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On fire, fire, and cousins

On fire,

Much of our local news lately has been around fire. We also just returned from Montana where the days and nights were extremely smoky.

Dan read online this morning that there are presently over 100 active wildfires burning in that state, so the fire and smoke was and is a discernible presence.

A couple of weeks ago we made our way to Columbia Falls, Montana, via the spectacular Going-to-the-Sun road and saw the ravages of the recent fire that had moved through sections of West Glacier Park.

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Our 10 year old George, in particular, was concerned. Natural disasters worry him to no end, and his ears perk up at any slight mention of new developments. He requires constant updates and conversations about what is going on,

his logical mind requires the facts.

We try to remind him constantly, though, that fire is essential to healthy forests.

It is part of the natural environmental cycle. Fire renews, regenerates and cleanses. We fear fire, and understandably rush to suppress it as it threatens and draws near, but we must still recognize and value its importance,

its place.

Before our trip into the States, a couple of friends and relatives who were concerned for George warned us that we would be driving through the fire site. We could have gone a different way, but I intuitively felt that George would be ok and that it might even be helpful for him to witness the fire site firsthand.

Our late afternoon drive over the pass could only be described as deeply quiet and peaceful. We drove by the firefighters’ camp and then into a parcel of tall burnt trees,

a still blackness.

It was easy to see that something powerful had happened there, and we were all in awe of it.

Yet, already, there were little tufts of bear grass poking up,        new life.

How quickly nature moves back in ~ animals returning and a little green forest floor already pushing up and through,

life restored without hesitation.

As we drove on I remembered how nine years ago, the month after my mom died, we did this same trip into Montana.

There was no talk of fires that year that I recall, and the drive was positively stunning. The flowers were in full bloom, the bear grass was tall and especially magnificent, the park teemed with energy and the fullness of colour and summer.

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I felt blessed by the flowers, the mountains, and the trees – especially the trees.

On that afternoon’s drive as strange as it may sound, I intensely felt as if all of nature was comforting me through the deepest sadness I had ever known,

letting me know that life is so much bigger and greater than I could ever possibly understand.

And then, nine years later, driving through the same forest and mountains with my family again,

Witnessing again a kind of destruction and rebirth, such achingly beautiful resilience,

graceful resilience.

Nature is resilient.

We are resilient.

George still worries, of course, but he sees a bigger picture too.

Fire

Ironically, the very morning that we were set to leave Montana and head back to Waterton, I opened up my emails and found a notice from Parks Canada alerting Waterton residents to a possible evacuation due to another wildfire that had started the previous day due to a lightning strike.

Oh my God, you won’t believe this,’ I said to Dan.

We read that if it became necessary to evacuate, an alarm would sound in the townsite and we would have no more than one hour to leave.

We both had the same first thought, ‘how do we tell George?,

and

‘how traumatic would that be to get back there and then go through an evacuation?’

We slowly processed the information and felt a bit panicked.

I need to grab that photo I love‘ I thought, ‘mom’s quilts‘…,

and ‘our dear little cabin, threatened.’

A couple of hours later, however, the evacuation alert was rescinded, we had explained the situation to the kids, and we were packed up and on the road back to Waterton, driving home through that same mountain pass,

through ever-stunning views,

this time held partly in mystery by more haze and smoke and low clouds.

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An otherworldly drive.

As I write this, there are still five crews and two helicopters working through the days, but the Waterton Lake wildfire is largely contained.

All fires eventually die.

Two nights ago, we took this picture from the Prince of Wales hotel. In the very distance is where the Waterton (Goat Haunt ) fire still lingers.

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What beauty, though, it is being held within.

Cousins

There has been lots of play this summer, with good friends, and also great quality time with cousins.

During our big family reunion on the Westwood side, we spent over a week with grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins.

I love that.

Though Dan has an endless repertoire of stories about his cousins and all of their adventures and mishaps, in my small family cousins and big family gatherings were sparse. Though I had lots of love from my grandparents and aunts and uncles throughout my childhood, I never knew that feeling of having that unique cousin relationship~

 almost sibling, more than friend.

I am, however, deeply grateful that my kids get to experience that special bond.

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On the Moon, the Kids’ Table, and a quietly but surely hovering September

The Moon

These past few weeks we have been blessed with many visitors; both chance encounters and planned visits with friends and family ~Long and casual visits over cups of coffee and glasses of wine, and fun communal hikes to quiet mountain lakes where our hoards of kids jump into icy waters and screech with glee.

This is the kind of fun that only summer can bring and it is so lovely.

One of my favorite moments so far, though, was an after dinner walk to watch the moon rise. On a stroll the night before, Dan and I had admired a spectacular moonrise over the mountains and so we suggested to our friends who were visiting from North Carolina that we go back to that same perfect spot to catch the magnificence again.

This is the spot.

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If you are ever in Waterton Lakes National Park, do sit in these red chairs and admire a view that never ever gets old and will surely restore your faith that all is well.

We gathered in that spot, and waited.

And waited, and waited, and waited.

And waited.

We hadn’t checked the moonrise times, nor did we realize that there can be such a great variance from night to night.

But we had promised our friends that it would be a spectacular full moon and we wanted to impress (as if the moon could possibly be our show to arrange) and so we waited some more.

We visited, and the kids threw stones in the lake as kids always do, and we shivered as the mountain air grew colder, and we jumped up and down to stay warm, and we walked up and down the shore of the lake, and we laughed and teased about how long it was taking, and we told jokes, and we got impatient, and then we waited on some more.

And then finally, eventually, this happened, as it has happened since the beginning of time and will forevermore.

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photo by Andrew Stillwell

And why don’t we think to look more often?

Because, oh gorgeous and radiant sun, you have everyone’s complete adoration,

including mine,

but dare I say that              You –          magical, mystical, and wondrous moon,

you are the one that actually holds my heart,

You pull at me and retrieve me, you restore me, you comfort me, you return me to me

again and again.

And so we all heartily agreed that she was more than worth the wait, and we clapped for her performance. Happily we stood there together and even sang every song we could think of that featured her, including my favourite moon song of all time.

Moon River,
Wider than a mile:
I’m crossin’ you in style
Some day.
Old dream maker,
You heart breaker,
Wherever your goin’,
I’m goin’ your way…..
Two drifters,
Off to see the world,
There’s such a lot of world
To see.
We’re after the same
Rainbow’s end
Waitin’ round the bend,
My huckleberry friend,
Moon River
and me.

And then, becoming more chilly and tired, we walked home.

Thank you, dear moon, you beautiful and enchanted thing.

Once again you have worked your magic.

the Kids’ Table

Another one of our summer delights has been the Netflix show ‘Chef’s Table’, a new series that provides an intimate look at the life and work of the world’s best chefs. This is a fascinating show that juxtaposes very different styles and personalities, but truly showcases inspired creativity and passion for food and excellence in general.

I could endlessly watch shows about food and creative pursuits of any kind, but even our kids have been quite riveted. So much so, that they felt excited about creating their own food extravaganza for their movie party last week.

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Their culinary choices would not be considered healthy by anyone’s standards but their presentation certainly deserves high marks.

I highly recommend Chef’s Table.  Dan, of course, loved the Italian chef  –

‘Every time I open a cheese like this, I get emotional. In my blood, there’s balsamic vinegar. My muscles are made by Parmigiano’     Massimo Bottura,

and I was deeply heartened by the second chef, Dan Barber, who promotes farm to table eating and shows us that even though there are massive obstacles, it is entirely possible to re-think and make our relationship with food on this continent.

a quietly but surely hovering September

We all know it’s near. We can feel and sense the nearness of September and summer’s end. We are still basking in the sunshine, swimming and playing outside, going on trips, but our minds are beginning to re-organize and plan and strategize about how this fall is going to go.

It’s inevitable.

The promise that I have made to myself, though, is this…

I will deeply enjoy these days and weeks, what is left of summer,       but

I will resist stressing about the transitioning.

We will find ways to celebrate and welcome the shortening of the days, the slow but certain turning of the leaves, the preparations, the still leisurely time with family and friends.

And when I plan what this year will look like, I will pause and consider…

what fills my soul, our souls,       where does my work want to focus,     what keeps my family connected and at peace,      what needs to be let go,      what builds community,

and from these intents and understandings,  I will find our priorities and the coming structure to our days.

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The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.”
Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

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On Road Trips, Detours, and Cardboard Boxes

Road Trips

One of my best childhood memories was packing up our vehicle and trailer and heading out on a two week summer vacation. My family camped a lot back then, and I loved the excitement and sense of adventure around leaving on a holiday and then finding and setting up in a new campsite.

Now that I am an adult, of course, planning and preparing for trips feels a lot more complicated then it did back then. Our vacations often feel as if they are squished into busy times when it feels hard to get away and air travel is often stressful.

The idea of an old-fashioned summer road trip felt like the perfect antidote to a difficult year.

So, the day after school let out we got up early and headed out –

because it doesn’t feel like a proper road trip unless you leave at the dawning of the day, still a little sleepy and blurry, go-cup firmly in hand and vehicle packed tight.

Dan and I both fondly remembered stopping for breakfast mid-morning, too, as part of the perfect family road trip formula. It needed to be a place that would serve hearty breakfast fare such as pancakes, sausages, eggs, and strong black tea preferably on a deck in the sunshine.

We found such a place, and so our road trip delightfully and properly was on its way.

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best ever apple pancakes

It was a week of swimming, playing, and exploring a new place.

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Pure restoration and rejuvenation without any agenda or expectations.

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Perfectly imperfect. There were a few days where we got too much sun, our accommodations were not quite as we expected, we all surely had our cranky spells, and not every experience we had was great.

but.

it was lovely.

There was the most soothing cool breeze every night through our bedroom, we were beautifully located, and the water was spectacular. I swam in a lake for the first time in years and it was utterly exhilarating. How good it feels to start to move and stretch my body again after surgery. We also had a few extraordinary meals ~chocolate peanut butter pie that was to die for, handmade tacos and enchiladas, and appetizers one hot and still night on a sweet little patio surrounded by trees, a guitar player gently strumming away in the background.

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These are the moments I never forget.

Detours

We needed to come home a different way than we had come, as we were going to be spending a night with our family in Montana at their condo.

Using google maps, Dan found us the shortest route possible. We set off a little later than expected and headed the way that Dan had chosen. The GPS system that we are just learning to use on our new vehicle would not accept Dan’s route as legitimate and several times tried to re-route us. Each time, Dan determinedly got us back on his google trail with a few choice words for Ford and her uncooperative mapping system.

So we carried on, me feeling the doubt creeping in but deciding to be supportive.

The roads seemed to become a little less traveled as we carried on and soon we found ourselves off the main highways. Dan insisted that this way was so much better, so much more picturesque, so much faster. The architect in Dan is always looking for the more scenic path, whether we are on our way to the corner store or traveling across a country. I will add, though, with my husband’s permission, that the architect in Dan is also particular and finds dust and dirt offensive.

Google in all her wisdom soon directed us onto a gravel road. We discussed turning back but we were already going to arrive much later than we had promised and we had already backtracked a few times. On the map, it didn’t seem as if the road would go for that long (little did we know that we would only be driving 20 km/hr for well over an hour). So on we kept going and I was soon joking that the road was really more of a winding hiking path. We drove through two little streams, passed only one other vehicle- a family in their ATV who encouraged us on, acquired mud and dirt in every single crevice and cranny of our shiny new vehicle and felt as if we were in the very deepest of Montana’s backwoods. They will never find us here, I though to myself several times.

But.  As we drove on, I laughed and laughed at our self-imposed predicament, until the tears rolled down my cheeks. We all did.

And

we also came upon the most gorgeous mountain lake, the kind that makes you take a deep breath and give sacred thanks for just about everything,

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the kind of thanks that offers the knowledge that there never really are any mistakes in this life, only adventures and detours,

it’s really just one big road trip.

Cardboard Boxes

During the last week of school we had two dining room chairs delivered. They arrived packaged up in GIANT cardboard boxes.

The minute Olivia saw these boxes, she was almost vibrating ~ and excitedly asked us if she could keep them.

Do kids ever get too old for big boxes?

Dan and I weren’t thrilled about keeping all of this cardboard in our living room but who are we to stifle creative play?

Within minutes of getting home from school on the last day, both kids went to town on these boxes, completely absorbed for hours.

I couldn’t believe it.

Olivia had just completed her first set of finals for which she had studied a ridiculous amount of time. Her homework load has been enormous this year. She was absolutely exhausted. I had fully expected her to zonk out on the couch for an extended sitcom-watching marathon the minute she was done, but instead here she was on this hyper-focused mission cutting apart and redecorating a box, and so was her brother who on most days would rather have been playing MineCraft.

Who says kids don’t know how to play any more

or that they can’t think outside the box?

The answer, maybe, is to just give them a box.

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Notice the cardboard chair behind George’s box, made by Dan. Like father like son.

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Olivia’s focus was more on the interior.

Happy Summer friends! May you all find your own cardboard box.