When it comes to compassion, what do a couple of wrestlers, a gnome, and an abandoned button factory all have in common?
I thought a lot about what I wanted to save for my featured 1000 Voices Speak For Compassion post. I came to writing about this through a mixture of things, all leading me here today.
Isn’t that how the best ideas come to be?
On one of the warmest days of July, 2013, family and friends gathered around to watch two people we cared about walk out onto a flimsy dock, in the middle of a pond on a large property.
The floating dock was made from recycled materials. This was a true reflection of the lovely young couple and their care for the environment. They cared about the mark they were leaving on the world around them and we all were there because we cared so much about the two of them.
Later on we sat at rows of tables, under the walnut trees, with a soft warm breeze. The rest of the evening, in fact the whole weekend, would be full of good friends, lots of family, and an extensive line-up of the music that clearly represented this most unique duo.
To them music isn’t just music. This is evident by the radio show they have done, Sunday nights, for years now: Non Toxic Air Waves is a place where they play songs, all that have a certain significance, as they have always used the platform to discuss, on the air, issues of sustainability and social justice.
They are truly an inspiring couple, for so many reasons, and I am proud to call them family.
To see them together is a lesson in true companionship, trust, and compatibility.
You may be wondering why it is I have chosen today to feature them. I hope, by the time I am through, this will be indisputably obvious. When I thought about how I could put my own unique spin on the topic of compassion, on this important day for underlining its importance for our world, I came to the undeniable conclusion that these two are the best example of what compassion means.
From summer to a cold winter day in January.
I wanted to speak to them about their life together and the effect they have on everyone and everything they meet. All their modesty aside, I believe they deserve the attention and the praise, although they did not ask for it.
Their property contains their house, a nursery full of native plants (during the summer anyway), swamp land and a woods. A pathway leads from house and nursery down to the pond where they walked out that sunny July day, to celebrate their commitment to each other with us all gathered to celebrate with them.
On this day it was snow covered and she helps me navigate my way. The three of us then proceed to skate on the frozen pond, (a clearly Canadian winter pastime), all the while we talk about everything under the sun…or in this case, the snowflakes.
As we make our way back up to the house to warm up, they show off something they are proud to show me.
They took an old pink armchair, started cutting holes in it, stuffing soil and plants in, and placing moss on.
In her words:
“It will be a living chair and will hopefully clean air: Yeah!”
Her enthusiasm about this old chair sums up what they believe so strongly and what they live through example. It made me smile when I first read those words because I could hear her love for the project in my mind.
As a young girl she sold tadpoles instead of lemonade and he learned about gardening and plants from his mother and learned to love the natural world by exploring around his home, while starting, at an early age as a boy, by working in his neighbour’s garden..
She graduated with an Honours Bachelors Degree in Environmental Studies, Environment and Resource Studies with a specialization in Environmental Assessment at the University of Waterloo (Wow! What a mouthful).
He worked in nurseries, greenhouses, and as a landscaper and is an expert on all things seeds and sod. He obtained a Recording Engineer Diploma from the Ontario Institute of Audio and Recording Technology (OIART).
Together they began Wild Life Gardening, started something they like to call Trash Theatre, and organized something known as Procession of the Species in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.
She has taken her knowledge and, together with his creative abilities, they have developed lesson plans to go into the schools with Trash Theatre. Through interactive skits and creativity they teach children all about the natural world and all the species that that world is made up of. They use music and self-expression to help kids feel inclusive and to help them explore their individual talents and strengths.
I spoke to them as we ate vegetarian pizza, down in their cozy basement by a roaring fire, for over four hours that day. We listened to music the whole time, from jazz to reggae to rap.
Something like this, a calling that they seem to have for this stuff, it appears to be a love so strong and pure, almost beyond my ability to pin down with words here, but I had to at least try.
They taught me about the term “native plant species” and how vital they are to a healthy planet.
Of course the term is pretty self-explanatory really, but I honestly never gave it much thought before they brought my attention to it.
I have visited their beloved nursery in the spring and he took the time to show me just some of the plants they had, letting me feel and hold some and he made sure to show me the ones I could smell.
There’s always something new going on, at their place, depending on what season it is.
They use terrariums as a way of letting anyone have their very little nursery of their own. They sell these at markets on the weekends and they are working on creating a children’s book, another fun yet educational tool to introduce children to a love and respect for our environment.
I wanted to know more about Trash Theatre, Wild Life Gardening, and about what matters to them.
She showed me something then, a puppet made out of some sort of bright orange or pink fuzzy material. It had a mouth, ears, eyeballs made from styrofoam Christmas balls, and the eyelashes were made from reused yogurt containers.
These are the kinds of masks and costumes they make, for Procession and with school children during workshops with Trash Theatre.
He jokes with me about the time a woman came up to him and informed him that naming it Trash Theatre didn’t make it sound very appealing. Of course, to her, the word trash didn’t exactly conjure up positive ideas, it works for them and word of mouth is spreading. Through grants and the Ontario Arts Counsel they get sent to schools all around the province and the impact they have is making a name for them that only they could pull off.
It’s kind of like a continuous Halloween. They search secondhand shops for items that someone else no longer wanted, but of which can be useful to them.
The unique look he has, with long hair and beard, this makes him uniquely suitable to dress up as a gnome.
They do singing telegrams and where, these days, can you get a singing gnome?
For their engagement party they dressed up as two wrestlers: Hulk Hogan and Macho Man’ Randy Savage (guess which one was which).
This, I think I can safely say, none of us had ever seen the likes of before, since, or ever will again. This is what makes them two of a kind.
They then bring this freedom of expression to children all over. They tell me that dressing up gives kids the opportunity to be whomever or whatever they want, choosing to hide their faces, which then helps them to feel freer to express themselves and to participate in performing with the others.
They encourage every child to participate in some way, whether big or small, as a leader or behind the scenes.
He gets the kids to rap right along with him and they incorporate instruments and music into it.
She prefers to be in charge backstage, helping get the kids into their costumes.
They then use fun and interactive play to teach the classes about native plants and animals and how the children themselves can make a difference to these things and the environment in their own lives, in their own small ways at home.
They love all birds, such as woodpeckers and owls. They love and care about the health of native species such as monarch butterflies and bees, pollinators of the plants, which benefits everyone.
I asked them why the word “procession”?
“Procession is more of a celebratory liberating expression, where parade is more of a military term, kind of like showing off or to concur. Eli Sterling, the creator of Procession of the Species in Olympia Washington, is particular about this,” I was told.
Also, at an old and abandoned button factory the two of them run workshops, combining science and the natural world with artistic expression
I wanted to know who they look up to, admire, or revere. When I asked this, he hesitated, saying he had to think because he’d not really thought about it. I was surprised at that.
She right away spoke of trail-blazing women such as Jane Goodall, strong females who have gone out and made a difference to the natural world.
He thought about it. He named writer Kurt Vonnegut, but really his biggest influencers would have to be his brother, sister, and his parents.
Both him and her have it in common that they grew up in good families with strong role models and close sibling relationships. A lot of both their love for the natural world and for teaching others how to cherish it have come from the amazing families they have.
So they’ve lived and worked together for so many years now. I must admit I have wondered what that is like, but apparently I am not the first to be curious.
The two biggest questions this couple receive are:
When are you going to have children?
How do you do it? How do you possibly work and live together without getting on each other’s nerves all the time?
They must be sick of these by now, I figure, but they seem to take it with good humour and wise and thoughtful responses.
They are very much of the “whatever happens happens” belief, not saying either way. This, I believe, is a very healthy attitude to have about anything in life. Their unique experiences interacting with children through Trash Theatre gives them a chance to have an affect on the lives of children, which would make them amazing parents one day, but they don’t seem to fret about it either way.
As for the second question…well, they are like anyone else, in that they have their moments.
She tells me he is much more laid back and that she’s often the one who gets worked up. At times like this, they go to separate ends of their house or yard or one goes off on an errand or to pick something up for the business. It isn’t rocket science really. She tells me she knows how lucky she is to have found him and the feeling is clearly mutual.
It is something you just feel when you spend any amount of time with the pair. They are one of those rare fits for one another. Their creativity and their care for the world around them is evident.
He has a photographic memory, whether its for music or for a type of plant.
Her passion for saving and sparing the planet is hard to miss and her desire to teach anyone who will listen makes her charming and warm.
He uses rap and free style, not only as a creative gift, but as a way of training his memory and as a type of self-expression and a form of therapy.
I wondered if they had the urge to travel and, if so, where?
They seemed quite content to stay here in Canada, specifically Ontario. It is their home and it is where they work so hard to make our natural surroundings thriving and healthy.
They love the work they do landscaping people’s yards, including mine. They did so much, planting native plants and a red maple in my back yard.
Having a big group jam session in their basement, with friends, is one of their favourite ways to spend a Sunday.
While the thought of growing a nursery/greenhouse is always there, they try hard to balance work load with enjoying themselves
Their true goal is to teach others how to best help our native species thrive so that we can enjoy them for years to come.
I really enjoyed my day spent with these two. We talked philosophy, music, and life in general. I felt like someone understood, as it gets harder and harder, in your thirties when everyone around you is having children, some years ago already in many cases.
Their words of solace and wisdom about love was just the perspective I needed to hear, as I saw just how wonderful it is when two people truly click and compliment one another as they so naturally do.
This couple has weathered a lot over the years and has built something and continues to build it, leaving a legacy and an example to the rest of us. The world would be a much healthier and more prosperous place if the rest of us followed in their footsteps.
I wanted to write about the difference they’re making and the people they are, on this day, because at the heart of who they are and what they do there is compassion for all living things.
Compassion for the natural world, for youth, and for humanity as a whole.
That’s what today is all about.
In the above article I reference material from wildlifegardening.ca and from conversations the three of us have had. All the rest are my own personal observations, thoughts, and feelings.
For more information on any of what I’ve written about here, please visit any or all of the following:
This past month and 1000 Speak has been one of the most inspiring for me and I hope we can continue the momentum of compassion that we’ve started here.