Wednesday, January 7, 2009

John Newstead - My Kind of Guy

John ("outstanding in his field") awaits walkers on the last day of the trip as we round the bend at Robin Hood's Bay. He is wearing one of the many hats given to him by admirers. This one was Australian and had a series of corks around the rim.
Every so often one comes across a person who just seems to light up the space around them, who always has a good word to say, who is truly genuine and who is an absolute delight to be around. John Newstead was one of these people.
Years ago, in my career as a volunteer Sierra Club trip leader I had to opportunity to be a trainee and then to lead England's Coast to Coast Walk. The Sierra Club does an abbreviated version of the 190 mile "walk" (oh, those Brits - what to us is a sweat-producing, muscle spasm- inducing, heart-palpitating hike is merely a stroll in the woods to them). Starting on the west coast in St. Bee's we hike a route designed by Lou Wilkinson. It includes the most beautiful 90 miles or so, skipping the sections taking walkers on highways, and cutting the 23-mile-days into shorter chunks. This was accomplished by having our own mini bus and driver. The driver would spend most of the two weeks with us, meeting us at the end of the day and delivering us to our B&B. He would also transport our luggage from one spot to another.

I suppose that anyone could have done the job, but John Newstead elevated it to a fine art, while teaching us all a lesson in the simple joys of living. John was no ordinary bus driver.

Theoretically retired, Lou had successfully lured John away from his comfy home and lovely wife Joan for six weeks each summer to share his native England with a bunch of Yanks. By the second day of each trip John would know the names of each (up to 15) trip member. By the second week he had running jokes going with all of them. There usually wasn't a working radio in the bus (pronounced "boos") but John kept himself (and us) entertained by singing and whistling, mostly showtunes. He made each one of us feel cared about and nurtured; more like welcome friends and less like strangers.

John taught me a lot of things. The phrase "spot on," for example. And he tried to teach me the basics of cricket ("you see, Alline," he'd say, as we leaned on a fence watching a game in Richmond "you have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that's in the side that's in goes out, and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out. When they are all out, the side that's out comes in and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out..."), although the intricacies of "leg before wicket" will forever remain a mystery to me. But mostly he taught me that it doesn't matter what one does as long as one does it with great care and love.

John (third from left) chatting with some of our 2004 group.

John died January 2, 2009. It seems impossible to me that someone so filled with life and joy and fun could be gone. I cannot imagine a Coast-to-Coast Walk without him. I suppose I expected him to live forever, to always be there waiting for us with a smile and yet another funny hat. This post in no way does him justice, but I can't seem to do any better. My heart goes out to his family and to the many people who loved him.

In closing I leave you with a poem that reminds me of John. He wasn't just a visitor - he ate life with gusto (and a nice glass of red wine), and we are all the better for it.

When Death Comes
by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox:

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Recycle Your Christmas Cards!

Photo Credit NicolePerle on Flickr

Our friends at Petite Planet recently brought this fabulous recycling idea to my attention:

"Through February 28, 2009, you can mail your used, all-occasion greeting cards fronts to St. Jude's Ranch, and they will be made into new cards by children.
The kids attach a blank recycled paper back to the card, making them into new cards for buyers... and they get paid for their work! It's a win-win-win situation! Consumers buy green, kids learn about and earn green, and the earth is a little greener due to the recycling of the cards!If you have any other greeting cards collecting dust or taking space, send those in too!
And you can also order a set of 10 cards for $8, in the categories of:
General Christmas Cards,
Religious Christmas Cards,
Easter Cards,
Birthday Cards,
Thank You Cards,
All Occasion General Greeting Cards."

Send cards here:

St. Jude's Ranch for Children
Card Recycling Program
100 St. Jude's Street
Boulder City, NV 89005

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Making a Living, or Making a Life?

Hi readers.

What follows is the text from a column in the local (Memphis, MO) Democrat. Dancing Rabbit submits a column each week. It's about something I think about a lot - the following is rather brief, for two reasons:

1. It goes in the local rural Missouri newspaper, who's readers often think we're a bunch of freaks. We started the column years ago as a form of transparency - here is what we're doing, and why. Our column is often about what we're growing in our gardens, what we're canning, how we car share, our visitor program. Interesting, but safe. I'm a little bored with this, so am trying to gently stretch the boundaries.
2. The column is not my own personal sounding board - it is for Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage info. I figure I can expand on my ideas here, where it is all about ME.

The following appears in the January 8, 2009 edition of the Memphis Democrat:

This is Alline again, enjoying the opportunity to chat with you weekly (at least until the rest of the column writers return!).Thank you so much for your many thoughtful replies to last week’s inquiry about what you would like to see in future columns. I will share them with the other writers and we will address them in the coming weeks.

Now, however, I am facing what can only be called writer’s block. Except that I’m not exactly blocked – I’m overwhelmed. Writing as a representative of Dancing Rabbit is a bit, well, intimidating. I can only express my own views, and try my best to be as inoffensive as possible. And frankly, either you are interested in what we’re doing, or you’re not. But how to share the details of our lives without coming across as “greener than thou”? That’s the part I’m not clear on. So I can only plow ahead, give it my best shot, and hope for the best (and mix as many metaphors as possible).

A question that came up several times was how do we support ourselves, how much money do we need to live here, and what did we do for a living before we arrived at Dancing Rabbit? While I could easily list the numerous ways we all craft a living here, it seems more important to look at the big picture. By leaving the world of high rents/mortgages, 40-hour jobs, commuting and consuming we are able, for the most part, to live on smaller incomes. This does not mean that we do not work – I’ve never worked harder in my life! What it means is that our time, our energy are directed towards different priorities. We are working for ourselves, and our lives, instead of our “jobs.”

It is not a simple leap to make. None of us here at Dancing Rabbit will ever earn the salaries that we earned with “real” jobs. For that reason alone it is challenging for people with debt to move here. But by giving up our “big jobs” we get more time – time to nurture a garden and preserve the food at the end of the growing season, time to build our own homes, time to learn, and time with our partners and families. It is our way of embodying the over-used but still meaningful Gandhi quote “ Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

Because our disposable incomes are fairly low (we are all independent from one another financially, so this varies from person to person), we don’t have the coolest clothes, or the latest styles – in fact, if you were to mention the names Jimmy Choo or Manolo Blahnik you would get blank stares (but mention Chacos, Birks or Muck Boots, well, we’re your people!). We are trying to find real value in our lives, find what is good and true, without buying in (literally) to what advertising, movies, magazines and TV say we should value.

We don’t have hot cars, either. We’re really excited when they run and aren’t covered in mud – to heck with fancy paint jobs, rims that twirl or spoilers. We share them, which is often inconvenient – but we each save thousands of dollars a year by working together.

Strawbale construction. Notice all of the reclaimed (i.e.: de-nailed, used) lumber.
Photos from the Milkweed Mercantile construction.

By building our homes using materials that are primarily reclaimed, reused or sustainably harvested/produced, our costs are significantly less than those incurred with conventional construction (although they often take more time to build). By cooking with whole foods (i.e.: dried beans, fresh vegetables, homemade pasta and bread, cakes from scratch) instead of buying packaged mixes and already-prepared ingredients we get to eat healthier and for less money. Yes, it takes more time. But that is one of the choices we’ve made. Many Rabbits belong to a food co-op, where each member only has to cook one day a week – the rest of the days a fabulous meal is waiting for you every evening at 6:30. Do you always like what has been prepared? Possibly not. But it’s that prioritizing thing again.

Do I miss central heat and air conditioning, with that oh-so-handy timer so that the house can be warm before I get up in the morning? You bet I do – especially when I’m carrying in firewood. But it’s one of a million little trade-offs that I’m willing to make.

In the end, though, it is really not about the money. While one can certainly live here inexpensively, Dancing Rabbit is not intended to be solely a place for cheap living – our mission is to live sustainably and to share what we are learning. In exchange for membership and the opportunity to live on the land trust at incredibly inexpensive rates, each member is expected to participate in our growing community, and to contribute time and skills enabling our village to function well. This is also a lot of work – it is much easier to move to a community where everything is already decided. But what is it worth to be able to design a village based on principles and values that are important to us as individuals and to the health of the planet? To misquote the MasterCard commercial: for us, it’s priceless.