Of Hobbits, Indirectly

The late-morning, low-hanging winter sun is streaming into my living room, and I am ensconced in my favourite chair savouring a third cup of fair trade coffee. Third cups are an indulgence reserved for days off! This day just beginning promises an oasis of relaxation, a grateful happiness – fleeting perhaps, but worth writing about for all that. Some treats in store for me – the library! Gifts from my brother, sister-in-law, kids, and kitties to open! Something special for dinner! Oh, and I am wearing my hair down, which is such a pleasure as it is rather tightly braided for work.

What I am most gratefully happy for is my family, who have come together in unexpected ways this past year. We live so far apart, but we have been able to enjoy each other’s wit and humour a few times this year, and make memorable stories. (Which are not for publication, most of them!) We are a memorable bunch.

Simple happiness is prosaic, is it not? At least in the telling – easier to write of the drama, and struggles, and large moments of life, or at least, thought by some to be more entertaining. My thoughts have wandered down this track since my pastimes over the holiday: first, to read again Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings” books, and then to watch the movie trilogy. I was saddened by some of the story changes in the movies, which perhaps reflects our cultural distrust of simple happiness. Or maybe, more accurately, our culture’s disdain of simple happiness when compared to ambition,  accomplishment, the accumulation of money and power…

This is not meant to be literary or film criticism, my imaginary friend, but rather my observations on the simple. Tolkien wrote marvellous and complex stories – which have their flaws – but I believe he celebrated the simple pleasures, simple happiness and contentment throughout his books in the evocation of the land of the Shire. The Shire is certainly emblematic of ordinary folk going about their ordinary business with contentment, and part of the over-riding theme of the books is this preservation of ordinary happiness. Of course, the movies are faced with the difficulty of compressing into a limited time space the events of the books – never the less, the movies certainly privilege the violent and horrific over the scenes and vignettes of the Shire and its people. I can’t say I enjoyed the movies much for this reason. In my readings of the books over the course of many years, always the Shire has been my beacon, my joy and delight, and my favourite place to come back to…

I do not think it makes for dramatic tellings or riveting stories, but I think my simple happiness and your simple happiness are the most important things in the world. Maybe, if we privileged and elevated the idea of simple happiness, more people would experience it, cultivate it, reverence it?

What do you think?

My Inner Green

Just shy of a year ago, I embarked on a project to change my world. To say I am amazed at the results thus far is a tad understated …I shall write more of my inner journey at a later date, but for today, I want to make a quick sketch for you of the place I find myself in.

 I have moved from the lush and beautiful rain forest of Vancouver Island to the south Okanagan area of British Columbia, a place that is unique in its geographical aspects and climate, for it is considered semi-desert. The town is situated between two large lakes and surrounded by low mountains – although it is very different, it also is stunningly beautiful. Once surrounded by fruit orchards, many have now been transformed  into vineyards and wineries. Hiking and biking opportunities abound, and one is never far from the water.

 Gaaaaaack – this is beginning to sound like a tourist brochure…

 In a way, that is apropos for there are many, many tourists that visit here: one and a half million per year is the last figure I saw quoted. I am sure you can appreciate that impact on a small city of just over thirty thousand people. Penticton draws its name from the Syilx First Nation (that name itself has a wonderful symbolic meaning, do look it up) who called it Sin-peen-tick-tin. The tourist brochures translate this as ‘a place to stay forever’, which seems to somewhat miss the point. Other, more subtle translations say ‘permanent place’ and  variations – a place to linger, perhaps and to enjoy the world with fresh eyes and fresh spirit. It is undeniable that there is something here that calls deeply to the spirit.

 I am certainly not a world traveler, although I have explored my own vast country in a way few others have – there are two other places that have called to my spirit so deeply and compellingly. What is this call? It could be ascribed to the beauties of nature, or various psychological constructs, or simply delights of exploring a new place, although I suspect it goes much deeper than that. I know my words are not adequate to the idea, but I believe the call is to some deep and primordial place in the human soul…

 Eileen Delehanty Pearkes wrote this of my birthplace, a few hundred miles to the east of here, in a book called “The Inner Green”:

I knew I was standing not only at a drainage divide in a narrow valley along an abandoned rail line at the origin of a minor river called the Salmo, but also as a witness to one of the Earth’s central landscape functions: the movement of melted snow or rainwater into a welcoming, but distant ocean. Like a point on a gothic arch, this branch of the vast Columbia River watershed begins at a precise point, representing the apex of twin drainage systems that drop with great elegance and complexity from the mountains to the plateaus and then to the ocean. Unlike a gothic arch, this river locus had no pretences, no heavenly aspirations. It was on the ground, placed as such to remind me that authenticity has its source in the Earth, the personal terrain, the place of truth.

 These words never fail to thrill me, to move me to that place of authenticity, the earth and the environs we are located in. One small town in western Canada is much like another, as we humans impose our cultural trends on the landscape. For those who look and seek, there will always be some deeper undercurrent of truth – the very formation and movement and regeneration of the land that births us.

 I have moved from the mundane descriptive to the banal metaphysical – I rarely apologize for my words, though I must here – for as I said, my words are not equal to the task. Never the less, I find myself in a place where I wake each morning to the sure and certain rootedness of spirit that tells me I am just where I ought to be at this particular time. Where every aspect of the landscape calls to me to learn and explore. Where I feel, in the most physical embodiment of feeling with my whole body, connected and alive and cradled by a generous spirit. I shall endeavour to live up to this gift, my imaginary friend. Thanks for being here with me.