Aging

I wrote this post about a week ago for the Feminist Fitness blog, and then I succumbed to a flu and missed three days of significant work, a first for me.  I am not going to post what I look like right now after three days in bed, but feeling the vulnerability of time is particularly poignant right now.  Thankfully the second season of The Crown dropped on Friday and I had a mid-century royal world to escape to.

What does it mean to look my age?

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Big Hill Trail (Yellowknife)

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The trail is more of a route than a demarked trail, twisting through root-y trees, up over lichen covered boulders and down sheer sides, jutting sideways and over any place feet can safely be placed on this pre-Cambrian rock, among these northern trees.  The trail is unserviced but marked by community members, mostly with tape, an occasional cairn.

 

Everyone who marked it used different tape — yellow and pink trail tape, green painter’s tape, occasionally, white and blue stripes.  It’s the kind of trail where there is no just settling in and walking — after every marker, I have to lift my head and scan for the next marker.  In the 9 km or so I walk (far further than the estimated distance, maybe because of all my back and forths looking for the trail!), there are maybe two straight stretches of 50 m or so, both of these on boulders where the path was scraped by glaciers eons ago.

IMG_9777I hike alone, tempering my nervousness about the barely-there trail, the lack of map, with the reassurance that the trail is mentioned on the official visitors’ site for Yellowknife.  Just finding the starting point was a challenge, just a rough pullout off the highway about 23 km outside the city, the only sign that I’m in the right place a trailing pink piece of tape entering the forest.  I’m not sure why I was so determined to do this particular trail instead of the flat prospectors’ trail in the territorial park closer to the city, but I only have one day here, and I’ve never been to the Canadian North before, and I want to feel inside it, feel its bones and spine, just a little bit.

The first part of the hike is sunny, and I’m completely present, my feet moving nimbly over the roots, my scrambling up the boulders as graceful as that can be.  It’s not warm, and the geese feel it, honking in giant vees flying south overhead.  Their trajectory is partly how I know I’m going in the right direction.  They are the only noise I hear, and I’m completely alone on the trail, almost alone in the entire vast area I can see.

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I come to a high point, flat boulders where I can see in every directions.  Trees, rocks, small lakes, darkening sky.  I meditate for a bit, bask quietly in the sun.  Gratitude practice.  When I stand up, I have the deep restfulness of waking after a good nap.

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I walk and walk, just me and the rocks and the spindly trees and the clouds.  One scramble up, and the lake the hike is named after.  I sit on the edging rocks, eat an apple, look skeptically at the dark clouds that are appearing.

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The only description I had of this trail called it a “hidden treasure” and a “6 km round trip trail.”  Somehow I had it in my head that it was a loop, so I spend about 15 minutes looking for the alternative entry.  I don’t find it, and as I start back the way I came, it starts to rain, first gently, then pouring.  The boulders become slick as the lichen gets wet, and the trail tape gets less jaunty.  I go off in the wrong direction several times, and at one point, lose track of the tape entirely.  Good lord, I’m lost in the northern woods, I mutter out loud.  Twice, I step into marsh I managed to bypass on the way out.  But I stay calm, and I backtrack, and every time, I find the trail again.

Winding my way back is less full of wonder.  It’s harder to find the markers in this direction for some reason, and the slippery rocks make me a little anxious.  I try not to think about the story I heard recently about someone’s friend canoeing on her own who broke her arm on a portage and had to wait 3 days before someone came along who could help her get out. (Who just told me that story?).  Mostly, I think about how a hiking trail , like everything else in the world, can be summed up in one terse sentence — unserviced 6 km round trip trail, beautiful view of small lake —  but walking it requires step-by-step presence, is a whole world in every moment, a world filled with the honk of geese, the slick of rain, wet shoes, the focused scan for the next marker — and brief elation and relief when it’s spotted, giving way immediately to scanning for the next, endless sweep of trees and jutting rock, low heavy cloud, the distant sound of occasional cars, slight ache of foot, an unexpected deep sigh, fogged glasses, planting every footstep with caution and certainty.  Here, now, where I find myself.

 

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Tony [76?]

August 23rd was my dad’s birthday.  He would have been 76 this year, which is almost impossible to imagine — he died at 50.

I usually like to light a candle for him on his birthday and on the anniversary of his death.  I was traveling for work this week on Wednesday and was in Montreal.  After I left my meeting, before I went to the airport, I went into the Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, the blatantly baroque revival basilica near the Gare Central.  I think it’s my favourite church in Canada — it’s so in your face — and I usually go in and light a candle when I’m in Montreal.

IMG_9663 There was a noon Mass happening when I crept in this time, and I was surprised at how many people were there.  I left my little wheely bag at the side and snuck up to far left of the altar.  I fed loonies noisily into the slot and lit a candle.  I stood for a few minutes thinking about the line of history stretching back from my dad, French Canadian and Irish, the catholic church in the centre.

When I was at my mother’s earlier in the summer, I went through the one remaining box of Stuff that belonged to me in her basement.  It was mostly things I didn’t want — blurry, off centre, faded photos from the 70s, postcards I’d collected as a child, a doll I don’t even remember.  But there was a photo of my dad I’d never seen before.  Straw hat, grass skirt, joy and sunglasses inside. The essence of Tony.

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Happy birthday, Dad.

Triadventure 2017

I’ve blogged here a lot about the project in Uganda I’ve been working on (with a small group of other incredible people) for ten years.  Last weekend we had our annual fundraiser.  I blogged about it on Fit is a Feminist Issue, where I also write regularly. Read it here if you haven’t seen it.

I think the best part was having my sweet baby nephew (and his parents, of course ;-)) with me.

 

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Microholiday: Halifax

Sunday evening I finished riding 125 km as part of a three day fundraiser I’m a key part of making happen, and promptly tossed my clothes in the laundry as I turned around to pack for Halifax.

I am doing a cross-country tour for a project that’s taking me to six Canadian cities in august, doing some focus groups on a pretty tough topic. I spend a fair bit of time talking to people who’ve been close to horrible violence, including people whose children have been murdered. And this time, I’m physically and emotionally weary to start with. The event, a fundraiser for the Uganda project, took a lot to pull off.  I’ve been traveling a lot.  And my phone reminded me, as I was packing, that I was about to get my period.

For breath and space, I looked for slices of time that could be micro-holidays in Halifax.  I had booked an air bnb, which turned out to be lovely. I arrived, changed and walked down to the waterfront, far enough away to be a significant walk.  I was on the hunt for something to sleep in, since my 10 minute packing job somehow omitted both a not-sports bra and jammies.

The Halifax waterfront is always soul-soothing.  The cram of ice cream and beavertail huts doesn’t take away from the lure of the sea, the sense of a very real port with Real Things Happening.

 

As I wandered, I almost immediately found a shop in a shipping container with bike rentals.  I was more focused at first on the tshirts — jammie tops! — and then it dawned on me that I could rent a bike for my time here.  Ride to my meeting, have some wheels.

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I chose a sweet red vintage-replica city bike with a sagging basket.  While we were doing the paperwork, I got into a lovely conversation with the young woman about the project in Uganda, her yearning to do more.  She studied environmental science and is now studying music.  Suddenly she said, “have you seen the eclipse?” and handed me a pair of glasses to put on.  Without expecting to, I joined everyone across the continent in marvelling at the bite in the sun.

 

I took my bike and, wandering, found myself at what turned out to be one of the most recommended restaurants in Halifax.  I ate shrimp and linguine with lobster and watched the sea.  Then rode my sweet bike back to my air bnb, where I had the perfect bath, set up by the best hosts I’ve encountered.

Micro-holiday in the middle of jangled time.  The moments that create space and grounding.

Sanctions against Russia and cheese

I posted the other day about how my time with my guide in Russia gave a face and story to global headlines.

I heard the announcement yesterday about increased US sanctions against Russian and Putin’s retaliation through the lens of the woman who guided me to Peterhof and Pushkin — food. We had been talking about her childhood in Soviet times, and how they had plenty of locally grown fruit where she lived in Uzbekistan — melons, berries — but oranges were imported and rare, and every Christmas they got a box of chocolates and one orange.

“I was 20 before I had a banana,” she said. “At the time I thought it was manna.” She paused. “Now I am indifferent to bananas, but I am a vegetarian, and the big problem is cheese. I depend on it as an important part of my diet. With the sanctions, we cannot get good cheese. In Soviet times, there were only three types of cheese, but they were all good — now all of the cheese we can get is terrible.”

When they can, they cross-border shop to Finland to buy… cheese. Because all that good European cheese can’t make its way through the economic sanctions.

Sanctions are headlines, and they are also this lovely woman and her inability to get cheese.