how SLOW can you go?

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.” Alan Watts

For more than two decades, I have been a proponent of ‘slow living’ and more recently, a fan of Brooke McAlary. Having been born in Toronto, and later a commuter in the corporate world, speed is in my DNA.    

So, moving to Vancouver Island, and in particular Sidney, was like putting on the brakes for meandering wildlife to make its way across the road.  It required an almost immediate adjustment.  In the early days, I will admit to being frustrated in the grocery store while neighbours and staff alike, asked after our health and happiness, but it didn’t take long to realize that this was about being in community and a beautiful way of life. When you live and work in a fast-paced environment, you adapt or die, it’s almost impossible to swim against the current.  And while I tried for a few years before abandoning a life out east altogether, it was a completely different situation having arrived on the west coast.  The waves were lapping instead of crashing, life was moving at a much gentler pace and time was not the enemy. And, just so there is no confusion, I am not talking boring, I am talking slow. And while it may not be for everyone, I do think that the pandemic has forced us collectively as a planet, to slow down, and at times to stop, which has given many the pause and permission they required.    

Now, and for the past 25 years, we enjoy a much more simple, tranquil, and slow life; we are the better for it, no question.  Don’t get me wrong, my favourite holiday destinations are still cities, and I will always be a city girl at heart, but that doesn’t mean that our needs don’t change and that we can’t find another way to live, especially if it contributes to us living our best life.  What I want now, is even more time, to stroll, to wander, to think, to create and to simply be.  I want to slow it all down, wash my dishes by hand, read a book for more than a few chapters, garden for hours, and swim for days.  And I want to continue to do one thing at a time, with intention, and to do it well.  I want to walk to a slower beating drum.

Building a house has been the latest lesson in ‘slow’ although some might suggest it’s been more a lesson in ‘delay’.  It has afforded us time to make thoughtful decisions, without distraction and without deadline pressures. Often, I find, that because we have an almost too full ‘to do’ list, we feel required to also do it at lightening speed. For me, this is more a function of the list being too long rather than there not being enough time.  So rather than wish for more hours, and more haste, I wish for fewer things to accomplish, and more time to contemplate; why I’m doing them, what’s the best way to get them done, and the most important question, does it actually need doing? 

For those who are wondering, I am not ‘retired’, in fact I don’t really subscribe to that all or nothing notion.  I am still working, albeit less, and contributing, accomplishing, adventuring, volunteering, and living life to the fullest.  All the while, I continue to adjust to our new rural environment, recognizing what’s different, accepting the limitations and celebrating the opportunities.  I am adjusting my sails to changing winds and looking forward to a time of living slowly, but Shirley.

FLOWING with Wisdom

Those who know me well will tell you that I am not sentimental nor am I nostalgic. I don’t pine for a bygone era nor do I wish for the return of an earlier time.

I do however spend time reflecting on the past, primarily to see what I can learn from it and to determine what I might take with me into the present and beyond. I believe that we can harness a lot from those who came before us; sometimes the worst that we don’t wish to repeat, more often, the wisdom that helped those with more time and less money, and out of necessity or reverence, develop creative and sustainable solutions.

The longer my mother is gone, the more I recognize how clever she was, how much she valued simplicity and how universal and timeless her ideas. As time marches on, I find myself reaching back to that wisdom and to the solutions that might work just as well in 2019 as they did in 1969.

When we were children, there was very little money. A small family, only five us in the country, meant we depended on each other, without support from others. That sense of imposed isolation, while difficult at times, has the ability to inspire good thinking, perseverance and self reliance. And while I am more a proponent of inter dependence than independence, when you don’t have the option, you learn to make do.

When I was a child, waste was not welcome. My mother had a sink next to her washing machine, connected by a large grey rubber hose where she washed in order, starting with whites, then the colours, and finally the dark and dirty. The water from all but the last load, was returned via that rubber hose; there simply wasn’t the money to use more water, nor as my mother advised was there a need to waste perfectly good water that could be reused.

The same logic she applied to clothing, was also applied to people. We bathed as a group on bath days, although one at a time. And while there wasn’t a shower in our house, I’m not sure we would have used one, my mother couldn’t understand the concept of water ‘simply running down a drain’. It made much more sense to her to fill the tub once, and as with our clothes, she washed us from cleanest to dirtiest. The water changed colour and lost its heat from bath one to bath three, but luckily for me, my brothers were often filthy, which meant my cleanliness was rewarded and I bathed first.

There was also no dishwasher, well not one that plugged in anyway. And even if the money had been available, I don’t think my mother would have opted for one, she would have seen that too as wasteful, as well as a missed opportunity for the kid connection. We took turns washing and drying and fighting over whose turn it was to do which. We washed our dishes just like we washed our clothes and ourselves; glasses, cups, cutlery, plates and then pots and pans, in order of cleanliness, always in the same sink, and no rinsing allowed. While I never looked forward to doing the dishes, I do have fond memories of tea towel wars, laughter, and the odd dishwater fight.

As we look forward and prepare to build a house for our life’s final chapter, our desires and our design have been shaped by those childhood memories. Well aware that we have less available water on the planet than my mother might have ever imagined, we have chosen carefully and consciously. We are going to harvest the gift that is the rain, live without a dishwasher or a bathtub and even consider ‘composting’ toilets. Grateful for what will pour from our ‘low flow faucets’ we will continue, as my mother did, to revere water, all the while remembering that in 2019, one in ten worldwide are living without clean water.