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.



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,


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.



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.


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.



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.




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.


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.




On Orcas, Naps and ‘The Ghost Bride’

Every week I am going to speak to three subjects: books, ideas, people, products, or innovations that I believe are peace-building, heart-opening, community-celebrating, love-spreading vehicles. Complaining and criticizing are easy traps to fall into, but I am convinced that building up holds far more power and transformative energy.

So, my sweet friends, here goes….Our world is a beautiful village and peace does begin at home.

What I am LOVING this week…

1) Orcas

I have a thing for whales, orcas especially.

It’s not an exaggeration to state that I have loved whales for all of my thinking life.

When I was in grade 3 my friend Cara and I had stuffed orcas that we slept with, ate with, played with, and loved to tatters.

One of my most common recurring dreams is one where I am in close proximity to a pod of orcas. Sometimes, I am looking at them through giant panes of glass, other times I am at the edge of a beautiful bay where they are swimming and playing. It is usually dusk or dark, and the waters are calm.  Always, I am completely drawn to be with the whales.  I am afraid too, though, because they are so massive and powerful

and I am not.

Sometimes I just watch them, but in other dreamtimes I actually have the courage to dive in and be with them. Either way, I am ecstatic to be in their presence and am utterly spell-bound by their magic and beauty.

I am sure you could analyze the heck out of this dream (and I have), but perhaps orca-love is simply in my gene pool.

My dad spent many summers  around the BC gulf islands and still talks of being surrounded by orcas while out on a little motor boat, and how awesome and frightening an experience that was for him.

And now our son George, 9, speaks constantly of whales.

A few years ago, we watched a movie called ‘Big Miracle, based on a true story chronicling the 1988 international effort in Alaska to rescue gray whales trapped in the ice. George cried for hours after one of the whales died. He has seen ‘Free Willy‘ of course, and most recently ‘BlackFish‘. He now speaks passionately of whales needing to be free to roam.

George also researches whales on the internet, asks me to print whale word puzzles, and draws orcas with increasing detail. He sculpts whales with plasticine and builds them with lego.

Always planning, I imagine him and I launching our own thematic art show.

Again, another obsession, a shared one, given free rein. I love that he devotes the time to study something that my heart yearns to know too.

To me, it’s all so good. In a time period when we are so disconnected from nature, from animals, from all that’s real-life, what could be more crucial than exploring a single creature from every angle.

To want to save something, we must first love it and understand it, and I often fear that we are losing this level of connection with our natural wonders.

And so it is that in our dusty and dry prairie home that we are currently celebrating whales.

2) Naps

There have been several nights this week where I have not slept well. This is uncommon for me as I am typically a good sleeper. Sleep often eludes Dan, but not me.

However, these last few nights for me have been restless.

Yesterday afternoon, feeling particularly tired and cranky after picking up the kids from school I went straight up to my bedroom, shut the door and lay down after giving out strict instructions that I be left alone.

I never do this. After school is usually one of the busiest parts of our day.

The kids and I unpack and pack new lunches, I help get them organized for any activities that evening, I help Olivia with her homework, I start supper, I check my e-mails and do all the paperwork that I have resisted doing throughout the day,

and so it usually goes.

But yesterday I didn’t feel like doing any of it, and so I lay down

by myself.

It was a very warm afternoon, the warmest day we have had yet, after a cold and relentless winter.

I lay on our bed, my face toward the window and felt the sun’s warm rays on me. I looked at the birch tree in our neighbour’s front yard and thought of….. nothing in particular ….as I luxuriously drifted in and out of sleep for a half hour.

How positively delicious it feels, sometimes, to just be.

Just be. It’s such a cliché. We hear it all the time, but do we actually heed its invitation?

I am the queen of ‘doing’ as much as I am the queen of wanting to ‘just be’ and so often my efforts

to meditate or visualize or say my mantra or be mindful or sign up for this online course or read that book,

can end up looking like another whole mountain of ‘doing’.

Don’t get me wrong, I love all of that stuff, and it helps….

But what can be really succulent and authentically peaceful is just taking a spontaneous afternoon springtime nap.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon.”
Charles M. Schulz, Charlie Brown’s Little Book of Wisdom

3) The ‘Ghost Bride’ by Yangsze Choo

One of my favourite movies of all time is the 1998 film ‘What Dreams May Come‘.

In this movie the character played by Robin William searches the afterlife for his wife.

What I loved about this movie even more than the concept of love transcending death, was the captivating and gorgeous afterlife setting it offers,

wherein the experience and environment that each soul has are the immediate products of both their imagination and expectations/beliefs about life after death.

Fast forward to 2013 and the publication of Yangsze Choo’s book ‘The Ghost Bride’, set in colonial Malaya, in which Choo creates for us a memorable ‘living’ example of the Chinese afterlife.

Choo deftly weaves in specific cultural beliefs as she creates her otherworldy setting, such as the Chinese ritual of families burning paper offerings to their deceased .

Paper offerings represent objects, animals or people that the deceased liked, and burning them ensures they will reach the deceased in the after-world and assure the dead a  comfortable existence.

It is so entertaining to see how these paper offerings bring to form a real city of ghosts which sets the stage for drama and adventures, as Li Lan navigates this strange place while her spirit hovers between life and death.

There is a lot going on in this book, and it was at times confusing to follow,

but deeply compelling for me was this concept of an imagined afterlife, based on the beliefs and perceptions that were held during life, brought to fruition. Choo masterfully depicts this very specific spirit world.

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts….

What animals are currently being adored in your home?

What simple moments bring you peace?

What are you currently reading?