Once Plain (On Avoiding Mirrors)

I do not think I will be leaving my Plain life. I am at home in Plain. I am comfortable Plain. My husband, house and way of life are Plain. There are moments of dissatisfaction. I wondered last night if I would ever consider a dishwasher, for instance. But since I had the supper dishes washed in less than ten minutes, I think I answered my own question.

But people I have known over the last three or four years as Plain have been leaving the life. Some attend traditionally Plain churches, but are shifting to a faith community where Plain is less accepted or known. They are timid of taking their Plain selves there. Sometimes the shift is because they are disenchanted with Plain.

I feel sorry for them, and sometimes a bit frustrated, especially when they sought deep advisement about being Plain. But apparently it was not a leading for many, just a notion. A reverse vanity, even a real vanity – Plain but vain.

I was surprised when one young woman dedicated to her Anabaptist way of life changed churches, dropped her prayer kapp and full aprons, and started dressing in modest but fashionable outfits, “covering” with nothing more than a folded scarf or a hairband. She started wearing make-up. She painted her walls bold colors and bought room accessories. She let all of us know about it. In effect, she left behind what her ancestors had struggled to keep. I sadly relinquished her friendship. She was too vain to be Plain. She courted having hundreds of friends and acquaintances through writing and publicizing her new-found fashionable Christian life.

As I said, I cannot imagine giving up Plain. Maybe it’s because I am so aware of how fragile life is. I want to live close to its roots. A life stripped down to essentials, a life lived under an open sky, a life full of challenge and opportunity to know God, not just know about God. I don’t think that can be found in an elegant house, with elegant friends, pre-occupied with career and the frivolities of modern distractions. It’s a way of being at sea while living ashore. I love that about life at sea. It is basic. It is all sky and water and distant land to be sought. It is birds overhead, fish flying from wave crest to wave crest, whales and seals. It is the wind for a tutor, and the sea itself as a home.

One cannot take anything extra to sea. There is no room for superfluous baggage. Before the voyage, one has to plan minutely what to take. There is no shopping mall, no easy way to refuel, restock, take on fresh water. There must be enough, and what is packed aboard must be of use. Potatoes and canned food, certainly. Repair kits for clothing and sails, medical equipment and supplies. Warm and useful clothing. Charts, sextant, radio, GPS, books of nautical and natural knowledge. Bedding, soap, dishes, pots and pans. The barest of basics, and if there is extra space left, a bit more of those basics. (I once sailed with someone who had insisted on bringing her glass coffee maker. Everytime we hit a patch of rough sea, the first thought was to go stow the coffee maker in someone’s berth. A Chemex coffee maker does not make a good bunkmate.)

And that is Plain life to me. It is carrying just what one needs for the journey. To give up on it from insecurity, vanity, or the desire to please someone else, is the same as swallowing the anchor. It means giving up the life lived as to drink it down to the lees. It is to accept the cosseting and spoiling that numbs our souls.

I worked in the marine industry for a couple of decades. I lived on the waterfront, worked on the waterfront, and traveled across the water itself almost daily. I knew many sailors who lived aboard. Some had made the great sacrifice and divested of the extraneous, the merely pleasing. They sailed. They traveled. They called from far distant ports in other countries, on other continents. And others had not divested enough. Their decks and home-wharves were cluttered with effluvia – the extra bicycle that needed a new tire, the lockers of old clothes and mouldering books, the hoses and lines and chains that never found a home. They crammed their small living spaces with shirts, jeans, running shoes, notebooks, mementoes, odd china, cookware, cookbooks, torn sails, artwork, broken computers. All of it was to be used – someday. But in the meantime, they were held back. It is impossible to really sail with loose goods on deck or below. It is dangerous. It is frustrating. One might motor on a calm day from harbour to harbour, but it is not possible to successfully set sail and heel the boat. Some vessels end up so overcrowded with the retained flotsam and jetsam of the owners’ lives that they would simply capsize.

Plain is the sailors’ life. It is the life that can travel to new spiritual ports of call. The early Quakers and Anabaptists knew this. They kept their possessions to a minimum. They might have to up anchor and away in t he night. They at least knew, deep in their bones, that any of us can be called away on a moment’s notice, leaving behind everything earthly. They did not want their souls weighed with the baggage of regret for what was lost.

From dust we came, to dust we shall return. Anything that is traveling with us is merely dust, no more, in even a few short years, anything more than its compounded elements.

So the mirror – liar, that it is, is our enemy. It tells us what we think we are. It is merely an image, not the woman or the man. Avoid mirrors. They will provoke discontent, insecurity and vanity. They will make a Christian envious, because the image is not that of what the mind wants to be true. The mirror can be left behind on the long voyage. How the sailor feels in the face of the wind, what the muscles of the body say, how warm and comfortable the skin is in sun and breeze and water is the real living being. The mind at rest and the soul that can answer its Maker without hesitation are the  true image.

Crofting: Sunny Skies, Stormy Skies

We had several days of rough weather, with rain and wind. Goats and chicks had to stay indoors, which was not what they favoured. We had the goats out on picket and when the first storm came up in the late afternoon, Bucky would have nothing to do with it, and pulled himself loose. He wedged his tether under the lilac though, and he stood there and bawled like a toddler until I rescued him.

The smallest chick suffered an injury to her face last night. I suspect that things got a bit rough around the feed dish, and she took a beak to the noggin. One eyelid is swollen. She seems fine otherwise, eating and drinking, even chirping and beginning to roost on the edge of the dish. We will see how that goes. I checked her frequently today to make sure she isn’t getting bullied, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Silkies are famous for their good temperaments. I do remember a bit of a squeak from the crate last night, so that may have been the moment of conflict. When I went in to check, all was settled.

Nicholas has the hen pen almost finished. We have made some changes to reinforce it, so that goats can’t rampage through the wire. I’m hoping that these almost fledged chicks will soon be barn residents. Nicholas keeps their crate immaculate, but pine chips and chick chow seem to dribble out. I cleaned the barn today, after goats had been penned for two days. That’s about as long as I will let it go. It’s bad enough that this is housefly season. We have been chasing and smacking flies for three days, but there always seem to be two or three who are clever and get away. The barn gets a bit nasty with them after a few wet days, and I had to use a kennel spray to keep down the population. It is safe for animal bedding, and it works well. I don’t spray the whole barn, just the worst spots, and pen the goats away from the spray for 24 hours. I’m being overly cautious, but they can take some peculiar ideas into their hard little skulls, and I don’t want them tasting the walls.

Would you trust that face? I don't.

We are eating peas, beans, lettuce, radishes and onions from the garden. The tomato plants are setting fruit, so I am anticipating a good crop. Plenty more beans coming along, a few sunflowers, and cucumber and squash are wending through the wild yarrow. All my herbs are doing well, too.

Today was one of those perfect Canadian summer days. The sky was clear as a cold water spring, the breeze was sweet and not too stiff. The air sparkled like a diamond. We reminisced about perfect summer days when we were young. In August, about this time, my sisters and I would spend all the time we could outdoors, riding our bikes, walking in the woods, helping in the garden. (I also spent hours in the kitchen turning the food mill as that produce got canned, but that’s another story.) Nicholas remembered a day like this, late August, when school had just started. He was sixteen. The bus pulled to the curb; he and his good friend Tom got on. They had their brown bag lunches with them.

They looked out the window at the little white clouds scudding by, off Lake Ontario. “Come on,” Nicholas said. “I’m not wasting today.”

“Where are we going?” Tom wanted to know.

“The lake.” They got off the bus, hiked over to the waterfront, and rigged Nicholas’s OK dinghy. They sailed all day, getting sunburned, heading home late. There were consequences, but as Nicholas still says, “It was worth the lecture.”

“Was your dad angry?” I asked. “No,” he said. “It was more that he was jealous.”

via daily mail