By Liam McLean
Photo Courtesy of Rudiger Krause
Earlier this month, I had the great opportunity to sit down and talk to Rudiger Krause, a man greatly interested and invested in the community, art, and human connections. Rudiger, or Rudi as his friends call him, was born in Germany and moved to Vancouver when he was a little boy, where he lived most of his life. As we sat down to talk one early March afternoon at VACS headquarters, our conversation began with the topic of Rudi’s gardening initiatives before shifting into a deeper introspective about human relationships and connections. The importance of relationships to other people, nature, and art surfaced as the overarching theme of our conversation, emphasizing relationship’s important role in the human experience. As our conversation continued, it became increasingly clear that relationships and the connections they foster are an essential element in Rudi’s and all our lives. If we can recognize and overcome the barriers we face when making genuine connections, then we can live satisfying and rewarding lives in relationship and harmony with each other.
Our conversation started with Rudi’s lifelong passion for gardening. Rudi’s interest in gardening and the communal relationships it encouraged started at a young age and has been a constant passion in his life. “I grew up with parents, especially my father, who loved gardening. When I got married in 1970, my wife and I, wherever we lived, we had at least a small garden,” said Rudi about his early gardening, “When we moved to the Okanagan, we bought an orchard and developed a very large commercial garden. We grew garlic, berries, besides the fruit, and were involved in starting a farmer’s market in the community.” When his wife became tragically ill in the early 2000s, Rudi left work in order to take care of her in her final months. She passed away in 2005, leading Rudi to retire and move back to Vancouver where many of his children lived. He became increasingly involved in the gardens of his family and community, and briefly returned to UBC where he met Robert and Ryan, two young men who helped him get involved in urban gardening. “We had four gardens at one time and a winter CSA where we canned and dried and froze and processed food in other ways. And we supplied 35 shareholders throughout the winter with food,” said Rudi about working with Robert and Ryan, “now we backed away from that, and Ryan and I continue to have a garden but just for our own purposes. I grow enough so that I can pass food along to my children as well. So, it has been a lifelong occupation, but more intentionally as a way to contribute to community building in the last few years.” In the present, Rudi continues to maintain his own garden along with his son and daughter, but is also helping others tend and maintain their gardens. “I can’t seem to stay away from getting dirt under my fingernails.”
For Rudi, gardening is a passion but also a way to build community and form meaningful relationships with other people. He tells me that there are an increasing number of gardens near schools and community centres, and that a greater number of young adults are getting involved in gardening. The garden that he tends to is in East Vancouver and close to an elementary school, allowing him to meet many families and children who stop by to look at the garden. Another important aspect of gardening that supports community building is eating and sharing the food that they work hard to produce. “Eating together is one of the best ways to bring people together. So, when we had our big CSA year, we would also have community meals, both right in the garden and afterwards in homes using the food that we’ve grown,” said Rudi about the gardening community, “Even though I live in the west side of the city, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the east side and I’ve made quite of bit of friends. It feels like being a part of a village.” There is a powerful connection that is formed between people and nature when they garden together and share what they produce on the dinner table. “They may know in their head that food comes from farms, but head knowledge is completely different from experiencing it with your senses,” said Rudi regarding the connections formed when gardening, “It’s through the senses, through our bodies, that we do our real learning.”
Rudi believes that there are strong elements that draw people towards the garden. In one aspect, our compulsion to be near gardens stems from a mythical and natural origin. “I grew up in the Judeo-Christian tradition and, in that story, we came out of a garden, so we can look at it on mythic-theologic terms,” said Rudi, “But in more basic, physical terms, we are what we eat. And somehow, we seem to be drawn to know where that food comes from.” For many people, the big food industry has divorced us from the knowledge of where our food comes from, resulting in a feeling of discontent. Many people are naturally drawn towards gardens as a way to overcome this discontent by satiating our curiosity, but are without the means to do so. “Some people can’t afford to garden, and that’s another big issue about the affordability coupled with the sustainability,” said Rudi regarding the barriers people face, “How do we bring those two together so that single moms who have to work to make ends meet also have access to good quality food that is grown locally and sustainably?” Alongside political solutions, Rudi recommends that there needs to be a grassroots initiative within communities that encourages people to meet and make gardening more practical, as well as distribute organic food to a wide number of people. Every year, an increasing amount of space is available in the city for gardens, yet there is a lack of manpower and willingness to use them. If more people had the practical means to garden and become connected to each other and the food they grow, then they could potentially produce a more sustainable and interconnected community.
As we talked more about gardening, the emphasis of relationship and connection to people and nature came increasingly to the forefront, prompting me to ask Rudi his thoughts on the topic. “As I get older, I believe more strongly that everything is connected, it’s part of the nature of being,” responded Rudi to my question, “Relationship is of the essence. […] On planet Earth, it is all interconnected. And it’s not just connections with the people around me, it’s connections with ancestors, and descendants, and people far away. It’s connection with the food that I eat, connected with the soil and the plants.” Rudi believes that one of his roles in life is to observe how things are interconnected and to help other people connect and see the connections. However, unlike the connections we can make to nature, human connections are much more complicated. As humans, we are given so many gifts and responsibilities, but also encounter dangers and opportunities for misusing them. “We’ve been able to put a man on the moon, we’ve split the atom, we’ve found ways to grow a lot of food on this planet. But we’ve also found ways to create economic inequity like never before,” said Rudi about the dangers of humanity’s gifts, “I believe as humanity we have the possibility and responsibility to create a just world, but we figure out somehow how to create an unjust world, full of injustice, oppression, full of inequities.” For Rudi, one example of an incredible gift for human connection that has the potential to be misused is the power of language, a gift that allows us to write poetry, tell stories, joke, and communicate. However, this gift can also be used to lie, manipulate, bully, and mislead. Although these misuses exist, we are ultimately blessed and fortunate to be able to form connections with our gifts, but need to be conscious of the dangers and work together to overcome the challenges facing us.
For Rudi, our connections with nature are much less complicated than our relationships with other people. Primarily, nature does not lie and is free of ulterior motives. “I know some have said nature is cruel, violent, vicious. But not in the same way,” said Rudi, “Yes, there’s territorialism and animals will attack each other, but not to the scale and not simply for power and privilege the way humans do.” Nature is devoid of malicious intent, allowing us to live in harmony with it if we treat it with respect. Although it lacks the gifts that we have as intelligent beings and is incapable of creating art and poetry, it is also unable to perceive differences the way we do and act on them. “We see difference and assign value so that some things are better than others. And then to complicate things even further, part of humanity’s way of being is that we imitate each other,” said Rudy, “That is how we learn, that’s how children learn language, that’s how children learn from their family members how to work and play and think. But then we take that a step further and we imitate each other’s desires.” This imitation of desire can form negative human relationships based on envy, jealousy, and rivalry, resulting in violence and warfare. Although it is a gift to learn and think the way we do, we have to be aware and reflect on the inherent duality of humanity. Like nature, we need to steer away from the trap of assigning arbitrary value to differences and strive to live more honestly and in harmony with each other.
A big problem that Rudi sees for humans in Western civilization is that they live as individuals, although this problem can be alleviated by striving to live interdependently. While attending a support group following his wife’s passing, Rudi’s understanding of the importance of overcoming the boundaries surrounding human relationships became clearer. “We exist in our relationships, so that when somebody dies, it’s not just a person, an individual that is gone, but that relationship is gone. If it’s true that we exist in our relationships, then we need to look away from me, myself, and I as an individual, versus you as an individual,” Rudi said, “Life, and love, and justice, and all the good things that we are given as human beings exist in a relationship between us. […] We often miss the truth that we exist in relationships and because of relationships. We cannot be or become human beings without being in relationship.” We then talked about the 19th-century story of the feral child in southern France who was raised in the wild without human contact from a baby until the age of 12. Even though they attempted to reintegrate him back into society, his brain was incapable of learning language and was physically smaller due to the lack of human social relationships. Rudi told me about the orphanages in eastern Europe that raised children but their workers did not hold them or gaze at them lovingly, resulting in brain development difficulties. There appears to be a real connection between social relationships and our own physical and mental development. “Our being is an ongoing becoming. We never finish becoming human, it’s an ongoing process. It’s in vulnerability, especially with relationships, with those who need us and we need them,” said Rudy emphasizing this link, “There’s a sense of interdependence. That’s how we become human. […] We need to learn to become interdependent. Willing to tell others I need your help right now.” It is important for our personal development to be able to lower our guard and relinquish some of our self-sufficiency. By inviting others intimately into our lives, we can encourage the creation of a healthy interconnected community based upon understanding.
One challenge to forming genuine human connections is being able to identify exactly what those authentic relationships look like. Here, our conversation circled back to the importance of non-verbal communication, such as working in the garden. “Doing things together, working together, looking at the same art, or listening to the same music together and then talking about it,” suggested Rudi as a solution to forming genuine connections, “We need to keep working at that so that we learn to trust what the other person is saying, and that we have the sense that we are being heard by that other person.” It is important to build up and maintain face-to-face connections with other people, especially since language can give us so many opportunities to misunderstand. A great connection to another person can only be formed if we make the effort to communicate in person to work out misunderstandings. “Too often, we sense, or guess, or presume, that there is a misunderstanding and then we give up or back away so that the other person doesn’t understand. We need to keep working at it, it’s a work in progress,” said Rudi, “It’s never going to be perfect, there will always be opportunities for misunderstanding, but always, again, opportunities for sorting those out if we make the effort.” It is important to remember the significance of personal face-to-face relationships, especially in this digital age where human communication is frequently misunderstood and misused. We must always be willing to make an effort and be open to others in order to form genuine relationships.
Another form of connection that Rudi emphasizes as integral to the human experience is art. “You can take a poem and cut it apart, mix up the words, and glue it on a piece of paper [and] you will no longer have a poem. It will probably be nonsensical. The poetry does not exist in the words, it’s in the relationship between the words and the spaces between the words,” said Rudi about how art communicates, “And then visual art and music and dance and so on, they touch on other channels of communication. It allows us to access the heart, the whole person, the core of the human being much better than language itself.” Art articulates ideas, emotions, and themes that the artist cannot communicate simply through language itself. “It allows community to be built, especially in things like dance and singing together, and in enjoying looking at or listening to art together,” said Rudi. There is a highly communal aspect of art that allows us to connect to what we are looking at and also to the people around us who are viewing it. By discussing and sharing the art we are seeing, we can form deep emotional and personal connections.
Rudi is involved in creating and supporting art throughout Vancouver. He attends the performances of many youth and children artistic groups, such as the St. James Music Academy and the East Side Story Guild, as well as the professional theatre company at Pacific Theatre. Aside from theatre, he also frequently visits art galleries and museums, such as the Vancouver Art Gallery. He does not just attend performances and galleries by himself, he actively encourages other people to come with him and share the experience. Rudi creates art himself; a weaving of his was just recently displayed at an annual art show that the BC Psychology Association organized. “I was thrilled that this thing that I created was out there and other people could see it. I love being there and engaging in conversation with people at this thing,” said Rudi about the experience of showcasing his art, “It’s something that I would do whether or not somebody is going to look at it, I’d still do these things. But it has a whole new dimension when it enters into a community relationship.” Rudi feels a distinct satisfaction when he witnesses the connection between a person and his art, an experience that demonstrates an unspoken communication that resonates with the viewer. “It’s that every piece speaks, tells a story. And if you find that people are reacting to it, in one way or another are saying ‘Yeah, I get it,’ even if they can’t articulate it but you can see it in their expression on their face,” said Rudi, “Or the fact that they’re just standing there looking at this thing, rather than walking by with glazed eyes. That’s very satisfying to see, that they’re really looking at it and engaging.” For Rudi, the importance of art as a communal and shared experience cannot be understated, since it strengthens the connections between people and the world around them.
Unfortunately, our long and introspective conversation had to come to an end. In the present and future, Rudi continues to garden and strengthen the community in any way he can. He actively mentors young adults seeking to get into gardening and plays a significant role in his children’s and grandchildren’s lives. Every year, Rudi finds time to travel on the Amtrak train across America to visit and help with the gardens of old friends. He recounts the saying that “It takes a village to raise a child” and tells me of the importance of being a mentor, or an aunt or uncle, or a grandfather or grandmother, in the lives of someone else, whether it be figuratively or literally. “In one sense, some of them [his friends] are like peers in a sense that we’ve worked together, and when I go visit Robert in Cincinnati I work alongside him in his garden,” said Rudi about the mentor relationships he has formed, “But in another sense, they are like children, or nephews or nieces, to me. And they bring their questions and heartaches and so on to me. It’s very rewarding.” Working with the SPEC Elder’s Circle program in Vancouver, Rudi helps to encourage other senior citizen discover how they can communicate their experiences and knowledge to the younger generations or the world at large. Being a mentor figure is a beneficial way that we can connect and communicate with people and influence their lives for the better. In the far future, Rudi will continue to become more involved in the gardens of his children and friends. He even hints at future retirement plans, if life takes him there. “One daughter and her family and I have bought some land on one of the Gulf Islands. Right now, there’s just forest and a great view. In time, we want to build there and have a garden there. Whether or not I actually live there part time… there’s so many possibilities, it’s difficult to say what actually happens,” said Rudi, “I’ll be involved with family and community as long as I’m physically, emotionally, and mentally capable of doing so.”