Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sowing Seeds of Community

When I was at the Harvest Festival 10 days ago, someone left a Fall and Winter Gardening Guide put out by West Coast Seeds on the Pacific Gardens display table.

Intrigued, I brought it home to take a look, hoping to get some understanding of what's involved in gardening, and in particular, growing your own food - since I know almost nothing about the subject.

Wow - it was amazing! Page after page of detailed instructions on when, how and where to plant everything from arugula to turnips, and how to do overwintering, heirloom, spring, summer, fall and winter harvest gardens.

Then there were all the cover crops, the sprouters and the microgreens, not to mention the equipment with strange names such as soil blockers, cloche tunnels and cold frames, which help plants grow.

It made me understand why my neighbour Chad is a midnight gardener during the growing season, and why he works so hard. Last night at a meeting on gardening I also found out why he is so committed to this.

He - as do most of us - sees that in the not too-distant future we will face economic collapse due to the destruction of the environment and the effects of climate change.

That's scary.  But the way to deal with this is to become as self-sufficient as possible, and food production will be crucial to our survival. That we could all understand.

But I also found out that other members of our community, like myself, have concerns about how this was being expressed.  What if your heart is in doing other kinds of community work besides gardening, both within and without Pacific Gardens?

Are you a second-class citizen if you are passionate about social justice, and want to give voice to those who are marginalized, or are a young Mum with the big responsibility of small children to care for? Is what you do less worthy?

This was a tough issue for us to wrestle with, and our community members spent two hours trying to understand the ramifications.  To say we were tired and stressed-out by the end of it would be an understatement!

But it was important work. We were sowing the seeds of community, building up the inner gardens of our hearts and minds, and that, just like growing our own food, will take a great deal of time and commitment.

We will keep sowing, and one day we will have a rich harvest for all of us.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Kids, Cats and Birds

I am grateful that my cohousing community allows pets as I am and have always been a cat lover. My beautiful black cat is shy with strangers, especially ones bearing vacuum cleaners, but he is very warm and social with me and likes nothing more than sitting on my lap when I relax, and sitting on my keyboard when I try to type.

I placed another cat, this one molded out of plaster at my front door to greet visitors. The plaster cat used to have a plaster mouse partner to keep it company until a boy in our community who shall remain nameless, accidentally, in the throes of play, knocked the mouse off of a ledge causing it to fall and break. I was very impressed when the same young man showed up at my door to apologise and take full responsibility for his actions.

What a great teacher this brave, principled young man was, quickly reminding me that we live closely together, we are likely to bump into one another or into one another's things, sometime causing harm and breakage, but that times like these can be opportunities to deepen friendships, grow, and build trust. His act of courage and doing the right thing instead of the easy thing allowed me to remember that one of the reasons we choose to live in communities is that we can learn and be inspired by small actions of others.

This incident happened at least a year ago and I had all but forgotten about it until the other day when I found a small bag at my door with a card that read:

Dear Sharon,

I'm sorry for breaking your mouse such a long time ago but here is a replacement. It's a bird that I painted.

It is delightful when your children perform acts like this, it is even more delightful when your neighbour's children do. Luckily, my cat likes birds even more than mice!


The bird that landed on Sharon's doorstep

Celebrate, celebrate!

Our annual celebration of the permit to occupy at Pacific Gardens took place September 21 as the summer turned into fall on the Equinox.

We hoped the weather would hold so we could all gather around our newly-built fire pit to cook hotdogs and marshmallows, and the skies blessed us with no rain on this auspicious day.

This was a great party with many people from our cohousing showing up, including our newly-arrived family from Alberta, so we all had a chance to eat, drink and be merry with shared food, good conversation, games and a cake with all the candles blown out by the kids as we sang our Happy Anniversary Song.

Here are some comments made by our Pacific Gardens communitarians:

Maria -  “The party really felt like it was a family party where parents were really engaging with their kids, cooking food with them, talking with them and I got a real sense of parent/child togetherness.”

Ron - “It was a great place to have conversations and exchanges of ideas about ways to support the Green movement to make a better world community.”

Mia - “Those kids had so much fun playing Throw the Flag...we are all puffed out including the parents who played and I of all people couldn’t even find my flag, and I taught the game!”

Tara - “My new roommate was completely blissed out by the multigenerational game playing. He thought it was fantastic to see adults and kids alike playing together.”

Roz - “I am so glad Myriam helped me decorate our anniversary cake and Michael and I served it and Mia got the plates out to serve it on, because we shared it at the fire pit. This cake was a four-person operation. Community, eh!”

And last but not least, our gratitude theme this year is about being grateful that we live in this country without war, and particularly, living on our piece of the rock called Pacific Gardens Cohousing, and we are thankful for the bountiful harvest to share from our greater neighbourhood.

It really felt like all people around the fire were happy to be there, sharing their stories and getting to know each other better. It was a really lovely way to have an anniversary celebration, and we send greetings and well-wishes to all of the folks who have lived and celebrated with us in years gone by...you are in our hearts.

Thanks everybody and Happy Anniversary to us at Pacific Gardens!


Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Nanaimo River Is Us

Saturday night I went to the premiere of Paul Manly's film, "Voices of the River". Paul is a Nanaimo film-maker who has dedicated himself to making documentaries about social justice issues.

Now if that sounds deadly dull to you, I have to assure you, it wasn't.  Saturday's event featured music from local musicians, good food, great door prizes, and a dance that went on into the wee small hours of the morning - my neighbours, Chad and Susana, were pretty tired the next day!

The film had a special resonance for those of us at Pacific Gardens, as the Nanaimo River is a favourite recreation spot for our families.  You may have seen the video on our Facebook site of eight-year-old Soma bravely jumping off a high rock ledge into the clear and cool river water.

Pauls' message in the film was simple, and powerful: The Nanaimo River is us.  We all drink it, swim in it, bathe in it, water our gardens and lawns with it, and use it in our industries, businesses and public institutions. It is vital to sustaining our complex ecosystem and the wildlife that lives in it.  Without it, our economy would wither away.

You would think that such a precious resource would be publicly-owned.  It is not.  We learned that Vancouver Island is the mirror image of the rest of the province in how land is owned.  In the rest of BC, 90 per cent of the land is  crown land, and 10 per cent is private.

On Vancouver Island, 10 per cent of the land is publicly-owned, and 90 per cent is private, thanks to a land grant given to coal baron James Dunsmuir.  Our precious watershed is owned by a private logging company, Island Timberlands.

Every time we go swimming, fishing, hiking, kayaking, or white-water rafting in the Nanaimo River, we are trespassing on private land. And that's a worry, with development being considered for some of the river's most beautiful locations.

In the Cowichan and Greater Victoria Regional Districts, the watershed is publicly-owned. It should be here, too.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Cat Didn't Come Back

Capi the Concierge Cat

Capi, Pacific Garden's concierge cat, is no more. He has gone to the great cattery in the sky, where, no doubt, he will be checking everyone who arrives and deciding whether they are fit to enter.

Capi (short for Capulet), in case you didn't know, was the feline who kept close guard over our parking-lot. Although somewhat small and scrawny beneath his leonine coat, Capi sauntered between our cars and on our sidewalk as if he were a beast at least three times his size.

His favourite spot to snooze was on the hood of a newly-arrived and warm car.  He seldom budged until he absolutely had to. It was not uncommon to open your car door, get into the driver's seat, buckle up, turn on the engine - and only then would Capi bestir himself, stretch, and ever so slowly, slide off the hood, all the while giving you the most irritated of looks because you had the temerity to disturb his well-deserved sleep.

Capi insisted on displays of affection. He simply would not let you pass until he had received a scratch behind the ears, and a word or two of murmured conversation. You would think that would be annoying, but he actually provided quite a therapeutic service.

There was something very soothing about communing with a cat after a difficult day at work or school, and his obvious delight in your attention was very affirming. Like most cats, he had a good understanding of human psychology, and knew what he could demand, and also what we needed.

Alas, Capi grew more frail in recent weeks, and began to show his age.  The bones underneath his coat became more prominent, and his fur became matted and dull. He seldom greeted people, and was content to lie in the middle of the parking-lot, forcing people to drive around him.

It was obvious he was tired and wanted to leave us, but just couldn't let go. Finally his owner, Shawna, had a chat with him, and gave him permission. That night, Capi walked away, and was never seen again.

I know what you're thinking - he was just a scruffy, beat-up old pussycat, so why the fuss? It's hard to say, but I think it's because he had become such a fixture of our lives here, we saw him as part of our community.

We'll miss him.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Happy Harvest Festival!

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of hosting a table for Pacific Gardens at Nanaimo's second annual Harvest Festival held on Wesley Street in the Old City Quarter.

I'm usually not a fan of these events, and when asked to volunteer to person a table at them, try to find ways to be otherwise occupied.  But this was fun! And having a zombie flash mob during the proceedings certainly added to that :-)

It was an absolutely gorgeous fall day - lots of sunshine, a fresh breeze (not so fresh as to blow down our display, or scatter our flyers and rack cards, thankfully) and pleasantly warm.

There was great music, lots of interesting booths with like-minded, friendly people, as well as excellent food provided by local restaurants, and best of all, money raised went to Nanaimo Foodshare.

Pacific Gardens hasn't been to public events like this for quite a few years now, as we've been busy focusing on getting our community established and building up our organic gardens.

I noticed a big change in attitudes since then.  When we talked to the members of the public at the Harvest Festival about cohousing, the question was not, "What is it?", but, "Is your building completed now?"

People understood the concept of creating a building that fosters community, and, contrary to what developers seem to think the 55-and-overs want, were delighted with the multigenerational aspect of Pacific Gardens.

They were pleased that we are focused on growing our food, and that everyone who lives here, whether owner or renter, is entitled to their own garden plot. They knew why that was important.

After five hours or more of talking about what intentional community means, I was a bit hoarse - but also very happy to realize how much the ideas that had seemed so avant-garde a short while ago were now part of the mainstream.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Story of Us

We're busy folks here at Pacific Gardens.  Every week is filled with meetings, gardening, maintenance and cleaning chores, proposals to be developed, agendas to be crafted, and forms to be filled out. The list never grows shorter. It's easy for us to get overwhelmed with our responsibilities, so much so that sometimes we forget what it is that we have achieved in creating this community.

This week we got a wonderful reminder from a new resident, Glenn, who told us he knew immediately that he wanted to live here when he saw the word "cohousing" in our ad for rentals.  He had been interested in intentional communities for a long time, and had followed the progress of several groups that wanted to build cohousing developments.

What impressed him most was that we had actually done it!  He knew of at least five or six proposed cohousing projects that never got off the drawing board, and yet, our little band of dreamers and idealists and activists had managed to create this beautiful building, after many years of effort.

We invested the money from our savings, pension funds, and sales of homes and property, hired architects, construction managers, code consultants, marketing assistants, arranged for construction loans, researched energy-efficient heating systems and environmentally-friendly building materials, and spent hundreds of hours in meetings.

And then three years ago, we got our occupancy permit, and here we are!  As I sit here in my office, I can hear the children in the atrium.  Outside my patio window the dew glistens on the flowers in Susana's garden and on late-ripening tomatoes in the veggie plots of our other enthusiastic gardeners.

The story of us is pretty amazing, as Glenn reminded us. On Saturday we'll be setting out our stall at the annual Harvest Festival held on Wesley Street in Nanaimo from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm.  If you're in town, come on by and we'll tell you more!


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Faith and Move-Ins

My apologies for not posting to the blog more often this week.  I know with blogs that in order to make them effective you're supposed to write in them every other day - sort of like flossing!

My excuse is house guests and a move-in.  I had another set of friends from Scotland come for a visit (and they, too, were surprised by the amount of traffic and car use in a small city like Nanaimo), and some new tenants move in to Pacific Gardens.

This was no ordinary move-in.  What made it really special was the faith and determination of the young family who have come to live here, because they did it sight unseen.

They had been wanting to move to a warmer climate than the one in the rural community outside Edmonton where they were living, and if possible, to a life in cohousing.

So they started with the web, first going to the Intentional Communities Directory where we've been listed for several years, and found Pacific Gardens.
When they went to our website, they saw that we had some units for rent, including a three-bedroom-and-den.

They e-mailed, we answered, they read our newsletter The Bloomin' News, they telephoned. And then they made a decision to move themselves and their three children to our community, trusting that they would find a better life here, and this without ever meeting any of us or seeing where they would be living.

I find their faith in us and the potential of life in cohousing amazing and heartening and wonderful, and I'm excited about what they will bring to Pacific Gardens.

Faith may or may not move mountains, but it can rev up moving vans to travel over them!