The sweet, simple life: bikes, tomatoes and putting down roots

👤Joanne Campbell 🕔Aug 04, 2014

“I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.”

- Henry David Thoreau

If there is one through-line in this issue of Northword it surely reflects the quote above: at its heart, it’s about our search for simplicity, and for that which is necessary and real. We don’t get into how to “simplify the problem of life” because, so far as I can see, life isn’t a problem. The act of simplification—now that could be a problem, but one that’s not too great to tackle.

As our bookkeeper will tell you, I’m not a mathematician, but I am pretty good at adding two and two to get five. That’s a real skill, and if I could figure out how to make it work with money, I’d bottle it and probably give it away. It’s all about getting the whole to exceed the sum of the parts, and it’s simpler than it sounds.

For example, two people, two bicycles, one Haida Gwaii highway. It should be fun, good exercise, a nice holiday. Simple. I know several people who’ve taken this trip and I know for a secondhand fact that it is so much more than four wheels and two raincoats. It’s magic. Everyone should do it. Everyone. OK, maybe not everyone. If you’re a bit flabby or have bad knees, take the car. Drive slow. Pull over, let people pass. Smell the seaweed, dodge the little deer, eat some crab. Enjoy the bejeezus out of it.

Here’s another example: tomatoes. My dear tomato benefactors give me tomatoes every year: the yellow cherry tomatoes that taste like summer sun feels (thanks Hermann!) and dried tomatoes that snack like sliced candy (thanks Norma!). This year, I hope to lessen their tomato-giving burden by growing some of my own. Do the imperial math: nine tomato plants, 20 pounds of dirt, a few ounces of plastic (to keep off the pounds of aphids the rains knock down from the trees) and gallons and gallons of water. Turn on the sun and presto!

I’m optimistic that it will all add up to the simple pleasure of baskets of gorgeous homegrown tomatoes. Maybe this year, I can be a tomato fairy and give unto others what they cannot grow unto themselves. What does tomato joy weigh?   

Of course, it’s still early. I still have time to fail. But at least this year I’m giving it a good go and, next year, I’ll read my notes from this year and the result will be even better.  The process will be simplified, and I will know more of what is necessary (and not). I will learn the truth of tomatoes and the first steps toward vegetable self-sufficiency.

What else do we have in this issue besides cycling and agriculture? The simple pleasures of an alpine garden and the simple happiness of sighting a whale—and telling about it. The truth of the Tseax volcanic eruption in the Nass and early BC immigrants. The necessity of learning more about LNG and salmon beds and giant bugs caused by climate change. We have apple trees that have been climbed and ridges waiting to be hiked, steelhead to catch and First Nations land-culture to learn about.

 “Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.” We’ve got some great places to start.