To purchase a copy

Title: High Up in the Rolling Hills
Author: Peter Finch


Category: Biography, memoir, manifesto, sustainable living
Format: Trade paperback, hardcover, ebook
Publication Date: April, 2013
Pages: 204
Recommended Price: $17.95 softcover, $27.95 hardcover, $9.95 pdf
Trim: 8.5 x 5.5 inches
Available from: iUniverse; Amazon in Canada, United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan, Brazil; Barnes & Noble; Borders; Chapters Indigo in Canada
First Print Run: On demand (with iUniverse on-demand capabilities, there is never an out-of-stock situation)

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Forever Young



(Note to self on turning sixty, courtesy of Bob Dylan, with whom I share a birthday; Happy Birthday, Bob)

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung

May you stay forever young

Friday, 18 March 2016

Carpe diem


At this very instant (as I write), it is 10.07 am on February 29, a day that only comes around every four years. I find myself on a rooftop terrace in Patzcuaro, Mexico, part of a place we have been fortunate enough to call home for the last month. Tomorrow we head back to Mexico City, thence via Toronto to our permanent home in the Northumberland Hills of OntarioI am determined to hang on to this fleeting moment in time, to sip and savour it like a fine brandy, another treat in this adventure that is life. 

At this very instant, dogs are barking, cars and trucks are rumbling along the cobblestone street below, cocks are still crowing, a megaphone is trumpeting gas delivery, birds are twittering in the trees, voices in animated conversation from passers-by rise and fade, the dance studio is blaring out Arabic rhythms. The sky above my head is cloudless, the sun is bright and burns my northern skin. The town is humming with activity and street markets are in full tilt. The distant lake and girdle of gentle mountains are hazy and soft. I have slept soundly, breakfasted well. My time here has been liberally sprinkled with happy moments; it will linger long in the memory. A Patzcuaro portfolio derived from snapshots of many moments will stock my bank of souvenirs.

At this very instant, many millions of people are occupied doing many millions of things in millions of places around the world, all special and particular and meaningful to each person. Repetition and drudgery, hardship and boredom, pain and brutality may be involved, making the joyful, exuberant moments all the more special when they come around. I wish everybody instants in the sun like this one for me when the fresh, pure air cleanses and wipes away layers of emotional and physical grime and opens up new vistas. Tomorrow, new instants beckon as the reality of routine confronts us. It will be raining or snowing, or overcast. 

Seize the moment. Carpe diem.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Magic hour, Patzcuaro


(Written ten years ago during our first visit to Patzcuaro, one which Gundi called our best holiday ever. Ten years later, we are just returned from our second visit - a full month this time - probably an even more rewarding stay! This pueblo magico has lost none of its charm and has barely changed in the intervening decade. How many places around the world can make this claim?)

 A magical hour in a magical place. Early Sunday evening, in the Plaza Vasco de Quiroga, Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico, the Americas.

The lights along the six portales of the palisaded rectangle are all of a diffused yellow, as if a thousand candles have just been lit. The six centuries-old leafy ash trees are fluttering in the light breeze, the birds are all atwitter in the high branches, and dark is newly descended. The central circular pool in the park, guarded by Don Vasco, is placid and mirrors the lighted scene above, while coy young lovers tangle, forming a ring around its rim. Whole families are out de paseo, dressed in their Sunday best, reveling in the fresh early Spring air. Toy ponies transport wide-eyed toddlers in a lap of the pathways; exuberant little girls with flowing black hair, red and pink dresses, long white socks, and shiny black shoes skip, scooter and bicycle by, and a tiny year and a half-old boy hoots with delight as he plays peek-a-boo around the massive girth of a limed-white tree trunk. His mother happily passes him over to a complete stranger so that she can share in the joy and wonder of being that innocent age. Cars trundle in slow-motion over the cobble-stoned streets, some emanating a deep boom-box bass beat. The atmosphere is gentle, sweet, beguiling as natives and visitors mingle, embracing the warmth of sharing this time together, at leisure and in peace.

Restaurants serve food, bars purvey drinks, artists show their landscape paintings, artisans display their crafts, vendors peddle clothing and toys, ice creams and pastries. Most is locally produced. In the adjacent mercado, they are just shutting up shop for the day. The array of colorful fresh produce is staggering – papayas, mangoes, guayabas, pineapples, melons, bananas, coconuts, strawberries, blackberries, apples, oranges, limes, lemons, tomatoes, avocadoes, potatoes, onions, herbs of all kinds, cauliflowers, cabbages, beans, corn, beets, carrots, meats, fish, you name it…. At the food stands, mamas and papas and their niños huddle around hot pots of steaming stews; tortillas are warmed as a base for sauces and fillings. Smells and sounds pepper the air, and colour suffuses the scene.

We enter a patio courtyard sanctuary decked with bright table-cloths and take a seat to survey the panoramic mural of the Mansion de los Sueños, the mansion of dreams. The mural is a delightful tableau of local campesinos and townfolk, out wandering and picnicking midst the mountain- and lake-scape that snuggles up to the town. Glowing belles are serenaded by elegant troubadours as fresh fruit laps at their feet. Isla Janitzio glistens as the jewel in the crown of the lake. We drink tequila with limon and savour fresh trout, soaking up the music and the starlit night air. 

Friday, 27 November 2015

Appealing to our Better Natures

Pieter Bruegel the elder, The Triumph of Death, painted c. 1562  


It is hard to change learned behaviours, but change is imperative. We have no choice if we are to halt and reverse the frenzied drive through the bleak landscape of societal and ecological decline. The climate is changing faster than we recognize. There are some that, remarkably, still - heads in the sand - fail to recognize this at all,  while calamities befall mostly those who can least bear them. Where will the next one hit?

At the top, governments are creaking. Their stock response to new challenges is often to pile on more misery through austerity and cuts to services. Refugees are corralled, ridiculed and marginalized. Hundreds of millions of people across the globe have been cast aside by globalization as human refuse. They are worth nothing to the corporate state. They are denied jobs, benefits, dignity and self-worth,” writes Chris Hedges at www.truthdig.org.

 The natural world is assaulted and battered. Wars proliferate; nations and countless (undocumented) innocents that do not count are condemned to an endless  cycle of suffering. Tit-for-tat, an-eye-for-an-eye, it is said, leads to a world that is blind. The elite are laughing all the way to the bank, of course. They double down on their attrition, knee-jerk vengeful reactions, arming shady militias and switching sides with their divide-and-conquer tactics. They shake it up, drive a wedge, and deliver with shock-and-awe pyrotechnics for the home audience. At the same time, pressing issues are ignored, vital choices are sidestepped, as governments in cahoots with corporations dither and obfuscate, kicking the collective can down the road, leaving their successors and future generations to try to clean up their mess.


Stand back, take a deep breath, and reflect. Where does all this lead? Where does it end  up? Back at the beginning, where we were, no progress made? What goes around, comes around. As Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr  noted in 1849: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Time to press re-set and start over with a fresh approach.

***

Hieronymus Bosch, detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights, painted 1503 - 1515

At the grassroots, a willful transformation is taking place, taking root and flourishing in many communities around the world. Passionate, fiery voices tell it as it is. They champion vital causes. They are intrepid souls like Vandana Shiva, Naomi Klein, Jane Goodall, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Jon Pilger, Chris Hedges, Julien Assange, Edward Snowden, Paul Craig Roberts, Eric Margolis, David Suzuki, George Monbiot, Nafeez Ahmed, Thierry Meyssan, Yanis Varoufakis, Derrick Jensen, Bill McKibben, Joel Salatin and many, many more….

Organizations such as Greenpeace, 350.org, Resilience, Sustainable Pulse, Survival International, Friends of the Earth, The Ecologist, Bioneers, Transition Towns Network, Pachamama Alliance, NextGen Climate, The Cornucopia Project, Non-GMO Project, Avaaz, WikiLeaks and many many more are raising the consciousness and effecting genuine change. The paradigm shift is underway. These worthy, truly transformative efforts are already stemming the slide in so many directions – a warming planet, extreme weather events, acidifying oceans, chemical pollution, heightened atmospheric radiation, depleted and poisoned soils, desertification, deforestation, threats to democracy, national and personal freedoms and much more besides….

Caring and sharing are occurring allowing a certain level of healing to occur. A parallel economy, replacing competition with co-operation is sprouting, utilizing principles of localism. Using only what we need, when and where we need it, individuals, families and communities are learning how to be frugal, minimize waste and work together creatively in a spirit of collaboration.

Social media have taught us valuable lessons in how to share, with friends, with community, with the world. Gone (sadly) are the days of letter-writing as a principle way of staying in touch across distances. We still have the ubiquitous phone, but lives have been transformed by the convenience and speed of text, instant messaging, email, digital video and image. We post to our Facebook wall, tweet, blog our thoughts and post our photos on Instagram. In sharing so instantly and often with our circle of friends and the world at large, we are having to learn how to prioritize our time instead of wasting it, and these lessons are hard. Time that used to be spent talking in person is replaced by hours of solitary surfing, browsing, ogling, googling, messaging, commenting, liking and posting, in thrall to our personal devices. Slaves to technology, it is easy for us to forget to look up, smell the coffee (and roses), spend time in Nature, and truly take in our surroundings, especially when swept away in the moment.  But at least in our digital pursuits, we are generally sharing, be it information or entertainment.

A lot of these easy means of communication come to us for free. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Blogger, WordPress and many apps are there for the taking. It is no wonder that we are streaming movies and news, using wi-fi, posting freely and abandoning mainstream television and newspapers. The talking heads of TV and the puppet scribes of the press are delivering mainly bland commentary sanctioned and sanitized by the corporate barons and their elite; alternative viewpoints online can be so much more salient and edifying when one learns where to find them midst the hysteria.

At the same time, many of us are seeking ways to share more locally, within our communities. While it is nice to be able to drink fine wines from France and Chile, eat artisan cheeses from Italy, sip on fair trade coffee from Costa Rica and Columbia, and use organic olive oil from Spain and Greece, we need to grow more food locally and market, consume it within our community.

Many of us have too much stuff stowed away; stuff that lurks in boxes and cupboards and basements, rarely seeing the light of day; stuff that other people could use. We have over-consumed. We can shift focus from buying-and-selling-and-renting-and-wasting to sharing-and-trading-and-using-and-returning. This would foster community participation and networking. As an organic farmer selling at farmers markets, I know well that it is good to trade with fellow-farmers and-producers; to share experience and knowledge with customers. A personal goal is to help develop a localized free exchange & trading of goods and services in the community which I call home, in which money does not need to change hands. A pilot program here in Northumberland is mooted.

The corporations may be tightening their control and governments may be leading us into wars and want with no end in sight, but smallholders and radical thinkers around the world are making a difference in effecting substantial change at the local level. In appealing to our better natures, they are helping to build resilient communities based on eternal virtues of love and empathy, through caring and sharing. Back in 1759 Voltaire advised in Candide “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.”

In 1969, Joni Mitchell sang
“We are stardust
We are golden
Billion year old carbon
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden.”

And in  1973 E.F. Schumacher authored “Small is Beautiful” , championing village-based economics and smaller-scale, appropriate technologies. It is time to re-adopt  forward ways of thinking. Press Re-set. After all, as Vandana Shiva says: “We are all seeds.”


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Remembering my dear old Dad

My sister Jenny writes: "It's hard to believe that today is the 10th anniversary of Dad's death." On this day, I am filled with loving memories. His spirit lives on.

In High Up in the Rolling Hills, I wrote:

Dad stayed in constant touch and kept right up to date on my latest. A year after a walk on Kinver Ridge to view his proposed resting place, it was time to visit Mum and Dad. Acutely aware of his vulnerability after several minor heart attacks, Dad had for a while been tying up loose ends, putting his affairs in order and making arrangements. I spent a week with them at their home in Bournville, in south Birmingham. This week, to be his last, was filled with bright, sunny days and cold, frosty nights. Dad was full of his usual mix of thoughtful musings and happy banter. He paid homage to the fallen ones throughout the week leading up to Remembrance Day. He made his usual care-giving calls to ailing friends and neighbours. He reviewed and updated the Finch and Mullins family histories, talking glowingly about his mother and father. He was thrilled to make the first sale of his poetry collection. He listened to the cricket on the radio. He revelled in Chopin nocturnes and Mozart piano concertos. He even burst into song more than once as he showed me his revised funeral service program.

The family enjoyed meals together. We picked and ate the last raspberries from the garden. We went for sunny walks in the park. My sisters and I reminisced about our childhoods, happy times for him and for us. Above all he was overjoyed to spend time with his closest family - his beloved Mary, his daughter Jill visiting from Berlin and me from Canada, daughter Jenny and her husband Bob, granddaughters Anna and Sarah, all of whom had been constantly close by for Jack and Mary in recent years. All of us were with him on what turned out to be his last evening. Just grandchildren Mieke and Janko and my wife, Gundi, were sadly not with us at this time.

Then, on a sunny afternoon stroll in the park with Jill, a massive heart attack struck him down and Dad suddenly took leave of us, a contented soul with an enlarged heart filled with love. His spirit will live on in all those that he touched with his humility and boundless love for people everywhere. His journey continued as he moved on to Kinver Edge, where the earth meets the heavens for him. From there, it was on to the great beyond. He had told me that death held no fear for him. He believed that it would reunite him with loved ones that had gone before.
A plaque on a bench up on Kinver Edge in memory of another departed one reads:
May the winds of love blow softly
On this quiet and peaceful place
Where our loved one
Will never be forgotten.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Seeking Balance

At Fairmount Park Farmers Market

In bestriding this precious gift called life, I’m seeking balance. This being my sixtieth year on this Earth, I find myself looking back in the rear view mirror toward the distant innocence of childhood, just as I scan with firm gaze the curving road ahead. The secret is to simultaneously revel in the present. Peak summertime is upon us and with it comes a sharp awareness of its transience. Without dwelling on its ephemeral nature, I steer from the physical to the cerebral, farming to marketing, hard work to gentle play, outdoor to indoors, home to travel, relaxation to stimulation….

Many food-growing farmers are stretched at this busy time of year, arriving at market weary and dazed from their strenuous labours, energy-sapping heat, and daunting harvesting and sales schedules. My twice a week farmers market appearances in the city lend interaction with appreciative customers and are a pleasant break from the back bending and leg wilting of farm exertions. 

Soon enough it will be Fall with cooler days of earthy fragrances and crisp nights to ripen off the fruits of our labour. And then balance is provided by the more leisurely pace of winter with its intense cold outside, warm wood fires inside. The prospect of a respite in the warm embrace of small-town Mexico, shared, we hope,  partly with family and friends is enticing indeed.