27 November, 2007

no. 6: not sure how I feel about this

so I just took this fun little quiz at quirkyalone.net to see if I was 'quirky alone.' Meaning, I assume, am I the kind of person who's rather uniquely single... and my score was (drumroll...):

113. Very quirkyalone:
Relatives may give you quizzical looks, and so may friends, but you know in your heart of hearts that you are following your inner voice. Though you may not be romancing a single person, you are romancing the world. Celebrate your freedom on National Quirkyalone Day, February 14th!

Okay, so, what I don't really get is what this supposedly means - the number - because, surely there are other people like me, then. People who don't necessarily see life as a string of significant others. People who focus on other things rather than their single status. Though it does make me wonder. They say "you'll never find love if you go looking for it" (not sure who they are, but whatever, it's said fairly frequently), and I agree. BUT, if you don't look, how can you guarantee that you haven't passed love by without noticing simply because you've been too busy doing something else?

perhaps I ought to read the book...

Perhaps I need to open my heart a little more and actually give things a try. Though, in the same breath, what can I say? I don't find any of my compatriots to be the kind of people with whom I'd want to form some kind of long-lasting bond outside of friendship. I love my friends, but I am not about to take our friendships any further. And those that I've found attractive, interesting and the kinds of people I'd want to, uh, take further, well they're already with people. And far be it for me to become the 'other woman.' So... though I must broaden my circles, I'm not sure where or how... to meet these people that one happens upon accidentally when one isn't looking for love.

Pirates look for buried treasure, heck, they STEAL treasure... Love? I'm not sure it works like that.

and if it does, I don't think I want to be a part of it. I'd rather be me. Single, solitary me. Because I'm at least half-decent at that. I know what I like, I know how to get me into bed at the end of the night, I know the kinds of movies I'm going to enjoy watching, and I sure as heck try my best to be comfortable with myself... So maybe that's it. Maybe I AM quirkyalone because I'm okay with being alone... though it surprises me that it's such a shocker to people to be like that. Why is it not okay to be that odd one out - the single person in a room of couples. Not that I'm saying I like to be the only one without a partner in a room of partnered people; that actually sucks quite a bit. But there shouldn't be anything wrong with being by oneself. And I AM happy as being single, solitary me (until all my female friends start defining themselves by their relationships and talk only about their significant others, which leaves me with NOTHING TO SAY). I just wish it was a little easier to BE like this. You don't see television shows about single, solitary, happy people all that often. They usually are in search of more, or fall into more, very quickly. Not so much on living their lives the way they want to, on their own.

25 November, 2007

no. 5: Italy on my mind

okay, I've discovered one of the many reasons why this autumn has been so agonisingly difficult for me, particularly as it related to productivity. Why, you ask? Because I keep reminiscing about the past and finding myself longing to be elsewhere. More specifically, longing to be in Italy once again.

The autumn of 2005, I ventured off for some travel and a little cultural enlightenment. Admittedly I didn't go far. Now I don't mean distance-wise, clearly I ventured a fair way's in that regard (nearly half-way around the world in fact), but I opted not to go too far out of my cultural comfort zone, choosing the more, uh, predictable world of Western Europe. Had I been truly adventurous like many a friend of mine, I would have gone for the backpacking through India, or the volunteering with development or environmental agencies in South-East Asia and South America. Alas, I was much more tame. I like to take baby steps, and not just leap out of my comfort zone. I know French, and so I started in France, and moved south to Spain before swinging a night train to Italy on what I felt was a (if partially small) leap of faith to WWOOF on an organic farm in the heart of Tuscany, near Pienza (the 'perfect city').

morning fog
morning fog, and the view from the olive grove
view from il frantoio
the luscious hillside across from il Romita, the oil-press, where we brought our fresh collection of olives at the end of every day.
view from il casale
the rolling, cypress-littered hillsides of Toscana, Pienza is out of frame to the right.

I stayed at the farm - Podere il Casale - for four weeks, almost an entire month, and grew to love both the land we worked in, and the people I met. I started to feel as though I was adopting them as my family. It was a marvelous experience, and one I'd gladly repeat. In fact, one I've been craving this autumn.

il casale
the courtyard at il Casale, replete with ripening squash and the occasional peafowl.
green roof il casale
the green-roofed long-house I slept in while working on the farm. It was a dream!

I miss just about everything about it. From the people, who were, on the whole, absolutely delightful; to the jaw-dropping landscape around me; to the food, the delicious food of which I am reminded almost constantly. (because nothing I have here compares to what I ate there). Of course, how could anything about an idyllic trip to the Italian countryside parallel to my land-locked and northern home? One has to allow for some (or many) discrepancies, but I'd hoped, after two years since my return to the land of ice and snow (ha! it's been so warm and dry... it's hardly believable), the memories would have faded a little and I'd not feel such a voracious need to return to the rolling hills and fresh green flavour of moments-ago pressed olive oil. I miss it so...

olive tree
an olive tree ready to be liberated of its fruit
morning olive picking
morning pause at the olives
picking olives
collection in high-swing
our day's collection
our day's collection of olives, ready to be pressed

I even miss hanging from the olive trees, soaking my feet in the early morning dew, and shaking out the 'paracadute' weighted down with freshly picked fruit. We spent glorious hours in the sunshine, perched on ladders or draped from branches, combing the olives out of craggy, ancient trees. During this time, I learned Swiss folk songs (sadly, I've mostly forgotten them now, though), told tales of my field research assistant adventures, related to people on the subject of "what am I going to do now that I've graduated from university?" and laughed at silly jokes that made absolutely no sense once translated. Oh, additionally, I attempted to describe the phenomenon known as maple syrup to some perplexed Swiss and Italians. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, not only because I was doing something so out of the ordinary, but for the people I met from all over the world - well not ALL over, but a fairly different collection from what I'm used to - and attempting to converse in French, English, Italian and a smidgeon of Swiss German. Mind boggling... but an absolute delight.

It makes me wonder, sometimes, why it was that I opted for graduate school, when deep down, there's a part of me that just simply wants to do something. To be actively doing something with my hands, with every fibre of my being, such that I am not sitting at a desk, in front of a computer, sorting through reams of numbers. And, in truth, I know, I'm not just doing that, but those reams of numbers are what legitimize my summers of counting trees in the forest. Yet counting trees in the forest is not nearly as ideal a contribution as I'd hoped for. I'd rather learn how to milk a goat - one of the friends I met on the farm had milked goats way up in the Swiss Alps during the summer, apparently Alpen cheese is a highly-prized delicacy, and boy is it a wonder to behold! - than sit at my computer day after day, pushing numbers.

But, like it or not, I do not currently have the funds, as pursuing this semi-albatross is a rather consumptive process for me. Perhaps one day (hopefully soon) I will find myself at the doorstep of that farm again, ready and eager to contribute to their harvest. Maybe next year.

24 November, 2007

no. 4: stalling

I am supposed to be either writing my thesis, analysing my data or marking papers, and instead, all I can do is sit and think about knitting. Admittedly knitting has always been my (one of many) mode of procrastination, but you wouldn't believe my productivity of late. Thankfully it's nearing Christmas and I can somewhat justify it. Not like I can justify sleeping in because I'm exhausted and I'm in love with my flannel sheets, but still... I CAN justify that!

So, in the spirit of being proud of at least SOME of my progress (how can one be proud of putting root samples in the drying oven, woo!), I shall now show off my knitting, because maybe if I can be inspired to knit, I can be inspired to work on something else too... namely chapter 1.

this would be the toque on my paint-stained hand-me-down kitchen table

and to truly know what it looks like, me donning the toque for posterity (and the necessary craftster 'action shot')

Chapter 1... aughh! who am I kidding? there's no work happening today. I just... can't! Maybe I'll read a paper or two (I have 28 to mark, boy am I looking forward to being done with this teaching assistantship). Maybe I'll just have a nap and prepare for the anticipatedly delicious hand-tossed pizza supper my friends and I are having. Tony's Pizza Palace here I come.

12 November, 2007

snow shrouded spruce

snow shrouded spruce
Originally uploaded by alison fell
Last year at this time, we had snow. We had so much snow, you couldn't walk though it without getting coated up to your knees.

What happened? This year, we've got nothing. Well, okay, not NOTHING, but the light dusting we did get is 100% gone now, and the piles of dead leaves are still hanging out on my lawn waiting for my roommate to get up the gumption to collect them.

I want snow. I miss snow. We need snow.

06 November, 2007

no. 2: expansion on a yoga meditation

I skipped yoga last week. Actually, I think I skipped yoga the past two weeks. It's not something I'm too pleased about, but sometimes things just come up and inhibit ones ability to a) concentrate on yoga or b) fit yoga in to the rest of the weekly demands. So I skipped it. As a result, returning to it this week was very, VERY good for me. Despite my shaky beginnings, I was starting to feel more confident in Warrior poses I and III as the class went on. Warrior, being one of my favourite poses, always makes me feel good, but it also always challenges me. Warrior I is my least favourite of the warrior poses, arching my back is never the funnest experience, admittedly. But it is good to challenge yourself, and to do things you dislike now and again. I like to think it teaches perseverance, patience and a greater relishing of that which one does like. Warrior II, which we didn't do today, tends to be my favourite, though III could usurp, we'll see.

II has this way of centering me, of making me really focus on the here and now, but only because I've become conscious of its potential TO do that. I am the kind of person who likes to dwell on things, and likes to daydream. My head is either stuck in the clouds of what could be or what has passed and why I didn't do things differently. In Warrior II, one is supposed to, figuratively, be in the present - centering the head and body over the hips, in the center of two planted feet - and I'm always skewed in one direction or the other... unless I'm paying full attention. II is much like my thoughts: unless I am paying absolute attention, my mind is bound to wander in one direction or the other at the drop of a hat, and I am constantly having to pull myself back to center from the 'past' or the 'future' to think about the here and now. Warrior I doesn't have that complex challenge of balancing the past and future while staying rooted in the present. For me, Warrior I is all about the present, and III was all about flying.

Anyway, that is not my intended point of discussion. I intended to comment more on what came after the evolution of Warrior poses during class, during Savasana (corpse pose) and the subsequent seated meditation. Our instructor has us think on a couple things, meditating on each one at a time and then "letting them go" into the stillness of our minds. [It has taken me four years of practice (wavering, faltering, unbelievably unfaithful practice) to attain the tiniest modicum of stillness, and it is something I cherish.] She asked us the following today:

What do I like?
What am I thankful for?
Who am I?

Now, this SHOULD be easy. "What do I like?" I don't know. Lying there, supported by the floor, I was awash with... nothing. Images of leaves falling, water rushing over rocks, fresh air swept by but nothing solid came of it. My mind often fails to connect the tangible with concrete ideas. I'm sure the other people (we'd been given a little lesson on the "what do you like about your practice" angle earlier in class) were thinking "I really like downward dog" or "I like having chocolate cake for dessert," meanwhile, all I thought was "there are leaves falling." "What am I thankful for?" was admittedly easier, but I had to force myself to come up with something. My mind had a tug-of-war with intention. While I was being directed to think about thankfulness, my mental images were moving from falling leaves to water and breezes blowing off the water, through the grass and into my face. Eventually, we (my mind and me) came to the conclusion that friends (just the ones I truly love) and family are worthy of being thankful, setting aside the breeze and falling leaves, at least for a moment or two. And then the final meditative question, the one she leaves us with every class, and the one I always seem to come upon with a blank: "Who am I?" I am... falling leaves in a light breeze? Torn between the past and my future? She, in addition to the three questions she asked today, often has us center ourselves on our true being, that piece of us that has always been the same, never changing through everything we've experienced, from birth to present-day. That me is a little hellion of a smiling girl, obstinate and grinning widely as she races along.

But who I am? I don't know. Am I falling leaves in a light breeze? Am I a failure to turn thoughts into a tangible reality? Now THAT actually could make sense. Or maybe I'm just a cowardly student, nose pressed too tightly to the books to notice the world around me, and the opportunities I'm being presented. I am a masters student, I study trees, one particular species of tree, under very specific conditions, but trees all the same. And I do that, and I work on teaching ecology to other people. I say "work" because there's no way I'm good at it the way I am doing things right now. What else is there? I am a knitter. I like to think I'm a decent friend (though, of late, that's come into question as I become more and more cranky and hermit-like). I don't know. It's more than I could ask myself in one yoga session, perhaps more than I could ask myself in a year of constant yoga. Who am I? A fearful optimistic pessimist? Someone in need of a good talking-to? In desperate need of a change?

My conclusion for the meantime: A stubborn, obnoxious little girl still stuck dwelling on the past while I mull over options for the future, forgetting all the while that the present needs to be lived. I think I need to work on my Warrior some more.

04 November, 2007

no. 1: beginnings

I suppose it's appropriate enough, here I am, starting a blog at the beginning of November, shortly after the pagan new year festival (Samhain). A time of renewal and beginnings, as apt as any, I guess. And one I sorely need. October was as dark and dreary a month as possible. Now, in truth, I shouldn't complain. The weather was glorious for a Canadian autumn. Not a wisp of snow, and barely a day that hovered near freezing, let alone below. Yet, the snowless, dry brown ground left me wishing for the depths of winter, the stark whiteness and brightness of glorious snow banks. Even hoar frost would have made me delighted, but nothing. Nothing until now. The first Sunday of November, and we have snow. Impermanent as it is, the beautiful virgin whiteness of it is breathtaking.

pine snow1

And it provides a source of renewal for me. Even without the much-needed Daylight Savings Time we've finally gained, snow gives me a boost. The glow, the freshness, everything about it (yes, even the shovelling) invigorates and encourages me. I only wish there was more. I'm sure, as I continue with this blog, there will be many posts about how I'm trying to move forward, how I'm trying to build on my life and my capabilities, and how I'm interacting with my environment. The environment is rather at the forefront for me, in my life. I study trees, and I have studied the environment for a decent collection of years now. The snow, to me, is a reprieve... for everything. The soil has not frozen here, and thankfully the sun will melt what little snow we've gained, and the moisture will visit the sorely starving tree roots deep down in the soil. Desperately starving in this autumn drought that's been delightfully easy for us humans, and incredibly hard on the trees.

At any rate, I must get going, I will likely be a weekly poster (depending on the demands of the rest of my life), on everything from knitting and kitchen experiments to environmental policy and my attempts at greening-up my life.