Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The "fertile, dangerous edges of our lives"...a thought for the New Year.

A fertile "edge" near the summit of Ben Lomond.
I had determined I would not look at the computer screen today - no emailing, no posting, no browsing the "net". January the 1st would be a full-on “outdoor” day, free from all distractions. It was a thought.

Conflicting with a vision of time on the water, a chorus of “voices” whispered their annoying demands - various chores calling out for attention. Our home is located in a forest, literally. In this wet, winter, Vancouver Island climate, that means constant vigilance. Nature has an understandable desire to want to supersede our attempts at "tidiness". The deck had a slight green tinge to it. "So what!", I bravely countered...but it nibbled away at my resolve. Surrendering, I filled a bucket of hot water, hooked up the hose, and attended to this little job - scrubbing the vinyl covering, as “mindfully” as possible.

In the meantime, Nick’s words turned over and over in my mind...

The job complete, I was putting the hose away, and noted that the gravel path along the side of the house had birthed little weeds and a “brush cut” of tiny blades of grass, giving it a similar “green” tinge. It looked, well, unkempt. I found the gardening stool and rake, and began the task of freeing up the little gravel pebbles from the emerging undergrowth - again, as mindfully as possible.

But, Nick’s words turned over and over in my mind...

Quickly feeling overwhelmed by what would clearly be a day-long enterprise, I determined enough was enough! Returning the tools to their storage areas, I couldn’t help but notice a landscape timber that needed replacing, overgrown lavender that needed trimming, branches that had fallen in the last windstorm that needed picking up.

And, Nick’s words turned over and over in my mind...

“We wake up and be closer 
to the fertile, dangerous edges of our lives.”

Nick Thorpe is a British journalist and a writer. He and his wife, Ali, a social worker, decided to leave the security of their home and staff jobs in Edinburgh, and travel to South America. Why? Because they felt they needed “to wake up and be closer to the fertile, dangerous edges of their lives”. During the time that they were away, Nick (with Ali’s generous and selfless blessing) undertook a most improbable journey. He and seven crew mates set out to sail from Northern Chile to Easter Island, a dangerous, oceangoing journey of 2,500 miles - on a boat made of reeds. Extraordinarily, not one crew member had significant sailing experience.

The account of the voyage aboard the Viracocha is absolutely riveting, and it is humbling. But it's the “wake up call” to which Nick and Ali respond, that is something I just can’t get out of my mind. As this New Year begins to unfold, we feel called to think about what it might mean to seek out what Nick describes as the “fertile, dangerous edges”.

I don't think these "dangerous edges" have anything to do with cliff jumping, cave diving, or solo trekking to the North Pole. They are much more sublime. Could it be that they are the experiences we have when we reach and stretch further than we ever have before? Are they where some of life's most precious and hidden "gems" reside? Are they the meaningful opportunities that can only discovered by the the paths less-travelled? Are they hidden contexts where we are able to make unique and especially meaningful contributions to the lives of others? Or are these fertile, dangerous "edges" simply where we will naturally find ourselves when unnecessary fears and anxiousness about the unknown, are put aside...and when we live bravely and without reservation?

You may already have a sense of what it might mean in your life? Perhaps you have already chosen to  travel there.

For us, the questions intrigue, and beg exploration in these early days of a New Year.

(The weeds, creating the green-tinge on the gravel path beside our house, will simply have to wait.) :)

May health, happiness, warm relationships, and opportunities to enrich others be part of your meaning-filled "journey" in 2014.

A great read (as are all of Nick's books!): Eight Men and a Duck: An Improbable Voyage by Reed Boat to Easter Island by Nick Thorpe.


  1. Hi Duncan and Joan, Happy New Year from the high country! I know it's important to explore those "edges". But it's not always easy, is it. On the other hand, it's usually just the "first" step that we resist. Thanks for the new year's thought. :>) Gen.

  2. Hi Gen, and happy New Year to you. I think you're right, it isn't always easy to take the "first" exploratory step into the lesser lit "edges" - but after that, everything usually falls into place. Hmm...maybe that's why Joan always keeps two headlamps in her pack! Haha! Always nice to hear from you. Best wishes, Duncan.

  3. Hi,
    You have often checked out those edges in your life but I am wondering about those of us that don't. Do you feel we miss out on the fullness of life if stay where we are comfortable and content?
    I'm just not so sure all of us are brave enough to take that first step nor if we really have the desire.

  4. Hi L,

    Miss out on the fullness of life? No, I don’t think so at all. “Edges” are so relative - one person’s “ fertile edge” is another person’s broad platform on which their life is built…and vice versa. I would not be willing to do what Nick Thorpe and his crew mates did. Is is bravery? Well, yes, in some ways it is and I wouldn’t be near brave enough to set sail on the Pacific Ocean on a boat made of reeds. Or is it curiosity? Maybe it’s about curiosity. The quote by Annie Dillard at the top of the blog explains it best to me. We’re only here on the planet once. (So far as I know!) Simple curiosity begs to explore the edges a bit, or a lot - but you never have to stay there, if you don’t want to. Probably a good subject for a whole posting, but that’s the “short” response. :) Thanks for writing, L. D.