He Grows Up

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” —Mark Twain.

pregnant in N Carolina
Leo-In-Belly at the Outer Banks, NC. A fun weekend with Nancy and Family.

My baby, the one who arrived in a maelstrom back in 1999 and I wrote about here

Locked Up in D.C. 🔐 

… Well, he is now a tall young man.  Intelligent, kind, fun-loving, adventurous, athletic and handsome. But, this is his mother writing.  What else would I say?  He is finished high-school and getting set to go off on a huge adventure and then to University.  I have five weeks left with him before he departs.  My heart is breaking and I am tearful, scared and joyful all at the same time.  I never thought I would be this way, but, then again, I never thought I would be in a straitjacket in D.C. either.  That’s life, right?!  It sneaks up on you and BAM!

Your son, your only, is leaving for University.

But, what about that big adventure you ask?  Leo applied and was picked to be one of forty-five youth to assist as crew on a tall ship from Halifax to France.  Yes, that’s right. Across the Atlantic. Thankfully, there is a professional crew as well and they will be teaching the youth the ropes, literally.  They will do duties:  watch, galley, cleaning and maintenance duties.  I am sure there will be lots of time for fun too.  They will dock in Le Havre in Normandy France and spend five days in France before flying home to Canada at the end of August.

About ten days later, Leo will leave our house for University.

WHAT??  

Already?

What happened to the days of Buzz Lightyear? …

TO INFINITY…AND BEYOND! 💥

…or the days of hiking, just me and small him and the dogs in the parks, on the beaches, up the hills?  The days where every playground became a wealth of potential fun and that he would point at and cry hopefully, “Can I play in the playground, Mom?” and inevitably exclaim: “Mom, I’m having SO fun!!

The holding of my hand. His, so small and soft and warm.  The moments of insecurity when he was a toddler and would wrap himself around one or both of my legs as I stood in conversation with someone. The morning greeting, “It’s morning time, Mom!” The sleepy, cuddly story-times, sweaty fevers, rosy-cheeked kisses and all the stuff we learned together.  The tears are streaming as I ask, “Where did the time go? and WHY does this hurt so bad??!”

hiking on Wolfville trails, from our door

Oh dear, did I spend enough time with him?  Did I do enough for him?  Did I help to shape a good young man?  Will he find his way?  Will he find a love?  Will he miss me?

He wrote his last exam of high-school today and had arranged with two good buddies to go camping in New Brunswick at Fundy National Park.  Both my husband Dean and I were home for lunch (we come home every day for lunch due to our 10 minute walk to work at I wrote about in A Simple East-Coast Life) and so we witnessed the flurry of activity in getting ready for the big out-trip.  Leo was walking back and forth to his room grabbing all that he could imagine needing for the trip.  Meanwhile, I set up a sandwich-building smorgasbord on the kitchen island with large slices of buttered Italian bread, sliced cheese and tomato, ham, bologna, bacon, mustard, mayo, and lettuce fresh and green from the garden.  While Leo ran around, I invited the two buds to build their sandwiches and dig in.  I wouldn’t want to see them on their way without a good lunch.

The curious thing happened.  While Leo ran around, his two friends and I had a nice little visit in the kitchen.  Mainly talking about some hiking memories that Dean and I made at Fundy National Park while going Across Canada in Betsy (age 26) 🇨🇦 and then about their plans for the fall. Leo came out to the kitchen and grabbed the last two slices of bacon for his sandwich, which I then volunteered to build for him, as I could see he wasn’t even close to being packed and ready yet. Just then, we realized that Leo’s phone was vibrating on the corner cupboard. Leo looked at it, then reached for it.  From where I stood, I noticed that his hand was slightly shaking as he reached for his phone.  My heart caught in my chest to see that hand, the very one I knew so well and had held time and again…shaking. Looking at the display, he said, “Dad, this is the call about the summer job.”  When he looked up, there was a nervous strain on his face that instantly caused an anxious reaction within me.  You see, Leo is a very laid-back kinda guy as is evidenced here.

Cape Split nap
Napping at Cape Split, NS

Almost nothing phases him.  But, I had to remind myself to take stalk:  he just wrote an exam, the last of his high-school career;  a couple of nights ago, he found out he was selected for the Tall Ship experience to cross the Atlantic; there was a summer job being negotiated; friends were waiting for him for a couple day out-trip; Prom in a few days; he would be leaving for University in late August and he hadn’t even eaten lunch yet.  So, perhaps a slight tremor of the hand and bit of a strain on the face is understandable. Regardless, the reaction within me was hard to deny.  All I wanted to do was make it better.  Take away his strain and nerves.  Jeepers.  I’m gonna need to chill.

Prom was fantastic and the prom parade went off without a ‘hitch’ and is featured in this little video:

 

When we first moved to Halifax, I lost a second-trimester pregnancy, Leo’s little brother, and it was heartbreaking: The Loss of Dane (age 35) 💔 …

…I am really hoping that the ‘loss’ of Leo to the great wide world (although surely tough on me) will be wonderful.  That we shall see him spread his wings and soar through life, having adventures, doing good and following his dreams….TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!

Fort Myers Memories (age 16) 🌴

When I was 16, 17 and 18 Dad and his new wife Wendy took my little brother, Luke and I, to Florida with them for Christmas break (our older five siblings were all moved out by then). Except for the first year, we drove down, all 2500 km in Dad’s Mercury Zephyr. Yes, there used to be a car called a Zephyr.  Dad had a skin-tone coloured one.  It was super sexy.  Not.

skin tine zephyrThe first year, however, Dad put Luke and I on a Greyhound bus for the forty hour trip. We had to change buses at 2 o’clock in the morning in Detroit, Michigan which is known to be one of the most dangerous cities in the US of A.  Let’s face it,  Grey Hound bus stations are not usually located in the nicest parts of town.  I was  16 and Luke was 13. Dad’s best advice was to use my scarf to tie my purse tight to my body. Luke and I found a seat on the molded plastic chairs and linked arms with eye-balls peeled. We were terrified.  Since I am writing this today, I guess we survived the Detroit Bus Station, twice, actually.  We were there on the way home too.

Ever organized, we packed this little cooler with things like hard-boiled eggs, fruit, cheese, bread so that we didn’t have to spend much on restaurant stops.  All we wanted to do was get off that bus as much as possible and stretch our legs.  A long Greyhound ride gets rather ripe, especially after eating one too many hard-boiled eggs.  By the time we arrived at Valdosta, Georgia, we were overjoyed to see Palm trees, finally.

Valdosta

When we finally arrived in Fort Myers, we were picked up by our eldest brothers wife, June’s Mother, who’s name is also June (rest in peace), driving a huge caddy and telling us in a thick Southern accent that she would adopt while in Florida for the winter, how very dANgerous it was here: ‘Nevah take out your wallet in pahblic’, she advised. ‘Almost ahveryone has a GUUN so just be caheful’ and then she accelerated to get across a lane of traffic and screamed: ‘HANG ON!!’  June Senior was quite a character.  She took us in and fed us (I remember one meal in particular was turkey necks — I had never had a meal of turkey necks before) and made sure we had everything we needed for the couple of days before Dad and Wen arrived and we would move into the motel that Dad had booked from afar.

FortMyersBeachFlorida3Luke and I spent many hours on the beach and walking around the town of Fort Myers. We didn’t have much spending money so we would usually have an ice-cream and maybe some fries around lunch time.When we would walk all the way back the couple miles to where we were staying with Dad and Wen.  By that time, we were wiped. We had swam, sunbathed, played frisbee plus the walk to and from the beach. Luke would carry his boom box on his shoulder and play music for us all the way.

Sometimes we would eat supper all together or we would go to a very good value All-U-Can-Eat Buffet which are prevalent in Florida.  The odd time Dad would say, you kids are on your own, we are going out for supper without you.  After supper, Dad would get us into the car and we would drive through the well-to-do neighbourhoods looking at the Christmas lights.  It was so strange to see this without snow.  Sometimes Dad would take us to some random high school gym to watch basketball.  There seemed to always be a basketball game on somewhere and both Luke and I were big fans of the game.

One day, we met this family on the beach.  The Bates’.  There was a boy my age, a girl one year older and they were from Indiana. We hung out.  They were really nice and we loved their accent and they liked ours.  They arranged for Luke and I to go out for supper with them at a Mexican restaurant.  We had never eaten Mexican food and we were so eager to give it a try.  That was a fun night.  Especially trying hot sauces and pico de gallo for the first time. The virgin lime margarita was spectacular too.  Sour, sweet and salty all at once.  I still love margaritas today. We ended up staying over at their house, which was actually their relatives house, in Fort Myers, for the night.  Luke and I slept on the couches in the den.  I was astounded by their generosity.  In fact, I have been astounded at the generosity of Americans again and again when I lived there over the decades. The Bates’ were good people and they liked us.  It was a nice feeling.  We kept in touch and saw them the next years too.

lovers-key-state-parkWendy found this beach park for us to go explore.  No one was there and it was gorgeous.  We walked along the sand and found wee little treasures while a very relaxed Dad slept on a towel on the beach.  Luke and I jokingly calling him a beached whale, when we were out of earshot.  After a good snore, he awoke and sat up with sand all over the side of his face and pine needles in his hair.  Oh my, we chuckled.  Perhaps he did these things on purpose to get a reaction.  I’m still not sure about that.

That pure white-sand crescent-shaped beach was just spectacular and I have always enjoyed, for some reason, the places where few people go, but which are incredible.  I have also enjoyed the wondering.  The wondering why they are not there.

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When it was time to head North, I dreaded it.  Going back to the cold, dark North after all this sun, sea and sand.  The only cool thing would be showing off our sun-kissed tan skin to all of our pasty white friends.

Those trips to Florida were bittersweet.  In one sense it was amazing to be with my little brother, Luke and be on an adventure together down to Florida, especially for three years in a row, making it almost a tradition. Luke and I were very close. In another sense it was tough to be trapped with our parents in a car for several days on a road trip.  The travail of teenagers, perhaps?

In the car, Luke and I would be in the back seat finding any reason to laugh hysterically at Dad.  Dad had these habits that drove us wild with hilarity.  Every so often, he would reach up to daintily scratch his balding scalp with just his middle sausage-shaped finger.  Next he would be asking Wendy if she wanted to split a black coffee.  He would pull into a gas station, struggle into his down coat, and pay a quarter for the gut-rot coffee on offer.  With a big smile on his face he would come back to the Zephyr with a single styrofoam coffee cup which was barely visible in his large hand.  Wendy would hold it.  Dad would pull out and get back onto the highway and only then would he take off his huge coat.  Every time, while driving and with the three of us helping to get his coat off, narrowly missing oncoming traffic.  Another time, we were at some diner in a tiny little town, for some lunch.  Dad asked the server a question about her hometown, the very town she had lived in her whole life.  The server answers but her answer is not what Dad was expecting.  Much to the embarrassment of Luke and I, and as we would have liked to slide off our chairs and hide under the table, Dad says, ‘Honey baby,’ waving his thumb at himself and Wendy,  ‘We’re both teachers.  You must have your facts mixed up.  That can’t be right.’  Ooookay.  There was one thing about Dad.  He was not boring and he enjoyed both a good argument and a good adventure, as long as he didn’t have to walk too far.  Rest in Peace, Dad.

barrie spirit catcher

Namaste, Nepal (age 30) 🙏

We trekked for about thirty days in the Himalayas doing the Annapurna Circuit, in an unconventional manner, which will come to light as the story unfolds.  To get to the starting point of the trek, we bought a ticket for the bus.  Not lucky enough to grab a seat each on the inside of the bus, Dean and I, with our hired guide, Naba, were seated on the roof of the bus.  This trek was sure to be interesting, if we could get there in one piece. That bus, that we were on top of, was not driving a straight, smooth roadway. Picture the opposite: a twisty-turny, gravel, crumbling donkey track along the side of a mountain with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet if the bus driver was to make a wrong turn, or get too close to the eroding edge.  Not to worry — the horn worked well and seemed to be the sole means of defensive driving techniques employed.

Nepal bus
(statis panoramio)  Those are people on top of the bus, just like we were.

We had flown into Kathmandu late and were immediately wooed by several touts wanting us to take his taxi.  We picked one, told him our destination: the Kathmandu Guesthouse and agreed on a price.  We fell asleep and in the morning made our way to their breakfast room and ordered our first lassi of the trip which is a blend of yogurt, water, spices and fruit.  The server was a sweet and most attentive Nepali man who put his palms together and bowed his head at us, ‘Namaste’. Dean said to me afterward that he was an example of ‘service without servitude’.  When we returned to the Guest House after a walk all over Kathmandu and through the fascinating market, the sight we saw was like something out of an old fashioned orphanage.  All of the staff of the Guesthouse were in the main lobby.  They were fast asleep, lying on straw mats and wrapped in wool blankets like toasty sausage rolls on a baking sheet.  If one rolled over, so would they all.

The next evening, we attended a slide show for a river rafting expedition that we thought was too expensive for our budget. This cool group of Westerners with several Nepalese had started a river rafting group which charged $200 US for a five-day expedition on the Kali Gandaki River.  After eating several bowls of incredibly delicious, tallow-popped pop-corn and drinking a few of their complimentary rum drinks each, it seemed that we suddenly had enough money to go on this expedition.  It was a great decision as we had a blast.  We met several other fun and adventurous travelers on the trip too.

kali gondaki
The Kali Gandaki from above.  Translation: Black River. (google images)
rafting
An example of the white water we encountered.  There was lots of calm, drifting too. (google images)

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This is a group of children we met on the beach who were running and tumbling together.  Suddenly, there was a whistle from their mom and off they ran, full tilt UP the mountain.  So fit.

Next we went trekking: the Annapurna Circuit hike.  Here I am on top of the bus enroute to the starting point of the big trek.  From on top of the bus, I asked hubby to buy me a pop (Canadian speak for soda) from a place advertising GOOD FOODING AND LODGING. I liked that sign, although I was feeling rather queasy by that time.Scan10053

The trek was, of course, amazing.  We did about 20 k per day, depending on weather and best stopping places and Tea Houses, which were known to our guide, Naba.  We saw incredible beauty all around us.

Scan10064 The trail was often quite rough and sometimes included donkey trains — which were tricky because you had to be sure to get to the inside of the donkey train.  They could easily bump you off the trail.  That would be bad.

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Our guide, Naba, on the inside track of a passing donkey train.

We would see tiny women carrying huge loads of wood on their backs.  We even saw a porter carrying an injured person in a chair strapped to his back.  Heading to the hospital many tens of kilometers away.

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After a week or so, we got into the snow at elevation.  This came with the obvious challenges due to the cold and wet and the need to be very careful about stepping properly so as not to slip off the trail or anything.  Being Canadian, we are naturally pretty good about understanding the slipperiness of snow, but we were meeting other travelers from non-snow countries, particularly Ozzies and South Americans who were having trouble with it.

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We finally made it to Thorung Phedi which sits at a cool 4,538 meters above sea level.  This was the jumping off point for the Thorong La Pass with an elevation of 5,416 meters. There was a large group waiting for a clearing in the weather so as to safely set out for the pass.  This was February  – so, lots of snow.  As a group gathered in the smokey dining hall with large tin cans full of smoking coals to warm us under the tables, we decided to leave at 4 a.m. after a breakfast at 3 a.m.  There were about a dozen of us: a couple of Swedes, an American, a Japanese girl, a couple of Ozzies, a couple of New Zealanders and a Chinese guy, plus us two Canadians.

With headlamps blazing on some heads, we started up the mountain.  Step, breath, step, breath.  It was slow and steady.  Would we ever get there?  After a couple of hours, my hands were frozen. Our guide gave me his mittens which were toasty warm.  He just smiled at me gently.  He had done this pass many, many times.

We finally made it to a little shack which was at 5,000 meters.  The weather worsened. The wind blew colder and stronger.  Then ice-pellet snow began to pelt us like tiny sharp knives.  We could tell that our attempt at the pass was not going to work today.  Even if we could make it over, there was no way we were going to drag these other folks with us, and besides, that, there was six more hours down the other side, before the next village. The American woman with her state-of-the-art Arctic hiking gear and porter went on into the storm, but we turned back and headed down.  A week later we met up with some of the folks from the snowy pass attempt.  They told us they were waiting on us to decide about whether they would attempt the pass that day or not.  ‘Why us?’ we asked. ‘Because you’re Canadian.’ they said.  ‘You know snow and weather.  If you weren’t going, neither were we.’

So we trekked down to the bottom, re-grouped in Pokhara for a couple of days and then went back up the other side for another ten days.  I celebrated my thirtieth birthday in Tatopani.  Dean arranged for the baking of a cake for me.  I was very surprised and pleased.

thorong-la-pass-trekking-map

After trekking, we decided to head to the Royal Chitwan National Park for a week at sea level and with warmth and sunshine, plus the odd elephant or two.

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We met this hilarious traveler who behaved just like Jerry Seinfeld and knew all the funny lines too.  So, of course we spent time with him, walking about and telling stories, laughing and being silly.

A comment on the people of Nepal. We have yet to meet a nicer culture, although Cuban would be close.  The Nepalese are cheerful, gentle, kind, strong and thoughtful.  It was an honour to spend time in their exceptionally beautiful country.

Next up….India.

Just a little Stroll…🌲

Yesterday I asked my friend Victoria if she wanted to get out for a mid-afternoon walk in a nearby Watershed Nature Preserve, just a few minutes from our Nova Scotian town. She had never been there she said as I explained where it is located.  She asked if it would be a tough walk because she still had a sore leg from taking a tumble over a root while walking Cape Split the weekend before.  My response:

‘No, it’s just a little stroll’….

Into the woods we wandered, after taking a big swig of water.  ‘Are you bringing water?’ Victoria asked.  My response:

‘No, I never carry water for a short walk.  I just top up now.’…

Our first stop was to look at the old Reservoir Lake, walk over the new small log bridge and then along the shore of the lake for a little bit.  Then, a hard right into the woods again and it was there that I thought it would be a good idea to go on the Ravine Trail for a few minutes.  There was not a soul around and the trail was quite nicely marked with bright orange tape on trees the whole way.  The problem being that my phone rang and so I was not really watching as we got further and further along the trail that I had previously thought we would just be on for 5 minutes or so. I had been distracted and wasn’t really watching the way and thus missed any chance of getting off the trail and heading back to the car.

Victoria asked me if I knew this trail?  My response:

‘Nope, but I can’t image it will be too hard to figure out.  This park can’t be THAT big. Right?’

watershed

We saw startlingly green ferns bathed in a beam of sunlight and stopped for a moment to admire them.  Little creeks and small waterfalls.  I was tempted to take a drink from the rushing water, but, thought better of it lest I give Victoria a heart attack.  She is from a medical background.  Enough said.  I informed Victoria of the cool item I had seen on TED talk called the LifeStraw. That you can just use the straw to drink from even stagnant water and it is totally safe.  In fact our friend Daisy and her boys had used one in Australia on a hike there.

I had two LifeStraws at home.  Oh well.  It takes days to die of dehydration, right?

We forded a few boggy areas, stirring up many a biting bug: black flies and mosquitoes. Victoria then showed me an angry red bump on her forearm and explained that she gets a bad reaction from black fly bites.  Oh wait, let me dig out my emergency bug dope for you. I thought as I reached over my shoulder for my small day pack.  Nothing.  Didn’t bring anything on this ‘stroll’ except my phone and a tissue…we were now approaching two hours in the woods.  Victoria’s face was getting pink.  I started to imagine what we would need to do if we couldn’t find our way out of this pretty place.  We would have to hunker down and try to stay warm until morning and then just walk until we would come to a road.  I was loathe to get hubby Dean to come look for us, should we then all be lost in the woods.  My imagination was getting the better of me.  We had hours of daylight yet.  For sure we would find civilization before dark.  Right?

I said to Victoria: ‘It could be worse, we could have a fifty-pound pack on our backs.’

‘And an army radio,’ chimed in Victoria, ever the good sport.  We both had army experience, mine Reg force, hers Reserve.  An army radio is an army radio, is an army radio.  We both knew that to be true.

Over another log bridge, a glimpse of a ruins of an ancient moss-covered stone bridge then squealing like school girls when a brown stick wriggled furiously away from our falling feet.  Next, up a soft pine-needle trail where the path split.  One way went slightly down through a nicely cut trail into a meadow, the other went slightly up and into a dim tangle of woods.  The upward tending trial was marked with orange tape and upon inspection of the map just now, the very map we didn’t have yesterday, it would have taken us on a incline back up to the parking lot in about 2 clicks.  We chose the downward sloping pathway and walked for about another forty minutes coming out at a country road.

vinyardLooking right we saw L’Acadie Vinyards.  I smiled with relief.  I knew exactly where we were.  I may or may not have been here before, sampling their wares…  I said, ‘Okay, now we have to follow this road left and then left again on the next road and the next.’  It would have been 5 clicks more.

Victoria’s response:

‘Can’t we just go in and have some wine?  Couldn’t Leo come get us?’

My response: ‘Ummm, YES!  What a fabulous idea!’  My son Leo could come get us.’

champagne
This was our favourite!

Much like that old much-loved but very corny tv show we all watched as kids in which a group heads out for a ‘three-hour cruise’ and ends up on a deserted island for years and years…we had headed out for a wee twenty minute stroll and ended up in the woods for about three hours.  It all ended well.  Our worst fears were not realized and we even had wine and then a cutie come pick us up and pay the bill.  Gotta like that.

We had zigged when we should have zagged.  Ever done that?  How did it end up for you?

~Leave a comment below.~

 

160K in Holland (age 23) 🇳🇱

Forty K per day for four days over the rolling hills and through the city streets of Netherlands, in 1989 I did the International Nijmegen Marches with a military team…

In the summer of 1989, while posted in Lahr, Germany, I was asked to join a marching team as the token female, to head to Holland for the four-day International Nijmegen Marches, which is the largest multi-day marching event in the world.  It has happened every year since 1916 to promote sport and fitness.  Military participants walk forty kilometers per day for four days in a row, in formation of 20-soldier teams.  Almost fifty thousand marchers now walk this walk every year.

At the time, I was a transportation platoon commander in Supply and Transport Company in 4 Service Battalion in the Canadian Army.  To put it simply, I had a platoon of 30 soldiers who drove MAN 10-ton trucks10 ton Man which would carry supplies: ammunition, water, rations, various items, and spare parts needed by both forward fighting troops and other support units within the Brigade. During peace time, we conducted training operations such as weapons use, field exercises and fitness competitions to improve morale, esprit-de-corps and to prepare for future deployments. As the Platoon Commander, I routinely conducted all manner of administrative duties, personnel evaluations and reports, test and inspection readiness, subordinate training, orders groups, equipment maintenance checks, and many other duties in accordance with my rank and position.   In a field unit, staying physically fit is one of the requirements of the job. Five days per week, we did physical training first thing at 7:30 am.  Joining the Nijmegen March team covered the fitness requirement and provided an adventure and a trip to another country, all expenses paid.

formation
This is an example of marching in formation.  And of course our wonderful flag proudly displayed.

A month prior to the event, the march training began.  In combat boots and combat uniform, we would form up, two by two in lines and walk for eight to sixteen K out through the German countryside, along farmers fields, river-side pathways and over trails through small woods.  Back then, in ’89, there were no ‘devices’ to listen to, other than the odd Walkman, which almost no one had anyway, and nothing like spotify or itunes or podcasts to listen to. Marching in formation was a little bit like torture.  The back of one head to stare at and exacting ‘left right’ pace to maintain for the whole two to three hours.  Thankfully, there were a few songs we would sing for a while. One soldier knew all the words to ‘Alice’s Restaurant’. You can get anything that you want at Alice’s Restaurant…(by Arlo Guthrie).  It was only slightly annoying to listen to it after about the second time, but, well, what could be done?  ‘Just take one more step. Now, one more step,’ became my mental litany. Most of the time, I was extremely bored and under-challenged by this walking.  Not only that, I couldn’t easily ‘talk it up’ with the soldier beside me because of the need to maintain a professional ‘distance’.  Sometimes being a female officer could be both isolating and awkward.  It was tough to stay positive and pleasant but that became another litany.  Stay positive and pleasant.  Just one more step. Stay positive and pleasant. I chalked this training up to good discipline.  One could never get enough discipline.  Am I right?

nijmegen marches

We went to Nijmegen by bus.  It took about six hours, due North, and when we arrived, there was already a tent city erected by the forward party and we were assigned to our tents and to our cots, within the tents.  We were to begin Day 1 at 06:00 the next morning. The route for the four days formed somewhat of a clover leaf out and around the city of Nijmegen.  The route wound its way through the Dutch countryside with its green pastures, cows grazing, chickens running, fences diminishing into the distance.

formation march

One time, a civilian marcher was playing the bagpipes and low and behold all the cows in the field got curious and began to trot toward the fence to more closely see the man. Thankfully, at the fence, the cows stopped and then just stood and stared, chewing their cud, looking bemused and fluttering their long eyelashes at the bagpiper.  Could it be that these ladies thought the bagpiper was a well-hung bull ready to service them?  One will never know.

At ten K, twenty K and thirty K marks, we would come upon our unit’s flag and see our kitchen trucks, first aid station, water stations and porta-potties in a field.  We were well taken care of.  There would be a menu of foods or snacks and drinks for us, including huge schnitzel sandwiches.  I don’t think I ever went hungry, not once, while in the Canadian Forces.  We would sit on the grass with our plate and drink and rest for twenty minutes before beginning again.  One doctor attached to our unit even organized a child’s swimming pool with ice for us to soak our poor feet at the end of the day.

rest stop

While resting, we could also inspect our feet for the dreaded blisters.  I am pleased to report, I didn’t get a single blister.  Fortunately, a friend had told me of the wonders of moleskin and how to wrap it over the heel in such a manner as to provide fool-proof protection against blisters.  Secondly, Vaseline on and in-between the toes.  I now pass this on to anyone I know going on a long walk.  My friend Mary recently went for a big hike in Ireland.  Her feet were fine due to the moleskin application.  Blisters are nothing to sneeze at in a long, multiple day march, hike or walk.  Good feet are crucial to the success and comfort of the walk.  Bad feet can be debilitating and very painful especially if they also become infected.  Game over.  On training at CFB Borden called Environmental Specialty Land, which I did just after Nijmegen, our final test of the course was to complete a night march from Stayner, Ontario to the back gate of the Base, about 30 K with packs and rifles.  We started at 11:00 pm and we walked all night. Our friend Andy carried a huge boom box up on his shoulders and had it cranked and playing ‘FINAL COUNTDOWN’ by Europe, the whole way.  Song finishes.  Rewind.  Song begins again.  We were all very sleep deprived because we had been in and out of the field for weeks, up all night sometimes on missions, patrols and then duties and classes during the day and with no real time to recuperate.  Myself, I was literally falling asleep as I walked, while carrying my rifle at the ready.  There was this line that they would shout whenever someone was in danger of hitting the deck due to exhaustion: ‘SOLDIER! MAKE SURE YOU HIT THAT DECK BEFORE THAT WEAPON DOES!!!’  Kinda sums it all up, doesn’t it? Anyway, the Captain of this officer training course was Airborne – an elite group of Infantry. His feet turned to hamburger during this march. He had to get in the first aid truck and be driven to base.  Embaaarassing.  It wouldn’t have been so bad but he had bragged about what a great and fit soldier he was. Of course, HE didn’t know the secret of the moleskin. Myself, Dean and Nee sure did, and anyone else who cared to be prepared.  I had just finished the Nijmegen marches a couple of months prior, so I was fully aware.

I digress.

Back in Nijmegen, by the time we walked into the camp at the end of the forty K march, we were done.  I would soak my feet in ice water for ten minutes, show the good doc the mysterious lump on the top of my foot which may or may not have been a stress fracture, he said.  Having eaten at all the stops during the march, I certainly didn’t need more food, so I simply made my way to my tent, tucked my combat boots under my camp cot and fell fast asleep until the next early morning.

 

Nijmegen Marches
I like this picture I found of a female soldier fast asleep on her arm.  There was no staying awake during rest breaks.  The need to sleep just took over.

 

We Canadians are very much loved in Holland because our troops liberated the Dutch from the Germans in World War II in 1944.  So, anytime we would come across large Dutch civilian marching groups, they would holler and cheer and sometimes sing a song for the Canadians.  Weren’t we proud to receive these accolades.  We would all smile and wave bashfully and then take one more step.  Just one more.

nijmegen march backs

Everyday there would be at least one city to march through. There would be a lot to see and invariably young children would run along side our team for a bit.  We would give out those tiny Canada flag pins and then receive a sweet smile, sometimes with missing front teeth.  A few times, a tiny warm hand would slip into mine and we would walk together for a few minutes.  Priceless memory.

While marching, there would often be other Canadian teams from other units unrelated to ours, except that they were also Canadian and also posted in Germany.  For instance, there was an Armored Team, an Infantry Team, a Signals Team and the like.  I remember that I so enjoyed when the French Canadian Teams would be near us.  They would invariably be singing their old regimental songs which I found to be incredibly moving and haunting.  They would often pass us singing these songs in their deep rich voices. Bereted, dark-haired head tilted to the ground.  Arms swinging.  Boots hitting the ground in perfect synchronicity. It was mesmerizing.  One song they sang which is about the building of the dam across the Manicouagan River in Quebec, was especially sorrowful. If I try hard, I can still hear their deep voices singing this incredible song by Georges Dor. It is a song of longing and boredom and homesickness.

After the last day, there was a huge party in which a lot of Heineken were quaffed and then, the next morning, we boarded the bus back to Southern Germany.

Nowadays, there are so many folks wanting to participate in the Nijmegen Marches that they have set a limit of forty seven thousand marchers per year.  Doing this march was an honour and is a fond memory.

nijmegen finish(All photos courtesy of google images — I would have loved to have some of my own photos but I didn’t own a camera back then and there were no smart phones either.)

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.

Next 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 Stirlings 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

 

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

Delta or on Grizzly and she would knead their abdomens.  She would sometimes receive 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.  GrizzlyThey 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)

 

~Like what you’re reading? Leave a comment, a like or a follow (it is not necessary to put your name or email address in the form, to comment).  Cheers. ~M

North of 66 ~ A Trying Year in Polar River (age 27) ❄️

In 1993 we spent a year in a Northern Community. We had many good times but, there were at least three tragedies while we were there…

In early July 1993 we rolled into Polar River, just north of the Sixty-sixth parallel in the North West Territories.  We had been driving for several hot and dusty days on the road across Canada, from Newfoundland to Alberta and then straight North.  We passed through Whitehorse and Dawson City, Yukon and then a full day up the gravel Dempster Highway, two hours beyond the Arctic Circle.  We had driven in tandem for a week, driving ‘Betsy’ our ’76 VW Van and our tiny Chevrolet Sprint we fondly called ‘Puny’. Unfortunately, Betsy didn’t survive the trip.  Her engine blew in Whitehorse and, on a deadline to get to the job, we sold her body to a small Franco mechanic with the longest, most gorgeous ringlet hair we had ever seen.  His hair was way down his back and pure ringlets.  He saw me admiring it and said with a lop-sided grin: ‘the ladees, estee, they love my hairs, they are curly, non?’  I just wanted to touch it to verify that it was real. While in Whitehorse, we ate at a restaurant that is still there today: Sam N Andy’s. Interestingly and coincidentally, there is a very real chance we were served by my very good friend, Daisy, who lives and works in our current Nova Scotia town.  One day, decades later, Daisy and I came upon this nugget of truth while reminiscing about our Northern days.

Anyway, Dean had accepted a one-year contract position as Recreation Director for a tiny northern community of 150 First Nations Gwich’in people and roughly ten whites living in about 25 houses  built on pilings that were anchored into the permafrost.  There was a general store, an all levels school, a gym, two churches, a health centre and a community office on a hill overlooking the confluence of two icy rivers.  The setting was incredibly beautiful.  It felt like the final frontier.

The first thing we did was attend a community feast.  But, to call it a feast was a bit of a stretch.  It was simply hot dogs, pop and chips, but, we were so pleased to finally be there and soon to be on a payroll again, after more than a year, that we were all smiles and best intentions. The local children took our hands and tugged us along.  ‘How long will you be here?’ Charlie asked. They don’t mince words, I thought.  They also were intrigued with our little black lab puppy, ‘Dempster’ whom we had on a bright blue leash and matching collar.  Full of questions: ‘Why is he on leash?  Does he bite?  Why does he have a name? Do you feed him fish?  Will he be chained outside?’  And, of course questions directed at me like: ‘Is there a baby in your belly? Where are your children?’ These questions were telling.

At the feast, we met Allie, the daughter of the former old Chief Henry.  Allie was quite articulate and confident.  She told us of her recent huge adventure, trekking in Nepal. Little did we know then that we would be trekking in Nepal the following year, thanks to the seed planted by Allie at this little feast.

The Chief of Polar River, Gwen, was dysfunctional, mostly ineffective, extremely high maintenance and neurotic.  She expected Dean to be at the gym facility seven days a week, twenty-four hours per day. He was hired to do a job and she wanted him working non-stop.  Poor Dean, who is overly kind, was exhausted by her neediness in a couple of weeks. The gym, thankfully, was a very nice facility, a couple of minutes walk from our apartment, and was perched on the edge of the forest which was millions of acres of wilderness.  It was a state of the art building with a huge gym and fully stocked kitchen as well as Dean’s new office. Equipment galore: new, mats, rackets, nets.  New cross-country skis and new canoes came later when Dean applied for and received a grant for them, as well as money to hire an instructor to come up and teach canoeing. The instructor was this funny young guy from Manitoba.  He would exclaim, ‘I can’t believe I am being paid to teach the natives how to canoe’.

One of the main weekly events at the gym was the Wednesday night BINGO. Here was my husband with over seven years higher education and a former Army Captain, calling BINGO once per week.  It was comical, if a little sad.  It was a big event and it came with big winnings.  Hundreds of dollars were won each week.  I hung out in the kitchen, offering burgers and pop for sale, the proceeds going into the gym coffers. Dean was mandated to teach one of the local women how to run the gym facility and how to manage the budget and maintenance.  This young woman had four young children and a husband who played around on her.  Consequently, she wasn’t fully available.  Life in Polar River was both gritty and frustrating.  Like the day when one of the young kids who were always at the gym (free babysitting) told Dean, ‘I don’t have to listen to YOU, White Man’.  That child was about seven years old.

The first tragic thing to happen to us that year occurred on a gorgeous evening a month after we arrived.  I had been walking our lab puppy Dempster who was scampering ahead of me over the beaten-earth pathways. I was just skipping along and watching bemusedly as he chased a rodent under a house.  That was the last time I saw him alive. He didn’t come out from under the house… that I knew of.  I was calling and whistling. Nothing.  Then, a dirty blue pick-up drove up.  A young Gwich’in man, Billy, rolled down his window and with a smoke in his mouth said, ‘Your dog’s dead’.  And drove off. I ran down to the gravel road beneath the hill where I was standing, hoping it was a cruel joke, and this is what I saw:  My precious black lab puppy lying on his side with a growing pool of blood around his puppy head.  I began to cry bitterly, hugging myself and bending at the waist in my grief, one hand over my mouth.  Suddenly, I was feeling overwhelmingly betrayed by this new place.  How could this happen to me? How could he be so cruel? Looking back a quarter of century, I realize that I was dealing with culture shock and home-sickness, being so new in a very foreign place, albeit still in Canada. The killing of our puppy didn’t mean much to young Billy because in his culture, they didn’t keep dogs as pets the way we do in the South. Someone went and fetched Dean and he came and wrapped his strong arms around me consoling me. Someone picked up Dempster in an old blanket and we drove down the Water Lake Road and Dean buried him while I sat in the car, still too upset to move, still in mild shock.  A few days later, on a sunny afternoon, a nice local man brought us a very cute puppy from his new litter. Our new puppy had pointy ears and muzzle.  He was fuzzy black and white, wolfish looking and stunk of fish – the only kind of food he knew.  We called him Delta, after the River Delta where he was born.

Dean worked away at his position and I picked up some work, just finding odd things to do that no one else would.  I made pots of soup and trays of sandwiches for Band Meetings.  I took people to the big town of Inuvik for shopping and medical appointments.  I typed minutes to various meetings.  Then I was offered a full-time position in the Community Office doing payroll, payables and receivables.  Later, I picked up the part-time position of Medical Centre Coordinator.  There was this beautiful Medical Centre equipped with two examination rooms, incredible instruments and medications and a locked cupboard of narcotics. There was also a small apartment meant for a visiting doctor or nurse.

dempster highwayOne day,  I was out walking when someone ran up to me saying that little Suzy had been mauled by a dog.  This was the second tragic thing to go down.  I ran as fast I could to find her laying just out of reach of a big, mean Husky that was chained in the backyard of someone’s house.  She was bleeding profusely from the many open wounds in her legs.  I screamed at anyone to go get Dean and to call an ambulance to come from the neighbouring larger community, Pierson, which was an hour away.  I prayed, spoke calmly to her and pressed rags on her wounds until Dean rolled up in our vehicle.  To this day, I do not know where her parents, friends or relatives were even though we were in the middle of town.  She was eight. We drove as fast as we could toward the Pierson Health Centre and the ambulance met us halfway. We transferred little Suzy into the ambulance and then followed it.  She was put on the medical table and her ripped clothing was removed and as I watched the doctor poured hydrogen peroxide into her open wounds. She was laying on her belly  repeating, ‘Owieeeee! Owieeeee!’   It occurred to me that this little girl was no stranger to pain. She received several hundred stitches to close her wounds.  A year later, after returning from Nepal, I would find myself managing the medical clinic in Inuvik and working for that same doctor that stitched her wounds.

As Recreation Director, Dean had a major event to plan and carry out:  the Spring Carnival which included many different competitions including snowmobile races and dogsled races.  He spent days planning and coordinating this major event which would attract many visitors from out of town, and which had several thousand dollars in prize money. Very early on the day of the big event, we were still in bed sleeping when the phone rang.   I picked it up: ‘Hello?’

‘Jordy’s dead’, said a voice.

Click.

Holy shit.  ‘Dean!’ I screamed,  ‘Get up!  Jordy’s dead.’  We spent the next several hours sorting out Jordy’s body at his house.  The RCMP came from Pierson and asked me all manner of lame questions. It was pretty obvious, if you had a nose, to detect  how he died.  The poor tortured soul smelled like a distillery mixed with a chemical waste plant. He died sitting up on his couch.  Next, we took his body by truck to the medical centre and laid it out on one of the beds. I had to stay at the medical centre until the coffin guy from Inuvik showed up.  Also,  two of Jordy’s female relatives came in to clean up his body in preparation for burial.  Despite the tragedy, it was an astoundingly beautiful sunny spring day and snow was melting rapidly.  I was happy that Dean would have a successful carnival because of it, but the warmth wasn’t doing anything for Jordy’s body odor issue. For a while I talked to the coffin guy and his wife on the deck at the medical centre (there was no being inside with good ole Jordy). The funny thing about the entrepreneurial coffin guy was that he was an ER nurse.

When we finally left Polar River in July of 1994, we were happy to go – we had big plans to go travelling, but, we had many mixed feelings about the North. Yes, the Gwich’in of Polar River had hired us, but, did we really have any business nosing our way into a tiny First Nations community, for a year? Did we do any good at all, or did we just cause surreptitious upset, undermining and questioning of the old ways?  I really don’t know for sure but, I think that the people of Polar River could most likely run their own gym (especially now that Dean had taught his protege), their own BINGO nights, their own health centre and do their own payroll, if push came to shove.  I think that maybe they had this idea that we Southerners knew more and could organize better but, we were left feeling that it would be best for them to leave our Southern ways and instead, get back to a more traditional way of life.  We had spent some time with the Old Chief Henry.  He would come to our apartment door and want a cup of tea. He told us many stories of the old days and spending time on the trap line, drying fish and getting caribou for the whole community, going by dog sled over the snow.  The traditional jobs that would be carried out by the women and the young men. How the children would play, tumbling and were cherished and spoiled by their Elders.  Traditional feasts and celebrations.  His eyes would glisten with the memories behind them.  I was in awe of this man who had lead his people for over three decades.  If I had a wish for the Northern Peoples it would be to go back to those ways and to embrace them once again, even if just little by little.

Perhaps that is impossible, but, I’m gonna wish it anyway.

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 my son, 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.  My husband, 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, my 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

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.