Hiking the North Coast Trail- on the cusp of your 7th decade – a survival guide

I will begin by sharing one of my favorite meditations – repeat until you reach enlightenment:

Oh – wah … tah – fuh … lai – yahm

** Just realized I didn’t hit ‘publish’ on this entry from THREE (!) years ago – technology and I still need to work on our relationship  …

Chapter One: Rain is your friend …

OMG. While walking through a bog? With currents eddying along what should be a trail? Are you kidding? Nope.

As good friends go, the rain would come second to knee high gaiters, but more on that later.

At the first sign of droplets from the sky, everyone stopped in their tracks. Thank goodness. Although I most often ‘hike sweep’ (read: always last in line) the opportunity to sidle up to the group gave the impression I was keeping up. Nonchalantly, I take a sip of water (fortified with electrolytes and sugar), as if sipping on a Starbucks at the corner. Watching, as they remove packs to retrieve rain jackets and ponchos and pack covers.

Remove packs?! Let’s review: it has been less than an hour or two since heaving a 40+ pound pack in a dead lift to one aching shoulder while trying not to let the momentum pull you to the ground on the follow through. Feet spaced to brace for impact. Followed by several small jumps to lift the burden above what should be your waistline so it can be cinched above your hips. This, so the shoulder straps no longer sit directly on your bruised collarbone.

 

Since I have recently joined the ranks with arthritic joint weakness (elbows, really?!), one of the 40-something gentlemen graciously assists me to cinch the last bit. Ah. Males. Display of strength. Luckily the tab that loosens the strap is easily accessed so I can again take a full breath.

 

Oh. Yes. Rain is your friend. Menopausal distraction. Sadly all of my best jokes fell on uncomprehending ears.

 

I do have some extensive hiking experience accumulated over recent years. As I am still subjecting myself to physical abuse it appears I have learned nothing.

 

Perhaps a few things like: Don’t take off your pack! It’s a trick. You just have to put in back on again. Much sooner than you would like. It will feel heavier. You will be reminded of every ache and pain the monotony of the trail has dulled. Again.

 

Wait. Wrong trail. Not monotonous. Ever.

 

Intense focus, concentration and poise is required: balance on one toe while pivoting gracefully around a tree to reach the next, tentative toe-hold, using your hiking pole to keep your butt elevated above the trail that runs two feet deep with muck and sludge waiting to suck the boot off your foot or pole from your hand.

 

This is on the flat part of the trail. Navigating the rise and fall of gullies carved by eons of rainfall searching for the ocean requires an entirely different set of skills and grace. More on that later.

 

Lean on a tree. Sit on a log. Bend over as if you are about to vomit. It will relieve your whinging hip, take the weight off your shoulders and require none of the gymnastics. While others fuss and bustle over rain gear, just rest. Breathe. Breathing is good. The over-priced, quick-dry clothing really does have a purpose. Hiking itself will keep you warm – another understatement – more on that later.

 

Even better – in a couple of hours the rain will stop. Repeat procedure.

 

A little rain?  Ok. A lot of rain.

It was still the best unscheduled break on the trail.

Spring to Life

Last Sunday I saw my first trillium of this spring season, blooming in the forest at the side of the path. I felt as if it were placed there just for me to find and enjoy since not many others use this particular trail.

I was delighted with my discovery. It made me smile. I took a picture and shared it with several others later the same day. It seemed particularly poignant – this being Easter week – you know, tri-llium, tri-nity. It made me believe my decision to forego church for ‘worship’ in the forest was the right one for Palm Sunday.

Image

Today, I chose a different path on our local mountain. I was surprised to see there were trillium blooming everywhere and bleeding hearts heavy with flowers lining the entire trail. I was shocked at the abundance of flowers at every turn – not just one solitary bloom but dozens of them, some a beautiful shade of pink. False lily-of-the-valley carpeted the forest floor beneath the trees in every direction.

Right now, the local forest is bursting with new spring growth – bleeding heart, trillium, Indian plum, lady fern fiddle-heads, baby maple trees at the two-leaf stage on the forest floor. Even the grasses are blue-green with vibrant new growth. My heart swells with the headiness of so many fresh new things to discover.

Only a few weeks ago everything in the forest seemed dead. What a difference just a little sunshine makes. Where it once looked as if nothing would ever grow, there are now beautiful flowers on tall, strong stems.

So much depends on the path we choose, what we look for, what we want to see, where we focus our attention, what our hopes are, our dreams, the fears that hold us back and whether we allow the light to penetrate our darkness.

We are so lucky to live in a part of the world that experiences the variety of seasons. Knowing the sun will become warmer, the rains less frequent, that there is a rhythm and circle to the pattern of life.

Believing, knowing and holding on to the truth that seasons change and that there are good things in all seasons. Even if the good thing is just learning that you can survive it.

It’s marvellous that the natural world can just carry on season after season, as long as we don’t mess things up. There needs to be a season of dormancy, of rest, of darkness and quiet. In the beginning there was darkness and light, and it was good. It’s still good.

Me? I’m ready to let the sun shine in –

Happy Easter!

I am a Joy Stealer

Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.

With a nod to modern-day doyens of organizational efficiency who encourage us to focus on a goal, a theme, or a particular skill inherent to success, the custom of naming the four weeks of advent by many Christian churches is also rooted in practicality – encouraging us to take time to ponder each in its turn. An ability to concentrate efforts in a single pursuit has long been viewed as a requisite for great accomplishment.

Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.

Practically speaking, my hope, the first week of advent, was that my Christmas lights would get hung, that our tree would be set up and decorated, and that I would not be the only participant. My hope was fulfilled, although not entirely as expected – what a surprise.

With visions of cash dancing in their heads, my two teenage boys brought out the boxes of lights and decorations and I began to suggest how they could be set up.

They began to suggest I take the dog for a walk or go have a nap.

They worked together, sorting out strings of lights and extension cords, fake-fir garlands and plastic poinsettia, snow globes and Santa’s, until all the boxes were empty. By the time I got back with the dog they were done. The front of the house and our living room sparkled with lights, colors, and trinkets from Christmases past. Only baby Jesus and the rest of my Grandmother’s nativity hadn’t yet found a place.

I began to have real hope – for other Christmas miracles …. which incidentally, brought me a measure of peace. Peace, of course, being the focus for the second week of advent.

… which brings me to joy.

I want to help. It gives me joy. To point out pitfalls, give guidance, share bits of insight or wisdom I might have gleaned over the years from my own Mom, Dad, and others. It makes me feel good. It runs deeper somehow, than just being happy. Joy.

Honest. That’s all I mean to do. Really.

My goal as a Mom has been to give my kids more: more opportunities, greater experiences, more joy, better success. To pass on the proverbial baton so they can achieve in their lifetimes more than I have in mine.

But.

I think back to my first real ‘grown-up’ hurts, disappointments, failures. How it felt to come to terms with my feelings, then pick myself up to carry on. How I quietly went through it in my mind, found the flaws – in my thinking, my doing, my not doing. The deep satisfaction I felt as I slowly learned to rise above, move ahead, learn from remembered mistakes, recognize them the next time.

Recollecting the first taste of adult consequence to my own action, or inaction, outside the influence of my family and school was life changing. Knowing I could realize a thing entirely by my own efforts; or have it utterly fail from a lack of attention, or a lack of intention. It gave me such strength, such joy. I thought I must have been the first to have figured it out. Teenagers still think they know it all.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Deep satisfaction, savoured and mellowed over time, I believe, becomes the basis for deep joy as well.

And yet, here I am – doing for my boys – wanting to do things for them. In spite of what I know, still quick to take away their opportunity to discover and savour the result.

I am stealing their joy.
What I most want for them thwarted, at every opportunity life puts in their path – by me.

There is a great design at work in teenagers – they don’t want parents around. We have to trust, often without evidence, they have accumulated the tools needed to negotiate the next leg of their journey. That when hurt and failure comes, they will quietly go through it in their mind, find the flaw, and remember the next time.

It is my great joy to learn to let them go.

As I am reminded to let my boys do things for themselves, tell them to do it themselves, insist they do it themselves, and watch as it is left undone – I hope they know I am nurturing joy in their lives and that I’m doing it because I love them.

Which brings us to the final week of Advent: Love.

The birth of Christ. Son of God. Saviour.

Love. It always comes with some sacrifice.

Jubilee – ‘a trumpet-blast of liberty’

“This fiftieth year is sacred …”

I have always been opportunistic – claiming ownership of ideas, habits, maxims that catch my fancy – unapologetically adapting them to serve selfish purposes.

The only thing that has changed in recent years is my definition of selfish – from an implied negative to: ‘having a healthy self-interest’ – which serves me much better. You see? Opportunistic to a fault.

My brother celebrated his fiftieth birthday this month. He is the youngest of my siblings, which means we have all passed that pivotal milestone – all six of us. It feels as if the earth should be tilted a bit more as a result.

And so … jubilee:   Latin verb iūbilō“shout for joy”  Middle Irish ilach, “victory cry”   Proto-Indo-European root yu-  “shout for joy” …

Jubilee is a concept introduced to the Hebrews as they wandered in the desert. Part of a tradition and ritual to be instituted when they entered the promised land. “When you come into the land that I will give you … ”

 “This fiftieth year is sacred – it is a time of freedom and of celebration
when every one of you shall return to your land, return home … ”  Leviticus 25:10

Return home. Who were we, really, before work, family, obligation, and responsibility took us away from ourselves? Before the weight of stress, opinion, judgment, mistakes – real and imagined; before the emotional desert some feel at this stage of life?

“When you come into the land that I will give you …” is how the story starts for Moses and the Israelites.

For us, it begins with a slap on the backside and moves in a slow, sometimes painful, progression toward responsible adulthood. We accumulate, along the way, an array of baggage: hurt, failed expectation, doubt, disappointment; sometimes struggle with obligation and responsibility that may not rightly belong on our shoulders. It burdens our spirit and can turn us into mere shadows on the periphery of a full and satisfying life. What joy is there in this?

Plus, we’re probably dealing with teenagers. Enough said.

The ‘land’ that God gave me: my life, my body, my self –

“ … hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty …” v.10
you shall grant a redemption …” v.24

Grant yourself redemption. Forgive yourself imagined faults. Let your baggage go. No longer be bound by what others think.

Draw a line in the desert sand – start fresh.

Return home. Proclaim liberty.

Let the bells ring out and the banners fly. Be opportunistic.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made – and it’s your time.

By my own measure …

Okay. Confession time.

I thought this was going to be easy. Easy peasy.  

I have never been at a loss for words. Ask anyone.

Only a week into my personal challenge: to post daily during the 30 days of November, I found myself flailing at all hours, under pressure to hit the ‘publish’ button before the clock ticked past the midnight hour and onto the next day’s time stamp. Talk about stress. 

So I did what any mature, intelligent, adult woman with a healthy self interest would do – I turtled. For a week. (definition: turtled – hid under a blanket. You don’t want to know what Google® thought it meant – Ed.) 

It occurred to me, finally, that the focus, discipline, mental, and emotional effort to produce a mere 300 words on a daily basis, required vastly more diligence and stamina than I could ever have imagined, had I not made the attempt.  

Had I not made the attempt. But I did. Still am. Therein lies the lesson. 

Experiential learning – at this stage of life … guilty!

For years I dreamed of long days, filled with hours transcribing eloquent dialogue, plot twists and intrigue. Nuance and language, prose and poetry – all inspired. 

Humbled? Yes, that too.  

It’s such an easy road to travel – observing life and thinking, ‘I could do a better job of that …’ or, ‘That would be so easy …’ assuming a depth of knowledge and understanding despite never having walked the walk. Not gone the proverbial ‘mile in their shoes’ or knowing more that just a ‘single story’ about the object of your distain. 

That is not to say I have failed in the attempt – on the contrary – there is so much more to learn by actually doing something than there will ever be from simply reading all the books about how it is done. Or trusting Google®. 

I can be so naïve.  

It used to be an endearing quality.

Imagine

I love my kids. Really. 

They are my most amazing accomplishment.  

Not what they do (which is not very much these days). Or, what they don’t do (considerably more than what they do – just saying). Just that they are 

Me. Left brain, OCD, probably ADD and an alphabet soup of other acronyms. 

Two incredible human beings who will do and see all manner of things I can’t even imagine during their lifetimes.  

Fearfully and wonderfully made. That I ever entertained the notion I could teach them something is the most egregious misconception I can ever have had. Did I potty train them? Teach them to feed themselves? Walk? Talk? No! I merely provided the basic props and they figured it out.  

Imagine. They did.  They imagined what could be done with the items at hand (and perhaps a little prompting) and figured it out.  

Imagine. I couldn’t. I was at the top of my game in the investment industry, had enough time for two before I turned forty. Now or never … are you in or are you out?  

Ok, poor choice of words. 

My schedule allowed for it, it was a timely, reasonable discussion, from a practical standpoint there were pros and cons. We considered, and BAM – it was done. 

Imagine. Nope. I didn’t. Had the second one the following October, turned forty in December. Damn, I’m good. 

A bout with breast cancer the following spring put a bit of a hiatus in my agenda, but, after eighteen months of treatment I was back in the saddle, nanny at the helm. Imagine 

Agenda. Schedule. Clients. Targets. Deadlines. Dead lines. Did I even know how lucky I was? Did I really believe managerial prowess and impressive executive function was my saving grace?  Really 

Having children didn’t change me one bit.  

A corporate lawsuit, a new firm, the loss of my mother, a friend to breast cancer, my marriage, then scarlet fever … well … not so much.  

Against all odds I became an at-home Mom. Poor kids. The strategies I used so successfully in business were lost to me. Depression, post-traumatic stress, regular stress, memory loss, did I mention stress? Fearfully and wonderfully made had fallen apart.  

A clean slate.  

All the defences I’d established over an entire lifetime to compensate for real and imagined failings were gone.  Apparently I wasn’t completely without imagination.  

My kids have made do with their so-called mother for more than ten years now. My financial and business acumen, corporate and academic accomplishments, are now footnotes in history. In fact, my children have no memory of my ever having worked outside the home. Ask them, and they’ll tell you they have no recollection of my having worked inside our home either, but that’s another story.  

They have been beside me all the way. Having them there has been my saving grace: needing me, giving me purpose and direction while I run around in circles to get myself out the door. They are the props and I am figuring it out.  

Imagine. No, I can’t. I can’t imagine what life might have been like without them.

They have been their greatest gift to me. 

Merry Christmas. 

The lesson

The scrawny, young girl stood, hardly daring to breathe.  Tears, wanting to come, just beginning to prick at her eyes. Head lowered, she followed the pattern of scuff marks on the brown leather of her shoes – worn out perhaps, but not yet worn through and therefore still serviceable. 

She knew her place.  What had made her do this?  How dare she?  Her thoughts darted, in frightened, scattered confusion . . . waiting for what she felt certain would come.

Did she think her status in the world had changed from just a few years before?  Shamed then, by having to wear her first grade teachers’ sweater, while her own, ill-fitting hand-me-downs hung in the furnace room to dry.  The other students all having warm coats and umbrella’s to ward off the torrential rains that fell that day – her thin, worn jacket not sufficient to the task.

The sweater had hung below her knees – soft, pink mohair – too fine, too pretty a garment for her.  She knew her place.  Hang back.  Do not draw attention to yourself or they will see the truth.

The nationwide celebrations promoting our country’s centenary were rampant through the schools that year – “… one little, two little, three Canadians….”   All were invited to partake, join in the contests, win prizes, be a part of it all!  

But she knew her place, hang back, do not presume.  Until today.

Too late for the contest of course – winning was for other, somehow better people, other families – not hers.  What possessed her to hand it in today she could not say.  Now, she waited – frightened of what her teacher might say.  How dare she?  What had made her presume?

The teacher finished reading her poem:  An imaginary exploration of the sights and sounds, chaos and color, to be seen at our nation’s centennial celebration – contrasted with the usual, but much loved family vacations fishing with her dad.

Her teacher slowly lowered the paper and looked her clearly in the eye:  “This is very good,” she said.

More than 40 years later, she is still learning to believe her.

Cold water and a thumbnail

A week, or more, of pots and pans, washed and drying in the rack.

Done in an ice cream bucket in the sink – which is all the hot water I get before it shuts itself off. Some leftover dish water sprinkled on the stovetop softens the hardened guck, cleaned off with a dishcloth and my thumbnail.

Absentmindedly, I pour a bit of leftover dish water onto the floor and give it a rub with my old sponge mop. Its head flopping a bit from a furious scrub some unremembered moment in my past. Magically, the slops, drips, and footprints disappear. Cat hair gathers on the wet sponge-head, easily removed and flicked into the garbage.

Thirty minutes – three items off my list.

Damn. I quickly write them on my list and cross them off.

For weeks, awhile back, I spent an inordinate amount of time researching modern methods of keeping a kitchen floor swept and washed.

My mother had a swivel-head dust mop that looked like shag carpet on a pole. She would quickly move it as if she were swabbing a deck, then park it in a corner with its accumulated treasures safely hidden beneath. Voila!

The modern equivalent is at least $20, made of cheap plastic in a country that exploits their poor. Conveniently, the head-cover is disposable so it can be replaced, keeping them in business and you spending money.

There is even a separate design that allows you to use it as a wet mop. Another, more expensive model, has a built-in bit that squirts water on the floor ahead of you.

My mothers mop head could be tossed into the washing machine along with whatever was on the bedroom floor of her six children.

The accumulated detritus of two boys, two cats, a busy life and a dog means that my floor doesn’t get swept as often as it should. However, I do still subscribe to my mother’s method of hiding the bits in the corner under the broom.

My aging linoleum floor is pock marked with life. Dishes, cutlery, knives, all dropped accidentally in the making of shared meals. Small crescents, unseen until the residue of life seeps into the space.

Coffee drips a trail across the floor, from pot to microwave. A lonely drip of red wine hiding at the fringe makes me smile at a remembered moment of tranquility.

How is it that the stains accumulate so rapidly I wonder, as I flick a small, grizzled bit of meat to the floor behind me instead of into the soup I’m making – dog at the ready.

It’s a quandary I may never puzzle out, but it makes me think of my mother and I smile at the memories from her kitchen.

So what’s my story?

Everyone has a story.

I grew up in a family of six kids in an era when entertainment was ‘self-made’ and the dinner hour was spent around the same table – at the same time. All of us sharing highlights from our day. ‘Everyone talking, no one listening’ we quipped. But that wasn’t true.

We did listen. Seeds of character were planted and nourished. The stories allowed us to explore and gain insight to ourselves, to others. There was always room for another plate at the table – if you’re feeding eight, what’s one more? The best stories were trotted out and embellished for everyone’s enjoyment. We didn’t have much, but we had lots of stories and there was always something to eat.

My own stories were uninteresting – the time, as a young child, I wandered into the forest behind our house and fell asleep – blissfully unaware of the pandemonium in our household as they looked for me. Or, the time I misheard an eavesdropped conversation and believed my parents were off to Hawaii the following Wednesday. That phrase is still used by family as a derisive ‘yeah, like that’s ever gonna happen.’

The thousand cuts of humor by sarcasm.

I was lucky – a job dropped into my lap at fourteen and I never looked back. It allowed me freedom to make choices, to relieve my parents financially, to help siblings, to hold my head up, to believe in myself. It changed my story.

None of us is just one story. A snapshot of my family in those early years may have evoked images of failure: scuffed shoes, hand-me-down clothes, kids out of control. But it doesn’t show the whole picture. There is always more to tell.

The danger of a single story – ted.com

Who am I?

I am a ‘woman-of-a-certain-age’ negotiating a path through the last few decades of my life’s journey. I am caregiver/advocate for my (former) Mum-in-law who is 102 years old and single Mom to two teenage boys.

 In recent years, a few things have occurred to me: Having children has changed me, but not as I thought it might; my (now) teenage children do listen, but not in ways I imagined; life is good – but in ways I never expected.

 In fact, not much has played out as I imagined it would when I was a starry-eyed, twenty-something launching into marriage and a second, successful career I loved. Children, cancer, the loss of parents, friends and my marriage – experiences common to many, but whose influence I’m still learning to fully appreciate and understand. I am not the woman I started out as – emotionally, spiritually or physically. That’s probably a good thing.

 Occasionally I get glimpses of truth – fleeting moments when life makes sense and things become clear. I have to quickly write them down so they are not lost like so many other things – my keys, the phone, my temper … my sanity. 

Docendo disco, scribendo cogito – I learn by teaching, think by writing.

~ Seneca the Younger; ca. 4 BC – AD 65 

I have learned that I am not a teacher – from my thoughtful children.  

For instance, it is nearly impossible for me to allow others to make mistakes that would underpin experiential learning opportunities. In addition, my natural tendency for myriad detail, implied nuance and frequent repetition obscure the broader concepts that might otherwise be easily acquired.

 However, that it is better for children to learn, at their own pace, the things that catch their interest is a concept I cannot fathom. What wisdom they might glean from Call of Duty or an internet meme is beyond me.

 It reminds me of a quote from Reader’s Digest my Mom shared with her six kids many years ago:

“Insanity is hereditary – you get it from your children.” ~ Sam Levinson

On the other hand, I do think by writing. Getting thoughts out of my head where they rattle around chasing one another in circles until I’ve forgotten what the original idea might have been. Which I’m certain was brilliant.

 Corralling them onto paper helps me to find order and perspective. Putting them into practice is a bit more challenging since the paper not infrequently gets misplaced.

 Still learning …