From Chaos to Paradise

Chaos isn't the first thing that leaps to mind when someone reads Tony's newspaper column on birding or takes one of his tours to destinations thoughout North America. But it's how Tony characterizes what has brought him to this stage of his life.

Sorry, Mom, Still No Real Job

by Tony Greenfield

Some lives play out predictably, some depend on the fork in the forest path, and others are determined by chaos theory. My trajectory has been of the latter persuasion.

Tony Greenfield retiredI grew up by the North Sea in Lincolnshire, England, and spent the mid-60’s in Liverpool when that city was briefly the centre of the known universe as it surfed a wave of Beatles fame. After graduating from the University of Liverpool with a degree in geography, I peered out at the empty canvas of my future life. . . and decided to hitch around the world.

My canoe soon washed ashore on the Sunshine Coast of SW British Columbia, where I found myself at "the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future" (Jack Kerouac). The Sunshine Coast instantly became the love of my life and I have lived there ever since, believing it to be the best place to live in the entire world.

I began to earn my living by planting trees for the BC Forest Service, and this led to my becoming one of the first reforestation contractors in British Columbia. . . perhaps the least likely career in the entire world for a kid from Skegness! Chaos theory.

Over the next 30 years my company planted 80,000,000 seedlings all over western Canada. It was an interesting job, not without its ups and downs, but entailing constant travel in some of the most beautiful and remote areas of the planet. Sometimes, flying around in a helicopter in particularly spectacular scenery, I had to work hard to convince myself that this was actually a job.

On the 1st January 1978 I set off from Vancouver to spend the winter driving to Key West, Florida and back. I returned from this trip having met my future wife Katie (born Neenah, Wisconsin) in the Everglades. At the time she was teaching at the University of Kentucky, and playing fiddle in a bluegrass band. Katie was "the card that is so high and wild, you never need to deal another" (Leonard Cohen). (Katie paid me to say that.) More chaos! Katie was not the girl from next door.

In 2002, after being in the tree-planting business for my entire working life, I suddenly developed a yen to do something different. Perhaps it was the fortune cookie in the Chinese restaurant that convinced me to take a late life leap into the unknown. “When one door closes another will open” it said. So just before retirement age I am now totally immersed in a new business, operating a nature based tour company, and guiding tours to Arizona in February, Utah in September, the Yukon in June, and other places in between. Once again chaos has prevailed and led to an even more unlikely scenario, where the kid from Skegness guides people to the Inuit village of Tuktoyaktuk for the ritual dipping of the toe in the Arctic Ocean.

Growing up, I was predestined to become a teacher in suburban England. Now, looking back on a life spent as a reforestation contractor and as a tour guide in faraway British Columbia, I feel vindicated by the wisdom of taking those first faltering steps on the unknown journey, and of being open to the mystic forces of chaos. I’m proud that I “did it my way”.

Now if I can only convince my aging mother, who has still not given up hoping that one day her first-born will get a “real” job.

Whatever that is. . .

©2006 Tony Greenfield Used by permission