Before and After the Fire & The Audition Song

Before the Fire – written Sept. 11

I began writing this post on the first day of school, and then was swept away by the worry of the Kenow Fire in Waterton, and the pressing need to gather a few cherished items from our place before evacuation,  and so I ended up not publishing.

This post that I began was one brimming with optimism for a new year, and even despite the events of this week, these words still ring true. We cannot control all of the external chaos swirling around us right now,  rather we are further challenged to remain steady and trusting from within -wisdom & clarity & love can and often do reign in times of turmoil.


taken on a recent hike up to Bertha Lake

Particular to this fire event,

the extensive efforts and preparation of the Park and its staff, the different levels of government and surrounding municipalities unifying, the indescribably brave work of the firefighters,

the deep passion obviously present around both honouring the welfare of nature and  preserving the townsite –

ALL of this makes me want to weep about 17 times a day.


There truly are countless people deeply invested and committed to  –

our Peace Park.


one of our favourite spots in the park

After the Fire: written Sept 12

We have a calendar hanging in our kitchen, upon which I only write the truly significant stuff….family birthdays, including the times the kids were born….


the time and date of my mom’s death- for several years I even recorded the date of her diagnosis and turning points before she died,

the anniversary of my heart surgery.

Sometimes in a New Year when I am transferring everything to a fresh calendar, I will let a particular anniversary fall away if it no longer feels relevant or important to remember….

or perhaps the healing around the event is simply                 complete.

What is certain, though, is that if an event gets written on the calendar, it’s because it was somehow powerful enough to cut time into a before and after.


a photo making the social media rounds, taken very near our cabin….credit?

Yesterday afternoon, on our kitchen calendar, I wrote down on Sept. 12, 2017,


Waterton Fire.


The Audition Song – written on Sept. 5, first day of school

I just dropped off my kids at school and now am sitting in a coffee shop eating a lunch of crackers, hummus, & nuts, and drinking iced tea. The weather is still full-on summer hot and when I asked for an iced tea, my barista actually said ‘So you want your tea iced?’ as if  I hadn’t thought to translate my order to Starbucks language (:

I have not been in this particular cafe all summer and it has been recently renovated, looking quite different but feeling the same, quite black and trendy.  I was taken aback at first by the change.


I am still processing this reality of a new year.

For the last few weeks gearing up to September, Olivia and I needed to repeat to each other about a thousand times that it all, in fact, would be all right, maybe even better than all right.

Today, we sang the ‘Audition Song’ from LaLaLand to each other as we headed towards the high school, which has become our new shared ritual of empowerment and courage,

a song all about being true to yourself, true to your dreams.


George on the other hand was fine. I acted quite shocked that he didn’t want me to come into the school.  I told him that I had planned on settling him into his desk and giving him a big goodbye kiss. But even he knows I would never actually dream of imposing this horror on him.


And so here I am now, sitting in this coffee shop, writing….feeling at once both the excitement around new beginnings and the bitter-sweetness of the years going by too quickly,

realizing for sure that I need to truly commit to myself this year, my dreams. It ends up ringing hollow to my kids when I don’t live by the same standards that I want for them,


sing with them.


play break during the wedding weekend, photo credit: Jonathan Tennant


I have not written since Easter. It was a tumultuous spring, then an action-packed, full summer. Our daughter Alex married her love, Ryland, in beloved Waterton.

It was an event that filled our hearts beyond description. I don’t even know how to write about it yet, so lovely and precious it was, but I know that it will be woven in so many stories and writings to come.


photo credit: Jonathan Tennant

So the summer flew by and my thoughts and ideas I mostly kept quiet, trusting that they needed time and space to percolate in the heat and the holidays, the celebrations and all the hoopla.  Still, in the background, I thought a lot about what’s coming up this fall, for us, for me.




The Bear Grass this summer was stunning, magical, abundant.

On our final turn into the high school, I dug deep for one last helpful thing to say to my nervous girl,  feeling as if every single possible thing to say had been completely and utterly worn out,


‘This is it. For whatever reason, here you are… in this city, in this family, in this high school. We can’t know how or why, but here you are. And so then both the great stuff and the hard stuff are meant for you. So just be you and trust.’


She looked at me as we pulled up, smiled and jumped out of the vehicle.


Olivia not so long ago


Audition Song lyrics:

My aunt used to live in Paris
I remember, she used to come home and tell us these stories about being abroad
And I remember she told us that she jumped into the river once, barefoot
She smiled
Leapt, without looking
And tumbled into the Seine
The water was freezing
She spent a month sneezing
But said she would do it again

Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make

She captured a feeling
Sky with no ceiling
The sunset inside a frame

She lived in her liquor
And died with a flicker
I’ll always remember the flame

Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make

She told me
“A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that’s why they need us”

So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays

And here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make

I trace it all back to then
Her, and the snow, and the Seine
Smiling through it
She said she’d do it again

Written by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Noble Paul • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc







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.


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.


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.


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?,


‘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.


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.


What beauty, though, it is being held within.


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.