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)
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 Ontario. I
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.
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.
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.
Pieter Bruegel the elder,
The Triumph of Death, painted c. 1562
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?
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.
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
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….
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
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.
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.”
1969, Joni Mitchell sang
“We are stardust
We are golden
Billion year old carbon
Caught in the devil’s
And we’ve got to get
Back to the garden.”
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.”
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
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:
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….
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.
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.