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she sees whales

Quite some time ago, I vowed to write about play. Play as antidote to fear. Play as means of coping, even thriving in a quickly changing world.

 

After I wrote this an event happened that stalled my writing, halted my sure and steady movement through my well planned days,

and once again brought uncertainty into the picture.

My step-mother died very suddenly of a brain aneurysm.

 

In a moment everything changed.

I remember a teacher colleague once saying, many years ago, that it is not usually the anticipated events that rock our worlds, rather it is that unexpected phone call on a Monday afternoon.

 

The day it happened ~

I had just had coffee and a slice of chocolate cake with a dear friend, a great inspiring visit actually full of good laughs and exciting future plans, and then as I  left the cafe and  walked towards my vehicle I checked my phone.

 

Three calls from Dan.

 

When I called him back he said right away,

‘Where are you? I don’t want to tell you over the phone what I need to tell you. I want to come and talk to you in person’.

My heart pounding,  ‘No, tell me now. Please just say it.’

In our most secret unspeakable depths, we all prepare for those calls, don’t we?

 

That Monday afternoon call that will force us to put everything we thought was important on hold for weeks perhaps, and then re-calibrate our entire perceptions of the world, our very place in it.

 

Once again.

 

After we hung up I cried out openly, there on the street, in agony for my dad and for this new loss that he was forced to bear. I stood there tears streaming, waiting for Dan, and looking everywhere for my friend who had already gotten in his truck, already gone.

 

Feeling so alone.

 

Wanting to call my friend back so that he could reassure me that things would be ok.

Wanting somebody, anybody, to tell me that we would get through this one.

On that street corner all by myself waiting for Dan who was coming because he was worried for me, I realized that every maternal figure I have ever had is gone ~my mentor, my grandmothers, my step-mother now,

and my mother.

 

It is just me.

 

Even my friend had gotten in his truck and driven away.

 

Then.

Over Easter,

after the hospital and the funeral and the tears and the big conversations and the grief and the family everywhere and all the missed school and work and the beginning of finding a way forward for my dad,

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we went whale watching in Victoria.

 

We had gathered there as a family over the break and we spontaneously booked a tour on our first morning. We had always promised George we would go on a whale adventure, but then had always found reasons not to.  That day,  however,  the weather seemed particularly good, we had nothing else planned, and I can tell you honestly that I knew, absolutely knew, that we would see whales that day if we went.

 

We had to go out fairly far, but it ended up being what they call a T-party of whales. Whales in every direction. Not even knowing which way to look because as one would surface, there would suddenly be another sighting on the other side of the boat.

Families of whales. Young whales pressed against their mother as they swam. An independent male on his own  surfacing then going under as we all watched with anticipation, wondering where he would pop up next.

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All around us, a whole pod, a matrilineal community of interrelated magnificent communicating, beautiful orcas.

Orcas that have visited me in my dreams since I was a child. Magical dreams where I watch them, down from a cliff at night or my face pressed up against the glass of a huge aquarium,

half of me afraid of their power and strength while the other half is delighted, transfixed, comforted and healed.

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Orcas drawing by George

A show that day that just went on and on. Our kind tour guides were willing to stay on past the allotted time because the day was perfect and the whales just weren’t leaving.

And then finally not being able to linger any longer, we reluctantly turned back towards the mainland.

The orcas swam back with us in the same direction, stealth-like and fast, underwater, towards a cropping of rocks covered in lounging elephant seals.

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Such dramatic suspense.

 

Our captain stopped the boat for us to watch the hunt unfold; the orcas surfaced at the rocks and surprised their prey who were by no means helpless, fighting back with vigor. It was over quickly, and the whales were again moving on, having been rewarded with one unlucky seal.

 

A nature documentary in real time.

 

Continuing on, bathed in glowing late afternoon sunshine, the whales headed towards the shore and swam right up against a cliff nestled on top of which was a park where families often recreate. From the boat we watched as children ran along the cliff following the orcas, screeching with delight.

 

I truly don’t know if I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing such a perfect moment of spontaneous play, natural and true, uncomplicated and wild.

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It is never just me. It is Dan and I, the kids and I, us. It is this beautiful extended family that I love so much that were gathered for Easter fun. It is my dad and I. My friends.       My wonderful neighbours. It is new acquaintances and the grocery store cashier that I exchange friendly words with ~

It is all those I have lost, living in me with every heartbeat.

 

It is all of us…

 

navigating the heartache and the uncertainty yet still forging creative ways to joyfully be in this brave and beautiful new world.

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And it is whales, meeting me at sunset after a lifetime of knowing each other in dreams. The promise is the same. It’s going to be ok.

 

 

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Pure Imagination

A few weeks ago, we hiked the spectacular Crypt Lake trail. Even though we have lived part time in Waterton for the last 5 years, we had not yet done this hike. Not only is it well known as being one of the park’s more challenging hikes, but it also has some famous tricky sections such as a ladder climbing up into a natural tunnel, followed by a narrow cliff with cable attached.

 

I had been quite successful in talking myself out of it for quite some time.

 

I am afraid of bears.         It seems dangerous.         The kids might hurt themselves.

I am worried about my heart.              What if one of us fell?        The weather could turn.

Also.                   Only really good and experienced hikers do this kind of hike.

 

I am very good, so good,  at this kind of talk.

 

However, after visiting my dad, an avid outdoors-man, and talking to him about it  and watching you-tube videos of 7 year olds making the trek with solely their Barbie back-packs on, I decided it was        probably safe.

 

As it turned out, it was. The day we chose for our hike  was a hot mid-August Saturday that stayed hot and sunny, and there were literally boatloads of people,

which made the chance of being devoured by a bear relatively non-existent, as I am sure they were the nervous ones.

It didn’t feel particularly dangerous either. I am not generally afraid of heights and am pretty limber so the obstacles were fine as long as you didn’t look down.

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Nobody fell.

 

And my heart kept up beautifully.   Yay, heart!

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Sitting at the lake having lunch, Dan and I commented to each other about how easy it is to build things up in your head, make them so much bigger than they really are.

 

In Scotland this Spring, Dan had a marvelous opportunity to do something that many people dream of, but few get the chance to do. It’s his story to tell, not mine, so that’s all I am going to say about it.

Except that…..he almost didn’t do it. Because he didn’t think he was good enough or prepared enough or a bunch of other things that only he knows.

He did it, though, and had one of the most rewarding days of his life.

 

It seems so silly to talk ourselves out of things when we can do anything really,

the possibilities before us are as wide as the sky.

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And, is everyone really more talented and capable than us –

regardless of how prepared they may look with all of their gear and confidence. Or maybe it’s just guts.

 

I am looking forward to courageously and joyfully moving forward this fall into new territories and adventures, even if all I have on me is my Barbie backpack because really,

as sung by one of my all-time favourites, Gene Wilder (rest in peace beautiful man) who masterfully played Willy Wonka –

 

Keep watch this week for an announcement regarding my Fall PeaceCard sessions. I have spent the last few months pondering what they should be all about, and I am super excited about how it’s all come together and what’s in store.

Happy Fall!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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travel lessons and coming home

As many of you might be aware, last month we returned from a pretty significant trip (to us). Since coming home from Scotland, I have been mulling over exactly what it is I want to say about our experience. However,  rather than saying anything,

I have been gently lulled away by the events of early summer: a family reunion, some work, obsessively reading the Outlander series, worrying too much about politics etc….and so time has passed and  I have said nothing.

It’s time to write again, though, even though I often resist getting back to my computer. For me, experiences seem to need to simmer and percolate for a while so I can draw out what is actually worth being said.

Perhaps it is the introvert in me that always needs time and space, much of it, to simply make my own sense of things. I have also been thinking lately about the idea,

that sometimes we can honour experiences and events  by not talking about them.

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Nevertheless, here are the golden nuggets from Scotland that are asking to be published, lessons learned both across the waters and after coming home….

People are kind everywhere, people are hurting everywhere

It’s so obvious, but there it is. We have been so tempted as of late, to find way too many differences among us.  However, the more we travel the world, the more that we ultimately realize that throughout time and space, we really are in so many important ways, the same.

We love, we despair, we rejoice, we grieve. We laugh, we reach out, we make ourselves vulnerable,

and, in our own ways, we all hope for a better world.

 

Food is a gift

I am so curious about food, food prepared with delight and love never fails to bring me joy.

Food, to me then, is often what I am most curious about when I travel. How cultures prepare their food, where they find their inspiration, reasons for giving importance to certain foods, particular creative quirks, new ways of combining ingredients, new movements and philosophies  around food –

all of this deeply inspires me.

 

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Breakfast is my favourite meal. How yummy does this look?!?

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Seriously delicious seafood pasta dish at Jamie Oliver

At the tiny and quaint Kilted Lobster, for instance,  we were greeted with absolute hospitality, our kids as well. We truly felt welcomed into their space with open arms, as if it was their honour to feed us. The kids bravely tried an appetizer of delicate pigeon and haggis. Dan and I ordered the special, which was a half lobster with perfect green beans and a glass each of champagne. Simple, lovely perfection.

At the Gardener’s Cottage we celebrated Father’s Day with a brunch of the best meatloaf I have ever eaten served on top of heavenly sweet brioche topped with homemade Hollandaise. When I peeked behind the restaurant/cottage afterwards,

I saw a gorgeous rambling garden, a big wooden work table, a bbq, a true farm to table set-up in the very heart of a city.

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And then at the Glennfinnan House Hotel we ate in the dining room of our Highland inn, feeling as if we were encased in an old world of giant wood-burning fireplaces, plaids, dark wood and rich colours,protected from the driving rain and a sometimes forbidding landscape. We ate smoked fish, sausages, potatoes, porridge,

heartier foods stemming from a landscape where people need warmth and rich sustenance.

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History is so messy, present times are messy

My god, we have not been good to one another.

We forget, sometimes, our brutal and horrific pasts. Gory accounts from medieval times still haunt and shock (just ask my kids). Rivalries and wars, unthinkable crimes, and betrayals among nations are as old as time. Though we cannot use this is an excuse, that events have always been dark and challenging,

we do need to see that we have made some progress and acknowledge how far we have come.

 

We cannot escape ourselves and it is good to be together

We have a tendency to expect much of ourselves on holidays,

that we will see every sight, try every great restaurant, that every experience will be favorable, that we will all be on our best behavior, that we will come home completely rested and renewed.

These unreasonable expectations can create frustration and resentment as well as prevent us from simply being open to what happens. I have always struggled with expecting too much from vacations, and this trip was certainly no exception. However, this time I was able to reach a point where I felt a great deal more acceptance around the idea of simply letting things unfold

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Letting things unfold.

and enjoyed the experience of just being together in a new and beautiful place.

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All over the world, we need green spaces/ beauty

Dan and I often measure the worth of a city according to its green spaces and walkability.

 

                      Beauty and nature heal, restore hope and calm.  

Edinburgh, in particular, is bursting with green spaces and everywhere people are walking and enjoying the precious bits of sunshine that gift this perpetually wet country.

 

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It seemed generally, too, that their gardens, buildings, displays, museums and homes were quite often altars to beauty,

thoughtfully and carefully arranged.

 

Yet perhaps it is also the case that when we are discovering a new place we look up more, we see the beauty that’s right there for us to see.

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Many times in Scotland people said to us ‘we would love to see Canada’ and we would think to ourselves, ‘yes, but do you know how beautiful this place is too?’

 

And so it always is.

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Olivia, inspired, bought tulips for our little kitchen in the apartment we had rented

 

We can always find ourselves, a little more

All those rituals that I learned and lived in my grandmother’s home;

making tender, buttery shortbreads and big, dense fruitcakes at Christmas

constant summer tours of the garden and her yard: her precious roses, lily of the valley

eating rich stews and dumplings for family dinners, savouring sticky toffee pudding while tucked in beside her on the couch

standing in her bedroom excitedly trying on the red plaid kilt she bought for me

drinking sweet milky tea together in her kitchen in the afternoon,

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and of course I would think that teatime is the loveliest and most civilized ritual of all

Parts of me that I thought were me but were grandma, were Scotland, all along.

 

We think back through our mothers if we are women.     Virginia Woolf

 

Yes, and our grandmothers too.

 

 

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and in every church (kirk), I lit two candles

And coming Home is good.

And now, understanding myself more,  I can suddenly see things at home more clearly too.

I look up,

and I see my beautiful kitchen with so much light streaming in and I am inspired  to cook again.

We see our mountains and lakes, too, and are reminded that, my goodness, they are so very magnificent.

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I am reminded, too,  that there is such love here to bask in, from family and friends.

 

And…I have many projects and ideas simmering as I re-work plans and new directions,

but I feel less desperate, less ambitions, less in a hurry, more here, more grateful. Dan tells me he feels the same.

 

Coming home is good.