Blame

A kids’ story from Ron Martin–his message–you can’t stop bad things from happening but you can choose how you respond

“What is the world coming to?” We hear it all the time. I have said it myself.

There likely hasn’t been a generation that hasn’t mourned the “good old days” and that hasn’t thought the “kids these day” are just not what they used to be. But we really are in a period of unusually dramatic change. I don’t think we can deny that the revolution is here and the fundamental changes taking place in our society and on the planet could make the industrial revolution and WWs 1 and 2 look like blips on the historical timeline.

Certainty has been obliterated. Not just in the economy, but in so many things this generation has never questioned before—health care, education, transportation, weather, food production—everything we have previously just assumed would be there for us. 

People are looking for someone or something to blame. The idea that there is a giant conspiracy to twist our brains and turn us into nasty mindless robots permeates social media. Even privileged people with exceptionally good lives are quick to get angry and blame governments, corporations, managers, owners, basically anyone in charge of anything, for their inconveniences. People feel like victims but they have trouble identifying the oppressor. The easy target is the 1%, whoever they are, or the corporations, whoever they are, or Trudeau, as if he has personally upended Canadian society. 

COVID exacerbated the situation. No one loved that experience and we all became geniuses spouting better ways to deal with it. Many people thought (think) the bumbling governments and fumbling health systems were perfect proof that there were masterminds behind the disaster…forces deliberately messing us up. What COVID did, without a doubt, is create a deep fissure in society that is still affecting us all. 

I don’t have a brilliant explanation for our current dilemma. I wish I did. I wish someone did because relationships are not mending and we are more disgruntled than at any time I can remember. Anti vaxxers believe the mainstream population has been duped into getting vaccinated out of fear and lies being promoted by media that is controlled by large corporate interests. The vaccinated believe anti vaxxers are driven by fear of human manipulation and conspiracies around every corner being promoted by large interests controlling social media. COVID will keep us fighting for a long time. Now whenever you have a medical condition you can blame it on the vaccination or on long COVID…which ever side you are on…as long as we can blame…and as long as we can keep proving ourselves right and everyone else wrong.

Humans are not doing very well. We have lost our grip. Almost everyone is feeling a loss of control as we glue ourselves to our devices and read/watch things that reinforce what we already believe.

My sense is that humans are largely the authors of their own destinies and that the general public is as complicit with unhelpful behaviours and decisions as the people they vote to govern them are responsible. I think that masses of humans create destinies that few individual humans really want. I also like Occam’s razor theory…simple explanations for our problems are likely to be more correct than unnecessary and improbable reasons.

So why is our ferry service so damn sketchy these days? The other morning while we were waiting for what appeared to be a 2-hour delayed ferry I heard a loudly disgruntled customer say, “They want us to believe that it’s a staffing issue. They always want to blame the staff.”

“It is the staff,” I said. “Not the staff that gets to work but the staff that no one can find these days to deliver our services.”

He didn’t like my response. He wanted to blame BC ferries and the government. He even wanted to blame Trudeau. Eventually he understood the simple distinction I was trying to make.

“You watch,” another island resident warned me. “Big corps and big developers are behind the ferry delays. They are deliberately messing up the service so it’ll breed discontent and anger and then we’ll support their plan to build bridges between the islands. You wait. The government will go for it. They are just puppets.”

With my head spinning I thought about conversations I had in the 1970s. We talked about the baby boom and the huge, bulging, privileged, middle class society we had built in the western world after WW2. Universities, museums, health care, resorts, investments, malls, material goods, real estate, travel…something for everyone, or perhaps everything for everyone. The more we built the more we wanted and thought we needed. We did it because we could. There was plenty of everything especially our #1 resource—people. We were streaming out of universities in droves. With knowledge and skills only to be exceeded by our expectations followed by the blithe assumption that our excesses were our entitlements.

“What’s going to happen when our generation is 70 and 80? How will the next generations maintain the social edifice that we are building? Will they even want to? Will there be enough people to look after our old bodies? Never mind keep up all the other services we’ve come to expect.” 

The answer is no. The answer has always been no. We know that now and we knew it then. But we were 20-something and 80 felt like a long time off. We wanted to enjoy ourselves while we could.

The explanation for the crumbling of the western middle class, the inability of society to maintain what it created, the digging in of corporate fingernails to hold onto control, supply chain issues, rising costs, the destruction of the ecosystem and on and on does not need a grand conspiracy.

What we built was simply unsustainable. We had no business building it in the first place. Our expectations were unreasonable and unfulfillable. We had no business expecting them. Our appetite for personal comfort, self-gratification, material stimulation just could not be satiated.

Sometimes our beautiful planet reminds me of a beleaguered husband or wife who has a demanding spouse that simply can never be satisfied. You see these people around. They drag their poor sorry butts after their loved one getting this and doing that. They look tired and more haggard all the time while they are barked orders they are unable to fulfil. 

When we watch we want to say, “Stop! Just stop and be happy with what you’ve got!! Your poor old spouse is not going to be able to run around making you happy forever.”

Writing this has helped me find an answer…for me…for now. “Stop! Just stop and be happy with what I’ve got!! Society is not going to be able to run around and make me happy forever.”

I need to remember the problems we are facing are not about me. They are not about you. They are much bigger than us both r. I wish I could point my finger at who is to blame. It would be easier that way. But the finger would point back at me. Individually we are all part of the problem and collectively my generation has been a huge part of the problem. We built a world that cannot survive and that will take down the ecosystem with it. Individually we may not be able to solve society’s current problems but we can control how we respond to them. 

We can stop arguing, demanding and blaming.

We can look inward and reassess our assumptions and realign our needs, wants and expectations. 

We can look outward and focus on what we can do, not what we think or what we read, or what someone said was going to happen, but what can we do for someone else? 

Do something. Anything. We need each other, folks. We even need people we disagree with. The biggest question is not who is right and who is wrong or who is to blame. 

Martin Luther King, Jr’s quote helps us reset our energy and our priorities. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is “What are you doing for others?”

Shared symbols

Designs from our DNA

I am fascinated by geometric designs. In grade school I decorated my books with elaborate borders of zigzags, Xs and Os, diamonds and even swastika type figures, having no idea what they had come to mean. As a teenager I stencilled geometric borders around my bedroom window and door. I used to think it was because I couldn’t draw anything else very well. But looking back I realize it was because I didn’t want images of horses or butterflies as decorations. I loved geometric designs. There was something reassuring about the repetitive movement between line and space.

I am not alone. Humans have been using geometric designs since the beginning of time. Genevieve Von Petzinger, a Canadian anthropologist, found 32 common markings in cave drawings dating back 30-40,000 (and more) years and spanning the planet. Perhaps the markings are early signs of language, perhaps otherworldly symbols. So far Von Petzinger doesn’t know the meaning behind the cross-hatching, triangles, ladders etc. But these cave markings contain all the elements of geometric design and are some of the first communicative expressions of human beings.  

When I first encountered Coast Salish knitting I was a seventeen year old newly wed. I moved to Tsartlip First Nation in WSANEC territory with my husband, Carl. His family had been making, what were then called Indian sweaters, since before the 1920s. The earliest example of typical, modern Coast Salish knitting is a sweater dated 1919, which is in the BC Museum of Anthropology. Carl’s grandmother, Martha, may have been one of the early designers of the unique, geometric designed, multi-banded, hand spun, bulky garments. Laura, my late mother-in-law, said that her mother unravelled sweaters she acquired second hand and carefully examined the stitches in order to learn the knitting techniques then she reknit the yarn into her own creation

Although it appears that for the first 20 or 30 years after Coast Salish women learned to knit they did not put their trademark patterning on their knitting, incorporating geometrics into their sweater designs would have been second nature to Laura’s family. They had been blanket and basket weavers before they learned to knit and had a long relationship with the use of geometric patterning.

Laura had a passion for designs and motifs. Whenever something caught her eye on things such as carpets, doilies, tea canisters and other people’s sweaters she translated them onto graph paper and then incorporated them into her knitting.

When I moved to Tsartlip I immediately fell in love with the Coast Salish geometric designed sweaters. I sat side-by-side Laura, like she had done with her mother, and it wasn’t long before I was knitting and spinning in a style that was an almost replica of hers. She shared her pattern book with me and encouraged me to make my own designs and share them with her. Pretty soon I was designing other knitted things but somewhere, somehow geometric designs always found their way into my creations.

When I asked Laura what certain motifs meant she would scoff and say, “Whatever anyone wants them to mean. A clam to one person is a wave to another. Zig zags can be mountains. Chevrons can be arrows and snowflakes can be flowers if you want them to be.” Although Laura didn’t know Genevieve she believed geometric designs belonged to the universe “You know you can find them all over the world,” she said. “I use designs because I just like the way they look and feel on the sweater.” And it’s no wonder. One of Laura’s favourite designs is a dead ringer for modern scientific images of our DNA.

That’s what I love about geometric designs. They are everywhere when we look out in the world around us and also they illustrate the structure of our inner human existence. Geometric designs belong to everyone and they can mean whatever you want them to mean. Perhaps the message of this most basic human language is that we are all one and we don’t have to agree on our interpretations of our symbols we can just enjoy the subtle certainty and peace that comes with the designs repetitions.

The double helix on my sweater, one of the last sweaters knit by Laura Olsen

I met Fiona

Photo credit:  Jack Morse/CTV Atlantic

How did the wind reach down and pick up huge concrete flowerpots and flip them upside down demolishing what was left of the late season dahlias and geraniums? It looked as if a band of hooligans, burly, big hooligans had been on a senseless rampage.

I was trapped in Charlottetown during the hurricane. I arrived on Wednesday night to teach and present at the PEI Fibre Fest. The first grand celebration of fibre hand-work for the tiny island. I woke up Thursday morning to an email that said the organizers were thinking about cancelling the event. Hurricane Fiona was climbing up the east coast and was expected to hit the Atlantic provinces on Friday night. Later, with regrets, they confirmed the cancellation and warned us to get flights immediately in order to return home.

Of course there were no flights. So I bought food—crackers, cheese, popcorn, cherry tomatoes, kombucha, water (not a recommended grocery list when preparing for a storm)—and hunkered down in my tiny hotel room waiting for the hurricane.

Fiona arrived right on schedule with driving rain first. In the black of night I listened to the gale and looked out the window across a flat roof (that quickly turned into a deep pool) to a parking garage that was flanked by 4 and 5 story buildings. Through the eerie purple-gray light of the sky I watched the tops of two trees being mercilessly buffeted and wondered when their branches would let loose and how I would clean up my room if they hit the window.

The power went off early. The emergency lights in the hall only lasted a couple of hours. The hotel was black on the inside and relentlessly pounded on the outside. I had plenty of time to think. I only knew two people in the province and they lived at the other end of the island so they could be no help. There was no power, no food, no access to money, no taxis, no way off the island, no cell (mine later reconnected).

I hate to admit it but Friday night was all about me. What was I going to do?

By Saturday afternoon the winds were still high but I thought it was safe enough to go out and see the city. Siding, metal roofing and anything that could be dislodged from the sides of buildings littered the sidewalks. But it was the trees. Smashed. Upended. Exposing their intimate roots and the rich, red PEI earth that could not keep its grip.

I came across a small park skirted by roads and surrounded by old, tired, but still elegant Maritime homes. All the big trees were down. The smaller ones were mangled. A woman stood next to me sobbing. It felt like the respect you have when standing next to a stranger at the graveside of someone you both know.

The media reported with great relief; Fiona had taken no lives. But she did. She took the lives of thousands of our greatest allies. It is a time for mourning and reflection and perhaps a time to rethink our non-human relationships.

Telling stories

“Don’t tell stories.” How many times did my mother say those words to me? What she meant was “Tell the truth.” My mother had no time for fantasy or tolerance for lies. Life was black and white for Phyllis Snobelen. She was too busy and practical to wade through the complications of nuance.

There were hard truths in our family that were determined by our religious beliefs that provided her solid ground from which she could pronounce what was right and what was wrong.

Right here I’m stuck. Where do I go with this? Many of you are probably saying, “But if you were Christian isn’t your entire religion based on stories?”

Exactly. And the Bible provides some of the most popular stories in the western world. Stories from which my mother extracted her black and white, but that’s for another discussion at another time time. And then there’s Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Not to diminish the importance of the stories I was raised with but we’ve come a long way since the late 50s and 60s when I was a child. Stories are not the opposite of truth. Stories are not “just” stories. They are the way humans have communicated with each other since we had language.

I’m thankful my mother lived long enough to hear me tell stories and to read some of the stories I had written. While she liked them she could never truly understand the point of it. From her perspective if a story wasn’t God’s story then it was of hugely diminished importance.

But when dementia began blurring the hard lines she had drawn in her life I spent hours with my mother telling her stories. Simple stories about buying a pair of boots or visiting an old friend kept her entertained. She told me stories that were a collage of her childhood and my childhood mixed with, perhaps, utter fantasy. She kept me entertained.

As her dementia progressed she struggled to remember even her closest friends. When a very dear family acquaintance died she had no recollection of him at all. It wasn’t until I recreated into a story something she had experienced dozens of times that she connected.

“Remember at the church on Sunday nights, Mom,” I said. “George (name change) the door man, with his long, dour face, paced across the back of the hall. He watched the second hand of the clock tick until it reached the 12 at 7:30…precisely 7:30. Then he shut the doors and sat down ready for the meeting to begin. Remember wondering why he never smiled?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “But he had a lovely wife who had a beautiful big smile for everyone.”

Stories didn’t just entertain my mother, they helped her connect to me, to her life and to the world. Stories aren’t just stories, they communicate the essence of what it means to be human.

The art of making space

And then there’s the paint dress.

Winston Churchill said, “First we make our houses and then our houses make us.” He wasn’t talking about our private homes but it’s true. We have a reciprocal relationship with where we live. We start by painting the rooms to match our furniture, or the other way around. We set up our photos and hang our art. We nestle in our favourite corner of the sofa and arrange the bookshelf (or TV remote) so it’s an arm’s distance away. Nothing feels better than breathing in the scent of our favourite meal and listening to the sounds of our personal lives…music, children’s voices, video games, conversation…

Whether our house is a mansion, an apartment or a tiny room…we begin making our space at the same time our space begins making us. Our home is where we feel safe (or not). It is where we learn, love and rejuvenate ourselves. It is where we laugh and cry, where we experience our greatest joy and where we suffer our most heart wrenching struggles. It is where we become who we are.

Our home is an expression of ourselves. It is, in a way, our primary art form. It is creative, not just in its decoration but in its function…in how it relates to us and us to it. We are both becoming.

Preparing the Lodge for guests made me think about the relationship between the visitors and the space and what role we play, as innkeepers, in that interaction.

I was laughing with a woman from Vancouver who was staying for a few days. “I have become a maid,” I said. “It’s a long way from the heady work I used to do…changing the world.”

“But it’s important,” she said. “Creating a sanctuary where people can spend a few days in peace, where they can feel valued and respected, where they can learn something and share something. Or where they can disappear in the garden or in their room, whatever they need at the time.”

And, as my son, Adam, said the last time he was here. “The Lodge is good medicine.”

Preparing that medicine has become our art form. We are making the space while at the same time the space is making us and it is helping to make the people who come to find peace of mind, serenity of spirit and simple enjoyment.

This is as high as I’ll go. Thankfully an Island painter is coming to do the top floor.

A new relationship

The last glorious bouquet of hydrangeas from the garden

Six months ago Tex and I had the privilege to become the owners of the Saturna Lodge. It is a grand old house that’s foundations were built in the 1920s but has had several total facelifts and reincarnations since. It is on Saturna Island perched on the hill at the toe of Boot Cove looking down the inlet to Navy Channel.

While we had shares in the Lodge earlier it wasn’t until February this year that our relationship truly got off the ground—the Lodge and us. Madison, my 19-year-old granddaughter, best describes our initial feelings. On her first visit she walked in and circled around. She nodded her head while checking it out.

“Wow, Grandma,” she said. “This is a thing. And it’s a lot.”

Once we got over the muchness of our purchase we began looking for words to describe our connection—steward, custodian, caretaker. The Lodge required us to rethink the idea of ownership. In many ways we felt that we had formed a partnership with the building and property—that the Lodge, itself, was the third party to a new liaison.

Like in any new relationship we needed to listen and learn who the Lodge was and how she functioned (she is definitely and graciously a she). We got to know how quietly she weathers gale force winds, how the sun sidles down the cove and finds her late in the morning, how she presides over the garden as if she is grounded in beauty. And overwhelmingly we came to know how much care she needed from us…the immediate repairs to the old deck, outdoor stairs, porches and siding…the protective painting …the energy saving remediations…

We found out that the Saturna community felt a sense of ownership of the Lodge. It was as if everyone we met had either worked there, stayed there, been married there, had dinner there, had great ideas for what could happen there, had wanted to buy it…but didn’t. We did. Now what?

We had ideas. The space seemed perfectly suited for small events—board meetings, training sessions, workshops, family gatherings… We thought that we might host a dozen or so such occasions a year. It was a manageable business plan and still is.

But many islanders told us that the Lodge needed to reopen for short-term guests. The island didn’t have enough accommodations.

The Lodge herself seemed to agree. She wasn’t built to be a private dwelling. She was designed for short term lodgers…a bed and breakfast. Lovely rooms, comfortable shared indoor and covered outdoor space and gardens to live in.

Tex, is the quintessential innkeeper, the congenial host, the world travelled, genteel hotelier who loves to meet and greet people so it was easy for him to agree.

At first I didn’t want to think about operating a B&B; cleaning, changing beds, cleaning, making breakfast, cleaning… And besides that the Lodge wasn’t prepared. There was too much to do to get her guest-ready. She needed work.

But we agreed, perhaps all of us together, that we should open the door and slowly let people in. In April Tex said yes when a woman called. She was working on the island and needed a room for two nights.

She was from Surrey. She had two teenagers at the madness stage. She hadn’t been feeling well lately. She wasn’t sure about her husband anymore but his folks lived downstairs and that was the only way they could afford their house. The whole thing made her tired.

After she dragged her bags into her room she took her cans of cider out to the hot tub that is nestled in the trees overlooking the garden. A few hours later I got worried. Are we supposed to make sure our guests are okay? The mother in me said, go find her. It was dark and cold. She was blissfully listening to music oblivious to the hours that had passed.

“Thank you so much for letting me stay here,” she said. “I feel calm, serene, peaceful. I haven’t felt that way in a long time. This place has a special tranquility about it. I really needed it.”

A psychiatrist who stayed a few weeks ago said the same thing, “If there is one thing people need these days it’s serenity. And that’s what you have here. This place is a gift.”

The sun is half way down the hill on the other side of the Cove. It’s time to put breakfast on the bar. We are painting the exterior and as Maddy said, “It’s a lot.”

There are beautiful twin boys and their parents staying in the family room downstairs. They will be up soon looking for something to eat. People say this is our fourth quarter, Tex and I. Perhaps. I hope it’s not our final inning. But I think it might be our last big play and if it is, it’s sure a hell of a gig. One thing is for sure…the Lodge is getting ready for whatever is coming her way.

Easter Sunday memory

Fifty-two years ago, on Easter Weekend, I witnessed something that would change my life. I didn’t know it at the time and I didn’t understand what I saw but I knew it wasn’t what it appeared.

It was my first time attending the Totem soccer tournament in Victoria. It was Johnny Rice’s (Songhees), tournament. A few years earlier he had single-handedly put it together with no sponsorship and no funding, something I would marvel at for years to come. In those days it was just a men’s tournament with 15 or 20 teams mostly from the west coast and lower mainland—Sliammon, Chehalis, Campbell River, Musqueum, Duncan, Nanaimo… I can remember players from each team—sleek and handsome.

I was 15 years old and there to watch the Saanich Braves, my boyfriend and soon to be husband’s team. While I loved to watch the games, it was the tournament itself that fascinated me.

I stood alone. Always alone. I was learning that I was white, something a white girl, in those days, had no way of knowing. The Totem tournament was Indian. I felt self-conscious and sometimes afraid but after awhile I found a space as an observer where I was somewhat comfortable.

So there I was at Hampton Park. A muddle of players and fans were milling around. A game had just finished and the Saanich Braves supporters were swarming the sidelines, setting up their lawn chairs and blankets ready for their match to start.

Onto the field strode what looked to be a Catholic priest (perhaps a Brother, I wouldn’t have known the difference). He was alone, garbed in a full-length black robe and a white priestly collar. I’m pretty sure he wore a large cross hanging from a long necklace.

He joined a small huddle of players who were still celebrating their win. I thought it curious that he would be so confident.

As if in slow-motion one of the players pulled his arm back. I watched him wind up. I kept my eye on the profile of the black robed man. While he was smiling, as if to congratulate the team, the fist nailed him right in the nose. As if I was watching a cartoon I saw him fly backwards, arms flailing, feet up, robes catching the wind like sails, the cross on the necklace whirling through the air.

I had never heard such a thing let alone watched its every movement. The crunch of what was probably a broken nose, together with blood bursting like fireworks, should have shocked and appalled me. But I was in my observer place, wishing hard that I wasn’t the only other white person in the park. At the same time I was thinking there is more to this—a backstory I need to know if I am to understand this gory event.

The player and his teammates turned their backs and walked away as if nothing had happened. No one from the sidelines rushed to help the injured man. He scrambled awkwardly to his feet, held his nose while rearranging his robe and stumbled to the sideline where he found a bench and sat down.

Every Easter Sunday afterwards I wondered what had happened that day and why.

In 1991 when Diane Harris and I interviewed former students of Kuper Island residential school we met an old soccer player. He asked us into his house and we sat in his living room amongst beautiful pieces of his art that were pinned to the wall. He said he was tired of being silent—that it was time to share his stories from Kuper. He told us about the time he attempted to escape with his brother, only to be sent back and the time he got a bunch of students together to report the abusers at the school, only to be silenced by the arch bishop. He described his confusion when he returned home, his alcoholism and other forms of self-abuse.

Then he told us about the only time he had the chance to truly express how he felt about the Kuper Island school. It was at an Easter soccer tournament. He said he was outraged by the nerve of the brother from the school who had come right onto the soccer field to congratulate him for the win. He told us how good it felt to punch him in the face.

Casting my memory back to witnessing exactly that instant now it all made sense. It was just a moment and 20 years later an explanation. I never could have imagined such a story. But it was a fundamental event in my life and in my learning what it means to be white. It may sound random on this Easter Sunday and I don’t want to be preachy or teachy but things are not usually what they first appear and through long and complicated life experiences I’ve come to know that being white is a deeply complex thing to be.

I don’t apologize for my colour—I did that for years and it did no good.

Diane told me not to stay on the sidelines. She said it was my job to talk about what I saw…so I have and I do. I share this strange memory only to give us a moment of pause to contemplate the tiny space we inhabit and to encourage us all to keep looking for the explanations of things we don’t quite understand.

MAKING CHANGE

I was anxious when I opened the package and looked at the book for the first time. I have never written a textbook before. I’ve written curriculum for years but writing a textbook gave me an especially worrisome case of “who do you think you?” It wasn’t a unique feeling; I get it every time I publish a book.

Every book feels like a good idea when I start out. Then I bury myself in writing and don’t create the space to think about whether I should have started it in the first place. But it’s always the same; when I open the package my stomach ties itself in a knot and I get lost in a flurry of self-doubt and an assault of “is it perfect?” sorts of questions.

It turns out each one has a glitch…something I wish were different. This one doesn’t have anything on the spine. How did that happen? The first book I wrote had a disconcertingly orange cover and I couldn’t make peace with it. We redid it for the second printing so I’ve put that behind me, but there is always something.

My new-book anxiety prevents me from reading my books for a few weeks; wonder if I find a huge mistake?

But Making Change contains many voices other than mine. It is a result of teaching for a dozen years or so and even my voice is mostly what I’ve learned from the students’ assignments and discussions. The other contributors to the book are Hwiem’, Marlene Rice, a Cowichan elder, Qwuy’um’aat, Eyvette Elliott, a brilliant young Cowichan woman, Frank French, from the Chippewas of the Thames and Simuletse, Stuart Pagaduan, the Cowichan artist who did the illustrations and who summed up the content on the back cover. So while Making Change is mine, because I put it together, it’s not only mine. In one way that makes it even more worrisome because I want the book to honour the amazing contributors and I want them all to love it.

My anxieties aside, the multiple voices and perspectives make it a textbook with a difference. It sheds a light on the complexities of managing housing on reserves. It dignifies the hundreds of housing managers across the country who are working within a colonial system that was not designed to be successful yet who are still finding ways to make profound change. The rich contributions invite you inside the struggle so you can share in the solutions—a place most people never visit. You could skip the bulleted lists of how to manage meetings or communicate with tenants and just look at Marlene, Eyvette and Frank’s grey boxes. They are worth the read.

If you aren’t someone who reads management textbooks and who is unlikely to purchase Making Change from Vancouver Island University let me share with you the back cover, by Simuletse, Stuart Pagaduan, which sums it up beautifully.

Our houses are not just physical places that keep us warm. Our people have always had a spiritual connection to our homes. The beautiful cedar beams are seen as living beings, not just something to make a roof.

In modern times the housing conditions we have experienced have been part of the great displacement of our people—fragmenting how we live—the way we practice our culture, the way we prepare our food, the way we live together as families—the conditions have been a total game changer and we are still reeling from the effects. Housing causes us conflict in ways we don’t always even understand.

Housing managers have been forced to work in a system with unequal opportunities, a lack of adequate funding and often not even enough support from their own Chiefs and Councils. It seems like no one wants to really address the problem it is so daunting.

But there are some really good people stepping up and making the change that needs to happen—housing managers across the country who are not willing to settle for less with low expectations. They are adopting new ways of thinking that are uplifting our spirits. They are making the change needed so we can pass on new and positive feelings and thoughts about housing to our children.”

Old sheets

Flannel sheets turned bedside rugs

I call it recycling in place. It’s what happened when we bought the Saturna Lodge and I did an inventory of the bedding…shelves of mismatched, very old, very used sheets and pillowcases. Once I had extracted the usables I bundled up the rest—five pillow cases full of bedding, some likely dating back 30 or 40 years.

I paused before I loaded my stash into the van and Googled. I found out that the average Canadian throws away 37 kilograms of textiles and together we landfill 10 million tonnes of clothing a year and that textile dyeing and treatment contributes up to 20% of the total industrial water pollution. The fashion industry is the worst offender, and I couldn’t find facts about the bedding industry, but I felt a bit sick thinking about sending my bundles to the dump or even to a second hand–there is just too much of this stuff.

These weren’t linens or even cottons. There were some 100% cotton pieces but most of them were a cotton/polyester blend. These were also not cool designer colours. There were some interesting greys and greens but there were very few that I would have bought if I had the choice.

I didn’t feel like making any more braided rugs. I’d just finished two and they were brutally hard to sew together. Knitting was my obvious solution. Turn the fabric into knittable yarn.

I tore every piece into strips. The strange filaments from the polyester—like candy floss—stuck to everything (if you try it make sure you wear a mask).

At first the blankets I made were like a public service—doing my duty to recycle. Soon they became my works or art. Then the blankets turned into interesting and useful foot throws for the beds. It was satisfying keeping the circle so small—the sheets cycling around so directly back onto the beds from which they had come.

There was one random flannel sheet that I thought would make a good rug. At the second hand stores in Sidney I found other flannel sheets to augment the one I had. The Lodge’s downstairs rooms needed bedside rugs. Now my conscience-appeasing recycling venture got practical. This wasn’t just a duty I was now filling a need.

It’s muscular knitting at its worst. Old bed sheets do not make comfortable yarn. There’s no give. There’s no slide on the needles. It’s hard work. My hands ache after an hour or so but there’s comfort in the act of turning rubbish into something useable, turning the mundane into something interesting and turning the unattractive into something beautiful.

If you visit the Lodge make sure you check out the knitting and if you have any flannel sheets you aren’t using and if you are close to Victoria or Saturna I would be happy to take them off your hands and put them to good use.

A blanket in the process

Happy Birthday

I’m the little scruffy one

Sixty-seven years ago today, on a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon, I was born. My star sign is Pisces and on the Chinese Zodiac it is the year of the sheep or goat, perhaps the most auspicious sign of the future life of the baby me.

On this, my Happy Birthday, I am more thankful than happy. I am thankful for my life, that my parents had one more child before they called it quits. I am and have been an incredibly privileged person. Like everyone, I am still learning what privilege is and how deeply set it is in the structure of our society. But one of my most important privileges is that I was taught to be thankful and even with my family’s limited understanding of privilege I was constantly reminded that I should not take it for granted but that I should acknowledge everyday that there are people who are struggling in ways I can hardly imagine.

On this troubled day as I look back and forward over the life I was given and the one I have made and as I try to make sense of it there are some things that I know and can be sure of.

In spite of the overwhelming spitefulness and pessimism blanketing the planet I know that where there is life there is hope. There is spectacular beauty in the world. This is the time to seek it out and experience it.

In spite of the assault on clear thinking and the deliberate battering of legitimate information and knowledge by mindless chants such as “fake news”, I know many people will continue to seek the sensible. This is the time to lend my mind and voice to reason.

In spite of the current protests by people drawing attention to their personal inconveniences, I believe many people will remain focused on the real losses of freedom around the world and here at home. This is the time for me to continue to find practical ways to help those who have been colonized, brutalized and marginalized.

In spite of our recent diversions I believe we will remember Greta and that humans everywhere share a common foe that will dwarf our current conflicts. This is the time to support the intelligent work being done in the field of climate adaptation and the thinking that goes beyond our self-centred human concerns and includes all natural beings.

In spite of the arguments I engage in about the anatomy of the myriad current and pending disasters I will remember that I am a grandmother and that the role of grandmothers has always been the same…to provide safety, certainty and constancy for her grandchildren…to bring joy and peace into their lives…and, most importantly, to love.

That’s enough for one getting-old woman. This is the time for me to work on providing a peaceful space for friends and family and visitors…a space not fraught with the petty or the politics of conflict…a calm place where people can soothe their spirits and heal their hurts. I figure that’s enough for year 67.