Category Archives: Reflections

These posts are about the past – lessons and memories

Dancing in the rain

I saw a meme on Facebook today on Anna Grace Taylor’s page. I’m sure I’ve heard the saying before but today it stirred memories.

dance in the rain
Facebook, Anna Grace Taylor

The smell of rain hitting hot pavement in the summer always makes me think of summers in Brantford, Ontario before we moved to Toronto when I was seven.  At the first fat splats of rain on the hot pavement of the driveway we’d run and find our bathing suits. We’d put them on and play in the rain. How free we were. It was an expression of joy. Big raindrops would land on eyelashes and drip down our faces, we’d dance and sing and play and move freely without fear of judgment.

As I grew older, dancing in the rain was no longer cool. What if someone saw you and made fun of you? No one on our street in Toronto ever did anything like that. Memories of dancing in the rain were tucked away and shelved.

Many years later when I was perhaps, 20 I went to Florida with the man who would become my husband. His parents had a trailer in Florida and we went to visit. The senior’s complex was quite pretty and I remember seeing Easter decorations in the palm trees that put a smile on my face.  It rained a lot that week but at least it was warm.  When his mom and dad went to a community meeting and the trailer began to feel a bit small, we ventured outside. The rain came down sprinkling at first very gently. Next, the rain started coming down harder. Not sure how he would react, I began to reach up to the sky and enjoy the feel of the rain falling on my face.  Before I knew it we were both laughing and playing in the rain. There was acceptance and joy in our movements, not caring if anyone could see us, we allowed ourselves to experience the warm rain joyfully, to embrace the weather and make the best of it.

I loved the smell of the rain falling on the hot pavement and loved the familiar feeling of the rain splashing on my eyelashes. He took my hand in his and we felt free.

Years later, I again played in the rain with my kids and it reminds me that even though rain will fall in our lives, we can either choose to meet it with grumbles or we can embrace it, find our happy  thoughts and  allow ourselves to fly!

Finding happy thoughts among my photos

As long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed looking at photographs. I like to imagine the story that goes with the photo, especially when I don’t know the people in them. In a similar way, I like to imagine the history of an old home or building and wonder about who might have lived there and the stories they might tell.

For me, it seems, stories and photographs are inter-related and seem to hold the same enchantment. Along those lines, as a child I loved to make up stories. It wasn’t until I was a student of journalism that my enjoyment of taking photos began to evolve. I’ve forgotten much of what I learned and knowing my manual Nikon SLR inside and out doesn’t translate that well for my digital SLR I know use. While I admit I often let the camera settings do the work for me now and I miss the creativity of the dark room, there’s still art in taking photos for me. It’s the specific moments, how you frame a subject, what is captured in that split second that makes images unique.

At times, I’m telling a story with the images I capture. At times, I’m lost in a space of seeing through the lens and at other times I’m seeking a specific subject or setting. I dream of taking photo-tours of places like Algonquin park or Arizona. In the meantime, however, I treasure the pictures of my children through the years that document their ever-changing appearances, interests but also what qualities have remained constant about them as well.

Admittedly, not all photos hold my interest though. I admit that like slideshows of someone else’s vacation, sometimes the photo fail to engage me. Speaking of slides though, I still love the vibrant colours that can be achieved with slide film. I think the photos I like best are ones of strangers in environments unfamiliar and photos of the people I love and the places I’ve seen.

Because of this I am going to work on sharing photo galleries on my blog. Perhaps you’ll enjoy them, or perhaps you’ll yawn and find something more interesting to you. However, since this blog is about finding my happy thoughts, many of them are found among my photos. Sharing Greece (below).

Remembering iron chef Sundays

I have to admit, I’ve been a pretty creative mom with my kids and I think they’d agree with that statement! One of the initiatives we undertook is still talked about from time to time and I think it’s a good example of one of the things we did right.

Iron Chef Sundays

When Iron Chef was a popular trending tv show that we enjoyed watching, and I was getting tired of the responsibility of planning menus and preparing all the meals, we decided to do our version of the show. We put all our names on pieces of paper in a cup and drew out three names. Those three would be the cooks for that week and the other three would come up with the mystery ingredient. The following week it would switch and then the names were put back in and re-drawn.

The ingredient was identified and agreed upon, the team would seek out recipes and inform me of their grocery requirements. Sunday afternoons were fun and somewhat frustrating as people tried to work as a team. It was interesting to see those who wanted to just take over and do it all for themselves, those who were content to back away and those who giggled and had fun trying to create a masterpiece. Even in the choosing of the mystery ingredient, there were interesting strategies that became apparent. Some would choose an ingredient they knew they’d enjoy eating. Others chose something they knew the other team would not want to cook with. Some chose ingredients they had never tried and were looking for an adventure.

cooking tool clipart
cooking tools

We continued this tradition for I’m guessing about two years until the kids’ part-time jobs made it too difficult to continue. I remember some of the ingredients being pretty challenging like goat which I had to figure out where to buy let alone how to cook! We would often try to use the ingredients in several dishes too. I remember risotto was a bit of a challenge to get right too.

I think what I enjoyed most was encouraging their creativity in the kitchen, seeing teams come together and enjoying their faces as we all sat down to dinner to try the latest creation. Even when company was coming for dinner we continued on with the challenges. I try not to remember the fighting, bickering and the occasional tears of frustration and remember the fun and the unique memories only we share. I love my kids and treasure the memories we’ve made and are still making!

Remembering my first tattoo

The first time my husband suggested we get tattoos I was shocked. We were strolling down the main drag in Vegas and I think I almost stopped dead in my tracks. “Yeah, right!” I thought. I’m not that kind of girl.

Strangely enough the idea grew on me. Eventually, we got brave. We asked for recommendations and settled on a place. I was so relieved to see the staff cleaning equipment, sterilizing, and caring about the customers. We looked through some albums, chose a design and booked an appointment. All totally in secret, keeping if from our four kids.

The day of the appointment I was pretty nervous at work waiting for the day to end so I could meet my husband at the tattoo shop. My appointment was to start about an hour before his as my piece would take much longer. I had so much nervous energy and felt a bit like a rebellious adolescent about to embark on some sinful experience. Adding to my nervousness was the fact that I was there all alone among the tattooed, pierced, staff with their pants strapped to their hips and the crotches of their pants hanging to their knees.

After several smoke breaks and a delay of at least 45 minutes we got started. I didn’t take any drugs for any of my four child births so hell I can handle this, I told myself.  The stencil was on my back. The smell of his recent smoke break was on his. My bare back was exposed and I was completely in his hands. The machine started to buzz and I was ready for the worst. He started to tattoo me. He paused and waited for a reaction.

“Is that it?” I asked.  “Is that how it feels?”

He laughed and told me I was going to do fine.

What about all those screaming girls needing to hold someone’s hand I’d seen on tv? Drama queens I decided. I will survive, I laughed to myself.

The tattoo took around three hours and was spanned by several more of his smoke breaks. At some point my husband came in and his work began. I remember still having that feeling that nice girls don’t get tattoos but thinking hell, this is me, it’s my choice. Besides, how bad ass is a cherub who is writing on a scroll with a quill anyway?

I’m not going to say it was a breeze. There were several times when the discomfort grew to the point I winced – especially when the needles worked over my spine. It wasn’t pain exactly but rather it felt like someone was scraping a nail over my skin, sometimes more deeply than at other times.

When it was completed I was exhilarated and tired at the same time. I wondered what the kids would think. Since both my husband’s and my tattoos were in places easily covered by clothing we didn’t have to say anything when we got home that evening.

Sleeping was a bit tough since my back was feeling sort of sunburned. And the morning shower felt soothing. It was then that I summoned up my courage and showed my first son. I anxiously awaited his reaction. “Wow, mom. What a beautiful piece of art!” Ahh I could feel the tension moving out of me. One after the other my kids reacted positively and I was happy for their acceptance.

My father who was in the navy and always seemed ashamed of his naked-lady-tattoo on his arm had forbidden us to get tattoos. He had passed away a few years before but what would my mother think? Here I was at 38 wondering what my mother would think.

I finally showed her, prepared for the worst.

“Oh, Janet,” she said. “Maybe now I’ll have the courage to get one!”

What?

She was 68 when she got two tattoos! And I gave her a gift certificate to call her bluff.

My husband forbid me to get anymore. Since he had one, one was the number of reason when it came to tattoos. Oddly, I had never thought of getting more but in that moment of his forbidding I knew this would not be my last!

Frolicking in the Autumn Mist

I brought them strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff

I have no doubt that if I was called to anything in this life, it was to motherhood. There isn’t a moment that I don’t count myself lucky to be blessed with my four kids.  I cherish the memories we have created together.

Being a relatively young mom, and having a clear connection to my inner child, we created together, we played and learned together and we grew up together. If I allow myself, I can put myself back in the red glow of sitting cross-legged in their play tent on the front porch of our Victorian home. We would take turns making up and telling stories and the tent was filled with a very special magic. Even in those moments of story-telling there was the realization that this unique experience between the five of us was such a small snapshot of time that would soon be outgrown. But I loved that red glow on their faces, how their eyes were alive with imagination and how they giggled and went along with my silly ideas.

We ate egg salad sandwich picnics on a blanket spread on the living room floor. I introduced them to dirt bombs and when we couldn’t afford a kiddie pool or air conditioning I filled the bathtub with cool water transformed with food colouring. In winter I put Red River Cereal in boxes and found their sandbox toys. We painted and did crafts, we cooked and created. Once I even hung donuts with strings from the clothesline. Blindfolded, they laughed as they took bites.  We played princess, Barbies and trucks, Ninja Turtles and hide and seek.  We invented our own games and with my husband introduced them to camping.  We enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner on a picnic tables under a canopy of amber leaves at Awenda Provincial Park. We roasted spider dogs and snake bread. We joined Cubs and had adventures, explored and learned. We sang campfire songs, the silly songs of childhood, and nursery rhymes. We learned the ones sang by Fred Penner, Eric Nagler and Sharon, Lois and Bram and some mornings I woke them up for school by blaring Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf.

overlapping hands of childhood
all for one

I often think those days, like the ones in Puff the Magic Dragon, were destined to cease. They were magical days limited only by our imagination. We were free to be ourselves. I think I knew we were frolicking in the autumn mist as eventually those activities became no longer cool and could not compete with the bonds of friendship as children grow into teens and adults. Like little Jackie Paper I no longer bring them strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff. Still, I hold so dear and treasure in my heart and memories of the days we ran barefoot in the grass, had adventures and scheduled ‘unprofessional development days’ where we played hooky from school and work.

Those moments have enriched my life and allowed me to love beyond anything I could have imagined. My kids were my purpose. But even as I call them mine, I wonder, did they ever really belong to me? I aspired to raise children who were individuals and I can say I’ve achieved that. When I remember their childhoods I feel like those days of wonder were a gift and the child-version of them that I adored were on loan to me. Parenthood is not ownership. I no more take credit for their successes than I accept blame for their mistakes. It is my phenomenal pleasure to have lived alongside these children who have taught, loved, entertained, tolerated, frustrated, frightened, challenged and propelled me to become a better version of myself.

It’s fun to visit memories and spend a little time immersed in the magic and joy and it’s a privilege to witness the adults they have become.  Peter Pan said, “To die would be an awfully big adventure.” But parenthood is a bigger adventure still. Every now and then, there’s a glimmer, a spark, a twinkle of the magic that connects us still.

I am Blessed to be their Mother.

Finding my voice

As far back as I can remember I loved stories. Before I could read or write I memorized story books to pretend that I could read the words on the pages. Perhaps it was grade two or three when the teacher would take pictures from magazines, glue them onto construction paper and set them along the dusty ledge of the chalkboard along the front of the classroom. I liked the way she spaced them evenly along as she slowly set them down. My eyes would dart across them quickly at first and more slowly. A nervous energy would tighten my stomach. After a few minutes I’d settle on one of the pictures. The idea was to write a story about what was happening in the picture. What an adventure! Often I’d get lost in my story and my hands wouldn’t print out the story as fast as my brain wanted them to. I had a vivid imagination but would sometimes simplify my ideas to avoid the pains of printing it all out. My printing and handwriting was always scrutinized and criticized by teachers for being messy. However, I loved writing those stories. Again I’d become nervous waiting for the teacher to call me up to her desk and give me the corrections. I’d stand beside her and look down at my paper with the red-ink evidence of my mistakes. My letters didn’t fit the red, blue, blue line format like her samples on the board. I’d forget some punctuation and in my hurry to get my thoughts down, I’d sometimes miss bits here and there and would often have the dreaded offense of including a run-on-sentence! Even with all that, I knew, I had the ability to tell a story. I also remember in grade one my best friend, Debbie Humble, and I would make up stories as we walked to and from school.  These stories may have looked like lies but both of us knew they weren’t true.

My childhood involved keeping secrets, things you just didn’t talk about outside of the home, things related to my father’s alcoholism. It’s almost as if there were so many things I wasn’t to talk about that I was bursting to talk about anything else. I was a very talkative child and I remember, as the youngest, often being given tasks to distract me from bothering my siblings or parents with my chatter. We had a green Pontiac car that was parked in the carport and as a child on a tricycle I’d go out and talk to that car. It listened to me without sending me away. Our poor neighbor was building a fence once and I talked with him hour after hour – like it or not! I often was disciplined at school for talking when I shouldn’t. One teacher even sat me with the ‘bad’ boys at the back of the classroom thinking that would stop me from talking, but it didn’t. Once, my brother put me in his closet with his tape recorder and told me to pretend I was on the radio. I did a whole show! Amid the “don’t you ever shut up” and “don’t you ever think before you speak” criticisms from my dad, I somehow managed to retain some shred of confidence in myself.

Even though I’d be sick to my stomach before public speaking I did well and enjoyed winning several school competitions. I looked forward to presentations knowing that once I began speaking the nervousness would melt away.

Later, in high school English, I began to learn to write how particular teachers wanted to receive the work. By the time I got to Journalism, I learned to take editing – even when it was brutal. In my career I learned to write for particular audiences, adjusting content and tone and using the colloquial words or expressions of specific groups, industries or workplaces. While I enjoy using my communication skills in my employment I felt I was missing the freedom of just writing in my own style about things that are important or meaningful to me.

This blog is my attempt to free my own voice and to write from my heart. It’s funny though many of the things I’ve written I hesitate to post for fear of offending family members. Hurting people’s feelings is the last thing I’d want to do. Someone once told me that I have the ability to teach others through my writing so I’m meditating and opening my heart to that. I’m not sure where exactly it will take me but if along the way I write something that is painful to someone, I can only hope they will forgive and understand, and maybe someone else will also learn or be inspired by those same words.

A Journey of Insight

Somewhere in my skepticism and excitement I allowed myself to travel. I didn’t see the blackness or the single bright star I was supposed to be moving toward. I didn’t see the green-blue mist and I wondered if this was even going to work for me. I didn’t feel myself moving at all. However, in that split second when my feet were to hit the ground, they did. They did. The feet I saw when I looked down were bare and so were my legs. I wore a cotton or muslin dress or nightgown, my long blond hair blew around beside my face and the long strands of green-gold grass bent toward me in the fields as the wind blew.

I stood there alone but unafraid. I looked toward the horizon and out onto the choppy ocean with waves crashing against rocks and to the beach inside a basin whose walls were rocky cliffs that contrasted with the blue and white of the water they surrounded. I could see the cabin, rustic, grassy and I was in no hurry to go there. She was there. Her long grey and black hair hung down loosely as she swept the floor; always sweeping, always with her back toward me. She didn’t love me, she barely tolerated me. She was nanny. My mother had died. My father? He had sailed away on a ship with great white-grey sails and I had known he’d never come back and I had followed my instructions to not act like a baby.

As guided, I moved to another time in my life when they boy waited for me at the place where the path met the rail fence of his family’s property. He cared for me. He was kind. His light brown hair was combed straight down evenly all round his head. His white shirt had puffy sleeves and cuffs and his brown rough pants were held up with strap that ended in an upside down v with a button on each side.

Again guided to another point I held our baby girl in my arms and felt joy. Later I saw her off on a ship so she could become educated. She returned and taught others but never really was close to me. Next, he held my hand and my chest was tight and it hurt to breathe and I wasn’t afraid to die because he was there for me. I looked on the wall and I saw the end of a word “shire” and 1792.

I confronted nanny and father, I forgave them and released them and was once again guided to another journey. I thought I couldn’t possibly be really experiencing this and maybe the whole thing would be over soon. However, again my feet hit the ground and when I was guided to describe what I felt, my feet hurt so much. I was wearing tight white boots with so many tiny white buttons. I saw layers of skirts that were pushed out by the layers nestled underneath. I saw that dark stone road under those boots and was aware of the hustle and bustle around me. I walked across the street to look inside the shop windows but I didn’t go in. I wasn’t to spend money but I looked longingly through the shop window wondering if any shoes that wouldn’t hurt me feet could be found within.  I was encouraged to walk to my home only a few blocks away. It was a tall house that reminded me of the Banks’ home in Mary Poppins. As I walked in through the door everything was neatly in its place and very formal. My mother didn’t have time to acknowledge me as she went about ensuring the perfection of it all. I knew my father was disappointed that I hadn’t been a boy who would take over his business. My role was to give evidence to his success with my appearance, to be seen and not heard. The only time I felt joy was to take my painful shoes off and read my books alone and out of site.  My older sister was perfect, her name was Gladdy. She married well and left and rarely visited but did give me a little black dog for comfort.

My mother passed away of the chest and my father grew older until, at last, he sat in a wicker wheelchair his hair greyed and his posture slumped. I was with him when he passed. A short time later I opened the window coverings and let the sunshine in. Guests came for tea and my sister returned with her three children. I was especially fond of the red-haired girl who loved to kick off her shoes and read with me.  At the end, I was alone, in my bed and I wasn’t afraid for the angels came and gently took me with them.

In the discussion with my guide afterwards, I realized I had strength and that if my fear of being truly alone came true, I’d be okay with that. I felt stronger and I felt connected. I searched Pembrokeshire Wales and it looked exactly like my vision – http://nt.pcnpa.org.uk/website/sitefiles/nt_page.asp?PageID=2

Thank you to Olive Readers for this experience

 

My Spirited Child

I wrote this piece 20 years ago from the perspective of my second son whose spirit was sometimes more than he, or any of us, could manage. It helped other parents to understand their children so it is in that spirit I share it now. Dedicated to Drew Wakutz.

Hi!  My name, although very important to me, is not relevant to what I have to say.  I am a spirited child.  I am often exuberantly overjoyed or I can be uncontrollably angry – seldom in between.  You never have to guess how I feel about anything.  I need to have control over me and my surroundings.  I know there are things I have no choice in whether or not I do but, give me a choice in how they get done and I’ll try to cooperate.  I like to do a good job, especially when its a job I choose to do and one I think is important.  I have a lot of determination and I don’t like to be interrupted when I’m focused on a task.  Give me a little time, a warning, when things have to change or happen and I’ll cope a lot better.

I like to plan ahead and be prepared, let me know what to expect or what you expect from me beforehand and things will go smoother.  I get very confused when people’s faces and gestures don’t match what they say.  I prefer honesty.  If people try to hide their feelings from me or keep secrets, it’s like just challenging me to uncover the mystery!  I feel things deeply, all things.  Other people’s reactions and moods often affect my own.  When I get out of control, I need the people around me to be calm.  Teach me self control, don’t try to control me.  I wish when you see me out of control, instead of looking at me as if I were strange, give me some space, a chance to calm down, remind me gently what my choices are, what I need to do to calm down.  I don’t like feeling that way.  I am so full of feelings, there just isn’t any room in my head for thinking.  When I’m myself again I feel bad, so please, don’t remind me how I sounded, what I said or did or how I looked.  What I really need to know is that you love me and that I’m okay, and you’re not ashamed of me.

When I love – I love intensely, when I hurt – I hurt deeply, when I laugh – I laugh boisterously, when I cry – I find it hard to stop.  I have a lot of energy and it just takes me over sometimes.  If I can’t get rid of it physically, I’m pretty creative at finding ways to use my energy.  I know I often tire my mom out but I know she loves me.  Sometimes she makes mistakes, but she says mistakes, even the whoppers I make are okay, as long as we learn from them.

Sometimes, Mama screams and yells and cries, we all feel bad.  When I do those things, Mama says I’m SPIRITED.  I think Mama must be spirited too.  When I turn a hanger or two twigs into a bow and arrow, a brush and dustpan into a fiddle or when I want to colour the same picture for five days in a row until its just right, Mama says that takes spirit.  When I invent new words or new things, when I create what Mama calls “my masterpieces” or when I figure out just the right way to get that candy hidden on the top shelf behind the big can in the little plastic tub, Mama says, yes – I’ve got SPIRIT!  Spirit must be what makes my Mama still twinkle her eyes and hold me close after I’ve made a big mess; spirit must be what makes her count before she talks to me after I have done something I shouldn’t have, and spirit must definitely be what Mama has when she tells someone that I’m not bad, that I just need space, that I don’t like to be rushed into things and that – that was just my creativity showing.  My Mama lets me know that my spirit is what makes me ME and spirit is something to be proud of.

December 1994

Canoe Trip August 2011

As a cub leader, when our pack gathered to enjoy a ceremonial camp fire, I would begin by inviting them to participate. I’d tell them that this was a very special and unique opportunity. No other person, anywhere else or at any other time, could ever experience our campfire exactly as we would. I’d invite them to appreciate the magic, to feel how this experience bonded the members of our pack and to think about how lucky we were to have this unique time together.

How lucky am I to have experienced again, this enriching camaraderie with colleagues in an experience that reveals so many truths, wonder, fun and challenge. My heart is filled with infinite love and gratitude for the privilege of paddling and portaging with my esteemed, determined new friends on the 2011 Chiniguchi Tour.

Wolf Lake canoe route
entry point sign

Filled with some nervous apprehension, hopeful anticipation and even a few fears, my approach was to embrace this new challenge with an open mind and to participate as fully as possible. From the first time I considered putting my name forward for this trip our guide was encouraging and supportive. His confidence boosted my own. We began the adventure with the knowledge we’d be challenged and we’d learn.

Almost immediately, as we divide up into our packed canoes there is a spirit of co-operation, of support and acceptance. Nothing is forced. There are no pre-set lessons, no mandatory activities. Woven throughout every step or paddle there is time for individual contemplation, while at the same time an understanding that each member is part of the group. It fascinates me not only to put myself to the test and observe my reactions, but to see the vulnerability and strength in the others as well.

Like the water lilies that start out egg-shaped pointing towards the sky and throughout the day relax and open to reveal their individual beauty, my colleagues and I begin to gain comfort with each other, and an ease and kindred spirit descends on us encouraging us to share our own true selves with each other without fear of judgment or rejection, but rather acceptance and appreciation. There’s a bond in knowing we are in this together.

water lilly
Water Lilly

In time, my favourite paddling position is at the bow of the canoe rather than the middle. My paddle strokes become more confident and effective with time and practice. Even more satisfying, sometimes when the synchronicity with the stern paddler becomes so meshed, the rhythm seems to assume the form of my heart beat connecting me with the water, the canoe and all the paddlers. I close my eyes and breathe in as I draw the paddle up and exhale as I push the water with the paddle toward the stern.  The movement so natural at times I feel so connected so in tune and so peacefully close to meditation. It is everything and nothing at the same time. So many thoughts racing in my mind but yet at the same time there is just a calm knowing that somehow links me to the past and those who have travelled these waters before.

Later, as I lay in the tent at night, my breathing seems to take on the rhythm of the paddle and although our tent is firmly perched upon a rock, I can almost feel the sway of the water.

We’re told we paddled about 55 km over four days. My body believes that! When the muscles in my shoulders and back burn intensely and the old me would have thought about quitting, the changed me sees things differently. I replay scenes of those in our group who carry canoes and heavier packs than I can. I think of those in the other canoes along side, behind, or way in front who are paddling too and of course I think of the one or two others in this canoe as well. What was that line Jeff had shared with us about perseverance? “Persevere at difficult things. It may not be as concrete as a mountain or as immediately rewarding as cinnamon rolls, but the world is given to those who persevere.”  (Copyright, Morgan Hite, 1989-1991) That is what we do, we persevere. I wonder if my kids will be proud of me and I realize that it really doesn’t matter. I am proud to be here, to be paddling with muscles that burn, because I am part of the group and whatever role I play helps move us all forward.

Through shoe-sucking black muck, over sharp-tumbling rocks, in mosquito-laden forests and pine-needle floors, along waterfall-lagoons, rocky outcroppings, water so clean and skies so clear, with swamps and streams and lakes both smooth and choppy. We persevere together.

It seems quite obvious, I suppose, but I soon realize that like the ripples that roll out when the paddle cuts into the water, our actions ripple out and affect everyone. If you don’t carry that pack, someone else has to. If you don’t take your turn washing dishes, making the fire, preparing a meal, it will fall to someone else. You also realize you have limits. On the first day, after portaging with a pack that was obviously too heavy for me, my body feels shaky for a few hours and my ability to contribute seems diminished. I take note of how I feel and I understand that each of us has limitations.

Our guide reads to us an excerpt from 1637 written by Jean de Brebeuf that says “Always carry something during portages.” This simple instruction for Jesuit missionaries so long ago replays in my mind during every portage. With everyone carrying something, whatever they are capable of, we move the group forward. If I can’t carry the heavier packs, I can carry the lighter ones and at least help people get shed the heavy ones at the other end. And I can paddle, damn it, even if my shoulders and arms burn.

Truly, the days also take on a rhythm. It is of waking, making fires, coffee and breakfast, of taking down tents, organizing packs and moving on to the next step. Paddling, portaging, shore lunches, of hands reaching out to hold canoes along side your own, of connecting, sharing, enjoying, swimming, exploring, experiencing, of making camp, getting wood, eating supper by starlight, of “good night John boy” and giggles and tent zippers zipping. Then there is quiet and the haunting call of loons and sometimes the lapping of water.

There is no lack of impressive sites, from beaver damns and moose prints to colleagues exhibiting unexpected feats of strength and comedy. Ever present is the comforting knowledge that our guide is there to gently provide instructions and reminders, to share words with us that encourage our reflections and our fun. He springs around rock faces with what looks like an arrow through his neck, he runs the longest portages with canoe hoisted over his back and he sleeps without tent under stars overhead. It is certain that Hawkeye and Chingachgook would be proud of our guide.

I applaud all who share this journey for their strength, their help, their commitment and ability to keep moving forward. Our group embraces our challenge carefully considering our options and quickly arriving at consensus to continue on our journey.

This experience for each who takes it will be unique. Some may think it too much work or too long away, and some will remember the joy, laughter and accomplishment and wish it wasn’t over. I don’t speak for anyone but myself.

I learn:

  • to look within
  • I am capable
  • laughter is a great relief, a unifying, de-stressing, expression of joy and friendship
  • to respect and acknowledge my limitations but to give everything I have and more
  • by observing others and shedding ego your path becomes easier and your spirit lighter
  • that if you ask for help, someone will be there and similarly, there’s always something you can do to help someone else
  • a person can waste a lot of time not appreciating the gifts of others
  • a thunder box can be a good thing
  • resistance is futile (lol) – going with the flow and accepting whatever comes next is much easier than worrying or dreading the next part of the journey, and
  • living in the moment while preparing for the next is optimal.

I feel sadness wash over me as the end of our journey comes closer into view. On our way home, when we all stop to eat at a fast-food place I am not alone in wanting to finish my meal and escape to the outdoors. The building’s confining walls and groups of chatting people seem almost intolerable.

And now as I sit writing I am overwhelmed with the busyness around me and the indoors, the lack of stillness, of silence. As much as I’m happy to have chairs with backs to support my tired shoulders and to sleep upon my comfortable mattress, there’s part of me yearning to feel the paddle in my hands and the canoe underneath pushing forward across the water.

One of my colleagues says she feels as though part of her spirit is still there on the trip and she knows it will be a while until it returns to her. She need not elaborate as her words echo my thoughts. It reminds me of a verse from a song.

Land of the silver birch
Home of the beaver
Where still the mighty moose
Wanders at will
Blue lake and rocky shore
I will return once more
Boom-diddy-ah-da, Boom-diddy-ah-da, Boom-diddy-ah-da, bo-oo-oom

Hearts and spirits are free among those blue lakes and rocky shores and with that knowledge there is yearning.

Indeed the 2011 Chiniguchi Tour was challenging, exhausting and exhilarating. It had me close to tears and doubled over in laughter; it taught me perseverance and peacefulness; it taught me when I feel I have no more to give, I really do. It pushed me beyond where I would have normally drawn the line and it was completely awe-inspiring.

canoe, river
Canoe on shining water

Truth and Consequences

I put out my hand and selected one of the angel cards fanned out and extended toward me. The card had one word on it. “Look at your word, let it permeate you,” we were told. I drew air in deeply filling my lungs as I sat in a chair trying to keep my back straight. I let the air out and heard others’ whooshing the air out of their lungs as they also exhaled. I tried to relax my tight neck and shoulders and listened as the meditation leader guided our breaths and thoughts. See your word and think of how it is you… As I continued to breathe deeply and slowly and thought about my word I felt it was a cornerstone of who I am and what I value. Truth.

I kept my index finger of my left hand on the corner of the card that rested on my left leg towards my knee somehow needing to be connected physically to the card and my word.

Truth – so important to me.
Truth – so much easier to accept than lies.

Whose truth? I wondered. Is truth actually anything tangible? Is truth anything more than an interpretation? A perception? Why would my truth have more value than someone else’s? Is truth just a set of beliefs?  Is it ego that drives me to think truth has value? What if what I believe to be true is just my ego or just my perception?

“Focus on your breathing, if your thoughts wander acknowledge them and bring yourself back to your word,” I heard.

Truth. Truth. Funny I should pick that. No one seems to want to hear the truth or my truth. Truth doesn’t seem valued. I’ve been experiencing people telling me to detach from what is out of my control and they act like everything is good and there’s no acknowledgement when projects derail and people aren’t held accountable and why is truth so unwanted in certain circles? I wonder.

Back to breathing in deeply and out deeply and the tears are filling up inside my eyelids and I’m wondering where I fit. Where does truth fit? Why do I feel so alone like I’m hanging off a cliff, clinging to truth like it’s my only connection to safety? Does truth define me? I sure let other’s dismissal of truth define them. What if the truth evaporated I ask myself, would I feel differently? The tears threaten to escape from between my eye lids.

“Bring your awareness back to the room and when you are ready, open your eyes.”

I open my eyes, and when asked, I quietly share my word. “Truth,” I say still fighting the tears. I hug the meditation leader and he whispers in my ear, “I continue to pray for you.”

I walk down the long hallway after I exit the room a co-worker walking by reaches out, grabs my hand gives it a squeeze and continues walking. A few steps later another hugs me. Still later after gathering myself together with the help of my friend and office-mate I notice a note of appreciation on the door and there it is. It hits me. That is my truth. People care and the ones who care – they know my truth, they are my truth and I am okay.