I'm re-reading this post now, 2 years later, and it still overwhelms me, has me in tears. It's in the past, but not forgotten! For the past 2 years I couldn't paint trees.
We travelled to Labrador on a 3-week road trip the summer of 2019, and it was wonderful since it was all exposed rocks and cliffs above the ocean.
As of New Year's Eve 2020, I suddenly felt the urge to paint Barron Canyon again, and now I've been able to paint it regularly this season. I'v moved forward at last!
The world has experienced it's own kind of 'near disaster' with Covid 19 and all the turmoil that we've all been feeling since last March. The end is in sight, and we have become wiser for it. It wasn't all bad, and we have so much to be thankful for. I'm not sure I'll ever go back to Barron Canyon -at least not alone!- but that 4 seasons of visits has given me a lifetime of creative incentive to paint from.
BARRON CANYON near DISASTER, 2018. (Age 56)
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 definitely 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, I obsessed with completing these research paintings of Barron Canyon. If I could finish this 4th and final season, perhaps I could close the obsession 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 my feelings. 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, but I certainly felt something dark looming.
We arrived after dark and got into our regular hotel room. Ray goes to Petawawa every two weeks on business, - has done for two years now. That was how I got the idea to go and search for "Petawawa Gorge" -as it was called during Tom Thomson's lifetime. I'd painted scenes of it from his location paintings, without having been there myself, so it made sense to go in person and paint 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 various photos and a few research paintings to capture the colours of that season.
Ray was concerned about me going in winter. The road into the trail was a logging road. It could be rough with the 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 end-of-winter's day, snow was melting, the sky a perfect cobalt fading to ultramarine. 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 entrance. Today it took much longer since I was swerving pond-sized pot holes at every down-turn in the road. Each hill ended in pool 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 final 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 and 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 going. No problem! I could get up to the cliff! And then I swerved 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, pulling myself back up, 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 the first painting. Today it was equally as stunning, but this time it was diamond, not sapphire. The crystal whiteness of the frozen river below was a contrasting jolt of white, and I felt 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, which is certainly as beautiful, but different.
I set up my paints and stood up to work, since the bench was covered in wet snow. Instead of opening my water, I lazily just used snow as water to speed up the process. I painted the river edges along the snow and dark greens of the forest. My first 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 two, as marked on the trees.
It was slippery walking. I slipped as I moved around the bench, and grabbed the bench armrest 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 arm 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 reassured that I wasn't completely alone. It reminded me to text Ray, so I sent him a photo of the great view he was missing. I told him I'd be back in contact by 3pm. He replied, and then I moved on.
I heard a kestrel below me in the canyon, but I couldn't see it from my angle.
A black squirrel surprised me with 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 surrounded by nature and pristine untouched wilderness. I felt calm, 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 of a view, but then I turned to re-join the path to head down the trail back to finish the loop. My steps sank deeper into the snow as I moved farther down.
I didn't think too much about it at first, 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 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, and, as I found out later, I was 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 wet 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, finding the car, not assessing the most sensible 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 black 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 more than hip-deep snow, and I had to climb out and step the next foot in, and then climb out again.
I got close to the 'glove'. It was a dead piece of wood. Then I thought I saw the 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 I sank in. It held! I breathed a sigh of relief. I stopped then, took a small sip of water, (from the little water bottle that was my painting water, that I hadn't used to paint with! -my actual water bottle, I noticed then, had been dropped somewhere back up the cliff. 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 waves of utter exhaustion. I had no energy left to save 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 spoke:
"Indicator species: A cedar tree indicates presence of a swampy region in natural low lying 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 ever 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 'not needed' X-acto knife in my art pack. I fumbled quickly and got it out. Cutting two robust 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, to keep my hands from sinking 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 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 he 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 the 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, 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 save me. Maybe around 3:30 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 the 30 minutes over to the horizontal 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 another 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. On my phone I could see the road on the map, just ahead of me -depending on the scale of the Apple 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 relaxed for an hour and breathed in the silent calming forest air.
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 colder though. My 'snow pants' weren't waterproof, just wind breaker fabric really.
Sitting on the tree I had time to think and be calm. 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 for my rescue. I looked again at my phone, this time fishing out my glasses. I had been looking 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 space and trees. I called out "Help!" a few times, just to hear my own voice echoing back at me. I felt less alone then somehow.
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, If I managed to get up there, I could text Ray and he'd be able to come right away instead of having to wait until 5pm when he finished work or when realized I was not back.
I looked again at my phone and then 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 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 put my phone in my inside pocket to try to keep it warm.
I looked around for something to help me get up the hill, to reduce my sinking into the snow.
The old tree I was sitting on had a large stump 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 I moved, to throw it forward, while balancing on the first plank.
It was remarkably 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, as I moved, 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 had got myself into. 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 rest of the 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 AM 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).
I texted that I had just passed a cart track, that headed towards the cliff.
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 also weak and unable to pull anything 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. What a good idea!
"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 not with anxiety, quavering lips, dry mouth. I tried practicing alternating with boot digging attempts. The cold was setting in on 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 or clearing 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 had 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 now 4 ft deep hole it had 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 alternating, to keep changing the pressure on my wet boot foot and to keep my circulation moving.
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 grew 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 massive wave wash over me, and tears poured down my face uncontrollably. 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 that initial car honk.
I began to worry that I'd imagined the horn, just like the blue and yellow thing in the snow earlier. Perhaps they hadn't even arrived yet? My mind played anxiety tricks as I waited.
I yelled out HELLO every few seconds, I wondered why they weren't calling back? My Hello's 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 tiny brand new branch, electric green, looking right at me. A sign. All would be ok. I glanced around and saw that every tree was sending me the same message. Calm, I was being looked after by the forest. All would be well.
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, all around me, past me and to the other side of the trail, missing me, and all the while I called out:
"HELLO!" -I called out probably 150 times.
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, on 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, shuddering.
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.
"Why didn't you bring snow shoes?" I asked. also wondering where the gurney was.
"They won't work in this wet snow, they'd just sink in." he knew.
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 volunteer 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 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 away the rest of the emotions.
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 now 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, and calmed my panic.
Choose a tree on a high ridge. Easier to be found!
The last 6 Years!
Not long after that last post, Iain went off to University, and then 3 days later I met Ray, the love I've been searching for for many years! A year later we bought our lovely cosy log house, just 15 minutes from my cottage. It has 2 acres full of fruit trees and a view overlooking Georgian Bay from the far end. Since moving in together, we have built me a huge 1500 sq foot studio which I have filled with art! Paintings are the focus, but there's also pottery, weaving, spinning, felting, quilting, print making, and everything in between. Next we got a puppy, Shadow, who is now a full grown livestock protection dog! Last spring we got 22 chickens and have fresh eggs to sell each day. This spring we got a male dog, Tequila, pure puppy joy, who will be a great breeder of Great Pyrenees offspring!
With the lockdown of 2020-2021, we've grown our property into a small farm, and life is cosy, busy, and creative! Hoping you'll come visit once the world opens up again!
We also rent out our cosy retro trailer for those who need a private quiet escape to the country in the spring to fall season!
In spring of 2021, Ray is also planning to build 'a tiny house' guest house to add to our adventure. Who knows what we'll get up to by the time I remember to write again!
51 years old:
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!
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!