You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away
And I know a father who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he had done
He came a long way just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and he headed home again
Slip slidin’ away
I was awake at 3:30 am when the sirens went by on Main Street down below our house. I had no idea to what sort of tragedy the sirens were responding.
Then I received a call at 6:30 am.
Come over right now! My closest girlfriend said.
What’s going on? I asked.
Just come over. Her voice urged.
On my way. I said.
I envisioned helping with a flood or some other household problem, like a lost dog.
I was up, dressed in the car and driven the snowy few blocks in six minutes. What’s going on? I called out in the direction up the steps from the entry. The air was thick with emotion and fear. I could almost see it hanging there.
He died. She said simply.
Who died? I screeched as I ran up the steps in my boots, snow falling off. I was glancing around for a body.
Calvin. She said.
A sound came out of me involuntarily. I grabbed her and hugged her small body fiercely. The sound was primordial. Painful. A deep keening. Her Ex, the Dad, appeared and enclosed us in his arms and we all cried together for a few seconds. In my mind’s eye I was still looking around for his body.
I asked… where is he?
He had been the first of three steps at age three, when we moved in next door. Our Leo was the second step at four and his older brother Kevin at five was the third step. Fast friends who ran all over the neighbourhood together, Calvin usually bringing up the rear, on his toes – he was a toe-walker then and so cute as he nimbly rushed to be included. Countless sleepovers, snacks, tumbling, trampolining. He would sometimes gather up his courage and ask me for a drink of water, almost like I might say no. I must have been scary to him?? In recent years, in their teens, Leo would visit and and he would later tell me how Calvin had offered him tea, or soup, or whatever was available. Leo told me how kind Calvin was.
I had watched Calvin grow into a six foot two, curly blond-haired, blue-eyed quiet young man. He loved the outdoors, experiments with pond-like aquariums, fishing. He was a fierce competitor in jujitsu and, sadly, had some other darker pastimes which I would guess were self-medicating. He struggled with anxiety, addiction and with social situations. For the past several months, he could not sleep, due to anti-depressant medication. This would be the straw that broke the camel’s back – the not sleeping. I had heard about many many attempts to get him into counselling and to a psychiatrist or even to get him to emerg. He just would not go. How does a parent force this? It’s next to impossible.
Daisy told me the whole story of the few days leading up to this disaster. We sat by the fire on her couch in the early morning hours. When the door opened and her eldest, stepped in, he collapsed against the wall crying and keening loudly in despair. I slipped unnoticed out the back door. My Blunstones leaving their distinctive print in the freshly fallen snow. Down the back deck steps and around the house to my car. I drove home in a daze. I walked in to find my husband Dean and my son Leo silent with despair. All I could manage to do was to make a pot of soup for my friend in her grief.
In the wee hours, Jonah had followed his son’s bootprints (and many obvious signs of his slipping and falling on the trail, like bad snow-angel attempts). He entered the park, slipping and cursing the hidden ice as he went. A few hundred meters in, he saw Calvin’s backpack at the base of a tree and looked up, his headlight finding the silhouette of his youngest son hanging in the tree. Jonah struggled to get him down. He was still warm. He did CPR for almost an hour, crying, praying and shouting at him to wake up but systematically counting in keeping with his advanced military training. The paramedics finally arrived having had a hard time locating them in the dark woods and slipping and falling many times due to the deceptively slick ice under the layer of snow.
Jonah called his ex-wife, The Mom, telling her not to come to the park. She went up there anyway. At the gates she was met by a cop who loved Calvin – knowing him through the dojo they shared. He avoided her eyes. Her heart sank to its deepest despair.
Where do you go when your child takes his own life? There is nothing worse than this.
Dean and I organized meals and visits to Daisy so that she wouldn’t be alone, especially at night. The outpouring of support was incredible and humbling. Thousands of dollars were raised through a single email asking for support on her behalf. Daisy couldn’t work due to grief. No income, bills and life carrying on. A full day of yoga was organized by a group of women with lunch, live music and incredible local art in a silent auction. Daisy was given therapies like massage, osteopathy and reflexology. Two cords of wood were delivered, fully paid for. The guys from the dojo arrived and stacked it in fifteen minutes, based on a simple request to them that morning. We cleaned her house, her friend washed the floor with great care. Dean shoveled the driveway. Another friend swept the chimney. We walked the dog, picked up the mail, painted a room, helped her sort through the bills. A friend baked her a cake and brought flowers. A woman knitted a special scarf to encircle her in love and comfort.
The celebration of life was at a large hall downtown. Every aspect of the day was taken care of by volunteers: planning, decorating, food, drink, crafts for little ones, boughs of evergreen, writing implements for sharing snippets of memories. Hot drinks and marshmallows outside by the fire like Calvin would have wanted. A beautifully hand-crafted wooden box to store parchment pages of written memories — the blond wood the colour of his beautiful hair, his name etched in the sliding cover. The place was packed. One friend introduced the speeches and thanked all those who helped. The owner of the dojo gave a recounting of the fierce fighting competitor that Calvin was and also of the kind teacher with a huge heart for his young charges. The gym guys shoulder-to-shoulder, sniffling, their hands folded tightly. Eyes lowered. Cheeks wet with tears.
Jonah and Daisy talked about Calvin’s life. The kind of person he was, the kind of brother and son he was. His personality and some funny memories of him. Jonah finally said that he had decided to find solace in the joy of seventeen years that they had had with Calvin. At least they had had the honour and pleasure of him for seventeen years.
Extreme grief and mourning ensued for the loss of one of our boys – the first step of three.
Two years have passed since we lost this beautiful young man. I feel that he slipped through the cracks in our mental health system. He was so loved and so well taken care of, yet he still slipped through. Can you imagine the youth who do not have attentive parents? I feel sick that I personally couldn’t DO anything to help with this nor could I stop the loss of his life. I replay my last face-to-face with him when I dropped off a huge bag of dog food because our Lady-Jane had passed. Could I not have asked him if there was anything he wanted to talk about? Could I not have swallowed my pride and told him that I too suffer with mental illness? It’s so fucked up. I find that I am still quite angry about my lack of ability to help with this. To take action. To DO SOMETHING.
I know one thing for sure. The next time I detect a sadness in someone, I will ask them if they need help. I will simply ask them.
I do not try to disappoint
Or mean to disobey
There is no reason you’d suspect
I’d go another way
For we are born to what we are
With choices we must make
I see no point in taking sides
I see no sides to take
‘Could I possibly meet Jack,’ I said. ‘We could come on Sunday, ‘ I said.
…Jack has been with us ever since that day. He was impossible not to love.
You see, our senior girl, Lady-Jane passed away about ten months ago and her passing was heart-breaking as she became quite ill with an awful infected lump on her haunch – after never being sick a day in her life….
Well, we now have a new pup and heading, head first into another decade and a half of fur-face lovin’. This guy’s name is ‘Jack’. He is hilarious and goofy and very loving and, yes, even chill, at times.
Jack was listed on Kijiji, the same way we adopted Lady-Jane, actually. Unbeknownst to my friends, I had been perusing the Kijiji re-homing ads for several months. This time I wanted a goof-ball dog. No more of this big pointy ears and pointy wolfish snout. Lady was a fabulous girl, (as were Delta and Grizzly before her) but, almost daily she scared the bejeezus out of people and other dogs. She was just so ‘ON’ it protection wise.
Jack, on the other hand, has had Acadia U. students at my door to just pet him for a minute. Folks have said things like, ‘Thanks, I needed that!’ after running their hands through his puppy fur and, burying their face in his fur and smelling his puppy smell. Other friends have received the exuberance of a four foot high jump, so excited was Jack to meet them!
Jack is a black standard golden-doodle who was being trained to be a PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) service dog. Unfortunately for the PTSD folks, he failed his trials. ‘Too bouncy’ was the verdict. So after being with the breeder in Montreal for four months, he then went to the trainer for two months in Halifax. Now he is with us in Wolfville.
We have loved him since the moment we met him. He comes to my office with me and is settling in very nicely. Here’s a picture of him on the couch (no other dogs have been allowed on the couch), splayed out in the reverse flying frog posture – letting it all hang out – throwing caution to the wind. Just so chill. I felt very pleased to see this. He is AT HOME and he knows it. He is with us for his fur-ever.
It is wonderful to have a fur-head again. He has brought much joy. One young student, while petting Jack at my office door said, ‘Dog’s are here to love us, you know’. Wow. Isn’t that the truth.
He has gone for the snip. He thought he was going to the ‘tutor’. Turns out, he was going for the ‘neuter’! He was very very tired afterward and then it was ‘the cone of shame’ for a few days. All went well and now he is back to being his goofy self, lying beside my chair awaiting his next soft hand, or treat or walk.
By the way, Jack has his own Instagram account. He’s pretty funny: @jackthewolfvilledoodle check him out!
Highlights: the food! Oh my, such wonderful food. The hikes! Oh my, such gorgeous seaside scenery. The colour! Oh my, such bright and vivid colours every which way we turned. The accented lovely way of speaking! Oh my, so sweet: how ya be, me ducky?
We were on the escalator heading down to street level at the St John’s airport in early June. Excited to start our eight days in Newfoundland’s east. We had butterflies of excitement and I think we may have been holding hands, my love and I. Dean, hailing from there, was all smiles to be ‘down home’ again to the salt air and the fog, the twang and the good-naturedness of Newfoundlanders. (Pronouced: newfundLANDers)
I was casually scanning the crowd on street level. My glance fell on a dark-haired man sitting in profile to us on a bench against the wall. He was smiling, looking around wide-eyed and boyishly swinging his legs back and forth. Could it be? I was almost sure it was him but what luck would that be?! Michael Crummey, I said quietly. I nudged Dean beside me. Michael Crummey, I indicated with my chin. We both said aloud for him then: Michael Crummey! And he looked at us and smiled with recognition as we arrived at his level. He and Dean had attended Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) back in the eighties and played a bit of soccer together. We had attended Michael’s readings on his books and listened, rapt, while he read from his latest book the last time: Sweetland when he visited Wolfville’s Acadia University in the recent past. We had pints and shared stories and jokes at Paddy’s Pub. We were nearly best buds, the three of us. Well, not really, but it was certainly wonderful to see his smiling face. He was awaiting his mother and then she joined us and we were introduced. A moment later we were offered a ride to our hotel and off we went in his car while Michael told us of places not to be missed and I jotted notes on a scrap of paper in the back seat…this was sure to be a great trip and it was that for sure.
Highlights: the food! Oh my, such wonderful food. The hikes! Oh my, such gorgeous seaside scenery. The colour! Oh my, such bright and vivid colours every which way we turned. The accented lovely way of speaking! Oh my, so sweet: how ya be, me ducky?
We checked into Hotel Newfoundland and were offered all manner of treats from the lady going by with a cart from the exec lounge. Don’t want to throw it all away, she said. We loaded up, then stepped out to look at Signal Hill via the crooked little neighbourhood of Quidi Vidi. Boardwalk clutching shear cliffs and spray of salt water with a backdrop of the huge deep St John’s harbour and small icebergs off in the big blue.
Colourful ancient houses clung impossibly on the hillside of rock and steps galore! as we made our way for the next two hours. Exclaiming at the beauty all the while and sweating while climbing the flights of stairs up the rock face. I would not have wanted to be the builders of that staircase. Newfoundlander builders wouldn’t have thought twice about it, likely. I recalled my barrel-chested, cheerful brother-in-law in his good black leather jacket, hat less, stepping out into the driving, sideways freak icy rain one Christmas in Corner Brook. It’s not FIT! he turned, smiled and shrugged at us watching from the damp doorway or Dean’s eldest brother.
Next, a meal which had us enjoying the lightest, sweetest fish and chips ever and a pint of the local brew at The Duke. Simply awesome.
Day two, we walked all over the pretty and old, twisty knotted downtown and then up around the University Campus after an incredible brunch at The Rooms Museum Cafe overlooking the harbour.
We met Bill, Dean’s friend from University, at his house and then dropped everything to go take a look at Petty Harbour. The sun just happened to come out while we were there. Afterwards, we ate a wonderful steak supper with Bill, then walked back to the hotel still in the day light. Gotta love the long days of summer. We then fit in a pint with Michael Crummey and told the tales of our lives, three glasses clinked, then three heads together as we caught up on all the news at the Ship Pub. We laughed at the memories of Codco who used to hang out at The Ship Inn which was sold and so imaginatively renamed.
Day three, we picked up our rental car after a scrumptious meal at Chinched and off we went to tour the Irish Loop with a stop to hike La Manche trail, part of the East Coast Trail system and see the suspension bridge out in the ghost-town wilderness. Later that evening, we found a nice B&B and just got in the door when the rain began to pour down. The owner was a small lively man with a few good stories for us. Then we enjoyed some rest.
Day four, we ventured into Tickle Cove and did the little trail around the pond then had a dessert and tea at Maudie’s Cafe, which was sweet. Later, we found a small hotel room on Bay Roberts and walked for a ways to see the old churches, enjoying a pint overlooking the bay on the route back.
The next morning we were nearly ordered by the hotel manager to do the Shoreline Walk, which we are so glad to have done. Simply beautiful, with its old stacked rock
foundations and stone cellars from before the town was moved further into the crook of the bay. At the end of the two hour hike, we came across a diner and enjoyed touton (pronounced TOUT-on) BLTs and fish cakes, the server so talkative she forgot to take our order for several minutes. It was scrumptious. There, we overheard an exchange that we are still chuckling about. The server asked a guest how he wanted his eggs. The Newfoundlander answered: I don’t want to be any trouble but, I’ll have one scrambled and one poached. but I don’t want to be any trouble. Pause. The server stood with a look on her face, searching his for a glimmer of fun, then all erupted in laughter.
Day five, we pulled into Trinity and booked a room for two nights in a large house with many rooms all with ensuite bathrooms. It was like a hostel for adults, said Dean. We enjoyed swapping stories with some of our house mates and then had food and drink and a stroll around town, marveling again at the use of colour. Why so much colour we wondered? It was so that the seafarers could find their way home in the fog, b’y.
Day six, we did the Skerwink Hike with its sea stacks and rugged coast, ending the trail beside a pond with a resident otter who made himself known. This is my pond, he indicated with his snout held high and in our general direction. Later that evening, we found our way out to the CBC TV Miniseries site of Random Passage and were tickled to be the only folks there. I had read these books and LOVED them, a quarter of a century ago living in Corner Brook and being new to the culture. They shed a ton of light for me.
Day seven, we were back to St John’s were we met up with one of Dean’s nieces and had tea while catching up on all her news. We had walked around Quidi Vidi pond to get to her at a little cafe, but first we had met Dean’s friend Bill at The Mallard Cottage for a pint and an incredibly delicious lunch.
Day eight, we were packing up to catch our plane back to Nova Scotia. Our little tour of Newfoundand’s East coast had been amazing. Colourful, sweet, homey, rugged and beautiful. We shall return.
Today, we were in double digits with blue skies and ebbing tides….off to one of our many beaches to enjoy it. Not knowing a) that this beach belonged to a pair of nesting Peregrines and b) that this would be a truly remarkable day…
We were scurrying quickly away from the possible dive-bombing Peregrine Falcons and their surely sharp talons on a local beach near Avonport, Nova Scotia. (Peregrines are not to be trifled with, being the fastest creature on planet Earth, who can reach 320 km / hr with sharp talons and beak). My hubby of 26 years, Dean and I had been strolling on the pebbly, blue-tinged shale beach marveling at the warm day in late May and kicking around ideas for future world travel, a topic we come back to again and again it seems.
Yes, the warm day…we have had an awfully cold spring which would have me donning a toque up until, oh, yesterday. But today, we were in double digits with blue skies and ebbing tides….off to one of our many beaches to enjoy it. Not knowing a) that this beach belonged to a pair of nesting Peregrines and b) that this would be a truly remarkable day.
About thirty minutes down the beach, the shreeeeeeeeek of the Peregrine. (I have known this shreek and had heard it recently and curiously near our house in Wolfville. That mystery was about to be clarified.) It seems we were a little too close to their nest which was lodged up on a ledge in the sand-stone cliffs which towered over the beach.
A senior couple was coming down the beach in hats and rubber boots. Large camera had she, binoculars had he. Pauline and her special friend Bernard Forsythe and was it truly our fortune to meet them! Firstly warning them about the mad! mad! mad! falcons but they didn’t seem to want to turn around. They nodded knowingly about the speedy upset pair and so, with one eye-ball peeled, we stood and talked on the pretty beach for the better part of an hour.
Turns out, Bernard has been a serious naturalist and birder since the 70s featured here on CBC Television. Both he and Pauline had lost their respective mates in the last few years and had found friendship in each other through the Blomidon Naturalists Society. Bernard told us that he is 77 and still climbing trees. He has tagged more than 800 barred owls and routinely mounts owl boxes all over, to aid the owls in the nesting needs, now that old growth forests are not as prevalent as they once were. Bernard kept us highly interested in the various and many conservation activities he takes part in, mainly he says, for fun! He told us that Peregrines would have been in Wolfville due to it being on their flight path returning from the south. That’s why I would hear them sometimes. Mystery solved. I made a mental note to let my friend Daisy know this. She had wondered the same thing.
We asked Bernard if he happened to know our niece who had attended Acadia University and is now completing her masters in ornithology at York, Taylor Brown. He said…. Yes, we met one day by chance at the eye doctor. We were both bored and got to talking and then realized how much we have in common with regard to birding.
Dean and I were afraid to go back down the beach toward the nesting site but Pauline and Bernard assured us that we would be fine. If we formed a group, they said, the falcons were unlikely to attack us. I picked up a flat rock and used it as a helmet, to be extra sure. Once near to but far beneath the nest, we were able to clearly see a proud, puffed-up Momma on the nest and a serene protective Dadda on a tree just a bit further on, standing guard. Stoic. Soon, Pauline exclaimed that she could see a fuzzy chick’s head moving just above the rim of the nest. Time to leave them be, said Bernard. They need to hunt and take care of necessary falcon parenting business and shouldn’t be interrupted too much.
On our way back up the beach, we were fully captivated by the many fascinating stories that Bernie told us about his adventures in ornithology, owl banding and nesting box mounting. He would be called upon by Acadia University to take various students ‘under his wing’. One such student was studying the murder of crows who would roost on Boot Island. They would go to the island to study them together and so that Bernie could instruct the student in banding and other bird ways.
Bernard is also a wild-orchid enthusiast and counter. We would have been at the Orchid Show at the Acadia University KC Irving centre in February when my sisters were visiting. He pointed out that he studies and counts the wild ones though which he said involves a lot of hiking through the woods of Nova Scotia.
He then found us a highly interesting fossil of a fern and was bent over pointing at it as if he was in a teenager’s body. This incredibly youthful senior man has done and still does many hikes and out-trips on his various conservation missions. Now though most times with his friend Pauline by his side except when he is climbing trees. At those times, she waits on the ground. Both of them have a quick smile and a glint in their eye. They are wise, vital, active, witty and incredibly interesting. At one point, Pauline told me she wasn’t worried about the falcons dive-bombing because she was wearing blue and they don’t like blue. Aren’t you lucky I said. Why don’t they like blue? I asked. Only kidding she said. She had me going and it was funny, we belted out a good laugh about that one!
Again, I felt completely privileged and indebted to these lovely folks of the Annapolis Valley where we now call our home. They took a lovely day and made it even better, and… just by chance.
Only in The Valley.
Click here to read Part 1 (Reid’s Meats) and Part 2 (Dabro Farms).
(Peregrine picture was found on google images ~ thank you~ The other two are mine.)
We are big fans of really good, local, fresh food. We aren’t fanatics about it, we just really appreciate it when it is offered and when we can get our hands on it fairly easily at a decent price.
Similar to the story about Reid’s Meats, Dabro Farm is just west a bit and is a family run farm, over the hill from our home with an honour-system market in a small barn. It is surrounded by grazing cattle, sheep, chickens, the odd goat, geese and a couple of horses and donkeys, and the ever present Gaspereau River flowing lazily on by just across the paddock.
This one day, a few months ago, needing eggs, I rolled on over to the hill to Dabro after a sweet stroll in the sun along the canal with my then old furry girl-friend Lady Jane.
Arriving at the barn, set beside the country road, I parked and walked in. The egg fridge was usually my first order of business as one grown son of mine is a true egg fan, eating two or three when he is over for breakfast.
Opening the fridge, I was shocked to find nary an egg when normally there were several dozen awaiting purchase. Now, I didn’t let it bother me too much as I had the proprietor in my contacts on my cell. We had taught his two sons how to drive years ago. My trusty cell still held his phone number. I quickly texted Shawn Davidson letting him know my predicament. Somehow I knew that Shawn would be able to help.
I’ll be right there, he texted back lickety split.
Arriving in his pick-up truck from the other barn down the road, he dismounted and said, give me a sec.
He walked into the hen house and came out about two minutes later with a warm dozen of large brown eggs in a carton held open for me to inspect. He had left his work at the other end of his farm and come to my aid instantaneously, to hand-pick just laid eggs out from under the feathered ladies in the hen house. In my mind I was shaking my noggin gently thinking only in the valley. Shawn began to apologize for not washing the eggs. I told him to stop it as I gently pulled a warm brown egg into my palm. It filled my palm completely. A double-yoker for sure. At breakfast it was confirmed. Twin yokes.
Small farms are wonderful sustainable systems which employ families and provide good food to local folks with the circle of life working in a balancing act together. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. The manure from the livestock fertilizing the crops. It reminds me of that scene in the Disney film Lion King when Mufasta explains to his son, Simba, that when he dies, his body becomes the grass. The antelope eat the grass and later, become food for the lions. Circle of life. A delicate balance. Done with respect.
So, to describe it further: this particular farm market down in Gaspereau, has a few large fridges and freezers with various butcher-paper wrapped meats, poultry and pork, steaks, chops, bacon, ham and sausage as well as eggs.
There are also various other scrumptious offerings like home-made jams, jellies, relishes and pickles. Not to mention baked goods, coffee by the cup, knitted socks, toques, mitts, candles, honey, garlic, ice-cream sandwiches which really hit the spot in the warm summer months, and a little library of novels. All of these items are sold by honour-system. There are no staff monitoring the market so, choose the goods, write them down in the little book. Insert cash into the cash box or send an etransfer. Walk out the door and be careful of the roaming, foraging happy-go-lucky chickens.
Time for breakfast!
Thank you Shawn Davidson and family of Dabro Farms. You will have noted a large contented smile on my face each time I have been in your market. Only in the Valley.
(all pictures found on google images of Dabro Farms)
When you see my Lady, with the twinkle in her eyes, tell it to her softly and hold her if she cries. Tell her that I love her and I will till the day I die. Tell it to her gently when you tell her that I won’t be coming home again
~ Burton Cummings
How I shall miss you my best furry girl-friend of the last decade.
Every time I pulled my coat from the cupboard to turn around and you’d be there. Tail wagging. Wet nose smelling. Long tongue lolling. Eyes asking, me too, Mom? If I told you not this time, you would turn and lay down. Disappointed but disciplined. Stoic.
Every time, without fail, the cheese came out of the fridge. From the far reaches of the house you came a trotting.
Running clothes on, Dad? Let’s go, your body said. I’m ready.
Danger in our yard? You would inform us with an important chuff or alarm bark, and make us feel safe, especially from the most feared: a cat! You were ON it! But should a friend come by, there was nary a woof. Not even if years had passed.
I see your water bowl, food bowl, your leash and collar, your tie-out rope, your bed of old blankets. All are sad reminders of your doggy-ness. Your unconditional love of us. Your pack whom you would protect, without question.
This morning I awoke and waited for your bedside greeting. Every day for ten years your nose was there nudging my hand. Your tail wagging us into a new day. Walking to my office where you would take up your spot under my desk. I would warm my feet under your furry belly. Time to go home? Up, shake, let’s go.
But the last months something was wrong. A growth grew. An infection. Blood. A smell that was full of not good. Piddly pee. Howling at the vet’s office – singing the song of your people, the Vet said. Wagging tail stopped wagging and now clamped under to hold the foreign growth on your haunch. You would sandwich yourself between my legs and the cupboard when I was chopping. You would pant and pace. You were not yourself. Oh dear. We would have to face it. You were not feeling well, dear Lady, searching our faces with those pretty brown eyes.
Those hard days are over. We have let you go. We will not forget your sweet furriness and your wonderful doggy-ness. You were love itself.
I walked into Reid’s Meats one afternoon on a mission to buy some ribs to cook up a feed, a feed we have only a couple of times per year. Just every now and then I get that craving for fall-off-the-bone ribs.
I was the only soul in the place, other than the two brothers Conor, whom I always think of as the young guy with the dimples, and the older brother Michael, who is a more serious looking guy and all business (although I just called him and did get a chuckle out of him when attempting to get his email address, a long one).
Before I get further into the story, I need to give a description of the location of this meat shop. It is set in a tiny crossroads called Melanson at the base of the rolling hills of Melanson Mountain with the Gaspereau River flowing past it, about ten minutes outside of Wolfville, Nova Scotia. This shop is constantly busy cutting wild meats in a separate room all night and domestic meats all day. When we first moved here, someone told us it was the best place for fresh cuts of meat. Always on ‘the hunt’ for the best quality food, I found myself patronizing Reid’s Meats. And, you’re about to read a good example of that.
Michael Reid asks me if he can help me. I tell him I’d like some ribs. He shoots back, ‘pork or beef?’
K, I didn’t even know beef ribs were an option. I decided to stick with pork and told him so.
‘How much do you want?’
‘How ’bout six racks about this big,’ as I held up my hands measuring about half a foot between them, thinking of my large roasting pan and how much I could cram in there, knowing the left-overs would be scrumptious the next day.
‘Just a sec’ he says to me and then to Dimples, he says, ‘sharpen my knife.’
Receiving his orders from his older brother, Conor quickly and deftly started on sharpening the knife while Micheal walked into the back fridge.
A few seconds later…
a whole pig carcass, lead by Michael, came whizzing out of the fridge on a huge hook which was attached to a track in the ceiling. Michael carefully guided the carcass into place.
‘Only in the Valley,’ I’m thinking as I blinked my eyes to ensure this wasn’t a figment of my imagination. It wasn’t. Geez, I wish I had the guts to start recording this. I had been told this was fresh meat. Got that right.
What happened next is that Michael butchered that pig right in front of me while it hung on the hook. He had this food-grade chain saw and a couple of different frightfully sharp knives, thanks to little brother, that he used to expertly and efficiently carve that meat, not wasting an ounce.
In a few minutes, while I watched with my jaw hitting the floor, he was smacking those fresh ribs down on the reddish-brown paper positioned on the stainless steel counter in front of me, his eyes meeting mine seeking approval to go ahead and wrap them up. Not on a styrofoam tray with plastic wrap and absorbent pad. No, in the old-fashioned reddish butcher paper and beige tape that he moistened using a small, wheeled ceramic device with water in its tiny reservoir.
My mind reeled, for a moment, back to the endless summer days at the camp and of ‘Jake’s General Store‘ in Maggie River before the god-awful fire that burnt it to the ground. Back when we would ride to town in the back of a pickup or walk there, barefoot, with a shiny quarter in sweaty little hands. The butcher at Jake’s was as impressive and the cuts of meat were beautiful. The ground beef was ground there in front of you from beef that you chose. Then, the butcher would reach up and grab the string which was in a creaking pulley system attached to the ancient ceiling. The package of meat would be wound with this string and his black oil pencil would scratch out the price on it while my large eyes watched in fascination, my fingers gripping the edge of the glass display case, my chin not yet clearing its edge. I could almost taste the burgers that we would have for supper, cooked by Mom outside the office on the grill, perched in the very rocks which formed the foundation of the cabin. Cooked over charcoal, started with ‘strike anywheres‘ and yes, always with a wee hint of lighter fluid, lending an added ‘je-ne-sais-quois’ to the burger.
More than a few decades later and back to Reid’s Meats…
I just basically nodded profusely at the pile of freshly butchered pork ribs with a big wide smile. I was feeling so thankful to be a part of such a great community where food is so wonderfully fresh and plentiful and the skill to handle it is still so present and of such a human scale.
Thank you, Reid’s Meats for carrying on a tradition and a family-run business providing this kind of quality for four decades. This Upper Canadian come-from-away is one satisfied customer.
Lady Jane was our black shepherd mixed-breed dog that we rescued when she was ten-months old thanks to an ad that Dean saw on Kijiji (which is like ‘Craig’s List’). He fell in love with her picture instantly and asked me could we go see her. By then, our two big Northern dogs had passed away, each in their thirteenth year and buried in our back yard with collars hanging from an overhanging limb. They had been good dogs but, sadly, their day was done.
Normally I would have jumped at getting a new dog but at that time, I was feeling pretty over-worked with the house, the yard, the business and the various students we would take in for months at a time.
I would hear other moms saying that the dog care always came down to them. That’s how I perceived it. It was me who worried about them. Me who made sure they were walked, or who got after Leo or Dean to walk them. They had been a lot of work that I felt relieved to be rid of. However, the look on Dean’s face after seeing the picture of that black tapered snout and high, pointy ears. Well, I could not disappoint. (That’s how he used to look at me, I realized). I told him I would go see the dog but, ‘no promises,’ I said.
She was gorgeous. Dean couldn’t stop patting her and saying sweet nothings in her direction. I said we needed to give it a tiny bit of thought. What I actually wanted was Dean to promise to take a more active interest in her.
So the sales pitch began by Dean: ‘I promise I’ll do it ALL for this one!’ he pleaded.
Next we went to the Farmer’s Market and met up with a friend from across town. Dean told Wayne all about the dog we had just looked at. Wayne wondered what there was to think about. I chimed in that having a dog again could be rather inconvenient. Wayne says, without skipping a beat:
‘The best things in life are inconvenient.’
We looked at him. We nodded. We turned and went to get our new dog. That was nine years ago.
Besides running off several times as an adolescent, sometimes being nasty when meeting other dogs while on leash, and an awful patch of killing chickens that nearly cost me a dear friend, she has been the best dog ever. She has never been sick. She rarely makes a mess. She doesn’t steal food. She doesn’t chew and she doesn’t over bark. Get this: she bites her nails. We have NEVER cut her nails, and they are fine. Of an evening, we will hear her surreptitiously biting them while laying on her mat.
But lately…there had been this mystery of the shit-breath that we could not figure out. And when I say shit-breath, well, that’s an understatement. I would have to roll all the windows down if it happened while out in the car and spray lavender water at her. And it would seemingly come from nowhere.
I decided to take a good look in her mouth. Perhaps it was an abscess? What I thought I saw in there, and it wasn’t easy to keep Lady’s jaws wide open, was a broken top molar-type tooth at the back.
Off to the vet we go and wow, were we impressed with this vet who was as high-energy as a boarder collie. She got right down on the floor with Lady and really checked her out well, while asking us various questions. She told us that Lady was in fabulous shape. Great teeth. Good pulse. Good eyes – no cataracts. She asked us what we fed her. Our answer: kibble and plenty of table scraps like meat, potato, cheese, carrots. Fresh water with a bit of organic apple cider vinegar (which instantly pretty much cured some piddling that was occurring after a run). She asked about vaccinations. We don’t do them, we said. We do get her seasonal tick and flea treatment though. (The thought of a dog being crazed by itchiness saddens me).
Then she asked about when the shit-breath occurs, because at that moment, it wasn’t there. We said it’s odd. It just happens seemingly out of the blue and lasts for a few hours.
‘Ahh’, she said.
‘Ahh?’ we asked.
‘Has she ever had trouble with blocked anal glands?’
‘Yes. We would sometimes see her scooting.’ And I knew from reading James Herriot in my teens, that scooting was a sign of blocked anal glands and that what would come next would be REALLY gross. And, by the way, what the hell are anal glands good for?
The vet took a look (with gloves on) and sure enough. Blocked anal glands. She explained that Lady would be licking at them to release the blockage. At this point we almost hurled, but, held it together while the Vet squeezed them for a few minutes to drain them…I’m almost sick as I write this.
Mounds of grey gunk came out on her paper towel. She showed it to me while I turned green.
‘Lady should be fine now.’
Lady? I’m pretty sure she meant we. We should be fine now.
This is a quick little story which is set at our humble home on a quaint street in our wee tidal town. We have lived here since August 2010. Shortly thereafter, due to the stress and strain of a kitchen renovation which may have but then didn’t include asbestos poisoning, I landed in the hospital. The stuff of nightmares. And, to think, we had said to each other, Dean and I, ‘let’s not start any renos until we have owned our home for at least two years.’ Ha! We lasted four months such was the atrocious state of our new-to-us home. (Every time I see the previous owner, I strangle him in my imagination).
So, our new reality found us painting our kitchen ceiling on Christmas Eve (which is also our anniversary); having had our kitchen gutted, rewired and replumbed; having re-painted and re-positioned cabinets, having had new appliances and fresh drywall, not to mention a shiny new double sink and formica counter-tops, flooring and windows. There is a lot involved in kitchen renos. Trust me! And ours had the added bonus of a psychotic break for me. Lovely.
Anyhoo, after we all recovered from that, come spring we were laughin’.
That was the year that St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday and this being a small University town, with nearly as many students as full-time residents, well, when the students decide to get out and make some noise… we all hear about it. Don’t get me wrong, we love our students. My comment here is that the day was an incredible early Spring day. It was twenty-two degrees Celsius on March 17th (~72 F). Unheard of. And, it was St. Patty’s Day. So, many folk were just OUTSIDE and havin’ a ball.
I will never forget that day because I spent the whole day out in the garden, raking, picking up sticks, splitting off lilies, vinca-vine and ferns. Just any excuse to be outside. Any Canadian can relate, I am sure. And the whole time I was out there, I could here the ruckus happening downtown. I had no desire to join in or to even see it, but, it was hilarious and just one of the many oddities about being Canadian. When Spring springs, we CELEBRATE it, baby, and we GET OUTSIDE. It was so nice, we were able to plant our gardens a month early and therefore had huge growth.
So, a few weeks later, my raised garden boxes with tall sunflowers, scarlet runners, tomatoes, kale and asparagus bed were doing very well. It was the best, warmest Spring in a loooong time.
One of the unique features of our property is that the town tennis courts are right on the edge of our back yard. Also, we are sandwiched between two parks, one with pitches. So, that means a constant stream of frisbee, soccer and tennis players. Also, students of tennis, including young kids taking tennis lessons with a hired tennis coach. So, when I am out in the back yard, gardening or hanging a load of clothes, there is almost always banter and pock-pock,pock-pock sounds going on, not to mention the highly annoying and obnoxious exertion grunt (which drives me WILD. Don’t they know we can HEAR them? What the hell people? Shut up and hit the ball.)
For a few seasons in a row, the tennis coach was this big young guy with a wild head of curly red hair: Conrad. He was very patient with his young students and consistently gave good clear instruction, over and over again followed by ‘good’, ‘better’, ‘great’, kinds of adverbs. It was a pleasure to be weeding the garden and to overhear his patient, deep voice working with his young charges. There is nothing like the sounds of children playing actively to bring a contented smile to my face.
It was this one weekday in mid-summer that I will never forget. I was bent over my garden boxes just quietly working away. I could hear the young tennis students running around on the hot court, whapping the balls around and asking for a drink about every thirty seconds, it was so hot!
Then Conrad’s voice in this slow, understated yet exasperated deep tone booms:
‘Come on kids FOCUS! It’s only Tuesday!’
Oh my god. I was silently laughing so hard I almost inhaled top soil. I looked over my right shoulder to see a few of the kids looking up at Conrad with a quizzical squint on their freckled faces.
‘Who cares if it’s Tuesday?? We’re playin‘ here.’ they seemed to be thinking.
My brother Mark and his wife and my sister Amy and I had tickets for a week in Cuba and I was determined to go. I was looking forward to getting out of our messed up house with it’s temporary kitchen and dust everywhere. I was determined to go. I may have mentioned that already. I figured it would do my cough good to get into the sun even though I had coughed up a bit of blood earlier that day.
When I met my sister Amy at the Toronto airport she noticed immediately that I was holding my body rigidly. Her big blue eyes searched my face as she asked me if I was okay. My green eyes began to water as I said: I have a few problems right now.
Cue the ominous music
The first two days in Cuba were fine. We walked on the beach and swam and laughed and Mark played his guitar and we all sang a whole lot but, my bronchitis was not improving.
It was worsening. I was not sleeping hardly at all due to the coughing fits I was having.
Amy, Mark and Irene went out in the evening to watch the band. I was going to stay and rest, I said. Mark was going to play a song and he was looking forward to that. Our rooms were about a five minute walk to the area on the beach where the music was to be performed. After they left, I decided to put something comfortable on and walk over and stand in the sand to just listen. By the time I walked to the walkway to the beach, tears were streaming down my face due to the beauty everywhere and how frightened I was of what lay ahead.
I knew it would be psychosis and psychosis can be a very scary and a very lonely, joyless, black place.
Someone in the band saw me crying with my feet deep in the silky cool sand likely trying to ground myself and he whispered to his band mate. Suddenly they were playing, ‘No Woman No Cry‘ by Bob Marley. I just bawled some more at how sweet they were to try and help me with their music. I realized again just how much I love Cuba.
However, I could not sleep.
I would lay in bed staring at the ceiling and then, by the third night, the visions and the outrageous thoughts started: I was the Virgin Mary. I was the one meant to save the world. There was a numerology aspect. I was born on 03-03-66. my only son Leo was born on 09-08-99. I was 33 when he was born. Mom was born in 16-06-30 and she had been 36 when I was born. My business was Incorporated on 06-06-06. So, lot’s of threes (and sixes and nines, all divisible by three). There were three in my family. Three was a special number, as a former Catholic I knew this well. The number of the Holy Trinity in Christianity. My mind churned these thoughts — twisting and turning them, over and over making me fall into insanity.
Then, I was having conversations with God. My birth family would all be saved from the coming world crisis if we gathered on a tropical island together. My pulse raced. My stomach churned with butterflies. My bowels turned to liquid. I was all keyed up and it was impossible to sleep. Mania was taking over my mind and I was familiar with it. All aboard the crazy train folks…
Things rapidly deteriorated from that point. Luckily our week was almost up. Mark and his wife began furtive preparations for home while Amy watched over me. I just wanted to walk around the resort and connect with every possible person in my vicinity. Mark and Amy were worried I wouldn’t be permitted on the flight if I was acting too manic, so Amy and I went to the medical clinic where a very kind and gentle doctor, while holding my hand, shot a huge syringe of tranquilizer into each cheek of my ass. Amy said that it was enough tranquilizer to drop a horse. But guess what, I was still manic with no tranquility in sight. I popped off the bed like the Energizer bunny. By the time we got to the airport though, I was much more calm but still no sleep. I should have been slumped over, drooling, in deep sleep.
Now, I was taking the hands of total strangers, gazing deeply into their eyes and telling them all about their lives and how to improve it. Funnily enough, people seemed to really want to hear what I was saying to them. It was bizarre. One man told me I was the most honest person he had ever spoken to. Meanwhile, my brother Mark was running around trying to keep me safe and to act normal so that the airline people would allow me to fly. I, of course, was oblivious by this point.
With our 18-year old son, Leo, having just finished up his first term of University, and his buddy, Reid, we decided to take a 12-day trip to Cuba…a non-resort trip…not exactly as strenuous as a ‘back-packing’ trip, per se, but a non-resort moving around trip none the less. And, all in all, it was a fine adventure to finish off 2017 in a unique fashion. Dean and I were also celebrating 25 years married and we wanted to do something special for the occasion.
We arrived in Havana in mid-December and made a bee-line first to the cadeca to change money, then to the tienda for a cold one each. We had arranged a driver to take us to our place in Vedado, a trendy area of the city but, he was familiar with ‘Cuba Time’ and had no trouble just chilling until the four of us quenched our thirst after a long, rather sparse flight. Don’t get me going but what the devil has happened to flights theses days?…I had told the boys of the days of unlimited free boozy drinks on flights and a full hot meal preceded by a warm towel for your face, neck and hands, blankets and pillows and head-sets handed to each traveler. What the heck happened??? Now we couldn’t even check a bag for free. The four of us went with carry-on only and had had our sun-screen confiscated at security. Let’s just read that line again…our sun-screen was confiscated at security. Why? Well, it seems since 9 – 11, sun-screen in any family-size container, is a security breech.
Our driver happily helped us into his vintage car and off we rolled to our apartment. Along the way, in a combination of broken English, Spanglish, gesture and sound effects, he told us about the area and his family. It seemed that he was a nearly pro ping-ponger with four babies (who were now adults) and then we rolled passed the Mental Health Hospital and he put two bent fingers to his right temple and made a creaking sound while moving his fingers back and forth and rolling his eyes. Ooookay. Meanwhile, in his back seat sits me with Bipolar1. I didn’t let on.
Our apartment was ideal and in good proximity to a landmark that we all wanted to check out. The Nacional Hotel. It seemed fitting to have our first mojito of the trip there.
The bartender happened to be our landlord, so he treated us to a Cubata cocktail as well and a couple of fine cigars for the lads. His protege was quite a nice-looking guy, very photogenic, and he was fine with me snapping his picture.
From there, we walked along the sea wall and marveled at the warm air.
It was getting dark and would soon be time to find a place to eat. We asked a young person who seemed to know some English. He told us to try Bicky’s and he drew us a little map. We walked the darkened streets with nary a flat sidewalk and several random ankle-busting holes as well as piles of dog doo and other garbage. We found it, though. Its neon-lighted sign beckoning like a lighthouse over choppy seas. It was an Italian place and we were seated on the balcony. The place was packed and we got the last table. When my food arrived, it didn’t look like much: penne pasta in a cream sauce. Oh my. It was fabulous. All of us were happy with our food, but mine was outstanding. I could barely speak due to my tongue being in love with the taste. A nice omen of our meals to come.
The next morning, the Senorita arrived to cook us breakfast and we had fun trying to understand each other. She had not a word of English and would just raise the volume of her Spanish to make us understand. Luckily, my previous study on duolingo and our old phrase book which we had used in Central America when Leo was four helped. As well, I employed a healthy and hilarious amount of gesture which I was comfortable with since learning conversational American Sign Language when Leo was a baby. I taught her how to do eggs ‘over-easy’ using my hand as the spatula in my gesticulating. We had wonderful foods for breakfast: fresh tropical fruit, coffee, toast, eggs, freshly made tropical juices. Wonderful.
Off we went to walk to the book store which was a couple of miles away in a quiet part of the city. We walked past many pastel-coloured stucco homes, newly painted with groomed yards and straight fences, often directly beside a very old, grey and crumbling crooked house. It was odd and interesting. When we got to Cuba Libro the bookstore, we were amazed at the wonderful books as well as other offerings there: cookies, coffee and a clean bathroom. It is owned by an expat and has a lively community following with various clubs meeting there and tours too. The lovely server told us how to get a car to take us to Old Havana and so next we were climbing into a red 51 Chevy with clear vinyl covered leather seats. It was mint.
Because we so enjoyed this man, with no English but a lovely manner, we negotiated with him for the 4.5 hour ride to Trinidad de Cuba for the next morning. Then we walked around seeing the sights of Old Havana and drinking in the ancient feel of the place.
It was commonplace to hear and see vendors yelling and selling their wares which ranged from brooms (which I REALLY wanted – joking) to lettuce (which I also REALLY wanted) to baked crackers and pastries, even home-made ice-cream and shaved meat sandwiches were being sold but the sandwich maker was without gloves and my Western sensibilities would not allow us to avail of them. I was quite intrigued with the cart of lettuce, and other veggies. It looked so good and yummy.
Our ride to Trinidad (well, Boca actually which is just south of Trinidad) was uneventful except for many bumps due to the non-existent shocks on the 51 Chevy. There were very few vehicles on the highway but we would see horse and buggy from time to time, many sugar-cane fields and not a single fast-food place like there are along our highways. We stopped about half-way for a bano break and the boys had a quick sandwich. When we arrived, the taxi-driver asked at several doors to find us a place to stay. We wanted two rooms with their own bathrooms. We found them and we met an east-coaster named Erika who was quite eager to get to know us and to talk a blue streak. While the Senora of the Casa made us a roast chicken lunch, we went swimming in the bay across from our rooms. Erika came along and continued to ask intriguing questions and I found myself filling her in on our previous travels because she was very interested.
After a fine lunch, we grabbed a taxi to the big beach, Playa Ancon, and had a very sweet time throwing frisbee,
walking down the beach and when Senor came along to ask if we wanted a drink, I sprung for mojitos for all (perhaps a wee bit extravagant but, sometimes that’s just the way it goes).
When the sun began to go down we grabbed the last taxi for the 10k back to La Boca and sat on the front porch. Next, there was a bit of a sing-song, as it turned out that Erika could sing beautifully with a rich voice and was very talented on guitar. She had won an East Coast Music Award and such. http://erikakulnys.com/
Later, all the young folk went off to the Salsa House in Trinidad for a wild time. We heard them getting in a few hours later and it sounded like they were going to have some stories for us in the morning. Which they did…along the lines of how much rum one can drink before feeling rather sick…and such. And, they enjoyed dancing their legs off!
We spent the days either on the beach at Playa Ancon,
or walking around Trinidad
or hiking in the hills and swimming in small pools near the water falls.
Leo jumped in from a high ledge and it was really cool. I should comment that the second hike was very hard. Walking way down, down, down to get to this pool and waterfall and then up, up, UP to get back to the top where our loyal taxi-driver waited. My heart nearly burst. I couldn’t remember a more challenging hike, even when we trekked for 30 days in Nepal…I had been a lot younger then. That could account for it, I guess. One very good aspect though was that Dean surprised me with a lovely ring for our 25th anniversary, as we sat watching the boys by the waterfall. Doesn’t get any better than that, in my world.
We also ate a lot of really good food in many different establishments. Our Trinidad host, Rebeca, was so sweet to us too. She made us an elaborate breakfast each morning which included tropical fruit and juices, fresh-baked pie and pastries, omelettes, coffee with hot milk and chocolate. She would hug and kiss us regularly, in keeping with her affectionate culture and because we would smile and she could see that we were content. One morning she had Reid in a tight squeeze to her ample breasts. He surfaced saying he thought that was called ‘a motorboat’. We laughed. We breakfasted on her upper terrace and she went up and down the stairs at least a dozen times for us and not allowing us to help. Her granddaughter stole my heart and I gave her little gifts. To return the favour to us, Rebeca gave us a flask of Havana Club and a bottle of red wine. These would have cost her a heck of a lot and were very generous gifts.
In Trinidad, the boys went to the Iberostar Hotel a few times in order to avail themselves of wifi. It wasn’t free but nor was it too expensive. There was also a pool table there which they were able to use a few times. They would also have a cappuccino or a beer while they got their fill of social media and connecting with loved ones back home.
In the blink of an eye, it was time to head back to Havana to prepare for our journey home to Canada. Rebeca’s son would take us back to the big city. Without a word of English, we made our way with him. He was quite a good driver. He charged us a very fair rate for the trip. No English but a lovely persona and a big, quick smile. If you ever go to Trinidad de Cuba and need a place to stay, have the taxi take you to Casa Rebeca on Cienfuegos. Highly recommend!
Back in Havana, we found rooms in Centro, just outside of Old Havana. The landlady was a hurdle and it was apparent that she was a money grabbing opportunist behind her big fake smile. Can’t have the good ones every time, I guess. We walked the streets and looked at art, tasted various beers, Dean got a hair cut, and we tried a variety of restaurants and then it was time to grab a taxi to the airport.
My son and his shipmates walked down the plank and aboard the ship as the Indigenous girl sang a sweet sad song of good-bye. As she beat her skin drum the tears streamed down my face. ‘Come home to us’, I prayed.
Here is the story of my son’s crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on a Tall Ship, The Gulden Leeuw (as pictured above. Photo courtesy of Google Images). My husband, Dean, and I were ever so proud that Leo was selected to go on the ship, but I was also terrified of the whole idea. Anything could happen while crossing the North Atlantic — it was not to be trifled with. I was having out-of-body experiences as I imagined some of the more horrible possibilities, but, strangely, I was also very eager for him to be out there and experiencing it. ‘He will be fine,’ I was told. ‘That ship crosses the Atlantic all the time.’ They said. ‘The Captain will ensure that all is well.’ Meanwhile, my eyebrows moved higher and ever higher up my forehead. It sounds like I am foreshadowing that something bad would happen. Well, there was one big storm in which Leo told us about working in the galley with smashing dishes and flying carrots (yes, carrots), but other than some foggy days and cool temperatures, all went smoothly on the Golden Love, which is how I renamed the ship in my mind.
The morning they cast off, they smudged all present with smoking sage. A well-loved Mi’kmaq Chief approached me and with both hands holding the smudging bowl, kindly offered me the cleansing smoke. I reached out hungrily and pulled it over me. ‘This will help keep him safe, right?’ I thought. Blessings were bestowed by several Chiefs and Elders and best wishes were wished. We were asked to go around the crowd and ensure that every one of the 45 participants were given a hug by someone so that they understood how much we love and cherish them. It was unbelievably touching. But, I continued to check in with myself that this was my son who we were sending off. This was my only, cherished son who was about to sail away ACROSS THE NORTH ATLANTIC. Was I crazy??! Seems that way.
The time came for Leo and his shipmates to walk down the plank and to board the ship. An Indigenous girl sang a hauntingly sweet sad song of good-bye. As she beat her skin drum the tears streamed down my face. ‘Come home to us’, I prayed.
So, here is Leo’s story in a paper for school regarding types of tourism and, in it, he captures the magnitude of the adventure that he successfully undertook. My first guest-writer:
This summer I was involved in a travel project entitled Msit No’Kmaq: All My Relations. It was a travel experience that I applied for in which 45 aboriginal youth sailed across the Atlantic on a tall ship, while being involved in a rigorous sail training program. This crossing took place because of the vessel’s participation in a tall ship race, in which 11 ships race from Halifax to France. A laid-back vacation this was not, as it more closely resembled a work placement at sea, and it involved some of the hardest manual labour to which I have been exposed. I am certainly not complaining, as it was clearly the best and most rewarding trip I have been on.
The goal of the project was to transform the rag tag group of trainees into a somewhat coherent crew, and this was accomplished by putting us to work during daily “watches,” where that segment of the group would be responsible for running the ship. I absolutely loved it. I can admit that hard manual labour has never really appealed to me, and my work ethic when tackling work like that is not ideal. However, the work on the ship was certainly an exception. Although it is hard work, it is so rewarding in the way that you can immediately see the difference your hard work has made towards the betterment of the vessel or the race. In particular, I loved climbing aloft. While once again hard work, the excitement of being so high above everything really augments any feelings of boredom or longing for leisure into something closer to fulfilment and completeness. You look down to see the ship charging through the wake some 100+ feet below you as you hang on for dear life while tightly wrapping the t’gallant in gaskets. The intense heeling of the ship interrupted with violent shaking as she smashes through waves ensures that relaxation is never achieved. But relaxation is not the goal while aloft, even if your aching muscles scream that your bunk is more comfortable. The adrenaline is ever present, even when completing such a mundane task as furling a sail.
Although deep internal reflection sessions while staring into nothingness were never accomplished by me, I learned a great deal about myself during this crossing, and I think some personal development did indeed take place. The nature of living on a tall ship is conducive to reflective thought, the kind that makes you question the path you’ve set for yourself in life. Sailing is one of those pure pursuits. One of those passions that is enticing and exciting in its infancy, amazing and beautiful in its mastery. I feel incredibly lucky to have witnessed both ends of the spectrum of sailing while on this voyage. You have the trainees, young men and woman who are taking a leap of faith and trying something completely outside their comfort zone. The beginning of our journey as sailors was raw and unkempt. We threw ourselves into the work and hoped something good would come from it, and of course it did. We kept that ship moving in the right direction, and kept our minds on the right path. We became more and more knowledgeable, skilled, and eager. The thirst for adventure propelled us to reach new heights (literally). On the other hand, there was the crew and captain. Experienced sailors, but many not so experienced at dealing with youth. Experienced or not, they were incredible. The patience, excitement for seeing us learn and grow, the humour, and the deft skill at motivation was beyond anything we could have hoped for. They really made the experience as fantastic as it was. All those pieces fit into the puzzle that made me question what I want out of life. I can say with some certainty that the most important thing I learned about myself is that I want to sail again. I want to be around the incredible and genuine characters that sailing attracts, and I aspire to someday be one of those characters myself.
As this was a trip for indigenous people, there were some cross-cultural difficulties that came up between crew and trainees. There were some instances when crew accidentally said something offensive or derogatory, but I was very impressed by the common understanding of everyone onboard. People were not quick to judge each other, and understood that the vast cultural differences between many people onboard were likely to result in some uncomfortable moments. It was all handled very maturely. There were also cultural differences among the trainees. Some, like me, didn’t really grow up ensconced in their native culture, and many did. I really learned that I haven’t grown up with my indigenous culture nearly as much as I’d like. That was something largely outside of my control, but it still stings. Being a part of this project has really made me appreciate the rich history that I share with these amazing people, while also helping me fill many of the gaps in my knowledge that are present because of my upbringing. I feel proud to be a part of such an incredible people, whose population has had such a rough go. It prides me to see that so many Indigenous young people are so successful.
The destinations we toured were Falmouth and Alderney, UK, plus Le Havre, France and Paris. I can say with near complete certainty that Alderney is the best place I have ever been. If I was asked to sum it up in one word it would be “authentic.” The people, the geography, the history, even the other tourists there were a breath of fresh air. It is a small island in the English Channel, just off France. With a population of only 2,000, the island has a distinct small-town feel. I have never observed a more impressive group of tourists than I saw on the island of Alderney. Because it lacks a major airport of any kind, most people who come to Alderney are sailboat owners. The demographic who sails their own boat through the English Channel are a completely different type of people than a crowd fresh off a cruise ship, or even a passenger plane. I can recount with great fondness interactions with locals and other tourists and remember always enjoying the conversation. Real, genuine people.
I think this relates to some concepts especially the allocentric/psychocentric disparity, as well as respecting the wishes of locals and tourism. Alderney is pushing for higher levels of tourism, and I have to wonder if the locals will be happy if many more people start flooding the gates. The laid-back atmosphere may be lost, which is part of the reason I loved it so much. I can also speak to the presence of attractions as well as hidden gems, and I can say with certainty that I experienced them both.
Of all the travelling I have done, this trip made me feel the least like a conventional tourist. I think that was due to our rather interesting story and mode of transportation, and the immediate excitement and intrigue locals showed when they learned we had just sailed the Atlantic. That feeling of respect was new, and responsible for a completely different travel experience. A generalization I can make from that experience is that the way you arrive to a new spot is somewhat responsible for the way you feel about your time there. I saw many different demographics of tourists during my time abroad, and I can say that the more allocentric crowd really appeals to me over the psychocentric. There just seems to be a greater feeling of authenticity, a feeling that I strive to exhibit myself.
My baby, the one who arrived in a maelstrom back in 1999, well, he is now a tall young man. Intelligent, kind, fun-loving, adventurous, athletic and handsome. (But, this is his mother writing. What else would I say?)
He is finished high-school and getting set to go off on a huge adventure and then to University. I have five weeks left with him before he departs. My heart is breaking and I am tearful, scared and joyful all at the same time. I never thought I would be this way, but, then again, I never thought I would be in a straitjacket in D.C. either. That’s life, right?! It sneaks up on you and BAM!
Your son, your only, is leaving for University.
But, what about that big adventure you ask? Leo applied and was picked to be one of forty-five youth to assist as crew on a tall ship from Halifax to France. Yes, that’s right. Across the Atlantic. Thankfully, there is a professional crew as well and they will be teaching the youth the ropes, literally. They will do duties: watch, galley, cleaning and maintenance duties. I am sure there will be lots of time for fun too. They will dock in Le Havre in Normandy France and spend five days in France before flying home to Canada at the end of August.
About ten days later, Leo will leave our house for University.
What happened to the days of Buzz Lightyear? Or the days of hiking, just me and small him and the dogs in the parks, on the beaches, up the hills? The days where every playground became a wealth of potential fun and that he would point at and cry hopefully, “Can I play in the playground, Mom?” and inevitably exclaim: “Mom, I’m having SO fun!!”
The holding of my hand. His, so small and soft and warm. The moments of insecurity when he was a toddler and would wrap himself around one or both of my legs as I stood in conversation with someone. The morning greeting, “It’s morning time, Mom!” The sleepy, cuddly story-times, sweaty fevers, rosy-cheeked kisses and all the stuff we learned together. The tears are streaming as I ask, “Where did the time go? and WHY does this hurt so bad??!”
Oh dear, did I spend enough time with him? Did I do enough for him? Did I help to shape a good young man? Will he find his way? Will he find a love? Will he miss me?
He wrote his last exam of high-school today and had arranged with two good buddies to go camping in New Brunswick at Fundy National Park. Both my husband Dean and I were home for lunch (we come home every day for lunch due to our Simple East-Coast Life) and so we witnessed the flurry of activity in getting ready for the big out-trip.
Leo was walking back and forth to his room grabbing all that he could imagine needing for the trip. Meanwhile, I set up a sandwich-building smorgasbord on the kitchen island with large slices of buttered Italian bread, sliced cheese and tomato, ham, bologna, bacon, mustard, mayo, and lettuce fresh and green from the garden. While Leo ran around, I invited the two buds to build their sandwiches and dig in. I wouldn’t want to see them on their way without a good lunch.
The curious thing happened. While Leo ran around, his two friends and I had a nice little visit in the kitchen. Mainly talking about some hiking memories that Dean and I made at Fundy National Park while going Across Canada in Betsy and then about their plans for the fall. Leo came out to the kitchen and snagged the last two slices of bacon for his sandwich, which I then volunteered to build for him, as I could see he wasn’t even close to being packed and ready yet.
Just then, we realized that Leo’s phone was vibrating on the corner cupboard. Leo looked at it, then reached for it. From where I stood, I noticed that his hand was slightly shaking as he reached for his phone. My heart caught in my chest to see that hand, the very one I knew so well and had held time and again including when he was fourteen and he reached out for my hand during a movie the two of us went to see together…shaking.
Looking at the display, he said, “Dad, this is the call about the summer job.” When he looked up, there was a nervous strain on his face that instantly caused an anxious reaction within me. You see, Leo is a very laid-back kinda guy as is evidenced here.
Almost nothing phases him. But, I had to remind myself to take stock: he just wrote an exam, the last of his high-school career; a couple of nights ago, he found out he was selected for the Tall Ship experience to cross the Atlantic; there was a summer job being negotiated; friends were waiting for him for a couple day out-trip; Prom in a few days; he would be leaving for University in late August and he hadn’t even eaten lunch yet. So, perhaps a slight tremor of the hand and bit of a strain on the face is understandable. Regardless, the reaction within me was hard to deny. All I wanted to do was make it better. Take away his strain and nerves. Jeepers. I’m gonna need to chill.
Prom was fantastic and the prom parade went off without a ‘hitch’ and is featured in this little video:
When we first moved to Halifax, we lost a second-trimester pregnancy, Leo’s little brother, and it was heartbreaking. So…I am really hoping that the ‘loss’ of Leo to the great wide world (although surely tough on me) will be wonderful. That we shall see him spread his wings and soar through life, having adventures, doing good and following his dreams….TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!
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!)
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.
P.S. It was on this beach above (Keji Adjunct in Nova Scotia) that I asked my son if I should do a handstand and he get a picture of me again and his memorable response: “That ship has sailed eh Mom.”
I arrived in the Bahamas and caught the wee boat over to Paradise Island but only after a tall cold Kalik from a little place on the dock.I was heading into my second turn at thirty days of certain austerity. Surely I could have one last beer? This was five hundred hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training or ATTC at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. (I had completed the 200 hour teacher training course or TTC the previous year).
The Sivananda Yoga Retreat is situated on five slowly eroding acres on the tiny Paradise Island which is just a couple of minutes across the water from Nassau. The ashram enjoys two waterfronts, the South side facing Nassau and the North side facing the Atlantic. Over to the East is the huge resort of Atlantis and to the West, a few private properties.
There were about three hundred people at the ashram for the two months I was there (Dec 2013 and Jan 2015) and the whole place was run by about six monks, a dozen disciples, a few dozen volunteers, guest instructors and local staff who were mainly cleaning staff. The volunteers did an amazing job when one considered all of the work involved in running a business of that size.
So for the yoga teacher training we had a tough schedule:
4:30 wake up
5:00 Pranayama (advanced breathing techniques)
6:30 Chanting (or once per week meditative beach walk and chanting)
7:00 Inspirational Speaker
9:00 Asana Practise (Yoga)
10:00 – 12:00 Brunch* Satvic vegetarian (no eggs, no mushrooms, no onions, no garlic, no caffeine)
6:00 Dinner* Satvic vegetarian (no eggs, no mushrooms, no onions, no garlic, no caffeine, no alcohol)
9:00 Inspirational Speaker
10:00 Lights out (often, the speaker went late and so lights out was really more like 10:30)
When I showed my teenage son, Leo, the schedule his one remark was: ‘That advanced breathing techniques must have been tough, eh Mom?’ Actually, the morning pranayama was likely my favorite thing, as well as learning to read and write Sanskrit. Yoga asana was also very enjoyable but, the vedanta teaching and raja yoga were barely tolerable. A lot of it was very hard for me to grasp as I am more of a concrete person. Anatomy was interesting but, did I really need to study exclusively the Central Nervous System to be a yoga teacher??! How about a few hours on say, the spine?
We were up at 4:30 for the full thirty days (The previous year, for 200-hour teacher training, we awoke at 5:30 and did not have pranayama practice). On Friday’s we were given a few hours off in the middle of the day. It was my time to walk way down the beach and then to do laundry, shower and a concentrated effort at home-work.
Pranayama practice took place in the dark on a deck by the bay. The water lapping at the deck footings and the breeze off the bay lent the experience a surreal quality. We lined up our mats along the edges of the dark platform and sat cross-legged, facing in, forming a large u-shape. Our teacher stood at the opening of the U and guided us through the seven types of pranayama for an hour. It was completely rhythmical and meditative bringing a
deep sense of relaxation, wellness and calm. The only trouble was, at the end of the hour we were hastily dismissed and had to tear off, silently, to the temple for morning satsang.
Satsang started with thirty minutes of silent meditation, sitting cross-legged on the large garden platform which had been transformed into a temporary temple due to the large numbers at the ashram (a couple of dozen yogis sat in chairs due to various injuries. I myself sat in a chair due to my army-worn knees which would pain badly after about 20 minutes of cross-legged sitting. How I envied the knees of the younger yogis). Chanting took up after meditation and was wonderful especially when it came to twice daily Jaya Ganesha which was fun and musical and small instruments were passed around to make it even more so: bells, tambourines, small bongos and shakers. Now, all of this was taking place before breakfast, so again, there was this lazy kinda of dream-like quality to it.
The inspirational speaker was usually fairly boring and I got the feeling that they really enjoyed hearing themselves speak. The swami who spoke for two solid hours per night for several nights in a row about the Bhagavad gita had us nearly crying in boredom. It was literally painful to be that tired and to have to try to listen to her monotonic voice. She did not once check in with her audience. It was astounding. A few times over the two months I was there, there was actually a very interesting talk regarding something that I cared to listen to. Otherwise, I would usually just zone out and slip back into that meditative state. The best speaker for me was the one about sleep and the importance of dreaming as well as the one about sound healing. At the end of the sound healing talk, we were asked to close our eyes while several helpers floated around with tuning forks humming and waved them over and around our heads to encourage the healing of whatever may be ailing us, physically, spiritually or emotionally. It was a mystical experience.
The ashram experience was riddled with dichotomous occurrences. I will attempt to explain here:
Compostable Waste: a huge amount of food waste was hauled away daily. Two or three huge barrels of wasted food. Why not compost it or at least ask those at the ashram to take less food. How about stopping the use of trays. People take more food than necessary if given a tray. Apparently they tried composting the food waste but it caused a rat problem so they stopped. So, at least ask people to take less. I saw people loading up their trays and then throwing a third of the food away. Another reason for loading up was the two meals a day routine. People were VERY hungry come brunch at 10 and supper at 6. Food waste has always been a sore point for me, raised the way we were. Mom taught us to not waste precious food. Fill a plate, then come back for more, if necessary. One of the inspirational speakers did a talk about wasted food. But, nothing changed. It was weird. Hire a speaker. All sit and listen, nodding, ask questions, applaud…then….do NOTHING differently.
Plastic Bottles of Water on the temple. This confused me every time I looked at it. There was fresh water available at a filtered tap for everyone in the ashram and it was located just a few steps from the temple. There were temple workers who kept everything perfect in the temple. How much effort would it have been to fill a nice refillable glass bottle or jug and glass for the temple? To watch the volunteers off-loading cases and cases of water in plastic bottles for the monks in the temple was just ridiculous. This could be improved easily and help save our plastic-choked oceans.
High-fructose Corn Syrup Products like Skippy peanut butter and crap jam was being served to us in the meal hall at brunch. That’s fine and good but let me get this straight, we were not allowed to have (gasp) eggs, mushrooms, onions or garlic BECAUSE WE WERE ON A SATVIC (clean) DIET, BUT HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP is ALLOWED????!!! I’m sorry. That’s just wrong. One of my classmate yogis stood up and informed us of this because he had been helping to offload the supplies. We would not have known about the poor quality peanut butter and jam because it was dispensed daily into huge bowls. The brands and ingredients were hidden from us. This just seems like a pure business decision. These products were obviously cheaper than the better quality more pure equivalents like the peanut-only peanut butter and the fruit-only jam. My beef here is that if you’re going to spout a SATVIC (clean / yogi) diet. Make it ALL satvic. Don’t demonize harmless God-given, Earth grown mushrooms, onions, garlic and eggs.
Beach platform there were several large platforms around the ashram but the best and most coveted platform was the beach one. It is ironic that the marketing photo of the Yoga Teacher Training Class in yellow and white uniforms above was taken on the beach platform BECAUSE FOR THIRTY DAYS OF TWICE DAILY CLASSES, WE DID NOT ONCE HAVE YOGA ON THE BEACH PLATFORM FOR OUR CLASS OF ATTC students even when we repeatedly requested it. Our classes took place in the forest or on the Bay platforms. The beach platform was ALWAYS saved for yoga classes for guests, not for paying Yoga Teacher Training students. Hmmm. That was a piss-off because when I decided to do Sivananda Teacher Training, I saw the marketing photos and wanted my classes on the Beach platform, just like the photo. It is lovely to do yoga while looking out to the horizon over the sea. And, by the way, the fee for our month-long program was not inexpensive ($5000 plus flights) . We too, albeit yoga teacher training students, were paying customers.
Light Pollution at Night lighting around the ashram should be on timers and / or on motion detectors. There were many lights left on all over the ashram, all night long and for those in tents, it must have been impossible to sleep. In my bunk, I used a dark cloth to form a curtain to block the light. But here’s the thing. One of our inspirational speakers spoke about the menace of light at night and how it can interrupts sleep cycles, hormonal release and production especially of melatonin. Again, nothing was done.
So, after twenty-nine days of our strict schedule, we were given a three hour written exam on the final day. I had studied hard for my exam, in every spare moment allotted. And you may be getting it that there is a lot more to yoga than just stretching and contorting. In fact, there are volumes and volumes of ancient teachings on yoga. From my text: Yoga is the process of uniting the individual soul with the Universal Soul. Yoga is also the state in which the activities of the mind are restrained. In a nutshell yoga is really about quieting the mind (in Sanskrit – chitta-vritti-nirodhah) for meditation in order to one day become fully realized but, only after ages of study (jalna yoga) and devotion (bahkti yoga) asana practice (raja yoga) as well as karma yoga (selfless service). I was never a scholar, so some of the material, like: What are the six orthodox heads of the Sanskrit literature? or What is the Sakshi Bhav method of Vedantic meditation? (yikes!) came down to straight memorization.
After morning pranayama on the Bay Platform, we were offered a light breakfast with an open lunchtime promised after our exam. I wrote my heart out and was somewhat pleased with myself that I was the second person finished. I re-read it and re-read it again then handed it in and walked over to the kitchen. The first guy finished immediately started asking me about my experience on the exam. He asked me: Martha, what did you think of the anatomy questions? I stopped eating, my food mid-way down my throat.
Oh my god. I didn’t have an anatomy section!!! OH MY GOD. I somehow FORGOT to do the anatomy section. But wait, I had re-read the exam and re-read it again. There was NO anatomy section on my exam.
So, reader, you may be wondering why I was panicking so much over this. Well, I had worked really hard for thirty days of austerity, discipline and spirituality. I did not want to finish this with the PARTICIPANT Certificate. I wanted the full 500-hour Yoga Certificate. Yoga Acharya. Call me crazy, but I wanted to finish with the full designation, and, it wasn’t my fault that a page of my exam was left out by them.
I ran to find the teacher of anatomy and report this error. There was no way I was going to just keep quiet about it. Better to tell them. I found Isaiah in one of the nearby buildings and with pale face and furiously beating heart, told him what had happened. He said, okay, stay around here. I will speak to Swami B about it and let you know what he says. Four hours later, he still had not told me what was going on. My hands were visibly shaking now. I read in the central garden and I helped in the kitchen. Finally my Asana teacher found me and told me, All is well Martha. I was there when the Swami marked your exam, he said it was very strong. You can go now. All is well.
So, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and went for a long walk way down the beach and into and around the Atlantis Resort, which, by the way, was like walking around Mars in comparison to the ashram due to it’s opulence. I looked at the price tag on a simple summer dress in the boutique: $5000 U.S. I looked down at my simple skirt and cotton blouse. No comment.
When I came back to the ashram, I helped again in the kitchen and then one of the younger disciples came up behind me and said, Are you Martha?You need to go see Isaiah, he was looking for you earlier.
What the hell. Oh my god. This wasn’t over yet at all. My heart started to race. It had been a long, stressful day.
I found Isaiah and he told me he would test me orally on Anatomy. I was to meet him in the south garden at 7 pm.
I was basically a basket case by this time. I looked over my notes but my eyes were blurry and my pulse was all over the map. From my learning about the Central Nervous System, the very topic I was to be tested on, I knew that I was having a stress response. And, that is pretty much all I knew. Ironic. Consequently, the oral test did not go well. I could barely remember my name let alone the parts of the cell, nerve and brain. In fact, I had one nerve left and it was frazzled.
Finally, the oral test was done and I was free to go to my room and prepare for graduation. First, I asked Isaiah if I had passed. He said he wasn’t allowed to tell me. Wonderful. You may be getting a feel for just how torn I was about this place by now.
As it turns out, I passed and Isaiah apologized to me. He said that the mistake was theirs and that I should not have had to be tested on Anatomy. Thanks a pant load, Isaiah.
Now I couldn’t wait to get home to wintery Nova Scotia and just chill and have my own time to do what I liked. It’s funny, I went away to a yoga retreat to do something that most people would think of as relaxing. A month at a tropical beach-side ashram (I swam twice in the month I was there) to learn something I was already pretty good at. Most of the time I was there, though, I was stressed, and I wasn’t the only one. My roommates complained about the scheduling a lot. They were not getting enough sleep and they were very over tired. People were always falling asleep during Satsang and lectures. During yoga classes (asanas) several yogi classmates would lay in sivasana (corpse pose – laying flat on their backs on their mats) for the whole class, sleeping. Everyone became sick with a head cold and some with stomach upset.
Every part of the day had Attendance takers for arrival and dismissal of the section of the day. Too many lates or abscesses and the disciple in charge of discipline would speak to you. One could even be sent home for too little discipline. The first time I was at the ashram, in December 2013, a young woman had taken to walking around the ashram during part of the Satsangs because the Hindu teaching confused her as she was of a different faith. She was sent home.
Uniforms were to be worn for most parts of the day, as seen in the photo: white pants and yellow t-shirt. We had two uniforms and only a few machines for laundry to share among 300 people. A slight problem for getting laundry done.
Before arrival at the ashram, I had asked for a Doctor’s note about my mental illness (I am Bipolar 1 – the kind of bipolar that has led me to psychosis). I was worried about sleep deprivation and its effects. Sleeping from 10:30 – 4:30 was just not enough sleep for me. My doctor insisted that I get at least seven hours per night or eight if possible. So, I had a get out of jail free card for the final speaker at Satsang every night. BONUS. My roommates understood and I was honest with them about how bad it could get if I had an episode but, it was hard on them because of the perceived favourtism I had arranged for myself. At this time, I was managing my bipolar disorder with lifestyle. I was not on meds (which I know now was a very large risk and, with Bipolar 1, was actually stupid). So, one day, early in the month of the second time I was there, one of the disciples confronted me on my leaving of Satsang at 9:00 every night. He asked me if it was truly necessary. I asked him if he wanted me to contradict my doctor’s instructions. That shut him up. I left Satsang at 9:00 every night.
So, yes, I was happy to have completed the 500 hour advanced yoga teacher training course but, I am really not sure if I could recommend it to anyone. It would be best to go into it knowing all the seeming weirdnesses. One more thing, it was cult-ish. What do I mean by that? Well, it seemed that with all the strict rules around little sleep and with feeling hungry all the time and then attending teachings twice per day as well as the chanting and such, I would worry that some poor souls would be pulled a little too far into the vortex of Sivananda. I personally met and spoke to several full-time, somewhat tight-lipped, glassy-eyed and therefore mysterious volunteers (karma yogis) who DO NOT GET PAID! They stay there and perform their highly skilled trades or professions (like marketing and videography) for months and years at a time. Ok. You gotta ask yourself, where are the revenues going? They are definitely NOT going into salaries or peanut-only peanut butter or fruit-only jam or washing machines.
But, even with all the inconsistencies of this ashram, I will always love yoga and will always have it in my life. I will invite folks to join in yoga because even a simple practise is good enough. For example: sit cross-legged or in a chair, then all fours or raise arms in chair, breath, then stand move to tree pose, breath, all fours then cross-legged and next time add another posture that appeals. Put on some light instrumental music. Sit. Eyes closed and breath. This is intentional. This is yoga. As one of my best teachers would whisper to me profoundly, Any amount. Any amount.
It is a wonderful, uncompetitive way to brings calm, wellness and peace.
I had my Birkenstocks and SmartWools on and with my big-ass undies peeking out of my johnny coat, I saw my chance to escape. Out the psych ward’s normally locked door I slipped, down the hall and through the big front doors. I was running home. It was a dark, -20, winter night but if I could just run the 15 k home, all would be well…
You see, I was in the midst of my second ever full blown psychotic episode of Bipolar-1, my first ever had happened in postpartum in 1999. It was now 2010 and I had enjoyed perfect mental and physical health for eleven years.
Then, we decided (cue ominous music here)…to move house and shortly thereafter to completely gut and renovate the kitchen and that’s when the shit hit the fan…and, it wasn’t pretty.
We had moved into our little bungalow which is in an idyllic location in our beloved town. It is close to everything and sits between two parks and just up from the dyke lands. The street is short and quiet with a handful of unique homes on it and quiet owners who mostly stick to themselves. I adored this new little house, which is all we needed for the three of us and our large dog.
The previous owner (whom I strangle in my imagination every time I catch sight of him) had, however, sadly, let if fall into disrepair and become outdated. We had our hands full when we moved in. The old harvest-gold carpet in the living-room stunk like stale Guinness. We ripped it out the first night.
Open the dryer and door fell off.
Door knobs and cabinet knobs were missing.
Huge pink toilets ran for hours after flushing.
Every window screen was torn.
Paint was chipping on the exterior.
The ancient dishwasher didn’t work.
The fan above the oven exhausted into your face. Not pleasant.
The windows were full of black gunk around the edges.
There was black mold on the main bath ceiling.
The ensuite shower stall had a serious microbiome going on.
Run the washer and the water drained into the kitchen sink and then onto the kitchen floor.
You get the idea.
Everything was broken!!!
And the owner had been a professional, a PHd!!!!! (I’m a ProFESSional, as Dad would say so that everyone would know that he knew everything about everything. One time, in the eighties, on a road trip to Florida, he had corrected a local waitress, serving tables in her own home-town, about a fact about her home-town that there was no way in hell he could have known to be true –there was no internet nor cell phones nor wifi then. He waved his thumb at he and his new wife saying, Honey Baby, we’re both teachers. Luke and I were stunned andmortified at his audacity. We would have liked to slip under the table to hide our embarrassment and very red faces while we cringed. Years later we just chuckle about it. It was a trait of our father that was oh so irksome. The only thing Dad knew everything about was hockey. Every stat. Every player. Every game. It was truly fascinating when he got going.)
The kitchen in our new bungalow was completely substandard. Popcorn ceiling (stucco ceiling in a kitchen! Imagine.) Tiny, rotting windows. Single sink in rotting cabinet. Dark wooden cupboards and doors. Ancient washer and dryer, both missing knobs, right in the kitchen. The wall behind the lint-bomb of a dryer was crumbling and one of the wires to the 220 v outlet was bare. Throw a lit match back there and the place would go up. One teeny light fixture with a tiny fluorescent bulb that would flicker ad naseum while I tried to chop veggies for supper and no other task lighting to speak of. It was depressingly bad and needed to be fixed. People had warned us that kitchen renovations can be stressful. Oh Lord. We really should have listened.
After much shopping around for contractors and planning and budgeting, the day came for demolition. The idiot who decided to take down our old popcorn ceiling, for some inexplicable reason, did not seal off the room to the rest of the house. I arrived home from work to find a scene out of a post apocalyptic nuclear snow storm: about 3 feet of vermiculite on our kitchen floor and buddy (the idiot) shoveling it into plastic bags to get rid of it. He had no face mask on and all of the fibers were floating around the whole house. My first thought to accompany my racing pulse and rapid breathing was: Holy shit. That could be asbestos. Next I calmly asked the idiot when he thought he would have it cleaned up. Next I ran like a devil to find Dean and to get Leo from school. My friend who is both a Master Electrician and a Master Plumber (and whom I had hired for the job) was my next call. He calmly told me to get on the internet and find a place that could test a sample of the vermiculite. He told me there are two types of vermiculite. One with and one without asbestos.
I was in luck. A scientist working in Halifax lived in the Valley and did vermiculite testing on the side. He told me to put a baggie of the stuff in his mailbox in Canning and he would have an answer to me the next day. He said there was a fifty fifty chance it was asbestos. I asked him what would have to happen if it WAS asbestos. He said quite simply, ‘you’d be forced to move out until it was all abated. The place would be off limits.’ Oh jesus…
Stress and more stress.
The next day I received his email. It was NOT asbestos. I had not slept the previous night. We paid the idiot and fired him and that did not go well. Next I heard that he beats up his wife. This is a small town. I did not wish to run into him again. Especially if I was by myself. I hardly slept and when I did, it was the idiot who was in my nightmares. A cough had developed and was getting worse.
So, the stress and the interrupted sleep began. With Bipolar disorder, sleep disruptions and sleep deprivation cause or exacerbate the symptoms of the disorder rapidly. So does stress. I was not on medication then and in hind-sight, I truly wish I had been.
After the idiot was fired, the work on the reno started to come together nicely. I would work alongside my skilled and talented friend and we would chuckle the day away. I would just do things like retrieve parts from his van or the hardware store or screw this in, screw that in, move this, hold this…you get the idea. My cough worsened and would wake me up several times a night.
At some point, I went to the doctor and was told I had developed bronchitis. I asked about my sleep interruptions and he explained that when I went into a coughing fit, my body produced the hormone adrenaline. The adrenaline would soar through my body and stop my sleep. Uh oh. It was thought that the soaring hormones in postpartum, as well as the difficulty and length of the birth, and resultant sleep deprivation, had caused my first psychotic episode.