September 26, 2013

A Change of Seasons

'To everything there is a season, (turn, turn, turn)' goes the song sung by Pete Seeger and also by The Byrds. I know it is a verse from Ecclesiastes set to music, and because I am musical I cannot quote it without singing Pete's version. And I quote it often, for I tend to see my life and the lives of the people around me as a series of chapters or seasons, now as much as ever.

Last week was 'a time to refrain'. Every once in a while I have one of those low energy, bordering on hibernation weeks, one that involves early nights and afternoon naps, careful caffeine consumption and plenty of reading. I have learned over the years that these weeks are often my body's way of either fighting a virus or conserving energy just after or before a spell of intense productivity. Often, I spend a few weak moments during one of these low times wondering if I am doing enough with my life, but nearly every time I entertain these thoughts something occurs, usually in the form of someone I know contracting a terrible virus or infection after they have spent an extended period of time burning the proverbial candle at both ends, to remind me of the importance of taking time regularly to relax and rejuvenate.

I have always had a body that talks to me through little signs like sore ears or a headache wherever my glasses meet my face. If I listen and act accordingly I can almost always fight off the virus by slowing down for a few days if possible. When I do not listen to my body telling me it is feeling overwhelmed, it tends to shut down in the form of intense fatigue or illness as a form of payback. My body's messaging system has been a blessing and a curse from day one, but mainly a blessing. From a young age I knew I had to regulate my energy. I had quite a bit of energy, but it certainly was not endless. In high school I would often take on too many roles, too many projects and inevitably through tears and figuring things out with my mom I would have to let one or two activities go. Eventually I learned how much I could realistically take on and realized that saying 'no' once in a while was being my own best friend. Admittedly, in my twenties, I would sometimes take on too little for fear of losing my precious life balance, but life, in the form of three children born in three and a half years, had an undeniably effective way of rectifying those phases of excessive self-preservation.

In my thirties, and once I had school-aged children I began to have more energy. I also discovered I could suddenly tolerate coffee, something I could not when my children were very little and I was chronically sleep-deprived. When I was still a daycare provider, I was the arts council secretary and the children's day coordinator for our local Festival of the Arts. I cooked and baked from scratch daily for my growing family, I tried to stay fit by running, I helped my kids with their homework and music practise, counseled them, and volunteered at their school, taught catechism and acted as chauffeur. I wrote when inspired and joined a book club.The Supermom gig was actually great while it lasted, and it taught me how to organize my time and focus on the task at hand. I enjoyed the flexibility of my homemaker role, but I think I was trying a bit too hard to prove to the world, and to myself, that there was much more to me than baking cupcakes and mopping floors.

Turning forty was a pivotal point in my life, and marked the beginning of a new pattern for me. I began to take my writing much more seriously. In my fifth year of coordinating children's day I developed a sinus infection. I took it as the final sign of many indications that I needed to give up my position. I was simply trying to be too many things to too many people. I knew that I needed to stop doing so much and concentrate on the parts of my life that really mattered to my soul: writing, promoting the arts and looking after myself and my family. As I took steps to simplify my life I noticed that I performed each of my fewer roles better than before. With less clutter in my brain I could think things through and come up with increasingly creative solutions to problems. I developed more patience and deeper focus. And I liked it. I was still busy, but in a healthier way for me and for my family.

Lately it seems like 'the stripped down life' is the plan for me. Several of my outside activities have ceased by the mere fact of my children moving on or moving out as they grow up and rely less on me (and my car). The singing group I was with for a year disbanded recently and the on-call secretarial work I enjoyed has dried up as well. Almost entirely without my orchestration, it seems the winds of change have blown with gusto through my life in order to de-clutter my days and free me up mentally and physically, not to mention creatively. In some ways I feel like an innocent bystander watching all of this busy-making stuff in my life melt away. I find it fascinating, and wonder what it all means in the short and the long term.

I do know two things: 1) that I have rarely been ill in the last few years, and 2) I have begun writing a novel that I am cautiously optomistic about. The rest, as they say, is mystery.

Photo thanks to

September 13, 2013

Another Letter to the World

I began to write this blog in September, 2009, the year I turned 40. Back then I was beginning to think that if I found any more excuses for not writing more regularly I might explode. I had written a novel, a handful of stories and poems, and a small number of personal essays, and fairly satisfied with the results of my efforts, I believed that I was finally getting to a place in my life where I would have the confidence to present my writing to an audience beyond, but not excluding, my immediate circle of friends and family. Blogging was new to me, but a format I soon learned worked very well to help keep me motivated. Feedback from readers was a gift and it is still integral to the process of my slow growth as a personal essayist, for essays are what I seem to create week in and week out on this blog. I read several other people's blogs and enjoy the online community we seem to have created -writing is lonely work and I am in need of companionship just as much as the next person. I would not call this community a writer's group; we do not critique each other's style but merely read and comment, sharing thoughts on the subject at hand. I would not mind critique, in fact I would welcome it, but no one besides myself seems to want to give me any at this point.

While visualizing my blog - before I embark on something requiring a fair amount of effort I have to be able to see myself doing it - I came up with a name for the whole project: Letters to the World. My thoughts and perceptions would come together and be presented as personal essays, but I would think of them more as personal letters, a form of correspondence between me and anyone out there in the world who cared to read my fledgling creations, and one being lost in this age of instant digital communication. (Thinking of my posts as letters also took the pressure off me to present academically acceptable essays.)

Soon after I began my blogging project, I Googled my blog to see if it would appear. At the top of the list of found items under my search for 'letters to the world,' was a poem by the Massachusetts poet and recluse, Emily Dickinson. I felt a sort of kinship with Emily through her poem, and I could sense her reaching out to the world from which she hid for the most part, but touched in a way perhaps not possible through any personal interaction. Although Emily could be speaking on a number of levels at once, I believe that in her poem she embraces all of us writers, more than a century later, sitting in front of our computer screens attempting to do the same.

THIS is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,--
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.

Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

Emily published only seven poems in her lifetime. After her death, her family discovered 40 handbound volumes of nearly 1800 of her poems. She and Walt Whitman are paired as 'founders of a uniquely American poetic voice.' (

Over at Stella's Virtual Cafe, there's a little story and a great recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Snacking Cake.

September 6, 2013

Climb Every Mountain - or at least one

Last Friday as I was running around like the proverbial headless chicken, helping my son get packed and organized for his move to the university on Sunday, I made the decision to accept the offer made earlier by some friends to accompany them on a hike to the top of our local landmark, Mt. Cheam. Our packing was well underway and the chance to go up the mountain may not come our way again for a long time, so, I decided to risk the strain on my recovering knee and go with the two other members of my household who would have Saturday off: the university bound son who could really use a stress-buster like climbing a mountain, and my youngest daughter.

The next morning the three of us arose at 5:00 a.m. We had prepared our lunches the night before, that is, after I had shown my son how to do his banking online, and laid out our clothing. All we had to do in the morning was eat, make some go-mugs of coffee, and wait for our ride which was due to arrive at 6:00. At 5:30 my husband got out of bed and brought me some assorted ski poles. He said that using them would help me keep the pressure off my knees when hiking. When we found the right-sized ones, our ride arrived and off we went into the silvery grey dawn to begin our adventure.

We drove in two vehicles to the bottom of the forestry road which would take us up to the trail head. We left the car in a clearing at the bottom of the road and all climbed into the 4x4 truck, the only vehicle that could handle that particular deactivated forestry track. The three adults and the dog sat in the cab and the four kids made themselves comfortable with blankets and pillows in the back - they had a hay bale to sit on and a rope to hold onto when the going got extra bumpy. Our driver picked his way up the fifteen kilometers of one of the roughest roads I have ever been on. By deactivated, the sign meant 'full of huge ruts where culverts used to be'. We would enter these drainage ditches on an angle so as not to bottom out. Slowly and with the truck in extra low four-wheel drive, we climbed and we climbed and we climbed, and as the sun rose on a perfectly clear day we pointed out creeks and mountain peaks, wildflowers and stunted fir trees with huge cones sitting like birds on the perfectly perpendicular branches. We chatted cheerfully in expectation of the glories which awaited us at the top. By 8:45, we had reached the parking lot. Six other trucks were already parked, but there was still plenty of room for us. We gathered our backpacks, refilled our water bottles and leashed the dog. We visited the outhouse, tightened our shoelaces and put on our caps and sunscreen. By 9:00 we were off on the trail, its sides a three dimensional tapestry of late summer wildflowers.

The trail started gradually until we reached tiny Spoon Lake which, aptly named, was shaped as if a giant had taken a spoonful out of the earth. The water was that strangely beautiful turquoise colour one only sees in the alpine. After the lake the climbing began. The path was well used and solid underfoot. We climbed switchback after switchback and soon the kids were well ahead. I began to see and feel the benefit of the ski poles and I silently thanked my husband for what was to be the first of many times during the two and a half hours climb up and the two hours back down the trail. Every so often we would stop and turn to take in the ever-changing view. Each time we stopped we could see new peaks in the beyond and new shapes below: trucks climbing the top of the road to the parking lot far below, hikers making their way up the path behind us, and folds and folds of green and blue treed hillsides.

Spoon Lake from above

Some of our group looking toward the Southwest

At one point we stopped to let some faster hikers pass. They all had the same large, nylon backpacks and I wondered if they were going to camp overnight at the top. About three quarters of the way up we met two young men who had spent the night on the top. They were grinning ear to ear and exclaiming about how the entire milky way had been visible the night before and how the experience was like being in a planetarium, only better, of course.

Before long, we had reached the plateau before the final short climb to the peak. We had hiked in the wonderful coolness of the morning and although tired and in need of lunch, none of us was suffering. The kids went straight away the very top of the peak above me. I stopped to rest and take in the incredible and vertigo-inducing view of our home valley below to the north and the sharp and splendid peaks of the Cascade Mountains to the South.

Snow-covered Mt. Baker on the far right

 I began to climb the last bit of the peak when my youngest began to make her way down. "It makes me nervous to be up there," she said when she reached me. I asked her if the view was different up there on that narrow peak with the sheer drops on all sides, and she said, "No, no different at all, and the shale makes it quite tricky to come down." I had still to climb down the mountain, which I knew was often harder on the knees than going up, so, I decided to stay put with her on the plateau. As we ate our lunch and put on some more layers of clothing to combat the cool wind, we watched the group of nylon back-pack laden hikers just below us in a small meadow. Another hiker came up the trail and told us that we would soon be treated to a wonderful show, thanks to the group below. One by one, the hikers who had passed us earler opened their nylon packs to reveal parachutes, and one by one they attached them to harnesses, checked them for safety and then jumped off the cliff below us into the blue. I thought of all the times we had watched them from far below, rising with the updraft that came up the north face of the mountain, drifting and falling with the air currents and taking their sweet time in landing. Often they would land in our high school field 2100 metres below from where we were sitting at that moment.

I had left my heavy camera at home. I wanted to concentrate on not injuring myself more than anything, and my kids were both bringing their cameras. After about an hour at the top the plateau and the pathway to the peak were getting crowded. Everyone and their dog had decided to climb Mt. Cheam that day, or so it seemed. We began to make our way down the mountain, but we took our time. To be eye-level with Mt. Baker, a snow covered dormant volcano, as well as the other peaks we had admired from our home way down in the valley was a wonderful thing and we were reluctant to leave the views behind. Of course, the kids were much quicker down than we adults were with our much older knees. We asked them to wait for us at Spoon Lake. On our way down we frequently had to step aside to make way for all the hikers making their way up. The sun was high by that time of day and many of the ascending hikers looked hot and thirsty. Some were improperly dressed for hiking a steep trail. We even saw one girl in bare feet carrying flip-flops. The black flies were coming out in droves and were nipping at our legs, and by the time we reached the lake, a helicopter had landed nearby with a wedding party. Our peaceful wilderness experience was coming to an end

By the time we reached the parking lot it was packed with vehicles. Trucks and SUVs spilled over onto the roadside below. After rehydrating with a whole lot of water and some juicy peaches, as well as a little coffee brought in a Thermos by our forward thinking driver, we climbed back into our truck with one very tired little dog. Going down seemed a little quicker than the climb up the road, but it was still a labourious process. Our driver moved over several times to let those in a hurry leave us in their dust. By the time we were near the bottom we were surrounded by all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes, their engines whining insistently, their wheels kicking up dust. A system of trails for such a purpose must be in the area, we figured.

Back in two vehicles we made our way into Chilliwack to go for some well-deserved ice cream. Tired, but elated, we sat in our Dairy Queen booth talking over the day. We discussed how every high school student should have the chance to go up Mt. Cheam, and about how the view gives, not only a geography lesson on our area, but also a lesson in wonder and awe, a lesson in the 'big picture' of our existence on the earth. I said that once a person goes up a mountain and sees the world far below from a completely different angle, something in her changes. And then I thought silently, that when she is down in the valley once again, she can look up to the peak she has climbed and say, "I have been all the way up there. I have seen all of this as it really is, from a bird's eye view." She will keep that picture in her mind and refer to it often. She will soar up to the peak again and again in her imagination and may never quite come down again.

Mt. Cheam from down here - in late March

Thank you to my children for taking such terrific photos! Have a wonderful weekend, whatever adventures await you.