Saturday, September 09, 2006

Flora and Fauna of Nova Scotia

I've posted an awful lot of pictures of churches and other buildings, but so far I haven't posted a lot of scenic pictures. So this is an attempt to remedy that a bit.

This is a pitcher plant, not quite flora or fauna -- it's a carnivorous plant like the venus flytrap. It catches its prey in the pitcher and dissolves it so it can be absorbed. We stopped at a bog out on the northern tip of Cape Breton that had lots of these little plants, as well as another kind of carnivorous plant we didn't find.

We saw this female moose just off the road out on the tip of Cape Breton. She didn't seem to be too bothered that she was being watched, but Kira and I were the only ones who got out of the car to take pictures.

Another picture from the bog. It was a bit overcast, so the reflection on the water was nice.

We stopped at this little river on the Eastern Shore of the main island on the way back to Halifax. It was a nice fall afternoon.

We also stopped at Clam Cove Beach, where the wind was blowing and the sky turned grey. But the beach was nice and these rocks on the east end added some texture to the scenery.

When I was climbing up the rocks to take the last picture, I found this little fox feasting on berries that were ripe and plump. He saw me and sniffed the air a couple of times, but because the wind was blowing away from him he couldn't smell me. I got a lot of pictures, some from as close as four or five feet, but this was the best of the ones where you see the face.

Okay then.

I hope to do some more posting tomorrow morning before we get to the airport and then some more as we travel back toward the desert. Gotta love the internet connections in the airports now.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Not much time to post (more tomorrow night at the next hotel), but I wanted to share a few pictures.
A lonely church in the middle of nowhere.

This little church is literally miles from the nearest town. It's out on the Cabot Trail around Cape Breton Island. A hundred yards up the road is a cemetery that seems to have been started in the mid 1800's.

These little marshes are everywhere. As someone who lives in the desert, I am so happy to be around water and so fascinated with the ways that life creates itself in these little patches of water.

Another little inland body of water. Both this picture and the previous one were taken just before sunset, so there are some nice reflections in the water.

Tomorrow night I will have some coastal pictures from today's adventures. I didn't have a chance to upload the pictures from today before posting this.

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A Mi'kmaq Tale

[image source]

Whenever I go to a new place, I am always curious about the original people who first inhabited the land. In Nova Scotia, the first people were the Mi'kmaq. Their creator god was the sun, Niscaminou, who created the Mi'kmaq by mingling his light with the light of the moon. The mixture was allowed to settle into the Earth, from which the M'kmaq people emerged red-brown as the soil.

In the following tale, the Mi'kmaq explain the origin of the squirrel, but they also show wisdom in knowing their place in the world. For reference, the Great White Spirit Road is the Milky Way. I could find no explanation for Culloo, but contextually it seems to be an eclipse.

Niscaminou and the Squirrels of the Blue Mountain

In the old days a great chief of the Mi'kmaq lived on Blue Mountain, near Kemptville on the Tusket River. When he was very old and had been a chief for many winters, Niscaminou came to his wigwam.

"Chief," said Niscaminou, "in this land of great chiefs I have found no one greater than you, nor have I found any [people] greater than your people. Because you are a great chief and because you have led your people with courage through good times and hard times I want to honor you. Whatever you wish, that I will grant.

The old chief was pleased that the Great Creator wished to honor him and he sat in long silence and thought of the things he might ask of Niscaminou.

He thought of Earthquake who shook the land until a man could not stand, and he fell quivering to the broken earth. He would ask Niscaminou never to let Earthquake walk again in the land of the Mi'kmaq. But as long as he could remember, Earthquake had not walked in their land, shaking the earth so hard a man could not stand. Earthquake was far away. He would not ask Niscaminou to keep him from their land forever.

He thought of the Great Thunderer and how his bright light sometimes killed a man. But in all his days he had never feared the Great Thunderer. He would not ask Niscaminou to keep Big Thunder always in his hills and away from the land of the Mi'kmaq.

He recalled the old tales of the mighty Culloo whose wings covered the earth in darkness, and the [people] crept into the caves and hid in the thick woods. But he had never seen the mighty Culloo, nor had he known anyone who had. Culloo was only in the old tales.

He remembered the winters when Ukwtakun, the hungry one stalked the bare land and there was nothing for the [people] to eat. But if a man ate the inner bark of trees and the lichens on the rocks he could live.

Then he remembered Death and that he was old. With a rush of joy he thought he would ask Niscaminou to let him live forever and ever. If he lived forever he would never lie on a scaffold of poles in the wind and the rain and the cold; he would never go into the earth. He would live with no thought of death; sleep and always wake. But when he looked up into the sky he knew he was not afraid for his spirit to go the way of the Great White Spirit Road.

It was then a squirrel came over the hills of Blue Mountain and the old chief scowled. (In the old days the squirrels were monstrous animals, stronger than the [people] who could not drive them from their wigwams when they came thieving in the villages; and nowhere in all the land of the Mi'kmaq were the squirrels a greater nuisance than in the hills of the Blue Mountain near the Tusket River.) Now he knew what he would ask of the Great Creator.

"Niscaminou, make the squirrels so little they will never again be a pest to the Mi'kmaq." Niscaminou looked at the mighty squirrel; and he was a tiny animal, small like the squirrels now on Blue Mountain and in all the land of the old Mi'kmaq.

~ From Red Earth: Tales of the Mi'kmaq, by Marion Robertson; Nimbus Publishing.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Notes on Traveling in Nova Scotia, Canada

Here are a few thoughts from the last couple of days on traveling in Nova Scotia (no offense intended to my Canadian readers):

1. Kilometers go by much faster than miles.
2. No one seems to speed, and it seems that most people think it's impolite to pass.
3. Tourist sites are not well marked, and one gets the impression that you would rather we just go away.
4. Gas is really expensive when you have to buy it by the liter. If the US switched to metric, gas use would go way down and we could just tell the Middle East to take care of its own damn problems.
5. Pentacostals seem to be embarrassed that they even have to build a church -- and there must be about 5-10 members for each small church based on how small the buildings are.
6. The weather reminds me of Seattle -- a lot -- and that makes me very happy.
7. Did I mention that kilometers go by really fast?
8. People in Cape Breton still speak Gaelic. Do Scots even still speak Gaelic?
9. Freeways don't seem to have rest areas -- that sucks for coffee drinkers. And don't even get me started on the confusing road signs.
10. And finally, now that the Canadian dollar is worth almost as much as the US dollar, "US money not acceptable here" is a common site.

More pictures to come -- hopefully tomorrow at some point.

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On Vacations, Karma, and Relationships

The Buddha said, "If you want to know what your future life will be like, look at your life right now."

Okay. I'm in the middle of some amazing nowhere in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, staying in a cozy little cabin with my partner, Kira. The small town we are staying near is surrounded by lakes and other small, quaint, old fishing villages. The view from our window is amazing as the sun begins to come up over the eastern horizon. There is freshly brewed coffee in the cup beside my computer. We have planned a mellow day today of shopping and visiting galleries and artisans -- a nice break after several days of driving and packing as much as possible into each day.

And, one other thing, I slept on the couch last night because we had a fight.

Something has gone horribly wrong with this picture . . . .

I mentioned the other day how vacation can be transformative instead of just a series of experiences that may or may not be translative. There is something for me to learn from this situation, something more than the details of the fight.

Sleeping on the couch last night awakened in me the memory of the last six months of my previous long-term relationship. I slept on the couch for those six months. Our relationship had been dead for quite some time, but I couldn't force myself to leave until I had separated from her for a week to teach high school kids about initiation with a friend in Louisville. Being away from the situation and immersed in a transformative teaching experience triggered the jump in awareness needed to leave -- and to know that it was the right thing to do.

I don't want to let this slide until I get to that point. There were many moments in that previous relationship when I could have left or tried to fix things. Instead, I chose to drink myself asleep and smoke my concerns away in a cloud of tobacco.

My relationship with Kira is much more mature (even when I am not) than that other relationship ever was. We solve problems when they come up -- except last night, when I was unable to unplug from the weird bonding pattern that had emerged and that Kira wanted to break out of.

If we were not on vacation and dealing with a new set of challenges and situations, we may not have had to face that pattern and it may have remained operative beneath the surface indefinitely. But being here, in this place and on this trip, forced the pattern to the surface. Kira had the good sense to want to look at it and fix it -- I didn't.

But this morning, I awoke with the need to sit down at the computer and start writing -- with karma as the subject in my mind. But then this emerged. And this is what had wanted to emerge anyway, what had been festering all night.

It might be a few hours before I get a chance to post this (no internet in our room, or even at our hotel), so for now, I'm going to go talk with Kira.

The good thing about karma is that "it can be changed, worked with, expiated, purified, and transformed" (Lama Surya Das). If my past and current actions have produced this situation, then I have the power to act with different intentions and different behaviors to alter the future that currently awaits me.


Surya Das (in Awakening the Buddhist Heart) offers an exercise in karma that can help us turn our hearts and minds to the Dharma and away from confusion.

The reflection on four basic thoughts can help us sort out our values and priorities and become more conscientious about our spiritual practice. We use this exercise to keep us grounded in reality and conscious of what's truly important.

Reflect on the following:

I. I have been blessed with a life in which I can do many things to further my own happiness and the happiness of those around me.

II. Life is short: there is no time to waste.

III. The journey through life isn't supposed to be easy: it's supposed to be real.

IV. Our karma is the one thing we carry with us always.

Surya Das says, "He who understands karma understands Dharma and realizes reality."

The Buddha said:

Wherever we go, wherever we remain,
the results of our actions follow us.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Sogyal Rinpoche on Meditation

The Rigpa Daily Glimpse:
Whatever meditation method you use, drop it, or simply let it dissolve on its own, when you find that you have arrived naturally at a state of alert, expansive, and vibrant peace. Then remain there quietly, undistracted, without necessarily using any particular method. The method has already achieved its purpose. However, if you do stray or become distracted, then return to whatever technique is most appropriate to call you back.

~ Sogyal Rinpoche

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Last Day in Digby

We hit the road early tomorrow morning for the other side of the island, to Baddeck.

Today we went on a whale cruise. Note to self: Pale-skinned white boys burn easily-- that's why they invented sunscreen -- you might want to look into that.

But we did see a whole mess of humpback whales. Turns out that unless you are lucky enough to catch one mid-breech (we saw one, but didn't get a picture of it), the only way to tell you have photographed a whale is if you get a tail shot.

So I have a whole lot of pictures of the southbound end of a northbound whale.

But we also saw a strange rock, called Balancing Rock. How the hell that rock stays standing is beyond me.

And, of course, I took some more pictures of buildings.

An old, faded house that I liked.

And an old, abandoned church. The new one, just 25 yards away, doesn't have the steeple. Go figure.

There's lots more that I'll try to post in the near future. We will be without internet at our hotel for the next three days, so posting will be hit and miss -- whenever I can get to a cyber cafe.

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Sogyal Rinpoche on Empathy

Here is the Rigpa Glimpse of the Day:

When someone is suffering and you find yourself at a loss to know how to help, put yourself unflinchingly in his or her place. Imagine as vividly as possible what you would be going through if you were suffering the same pain. Ask yourself: “How would I feel? How would I want my friends to treat me? What would I most want from them?”

When you exchange yourself for others in this way, you are directly transferring your cherishing from its usual object, yourself, to other beings. So exchanging yourself for others is a very powerful way of loosening the hold on you of the self-cherishing and the self-grasping of ego, and so of releasing the heart of your compassion.

~ Sogyal Rinpoche

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How Perfect Is Your Life?

Take this dumbass quiz to find out.

Here's my life perfection rating:

MySpace quizzes

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Buildings in Nova Scotia

When I go on vacation some place, I like to get a feel for the place and for the people as much as I like to see the sites and the major attractions. I end up remembering more about the place and the trip if it is contextualized in some way rather than a bunch of "oohh, aahh" experiences.

With that in mind, I have been taking some pictures of buildings here. One of the things I've noticed is the sheer number of little churches that seem to be around every corner. Some are no larger than our hotel room. There are also a fair number of abandoned houses interspersed among rather affluent looking homes.

Here are a couple from yesterday. Kira has been kind enough to humor me as I stop here and there to snap a photo or two.

This was just some abandoned house set back a ways from the road. I really liked something about the design and feel on a gloomy morning.

A churchfront in a small town called Bear River. The building is not very deep, but it seems to aim for an imposing front view.

A small Anglican Church in some town I can't remember the name of. I liked that the cemetery wasn't hidden in back or off to the side.

These are the front doors to an abandoned school in Bear River. The building has a bit of a lean to it, as you see at the top of the door frame.

As we drive around the island, I'll be taking more photos of churches and other buildings.

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New Photography at Elegant Thorn Review

I'm pleased to announce the posting of two new photographers at Elegant Thorn Review.

* Two Photos: Alin Semenescu
* Two Photos: Elysa von Brockdorff

In the coming weeks, I'll be posting more work by these talented artists. Alin is from Romania and Elysa is from Malta.

As always, I'm am seeking quality photography, poetry, and flash fiction possessing spiritual intelligence.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

The Dalai Lama on War

From Snow Lion Publications:
Dalai Lama Quote of the Week War, sadly, has remained a part of human history up to the present, but I think the time has come to change the concepts that lead to war. Some people consider war to be something glorious; they think that through war they can become heroes. This attitude toward war is very wrong. Recently an interviewer remarked to me, "Westerners have a great fear of death, but Easterners seem to have very little fear of death."

To that I half-jokingly responded, "It seems to me that, to the Western mind, war and the military establishment are extremely important. War means death--by killing, not by natural causes. So it seems that, in fact, you are the ones who do not fear death, because you are so fond of war. We Easterners, particularly Tibetans, cannot even begin to consider war; we cannot conceive of fighting, because the inevitable result of war is disaster: death, injuries, and misery. Therefore, the concept of war, in our minds, is extremely negative. That would seem to mean we actually have more fear of death than you. Don't you think?"

~ From The Compassionate Life by Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

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On Traveling

[Photo by Kira]

Traveling is always an adventure.

Coming to our friendly northern neighbor, Canada, seemed like no big deal -- easy to get food, everyone speaks the same language, eh, and I can read the signs. So who woulda thunk that in this little part of the world the grocery store would be closed on Sundays and that they would again be closed today, on Labor Day. Not working on a day set aside to honor workers? What the hell is that all about?

So the food situation is a challenge for someone who doesn't eat deep-fried anything (which seems to be the favorite way to prepare all foods in Digby, but especially seafood). And the situation (my hunger, that is) was made worse by staying in a nice B&B suite (kind of like a cross between a B&B and a hotel, with the hominess of a B&B and the privacy of a hotel) that came stocked with exquisite muffins on the dining table. Blueberry muffins cannot be refused.

I guess my spoiled American need for healthy foods on my terms wouldn't get me too far in REAL foreign nation. I'm a food wuss. But then, I think I'd rather eat grasshoppers than deep-fried scallops.

So, anyway, where was I?

Oh yes, travel is an adventure. It's raining today, and tomorrow, and every day we are here through the end of the week. I don't really mind the rain, but Kira gets chilled easily and even more so when she is damp. She brought five coats on this trip. Seriously.

But the weather won't stop us from going out to the beaches today to see some nature and hear some ocean waves wash ashore. It does, apparenltly, keep the whales from wanting to be seen, so the whale cruises don't go out so much in bad weather.

Being from Seattle, however, this feels like good weather to me. The bad weather is the 100 degree heat back in Tucson. I like the rain, and the fog, and smell of salt and seaweed and fish in the air.

The bigger point, if I have one before having any coffee this morning, is that when we travel we are competely removed from the rut of our normal lives. We have an opportunity, including adapting to different foods and schedules, to disrupt our patterns and open ourselves to the flow of new possibilities.

Kira had a dream last night that revealed to her how her behavior in relationship to me had been too centered around accommodating my needs and wants -- which is a microcosm of how her work life also based on accommodating the needs of the publishers she works for. The dream shook her up a bit, but it also clarified an area of her life that wasn't working for her.

My process is different. I make much more time to read on vacations. I usually bring several books and most trips end up buying several more. Mostly I read Buddhism books, or some poetry -- stuff that makes me slow down and be present. As much as I try to read regularly at home, it's often confined to scheduling around work and never feels relaxed. Plus, being at home I am more likely to get distracted by things that need to get done, like paying bills, blogging, or whatever.

We need time in our lives to be unplugged from the grind. It's too bad that some of us -- me -- need to leave town to get the need met. I know I need to find ways to do it without getting on an airplane, but for now, today, I am glad to be in Nova Scotia and away from my small life in Tucson.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Digby, Nova Scotia, Part 1

Sunset I off the coast of Digby, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Sunset II off the coast of Digby.

Some seaweed in a tide pool.

Algae in a different pool.

Spent most of the day driving. Hopefully more pictures tomorrow.

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There is only one way of attaining liberation and of obtaining the omniscience of enlightenment: following an authentic spiritual master. He is the guide that will help you to cross the ocean of samsara.

The sun and the moon are reflected in clear, still water instantly. Similarly, the blessings of all the buddhas are always present for those who have complete confidence in them. The sun’s rays fall everywhere uniformly, but only where they are focused through a magnifying glass can they set dry grass on fire. When the all-pervading rays of the Buddha’s compassion are focused through the magnifying glass of your faith and devotion, the flame of blessings blazes up in your being.

~ Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

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Greetings from Halifax

Not much time to blog this morning, but I wanted to point to a couple of articles I read while Kira was still sleeping (too much work and not enough rest have made her quite the sleep machine now that she can relax a bit).

First, Thomas F. Schaller, writing at The American Prospect, has a plan to help the Dems this fall. He is basically suggesting that the Dems need to all agree on a few points with which they can attack the GOP, namely:

* Where's Osama bin Laden?
* What tax cut?
* Pay their own health care costs so that uninsured/underinsured constituents won't be paying their tab.
* Sponsor a single New Orleans precinct to bring attention to the issues there based in class.
* Lapel pins with three numbers: 0, the number of spending bills Bush has vetoed; 4, the number of times Congress has raised the debt ceiling; and 300, the billions of dollars spent in Iraq so far.

Nice idea, but getting all the dems to agree on anything is nearly impossible.

You might want to take a look at CJ Smith's post on why this phase of the global war on terror needs to end. His arguments mesh well with some of what Fallows argued in his piece that I posted on yesterday (sorry it's not available on-line -- I read it on the plane yesterday).

Finally, here are the weeks's best late night jokes, from
"Today is the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Not only that, it's the six-month anniversary of when President Bush found out about it." --Conan O'Brien

"Tuesday will mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina -- the storm that nearly destroyed New Orleans. The White House's response to Katrina can best be filed under job comma 'heckuva.'" --Jon Stewart

"NBC anchor Brian Williams interviewed President Bush. He asked him about his poll numbers and President Bush said, 'The key for me is to keep expectations low.' I think you can accurately say, 'Mission Accomplished.'" --Jay Leno

"CNN, to mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11, is going to be re-playing their original coverage of that day. Let's just hope that President Bush doesn't tune in and go, 'Oh my God, they've done it again!'." --Bill Maher