Carnage on the highway: no zombies but lots of humanity

We camped outside of Thunderbay in your basic KOA campground after a harrowing, but craggily beautiful drive between Lake Superior Provincial Park and Thunder Bay. We saw the remains of three transport truck accidents. One was obviously a couple of weeks old, the dead remains of the transport left in a ravine. Another happened earlier in the day. The final one happened minutes before our arrival which necessitated a three-hour wait in a lineup that was several kilometers long. There is only one highway in those northern parts and when it is blocked everything stops. This accident broke our hearts and reminded us of both the precariousness of human judgement as well as the best of human striving toward mutual care.

 

We gassed up around 6pm near Pearl, stretched some dog legs and ate some victuals. We estimated we had another hour to reach Thunder Bay. Almost as soon as we left the gas station we had to stop behind a long line of stopped traffic. There was clearly an accident of some kind on the other side of the rocky hill rising in front of us. After twenty minutes, I got out of the truck to stretch my legs and breathe in some Lake Superior air. I heard someone calling me over. It was a thirtyish man in a red pickup truck leaning out of the driver side. He motioned me over. The pickup was loaded with various and sundry pieces of furniture and suitcases. There was a worried woman in the passenger side and two small children in car seats next to a strapped-in cooler in the back seat.  He had a police scanner, he said. There was a three-vehicle accident about a kilometer ahead with fatalities. Air transport was coming. Having been a Medical First Responder myself, I knew then we would be waiting on that highway stretch for several hours. I gave some quick prayers for the Fire Fighters, OPP, pilots who were offering a sacrifice of service to their communities. Most of all I was thinking heavy thoughts about the three families of the people in the vehicles involved. The red-pickup truck man asked me where I was from. I said Nova Scotia. The five-year old in the back yelled out “We’re from the Cap, but we’re moving!” I considered asking where the Cap was, but the child’s proud face stopped me. The man looked at me and cheerfully announced, “Yup. This is everything we own. We’re moving to Winnipeg to find work. I have a police scanner. I will let you know what’s happening. Okay?” I thanked him and moved back into the truck camper to get some water and snacks. I went to his window and knocked, offering some chocolate-chip granola bars for the kids. The Mom said no thanks and the man exclaimed, “See that cooler? It’s FILLED with food. We are travelling straight on through.”

 

Carl and I reflected on the hazards facing long-haul truckers. They bring us our food and well, just about everything. Their work is hazardous and disaster strikes in seconds. Yet, disaster is a slow-moving beast too. I have had several truckers in the congregations I served. Their work requires them to sit for long times, eat sporadically, sleep fitfully and live with constant stress. Their lives are shorter than most people’s. I have always enjoyed talking to truckers. They are often insightfully philosophical and sometimes theologically adept. You can’t travel to so many different parts of two giant countries, meet an endless number of different people, live constantly with knowledge of your own mortality and spend a lot of time alone without emerging either crazy or philosophically wise.  The work is eminently hazardous and, as a society, we rarely recognize this. This is why, when I am asked to do public graces at gatherings, I always pray for those who gather our food and who transport it, asking that working conditions be fair and honoured.

 

After an hour or so, people began to leave their vehicles and visit one another. Children wandered into the shorter brush with dogs. A couple of men in turbans walked alongside the cars stretching their legs. Several people stopped to exchange pleasantries and information with them. I did some stretching on the pavement in front of the truck but thought better of it after eating three mosquitos. After I got into our vehicle, a black sports car zoomed up the lane beside us and tucked in a space far ahead, disrespecting the car-queue that all the rest of us honoured, narrowly missing a couple of children milling about their parent’s cars. Carl and I looked at each other. We had been remarking earlier that the scene reminded us of a zombie movie. When the black car zoomed past, we looked at each other and I said, “That guy is the first to be sacrificed to the zombies because he is selfish, careless and is that guy in the horror movies that endangers everyone needlessly. Yet everyone tries to save him, even though he would not save any of them. Very un-Christian of me though because grace is the very opposite of choosing to sacrifice the selfish idiot.”  Carl said, “It kind of works out  though, because he would put himself first in line anyway, so the zombies have no choice.” I am sure Carl is onto some kind of fancy theological principle, but I cannot think of one on this drive-recovery morning.

 

After three-and-a-half hours, the OPP were able to open up the shoulder of the road to move the traffic. I went behind and wished the small family God-speed. He insisted they would be driving through. That would have been fourteen hours of driving. They did not want to stay in a hotel. I thought a lot about that small family and their courageous, hopeful spirit. We did not hear of any accidents on the way to Winnipeg, so they must have made it. Plucky people. Motioned onward into the night by police with flares, we filed past a white transport truck with the front caved in. A beat-up white pickup truck was in the ditch. Grim-faced firefighters surrounded it, while weary OPP officers motioned traffic through the strewn site. We, the still-living, encased in our steel, snaked our way through a setting of shocking destruction. We were only able to do so thanks to the service of all of those responders. I remembered the feeling of being at some of those sites. Your adrenalin gets you through your task, then you collapse at home. Sometimes tears come, more often they don’t. Mostly, you try to forget the images so that you can go to the next site.   I thought of those small children and hoped they were asleep as their parents maneuvered their way through the vehicular carnage.

 

We later heard in the news that a couple in an SUV stopped to make a left turn off of the highway and were slammed into by a transport truck from behind, moving them into the path of the white pickup truck with four people in it. The two in the SUV died. The trucker was charged with careless driving. The people in the white pickup truck were taken to hospital with non-life-threating injuries and released. There are scores of families whose collective and individual lives are permanently altered.

 

What do I take away from this? Life can change in a second. Some humans choose to be selfish, speeding ahead in the lineup, narrowly missing creating more tragedy. Most humans choose to reach out, connecting in whatever way they can in a crisis. The basic seeds of hope for our collective human future were evident in that three-hour scene. Young families, packing their belongings and migrating to somewhere where their future might be brighter. People of differing  cultures connecting and sharing information and food. Multiple generations, deprived of cell and internet service rediscovering conversation with one another. Men and women offering their volunteer and professional lives to rescue strangers, thereby putting themselves physically and mentally in harm’s way. And surrounding it all, this vast, living land unforgiving in its topography but filled with life from the tiniest microbe to the bears that no doubt silently observed this strange lineup of wheeled monsters, then much later in the resumed silence, ambled down to see what edibles they left behind in the ditches.

Manitoba sign 2019

On our way to Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba.

 

Puff “N” Blow Mentoring

Puff “N” Blow Mentoring: Clarice Goodyear

I have been surprised at the number of young women who revealed to me that I had been a mentor in their lives. Having been a recipient of really powerful mentoring in my own life from a number of women, I was delighted, somewhat humbled and more than a little confused. I often had no idea I was mentoring when, apparently, I was doing my best mentoring. I like things to be straight-forward and accountable in clear lines. The idea that the most teachable moments have taken place in almost complete unawareness on my part  is as disconcerting as it is inspiring.

A young professional, remarkably gifted woman tearfully tried to explain at my retirement party how much observing my life had meant to her and her wife. I couldn’t quite understand what she was saying because of the whole tear thing, which was surprising in of itself because she is as tough as old boots.  I knew she would likely get back to me, because she is conscientious. She sent me an email. What she was trying to tell me, she wrote, was that observing the way that Carl and I had to pivot over the last year in terms of our life-plans enabled she and her wife to pivot in a dramatic way too. It was true. Carl and I did have to pivot, sharply. We had planned to take 4 months to explore Canada’s National parks after we retired. However, my father died  this spring which meant that we had some ground-shaking decisions to make as a couple. We had planned to move to Newfoundland and build a house. We had planned to travel extensively in our tiny camper, answering to no one and no thing. Then the pull of needing to be close to my grieving mother as well as close-ish to our grandchildren.  One of them has juvenile diabetes (infant onset) which has meant we want to offer an extra layer of support. Carl and I had many, many difficult conversations amongst the funeral arrangements, retirement plans and the chaos of wrapping up major life-long careers. How could we make these decisions in a way that honoured our needs, obligations, dreams and wants? We decided that whenever we have been presented with major challenges that opened up a variety of pathways in front of us, anytime we chose a path with love as the ethical driver, we have flourished. We didn’t necessarily get what we planned for, or sometimes even wanted. However, love has always had its own way of opening up positive currents in the river of time. We usually end up where we need to be. So, we bought a house in Nova Scotia and cut our trip by half, trusting we will get to the places we need to be, when we need to be there. Watching us make those decisions somehow inspired my younger friend and her wife. Mentoring is weird that way.

I have thought a great deal lately about how I have been mentored. Some mentors, like the Dr. Shelley Finson, feminist scholar and social justice warrior, have consciously mentored me and many other student theologians. Other, earlier mentors probably had no idea how they were influencing me and how critical their modelling was.

I have been blessed to have an unconditionally loving mother who taught me how to love and believe in the inherent power of good in the world. She was and is my original, best mentor. She made my sister, brother and I strong, creative and caring. She had a grade nine education but read almost a book every day. I thought everyone’s mother did this until, as a teenager I was interrupted browsing in the Gander library. The librarian wondered aloud whether my mother would eventually check out every book. It seemed there was nothing she was not interested in. Would my mother be interested in serving on the Board some day since she knew so much about their collection? Gaping, mouth opening and closing, I said she would have to ask my mother herself. I looked at my mother with new eyes after that day. She was so smart, in an unassuming, humble kind of way. Mom was taught there were three options for a woman’s career: secretary, teacher or nurse. Then, after you married and became pregnant, you stayed home to become a homemaker. She had no opportunity to claim one of the three careers herself, but she fervently hoped my sister and I would choose one in case our future husbands abandoned us, a fate our father assured would befall us if we persisted in being as saucy to our husbands as we were to him. Her own father had abandoned her mother, seven children still at home, leaving the family stuck fast in terrible poverty for a long time. In her mind, this possibility floated, specter-like in the future of any young woman. She encouraged us to choose one of the three possible careers.

Clarice Goodyear taught me that women could be kickass leaders and entrepreneurs and there were more than three options. Her daughter, Elizabeth, (Betsy to me), was my closest friend and she went to bat for me, convincing her mother, against her better judgment, to give me a chance as a part-time worker. I worked at Goodyear Humber stores in Gander for two years. It was a terrifying, life-altering, soul-strengthening experience.   I continued to be welcomed with open arms in her house and a place was always prepared for me at the frequent feasts over which Joe Goodyear Senior presided. In the store, however, I was simply an employee. She was determined to hold me to the same high standards she expected of every employee of the store, including herself. I was a teenager, very much interested in enjoying the things teens did in the late seventies, which meant I was often tired on Fridays and Saturdays. No matter, clothes were to be folded, customers attended to, phones answered and cash to be meticulously counted. Once, I heard her voice across the dry-goods floor early one morning. “Linda Butyn! I don’t know what the heck you are doing with that cash register. We have decided you are not stealing because you are over as much as you are under on any given day. Stay away from the cash register until I can give you another lesson!” I looked around. Older co-workers smiled and averted their eyes.  She did give me a lesson, the main crux of it being an assurance that she knew I was smart enough, I just needed to slow down and pay attention to my task. We practiced the cash register. In those days, the electric-but-manual registers required great finger strength, much multi-tasking and reverse change back-counting. We practiced and practiced. Slow down and take the time to do it right, she said. Speed is the enemy of accuracy. This was painfully demonstrated when I, in a hurry to leave with my friends, made a advertising sign that declared an electric blanket was on sale for $3.20 instead of $32.00. One quick-witted senior spotted this and immediately claimed her $3.20 blanket. I thought Clarice would fire me or, at least, take it out of my wages. The tragically bereft expression on my face must have persuaded her otherwise. She sighed and let the lady have her blanket.

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If I goofed off, laying my tired, sometimes hung-over head on piles of cool denim that needed folding, she would, through some magic of telepathy, know. “Linda Butyn! Get your head up! Fold those jeans!” It was easier in the winter-time because she wore hard-heeled shoes and I could hear her striding across vast space of the dry-goods floor. In the summer-time she wore soft, crepe-soled shoes and I was constantly surprised by her popping up somewhere behind or in front of me. I worked harder in the summer-time. In the middle of that last summer I was employed by her, I asked if I could arrange and decorate the store windows. This had been the coveted purview of more seasoned, permanent workers. I could see her considering it carefully. Yes, she said, give it a try, I think you may have a good eye. I was shocked. Then excited. That summer I discovered a talent for creative display and public relations. It taught me how to imagine a consuming public might regard something they didn’t know they needed or wanted until an eye-catching window tableau paused them to consider. This has been a helpful skill in both ministry and blogging. Clarice told me about the positive feedback she had received about the windows. She was a woman of rare but honest praise, so when you received it, you were changed.

More than anything, Clarice taught me that a woman could be a leader and stand toe-to-toe with any man. She could be flinty. Occasionally, on my way to the employee bathroom, I would observe a shoplifter sitting uncomfortably on a chair in her office. Sometimes I would catch their eye and we both knew they were doomed. Clarice would carefully and, often compassionately,  interrogate them. They usually confessed. Their fate was not universal, though. Some of the young ones were made to call their parents. Some, whose parents were absent or awful, experienced other forms of help and referrals. Some, the hardened, unrepentant criminal-type, warranted a visit by the police. There were odd shoplifters, like the Soviets who came off the Aeroflot flights. They were famous for habitually stealing jeans. These small groups of carbolic-soap- scented, pale people would descend on the store. One of them would clearly be watching the rest very carefully – their “minder,” lest they defect. These poor souls simply warranted some observation we were told.  Before they left the store, they were simply asked for the return of the jeans. Clarice reasoned it was difficult enough suffering for Soviet citizens to be saddled with party-minders outside the iron curtain and then burdened with unspeakable treatment behind it. She taught me that justice is not simple and is sometimes flexible in application, but it is always important to apply it.

Of the many dubious things that Betsy talked me into, the most unexpectedly interesting was attending the Girls Self-Esteem course that Clarice and some of the leading citizens of Gander cooked up. I think it was born out of a concern for teen drinking and drug abuse, a chronic problem which was only then beginning to make itself known. A partner in this course was the RCMP. I think we were supposed to learn to be lady-like. There were lessons on health, drugs, fashion and manners. I don’t know if I learned much of that. The unintentional lessons I absorbed were in watching Clarice Goodyear stridently tell, often right in front of us, the somewhat disconcerted male RCMP officers what was acceptable and unacceptable in terms of course content, student behavior, police conduct and so on. THAT meant a lot to me. She was totally unafraid. She was not puffed up. She assumed she had a right to be there, be heard and her role as a community leader involved the fiduciary trust of young teenaged impressionable girls. We watched her eye-to-eye gaze, strong voice and confident body language used with every male leader that entered that room. Holy crap. If she only knew about  the small explosions ripping apart up some of our internalized chains of patriarchy. I love, therefore, that a trail in Glovertown, Newfoundland, named in her honour, is called the “Puff ‘N’ Blow.” No one could blow down Clarice Goodyear and, if she could help it, young girls would be strengthened enough to withstand and breathe through the sometimes shrieking winds of outrageous fortune in their lives.

It would likely be surprising to Clarice that her life was such a living act of mentoring for me, as it was surprising that my own has been for other young women. I guess, it is another characteristic of excellent mentoring. It pays itself forward in replication, generation upon generation.

 

 

 

 

Fundy National Park: lessons from barnacles

When the kids were little, we would go on every guided walk/hike that was on offer. Ostensibly this was for their education. Truthfully, guided walks are enjoyable for all generations. Led by Park personnel, those walks always ended up being chock full of surprising facts and intriguing observations. You also get to meet and converse with your fellow campers who inevitably are from all over the world. It is always a good practice to take in a couple during your stay if you can manage it because it may transform how you view your natural surroundings. Sometimes an encounter can even transfigure your worldview.

 Fundy National Park is home to a variety of eco-systems and so offers a diverse selection of interpreted walks. Lake Bennet also has a guided canoe trip.  If you can only take in guided walk, do not miss the interpretive beach walk. The stroll will take place at very low tide so you can walk out quite far. Remember to wear your rubber boots! The guides tend to stay close to the tidal pools which look like salt-water puddles to the untrained eye. As you gather round and listen to the guide you begin to see that the Fundy tidal flats are home to an incredible array of creatures. It was once thought that the flats were devoid of life, even sterile. When biologists decided to take a closer look at the beginning of the last century, the diversity of crustaceans, fish, mammals and plants surprised them. The walks introduce you to a smattering of these creatures.

On these walks I love watching the transformation of people’s consciousness. They arrive, sloshing indiscriminately through puddles. By the end of the tour, they gingerly, respectfully pick their way through the mud. It is a delight to watch the wonder of children as they take small sticks, softly nudging tiny crabs into reluctant movement.

When you get a sense of the density of life on the flats, you want to walk lightly. It makes you slightly cringe to hear the crunch-crunch of barnacles meeting the bottom of your rubber boots. I learned on one of these walks that barnacles make a fateful decision. When they are miniscule, shell-less creatures, they swim freely around the ocean until it is time to set up a home for the next part of their life cycle. Then they must choose very wisely. When they finally find a spot, on a rock or under a boat, they excrete a glue that is tougher than any man-made glue on the planet. Attaching themselves to the object, they begin to construct a calcium-rich shell around themselves, complete with front-doors that open when the tide comes in and close when it is out. How horrible, I thought, to have chosen the rocks that people will walk on. Likewise, how sad to have chosen small rocks that get buffeted about by the waves, crushing them in the grind of pebbles and rocks. How fortunate is the barnacle that selected the sheltered side of large, inaccessible rocks. No wonder they are so huge, some approaching an inch in height. If you only ever get to choose once, a barnacle needs to choose well.

 

Barnacles by Chris Spencer (Flickr Commons)

Barnacles by Chris Spencer, Flickr Commons

It occurred to me that we humans are blessed with choice and chances for new beginnings and renewal. Although there are many things in life we do not have control over, there are daily decisions of small and large behaviors that we do get to choose. Today I presided at a funeral of a remarkable, humble woman, Roberta. She was of that generation that Tom Brokaw has referred to as the Greatest Generation. She was born in 1930, just as the horrors of the Great Depression were beginning to be visited upon the most vulnerable. When she was three years old her father left the family leaving her mother to raise her alone at a time when such

Vacation Fundy and other pictures 2010 026

Another friend you may meet on a guided walk at Fundy

 

circumstances not only bore real financial brutality but also social shame. Roberta lived through the Second World War and its aftermath. Throughout all of this hardship , or perhaps because of it, she determined to live a life of love and service to her community. She was devoted to her family, volunteered for a number of community groups, was faithful to her God and her church and was particularly interested in the promotion of the arts and literacy. She often said she was the luckiest person in the world. I found that an astonishing statement when I think of how she would describe the reality of her early years. When I listen to her children tell her life story, I cannot help but think that throughout her life she consistently made daily decisions to love and build up, rather than to resent and tear down. There was no situation, Roberta felt, in which a person could not start over in some way.

In life there are many things we do not get to choose. There are also many times we can pick ourselves up and try another rock.  We are not barnacles. For that we can be thankful.

 

 

Fundy National Park: How Those World-Wonder Tides Work (by Carl Yates)

The Tilting Tides of Fundy

When Linda and I went on our first anniversary tour as a couple, she was keen to take me to Fundy National Park where she had previously explored as a young child on camping trips with her family.  One of the big draws then, and still is, the amazing high tides of the Bay of Fundy that occur twice a day.  The twice a day occurrence of course is not unique but the height of the tides in the Bay of Fundy sure is.  When Linda and I did our tour, we met up with a friend of ours, Derek Dunphy, who went to university with us and had just graduated from engineering school.  As part of our reunion in the park, we decided to see what these high tides were all about and planned a day trip from the town of Alma to see how far we could go out on the flats after the tide went out.  Being smart engineers and recognizing the trek could be long and tiresome, we took a six-pack of beer with us to ensure our thirst would be quenched along the way.  After going quite a long distance [> 2 km out] in our rubber boots on a hot sunny day, we decided enough was enough and sat down for our first beer.  With our thirst quenched, we stood up and proceeded back to Alma with one beer gone and another in our hands.  As it was sunny, the walk back was slower, aided by the fact we had to have a swallow every now and then.  After finishing the second beer, we decided it was time for a proper break and found an old log to sit on and tell some war [university stories].  After the third beer, we were getting a little giddy and didn’t seem to have a care in the world.  That was until I looked behind us and saw water rapidly advancing towards us and headed for the beach.  Alas, the tide was coming in and coming in fast.  We had no choice but to pick up the pace and keep moving towards Alma.  By the time we reached the town, we had a good sweat on.  What appeared to be a tranquil resting place to share a beer was long under very deep Carl and Derek Dunphy astonished at the tidewater and we were tired.  The moral of the story is don’t underestimate the speed and extent of the Bay of Fundy tides as they have stranded many an unsuspecting tourist.  So, why are the tides so high you ask!  Well, it goes like this:

As mentioned above, the tidal cycle occurs approximately twice daily, or every 12 hours and 26 minutes to be precise. The Bay of Fundy is shaped like a funnel so as the water enters the mouth of the Bay, it continues up the bay to the narrower part of the funnel and climbs higher up the shoreline as it goes.  In addition, there is a phenomenon called the “seiche” effect that comes into play.  If you put water on a shallow tray and start the movement of water from one end, it is magnified in height at the other end due to the momentum of the water as it travels across the confines of the tray.  The Bay of Fundy is in essence, a rather long, shallow tray.  Now here is the fascinating part.  It just so happens that it takes about 6 hours and 13 minutes for water to travel from  the mouth of the bay to the end of the Bay at the Minas Basin and Petitcodiac River just downstream of Moncton.  In other words, it matches the natural tidal cycle between low and high tide.  So what does the unsuspecting tourist see from this combination of natural forces at work.  The tide rises and falls by as much as 53 feet at the inner part of the Bay.  As Fundy National Park is a little more than halfway up the Bay of Fundy, tides in the order of 30 feet are quite common.

 

Linda’s Note: The tides are a wonder worth exploring. Take waterproof boots and dress for cool weather when you are on the windy flats. Keep track of your time and where you are. Many a tourist has had to frantically climb cliffs in order not to be swept away by the sea. Sometimes, sadly, they don’t make it. Currently both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are exploring ways to harness the massive energy power of these spectacular tides. Some companies have tried putting in turbines but the tides chewed them up and spit them back. The turbines are controversial because the Fundy tidal ecosystem is essential to an incredible variety of marine life. The Fundy sea bottom was once thought to be relatively devoid of life. Scientists have discovered (and you can too) a rich ecosystem uniquely adapted to salt water rushing in and out.

Fundy National Park: a place to breathe and heal (by Sarah Smart-Yates)

A heart-felt, wonderful post by our beloved daughter-by-marriage, Sarah.

One of the natural wonders of the world is Fundy National park. The tidal water flows in and out of the large basin in an eternal, rhythmical motion, producing the highest tides in the process. This daily ritual is predictable and scheduled. Something that you can count on, something you can expect. It is as if the bay of Fundy takes a deep breath each day as the water rushes in and out. During moments of crisis or sadness or chaos, having that dependable rhythm can be a source of constancy and strength. As the bay of Fundy breathes, it forces you to breathe with it.

I found this out a few years back when Matthew and I planned to take our young daughter there for a family vacation, complete with grandparents and uncles. This was to be our daughters first experience camping and we were all very excited to watch her explore the outdoors, something hard to do when you’re growing up in a city. Matthew and I were also very excited for this trip because I was 10 weeks pregnant, and we were going to share the news when we arrived. The day we were leaving I had my monthly doctors appointment to make sure everything was alright before leaving. Matthew stayed at home to pack the car and was going to pick me up afterwards and immediately embark on our east coast adventure. We had seen this “little bean” on a previous ultrasound, so we were hopeful that all was well. The doctor put the ultrasound wand to my stomach, but this time there wasn’t a twinkle of movement announcing the beating rhythm of a heart. There was just a little bean shaped baby devoid of movement. Unbeknownst to me, The pregnancy had died that week. It was a heartbreaking moment. When Matthew arrived moments later I had to crush his hopeful smile with the news that everything we had planned for had been drastically changed. We were heartbroken to lose the pregnancy. Instead of driving out east that afternoon, we found ourselves instead waiting in the hospital for surgery to eliminate the remains of what was to be my second child, our growing family, a piece of me. It was hard to breathe.

That night afterwards i laid on the floor next to my toddlers bed and just listened to her sleep. When morning finally came I announced we were still to go camping. We were still to go be with family. And instead of using the bay of Fundy as a place to announce our growing family, we decided to use it as a place to breathe and find the space to process what had just happened to us. We were going to heal.

Fundy National Park did not disappoint. We hiked on trails. We walked on the beach. We played on the playground. We ate marshmallows. We were with people and we also found space to be alone as well. We started the week in grief and shock and some pain, arriving only two days after my surgery. Yet over the course of the week we started the path towards healing. We were surrounded by a space that was bigger than me, And bigger then the personal pain that I was experiencing.

 

When you drive in the park they have a bunch of muskoka chairs, red, that look out at various natural wonders. They often came in fours; two big chairs, and two little. As if yearning for a family of four to come sit in them, those chairs would stand out to me all week as a reminder that we had just lost. But they also gave me a sense of hope. Just as the tides would always be there, so too would those chairs. It gave me hope that in our future we could come again and that our dream of four would be a reality for us when we did. I knew those views would wait for us. They were just too beautiful… the horizon over the water, the colour of the sands, the feeling of the wind, the smell of the ocean. The surroundings were just so big. Bigger than me. Bigger than my immediate pain. Constant. And dependable. Dependable when I needed it.

There is no one way to heal from a miscarriage. Just as there is no one way to walk through a time of grief. But I will forever be grateful for our decision to spend that first week of grief at Fundy National Park. The sky was big. The beauty of the surroundings was all encompassing. Not only was it a source of distraction in the moments that I needed it, it was also a source of comfort. The park breathes. And you can’t help but breathe along with it.

Smart-Yates' at Fundy, 2016

Top left: Ellie and her Dad explore the beach. Top right: Ellie shows her Mom some treasure Bottom: Ellie, Matt, Sarah

Fundy National Park: Beatles and world peace

 

Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright

Desperate for any kind of verbal signal beyond a sigh, we promised him a fire and s’mores. It was the summer of camping with sullen teenagers in our first, tiny, popup truck camper. We gave them their own tent for independence and privacy for whatever it is that teen boys do on their own. That summer, the boys fought so much, we had to camp with them separately. We entrusted the other with my mother, lest there be wild parties held in our absence.  The week before camped in Fundy, we had taken Matthew to Labrador.  He was seventeen and in no mood to recreate with his parents.

 

I offered Shane an evening of s’mores. I began eating “healthy” that summer. No sugar, not much booze and, instead, the addition of whole grains and a lot more vegetables. I had hoped for more energy and a lifted mood. Mostly, I craved sugar nonstop. If ‘smores appeared that night, I was pretty sure candy bars would be my breakfast, lunch and supper for the rest of the vacation. This offer was no little sacrifice on my part. That afternoon we picked up the marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers in the only grocery store in Alma.

 

Fundy National Park seemed strangely devoid of campers that summer. So, we were surprised when we returned to our campsite to find that we had neighbours. To our right a couple in their forties from Quebec was setting up their tent. We waved and nodded whenever they turned toward us. When I encountered the woman at the washroom, I said “Hello, nice sunny day.” She looked at me with a serious expression and spoke some quick words in French, then quickly retreated back to her campsite. About an hour later the most ancient of Volkswagon campervans pulled into the campsite across from us. It had American licence plates. To our astonishment, Mama Cass, Brian Doherty and their thirteen-year-old son emerged. At least, that is what I shouted out to Carl. Alas, it was not. He agreed, sipping his beer, that the trio bore a resemblance to what could be expected in an alternate universe, had Brian requited Cass Elliot’s love. We three watched those three put up a very old canvas tent. Despite their cheery flower-power van, they too, seemed awfully serious.

 

It seemed a sullen kind of day. So be it, I thought. Bring on the s’mores.

 

When all the tents had been put up, both sets of neighbours stretched themselves out on lawn chairs. The French couple had state-of-the-art suspension chairs with cup-holders. The Americans had webbed, wobbly ones. The sun was out, at least, and there was a modicum of civility in the neighbourhood. We settled in, casually observing each other in sidelong glances. The Quebec man got out of his chair, fished around in his sports car for something, rolled down the window and closed the door. The unmistakable words “Writer, writer, writer…” drifted through the air. He had put on the Beatles, Paperback Writer. We held up our beer in approval.  Shane emerged from his tent-lair and the American Hippie Gothic trio across the way turned their heads toward the Quebecer campsite and nodded.  Acknowledging the nods of approval, the gentleman leaned in and cranked up the sound. We jumped off our chairs as did the Americans.  Everyone, even the teens, were dancing on their own campsites.

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morguefile 0001062135514

It turned out that all three families had brought the new Beatles CD set camping with them. For much of that week, the Beatles filled the late afternoon soundscape. One evening we ate s’mores while listening to Back in the USSR. We recalled for Shane the punky audacity of those four Liverpool boys who dared to sing that there might by something fun and interesting about the USSR at a time when everyone in the West was supposed to hate the Soviet Union as an evil empire made up of drone-like evil people.

 

I once read a theory that the Iron Curtain fell, not because of Ronald Reagan, economic pressure or world sanctions. Instead, some young people discovered the Beatles and created their own bootleg copies to distribute. When they saw what the “Demon West” had produced, a million questions about the unnecessary distance between peoples and economies began to surface. Those questions cracked the foundation of the Berlin Wall.

 

I felt the Beatles had done that for us in our little camping neighbourhood microcosm. We did not all become fast friends or party together. Rather, we engaged each other in friendly, funny, small moments as we shared communal living spaces and equipment at the Fundy Park Campground. Sometimes we could only communicate through basic hand gestures and halting French/English. However, we respected each other’s language and cultural differences because a common love of the Beatles somehow made awkward conversations possible. I think this is one of the many reasons why I love National Parks. They make these kinds of conversations and encounters possible.

smores by 305 Seahill (flickr commons)

“S’mores” by 305 Seahill (Flickr Commons)

 

 

Fundy National Park: an eco-smorgasbord

Fundy is a National Park worth coming back to, even unto the third generation.

I began camping in Fundy National Park at the age of twelve. Camping was important in my family. My father came to Canada from the Netherlands as a young boy after WWII. He fully invested emotionally, psychologically and physically in this country. When he turned eighteen he joined the Royal Canadian Airforce. He met my mother a few years later after befriending her brother. They married and began a family. As an adult, he insisted my siblings and I take part in those things he felt that Canadians did, which included hiking, fishing and camping. My mother was not so keen. Her childhood included times of deep poverty which made the idea of minimalist sleeping, eating and struggling with flimsy shelter seem ridiculous and vaguely, uncomfortably familiar. In particular, she really hated tenting in those smelly, mouldy canvas tents which never seemed to be erected without much cursing.  She loved us, so she endured, managing to avoid camping-reality by immersing herself in murder-mystery novels.

One day, I disembarked from the Junior High bus to find an old, Bell telephone van in the driveway. Dad had put a bid on one and became the proud owner of this strange, clearly once heavily utilized blue van. He had a plan. By himself, with the occasional help of some inquisitive, sometimes incredulous neighbours, he cut off the top, extending it upward by three feet. He added a tiny fridge, some bunks and a collapsible table. He painted this Franken-van the colours of the Dutch flag. Dad grandly opened the side doors one day, declaring it finished. He proudly named it his “Blue-assed Baboon.” He did this, I think, partly because he could not keep himself from inventing weird things, but also because he loved my mother and hoped she would come to like camping as much as he did. I am not sure she ever got there, but camping was never quite the same after that. It improved in some ways and became more complicated in other ways.

One thing that it improved was our ability to range farther during our family vacations. One of the first really long trips we made in it was to Fundy National Park. We liked the Park so much we returned. I fell so in love with this Park that Carl and I decided to spend our first post-marriage vacation together there. He fell in love with it too.  Although, there were some very amusing moments for this born-and-bred Newfoundlander as he experienced life off the rock for the first time (more about that later). When we had children, we would often camp at Fundy feeling it was well worth the long trip. Now our children go there as adults, enriching their children with this same intense camping experience.

 

Why is Fundy so special? Fundy National Park has many radically different ecosystems packed into a relatively small space of a Park. The Park’s compact size means you can experience and explore them all. Fundy is home to the world’s highest tides, finalist for one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World. The Park has guided beach walks or you can walk out for kilometres and explore the fascinating tidal flats on your own. When you tired of tides, there is a unique blend of forests on the cliffs and mountains which are part Acadian forest and part Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region forest. If fields and grasses are your thing, you can find trails through those too. Fundy National Park has a lovely salt-water swimming pool, a beautiful golf course, groups of chalets and access to lake kayak/canoeing as well as sea-kayaking tours. There are hiking trails for every skill set and environment preference including journeys through forests, sea-side, mountain, riverside and waterfalls. Fundy Park is open year-round, although we have never been brave enough to winter camp (yet).

Fundy_National_Park_(8083106376) James Bates pic

pic by James Bates (Flickr Commons)

Accommodations include a variety of tenting sites, RV sites, chalets, yurts and oTENTiks. Care needs to be taken with the latter, as they are perched on cliff edges. Any family with toddlers or disobedient, unrestrained dogs would do well to avoid them. Chignecto North and Headquarters Campgrounds are well appointed with showers and shelters. We have found that there are often restrictions on campfires during the summer. However, Headquarters Campground is more likely to allow them because of their proximity to fire-fighting facilities. If you need a campfire, camp there.

There are a few stores in the nearby town of Alma, but they only contain the rudimentary things needed for camping and refurbishment of basic food. So, bring lots of food with you. There is a great seafood store with wonderful lobster and good scallops. One tradition we have is going to the Kelly’s Bakery, “Home of the World Famous Sticky Bun.” Truly, those sticky buns are the most delicious things on this planet. Don’t get one until the day you are leaving the Park because if you get them when you arrive, you will just dream of them every single day until you have one every single day and then you will leave a much larger person than when you came. So, trust me, wait.

My parents never really camped after we became older teens. However, they did plant those love-of-camping seeds in me. Now, my children and grandchildren are growing into their own deep love of camping. We keep coming back to Fundy and I suspect we always will. It always feels like a reunion of sorts. To honour my mother, I occasionally bring a murder-mystery to read.

Fundy National Park covered bridge

New Brunswick is the only province with well-preserved covered bridges. (Pic by Milo, Marko, Ana and Aleska – Flickr Commons)

Fundy National Park is located in New Brunswick which is Canada’s only truly bilingual province. Therefore, services are handily offered in good quality French and English.

Headquarters

PO Box 1001, Alma

NB E4H 1B4

Visitor Centre/Headquarters: 1-506-887-6000

www.parks.canada.gc/fundy

 

 

Gros Morne: Gone fishin’ (by Carl Yates)

Not everyone likes fishing but those who like it, like it a lot.  It can be one of the most relaxing things to do, especially if the setting is right.  In my opinion, the setting is right at Baker’s Brook in Gros Morne.  Baker’s Brook is located north of Rocky Harbour and in strict Newfoundland terms it is a brook.  In other provinces in Canada, it would be called a river but in Newfoundland the term is reserved for the big flows that are at the base of many valleys.  Baker’s Brook is fed by Baker’s Pond which again in other jurisdictions would be assigned lake status.  You see a pattern here!  Baker’s Pond was once a fjiord open to the ocean but after the last glaciers retreated over 10,000 years ago, the earth’s crust rebounded and the fjiord got flushed with fresh water from the receding glaciers.  The brook is home to speckled brook trout and Atlantic salmon, the two most common freshwater fish on the island.  Both of these species have a desire to travel to the sea to feed and as result, grow bigger.  Baker’s Brook discharges to the ocean approximately 1 km from the main highway that goes through the park and is one of the better places that an angler can try his or her luck for salmon or trout.  First, the rules are in order; fishing licenses for both trout and salmon are required but you don’t need a guide if you are a Canadian citizen as the park is on federal land.  Although Baker’s Brook is an unscheduled salmon river, you still require a provincial salmon licence and a park licence if you wish to retain salmon.  In essence, you will have two sets of tags and if you are fortunate to land a grilse [a salmon less than 63 cm centimetres], you must insert and lock each of the two tags through the gills of the fish.  It is hoped that salmon will continue to make this ocean journey to ensure a sustainable run but our “friends in Greenland” may put an end to salmon if they continue to harvest salmon from the ocean as part of a commercial fishery.  The numbers are very clear here that recreational fishing brings a greater return on investment than commercial fishing which is why Newfoundland banned commercial fishing in the 70s [a very good move].  In addition to the economics, Atlantic salmon are an important aspect of indigenous culture and a source of food for thousands of years.

To speak directly to the angling, a beautiful pool exists just upstream from where Baker’s Brook flows into the sea.  It is meant for fly fishing with a steady current to ensure your wet fly trails nicely.  I have had the fortune to hook both salmon and sea trout.  The trout gets the “sea” designation if it makes the journey to the ocean to feed.  One can tell the trout is of the sea variety by its brilliant orange underbelly and its taste [sweetness].  The other interesting aspect of hooking a fish in the lower reaches of the brook is that the fish returns from the ocean with a full belly and an abundance of energy which means that the fish will put up a good fight when hooked.  Although I have landed salmon at this pool, I have lost many after a fish has leapt in the air to set itself free.  Even if you don’t catch a fish, the experience at Baker’s Brook is one of tranquility.  You have beautiful views of the mountains and coastline to the south where the Tablelands rise, a wide-open ocean to the west and immediate views of hikers dropping by along a beautiful coastal trail which I have walked many times with Linda and our Jack Russell terriers.  I have also had the pleasure of fishing this pool with my son Matthew, the fish biologist, who is even more enthralled with salmon fishing than myself, but not as much as my father who got us all hooked on this recreational past time. In addition to enjoying the recreational aspect of fishing, Matthew is finishing up his doctorate degree at Concordia University with objectives to ensure a sustainable approach to fishing for future generations.

camper at Green Point Gros Morne

Gros Morne National Park: lone woman camping trend

Some are adventurous. Some love nature. Some are sad.

We have noticed it before and I have a friend who does it. However, it would seem that women camping alone is a definite and popular trend. When we were camping at Green Point, every single campsite adjacent to us had women who were camping solo in them. The campsites were close and did not have a great deal of tree or bush cover so view-planes were unimpeded. Your neighbours are unavoidably observable.

One woman, about 40 or so pulled up in a kind of volkswagon-y  . She would arrive at the end of each of her two days, cook up a scoff, contemplate the world from the vantage point of the top of her picnic table and then retire to bed. She had a large dog that looked kind of like a labradoodle. One evening a man came over and hung about chatting with her. She did not look terribly comfortable and I wondered about wandering over just to join in so she, and he, would know she was not unsupported and he was not unobserved. He left before she went to bed, but he arrived bright and early the next morning in a car. Again, they conversed and I could tell she sent him on his reluctant way. I admired her so much because, among other things, she expertly began her mornings with outdoor yoga.

The person to our immediate right on our first night was in her thirties. She was dog-less and slept in a tiny tent. She too was gone for most of the day, then arrived at suppertime, cooked a one-pot scoff and retired to the beach with her tea. At dusk she returned, lit a small campfire and sat by it, musing. She stayed for a night.

The next tenant of that site was a woman in her thirties who pulled in with an SUV with a rectangular contraption on the top. Lots of web addresses and sayings were decaled onto the car. When she got out, the most well-behaved German Shepherd calmly exited too. He kept very close to her. She told him to stay put, which he did reluctantly. Worried, his eyes followed her as she made her way to where I was sitting. Would I mind, she asked, defending her site from campsite stealers? She explained that someone took her last site because her car was not in it and her tent is always with her so a person just claimed her last campsite as some kind of squatter’s rights. I sympathised. Green Point campground has a Darwinian survival-of-the-quickest system. There is no way of making reservations and there is no kiosk with a person in it to manage the sites. I could see how it could happen. You are supposed to put an “occupied” sign on your campsite marker, but there are never enough. She further explained that she does not carry food and she just hiked all day, 10 km, and was hungry. She and the dog had to go to Rocky Harbour to eat. She did not appear to carry any kind of food. She was very worried that someone not take her site, she repeated. In fact, she appeared anxious in a general, vibrating kind of way. The dog looked like he might get up and come over. She had her back to him, but must have felt his slight movement. She turned and motioned for him to sit. I thought quickly. I had no idea how long she would be and could not imagine personally fending off campsite thieves for the rest of the evening. I offered up our “occupied” sign. She could not seem to make eye contact. Grateful, she expressed thanks, ran off, placed the “occupied” sign on her campsite marker and sped off in her car. The dog sat upright in the seat, looked toward the road and settled in, like he had done this a thousand times.

On the back of her Subaru was a website address https://www.wandering-dog.com. I took a look. I found it fascinating reading. The blog chronicles the adventures of the service dog named Indiana. The feelings, thoughts and experiences of her person, Brittany, provide content. Brittany was sexually assaulted twice while serving in the US Navy and was diagnosed with PTSD. Four years ago, she was discharged on disability and has been travelling with Indiana ever since. Camping for four years! Her blog makes for some difficult reading. When she returned, I longed to get to know her a little more. But, connection is, as she says in various places in her blog, difficult for Brittany. It was getting dark when they returned from Rocky Harbour. She parked the car, reached up to the rectangular thing on the roof and adjusted some bits and pieces. Voila!  A ladder appeared and a tent erected itself. She and the dog climbed the ladder and we did not see them until the next morning when the tent and ladder process worked itself in reverse. Then, safely ensconced in the SUV, Indiana and Brittany departed for breakfast and parts unknown, forever.

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I have observed over the past couple of years that women who camp alone seem to have short stays. They like to hike. Many have dogs and most seem to cook their own food. Brittany, the only one I knew by name because she had a website, was the only one who does not deal with food. She also was the only one that was outwardly, seriously anxious.  There are various reasons women camp alone.  My friend, Janet Moulton loves the outdoors, is a confident, skilled and gregarious woman. I suspect she makes friends wherever she goes. Sometimes, she tells me, other women join her. I know another woman who is determined to do the entire Appalachian trail on her own. She too is confident, determined, tough and loves the outdoors, as well as the challenge of having a difficult goal. All the women I have encountered solo-camping in Parks, have another life to return to. Camping was a break, a time of renewal, a contrast from their ordinary life. It did not occur to me that someone would camp for four years and possibly many more. What, I pondered, is Brittany looking for? How will she know when she finds it? She is another person that will live in my prayer life for some time.

A final thought. It is interesting that I consider it an anomaly to observe more women camping alone. Yet, it also has to be said that it is unusual to find men camping alone in National Parks. What would I think about a man camping alone for four years with a dog? What would you think?

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Gros Morne: a spiritual experience of apology and gratitude to the earth

Gros Morne National Park: a spiritual experience around every corner

I must see the mantle of the earth before I can rest. Going to Gros Morne always feels like pilgrimage. I need to go to the Tabletop, study it, touch the crinkled surface of the rock and just wait. The rock itself feels grainy-raw and looks wrinkled. Mother Earth without her makeup on.

The formation gives rise to a kind of dragon-spine all along the Northern Peninsula.  Some of the oldest rock on the planet, it has managed to stay surface-bound in the shifting, folding, molding of the earth’s crust. Nothing but the very toughest and most slow-growing of life exists on Tabletop rock because it is chock full of minerals and chemicals that make colonization of rock and soil almost impossible. The tiniest of trees, hundreds of years old, take root between rocks. They are so easily and willfully trampled by tourists who make rock cairns along the path despite explicit pleas from the Park not to because of the ecosystem’s ancient fragility.

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I need to touch Her for two reasons. First, I just pause to consider the near impossibility of being alive at this moment in time, part of a species that has existed for only 300,000 years. Energy from the gold rock reminds me to reflect, simply because I can. I am life consciously reflecting on 500 million years of planetary life. Second, I apologize to Her. Green Point may mark the boundary between the Cambrian and Ordovician periods, but we are now living in what scientists call the Anthropocene era. “Anthro” simply is a fancy word for “human-ish.” Humans have so affected the air, land and water with our need to project heat, garbage and chemicals into and onto our planet that we are now creating our own geological time-mark. It can be measured in the earth’s crust for all of time. So, I apologize to Her and vow to do a little better in my own life and sphere of communication. The apology is part of my passion for Parks as preserved space for nature, the people of Canada and the inhabitants of the greater world. When I leave I am sustained by the knowledge that the earth is resilient. On the Tabletops I can see, smell and feel 500 million years of persistent existence under my feet. Humankind may not live another 100,000 years, but the Tabletops will still be there.

Another place of deep reflection and peace is the ocean shoreline. There are a couple of lovely shoreline trails. One of the most wonderful spiritual experiences we have had occurred this summer. During our honeymoon, we wanted to camp by the shoreline at Green Point campground, but were not able to. For over 30 years we aspired to spend a couple of nights there. Arriving around Noon this summer, we despaired of finding a site, but was astonished to find the one site we had always dreamed of camping on vacant. Those nights were some of the most beautiful we have ever spent camping. Behind us, the waves made their endless, eternal heartbeat on our doorstep. At night, as the sun set and the moon levitated, we observed people moving to the shore, clutching cups of warm liquid. They would often talk as they walked.  A curious thing happened during the final setting of the sun. The people became silent. It was not just about the gorgeousness of the moment.

The death of the sun amongst the salty, wet heartbeat of the earth, reaches deep inside of you. The moon brings hope of luminous resurrection, but still, it is never really enough.  There is some part of you that knows the death of the sun is but an echo of your own. And so, conversation stops, tea remains un-sipped and gratitude for life itself floats, if only for a brief visit, within you and among your companion strangers.