Wednesday, October 19, 2016

teen unschooling home day

My kids - how I love them.

Our current form of unschooling is an assortment of self-directed activities on the mainland with other teens, and four days at home on the island every week (although with ballet and singing lessons thrown into one of the island days).

Today is one of the days my kids don't attend any activities on the mainland. I'm in the office writing proposals, Markus is on his computer telecommuting, and the kids are out in the kitchen making dried apples and garlic cheese knots, listening to their music and laughing.

Having teens isn't always difficult. It's just a bit over-the-top with everything.

Today it's over-the-top peace and joy in my house.

Days like this make the difficult days vanish from my mind - just like looking into their glistening eyes made the trials of birthing them disappear. I never even felt the doctors stitching me up, but I can remember the feeling of my tiny ones' little bodies against my own skin, their tiny damp foreheads and cheeks against my lips, and the giant sobbing of joy overtaking me as I fell in love. My kids give me the opportunity to fall in love on a regular basis. What more can I want from life?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Love Trafficking

My son just defined this for me. Love trafficking is any of those seemingly loving actions that is actually just a form of currency, benefiting the person who's doing it (but only in the moment).

Here are some examples, not at all taken from our personal lives, but just to illustrate the point:
  • You're angry with your daughter, so you treat her friends with extreme kindness, while maintaining an angry attitude with her, privately.
  • You're loving the baby extra-expressively to make the older sibling feel jealous or unwanted, because she did something you disapproved of.
  • You're calling the cat to prove that she'll come to you instead of to your partner. Because she loves you more.
  • You drop by your sister's house to make her feel extra special... because you just fought with your partner.
  • You give your Dad extra affection because you're mad at your mother.
  • You use your love for someone as a punishment for someone else.
  • You behave in a loving way in an effort to gain favour or something else you want.
  • You love someone but take the love back as punishment.

Love trafficking is not uncommon. My kid noticed it happening in his world and came up with the name, and I think maybe we all need to take note. Maybe people who grow up dealing love as a currency haven't even noticed that that's what they're doing, and maybe they're not intending even to do it.

Love trafficking hurts. Especially when we realize our emotional response to the love we received was just us catching a spear on someone else's battlefield. It hurts when the love we were handed is rescinded with interest, and we realize we were just an investment. If you are the recipient of someone else's love-trafficking affection, you will one day be the indebted, too. If you are trafficking in love, yourself, you will always feel indebted. 

Love isn't a currency. Love is a boundless self-perpetuating energy source. I still love everyone I have ever loved, no matter what has occurred between us. Love is that undefinable billowing blindness that allows us to carry on living. It's the food our spirits need to survive, and, like food, when it's used as a currency it can lead to disorders.

Ask yourself when you are giving love, whether that love bears a cost; ask yourself when you are accepting love whether it comes with a price. Ask yourself when you're reaping the spoils of your love in resentment and jealousy and tears whether the cost is worth it.

I'd like to suggest that many of us use love as a currency, at least unintentionally.  I'd like to suggest we stop, now.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


It has been an interesting year, full of changes and surprises. I am as always grateful for those who love me, and who love each other, and for those who allow me to love them. Sometimes we have to reach blindly with trembling arms and choked voices to accept others despite our preconceptions, shame and broken hearts; sometimes we have to close our eyes and let the compassion of others encircle us even when it terrifies us. Love isn't ever easy; isn't ever straightforward or predictable, but without it we are nothing. I am grateful for love.

Autumn Gifts

Such a beautiful time of harvest and gratitude. Our family has been rather more busy than usual, and we haven't taken very many photos, but I thought it was time to update with a few photos of the gifts that have come into our lives, this season. Happy Thanksgiving!

Beautiful chilly autumn rains and winds and sunshine, inspiring the mushrooms to pop out and decorate the forest.

Sunflowers in their final glory.
Annie's quinces heading for their final glory.
Firewood season!

My beautiful 12-year-old.
Our blooming turmeric!!

The single little (delicious) cantaloupe we managed to grow...

My happy children enjoying their new city life.

...and their island life. How blessed we are.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Talking with Kids about Sexual Harassment and Objectification

A line in the sand. Photo by Taliesin.
It seems that people all over social media are talking about sexual harassment and objectification in the wake of Trump's pussy-grabbing comments. People ask whether objectification even matters, or whether it matters more for women than for men. Women and men are talking about whether there's a line to be crossed, where it is, and how grey it is. Is all objectification bad, and when does it become sexual harassment? Men are confessing to having made lewd comments in the past and valiantly declaring they'll stop now. Parents are talking about how and whether to discuss this with their children, how to raise liberated girls and thoughtful boys, and many of us are claiming that our children are either too young to think such things, or too mature; too thoughtful to say them. And we know they don't do it. So I decided to talk with my children about it.

The first thing I discovered is that we parents are deluded. Some of the kids who are touted on social media as the kids who would never say such things are, in fact, saying such things in the presence of my children. Apparently, according to my fourteen-year-old son, “most boys” talk like that, or play video games, watch videos and read things that objectify women. They just don't do it when adults are listening. The word pussy doesn't phase my son, although he suggested I don't include it in this article. He didn't even blink when I said it. My daughter just squirmed in her seat, but declined to respond. So enough of pretending my kids are innocent, and onto the issues. I can suck up my feigned parental innocence when I need to.

I called a family meeting and went straight to the point: Complimenting people. When does a compliment become objectification? Do you believe that there's a line to be crossed? And where?

My husband stepped in first: “To say that there is a line that you can be on the right or wrong side of is an over-simplification.”

And my daughter replied, “If you're talking about someone, it depends on what they think the line is. If they don't think it's offensive, why should you not be able to say it?”

Her father pressed his point: “So if it's a complete stranger walking past you downtown, how do you decide what you're saying?”

“Well that's not OK,” she said.

“How do you decide?” He pressed again.

Things always seem simpler to my twelve-year-old daughter, and she looked at him incredulously. “Don't say things about strangers. I don't say things about strangers. I don't need to. I don't know them.”

But her father has grown up in our culture, and could not be talked over so easily. “People constantly tell me I have a nice beard, especially if they have one of their own. I think it's nice when they say it.”

And my kids both sat thinking. I think we all know that's a classic argument. It's OK for me to pet a black person's hair because I wouldn't mind if someone petted mine. That's the all-lives-matter stance, and it's wrong. It's wrong because certain minorities live in a constant state of oppression because of our actions, and we need to be very mindful of that. That issue needs our attention right now more than the issues of all of our lives. For a man to feel justified in complimenting a woman on her hair (or her breasts, legs, or smile) because he enjoys it when people compliment his beard is a fallacy for the same reason. Women have lived for thousands of years in a state of oppression because of the objectification of our bodies, and men haven't. My husband thinks he's making this point for the sake of argument, to incite conversation. But it takes away from the important truth that compliments being made about women come with a cost to women – an expectation of something given back: love, sex, thanks, a smile, etc. If we aren't outrightly told what is expected of us in return, then we know simply because we've heard it before, from the moment of our birth. For thousands of years girls and women have been objectified. It's just the way the world works, so that by the time we enter school we understand that our value in the world does not depend on our contributions to that world, but upon our physical usefulness.

So no matter how lovingly compliments are given to us, we lose something in every compliment given.

Should men then never compliment women? My husband feels worried about complimenting women. He feels like he can't take any step in the right direction. My son is learning this from both of us, but he's also witnessing how much it hurts his mother to never receive a compliment. I think if we don't want to be objectified, we also have to give our men some avenue towards success. I asked my kids how they think we can make women feel good about who they are, without objectifying them.

For my daughter, this is as straightforward as the last question. “Girls that I know never compliment people. Sometimes they say 'nice haircut' or something if someone got a new haircut, but only to their friends that they know well. Not to someone who's just sitting there. There's always a reason. I don't think they'd ever compliment someone they don't know.”

My son says, “It seems like men who love women would respect women more, because they love them.” But when I ask him how to respect them; how to compliment them, he is dumbstruck, and eventually mutters, “you could talk about their personality, I guess.” But do people do that, I asked him. He doesn't know.

There is a lot we don't know. There is a lot we don't talk about. There is a lot that we shove to the back of our minds under pretenses that all-genders-matter and our-sons-would-never-do-that. There is a lot that we do that needs to be brought out in the limelight.

I don't think the rampant media coverage of Donald Trump's despicable behaviour has been a good thing, in the present, for our culture. He is bringing out the worst in us all. But it's also bringing it up for conversation, and that, after all, is the best way to move forward.

I have faith in us as a species to take the dirty shameful realities that are now being paraded out in the sunlight and do the work to heal them. I have faith in us as parents to not hide behind the pretenses we need to believe in, but to be the change our children need to see in the world, and to talk about it openly, all the time. Don't tell your children the way the world works; ask them how their world works. You may be surprised to hear what they know. You may be surprised to discover that your children are not innocent after all, and that is precisely why their voices matter so much in this conversation. Let's pull on our boots and wade into the mire of this murky problem with open ears, open minds and open hearts.

Friday, October 7, 2016

I love you, but I don't own you

Today on the bus I listened to a passenger talking to the driver about a female driver he finds very attractive. The passenger described her, saying that she should wear her hair down, because he'd like to see her with her hair down and wearing makeup. Because she's beautiful, so she should. I'm sure you can imagine what I was thinking. I was livid. Obviously. And so very tired of listening to women being appraised like used cars, and told what to do to increase their value. I imagined the bus driver felt the same way, listening to one of his colleagues degraded like that. He seemed like a nice guy, after all.

But no. He proceeded to give all kinds of information about his colleague: her name, her relationship status, the relationship and school status of her children, and which bus she was driving, today. The passenger got off grinning, and said he was on his way to find [her name].

Yes, I wrote to the bus company. But that's not enough. The bus driver is a nice guy. He was trying to be friendly to both his passenger and his colleague. The problem is that neither he nor the passenger sees the problem. Our cultural problem (which translates to a public safety problem, among many others) is firstly a lack of understanding that women are not property, and that is something that we as parents actually have a huge capacity to change.

It starts when our babies are born. It starts with the moment we realize that their lives depend on our decisions, so we start making decisions for them. We know better than they do. Necessarily, we teach them to follow our schedules and to grow to be like us. We reward them with affection when they please us. And then it begins to change. We begin to reward them for their accomplishments... and along the way we do this more for boys than for girls. We reward girls more for prettiness. Don't imagine it's not true. Look around. Even those of us who tried very very hard not to gender-stereotype our children, who bought our little boys dolls and pink tutus and took our girls out adventuring and playing with trucks -- we fell victim to our own gendered history and we told our girls they were pretty. We taught our boys they could be pretty too, especially if they wore a head full of butterfly clips and nail polish, and we thought we were being gender-neutral. We weren't. We were teaching them the conventions to which they would need to adhere when they left the security of our embrace. It's a different world outside the security of our embrace, and we are complicit in that.

Today at the library I heard two men talking about the many times they've been harassed by 'gay men' who pursed their lips at them, who looked at them too much, and who talked to them too kindly as if they thought they would be "interested". They knew these men were gay because they had done these things. They talked about how they wanted to kill these men; how maybe next time they would break their necks. This is the world our tutu-clad boys walk out into, and I promise you they will not be safe there, with butterfly clips in their hair. It's not that we're endangering them with the false idea that their gender doesn't matter; it's that our sons will be those men who are so afraid of other-ness that they want to destroy it. 
By the time our boys are four or five they know that it's dangerous to be "pretty" in public. By the time our girls are the same age, they know that their social status and even safety depends on being pretty in public. Have you ever passed out an assortment of coloured objects to a group of kids? How many girls will fight tooth-and-nail to get the pink ones? How many boys will fight equally hard not to? My daughter tells me that she and her friends only used to like pink because everybody else did. Every other girl, that is. At four years old, my son's favourite colour was pink. But that was a secret. At four years old they were already trained to conform or be left behind, to please or be rejected; to fit into the gender roles we taught them, or to perish.

Perish. Does that sound extreme? It's not. A baby knows that its life depends on its parent. A baby screams for food and affection, and eventually learns more positive methods of getting these essential needs: cooing, pleasing, pleading, and eventually asking. So as parents we reward them. In this simple exchange we have taught them that their lives depend on pleasing us.

As new parents we were aware of this, so we tried hard to allow them to be their own people. But as time went on we told them that if they cleaned their rooms they could have dessert. We told them that if they asked sweetly they could have a ride to school. We told them that if they said they loved us they could have a cuddle. We praised them for doing as they were told. Silently, we told them that their value depended on how well they pleased us. We owned them. 

And as mothers we taught them how to be in relationships. In the evenings when their Daddies came home we rewarded their hard days' work with dinner, and their Daddies rewarded us with affection. They told us we were beautiful and in an effort to honour us they told us we should take time to go get our hair done. Make ourselves pretty. And our daughters heard them, and asked to get their hair done too. And our sons heard them and checked out the girls at school, wondering if they'd had their hair done, or what that even meant.

And our children went to school and to friends' houses, and to parties and coffee shops and their first jobs and their second jobs, and they fell in love and told each other they were pretty. And they had babies, and they loved their babies so much that they kissed them when they cooed and they bought them ice creams when they followed the rules, and they dressed them in pretty clothes and taught them how to please their superiors. 

And I still long for someone to tell me I'm pretty.

Today is my daughter's birthday. She's twelve years old and right now she wants to be a pop star. She really loves pink and frills and powerful female vocalists and building stuff in the wood shop at school and sitting in trees writing stories and plays and essays. But this morning I thanked her for being so wonderful. As if she's doing it for me. I told her she's beautiful. As if my assessment of her should matter; as if somehow on the market for pre-teen girls I've just upgraded her value.


I don't want her to be the bus driver whose life and safety is determined by well-meaning men, but I told her she should wash her hair so people don't see it greasy at school. I don't want her to be the pop singer whose lyrics are secondary to the way she moves her bum, but I put her in ballet to help her acquire poise for her desired singing career. I don't want her to be the mother who longs for someone to tell her she's pretty just so she can go to bed at night feeling that she was worth something. But I do that every day.
I've tried so hard these past twelve years to raise my daughter with the knowledge that my opinions are less important than her own; that her value depends only on herself. But in a million small ways I have owned her and judged her and made her dependent on those things.

The kind of massive cultural change we need doesn't happen overnight, or even over a generation, but with each action I take and each thought that transits my mind I have an opportunity to push a little further in the direction of equality and freedom. The prize right now is not the end-goal. I don't know if there's ever an end-goal. But the prize is to be mindful of the work we're doing now, in this generation. Today. It is to look into our children's faces right now and say, "I love you, but I don't own you".
My darling daughter, you are beautiful to me, but it doesn't matter what I think. You are cherished by me, but there is nothing you can do to change that. I appreciate when you help me, but your usefulness as a person does not depend on that. I feel wonderful when you hug me, but only when you want to hug me. I feel happy when you are happy, but I appreciate the times we've been sad together, too. I don't like all of the songs you like, but I like that you have your own opinions. I like the way you've cut your hair, but what I like most is that it was your idea, and that you did it because you wanted to. I love you, but I don't own you.

Friday, September 23, 2016

There are no Theoretical Children

Photo by my son, as published on his photography blog.
Recently I attended a wonderful training session with Arthur Brock and Eric "Bear" Ludwig, founders of New York's Agile Learning Centers. During this session, Arthur explained that "there is no such thing as theoretical children".

You know those 'theoretical children' parents and teachers sometimes ask about in terms of  'what if a child is afraid to ...'? Those kids don't exist. Either they are in fact real children, in which case they're not theoretical, and need to be discussed in terms of their actual individual situations, their relationships and history and needs... or they're irrelevant, because they don't exist. As a teacher, parent, director of a program, etc. you can't worry for (or even worse, design a program for) children who don't exist, because their individual nature and needs are totally unknown quantities, and you can't prepare for something undefined.

I thought this was a wonderful direction of thought.

We in the education world design programs with theoretical children in mind. We consider the children we know and have known who might benefit from our plans, and we expect to modify them as we get to know the real children who participate. As parents we also consider theoretical children. We read articles, gather parenting advice, follow programs and regimens we hope will help us parent well. We adjust when we see things going awry, and we seek new advice.

But it's easy to lose sight of the needs of our real children. You know how if you've grown up being warned that dogs bite, you may not recognize a gentle dog when you see one? Well maybe when I believed that all children need a hug when they get home, I didn't recognize that my son really needs some space first. For example.

And about my son. Let's say there's this theoretical child. He's made friends with some people in the grade above him, and really wants to participate with those kids in the activity they're doing. But we assume, as educators or parents with all the theoretical children in mind, that the group as a whole will likely be served best if we put him in the group with kids his own age. This is because, first of all, he needs to learn the things they're learning before progressing onto the subject matter the older kids are learning, and secondly, he'll make friends there anyway. Right? Except he's not a theoretical child. He's my son. We've tried that experiment, based on the values ascribed to the theoretical child, and it bombed.

Yesterday we tried again. My son is now attending a new program, with all new kids. And guess what? He's made friends with some kids who are older than he is! And guess what? Once again he wanted to join them in their science and social studies program, instead of the one for the kids his own age. But here's the big news: they let him do it! 

Cut to yesterday afternoon: I was waiting to pick up my daughter when I saw my beaming son, confidence shooting out his head like steam from a steam engine, come striding down an East Vancouver street alone for the first time ever in his life. He was smiling with that kind of vague powerful smile that says 'I am happy to be me in the world, today'. He discovered me waiting there in the car, hopped in energetically, and proceeded to tell me about his day. He said he spent all morning talking about science with a bunch of people who also wanted to talk about science. He spent all of a delightfully long lunch time chatting and playing drawing games with his new friends. He spent all afternoon doing a native studies program that he says was "really interesting". He doesn't even know what grades those kids are in. He's just with them, being himself. And that was what he needed to find his confidence again.

This week my real child was given a voice. He had his own real needs acknowledged and met. His needs trumped the needs of theoretical children, and everybody won. After all, there are no theoretical children.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mama Guilt

I had a bath today. Due to our renovations we haven't had a tub in the house for about four months, so I filled the tub out in the garden. I filled it with a hose, climbed in and lay there in the steam looking out at the branches of our arbutus tree, the nearly-full moon peeking through the hemlocks, and the first few stars as they quietly became visible in the deepening blue.

My first thought was how totally blessed I am... but before I could enjoy it too much, my friend Mama Guilt came tapping me on the shoulder: "What are you doing out here?" "What about the laundry? You haven't hung it up yet." "You should have offered the kids a bath first."

She's good at these things. She's practiced. "You could have just washed your hair in the kitchen sink again."

I tried to drown her out by sinking down under the water, but came up frustrated, as she chirped, "You waited two months for a bath; why did you have to do this on a school night?"

I washed, dried, drained the tub onto the lawn and walked to the house feeling so blissfully clean. I came back inside to the smell of the casserole I'd put in earlier all baked and ready for dinner. Ahhhh... "It's nine pm. What were you thinking making dinner so late?"

Oh just shut up already.
I'm sick of you, Mama Guilt.

I hear her wagging her finger behind my ear. "You haven't made your lunch yet. You can't afford to buy a sandwich tomorrow." But anyway I'm clean. Hopefully that drives her off a little further for tomorrow. And I'm making my lunch, now.

Kids, Unsupervised

Once upon a time, when both of my kids were under ten years old, they went exploring around our local municipal hall while their father attended a meeting there. They explored all the way over to one of the local shops, where the shopkeeper asked them where their parents were. They told her their Pappa was in the chapel (not accurate - they knew where he was, but had used the wrong name for the building), and she asked them to wait while she called the police. She only meant to protect them - I know that. But they were terrified! They recounted a harrowing tale of running away from her, being chased by her and trying desperately to hide as they made their way back to the municipal hall. Once there, the police arrived and spoke to their father about (as my son tells it) "not letting his children run wild". The point was, they were never in danger. Terrified - yes. But only because of being "helped" by someone who genuinely was worried about them.

What good is it doing us to harbour such deep fears for our children? And more importantly, what harm is it doing them?

I work with many kids who come laden with fears about the woods. It can take a few brief wilderness adventures to develop the skills and knowledge they need to overcome those fears. Gross motor skills like clambering over logs, climbing up and down trees and bluffs safely, and hiking long distances help them to feel confident about the terrain. Cognitive skills like assessing the safety of their environment and activities can take a little more time, but allow them to feel confident in their own well-being. Observational skills like noticing changes in the weather, hearing wind or animals, noticing the stability of limbs or rocks they climb on... these things give them confidence too. And they need this confidence not just to feel safe, but to be safe. If you don't hear the bear coming, are afraid to navigate the terrain around you, have no understanding of common bear-encounter protocol, is it any wonder that you might be afraid of the bear? And if you are afraid of the bear, the bear will be afraid of you... and we know how well that scenario goes.

The city is different, but also similar. Recently I took three pre-teens to a movie in town. I thought: surely they've been here often enough that they are gaining some confidence and can do it alone. One bus, one corner to walk around, six blocks and into the theatre. Same route back home again. But I went with them anyway. I noticed that they kept an eye on me. They didn't watch where the bus was taking them, nor when they should get off - they just followed me. All the way into the theatre. So on the way home I asked them to lead the way back to the bus: six blocks, cross the road, get back on a bus. They were bewildered! It took them about five minutes to figure out which direction to go back (eventually with the help of a city map that I pointed them towards). They became confused multiple times on the way back to the bus, had difficulty figuring out where to take the bus, and it took us over half an hour to walk those six blocks. I don't want to deride them. It was their first time, and I thought they all dealt with the situation I handed them quite gracefully. But this experience taught me that my kids need more independence.

No problem! I thought. They're unschooling in the city now! While my kids used to be the ones confident in the wilderness, now they're going to get confident in the city! And off we went. I am still accompanying them to various locations for this first week, to help them gain the confidence they need to navigate without me. After all, they are attending in various locations near some questionable drug and prostitution hotspots. Not that I have a problem with my kids being there - it's just part of our city that they need to learn to be safe in. They need skills like staying in populated areas, walking together, assessing strangers who might approach them to determine risk level, and how to maintain a strong sense of morale and dignity in a place where so many have been robbed of it.

So yesterday I received an email in red letters from my fourteen-year-old son that pleaded, "pick up time is 2:45!!!!!!!! Not 3!!!! Otherwise i'll be abandined on the street with no place to go." It was a mixture of humourous hyperbole and some genuine concern.

I'm not terribly worried about my son standing alone on a city sidewalk - but he is. And that is the problem. At the root of all our fears is the unlikely idea that they may be abducted or harmed by another person (or in the woods, an animal). Think about this for a moment. A person trying to recruit or abduct a child for nefarious purposes is going to look for a vulnerable child. I don't want my child to be that vulnerable child. That doesn't mean I need to hover over him and shadow him everywhere he goes until he's too dependent on me to look after himself. That means I need to let go of him and let him become independent.

And in the much more likely event that my children will be harmed by their own error, either of physical skill (as in falling off a cliff or crashing their bike) or of judgement (as in drugs, traffic accidents, or food poisoning) I would like them to have the opportunity to develop the skills they need. I saw many ambulances in town yesterday. Most were for presumed drug-related tragedies. One was for a traffic accident, and another I believe was domestic. These are the things I need to protect my children from. And for this they need to go out in the world without me and develop some wisdom.

Being unsupervised may unsettle kids, but it also gives them the opportunity and the need to develop some skills and look after themselves. And further, that unsettled feeling might kick-start their own determination to take stock of their situation and responsibility for their own safety.

I will always be here waiting with my arms open wide when they need my love or advice - or even just a non-judgmental ride home from an unfamiliar street or a bad trip. My dear friend said that having children is like having your heart walking around in the world separate from you. So as parents we can't just hold on and stifle those hearts until they wither; we have to be willing to pick up the pieces again and again and again.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Unschooling in the City!

It's no secret that our family has returned to our unschooling journey. But no longer will we restrict our activities to the fields and forests of our lovely island home... you know, the place were the maximum speed limit is 40Km/h, the most threatening thing in the woods is a wasp or a skunk, and homeless people mostly have a roof over their heads. It's not that we don't know anything at all about the rest of the world, but we're pretty sheltered in our everyday lives. And endlessly privileged. We used to go into the city for family adventures. But now we've cut the ropes.

This morning I walked my two to a street corner we've never seen before and left them standing with a group of kids they don't know to wait for an escort they've only met twice... to take them on a field trip. They have backpacks with lunches they cooked and packed themselves (I haven't even seen them; don't know if it's even enough food) and some swimming gear. They have their father's work number written on papers in their bags, but they don't have phones. They have change, should they find any of the increasingly few pay phones. I'll go back to that corner to get them later this afternoon. I left them the only advice I have: please don't drown in the pool, and keep their eyes on each other, wherever they go.

But tomorrow? Tomorrow they're going to separate places! I guess you might say I feel a little nervous about this. (Gulp!) But, as frankly is always the case with parenting, I just have to turn my head away and walk away from them with grace and determination, telling myself it's going to be all right. My kids have to grow up, and they're not going to do it with me clinging to their hands.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

how to foster respect for nature while encouraging kids to play

Two six-year-olds are playing in a creek, and barks at the other, alarmed: "What are you doing?!"

The other barely looks up from her task, yanking and hauling at a fern frond. "I'm just getting this fern to put in my dam."

"Stop hurting nature!"

"I'm not hurting nature! It's just a fern! I need it for my dam!"

The first is distraught, and looks at me plaintively. "She's hurting nature! Tell her to stop!"

And I didn't.

It's a common issue among nature-based educators, parents and even among kids playing outside: How to foster respect for our surroundings while still having fun with the materials and resources at hand. Engagement is essential to developing a strong bond and learning from whatever we're using, and we need freedom to play in order to fully engage. So how do we look after the space, the other parts of our ecosystem, and the resources we have? The following is a list of some of my own practices; hopefully they're useful as a jumping-off point for others.

Stop using the word 'nature' - or define it. The way we currently use this word separates us from the rest of what is truly our own ecosystem, setting up an artificial boundary between 'people' and 'nature', which, far from creating a respect for 'nature', allows us to easily disengage from it when it suits us. Imagine taking out twenty weeds to put in a garden bed. Now imagine taking out a tree for the same. Now a rat's nest. Now your kitchen sink. Now your mother. All of those imaginary sacrifices are not equal - why? Because of their perceived value. When 'nature' is not part of us - part of our family - then we can ignore its value. But somewhere deep inside most of us do understand that we are a part of nature. At its root, the word 'nature' just means everything in the universe we know; the ecosystem we came from. Without it there are no silicon computer chips, no electricity, no asphalt roads, no buildings, no food; no people at all. 'Nature' is us. So being invested in its welfare requires dispensing of the artificial separation encouraged by the current connotation of the word 'nature'. My preference is to make the point by referring to our surroundings as 'our ecosystem', and sometimes talking or asking about our specific roles in our ecosystem. This provides a lot of opportunity for discussion about how the ecosystem works, what we observe, etc., but I think it would be equally effective to discuss the meaning of nature, and to talk about the nature of people, and the way we interact with the other parts of nature.

Father and son playing at the lake.
Play! An understanding of the way things work helps us to feel true respect for them. And understanding comes from explorative learning! So play. Not just the kids you work with, but you. Get deeply personally engaged. Other kids and adults will see and follow suit. And play innocently. Don't be afraid to talk about the things you see that you don't understand. Look them up together, observe them together, and theorize about them together. If the kids aren't interested, let them do other things and observe and theorize by yourself. Even if you don't share your discoveries, the people you are with will feel your engagement and be inspired. They may not discover or explore the same things you do, and that doesn't matter at all. What they explore matters to them, and that is the best possible scenario. When something matters to them, they will care.

Notice the damage you do. I tend to gently point out damage being done on the spot, or cumulative damage from many days of exploring the same area. "Oh look we've kind of removed most of the moss from this log," or "I can see where we've been walking every week; it's beginning to look like a deer trail." "Did you notice all the beetles running for safety when we pulled apart that rotten log? Look at the mycelium we've exposed. I wonder how we've changed their lives in pulling it apart." The idea is not to be critical, but to make observations and help others to make observations. People always make change - everywhere we go. Just our existence changes the world. For the same reason I feel that being involved in food production is far better than buying food on a Styrofoam tray, I feel that being involved in the many ways we impact our ecosystem is far better than pretending it doesn't happen. Yes, sometimes I stop people from ripping all the moss off a tree, or from destroying a whole log full of insects. But for the most part I just point out what's happening. We truly are a part of our ecosystem and we, like trees, bacteria, deer and mosquitoes, cannot live without also destroying. That's more than OK - that's life. So we have to do it consciously.

Don't be heavy-handed. You don't want to provoke fear. Far from being a healthy component of respect, fear leads to a lack of respect. The more people are afraid of their impact (or afraid of a teacher or parent's reaction to their impact), the more they will separate themselves from the rest of their ecosystem, and the less they will engage with it and care for it. As mentioned earlier, I try to encourage thoughtful conversation, but not to criticize. Who am I to criticize, anyway? I eat food, I use products; I walk on this earth. I have an impact, too. It's important to leave each other feeling thoughtful and empowered. The more we live in our own strength, the more we learn to use it with care.

Relax. This list is short for a reason. There's nothing more important than being comfortable in your environment, than playing without intention; than exploring with abandon. Too many rules gets in the way of all that. So just go out and play. Forget about this list, and forget about all the worries you may have had. If you damage something, so be it. Let that be a lesson for next time, and a place to leave a bit of your heart behind in the wilderness and help it heal. It will heal, and so will you. Because we're all a part of the same thing anyway.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

square foot observing

Have you ever watched a child stare endlessly at one particular spot - maybe the light dancing on the wall at bath time, or his own hand moving back and forth, back and forth, as he waves for the first time? Maybe you thought your child was 'just' stimming; maybe you feared there was nothing going on in his mind. Maybe you just wondered what he was thinking. Maybe you knew that he was observing and learning about his world; making observations that would serve him for the rest of his life. It took me years to see that my son's endlessly boring (to me, who couldn't take the time to join him) observations were in fact the foundation of his lifelong interest in physics. He was learning - and only because he wanted to! I think we all need to tap into that beautiful experience of explorative wonder. I've been thinking a lot lately about how we have had free-range exploration and wonder trained out of us by the education, social, and employment systems we live in, and how poor we are to have lost this innate learning ability. Observation is essential for learning, and it's time we get back in the rhythm of it. So I've come up with an exercise for all ages. Kids do it naturally. Some of us may need some encouragement. I'm going to call this exercise Square Foot Observing.

Yes this is a play on square foot gardening, but it's also a form of meditation - a meditation that requires nothing more than a brief commitment. Say ten minutes, though you may be forgiven for getting so deeply engaged that you stay for hours.

Here's how it works:

Find a spot on the ground or near to it.
One square foot. That is all. It doesn't matter what is in it.

Lie down, so your eyes are a maximum distance of one foot from the spot you chose.

Make yourself comfortable. You can even bring a mat or a pillow if you need it.







That's it! Next time pick a different spot.

What you're doing:

You're giving yourself an opportunity to relax, and your mind an opportunity to focus and explore. In limiting your field of observation to one square foot you not only relieve yourself of the masses of overwhelming or distracting other experiences around you, but you also give yourself freedom to see more deeply. You give yourself an opportunity to notice things you may never have seen before, and there are such discoveries to be made anywhere, from a square foot of the most boring-looking piece of sidewalk to a square foot of laundry, to a square foot of lawn, to a square foot of forest floor or lake surface. What you are seeing may involve other life forms, but it may also involve interesting molecular structures, light play, soundscapes, or textures. Maybe the movement of the air or the perceived humidity is the thing. You can't know until you lie down and start your observation.

Once you've been doing this for a while, and if you're not too much of a purist, you might want to bring along a little jeweler's scope to aid in your observations. These things can be quite inexpensive to buy, and can open you up to a whole new world of rarely-seen life and physical wonders.

All of the photos included here were taken by my son Taliesin, who has always taken time to observe deeply, sometimes with camera in hand.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Wild Food Spotlight 3: Plantain

This is the third in a series of foraging-related articles I'm writing for our local bulletin.
Re-posted from the Artisan Office Bulletin:

~  ~  ~ 

This past May, my daughter had a big fall, goring her knee on a rotten branch. She endured not only a week of emergency room IV for the ensuing infection, but then three months of the wound slowly expelling all the remaining bits of rotten wood. Plantain to the rescue! Yes – seriously! What the salt water soaks didn't pull out, we got out with plantain poultices. Grab a leaf, chew it up, and place it on the (closed) wound. You can even use one of the flat leaves as a bandage to hold it in place (tied with string).

Not to be confused with plantain bananas, the small green inconspicuous plants of the Plantago family are exceedingly common. Find them along the edges of roads, meadows, lawns, paths, and playgrounds. Most common around here are P. major (broad-leaved plantain) and P. lanceolata (narrow-leaved plantain or ribwort). Maybe when you were a child you learned to pluck a broad-leaved plantain and find the veins sticking out where you tore it off. Maybe you discovered that if you pulled those veins you could make the leaf curl up. Apparently some people have used these tough fibres as thread! When I was a little girl, my mother and I sometimes made the long gruelling climb from our home in Bowen Bay up towards Adams Rd. And along the way we saw ribwort, although we didn't know it at the time. We called them the Crowned Princes and Princesses of Denmark, because of their flowers' beautiful crown-like flower-heads. Oh the adventures those crowned princes and princesses have had over the two generations this game has persisted! Plantain is a wonderful entertainment system for kids on otherwise boring walks.

But it's also a food and a valuable medicine. Modern science is slowly beginning to study and confirm what folk medicine has taught for centuries. In her review, Anne Berit Samuelsen states that “P. major contains biologically active compounds such as polysaccharides, lipids, caffeic acid derivatives, flavonoids, iridoid glycosides and terpenoids. Alkaloids and some organic acids have also been detected. A range of biological activities has been found from plant extracts including wound healing activity, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antioxidant, weak antibiotic, immuno modulating and antiulcerogenic activity.” (1) In my own life, I often use broad-leaved plantain as a wound or sting poultice. It's handily available in the wilderness, where stings, nettle burns, and other small injuries often happen, and makes a huge difference to such inflammations when chewed up and applied directly. Ribwort is also valuable, both for the gut-cleaning (bulking) properties of its seeds (psyllium), as well as for its leaves' value in treating coughs and uterine complaints. As an anticatarrhal and expectorant, ribwort tea is an excellent cough remedy. (2)

Food is maybe the least exciting thing about plantain, since it's basically a plain-tasting leaf that gets tough very early in its life. But if you get stoked about the prospect of eating food out of your lawn or healing and nourishing your body naturally, plantain is definitely for you. As with so many wild greens, the young leaves are great in salads, or braised as they grow tougher. They're also delicious in green smoothies – especially with the knowledge of all those nutrients you're consuming! And if you are eating a grain-free diet, you may already buy the mucilaginous psyllium as a binder for coconut flour confections, or perhaps you use it simply as a dietary fibre. Either way, find it growing atop a humble plantain. Commercial psyllium seed actually comes from P. afra, ovata, or indica, but seeds of ribwort also have mucilaginous properties. Find some ribwort blossoms that have fully gone to seed, rub the seeds out into a small bowl, blow off most of the separated husks (some remaining is fine) and add a bit of water. After a while you'll see the mucilage forming around the seeds. The mucilage is, of course, the same colour as the water, so it is only apparent in that the seeds sit increasingly distant from each other in the water, held separated by their growing coating of mucilage. When there's enough of it you can feel its gooeyness.

But let's get down to business. Everybody needs some inspiration to try plantain, so I recommend starting with this lovely green plantain smoothie: Pick a bunch of youngish plantain leaves (either broad-leaved or ribwort will do), wash them, check for unwanted bits, and stuff them in your blender. Cover them with ice cold water (and a few ice cubes if your blender can handle it!), and add some fresh lemon juice. Blend until the leaves are fully macerated and suspended in the water. If you want it sweet (like lemonade!) then blend in a little honey, to taste. If you want it creamy, blend in an avocado or some nut-milk. Enjoy!

(1) Anne Berit Samuelsen: The traditional uses, chemical constituents and biological activities of Plantago major L. A review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 71, Issue 1, Pages 1-21

Thursday, August 18, 2016


Today while looking for an email (and sorting by sender), I happened upon emails from my Dad, who died a year and a half ago. It's like seeing his ghost. I have lost an incredible amount of family recently, and am still feeling lost and stunned, so reading his words was comforting and surreal and confusing. He had emailed me about a blog post I'd written about him (6 years ago on my previous blog), so I went to read that blog post, and am sharing it here. In light of having lost the man whose story inspired it in the meantime, it is still meaningful to me. He's dead now. Even the toy store he owned all my life has been sold and changed. But this post, and his emails, feels like finding a piece of his voice from the past to help me get through the present.


Many years ago, now, my Dad told me he had given notice on his toy shop’s rental space. He couldn’t afford to rent as much space as the new landlord wanted him to, and the landlord wouldn’t rent him any less. He gave notice before he had secured another location. He had to be out by the end of the month. The month was December – December in the toy business. There was no time to be out looking for a new location, and not many spaces were becoming available at that time, either. On a visit with my Dad, I asked him how the search was going. If my memory is trustworthy, it was about 10 days before Christmas.

He replied that, well, he was hoping for Edgemont, but he was also considering Westview, since those were neighbourhoods he liked, and both closer to his home. Edgemont has about 50 shops, and Westview maybe 15.

Ummm… but he was looking elsewhere, too, right? I mean… it’s highly unlikely he’d find something in one of those tiny shopping areas, on such short notice and … NOW.

Nope. He wasn’t.

Well, surely he’d booked storage for all his stock, then, hadn’t he?

Nope. He was going to move to Edgemont.

He had faith.

Oh God – not this again. My father is a Baptist, and I am not. He would say don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. I do not believe in God. I would not put the future of my tiny toystore and all my life’s effort at risk just because I’ve decided I want something far out of my grasp, and then trust in God to provide it.

Had I ever heard of the Mount of Olives?

Of course not.

…the mountain where Jesus provided the people, bla bla bla… The people had faith and Jesus provided. It was a lovely story – really. Just not in my faith-book. My Dad said he had faith, too.

Uh huh.

Three days or so before Christmas I phoned to see how my Dad’s search was going, and to offer to help him arrange storage. He seemed to have found something, exactly where he wanted on the main street in Edgemont, but it wouldn’t be available until March.

So the storage?

Nope. He had faith.

The day before Christmas my Dad was clearing some snow from in front of his shop, and the neighbour – a man who Daddy had previously helped – came to ask how his search was going, and to offer him his empty warehouse for the lag time between leaving the old store and moving into the new one.

Problem solved. My Dad had faith and Jesus provided. Or somebody did. I still don’t believe in God, but I do believe in faith.

We just watched Miracle on 34th street, and I was struck by the significance of the “in God we trust” plot twist (the lawyer convinces the judge that Santa is real in the same way that God is real; invisible though he may be, millions of people put their faith in him, and if we lost that faith the fabric of our society would disintegrate). It doesn’t have to be God or Santa or the Easter Bunny; not even fairies or the Central Bank or love; it can simply be faith itself. I absolutely could not stand the movie “the Secret”. I found it shallow and stupid, but at its core it was about having faith. Numerous studies have shown that people who have prayer – whether by themselves or by other people they are unaware of – heal faster on average than those who don’t receive prayer. Obama won with a slogan of pure faith: Yes We Can! It doesn’t matter how or why or even what; we just trust that we can. The magic is not in the entity or power that is believed in; it’s in the belief itself. I believe in wishing.

When I was in grade 5 I went on a class trip to the Flying U Ranch. My class took the water taxi off Bowen Island in the early morning, and I wished fervently upon Venus that the boy I loved would ask me out. I wished and wished and wished with all the faith I had until I could no longer see the star, and then I wished the same thing in every tunnel we entered on our trip up the Fraser Canyon to the ranch. Not only was I one of the least popular girls in my class, always the last picked for teams, only 10 years old, and absolutely terrified to talk to the boy in question, but he was by far the most popular boy, doted on by every girl, and in no way desperate for a date. Girls had fist-fights over him, and yet none of us dated anybody, yet. Those wishes were prayers.

On the last day of our class trip, there was a dance. I dreaded parties. I went to my cabin and sobbed the evening away while everybody else danced. Actually I was lying on the bed, drawing a very miserable picture of everybody else dancing, and myself crying. I still have it. It’s half finished. There is a funny-looking line where the pencil slipped when I suddenly stopped drawing. Knock at the door. … Yes? … Emily? Of course it was him – I was so shocked I fell off my bed and onto the floor, and, as I stumbled up to my feet in front of him, he asked me to dance with him. In hindsight, it doesn’t matter whether my teacher encouraged him to ask me, or whether he came to my cabin out of pure true love. That night not only my faith in wishes was bolstered, but my faith in a world that sometimes seemed to have abandoned me. I have spent most of my life trying to build up the courage to like myself; to have faith in myself and my ability to just be good enough. In my head I know that it’s all in my head. But it’s only faith that can make that leap for me.

My Mum and Pappa taught me atheism, but they also taught me faith. They put faith in the land and fed us. They put faith in their own ability to create a life together, and a beautiful home out of a piece of forest. It wasn’t easy, but they had faith and they prevailed. They put faith in love to lead us through our differences, and faith in me, recently, when they bought me an etching press for a career they can hardly fathom. We put faith in the vast universe, every day, when we leave our loved ones and our dreams and trust that we’ll find them again. Our faith is broken, sometimes. It has to be. But it's also what allows us to carry on. Faith goes on.

Right now my Dad is recovering from surgery after a fall that cracked his spine. His God sure hasn’t given him an easy row to hoe, but he is stalwart in his faith, just like he’s stalwart in his refusal to use a walker, much to my fear and dismay. His Parkinson’s seems, if anything, to have deepened his faith in his God. I guess God is there when you need him, just like parents, stars, love and Santa Claus.

I still don’t believe in God, but I believe in faith.

Monday, July 18, 2016

what to do in the face of global trauma

It's been a rough few months in the world. Maybe years, even but it feels like the violence and sadness is increasing. With multiple mass-killings, an attempted military coup and promises of the death penalty; police murders and police murdered, these few weeks have been brutal. People everywhere are hurting or scared or angry. It's overwhelming, and while many people's minds are turning away, others are turning towards answers. What can we do? How do we overcome this violent and frightening chapter in our collective lives?


We overcome it with love. In fact we don't so much overcome as live it. There is no use in distracting ourselves, hiding the news from our children; finding people to blame or people to save us. We have to turn our faces towards the horror and walk right through it, with love.

These things are happening because we live in a global culture that separates instead of loving. Think of the perpetrators of the attacks. They're usually portrayed as either outcasts acting from personal frustrations, or as cohesive groups fighting for or against other groups. Most of the perpetrators have at some point been disenfranchised in some way. Murder hurts. The act of murder is a horrifyingly painful act for the perpetrator. S/he loses everything in the process. As various people keep saying in the media, you don't give up everything to commit murder unless you feel you have nothing to lose. That goes for individuals shooting their lovers as much as it goes for cops shooting citizens as much as it goes for presidents calling for capital punishment and kids strangling their friends in dark corners at school. Did you hear the voices on the 911 call from the cops being shot in Louisiana? Do you read the emotion in the inflamed and judgemental posts on social media? They're scared shitless. Why do these people have so much to fear? Why do people feel they have nothing to lose? Because we've ostracized them.

In the very basic fabric of our education, legal, political, faith and social systems we separate. We separate by grading our children and measuring them against an ideal, so that some come out on top and some don't, and all of them come out fighting to succeed against the others. We separate by splitting people into victims and perpetrators, winners and losers, left- and right-brained, healthy and unhealthy, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer, empowered and disenfranchised, upper, middle and lower, black, red, white, yellow and blue. We have developed highly intricate and sophisticated ways of categorizing ourselves and then manipulating the systems we made to come out on top, or at least a little higher than the next guy, on whatever ladder we're climbing. We have so many ways of separating ourselves that it has become nearly impossible to see ourselves in others.

That would be compassion: To see somebody so much that when they hurt, you hurt. Not that you feel empathy for their pain, but that you actually feel the pain. Compassion is when you see that you and the other are the same. Love is when you transcend that compassion so that it isn't even a consideration anymore. It just is, as the way of being, because you love.

Love does not depend upon the other fitting into your categories, or upon you understanding their motives and desires. It just is. When a baby is born a mother (often) experiences true love. With such a deep physical connection to this being, we understand that despite the brief but growing separation of our bodies, we are still the same being. When we lay our babies to sleep and walk away we can feel their presence in our hearts, many of us know instinctively when they begin to wake or to need us. That is love. That is when we lose the separation and logical categorization and simply are one with the other. We have to learn to know that oneness in everything.

It's going to be a long journey for us humans to transcend the systems we've created for ourselves, and grow through compassion to oneness - to love. But we're already on the journey, whether we know it or not. In so many ways we are learning and teaching each other to see. Whether you're transcending social norms by reaching open arms out to help the people you're afraid of instead of turning away, or trading goods in an open market with farmers and crafts-people instead of supporting money-centred corporations; whether you're looking with an open mind at a small ecosystem in your back yard, opening your mouth to participate in discussion or to sing with others, opening your door to strangers, or stepping out of the rat-race and into an open meditation session - you are opening. As we open our eyes and hearts and minds and arms to let each other in, we are transcending the separation. We are learning to see and to appreciate the sameness of everything.

As parents, we have an opportunity to look at our children with open minds; to work on opening ourselves instead of closing our children. Remember when people told you to imagine that the other person was you, and to treat them as you would want to be treated, yourself? It's still good advice, but the truth is that other person is you. When you hurt them, you hurt you. When you look for differences or create separation of values, ideals, or presence, you break a piece of yourself. When you open your heart to them, you learn to see the connection that was there before. It's always there. We just have to re-learn to see it.

We have to love.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

unschooling to school - the aftermath

So this afternoon my son came to me and said "Right now it's prynhawn. I think."

Pardon me?

He explained that that was Welsh for 'afternoon'.

I asked him where he learned it. Duolingo, apparently. I said it didn't sound like he was pronouncing it correctly (not that I know much about Welsh, mind you), and doesn't Duolingo have an audio component?

Well yes, he said, it does. But he couldn't hear it because he had the sound turned off.

What? Why?

"Because I was doing it in French class."

I laughed.

He said "I thought maybe you wouldn't be mad at me."

Mad? No. Delighted. My dear one struggled terribly with French during this last year at school. For all his teacher's valiant efforts and kind encouragement, the focus of the course she was teaching had switched to rote memorization of verb conjugation, and he just couldn't stand to learn that way.

Finally, we're back to unschooling, and he can learn whatever languages he wants, however he wants.


Thank you Prince Ea!

Friday, June 24, 2016

On Building in the Wilderness

I have seen various articles, recently, including this rather balanced and good one, asking the public to stop building stacks of rocks. I struggle with this issue all the time. Not always specifically with rock balancing (as we call it here), but with engagement with the wilderness. It's what I do, and I'm passionate about it. There are SO many long-lasting benefits to playing in the wilderness, both for adults and children... and for the wilderness. 
Most people now live in urban areas, are very disconnected from the wilderness, and also harbour a fear of it simply because they don't know it, and/or have been warned about it by their parents. So I take them out to gorgeous wilderness areas and let them play with it. Yes, they move rocks and build dams; they pick up sticks and play with them; build bridges and forts and storefronts where they craft beautiful 'wares' out of clay they scraped from the creeks, mud they scooped from the ground, grasses and leaves they plucked, and moss they pulled from the trees. And as they do this I help them to understand the importance of those things. I show them how the moss holds the water on the rocks to feed the trees; how it forms the bed for the many plants and animals that grow in the trees. I show them the body of the mushroom that lay hidden in the rotten log they crushed, and the importance of that mycelium to the welfare of the whole forest. I show them the many insects and gastropods, etc. that live on the bottom of the rocks in the creeks and the many animals and plants that thrive in and around the mud they are messing with. And they go home filthy, leaving the landscape changed, and also they are changed, themselves. They know the landscape. They aren't afraid to engage with it, and they have a deep appreciation of the many varied and integral parts of it.

When most of us look at a map of a proposed development or construction, we see a map. We can usually relate to it for how it fits or doesn't fit into our community plan or activities. But we don't often think about how many species of insects live on the bottom of the rocks in the creek that flows through the top left quadrant of that map. We don't usually know how our bums feel after sitting in the wet moss on the rotten log at the base of the biggest tree in the bottom left quadrant. We don't think about how much that area or the whole of our community will be impacted by the loss of that area. We don't have a deep sense of caring for the wilderness of that area, so we don't take that into consideration. And then it isn't just altered - it's gone.

This is happening everywhere. So many of us feel unperturbed when we hear that they're building pipelines out in the unpopulated areas of our wilderness, because that wilderness is not our home. The people giving directives to make changes to the wilderness are not often personally acquainted with that wilderness. Our homes are refuges from the wilderness, in towns and cities that are, themselves, refuges from the wilderness. But those concepts separate us from it, and we lose sight of our own welfare. Humans are wilderness. We have to learn to engage with it every single day because it is part of our global body - so that even the tiny changes we make matter to us. The changes will be part of us too, and if we engage with our wilderness wholly and personally, we can be thoughtful about how we engage.

So do I feel it's OK for us all to go littering the shores with piles of rocks, pulling the moss off the trees and artfully carving up the trunks of trees? No. And this is a challenge for me. But I feel that being challenged by the ways we engage with our wilderness is very important. I feel it's essential that we go out and play. And while we play we must question (or help those with us to question) every move we make and its impact on the body of the ecosystem we are a part of. 

I sometimes balance rocks. I find it personally rewarding, and also a wonderful activity to help others to engage with a bit of landscape they may have previously walked over, unseeing. As I pick up the rocks I check for animals, algae and eggs living on and under them, and when I'm finished I carefully put them back again. I do this in order to leave things closer to the way I found them, but I also do it because balanced rocks can fall on small animals. I am not sure I'm doing the right thing, but I think the conversation around how we engage with our ecosystem is definitely the right thing.