In Grade 12, there was this out trip that we all participated in. It was a several day canoe and portage adventure trip up in Killarney National Park and it was meant to be a fun, team-building, learning experience. It was also somewhat of a survival experience and, for me, a challenge to remain positive and friendly no matter what the weather was doing.
The preparatory meetings began. ‘All grade 12s going on the Out Trip with Mrs Ducky, report to classroom 105 for a planning meeting’. All of us gathered from the four corners of the school. We found a seat and glanced around. The atmosphere in the room was palpable with hormones, comparisons and expectation of fun to come. Mrs Ducky ensured that each of the forty or so of us made contributions to the planning. What needs to be packed. How to pack it (in plastic bags just in case it rains). What to expect (an arduous journey) and the timings and itinerary for the trip, including car pooling and who would be in each canoe.
When we finally got up to Killarney National Park, we were ready for the adventure ahead. We piled into our crafts and were told to stick together, lest we get lost. Mrs Ducky and Mr Watson should remain within site, they told us. It was huge water surrounded by vast wilderness and craggy rocks and with many inexperienced canoeists, anything could happen.
Poor Sue (the same guy from ‘Fun and Foibles At The Camp‘ went in the drink just off shore.) He was with a couple of classmates who didn’t know how to balance the canoe while trying to switch places. Over they went. Sue’s sleeping bag remained wet for the whole trip. Gotta ask yourself, ‘What happened to the plastic bag for it, Sue?’ Years later Sue joined the Army. He learned a ton about survival and staying dry then.
Anyway, the trip was magical. We canoed, we raced, we sang, we splashed and we teased each other. Sue even demonstrated gunnel-bobbing just off shore of one of our sites. At times it rained horribly and at times the sun peaked out to shine on the motley, rag tag crew that we were. We had several portages that we would tell each other was, ‘only five football fields long’ – helping mentally to push through it and get ‘er done.
One day, while making lunch for the group, Mrs Ducky squealed at Mike to stop eating the bread rolls. He looked up with cheeks stuffed full like a chipmunk and pointing a sausage-shaped finger at his chest tried to say, “Who me?” Those in ear-shot giggled at this even though it would mean we would be short for supper. The food was strictly rationed and Mike was this lumbering, big guy with fuzzy black hair and so funny.
At another site that lent itself to bathing, a few of us actually went for a swim and washed our hair. I was one of them, being so used to this kind of thing at the camp all my life. The water was so pure and clean and felt like silk as I dove in. The water in the lakes up there in Northern Ontario parks was so pure in those days (1985) that for drinking water, we were all instructed to bring a melmac or metal mug on a carabiner that should be hooked to our waistband. With it, we would simply scoop water out of the lake and drink it down as we paddled, or at any time on the trip. No bottled water. No tanks of water. No filter, pump or drops. Just lake water. No one got sick.
A few of my classmates were quite miserable on this trip and I felt badly for them. They didn’t have the experience in nature that I had been so fortunate to have. They didn’t want to squat in the woods or to walk barefoot into the water or sleep with camp-fire smoked hair. It was a foreign place, nature. They were home-sick.
On the other hand, It was bizarre how much I enjoyed the whole experience and again reveled in the physical outdoor challenge: loving the sights especially the starry sky or a glassy-calm lake; the sounds like the lonesome, haunting call of the loon and smells of nature like of fallen pine needles under foot on a forest trail. I ate it all up and reveled in the wisdom of the team effort and of observing my classmates who may or may not be in their element. Did it bring out the best or the worst in them? Interesting to see and had me recalling that game about picking who you would want in your lifeboat.
This is a concept I just heard on CBC radio. The Reverse Bucket List is a list of times in your life that you would love to return to or that you are happy about or proud of or that taught a great lesson that you carry forward through your life. So, looking back on your life for the best, most profound or impactful moments instead of always projecting that those moments need to happen in your future. It is a method of making yourself happy for the accomplishments of your life thus far. I realized, while writing my list below, that that is mostly what I am doing by writing this blog. I’m writing my reverse bucket list!
Here’s my list (with links to the stories that correspond). No particular order except the first two are the top for a reason.
Drove from Germany into Czechoslovakia just after the 1989 removal of the Berlin wall and witnessed a country coming alive;
Hadthree big dogs (not all at once) and a cat who were cherished as part of our family, And currently have a doodle – on Instagram as @jacktheWolfvilledoodle￼ Because he’s just too darn cute not to be￼
Have read a friend’s manuscript and helped with some edits;￼
Am currently (April 2020) living in the 2020 COVID-19 world pandemic and I am social distancing (staying home) to help flatten the curve and reduce stress on our healthcare system￼￼￼. So…I have learned how to bake sourdough bread, thanks to my good friend who gave me some of her wonderful starter. I have also decided to grow a larger garden this year and have started many seeds some from just kitchen scraps.￼ My attitude is to stay proactive, healthy and helpful.￼ 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻😉
Leave a comment with your top 5 or 10 Reverse Bucket List items…Come On….Go ahead. I know you want to!!!
(picture of view from top of Gros Morne Mountain is from google images…thank you)
My family had this amazing situation: the seven of us (my brothers and sisters and I) plus our parents. We would leave the city behind for the two months of the summer and move two hours car ride north to the lake. At the lake, we would shed our footwear and mostly run around bare foot. It was incredible. We were fleet of foot. We would run through the tender green hay in the early summer which would be blond and tall by the late summer.
When I ponder that aspect of my childhood, I remember the immense sense of fortune at having this place as a retreat every summer and, when not doing morning chores, the sense of freedom and connection with nature that we all shared.
Most days, I would live in my bathing suit…no sunscreen, EVER – we didn’t even know what that was. No hat, no sunglasses, no shirt, and as stated, no shoes.
Our lakeside acres had patches of earth that I knew to always be damp and mossy. Patches that were warm and dry. Tough prickly grass in the big fields. Slimy slippery rocks like the ones on the path by cabin #1. Annoyingly painful gravel of the camp roads which would pry an ‘ouch!’ and a hobble out of me every time. The thick green moist grass outside of Grampa’s kitchen window where the sink water drained. The wet grainy sand of the beach as I would wade in for a swim, digging my toes in and enjoying the sensation. The soft tufts of maiden grass that grew in the yard up by the porch of #2 cabin. The baked planks of the redwood-painted docks. The bottom of the canoe as we would catch frogs in the cove and the sensation of gliding over water that I felt through the fiberglass.
I knew these things because I detected them with the soles of my feet time and again as I would nimbly move over our twenty lakeside acres all summer. Once, riding on the shoulders of my eldest sister’s future husband Peter, he remarked that I had leather-bottom feet. I shrugged. It was my normal.
I was betrayed by them a few times, my bare feet: I knew the agony of a piercing by a hawthorn, stepped on absentmindedly, chubby arms crossed across my round belly, shivering from swimming for hours, as I made my small way past the tool shed. I cried and bawled unabashedly with the pain, like little children do, and neighbours took me to have it removed by a doctor, such was my carrying on with it. (Mom and Dad were in town so the Pattersons came to my rescue – read a funny account of my brother Mark and the Pattersons in this story: The Camp).
Another betrayal of my barefoot days is in this story: Barefoot Heathens in which my Father forbids the ‘going to town’ barefoot. We had been discouraged from ruining our school shoes which would be passed down from older siblings until they were worn and gone.
My brother Jobe and I would race through the tall hay in the lower field arriving at the frog pond slowly, lest we scare the frogs away. We would creep the edges and wade carefully to grab an unsuspecting frog by its tiny waist just above its powerful legs. Now and then, our bare feet would betray us and one of us would slip down the slick clay bank of the frog pond and into its stagnant waters, the stink and slime on our skin. Once, we found ourselves a baby snapping turtle in that pond. Just the once. We held it like an Oreo cookie while it stretched its neck, beak and clawed feet doing its best to injure us while we ooohed and ahhed at how tiny and cute it was. Then carefully letting it dive back into its swampy home, as we did with all the little pond frogs we caught. (This wasn’t what we would do with the big, meaty bullfrogs we would catch in the cove though. Those guys became breakfast and a crisp dollar bill from the Pattersons for helping to quiet the cove where their tent trailer sat. The dozens of bullfrogs would ‘ribbit’ their love songs loudly all night long.)
These days, decades later, I find myself in my fifties and marvel at how we were back then. Mostly carefree. Mostly enjoying the simple things in life. We wouldn’t use a telephone all summer. Now we can’t be without one for a minute, carrying it on our person like it is a lifeline.
We would actually write letters on paper, stuffed into carefully addressed and licked 8 cent stamps on the envelopes, to friends in the city. S.W.A.K. loudly printed on the back flap: ‘Sealed With A Kiss’. If we were lucky, we would receive a hand-written letter from them a couple of weeks later, delivered by the mail truck guy into the big old aluminum mail box at the top of the gravel road. Its red flag up and encouraging us to come. Scurrying barefoot to check the mailbox each day until finally it was there: a letter for me! Savouring its every word and studying the envelope for clues as to when it was mailed from the city. The impossibility of receiving news from two hundred miles away.
Times sure have changed as I am about to post this story and knowing that it can be read world wide, in the blink of an eye. I am ever so glad to have made those simple but priceless memories at the lake, and through the soles of my leather-bottom feet.
(photo courtesy of google images and the last one was taken by my hubby)
Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Can Also Hurt Me…
Sticks and Stones Break only Skin while Words are Ghosts that Haunt Me. Pain from Words has Left Its Scar on Mind and Heart that’s Tender. Cuts and Bruises now have healed, it’s words that I Remember.
Recently, two of my brothers became aware of my writings. I had never actually invited them to read my stories because I didn’t think they would be interested in the least. Their reaction to the news that I was blogging about my life, including when I was a child and also including very honest descriptions of our father’s behaviour during and after the divorce, was emphatically bitter. To clarify, they were upset toward me, not toward Dad. Toward me. Wait, I was the one who was abused.
I find myself deeply disappointed in them. No one was there to protect me. No one. My little brother Luke was there, but he is almost three and a half years younger than me.
I am doing my best to therapeutically write about this part of my past.
Lately, I was on the phone with my best friend from childhood, Kelly. Ever honest, she reminded me that she was there too. She said, ‘Marn, I remember arriving at your house to find your dad walking around in his boxer shorts with the no-button fly wide open. And, the thing is,’ she said, ‘He didn’t then go and put on his robe. He just stayed walking around in his open-fly boxers. It was disgusting.’
She continued with, ‘When Mark was manic (bipolar) he dry-humped me on the bed while I screamed for him to stop.’ Kelly would have been 16 and my brother Mark would have been 21 at the time. Unfortunately, I think I was pounding on his back to stop. I had no idea how to react to this behaviour. It was outrageous.
Last night, over our supper, I was again drawn back into the memories of the past. I told my husband of twenty-five years, Dean, about times when I would witness my dad being truly mean and abusive to my siblings. Telling them these hurtful messages:
‘You’ll never amount to anything.’
‘Be a man.’
‘Get some backbone.’
‘It’s a good thing you’re beautiful.’
I clearly recall a time when I was in the army and had a month off over Christmas. I went to visit Dad, my step-mother, Wen, and Luke who were living in a small border city then. At that time, Dad and Wen were the owner / operators of a 9-room motel. (The same motel that was the excuse for him not helping me with my University fees when I was at Waterloo and then consequently decided to join the army.)
At the time, 17-year old Luke was working as a server, trying to figure out what he would be doing for school and for the future. He could have used some gentle, fatherly guidance. He did not get that there. What he received was verbal and emotional abuse and aloofness. When I saw him on that visit, he seemed to be in a bit of a slump. He talked little. At meals he slouched over his plate with a rounded back, barely lifting his face from his food. It was heartbreaking. Where was my witty, intelligent little brother who could make me laugh at any moment? Dad was so mean to him and Dad wouldn’t stop. He just wouldn’t stop. Every word was a put down. An insult.
I remember Dad taking us to a tacky, cheap diner for a very inexpensive meal. I was into my new army career and doing well. I was on top of the world. I had passed all the difficult training, won a great posting to Germany and had my own platoon. I was best friends with Dean and looking forward to romance with him. I knew he would be mine soon. ‘Just a matter of time,’ I would tell myself. At this diner, I was dressed in nice clothes: my new suede skirt, leather pumps and freshly pressed blouse, earrings and soft makeup…all dolled up, because it was important to be all dolled up around Dad. He had a sharp, critical eye and an acid tongue.
So, we’re sitting in a booth having a nice little chat about my service in the army. In the back of my mind I suspected that there would be a dig coming soon. And so it did. Dad says, ‘Martha, that mole under your nose, why don’t you get it removed?’
WTF Dad. That mole under my nose??? So, this is what you’re going to talk about at this time? The mole under my nose??? My face turned dark red. I was furious with him. I should have known though. I should have known. There was always a dig. And I ask myself, what must have been done to him, for him to behave that way?
I remember this one Christmas when Dad gave my brother Jobe a second-hand dictionary. He actually wrapped up a used dictionary, but, before he did, he inscribed it:
Read this daily and you just might make something of yourself.
How was that supposed to make a ten-year-old feel?
I have striven my whole adult life as a wife, parent, sister and friend, to watch the words that come out of my mouth…that they should not hurt, scrape or strike but that my words should make others feel fine, helped, free or loved, happy or better. I have made mistakes in my youth, before I understood that insulting was not the best way to behave, as well, and in the heat of the moment, that I know. But, at least I am aware of the effect my words can have. We all have that power.
Mom and Dad would sometimes go to Florida at Christmas or March Break and would leave us at home with one of the eldest sibs in charge. One year, my oldest brother Matt was left in charge. He and his new teen-age wife, June took care of we younger ones. Let’s just say that there were a few parties down the basement and sometimes we had really bad tasting spaghetti sauce, a la June. One time, June tried to pass off tomato soup as spaghetti sauce. It was so bad that not even Sammy, our faithful leftover and liver-eating dog, would eat it. Years later we broke it to her that it was awful. By then she had become a good cook though, or as her son would say: Mom’s a good cooker now, eh Dad?
The later years that Mom and Dad went to Florida saw us being taken care of by my second oldest brother, Mark. It got a little scarier then because Mark had some sketchy friends like Byron Hedgeman and Minty. Minty seemed fine, if a little dopey, but, Hedgeman just plain scared me. I think he was continuously high or, in the pursuit of being high.
One time, when I was about eight years old or so, Hedgeman and I were playing a friendly game of checkers in the living room. Hedgeman was getting very upset because I kept using my kings to jump all his checkers.
He began to ask me about my knowledge of Woodstock. He had me there. I had not one idea of what he spoke, and innocently told him that.
Hedgeman was irate. How could I not know about Woodstock?
He then proceeded to educate me about it. I was eight. He told me of mass crowds of hippies who traveled for miles and miles to this place called Woodstock for the concert and drugged-out weekend-long bash of history. He told me of people being so stoned on acid, L.S.D. and mushrooms that they had no idea what they were doing. He told me of scores of hippies wondering around in the nude with caked-on mud as their only clothes – the farmer’s field had turned to pure mud.
Then he and Mark started to recount all the stories they had ever heard about it. Mark talked about the bad acid and how there was an announcement made that the brown acid was bad and no one should do it, Man. I was more than just a little scared after being party to this conversation which Mark and Hedgeman were reveling in the telling of. I was eight. I may have mentioned that.
One time Hedgeman actually passed-out underneath Amy’s bed, down the basement. Mom and Dad were in Cancun but returned a day earlier than planned in order to surprise us. Matt and June, then married and June pregnant, were asleep in my parents’ bed. Dad walked in and looked through the house for all of us. He told Mom that he could smell burning rope coming from downstairs.
He walked into Amy’s basement room. She was fast asleep. However, he quickly noticed that there was a pair of Kodiak work boots sticking out from under her bed. He pulled on them and out slid Hedgeman. It wasn’t a pretty scene. Hedgeman somehow took off out of the house and down Pearl hill. Dad called the police and told them,
“There’s a hoodlum running down Pearl Street and he’s so stoned he’s stunned!”
One time, Mark and Jobe had a very rowdy party and when they started doing hot knives (smoking hash off of hot knives heated on the stove elements) I called Olive Quinn, one of my Mom’s best friends, and begged her to come and get Luke and I. It was after midnight but Van Halen’s Running with the Devil was still pounding, at top volume, throughout the house. The bass on the stereo was turned up to the maximum.
Olive came to fetch us and take us to her house where we stayed in the basement because her husband was a very scary individual and a known bully, even though he was this prominent Catholic and a professional. The next day, Olive delivered us back to Pearl Street. I marveled that our six-foot fence that usually surrounded our back yard was now lying down of the grass.
At those times I wished very badly that Mom and Dad had not gone to Florida for Christmas or Spring Break. At those times I also learned to truly appreciate our normally safe, religious and ordered home. I don’t think my parents ever had a clue about the types of activities that went down while they were away. Chock it up to the 70s.
Decades later, while telling these stories to my best friend and husband, Dean, he looked me in the eye, took my hand and told me that I had been neglected as a child.
I’ll never forget the dawning realization that yes, that was exactly why some tales of my childhood made me feel so uneasy. Dean and I would NEVER have left our son in situations like that. Anything could have happened with those weird wired young men who were Mark’s pals back then and who roamed freely through our home while Mom and Dad were away. Luke and I were lucky to escape with just the psychological scars of being neglected as young children.
To be clear, there were a lot of psychological scars in my family. It may be one of the main reasons we are all so close as siblings. We counted on each other to get through tough times. We cried, we sang and we laughed. We laughed a lot.
Anyway, Luke and I were sworn to secrecy by Mark and Job lest we die by some tortuous death if we told on them. Years later we would learn, disturbingly, that Hedgeman had died at Walden’s Royal Victoria Hospital, of AIDS.
(Photos and courtesy of Eva Player and google images)
The word came down that after Basic Training, I would be going to Royal Roads Military College outside of Victoria, BC. I was told that the first month, or, ‘Recruit Term’ would be very difficult, but, that I should stay positive and it would pass quickly. ‘Difficult’ was a gross understatement: Recruit Term was hell on earth. I cried myself to sleep every night.
A typical day of Recruit Term began with pounding rock music at 5:30 am. The wake-up song for our flight was April Wine’s What a Night. What a Night starts with a fire alarm bell mounted on a cymbal stand being rang at a fast pace. It truly was the perfect harsh sound to get the heart racing and the panic started for the drills of the day. We had until the end of the song to be up, dressed, to the bathroom, bed made and ‘layout’ ready for inspection. Everything in the room had to be prepared to specific, exacting standards. For instance, our uniform shirts had to be folded to exactly 25 x 30 cm, ironed and TAPED into our top drawer. Socks had to be rolled into a tight little ball, in a specific manner that we were shown and TAPED into the drawer. Same with pants. Boots and leather gators had to be polished and spit-shone to a high-gloss. We had three uniforms in our closet which had to have all buttons done and all lint removed and hanging exactly two inches apart with all sleeves perfectly positioned. The problem was, there was absolutely no free-time to do these things. So, we did them in the middle of the night and we were all quite sleep deprived already from basic training.
After morning inspection, we were run, that is: we ran over to the next building to the mess hall for breakfast where we would try to choke down some food but we were constantly being screamed at and ‘steadied up’ by our superiors.
‘RECRUIT, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT TO USE YOUR LEFT HAND TO EAT YOUR TOAST??! STEADY UP WHEN I ADDRESS YOU.’
At this point, with his face millimeters from mine, and he breathing terribly hard, hot breath, I would have to sit at attention with arms straight down my sides and with tight fists say, ‘YES MR MAYLOR. NO MR MAYLOR. I WILL DO BETTER MR MAYLOR’…suffice to say, with all of the interruptions and the stress of being inspected so closely by our superior cadets, it was nearly impossible to eat. After a couple of weeks of Recruit Term, my uniform pants were falling down as I ran. Due to my past with anorexia, this would normally feel fine. But, running with your pants falling off and senior cadets screaming at you, well, this was not so fine.
After breakfast there would be hours of panic drills where we were made to complete some task and then stand for inspection. It may be to lay out our stripped rifle with all parts displayed, by the end of the song. It may be to put on our dress uniform and then stand for inspection by the end of the song…remembering that our rooms and beds, trunks, cupboards, sink, desks and dresser had to be completely perfect, inside and out, not just our person. There was a lot of insults and yelling:
‘RECRUIT, YOU ARE A COMPLETE BAG.’
RECRUIT, YOU ARE AN EMBARRASSMENT TO THE CANADIAN ARMED FORCES. RECRUIT – GET DOWN AND GIVE ME 25 PUSH UPS ON YOUR KNUCKLES.’
It went on for hours. There would be another run over to the next building for lunch and a parade muster before lunch where we would have to stand in completely straight lines and have our uniform looking sharp – which was impossible after the previous activities. We would all be sweating and salt-stained, shirt tails hanging out, pants drooping, laces untied, baret atilt on our heads, and females’ hair buns falling out. So more yelling and insults.
‘YOU PEOPLE ARE A MESS, A COMPLETE MESS.
YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES.
This is where we would march in place with knees as high as our waist, sweating profusely. Next, into the beautiful mess hall with white linen, silver, crystal and table service. Now, try to eat while being examined and corrected by the Senior Cadets. Not likely.
After lunch, we would be taken, you guessed it, running, sometimes with rifles (called a rifle-run), for an hour or so in the woods of the College grounds. The woods were absolutely peaceful and beautiful. A temperate rain forest. But sweat was dripping down my face and fear was in my heart. Our physical fitness instructor was Mr Snellwood. He was a kinder soul and once, at the beginning of Recruit Term, he sat us all down in the woods and tried to reassure us that we would all pass recruit term, as long as we stayed diligent and showed that we were working hard. I was sitting there thinking about the three more weeks that had to be endured and a tear escaped, rolling down my cheek. I thought he was sweet and kind, but, I also had serious doubts about whether I would pass or could ‘keep up’ with this system.
We were allowed a two-minute shower after running and then we were back at the panic drills. Every now and then, something not-so-hard was offered. Like: Chapel visit, uniform fitting, tour of the incredible Japanese Gardens, or of the boat shed, or of Hatley Castle and then there were mini lectures like: etiquette in mess hall. This was instruction on how to use all of the various cutlery and glasses that were part of a mess dinner function. As Officers, we would be attending these nice dinners several times per year, and we needed to know how to sit properly at a formal table and how to use the formal dining setting.
One time, they got us all out of bed at first light. We were blind-folded and we were taken out into the back woods. This was the Escape and Evasion exercise. Our superior cadets were talking in bad Russian accents and we were to pretend that we had been captured by enemy forces. In the woods, they had us get down on our bellies and they told us that we would be set free and that there would be a prize for the first recruit to make it back to barracks without being re-captured. They left and we, the captured, all got up and removed the blind folds. We started wandering around. I gathered with a couple of friends and we began to walk through the rainforest. We had no idea which way to go and it was a large area, acres and acres of woodland. After walking through the forest for a couple of hours, we came upon a huge blackberry patch just completely laden with huge, shining, juicy blackberries. We fell on it and started to gorge ourselves. I must have had blackberry juice all over my face. The berries were better than delicious. They were scrumptious. And no one to ‘steady us up’….we thought.
All of a sudden: RECRUITS HALT. HANDS UP. TURN AROUND! We were re-captured and would not be winning any prize today. The berries were worth it though.
After supper, we were given two-hours of study time, or time to do some tasks that they wanted us to do. One evening they told us to write an essay about our former lives so that our section commanders could get to know us better. I started off with the COSSA Basketball tournament that my Dad was coaching when I came along and then into the camp details and high school sportiness. I had heard our section commander say he was originally from Huntsville, Ontario which is just south of the where the camp is. So, I made sure to mention Huntsville. Later that evening, we gathered with our sister flight and some of the essays were read aloud. Mine was picked. I read it aloud and when I came to Huntsville, I looked up at Mr Maylor. He grinned at me. I had made a connection. Now I was a little more hopeful that I would make it through this hell month. Mr. Maylor was a behemoth: well over six feet tall with huge shoulders and muscles. This guy would strap the largest weights possible to his body then with veins bulging in biceps and face of stone, pump off chin-ups. Many chin-ups. I just had to be on his good side, I figured.
At bed time we had another routine to endure. We had to do 100 sit-ups in the hallway by pinning our toes under the heater and with knees bent and fingers laced behind the head, pump them off. There was a catch. We had to do 100 sit-ups, take a shower AND brush our teeth by the end of our ‘goodnight’ song: Stairway to Heaven (8 minutes). Consequently, I did not wash my hair for 30 days. I kept it tightly braided and would wash just my bangs. There was one shower and two girl recruits on our flight. The two of us showered together. Writing this thirty years later, it seems bazaar that we would shower together. But we did. We just did.
On the final day of Recruit Term, we had the obstacle course and all recruits had to pass this final test. The Obstacle Course was a 5 km course through the woods with obstacles the whole way. Most of the obstacles involved dunking the head fully under into mud to say, get under a barrier or to jump over a barrier only to land fully in mud. There was a rope wall to climb with a fall into a muddy pond; balance-beam fast crossing of a mud river with a necessary dismount into…you guessed it…MUD. I looked up at one obstacle to see a boy from my street back in Barrie (he had actually been my boyfriend but was now dating Sally, my good friend since kindergarten. They are still together three decades later). Anyway, that guy was yelling at me, ‘GO! YOU CAN DO THIS MARTHA VALIQUETTE!’ – he kindly was not using the word recruit to cheer me on. I remember thinking in my exhausted haze that that was very kind of him.
The final obstacle, when knackered and with mud in every orifice, was to swim across a deep, lily-pad covered pond in combat boots. This was an individual test. Ironically, we were not allowed to help each other on any part of the obstacle course. Ironic because up until that moment it was ALL team work: ‘RECRUITS – STAY TOGETHER — YOU’RE ONLY AS STRONG AS YOU’RE WEAKEST LINK’, they would scream at us. I recall thinking, when I got to the pond, this will be a piece of cake. This was due to all the swimming in my childhood and even in lily-pad covered ponds. Thank goodness I passed it. Afterwards I showered for 30 minutes but still had mud in my ears. I ended up passing Recruit Term toward the top of my flight. No idea how.
We then had a big celebration down at the cadet mess that was called, Decks. We had a big supper and lots of drinks. We had been told to dress up in nice civilian clothes or, ‘civvies’. Now we females were visually checked out by the senior cadets. As a young woman with certain healthy curves, long dark wavy hair, green eyes, straight, white teeth and full lips with a good fashion sense –I wore a blue knit, V-neck dress with a wide belt synched tightly around my tiny waist and leather pumps – I turned some heads at this celebration. (I was not beautiful, nor was I pretty, but, I was certainly attractive and the ratio of women to men was 1:8, so good odds that I would turn some heads). What a difference a shower, clean hair, some lipstick and civvies can make. It was a fun night. I should mention that I have not often shrank from having a fun time at parties.
The academic year began with classes, assignments, essays, exams and social experiences. The difference, at Military College is that almost every weekend was jam packed with military or varsity sport requirements in the form of parade and parade practice and athletic events and competitions. The schedule was brutal and cadets get very close, due to it. One weekend we lost four cadets. We were shattered.
One long weekend, a friend – Cindy and I, decided to get off campus and away from it all. We had been more or less locked up for months and ready to just wear our jeans and hit the open road for a wee adventure. With a back pack each, we hitch-hiked a couple hours up island to Lake Cowichan where we had booked a cabin for two nights. Our first ride got us most of the way there. Then, we were stuck for a bit on some country road with the sun going down over the next hill.
‘This is nothing,’ I thought. ‘We’ve just passed through hell and found some freedom. Nothin’ is getting me down now.’
On that note, a red pick-up pulled over to offer us a lift. The man inside was more than a little scary looking with wild eyes and even wilder hair. Cindy and I looked at each other, shrugged, and hopped in. He turned out to be a decent fellow and he dropped us at our rented cabin.
Next: what should we do with our free evening? We had heard tell of a dance in a countryside hall nearby. We gussied ourselves up and with blue jeans and jean jackets and big hair (this was 1986 after all), off we went…only to find five or six of our classmate cadets already there. Not sure how that happened exactly but it was sure to be fun. When you work hard, it only seems natural to also play hard. That is what we did. We basically started dancing and didn’t stop for hours. At one point during Rock Lobster, we were all down on the hard-wood floor doing the worm. Yes, just like it sounds. Squirming. Full-body contact with the floor. It was hilarious. Likely one of the most fun nights of my entire life due to its spontaneity, timing, serendipity and remote location and laughter. We ended up meeting a couple of local fellows that night and took them back to our cabin.
We arrived at the holy river of Hinduism, the Ganges, in Varanasi, India at 4 in the morning. We had been on an all-night converted school bus from Nepal. (see post Namaste, Nepal (age 30) 🙏) We sat on the ancient stone steps and watched in fascination as the pilgrims bathed in the holy black waters. Some of the pilgrims wore long lengths of fabric wound around their sinewy bodies. They methodically performed the rituals and prayers, their lips moving silently as they cupped water in their palms, raised them and poured it over their heads. To my husband Dean and I, at dawn in the incredibly exotic country of India, on the steps of the Ganges, it was out of this world to witness. I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not.
From there, we hefted our packs onto our backs and walked up into the crushing crowds of Varanasi to find a place to stay. We had our guide book (remember, there were no cell phones or TripAdvisor back then; this was March 1996) and after about five tries and many exhausting steps, we managed to find a very inexpensive hostel that looked clean and suitable. Once there, we immediately purified some tap water in our Nalgene water bottles using our trusty iodine drops that took thirty minutes to kill off any major critters in the water. This chore would be repeated several times each day, as it was all through Nepal. Before that, in Australia (see post: We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28)) we had drank tap water and a fair bit of beer, with no issues.
I should mention here that, although unsavoury to write about, Dean and I had picked up some kind of bowel parasite in Nepal. Likely during the trek when dousing our heads in mountain run-off streams. On a few occasions, I let a bit of water into my mouth. I’m sure Dean had too. Said parasite was doing a serious number on us physically. We were nearly emaciated. I grabbed Dean’s upper arm one day to find my fingers almost wrapping all the way round. Scary. I wasn’t sure how much longer we could backpack – that is how weak we both were getting and with bad stomach cramps. There was also the obvious need to use the toilet a lot and with considerable urgency at times.
Anyhoo, we enjoyed the city, walking around and seeing the sights. We visited markets and bought fruit and nuts from vendors.
We drank many a fine lassi (yogurt and fruit smoothie-type drink). Indians do yogurt incredibly well.
Next, it was time to go visit the majestic Taj Mahal. So, onto a bus we climbed for the eleven hour ride from Varanasi to Agra. It was on this ride that we met an Indian-American family who were visiting India as tourists. They told us many wonderful tips and tricks. One of them was to order ‘the thali’ to eat, and always to eat it with yogurt, as yogurt would cool the palette in case of too much heat or spice.
I just have to say, there was nothing more delicious and satisfying to us than this incredible meal on a stainless-steel tray. Dean and I were overjoyed every meal time to get another chance to eat another thali. We indulged in a thali each at the lunch stop enroute to the Taj. Our Indian-American family joined our table and our education of India continued. It was fascinating. Again, it dawned on me that one of the best things about world travel were the folks we met along the way.
Finally, we reached the outskirts of Agra, where we could now see the Taj in the distance.
But this is what it looked like up close:
This incredible piece of architecture was built between 1632 and 1647 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The Taj Mahal was dedicated to Jahan’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is shrouded in mystery, optical illusions, inset gems and the deaths of its many builders. It is a fascinating place and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.
After Agra, we spent a week in New Delhi. We took the train and it was also other-worldly. There are a myriad of ticket classes you can buy, the worst being third class. We were on second class and it was dusty and dirty, but okay. The Indian train system is a marvel of efficiency and engineering. There is a network of over 65,000 km and 7,000 stations. At one point on our ride, the train came into a station where as soon as the train stopped there were scores of vendors selling their wares at the window, all yelling to announce their wares. Everything from safety pins to hankies to tea which is called ‘chai’.
“CHAI! CHAI! CHAI! cried the Chai-wallah, approaching with a large steel bucket of chai and a tray of little clay cups. We each took a cup of the sweet, spicy, milky tea through our window. It was only lukewarm, and went down fast. When we passed the cup back the chai-wallah, he smashed them on the tracks. A split second later, a lower cast man scrambled onto the tracks to collect the pieces. It was explained to us that the collector would sell those pieces back to the potter who would turn them back into little clay cups, and in turn, sell them back to the Chai-wallah.
Suddenly, Dean jumped up and said, “I’ll be right back”. He jumped off the train and, looking out the little window, I saw him over at a take-out window, buying two white boxes of food for us. He ran back and sat down. It was then that I realized I had been holding my breath. If the train had started to leave while Dean was getting the food, we may have never seen each other in India again. Such is the vast and convoluted system of Indian trains. Add that to the magnitude of a population at that time of nearly 1 billion people, and it would have been a needle in a haystack kinda situation. Remembering that we couldn’t just Facebook message each other or text, snapchat or Instagram or what have you. I’m not really sure what we would have done, had we been separated on that train.
In New Delhi, we found a lovely hostel with an internal garden where we rested up and did some reading but also our daily walks around the city streets to see the sights. One day, we walked into a luxury hotel. I shall preface this with the fact that we had just seen several lepers begging on the streets. They were also known as The Untouchables. The jewelry store in the hotel lobby was selling star rubies for thousands of dollars. The patrons of the hotel were wearing gold-threaded saris. The dichotomy of wealth was hard to comprehend.
It was getting to be time to head home to Canada, since our wee parasites were becoming more and more of an issue.
When we got back to our mother land, we had no idea what we would do for employment. And, we couldn’t wait too long because living in Canada is a heck of a lot more expensive than India and funds were dwindling. After some deliberation, we decided to head North again. This time to the bigger centre of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada. We had spent a year in the Arctic prior to traveling (see post North of 66 ~ A Trying Year in Polar River (age 27) ❄️) We organized ourselves and made the cross-Canada trek in our tiny little car, the three-cylinder Chevrolet Sprint (nicknamed “Puny”) that I had bought in Comox, BC, upon acceptance into training for Army Logistics (see post I’m In the Army Now … 🔫).
Upon arrival in Inuvik, some good friends of ours put us up for a few weeks in their house, which was very generous of them. We started looking for work immediately. Within ten days, and some good luck, I had a full-time position as a Receptionist at the most northerly medical clinic in Canada, but then soon thereafter as the general manager. Dean found a job at Aurora College as the Director of Extension Programs. So, really good jobs in very short order.
The funniest thing would happen due to the parasite I still had. As the receptionist in the medical clinic, I would routinely have to lead patients to their examination room. What was happening, in this evolution of the parasite problem, was it was causing me to toot upon movement of my body of any kind. So, I’d be politely speaking to the patients as I walked them to the room and in the ‘back’ground was: toot, toot, toot like a little motor with each step I took. After being truly mortified when it first started, I later just mentally threw up my hands and gave in to the hilarity of it. There was really nothing I could do. I don’t think anyone really noticed anyway. Right?
After our first paycheck, we found an apartment.
Living in the tiny town of Inuvik (7,000 people) after travelling in India (~1 billion people) was like night and day. Dean and I were so blessed to have each other and our friendship, which was strong and had seen many adventures, hardships and blessings already. We stayed in Inuvik for two years until it was time to go South, and we found ourselves Exiting the Arctic ☃️enroute to Toronto, Canada for another chapter.
By the time we reached Boquete, we were done. There had been many legs to this journey from Costa Rica, but at least now we had arrived into the eternal springtime that is Boquete. It was February 2004, our third month of overland travel as we rolled into Boquete in Panama’s Green Mountain Highlands, the nearest city being David.
After a few tries, we found a wonderful hostel. We had our own room and bathroom and it was just down the hall from a large, organized, cook-your-own-food kinda set up. There was also a dining room with square tables and brightly-coloured red and green checked oil cloths. The whole place was, clean, organized and well run and the owners were diminutive. They weren’t in our faces, but they made it all happen from behind the scenes.
Across the street there was a large dusty open field where several children would play pick-up soccer matches. Leo, who was four years old, was in heaven. He just wanted to run around and play with the children. We went to the field and played frisbee, a game they had never seen before. My husband Dean and I enjoyed teaching the local children about frisbee. They caught on quickly – very coordinated and fit but, not a word of English. Ricardo and Eddie proudly showed us two tarantulas. They poked at these shy creatures with a piece of hay until their hairy mandibles grasped the hay. Then the children would swing the spider side to side showing us how the tarantula would hold on. Next the boys showed us the spiders’ casas, pointing and saying to us, ‘Casa! Casa!’, which was a hole in the dry ground. The play continued with Leo getting soaked by the water “pistoles”, kicking the soccer ball and throwing the frisbee.
A few easy days passed which saw us walk lazily all over the town of Boquete and explore its various parks and markets. I bought a huge bag of fruit and vegetables, plus pasta, butter, milk, cheese and eggs, all for less than $20.
One day we stopped into a small place to have some supper. It was a couple of hours after eating there that Leo began to vomit. He could keep nothing down, not even little sips of water. The night hours passed in somewhat of a blurr because we were up with him for hours and hours and praying and worrying for him to improve. At one point he was hot to the touch and he began to moan loudly and said’ please help my belly.’ He also screamed with the cramps, burped, vomited and then fell back to sleep. Then he would begin to vomit or wretch again. I began to get pretty worried. In the morning he became listless and I screamed at Dean to get a taxi…NOW! Destination, the medical clinic.
We walked into the clinic, Dean carrying a listless Leo, and within about five minutes, Leo was hooked up to an IV for re-hydration. The local doctor spoke perfect English because he had been away to the States for a work term. He answered all of our questions and re-assured us that Leo would be fine once he was re-hydrated. The nurse came into the room and tucked a hand-stitched quilt tenderly around Leo. I was left wondering if we would have received this level of care in Halifax. Wait, first we would have had to shovel the driveway, drive the 20 minutes to the children’s hospital and then find parking. Then we’d wait in emerg. It would have likely been hours, depending on the triaging at the time of our arrival. Here, it was minutes and we were the only folks in the clinic and they were totally and completely sweet to us. The fee was so small it was negligible. Leo rested and slept with the IV in his arm. When he was awake, we read to him and told him stories. Later that day, we all walked out of there.
Unfortunately, the vomiting continued shortly after we got back to our hostel, so we had a repeat performance at the clinic. Then we took Leo out to a restaurant and ordered him a bowl of soup. He promptly threw up into the soup bowl. After that, we were ‘soup-er‘ careful. He directed what his tummy could handle. It was in Boquete that Leo had his first ever can of pop. Canada Dry Ginger Ale, of course. And, it stayed down. Boquete was also the place where Leo learned to tie his shoes. Add playing with the tarantula and having an IV re-hydration and it was the place of firsts. We will fondly remember Boquete, even though we had a bit of a scare there.
From Panama we made our way back to Costa Rica to catch our fight home to Canada. There were several over-land legs to the journey back and it was bitter sweet as we knew our big four-month adventure had come to an end.
We landed in Toronto and made our way west to visit everyone in Leeford…Eva and family, Amy and family, Mark and family who threw a very large and fun 35th birthday for moi, with tons of balloons and with a big cake, singing and story-telling. We laughed and laughed. At one point I reached into my jeans and pulled out the grey, worn waist band of my underwear to illustrate the struggle of over-land, back-packer-style travel. Everyone smiled and nodded. Now they GOT it! Some had assumed we were resorting the whole time or something (NOT!).
From there we went to Scarborough to stay with Paulie for several days. Leo just LOVED being with his big cousins who indulged him so much. Paulie and I worked on clearing out unneeded stuff so that Paulie and Seth could sell up and move to Leeford. The nearby vertical slum was pushing them out and Dean and I wanted to help them get going.
We trekked for about thirty days in the Himalayas doing the Annapurna Circuit, in an unconventional manner, which will come to light as the story unfolds. To get to the starting point of the trek, we bought a ticket for the bus. Not lucky enough to grab a seat each on the inside of the bus, Dean and I, with our hired guide, Naba, were seated on the roof of the bus. This trek was sure to be interesting, if we could get there in one piece. That bus, that we were on top of, was not driving a straight, smooth roadway. Picture the opposite: a twisty-turny, gravel, crumbling donkey track along the side of a mountain with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet if the bus driver was to make a wrong turn, or get too close to the eroding edge. Not to worry — the horn worked well and seemed to be the sole means of defensive driving techniques employed.
We had flown into Kathmandu late and were immediately wooed by several touts wanting us to take his taxi. We picked one, told him our destination: the Kathmandu Guesthouse and agreed on a price. We fell asleep and in the morning made our way to their breakfast room and ordered our first lassi of the trip which is a blend of yogurt, water, spices and fruit. The server was a sweet and most attentive Nepali man who put his palms together and bowed his head at us, ‘Namaste’. Dean said to me afterward that he was an example of ‘service without servitude’. When we returned to the Guest House after a walk all over Kathmandu and through the fascinating market, the sight we saw was like something out of an old fashioned orphanage. All of the staff of the Guesthouse were in the main lobby. They were fast asleep, lying on straw mats and wrapped in wool blankets like toasty sausage rolls on a baking sheet. If one rolled over, so would they all.
The next evening, we attended a slide show for a river rafting expedition that we thought was too expensive for our budget. This cool group of Westerners with several Nepalese had started a river rafting group which charged $200 US for a five-day expedition on the Kali Gandaki River. After eating several bowls of incredibly delicious, tallow-popped pop-corn and drinking a few of their complimentary rum drinks each, it seemed that we suddenly had enough money to go on this expedition. It was a great decision as we had a blast. We met several other fun and adventurous travelers on the trip too.
This is a group of children we met on the beach who were running and tumbling together. Suddenly, there was a whistle from their mom and off they ran, full tilt UP the mountain. So fit.
Next we went trekking: the Annapurna Circuit hike. Here I am on top of the bus enroute to the starting point of the big trek. From on top of the bus, I asked hubby to buy me a pop (Canadian speak for soda) from a place advertising GOOD FOODING AND LODGING. I liked that sign, although I was feeling rather queasy by that time.
The trek was, of course, amazing. We did about 20 k per day, depending on weather and best stopping places and Tea Houses, which were known to our guide, Naba. We saw incredible beauty all around us.
The trail was often quite rough and sometimes included donkey trains — which were tricky because you had to be sure to get to the inside of the donkey train. They could easily bump you off the trail. That would be bad.
We would see tiny women carrying huge loads of wood on their backs. We even saw a porter carrying an injured person in a chair strapped to his back. Heading to the hospital many tens of kilometers away.
After a week or so, we got into the snow at elevation. This came with the obvious challenges due to the cold and wet and the need to be very careful about stepping properly so as not to slip off the trail or anything. Being Canadian, we are naturally pretty good about understanding the slipperiness of snow, but we were meeting other travelers from non-snow countries, particularly Ozzies and South Americans who were having trouble with it.
We finally made it to Thorung Phedi which sits at a cool 4,538 meters above sea level. This was the jumping off point for the Thorong La Pass with an elevation of 5,416 meters. There was a large group waiting for a clearing in the weather so as to safely set out for the pass. This was February – so, lots of snow. As a group gathered in the smokey dining hall with large tin cans full of smoking coals to warm us under the tables, we decided to leave at 4 a.m. after a breakfast at 3 a.m. There were about a dozen of us: a couple of Swedes, an American, a Japanese girl, a couple of Ozzies, a couple of New Zealanders and a Chinese guy, plus us two Canadians.
With headlamps blazing on some heads, we started up the mountain. Step, breath, step, breath. It was slow and steady. Would we ever get there? After a couple of hours, my hands were frozen. Our guide gave me his mittens which were toasty warm. He just smiled at me gently. He had done this pass many, many times.
We finally made it to a little shack which was at 5,000 meters. The weather worsened. The wind blew colder and stronger. Then ice-pellet snow began to pelt us like tiny sharp knives. We could tell that our attempt at the pass was not going to work today. Even if we could make it over, there was no way we were going to drag these other folks with us, and besides, that, there was six more hours down the other side, before the next village. The American woman with her state-of-the-art Arctic hiking gear and porter went on into the storm, but we turned back and headed down. A week later we met up with some of the folks from the snowy pass attempt. They told us they were waiting on us to decide about whether they would attempt the pass that day or not. ‘Why us?’ we asked. ‘Because you’re Canadian.’ they said. ‘You know snow and weather. If you weren’t going, neither were we.’
So we trekked down to the bottom, re-grouped in Pokhara for a couple of days and then went back up the other side for another ten days. I celebrated my thirtieth birthday in Tatopani. Dean arranged for the baking of a cake for me. I was very surprised and pleased.
After trekking, we decided to head to the Royal Chitwan National Park for a week at sea level and with warmth and sunshine, plus the odd elephant or two.
We met this hilarious traveler who behaved just like Jerry Seinfeld and knew all the funny lines too. So, of course we spent time with him, walking about and telling stories, laughing and being silly.
A comment on the people of Nepal. We have yet to meet a nicer culture, although Cuban would be close. The Nepalese are cheerful, gentle, kind, strong and thoughtful. It was an honour to spend time in their exceptionally beautiful country.
Yesterday I asked my friend Victoria if she wanted to get out for a mid-afternoon walk in a nearby Watershed Nature Preserve, just a few minutes from our Nova Scotian town. She had never been there she said as I explained where it is located. She asked if it would be a tough walk because she still had a sore leg from taking a tumble over a root while walking Cape Split the weekend before. My response:
‘No, it’s just a little stroll’….
Into the woods we wandered, after taking a big swig of water. ‘Are you bringing water?’ Victoria asked. My response:
‘No, I never carry water for a short walk. I just top up now.’…
Our first stop was to look at the old Reservoir Lake, walk over the new small log bridge and then along the shore of the lake for a little bit. Then, a hard right into the woods again and it was there that I thought it would be a good idea to go on the Ravine Trail for a few minutes. There was not a soul around and the trail was quite nicely marked with bright orange tape on trees the whole way. The problem being that my phone rang and so I was not really watching as we got further and further along the trail that I had previously thought we would just be on for 5 minutes or so. I had been distracted and wasn’t really watching the way and thus missed any chance of getting off the trail and heading back to the car.
Victoria asked me if I knew this trail? My response:
‘Nope, but I can’t image it will be too hard to figure out. This park can’t be THAT big. Right?
We saw startlingly green ferns bathed in a beam of sunlight and stopped for a moment to admire them. Little creeks and small waterfalls. I was tempted to take a drink from the rushing water, but, thought better of it lest I give Victoria a heart attack. She is from a medical background. Enough said. I informed Victoria of the cool item I had seen on TED talk called the LifeStraw. That you can just use the straw to drink from even stagnant water and it is totally safe. In fact our friend Daisy and her boys had used one in Australia on a hike there. I had two LifeStraws at home. Oh well. It takes days to die of dehydration, right?
We forded a few boggy areas, stirring up many a biting bug: black flies and mosquitoes. Victoria then showed me an angry red bump on her forearm and explained that she gets a bad reaction from black fly bites. Oh wait, let me dig out my emergency bug dope for you. I thought as I reached over my shoulder for my small day pack. Nothing. Didn’t bring anything on this ‘stroll’ except my phone and a tissue…we were now approaching two hours in the woods. Victoria’s face was getting pink.
I started to imagine what we would need to do if we couldn’t find our way out of this pretty place. We would have to hunker down and try to stay warm until morning and then just walk until we would come to a road. I was loathe to get hubby Dean to come look for us, should we then all be lost in the woods. My imagination was getting the better of me. We had hours of daylight yet. For sure we would find civilization before dark. Right?
I said to Victoria: ‘It could be worse, we could have a fifty-pound pack on our backs.’
‘And an army radio,’ chimed in Victoria, ever the good sport. We both had army experience, mine Reg force, hers Reserve. An army radio is an army radio, is an army radio. We both knew that to be true.
Over another log bridge, a glimpse of a ruins of an ancient moss-covered stone bridge then squealing like school girls when a brown stick wriggled furiously away from our falling feet. Next, up a soft pine-needle trail where the path split. One way went slightly down through a nicely cut trail into a sunny meadow, the other went slightly up and into a dim tangle of woods. The upward tending trail was marked with orange tape and upon inspection of the map just now, the very map we didn’t have yesterday, it would have taken us on a incline back up to the parking lot in about 2 clicks. We chose the downward sloping pathway and walked for about another forty minutes coming out at a country road.
Looking right we saw L’Acadie Vinyards. I smiled with relief. I knew exactly where we were. I may or may not have been here before, sampling their wares… I said, ‘Okay, now we have to follow this road left and then left again on the next road and the next.’ It would have been 5 clicks more.
‘Can’t we just go in and have some wine? Couldn’t Leo come get us?’
My response: ‘Um, YES! What a fabulous idea!’ My son Leo had his licence now. He could come get us.’
Much like that old much-loved but very corny tv show we all watched as kids in which a group heads out for a ‘three-hour cruise‘ and ends up on a deserted island for years and years…we had headed out for a wee twenty minute stroll and ended up in the woods for about three hours. It all ended well. Our worst fears were not realized and we even had wine and then a cutie come pick us up and pay the bill. Gotta like that.
We had zigged when we should have zagged. Ever done that? How did it end up for you?
~Leave a comment below.~
(Thank you google and those who took them for the pictures!)
My son, Leo’s favourite toy of all time was Buzz Lightyear, the action figure who emerged from the 1995 block buster movie Toy Story. He wanted the action figure very badly. We would make special trips to the toy store just to look at them and imagine owning one. The weird thing was that we had more than enough money to buy one but, at the time, I just didn’t think it would be good for Leo to have everything he wanted. The Buzz Lightyear action figures were retailing for about $75 plus tax, at the time. I thought that it would be too much to just go ahead and buy him one. Don’t worry, Leo didn’t want for much. He had a lot of toys and his own room with a double bed, a hand-made quilt with a space theme from two of his Aunts in Newfoundland, and, he had me all to himself as I was a full-time stay-home mom for his first five years. He was much loved. I just didn’t want to spoil him. There’s a fine line.
One day, Auntie Bonnie came to visit and we decided to head to Kitchener for the day and go thrift shopping at Value Village and then have lunch. Thrift shopping is so much fun. The thrill of the hunt for something of great value at a low, low price.
We were wheeling our way around the store. Leo was getting a ride in the cart and as I say, we were just getting warmed up when…low and behold, on a shelf with many other toys…there was…
NONE OTHER THAN…
CAN YOU GUESS???
BUZZ LIGHTYEAR!!! The one and only. And the exact size of the ones he had seen at the toy store.
Suddenly, everything slowed waaaaaay down. There were a few other people in the same aisle. If you can believe it, there was a boy closing in on the same area where we were. The boy was looking at Buzz. My hand was reaching. His hand was reaching. I didn’t want to muscle a toy away from someone much, much smaller than I, but then…
the boy reached for the frisbee instead. Whew!
My hand grasped the cool hard plastic of the toy’s mid-section. I held him up. He was perfect, except that someone else had loved him quite well before. It was obvious. Because he was missing a boot.
Leo didn’t care. He grasped Buzz and hugged him tight. ‘My own Buzz, Mommy?’ he asked. ‘Yes, sweetheart, your own Buzz.’ He was one happy little gaffer that day.
Buzz did not leave Leo’s chubby fingers for days. It was as if he was glued there. If someone asked about the missing boot, he simply explained that Buzz had lost a boot on a dangerous space mission and then he would hold Buzz tight and sail him over his head with a sonic whooshing sound, ‘To infinity and beyond!’
One day, Leo was running in our house on the ceramic tile and took a spill. There went Buzz, flying across the room and smashing on the tile. When Leo retrieved him, he was missing an arm.
I did a bit of research and found out that the Disney Thinkway Toy Company had an office located in Markham, Ontario which was just around the corner form Dean’s office at IBM. I called the company and explained that we needed some repairs done on a very much loved Buzz Lightyear toy. They said to simply bring it in and leave it with them for about ten days. They would see what they could do. We explained to Leo that Buzz had to go in for repairs. After awhile, Leo understood and said goodbye to Buzz.
The next day, just before they closed, Dean walked into the Disney Thinkway office with the old Buzz. The man behind the counter said, ‘You must be the people who called about repairs to an older Buzz Lightyear.’ Dean nodded and held up Leo’s Buzz. The man nodded knowingly, seeing the missing boot and missing arm. He then said, ‘I told my boss about your wife’s call and how your son loves Buzz so much,’…the man then reached under the counter and handed a shiny brand new Buzz to Dean. No charge, as long as they could have the old toy to study. Dean gladly surrendered old Buzz.
Leo awoke in the morning with the shiny new Buzz beside him. You never saw such a happy youngster. Not wanting to run with Buzz anymore, he shuffled into our room and sang out, ‘it’s morning time Mom and guess what? Buzz is all fixed up!’
Last summer an idea struck. How about I take summer seriously? How about I make a concerted effort to get out on our beautiful Nova Scotia beaches on as many nice days as possible. I own my own business and can work flexible hours, so in keeping with the tides, I could arrange my work to allow for beach walks on nice days. Why in keeping with the tides? Well, in this part of Nova Scotia, at high tide, there is often no beach to walk on. Also, there is a danger of being trapped down the beach should the tide be coming back in. It happens to unsuspecting folks every year. Best to walk the beach knowing what the tides are doing. Rainy days would be for catching up on office work. So, no waiting for weekends. I would take summer seriously. I just wanted to eat those beaches up. The second half of this was that I wanted a friend or two or a family member or two to accompany me on each said beach walk. I started asking around and several of my friends sounded interested.
First up was Blomidon Beach at low tide, once with my friend Lisa, then Jessie (and dogs) and then again with Victoria. Victoria was home for the summer holiday and as eager to walk the beaches as I. That worked! Blomidon Beach is a red, flat beach with red sheer cliffs hemming it in. There are often tiny little avalanches of red stones coming down off those cliffs. All along the top of the cliffs there are nesting holes for the swallows that make their homes there.
Next up was Scott’s Bay with Victoria. It was perfect. As we rolled along on the highway above Scott’s Bay, we each gasped at the beauty of the scene that emerged on approach to the big hill leading down into the village. The Big Blue, I like to call it. And, I can not visit Scott’s Bay without recalling fondly a novel I thoroughly enjoyed which is set in historic Scott’s Bay by local best-selling author Ami McKay. The Birth House is about the age-old struggle of women to be in control of their own bodies. Imagine. I would look at the houses and flapping colourful clotheslines and imagine the characters from that novel. Their tough but incredibly rich lives…all of it happening right there.
The tide was way out. Victoria parked the car and walked over the small bridge onto the pebbles of Scott’s Bay beach on the Bay of Fundy with the highest tides in the world. We walked out and off to the left, stopping to remove our footwear and talking and relating while we stepped into the cool grey mud of Scott’s Bay at low tide. The floor of the ocean. Part of the time the grey mud was quite soft and deep. The temperature was perfect. The sun was high. It was warm but not hot and it was ideal. We walked and walked, the only two souls on the vast, shimmering beach:
Shiny Happy People Laughing.
Afterward we had lunch on the patio of ‘The Haze’ Diner which is located close to the beach, on the highway approaching Scott’s Bay. It was a good day. Homeward bound we stopped at Stirlings Farm Market for something to cook up for supper. Feeling refreshed, kissed by the sun, salt, wind and sand, we had taken summer seriously.
The next trip out was with my friends Mary and Victoria and over to Penny Beach at Avonport. Another perfect weather day and off we went, walking way down the beach, marveling and exclaiming at the beauty all around us. There was so much to see, to examine, to show each other and to talk about. I told them about the time, years prior, that Daisy and I had been on this beach, eating a picnic lunch with our three boys when we saw a group approaching us. They hadn’t even seen us, they were looking at the rock, the shale, the pebbles, the eagles, the shore birds. I told them that I was curious about what they were doing. Turns out it was a famous scientist and his students and they had come a great long way to see this beach. He said it was world famous to geologists. That it was once an inland sea and would have had a plethora of very large creatures and dinosaurs on it. The boys were quite impressed. I was just so thankful to have had the opportunity to glimpse them in action.
Anyway, within no time we realized that three hours had slipped by. On Mary’s suggestion, which surprised me because I think of her as quite fastidious, we walked way out to the edge of the receding tide, knowing that the trip back would be through sticky mud. In Nova Scotia, when one says they walked way out to the edge of the receding tide, that can be a LOOOOONG way — like a mile sometimes. No kidding.
Another benefit of walking on beaches with friends is that sometimes surprising qualities and details about them (and me) emerge. In my experience it has always been a positive and our friendship grows deeper as we admire the beauty, sometimes sharing stories and anecdotes and sometimes just walking silently bathing in the salty breeze, sometimes bending to help the other wash the tenacious mud from their feet or the troubles from their hearts.
At the water’s edge, it was astoundingly beautiful, the patterns in the rock, the ripple of the waves, the call of the gulls and before that, the emerald green moss on the tiny, perpetually trickling runoff waterfall. We savoured it all and it was magical. Returning to the parking lot, we sat at the hexagonal picnic table and each ate a Valley apple and drank fresh water from our water bottles. So simple. So good. The day had been perfect. We had taken summer seriously.
Next it was Blue Beach with Rachel and Simon. I picked them up and off we drove on another very pretty day. Blue Beach is located between Avonport and Hantsport on the Minas Basin. It wasn’t a far ride for us. We parked and started the wee jaunt down the dirt road to the beach. Every time I walk down that dirt track, my mind is aflutter with memories of the previous walks on that beach. The time my step-sister was visiting with her family and her palpable anticipation of this fossil-riddled beach. She normally walks with a cane. Not that day. She was just too excited and the adrenaline was rampant. She was almost skipping. Then, while she and hubby examined fossils, I spent time with their two children and Leo. Skipping stones and doing handstands, running and tumbling, chasing and being chased and getting wet with furry, joyful Lady. A great memory. Leo idolized his big cousins and it was sweet to watch.
So, as it emerged, we could see the distinctly blue tinge of the rock and sand which forms this incredible beach. We all walked slowly and methodically, heads bowed to the rocky beach surface to notice its treasures, to bend and point and remark, three heads came together peering at marvels on the ocean floor. It was magical. At some point, hunger called us back to the car and away we swept to a close-by coffee shop for a snack and a drink.
Betty and I did Medford Beach together, parking in the cul-de-sac and walking down the grassy slope, across the tiny bridge and carefully stepping down the eroded small cliff, onto the red sand, beside the fresh run-off stream. The dogs were with us and into it full tilt. The chance to run free, smelling all the smells and swimming willy-nilly made their tails wag furiously happily. Following their lead, we kicked off our footwear, sinking our feet into the cool red sand. Then we walked and walked and talked and talked solving all of the problems of the world.
Later that summer, Leo and Dean and I went down to the Kejimkujik Seaside Adjunct for a hike on one gorgeous day. It was about a ten-km hike, partially over the windswept hills and then down along a boardwalk and onto a rocky beach. As we approached the beach, we could see what looked like structures sticking up all over it. Turned out, to be many many inukshuks. They were everywhere and they lent a surreal quality to the remarkably pretty beach. Leo immediately began to take photos of them and then to build one himself.
From the rocky beach, we walked on a windy woodland trail and then out onto an incredible white-sand beach where we spent some time contemplating a swim. Make no bones about it, the water was, as always, freezing. Dean managed to submerge for a split second then rushed out to the warmth of the sand. It had been a lovely day and finished on a spectacular beach.
In was a fantastic summer mission which also included Evangeline, Hirtles, Avonport, Crescent, Margartsville, Aylesford, Kingsport beaches, all with their various qualities ranging from fine white sand to pebble to rocky, red sand, blue sand, golden sand. Near, far, remote, popular, unheard of, it was a grand summer full of wonder, family and friendship. No better kind.
In early July 1993 we rolled into Polar River, just north of the sixty-sixth parallel in the North West Territories. We had been driving for several hot and dusty days on the road across Canada, from Newfoundland to Alberta and then straight North.
We passed through Whitehorse and Dawson City, Yukon and then a full day up the gravel Dempster Highway, two hours beyond the Arctic Circle.
We had driven in tandem for a week, driving ‘Betsy‘ our ’76 VW Van and our tiny Chevrolet Sprint we fondly called ‘Puny’. Unfortunately, Betsy didn’t survive the trip. Her engine blew in Whitehorse and, on a deadline to get to the job, we sold her body to a small Franco mechanic with the longest, most gorgeous ringlet hair we had ever seen. His dark ringlets reached way down his back. He saw me admiring it and said with a lop-sided grin: ‘the ladees, estee, they love my hairs, they are curly, non?’ I just wanted to touch it to verify that it was real. Of course my mind flitted back to the Francos marching in perfect formation in Nijmegen a couple of years prior, and singing their old, soulful regimental songs – making the Anglo teams look rag-tag by comparison. Such was their pride and fervor for their culture.
Anyway, while in Whitehorse, we ate at a restaurant that is still there today: Sam N Andy’s. Interestingly and coincidentally, there is a very real chance we were served by my very good friend, Daisy, who lives and works in our current Nova Scotia town. One day, decades later, Daisy and I came upon this nugget of truth while reminiscing about our Northern days.
So, Dean had accepted a one-year contract position as Recreation Director for a tiny northern community of 150 First Nations Gwich’in people and roughly ten whites living in about 25 houses. The houses were built on pilings that were anchored into the permafrost. There was a general store, an all-levels school, a gym, two churches, a health centre and a community office on a hill overlooking the confluence of two icy rivers. The setting was incredibly beautiful. It felt like the final frontier.
The first thing we did was attend a community feast. But, to call it a feast was a bit of a stretch. It was simply hot dogs, pop and chips, but, we were so pleased to finally be there and soon to be on a payroll again, after more than a year, that we were all smiles and best intentions. The local children took our hands and tugged us along.
‘How long will you be here?’ Charlie asked. They don’t mince words, I thought. They also were intrigued with our little black lab puppy, ‘Dempster’ whom we had on a bright blue leash and matching collar. Full of questions: ‘Why is he on leash? Does he bite? Why does he have a name? Do you feed him fish? Will he stay outside?’ And, of course questions directed at me like: ‘Is there a baby in your belly? (It wouldn’t be until 1998, 1999 and 2001 that a baby would be in my belly.) Where are your babies?’ These questions were telling.
At the feast, we met Allie, the daughter of the former old Chief Henry. Allie was quite articulate and confident. She told us of her recent huge adventure, trekking in Nepal. Little did we know then that we would be trekking in Nepal the following year, thanks to the seed planted by Allie at this little feast.
The Chief of Polar River, Gwen, was dysfunctional, mostly ineffective, extremely high maintenance and neurotic. She expected Dean to be at the gym facility seven days a week, twenty-four hours per day. He was hired to do a job and she wanted him working non-stop.
Poor Dean, who is overly kind, was exhausted by her neediness in a couple of weeks. The gym, thankfully, was a very nice facility, a couple of minutes walk from our apartment, and was perched on the edge of the forest which was millions of acres of wilderness. It was a state of the art building with a huge gym and fully stocked kitchen as well as Dean’s new office. Equipment galore: new, mats, rackets, nets. New cross-country skis and new canoes came later when Dean applied for and received a grant for them, as well as money to hire an instructor to come up and teach canoeing. The instructor was this funny young guy from Manitoba. He would exclaim, ‘I can’t believe I am being paid to teach the natives how to canoe’.
One of the main weekly events at the gym was the Wednesday night BINGO. Here was my husband with over seven years of higher education and a former Army Captain, calling BINGO once per week. It was comical, if a little sad. It was a big event and it came with big winnings. Hundreds of dollars were won each week. I hung out in the kitchen, offering burgers and pop for sale, the proceeds going into the gym coffers.
Dean was mandated to teach one of the local women how to run the gym facility and how to manage the budget and maintenance. This young woman had four young children and a husband who played around on her. Consequently, she wasn’t fully available. Life in Polar River was both gritty and frustrating. Like the day when one of the young kids who were always at the gym (free babysitting) told Dean, ‘I don’t have to listen to YOU, White Man’. That child was about seven years old.
The first tragic thing to happen to us that year occurred on a gorgeous evening a month after we arrived. I had been walking our lab puppy Dempster who was scampering ahead of me over the beaten-earth pathways. I was just skipping along and watching bemusedly as he chased a rodent under a house. That was the last time I saw him alive. He didn’t come out from under the house… that I knew of.
I was calling and whistling. Nothing. Then, a dirty blue pick-up drove up. A young Gwich’in man, Billy, rolled down his window and with a smoke in his mouth said, ‘Your dog’s dead’. And drove off.
I ran down to the gravel road beneath the hill where I was standing, hoping it was a cruel joke, and this is what I saw: My precious black lab puppy lying on his side with a growing pool of blood around his puppy head. I began to cry bitterly, hugging myself and bending at the waist in my grief, one hand over my mouth.
Suddenly, I was feeling overwhelmingly betrayed by this new place. How could this happen to me? How could he be so cruel? Looking back a quarter of century, I realize that I was dealing with culture shock and home-sickness, being so new in a very foreign place, albeit still in Canada.
The killing of our puppy didn’t mean much to young Billy because in his culture, they didn’t keep dogs as pets the way we do in the South. Someone went and fetched Dean and he came and wrapped his strong arms around me consoling me. Someone picked up Dempster in an old blanket and we drove down the Water Lake Road and Dean buried him while I sat in the car, still too upset to move, still in mild shock.
A few days later, on a sunny afternoon, a nice local man brought us a very cute puppy from his new litter. Our new puppy had pointy ears and muzzle. He was fuzzy black and white, wolfish looking and stunk of fish – the only kind of food he knew. We called him Delta, after the River Delta where he was born.
Dean worked away at his position and I picked up some work, just finding odd things to do that no one else would. I made pots of soup and trays of sandwiches for Band Meetings. I took people to the big town of Inuvik for shopping and medical appointments. I typed minutes to various meetings. Then I was offered a full-time position in the Community Office doing payroll, payables and receivables.
Later, I picked up the part-time position of Medical Centre Coordinator. There was this beautiful Medical Centre equipped with two examination rooms, incredible instruments and medications and a locked cupboard of narcotics. There was also a small apartment meant for a visiting doctor or nurse.
One day, I was out walking when someone ran up to me saying that little Suzy had been mauled by a dog. This was the second tragic thing to go down. I ran as fast I could to find her laying just out of reach of a big, mean Husky that was chained in the backyard of someone’s house.
She was bleeding profusely from the many open wounds in her legs. I screamed at anyone to go get Dean and to call an ambulance to come from the neighbouring larger community, Pierson, which was an hour away. I prayed, spoke calmly to her and pressed rags on her wounds until Dean rolled up in our vehicle. To this day, I do not know where her parents, friends or relatives were even though we were in the middle of town. She was eight.
We drove as fast as we could toward the Pierson Health Centre and the ambulance met us halfway. We transferred little Suzy into the ambulance and then followed it. She was put on the medical table and her ripped clothing was removed and as I watched the doctor poured hydrogen peroxide into her open wounds. She was laying on her belly repeating, ‘Owieeeee! Owieeeee!’ It occurred to me that this little girl was no stranger to pain. She received several hundred stitches to close her wounds. A year later, after returning from Nepal, I would find myself managing the medical clinic in Inuvik and working for that same doctor that stitched her wounds.
As Recreation Director, Dean had a major event to plan and carry out: the Spring Carnival which included many different competitions including snowmobile races and dogsled races. He spent days planning and coordinating this major event which would attract many visitors from out of town, and which had several thousand dollars in prize money. Very early on the day of the big event, we were still in bed sleeping when the phone rang. I picked it up: ‘Hello?’
‘Jordy’s dead’, said a voice.
Holy shit. ‘Dean!’ I screamed, ‘Get up! Jordy’s dead.’
We spent the next several hours sorting out Jordy’s body at his house. The RCMP came from Pierson and asked me all manner of lame questions. It was pretty obvious, if you had a nose, to detect how he died. The poor tortured soul smelled like a distillery mixed with a chemical waste plant. He died sitting up on his couch.
Next, we took his body by truck to the medical centre and laid it out on one of the beds. I had to stay at the medical centre until the coffin guy from Inuvik showed up. Also, two of Jordy’s female relatives came in to clean up his body in preparation for burial.
Despite the tragedy, it was an astoundingly beautiful sunny spring day and snow was melting rapidly. I was happy that Dean would have a successful carnival because of it, but the warmth wasn’t doing anything for Jordy’s body odor issue. For a while I talked to the coffin guy and his wife on the deck at the medical centre (there was no being inside with good ole Jordy). The funny thing about the entrepreneurial coffin guy was that he was an ER nurse.
When we finally left Polar River in July of 1994, we were happy to go – we had big plans to go travelling, but, we had many mixed feelings about the North. Yes, the Gwich’in of Polar River had hired us, but, did we really have any business nosing our way into a tiny First Nations community, for a year? Did we do any good at all, or did we just cause surreptitious upset, undermining and questioning of the old ways?
I really don’t know for sure but, I think that the people of Polar River could most likely run their own gym (especially now that Dean had taught his protege), their own BINGO nights, their own health centre and do their own payroll, if push came to shove. I think that maybe they had this idea that we Southerners knew more and could organize better but, we were left feeling that it would be best for them to leave our Southern ways and instead, get back to a more traditional way of life.
We had spent some time with the Old Chief Henry. He would come to our apartment door and want a cup of tea. He told us many stories of the old days and spending time on the trap line, drying fish and getting caribou for the whole community, going by dog sled over the snow. The traditional jobs that would be carried out by the women and the young men. How the children would play, tumbling and were cherished and spoiled by their Elders. Traditional feasts and celebrations. His eyes would glisten with the memories behind them. I was in awe of this man who had lead his people for over three decades. If I had a wish for the Northern Peoples it would be to go back to those ways and to embrace them once again, even if just little by little. Perhaps that is impossible, but, I’m gonna wish it anyway.
It was 1997 and we were living just North of the North Beaches of Toronto. Yes, okay, we were actually in Scarberia, but, whatEVER. We were there because Dean was attending a school called iti: Information Technology Institute, downtown Toronto. (We had just spent three years above theArcticCircle.)
With my two older sisters and Mom just a couple of hours drive away, and me without a job, I would travel down there each week or so to visit them and their families as well as to go see Mom. Mom was in a nursing home suffering with Pick’s Disease (basically, the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s) and was almost completely non-verbal by that time. She was, however, in fine physical condition, a fact that played with our minds. She could walk for ten miles, no problem, yet, she didn’t know us and she couldn’t speak. It was hard.
Mom loved chocolate milkshakes. I would pick one up and while she worked away on it silently, I would drive to a park so we could go for a walk. Those times were very sweet but heart-breaking at the same time.
In those days, we were all reading Deepak Chopra: QUANTUM HEALING; THE SEVEN
SPIRITUAL LAWS OF SUCCESS; AGELESS BODY, TIMELESS MIND; and PERFECT HEALTH. Eva, Amy and I would discuss the concepts at length and do our very best to incorporate the thinking into our lives. So, when it became known that Deepak Chopra would be speaking at a nearby venue, we were overjoyed and quite excited about the idea of attending his talk. We got tickets and eagerly awaited the big day.
Now a days, good ole Deepak is friends with OPRAH. Oprah pissed me off with her partnership with (gag me) WW and this line: “Inside every overweight woman is a woman who she knows she can be.” Ooookay. But, I have to give her credit for her speech at the 2018 Golden Globes. Speaking about how important it is to speak our truth, ladies. Cause, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s what this blog is all about…my truth…the good, the bad and the ugly.
End of rant…
On the day of the Deepak talk, I drove the couple of hours to Eva’s house and arrived at her door to find her in the middle of finishing off a second batch of her world famous (okay, not WORLD famous, but potentially…) home-made buttertarts. They were little individual pastry cups filled with a gooey mixture of butter, raisins and brown sugar. Mom had taught Eva how to bake when Eva was a girl. Mom had been an amazing baker and could whip up a pie or a fruit crumble, a cake or a batch of cookies pretty quickly, from scratch. Let’s not forget Mom’s sugar pie. Neighbours would lean in and whisper to each other about it, their knees weakening as they spoke. It was mouthwatering and the stuff of dreams.
I asked Eva why she wasn’t ready and she explained that there was a death in the family of a friend. She needed to drop off some buttertarts to the grieving family after the talk. Could I take a tray in my car and she would pick up our other sister Amy and meet at the venue. Okay, sure, I said. I took the tray of precious buttertarts. That was my first mistake. I laid them on the passenger seat. That was my second mistake. Backing out of her driveway, I headed down to the talk. It was about half an hour away. The buttery sweet smell in my car was overwhelmingly mouthwatering. My stomach began to grumble. I salivated a little as I looked at the tray of buttertarts. Oh my they were beautiful little items. The aroma of the fresh baked, still warm buttertarts was torture. Breakfast had been hours ago.
Playing the radio, I tried to distract myself by singing loud and off key to all the radio songs like Tanya Tucker’s remembering our family sing-songs featuring this very song:
Delta Dawn what’s that flower you have on? Could it be a faded rose from days gone by? And did I hear you say he was ameetin’ you here today To take you to his mansion in the sky She’s forty one and her daddy still calls her baby All the folks around Brownsville say she’s crazy ‘Cause she walks downtown with a suitcase in her hand Lookin’ for a mysterious dark-haired man….
It wasn’t helping. Now there was drool spilling out of the corner of my mouth. I pulled up to the parking lot attendant window and was permitted into the lot. I then reached over and grabbed a buttertart, and,
Oh my god it was good. It was incredible!!! My eyes rolled back into my head. The pastry was flaking all over my lips and down my chin. But wait, was that Deepak CHOPRA getting out of his car right there???!!! Holy shit. It WAS Deepak. I swiped at my mouth. I stopped the car, and while chewing furiously, rolled down the window. Deepak Chopra was walking over to me because I was waving at him with both arms like an idiot. He probably thought I was choking and that he would have to save me. He is an M.D. after all. My mouth bulged with buttertart. My lips could barely contain the delicious crumbs. The dark and mysterious Deepak was at my car door but I still could not speak due to the god-damned delicious buttertart that I was still masticating furiously.
I did the only thing I could do.
I opened my car door.
Climbed out and threw my arms around Deepak Chopra, getting a whiff of his spicey, exotic cologne. Then…moving slightly back from him, I looked into his deep, piercing, intelligent yet peacefully dark eyes as my crumb-coated lips somehow met his.
He was obviously accustomed to women throwing themselves at him. He wasn’t the least bit flustered.
At this point, the remainder of the buttertart was in my cheek and I was able to say something completely asinine:
Oh my god, I LOVE your work, Deepak!! You are an amazing writer!! You are doing wonderful things! You have helped me so much! If I wasn’t happily married…
Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Okay, okay. Calm yourself.
His hands motioned me into relaxation and I nodded and smiled at him with crumbs falling out of my mouth. Attractive? Not. I moved my car to a spot and berated myself for making such a fool of myself.
His talk was riveting. He stood at the edge of the stage and for two hours spoke about his books and his theories on life and health. I was really glad, by then, that I had eaten a second buttertart after kissing Deepak Chopra on the lips.
Apparently the waters surrounding Ometepe Island have fish with thorn-like fang teeth. Well, I didn’t want to swim in Lago de Nica anyway. The ferry getting across was rough but, I knew the secret now...little white pills. Seasickness be damned. Much to Leo’s delight, we have been riding in the back of a pick-up truck belonging to new friends of ours: Lori and Don from San Diego. Lori and Don routinely rent out their tiny San Diego house, making much more income (some crazy, jaw dropping amount) than they can at the office. With the rental income money, they travel with their three children for months on end. There are so many ways to live. We met them in San Juan Del Sur, Nica. They are true vagabonds. Of course, due to Leo pulling on our pantlegs and asking us to ask them, we indeed did ask them about Lego Land. Yes, we can certainly visit with them if we ever make it to Lego Land in San Diego. We are so tame. Another friend was with us in the pick-up truck: Kennedy. He is a commercial painter in California. He paints for six months and travels for six months a year.
Last night we picked up a Nica man who had been seriously hurt in a motorcycle accident. The driver, Don, agreed to take him to the hospital so Kennedy and Dean lifted him into the bed of the pickup. As we rolled along the bumpy road, the man hollered with pain but he was very brave and trying to converse with us.
Prior to that we had found Ajo de Aqua a natural spring in the woods. It took a few hours to find this place but we had loads of fun seeing all the sights and hiking through the jungle of Ometepe Island.
In our cabana last night we had two massive spiders. I didn’t need to sleep anyway.
On the ferry from Punta Renas, Costa Rica to Paquera. It is a beautiful ferry ride (no little white pills required) over the calm waters of the Gulf of Nicaragua. Leo is throwing peanuts to the flock of gulls following us off the side of the boat. He is giggling with glee.
When we arrived in Costa Rica, we were at the edge of Mal Pais, a dusty little seaside village with molasses paved roads. They put molasses on the roads to keep down the dust. The place smells amazingly sweet because of it. Mal Pais is known for it’s astoundingly, expansive beaches and surfing. We walked for about ten minutes, sweating profusely due to the heat and humidity and found a youth hostel stuffed with surfers who were about half our age and twice as cool. They immediately took to Leo and started entertaining him. The hostel was tiny and our room was right outside of their common area: a patio with old plastic patio furniture. We prepared for bed while Leo squealed in delight with the young surfer dudes outside our door.
I awoke in the morning to a nice surprise: a massively fat june bug standing on my chest and staring at my face. Holy shit. Big bugs scare the be-jesus out of me. I flung my sheet off of me and the june bug hit and literally made a clattering sound on the floor. Clackety-clack. I jumped up and kicked it out the door. Then I involuntarily shivered. Ew. That was gross.
When we all got up, we went to the beach….oh my god…it stretched forever…and went to the waters edge. We marveled at the temperature of the sea. It was TEPID!!! Who knew the ocean could be tepid?? It certainly isn’t tepid in Nova Scotia. The North Atlantic causes me an instant headache upon putting in a toe. Here we swam and frolicked for hours…checking out the tide pools and exfoliating with the warm sand. It was heavenly.
We had heard that one of my step-brothers and his family would be in Mal Pais at the same time as us. We wondered if and how we would find them…suddenly there was Patrick, walking along the beach and greeting us like it was the most normal thing in the world.
We were overjoyed to see him as Patrick is a true vagabonding adventurer. He really got us. After talking for a while with Patrick, we made plans to meet up later at their hotel: The Blue Jay. Trust me, the Blue Jay was a little nicer than our june bug – surfer-boy place. When we returned to our hostel, there was the june bug from my chest. Apparently it had landed on its back when I kicked it out the door. You know what that means to a june bug. Certain death. There were a million teeny-tiny ants transporting it bodily to god knows where. Lovely.
The next day we climbed into Patrick’s rental jeep and headed up and over the mountain, on very bad, nearly washed out roads, to the village of Montezuma. We occasionally had to exit the jeep so Pat could drive over some particularly bad areas. When we did that, Leo just couldn’t understand it and would remark about it. At one point he wanted some answers from Uncle Patrick about why we were getting out of the jeep. Patrick’s response was one that will go down in history: just… get in the truck he said with a fake exasperated lilt and a very sweet smile with kind eyes at our little Leo. We all laughed and laughed, especially Leo. We walked around the village and then had lunch. It was impossible to relax outside. It was so extremely hot and the sun was treacherous. Any bit of exposed northern skin was burned in seconds.
After returning to Mal Pais from Montezuma and stopping for a photo of an incredibly intricate and tangled five meter wide strangler fig, we returned with glee to the beach. Leo drifted in the shallows while I walked along marveling a the crabs and how they so quickly bury themselves when they sense a large presence. So cute. I bent down to touch a few of them and they tried their best to deter me by quickly pinching at my fingers and retreating bodily into the wet sand. As Leo and I made our way up the trail heading to the Blue Jay Hotel to meet Patrick et al again, we were startled at the loud sound of the local howler monkeys in the trees. At the howl, I grabbed Leo instinctively to protect him and then we had a laugh about it. My laugh was more of a nervous titter.
Iguanas, lizards, palmetto bugs, ants, hermit crabs, howler monkeys, grass hoppers, birds and butterflies in beautiful abundance in Mal Pais.
Patrick had us come to the Blue Jay for dinner and it was pure decadence! He gave us half of his ceviche and it was the best we have tasted yet. It was so lovely to be with them and to connect in another world despite myriad possible changes, problems and hiccups. We actually made it happen and it was very sweet.
From my journal, written 13 February 2004
We have been here two nights in a pit of a room, in a hostel. It’s okay because there are a few interesting travelers to talk to. One couple spent several months in South America and have been telling us of the benefits of traveling to Argentina (I always remember that guy we met in India in 1994…’Argentina, Argentina, Maradona, Maradona’ — he wasn’t put in prison in Tangiers because coming from Argentina he was associated with the soccer star: Maradona). Anyway, they describe it as a European environment of the finest food, hotels, excellent service for seriously cheap. She said ‘imagine traveling to Europe, going to a restaurant with white linen,candlelight, five glasses, having wonderful food…WHATEVER YOU WANT and paying two dollars!!!’
Leaving Mal Pais, the ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya enroute to Punta Rinas was, once again, beautiful, very hot and sunny. Following that, we were quite packed tight for the bus ride. The ticket agent did the old hold-back-some-change-and -see-if-they-notice scam. I noticed. The bus ride was very warm and almost panic-level humid and sweaty. I literally had to conduct some personal deep breathing exercises, we were that squished and hot on that bus. Finally we caught the wind up in the hills and we all breathed a sigh of relief.