BARRON CANYON near DISASTER
I didn't want to go back up to the canyon again this week. I've already been three times, as well as the canoe trip into the deep canyon. But my mind kept telling me that I wasn't finished until I'd been there in winter as well. The full four-season experience. I don't know why but my mind often pushes me beyond my comfort zone. This was certainly one of those times.
I fought with my mind about it. I had been sick at the weekend and I wasn't feeling 100% even then. I'd pulled a muscle in my hip and knew that I wasn't really well enough for anything physical or out of the ordinary.
But the artist in me pushed it all aside, so that I could complete this project of Barron Canyon, finish the 4th and final season of research paintings, and perhaps close the obsession of it once and for all.
On the 5 hour drive up, I felt tense, tired, my body ached every time Ray turned a corner sharply. I took photos of the sunset scenery and tried to block out how I was feeling. We chatted cheerfully.
"I wonder why I have this obsession with the Canyon?"
"Maybe it's where I'm going to die someday?" I laughed. I wouldn't have laughed if I'd known what lay ahead.
We arrived after dark and got into our regular hotel room. Ray goes to Petawawa every two weeks on business, -He has done for two years now. That was how I got the idea to go and search out the "Petawawa Gorge" -as it was called during Tom Thomson's lifetime. I'd painted scenes of it from internet photos, without having been there, so it made sense that I would go there in person and paint it en plein air.
So here I was, the fourth visit to the clifftop trail. It's a 2 km trail, and if you don't stop to make art, you can be up and back to your car in just over an hour. I usually spent about 2 to 3 hours there, including photos and a few research paintings of the colours of that season.
Ray was concerned about me going in winter. The road into the trail was a logging road, so it could be rough with snow, end-of-winter flooding, etc.
"Maybe I shouldn't go?" I said. "Maybe I should just stay in the hotel and have a nice break, paint from our hotel room... or just drive into the park and get a few paintings of the beaver damn or the swamp areas?"
But we both decided it would be ok for me to drive in, check the conditions, see if it was safe, then make the decision once I arrived.
It was a lovely sunny winter's day, snow was melting, the sky a perfect cobalt fading to ultramarine blue. It was even better than I could have hoped for!
I had no worries as I dropped Ray off at his office and took 'the clunker' and drove south out of town towards the logging road, heading into the park.
I always forget how far in that road goes. It was over 45 minutes on a clear day to get to the park gate. Today it took longer much since I was swerving pond-sized pot holes at every turn in the road. Each hill ended at the bottom in pools of meltwater. I swerved, swerved back, took a few photos, swerved again, but eventually there was my last connection with the world: Algonquin Sandy Lake Gate.
I paid my $14.50 day pass and put the envelope in the self-serve box The gate was closed for the season still. No one around. I am always aware that that's my last connection with the outside world, since that's the only internet connection until you get to the top of the cliff.
I drove another 7 kms past the sign of "Squirrel Rapids", and then watched out for the next entrance.
There it was, Barron Canyon Trail. The entrance was blocked by piles of winter dirt and snow plough mounds, so I parked at the road edge and got my gear ready.
The sun was warm, the trail was packed down, everything looked perfect. I could see the familiar winding of the trail meandering into the forest, marked by footsteps of a few other winter hikers before me.
It was all going to be ok. I felt good.
I packed up my little bag of art supplies, my palette, my painting pad, and suddenly decided to include my Ex-acto knife, although I didn't really need it. A packet of cookies in case I needed a snack, and a bottle of water for painting or drinking.
I headed off.
The path was solid, although no one had walked there today. The footsteps of the weekend winter hikers had packed it down and it was easy to walk. No problem! I could get up to the cliff! And then I took a step to one side. Suddenly I was knee-deep in snow! Ok, so stay on the path, I warned myself.
Once in a while my step went wrong and I sank in, pulled myself up, got back on the solid path.
It only took about ten minutes to get to the top. I saw the usual signs warning people with children "This path walks to a cliff edge. Be careful of young children and pets." -Something like that. It was always ominous. I felt my fear tingling a little as usual. I knew there was no room for error up here. No one would be here to save me or hear my cries if I stepped off the trail and slipped down...
I got to the park bench. There it was. That breath-taking view. The trail of river deep below. The first time Ray and I hiked up here it was a deep rich sapphire blue, "the jewel of Algonquin" I'd titled it in those first paintings. Today it was equally as stunning, but this time it was diamond, not sapphire. The crystal whiteness of the frozen river below felt like an electric jolt of pleasure as I studied it. Why did this view make me feel so deeply? Tom Thomson never got to see it from up here, I don't think. He only canoed through it, which is certainly equally as beautiful, but different.
I set up my paints and stood up to work, since the bench was covered in melting snow. Instead of opening my paint water, I lazily just used snow as my paint water, and painted the river of snow and dark greens of the forest colours. My first quick painting was done in a few minutes. I took photos and a video from all the usual views, studied the colours, the meandering little line of melting edge along both riverbanks, and then moved on to view location number 2, as marked on the trees.
It was slippery walking. I slipped as I moved around the bench, and grabbed the bench back to keep from falling down. Wet snow on bum but I was ok. I got back up, taking it as a warning and stepping very carefully after that.
At view point number 2, the snow and cliff edge were too precarious looking so I stayed clear of the edge. I took photos and a video with arms outstretched to get the best views I could.
Then to view number 3, 4, and finally number 5. I did 5 paintings in total, one of them just a small sketch. I took a few final videos of the river below, the melting snow dripping heavily down the rocks on the other side of the gorge. That was the only regular sound I heard all day, the dripping of melting snow.
As I was painting number 4, I heard the distant whirr of engines, as a giant military helicopter flew over, -army practice from Petawawa, not far away. It was the only sign of life all day, but felt reassuring that I wasn't completely alone.
I did hear a kestrel below my in the canyon, but I couldn't see it from my angle.
A black squirrel surprised me as a sudden movement at one point, but everything else was silent. It's a silence of the dead up there. You can see and feel just how huge the world is and how extremely far away from civilization you are -but with that blue sky and amazing view, I felt the beauty of being surrounded by nature and pristine untouched wilderness. I felt calm to be alone with such grandeur.
At the end of view location #5, I saw that some people had walked down the edge of the cliff a little to get another view of the snow 'avalanche' that was melting across the gorge on the other side, so I walked down the cliff a few steps, to see if I could get a slightly better view of the rocks below. That section is the most beautiful part of the canyon if you're in a canoe, but it's not visible from the cliff top.
I didn't really get much, but then I turned to re-join the path to head down the trail back to the loop. My steps sank deeper into the snow as I moved farther down.
I didn't think too much about it, since I was heading downhill, and I knew the trail was just there, somewhere to the right of me.
An interesting piece of information I learned later from the fireman, was that people tend to wander in the direction of their dominant hand, when they are lost. If I'd been right handed, I might have got back to the right trail that day and nothing else would have happened.No story. Safely back to my car.
But I happen to be left-handed, so I kept walking down the cliff, trying to see where the trail was, ahead of me, and -as I found out later- veering off to the left.
Each step was exhausting. Each leg sank in up to at least the knee, but more often the hip. Each time I pulled my foot out, there was the chance of my boot sliding right off in the suction of deep snow.
Ray asked me later why I didn't think to turn around? With snow there's a definite guaranteed path back the way you came. Why didn't I just go back up the cliff?
I can't answer that, I don't know why. I was so exhausted and so overwhelmed with the intensity of walking that my mind was focused on moving forward, not assessing the best option. I was meant to go this direction, is the only answer I can give.
There are mirages when you're lost in the desert, I've heard of and even seen them portrayed in movies. I've not heard of mirages in a winter forest. But there were, and many. Your eyes play tricks on you!
I was sure I saw a glove on the snow just a little farther over, and if I just took another 10 steps, I'd get to it. The trail was just ahead! so I headed over that way. Those 10 steps took about half an hour, since each step sank me into the now hip-deep snow, and I had to climb out and step the next foot in, and then climb out again.
I got closer to the 'glove'. It was a dead piece of wood. I thought there was a path through the trees coming down from the cliff. It looked like it was the trail! I moved forward slowly and then stepped once more, hoping that my boot would stand, not sink in. That was the only evidence that I was on the trail, test the snow and see if it sank. It held! I breathed a sigh of relief. I stopped then, took a small sip of water, (The little water bottle that was my painting water, that I hadn't used to paint with! -The actual water bottle, I noticed then, had been dropped somewhere back on the trail. This little bottle was all I had!)
I breathed and took the next step on the trail. My boot sank in to the hip again. There was no trail here. At that point my anxiety and emotions overwhelmed me and I swore at the forest, at nature, at snow, and felt complete and utter exhaustion. I had no energy left to safe myself with. My body was drained.
It's ridiculous really. Why didn't I just turn back?
I don't know. I keep haunting myself with that question still today.
I'd already gone over an hour and a half downhill, in the direction of the car and home, and Ray, and the thought of going back up that slippery cliff just didn't come to mind.
I still regret that deeply.
My left boot suddenly stuck in the snow, and then my foot came right out. It was a crashing point. I felt frustration and angst and wasting of time and having to dig my boot out again. I looked around me in a panic, searching for a solution, for a sign of the trail, anything to help me get out of this mess. I lay down beside the hole on the snow and used a stick to dig around it, finally managed to get it out. Another ten minutes of time wasted. Then I had to empty out the snow balls and clear my felt liner of melting snow, and then put my now-wet socked foot back into it. It gradually warmed up again as I moved on.
I soldiered on, but the feeling panic and desperation were building with each step. The exhaustion was sinking in deeply.
I tucked my art bag and palette and papers into my jacket so I had my hands free, and half crawled, half walked on my knees onward.
The boot came off again, and I dug it out again, and felt more anxiety. Tears came, and I wiped them away as my mind raced with panic of the disaster I had created. I couldn't think clearly, I just kept trying to move forward, seeing the trail ahead so many times. Then I would get to the "Trail" and take a first step and it might hold. Yes! This was the trail! Then the 2nd step would sink and my hope crashed again.
I looked ahead and saw a brilliant blue and yellow something on the snow, and decided it must be a human clothing item with such deep colours! I moved forward, feeling positive that I'd found the trail at last! As I got closer, I saw that it was a deep shadow in the snow, that intensely blue, and the yellow was spring moss shining in the sunlight. Tricks! Dishonest eyes!
I gave up again then. Each false trail crashed me deeper into exhaustion and panic.
Suddenly I stepped forward and I could feel my boot was compressed with water, below the depth of the top snow. Water?I looked around me.
My landscape architecture training suddenly saved me then.
"Indicator species: A cedar tree indicates presence of a swampy region in natural areas." There are plants that only grow in certain conditions, in a natural habitat. Ferns mean soil has be undisturbed for over 5 years, cedars mean swamp.
I looked around. I was surrounded by cedar trees. I was in a swamp. If I moved again I could sink right in.
My mind raced with a solution.Fear can panic you, but it can also bring to mind every piece of knowledge you've gathered in your whole life.
I recalled the native teachings I learned over 25 years ago, of how natives were able to move through the forest in winter. They made themselves boughs of cedar and wove 'snow shoes'. I remembered that I'd brought the 'not needed' exacto knife in my art pack. I fumbled quickly and got it out. Cutting two robust green cedar boughs, I used them as 'shoes' for my hands, so I could crawl my way out of the swamp without needing to use my feet, so that my hands wouldn't sink in as I crawled on them.
I looked around. Maples. Good. Swamp panic abated.
I felt completely and utterly exhausted then. I cried and felt completely saturated with exhaustion and fear. I had nothing left to give. My body ached, although throughout the whole ordeal until the following day, I felt no pain, no hunger,- only thirst and cold.
Suddenly I remembered my great friend Jacquie who's son wandered off in the forest when he was a child and how died of hypothermia. She told me about how she and her husband started the "Hug a Tree" program that has saved thousands of people, since they teach it in the schools in BC, Canada. Ontario hasn't caught up with it yet.. But it will! I shall share it in the schools I teach in.
I remembered what she had told me. "If you're lost in the forest, the safest thing to do is to 'Hug a Tree'. Trees give off warmth, they offer safety, and they keep you from wandering too far away in the wrong direction so you can be found more easily. Sit still and hug a tree. It was about all I had energy left to do, and I felt a wave of relief. I didn't need to do anything else. I had permission to stop struggling and just sit quietly until help came. That was a huge turning point. My anxiety drained away, and I had focus again. Hope.
I saw a massive tree lying down on it's stump, where it had fallen over. IT was a large horizontal line in a forest of verticals. Very visible. That was good!
I could climb up on that and get out of the snow, get some sun, and dry my mitts out a bit. And then all I needed to do was sit there until Ray realized I was missing and came to get me. Maybe around three pm he'd begin to wonder, since I said I'd text him when I got out of the park. Wouldn't he?
So I used my last remaining strength to drag myself over to the tree and lift myself up onto the safety of it's trunk.
The sun felt good on my face. I calmed down. I breathed in the smells of the forest. I just needed to sit here and wait. I went to the bathroom and took aanother small sip of my (painting) water! I felt anxious that I lost the bigger bottle of water during the downward trail. It had fallen out of my jacket while I was crawling. The thought of going back to find it wasn't even a consideration. I wanted to go home, and on my phone I could see the road on the map, just ahead of me -depending on the scale of the map. Going back up that hill... well it had taken two hours to get to this tree and I wasn't thinking of moving again until I got saved. I rested there for an hour.
I checked the time. 2:30pm. It could be at least three hours before Ray realized I was missing, and then another hour before he came to rescue me. That could get a bit dark by then, and cold.
I started to feel a chill setting in. My core was warm, but my feet, hands, and legs were soaked through. I took off the wet gloves and warmed my hands in the sun. The chill started to grow colderthough. My 'snow pants' weren't waterproof, just wind breaker fabric really.
Sitting on the tree I had time to think. Calmly. The sun shone, but I could see that sitting here was going to mean that I'd get a chill if it was going to take three hours or more. I looked again at my phone, this time fishing out my glasses. I had looked at it regularly to see where the road was. I was moving parallel to the road each time I looked, but there was no scale on the map. The road could be two hours away at the rate it was taking me to get through the snow depth of this valley I was in.
It was so silent. Eeerily silent. I could feel the expanse of thousands of miles of silence. and trees. I called out "Help!" a few times, just to hear my own voice echoing back at me. I felt less alonesomehow.
I looked again at my phone and the map, and then I glanced at the top corner. 1%? One percent? How? My phone had a full battery when I left the car!
Then I remembered the 4 videos I'd taken, and this chilly weather.
The thought of not even having my phone for company made me feel an urgency to move again. I looked up at the not-too-steep hill right in front of me. It was heading back uphill in the direction of the trail. I knew the trail was safe and guaranteed. I knew it would get me back to the car if I could climb back up there. It was up there right at the top of the cliff if I could just get up there. And maybe, just maybe, If I managed to get there before the 1% died, I could text Ray and he'd be able to come right away instead of having to wait until 5pm or when he would surely have realized I was not back.
I didn't really think the 1% would work, since that hill was at least a 1-hour journey to get back up there, but the trail was a sure thing.
I looked around for something to help me get up there and reduce my sinking into the snow.
The old tree I was sitting on had a large stump that was sticking out of the snow, about 6 ft long. Like a lumpy ski, I thought.
I kicked it. It moved easily. I bashed it with my boot a few more times, and twisted it in circles, and suddenly the wood broke free. I had a ski! I bashed another section -smaller, but it would work. I looked around for vines to tie the 'skis' on, but there was nothing. I dreamed of having a roll of duct tape in my pack. That would have been a miracle right now.
I packed all my art supplies back inside my jacket and zipped everything in, and then threw the first plank on the snow. I stepped on it. Success! I stayed on the surface!
Then I threw the second plank, and moved forward. Each step I had to bend down and pick up the plank before to move it forward, while balancing on the next plank.
It was remarkable fast compared to the sinking-in method I'd suffered for the first two and a half hours on the way down the cliff.
I felt warmth coming back into me, and positive energy. I'd found a method that would work! The hour of sitting 'hugging a tree' had calmed my panic, given me a rest, and allowed me the time to reflect on a sensible decision as to how to solve the dilemma I was facing. I was going to get to the top and the trail and find my way home again!
About 90% of the way up the hill, I noticed a sort of cart track in the snow, -not used in a while, but less snow than the other forest. It showed a trail going somewhere. I could walk it to find my way back to the car perhaps? But which way was the right way? What if I'd got turned around while I was crawling around in the valley, and this trail went the other direction?
As I wondered about it, my cell phone in my pocket suddenly buzzed a text! A signal! How? At 1%?
I opened my phone and immediately texted Ray.
"Help! I'm stuck in the snow!"
"Call CAA then" he immediately replied, jovially.
"They won't be able to find me on the trail! I'm stuck myself, not the car! Got lost off the trail, 3.5 hours of panicking, freezing, can't find my way back, soaking wet!"
"You're joking, right?"
"NO! Not joking! Phone at 1%! Help SOS! Come save me!"
I felt a massive wave of relief. Ray knew I was here. He was on his way. I wasn't alone any more. It was just a matter of waiting. Even if my phone died now, he was on his way.
"Send map!" He texted. I tried. No success. I tried again, and again. About 8 times. I sent one by email and one by Facebook, whichever way I could send it I tried, rushing to get it sent before my battery died.
Apple Maps, I was using. The map showed a thin line of the road, and a dot where I was. No scale. A North arrow. That was all. How would they find me?
*( Later Ray assessed what went wrong and showed me that Google Maps had all the details of the cliff, the river, the canyon. "Never Use Apple Maps!" he told me... better late than never).
As I texted with Ray I moved farther up the cliff to see if I was at the trail now, but then I saw that this hill I had climbed wasn't the cliff top. It was a large mound somewhere inside the forest, not the cliff edge where the canyon trail was, as I'd expected.
My mind turned in circles, wondering. Had I gone beyond the trail and was farther to the west, or had I gone to the east before, and was now to the east of the trail?
I had no idea. My brain shut down again, feeling drained.
If I kept going straight would I get to the cliff edge anyway, and then be able to see what section of the canyon I was in? Should I try?
Ray texited again "Send Map" .
I tried again
"My phone not sending! Tried again!"
I tried again and again. Eventually it sent.
As I was texting him, my boot sank into the snow again. I sighed.
Then I tried to get it out. It was the right boot this time. The boot loosened off my foot and my wet sock foot lifted out into the cold air. Both my boots were full of melted wet snow by now. The felt liners were soggy and heavy with water.
I bent down and tried to find a place to sit so I could dig the boot out. I found a thick stick and scraped at it. But the mushy afternoon snow kept filling in around my boot, making it impossible to lift.My arms were weak and unable to pull upwards any more. I had no strength left. I wondered how long it would be before Ray got here? Would I lose my toes if they got really cold? I remembered a movie where that happened.
"I'm sending Fire department. We're on our way!"
Oh great idea! I thought. Huge tears of joy, relief.
"If my phone dies, I'm near a trail that looks like a cart track, and I'm on a hilly mound, but it's not the cliff top. I'm stuck here -boot came off, can't get it out, bare foot with wet sock!"
and other such texts.
"Keep phone warm" he warned me. Yes, right! I put it inside my clothing and kept it near my heart.
"ETA?" I asked.
"Leaving now, -One hour"
Then I said,
"Put fire truck sirens on and I'll probably be able to hear you from where I am, and I'll whistle! I'm not far from the road."
I tried whistling. My lips were dry and my throat was tight. I couldn't. I'm usually a strong whistler, but my anxiety, quavering lips, dry mouth. I tried practicing alternating with boot digging attempts. The cold was setting in in my wet bare foot, so I stood up and hugged my toes as I leaned against a big tree. Hug a Tree again, I thought. Choose a high-up tree in a visible area, on a hill so that volume can carry through the forest when you're calling out.
Once Ray drove into the park there were no more texts, since there's no service in Algonquin except from the cliff top. My cell phone still lasted though!
I waited. My foot was freezing. I bent it up and held it again with my hands to keep it warm. The other leg got tired of holding me up. I sat down and tried to dig out the boot again. It just got worse, sinking deeper in the melting snow. It might have to stay there for good. I certainly didn't have the strength to pull it out of the 4 ft deep hole it was now sunk into.
I stayed put. I thought about walking down this trail with just a sock, and suffering the cold just to get back to the car or the trail, so I could speed up the rescue, but I knew it wasn't a good idea A cold foot could be a disaster if they didn't find me right away. I sat down again and tried to scratch a space in my boot to put my foot back into it at least.
The toes got in, but it was a wet boot full of snow, not much use.
I pressed my bare foot against the boot and kept the stationary boot warm by pressing on it with the bare foot for a while.
I sat down and stood up to keep changing the pressure on my wet boot foot.
After a while I started dancing, moving my hips, trying to stay warm. I felt relief that they were on their way, but the hour felt like 2 hours, as my toes got colder.
I cried sometimes, letting the relief that they were on their way wash over me. The fear of my foot not surviving the cold was a consideration.
I wondered how long it would take them to find me?
I imagined the equipment the fire department would bring. Snow shoes? Snow Mobile? At least a gurney to pull me through the forest in warm blankets so I could slide easily along instead of having to walk through these thick snowbanks.
I had plenty of time to think about what would happen when they arrived. My mind wandered but at least the panic was gone now.
Suddenly I heard a car horn, honking a few times. The honk was muffled but distinct, in the distance, and then a man's call. They were here! And it was all in a direction that I hadn't expected! I was off to the left of the trail! How bizarre.
I felt a huge wave of relief that they were here! I wondered how long it would take them to get up the trail and find me? Did they need to gather equipment before setting out? Why had they honked and not just run the sirens?
I called out,
"HELLO!" in the deepest strongest voice I could muster.
A waited a few seconds and then called again. and again.
and again. The forest was silent. I couldn't hear anything after the initial car noise.
I began to wonder if I'd imagined the horn, just like the blue and yellow thing earlier. Perhaps they hadn't even arrived yet? My mind played tricks again as I waited.
I yelled out HELLO probably 150 times. I wondered why they weren't calling back? My Hellos got more emotional, more frustrated, tired. Scared.
The winds blew lightly through the pines, and then I couldn't hear anything but pine breezes. Perhaps the same was happening for them? Maybe they'd miss me and I'd be here all night?
Suddenly I noticed a tiny green pine branch, just in front of me. A brand new branch, electric green, looking right at me. A sign. All would be ok.
I called continuously every few seconds and kept going for over an hour and a half, knowing that if the wind was blowing where they were, they wouldn't hear me, but each call was a chance to be heard. I could hear them in the distance finally, light muffled noises, moving past me, up over the cliff, around me, past me and to the other side of the trail, missing me, and all the while I called out
My voice began to break down, my emotions, frustration, fear. I was crying Hello!" with tears and fear and everything I had left inside me. I remembered my flight attendant training, and how we had to do "Emergency Shout Commands" for thirty minutes for our final exam. This was an hour and a half already. But it felt the same. Massive emotion.
The sun was setting. my foot was going numb. I was exhausted.
Suddenly I saw a face in the forest, baseball cap, glasses. In the distance I thought it was Ray.
I burst. Huge melt-down, sobbing, all the fear of all the thousands of sinking holes in the snow all the day just blasted out of me in tears and emotion and relief and sadness and love that he'd found me at last!
As he came closer, I realized, embarrassed, that it wasn't Ray. It was a fireman!
I tried to contain myself a little but he was kind, prepared, used to this stuff.
"Thank you for coming, and I'm so sorry to bother you like this!" I said.
"It's ok, he laughed, This is my job! It happens all the time! I'm here now. Do you need warm clothes? some water?"
Caleb had everything. He got my boot out of the snow, and took out the soggy felt liners and found me warm socks and a blanket to sit on and all the minor things I needed.
"Am I going to lose my toes?" I asked, worried.
"I don't know, are they black?"
"Black?" I asked.
I took my boot off.
"Oh no, those are lovely pink toes! You've got lots of circulation happening there!"
We both laughed. It felt really good to laugh, but tears came out, too.
Eventually he helped me up and we walked back through his pre-made steps and headed over to the trail. It was only a few minutes away. There we joined Ray's friend Sean, and eventually, Ray as well. He had been re-following my trail to see if he could see me from the cliff top.
"Is this everyone?" I asked.
"Isn't this enough? Laughed Ray. "Did you want the whole military?"
"No, I just thought you'd called the Fire Department."
"I did! This is Caleb! he's a fireman!"
"Oh, Thank you for coming to find me, and nice to meet you!"
"You met him this morning! Laughed Ray. "He works with us on the Petawawa project, and conveniently, he's also a local fireman and knows these woods really well!"
I laughed then.
"If we hadn't found you by 6:30 pm, the rest of the department and all the fire equipment and the K9 unit would have been on our tail, making sure we got you in time!"
That felt safe. but I was so glad they had found me without having to cost the expense of a whole team out here to find in the dark.
"You were really lucky!" said Ray. "Sean was just dropping me off. Five minutes later, and I'd have gone for my after-work nap and turned my phone off for two hours. You'd have been here well into the dark."
"My phone would have died. I couldn't have let you know where I was."
"Caleb knows the area and knew where you were because you told him about that other trail you'd just passed when you texted me. He knew that trail. It's an old canoe intake trail further up the canyon."
I felt waves of relief, but also fear of the 'what could have happened' as we talked and hugged and drove back into town.
Ray bought me Epsom salts and after dinner I soaked in the tub and cried with relief.
I did the same the next day, as the aches pains and bruises began to show.
It's been a week now since I first wrote this, and I'm still more fragile than I was before it happened. Perhaps it's changed me permanently. That's not a bad thing. I feel more vulnerable, more sensitive, but also more appreciative of what I have in life. Gratitude is my most constant emotion this week. And kindness. Life is short, appreciate all that you have, all those you know.
Ray and I have grown closer and more loving, and once I begin painting things out, I suspect that my paintings will have new emotion in them as well.
Thank you to Jacquie and the Hug a Tree program... It has saved many lives, and mine as well. If I'd panicked and not known about that program, I might have had to spend the night in the forest. It dropped to -5 that night, and my jeans/feet/hands were soaked. I'm alive today because Hugging a tree kept me grounded, rational, calmed my panic.
Choose a tree on a high ridge. Easier to be found!
I'm shocked. The last blog posting was 1 year ago! Yesterday I turned 51 and haven't written here since my last birthday! Well, I can only say, that when there's no time to write, it's because life's just too exciting!
My 50th year was the best of my life so far. I bought a bike and trained all summer. I swam across the lake each day, sometimes the full there-and-back 1km swim. By August I was ready.. I did 2 triathlons! My first time ever, and aged 50! WOW. It was a little terrifying but the 2nd was much easier. This summer I'm planning to do 3.
I took ownership of my new Retreat Centre cottage in May. Then there were 4 moving days throughout the year, moving belongings to the new 'home' and clearing out the city house to make it into a 'hotel' style rental home. Lots of clearing. Not enough throwing out. Then I set up the new home away from home. We have settled in well now, and the 'cottage' is more of a home than the house in Toronto now!
By November my writing had taken off again, and after completing another novel (#23), I got organized and published my first book on Amazon.com in time for Christmas. "The Bird People: Children of the Dragon series" came out in time for Christmas. It's selling well, and the 2nd edition will be posted up this month.
Last week I posted up the 2nd book in the series "The Thinkers" -also in the Children of the Dragon series. It will be out on Amazon.com this month, and on Kindle next month. I'm also working on the 3rd book in the series, rough draft.
Last September I travelled to Europe to visit friends and attend a wedding in France. En route, I realized that I wasn't far off 50 countries. I was at 47. If I could visit 3 new countries on this trip, I could make it to 50 countries in 50 years! So I went to Prague on a 2 day all-night bus trip, and then on to France, and on the way to the wedding, I attempted to visit Jersey and Guernsey in one day. The ferry schedules would allow it, -5 minutes between boats- but the Jersey Government wouldn't!. I got to Jersey and they refused to let me take the journey, since they allotted 45 minutes for border control between islands! Poppycock I say!
And so, down at heel, I spent a very very boring day in Jersey, wishing intensely that I'd gone to Guernsey instead. In despair I entered a small spa to get my nails done for the wedding. The spa was a 'fish spa' -and for the sake of having a hilarious story to tell, I let 100 small turkish fish eat away at the dead skin on my feet for 15 minutes! The torture of tickling is unfathomable! -hilarious though.
The wedding of Michael and Natasha was the most stunning wedding I have ever attended. Such an amazing event, and everyone so happy. So much love between them both, too. I made new friends (Monika and Fergus) at dinner, and we've kept in touch as pen pals since the event.
The year of 50 rounded out nicely last week with a trip to Washington D.C. No, not a 50th country, but a nice little escape for Easter weekend. I can always attempt 60 countries in 60 years. Plenty of more deadlines to face in the decade ahead!
Happy Times to look forward to!
Well, it's been a few months since I've blogged here. I feel slight twinges of guilt at my absence...
But much has happened.
For example, yesterday I turned 50! ME? 50? Fifty is what happens to other people, not me. I'm ageless and live an endless existence. I don't follow those numbers like other people! And yet, here I am. Skin less stretchy, hair less colourful, eyes less able to focus, thoughts less able to focus. I hate that phrase "it happens to us all". No it doesn't. Not in the same way. and not at the same time. So when I turn 50, I"m on my own that day. Those who have gone before have forgotten the age, since they are now in fear of 55, or 60. Those who are not yet here at this hurdle, don't feel the sudden overwhelming difference it makes.
And it does. Just a few days ago, I had a thought, or perhaps it was a feeling, that here I was, here I am, half way or more, and I've done it all without making any major mistakes. I haven't got hooked on drugs, didn't get pregnant at the wrong time or with the wrong person, didn't have to claim bankruptcy, didn't damage anyone's life, didn't go to jail or break a bone, or even crash up a car (minor bumps, only). And i've raised a son successfully, -he'll be 16 this week. So What does all this mean?
It suddenly meant to me, that I can relax and enjoy the next 50 years! I'm no longer chasing dreams, no longer fearful of not accomplishing something or making an irreparable mistake. I'm here. 50. King of the castle. Top of the sand pile. I can slide into home, letting go of all that effort to get here. I'm here. This is the peak of life. At least for now it feels that way!
Who can say what the next 10 years will feel like?
I'm content. Life is mine to devour with passion!
Well, we arrived home from the trip of a lifetime.
And then life became messy again, almost immediately.
The day after we returned home, the sewage pipe in the 2nd floor wall suddenly burst. Actually it let go. It had held itself there for 40 years without complaint, despite never having been glued when it was first installed. And suddenly, on December 29th, it decided it had had enough. It let go.
And my kitchen below was filled with a spray of sewage, covering counter, cupboards, table and chairs, floor and walls.
The insurance took over. They spent 3 long months ripping out the whole ground floor, and opening up holes in the 2nd floor walls. We felt like refugees, living through it all with a toaster and a microwave.
It's finally done, and the world is back to a new more beautiful normal!
Also this season, the sale of my old cottage has gone through, and there will now be a lull for 6 weeks, until the new cottage is finally mine! Life is getting more and more exciting, as the deadline approaches. I've been waiting since last October!
Miraculously, the insurance people packed up all the bedding and belongings that were waiting to go to the cottage, so the house has been cleared of clutter, -16 years of clutter!
So now my new business venture begins. Instead of living with tenants and having the stress of feeding other people's kids all summer (and cleaning up after them, and chasing them to pay their rent, or bugging them to take out their garbage at the right time, or clean up their garbage when the raccoons have tipped it all over the alley before the bitchy neighbours start ranting about it to me).. I have found a new system of landlordability.
I am renting out both my house and my cottage. They will bring in enough money to cover my expenses and perhaps some left over to take a summer holiday!
And when both buildings are rented out, I travel. If only one is rented out, then I have a week in that location. Week at the cottage, week in the city, week at the cottage again.
And so, my new freer life begins!
So far, 7 bookings have been set for the 2012 summer season. I have covered my summer expenses now. Things are feeling more comfortable already!
There are some new furniture items in the house, sitting waiting to be moved to the new cottage. There is a stone counter still not here, -it will soon be installed- and there is a cottage waiting to have it's frills and clutter removed. It will all happen in good time.
Patience is gradually becoming easier to find!
Oh, and there have been 5 students living here this winter, through the renovations, and 2 large landscape projects have suddenly popped up to be considered. And a new ESL in the Home job has been accepted.. So the summer might be a lot busier than initially anticipated. But ti's all good.
Yes, we got home last night, after 36 hours of transit time... airports and flights and more airports. Iain and I both had our longest flight ever from Reunion to Paris: 11.4 hours! (just slightly longer than the direct flight from Hawaii to Toronto).. strange to think of the world measuring in flight times. But there it is.
There will be more photos posted in the next few days, since I'm now home and have access to my great computer.. so the downloads will begin! Keep your eyes on this page for changes!... I may post more photos into each section too, so scrolling down might be worth the effort! :)
Well, we've been island hopping for a few days now, and there are interesting similarities and differences between them. Reunion was lovely. A mixture of Swiss alpine meadows, Bolivian highland volcanic landscapes, and Newfoundland scrubb trees, as well as a forest of tall ferns taken right out of Jurassic Park! The island belongs to France, is a member of the EEC, and is very modern and well-kept.
Mauritius is just 1 night's sail or 1 hour flight away, but very different. Mauritius is 54% hindu, -with a strong Indian influence. We visited a Hindu festival (Christmas day!) and a tamil group were having a street festival/parade as we drove by. The culture is so completely different from Reunion, which is owned by France and so close you can see Mauritius from the top of the volcanoes Reunion.
Iain and I both thought we could live in Reunion. It felt quite comfortable, both in climate and culture.
Both these islands are much cooler than Madagascar, although in similar latitudes. Madagascar was flat, at the North end where we were, and scorching hot. It was also poor like Africa. The children were selling shells and cloth along the sandy roads, as well as charging to let you photograph a chameleon.
(photos to follow when I get them downloaded.. computer is overloaded with images at present!)
Another amazing stop on our trip... 2 days in Madagascar, one in Nosey Be, (Meaning Big Island), and the 2nd in Diego Suarez, a town at the north end of Madagascar itself. In Nosey Be, we visited a Ylang Ylang forest and flower production centre, as well as a botanical gardens. Wonder of wonders, we got to hold chameleons and lemurs and boa constrictors!
Today, we visited Diego Suarez and got a private taxi to see Baobab trees and a drive through the countryside. Madagascar feels very much like Africa, although we've never been to Africa. It's as hot as we can stand, and Iain didn't even want to swim at the beach since the heat is so intense!
Well, we've had a lovely 3-day visit to the Seychelles islands. There are 115 islands in total, but we only visited one. It was as lovely as expected, although very hot.. and it's still only their spring. It's about 35 degrees, and will get up to a possible 60 or 65 by March!
The beaches were pristine white, the turquoise water bathtub warm, and the jungle vegetation really interesting. We tasted cinnamon straight from the tree, and lemon grass plants, made into tea. The jungle is everywhere, and we drove through it as our guide pointed out trees like 'ylang ylang' and cinnamon, and rubber and avocado and lime, mango and breadfruit, and other exotic things. The palm varieties were just as exotic, -coconut and wild pineapple, cocoa de mer, and cocoa (chocolate), as well as tea.
Highlights of the 3 days were feeding and bonding with the giant land tortoises, -they live to be over 300 years old- and they loved having their necks stroked, so we stayed with them for hours. Then yesterday I was alone in the jungle above the botanical gardens, and saw one of the huge fruit bats (They live by day and night), and it was just gorging itself on a giant ugly fruit. (I think).. so I got some great shots as well as some videos of both favourite events!
We're back at sea now, en route to Madagascar. By the looks of the images we've seen, it's a very poor island, and will be a step down from the nice village on the Seychelles.
Salalah was a peaceful city on the coast of Oman. We were only there for the day, but we saw a few mosques, temples, the sultan's palace (one of 8), and the Frankincense museum, as well as an archaeological site still being dug..(I insisted that they include this for Iain -it was extra usually- since he's on this trip to get archaeological experiences, if nothing else!.. we got our wish.. they took us around in the golf cart to see all the ruins being worked on! (Photos of that are on the other card.. will download tomorrow)..
We had a lovely time at the market in the afternoon.. no heavy sales pressure like Egypt met us with.. We bought frankincense and hats and some antique silver beads.. I wanted to stay longer, since it was a comfortable country.. but this is winter there.. 35 degrees. In summer it can get as high as 65C!
We're now heading farther south through the Indian ocean. It's a nice rolling ocean, peaceful enough, with the odd wave that rolls deeper than the last, but nothing too disturbing! If it stays like this we're in goo
Well we survived the first set of 4 days at sea.. nothing much to report on that, except that the cruise ship doesn't have a no smoking poilcy enforced, so we were struggling with that problem.. until last night! .. after a few days of whining and complaining, they suddenly offered Iain and I an upper cabin wtih balcony and jacuzzi bath tub!.. We had to pay an upgrade fee of 150 euros each for it.. but we're not suffering! The smoke was horrible when we were sleeping.. now we have the door open all night.. and Iain's taking baths daily! (the photo is only half the cabin.. Iain's bed and the couch are to the right) :)..
Obviously a long post.. Egypt deserves it! :)
Our second stop in Egypt was Luxor, connecting with the town of Safaga, a small port town on the Red Sea. We set off in our excursion bus at 7am, and drove 3.5 hours west, through the mountainous desert. Gradually the land became greener, and we knew the Nile was close. I'd expected Luxor to be a large open area with ancient ruins along either side of the Nile, -which in some ways it is, but the modern city has developed around the Nile shores, and ancient ruins are basically stranded in the middle of a thriving centre of activity. I was surprised at how history has been lumped in with modern buildings.
The 2 giant statues of Ramses II are just standing alone in the middle of a field of weeds, beside a parking lot, with a small rope fence around them. So casual.
In the morning we visited the Valley of the Kings, but, alas, they no longer allow ANY cameras at the site, since people have used flashes and are fading the painted images inside the tombs, so now, they have banned all cameras. We were swarmed by masses of boys and youth trying to sell us trinkets and post cards. Our whole bus was overwhelmed with them by the end of the morning. They have had almost no tourism recently due to the political activities in Egypt, so their sale pitches were all the more intense since it's their livelihood. I used the experience as a chance to practice my Arabic, and a boy and I exchanged language lessons for a few minutes, which was a nice 'cultural exchange' for me!
The afternoon segment of the trip was the real highlight though: The Temple of Karnak. This has always been what interested me most about Egypt. The temple is certainly the most impressive, and I was in heaven, as was Iain of course!
We wandered away from the lecturing tour guide and spent some time wandering away from the tourists, to immerse ourselves in Real History. Karnak is full of different eras of massive pillars decorated with an assortment of different painted images and carved hieroglyphics. There are also some massive obelisks, each carved out of one solid block of granite! We wandered all the way through the temple, and had a bit of an adventure with a fake police official (wearing full uniform including a rifle!) but my instincts warned me that he wasn't to be trusted -especially when he suddenly expected us to pay him money because he pointed out a few good photo spots!
Anyway, it was fast and furious, just 2 whirlwind days in Egypt, but we got a taste of the country and can return again when the political situation is under control. The only signs of 'political unrest' we noticed by the way, were masses of banners posted along roads, etc. en route to Luxor.
Now we are in the '4 days at sea' stage of the journey, en route to Oman... And we're about to pass through “pirate country”. We've noticed a few changes on the cruise ship: An armed guard posted on either side of the ship, 24 hours a day-toting binoculars and bullet proof vests- as well as 4 stuffed life-sized figures of 'Costa Captains' posted at the 4 top corners of the ship, as decoys, should any pirates be looking to take a first shot at us!
I suspect it's all for show, so that the cruisers feel safe. We also received a bed time notice the other night about 'going to our muster stations' should any pirates suddenly attempt to attack us...
Anyway, it all adds to the adventure. Over and out, until we reach Oman, home of Sinbad the Sailor and the Queen of Sheba, as well as frankincense forests!
Hilary Slater: I write in the morning before I get out of bed. I write in the evening when the world is quiet. I write at Starbucks, where I can escape the household interruptions. But most of all I write in November, when NaNoWriMo inspires me!