Category Archives: Writer

Around the bigger obstacle

For the past few years, every time I walked on my favourite wooded path of the NCC Greenbelt, I have had to step over this fallen tree.

A decaying tree trunk, approximately 6 inches in diameter, across a forest path.

No big deal. The decaying trunk is small, and so many human feet and knobby bicycle tires have knocked wood chips out of it over the years, it is returning to its earthy source. I notice this fallen tree, and I must be certain not to trip, but all I need to do is take one larger-than-usual step to clear it.

Yesterday I arrived at the spot. Beside the smaller fallen tree, exactly parallel to it, lay this larger tree trunk, knocked over by an overnight storm.

This one stumped me (pun intended) for a second or two. Too big to clamber over (at least with dignity intact). Too low to crawl under. Must go around.

In only one day so many others had resolved not to let a bigger obstacle block their path that the ground around it was already trodden flat.

New path being forged through the woods.

Every day I clear small obstacles in my path. I must notice them and take extra measures to deal with them, but I manage, no problem. I navigate the pylons narrowing the roadway on my way to work, and I take a few seconds to put on a mask before entering a store.

I ask myself though: Am I allowing some bigger obstacle to block my path? How can I go around?

May you have a day of small obstacles only. Do you have bigger ones you must go around?

Hammer and nail

“Into God’s temple of eternity | Drive a nail of gold.

—from In Search of a Soul by Raymond Moriyama
Box of Common 1-1/4-inch nails

We are spending some time at our cottage, where renovations never cease. It gives me opportunity to re-visit one of my past posts.


I sit on the sofa and contemplate a box of nails.

“Common” nails, the box tells me. Ordinaires. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Those common nails hold together the kitchen in which I sit—the heart of our cottage home—but only because they are working together. One nail alone can only endure stress for a brief time before it snaps from the strain.

Those common nails don’t judge themselves against longer ones, or thinner ones, or younger ones. They know they are the perfect size, material, and shape for their purpose.

The nails know and accept without question that they need help from an outside source: the hand that wields the hammer. Nails on their own must wait.

Once work is underway, the hammer strikes the nail. It doesn’t feel good. It hurts! Fulfilling purpose is not a pain-free, comfortable experience.

If I am a common nail, I have a purpose for which I am the perfect size, material, and shape.

The hand that wields the hammer is with me. I’d better call up some friends.

Servicing and light repairs

In the early days of rail travel, steam locomotives could only travel forward. Trains required turntables, like this one at the John Street roundhouse in Toronto, Canada, to turn them around for return journeys. While at John Street, the locomotives received “servicing and light repairs.”

Canadian Pacific rail car on the roundhouse at Roundhouse Park, Toronto, Canada.
Roundhouse Park, Toronto, Canada

According to the Toronto Railway Historical Association, locomotives serviced there were so attractively maintained, their appearance became known among railroaders as the “John Street polish.”

I’ll be taking a few weeks away for some “servicing and light repairs” of my own before turning around for a return journey, or at least some spit and polish before moving forward again.

Some of the time will be spent at my cottage—one of my roundhouses.

Do you have a “roundhouse.”

Orange and purple sunset over a lake

Revenue and paying

Where I live, in Canada’s National Capital Region, many people speak French. Perhaps the prevalence of the language around me is the reason why I began to ponder the word revenue.

In French, revenue is the feminine participle form of the verb revenir: to come back.

Elle est revenue. | She came back. 

For something to come back, it must go out in the first place. In other words, if you want revenue, put something out there, baby. She will come back. Elle reviendra.

These are the things I think about.

Also, paying attention. When we pay attention, we give our attention to something. Our attention goes out.

I don’t know about you, but when I wake up, give my head a shake, and choose to pay my close attention to a single thing in my surroundings, I always get something back.

Movement. Flow. To and fro. Giving and receiving. That’s how we get rich.

Put something out there. See what comes back.

The parable of the shovels

Two men stood on opposite sides of a field. An Overseer gave the order: “Dig.”

The tip of a metal shovel breaking ground.

The first man said “Okay! I can handle that. I’ve been preparing all my life to dig.” He selected his best shovel from five shovels leaning against a large storage shed, and he set to work. He had no trouble digging; his parents had paid for digging lessons when he was a child, and he had a college degree in shovelling. He was so good at digging that sometimes this man wished he had more shovels. The families of some of his friends had so many shovels they needed more than one storage shed. They had more than they could ever use, and this man knew his life would be better too, if he amassed a larger supply.

The second man across the field heard the “Dig” instruction and set to work. He had no shovel, so he dug using his bare hands. He had never had a shovel, so he wouldn’t have known what to do with one if he had it. He believed that shovels were something only other people had, and they were a dream he would never attain. He was a little afraid of shovels, truth be told. And the people who had shovels didn’t treat him nicely at all, so he didn’t want to become like them. Because he didn’t have a shovel, he had to dig longer and work harder than the other man, and he still didn’t get as much done. But he kept working. One day he fell ill, but he dug anyway. There are no such things a sick days for people with no shovels.

The first man didn’t pay much attention to what was happening on the far away side of the field, but one day he decided to take a well-deserved afternoon off and go for a walk. When he came to the side of the field where the second man was working through his lunch hour, he saw how little progress the man had made.

“Look at that,” he said. “He’s hardly done anything. He’s waiting for me to pick up the slack.”

He shook his head and walked away. “He’s just lazy and riding on my coattails.” He didn’t notice that the man had no tools to work with. It didn’t occur to him to share any of the shovels he wasn’t using.

The Overseer came back to check on progress. He visited the man digging with his bare hands, and he complimented him on his progress. “You have done well,” he said. The digger knew he had worked hard. He felt proud of the results of his hard work, even though he knew it wouldn’t look like much to others.

hand-tool

The Overseer went to visit the man with many shovels. That digger said, “Look at what I’ve done.” He waved an arm to show off the large area of ground he had worked. “I’ve done so much more than that guy over there.” He pointed to the small patch the other digger had worked on the opposite corner of the field.

“You have done well,” the Overseer said, “But do you think you might have a shovel to spare?”

Startled, the first digger replied, “Why, sure, I guess.” He’d never thought of that before. He looked down at the shovel in his hand. It had a sturdy handle, and it was just the right length. He really loved it. He didn’t want to give that one away, so he kept his favourite shovel. He gave the Overseer one he’d forgotten he even had out of the back of the shed.

The Overseer returned to the far side of the field and placed the shovel into the dirty and calloused hands of the second digger. The man held it out from his body, overwhelmed at first. He had never handled shovels, so it felt awkward. He didn’t think he deserved such a thing.

“Use it. It will help you,” the Overseer said.

Eventually the second digger gained confidence and became quite comfortable with the new tool. It worked so well for him, he even enjoyed some time off every once in a while.

  • There will always be people with more or fewer tools.
  • Don’t judge people who don’t have tools.
  • Don’t be afraid of tools; master them and they will help.
  • Everyone is worthy of tools.
  • Consider the needs of others and get them some tools, if you can.
  • Sometimes we don’t even realize that we have more tools than we really need.
  • It’s okay to keep your favourite tool.

A faith-full frisbee

A white frisbee, upside-down on a floor.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before . . .

I am re-posting this piece from the past, because it is one of my favourites.


My eye falls upon a Frisbee—upside-down, silent, waiting—on the family room floor where my son dropped it.

I contemplate the restful disc. I imagine it cutting through the air—or on the air, more accurately—in a free, arcing flight that captures natural forces and submits to them.

It is beautiful. It is science.

It is beautiful science. 

The Frisbee needs a hand to set it in motion, otherwise the object at rest would stay at rest. It must have help. It cannot do it alone.

When a hand hurls it, the aerodynamic forces of lift and drag, high pressure, low pressure, and spin come into play. The Frisbee soars, graceful in its fulfillment of purpose.

The flight doesn’t last forever though. Gravity insists it must land, so the Frisbee touches down to a place of rest once again.

My Frisbee is purpose-built to fly, but that same Frisbee has also served as a doggie water bowl on car trips. A different Frisbee hangs on my office wall as a messenger; its happy face brings me a message of joy every day. Frisbees might be built to fly, but they can do other things too.

happy-face-frisbee

And they come in all different sizes, shapes and colours. Some are ring-shaped. Others are even flat and collapsible for ease of travel.

A collection of collapsible frisbees in rainbow colours.

What can we learn from my upside-down Frisbee? 

  • We need a hand to set us in motion. We can learn to expect and accept that helping hand.
  • Capture the forces that surround us and submit to them so we soar gracefully in our fulfillment of purpose.
  • Enjoy the flight while it’s happening, and be present in it.
  • We must land. We can’t fly ALL the time. Landing isn’t just acceptable; it’s desirable.
  • The landing and the lying around waiting for the hand to set us in motion once again is as natural and acceptable and beautiful and scientific as a soaring flight.
  • We are purpose-built, crafted to fulfill a certain function, but we can do other things too. 
  • We can be messengers to brighten someone’s day.
  • We can learn to appreciate all the different sizes, shapes and colours of each other.

The Frisbee upside-down on my floor didn’t soar through the air on an arcing path, but it did travel through the air in a different way—through me, to you, to give us all something to think about.

Now that’s one faith-full purpose I’ll bet the Frisbee didn’t foresee.

I love that beautiful science.


Read about the science of Frisbee flight at Scientific American“Soaring Science: The Aerodynamics of Flying a Frisbee”