Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Sunrise on Kits Beach

In the cities and places you grew up in, it's hard to pinpoint the exact moment you fell in love with them. When you've lived somewhere for a long time, it's hard to put into the words the complicated feelings you have towards the place that's been the context for all of your good times, your triumphs and your revelations - as well as your bad times, failures and setbacks.

But when you move to a new city, these feelings, these ups and downs, become very apparent. You can pick them easily out of a crowd.

When we moved to Vancouver in March, the bustling avenues of Kitsilano, with their yoga studios and artisan coffee and boutiques, had me head over heels within a week. What a floozy I am. This is somewhere I can picture myself, I thought, breathing a sigh of relief after three months of non-stop travelling. This is the place. 

Then, when our air BnB rental ran out, we moved to Granville Street. Right into the heart of the optimistically named "entertainment district". I came down with a horrible flu and spent about four straight days in our hostel room, sweating even more than I should have been as the weather had snapped into an oppressive and hostile heat. I fell out of love with the city, just like that. I started to see its flaws and its not-so desirable aspects with fresh, cynical eyes. I tired of the drab architecture and the grey streets, the skyscrapers visible even on the beaches, the ridiculous price of... everything (I mean, ammi right?!) In short, I'd emerged out of the honeymoon phase. 

We embarked on our four-month trip around BC and I didn't think much about my love/hate relationship with Vancity (probably too busy milking goats). But it was in our plans to come back here, as we knew it would be the place we'd be most likely to find work. We still held a special place in our heart for Kits, and that was enough to see us sign a one-year lease for a (albeit, pretty perfect) apartment here in lower Kits a week ago.

We're now adjusting to our lives here, expanding and relaxing to fit the space. As our apartment becomes more and more decorated, we too become adorned with jobs, hobbies, people. Vancouver is becoming "home" again.

As part of Phil's new job, he sometimes starts as early as 6am in the morning. He left me mole-eyed and rumpled in bed one morning, and the changing light from outside the window caught my eye. The sky was a vivid violet, mixing itself into a variety of shades and moods as I watched. Pulling on an old pair of joggers and grabbing my camera, I was on the beach by 6:05. 

Apart from one runner, I was alone on the beach. If you've ever been to Kits Beach in the summer, you'll appreciate how much of an unexpected sight this was. Like Michael Buble rapping or something. Quiet. Serene. Waiting, for the rest of the world to wake up.

The sun was rising behind the proud buildings of downtown, and it cast the sea, mountains and omnipresent tankers in a pale pink glow, like everything was bathed in candy floss. Gulls soared overhead, moving languidly as if they knew they could, and ducks bobbed on the surface of the water. I waded out to sea, relishing the cool sensation on my legs. 

Ok, Vancouver, I thought to myself. You're winning me over again. 

The world became a warm orange to herald the arrival of the day, and I knew that soon the beach would once again be flooded with sunbathers, topless men throwing balls around, groups of kids drinking beer covertly out of thermos's. 

Just when I thought the sunset was over, those precious last few moments of dawn exploded jubilantly in one final hurrah. A splash of yellow, like a burst yolk, emerged over downtown and turned the sea a powder blue. 

I watched, quietly. Vancouver, I forgive you for your silly house prices. For your traffic and for your rain. For your grey architecture and all of your stark "city-ness". Because when you look out at the sunrise like that, you realise that when it comes down to it, Vancouver isn't a city at all. It's just the place where the land reaches out a hand to meet the sea, as it always has done. We're just lucky enough to call it home. 


Tuesday, 9 August 2016

I missed you, Vancity

As the ferry pulled into Tsawwassen, I felt my body noticeably relax. Vancouver. Finally.

Over the course of the last three months, I have:

- Plucked a chicken
- Milked a goat
- Pulled out trees by hand
- Dug vegetable beds 
- Foraged in the forest for medicinal herbs
- Sold blueberries from a tractor by the side of the road
- Washed thousands of garlic heads by hand
- Become a surrogate mother to 8 puppies
- Cut myself to ribbons picking raspberries and blackberries
- Weeded the hell out of gardens all over BC

Yep, our summer-long tour of volunteering on organic farms around BC is over. Back in the city, I feel ready to put down some roots and embrace all of those city-living perks I took for granted and only came to appreciate once wrestling with non-existent wifi in the middle of nowhere (midnight sushi anyone?) 

And, the pain of apartment-hunting aside, I can't wait to settle down here. I missed you, Vancity!

I'll be writing up all of our weird and wonderful wwoofing experiences over the coming weeks, so stay tuned! 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Turning 26

26 is a funny old age, don’t you think? Not quite as momentous as the quarter-life crisis-inducing 25. Nearer to 30 than 20. A bit adrift in the tumultuous sea of the “mid-20’s” age bracket.

Half of your friends have babies and houses, set for life - the others are living in cramped London flat shares and spending their wages on overpriced wine in heaving city bars. Where exactly in your life are you supposed to be at 26?

Personally, I’ll be in Jasper, Alberta, Canada. On some kind of mountain. In a tent. Preferably armed with hefty supplies of chocolate and wine.

Truthfully, my life feels a bit suspended at the moment. I’m moving neither forwards nor backwards. Physically, of course, I am – making my way across British Columbia, working in lodges and farms and camping along the way. Before we hit 2017, I’ll have explored Alberta, returned to BC, driven down to Texas. Flown home to the UK for Christmas via Singapore. Yep, in terms of my geographic location, I’m moving a lot. But in the other sense? The big, emotional, life progress kind of movement? I’m static, like someone pressed pause on a song between beats. I’m somewhere in between the homemakers and living-for-the-weekenders, while simultaneously having not much in common with either party. It’s a strange place, this undulating flux, this impatient pocket of time.

But that’s not to say I’m not enjoying it all immensely. The past year has been so rich with experiences and new things and places, that for lack of a better expression, I’ve really grown. I know a bit more about myself as a person, I’m a bit more comfortable in my own skin, I feel enriched by the things I’ve seen and people I’ve met. I take a bit less crap, I beat myself up a bit less. I’m calmer. My mind’s more still.

It’s just that there’s something about birthdays, about counting and commemorating the years, that brings the passing of time home. I can run around the world all I like, hiding in the wilderness and in tents and on mountains… but life still goes on, and I still get older.

I wanted to write a post about turning 26, but wasn’t really sure what would be remotely relevant to my blog or even that interesting to read. So I settled on rambling on for a bit, before writing a kind of stock-take on where I am right now, what I’ve learned. A manifesto of Right Now, if you will. I also had a think about some goals and hopes for next year, just for fun. Hopefully the result will be interesting –but I can’t promise anything!

26 things I would tell my younger self:

1.      Travelling somewhere – anywhere – will make you a more rounded, understanding and interesting person. It’s a big old world. Too big to sit still.
2.     Everyone has different opinions, and not one person is right 100% of the time. It’s important to take everything with a pinch of salt and form your own opinions.
3.      The sooner you start accepting yourself and stop beating yourself up for things you can’t change, the better. Your spatial awareness is terrible and you can be an antisocial bastard sometimes. And that’s ok.
4.      Comparison is the thief of joy. There is absolutely no point comparing yourself to others. You are you, they are them. Learn from them, be inspired by them, but comparing yourself in a negative way will only make you miserable.
5.      Coffee and music make every task easier.
6.      Whatever problem you have, someone in the world has felt the same. You’re never alone in anything.
7.      You have to be your own biggest fan. Treat yourself as you would a friend.
8.      If you’re ordering shots of tequila at the bar, go home.
9.       You can’t ever control what someone thinks of you. So don’t worry about it. At the end of the day, it’s actually none of your business.
10.   It’s important to do things to make yourself proud.
11.   Watch lots of sad films. The soppier the better. You know you love them. Get those cathartic tears out!
12.   You can learn something from every person you meet.
13.   You can do hard things. And next time you try, it will be so much easier.
14.   Nerves are a sign that you’re about to do something really, really brave.
15.   Stop thinking about last week. Stop thinking about next week. Living in the moment is hard but it will make you happier than you thought you could be.
16.   Make more space for yourself in the world. Be the main character in your story, and stop apologising.
17.   Saying that, you should let more people in. What’s the worst that can happen?
18.   Don’t get a fringe. Just… don’t.
19.   Push yourself. Challenge yourself. It’s always worth it.
20.   Pay more attention, ask more questions.
21.   Nothing lasts forever. Take from every experience as much as you can.
22.   Lay off the eyeliner. And the orange foundation. Just step away from the makeup bag.
23.   Write more.
24.   Nothing beats being genuine and honest. It’s way more important than pleasing everyone.
25.   Some people suffer quietly. Be there for them.
26.   The best is yet to come.

26 goals for being 26

1.       Run a 10k in under an hour.
2.       Get a piece published in print.
3.       Learn more French.
4.       Volunteer.
5.       Write at least 10k words of a novel.
6.       Read more.
7.       Pass my driving test (finally).
8.       Get on top of life admin – things like pensions and financial goals are kinda important.
9.       Try to get the hang of this meditation business.
10.   Do a writing course.
11.   Do a course in something I know absolutely nothing about.
12.   Learn to cook 26 classic dishes perfectly.
13.   Find the ultimate fake tan.
14.   Put more energy and focus into this blog.
15.   Stop taking everything so seriously.
16.   Learn a few words of every new language I come across, and write it all down.
17.   Live life a bit more consciously.
18.   Grow my hair long again (I knew I’d want to do this as soon as I cut it. I never learn).
19.   Go to Alberta, Singapore, Iceland, home.
20.   Swim in as many oceans as possible.
21.   Go to a music festival.
22.   Write down three little goals every morning, and three positive things that happened at night.
23.   Try 26 foods I’ve never tried before.
24.   Write poetry (even if it’s rubbish).
25.   Do yoga at least twice a week.
26.   Laugh more.

What are your goals for right now? I’d love to know. 

Friday, 10 June 2016

WWOOFING Adventure No.2: Paradise Valley

After a week of camping and hiking in Squamish, it was time to get back to work and to our next WWOOFING placement: this time, on a farm in Paradise Valley.

After having such an incredible introduction to volunteering at Ruby Lake Resort, I was interested to find out how our next placement would measure up. But I can safely say that while this experience was a completely different one, it was just as rewarding and interesting as the first.

The night we arrived, we drove down a winding gravel road through the forest, eyes peeled for our new hosts’s home as the sun began to set. As we rounded a corner, a huge wooden house, looking like one of those moody, high-contrast stills from a trendy folk Instagram account, suddenly appeared. It was so impressive that we involuntarily slowed the car down. And that was before we even learned that our hosts, Ian and Claudia, had built the whole thing themselves from the ground up.

It wasn’t to be the last interesting thing we learned from these guys, who over the next two weeks taught us about a sustainable, organic lifestyle, Biodynamics and the process behind their successful local cutting board business. It wouldn’t by hyperbolic to say that every day they taught me something, and widened my horizons with their outlook and lifestyle. To me, this is kinda the whole point of wwoofing: to learn and broaden your mind, and perhaps adopt some principles you agree with into your own life.

We were given a cosy room in their rustic yet modern home, and prepared to get to work. As well as the cutting board business, they grow their own fruit and veg to eat, and also keep chickens for eggs and goats for milk. It was my job to tend to the chickens in the morning, and I also learned how to milk Schneilly the goat. We’d get up at 8am and have a leisurely breakfast of homemade granola and coffee with goat’s milk until 10am, then we’d work until 1pm. After a lunch of salad fresh from the garden, homemade bread and freshly whizzed hummus, we’d start work again at 3pm until 6pm. Although the days from start to finish were long, the leisurely breaks and laidback pace meant we never felt tired or overworked.  

The property was gorgeous - a place where the wilderness was tamed with a light and respectful hand. Filled with towering trees, wildflowers and of course the meticulously tended garden, it was a peaceful and gently restorative place. In between learning to make sourdough bread and adding compost to the vegetable beds, I went for lazy runs through the forest trails and down to the river, where the high water cut fast and powerful through the land. 

Our two weeks in Paradise Valley differed to our time at Ruby Lake in many ways. Firstly, we were the only WWOOFERS there at the time, so as a result we were able to spend a lot of time getting to know our hosts personally. Staying in someone's home and helping them with their daily tasks is a big contrast to helping out with the running of a busy resort. It's more intimate, and while the pace was slightly slower here and we didn't experience the camaraderie between WWOOFERs that we did at Ruby Lake, it was so valuable to genuinely experience our host's lifestyle and get a taste of what it would actually be like to live it ourselves. 

One of my favourite little tasks was oiling the cutting boards in preparation for market to be sold. Ian and Claudia harvest all of the wood from their own property, and it’s left outside to kind of mature before it’s taken in to be shaped and sanded. They’re oiled as pretty much the last step in the process, to condition the wood and keep it in top shape. It was another of those repetitive but deeply satisfying tasks which gives you plenty of time to think and reflect.

If you like the look of the boards, you'll need to seek out Raven Timberworks at either Whistler or Squamish markets over the summer. They're a fiercely local and decidedly offline business, so Google won't help you this time. 

After a couple of days, I became a bit attached to the greenhouse (something I never expected to say!). During our WWOOFING experiences, I’ve discovered that in the beginning I like to have clear instruction then freedom to work, and I really enjoy repetitive but satisfying tasks where you can see the result in the end. So when I was given the task of weeding the pathways in the greenhouse, I attached it with relish, weed bucket in one hand and rusty trowel in the other. It might just be me, but there’s something so incredibly satisfying about the irregular pop of the roots as you unearth them. As the humid sun beat down heated the greenhouse, I put on a relaxing playlist, sipped icy water and drifted off into a kind of productive meditation as I completely cleared the paths. So satisfying.

In the evenings, we’d cook together or watch a movie. The couple’s adorable shiba inu dogs, Tiko and Toro, were a constant source of cheeky entertainment. 

As a couple, Ian and Claudia were warm, accommodating and full of stories. We had so many interesting debates with them, and their passion for the environment and a sustainable lifestyle was contagious. I found myself looking around sometimes, marvelling at the fact that this beautiful environment was completely hand-built. It takes a pretty amazing couple to do that.

But, as always, sooner or later it was time to go. We waved them off as they left for the market on our last morning, their refurbed Chinese fire truck all loaded up with cutting boards. We then drove 6 hours up to Williams Lake for our next placement, where I’m currently sat in an airy wellness studio, tired and covered with insect bites, but content. Stay tuned to find out how we get on here J
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