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My Travel Journal
My name is Michaelg. I'm a circles facilitator, vision keeper, wholistic educator, freedom projects initiator, and founder of CES-Vancouver. On Aug 1st, 2007 I left Montreal and began travelling West across Canada to learn more about intentional rural communities (ircs) and explore the possibilities of either joining an existing community or helping create a new one. The journey was filled with many discoveries about myself, the meaning of wholism, and the nature of community life. I've kept this journal to share what I've observed with site visitors, family, and friends.
Part 1 of this journal covers the period from my Montreal departure in Aug, 2007 till my arrival in Vancouver in Nov, 2007. After a seven month writing break, Part 2 continues with my first Vancouver experiences, four months on Gabriola Island, and my return to VancouverGo Directly to Part 2
Part 1: July 31, 2007 till Nov 8th 2007
1st Entry: July 31 / 07, Montreal, Que. - 0 kilometres traveled:
Completed the last contract of my latest work incarnation as a computer trainer, paid my bills, and sold all my worldly goods except for my clothes and a few cooking and personal items. After a two-month search I finally found an old van I could afford, a 1995 Ford Aerostar, that I'll convert into a mini camper. I've contacted about 20 irc's across Canada and requested permission to visit. Said personal and e-mail goodbyes to my Montreal friends and my five children who are living in Korea, Paris, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. I'm physically exhausted from the move, mentally troubled by the fact that I have no source of income and about $ 750.00 to my name, and wondering to myself if my 60 year old body can handle being on the road again. The last time I did this kind of journey was about 35 years ago. In spite of this I'm at peace with my decision to travel. It may be difficult at times but at a deeper level I know its the right thing for me to do; especially with what's happening in the world these days and the need for people to learn more about wholism and wholistic living.. Funny how the right things to do are often difficult
Recently I began asking the Creator to let me use my few talents and skills for the benefit of others. Since people have not been coming to me in great numbers to avail themselves of these talents and skills, I'll have to go to them. I hope this journey will allow me to be of service. Here I go!
2nd entry: Aug 1- 6 / 07, Green Valley, Ont. - 250 kms traveled:
A short journey from Montreal, stayed for about a week with longtime friends Richard Bleile and Suzanne Bujould on their 70 acre farm near Green Valley Ontario. Richard and Suzanne are recently-retired school teachers who have continually improved the quality of their house and outbuildings, looked after animals, worked a large garden and their land, grown and preserved a lot of their own food, and raised three very nice children while still being able to pursue professional teaching careers. Watching the two of them continually working at small and larger projects reminded me of my own need to give my mind and body useful things to do in order to keep them active and healthy.
3nd entry: Aug 6 / 07, Ottawa, Ont. - 340 kms traveled:
An interesting thing happened during our visit. From the time I bought my van I knew I would need more storage space and the most logical place was the roof. While visiting Richard and Suzanne I bought a roof rack from an auto wrecker in Green Valley and installed it even though I didn't have enough money to buy a cargo box to attach to the rack. My mind was very focussed on getting this box and reminded me on several occasions of my great need for one. My Scorpio-Subud instinct, which has been very active on the journey so far, indicated that a cargo box would appear and that I should just keep going.
4th entry: Aug 7- 21 / 07, St Catherines, Ont. - 1000
5th entry: Aug 21 - 22 / 07, Toronto, Ont. - 1150 kms traveled:
The Whole Village community now consists of about 14 adults, 5 children, and 2 older teens. Most of its members are fully committed to the idea of ecologically sustainable living and their lifestyles reflect it. Energy conservation, composting and recycling, careful choice of products used in daily life, even how you use the bathroom are all part of the Whole Village lifestyle.
The community has more women than men and more adults over fifty than under. This is definitely not a young community in average age but the presence of five children energizes what I found at times could be a rather sedate and humourless atmosphere. To be fair to community members, during the nine days I was there many of them were extremely tired and overloaded with work. General or sub-group meetings were being held just about every night and during the day members who didn't leave the property to work were extremely busy dealing with an enormous "to do" list associated with this time of year on a farm. Animals and plants to attend to, gardens to weed and harvest, routine and crisis maintenance of structures and equipment, the list goes on and on. Added to this challenge was their work approach which involves using manual labour instead of machines whenever possible to wean themselves from fossil-fuel dependency. It was no wonder that many of them had little time or energy to interact joyfully with guests or visitors.
The community works on the principle
of consensus and so there are an inordinate amount of meeting to deal with both
large and small "issues", be it what colour to paint the recreation
room floor, who can or can't stay at the farmhouse, or whether the community
should use a work bee to clean out the barn for sheep that would eventually end
up being slaughtered. I take my hat off to any group that tries to work by consensus! It probably the right way for humans to work together but it sure isn't for people who are impatient and want quick results.
So what did I learn during my stay at Whole Village? I learned that I love country living but I don't want to be a full-time farmer. I do want to garden and look after fruit trees, herbs, and animals on a part-time basis, but I never want to put myself in a situation where I can't travel because I have plants or animals who need my attention 365 days a year. I learned that consensus is the right approach for the big issues of communal living but not for the mundane, daily, material decisions! For these types of decisions we need to appoint the right man or woman to take on a specific area of responsibility, pay them if necessary, make them accountable for their actions, and then let them get on with it. No interminable meetings dealing with nit-picking details for me! I
learned that people without a sense of playfulness and humour must be a small
minority in a community and that too many of them will quickly take the fun out
of living together. I also learned I don't want to leave my community to go to
work and that on-site enterprises that enable members to do their right work
must be the central core of community life.
7th entry: Sept 2 - Sept 11/ 07, St Catherines, Ont. - 1800 kms traveled:
Returned to my friend Shirley Conway's home in St Catherines to make some final modifications to my van and create a sample page for a new Whole Village web site, the old site being badly in need of some TLC. It was nice to see Shirley again and recount my Whole Village experiences but after nine previous days of organic food, fresh air, and silent,star-filled nights, the shock of returning to "city life" became apparent. I could feel my energy level dropping, my eating habits changing, and my sense of enthusiasm declining. Everything seemed so disconnected from the natural world. Food came from grocery stores and restaurants, weather was a topic of conversation rather than a determining factor in planning projects, high noise levels and "industrial" air were considered "normal".
Soon, as I began to work long hours on the computer and watch more television, that same sense of disconnection began to happen within me! Much that I like Shirley's company I felt I had to complete my web site work and get back on the road The working arrangement with Whole Village was that if the "communication mandate group" liked my sample page, they would hire me to rebuild the entire site. So I looked at some site templates my friend Miles Simons of Vancouver and I had created several years ago for my "web author" enterprise, found a good colour and layout combination, built a new home page, and e-mailed them the result. After several days they responded positively and I received the contract.
I spent nearly a week rebuilding the Whole Village site at Shiley's home. As usual Shirley was the perfect host and friend (she rarely hit me during my entire stay). After wrestling with the strange code from the old Whole Village site, the work was completed. I said my final goodbyes to Shirley and returned to Whole Village to present my work. Thank you so much, Shirley, you are a supportive friend!
8th entry: Sept 11 - Sept 14/ 07, Caledon, Ont. - 2200 kms traveled:
Back at Whole Village where I met with Brenda and Jeff from the communication mandate group, presented the new site files plus a Web Site Creation Guide I wrote for future WV webmasters, and gratefully received prompt payment. I also gave some free advice to several members who were in the process of building their own sites. It was nice to be back at Whole Village. I was gently chastised by several members who read this journal for my use of the word "humourless" to describe the group so we all agreed that a more apt description was "reserved".
So I said my goodbyes to the Whole Village community and prepared for some serious travelling.
9th entry: Sept 15 - Sept 20/
07, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta - 5,500 kms traveled:
As I left I made an important decision. I decided that I would not stop except to sleep at night until I reached Edmonton where my sister and family live. I realized that although my aim was to visit intentional rural communities (ircs) across the country, I just couldn't afford to make repeated stops in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta for the following reasons;
10th entry, Sept 20 - Oct 31st / 07, Edmonton, Alberta, 6000 kms traveled:
Six days after leaving Whole Village in Caledon Ontario I arrived at my sister Bertha and brother-in-law Rod's house in Edmonton. From a small bed in the back of 1995 Aerostar van to a brand new half-million dollar house in a new subdivision where I received the luxury of my own bedroom, a warm shower whenever I want it, a large fridge with food in it, etc. It was wonderful catching up with my sis and re-connecting with my niece Miriam and nephew Joe who I hadn't seen in years. For about five weeks I became part of their family lives; watching Joe play football, Miriam baking cookies and doing her 14yr old teenage girl "thing", occasionally picking them up from school, walking Mollie the dog, sharing in family meals. etc. It had been over ten years since I had experienced the stresses and joys of daily family
routines with my own children and I was grateful to re-live these type of experiences again, if only for five weeks.
11th entry, Nov 1 - Nov 7th / 07, The Kootenay mountains
of British Columbia, 6700 kms traveled:
Note: To respect the privacy of the people I visited, I will withhold place names and personal names.
Community "A" is situated in a beautiful, accessible setting a few kilometres outside a tourist town on the shores of Kootenay lake. It has many ingredients that could make it successful; a central lodge and several decent outbuildings, orchard and garden land, a greenhouse, machinery to work the land, rental cabins, and more. Yet the couple who owned it can't make a go of it because, among other factors, they couldn't attract the right people to stay and build the place up with them. But there is more to it than that ..and I'll share some observations after the next description. During my stay I lived comfortably in one of the rental cabins, had several good discussions with the owners, helped make apple juice using a hand press, played with and read books to the couples children, and tried to adjust to the daily presence of bears who were stocking up on apples from the orchard in preparation for their winter hibernation.
Community "B" is situated in a beautiful but very isolated setting up a mountain a few kilometres from a small town in the West Kootenay's. There is no electricity and access is by steeply-graded logging roads to the property gate and a narrow, rough trail through the property itself. Definitely four-wheel drive country! There are small patches of land for gardening but most of the land is in forest. The main activities in the area seem to be growing marijuana and avoiding people! When I arrived at the owner's doorstep I experienced an Ozark mountain 1960's hippie time warp. There were school buses with stovepipes scattered around the cabin, piles of useful items and junk, small, metal roofed, open-sided storage sheds, pennants and artwork hanging from trees and sheds, etc. The owner's main activity, and a noble one, was caring for adults and teens who were experiencing difficulties in their lives and needed some time away from the unhealthy scenes they were in as well as some TLC. During my visit I slept on a couch in the owner's cabin, enjoyed the daily rhythm of splitting wood, adjusted to using the outhouse, and had several long and meaningful discussions with the owner on a wide range of subjects including community-building, personal growth, healing trauma, etc.
Although physically quite different, both aspiring communities shared some common challenges. Neither one had established a sound enterprise that can generate enough money to sustain themselves. Much of their original motivation for buying the land and many of their ongoing decisions about developing it are based on strong feelings rather than careful planning. Some of these feelings relate to a mistrust of "outsiders", government and corporate conspiracies, global environmental and economic meltdowns, etc. Even if partially or completely true, many of these feelings may not be helpful to dwell on in daily life. In one case the owner was hiding from traumas experienced in the past and consciously or unconsciously chose an isolated location as a hiding place. In the other case the property was bought, sight unseen, based on a feeling to do so without looking at monthly mortgage demands, actual income generated, etc. Neither had a clear vision, in writing, of why they wanted to be with other people in community. So many of the problems they were experiencing were related to a lack of trusted community members or advisors who could help them make some sound material decisions. As I now understand it every community needs some very practical and grounded types to compliment the energies and feelings of the pioneers and visionaries
After my second visit in the Kootney's I decided that, with the imminent arrival of winter and what that implies for someone living in a van, I would spend the winter in Vancouver or on Vancouver Island and then continue my visits in the Spring. Greetings to all and goodbye for now. More to follow:
Part 2: covering the period between Nov 8 2007 till April 2008
12th entry, Nov 8 07 - Jan 3 / 08, Vancouver, British Columbia, 7000 kms traveled:
[Note: It's now June 08 as I write entries 11, 12, and 13. So much has happened over the last seven months since entry 10 that it's hard to resist the temptation to leap ahead and share some of my current thoughts and feelings without recounting the events and experiences that led to them. I will resist that tempatation and continue the travel journal in sequence]
I arrived in Vancouver on Nov 8th and immediately connected with my long-time friend JA. I was still on a high from my many road experiences, felt open to all possibilities, and had a strong desire to share and be of service to others. JA and I talked for hours about community building and decided to work together. I was welcomed into his home and met his new roommates in the shared house he rented.
I should mention that JA has a natural talent for bringing people together and creating harmony among them in spite of their different worldviews and backgrounds. He is a wonderful combination of intelligence and sensitivity and if he has a major flaw it may be that he is sometimes too nice and others take advantage of him. He has been active for years in several communities in the Vancouver area and is well known and liked by many people. We talked about the process of building community and decided that the "friendship" model was the best one to follow. Our approach was to have a number of social gatherings that provided us with the opportunity of building friendships. From among our new friends we would develop a core group to get into some serious planning and then organize some community-creation meetings.
But the poopoo soon hit the fan! As the weeks in JA' s house passed and I was introduced to a number of his friends I began to remember JA's attraction to non-conventional people who thought and acted outside the box. After meeting some of his more "lost " or "inward focussed" friends I questioned if I could live in community with some of them (forgive the "them" and "me" thinking).The answer became painfully clear within a few weeks when JA organised a gathering at the house that involved what he called " ritual ". It was some form of shamanic practice in which the group tried to get in touch with an animal spirit, in this case a bear. The game was over for me in terms of building community within JA' s community.
It's been over 35 years since I started my spiritual explorations. I have been deeply moved and influenced by the human spirit I felt when I read religious texts, Gurdjieff, poets, mystics, etc. The process of following the spiritual exercise of Subud for over 15 years opened up for me the possibility of having a direct connection with the Creator without the need for any intermediaries of any kind. After all of this I had no interest in using animal spirits as my "guides". I love animals as animals, not spiritual guides. I also recognize that we can learn a lot about the universe and our self by relating with animals which I have done for many years. After exposure to their ritual I told JA and his community, perhaps a little too strongly, that it was not for me and that was the beginning of the end of our collective relationship. I must also own up to the fact that in order to protect myself psychologically and perhaps energetically when I was around JA's community I went into an old behaviour pattern: my "wise teacher" mode. It probably gave many of JA's friends the impression that I'm more arrogant than I actually am (which is quite arrogant). As a result of my experience with the community's use of ritual, I wrote a WCN library piece called the Identifying A Healthy Spiritual Practice.
Added to the craziness of relating to JA's ritual-based community was the challenge of living in an expensive city with minimal savings and the need to restart my practice from scratch. Once again, as it was 10 years ago, Vancouver was proving to be a hard place for me to live in. Much of my sense of enthusiasm, compassion, and openess to people and events that had been growing as I crossed the country was now butting up against the reality of living in one place, having to make money, and having to really deal at a more intimate level with people as they are. I decided to move on as I just wasn't ready to "settle down" in Vancouver. I turned my sights West to Gabriola island where I knew a friend who needed assistance while recovering from a serious operation. I said my goodbyes to JA with some sadness on both our parts. I now realise that a true community, like a true friendship, has to be based on shared core values and there is nothing more "core' than spiritual practice. As it has turned out, my friendship with JA hasn't ended, but it certainly has shifted and changed. So I helped JA find a new roommate to replace me, enjoyed a brief visit with my two sons and daughter-in-law as they made their way back to their homes in Korea, and then took the ferry to Gabriola island.
13th entry, Jan 3 08 - April 28 / 08, Gabriola Island, British Columbia, 7800 kms traveled:
After five month crossing Canada with stops in Caledon, St Catherines, Edmonton, the Kootenays, and Vancouver I've arrived on Gabriola island, the western end of my journey. I was there to "recover' from my Vancouver experience and help a friend in exchange for a place to stay. I never lived on a small. forested island so I was very curious how it was going to play out.
My first impressions as I drove around the island were very visceral and extremely troubling. Yes the island was quaint and charmingly old fashioned but I immediately felt vulnerable and trapped being there. I saw trees everywhere and instead of admiring their beauty I wondered what would happen if the island was engulfed in flames. How would we escape? What if sea levels rose considerably over the next few years? What about tsunamis? What happens if the ferries are no longer running? I suspect and hope that these scenarios were simply indications that I wasn't supposed to be there and not premonitions of future events. Whatever their meaning my gut told me it was ok to stay for some short-term "training", help a friend recover from a serious operation, and then quickly get out of there. As it turned out my stay extended to four months and was extremely helpful in improving my understanding of the nature of community and the qualities of human and inhuman nature.
Living on Gabriola was like stepping back in Canada' s history to the 1950' s. It was a time of less ethnic diversity, simpler lifestyles, and more rigidity in thinking and feeling. It was a time when our W.A.S.P. (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) brothers and sisters were in charge of our governments and businesses and influenced our cultural values. During the 50's the majority of Canadians shared similar ancestries (mainly Western European), the same skin colour (white), similar religious beliefs (Christian), and similar values i.e. the importance of hard work, organization, and self dicipline, the need for self control and repression of strong emotions, concern for the judgments of others, the need to fit into the social order, and other W.A.S.P.-influenced values. Stepping into this 50's time warp was very hard on my being, especially having to deal with the more anal and emotionally repressive aspects of WASP culture. Week after week I interacted with good, hard-working, people who seemed to lack a sense of joy in being alive. I must admit I wasn't feeling too joyful myself, especially after continually having to deal with emotionally constitpated people. It was very lonely at times and I felt like an outsider but my stay certainly helped me better understand and appreciate my own roots and how I want to live. It also showed me again (see 5th entry -Whole Village) that hard work, self discipline, and good organization must be accompanied by humour and joy if a community is going to thrive.
Gabriola, like all places, is a mixture of things. It has an aging population, minimal economic development, water supply challenges, and limited opportunities for young people. Jobs and affordable housing are scarce and many young people have to rely on nearby Nanaimo (20 minute ferry ride) for work, socialiizing, and other activities. Daily life is very different from big-city living. There are no traffic jams, great walking trails, and beautiful views of the mountains and oceans. There are few stores or restaurants, a single movie theatre (the Roxy!), a single gym, and minimal street lighting which makes night driving a very different experience. Like many small communities everyone seems to know everyone else's business and gossip , weather, and gardening are the big conversational themes at the local cafe. Gabriola has two seasons ; off-season (Oct - May) and tourist time (June - Sept). In off-season mode when I was there the population shrinks to 5000, about half its tourist time size, the weather sours and if you don't have interesting work and good friends it can be a pretty dreary place.
What really stood out for me during my time on Gabriola was the powerful energetic presence of the trees, rocks, and ocean and how their influence effected our daily living. From my own spiritual training I know that all living (vibrating) things influence our moods and actions but never have I been in a place where human energy is so absorbed and dampened by the trees, rocks, and ocean. The result of this dampeneing is a general lethargic lifestyle that is less intense, more parochial, and, in my view, more restricted. Some would call this lethargy being "laid back" but I understand it as energy imbalance in which we are overwhelmed and numbed by 'tree energy" or "nature energy". I believe this is a challenge for people everywhere in the world who are living in natural settings.
In spite of this energy imbalance things do get done on Gabriola. People work, garden, take walks, discuss and promote environmental causes, create art and cultural events, etc. The major influence that is bringing Gabriola life into the 21st century is the presence of the Internet. It seems that no place on earth today can remain truly isolated and insular when its inhabitants have unrestricted access to people, services, products, world news, and unlimited other forms of information. Some of the older generation yearn for simpler times but the barn door has already been thrown wide open and most of the horses will never return. Gabriola is one of a shrinking number of places in Canada where you can still experience the best (and worst ) of a simpler time in our history but the experience is coming to an end. It seems that no island is an island.
Looking back on my four months there I realize that living on an island with a relatively small population is like being part of a large intentional community. It' s true, you don't get to choose who comes to live on the island or know every resident, but if you stay there long enough you will get to know many of the members of the local social subgroups that has formed over the years. On Gabriola these subgroups include the retirees, visual artists, musicians, environmentalists, ageing hippies and escapees from the city, off-island summer cottage owners, entrepreneurs and small business owners, and the working-class heroes who do most of the physical labour. Each of these subgroups operates as a kind of intentional community with its own rules and values. Once you get accepted into one or more of these subgroups, a process which can take from a few months to many years, life on Gabriola certainly becomes more pleasant and more interesting.
To all my Gabriola brothers and sisters I wish you good health, inner peace, and material prosperity. I also ask your forgiveness if my description of your island and its people is not accurate or feels hurtful to you in some way.
14h entry, April 28th - Present, Vancouver, British Columbia, 8500 kms traveled:
Well I'm back in Vancouver. After a few weeks with my friend Mathias and a short time in the basement of an East Vancouver house, I'm now living in a upstairs room with a beautiful view of the mountains in a pretty neighbourhood in the West side of Vancouver known as Point Grey. Vancouver feels very different to me now after four months of intensive "tree energy" and the limited opportunities for me on Gabriola. I am certainly more aware of my need to appreciate the simple, important things of daily life and not take them for granted as I may have in the past, e.g. unlimited access to water, an ethnically diverse population to interact with, housing and work opportunities, etc. Vancouver is far from perfect. It is, after all, a big North American city with all that entails i.e. unequal distribution of wealth, crime, pollution, competition for space and other resources, etc., but I now appreciate its blend of tree-mountains-sea energy and a strong human presence; an energetic blend that was missing in many of the rural areas of B.C. I 've visited so far.
Is this the end of my journey? Will I make Vancouver my permanent home and abandon my plans to live in a intentional rural community? I don't know the answer yet but several things have become clearer to me.
1. Living in a physically isolated, rural setting away from large groups of people would only work for me under very special conditions and probably not for a long period of time. I know there are many simple pleasures to be found in a country life; chopping wood, working in the garden, enjoying the natural cycles of plant and animal life, etc., but without a wide variety of relationships with people I cannot continue to grow as a human being. I never thought a semi-hermit like me would be saying this but I need to interact with people!
2. Communities come in all sizes, shapes, and flavors. Some
communities are short-lived (crowd at a sports or cultural event) , some form
around a specific mission (an army, an evangelist organization, etc.), some
gather around a personal interest (reading club, computer club), and some form
just for the halibut (fish). Building an intentional community requires time,
patience, and persistence to gather together a group of people who like each
other, trust each other, and share common interests and important core values.
It's hard but important work that has little to do with the community's physical
location. I've now experienced how some people thrive in group settings and
others like me will struggle at times. I recognize that I have a lot of work
to do on my community-building skills and this work can be done wherever I'm
living. The work must be done because being able to love, accept, and work with
people is a vital part of being human.
Will this journal be continued? Who knows? On Mar 23, 2012 I updated the old code this page was written in. In May of 2013, I did some tweaking and realized my adventure continues but it's more on the inside than a geographic journey. I do re-read this journal from time to time to inspire me and help me get unstuck from small places.
Be Well and Be Prepared,
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