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Friday, 20 February 2015

Happy Winter

Yesterday I drove back from Solitude into Salt Lake City for the final night of the Banff Mountain Film Festival.

Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus was sold out, with 2000 adventurers perched on the edges of their seats, eager for this year's shot of adrenaline, adventure and inspiration.

The moment the intro started to roll, audience members were whistling and cheering.

 


I knew, that like the two previous screenings, tonight was going to be a good night.

I felt emotional as I stepped onto the stage to introduce Happy Winter, the second film of the evening.

 

I had promised filmmaker Bjarne Salen that I'd use each screening of his film to honour the lives of his friends JP Auclair and Andreas Fransson who were lost in an avalanche in Chile this past September.  Bjarne said he'd never known anybody more stoked on life than Andreas and that an appropriate way to honour him in this context would be to have audience members get 'as stoked as possible'.

So on the count of 3, Salt Lake City got stoked.  The entire audience rose to their feet en masse, cheering and waving their arms.  And fortunately, talented photographer Jameson Clifton was on hand to capture the moment.

Photo: Jameson Clifton
It was electric.  I stood on stage shaking.

To me, this sweet film is about the beauty of life.  There are many things we could discuss here about the fine line between life and death.  It's fresh for me right now as my own home mountain community sits reeling after yet another avalanche fatality.  It happened over the weekend as I was lying in bed reading an article on the risks we take in the outdoors written by Will Gadd.  Regardless of your own perspective on the matter, it's worth a read.

But Happy Winter and this screening were about gratitude for life.  As the credits rolled to more cheering from the audience we wrapped up with my friend Zhiish's favourite quote:

'Gratitude is the best attitude'.

And speaking of gratitude, the man who has brought The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour to Salt Lake City for the past 24 years is named Rob Jones.  If there's a better man out there (apart from my own dad), I'd like to meet him.  Rob is perhaps the kindest, ideas-to-action, extraordinarily generous person I've had the pleasure of meeting. (See 'meet an amazing new friend who loans you the coolest truck in the world, automatically making you cool too' from my previous I love Solitude post!)  You can tell that others think as highly of Rob as I do by the way his students scream his name when he steps on stage.  Most 50 somethings don't garner that kind of respect from 20 somethings.  He does.  And with good reason.  Next year will be Year 25 for Salt Lake.  Get ready for it people.

p.s. More on gratitude - don't we all owe a debt of gratitude to Michael Brown & Zac Ramras of Sweetgrass Productions?  Not only for their stunning oeuvre Afterglow, but for the prayer to the snow gods Wednesday night that very much seems to be working... 2 feet forecast for Breckenridge!  Just saying.

I love Solitude

Yep, I love Solitude.

It's probably funny to hear someone like me say that.

I seem like an effusive people-person.  But a Meyers-Briggs test once told me I was an introvert, so it must be true.

But I'm not talking about spending time alone here.  That's important, and if it weren't for time spent alone, I'd probably never write.  But here I'm talking about Solitude with a capital S.



This is a story about a ski area.  A place that just stole my heart.  It's perfect.  It's quiet, peaceful, intimate. Go there.  Trust me.  Here's how:  Borrow a very cool 20-year old truck from a brand new friend.  Forget the forecast.  Go alone.  Enter the Wasatch National Forest.  Drive 40 minutes up the stunning Big Cottonwood Canyon.  Step out of your vehicle and ski.

Wasatch National Forest
(I love the old school National Forest signs. They're reminiscent of times gone by and of Yogi Bear)


That's it.

Simple.

The place still has a chair with no restraint bar (what?! do they still make cars without seatbelts??!)  In spite of that (or because of that?) I feel safe here.  In the way I do at Whitewater (mmm...glory bowl...)  And the old Fortress.  And at Holimont.

Summit Chair at Solitude

I love their lifties.  They crank Bob Marley* and have the raddest shirts.  I would practically die to get one of these.  I offered to buy this one off a liftie's back.  Two different guys actually.  I'm worried that I'm losing my touch.  That's really disconcerting.  I'll console myself by saying that these shirts must be coveted property given how much lifties are generally hurting for beer money...

Powder to the People!

I set out alone then stopped for a Sunshine Burger at lunch.  A group of Swedish guys asked me to join them.   Based on historic snowfall records, they had calculated that statistically they were guaranteed powder in Utah during their 2 week trip.  Sometimes statistics lie.  Therefore, I generally opt for magic and chanting 'ohms' to the snow gods (thank you Sweetgrass Productions).  We basked in the sun and enjoyed ourselves anyway.  There is no bad day in Solitude.  The Swedes all work for Volvo.  I find this hilarious.  Particularly given that the only other Swedish friend I met in my travels works for Ikea.  They skied well, wore bright colours, rode expensive skis and spoke perfect English.

I left fulfilled.

I love Solitude.



*I believe that in lift attendant interviews, a person should be asked what music they will play at the base of the lift.  If they do not respond with one of, 'Bob Marley', or something along the lines of 'Mom-Jean Jams' (thank you Mt Norquay!) please don't hire them.






Saturday, 17 January 2015

So much depends upon a boy on a razor scooter...


Yesterday I was on the verge of tears. I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, sad, overwhelmed & exhausted, surrounded by my heavy grocery bags.  A boy approached on his razor scooter and said, 'Can I help you?'

I said no initially but he simply said, 'I'll take you home.  I insist.'  And he delivered me and my bags directly to my door. 
 
Gratitude to Garrett and Grade 5s with razor scooters & gentlemen.
It all brings me to tears again - out of deep love for the goodness in humanity.

xxooo

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

And I don't even like hockey

I sat in 21 Charlie.

They were in 21 Alpha and Bravo.

We were all three red-heads (what are the chances? We make up only 2% of the population and we found ourselves seated 3 abreast on a 136 passenger plane. Someone else do the math for me here?)  If our flight had gone down last night, we'd have decreased Canada's redhead population significantly.  Fortunately for the ginger fans in the crowd (I know you're out there) we all made it to our destination alive.

I knew it was going to be good when Ben introduced himself to us.  First of all, he was wearing a fantastic felt Tilley hat (did you know those things come with a lifetime guarantee?)  Secondly, he spoke.  On a plane, you either sit silently trying not to bump elbows, or you engage.  These guys engaged right away.  In fact, they were so interesting, kind and full of inspired ideas that I had to jot them all down on my napkin then share them here.


We all knew instantly that we'd won the seatmate lottery.  This flight wouldn't be about reading a book or waiting to land.  It would involve building community at 40,000 feet.   I started to wonder if airlines could strategically seat people to encourage this kind of high-altitude bonding.  Easy people, I said bonding, not bondage.  This is not the CBC.  (Westjet, Virgin, listen up - I swear this is the best idea to hit the air since the barf bag) What should we call it?  High Flying Friends?  Oooooh!  40,000 foot speed-dating!  Anyhow, I'm getting carried away.  We decided that passengers should complete a questionnaire when they book their flights.  The airline will then pair people appropriately.  Said questionnaire (according to the boys) must include the following questions:

1.  If the person seated next to you turns to say something, do you hide in your book and hope they'll go away or perk up thinking the flight will go by more quickly?

2.  Re: above, do you own Bose headphones?

3.  Do you ask for your drinks with or without ice? 

4.  Pretzels or cookies?

5.  Game 7 of The Stanley Cup is playing during your flight.  Are you watching?

6. Would you pay an additional $25 on your ticket price for an airborne open bar?

7.  If a screen popped up mid-flight offering the following options, which would you choose?

a) re-route to Hawaii
b) continue to scheduled destination

The boys insist also that smokers be paired with sleepers.

Now here's where you come in.  What are we missing?  What further questions need to be asked?  Help us out...

I really think this idea has wings. 

I have a friend who met her husband on a plane.  They were side by side and she ordered tea.  With honey.  He had a honey bee farm.  They connected instantly.  They fell in love.  Years later they flew side by side again.  She ordered tea.  With honey.  And this time, the flight attendant brought her a honey jar.  Floating in the golden honey was another very sweet thing....a ring...

Arielle & John sitting in 11 C, K-I-S-S-I-N-G, first came love...

But back to our flight last night.  As luck would have it, due to a weather delay the Canada-Russia world junior hockey gold medal game started the moment we took off.  The boys next to me were fans.  On a normal day, I couldn't care less about hockey.  (I shouldn't say that.  I'm Canadian.  And I'd like to have a boyfriend someday...so don't tell anyone, ok?)  Anyway, last night was different.  My proximity to the boys and the intensity of the game made it impossible not to become completely absorbed in the game.  We collectively cheered, we held our breath.  7.1 million Canadians were watching.  I swear we had the three best seats in the house.  As the game wrapped up with a 5-4 win for Canada, a resounding cheer went up in the back half of the plane.  Ben led the passengers in 'Oh Canada' - until he got half-way through and forgot the rest of the words (go easy on us - we always used to sing the second half in French, you see).

Team Canada is jubilant about their first medal in this tournament since 2012

Anthony Duclair celebrates his first period goal
In the afterglow of our gold medal victory, I learned all about hunting and carpentry and chickens and rigs.  I almost hoped we'd somehow all be stranded in the airport and have to hang out for another whole day. 

Ben talked to us about death bed regrets.  He said the top 3 things people wished they had done with their lives were to:

1. Learn a language
2 Write a memoir
3. Play music

1. I've got.  I'm working on points 2 and 3.  In that order.

But allow me to add a fourth:

4. Engage with perfect strangers.  You never know what could happen.

And if you need some help, buy them a beer at 40,000 feet.  Trust me, it works.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Kindness of Strangers

Make new friends, but keep the old,
One is silver and the other gold.
 
~the song we used to sing in Brownies.  It still makes sense.
 
I made a new friend today.
 
He gave me his car. 
 
First the backstory:
 
Four of us came together for a girls' weekend and informal ODPU reunion.
(here I need to interject that 'Odd Poo' stands for the former University of Calgary Outdoor Pursuits program and is the all-time worst acronym I've ever heard.  I refuse to use it except in very specific tongue-in-cheek situations.  It more aptly describes the way I feel after eating too much dairy, but that's another story.)
 
We were converging from east and west and planned to meet mid-way in Lake Louise.  A winter storm warning and terrible road conditions stopped us in Canmore.
 
In white-out conditions reminiscent of the Wapta ski traverse, we landed safely at the adorable, homey and kind Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge.
 
 
 
It featured cozy rooms, a fireplace and the all-essential hot tub.  Perfect.
 
Things really took off the following day as our fourth member met up with us after the storm.  We skied, settled in, giggled and caught up, perusing old school photos and sharing delicious preserves from the Okanagan (thank you for bottling up that sunshine Christin!)
 
We'd all been reading Ken Wylie's new book Buried.  As former students of Ken's, we discussed his courageous book at great length throughout the weekend. 
 
http://www.rmbooks.com/book_details.php?isbn_upc=9781771600279
 
He taught us much as an instructor in ODPU.  And I'm grateful that he's still teaching me with the brave words in his book.  I'm left considering the importance of heeding your intuition, speaking up when you know it to be right, regardless of the social implications, and that experience without reflection is for naught.
 
We stayed up late talking about these concepts, the world and our lives.
 
What a gift to gather with soul friends like these!
C-Dawg
 
Michy
Hol

 
 
And this morning we woke up to -30.  It felt like -40.
 
LaHonda wouldn't start.  We tried everything.  We jumped the car, we harnessed the energy of a Nordic ski team to try for a push start.  We plugged it in.  We crossed our fingers.
 
Nothing worked.
 
 
 
Holly had a flight to catch back to Saskatoon.  The clock was ticking.  So our new best friend Pat, whose family runs the Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge GAVE US HIS CAR.
 
Mom, I swear I did not steal this car.  It was given to me.
 
 
 
It's an upgrade to say the least. 
 
For one thing, it starts.  And beyond that, it has SEAT HEATERS! 
 
We drove back to Calgary in luxury, filled with gratitude.
 
And remembering Ken Wylie's wise words about the importance of reflecting on experience, let me share a few lessons learned....
 
1.  If anyone travels with me, they must prepare themselves for a change in plans.  Because as hard as I try, it seems that something always goes a little teensy bit (or a whole heck of a lot) awry.  As we learned in ODPU, this is called a 'misadventure'.  Though I've been known to curse my misadventures as they are unfolding, without them:
 
  A) I'd have no new material for my blog (wouldn't that be a shame dear readers?) and,
  B) There'd be so much less excitement in my life  (which leads me to point #2)
 
2.  It is exactly these unplanned mishaps that bring great excitement and open me to new lessons and experiences.  I spent this morning upset and stressed and left this afternoon with a brand new friend and a great new car (I promise that I'll bring it back tomorrow Pat!)  It's when I've travelled with the least money that I've connected most deeply with new friends around the world.  I've stayed in their homes, eaten with their families, shared guinea pigs on my birthday.  When I have more resources and everything goes according to plan (don't worry, it's rare), I am somehow insulated against the exquisite and unplan-able (is that a word??) memorable moments that come from not knowing where I am, where I'll sleep that night, or whether my car will start...
 
And, ummmm.... lesson 3:  In Canada's chilly climes, it helps to plug your car in overnight....
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Friday, 28 November 2014

Rah-rah-RAW!

Changing the food industry for the better.

It needs to happen.  And that's just what my friend Lindsey aims to do. 

From her little basement in Canmore, Alberta, she is changing our snacking habits one bite at a time.  Downstairs, with her little ones in tow, she whips up amazing healthy treats and calls it all Tasty Living.  Her two healthy, rosy-cheeked kids are more excited about hemp chips and delicious wow cacao energy bites than licorice or gummy bears.  Now that's what I call awesome.



And beyond awesome, it's essential.  Have you heard what lurks in some of our food these days?  Those long labels and indecipherable words hide many dark secrets.  Today I found out that beaver anal gland juice could be giving my conventional treats their vanilla or raspberry flavor.  Yes, you heard me right:
BEAVER ANAL GLAND JUICE.

SICK!!! 

They call it castroleum to make it sound better.  Our poor Canadian beavers.

Luckily, most of us aren't beavers.  So why would we eat wood shavings?  Nicely disguised with the word 'cellulose', this is used as filler or texturizing material.  If you haven't already lost your appetite and want to find out more, check out the shady secrets here:  http://tumblfun.com/disgusting-food-ingredients/

But let's get back to being awesome - and step up our snack selections.  If you want to give a little boost to a gal who's doing this for all of us, support Lindsey on Kickstarter.

You can play a part in shifting the food industry too!



Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Seeing Through New Eyes*

I've just had the pleasure of spending a week with a group of fascinating, engaged, accomplished, kind and humble new friends in the Canadian Rockies.

I took a week off from my amazing new job in municipal government (where I talk trash to kids every day by leading tours of our local landfills) to revisit the Rockies with Backroads on their premiere walking trip.  Every Backroads trip is amazing.  And this particular journey is really something to write home about.  I was in awe every day.  I am again reminded why I so often say that working as a trip leader is the best job in the world (and luckily for me, it sits in good company amongst one of the many 'best jobs in the world' that I have held.)

Spending this week introducing newcomers to Banff, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks helped me to view the area through new eyes.  I'll quote Marcel Proust here as he writes,

'The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.'


I owe a debt of gratitude to my new friends for helping me to open my new eyes each morning in the Canadian Rockies.  Though I've had the great privilege of travelling the world and experiencing many of the best things our earth has to offer, I am still most blown away by my own backyard. 

Our group of twenty shared conversations, daily hikes bringing us to ever more beautiful vistas and a dip in a mountain lake.  We smelled sweet pine sap on cool alpine breezes, marveled at thunderstorms over our gourmet meals and emerged from the richest desserts you could imagine just in time to see a double rainbow over the Rockies.



My co-leader Kenny (a generous, multi-talented man most noted for his hilarity and his cooking skills - seriously folks, check out Thai Cooking With Kenny!) toasted our week together saying,

'It is a special opportunity to spend a week in such a spectacular place with such a wonderful group of people - made more so by working alongside one of my best friends.' 

Kenny, I couldn't agree more.  And as far as best friends go, I am one lucky gal.  This one's for you.

Here I am, reading you a final morning poem.  I can put up photos of myself because it's my blog.  So there. 
Photo Credit:  Mark Weston
 
 
Morning Poem
 

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.


from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver
© Mary Oliver
 
*The title of this post was inspired by one of my mentors and a woman I see as a modern prophet, Joanna Macy.  For more on her work and seeing with new eyes, I highly recommend any one of her wonderful books, or her website: http://www.joannamacy.net/theworkthatreconnects/newpractices/73-seeingwithneweyes.html