for two days. In the meanwhile, the photos I have to edit keep piling up, the strawberries ripen with no one to pick them, and my mind is trying to wrap itself around an interesting conversation I had yesterday. For doing nothing, I sure feel busy.
The photos are classmates. Two below include me for a change. I'm standing with Ronan, from Canada, and Ayamba, from Camaroon.
"Be careful of where you're going, or you may end up where you're headed."
Sometimes I forget this, one of the principles of decision making which I have come to rely on. Sometimes I am lucky enough to remember.
If you have read anything I have written within the last few months, you will know that I had big plans for these two months of vacation before I return to Tokyo. The original plan, to kayak North along the coast of Sweden for a month, was quickly canceled in favor of smaller trips to more varied landscapes. This new plan still had me spending over half of the two months traveling within Sweden, including kayaking the fjords of the west coast, attending survival training in the north, and biking through the south.
When I moved out here to the nature reserve, the kayaking plans quickly disappeared. Although I would still love to make such trips, I quickly saw how much more enjoyable it would be to spend the very short time available here, living as part of a community, working with others, getting to actually know people.
Most recently, the survival training in the north has been scrapped. The more I hang around here, the more I get to know the other people here, and the more I have come to realize that the type of "survival" I am interested in learning about is not how to survive in the woods alone, but rather, how can people survive as a society, without destroying ourselves?
The first thing I quickly got a sense of (although I already "knew" it), was that the kind of survival I want to learn about does not happen alone in the woods. I am sure that I would have learned some valuable tips on how to get by in extreme situations by using what is available from nature. What I am learning here instead is how people get by in sustained, long-term, real-life situations making use of what is available around them -first and foremost, each other.
There is an incredible atmosphere of "your work is my work, my work is your work" here. From people helping each other with the farming, to painting, to building walls, to moving goods, to working in the cafe, to getting ready for a play... While most people have "their own" job, it is not uncommon to see them doing someone else's.
This is possible because there is also an atmosphere of my (insert object or concept here) is your (insert object or concept here). When I ask the farmer if I can have a few strawberries she looks at me like I am crazy for asking... of course I can. My neighbor who lives in the camper fetches me one day to show me where he keeps the key. He's not going anywhere, no need to feed his parakeets or guinea pigs, it's just natural that I, as the neighbor, should know where he keeps the key, just as everyone here knows where the key to my house is.
Of course, I should not be calling it "my house" as Henrick, the owner of the building says, it is no more my house than it is his house or anyone else's house. This is evident not only by the neighbors frequently coming in to use the kitchen, bathroom, or internet, but also when someone new stops by looking for something to do for her summer vacation. Within a week she is moved into the house, no questions asked. In return, although it is not required (no work is "required" here, in fact, the prevalent philosophy is that if it stops being fun, stop immediately!), she frequently helps out in the cafe, or by taking Henrick's phone calls as he takes a long deserved vacation.
It may sound as though this is some sort of hippie commune, but it's not. Many of the people in the "community" don7t live here, and almost everyone here has some other life or responsibilities in "the real world". The professor living in the trailer helps build things and move things around the farm, but he is also a school teacher and leader of a agricultural project aimed at using animals grazing habits to return the Swedish landscape to it's natural state. The couple teaching me about farming are running an organic farming project out of a nearby city. They only keep one part of their project here. Annike, one of the few people actually paid to work here, is a long-time friend of Henrick and has, in the past, spent much time working on a volunteer basis, as does her husband now, who, a professional carpenter, doesn't give a second thought to helping renovate a room in the cafe.
I am learning that this type of survival, based on community, does not appear to be a product of any "how can I get my fair share" attitude". It is not based on a strictly calculated flow of money and goods. People are paid, and goods do flow, but there are no rules that govern this, other than each person's own desire to do what they feel is appropriate. Lunch at the cafe has been, until recently, "pay what you can or feel is right". The only reason there is now a "suggested" price, hand-written on scrap paper and taped to the wall, is that such a concept has proven to be too foreign to many of the visitors. People just don't know what to do when they are actually trusted to do what they feel is right, rather than told what they have to do. People can't believe that they would be welcomed back tomorrow even if they could not pay for the meal they ate today.
One would expect visitors to be amazed at the low prices of the high-qulity goods in the organic food shop (Henrick's main goal is to promote health, and therefore refuses to take the normal margin on the products he sells, sometimes at prices as low as 70% what they would be in some other shops), but what people are most amazed at (as I first was) is that they find no security cameras, not even a cashier. Instead, there is simply a calculator, a notebook to write down your purchase, and a basket to put your money into or make change when needed.
Sure, there have been instances of theft, and Henrick admits to having contemplated locking the door when it closes and hiring a full-time employee to take care of the shop, but he never did. This has perhaps been one of the greatest survival lessons I have gotten from being here... the power, value, and neccesity of trust, and displaying that trust in others if we are to survive as a society. I have no idea how most visitors feel when they go home knowing that there is someone out there who trusts in people he has never met, and that the ability to display that trust is worth more than the money lost to shop-lifting. I don't know if other people go home and feel any more trustful of their neighbors. I only know that I worry less about locking my bike, and I feel better not having to suspect everyone I see of wrong-doing, and I feel better knowing that I am trusted and not suspected of wrong-doing. I realize now how much energy I have spent over the years doubting and suspecting everyone, how much stress I have subjected myself to. This is not to say that I think I will never be burned by trusting people "too much", or that my bike will never be stolen, but I am finding that in the long-term, trusting people is worth more to me and my mental and physical health than the cost of a used bike.
But what was the point of this whole post? Oh yeah... being careful not to stick to0 closely to my plans. If I had been a little more strict, deciding that, as I have been taught by society, that my "inability" to make plans and stick to them means that I am a failure, I would be sitting alone in the woods now eating a pine-cone instead of having spent two days sailing around the archipelago with a sixty-seven year old professor and his sheep dog, Gora (and eating pine-cones). Had I gone to the survival course, I may have learned how to build a fire with two sticks, but I would not have had the opportunity to watch and listen to him as he surveyed the islands for his natural-state restoration project. I would not have learned what animals like what types of terrain, and how he, who has lived self-sufficiently, would use the terrain and resources available on each island if he were to set up a home there. I would not have heard his stories about how he lived for many years as a herder in the far north of Sweden, and how they live now, and the "sustainability" challenges they face.
If I had stuck to my plans, I would not have spent yesterday helping and chatting with Annike, manager of the cafe, about her life, and the twelve years she lived self-sufficiently with her family. I would not have heard about how she raised her kids in such an environment in a way that they did not miss the great "benefits" of modern life, such as nintendo and TV. I would not have had the opportunity to meet her children and see how they are not only "well adjusted", but rather ahead of the curve for their age -despite the fact that they still (at 21 and 23) live without internet at home. For me this is a major "survival" learning in terms of trusting my instincts which tell me that people can survive and lead fulfilling lives without relying on the great "advances" of technology.
Meeting people who have really live this way, and live a richer life than most people I know, has taught me to ignore that little voice that had been programmed into me saying "if you try to live differently you will be an out-cast, a hermit in the woods. You will be the uni-bomber". Although she and her husband have now taken "real" jobs, simply looking for a change and some variety, their current life-style is just as much of a survival lesson for me. I visited her home yesterday in the country-side, saw how they live on so little (though they have the means to live on more) and how it does not effect their ability to be content, rather, it enhances their ability to enjoy and appreciate life. It's nothing new really, and nothing I have not hypothesized or read about, but to see it in real life... makes it real.
If I had stuck to my plan, I may have spent last night in the forest learning how great the tips of spruce trees taste, and how much vitamin C is in them. Well, I learned that anyway just by walking through the woods with Annike and her husband. I also learned several other plants and their medicinal uses and how to make the best tea from them. I had the opportunity to survey their garden, seeing how they have laid out their small plot of land with garden and natural space, tended by chickens, in a way that they could thrive and survive even without their "real" jobs.
How lucky I am that I have not ended up where I was headed. How grateful I am that my parents raised a looser, incapable of making a plan and sticking to it.
* * *
Now I have to get back to real life. There is a strawberry patch that just wont let me go a day without eating several bucket-fulls of fresh berries, and later I will be taking photos for a visiting painter as she puts on a little painting class for local children. Tomorrow I take off for a two day bike trip with a classmate. Perhaps we will take along my survival book and nothing else... just to get some survival training, proving that I am somewhat capable of doing what I say I am going to.
The photos are from our after-graduation party last month. Most of them are classmates, but some (the people with the sailor caps) are of other Swedes at the bar that night for their own graduation party.