Living Off the Clock

I read a beautiful National Geographic story online about the Sami (or Suomi, or Lapps as we called them years ago.) These are the reindeer people, many of them still living their semi-nomadic life above the Arctic Circle. They are very much in tune with the environment around them, with the signs of weather and the ways of the reindeer. Although they once followed the reindeer according to where the reindeer thought to go, they are now confined to certain pasturing grounds. This has affected how they live by forcing them to herd the reindeer more, using snowmobiles rather than their traditional skis and sledges, and it has changed the reindeer, often causing stress and lower birth rates. The Sami believe, and are most likely right, that the reindeer know by instinct and herd decision where they should be, but the government thinks differently.

A friend recently wrote me with a question about forming Christian community, and I posted to him the article about the reindeer people. This is what I want to do; I almost feel compelled to it. I don’t mean move to northern Norway, but live a life according to the seasons. Christians should be good at keeping the seasons, as our church year is seasonal. Yet we are so often driven by the clock and calendar. We are driven by expectations which, when we examine them, are worldly and not other-worldly. This earth is God’s creation for us. He placed us here. And when Eden was brought up from the mist and mud, there were no roofs or clocks or shops. It was just the animals, God, and then the adama – the people of the earth.

So this earth should be our world, not the world of buying and selling, of status and prestige, of power and money. We speak of the two kingdoms because we humans built the second one; that tower of Babel is not finished, nor abandoned in our desires. There is but one true kingdom, and that is the Kingdom of God. Jesus told His followers that it is at hand – meaning imminent, and at His resurrection, that Kingdom was founded.  But in sin and blind ambition, we refuse to fulfill the promise of the Kingdom, and live on in our fantasy world, regulated by clocks, driven by desire, harassed by human, not divine, expectation.

My recent round of  illness was aggravated by worry and the feeling that I needed to get a job, get better medical care, get it all done so that I could rest and maybe recuperate. I can hear my mother’s voice yet in my head criticizing the pile of laundry and the dusty floors. Dear mother, you left this world more than decade ago, with not a dirty dish in the sink and the laundry folded. I most certainly would put up with mountains of dirty clothes and floors that yet needed washing to have you back.

When we work closely with animals, a lot of other things hang fire. Sometimes the herder or shepherd leaves everything – dirty dishes, phone calls to return, sermons to write, checkbooks to balance – because the herd needs their human companion. One animal down can cascade into illness through the whole flock. Things must be done when the time is right, usually not a moment sooner nor a moment or two later. The flock becomes the focus. And I believe this is as it should be.

Shetland sheep via wikimedia

We will not regain Eden before the return of Christ, but we can work at living in God’s Kingdom now. That may seem like an impossibility to many people, who are tied to work hours, with debt to be paid. Nor should our work be other than in the Kingdom; must we work for unethical companies, at soul-destroying jobs? And even if we are satisfied with our work, is it really what God intends for us? Getting free of debt as quickly as possible, planting even a small garden, spending more leisure time in natural surroundings are good beginnings to living closer to the Kingdom. Sometimes our church home stands in the way as well; there’s an issue for all Christians to consider. Is the church itself too much of this world? I know mine is often too concerned with raising money and finding new parishioners, while employing church leaders concerned with their ambition and advancement rather than with the health and well-being of their flock.

I hope to be closer to the Kingdom myself in seasons to come, really closer to our flocks and herds, spending more time as a herder and shepherd rather than as a household manager and professional worrier. I do desire fields and pasture for the animals where they can be what they are, and I can be with them. But we too are constrained by fences and government; we too, as the Sami, must adapt somewhat, even when we see that it is not the best thing. We can always work for change, though. We can work toward restoring something of Eden, a place in which to wait for the Lord’s return. Best that when He comes to us, He finds us at the work He gave us, not the work of the other world.

by Edward Hicks

National Geographic article:

More information about the Sami by the Sami:

The Silly Season

paper, lots of it

We see it ahead, now that Halloween is past; American Thanksgiving lies in its path…Christmas. Our friend George, downriver, saw the first lighted Santa lawn ornament yesterday. The advertising fliers have arrived, full of Christmas gifts, food, decorations. The silly season is upon us.

This the season to pretend we are what we are not. We are rich, successful, urban bon vivants. We are people who throw great parties. We have gourmet tastes, and banker budgets.

from ChristmasTwinkle

We’ve seen “A Christmas Carol” and read the book; we love “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We think Christmas is going to be:

Victorian caroling in Yorkshire

And instead it is Chevy Chase and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

Christmas train wreck

The fliers from Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart have all the tackiest Christmas decorations anyone could want, because nothing says the joy of the first Noel like a huge inflatable plastic snowman. Mostly, in this climate, they partially deflate from the extreme cold, and flip themselves over in the high winter winds. It looks as if Santa jumped from the flying sleigh, and his parachute failed to deploy.

Then there are the gifts that seem to appear only at Christmas. Beyond the gag gifts (mooning Santas, ugly reindeer sweaters, tinsel jewelry) the stores stock up on odd appliances. This year I see something called a wine aerator, and I have no clue how that works, as if the $12 plonk you do drink could use a little oxygen to improve the bouquet; a travel blender, because don’t you hate staying in a hotel room  where you can’t have daiquiris in the middle of the night; various massaging foot appliances, from booties to baths; the usual suspects of electric shavers in various styles and genders; coffee makers that do everything from grind beans and heat the cream to duplicate the processed sweet sticky mocha drinks you usually buy at the convenience store; and crackling wick ™ scented candles, and I have no idea what that means.

The catalogs and store fliers show svelte young women in spangly, low-cut dresses. I wonder how many women actually buy these dresses for the rounds of holiday parties. Maybe they do in wealthier enclaves; here party wear is jeans and sweater and parka. The fancy dress-up might give us a momentary sense of, just this once in the year, being in the 1% instead of toward the bottom of the 99%, but it also seems a fantastic waste of money and spangles. First, when will you ever wear it again? (Clue: Never.) Second, we live in the snowbelt, and that wee bit of spandex and glitter will not keep you warm if the car breaks down two miles from home.

Saddest is the Christmas food. Not the candy canes, which are just sugar and flavouring, but the “have on hand for drop-in guests” frozen hors d’oeuvres and desserts. Little bite-sized pastry wrapped savoury things; chocolate dipped everything-else. Are we sitting at home, waiting for friends and neighbours to just drop by to admire our lovely Christmas decorations, bring a small but tasteful gift, and flaunt their spangly Christmas clothing? More likely we are folding the laundry on the couch, watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” If the neighbours drop by acting all uptown, they are likely to get coffee and pretzels.

I’m suspecting that the retailers and merchandisers are in for a big surprise. Too many people are unemployed or underemployed. If they have credit cards, they may be unwilling to charge gifts and treats when they are hanging on to any unused credit balance in case they need car repairs. Maybe the days of sitcom Christmases are over. I won’t miss that, because I never had them, really.

And the chocolate-coated-everything will be half-price by December 27.


E-Mail Declutter

I just deleted everything in my inbox! A few emails got moved to categories to be dealt with and for reference, but now the box is EMPTY. There was a psychological weight to seeing thousands of emails aggregate. Soem had never been read. It was electronic clutter, and I needed it to go away. I’m about to go do the same with my eBay account. I don’t need images of things I am not going to buy flopping into my inbox every day. I’ve bought what I’m ging to buy for a while, so time to say good-bye to that! I don’t subscribe to a lot of blogs and sites, so the mail I get from those is usualy theological, thoughtful and relevant. But this is my way of starting to move out from under the cyber-world and into the real world again.

Do you find yourself overwhelmed electronically? Do you have cyber-clutter? Are you spending more time on-line than you should?

On Pack Baskets and Hudson’s Bay Blankets

I have a very old Micmac pack basket that I still use regularly. I used to refer to it as “the second car” because I used it so much for hauling stuff. Now we have no car, so it is just the pack basket. If you don’t know, a pack basket is a deep rectangular basket, with a flat side to put against your back, and straps like a backpack. They are made in several sizes (yes, they are still made) and they are excellent for carrying awkward shaped things down a trail. They hold about a week’s worth of groceries for us, or a large bag of dry dogfood and ten pounds of potatoes, as on its last trip from the store.

I cite the pack basket as one of the useful things from the past that is still available for those looking for the simple life. But – warning! – they are expensive. If you want one, best to go to a basket store on a reserve to avoid the retail mark-up. Sometimes crafters will have them at farmers’ markets or craft shows. I have never seen an old or antique one in a store in good shape, probably because they are still useful at home.

The one I have was my father’s, and I think he acquired it in the sixties from an older farmer who no longer could use it. By the style, it is older than fifty years. It is still in excellent condition, made from thick ash and has canvas web straps. People sometimes offer to buy it from me. I won’t take less than $1000. And then they say, “Oh, come on…” but that’s what it is worth to me. In other words, I’m not selling.

I think the pack basket is a good choice for women. My husband complains that it rides too low on his back, when he wants the weight across his (very strong) shoulders. Women tend to carry weight against their hips – babies, laundry baskets, bundles, groceries in sacks, small animals. I find the pack more comfortable than he does, and unless it is very heavy, I wear it.  I think I am going to rig some carry straps for him to tote purchases that come in big awkward bags, like flour, potatoes and dog food.

As for the archetypal Hudson’s Bay blankets: When my older sister and I were quite young, perhaps not yet in school, we spent a few days at a neighbour’s house. I don’t remember why, except my mother was probably in the hospital with a new baby. It was winter, and we were put to bed in a cozy little bedroom at the top of the stairs. It had two doors, one to the hallway and one into the kitchen wing of the house. The double bed we slept in was under a window, and I suppose the grandmotherly lady caring for us was concerned that these two little girls would get cold. We were literally tucked into bed under two Hudson’s Bay blankets, the white ones with the coloured stripes and the point markings. I remember that I could not move under these blankets! I really could not roll over or get myself out of the bed; I was effectively trapped for the night, unless I woke my sister who could assist in pushing off the blankets.

And then when we, my husband and I, lived in houses with heat from woodstoves, and the fire going out in the night or the wind coming up and stealing the warmth out of the barely insulated building, I remembered those Hudson’s Bay blankets. I’m a little stronger now, so I could get out from under them unassisted (I think).

The authentic blankets are still loomed by Woolrich; they are available from a variety of outlets. Antique or vintage ones are available as well, even on internet auction sites, for a lot less. I am wary of old textiles, as much as I love them, since they can harbour molds and dust mites that make me very ill. If I were to acquire an old or used one, I would give it a good soak, roll it up in a white sheet, squeeze the water out and lay it flat on a table or screen out of the sun to dry. An hour or so in midday sun after it dried would help kill anything unpleasant that remained. (Yes, you can wash wool.  Avoid shocking it by quick transistions from hot to cold water and it shouldn’t shrink or felt. Sheep get wet all the time without any effect on the wool. Don’t wring or rub wool when it is wet, or you may break the fibers. Dry it flat so it doesn’t stretch.)

So there are two old things from my childhood that are still useful for the simple life. There are probably more, and I may comment on them as it occurs to me.