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Wintercapades

Well, I’ve never seen the Ice Capades show but I figure that since half my life is lived in winter I can add “capades” to my experiences.

Nightcapade

Well my night life just continues to evolve. Very exciting stuff – ha!

This week, in the wee hours of the morning, I woke up in the middle of a song from my current playlist only, there was no music playing in the room. It had been part of my dream and stayed with me as I opened my eyes.

I was a bit confused at first but I also quite enjoy the song so, it was a positive wake up in spite of the crazy hour.

Here’s the song. I woke up in the chorus right at the words, “Say it’s over. Say I’m dreaming …” and it just kept playing. WILD!!

Brandi Carlile – BEFORE IT BREAKS: http://youtu.be/fKDYvEXWXTc

It’s not my favourite of her songs but still good.

It seems like unless I exhaust myself with skiing and dog walking these days, I have vivid dreams, wake up mid way through an intellectual debate or wake early and am not tired anymore even though I’ve only gotten three or four hours.

It’s bizarre yet strangely entertaining so I’ve decided not to worry about it. It must just be some phase of life.

Rookie Skiercapade

The other day I went skiing on a new trail. It feels so good to use every muscle in my body, work hard and feel strong. I’m getting better, slowly, on hills and turns without having to throw on the brakes so my confidence is growing.

The funny, rookie moment happened about half way through the 8 kilometres. I was zipping along and could see up ahead that some marsh cattails had been knocked into by another skier or maybe the groomer going by on his snowmobile. The pods had dropped pollen onto the track turning it a pale yellow but I didn’t think about it beyond noticing it.

I can now tell you that it acts like super glue. I was kick-skiing up until that point and getting faster and faster having fun and then WHAM-O! the skis came to a complete stop but my body kept going forward. I stretched wayyyyyy out over the tips of my skis and then ricocheted back. Somehow I didn’t fall over. It was very surprising and gave me a good laugh. And that’s how rookies learn. It’s not something I’ll make the mistake of doing again!

Wolfcapades

The wolves have been busy hunting this week and successfully too. When I skied on the weekend I came across a pile of deer hair. No blood but there’d obviously been one heck of a battle. Then, near the end of the day I walked True along the lake and when I looked down to see if anyone was using the ice fishing shack, I saw a deer carcass about 20 feet away from it. I figure it was the same animal who lost all the hair because its location was not far from the point on the ski trail I had been on earlier. All I could make out was the splotch of blood, rib cage and a pile of ravens cleaning up the scraps.

The next day I was walking Charlie way the other direction along the lake and a wolf was on the trail ahead of us and wasn’t budging even as I spoke loudly and told it to get going. I ended up turning and hauling poor Charlie through what was chest deep snow for him about 100 mtres up to the road.

Of course, he’d lost one boot in the snow. I went back with Piper later and was exhausted and soaked in sweat by the time I found it again in the powdery, deep snow. Of course, I missed it twice and only found it on my third sweep a whopping 5 feet from the road. Ug! As a reward for hanging out with me while I looked, I took Piper to another trail in the park for her walk

The next morning another deer was found killed directly across the street from the hotel restaurant. Apparently its body was still warm and the wolves could be seen down on the lake ice until mid afternoon hanging out, likely hoping they’d be able to return to their feast. Poor pack! They did all that hard work and lost their meal but it couldn’t be left so close to a business and people walking about.

Paradise Citycapade

It’s been cold this week. MInus 30 celsius and wind chills. I had to make a quick trip to town for a work errand and the car I used hadn’t been started since I don’t know when and no one had plugged it in. It groaned to life and took forever to warm up but the radio was queued up and the volume turned up.

“Take me down to the paradise city where the grass is green and the girls are pretty, oh-ohhhh won’t you please take me downnnnnnnnnnn” was pumping out of the speakers.

I tried desperately to find the tuner button to switch over to CBC but the sun was so bright (of course it was it was -30C!) that I couldn’t see a thing on the console. In the end, I surrendered and cranked the volume until the car panels were rattling.

That song is sure to follow me throughout my life and remind me of the time my big brother picked me up in his souped up Chevette that growled like a Camaro (so he said) and then proceeded to cruise along Pembina Highway in Winnipeg. First thing he made me do was roll down my window, he did the same on his side, headbanger hair blowing in the wind (my buzz cut holding firm) and then he cranked up Paradise City. I seem to recall teen girls on the sidewalk that he was trying to impress but by that point I’d slunk as low down as possible in the passenger seat so no one would see my The Cure-loving sorry ass in a souped up Chevette with a headbanger, as much as I loved him.

Soupcapade

I made butternut squash, creamy coconut and curry soup. I botched it and had to freeze it then try to save it mid week because it was far too watery. I conferred with my soup maestro who told me to add some sweet potato or cook off the excess broth. I decided to do both and now it’s awesome and perfect for an icy cold week of Wintercapades.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2015 in PonderQs

 

The gift of insomnia

2 a.m. and I was standing in the back yard staring straight up, the cold wind blowing right through my cotton pajamas. But I wasn’t really cold, at least, not at first. I felt alive.

I woke around 1:30 a.m. full of thoughts and when I realized I wasn’t going to fall asleep any time soon, I decided to stop fighting with myself and got up.

I headed downstairs to the kitchen for a cool drink and noticed that the night sky was alive. In times like this, I’m glad that I’m a grown up. I decided to do what I had wanted to as a chronically sleepless child but didn’t because I knew I wasn’t supposed to.

I yanked big boots on over bare feet and pulled my down jacket on, flipping the hood up before I quietly let myself outside. The dogs had stayed upstairs in their beds and I didn’t want to rouse them and wreck my moment of solitude.

The minus 30 Celsius wind buffeted my pant legs as soon as I walked beyond the back porch and into the frozen expanse of the yard. I shoved my hands deep into my pockets and felt the chill blast its way down the tops of my boots around my ankles; laces hanging loose.

An inky black sky sparkling with stars gifted me when I turned my eyes upward; the Milky Way creating a bridge from one horizon to the other.

Right away, I spotted the Little Dipper and pulled a hand from my pocket, drawing an arc across the sky with my index finger as if pouring water from it into the Big Dipper, searching the sky for the other ladle.

Suddenly lonely, I looked up at the neighbour’s house hoping for a light on signalling that she was up for baby’s night feeding, but no luck. The house was dark.

Then I looked for Orion, my nighttime companion.

Some 12 years ago, though it always feels like it happened just yesterday, I was informed that my friend Naomi and six others died in an avalanche just before the late night news aired. It turns out that I already knew she was gone, but that’s a different story and one that I have only shared with a few people.

I watched the newscast, the top story of the day about their deaths on the mountain. Unable to sit still with the details and the proof of her death, I walked for miles alone and long into the night. I struggled with the idea that it was as if her spirit, her energy, had been dispersed like an exploding star into the universe. Not gone but not whole. Not lost but no longer a tangible human being anymore either.

I searched for some sign of her but found Orion instead. For hours that night I kept my eye on Orion and felt slightly less alone with my grief.

From about November through April the constellation keeps me company when sleep eludes me. So standing in the yard, I looked for him again; a guy and his hounds protecting earth from above.

And standing there studying his familiar outline is when I realized why the sky was alive. The northern lights were waving. They weren’t distinct ribbons leaping and weaving like I’ve seen before. This time they were spread like a gauzey bedsheet being tossed out across the matress; gently floating and rolling into place and back out of place as pockets of wind knocked the sheer glow about.

I had to blink and look again to believe it wasn’t just some kind of cloud formation. It was the northern lights. I haven’t seen them in months and months. What a treat!

I breathed deeply and felt the first real bone-chilled shiver course through my body and knew my time outside was about up.

I hunkered more deeply into my coat and clenched my legs against the first stings of frost bite so I could watch the mystical lights shimmer for just a while longer.

I whispered to the universe, “Thank you for my life.”

This has become my mantra in recent years when the enormity of how precious and precarious life is weighs on my mind and reminds me to show gratitude.

Feeling small and insignificant but expansive and filled with purpose all at the same time, I finally gave in to the pain of slowly freezing and let myself back into the house.

The dogs were awake but still quiet and didn’t budge from their blankets. l crawled under the warm duvet and, finally settled in the centre of my being, allowed my body to settle down too.

Sleep found me; peaceful, empty of dreams and wholly restful.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2015 in PonderQs

 

A mantra for the curious mind

With some frequency during the last year, I have been waking in the night mid thought. It always happens during those loneliest of hours too – 2 to 4 AM, though it’s never worry nagging me awake but curious ideas and questions.

It happened just three nights ago. One second I was in the restorative depths of unconscious slumber and the next I was fully alert thinking …

“What is a fact? What is news? Can anyone really claim to be unbiased? Are facts only facts because we determine what they are based on our biases?”

BOOM! wide awake and in a decent debate all by myself. I did see the humour in that. I remember grabbing my phone to check the time and it was something like 3:17 AM. I lay there considering the questions again, wishing there was someone to discuss it with.

I’d been reading about anchorman Brian Williams not long before I went to bed and about the whole fiasco surrounding his tall tale telling and spinning of yarns as the years of his career rolled by.

I had commented on @ansonmount’s Twitter thread about Brian Williams a couple of hours before lights out. I typed that I find a lot of news to be filled with biased story telling and opinionated anchors and that I wish I could simply be given facts and allowed to think for myself.

As soon as I’d hit send on the tweet I was frustrated and unhappy with my comment. Twitter is not the place to have a proper discussion. A tweet is so inept in its ability to capture and express all that subjects like that deserve. That irritation obviously stuck in my head and somehow got loud enough to rouse my sleeping brain.

What is a fact? Is there or are there any universal facts that everyone can agree on? And even if a journalist is completely pure in their intention to tell a story factually, without bias and they present different opinions on the topic through thorough research and quality interviews, HOW they choose to frame that story, in what order they choose to share the differing opinions, and the colour and intensity of the language they use to craft the sentences all ooze bias one way or another.

When I say, “Just give me facts and let me think for myself …” Well, welcome to the conundrum! Let two other journalists tell the same story and suddenly it might not sound like the same thing at all and you’re left wondering who’s telling the truth. Maybe they all are.  Perhaps none of them is.

Who owns the media outlet that each journalist works for? What are their political, economic, religious and philosophical leanings? What is their gender, age, social status and skin colour? How does that determine consciously or unconsciously who gets hired to report for their company and how they write or tell the news? And of the billions of stories that could be told in the news, how are they deciding what is worthy for my eyes and ears should I choose their product?

“Sufferin’ succotash!” It’s enough to make a person do nothing but watch Looney Tunes for the rest of their life.

I could be a better consumer of the news by being proactive in searching out articles and publications and podcasts etc. from sources that I normally wouldn’t listen to. That’s harder than it sounds. We all have certain ways of thinking and believing and enjoy digesting information that reinforces those beliefs. It is my assumption that is difficult for most of us to be disciplined and spend time considering opinions and facts that don’t jibe with our own. It’s tough to remain open-minded to that which automatically offends our senses or goes against our values and mores. Yet, wouldn’t that also be the best way to gain more balance and become more informed on any subject? Might it also be the way to increase our tolerance for and understanding of people, who we generally misunderstand, disagree with or even fear?

Gosh, I’d have loved to talk with someone about it that night. I pulled up Anson Mount’s Twitter handle to see what other responses there had been on the thread and noticed that he’d checked out for a holiday.

HA! Jerk! Post deep thoughts about society for people to ponder and then unplug. Grrr… but I loved that too because I live in the woods and I love to routinely unplug so I couldn’t even be mad at him. I often think the only truths are Nature’s. That’s probably why it’s the only place I don’t feel like I have to control anything because the most successful and content way through life in the wild is to learn how to adapt and accept what’s coming at you in the moment whether it’s joy-filled or not.

Anyhow, I got myself back to sleep about an hour later, but the issues of what are facts and bias and news kept running through my mind the last few days.

As I learned about the deaths of Bob Simon and David Carr, and read about the extraordinary lives they’d lived and contributions they made to journalism, I asked my mid night questions again and again and think about how to consume news less lazily so that I might be a more connected world citizen.

I want to read more about Simon. He has been a staple on the television throughout my life; one of those voices you recognize from another room just as sure as a duckling knows its mother’s quack from across the pond, but I never connected the dots between all of the conflicts and issues he’d covered to him.  I was too young to appreciate a huge portion of the body of his work, but just imagine all that he has seen. Imagine all of the world views he encountered through his dispatches abroad and at home, and the depths of depravity and height of humanity he witnessed as he criss-crossed the globe.

Carr. I am sad to say, I only learned about him a night or two before he died when he spoke to Anderson Cooper about Brian Williams. I was so intrigued that I began to research his work.

I think about Carr’s willingness to make space for forgiveness and second chances for the Brian Williams of the world because he was shown forgiveness and allowed to succeed after living a life – not just less than he could be, but who apparently lived it with negligent, selfishness and with disregard for others. But he made what appears to be a brilliant, above board comeback and never forgot that others showed him grace.

Both men would have been fantastic to talk to about these things. Maybe Brian Williams will see an opportunity in his fall from grace. I think he’d be a stellar ethics instructor for budding journalists. As Carr said to Anderson Cooper about Williams’ situation, nobody wants to be the boring guy in the room. That might have been Williams’ ego weakness.  He seems to be a true journalist a heart, but with a very human need to belong and be liked. The story telling that followed the reporting spun into the classic biggest-fish-I-ever-caught stories as the years passed by. Who of us hasn’t done that? The difference is that he is (rightfully, I think) held to a higher standard because he has been entrusted to share other peoples’ experiences, which were so often heroic and/or heart-wrenching.

I still find it hard to believe that Williams was intentionally deceitful.  Yet even if he was, it seems that Carr would still say, give the guy another chance if he comes back with a pure heart and dedication to the journalistic calling. I’ll work on that when Williams emerges from his self-imposed isolation.

As I learn more about aid worker Kayla Mueller, killed during her captivity by ISIS, and her seemingly limitless capacity for compassion and determination to seek justice for those who needed an advocate, I ask what I can do to increase my well of understanding about others who seem to be wholly unlike me, and I challenge myself to be more committed to speaking up in the face of injustice.

Being intentional about choosing multiple sources of news to read or listen to and educating my mind is a good start. Questioning what I read and hear, especially when it’s comfortable for me, is another step to making sure I am taking more than one side into consideration and not becoming complacent or blind to others’ truth. I don’t want to be one of those people who exist in arrogance, always assuming that I am right.

Maybe the universal fact is that all people will always have to agree to disagree on some things. And that’s okay so long as we make room for one another’s ideas to be heard and that we do so without causing one another harm.

Respect, Forgiveness, Compassion, Advocacy. Simon, Carr, Williams, Mueller.

A mantra for the curious mind.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2015 in PonderQs

 

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Reflections on January 2015

Blah! Home with the flu. Well, maybe I need a day to veg and replenish my inner stores. I’ve been feeling drained mentally lately and now my body matches my mindset. You don’t suppose one followed the other’s lead? I wonder if I could have changed the outcome by changing my attitude before my body became ill? We’re in the last few days of January and though it started out blistering cold, Very Cold Day 2015

it quickly turned into a ridiculously warm month with several days above zero. Very strange indeed! Not Cold at All

I thought I’d look back on some of the fun from the month.

SOCCER

I got back to playing soccer in town where I scored a second goal. I find it awesome that I have scored two goals in soccer at age 42 but I never even got near the net with a ball between the ages of eight and 18 when I played full seasons. I’m quite pleased with my increased confidence and skills on the field. My parents, in true fashion, simply responded teasingly with, “What took you so long?” One can always count on family to keep it real …

GIRL’S NIGHT

We had the once a year girl’s night ski and dinner out. We seem only able to co-ordinate ourselves to do it once a year in winter for some reason. It’s good fun and nice to treat ourselves to a good meal. In the year since we last got together, four have had babies (two couldn’t make the evening because one had just delivered and the other’s baby was sick) and all of our lives have changed quite a bit so lot’s to catch up on.

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING

I’ve been cross-country skiing on different trails each time I go out. I went out quite late one day after I’d seen a wolf through my living room window. I’m not afraid of wolves. They don’t stick around when humans show up but for some reason I freaked my freak that evening. I was skiing by myself. The conditions were perfect – no wind, crisp air, snow-coated trees and the sun was setting making the light that soft lovely palette of blues and mauves and aqua – and then I started imagining a wolf pack chasing me down in the snow to eat for dinner. I ended up sprinting the route and finishing the 6 Km in 32 minutes. I know it’s ridiculous but once the image of those wolves chasing me was in my head I was done for. In the end the ski still felt great. It felt great to work hard and use every muscle in my body and feel the cool rush of wind on my face.

Ice Ridge  (Ice ridge)

REMEMBERING NAOMI

A truly satisfying ski that I did last week was completing the 20-kilometre trail I went on with some friends.

My good friend Naomi died in an avalanche in 2003, and every year I like to celebrate her adventurous spirit and love of the outdoors by doing something fun outside. I took the day off work and invited some friends that are on maternity leave and another pal who was on a day off to go along.

It was a blue-sky and no wind day. Again, the temperature was strangely warm and we set off to ski to Crean Lake. Two of us had never skied that far before and wanted to try the route so going with the other two was perfect because they ski it often. The baby slept the entire way and the wintry view of Crean Lake from the old warden cabin was worth the effort. A light snow the day before left everything pristine and I couldn’t even spot animal tracks on the lake.

I knew Naomi would have loved the outing. I had taken along a Fruit and Nut chocolate bar, her favourite, to share with the others. I usually like to smoke a wine-tipped cigar at the same time to complete the ritual but this year I needed every ounce of lung capacity to complete that ski so I’d left the cigars at home.

RIDICULOUS DOGS AND WILDLIFE

In January, I took the dogs on many long walks and we explored the park too. I saw four moose, one lynx, a fox, a wolf up close and personal through my living room window, and there are plenty of ravens, magpies, gray jays, wee black-capped chickadees, squirrels, elk and deer about. I didn’t see any otters but their trademark gallopping footprints between belly slides are all over the place.

Wolf Poop by Size 8.5 Boot 2015-01-11 (wolf scat)

IMG_20150118_130954  IMG_20150118_131005

I think the scariest yet funniest dog walk was when I had Charlie on the retractable leash, Piper and True each on one side of me attached to a waist belt and we were on the edge of town out near where people go down to the ice fishing shack on the lake. All three dogs came to a sudden stop and were sniffing the air and staring hard ahead. I tried to figure out what had them spooked. A car was parked at the roadside, probably for ice fishers, and I thought maybe it had a dog inside that they could smell but I couldn’t hear any movement. I was about to say something comforting and stepped forward to coax them onward when Charlie let out a low, rumbling, warning chuff, turned tail and started sprinting for his life.

CHARLIE turned tail and ran for his life!!! Charlie is the dog I rely on to be steadfast and calm under all circumstances and he turned tail and RAN FOR HIS LIFE!!!!!

Well, that was it. The girls followed suit letting loose with warning barks and sprinted off like a starter pistol had sounded. Roles reversed. It was now I attached to them by extendable leash and waist belt so with no choice, I turned and hauled off after them. Charlie with his short little legs has to run with all four paws turned outward. It’s really cute to watch when you’re not terrified about what’s behind you. Piper with her runway model’s legs and True with youth to her advantage, it was all I could do to keep up to them. Every once in a while we all dared to glance back over a shoulder to see if we were being pursued.

When I realized we were not being hotly pursued by an apex predator (wolf, cougar or chainsaw wielding mass murderer) I started laughing. Sometimes I wish I could see myself from another perspective when things like that happen. I’m sure it looked hilarious.

In the end, I’ll always trust in and believe Charlie. He has a good instinct about the world around him. He didn’t survive six years chained up in a front yard up north at the mercy of every wild critter and stray dog pack that happened by for no reason. Maybe that lone wolf we keep seeing around town was in the trees beyond the car and I just couldn’t see it.

An "Usie"

Loads of other good stuff has happened during this first month of 2015 – dinner with neighbours, evening with a newer friend, phone calls with long-time friends and opportunities beginning to surface at work. I should probably reflect once a month like this throughout the entire year. I bet it would be a great way to remind myself of all that I am grateful for and how full my life is with people and experiences that enrich my days. And perhaps if I do that, I won’t get run down and sick as often either.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2015 in PonderQs

 

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Sometimes

Sometimes what makes this place so special can make it feel a bit creepy.

Today after work I had to make my way between four large bull elk that had stretched out across the road. The rut is well over but they’re still a bit sketchy to maneuver around.

Then, walking the two big dogs about 20 mins later, I learned that the coyotes had killed a deer on the next street up and growled at the neighbour and his dogs. Totally normal for them to protect their food source but now we have coyotes running around the houses between the woods and their feast site.

I walked the two then put them back in the house and hooked up the husky to take her for a faster jog / walk. We had to get by two deer, the elk and then about halfway through the walk I noticed her sniffing towards the shadows in the trees. By this time the sun had set. I focused in and saw that what could have passed as a stump in the snow or a large rock was actually a fox who then proceeded to follow us. I know they’re fluffy but it was about her exact size and I would think more highly skilled in a street fight. I’m sure it was just curious and not aggressive, but with no one around, I didn’t feel like waiting to find out.

I started a swift jog to get ahead of it and as we turned up our street the coyotes started their yelp-screeching which made the dog run even faster. They haven’t stopped all evening. Every time I let the dogs into the yard the coyotes are filling the air with that high-pitched vocalizing that creeps me out and the dogs too. They can’t relax enough to pee. Hopefully it calms down before bedtime so they can go!

Ahhhhh nature … I love you most of the time.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2014 in PonderQs

 

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Mapless Travel

Another reflection on Ireland sort of … and the loss of a mentor. 

 

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

Very recently, someone I admired since I was a young kid died suddenly. He was healthy, super fit and young at heart. A young 53, I believe.

His name was Dr.Brent Cuthbertson, but I grew up knowing him by his nickname Chase. There’s this special place in Lake of the Woods, Ontario, called Camp Stephens; a YM/YWCA camp that I attended from ages 8 to 17 as a camper and worked at from 18 to 24. I met Chase there.

When I was a teenager going on 2-week canoe trips, Chase was one of the wilderness directors and a few years later, he and my big brother co-led a 6-week canoe trip. I have fleeting memories of Chase but the people ahead of us in the Trail program seemed like gods and goddesses that we automatically admired.

I remember his cheesy grin, bright eyes, awesome mullet, kindness and intelligence. On my first 2-week trip when I was an awkward 14 years old, Chase was driving us in the old camp bus Stoughton (named for the town in Saskatchewan that it was purchased in) to the drop-off point where our canoe trip would begin. The gravel dust was billowing up and filling the bus that hot summer day and started to aggravate my asthma so I moved up to sit right behind him where the air was clear. I can’t tell you anything we talked about. All I remember was that he made me feel special because he actually took the entire time to chat with me about stuff. He seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say.

I remember my brother saying that Chase had audio taped many evenings around camp during their 6-week trip in, I think it was 1990. He was doing some sort of ethnographic study about group dynamics on wilderness trips. I’d so LOVE to have heard those recordings. I know how wild and goofy groups get living in such intense situations in the woods like that. I can only imagine what 7 teenage boys and their fearless trippers would have gotten up to!

After I learned that Chase died, I went online to find out what he’d been up to for all of these years. He was a professor at Lakehead University, still teaching about group dynamics in wilderness settings but he was also taking part in “autoethnographical exploration … of the land through a mapless canoe trip.”

And that got me thinking!

The same week that Chase died, we were discussing way-finding and how visitors to the park where I work orient themselves and explore the region, or why they don’t explore it. Often times city folks are fearful in the woods so they don’t go beyond the town site.

I got to thinking about my time in Ireland. I had a similar experience to many park visitor but in the opposite situation. I was content and felt safe while hiking but when I got into Dublin I was wandering around hopelessly lost, as if my inner compass was spinning uncontrollably. I could not get straightened around for the life of me and it was incredibly disconcerting. I relied almost entirely on my friend to get us from point A to B each day. And I was so befuddled by the fact that I could not figure out where I was because every day we went to many of the same areas in the city.

So then I was talking to a good canoeing buddy of mine who’s older brother was a contemporary of Chase’s. She was telling me how Chase taught her brother to navigate among the islands of NW Ontario and how to sight portage trailheads from the water in ways that she’d never thought of before. This amazed me because she’s been canoeing all her life and the way-finding she talked about is something that I do automatically. I assumed she had been doing it too.

Maps are great tools and I would choose a map and compass over a GPS device any day, but I have also been royally screwed by maps in my years of wilderness travel. Nature changes. Maps are static snapshots. I never rely on them 100%. More and more I have learned to read the land for markers and way-finding.

I can point out a tree on the far side of the park (that to most people looks just like all of the thousands of trees around it) at a particular bend in a trail that is tens of kilometres long and tell you a story to go with it. But I walked past the same clothing store in Dublin 10 times and felt like I was seeing it for the first time every time save for the fact that my friend Allan would say we’d been by it before.

I grew up in the suburbs of cities but I’ve lived the better part of the last 18 years rurally or remotely in the north. I always assumed that I would be able to re-adapt to city life without much fuss. Now I’m not so sure.

I know how to read a map. I armed myself every day in Dublin with a paper map and downloaded Google maps on a tablet that I would study before leaving the hotel. I would identify landmarks in real time as I walked and yet I got turned around every day and had to ask for help. Before my friend showed up to explore with me, I spent more than two hours lost one night in Temple Bar going in, I think, circles but never returning to the same place twice. CRAZY!!!

This idea of mapless exploration also made me think of a talk I heard given at a feast in the park by a Metis elder named Maria Campbell, author of The Road Allowance People, among other things. She spoke about her peoples’ connection to the land and how disoriented they were after being forced to move and live outside what became the park. She spoke of cultural landmarks such as burial sites that the people knew of in the woods. The land wasn’t just a bunch of trees and rocks but routes of travel created through experience that became knowledge passed down through generations orally. If I understood her correctly, their identity was intimately linked to their surroundings and when that was lost, they were lost.

I get that at a personal level. I get it because it’s how I move around the land and how I, more and more as I live in these remote places, connect to and journey through the landscape. I know one tree from another, one bend in the trail from another and a rock in its place because of my experiences in those places that have shaped my knowing and understanding. I’ll always take a map with me when I venture out and about but I might not always have it at the ready. I want to ensure that I am paying closer attention to my surroundings than I am to a piece of paper.

Seasons, water levels, weather conditions, time of day and years of wear all alter the natural world. If I don’t pay attention to it as I move through, there will come a day when no map will aid me. I need to have that sense of self in space and time, whereas in Dublin I seemed to need to have rote memory of the order in which brand store names appeared along streets and count paces to the next left or right turn in order to find my way.

Chase. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. And I’m sad that it took his dying for me to find out about the interesting work he was doing. It would be so great to be able to pick his brain and have a good discussion about some of this stuff. Connie Russell, a friend and colleague of his who gave the eulogy spoke about his interest in mapless travel. I leave her words here for you to enjoy and to consider about how you move through the world about you and how you might move through the world beyond this one.

I’ll chat with you all about it in the next realm, Chase. I can’t wait to hear about what you’ve learned!

Chase Past (photo from K.Picken)

BRENT CUTHBERTSON’S EULOGY – October 30, 2014
by Connie Russell

It is wonderful to see so many of you here today to celebrate the life of Dr. Brent Cuthbertson. I am not remotely surprised to see such a large crowd, because I know that Brent touched and inspired many in his too short life. Thank you all for coming.

If anyone had suggested two weeks ago that I would be here today giving Brent’s eulogy, I would have scoffed. How absurd! Brent was so healthy, so full of life, such a vital presence that it was impossible to imagine a world without him. Yet here we are.

As you all know, Brent passed away peacefully on Tuesday, October 28 in the presence of loved ones. In the last week of his life, he took those of us who were members of what we came to call “Team Brent” on an epic journey. I was reflecting yesterday on how this journey was led in true Brent fashion. Brent was very intrigued by “map-less travel” – indeed, he loved heading into the wild without a map. He felt that there was much to learn about oneself as well as one’s relationship to other people, and to nature, through such travel. And last week, he took us on another map-less journey. For much of the time, we did not know where we were heading. Later, after we did have a sense of our destination, we were not really sure how we were going to get there and Brent, being a master teacher, ensured there were a few twists and turns still in store for us. And on this journey, we found ourselves needing to pay attention to group dynamics, to be compassionate with one another and with ourselves, and to lean on each other. As I spoke with the other folks on the journey, it became abundantly clear to me that each of us had learned something important this last week thanks to Brent. I, for one, had to learn, yet again, to let go of my need to plan and to manage; this journey remained unpredictable and uncontrollable to the very end, and I just had to go with Brent’s flow. This would no doubt make Brent chuckle.

But, now, let us focus on Brent’s life rather than his death. Brent was born on June 2, 1961 in Northern Rhodesia, in what is now Zambia. His family moved to Canada when he was a young boy and he lived in Canada for most of his childhood and adolescence. I gather from the stories that his parents Bruce and Ann told me that he was a spirited yet gentle child, a kind soul with just a wee bit of mischief in him. His brother Alan told me what a generous boy Brent was and his sister Debbie described him as her protector.

Brent’s love of the outdoors was evident from early on. A pivotal time for him was clearly his Camp Stephens days where he went first as a camper and later joined the staff. I was struck by how many of the postings on Facebook and on the online condolences site mentioned experiences with “Chase” (which was his nickname at that time). That he formed, and maintained, strong bonds with people at Camp Stephens is not a surprise given who Brent was. Indeed, he was the sort of person who, once you had him in your life, you wanted to keep him in your life.

Brent went on to earn a BEd in 1989 from the University of Winnipeg, an MA in Outdoor Education in 1992 from the University of Alberta, and a PhD in Outdoor Education in 1999, also from the University of Alberta. Brent joined the School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism at Lakehead University in 1996 and was the Director of the School between 2007 and 2011. He was also an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Education.

Brent was the author of two textbooks and numerous articles, and he also wrote very good short stories and poetry on the side. He was internationally recognized for his expertise in outdoor leadership. His overarching concerns were our relationship to the natural world and our relationships with each other. As such, he was deeply committed to the flourishing of both natural and human communities and he saw these as intimately intertwined. Drawing inspiration from environmental philosophy, he urged outdoor leaders, and all of us, to consider the ethical and material implications of the choices we make – in how we travel, how we educate, what we eat, how we live.

Brent himself lived simply and was particularly critical of our society’s rampant consumerism. One could see that in the clothes he wore! He seemed to have what one might say was a rather limited rotation of clothing – I’ve seen quite a few comments about that blue Lake Superior sweater of his, for example. I also saw mention of his penchant for wearing socks in his Birkenstock sandals, which reminds me of the time he and I went to see one of the Shrek movies (Brent and I went to many movies together over the years and we both particularly enjoyed action flicks and cartoons). Anyway, in this movie, the wizard Merlin appears and is portrayed as a stereotypical male professor who wears socks in his sandals. Brent and I took one look at each other and started howling in laughter because, yes indeed, that was precisely what he had on his feet at that moment.

Brent lived in a very deliberate way, trying as much as he could to live his life in congruence with his values. He was humble about this attempt, knowing full well that we are all creatures rife with contradictions and that we often stumble, but that it is important that we continue trying to do the best that we can. This was a key concept he wanted to share with his students and I can see from the statements by his former students that this message was heard.

Students also speak of Brent as a brilliant instructor. He was clearly revered by his students. Indeed, many former students have shared how he impacted them, both professionally and personally. Many are now educators themselves in one setting or another and have described how Brent has been a role model for them. Others have talked about how he inspired them to think deeply and critically about a whole range of topics, to be compassionate, and to live deliberately. He has impacted hundreds of people over the years through his teaching and they, in turn, have impacted many others. What an amazing legacy!

In the tributes I have seen to Brent over this past week, a number of words pop up frequently: smart, kind, gentle, compassionate, thoughtful, ethical, genuine, playful, funny, inspiring. What a wonderful list. There also has been much mention of his warm smile, his wicked sense of humour, and his infectious laugh. All of these remembrances ring true for me. As well, for me, Brent was also a loyal and trusted friend. We had a brief stint as roommates when he kindly invited me to live with him in his home when I needed a place to stay. I recall those days very fondly. Cooking together, laughing together, drinking tea by the fireplace, with dogs Tinder and Pagan and cat Fisher listening to our philosophical chats about important stuff like our place in the natural world, religion, politics, and the relative merits of heavy metal and folk music.

Another word I would use to describe Brent now is happy. Seven years ago, Brent met Kim, the person he called his “greatest love.” Theirs truly was a fairytale romance and it warmed his friends’ hearts to see him so very, very happy. While Brent and Kim were married just a few short months ago, on July 7, 2014, they have packed a lifetime worth of good memories into their seven years together. Kim, thank you so much for making Brent so happy.

I want to share a poem that one of Kim’s dear friends sent her a couple of days ago. It sums up the gift Brent gave to Kim and to so many of us:
“The best kind of people are the ones who come into your life
and make you see the sun where you once saw clouds.
The people who believe you in so much, you start to believe in you too.
The people who love you for simply being you.
The once in a lifetime kind of people.”
Brent most certainly was one of those “once in a lifetime kind of people” for Kim and for many of us.

I want to close now with an excerpt from a favourite poem of Brent’s, Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day. In it, she asks, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” This question resonated deeply with Brent and was one he asked not only of himself, but also of his friends and his students. As a way of honouring Brent’s life and memory, then, I challenge each of you to ask that question of yourself not only today, but in the days ahead, especially when you find yourself just going through the motions or being caught up in the demands of daily life. Let me repeat the question: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Dearest Brent, you did so very much with your own wild and precious life. You taught us. You inspired us. You made us better people. We love you and we will miss you and you will live on in our hearts.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2014 in PonderQs

 

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Typhoon Nuri is Brrrrrrr-y

The wind has been howling for days. Typhoon Nuri hit Alaska and sent some crazy weather system careening across the continent that dropped the temperature into the minus 20s Celsius and is apparently going to sit on us for more than a week. I heard the fancy name for this stuck weather pattern is “Omega Block.” I might just call it OMG BRRRR!

Trees have come down around town and I fully admit that I haven’t walked the dogs much because the temperature dropped so severely with the wind chills that I cringe at going outside. It isn’t really all that cold but there was no transition from cool to cold to colder so my body is struggling to adapt.

That, and the winter coat I ordered from MEC hasn’t arrived yet. My previous down jacket had a bad run in with my washing machine when I went to clean it before storing it for the summer. Looked like a goose drowned and the zipper melted. A sad, sad scene that I’m feeling like a cold death in my bones these days.

Today I took each dog out on their own for an hour-long walk. While I had Charlie with me, because he is so calm and trustworthy, I headed down to the beach to get photos of the ice forming on the lake. Plus if he did fall in, he actually LIKES soaking in ice water. Something about that golden retriever coat … Piper the Great Dane would turn into an instant pupcicle if she fell in.

The photos don’t capture the steam rising off the lake’s surface, which I could see out in the deep water, but the photos of the ice being hurled on shore and the thick coating of it on tree trunks and rocks was beautiful. Add a bit of moody lighting and it made for some interesting photography. I’ll start with the snowstorm pics from November 3 and today is the 10th. Don’t forget you can click on the images to view them larger.

Enjoy!

IMG_20141103_075253  IMG_20141103_075334 IMG_20141103_075424

IMG_20141110_121323  IMG_20141110_120442 IMG_20141110_120437

IMG_20141110_120356  IMG_20141110_120507 IMG_20141110_120205  IMG_20141110_120236

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in PonderQs

 

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