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: 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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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)

 

 

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 trails: Green Gardens. Learning to hike the hard way.

Gros Morne National Park: The Green Gardens trail – sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t…

When Carl and I were honeymooning, young and stupid, we decided to hike the Green Gardens trail. In those days it was a 20-kilometre loop. It is no longer a twenty kilometre trail, in part because dumb people go unprepared, get lost, suffer from exposure or have to be rescued. We didn’t get lost, exactly, but it was a miracle we did not suffer from exposure. We thought it sounded like a nice thing to do for an afternoon. It was heart-attack rugged.  We traipsed up and down mountains, valleys, rock falls, shorelines and so on. I think we brought a bottle of water and nothing else. We were young and stubborn. Even when we knew we were in trouble, we just kept going. It was cold, drizzly and we were not wearing raingear, although our windbreaker jackets were euphemistically called “water-resistant.”

At the beginning of the trail, about two kilometres in, we encountered a young British doctor who was doing a locum in Corner Brook. A young woman accompanied him. She wore shorts, pretty sandals and appeared soaked, sad and cold. As Carl and he talked, she conversed a little, shivering in her thin clothes. She was from Corner Brook and was flattered to be asked to hike with the handsome young physician. I could tell by the looks of resentment she flashed at him, the glamour was quickly fading. We said our good-byes. The Doctor appeared a little crestfallen. As we left we could hear them arguing. We encountered them on the next couple of kilometres as you do when you are on a trail. Sometimes we would stop to rest or wild-pee and they would catch up. Then, they just stopped catching up. I suspect the good, young Doctor’s hope for a bit of sexual recreation that evening may have been in jeopardy.

We persevered. I became cranky as my out-of-shape legs and lungs struggled with the jagged terrain. I startled when we encountered lots of poop on the trail, which turned out to be sheep, not the herd of bears I feared. They look nothing alike (the poop or the animals) although I did not know that then, newbie as I was to hiking in deep Newfoundland woods. Carl knew the difference but I didn’t believe him, because, well, the Green Gardens hike was endless and we had no more water and I wasn’t in a mood to trust very deeply. Finally, we came to an interpretive panel which said, “You have hiked ten kilometres.” We patted each other on the back and generally felt elated, then screamed “Nooooo! That means it’s ten kilometres to go back!” Soon it would be dark. It began to rain. Parched, I opened my mouth to catch drops. I remembered my Canadian Armed Forces Reserve training from two summers before which taught us that fast moving water was safer.  We decided to drink from the first fast-moving stream we could find. As we filled our lone bottle from it, a moose regarded us calmly a hundred feet away or so. Thirst slaked and bottle filled, we moved as fast as we could. Kilometre nineteen brought on semi-delirium with visions of sheep-bears sneaking up behind me. We staggered out, gingerly packed our aching limbs into our tiny Datsun and took the Woody Point Ferry (which no longer runs). We collapsed in our tent. After we had a bite to eat, we marshalled up the energy to have showers because we were filthy and cold. Carl had a lovely long, hot shower. The women’s shower ran only cold that evening. He emerged looking like he stepped from the Sears catalogue. I simply emerged, growly. Suffice to say, the English Doctor wasn’t the only one who missed out on recreation that night.

Like most stories of foolishness and/or hardship, this one became a favourite of ours, a kind of marital talisman tale. About every five years Carl and I would challenge ourselves to do the twenty-kilometre loop again. I am proud to say that we have always managed to finish it. We enjoyed, even relished, the newer experiences because we brought food, water, dogs and good gear. I will not lie, there have been times, particularly when I was recovering from cancer, when I thought the helicopters may have to come and pick us up. However, I still managed to stagger out. It has been a kind of “touchstone” hike for us. To finish it means all is well with us, with each other and with Newfoundland.

 

The rigour of the trail continued to confound other travellers as you can read in this CBC article, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/ontario-family-hikes-gros-morne-in-the-dark-1.3696696. Possibly for this reason, as well as some upcoming needed pricey trail maintenance, Green Gardens has been modified to a nine-kilometre trail and is still rated as one of the top five wild flower trail hikes in the world. You can see forest, shoreline, volcanic stacks, valleys, streams, steep cliffs, grassy fields, marshes, wetlands, mountain tops and more. The sheep seem scarce these days, but there are plenty of moose, and probably bear, to keep you company.

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“Sheep on Green Garden’s Trail” by Natalie Lucier, (Creative Commons)

The tent shelter: a truck camper’s second room. (Carl Yates)

What’s Old is New Again

As we prepared for our trip to Forillon National Park in the Gaspe penninsula of Quebec, we recognized that a dining tent would be in order.  We have used dining tents in the past when tenting and saw the benefits again with a truck camper as it got us outside to fully experience and appreciate nature during meal time. Eating and sitting outside helps us get to know our neighbours, which is a wonderful part of travel. It also, of course, keeps the rain off and the mosquitos out.

I checked out a few models but found them all to be too heavy or too bulky to be carrying around in a truck camper where space is a little more limited than that found in a fifth wheel [our previous RV].  I almost bought one in July when all the tents went on sale but still didn’t see a model that caught my fancy.  Finally, I said to Linda, let’s just use the old one that we stored in the basement as it could fit nicely behind the front seat of the pickup truck and wasn’t too heavy.

After we were settled into the campsite at Petit Gaspe, we decided to put up the dining tent.  As we unpacked it, it did not seem familiar so we took out the instructions to guide our assembly.  Although it was a two person job to assemble, it surprisingly went together well and was quite functional.  We couldn’t however, remember when we put it together last and as we inspected it more closely, realized it was brand new!  After racking our brains, we recalled that we bought the tent just before our son Matthew and wife Sarah got married.  It was bought just in case the weather was bad and we needed a little more space for the rehearsal party (cheaper to buy a tent than rent one!). As it turned out, the weather was good and the tent did not get erected for the celebrations.  The erection in Gaspe was the first time it was put up.  In essence, we won one on account of being picky and having a bad memory!  We now have a brand new tent that will do nicely as we travel about in our truck camper.

Oh you ask, what kind of tent is it?  It is manufactured by Roots and is 12 feet by 12 feet with an entry on all four sides which can be covered with a flap fastened by velcro strips or rolled up and secured.  The entry openings are all equipped with a mesh that keeps the bugs out and the breeze fresh.  The roof has a mesh with an additional fly to put over the top to keep the rain out.  During the few rain showers we had, it performed great.   Interestingly enough, if I went looking for a new tent, I would buy this model as it is very functional with lots of flexibility to adjust it to take wind direction and rain into account.  The only challenge, as mentioned above, is the support frame requires two people to assemble it without cursing.  I suspect one person could manage it as long as you don’t mind that the neighbours could hear a few choice words.

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Or, you could go to the Park shelters and recreate with some new-to-you friends.

The Gaspe Peninsula-Ultimate Truck Camper Test (by Carl Yates)

In late July, Linda and I spent a week in Forillon National Park as a full trial run of our new truck camper, a 2017 Livin’ Lite, Camplite 11.0 purchased from Jerry’s RV in New Minas, Nova Scotia.  The 11.0 model is 20 feet long with a slide and weighs in at a dry weight of 3400 lbs.  As a result [you guessed it], it requires a long bed, one ton truck to carry it.  In this case, the one ton is a Dodge Ram 3500 with a 5.7 litre Hemi engine.  After the week, I can safely say, the truck camper is a blast and performed well on and off the road.   Although the Gaspe is rugged with an abundance of twisting roads and steep grades, the camper contents stayed put for the most part and the ride was smooth.  Some contents did slide towards the front when Linda stopped abruptly; she is learning that even with the excellent brakes on the Ram, the truck does not stop on a dime. The ride did of course benefit from the rear air suspension installed on the truck and are highly recommended when carrying or towing heavy loads.

Once set up at the campsite at Petit Gaspe, we got to try all the amenities, including the microwave!  We decided to continue to eat healthy [there is no excuse really with a fantastic propane stove and three-way fridge, both manufactured by Dometic] and made a couple of grain bowls to sustain us as quick, healthy travel meals for a couple days.  Our grain bowl consisted of a protein cooked on the BBQ [beef, chicken or lamb], stir fried mixed vegetables [bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes] cooked in olive oil and mixed with a healthy grain [brown rice, bulger or quinoa] cooked with chicken or beef broth.   I mentioned the microwave earlier as it served to heat up the grain bowl leftovers for lunches, after the first feast at supper time.

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Hills and valleys everywhere

The dinette slide on the truck camper benefits from a rack and pinion gear arrangement and was very easy to set up including the table.  The table has a solid base stand but not as stable at the top where it rests on the post; a double post system would be better or table attached to the wall.  The north south bed exceeded our expectations with a three inch memory foam over the standard queen mattress.  The comfort was as good as home and when the nights were a little too warm for sleeping, the air conditioner did the job on the low cool setting.  Some think you rough it in a truck camper; I beg to differ.

After initially thinking the leak in the hot water tap on the outside shower was fixed [see previous article], a slow drip was evident [see attached photo].  Fortunately we could still use the hot water system as water was available directly from the Park system which is brand new this year.  The tank capacity is excellent on the Camplite 11.0 with a fresh water tank at 28 gallons and grey and black tanks holding 30 gallons each.  We only had to dump the tanks once during the week and it was very easy to pack up and dump at the station near the campground entrance.

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Outside shower leaking

After a week in Forillon where we enjoyed breathtaking scenary and hikes with our two Jack Russell terriers, we packed up and left for Montreal via the north coast.  And if you thought the south coast was rugged and spectacular, you should see the north coast which has more twisty turns and even greater changes in elevation.  Not to worry, the truck and camper were meant for each other and the drive was splendid.