Monthly Archives: March 2015

Friendship, Vikings and U2

This is another post about Ireland. I’ve been waiting for photos in order to write it. It is about the third and final week that I spent hanging out around Dublin.

There are people whose character can be explained, I think, by the ease with which others find themselves in comfortable relation to them whether it’s a first meeting or a reunion after many years apart.

1 Reunited 2014-09-30 Reunion 2014, Dublin

Allan and I met while working at YM/YWCA Camp Stephens summer camp in Lake of the Woods, Ontario in the early 1990s. I liked him straight away. He was quick to laugh uninhibitedly, had a sharp wit that to me always signals a highly intelligent mind, and he was a showman worthy of a stage and script that were greater than the dining hall and skits we performed there for hundreds of children each summer.

That is not to say he was just some shallow ball of hilarity 24 hours a day. I observed him to be levelled by a heavy dose of seriousness that seemed grounded in issues of social justice but that could also be triggered by poor manners and general disrespect. He was a particular guy and wasn’t shy about where he stood on things.

Allan created inclusiveness for those who were (and often still are) considered outside the “norm” without fanfare. I never got the sense he was making a point. He very simply could see a place for everyone in the world and enjoyed the company of people for who they were and what they offered in their own right.

He taught me a few things about life and opened my eyes to new ideas.

The first big moment I remember is that a school group of high school students who had intellectual disabilities came to camp for a week one spring. Allan was co-ordinating their activities and I got to go along to help stern a canoe one day. I was nervous. Nervous about how to communicate with people who acted very differently than others their age and who couldn’t always communicate easily. Nervous about what their abilities would be in the canoe or if they could swim or if they would “freak out” and how I should handle that if it happened. Allan acted as if the excursion was absolutely no different than any other outing with teenagers. That made me nervous in the beginning to. Was he being naive?

We went to a marsh and paddled around exploring the habitat and wildlife. I remember the two girls in my boat were giggling and talking about boys they fancied and dances and fashion just like my friends and I had at their age. They were so funny and fun to be with and I loved my time with them. It dawned on me that their wants and needs were absolutely no different than anyone else and that the successes they would achieve in life were as worthy of celebration as anyone’s. That experience actually led me to a career for several years working with people, from infants to senior citizens, who had mental and / or physical disabilities and / or mental illness.

I remember another day at camp when a boy of about 12 or 13 was being quite belligerent and bullyish with others. Allan happened by and as a senior staff member, stepped in to correct the boy’s behaviour. The kid didn’t back down but instead upped his acting out by calling Allan a “fag.”

Outrage would be an understatement to describe Allan’s reaction. My god but that kid got a tongue lashing! I would only come to understand years later the personal implications of that offensive language for Allan, but in that exact moment, what I took away from the experience was just how powerful words are. Language can be used like weaponry and words have the ability to injure, isolate, shame, demonize and condemn. I was impressed by Allan’s refusal to let the boy get away with his bullying and realized that as long as any of us stays quiet when hurtful language is used, we are as equally guilty of wounding others.

One winter, Allan was living in an apartment building on a street that some poll had declared as the murder capital of Canada while I was apparently living in a house at the accident capital corner of Canada, both in the city of Winnipeg. We lived not far from one another and after visiting him, Allan would always walk me to the bus stop and wait to see me off. Ever the gentleman!

The only thing though, at that time, Allan was a tall, willowy drink of water with very long, sleek, blonde hair and good fashion sense. I was into baggy, worn out, blue jeans and oversized plaid shirts with a crew cut. It occurred to me that maybe it should have been me walking him home. In the dark of night, if an attacker was choosing a victim by silhouette, I’m not sure that I was the one most in danger …

Ahhh gender roles vs reality vs external expression through fashion vs plain decency and being a good friend. There’s just so much rolled up into all of those things. I could pick that one apart for the next 10 hours! Or I could just go with my instinct which is, as a survivor of sexual assault, it meant the world to me that he cared enough to see me safely onto the bus.

So those are just three stories. I could go on, but fast-forward. Allan ended up in England. We hadn’t seen one another since 1994 but had kept in sporadic contact through email over the years. When I booked my plane ticket to Dublin, I asked if he would be interested in meeting for a visit.

So it was on a rainy evening (the FIRST real rain I’d had in Ireland in my two plus weeks there!) that I walked into the foyer of the Ibis hotel and saw him sitting at a table.

It was surreal. I knew it was him. He hasn’t changed except that he’s gotten significantly more buff and chiseled over the years and cut his hair short, but very obviously it was him. And yet I was hesitant. I didn’t want to run up and give the wrong guy a giant bear hug. So we had a funny moment of just looking at each other before believing our eyes. Then we headed up to the room we were sharing and had another laugh.

As young adults at summer camp, it was no big deal for several of us to pile into one cabin on weekends off with our sleeping bags. Completely innocent stuff, like a pile of puppies who crave the warmth and company of others. So we both assumed we were going to do the same thing in Dublin in 2014 but never really discussed it. Once in the room it was like, “Is this okay?!” Well, of course it was. And that is a bit what I mean with my opening statement to this blog. I think you know a person’s character based on how at ease you are with them whether you’ve just met or it’s been 20 years since you laid eyes on one another.

And you know what the best part of the visit was? I don’t think we spent more than two minutes reminiscing about summer camp days. We had so much to talk about in the here and now, about our current lives and hopes and dreams, and about the sights and sounds around us in Dublin. It felt like we were picking up as if 20 years hadn’t passed between being together.

The only thing I am sad about is that I ended up feeling very out of sorts the day we departed for home – England and Canada – and I was a bit distant and distracted. It hit me hard that you just never know when you’ll see a person again when there’s that big of a geographical distance between you. I know that the same is true when you say good-bye to your next door neighbour. Anything can happen any time, but there’s something about there being a country and ocean in the way and being in our 40s now that made me really think, will I ever see him again? I was too discombobulated to be able to articulate that. I try not to dwell in that place because we had such fun and hanging with Allan for those few days was special. It’s an experience that I’ll hold close to my heart for ever.

The dumb thing I did was that I never had a camera on me. I didn’t have my smart phone with me and I was loathe to look too much like a tourist in Dublin so I didn’t carry my camera. That meant that Allan took all of the photos on his phone. Both of us are apparently slightly technologically challenged and busy with life so it has taken us six months to find the time and figure out how to share the photos that he took.

So here is some of the fun we had in Dublin. We did NOT hang out in pubs at night.We played Jenga in the hotel room! Oh yes we did.

16 JENGA!!!! 17 JENGA!!!!!ARG!!!!!


We most definitely went to Murphy’s for ice-cream because I’d had it in Dingle, there are only three stores in the whole of Ireland and it’s awesome tasty.

12 Murphy's Icecream 2014-10-02


For sure we went to a museum all about the Vikings and their time in Duiblinn “Black Pool,” where we wrote our names using runes and laughed til we cried over an exhibit showing how moss can be used for toilet paper. A mannequin male sitting on the shitter was groaning with great gusto as sounds of farting emanated from speakers. Allan recorded it and used it to greet me with the next morning. Like he was stalking me while I slept, just waiting for me to show signs of waking and then PFFFFTHTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT!!!! “OHHHHHH!” “AHHHHHHH” PSFTHTTTTTT!!!!! is what I opened my eyes to followed by Allan bursting into gales of laughter.

7 Allan in runes 2014-10-02 5 Shannon in runes 2014-10-02


He took lovely artistic images and made me look kind of cool as we explored the architecture of different buildings in the city.

11 Viking landing of Duvlin 2014-10-02 8 Tower Shannon 2014-10-02


We each had a specific place we were interested in visiting in Dublin. Allan told me some of the history of Oscar Wilde including his imprisonment for being gay. As if somehow who Oscar loved and how he identified was criminal or dangerous. We spent some time imbibing in a pub that just happened to have a Wilde quote framed behind Allan’s head.

29 Oscar Wilde statue in park Dublin 2014-10-03 33 Allan and Wilde Quote in Dublin pub 2014-10-03


OF COURSE we went to view the Book of Kells, which I found extraordinary. To get that close to such an aged document of such beauty, intricate design and deep thought was quite moving. I am a writer and I love words so I guess it makes sense that it made me feel suddenly connected to the past and history in a way that felt incredibly tangible. It was the closest I think I’ll get to time travelling (something I’ve dreampt of being able to do since I was a kid).

We creeped ourselves out by ducking out of the soggy rain and into a building chalk full of taxidermied animals from around the world. The dust mite load in that place made my skin crawl. BUT, nothing’s funnier than when your friend is trying to frame you in a photo and says, “Just move a bit this way, and step forward, anddddddd … My, what a big rack you have!”

I’m a sucker for a pun and the extinct giant red deer.

3 Trinity College 2014-10-02 31 My, what a big rack you have 2014-10-03


But let’s be serious about the real reason I ever went to Ireland, and thank you Allan for indulging me. I’ve been dreaming since 1987 of seeing Windmill Lane Studios where U2 recorded much of their music. I’ve read about and seen photos of where people sign their names and leave their artwork on the studio walls and laneway.

But when it came time to add my two cents, I had no words to write, funny enough. “Thank you” felt cheesy and couldn’t encompass all that I feel about their music or how the band shaped my youth and affirmed many of the deep thoughts I was having about how the world works as I entered adulthood. So I just signed my Zoo handle for the friends I’ve made along the way; people who I know share that same depth of gratitude and affection for U2 and their music.

20 Windmill Lane wall 2014-10-03 23 Shannon at U2's Windmill Lane Studios 2014-10-0327 Shannon at Windmill Lane 2014-10-03


We finished off eating at a restaurant that Allan had dined in the first time he visited Dublin.

34 Last night out 2014-10-03

And so much more, but that’s what we have photos of.

Until next time, dear friend. Let’s not wait another 20 years.

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Posted by on March 27, 2015 in PonderQs


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A winter wildlife bonanza

Last week was a nature bonanza around here! It started with the northern lights.

A girl friend and I went for a walk about 7:30 pm one evening as we haven’t seen one another in quite some time and needed a good catch-up. We walked and walked out of the town site and up onto the main park road where there are no street lights. The sun went down and we turned back for home. At some point she said, “Are those clouds?”

We stopped walking and both stared straight up at which point the formation exploded in spikes like fireworks. Northern lights!! Bright green. They continued to dance and swirl and at another point, created a long arcing S across the night sky. They were some of the most fabulous northern lights I’ve seen.

The next day after work, five of us women went to snowshoe a trail in the park but discovered the snow had melted so much that we could simply hike it. Beautiful day and three Canada geese just returned from a winter down south were hanging out on the ice along the edge of the river that is now running swiftly. As we grabbed our abandoned snowshoes and prepared to head home, I said to one of the gals, “I’m surprised we haven’t seen any eagles yet. They should be back about now.”

Well, queue the bald eagle. Not ten minutes later, I hollered, “THERE!!!!” and we all ducked to look up through the van windows to the sky where a bald eagle was flying towards us and over our heads towards the river from where we’d just come. So exciting!

That night, I woke up at about 3:50 am – still having bizarre dreams. This time I woke up in the middle of Steve Earl singing My Old Friend the Blues as if real music was playing only to realize it had been part of the dream that woke me.

Anyway, I decided to head outside for a quick look. The northern lights are never the same twice. That night, the entire sky was pulsing and popping in all directions. There were more green splotches of light than there was dark sky. It felt like being in a 1970s disco with the volume turned off on the music.

Move ahead to the next day when I packed up my three dogs and drove out to another area of the park where I know there is open water this early in the spring. It was late in the day, about 6 pm. I left the dogs in the car at the Narrows and quietly walked out on the shoreline with binoculars.

With the naked eye I could already see possibly the biggest bald eagle I’ve ever seen. From that distance of about 100 m across the water and ice, then up another 30 ft to the top of a large pine tree, there sat an eagle. I could make out it’s yellow beak and everything. I took a look through my binos and it was incredible. I bet the bird’s chest was as broad as my Great Dane’s. Its body was facing me but its head was turned looking out over the lake. Then suddenly it turned and looked right at me, which I fully admit was unnerving. I let go of the binos with my right hand, waved and said in a nervous voice, “Hiiiiiihahahaaaaaaaaaaaa.”

It eventually got antsy and launched out of the tree. It was such a large bird that I could hear the wings moving air like it was right beside me. Later on I saw it on the lake ice stealing some dead animal tissue from a couple of ravens and flying off with its prize while the ravens squawked over the left-overs.

I also spotted movement across the Narrows along the sandy shore. An otter was playing and digging and rolling around in the snow. When it finally noticed me it dove under the ice and after a few moments I could hear it swimming back and forth under the ice in front of me along the shoreline.

On the drive back home I slowed down near Mud Creek and watched a beaver working away, sitting on top of the ice. They never look that big in the water because I only ever see their heads and tails, but gosh, on shore they’re quite a hefty critter!

Then, every elk in the park seemed to be in town the next morning and there was that full moon, equinox, solar eclipse trifecta thingy going on (that we didn’t get to see here in Canada) so overall, the whole week was just hopping with natural wonders.

I love it.

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Posted by on March 24, 2015 in PonderQs


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