You are what you eat—sort of!

As you may recall, I have explored the subject of anger from many different perspectives—anger as it relates to the essential aspect of strength; anger arising from psychological issues; anger as a defense mechanism and a character trait. I have personally worked on my own anger many times during nature ceremonies, and I’ve told you some of those stories here. I’ve also explored anger with my spiritual teachers, therapists, and even a naturopath. I recently discovered a new key to understanding anger. It is perhaps the simplest method of all: looking at how what and when I eat affects my mood, including such impacts as irritation, frustration, a dry itchy feeling, and plain old grumpiness!

Potatoes not Prozac

Potatoes not Prozac: Simple Solutions for Sugar SensitivityMy sister Kirsten turned me on to a book called Potatoes not Prozac, by Kathleen DesMaisons. Kathleen describes how what we eat, and when, affects three biochemical systems in our bodies that affect mood: blood sugar levels, serotonin (a brain chemical), and beta-endorphin (another brain chemical). She also advances the theory that some of us are “sugar sensitive,” which means that our body chemistry responds more drastically to sugar and other refined carbohydrates. I was very interested in this theory. Years of meditating, yoga, running, and seeking of self knowledge have had very little impact on the reactivity that goes on in me. It has seemed to be totally beyond my control, no matter how hard I try or how good my intentions.

Sugar sensitivity is common for people who have addiction in their families, and as Gabor Maté and others have written, brain chemistry is a strong factor in addiction. Since brain chemistry is affected by genetics, as well as early experiences, it is not surprising that addiction and the type of brain chemistry that is sugar sensitive would run in the family. Kathleen discovered the impact of eating habits, including sugar consumption, on our feeling of well-being through her work with alcoholics. This prompted her to pursue a PhD in addictive nutrition, so she could study the subject more deeply. Over the years she has worked with thousands of people. In some studies she has done, those who follow her plan have a 92% success rate in achieving sobriety. Previously in the field of treatment for alchoholism, a 25% success rate was considered good. That’s a pretty strong testament to the effectiveness of her plan in helping people with addictions to create lasting change!

By now you may be wondering whether you are sugar sensitive. The test that Kathleen offers in her book is to imagine that you walk into your kitchen at home and find a plate of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies on the counter. Their warm chocolatey smell greets you as you enter the room. You don’t feel hungry. No one is around to defend the cookies or observe your actions. What do you do? Evidently, there are some people who would not eat a cookie! Can you believe it? This is hard for me to imagine. For me it’s a no-brainer. In real life I might wonder who had put the cookies there and whether they were poisoned. But in the imaginary exercise, I would not hesitate to eat a cookie. How about you?

Kathleen also has a checklist of ten items to determine whether one is sugar sensitive. Interestingly, one of the items is “I have a history of anger that sometimes surprises even me.” Wow, there it is in black and white. This is probably the first time I have seen an articulation of a connection between sugar and anger. The history part is true for me too, and it does surprise me.

A history of anger

When I was at Monkey Valley I looked through a box of journals, in order to select the ones that contain my record of vision quests I’ve been on. I glanced at a few other journals at random, just to see what I’d written about. There was a journal from grade ten. In it I was raging at my father, swearing in every sentence, angry and hateful. What a shock! I didn’t remember feeling that way, much less writing it down. I flipped open a journal from 1995 or so. I saw an entry in which I was raging at a friend for something she had done. Angry, reactive, hateful sentences filled the page.  I looked at a journal from 2007. Rage at another friend. The same kind of angry, hateful language. I was really shocked to discover this. Although I know I am prone to anger and reactivity, I truly did not recall writing these entries, or having those feelings towards my friends. And to see that the pattern stretched back thirty years! What a revelation. And I don’t doubt that my sugar consumption really mushroomed in junior high, once I was earning my own money and could buy sweets whenever I wanted. Add that to sugary breakfast cereals and sweet desserts every night with dinner, and there was a lot of sugar creating havoc in my body. Could early and continuous sugar consumption have had a co-relation to decades of anger?

Reading this book was like finding a life-line that maybe I could cling to and use to pull myself out of the swamp of reactivity that I have been swimming around in my whole life. Obviously I can’t reveal the contents of the entire book here, but I’m going to hit a few of the high points.

Blood sugar level

Some of the symptoms of low blood sugar:

  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Feeling tired for no reason
  • Restless, can’t keep still
  • Easily frustrated
  • Trouble concentrating
  • More irritable than usual
  • Gets angry unexpectedly

These are all things I experience most days.

Serotonin level

Some of the symptoms of low serotonin:

  • Depressed
  • Flies off the handle
  • Reactive
  • Craves sweets (some people crave bread, pasta, and cereal)

Again, I’ve selected the ones that I experience the most, including the ones related to anger.

Beta-endorphin level

Some of the symptoms of low beta-endorphin:

  • Low pain tolerance or tolerance for discomfort (jumpy)
  • Tearful, reactive
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Overwhelmed by other’s pain
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Depressed, hopeless
  • Feels “done to” by others (blaming, being a victim)
  • Craves sugar

She’s been reading my mail!

Optimal levels of these three

Sugar sensitive people have a brain chemistry that is disposed to producing low quantities of serotonin and beta-endorphin, which is why we seek to simulate the effects of these brain chemicals by using sugar. But when all the levels of blood sugar, serotonin, and beta-endorphins are optimal this is how we would feel:

  • Energetic, and tired when appropriate
  • Relaxed, clear, focused
  • Able to deal with problems effectively
  • Easy going, even-tempered
  • Hopeful, optimistic
  • Reflective, responsive
  • Able to seek help
  • Sensitive, sympathetic
  • High self-esteem
  • Compassionate
  • Connected to and in touch with others
  • Takes personal responsibility
  • Euphoric!

I was especially struck by how these three aspects of our physical chemistry can affect our self-esteem and whether we feel isolated or connected to others. For me, I have often avoided contact with others because it triggered so much reactivity, but the price I paid was feeling very isolated, alone, and that nobody cared about me. It is remarkable to learn that eating habits played a role in this dynamic!

Keeping a food journalPotatoes: the humble russet and two exotic purples

The first step towards balancing sugar sensitivity, in the first edition of Potatoes not Prozac (1998), is to keep a food journal. I’ve been doing that for two months now. The idea of the journal is just to actually see what I am doing, clearly, in black and white. Not to judge it. As many of you may know, for the past few years my breakfast has consisted of two bars of exquisite organic dark chocolate. So that is what I put down. I also noted when I ate, and how I felt both physically and emotionally. What a goldmine of information! Kathleen talks about how this journal becomes a way of listening to my body speak to me. And it has been telling me a lot!

What I was struck by, after I’d been keeping the journal for about a month, was how erratic my eating habits were. The times for the various meals fluctuated wildly, with dinner sometimes as late as 11 PM. And when I was too busy to stop for a meal, I discovered that I used sugar to keep myself going. So depending on the day, I might have a chocolate at 6:00. A toffee at 7:00. Maybe an apple at 8:00. Another snack at 9:00. And finally, a proper dinner at 10:00 PM. Now that I knew the effects on my blood sugar from eating sweets (and what the body does to try to re-establish homeostasis), I felt sad to see how much trauma I was subjecting my body to by snacking this way. I also felt sad to see how I was treating myself so badly by forcing myself to wait to eat lunch and dinner. (Accomplishing things and “doing” was more important than stopping to care for myself.) Just seeing the patterns helped me to feel compassion for my physical self, and the desire to treat my body better.

The seven steps

Kathleen’s plan is to gently and gradually shift to healthier eating habits for life. It is a seven-step plan, and I’ve followed a few of the steps now. In the new edition (2008) of her book, step one is to start eating breakfast with protein and a complex carbohydrate (for example, whole wheat toast or oatmeal), within an hour of getting up. It doesn’t even require giving up the chocolate, just adding the protein and complex carb. For me this was a huge step, to shift away from my chocolate for breakfast habit. Just contemplating eating something else first thing in the morning felt distasteful to me. So I waited for a time when my life was making very little demands on me, so I could make this big change with as little stress as possible. I did it while I was at Monkey Valley, earlier this month.

The new chocolate rationI have now had a breakfast with 1/3 of my body’s daily protein requirements, and a complex carbohydrate, within an hour of waking, 19 times! I have also been following step three, which is to eat three meals a day with protein, no more than 5-6 hours apart, and if snacking, to include a protein and a complex carbohydrate. I’ve done that for 19 days too. I also drastically reduced my sugar consumption. In this time period I’ve had not even two whole chocolate bars. If you can do math, you will realize that with my prior habits, I would have consumed 38 bars of chocolate in this same amount of time!

Beforehand (the first week I kept a food journal), my feelings were all over the place. I looked like the queen of the mood swings. Lots of highs and lows. And some anxiety.

Although I have had many of the same feelings and physical sensations since shifting my eating habits, I haven’t had the buzz or high from the sugar snacking, and overall I feel much more balanced and stable, with less anxiety. Mind you, in the “before” I was working and dealing with a lot of people and different situations, while during the “after” period I am on holiday. That could account for the lower anxiety!

Anyway, it is early days yet, but I believe that by following this food plan I am treating my body much better. I feel that eating a regular breakfast and having dinner at a normal time are huge accomplishments. I like this change in lifestyle and the feeling of stability it brings. I know that my brain chemistry will continue to adjust over time.

I am so excited about the potential for healing and balance that Kathleen offers in Potatoes not Prozac. She calls her plan “Radiant Recovery.” I bought copies of the book for my family members, and I’m sharing the news with you here, because I truly believe that for some of us, this new information about brain chemistry could solve the mystery of why we never feel quite right. For me, I hope it will be the final missing piece in the puzzle of anger.

More Monkey Valley doings, or how I spent my writing retreat not writing

Luckily, most of the diversions at Monkey Valley Snow and sunshine at Monkey Valleyare more fun than cleaning up dead mice! This is how I spend my time not writing:

• Get winter tires put on the Tracker.

• Get chips repaired on Tracker windshield (much cheaper in Merritt than in Vancouver). The chip repairer is amazed that my windshield has lasted through 7 winters already!

• Purchase and install new water filter. Learn that the threads must be dry or the water leaks.

• Purchase and post replacement “No Hunting and No Trespassing Under Penalty of the Law” signs. Duck under branches. Climb over logs. Worry about Lyme disease and wish I’d worn a hat. (My head starts itching again as I write this!)

• Discover that two new sections of fence need repair. Purchase supplies. Make repairs.

• Purchase and install new smoke detector.

• Replace batteries in flashlights.

• Purchase lock de-icer and apply WD-40 oil to locks on gates. Need to purchase more WD-40.

Back deck and outhouse• Purchase eco-permit at Merritt City Hall so I can take garbage to the Aspen Grove Container Site. $1 per bag. Learn that the container site now has recycling bins too!

• Check water level in the new batteries for the solar power that I purchased in August. Learn that expensive new Water Miser battery caps ($287.42) did not prevent water loss as promised. Learn how to use new hydrometer ($12.00). Use hydrometer to check the state of charge (cell by cell). Learn that Power Pulse equalizers ($140.88) do not equalize charge across cells as promised. Top up water in batteries. Use generator to charge batteries for 4 hours. Re-test with hydrometer. Learn that new batteries ($2568.86 excluding freight, tax, and labour) do not charge to manufacturer’s rating while new.

• Start propane wall heater. It works! (For about three years in a row I had to get a technician out to make repairs before it would start.) Wake in the middle of the night to smell of steak cooking. Have vegetarian freak-out, wondering why intruder has come into the house and started cooking steaks. Eventually realize the smell is cause by dead flies burning up inside the heater!

• Wake up to beautiful snowy Monkey Valley.

• Take the cat scratch posts, litter box, and dishes out to the barn. Goodbye, Donald.

• Find big puddle on bathroom floor. Shut off water line to leaking valve underHorse and cowboy bathroom sink. Mop up water.

• Wake up to find all the snow has melted.

• Chat with handsome cowboy who knocks on my door one morning, complete with horse, dog, hat, and lasso! (This is my favourite diversion while at Monkey Valley!) He is rounding up the Douglas Lake cows, bringing them down to the home pasture for the winter. Steve is a wonderfully kind neighbour. This summer he brought his chainsaw and cut away some giant trees that had fallen across the road on my property, and he even bucked up some of the wood so I could use it for firewood! The Douglas Lake Ranch, established in 1884, is Canada’s largest privately held working cattle ranch, with a herd of 20,000 cattle.

• Do cleansing ritual for the house, releasing any negative energy and filling the house with love, light, and positive energy.

• Yell at pack rat that climbs onto the roof each night around 10 PM. What is he doing up there?

• Put photos of my nephew in a photo album. Write funny captions for photos.

Steve Brewer, a great neighbour• Listen to new Rolling Stones album (Aftermath, 1966). Marvel at this first album of all Jagger-Richards compositions. Marvel at “Goin’ Home.” Not the length—which was one of the first rock songs over 10 minutes—but the absolute sexiness. While it has a flavour of Van Morrison’s Gloria in places—she makes me feel so good, she makes me feel alright—it is audacious and I can’t believe they got away with it! I also can’t believe that I have never heard this before, although I’ve been a Stones fan since I was 15. Cry because my Dad’s dead and I am listening to this record on his amazing stereo system. Cry because I am listening to this record alone at Monkey Valley. Cry because I want Mick Jagger.

• Talk to writing buddies about how our writing is going. Mine is not going (see above).

• Spend many hours eating meals and reading books in front of the fire (see below).

• And always, always, make fire first thing in the morning (average house temperature upon waking: 13° C), and carry in firewood last thing before dark.

So that’s how I spent my fall vacation! The only thing left to do is wash all the windows and floors. And since I really do not feel like washing all the windows and floors, I have decided to return to Vancouver. Where I am sure I will write lots and lots!

Monkey Valley doings—as snug as a bug in a fug

As you know, I came to Monkey Valley this November to write. And as many writers can verify, it is a law of the universe that just about any mundane chore can seem more important when there’s writing to be done. Monkey Valley provided me with myriad (which literally means 10,000) diversions. Would you like to hear about them?

Mouse corpse - skeleton and furThe first was the most horrible. When I arrived, I discovered that my favourite little furry visitors had been scampering around the house, and the first order of business was to clean up the signs of their presence. Yes, I am talking about mouse turds. 🙁 For some reason, the biggest accumulation of mouse turds was around the live mouse traps. There was also a big mess of ground up blue mouse bait outside the traps. I can only surmise that the mice inside the trap passed bits of the poisoned bait to the  mice outside the trap. How terribly sad. I feel like such a beast. Eventually, of course, the mice outside the trap joined the mice inside the trap.

My evil plan is that the bait entices the mice into the trap, and then kills them, hopefully quickly and painlessly. Since they die there, and not in the walls of the house, I don’t have the scary problem of maggots parading across the living room floor, which once happened when an animal died inside the wall. Unfortunately, judging from the half-eaten remains of some of the mice in the traps, the death is not always quick and painless. It can involve being cannabalized by one’s own mates. Or maybe this chewy snacking occurred after the mice were already dead… I hope so, but it is still a terrible thing for the living mice to have to digest. (Pun intended.)Mouse in trap

The other benefit of my perfected mice-killing scheme is that the poison from the dead mice does not travel into the chain of life at Monkey Valley, poisoning bugs and birds and other creatures who might encounter the little dead bodies. But as I gathered the little corpses into a big green garbage bag, it occurred to me that the poison will still enter the biosphere at the landfill where the dead mice wind up, thus poisoning bugs and birds at the site of the landfill, rather than at Monkey Valley. The goal of ahimsa is difficult indeed. Perhaps the traditional “dead mouse trap” is better than the “live mouse trap & poison” approach. To be continued…

Part 5: Ceremony for owl and the wild ones

Great grey owl, photographer Chris DoddsAs I have mentioned previously, a wise wild woman suggested that the great grey owls I encountered this summer were angry. I considered her interpretation of the events, and decided to follow her suggestion of performing a ceremony to let the owls know of my good intentions.

I have long been interested in sacred ceremony and ritual, and first learned the pagan method of working with the four directions. Interestingly, the four directions, which often correspond to the four elements of water, earth, air, and fire, are used in many cultures the world over. The pagan rituals I learned had their roots in Celtic traditions. When I studied to become a vision fast guide, the same four elements were assigned in the same order around the wheel, but a quarter turn further along! This usage arose out of the ways of the Native American traditions of the Lakota people. However, the roots for the Lakota medicine wheel are said to arise from the ceremonies of the ancient Mayan people. It can become very confusing and perhaps impossible to determine which traditions originated where.

But what is clear is that earth-based peoples the world over have identified the usefulness of a nature-based psychology and ceremony that uses the four directions, orienting by the path of the sun across the sky from east to west and the north and south poles of the earth. Similarly, different cultures have selected similar elements as being significant to work with, including the four I’ve named. Other cultures sometimes incorporate additional elements too. For example, in both Buddhist ceremony and pagan ritual the element of ether or space is sometimes used. The Dagara people of West Central Africa use the elements of earth, water, fire, mineral, and nature (green growing things).

I’d like to tell you about a way of beginning a ceremony that I learned at the School of Lost Borders. This ceremony is used by many different Native American and First Nations peoples. It involves calling in the spirits of the seven directions (earth, sky, and centre are the other three) with the use of the smoke of the sacred sage plant.

I put an egg-sized amount of dried sage leaves into a seashell bowl, and lit different spots with a wooden match. I blew on the embers to help the leaves burn. When the sage was smoking nicely, there in my kitchen, I began by greeting the spirits of the east and asking them to be with me in the ceremony. I named a few of the qualities of the east direction, and offered the smoke of the sacred sage to the spirits. Then I repeated this for the other six directions. This act is called “calling in the directions” and it is often performed at the beginning of nature ceremony.

The second step is to smudge oneself with the smoke, for purification, and also to help shift consciousness into a ceremonial openness. If there is a group, the smudge bowl is usually passed clockwise around the circle, and each person smudges the parts of their body they feel moved to cleanse. I smudged my whole body from head to toe, using an eagle feather to brush the smoke over the front and back of my body.

Now I was ready to greet the owls. My plan was to drive to the North Shore, and run through the woods until I came to the place where the owls lived. Since I would be running, I didn’t want to bring all the gear to do the smudging in the woods. But I will tell you, this is the first time I’ve done a ceremony in stages like this. Which is a teaching about ceremony: it is creative, flexible, and responsive to circumstances! Before I left the house, I did tuck a few items for the ceremony into the pockets of my running jacket. Plus of course grabbed my driver’s license and cell phone in case of emergency! I had another ceremonial object waiting in the car, which I would carry while I ran…

I drove over to the North Shore, taking the route up Lynn Valley Road rather than Lillooet Road because I knew I wouldn’t be finished before the gates at the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve were locked. It was getting near dusk already. I parked near the trail that crossed Lynn Creek, and ran through the woods until I reached the place where I had the two owl encounters. I had noted well the tall dead tree that the owls had perched on during both encounters, beside a small creek at a bend in the path. I’ve been on this trail hundreds of times, so it was easy to find the spot again. From their behaviour, I believe this tree marked the edge of the great grey owls’ territory. 

I have to tell you, I felt somewhat fearful that the owls would appear during the ceremony, and perhaps attack my poor head again.  I even wore my glasses while running (something I never do) so that I would be able to see them better if they appeared. So I was on the alert for their presence, and performed the ceremony rather more quickly than I might have otherwise.

I carefully climbed down the steep bank in the semi-darkness to a very wide root that was at the base of the owl-tree. Following my wise guide’s suggestion, I had brought a bouquet of flowers for the owls, which I tucked behind the root so they stood up nicely. Then I took out a small pyrex bowl and placed it on the wide root. I filled the bowl with a mixture of sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and sesame seeds. I blessed the spot with my hands using Reiki. Then I climbed back up onto the path.

Whew! No sign of the owls yet. But I was sure that they were aware of my presence. I faced downhill, into their territory, and addressed the owls quite loudly. I figured it was unlikely anyone would come along the path since it was almost dark, and the creek was bubbling away at high volume, so my voice was drowned out anyway. But I trusted that the owls would hear what I had to say.

First I thanked them for the blessing of the encounters I had with them, and told them that I had meant no harm. I expressed my appreciation for the learning I have received, and told them I heard their message that they and the other wild creatures need wild places to live in. That people are encroaching too much, and not leaving them the room they need to thrive. I expressed my intention to help protect the wild creatures and wild places. I also explained about the offerings I had brought; the red and yellow of the tulips represented the red strength of the owls and my golden joy at meeting them, combined together into a single flower. The seeds I confessed I didn’t think they would eat, although some birds do eat seeds. But perhaps their favourite prey, the vole, would eat the seeds. Thus my hope was to nourish the creatures that would feed them. I wasn’t about to bring some voles or mice as an offering! (But I didn’t say that.)

After I had said everything I could think of to the owls, I blessed the land and all the creatures who live there, again using Reiki. I bowed, rose, and then turned and headed back up the path. An interesting thing happened as I was driving home. It was now dark, and all the tail lights, head lights, and traffic lights appeared as bursts of colour. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw that my pupils were very dilated, like the eyes of the owl! It just so happened that I had an eye exam earlier that day, and my pupils were dilated from the drops the optometrist gave me. But it seemed fitting that I was now seeing through the eyes of the owl!

The final step of the ceremony was to close it where I had opened it, in the kitchen. I held the eagle feather up, faced east, and thanked all the spirits for being with me in the ceremony. Then I scattered the ashes of the sage on the wind.

I performed this ceremony on Wednesday. Saturday morning, an email from the Green Party arrived in my inbox. It was a call for volunteers to fill three roles in the party leadership, including Publications Chair. Wow! A role I am completely qualified to perform, right now, with my existing skills and life experiences. I went to the Green Party website to have a look at their policies and documentation, and my heart sang as I reviewed their 10 Core Principles. They include sustainability, ecological wisdom, social justice, respect for diversity, non-violence, and participatory democracy! My prayer for the right work I can do to help protect the wild ones has been answered! And I don’t even have to go to law school for three years! 🙂 I think this is strong medicine. Maybe it’s owl medicine.

Photo Credit: Image Copyright Christopher Dodds, used with kind permission. All Rights Reserved. See other examples of Chris’s beautiful work at Chris Dodds Photo

November is novel writing month!

No Plot, No Problem by Chris BatyI have come to Monkey Valley for the month of November to work on a writing project that I’ve had in mind since September 2007. It has taken a while to get up to speed with this project; I’ll tell you more about that later. But the cool thing is that some friends are also writing this month, and the inspiration that brings is incredible! My friend Kim Ashley in Grass Valley, CA is working on her PhD dissertation, on themes revolving around the vision quest. And my friend Mike Reynolds in Vancouver is working on a novel.

Mike told me about a book called No Plot? No Problem! It is written by San Francisco author Chris Baty, founder of the National Novel Writing Month. November is that month! Can you believe it, people all around the world are writing novels right now!! According to the website for NaNoWriMo, people who are writing their novels have already written 1,172,613,912 words in November 2010! The best part is, everyone who completes 50,000 words by the end of November is a winner!

It is very inspiring to talk to my friends on the phone about how our writing is going (or not going), and I am sure that there is a world-wide energy that is supporting us all to write. Thanks, Chris Baty! I hope I can ride that wave and get a good start on my book. But for today, I’m noodling around on my blog…

Chris asks “What makes a good novel, to you?” And I thought it would be fun to think about this, even though I am writing creative non-fiction, not a novel. So here are my answers. What are yours?

  • interesting characters
  • strong women characters
  • insights into human nature that help me understand people and the world better
  • a sense of people really interacting with each other—lots of dialogue
  • funny dialogue or situations that make me laugh out loud
  • a sense of the goodness of human nature (I believe this arises out of the goodness of the nature of the author)
  • set in a time or place I’ve never been in so I learn about it—details that help me see it and believe it’s real
  • some tension, but not too much

This got me thinking about favourite novels:

Favourite novels from childhood

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • Noah’s Castle by John Rowe Townsend
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Everything by Enid Blyton, especially the adventure series and the boarding school mysteries

Favourite novels from adolescence and adulthood

  • The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Tent Peg & everything by Aritha van Herk
  • The Accidental Tourist & everything by Anne Tyler
  • Most everything by Agatha Christie
  • Everything by Janet Evanovich
  • Everything by Alexander McCall Smith

Looking at these titles, I see a theme of enjoying fantasy, humour, mystery, and the absurd. I guess life is serious and difficult enough; when I’m reading a novel I want pleasure, some intelligence but not too much, and I love a good mystery! What about you, dear reader? Who are your favourite authors? What are your favourite novels? I invite you to comment and share the wonders with the incredibly wide readership of this blog!

And if you feel like you’ve always wanted to write a novel, you don’t have to wait until next November to do it, but you could!

Protecting our endangered species, one letter at a time

The days have been grey and frosty at Monkey Valley. I have yiFrosty mornings at Monkey Valleyelded to the temptation to sit by the fire and catch up on my reading. The Wilderness Committee’s most recent report is about protecting Canada’s endangered wildlife. This is something I care deeply about, as you probably know by now! So I sent in a donation of $35, and spent a half an hour this afternoon composing and sending this letter to the Prime Minister. If you wish, please feel free to copy it and send it yourself, with the personalizations suitable for your own thoughts and circumstances! The Prime Minister’s email address is pm [at] pm [dot] gc [dot] ca.

To The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada,

I understand that the federal government of Canada is currently evaluating the Species at Risk Act (SARA). I am writing to urge you to take steps to ensure that the SARA protects and recovers endangered species in Canada.

Polls show that 80% of Canadians are strongly support endangered species legislation. As one of this 80%, I am deeply concerned about the loss of species that has already occurred, and offer my support to your government to take the necessary steps to protect the species that are at risk.

Please consider acting on these steps, recommended by the Wilderness Committee:

1) Obey the law. Follow the provisions of the Species at Risk Act.

2) Follow timelines. Stop procrastinating. 67% of recovery strategies haven’t met mandated timelines. Endangered species need our help now.

3) Identify and then legally protect critical habitat. Scientists know you can’t recover endangered species without first identifying and then protecting their habitat.

4) List species scientifically. The decision to list a species at risk should be based on science, not politics.

5) Use the “safety net” provision. If an endangered species falls under provincial jurisdiction and isn’t adequately protected, the federal government needs to use SARA’s “safety net” provision to ensure that no endangered species fall between the cracks.

As a citizen of Canada, I want you to know that you have my support to take these steps. It seems that economic considerations often take precedence over taking action to protect wild creatures and wild places. As an ecopsychologist, I believe that we need to preserve the little wildness that is left, for the longevity of the human race and the ecosystem we depend on. Canada’s reputation for justice and caring about the environment is also at stake. Please make protecting endangered species a top priority.

With respect and kind regards,

Karen Rempel, MA

Goodbye to Donald

Donald and truck on Graveley StreetI have been putting off writing this posting, but the time has come. Visitors to Monkey Valley will be sad to learn that Donald the cat has gone. He disappeared while I was at a retreat in California in August. He has been missing for two and a half months now. Since Donald has gone missing before, at first I didn’t take it too seriously. You may recall the time he followed a blonde, perfumed woman home and started living with her! Another cute little female cat went missing at the same time, so I imagine that the two of them eloped together. However, neighbours all around reported seeing a lot of coyote activity around the time these two cats went missing, so that is always another possibility.

I called the SPCA many times, and put an ad on Craigslist, as well as aCat in a box poster on the light post at Nanaimo and Wall Street. There were a few false leads, but Donald did not turn up. Still, the fact of his being gone didn’t really sink in, and I took it pretty lightly. On other occasions when he’s gone missing I have cried and thought about the early days when he first came into my home at Monkey Valley, a flea-ridden little bundle of fur that I had to keep in quarantine so that he wouldn’t infest the other cat I had at the time. I cried about his sad first days here, and wished I’d done things differently. I remember going into the bathroom where he was detained, several times a day, to give him food and affection. He climbed onto my lap and mewed and purred and was so happy to have some attention.

Donald's shoe fetishLittle did the poor kitty know that he was living with mood-swing mama! I regret all the times I had angry outbursts around the house, not directed at him, but I think affecting him nonetheless. I wonder if these outbursts drove him out of the house!

Anyone who knows Donald knows what a curious adventurer he is. He spent most of the time in Vancouver out on the street prowling around, or else in other people’s houses! If they had a cat, he’d be sure to try to eat their cat’s food. One time he sampled a pie that my friend Azusa had left on the counter. He snuck into their place in the middle of the night, and dug into the pie like a starving gypsy. Another time he knocked their cat Himiko’s bag of cat food off the top of the fridge, causing a major kibble spill on the kitchen floor! The neighbours beside us reported that one evening they had a visitor from England, and Donald spent the night sleeping with him!Donald and Himiko

When we moved to Wall Street, Donald was again my emissary into the neighbourhood. He hopped through windows and slunk through cat doors, and was soon known by all the neighbours in the area—long before anyone knew my name they knew who Donald was!

The concern when Donald went missing was very moving to me. Emails were sent around the neighbourhood, and people I’d never met came up to me to ask if Donald had come home. One woman said Donald was a very Hangin on the couchkind cat. What an astonishing testimony! Especially since he often hissed at me when I picked him up! The sad thing was that Donald really didn’t seem to like being around me. He didn’t want to be at home with me. He always preferred to be outside. Maybe he was a cat with a mission, spreading sunshine to all he encountered!

As I have told some of you before, he was a totally different cat at MonkeyDonald in the wild at MV Valley. Maybe because here I’m the only game in town, he usually hung around with me all day long, and he would come lay on the couch with me and purr in the evenings. He only did that a handful of times in Vancouver during the six years we were together!

So coming home to Monkey Valley this month, the loss of Donald finally hit me. In Vancouver we both had our own friends, and our own lives. But up here, we just had each other. The first night I was in the tub, Donald on the deckand I could have sworn I heard Donald scamper up the stairs and give a little sneeze like he used to do. I wondered if Donald’s ghost was here, in the place he loved the most. (Later I realized it must have been a pack rat scaling the outside log wall of the cabin.)

I cried when I saw the ball of red string that was one of Donald’s favourite toys. He got it at the SPCA one time when I was stressed out doing my master’s degree and took him and the other cat there for a cooling off period. The next day when I went back, Crush had already been adopted, but that rapscallion Donald was still there, and I took him home, together with his new toy. All these memories, and reminders of when I was not the kind ofDonald and the snow person I wish to be! I suppose that Donald taught me a lot. What I miss the most is the purry little one whom I held in my arms.

Lots of visitors to Monkey Valley will recall Donald racing down the path to the medicine wheel, or scratching at their tents while they were trying to sleep. Many people took photos of him, drawn to capture the essence of his supreme cat self.  I hope you enjoy these pictures of Donald, and join me in wishing him well, wherever he may be. Goodbye Donald. May your spirit be at peace.

Glowing white stick lights up Monkey Valley!

Mobile internet keyI’m back at Monkey Valley for the month of November, working on a personal writing project. I arrived November 3, to balmy conditions. No frozen water pipes! The road was dry and easy to drive on! All systems were running in the house! It is so nice to reap the benefits of the ten years of work I have put into getting this place to run smoothly. And also nice to have the grace of a mild autumn.

I went into Merritt on Thursday to have the snow tires put on. I also ran into old friends at the Post Office and Espresso Etc., my favourite place for coffee and lunch. You can see the decaf I had in the photo to the right, where I was testing out my new technology: a glowing white stick that miraculously gives me internet service wherever I go! It was wonderful to catch up on news with people I haven’t seen for a while, and reconnect with this place that has been my home off and on for eight years now.

Right at home with my dome antenna and meThe real test was whether the internet stick would work at Monkey Valley. As you know, the cell reception here is notoriously bad. When I first tested the internet stick, aka Mobile Internet Key, I had to hold my laptop above my head, so that it was inches from the dome antenna I had mounted high on the wall. Obviously this was not a practical solution: my laptop is not the lightest on the market, and it is difficult to type à la Jimmy Page with the laptop over my head!

But I had a look at the cable I so carefully installed last summer (2009, was it?!), and saw that I could get some extra length out of it if I ran it straight from my upstairs bedroom, through the loft, below the railing, and down to the table below. Hence the set-up you see in the second picture. The dome is inches from the internet stick, and the signal is fairly reliable. Every now and then it still drops, so I need to be mindful about saving my work before doing any actions that might cause Internet Explorer to lose the page I’m in. And of course there is the risk of brain damage from working so close to the cell phone signal, which has been boosted and intensified by the booster upstairs! So I will do my best to minimize internet time this month.

The great news is, though, that I can use the internet for just $35/month (versus the $100+ I was paying for satellite internet). And with the dome antenna sitting on my TV, I can actually talk on the phone while sitting on the couch. No more standing on a stool trying to hear what my callers are saying! Things just keep getting better, don’t they!