Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dogs and the power of now


Eckhart Tolle is a modern day guru of spiritual enlightenment, best known for his book titled the "power of now". This best seller advises jaded yuppies to become more introspective and to realize that the only thing that is real, or within our control is the now. While we may live in the past and hold on to grudges or peg our hopes on a future yet to come, these are illusory and in many cases harmful as they are defined not by what is, but what we want. Our egos therefore are in charge of editorializing the history that was, and what will come.

Eckhart probably does not have a dog. If he had a dog, he would know that dogs are masters of the moment. When you take a dog for a walk, he or she does not check the weather forecast and say "see here, it is forecasting sun for tomorrow lets delay our picnic until tomorrow" No, they enjoy the time with you. They check out the grass, the trees and the air. Nor do they complain and say "NOT THIS WALK again...lets go somewhere fun..." They appreciate the small things, the dew on the grass, the new smell on the sidewalk, the breeze that blows their ears.

Dogs are masters of their bodies. I have yet to see a dog who refuses to go out and asks "Does my collar make me look fat?" Dogs accept who they are, and roll in the grass, or in the case of one of my dogs, nibble on the flowers in the garden.

Perhaps the most startling manifestation of the dogs appreciation of the now, is when you take them for a walk in an off leash dog park. At the dog park there are hundreds of dogs of all breeds, colours and sizes. The dogs accept each other. There is no "I am sorry you are really not in my class" or "You are too small for me, or too fat or skinny for me". The dogs don't even ask what neighbourhood you live in, or what type of job you do. A dog is a dog and accepted as such.

Now there will be those who protest and say that our divisions into tribes, groups, economic groups are necessary to avoid conflict and necessary steps in socio evolution. We need walls to protect ourselves and our values from the others. We need to define who we are in contrast to the other, in contrast to the stranger.

For a dog the definition of self comes from within. They know they are dogs, they know their place in our world. It is this keen awareness of self that enables a dog to understand in a very profound way the moment.

By the time we have finished defining ourselves in relation to others, we not only have lost the moment, we have forgotten who we are.

It is not that meditation and introspection is a bad thing for us homo sapiens, it is just that I believe we can learn much of what we need to know in terms of our acceptance of ourselves and more importantly of others from dogs.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cuba....Revolution Lost


In March of 2009, I visited Cuba on a cycling trip followed by diving. I had been to Cuba numerous times before and as I am proficient in Spanish, I always learn a great deal.

My past experiences of Cuba were that the people were immensely proud of their country and the fact that they held out against the USA. It was always felt that they could do anything. When there was a medical embargo, they created organic medicines. The Cuban people prided themselves on their resourcefulness. The US embargo and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980's meant that Cuba was forced to use organic crop growing methods. The result is that all the food in Cuba is organic and very healthy.

Cuba has a fine medical and educational system but they have lost the revolution. The revolution originally captured the hearts and souls of the people. They were willing to fight in the Sierra Maestra mountains against the enemy and endure hardship as it soon would end. That was 50 years ago and the hardships endure. The Cubans were hoping for change with Raul Castro but life for the average Cuban has gotten worse rather than better. There are no children's shoes in the stores that are affordable, the price of basic commodities is out of the reach of most of the population. Cubans faced with years of making do or deprivation, have lost hope.

The fields of Cuba and the workplaces are for the most place idle. The workers are absent and instead of hearing the hum of machinery, one can hear the clip clop of a horse or the squeaking of a rusty bicycle chain. The entire country is waiting. The hotel workers wait for their shifts to end, or crowd into the small dollar shops to buy treats. The construction workers work to fix their own homes, abandoning the work sites, the teachers are underpaid and question their role and the doctors often need second jobs simply to feed their families.

The saddest thing that I saw on this trip was the tourist sex trade and an increase in begging. Our hotel had a beach adjoining the property and this was the red light district where tourists would return with very young Cubans of both sexes to be wined and dined at the resort. Their empty and sad eyes tell their story without words. This was not the case a few years ago. The young Cubans that I knew burned with a fierce pride in their country and in themselves.

The once great museums and churches are often converted into museums of the revolution with dusty photos of Fidel or Raul Castro. These monuments to the revolution are devoid of Cuban visitors, who for the most part no longer hold the ideals of the revolution in their hearts. The revolutionary rhetoric has been replaced with the day to day drama of surviving, of finding enough food, of wondering if fresh water will be available or if the electricity will run.

The factories that were once proudly nationalized lay for the most part empty and idle, their machines rusting in the Cuban sun. The splendid buildings of Old Havana are in a state of mouldering decay. When the plumbing or machinery breaks down, there are no spare parts to repair and hence the deterioration continues. Where once there was a well attended church, you will see a few elderly people and the church operated by a few volunteers or indifferent teenage girls who know nothing of its history.

The disappearance of the charismatic and brilliant Fidel Castro has made matters worse. Without a visible leader and without a vision or hope, the people of Cuba have perished. Like the little boy in this photo, trying to ride a bicycle that was far too big for him, Cubans may have the desire to change but they lack the tools and like the little boy, despair.

Rural landscapes


On a recent bike tour of Picton, in Prince Edward County I was delighted to see so many beautiful farms with fine herds of cattle and healthy crops. The farms were all small but beautifully maintained. It was good to see that the farms were not up for sale nor were they hobby farms.

At a time when our agricultural land is becoming eroded by greed and by development, it was good to cycle in and breath in the air of true farm country.
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KNBC Picton Bike Trip


On June 26th-28th 2009 I attended the KNBC Picton bike trip. This was my first Canadian overnight bike trip and my first overnighter with the club.

Rowena and I arrived on Friday and spent time at the Sandbanks provincial park. This was where I had spend many a childhood weekend. Oddly, it seemed smaller. To a child's eyes the dunes went on for hundreds, even thousands of miles and yet in reality, they are only 7km long. That night we all had dinner at a culinary cooking school where I had a wonderful desert of creme brule!

We checked in at Harrington House B and B and arranged our room. The room was really for one person and we dubbed it the 'submarine'. The submarine did have a great pool, hot tub, wonderful breakfasts and affable hosts.

On the first day of the trip, the Saturday the group as a whole met at the war memorial in Picton. There were some 26 cyclists all anxiously wanting to explore.

Our tour leader tried her best to keep 26 adults with egos working as a group but it prooved impossible. We were led by Jo Jo who roared past all of us!

Prince Edward County is a sensory delight. The rural scenery is charming. I saw many farms with barns painted red, or cream. The crops were fenced in with split rail fences and were very healthy and blowing gently in the breeze. The roads were in great shape and there was no traffic to speak of except in the town of Picton itself, population 4000.

The first day we cycled from 9am to 6pm with a stop for lunch. We cycled to Sandbanks provincial park and on to a vineyard where we sampled wauposs cider. I had tried the premium cider at lunch, but the winery offered more delightful varieties of this elixir. There is nothing quite like sampling cider in a limestone tasting house that overlooks the water.

There were a lot of hills on that first day, and I discovered that I did not have any of my lower gears. In Ottawa I only use the larger chain and assumed all was functional. I walked many of the hills.

I also discovered that prescription lenses, can and do fly out of your glasses onto the road for no apparant reason.

After 80km or so, some in our group, decided to do extra in order to stop at the fifth town cheese factory. We had already visited the black river cheese factory where I had purchased some soap and had an icecream but the fifth town cheese factory was having an open house AND was organic.

I did not care how tired I was, this HAD to be seen.

I was thrilled. Not only was I able to sample sumptuous goat cheese and taste a variety of fine wines but I learned about their organic practices and met their sweet little mascot, Oliver, a baby goat.

We arrived back at the B and B, at 6pm, hot and tired. I took a dip in the pool and went in the hot tub with a glass of Black Prince Wine in hand. All was right with the world.

That night we went to the funky carp for dinner. Although the setting was pleasant, the restaurant should be renamed the Crappy Carp.

The next day, Monna wisely decided to split the group. I joined a group of four faster cyclists and we followed the coast towards Consecon. We met in the lovely little town of Bloomfield and at the bike shop, I had my bike repaired. I now had a FULL set of gears and no hill would stop me.


We did not go to consecon beach where I had vacationed as a child, but ate a meal at an old mill in Consecon. One of the guests, albeit outside, was a splendid great blue heron, fishing near the weir.

The ride took us through farmlands and we rode on shady roads covered with large arching oak and maple trees. You could smell the ripening strawberries in the fields!

It was a great trip!



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