Wednesday, July 31, 2013


The end of July this year feels like the end of summer. I’m trying to push the thought back, vigorously! Perhaps it’s just that after intense summer heat and monsoonal rains, the weather is cooler, a hint of autumn in mid-summer? Perhaps it’s that I have not been home for most of this month and was busy and under the gun with deadlines for much of June?

I’m back in Toronto, after a July full of travel and movement.  And I’m glad to be home, with no immediate plans to go anywhere farther than an hour out of town.

As I’ve reflected on the way this summer has spooled away and left me feeling I’ve missed out on it, I’ve come to realise that I think about summer much in the same way that I used to anticipate a weekend. That is, when I visualise the summer, I somehow have a feeling, a magical feeling, that it is of infinite length and contains infinite possibilities. When I worked as a lawyer, a time when weekends of one day or two were sharply etched beacons, on Thursday evening or Friday morning I would have a long loose list of all that I wanted to do on the weekend. And then come Sunday night I’d face once again the dismaying realisation that most of what I had imagined or visualised had not come to pass.

In the same way, summer in anticipation carries the promise of infinite possibility. This surely goes back to childhood, when summer was the liberation from the routines of the school year. And our school holidays were so long that summer did always feel wonderfully “infinitely” long and luxurious. Some part of me seems to expect that still.

Hence my feelings of dismay each year in late July or early August when I realise how much of the summer has passed by…and how little of it remains. It’s not the hot weather, it’s the feeling of long days and infinite possibility that is precious: time not measured out but available in generous dollops to spend with friends or reading books or just in blissful unawareness of its passing.

Yes, I guess I should grow up and stop this magical thinking…but I am rather attached to it. Better to have to face and swallow disappointment each year than to never have the exhilarating feeling that anything and everything is possible.

Speaking of possibility, it seems that some of us do not find it possible to engage with new technology. Those who can are a different species: they experiment with dials and instructions and figure out how to, for example make good use of their smart-phone. This was brought home to me the other day when I was in Maine. I was driving with my friend Nancy in her Prius and wanted to turn the fan off. “I can turn it down but I don’t know how to turn it off” she said. “It’s stupid because I’ve had the car for three years.” Some time later another friend, Ed, was with us in the car, and I suggested to Nancy that she ask him to figure out how to turn off the fan. He fiddled for a moment and bingo! there it was. Solved.

My theory about these things is that Nancy and I and many others like us, mostly not a young crowd, I admit, resist the kind of rat-in-a-maze learning, the trial and error button-pushing, that is required to explore and figure out our smart phones, computer programs, etc. I am happy to play around a little, to take a run at a tech problem. But the process of learning a series of steps that someone has designed? I balk. If someone tells me how to do it, I’m fine. But somehow I resist engaging with the trial-and-error- with-the-machine kind of learning that many people, especially the young, do effortlessly.

It’s lucky for me that I know a number of young people who are generous and tolerant and willing to bail me out of tech impasses. The most recent was a situation where I upgraded something on my Mac desktop and it resulted in my Word and related programs refusing to load. Argh! But there was a rescuer named Thomas, who kindly figured things out.

When I think about the why? of all this, I think it’s an impatience with a situation that requires trial and error but has little or no content or inherent interest to me, except the need to get it to work.

People like Nancy and me would like to be told or shown how to work our tech devices rather than being left to be beginners stumbling along. And because we refuse that process, we get further and further behind, we lose the skill to do trial and error figuring out, we become more dependent on others.

But in the kitchen both she and I are prepared to figure things out and work by trial and error. We both like that process. In the kitchen we are in search of understanding what’s going on, whereas with technology it’s all a blackbox. And so we lack both curiosity and patience for working out the how-to.  

Sorry to be so pedestrian in this post so far. But I've been mulling about these things and wanted to explore them on the page. 

I haven’t talked at all about the fun I had at the Kneading Conference in Skowhegan. I drove down with my dear friends Dawn Woodward and Ed Rek of Evelyn’s Crackers, and they and I and Nancy Jenkins of Camden, stayed with Barbara Sullivan, a wild and wonderful artist, and had loads of great conversations and engaged with each other and many more friends old and new.

We gave a tandoor workshop that was fun and oh-so-interesting for us as well as for those who came. So many people put their hand into the oven to slap a bread on the hot wall.  So many people gained confidence.

If you have an interest in sustainable agriculture, bread, milling, oven building, etc, then you should seriously consider coming to the Kneading confernece in Skowhegan next July, or else travelling to northern Washington State for the Kneading Conference West in the Skagit Valley this September. Being immersed in grain-related talk and learning is so satisfying. And grounding too.

Once you’re in Skowhegan, or in the Skagit Valley, you’re so close to sea coast and wonderfully beautiful natural environments (and great wild-gathered food), that it would be a pity not to take an extra day or two to explore. We ended up eating lobster at The Slipway in Thomaston Maine on Friday night – worth every minute of the long drive back the next day.

That’s the answer of course to the summer problem: just extend yourself, take risks, pack in as much fun and interesting activity as you can. Do not pace yourself. Don’t be sensible, if you have any choice in the matter. And suddenly summer becomes elastic, full of rich events and fruitful possibilities.

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