Taking Summer Seriously (age 50)

Last summer an idea struck.  How about I take summer seriously?  How about I make a concerted effort to get out on our beautiful Nova Scotia beaches on as many nice days as possible.  I own my own business and can work flexible hours, so in keeping with the tides, I could arrange my work to allow for beach walks on nice days.  Why in keeping with the tides?  Well, in this part of Nova Scotia, at high tide, there is often no beach to walk on.  Also, there is a danger of being trapped down the beach should the tide be coming back in.  It happens to unsuspecting folks every year.  Best to walk the beach knowing what the tides are doing.  Rainy days would be for catching up on office work. So, no waiting for weekends. I would take summer seriously.  I just wanted to eat those beaches up.  The second half of this was that I wanted a friend or two or a family member or two to accompany me on each said beach walk.  I started asking around and several of my friends sounded interested.

Nova Scotia (23)First up was Blomidon Beach at low tide, once with my friend Lisa, then Jessie (and dogs) and then again with Victoria. Victoria was home for the summer holiday and as eager to walk the beaches as I.  That worked!  Blomidon Beach is a red, flat beach with red sheer cliffs hemming it in.   There are often tiny little avalanches of red stones coming down off those cliffs.  All along the top of the cliffs there are nesting holes for the swifts that make their homes there.

IMG_5042Next up was Scott’s Bay with Victoria. It was perfect. As we rolled along on the highway above Scott’s Bay, we each gasped at the beauty of the scene that emerged on approach to the big hill leading down into the village.  The Big Blue, I like to call it.  And, I can not visit Scott’s Bay without recalling fondly a novel I thoroughly enjoyed which is set in historic Scott’s Bay by local best-selling author Ami McKay.  The Birth House is about the age-old struggle of women to be in control of their own bodies. Imagine.  I would look at the houses and flapping colourful clotheslines and imagine the characters from that novel.  Their tough but incredibly rich lives…all of it happening right there.

The tide was way out.  Victoria parked the car and walked over the small bridge onto the pebbles of Scott’s Bay beach on the Bay of Fundy with the highest tides in the world. We walked out and off to the left, stopping to remove our footwear and talking and relating while we stepped into the cool grey mud of Scott’s Bay at low tide.  The floor of the ocean. Part of the time the grey mud was quite soft and deep. The temperature was perfect.  The sun was high.  It was warm but not hot and it was ideal. We walked and walked, the only two souls on the vast, shimmering beach:

Shiny Happy People Laughing.

IMG_4717

Afterward we had lunch on the patio of ‘The Haze’ Diner which is located close to the beach, on the highway approaching Scott’s Bay.  It was a good day. Homeward bound we stopped at a Farm Market for something to cook up for supper. Feeling refreshed, kissed by the sun, salt, wind and sand, we had taken summer seriously.

The next trip out was with my friends Mary and Victoria and over to Penny Beach at Avonport. Another perfect weather day and off we went, walking way down the beach, marveling and exclaiming at the beauty all around us.  There was so much to see, to examine, to show each other and to talk about.  I told them about the time, years prior, that Daisy and I had been on this beach, eating a picnic lunch with our three boys when we saw a group approaching us.  They hadn’t even seen us, they were looking at the rock, the shale, the pebbles, the eagles, the shore birds.  I told them that I was curious about what they were doing. Turns out it was a famous scientist and his students and they had come a great long way to see this beach.  He said it was world famous to geologists.  That it was once an inland sea and would have had a plethora of very large creatures and dinosaurs on it.  The boys were quite impressed.  I was just so thankful to have had the opportunity to glimpse them in action.

Anyway, within no time we realized that three hours had slipped by.  On Mary’s suggestion, which surprised me because I think of her as quite fastidious, we walked way out to the edge of the receding tide, knowing that the trip back would be through sticky mud.  In Nova Scotia, when one says they walked way out to the edge of the receding tide, that can be a LOOOOONG way — like a mile sometimes.  No kidding.

Another benefit of walking on beaches with friends is that sometimes surprising qualities and details about them (and me) emerge. In my experience it has always been a positive and our friendship grows deeper as we admire the beauty, sometimes sharing stories and anecdotes and sometimes just walking silently bathing in the salty breeze, sometimes bending to help the other wash the tenacious mud from their feet or the troubles from their hearts.

IMG_4710At the water’s edge, it was astoundingly beautiful, the patterns in the rock, the ripple of the waves, the call of the gulls and before that, the emerald green moss on the tiny, perpetually trickling runoff waterfall.  We savoured it all and it was magical.  Returning to the parking lot, we sat at the hexagonal picnic table and each ate a Valley apple and drank fresh water from our water bottles.  So simple.  So good.  The day had been perfect. We had taken summer seriously.

IMG_4730Next it was Blue Beach with Rachel and Simon.  I picked them up and off we drove on another very pretty day.  Blue Beach is located between Avonport and Hantsport on the Minas Basin. It wasn’t a far ride for us.  We parked and started the wee jaunt down the dirt road to the beach.  Every time I walk down that dirt track, my mind is aflutter with memories of the previous walks on that beach.  The time my step-sister was visiting with her family and her palpable anticipation of this fossil-riddled beach.  She normally walks with a cane.  Not that day.  She was just too excited and the adrenaline was rampant.  She was almost skipping. Then, while she and hubby examined fossils, I spent time with their two children and Leo.  Skipping stones and doing handstands, running and tumbling, chasing and being chased and getting wet with furry, joyful Lady.  A great memory.  Leo idolized his big cousins and it was sweet to watch.

So, as it emerged, we could see the distinctly blue tinge of the rock and sand which forms this incredible beach.  We all walked slowly and methodically, heads bowed to the rocky beach surface to notice its treasures, to bend and point and remark, three heads came together peering at marvels on the ocean floor.  It was magical.  At some point, hunger called us back to the car and away we swept to a close-by coffee shop for a snack and a drink.

betty 2Betty and I did Medford Beach together, parking in the cul-de-sac and walking down the grassy slope, across the tiny bridge and carefully stepping down the eroded small cliff, onto the red sand, beside the fresh run-off stream. The dogs were with us and into it full tilt.  The chance to run free, smelling all the smells and swimming willy-nilly made their tails wag furiously happily.  Following their lead, we kicked off our footwear, sinking our feet into the cool red sand.  Then we walked and walked and talked and talked solving all of the problems of the world.

Betty on beach

Later that summer, Leo and Dean and I went down to the Kejimkujik Seaside Adjunct for a hike on one gorgeous day.  It was about a ten-km hike, partially over the windswept hills and then down along a boardwalk and onto a rocky beach.  As we approached the beach, we could see what looked like structures sticking up all over it.  Turned out, to be many many inukshuks. They were everywhere and they lent a surreal quality to the remarkably pretty beach. Leo immediately began to take photos of them and then to build one himself.

inukshuks

From the rocky beach, we walked on a windy woodland trail and then out onto an incredible white-sand beach where we spent some time contemplating a swim.  Make no bones about it, the water was, as always, freezing.  Dean managed to submerge for a split second then rushed out to the warmth of the sand.  It had been a lovely day and finished on a spectacular beach.

keji 2

In was a fantastic summer mission which also included Evangeline, Hirtles, Avonport, Crescent, Margartsville, Aylesford, Kingsport beaches, all with their various qualities ranging from fine white sand to pebble to rocky, red sand, blue sand, golden sand. Near, far, remote, popular, unheard of, it was a grand summer full of wonder, family and friendship.  No better kind.

Little Saw-Tooth 🐾

‘I’m your friend, Okay. And as your friend, I gotta be honest with you. I don’t care about you or your problems.’

~Chloe the Cat
The Secret Life of Pets

We adopted a tabby kitten from a friend in Polar River, NWT.  She was a tiny cat, but she was mighty. We named her Sahtu after the region by that name in the Arctic, but, perhaps we should have called her SAW-TOOTH, as one of my nephews would call her.

We were living in Inuvik then and in the midnight sun of the summer, insects grow freakishly large.  Sahtu learned to hunt by catching the massive dragonflies in mid-flight. She would jump up and grab them in her two front paws. Then… she would eat them, turning her sweet head to one side and crunch as she used her chewing teeth to devour her catch.tabby and dragonfly

Delta

The first night she was with us, she slept on the fridge. She was tiny and she had never seen two big dogs before. Within a matter of days, however, she was completely in charge of the dogs.  We had an old couch that the three of them would share.  Sahtu would put her two dainty paws on Delta or on Grizzly and she would knead their abdomens.  She would sometimes recGrizzlyeive a nice big lick but never a growl. The odd time, not wanting her attentions, Delta or Grizz would quietly get up and vacate the couch to her. The dogs just loved her.  They were ten times bigger, and could kill her with one powerful shake, or one lazy bite, but they were mush in her green-eyed gaze.

We moved to Toronto after that, all five of us, and had this great three-story brick house at Birchmount and The Danforth.  I am fond of saying that we were in the North Beaches, but those who know Toronto, know we were actually in Scarborough. There was a large, leafy shotgun fenced-in yard that the dogs would run the length of to chase their nemeses: SQUIRRELS, barking all the way.  Never, of course, catching them.  They should have recruited tiny Sahtu.  She could catch anything.  When Dean was studying and inevitably scrunching waste paper into balls, Sahtu would come a-running, the first time was out of curiosity at this new sound, the scrunching sound. Then Dean tossed the ball of paper high into the air and Sahtu executed a four foot high jump and twist to catch that ball of paper.  After that, it became a game to her and a marvel to see.  She had one lithe, muscular little body.

We had a little window over the kitchen sink that we would leave open for her to come and go.  She was a happy little cat. We would put a bowl of food in a cupboard and we quickly taught her how to open the cupboard door.  In she would go to eat in peace. Her food remained safe from the dogs.

The next year we moved to Virginia. Sahtu would come walking and hiking with us sometimes. My friend Nancy and her girls found it quite remarkable. We would be hiking through the woods and Sahtu would be following behind. We had a little bell on her which helped us keep track of her.  Her cool feline presence added to the experience of hiking in the woods.

This one time, after we moved back from Virginia, to Milton, Ontario, we were living in an apartment out on highway 25 in the countryside.  Going away for a few days, with our little guy, Leo and the two dogs, we decided to leave Sahtu with the young guy who lived in the apartment beneath us.  We told him that if he left the low door window open, Sahtu could come and go and to simply keep her food and water full. After our weekend away, we returned to find what looked like blood and guts everywhere in the large front entryway and on the walls up to about four feet high.   We found Buddy and asked what had happened, fearing the worst.

Eyes bulging out of his head to emphasis his words, he goes, ‘Man, that cat of yours is some kind of mean and cruel hunter.’

‘What do ya mean?  Little Sahtu?’ we asked, in harmony.

Still with the overly wide eyes, Buddy says, ‘Well, she may be tiny but she’s a force to be reckoned with!  She caught a rabbit, bigger than her, and she jumped through the door window with it in her jaws! When I came out here it was half dead jumping around trying  to escape her and it was bleeding EVERYWHERE.  I had to get my hockey stick to kill it and put it out of it’s misery’.  I am quite certain that Buddy had no idea what he was getting into upon agreeing to ‘watch’ Sahtu.

tabbyAnother time, after we moved into our new house, we needed to have some electrical work done.  My eldest brother Matt came over to do the work. Downstairs we had this huge basement which had a workroom at one end, which was unfinished with an open ceiling and a utility room at the other end, which also was unfinished with an open ceiling.  From time to time, we would notice little Sahtu going up into the space between the ceiling and the main floor.  She would often start in one end and come out the other, having done her rounds, looking at us as if to say, ‘Okay, my duty is done.  Everyone can rest easy now.’

So, when Matt was having trouble telling a complex funny story while also pulling wire from the workroom to the utility room, he was getting frustrated because the wire just wouldn’t go through.  His story came to a halt.  I said, ‘Wait a minute.  Maybe Sahtu can pull the wire.’  So Dean ran to get her little metal bowl full of kibble and added a bit of fresh  and fragrant roast beef. I tied a light-weight piece of cord onto her collar. We then put her up to the opening in the workroom ceiling and…in she went.  Quickly, quickly, Dean, Matt and I then clambered through the rec room to the other open-ceiling room where we shook her food bowl, making the distinct sound that she knew and loved — we often shook her food bowl to entice her to come inside the house. Within a couple of moments  guess who’s green eyes we could see coming? Little Sahtu.  Matt was very impressed and for a few moments we tossed around the idea of putting little Sahtu on the payroll and hiring her out to pull wire at other jobs.

Another testament to her hunting prowess was the time our old Army friend, Nee asked if we could bring her along to his cottage in Haliburton because it had become infested with mice.  ‘Absolutely!’  We arrived at the cottage, in tandem with Nee.  Just as he was unlocking the cottage door, I said, ‘Let’s put Little Sahtu inside first and see what happens.’

‘Really?’ Nee asked, skeptical. ‘Okay.’

We opened the door a crack and put Little Sahtu inside.

A split second later she came out with a wriggling mouse in her jaws and..she ATE it, head first.  All but the tail and the gizzard.  Such a delicate little thing.  All night long she battled the infestation in that cottage.  There were minor crashes and thumps and bumps as she became the scourge of the Haliburton mice.

A few years later, we sadly lost our Little Sahtu.  We aren’t absolutely sure, and we never found her body or any other evidence, but there was a massive bald eagle scoping her out as she herself hunted in a field.

The circle of life sucks sometimes.

We miss her.

(Cat photos courtesy of google images)

 

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The Loss of Dane (age 35) 💔

Like a baby, stillborn,
like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
But I swear by this song
and by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.

Leonard Cohen
Bird on a Wire

When Leo was two, I became pregnant for the third time.  We had had an early miscarriage before Leo came along in 1999.  It was during the early weeks of this pregnancy that we decided to move to the East coast.  Dean found us a furnished two bedroom sublet with a garden and a patio and which accepted pets — we had two big dogs, at the time.  Our new digs had a gas fireplace, two floors, two sunflower-upholstered love-seats, laundry just down the hall and an underground parking space. The apartment was just around the corner from the Public Gardens in Halifax and we thought we had died and gone to heaven.  While Dean would be at work down at Purdy’s Wharf (the two tallest, newest buildings on the Halifax harbour), Leo and I would be hanging out in the Public Gardens which are truly a beautiful place: green lawns; winding pebbly pathways; ducks, geese and swans in the ponds; a band-stand; a canteen with ice-cream stand — paradise!

Public GardensIf we weren’t in Public Gardens though, we might be out with our Realtor who was trying to find us a house.  It was a hell of a market.  A sellers market where everything was selling out from under us, even as we were walking through a house.

Dad and my step-mom, Wendy, came to visit for a week.  They took the train from Ontario, getting into Union Station where we easily picked them up.  The best memory of that trip was our day in Peggy’s Cove.  The five of us, with jackets, water-bottles, sunhats and wallets piled into our wagon, along with Delta and Grizzly, and away we went to the second best known landmark in Nova Scotia (the first being the Fortress at Louisburg Historical Site).   When we rolled into Peggy’s Cove, after the twisty-turny roads, we all felt a wee bit squeamish.  We all wanted to just exit the car and get some fresh air and stretch the legs.  I look over to the left, see a brightly painted old school house with a sign that reads: ‘FREE JAZZ CONCERT TODAY’.  I say the words allowed to Dad and Wendy, it was like, well, music to their ears.  Golden, simply golden.  We clambered out of the wagon and made our way over the beaten-earth pathway to the Old School House. Walking in, Dad began to smile and to take Wendy’s hand.  It was the music of their age. From their day.  They began to dance.  When the song ended, Dad said, ‘If I just had a black coffee now, I would be all set’.

‘I’ll be back in a flash,’  I said and out I flew, down the path and over to the cafe, which wasn’t far away.  Peggy’s Cove is a tiny village and harbour with colourful wooden houses, flapping clotheslines, hat-wearing locals, tour buses and fishing shacks, and let’s not forget that lighthouse.  Upon my return, the musicians were conversing with Dad and Wendy who both had large, wide smiles and the glassy eyes of reminiscence.  They took a coffee each, thanking me, and sat back, the picture of relaxation and contentment. We hadn’t even seen the lighthouse yet.  Imagine.

Peggy's cove village

The next day we hung out around the apartment and Public Gardens and the next day was full-on SUN so off we went to one of the best beaches on the south shore: Bayswater Beach.  For once we were not fogged in but enjoyed the perfect weather.  The added pleasure of this part of the visit was that my step-sister, Paulie and her family were staying in a cabin on a large beautiful lake and we arranged to meet them at the Bayswater Beach, it being the hometown area of her husband, Seth.  Seth set up lawn chairs for everyone and then Dad said, ‘If I only had an ice-cream now, I would be all set’.

‘Back in a flash’.  I carried back a couple of trays of soft-serve ice-cream for all of us bought from the lady in the truck selling all manner of take-out food.  Dad and Leo enjoyed the cones the most.  We had a very sweet time on the beach, Leo playing with his two big cousins in the warm stream of water that runs to the sea.  The ocean, being the North Atlantic, was beyond freezing cold.  Of course.

Bayswater Beach

For the next couple of nights we stayed in a cabin, close to the one that Paulie and family were staying in and enjoyed hours of swimming, canoeing, story-telling and eating. It was ideal.  I’ll never forget the interactions between Leo and Paulie. Especially when it came to saying I love you and goodbye. At that time Leo wasn’t speaking very much, but he was signing. And he would sign ‘I love you’ — dimpled hand held up with chubby ring finger and middle finger bent to his palm. This one day,  while saying our goodbyes, he signed ‘I love you’ and then with his index finger pointing at Paulie, he signed ‘I shoot you’.  When I saw this I was horrified. But Paulie, in her sweet gentle way, saw the fun in it and chuckled loudly making Leo want to do it again and again.

Then it was back to just the three of us, with a peanut in my belly, slowly, slowly getting bigger and stronger.  Hearing the heartbeat and being told we were to have another boy, we were over the moon.  His name would be Dane, after the great soccer player, Zidane.

Then one day, out of the blue, on the Friday morning of a long weekend,  I was having tea and toast at Tina’s house, watching Leo and Jude playing and I began to get a strange sensation in my lower belly.  It was the same type of feeling that would come at the beginning of a menstrual period.  ‘Ah oh’, I thought.  ‘Can’t be.”  The hours of the day ticked by and the pains grew worse and worse.  I called my doctor who was to go away on holidays but she luckily was able to arrange for an ultrasound for me, immediately.  It looked normal.  I was told that this might just be Braxton Hicks — the kind of contractions that are indications that the womb is getting ready to deliver in the future.

I soaked in the tub and tried to find comfort laying on my side. It was a hard night, with little sleep, the pain coming in waves.  At one point, my sister Amy called and her sweet voice took my mind off my troubles.  The next day, I found blood on my underwear. “DEAN,’ I screamed. “WE NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL”.  The pains became worse and worse.  We had Leo taken care of by Everet and Tina, friends who we knew for years. Everet, Dean and I had been in the army together, and had done a lot of our army field training in the same section of a Platoon.  Therefore, we knew each other very well.  I did not want Leo to see me in this kind of pain.

Then the nurses said that the Radiologist would give me an ultrasound, himself. Unusual. I lay down on the bed and he put the goop on my belly.  When the picture came up, it looked different.  Dane was alive and there was a heart beat but there was no water in my uterus.  There was no amniotic fluid.  How could Dane be alive?  I had been in so much pain, by brain was messed up and it would not conclude that which it should be concluding.  The Radiologist did not then tell me that which he should have told me. (He later apologized to me for that).

I was wheeled back to another room off the emergency room.  On my way past the waiting room, I saw Wally, Everet and Dean with heads together, whispering.  Wally’s arrival made four of us that had been in the army together the better part of a decade earlier.  Through the haze of pain, I was touched that they were here for this.  I would get through this and we would all be fine and well.  Dane would be okay.  All these people were here to support us.  Dane would be fine. Right?

The pain continued.  The nurses were good to me.  One nurse kept getting warm towels and swabbing down my back.  It felt like heaven.  At some point, in a tortured voice I told them I felt like I had to poop.  They helped me to squat up on the bed and they put a metal pan under my bottom.  I pushed.  I pushed again.  One more time.

Then….

I …. looked ….. down.

Dear God there were tubes or something hanging out of my vagina.  “What’s that?” I asked, perplexed.

A nurse rushed over and gently tugged on the tubes as she attempted to soothe me with, ‘It’s going to be okay dear.  It’s going to be okay.”

Something came out.

It wasn’t tubes.

It was Dane.

It wasn’t tubes.

It was my perfectly formed tiny dead baby, Dane.

I held him in my hand.  He fit the length of my hand perfectly.  Little eyes never to open. Tiny hands never to hold.  I stroked his little bluish body and wished him well in heaven while tears blurred my vision and streamed down my face.

I cried, “My heart is breaking.  Ohhhh No No No.  My heart is breaking.”

I laid back on the bed and hands on my heart, wept bitterly, for the loss of my little Angel Dane.  And having lost him, I knew for sure that I couldn’t try to do this again.  Upon telling Dean this, we both readily decided that Leo would be our only and we would count ourselves lucky and blessed to have him.

What I felt later was this overwhelming sense of failure.  I had failed to give his little body a fertile place to grow.  I had failed to be a good mom.  I was a failure at making a baby.

But, thankfully, time heals and now, over a decade later, I have a different view of this.  I feel that my body was doing what it needed to do.  There must have been a good reason that my body did not allow Dane to thrive, or that Dane’s body didn’t allow him to thrive. Especially in these last few months, I have learned and concluded that my body is an amazing organism that should be trusted, revered and respected.  It is doing it’s best to keep me alive, comfortable and well.

I think of Dane often and wonder what our lives would have looked like with him in it, growing up as Leo’s little brother, as our youngest son.  I wonder about the lesson in this loss.  Why did it happen?  What is it meant to teach us?  The value of life?  Gratitude for our blessings?  I’m not sure, really.  But, I am sure of this: I love that little soul that was in that little body that I held in my womb and then in my hand.  I wish for him to be forever at peace.

Mr. Laset and the Walden Games 🥈 (age 10)

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.
Forest E. Witcraft
Teacher, Scholar

Mr. Laset was the quintessential good coach: kind, unselfish, knowledgeable and competitive when necessary.  He coached me throughout elementary school for cross country running, gymnastics, volleyball, basketball and track. We had practices after school every day of the week.  He was consistently present and consistently good to me. Over the decades I have thought of Mr. Laset many times and, every time it has been with fond memories.  On that note, I just searched for him and found a phone number and gave him a call…forty years later from three provinces away.  I said, ‘this is Morgan Player, I am trying to find Lee Laset.’ His response: ‘How is my best point guard doing today?’  See, he said exactly the right thing! We had a wonderful chat on the phone.  His memory is fabulous and we laughed about the old days.  I thanked him again and again for all of the time and encouragement he gave me way back then.

Now my story about the Walden Games…

When I was 10 years old, I was on the gymnastics team for the school. We would practise everyday after school and all day on Saturday during the gymnastics season.  Mr. Laset prepared routines for the floor, finding music to suit the routine and then we would memorize and practice until we knew it cold.  The routine for the balance beam and vault didn’t have music but all three apparatus had mandatory moves and lengths of routine.  There was a big meet coming downtown Walden at Central High School. The day of the meet arrived. I caught a ride downtown with my teammate, Cassie, and her Mom. There were a lot of people there. Hundreds. The place was crawling with parents and gymnasts and coaches. Moms were fussing over their daughters’ hair. Dads were looking at schedules with their sons, a large arm encircling their small shoulders.

Gymnasts were warming up. When I stepped on the huge technical floor mat I was immediately impressed with its give.  It seemed like I could bounce higher, split better, balance longer. I was in love with that mat.  I watched some of the more talented gymnasts who belonged to clubs and wished I could one day be like them.

It came time for me to do my balance beam routine.  I nailed the mount which required

beam mount
This is an example of my mount

a lot of upper body strength, something I naturally had. I bounced off of the small spring board, placing both hands on the beam and then, with hips high, brought both feet into a wide straddle on either side of my body, but not touching the beam.  I balanced that way for a few seconds and then placed my feet on the beam. From the wide straddle I made my way into the splits, held it with arms raised, fingers poised, then swung my back leg forward into a pike fold, then into the required back roll.  From there, I gracefully transitioned into standing and went through the rest of my routine, conducting the required moves: standing balance with one foot held in my hand above my head; 360 degree spin and front roll and with various dance and rhythmic arm moves, made my way to the culminating move: the dismount.  Mine was a front pike hand spring off the end of the beam.  I did it and I stuck it.  Arms up, arched back, chin high, head back. My teammates clapped and there were a couple of smiling, pretty moms I didn’t know who made me feel special.  I walked off to find Mr. Laset who was working with some of my other teammates. Mr. Laset was spread thin watching over all of us.

Next up was the vault.  Our score was the best out of three moves.  I did a pike head-stand over, hand-stand over and high straddle over.  I stuck all three pretty well and felt good about it.  Mr. Laset patted me on the back and told me I had done well.  So far so good.

After eating my brown-bag lunch, I checked the schedule and saw that it was almost time for me to do my floor routine.  Again, I went to the mat for  a warm-up and, again, I was impressed by the springy-ness of it.  My music came on as I took my place on the mat.  I

Gymnastics-Meet-2-682x454
This is what my big move would have looked like

knew this routine cold so it was no problem to do it to the very best of my ability. The one toughest move was a hand-stand which was to be held for five seconds and then a quarter turn down into the splits.  I had practiced this move umpteen times in our basement rec-room.  My friend Layla and I would put on music and dance and do gymnastics: cartwheels, hand springs, handstands, splits, rolls and often we would do this in the dark.  Lucky we didn’t kick each other in the head.

Anyway, in my routine, I was wondering if I was ever going to actually be able to hold the handstand for five seconds. Guess what.  I DID IT!  Oh my, was I happy and very proud. After the splits, I turned forward and ended my routine with my elbows on the mat, my legs in a wide straddle, my dark, curly pony tailed head in my hands and a big smile on my face.

I would like to say the crowds went wild, but, no.  There were very few spectators for me.

A little while later, we were rounded up and told that the closing ceremonies would be held and that we should quietly sit in our team.  I sat down beside Cassie.  She had had a good day and had completed all of her tough moves.  She put her arm around me and told me that she had heard that I did REALLY well.  I looked at her with a question on my face.  How did she know that?  She had been on the other side of the gym all day.  She told me that her mom had seen my points.  She said: ‘Morgan, you’re in the medals’.

“WHAT???!  What does THAT mean?’ I asked her frantically.  ‘What do I need to do?’

‘You just need to go up there when they call your name’.  Cassie said calmly.  She was ultra experienced at this.

A couple of minutes later, I was called to the podium and a SILVER medal was placed around my neck.  Holy cow!! I felt like a million bucks.  Holy cow!! Mr. Laset patted my back and told me he was very proud of me.  I had not expected this at all.  I was shocked!

The meet was finished and it was time to go home with my silver medal.  I imagined my family picking me up and hugging me wildly upon seeing it hanging around my neck.  I imagined a celebratory supper of my favourite foods and my favourite dessert.

What actually happened was rather underwhelming and, as I write this now as a Mom, I feel quite sad for my ten-year old self who was somewhat neglected as a girl, at times. Nevertheless, I got out of the car and skipped up the driveway.  Jumped up the front steps and bounced into the front door, my heavy silver medal swinging on my chest, my curly pony tail flicking happily.

But…

No one noticed my big smile or my big medal.

Mom and Dad were arguing in their room with the door closed and my three brothers were off in all corners of the house.  My three eldest siblings would have moved out by then.  No one asked about my big day. No one picked me up and hugged me wildly to celebrate my success.  There was no celebration meal and no fun dessert.  I had this great big family, but no one was there for me that day.  No one watched me compete. No one watched me receive the silver medal.  I was left wondering if it mattered.  Did I matter? ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’

Forest

One thing for sure is that this circle of neglect is broken.  My husband Dean and I have one son, Leo.  We have watched all of his sporting events and Dean has coached many of his soccer teams.   My parents were very likely doing the best they could with what they had in their tank.  I am ever thankful for people in my life who were there for me when my parents couldn’t be.  One such person was Mr. Laset. Speaking to him earlier today after forty years, made my year.  The gift of his calm, smooth voice knowing and remembering me and chit chatting about our sports days in the mid-70s will be cherished. When he said, ‘How is my best point guard doing?’  Those words were golden. He was important in the life of a child. That child was me.

A Buttertart and a Kiss 😘 (31)

A hastily eaten homemade buttertart leads to an unexpected ‘meeting’ 👄

It was 1997 and we were living just North of the North Beaches of Toronto.  Yes, okay, we were actually in Scarberia, but, whatEVER.  We were there because Dean was attending a school called iti: Information Technology Institute, downtown Toronto.

With my two older sisters and Mom just a couple of hours drive away, and me without a job, I would travel down there each week or so to visit them and their families as well as to go see Mom. Mom was in a nursing home suffering with Pick’s Disease (basically, the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s) and was almost completely non-verbal by that time. She was, however, in fine physical condition, a fact that played with our minds. She could walk for ten miles, no problem, yet, she didn’t know us and she couldn’t speak.  It was hard.

Mom loved chocolate milkshakes. I would pick one up and while she worked away on it silently, I would drive to a park so we could go for a walk. Those times were very sweet but heart-breaking at the same time.

In those days, we were all reading Deepak Chopra: QUANTUM HEALING; THE SEVEN DeepakSPIRITUAL LAWS OF SUCCESS; AGELESS BODY, TIMELESS MIND; and PERFECT HEALTH. Eva, Amy and I would discuss the concepts at length and do our very best to incorporate the thinking into our lives.  So, when it became known that Deepak Chopra would be speaking at a nearby venue, we were overjoyed and quite excited about the idea of attending his talk.  We got tickets and eagerly awaited the big day.

Now a days, good ole Deepak is friends with OPRAH. Oprah lost ME at the line….“Inside every overweight woman is a woman who she knows she can be.”  Okay, you can fuck right off right now, Oprah. Bah bye.  So….I’m useless unless I’m thin? Oh man.  You are messed up lady, or, you are just in it for the money, which is even more messed up.  Oprah has been on more diets than can be counted on both hands and feet. When is she going to GET that diets don’t work and stop being so fat-phobic?  Oh wait.  Partnering with Weight Watchers (because her 3.9 billion dollar net worth is NOT enough, I guess) means that she knows diets don’t work.  It’s part of their bushiness plan.  Lifetime membership. Enough said.

***

I digress.

On the day of the Deepak talk, I drove the couple of hours to Eva’s house and arrived at her door to find her in the middle of finishing off a second batch of her world famous (okay, not WORLD famous, but potentially…) home-made buttertarts.  They were little individual pastry cups filled with a gooey mixture of butter, raisins and brown sugar. Mom had taught Eva how to bake when Eva was a girl.  Mom had been an amazing baker and could whip up a pie or a fruit crumble, a cake or a batch of cookies pretty quickly, from scratch.  Let’s not forget Mom’s sugar pie. Neighbours would lean in and whisper to each other about it, their knees weakening as they spoke.  It was mouthwatering and the stuff of dreams.

I asked Eva why she wasn’t ready and she explained that there was a death in the family of a friend.  She needed to drop off some buttertarts to the grieving family after the talk. Could I take a tray in my van and she would pick up our other sister Amy and meet at the venue. Okay, sure, I said.  I took the tray of precious buttertarts.  That was my first mistake.  I laid them on the passenger seat.  That was my second mistake.  Backing out of her driveway, I headed down to the talk.  It was about half an hour away.  The buttery sweet smell in my van was overwhelmingly mouthwatering.  My stomach began to grumble.  I salivated a little as I looked at the tray of buttertarts.  Oh my they were beautiful little items. The aroma of the fresh baked, still warm buttertarts was torture. Breakfast had been hours ago.

Playing the radio, I tried to distract myself by singing loud and off key to all the radio songs like Tanya Tucker’s:

Delta Dawn what’s that flower you have on?
Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?
And did I hear you say he was ameetin’ you here today
To take you to his mansion in the sky
She’s forty one and her daddy still calls her baby
All the folks around Brownsville say she’s crazy
‘Cause she walks downtown with a suitcase in her hand
Lookin’ for a mysterious dark-haired man….

It wasn’t helping.  Now there was drool spilling out of the corner of my mouth.  I pulled up to the parking lot attendant window and was permitted into the lot.  I then reached over and grabbed a buttertart, and,

put

the

whole

thing

into

my

mouth

Oh my god it was good.  It was DELICIOUS!!!  My eyes rolled back into my head.  The pastry was flaking all over my lips and down my chin.  But wait, was that Deepak CHOPRA getting out of his car right there???!!!  Holy shit.  It WAS Deepak.  I swiped at my mouth.  I stopped the van, and while chewing furiously, rolled down the window. Deepak Chopra was walking over to me because I was waving at him with both arms like an idiot.  He probably thought I was choking and that he would have to save me.  He is an M.D. after all. My mouth bulged with buttertart.  My lips could barely contain the delicious crumbs. The dark and mysterious Deepak was at my car door but I still could not speak due to the god-damned delicious buttertart that I was still masticating furiously.

I did the only thing I could do.

I opened my car door.

Climbed out and threw my arms around Deepak Chopra, getting a whiff of his spicey, exotic cologne.  Then…moving slightly back from him, I looked into his deep, piercing, intelligent yet peacefully dark eyes as my crumb-coated lips somehow met his.

He was obviously accustomed to women throwing themselves at him.  He wasn’t the least bit flustered.

At this point, the remainder of the buttertart was in my cheek and I was able to say something completely asinine:

Oh my god, I LOVE your work, Deepak!!  You are an amazing writer!!  You are doing wonderful things! You have helped me so much!  If I wasn’t happily married…

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

His response:

Okay, okay.  Calm yourself.

His hands motioned me into relaxation and I nodded and smiled at him with crumbs falling out of my mouth.  Attractive?  Not.  I moved my car to a spot and berated myself for making such a fool of myself.

His talk was riveting.  He stood at the edge of the stage and for two hours spoke about his books and his theories on life and health.  I was really glad, by then, that I had eaten a second buttertart after kissing Deepak Chopra on the lips.

 

Theory of Loss 🖤

Now the sun’s gone to hell and
The moon’s riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line in your palm
We are fools to make war
On our brothers in arms

….Dire Straits

We’ve all lost someone who we are sure is a mistake of nature to have died. A friend, a relative or, a celebrity: John Candy. Robin Williams. Princess Diana. Why? Why would they die early? They who never hurt anyone, but, who only did good things and helped people or who made people laugh. Why were they taken from us?  It just is not fair.

Uncle Ted was that person for us. Ted was married to my husband, Dean’s eldest sister Lanna.  They got married in the seventies and built their bungalow from scratch on a dead-end street in a small city in Newfoundland.  They had three children and raised them with the utmost care and attention.  There are now a couple of grand-children and more on the way who will never be held, played with or read to by Poppy Ted.

When I met Ted, I knew instantly that he was one of those truly good people.  With his clear, gentle eyes and sweet smile. Always helpful.  Always offering quiet advice.  Always chuckling at my lame jokes.  Always taking Leo and going off for a good play, running around outside playing shoot ’em up games or reading books or squished up into Leo’s play cubby building Lego.  I would sometimes forget how much time had gone by.  Leo would be so well amused, there was no need for mommy.  One time, on a day we were expecting Ted and Lanna to arrive anytime, I over heard a conversation between two six-year olds: Leo and his buddy, Kevin from next door.  Kevin was asking would Leo be able to play after lunch.

Leo’s response: Can’t. Uncle Ted is coming.  

Kevin: So? Do you want to play?

Oh no, I’ll be playing with Uncle Ted.

He PLAYS with you?  asked an incredulous Kevin. 

Yep.

Like, anything you want?

Yeah. Anything I want, answered a dreamy Leo.

Wow. 

Some other wonderful things that Ted would do. He would shovel driveways and mow the grass of all the elderly neighbours in his neighbourhood.  He may be out there for hours after a snow fall – come in for a bite to eat and a cup of tea and then right back at it.  There were scores of examples of Ted’s kindnesses, acts of forgiveness and incredible selflessness.  We’ve heard the saying What would Jesus do?

What would TED do?

***

In military college, there were four cadets tragically killed.  Over reading break, four of them went off to fly a Cessna.  One of them already having his pilots licence.  We never saw them again.  It was a very small school.  We all knew each other.  We knew each other sometimes better than we wanted to know each other.  We were struck dumb with the news of our missing classmates.  We lived in this big four-story building which was just like a Residence Dorm.  Someone hooked up a major sound system outside the dorm and we all went to the windows of the south side of the building and held lighted candles while someone blasted Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits.  Everyone was wailing.  It was a powerful display of our misery for the loss of our classmates.  I remember feeling completely helpless and very angry.  Again, the question of why?  Now that I am a mom, I could not fathom how any parent could survive a call about the death of their child. Imagine receiving that call, having raised your child and sent he or she off to college. Tragic.

***

When Mom was in her mid-fifties, she began, slowly, to lose her mind.  Mom had always had a memory that would put anyone to shame.  She could remember all the details. Who was born where, what time and how long each labour was.  Birthdays of relatives and friends.  The location of each pin in our house.  Phone numbers and important details of her children’s lives.  I remember calling home from BC when I was posted out there and the dawning realization that Mom was losing her memory.  She just could not answer my questions the way she would normally.  She was almost stuttering and saying things like: I must be nertz!  Mom did lose her memory.  It didn’t go overnight though.  It went slowly over the next fifteen or so years, until she was just a shell of herself.  Sarah McLahlan sings a song called Mary.  One time it was playing on the radio around the time that mom was getting more and more ill. Hearing it and the lyrics:

Mary walks
Down to the water’s edge
And there she hangs her head
To find herself faded
A shadow of what she once was

had me weeping and moaning at the early loss of such a great person.  Another time, Dean and I were watching a movie in our basement apartment on a rainy day the months before we moved to the Arctic.  There was a scene of an older woman in a nursing home who resembled mom in her looks, as well as in her dementia.  I began to cry.  I laid back on our bed and pulled my knees up toward my chest and rolled on my spine side to side. The sobbing came from deep in my centre with loud heaving moans that I could not stop. It was primordial. The feeling of loss was profound.  I would have been embarrassed by this raw show of emotion but then I realized that I was grieving for the loss of my mom before she was even dead. That awful fucking disease had taken her long before her time. I missed her very badly.  Mom was a good person.  Everyone who knew her knew it.  At her funeral, Mark sang his song that had grown men weeping with tears streaming down their faces.

Our special mother through all those years.  Who gave us hugs and dried our tears.  To help us out in every way.  Always knowing just what to say.

A harder worker you could not find.  Heart of gold and open mind.  Thinking of others before herself.  Even when she was ill of health.

But when Mom had the time to spare.  Her special talents she would share.  She swam the lake with graceful strokes.  And sang us all the songs she wrote.

She would go on a painting spree.  Paint the rocks white at number three.  Paint the porch at number one.  While singing her song, Please Mister Sun.

A gourmet meal was made from scratch.  Pickerel, pike or small-mouth bass. Homemade soup and sugar pie.  Crumbled fruit of any kind.

Even with the crosses she had to bear.  Her strength and hope were always there.  To get us through another day.  In our hearts she’ll always stay.

So thank you Mom from all of us.  For the care and love you gave so much.  You truly are our guiding light.  That will shine forever day and night.

We know you’ve finally been released.  And now you’ll always rest in peace.  AS you look down at us from heaven.  Farewell for now, your loving seven.                                                                                                                                                              Copyright Dec 2001

Theory of loss?  I don’t have one.  Do you?

Prune Juice & Pregnancy (age 33) 😳

Hey now, you’re an all-star, get your game on, go play
Hey now, you’re a rock star, get the show on, get paid….
~Smash Mouth.

At eight months pregnant, my friend Nancy asked me if wanted to go on a road trip with her to her hometown of Virginia Beach from Leesburg, some four and a half hours away. It was summertime, her two girls were out of school and she wanted to take them down to see their grandparents.  We piled into her SUV with snacks and a cooler of drinks, including my ever present bottle of prune juice.  You see, at that time, I had been told that one of the keys to a healthy pregnancy was to ensure a daily movement…of… well, the bowels.  Always a sucker for health tips, I grasped onto said tip and sure enough, I would have a glass of cool prune juice every morning of my 270 day pregnancy term (I haven’t touched it again, since).  Keeping that in mind, when I awoke on the second day of our trip and being out of routine, forgot to take my beloved prune juice, I was more than a little worried by mid-morning when nothing had, as of yet, moved.

Nancy was a nurse.  She understood my worry.  She asked her youngest daughter, Kerry, to bring me a glass of prune juice.  We were seated on the patio, just taking a break after a stroll around the neighbourhood.  Out comes eight-year old Kerry with quite a large glass of prune juice.  Where I would normally have about four ounces, this was more like ten.  Feeling rather touched to be served, I graciously accepted Kerry’s offering and, what the hell, drank it down, hearing Mom’s voice in my head: Waste not, want not, Morgan.

Not long thereafter, Nancy offered to take all of us for a walk on Virginia Beach, about 20 minutes away.  We again all got into her vehicle and off we went.  Nancy was pointing things out all the way with a look of nostalgia on her face: there was her old school; her old shopping area; her old hangout; her old favorite fast-food joint; her friend’s house.  I could feel the vibes of her memories and could almost see a youthful Nancy running along beside us as we slowly toured the neighourhood.

Onto the highway next and up the ramp and over the bridge.  Suddenly, my bowels started to feel odd.  I must be imaging it, I thought.  Everything is fine.  Everything is fine, I thought.  Next, out seeped a silent but deadly one with the automatic instantaneous human reactions: windows rolled down; four noses into the clean wind; worried eyes; hands over mouths.  Sorry, sorry.  I seem to be having a reaction to something. I told Nancy and the girls.

My guts churned and roiled and tiny stink-bomb expulsions continued. A few miles later I was bent in two holding my very pregnant middle.  Which was difficult in itself. It was like bending over at basketball.

Oh my god Nancy, I have take a dump right now!!!

Nancy told me to hang in there and to let her know when it was a true emergency.  She clearly did not understand.  My pants would be soiled in a matter of minutes if I didn’t get out of the vehicle and onto a toilet.  All I could see out the windows though, was a guard rail and what looked to be a fairly seedy area of the city.

This is truly an emergency, Nancy.  I see an Arby’s.  Can we go in there?

By this time I wasn’t talking very clearly because I had every part of my anatomy CLENCHED.

Nancy said, Morgan, that’s a really bad part of town.  Are you sure?

Yes, Nancy.  Hurry!

Nancy pulled in and out I got, walking funny into the Arby’s due to my full-body CLENCH coupled with my huge baby belly.  I found the Lady’s room which was just inside the door.  In I went and closed and latched the door.  Maternity pants down and onto the cool toilet seat.  What happened next was not pretty.  A bomb went off into that toilet bowl.  At that point, the couple of other ladies who had been in the bathroom, made a hasty departure with an OH MY GOD, just outside the door.  I can hear you. I thought. Whatever, I had to get this out.

I was on the toilet for a few more minutes and was feeling a whole heck of a lot better. Washing well then waddling out of the Arby’s, there was Nancy with wild eyes, her driver’s window cracked open pushing coins out to a Rastafarian-looking guy who was obviously quite down on his luck.  Jenny unlocked my door and I hopped in and off we went to the beach as if nothing had ever happened.

Trying Something New ?? (age 38) 💋

When we first moved to our sweet little tidal town in Nova Scotia, it was before itunes and netflix.  For entertainment, we would go downtown to rent videos and DVDs from a little place called L&S Video.  L&S had an amazing collection and going there to pick out a video was a bit of a social experience because the four people who worked there, including the owner, were engaging, knowledgeable and pretty hilariously entertaining.

So, one Friday evening I found myself at L&S looking at options for Dean and I to watch after little Leo was in bed.  It was a Friday evening so many folks, strangers, friends and acquaintances were coming and going and I was just having a fun ole time engaging with quite a few people — all of us in good moods due to it being Friday night and with the whole weekend ahead of us.

Nick was working that night and he was en forme .  We were talking and bantering back and forth about various movies.  I would say something profound like: you know the movie with that guy?  And he would say: oh ya, TROY. Then I would be like: exactly.  Nick was amazing.  He knew all the movies, plot lines, actors.  It was as if he worked in a video store or something.

At some early point in the hour that I spent that evening at L&S, I was squatting down looking at a low shelf of vids and reaching into my pocket, proceeded to put on my lip balm.  My lips had been pretty chapped and my favourite lip balm: Burt’s Bees, just felt so nice to slather on.  Somewhat absentmindedly, I ensured that it was on real good.  I put it all along the top of my lips and lip edge and all along the bottom of my lips and lip edge not staying within the lines at all. Then I did it again, just to be sure.  My lips tingled. The peppermint in Burt’s Bees actually caused lip-tingling.  I loved it.

I stood up with my selection: I, Robot.  (I LOVE Will Smith).  I didn’t actually exit the store as of yet though.  There were so many friends to talk to and banter with.  As I was talking and visiting with them though, I got the feeling that something was slightly wrong.  I was getting some looks and double takes.  Hmm.  Strange.  Maybe it was because I was looking super hot that night.  I was wearing my new jacket and my hair.  Well, it was a good hair day.  That must be it.  So, I stayed a bit longer.  It was busy in there.  I was on fire!

At the check out, Nick had a wee smirk on his face.  I thanked him for all of his expertise, yet again and wished him a great night.

Off I drove home.  Pulling into the driveway, I smoothed my good hair in the rear-view mirror.

AND

THEN

I

SAW

MY

LIPS

THERE WAS BLACK GUNK ALL OVER and AROUND MY LIPS.  Much like bad makeup on a sad clown. Reaching into my pocket for my beloved Burt’s Bees, I realized my mistake.  I had used my black-tinted Burt’s Bees Lip Balm instead of the clear one.  Anger rose within while my face reddened and I scrubbed the black lip balm off while my mind clicked through the dozens of townsfolk I had encountered with my very badly done sad clown lips.  Still sitting in the car, I grabbed my cell phone and called Nick at L&S Video.

Why the hell didn’t you tell me???? I shouted at him.

Pause, muffled chuckling.

I thought you were trying something new, he said.

EXTREME MORTIFICATION ensued.

twirl

Across Canada in Betsy (age 26) 🇨🇦

In 1992 we spent four months traveling Canada and Alaska in our 1976 VW Van…

When Dean and I were honourably released from the military in 1992, we brought back a 1976 VW Van with us from Germany and called her Betsy.  We knew that travelling would be part of our lives, having already seen a lot of Europe and enjoying the experience of embracing other cultures and locals but, before seeing the rest of the wide world, we wanted to experience our huge, beautiful country first.  We would travel every Province and each Territory with the mandate of seeing at least one National Park in each of them.

Newfoundland boats
A community close to Dean’s home

We spent the spring with Dean’s parents in Newfoundland, which was sweet, as it gave us some quality time with truly wonderful and good people.  To be in the vicinity of my father-in-law when he laughed was magical.  He was like an elf with a sweet spirit and kind nature.  When he would laugh, his shoulders would come up and his body would shake while his laughing smile took over his whole face.  One couldn’t help but be drawn in.  Dean’s mom was an incredibly strong, kind and thoughtful matriarch. She worked tirelessly and subtly  for her family (which was ever expanding with more and more grand-children), supporting them with Sunday Jigg’s dinners, knitted and crocheted sweaters, table cloths, toques, mitts, socks, home-made pies, jams, chow and beets, baby-sitting and advice. Neither of them was given to showy acts of affection like hugs or spoken I love yous, but their love was obvious and ever present and seen in the way they looked at you, asked if you had had enough to eat or in the manner they would engage in conversation or try to help with a concern. Dean’s parents were the best kind of folks and it was my absolute pleasure to meet and live with them that spring.  I could see why my Dean was such a wonderful young man.

We had spent hours getting Betsy ready for the trip.  We wanted to be completely self-sufficient.  We had tons of storage space in her.  Under the seat in the back we neatly stored many containers of dried foods: a variety of beans, rice, lentils, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, dehydrated vegetables, coffee, hot chocolate and sauces.  In the front top area we stored two dozen gallon jugs of water.  There was also a coleman stove, fuel, pots, plates, utensils, knives and a cutting board.  We packed her with our clothes, laundry soap, wash basin, books, candle lantern, down duvet, pillows, maps, hiking gear and more.  We were kitted out AND we had several bottles of preserves as well as home-made wine and Bailey’s thanks to our sister-in-law’s suggestion. (We would have never thought of that. Ever.)

We had already seen lots of Newfoundland and had hiked several hikes at Gross Morne and Blow Me Down so off we went to the ferry and arrived in Cape Breton and pointed Betsy up the Cabot Trail.  Its a highway trail that travels the edge of cliff for a few hundred kms with breath-taking scenery of the big blue below.  I have to say, the drive was terrifying.  I would lean way over toward Dean as he was driving, away from the certain death of driving off that cliff.

Next was P.E.I. where we camped on a red sand beach and, in the pouring rain went to a pub in Charlottetown to celebrate our anniversary.  A big indulgence which had the two of us feeling like gold.  On to New Brunswick where we stayed at Fundy National Park and walked on the ocean floor, marveling at the huge high tides, not knowing that a decade and a bit later we would be living in a tidal town just across the water.  Next was Quebec where we visited La Maurice National Park and where we had picked up an old friend and her two pre-school boys to travel and camp with us for a couple of days.  That was eye-opening.  The boys never stopped and consequentially, nor did their Mom.  We had been enjoying such decadence, doing whatever we pleased.  Now learning that, as a parent, it’s not all about you.  Who knew? It was a valuable lesson to behold.  At another park in Quebec we did an overnight canoe trip which was very scenic and physically challenging during the portages but, horrible in the torrential rain for hours.

In Ontario, of course there were many visits to make to family members and friends residing there.  It was lovely to be greeted, questioned and welcomed and to bathe and launder our clothes was nice too.  In Ontario we visited Point Pelee National Park with it’s long boardwalk that traverses some wet lands on the way to the sandy beach of Lake Erie.  It is the southern most tip of Canada.

Point Pelee
Point Pelee National Park

From there we heading North and wow, Ontario is a big province.  We headed up to muskeg country and then across the top of Lake Superior.  We stopped in an unmanned provincial campground and met a couple of wonderful travelers.  A Dutch guy biking across Canada and a 65 year old Retired Naval Captain who was traveling and sleeping in his station wagon: John Shaughnessy.  We cooked up a simple pasta meal and invited them to join us at our picnic table.  It was a lovely evening of travel talk.  When we offered more food to the Dutch guy, he accepted.  John Shaughnessy would say: No, no. You go right ahead. Good answer, right?  Another thing we liked about John Shaughnessy is how he would greet new people.  It could be Joe Gas Pump Man, he would stick out his hand and say: Hello.  John Shaughnessy. How are you?  It was fascinating comparing military stories with him.  We had just gotten out of the Army and this was a retired US Naval Captain. That is four gold stripes to our two.  To us, that was something. He was bright, adventurous, charming and intelligent.  We would see him several more times over the next few months, partly because we encouraged him to travel our way. We all got along famously.

In Manitoba we visited Riding Mountain National Park and in Saskatchewan – Grasslands National Park.  One night, in Saskatchewan, we pulled over at the edge of a vast farmer’s field. There wasn’t a soul or a vehicle around. We could see for hours, so we knew that for sure.  We decided to camp there for the night and so, popped up the top of Betsy.  We used to call the top of Betsy upstairs, as in, I’m going upstairs to bed.  Watching the sun set in the West, we thought we had it all: each other; a wonderful adventure; good health; good humour (most of the time); and just when we thought that list was complete, we looked over to the other horizon to see the moon rising in the East.  Such a big beautiful sky in the prairies.  That was the first time I had ever seen both orbs in the sky.

bisonIn Alberta we
visited Elk Island National Park and it was here that we encountered a very large bison in the woods.  We had been simply hiking along quietly, on a hot, twisty trail through woods of young saplings.  Suddenly, looking up, we saw a huge snorting shape quietly staring at us and a bit beyond him, his harem lying on the ground. We retreated, rather hastily and then breathed a sigh of relief.

From there we headed north into to the bottom of North West Territories, stopping at Fort Simpson where, with John Shaughnessy, flew into Nahanni National Park in a tiny Cessna aircraft, puking all the way. No kidding.  The updrafts of warm air batted us around crazily.  Thank goodness for the airsick bag.  The scenery was gorgeous but I, for one, was way too nauseous to enjoy it. Once on the ground we hiked into the falls. Spectacular and quite noisy.  I immediately dunked my head in the freezing cold water, aiding the departure of the nausea. I should say here that John Shaughnessy sure as heck did not get sick.

Next we meandered our way to Alaska and decided upon a truly physically challenging adventure: hiking the the Chilkoot Trail at Klondike Goldrush National Historic Park starting in Skagway, Alaska and ending three to five days later in the ghost town of Bennett, BC.  It is the trail that had been used in the 1890s by the Goldrush crowd heading over White Pass to find their fortunes in gold.  John Shaughnessy bid us farewell, as it was not paprospectorsrt of his plan to do such a hike.  We would miss him.  The hike was challenging for sure.  The photo is of the prospectors in the late 1800s who were risking life and limb in the hopes of finding gold.  When I look at that angle they are hiking at, carrying huge loads, in ancient gear, I think: hopeful desperation.  Many died horrible deaths due to harsh conditions, starvation, tooth decay, frostbite and many other unpleasant issues. The line formed by the ant-sized black dots in the photo are heading up over the pass after having gone through The Scales.  At The Scales their amount of supplies were weighed and assessed. They had to have one ton of goods per person!! They had to have certain survival items, like a tent, frying pan and so many pounds of flour, sugar etc before being allowed over the pass.  Dean and I had a back pack each.  We were good. Three days later, Dean and I walked into the final camp ground of the hike.  It had been a physical test but it also had been eye candy and interesting to traverse the same path as those old fortune seekers.  We also met Michelle and Mike from Oz, whom we visited a couple of years later. (See post: We’re Not in Canada Anymore — this is Oz).

From British Columbia to Kluane National Park in the Yukon and then to Banff, Alberta where we enjoyed the hub-bub of that city. It was in Banff that we were pulled over by the police which was puzzling because we had done nothing wrong.  The Mountie leaned into Betsy and asked: Are you Dean Joyce?  Dean’s face fell.  If a cop in Alberta knew your name, that couldn’t be good.  You need to call home as soon as possible.  Finding a pay phone and making the call, we were informed of the sad and tragic news that Dean’s father had suffered a massive heart attack.  We flew to Newfoundland the next day. After quite a battle, Dean’s father rallied and lived another ten wonderful years.

La Cucaracha Report ~ Ometepe 🌴 & Costa Rica

I was born in the sign of water, and it’s there that I feel my best. The albatross and the whales they are my brother….Little River Band

6 Feb 2004

Apparently the waters surrounding Ometepe Island have fish with thorn-like fang teeth. Well, I didn’t want to swim in Lago de Nica anyway.  The ferry getting across was rough but, I knew the secret now…little white pills.  Seasickness be damned.  Much to Leo’s delight, we have been riding in the back of a pick-up truck belonging to new friends of ours: Lori and Don from San Diego.  Lori and Don routinely rent out their tiny San Diego house, making much more income (some crazy, jaw dropping amount) than they can at the office.  With the rental income money, they travel with their three children for months on end.  There are so many ways to live.  We met them in San Juan Del Sur, Nica. They are true vagabonds.  Of course, due to Leo pulling on our pantlegs and asking us to ask them, we indeed did ask them about Lego Land.  Yes, we can certainly visit with them if we ever make it to Lego Land in San Diego. We are so tame. Another friend was with us in the pick-up truck: Kennedy.  He is a commercial painter in California.  He paints for six months and travels for six months a year.

Last night we picked up a Nica man who had been seriously hurt in a motorcycle accident. The driver, Don, agreed to take him to the hospital so Kennedy and Dean lifted him into the bed of the pickup.  As we rolled along the bumpy road, the man hollered with pain but he was very brave and trying to converse with us.

Prior to that we had found Ajo de Aqua a natural spring in the woods.  It took a few hours to find this place but we had loads of fun seeing all the sights and hiking through the jungle of Ometepe Island.  

In our cabana last night we had two massive spiders.  I didn’t need to sleep anyway.

On the ferry from Punta Renas, Costa Rica to Paquera.  It is a beautiful ferry ride (no little white pills required) over the calm waters of the Gulf of Nicaragua.  Leo is throwing peanuts to the flock of gulls following us off the side of the boat.  He is giggling with glee.

gullsWhen we arrived in Costa Rica, we were at the edge of Mal Pais, a dusty little seaside village with molasses paved roads.  They put molasses on the roads to keep down the dust.  The place smells amazingly sweet because of it.  Mal Pais is known for it’s astoundingly, expansive beaches and surfing.  We walked for about ten minutes, sweating profusely due to the heat and humidity and found a youth hostel stuffed with surfers who were about half our age and twice as cool.  They immediately took to Leo and started entertaining him.  The hostel was tiny and our room was right outside of their common area: a patio with old plastic patio furniture.  We prepared for bed while Leo squealed in delight with the young surfer dudes outside our door.

I awoke in the morning to a nice surprise:  a massively fat june bug standing on my chest and staring at my face.  Holy shit.  Big bugs scare the be-jesus out of me.  I flung my sheet off of me and the june bug hit and literally made a clattering sound on the floor. Clackety-clack. I jumped up and kicked it out the door.  Then I involuntarily shivered. Ew. That was gross.

When we all got up, we went to the beach….oh my god…it stretched forever…and went to the waters edge.  We marveled at the temperature of the sea.  It was TEPID!!!  Who knew the ocean could be tepid??  It certainly isn’t tepid in Nova Scotia.  The North Atlantic causes me an instant headache upon putting in a toe.  Here we swam and frolicked for hours…checking out the tide pools and exfoliating with the warm sand.  It was heavenly.Dad and Leo CR

We had heard that one of my step-brothers and his family would be in Mal Pais at the same time as us.  We wondered if and how we would find them…suddenly there was Patrick, walking along the beach and greeting us like it was the most normal thing in the world.  mom and leo CR

We were overjoyed to see him as Patrick is a true vagabonding adventurer.  He really got us. After talking for a while with Patrick, we made plans to meet up later at their hotel: The Blue Jay.  Trust me, the Blue Jay was a little nicer than our june bug – surfer boy place.  When we returned to our hostel, there was the june bug from my chest.  Apparently it had landed on its back when I kicked it out the door.  You know what that means to a june bug. Certain death.  There were a million teeny-tiny ants transporting it bodily to god knows where.  Lovely.

The next day we climbed into Patrick’s rental jeep and headed up and over the mountain, on very bad, nearly washed out roads, to the village of Montezuma.  We occasionally had to exit the jeep so Pat could drive over some particularly bad areas. When we did that, Leo just couldn’t understand it and would remark about it.  At one point he wanted some answers from Uncle Patrick about why we were getting out of the jeep.  Patrick’s response was one that will go down in history: just… get in the truck he said with a fake exasperated lilt and a very sweet smile at our little Leo. We all laughed and laughed, especially Leo.   We walked around the village and then had lunch.  It was impossible to relax outside.  It was so extremely hot and the sun was treacherous.  Any bit of exposed northern skin was burned in seconds.strangler fig

After returning to Mal Pais from Montezuma and stopping for a photo of an incredibly intricate and tangled five meter wide strangler fig, we returned with glee to the beach. Leo drifted in the shallows while I walked along marveling a the crabs and how they so quickly bury themselves when they sense a large presence.  So cute.  I bent down to touch a few of them and they tried their best to deter me by quickly pinching at my fingers and retreating bodily into the wet sand.  As Leo and I made our way up the trail heading to the Blue Jay Hotel  to meet Patrick et al again, we were startled at the loud sound of the local howler monkeys in the trees.  At the howl, I grabbed Leo instinctively to protect him and then we had a laugh about it.  My laugh was more of a nervous titter.

Iguanas, lizards, palmetto bugs, ants, hermit crabs, howler monkeys, grass hoppers, birds and butterflies in beautiful abundance in Mal Pais.

Patrick had us come to the Blue Jay for dinner and it was pure decadence!  He gave us half of his ceviche and it was the best we have tasted yet.  It was so lovely to be with them and to connect in another world despite myriad possible changes, problems and hiccups.  We actually made it happen and it was very sweet.

From my journal, written 13 February 2004

We have been here two nights in a pit of a room, in a hostel.  It’s okay because there are a few interesting travelers to talk to.  One couple spent several months in South America and have been telling us of the benefits of traveling to Argentina (I always remember that guy we met in India in 1994…’Argentina, Argentina, Maradona, Maradona’ — he wasn’t put in prison in Tangiers because coming from Argentina he was associated with the soccer star: Maradona).  Anyway, they describe it as a European environment of the finest food, hotels, excellent service for seriously cheap.  She said ‘imagine traveling to Europe, going to a restaurant with white linen, candlelight, five glasses, having wonderful food…WHATEVER YOU WANT and paying two dollars!!!’  And yes, there will be a post about India.

Leaving Mal Pais, the ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya enroute to Punta Rinas was, once again, beautiful, very hot and sunny.  Following that, we were quite packed tight for the bus ride.  The ticket agent did the old hold-back-some-change-and -see-if-they-notice scam.  I noticed.  The bus ride was very warm and almost panic-level humid and sweaty. I literally had to conduct some personal deep breathing exercises, we were that squished and hot on that bus.  Finally we caught the wind up in the hills and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Next stop…Panama.