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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Paddling Paradise

If someone offered me the choice between bars of gold and a canoe, I’d choose the canoe every time. I wouldn’t opt for the security of financial riches over the investment in quality of life and canoeing is sustaining for me. When I’m in a canoe life seems right. I feel confident and competent, safe and at ease and I never want to go back to shore.

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I’ve been taking myself for 1.5- to 2-hour paddles every few evenings lately and the balance canoeing breathes back into my soul is immeasurable. Hard to explain I suppose, unless you’ve spent a lot of time in a canoe living self-sufficiently and adventuring in one, relying on it to be everything from a vessel to a shelter to a kitchen counter to a sled to a party palace …

The canoe is home.

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This is an old aluminum canoe that I’m borrowing and it does feel odd that it’s empty. Tonight the wind picked up and I had to pull over to shore and put a couple of big rocks under the bow seat to weigh it down some so I could stern it better.

I saw another beaver that slapped its tail about 10 ft from the boat and two deer that I managed to sneak up on pretty well but my Canadian stroke needs some practice!

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And would I be disappointed come winter that I’d chosen a canoe over gold? Nope. I’d be thinking about that canoe all winter long with fondness and probably even visit it on the canoe rack at Bear Trap, sleeping soundly under the weight of snow. I’d talk to it. Remind if of the beautiful things we saw the previous summer and dream about the outings we’d go on at break up in spring.

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A long trip is always best but I am discovering that even a two-hour paddle on the same little lake night after night feels amazing. I love the wind on my skin and that my arms and back and abs are getting strong. I love that I know how to move a canoe through the water and wind efficiently and I enjoy the pace. Each time I go out the shoreline changes and the wildlife is different and I absolutely never tire of it. The song of waves and trees moving. The call of various birds and strange little sounds that water makes as it splashes and swirls among features like rocks and logs.

And the sky …

oh the sky and weather to guide me and decide what shore I’ll follow. Mother Nature determines how much time She will give me on the water. Some decisions are mine and others are Hers and it’s quite possibly the only place on Earth where I don’t mind relinquishing control.

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Benediction that we used to say after canoe trips followed by a Voyageur cheer:

May your paddle always pull water

May you never feel strong winds

May your footsteps never falter

Return safely to your friends.

 

Oom bella bella bumba-la

AH!

oom bella bella bumba-lay

EH!

oom bella bella bumba-lo

Oh!

oom bella bella bumba-la bumba-lay bumba-lo

AH! EH! OH!

And away…                   Shady Lake 2013 040

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2013 in PonderQs

 

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Canoeing with Canines

The last two nights I have taken different dogs out for a canoe ride. Being their first canoe rides, I chose not to take a camera along just in case things went poorly. You’ll have to take my word for it as I recount my two very different experiences.

Last night … light wind, lovely sun but not overly hot as we’ve had windy, cool weather the last few days. I decided to take Charlie for the test run. I wasn’t even sure the canoe I wanted to borrow would be at the lake and was ready for disappointment.

Charlie

It was there – YAY – but the mosquitoes were ferocious. I had sprayed Deet on my legs and sport-sandaled feet and pulled a hoody up over my head. I got the boat in the water and my stuff in it before I took Charlie down from the car.

It took a bit of convincing to get him to hop in and he was a bit nervous but mostly excited as I shoved the canoe away and into the boggy creek full of vegetation and pond lilies. The mosquitoes followed us for quite a while so I worked up a sweat before they left us behind and we got into some more open water where the breeze was.

At that point I took the hoody off (always a life jacket on though!) and gosh I love the feeling of the sun and wind on my skin. There’s just something about summer air and bare skin that go together. Not in a too-short of skirt and spike heels attract the wrong sort of attention kind of way. Just that bush baby, we were all born nude for a reason kind of way.

Charlie is a steady dog. He quickly accepted that this was a decent adventure and settled in, ears perked up and watching the shoreline the whole time.

When we started out the sunlight was still afternoon harsh but two hours later when we reluctantly pulled back into shore it was that soft golden colour of evening that makes the surroundings so memorable.

I paddled Charlie down the creek and into Shady Lake following the left shore. It was all marsh grasses until we reached nearly the end of the lake before I found a sand and rocky area to pull up. I let him out of the canoe to swim for a few minutes before we carried on and this is where it gets stellar.

[Oh God. Hang on. I need to scratch the mosquito bite on the inside of my right ear. I’ll explain that in a moment. Oooooooooooo feels so good to itch]

As I circled the far shore with Charlie and then paddled back up the channel to the put-in, here’s the wildlife we saw.

First a fish jumped. Then the mergansers swam by. Next, a pelican soared around our heads. That was followed by two loons singing and rising up out of the water dancing chest to chest for several minutes which was mesmerizing. After that we spotted a buck with velvety antlers in the long marsh grass. Soon after that a pair of beavers swam just out in front of the canoe and then one slapped its tail spraying us with water. I had to grab Charlie to keep him in the boat for that. Not more than a couple of minutes later and an elk cow with calf jumped up from the grassy shoreline though I’d have never seen them if they hadn’t because they were so well hidden. They wandered a few feet away then turned to watch us drift by. Cue the hawk diving over our heads followed by more fish jumping. Then I noticed black pointy ears in the marsh grass on shore and let us drift closer. It was a red fox munching on something I couldn’t see. When we got too close for its comfort it stepped back with a giant fish in its mouth, stared at us a few seconds and then sidled off into the woods. Bring on another pair of beavers- another tail slap. Wrap up the paddle with a deer drinking at the water’s edge while Charlie and I shared some crackers and an apple.

Quite simply, it was perfection. In addition to the gorgeous everything around me and the awesome dog with me, I always feel more confident and capable and whole when I’m paddling. Every time I get back into a canoe and take that first stroke, it feels like I’ve had a missing limb reattached.

I thanked God, Buddha, Allah, Shiva and any other gods and goddesses who were listening for the amazing evening. It was very hard to leave but the mosquito swarm was waiting upon our return so there was no gazing back at the water and longing for more time. We sprinted and dove madly back into the car.

Today I wondered if it would be possible to replicate such a spectacular evening and tried to decide which dog would be best able to handle the adventure with as much grace as Charlie. In the end I decided I could deal with Piper’s timidity better than True’s exuberance. The Nervous Nelly vs the Wild Child.

Wrong.

It was an even better night. We’d had a hot day and the wind had completely died off. First, I went down to see if the canoe was there and put it in the water. As I grabbed hold of the gunwale and rolled it upright, I was hit face first by a solid mass of mosquitoes that flew up out of the inside of it. At first I actually thought they were fish flies as I’ve NEVER seen mosquitoes that thick before. Not EVER and I’ve seen way too many mosquitoes in my life. I kind of went into denial because I wanted to paddle so badly.

I ran back to the car for Piper and she followed me down. BOOM! Swarmed! She was terrified of the canoe and was actually whimpering and back peddling as I tried to convince her to jump in. I had to keep puffing out to keep the bugs off my mouth and take little gasps of air in. They were up my nose and in my ears and behind my sunglass lenses and fighting to get into my mouth. They were landing en masse on my bare forehead. I looked down at one point and couldn’t see black hair on Piper’s leg anymore because they had coated her so effectively. It was disgusting.

Piper was scared and unhappy. I was trying not to panic because of the swarm and be patient with her. It was a losing battle. Twice I got her into the canoe and she immediately jumped out, once pushing the canoe away from shore and getting hung up on the gunwale with her back legs in the canoe and her front paws flailing in deep water. I thought about paddling away with her stuck like that and seeing if I could haul her back into the hull once we were out from shore but then I had a reality check and realized it probably hurt and she could drown so I freed her. I was going to give up but then I was instantly angry and thought:

NO! We’re canoeing damn-it! Cesar Millan would not think it was cool if I give up and let Piper’s fears win. I picked this battle knowing how bad the bugs are so no complaining. I need to follow through!

One last heave ho and in she went and I jumped in and pinned her between my thighs and shoved us away with the paddle.  I could feel the bugs biting and had to muster mind over matter and trust that they would leave us behind like the night before if I could paddle us out far enough. I took a few strokes blindly through the swarm and as they thinned, reached down and started to smear them bloody off of Pipers legs and face. It was awful. The dog and I were covered in smelly marsh muck to boot and soaking wet from her earlier panicked boat exits.

But as the bugs thinned and the canoe became rhythmic on the water, I felt her relax a smidge and soon I noticed she was sniffing the air and looking over the edge, not in an I’M SO OUTTA HERE panic but in a curious manner. Then we spied two bucks along the shoreline so I let the canoe drift along about 20 feet out.

Well, this was so cool for her. She sat right up, ears forward and was alert and eager. I had to keep quietly telling her to stay which she barely did. Then the bigger of the two bucks started pawing the mud and the tail went up and his body rigid and then he let loose with a sound I’ve never heard a deer make. It was a giant, audible, forced exhale. It kind of throat honked at the end but it was that blast of air that was so impressive. He did it twice and then kind of turned and hopped aggressively towards us in the water a couple of times and still pawing at the edge. He huffed once more and then ran off. A beaver then slapped its tail and Piper was nearly done for. The excitement was too much. I had to grab her and hold tight and then paddle to the far side of the lake. It took her a while to settle down again and she never totally did. She really wanted to swim after that buck. I’ve read that Great Danes were used to hunt large game historically. Maybe her instincts were kicking in.

Pretty Piper

I decided not to press my luck by going all the way into Shady lake and out for too long. I knew I needed to take her to the Waskesiu Lake by car where there was a proper shoreline so we could both get the marsh mud off of us so I headed back after maybe 45 mins. She exited the canoe like a model with her long legs and with the confidence of a lioness. Hard to believe it was the same dog!

Then we ran like stink for the car. I tossed her in and ran back to pull the canoe up on shore and flip it over. I think we had about 200 mosquitoes in the car with us all the way to the swimming spot. It felt sooooooooo good on the bites to stand in the cold lake water. And now we’re home.

So, it wasn’t as good as my paddle last night but it was worth it and I’m glad I persevered and got Piper in the canoe. I knew she’d love it if I could just get her out on the water.

And now I have to do some mental preparation before taking True. I need to do some mindful meditation ahead of time to get my patience on and then I need to discover my funny bone when I actually get her out there because I can already foresee that it will be a rodeo event all its own trying to keep her in the canoe. She’s going to freak out with how much fun it is and she’ll want to be in the water more than she’ll want to be in the canoe until she’s in the water and then she’ll want to be back in the canoe before she decides she’d rather be back in the water again oh my god. And of course I’ll indulge her to a point because really, dogs live for the moment and I do get a kick out of providing them with experiences that speak to their natures.

There will be no snacks for that trip and no gear. I’ll be wearing my bathing suit and be ready to self-rescue in deep water. I have a couple of days to mentally prepare before I’ll have time to take her and maybe just maybe JUST maybe please God and Buddha and Allah and Shiva and all other gods and goddesses that are listening, please burn off some of the mosquitoes with some sunshine and heat between now and then. PLEASE!

In the meantime, that isn’t acne on my forehead. They’re mosquito bites. Honestly! Look inside my right ear. You’ll see them there too. ARG!!!

Calamine, Calamine, Calamine lotion. Ain’t got no Calamine lotion. Itchy,itchy, scratchy, scratchy oooooo I got one on my backy. Get that fly with the fly swatter get ‘im!

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2013 in PonderQs

 

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Home to High River

I love a bit of ironic humour as much as the next person so it was a macabre yet laugh out loud moment when Highway to Hell came on the radio station Monday as I drove the last little stretch down #2 southbound for High River, Alberta, my flood-ravaged former home town.

I’d seen tons of footage online and been following Twitter with obsession as things unfolded, and I know it sounds cliche to say so but it’s true, there’s nothing that can actually prepare a person to see something like that. After two full weeks since the flood hit, people were allowed entry to my area of town so I headed back to see what was left.

The picturesque little town with its murals and charm and wonderfully friendly community, with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop to the West, the city of Calgary a mere 30 minute drive to the north, nothing but wide open blue skies, God-spun golden prairie all around it and a river coursing through, is now the Canadian equivalent of New Orleans after Katrina hit.

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Essentially every house and every street and every community looked like these photos. People were gutting their flooded homes and piling the debris on the lawns as high as the roof line in many cases. It was overwhelming to take in. It became horribly apparent just how badly off the whole town is and how terribly everyone is suffering.

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The stories of survival and destruction are too numerous to share here. All I know is this is just the beginning of the disaster for many people. Some will never recover financially or emotionally. Some will profit or even shed an old skin for a newer, better one but for the most part it is pure devastation.

These are photos of my neighbours across the street and next door.

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And then the miracle for a few of us. Water is a strange beast. I should know better than anyone having been a river guide for so many years but even I was stunned. Somehow, due to the shape of the land, street and structures, a couple of our condo buildings were left marooned in a lake that was 12 feet deep in places. The place is a straight walk-in at ground level. Not one single stair. I ended up with about 2 feet of backed up sewer water in my “basement,” a contaminated fridge and a kicked in door from the RCMP looking for survivors. We could see the water lines around the building where it had piled up and yet somehow those couple of buildings went essentially unscathed.

Within a few weeks or months I should be able to get a renter back into it.

There’s relief and there’s guilt for sure. I’m certainly not celebrating. Sitting at the rodeo grounds disaster relief centre was a sombre affair. I could feel peoples’ anger, frustration, gut-wrenching sadness and after having survived two weeks and a bit of chronic chaos, fatigue. Lives on hold. Retirements tanked. Brand new homes and young families and start-up businesses ruined.

There just aren’t words for how terrible I feel. And helpless. I can’t really think what to do to help. There’s just no salve for this wound. It’s going to be years rebuilding to return the town to even half its splendor. In the wake of the flood, the community will need waves of assistance and others to spell them off when the task surrounding them becomes too much to bear.

I ended up in High River because of the river. The autumn after I finished university I went West but Calgary had grown to a size I didn’t enjoy so after wintering on a Boer goat farm near Balzac I spent my first Easter weekend driving around to all the small towns surrounding Calgary looking for where I wanted to settle down.

I landed in High River at the end of the day, got some Chinese food and then sort of wound up in George Lane Park in the heart of the town. I got out of the car and walked around, all the gorgeous old trees shading me, and then up an embankment to a walking path where I then discovered that the town had a river.

I love water and being around it. I made my way down the bank to the rocky shore and stood there listening to the Highwood’s current and I kid you not, I heard a new song evolve in my head, lyrics and everything, as if it had been sitting in my brain dormant just waiting for the right moment to be released. I started singing it to myself and smiling because I knew I was home. I felt the spinning I’d had inside of me for so many years come to a standstill and calm overcame me. I stayed for 10 years before the winds carried me on but I never let go of the little condo, not quite ready to say goodbye to High River forever.

It was a quick trip home to check on that condo. I had more wacky weather than I could imagine. It rained cats and dogs nearly all the way to Alberta with a storm formation that made all the alarm bells in my head go off. When I reached Iricana I saw that I’d had good reason to be afraid as it had dumped all of this hail on them ahead of me. My car bottomed out it was so deep!!

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Then coming home I had hot sun the whole way and had to stop twice for ice-cream! Well I didn’t really but the dogs did not protest! I’d open the hatchback and move the cone from left to right so they could each take a turn licking. And then they’d sleep until the next pit stop.

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Canola is just starting to flower and smell pretty and then by the time I got north of Prince Albert the highway was flooded again from too much rain and I thought the car was going to stall driving through. From flood to flood! And now I’m home and the hot, hot day is working itself into a thunder storm so I should get this posted before we loose power.

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Posted by on July 10, 2013 in PonderQs

 

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