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.

 

 

 

 

Terra Nova National Park: hikes and yikes

 

I was a little worried about Terra Nova Park Trails when I saw the dark-circled, bleary-eyed folk who staggered back into the Newman Sound Campground. Where on earth did they come from, I wondered? Consulting the map, we realized that they had probably taken the 35k Outport Trail. It is multi-day and has a rating of “difficult.” Replete with reputed panoramic views and more than one ghost settlement, it is a favourite of the young, hardy and brave. I say  brave because there were  so many posted, explicit warnings about equally young and adventurous bears.  Fortunately, there are also many other fine, more moderate trails to enjoy.

 

Carl and I did get in some excellent hikes. One of the great features of camping at the Newman Sound Campground is the interesting trail that somewhat surrounds the campground called Campground Trail. If you walk the entire trail, it is an easy one hour, 3k hike.  There are some spectacular views of salt-water beaches and moose-friendly bogs accessed through cool, damp forests.  The beauty of the trail design is that there are several access points to the campground itself. This means you can take the dogs for a quick jaunt and never really leave the vicinity of the campground. It seemed every time we took the dogs for a short walk, we discovered an interesting new feature of this trail. I noticed families would send their offspring to the trail for a little localized adventure while the parents got supper ready and downed a relaxing cool one.

 

We decided one fine morning to combine the Campground Trail with the 9.5 Coastal Trail. It was designated as easy to moderate. We felt it was mostly easy. There were lovely beaches that you could relax on and enjoy the famous “red chair” view. We discovered a quaint waterfall. There was also, occasionally, various and sundry behemoth cast-iron pieces of industrial boat-making equipment. These, we were told, are historical artifacts left to take their place amongst the fauna as a kind of testimony to the human impact on the history of the land. My engineer husband found these really interesting. This trail ends at the Visitor Centre.

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A stream, hiding behind a birch.

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All things die.

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The author, red-chairing it.

 

The Visitor Centre is one of the best interpretive places we have seen in a National Park. There are various rooms to explore inside which help the visitor to understand the natural history, Indigenous history and European settlement. My personal favourite was the demonstration of how much “browse” a moose eats on a daily basis. Yikes! I began to understand why moose grazing has a devastating impact on Newfoundland forests.  They are magnificent beasts but they do pose problems. Moose are not native to Newfoundland, having been introduced in the last century. Four moose were brought to Howley Newfoundland in 1904 and quickly adapted. There are now over 150,000 of their descendants relentlessly munching away and inconveniently placing themselves in front of the speeding cars of unsuspecting tourists. Moose are also, I might add, delicious. I resolved to feel less guilty about eating them.

 

At the Visitor’s Centre you can ask for a set of audio phones to take on the Heritage Trail.  I don’t think people do it that often because when I asked for a set, the young woman had to a) find a set, then b) find a set that worked. This took some time. It is worth doing though. It is a path with several stops which explains how a few families built ships in the cover. More than that, the voice of a young woman with a very thick, lovely Newfoundland accent, takes the listener though the day-to-day life of out port families through more than a hundred years. This was a life not for the feeble of heart. It was harsh and yet filled with celebration and unreasonable hope.  Newfoundlanders are a people whose culture bears some of those marks still.

We also decided to walk the Ken Diamond Trail in Glovertown, but will describe that experience in a separate blog. On a final note, there were an impressive number of guided walks at Terra Nova. If we had more time, we would have taken part in these. Guided walks in National Parks are not only informative and interesting, they put you into relational contact with other campers. One of the purposes of the National Park system is to make connection between peoples who have a love of nature, an appreciation of Canada and an affinity for camping, in all its varied forms.

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Trails

 

Malady Head Trail: 3.4 k/1.5 hours, moderate-difficult

Mill Cove Lookout Trail: 1.5k/30 minutes, moderate

Louil Hill Trail loop: 3.7k/1-1.5 hours, moderate

Southwest Brook: 4k/1-1.5, easy

Goowiddy Path loop: 8k/3-4 hours, moderate to difficult

Heritage Trail: .5/15 minutes, easy

Coastal Trail: 9.5k/3-4 hours, easy-moderate

Campground Trail loop: 3k/1 hour, easy

Outport Trail, backcountry: 35k/multi-day, difficult

Ochre Hill Trail: 5k/1.5k/2 hours, moderate

Sandy Pond Trail loop: 3k/1hour, easy

Dunphys Pond Trail: 10k/2.5-3 hours, moderate

Gros Morne National Park: acknowledging The Territory

 

As a country, Canada is just beginning to comes to grips with its responsibilities for and debts to the indigenous peoples within her borders. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) revealed in relentless, horrifying detail, the treatment received by indigenous peoples through first-voice testimony and historic documentation (including the government’s own 200 year-plus cache of damning documents). You can find the report at trc.ca. I was one of the United Church “listeners” in the “Church Listening Tent” during the Halifax round of TRC gatherings. Our role was to offer a place of rest, nourishment and to simply listen, if that was asked for. We also had one of three apologies that we were to read if requested. Two were United Church apologies (1986 and 1998) and the other was the apology made by the Canadian Government in 2008. When I was not doing a shift in the tent, I explored the displays and listened to testimony. I remain shaken to my core.

I liken it to the experience of the German townspeople who lived next to concentration camps during the war, who were forced to parade through the camps by the Allies so they could fully appreciate the horrors of what they chose to ignore. What grew within me during that experience was, first and foremost, a deep gratitude and appreciation for the grace and resiliency of indigenous peoples as they agree to the reconciliation journey. Also, a personal and professional commitment began to grow to support the recommendations of the final TRC report which was accepted by all political parties. First among them, is a commitment to acknowledge the Treaty status of the land we live or travel on. That is why this page is part of this blog. This particular commitment proves to be complicated in the case of Newfoundland.

First of all, Newfoundland was a British Colony until the very late date of 1949. So, her “Canadian” history is relatively new. If the story of Canada’s relationship with indigenous peoples contains tragedy and horror, Newfoundland’s story is particularly awful because it involves the true extinction of a distinct people, the Beothuk. The Newfoundland government website says:

            The Beothuk were the aboriginal inhabitants of the island of Newfoundland. They were Algonkian-speaking hunter-gatherers who once occupied most of the island. As a result of a complex mix of factors, the Beothuk became extinct in 1829 when  Shanawdithit, the last known Beothuk, died in St. John’s.

Wikipedia is a little more detailed, stating that violent pressure from settlers and an influx of other aboriginal peoples combined with a lack of food sources, an explosion of infectious diseases and constant movement toward the interior land which could not sustain life.  Whether active and intentional genocide occurred is still greatly debated by academics. There can be no denial that there are some heartbreaking historical stories of the “hunting” of Beothuks.

The Mi’kmaw, originating from lands off island, have also traditionally travelled, hunted and gathered throughout Newfoundland island. Miawpukek is at Conne River. A community’s words about themselves are always most important and usually the most accurate. The following is an excerpt from their website (http://www.mfngov.ca/about-miawpukek/):

            Miawpukek is the traditional Mi’kmaw name for our community. “Miawpukek” is used   as the name of the community in most documents produced by Miawpukek First Nation Government. Documents produced elsewhere most often uses “Conne River”. The  name means “Middle River”.

Miawpukek became a permanent community sometime around 1822. Before 1822 it was one of many semi-permanent camping sites used by our people who were at the time still nomadic and traveling throughout our Mi’kmaq Domain of Newfoundland,  Labrador, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Maine.

Miawpukek Reserve was established according to traditional oral history in 1870. It was officially designated as Samiajij Miawpukek Indian Reserve under the Indian Act in 1987.  Most of our members, as of June 1985, are registered Indians. The ancestries of our community members include Mi’kmaq, Innu, Abenaki and European lines.

Our membership is 787 on-Reserve and 1779 off-Reserve. Our total population on Reserve as of August, 2006 is 867. (787 Native and (approx.) 80 non-Native).

Since being established as a reserve in 1987, Miawpukek has gone from a poor, isolated community with almost 90% unemployment to a strong vibrant community with nearly 100% full time/part-time employment. We are one of two of the fastest growing communities in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. We are often pointed to by Indian and Northern Affairs as a model community for other First Nations.

We are located on the south coast of the island part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. By land we are 224 km from the nearest service center, the international airport town of Gander. Our community is accessible by land, air and water.

 

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“Wave Sound” sculpture by Anishinabe artist Rebecca Belmore

 

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.

Gros Morne National Park: a UNESCO World Heritage Site for lots of reasons

 

Many years ago, Carl and I spent our honeymoon in Gros Morne National Park, where, as you would hope, we fell even more in love with each other. What we did not expect was how deeply  we would fall in love with Gros Morne National Park. I had trouble writing this post because it is so very difficult to convey into mere words such astonishing beauty. A combination of mountains, a freshwater fjord, the highest waterfall in eastern North America, salmon rivers, deep lakes, ocean seashore, dense forest and the occasional misty field make it a stunning buffet of panoramas. The multiple options available to explore these make it a struggle to choose your daily adventure!IMG_0280

Gros Morne is a UNESCO heritage site partly because of its picturesque splendour, but also because of its unique geological features. Orange, naked, mineral dense, weathered rock from the middle layer of the earth called the Tablelands, has been thrust up next to beautiful, forest-covered mountains through the stresses and strains of plate tectonics over 500 million years. You can walk on some of both in the span of a day. The geological tectonic thrusting about combined with glacial scouring during the last ice age to create interesting mountain cliffs, valleys and a freshwater fjord.The Tablelands of Gros Morne is one of the few places on earth where you can see, touch and walk on the Earth’s mantle. Every time we go to Gros Morne I need to walk on the Tablelands, lay my hands on the wrinkled rock and just breathe. It feels like holy space to me. At Green Point, seaside cliffs are layered with markers of deep time. Fossils mark the boundary between the Cambrian and Ordovician periods. This is a geological benchmark for the rest of the world, referred to as “Green Point Time.”

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Green Point: plate tectonics make interesting patterns. All of these, including the section that looks like a castle “wall,” were sculpted and cut by the earth’s crust .

If you camp, time seems to bend at Gros Morne. The five campgrounds are well maintained with clean comfort stations and good showers. You can choose from forested areas, shoreline or mountain views. Newfoundland is one of the last bee, bat and bird havens in eastern Canada. Since it is an island, the diversity of mammal population is more limited than that of the  Canadian mainland. You will notice that besides the occasional moose, there is very little roadkill on Newfoundland roads. There are no porcupines, racoons, snakes or gophers. Campsites therefore remain relatively unmolested by wildlife. Even bears tend to keep themselves scarce.

The hiking at Gros Morne is, I was told by global hikers, world class. There will be a separate blog describing some of the trails. Suffice to say, there are nineteen trails that explore unique aspects of this part of the world. There are many guided walks and some really excellent interpretive centres. You must get out and move around in Newfoundland to truly meet her. Luckily, when you get there, the land calls to you and you can’t wait to get your walking shoes on. Having said that, be prepared. Newfoundland is rugged and the weather changeable.

Tabletop mountains

Tabletop mountains

Many journeys culminate in Gros Morne National Park. Salmon make their epic voyage home to Gros Morne from their travels in oceanic parts unknown. You are able to fly fish in the Park, an activity that Carl says would beat any kind of meditation, yoga and mindfulness practice in terms of total body-mind relaxation. There are several companies that offer boat tours, kayaking tours and ocean fishing. Rocky Harbour is a tiny town inside the park which has certainly grown since we honeymooned in Gros Morne. You can find just about anything you may need there.  It has a fish store where you can get the world’s most delicious scallops and lobsters, often brought in that very day. If you prefer a cooked meal there are several restaurants.

We were told last summer about a really good fish-and-chip place in Rocky Harbour so we dropped by at about noon. Usually if a restaurant is good, there will be lots of people in it. I was one of two customers so I wondered if we were in the wrong place. I looked at the waitress and asked, “Where is everybody? There’s no one here.” She put down her cloth, looked over her glasses and said, “They strikes about 12:30.” It took me a moment to realize she meant that’s when the customers come. Newfoundland has a famously unique dialect. Often phrases or words refer back to fishing.  I remembered that when lots of fish start biting the fishing lines they are said to have “struck.” Also, on that note, most Newfoundlanders expect a real lake to be gigantic (by Mainlander standards). Most bodies of fresh water tend to be called “ponds.” When we first moved to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland thirty-three years ago, we saw Dollar Lake, shook our heads and Carl said, “I scoffs at dat. It’s a pond, b’y.” With that in mind, to explore Western Brook Pond requires a substantial trip in a large boat, which is well worth doing.

Explore local culture in Rocky Brook and other nearby towns. Newfoundlanders are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.

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Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore created this piece of art that invites people to listen to the land. You can find it at the edge of Green Point.

 

 Contact Information for Gros Morne National Park

http://www.pc.gc.ca/grosmorne

email: grosmorne.info@pc.gc.ca

Mail: Gros Morne National Park of Canada, P.O. Box 130, Rocky Harbour, NL, A0K 4N0

Phone: (709) 458-2417

Reservations: http://www.reservations.parkscanada.gc.ca, 1-877-737-3783