To The Rescue With Love

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“Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.”*

Three of my dearest friends are from my uni days. We call ourselves “FLAP” and I’ve written about these women here and here. In September 1976, when the four of us first met at basketball tryouts, we rapidly became the tightest of teammates and the closest of friends.  “From that day on, we was always together… like peas and carrots.”** I love these sweet women and I’m so thankful for them.

Despite our current long distance friendship, and despite not seeing each other as often as we might wish, there remains a strong but tensile filament connecting us, one with which we’ve been bound ever since we were TYCOs together. When one of us is in pain, we all hurt. When one grieves, we are all sad.  

We are all sad.

Just yesterday we all learned that last month, 12th July, the brother of one FLAP suicided. Immediately I experienced an entire bandwidth of emotions.  Despair; that an artistically gifted, accomplished and well-loved man felt so defeated he could see no way forward.  Frustration; that despite the continuous hard work done by advocates, activists and scientists alike, mental health remains a “fringe” health care issue, not readily accessible to all who need it, whenever they need it.  Empathetic sadness; for the acute pain my friend—a woman who was nothing but supportive and caring of her beloved brother—is feeling and struggling to endure.  Admiration; for the legacy of this talented artist and mentor (as described by his many students, friends and relatives on the condolences site that honours him).  Despair, frustration, sadness, admiration – the full bandwidth of emotional reaction.   

The nutshell:  On the one hand, a handsome, talented, successful, well-loved son, brother, uncle, friend, artist and gentleman. On the other hand, a tortured soul who was overpowered by distress, mental anguish, anxiety, shame, sadness and helplessness. I simply cannot reconcile the two, so just imagine my friend’s heart and soul trying, herself, to find resolution. My inability to find the proper words, to express a healing sentiment, to first do no harm***, is wrenching me apart. A death so tragic.  A life so extraordinary.

Pain and grief are universal but the bereavement experienced following a death by suicide feels so much more complicated than any mourning I’ve ever experienced.  My friend’s heart is broken and can never again be unbroken.  However do I help my poor, suffering friend?  How can I run to the rescue with love so that peace will follow?

This morning I composed one of the most difficult messages I’ve ever written.  The inherent complexity of grief is that it is incomparable, unfathomable, uncontrollable and unpredictable. In any bereavement circumstances it is so hard to know what to say and this death, by suicide, presented an even bigger challenge for me, and I wanted so badly to get it just right.

Oh goodness, y’all.  I became miserably frustrated with my writing abilities, my meagre vocabulary and my inability to organize my chaotic thoughts on paper today.  I wished to assuage – even to a small degree – my friend’s feelings of grief, anger, disappointment, frustration and hurt—all of which I am quite sure she has experienced. I know exactly the tone and caliber of the message I wanted to craft but I was simply unable to rise to the occasion. I know all too well that sometimes even the most well-intentioned words hurt and I did not want, at any cost, to do that to my friend. I wanted to run to her rescue with love so that peace will follow. 

Beyond any shadow of doubt I know my friend will carry her brother in her heart forever more. I hope God gives her a hedge of protection and comfort; that woman deserves it so!

’Til next time, y’all…

*River Phoenix, quoted by Joaquim during his 2020 Academy Award acceptance speech.

**”From that day on, we was always together. Jenny and me was like peas and carrots.” from the Tom Hanks movie, Forrest Gump. Winston Groom wrote the novel and Eric Roth the screenplay. If you’d like to listen to that oh-so-sweet exchange on the school bus, here is the link to Forrest and Jenny’s conversation (two minutes twenty seconds of amazingness).

***Thomas Inman (English surgeon).

An Elegant Idea

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Simply from the title of my blog, Summer At the Shores, a Presqu’ile Experience, you realize that I am passionate about the nearly four square miles of woods, marsh, meadow, beach and natural lakefront that forms Presqu’ile Provincial Park. With so much geographical diversity and with so many natural habitats, the park offers something for every age, ability and interest.  

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Like most wooded areas, the tree canopy at Presqu’ile has been decimated by the invasion of a relatively small beetle – the Emerald Ash Borer. Our forest simply must be rehabilitated, not only for the benefit of the resident wildlife and birds, not only for the benefit of carbon offsets, but also to provide shade and beauty for future generations of park visitors.  

Born from this need, and from the countless park visitors who have requested a commemorative legacy to honour a loved one, the idea of memorial tree planting germinated.  

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Labour of Love 

One of the few Ontario Parks with a nursery producing over 3,000 seedlings annually, Presqu’ile Park plants a number of trees – grown from these seedlings – throughout the park each year.

The trees, all native species to the park, are grown by the park’s Bio team:  Seeds of Maple, Spruce and White Pine are harvested, cleaned and planted in seed trays where they rest and develop throughout the winter months.  Similarly, acorns are harvested (in direct competition with the oh-so-efficient squirrels), cleaned and planted.  In the spring, when the seedlings are big enough, they are transferred to finger pots, then bigger pots and finally transplanted to the park’s nursery where they grow and thrive, ready to be planted in their permanent location within the park.  

All of this valuable work, of course, comes at a cost.

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Interesting fact: Ontario’s provincial parks do not get one penny of their operating budget from the province. Our tax dollars do not fund the parks. Upkeep, repairs, salaries, acquisitions, etc. are all funded through park revenue.

A couple of years ago I was privileged to be part of a volunteer team that conceived the idea of commemorative tree planting to aid the canopy restoration efforts and offset the planting costs.  

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An elegant idea for your consideration…  

Let trees tell your family’s story. There is no better way to honour the special people in our lives than with the enduring majesty and beauty of a park-grown tree. 

The complexities of life present a multitude of milestones to be shared and celebrated with our loved ones – births, graduations, first jobs, weddings, career advancements, anniversaries, personal accomplishments, retirement, sobriety, or special birthdays.  

Beyond the personal, businesses and service clubs frequently recognize outstanding achievement or contribution. These milestones may be most fittingly honoured with a tree.

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Nuts and Bolts 

This opportunity is offered by The Friends of Presqu’ile Park.  If this is an idea that has captured your imagination, a minimum donation of $100 will purchase either a deciduous or coniferous tree, and you will receive an Income Tax receipt for the full amount. All simply by clicking on this link:  Memorial Tree Planting Program

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Although these trees will still be saplings at the time of planting, I just know that park, nature, environmental, bird and wildlife enthusiasts alike will appreciate the process and dedication involved with growing these trees every bit as much as the product itself.  There will be two Arbor Day weekends each year, (third weekends of April and October) when the purchased memorial trees will be planted in the presence of the donors.  Tree planting will be performed by park staff, who will choose the planting location. 

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This post is a shameless plug for a program I believe in heart and soul.  I have purchased a tree of my own to honour my Auntie Pam who I wrote about here, earlier this month and it is my fervent wish that some of you will join me in helping to ensure that the splendour of the woods in Presqu’ile Park thrives for many years to come.  There are mail-in (cheque) and on-line purchase options and if you would like to buy a tree to honour someone in your life, please visit The Friends Of Presqu’ile Park website.  

Thank you for indulging me today.

’Til next time, y’all…

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Sola fide*

Has living through this pandemic diminished your faith?**

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My faith is essential, it is fundamental to my equanimity and COVID-19 has changed nothing in that regard.

I shall always be grateful that, by God’s grace, I was born into a Christian home, to two devoted and loving parents who initiated me into a faith that I continue to embrace. I cannot, however, profess to unwavering devotion; in the face of many a tragedy there have been interludes when I’ve lost faith, when I’ve doubted. So, yes I was raised in the Christian faith, yes I have wavered but not through this pandemic. Not yet, anyway.

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Attending Zion Wexford United Church in Scarborough whilst growing up – Sunday School, CGIT, singing in the junior choir and attending all the social events, I soaked up many numinous qualities of organized religion, and grew to appreciate the value of my church community.

I’ve always believed that my faith in God is enduring, indeed I repeat that to anyone who asks, but the unvarnished truth is that there have been times when I have strongly doubted.

The first such abdication, one I recall very clearly was on Tuesday, 11th June 1974, around nine in the morning. It happened at Toronto General Hospital, where I was a patient. In the room were my mum, dad and Dr. Kapsos (OBGYN) who had just broken the news that I had ovarian cancer and was unlikely to survive.

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I remember there were minutes (hours) of numbness. Of disbelief. Of confusion. Of tears. Most of that morning is a blur, but that afternoon, alone again in my room – Mum and Dad had to return to work (However did they manage?) – I clearly remember thinking, This is despair. I feel sheer, soul-crushing despair.

In 1308, Dante Alighieri wrote his Divine Comedy which is indisputably one of the finest pieces of literature ever written. The epic saga tells the tale of a pilgrim’s (Dante) journey through the three worlds of death. Within the whole, are three cantiche (poems), titled “Inferno”, “Purgatorio” and “Paradis”. In each world, Dante has a different guide and, in the first world – “Inferno” – his guide is Virgil. In Virgil’s company, the pilgrim learns that feelings of despair are a sin against God and God’s word. Despair represents disavowal of God’s promises of hope, salvation and grace. Many theologians of different religions have preached countless sermons on the same topic.

So, don’t despair, then?

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Yet, having had but a few hours to digest the import of my diagnosis, I was acknowledging my despair and, as in those rare moments of clarity one sometimes experiences, I knew that this moment, this event, this despair was the fulcrum of my faith, the exact juncture when things between God and me were about to get real.

Are you there God? It’s me, Pam.***

Lost in my world of terror and panic, of not knowing or understanding, how, I wondered, was it still possible to believe in, trust in God? Yet amid the misgivings, the mistrust, the suspicion, I did mutter a brief prayer.

During the passing years, I’ve spoken about despair to my friends in the clergy – two priests, a rabbi and loads of ministers (many of them my cousins) who all profess that despair proves merely that we’re human, not that we’ve abandoned faith. Upon learning of my cancer diagnosis and my resulting crisis of faith, my Uncle, who preached 60+ years in small towns dotted across the north of Scotland, gave me a simple litmus test for my faith: When you are ill, when you are frightened, when someone you love is ill, when someone you love is in danger – do you turn to God, do you offer a prayer? (Yes is always my answer).

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Since that wretched June Tuesday forty-six years ago, there have been many occasions that have tested my faith:

  • My dad’s sudden death: 22nd October 1982
  • École Polytechnique massacre: 6th December 1989
  • Columbine High School massacre: April 20, 1999
  • The terrorist attacks on US soil: 11th September 2001
  • My mum’s death: 16th February 2006
  • Danzig Street Shootings: 16 July 2012
  • Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, 14th February 2018
  • The Danforth shootings: 22 July 2018
  • Nova Scotia shootings: 18/19 April 2020
  • On-going diabolism – FGM, human trafficking, racism.

Each and every one of these horrors engenders despair in my heart.

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“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen:
not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

[C.S. Lewis]

Very often when I overhear someone referring to Christians, it is with a cringe, as if we’re all Evangelicals, all ultra-conservative and Conservative. Me? I’m a leftie, even for a Liberal. My church has always been the United Church of Canada, nothing even remotely related to Evangelists who’ve always seemed to me to be way too serious in their pursuit of a more sanctimonious spirituality. The underlying message behind those cringes, though, is that Christian churches have a public relations predicament to unravel. By many, Christianity is seen as the purveyor of guilt and hypocrisy, not of forgiveness, grace and love which is the faith I know.

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My religious comfort zone is, by most standards, quite narrow – the basic teachings of Jesus – to love God and love your neighbour and that there is nothing more important than this. That second one’s the difficult bit for most humans, the love of those who are not the same.

Such a love is hard, it puts up a fight, it’s demanding, sometimes unsuccessful and usually messy. Our world and our society have changed enormously in the past two thousand plus years, especially in the last fifty, but the meaning and value of the lessons taught by Jesus are as relevant today as in his time. I know I am one of the luckiest ones because I am able to find many of the answers I’m searching for in his parables and tales.

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Now (at age sixty-three), my faith rests on a solid foundation built from questioning, analyzing and reasoning. My study and scrutiny have only served to strengthen my beliefs.

Has living through this pandemic diminished your faith? No, sir, not by one iota.

The Three Faces of St. James Anglican Church, Roseneath

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Today, standing on an expanse of lawn, exactly where St. James church stood a mere sixteen months ago, the presence of hallowed peace and benediction were unmistakable.  On Tuesday, 9th April 2019, fire violently and completely destroyed this 150+ year-old church at the hands of an ignorant arsonist.  Today, though, there is only serenity.   

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‘Til next time, y’all…

*By faith alone.

**Dr. McEricher’s Arts & Letters writing prompt for August.

***Judy Blume, title of her 1970 young adult book, Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.

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I want to be a wanderess!

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“She is free in her wildness.
‘Time’ for her isn’t something to fight against.
Thus, she [only cared] about experiences…”*

The words wandering and aimlessly are so often paired that, in many minds, the act of wandering is considered to be synonymous with confusion, lethargy, distraction, melancholia or preoccupation. Wandering is largely thought to be neither favourable nor a valuable use of one’s time. The lost wander. The mindless wander. Not those with purpose, with ambition, with focus, with intelligence. Those folk never simply wander.

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Personally, no matter the season nor the location, I love wandering – in woods, marshes, natural habitats, wetlands or along creek banks –  I love it all! As I wrote last time,  I’m constantly searching for (and finding) new places to explore, and the highly recommended Murray Marsh was just such a place.

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Gosh, after reading the post about my Murray Marsh adventure, y’all positively lambasted me and I was shocked. And stunned. And confused. I’ve written, many times, about contentious issues with never such an angry and judgmental outpouring from you lot! I was, frankly, gobsmacked.  

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Two days and 62 e-mails later, I now know that I’m irresponsible, foolhardy, an idiot and I’ve been asked about twenty times, Why? and What were you thinking? Thank goodness for dear, sweet Annie, else I may have believed some of those comments and taken some of the suggestions (I’m looking at you Greg!!!) to heart.  

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Yes, it was a scary drive. Yes, had I known the state of the ‘road’ I may have reconsidered. Yes, there were risks but, oh, those rewards.…

  1. Absolute, pure silence; and
  2. The eroded, narrow, water-covered and rocky road required a very slow pace which allowed me to look around, absorb the atmosphere and pay close attention to the diverse marsh population; and
  3. Observe wildlife that has had very few human encounters and thus is relatively unafraid; and
  4. To listen, hear and identify the calls of so many birds – and to see them up close; and
  5. The divine peace that comes only with solitude; and
  6. The rush of adrenaline that came, knowing that no one else knew my precise location. Cam knew my destination, but honestly, he’d never have been able to find me; and
  7. The privilege of being able to observe and study such a grand and amazing wildlife habitat and the natural filtration system which continuously improves the water quality of one of southern Ontario’s most important rivers, The Trent; and
  8. Experiencing the vitality and vastness of such a critical yet fragile and vulnerable ecosystem is truly humbling and makes me aware of our acute and ongoing responsibility to the environment.
  9. Achieving a dram of humility by acknowledging and accepting my fear of death; and 
  10. The euphoria of making my way out, unscathed, but forever changed.  

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Yes, I had moments of panic and anxiety and of course, driving Monaghan Road through the marsh was dangerous; there was always the risk of an accident which would have been complicated by such a secluded location and minimal access, but I managed all of the challenges and pitfalls.

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The sweetest reward of all was experiencing the juxtaposition of beauty and danger.

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I’m imploring you to remember that wandering is not the same as being lost. Wandering inspires creativity. Indeed, wandering is creativity. It should always be encouraged and celebrated. 

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Seven years ago an author named Roman Payne coined a new word, Wanderess (the title of one of his novels). It is a dreamy, romantic, artistic descriptor and perfectly depicts the woman I’d love to be, and how I’d love to be thought of, a Wanderess.   

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’Til next time, y’all…

*Roman Payne from his novel The Wanderess

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The ill-advised, dangerous, scary drive through the Murray Marsh, or…

All’s Well That Ends Well!

PP8_5124Murray Marsh is one of the largest remaining wetlands in southeastern Ontario.
It is situated in the heart of the Lower Trent Conservation watershed region and
is affectionately dubbed the ‘Amazon of the Trent River valley’.”
[Lower Trent Conservation Authority]

“Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.”

Nature has always been wonderfully satisfying for my soul and, of late, has  enhanced my creativity, largely because every experience is completely different from all the rest. I’m constantly searching for (and finding) new places to explore, and Wednesday’s trip yielded pure gold. Bloodcurdling, nightmare-inducing, spectacularly beautiful and peaceful gold!

“Welcome to Murray Marsh Natural Habitat Area” as the sign so proudly proclaims.  Welcome indeed! The seven  words I ought to have heeded were the ‘Amazon of the Trent River valley’ – Francisco de Orellana I am not!

Spending time on, or in, or even beside a marsh is sure to heighten one’s sense of connection to the natural world and Murray Marsh does that spectacularly: Murray Marsh is classified as a provincially significant wetland and is of regional significance for wildlife. This wetland is the only major flood water storage area for the Trent River south of Campbellford.  It also serves as a giant filtration system for nutrients, improving the water quality in the Trent River. [LTC]

The Murray Marsh Conservation Area spans a gargantuan 3,760 hectares (approximately 10,000 acres) running east through Northumberland County into Hastings County (Quinte West). 

For my first exploration of the marsh, I chose to begin with the Northumberland County section so I drove the length of Monaghan Road from Goodfellow Road to the juncture of Gabourie & Gazley Roads, a distance of about 15km. Y’all know that I love to ramble the rural roads of Northumberland County and I know most of them like the back of my hand, yet I’d never explored this area before Wednesday.

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Geographical definition: Monaghan Road is almost equidistant (16km) between Campbellford to the north and Brighton to the south. I mention this by way of explaining that I was not braving the wilds of northern Ontario. At all times, civilization was but a hop, skip and jump away. Nevertheless, this day out was absolutely The ill-advised, dangerous, scary drive through the Murray Marsh.

At the point where Goodfellow becomes Monaghan, the road surface changes from tarmac to gravel, which never deters me; on the contrary, it has always excited me because it signals the beginning of a new wildlife adventure. A few hundred yards along the road, this:

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Aaah!  Now we’re getting somewhere. A gentle curve in the road ahead and then this:

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You’ll not be able to tell from this photo but the water was a scant six inches deep and crystal-clear so I could easily see the bottom and the rocks I needed to avoid. What I was unprepared for is that, even at a snail’s pace, the submerged rocks were slippery and uneven so the car was skidding and sliding and that’s when my hackles began to rise. However, as  you can see, it was only a few hundred feet long so I remained undeterred! I made it through and looked back oh-so-proudly at my accomplishment:

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From this angle it looks barely more than a puddle.

That, dear readers, was the last time I felt any sort of comfort or safety. The next stretch of road where marsh water had encroached was both considerably narrower and on a slant to the right. Also, the rocks were larger.  PP8_5143

Ahead of me, in the centre of the road was a Heron. She looked at me, honked a little and continued fishing until – creeping forward ever so slowly – I got within about fifteen feet of her where upon she began to slowly saunter down the road. Here’s the embarrassing bit: ‘Though she was walking unhurriedly, she was extending the gap between us – that’s how slow I was forced to drive.

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Past the curve you can see beyond Miss Heron, two things happened almost immediately; the road went downhill (literally and figuratively) and narrowed even more. From that point on, there were very few photos taken, I was gripping the steering wheel for grim death, and more scared than I’ve ever been. Too late (and too difficult) to back up.  Only one option…

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Bullrushes, trees, wildflowers and shrubs were growing so close to the road that they were scraping my car (one even pushed my side mirror back into the car). Yipes! At one point I had to force (with my windshield and roof) a tree branch up so I could pass. There were deep, very deep ruts in the road which meant that the car was leaning on an angle that terrified me. At least four times I was certain my vehicle would roll and each time I was shaking like a leaf.

Fifteen kilometres of abject terror. And beauty. And stunning wildlife. And total silence. And zero bars on my phone. What, I kept wondering, would happen if I rolled over and was pinned? How would I get help? You just know I was picturing myself lost, dead, being mauled and eaten by a ferocious black bear (are there even bears in Murray Marsh?), etc. Glass-half-empty, worst-case-scenario images flooding my imagination. At one point I had to negotiate a narrow, sloping, rutty track up a huge hill. Cresting the top I sighed with relief – I could see barns – off to the east and ahead of me (barns mean farm houses) – people! Roads! Exit! Relief! But first I had to drive down the opposite side of that hill, same conditions, more scary going down than up.  Much more scary.

Sixteen km to either Brighton or Campbellford, yet I may as well have been north of Big Trout Lake for all the good the nearby civilization did me!

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Can you spot the Heron?

For almost the entire drive I felt fear bordering on terror; the fear that causes that awful metallic taste in your mouth. I desperately wanted to be brave but I wasn’t. As pathetic as this may read to you, I realized that I was both unready and afraid to die.

My experience was also beautiful and serene and satisfying and inspiring and uplifting. I saw (and documented) thirteen species of birds, a Swan family, eight Herons, an overwhelmingly aggressive army of Elephant Deer Flies, too many frogs and turtles to count, three snakes, lots of dragon/damsel flies and everywhere, clouds of butterflies and moths drifting past. And those (almost entirely) from the security of my car. Imagine what I’d have seen had I been able to disembark. Utopia! 

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Ten months ago on this site I wrote about our harrowing experience at Fleetwood Creek Conservation area: I. Was. Scared. Stiff.  I pictured us getting stuck, encountering an on-coming vehicle with no where to turn/pull off, and worst of all, rolling over. Let me tell you, the dirt track known as Ballyduff Road which leads to Fleetwood is a walk in the park compared to Monaghan Road through Murray Marsh!

You’d think I’d learn, non?  

’Til next time, y’all…

Leonardo Da Vinci

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Pamela Whitton (née Muir)

“Missing me one place, search another. I stop somewhere waiting for you.”*

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To my beloved Auntie Pam, lux perpetua lucebit vobis.

My Auntie Pam, the de facto matriarch of our family, died this month and I am positively gutted.  There were many anomalies surrounding her death but, those aside, I’ve lost a beloved Aunt, mother figure, mentor, friend, confidante and champion –  a hole in my life that can never be filled. I am Auntie Pam’s namesake so I imagine our strong bond was somehow preordained.   

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My Nana had three daughters; the eldest being my mum, three years later my Auntie Jo and eleven years later, my Auntie Pam.  Being a very young girl in war-ravaged Manchester during WWII, Auntie Pam was evacuated to Canada where she lived, in the Kew Beach neighbourhood of Toronto, with my Nana’s brother, our great Uncle George.  By the time the war had ended, Auntie Pam was firmly entrenched in her new Toronto life; she had completed high school, was enrolled in secretarial school and was a gifted ballerina, studying with renown Ballet Master, Boris Volkoff**.

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A thoroughly Canadian girl with no discernible English accent, having a wide circle of friends, very strong tethers to her new home city, and being entirely unused to the scarcity and rationing of goods in the UK, Auntie Pam was loathe to return to England. She was understandably lost, confused, miserable and lonely upon her return to Manchester so, encouraged by her brother, Nana packed up their few possessions and her three girls and immigrated to Canada. 

Version 3

Strength and love can be expressed in many ways but never more tenderly nor powerfully than by caring.  Care was something that was front and centre in my Auntie Pam’s life.  Much of her time was devoted to caring for others – Nana, me, her two kiddos, then when he began to decline, my Uncle Jimmy, followed by her four grand kiddos, then, when her health began to fail, my Mum and then me again. Care is an essential element in family life and that’s exactly who Auntie Pam was to all of us. 

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Auntie Pam and Uncle Jimmy

We shared a very strong and special bond.  We worked together, twice (I hired her both times) – first, at a banquet centre where I worked through high school and university.  This is us together at one of their Christmas parties: 

Then, once my career began, I had the opportunity to hire Auntie Pam at the bank where I was employed.  

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Most of my friends erroneously believe I learned to sew and embroider at Mum’s knee.  Nothing could be further rom the truth; she and I were like matches and tinder; she had no patience with me (but all the patience in the world for everyone else) and her teaching always felt like punishment.  With  Auntie Pam, though, it was all fun and sunshine.

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Me, Auntie Pam, Uncle Jimmy. I gave her a horse shoe??? Please don’t ask!!!

When I was very young, five or so, Auntie Pam wrote in my birthday card, Pamie, please never run faster than your guardian angel can fly. It appeared in nearly every card thereafter as I grew up. 

Auntie Pam was my “babysitter” during summer vacations and she always had projects and adventures planned to fill my days with accomplishments, escapades and joy. 

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Over the years there were shared highs and lows, joint family vacations, countless birthday and holiday celebrations, Sunday dinners, picnics, lunches together, and millions (scant exaggeration, promise) of cuppas — the first thing that happened when she arrived at our home or we hers, the kettle got plugged in, the pot warmed, cups collected, milk out, and perhaps even a biccie or two.  

Buddhists have a term — Mētta — from the ancient Pali, meaning loving kindness. That is exactly what Auntie Pam was to me (and probably to a lot of you who are reading this post, too).  She was my mētta. We all rely on loving kindness to thrive and my Auntie Pam showed great generosity with her love and kindness.  I just know that the ripples of her mētta will continue to spread for decades to come.  

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There are notes for several requiem celebrations in my Grands’ books of sermons and one Latin phrase recurs in each, lux perpetua lucebit vobis – may perpetual light shine upon you.  

Today I am shining a light on the life of Pamela Whitton. Grace be unto you, Auntie Pam, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ*** and may perpetual light shine upon you.  We all love you very much and shall miss you ever more.

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’Til next time, y’all…

*Walt Whitman

**If you’re a Torontonian, or visiting the city, there is an Historical Plaque honouring Boris Volkoff (known as “the father of Canadian ballet”) at the location of his original ballet studio – 771 Yonge Street. My Auntie Pam attended and spoke at the dedication.

***1 Corinthians 1:3 (KJV).  This was a favourite verse of my Auntie Pam. 

The Women of my maternal family tree:

Lillian Elsie Ada Hills (my nana)
Born: 27th January 1897, London, England
Died: 13th February 1969, Toronto, ON

Lily Craig Muir (my mum)
Born: 18th November 1920, London, England
Died: 16th February 2006, Cobourg, ON

Joyce Frederick Muir (my Auntie Jo)
Born: 8th October, 1923, London, England
Died: 14th March, Mississauga, ON

Pamela Muir (my Auntie Pam)
Born:  11th November 1932, Manchester, England
Died:  9th July 2020, Pickering, ON
(Besides sharing a Christian name, neither of us were given a middle name.)

Sandra – a breath of kindness.*

“But oh! the blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one’s deepest as well as one’s most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely. Oh, the comfort – the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person – having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”*

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I am always very thankful for generous, thoughtful, loyal and kind friends. Sandy is exactly such a friend and today, we bid a tearful goodbye to each other.  Sandy begins her move to Vancouver Island tomorrow.

Can you pinpoint the exact time you made a friend?  For Cam and I, that moment with Sandy and Paul was in the evening of a hospital Auxiliary recruitment fair fourteen years ago.  All four of us were volunteers, all four of us worked the fair which ran through the afternoon and resumed in the evening.  One of us (???) suggested we grab Swiss Chick for our supper, take it to their home and relax before we had to return for the evening session.  We did, a friendship was born and the rest, as they say…   Since that evening Sandy and I have been like peas and carrots and I know I shall feel like one of my limbs has been severed when she is living clear across our vast country.

It is not easy for me to expose my flaws to someone I cherish for fear of irreparably destroying our friendship and sending them running to the hills. I’ve always been able to present my unvarnished self to Sandy, which speaks directly to her innate goodness and understanding. Sandy has seen me completely exposed (literally – think bra shopping, and more importantly, figuratively).  She gently and kindly accepted my mess, pieced together the truth of me and stuck around.  

In my books, that is absolutely the purest, truest demonstration of friendship.  Sandy gave me the gift of being able to trust that my friend – even amidst my thoughtless words, my silences (turtling), my mistakes and my selfishness – would sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.

Even though our lives have changed dramatically during the past fourteen years, nothing ever changed between the two us. That’s one of the greatest treasures of life, those forever friends who are always part of one’s life, no matter the distance, no matter how often or seldom we’re able to get together and I hope and pray that never changes.  Even when one is in Nanaimo and the other in Cobourg.

But oh! the blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one’s deepest as well as one’s most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely.

Conversations with Sandy are the absolute best. Sandy is the friend to whom I can speak fearlessly, to whom I run when my health goes pear-shaped, when  I need to vent or when I want to celebrate or when I need sage advice or when I simply want to have fun.  Sandy has been a mentor to me through this season of my life. There’s a thread woven between us, connecting our hearts and because of it, we stay in touch almost daily, sharing our triumphs, our failures, our happiness and our sorrows.

Sandy has a generous heart, a gentle soul, the most genuine spirit, and the patience to endure the the mess that is me. Her decency, her values, courage, and ability shine through the moment you meet her.  Friends who feel like family are the best kind of friends.  There is nothing more important than family.  Sandy, you are a part of our family and we love you so, so much!

We are two lucky ducks to have found, shared and sustained such a strong friendship – a true sisterhood.

‘Til next time, y’all…

*Dinah Craik, A Life For A Life

 

Are your reading choices ever skewed by a random quote?

A number of years ago we planned a dream vacation to the panhandle (coastal) region of Florida – far away from the theme parks and crowds.  We found the perfect, townhouse-style condominium on the beach near Destin.  Our plan was for an early spring getaway, to cheat the end of winter and speed the arrival of spring.  Plus, both working, there were few times when our vacation opportunities synced and this was one of them.

Shortly prior to this planning process I had upgraded to my first digital SLR camera (I’d been using a digital point-and-shoot combined with Dad’s Nikon SLR) and I’d taken an “Introduction To Digital SLR Photography” class at Trent U.  I was excited about experimenting with my new-found photography knowledge and snazzy new camera.  The instructor was a wildlife photographer and, ‘though I’d always had the same interest, she ignited and amplified it for me. Then and ever since, she has encouraged and mentored me.  Upon hearing about our travel plans, she recommended a visit to St. John’s National Wildlife Refuge which, also on the panhandle, was a comfortable drive from our planned accommodations. 

Then I got sick and the trip didn’t happen.  I’d forgotten about St. John’s until I read a quote by American author and literary critic, Jeff VanderMeer:

“The world we are a part of now is difficult to accept, unimaginably difficult. I don’t know if I accept everything even now. I don’t know how I can. But acceptance moves past denial, and maybe there’s defiance in that, too.”

This is a passage from his book Acceptance – the third in his “Southern Reach Trilogy” of fantasy/SciFi/“weird fiction” novels.  It might best have been described by author Stephen King: “creepy and fascinating”.  Not (never) my cup of tea, but I borrowed a copy from the library and began reading.  I’m not a convert, but Mr. VanderMeer has beautiful language skills and I’m very glad I read this book (even though I began – and ended – my exploration of his writing with the third volume).  

Before signing out the book though (on-line, e-reader, our library was closed), I’d done some on-line reading about the author and book series and it turns out that “Area X” (the subject of the three books) was inspired by a long hike Mr. VanderMeer took through St. John’s National Wildlife Refuge.  Six degrees of separation?  Maybe.  Probably not.  Still, that is what piqued my interest, hence my question: Are your reading choices ever skewed by a random quote?

I first stumbled across this quote towards the end of March when I’d been isolated about three weeks. Those words felt uncomfortably appropriate for the time. It jarred, confused, angered and motivated me – that’s when I began jotting notes for this post.  Since then, of course, racism has taken over centre stage; in the USA for the systemic racism people with black and brown bodies are forced to endure and, here in Canada, for the systemic racism focussed on both black and Indigenous folk. Still, Mr. VanderMeer’s words feel timely and appropriate – I wonder if he has revisited this passage himself during this tempestuous time?  

In the context of pandemic and protests, and alone, the word acceptance felt like non-action, like continuing to fester in the quagmire that is racism, xenophobia and white supremacy.  Yet the inference is that before there can be change, there has to be acceptance – unqualified acceptance – of the existence of and abuse and trauma caused by systemic racism; But acceptance moves past denial, and maybe there’s defiance in that, too.

“There’s something happening here.
What it is ain’t exactly clear.”*

In Canada, we witnessed seemingly reluctant acceptance by the head of our national police service. Bowing to pressure (by journalists, BLM, Assembly of First Nations and extensive social media posts) RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki publicly walked back her assertion that, whilst there was racism within the mounties, it was not systemic, with this quote: 

“I did acknowledge that we, like others, have racism in our organization, but I did not say definitively that systemic racism exists in the RCMP, I should have.”

“As many have said, I do know that systemic racism is part of every institution, the RCMP included. Throughout our history and today, we have not always treated racialized and Indigenous people fairly.” 

Perhaps this is a platitude, perhaps she is sincere and perhaps this acceptance will move her past her denial, enough to generate worthy and lasting change.  Perhaps.  Promises have been made by the institutions guilty of systemic racism countless times over the years, all of which eventually revealed themselves as being mere lip service. To gain my respect, Ms. Lucki will have to either resign or enforce zero tolerance for racism and excessive force within the service and ensure every single officer in her command receives the necessary deprogramming and training.

“There’s something happening here.
What it is ain’t exactly clear.”*

Meantime in the USA, two significant federal developments:

This month the congressional Democrats wrote and introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, aimed at forcing nation-wide police accountability and reform.

Yesterday, President Trump announced and signed an Executive Order on police reform which included these provisions:

  1. Financial stimulus to police services to improve recruitment/retention practices from the communities they patrol; and
  2. Imposed restrictions on the use of deadly force; and 
  3. Orders to systemize the inclusion of trained mental health professionals and social workers on all non-violent calls; and
  4. The establishment of a national database of police officers with a history of using excessive force.

Although President Trump’s Executive Order is appropriate, please do not forget that the man is a raging racist.  Amid the stress of this moment a smile, courtesy of comedian and talk show host Trevor Noah:  When Trump speaks there is a boxing match going on between his mouth and his brain.

“There’s something happening here.
What it is ain’t exactly clear.”*

We’ve been on a bit of a 1960’s music kick in our home this summer and many of the lyrics – obviously of the protest songs, but of many others as well – have inspired and motivated me. My journal is rapidly filling with random thoughts, ideas, feelings and opinions.  Last night, whilst watching episode 1 “Isaac and Ishmael”, season 3 of “The West Wing” (the profits from which were all donated to the NYPD and NYFD post 9/11) we heard Buffalo Springfield’s protest song, “For What It’s Worth”.  

Al-Qaeda ’s terrorist attack on the USA on Tuesday morning, 11th September 2001 caused 2,996 deaths (my dear friend Selena’s son Aaron amongst those), 25,000 injuries, countless cases of PTSD, and since that time an enormous uptick in carcinogen-related cancers amongst first responders. It was a completely overwhelming, sad and confusing time. Truly, in that moment, I could not imagine anything worse happening in our world.  Now I know differently.  The past winter, month and week have proven that beyond measure with domestic-grown violence and abuse. But there is beauty, hope and love…

“There’s something happening here.
What it is ain’t exactly clear.”*

The protests are lasting, inspiring and fruitful; young people speaking their minds, a thousand people in the street singing songs and carrying signs. They’re all beautiful, hard-working, passionate, relentless and every one of them gives me hope. 

“Stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down”*

That the world we are a part of now is difficult to accept, unimaginably difficult is undeniable but people the world over have awakened.  More importantly they have stood up, stepped out, marched, rallied, held signs, chanted, raised their voices and this effort, this herculean effort imagined and spearheaded largely by BLM, is finally forcing change.  There’s something happening here!

’Til next time, y’all…

*Stephen Sills, lyrics to his song “For What It’s Worth”, originally performed by Buffalo Springfield (Stephen Sills, Neil Young, Richie Furay, Dewey Martin, Bruce Palmer).

Mr. Sills wrote his protest anthem in response to the Sunset Strip curfew riots in 1966. His beautiful lyrics are eerily apt today.  Please take a moment to read them (below) and, if you’ve the time and interest, please listen to Buffalo Springfield’s performance by clicking this link: “For What It’s Worth” 

For What It’s Worth

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware


I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

It’s s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Stop, now, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Songwriter: Stephen Stills

After The Coldest of Winters*

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Today I am writing in the garden again and it is no more than warm enough. It is beautiful, though; the sky is bright blue, there isn’t a cloud to be seen, it is sunny and there is lots of creature activity in our garden (for amusement whilst distraction from writing).

An idyllic interlude, until it wasn’t. A harsh allergy attack forced me back indoors, sneezing, coughing, nose running, eyes streaming and itching…  YUCK!

On Friday afternoon Ontarians were advised that not only are they now permitted to establish social circles of ten persons, but they are strongly encouraged to so so. These circles have been referred to as “bubbles” because we’re only permitted to belong to one such group, but within it, physical distancing is no longer necessary. Hugs! Kisses!

Living through the pandemic has been akin to surviving a long, cold winter.  We’ve missed human warmth – hugging and kissing.  We’ve missed squishing together in a booth at our favourite coffee shop exchanging news and gossip.  We’ve missed cuddling our grand kiddos on our laps as we read them a bedtime story.  We’ve missed cooking together and sharing busy, noisy, perfect family dinners.

love is not extinct
or endangered
and like spring
it will come to us
and bring warmth
even after
the coldest winters*

The lack of personal contact, intimate connection, has broken hearts and wreaked havoc upon psyches and relationships.  This was a huge concession by our Premier and one could almost hear the Ontarians’ collective sigh of relief. With these relaxed restrictions, love will come to us and bring warmth even after the coldest winters, even the winter of pandemic.

For the past three months we complained, copiously, that we’ve missed being able to see our parents, our children, our grands and our besties. And we’ve not just missed the fellowship, but the physicality of hugging and squeezing them.  

Through our isolation, a collective realization occurred; we’ve become acutely aware of taking for granted those days and moments of socialization and camaraderie. I’ve heard countless vows to never again squander such privilege and opportunity.  

In the midst of our busy lives it was so easy to say, “Sorry Mum, there’s a lot going on this weekend. Rain cheque?”  It was equally easy to postpone an invitation or delay plans to get together, believing there’d be unlimited opportunities to visit with each other next week, next month. The past three months have proven the fallacy of such assumptions.

This weekend, one of our friends and his wife drove to Ottawa to create a familial bubble with their daughter, her husband and their kiddos.  Another friend and his wife were hosting a pool party and barbecue for their kids, their partners and their kiddos.  I know there will be loads of hugs and kisses and cuddles at both gatherings.  I hope they remember their vows to cherish these moments.  To seize as many opportunities for togetherness as they can.  To savour at every possible chance, that warmth we’re rewarded with even after the coldest winters.

Have you expanded your circle?  Have you and nine others committed to exclusively occupying the same bubble?  I do so hope you have.  Nothing compares to giving and receiving love from our nearest and dearest!

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Friends, you and me… you brought another friend… and then there were three… we started our group… our circle of friends… and like that circle… there is no beginning or end.” It reminds me of a camp song I learned as a tad. It was always sung in rounds, loudly, off-key, with much more gusto than musicality but impassioned, well-enjoyed and a firm-favourite:

The circle of love goes around, around.
The circle of love goes around.
Reach out, grab a hand; someone needs you,
and the circle of love goes around.**

‘Til next time, y’all…

For my lovely friend KC – today’s brew is Antiox Apple, Cinnamon and Turmeric. Delish!
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*Ellen Everett from her book of poetry, i saw you as a flower.
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**Author/composer unknown.

Please reach out. I’ll be there!

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The reactions to one of my previous posts, For maybe in another world, were copious (43 e-mails and counting) and mostly unexpected. Most wondering (yup, sarcastically) what I think they should be writing and saying to each other instead of, We’re all in this together. I’ve given this a lot of thought, not wanting to sound glib (or sarcastic myself) and my suggestion is to simply say, sincerely and with love, reach out, I’ll be there.*

“Reach out (reach out for me).
I’ll be there, with a love that will shelter you.
I’ll be there, with a love that will see you through.”*

Each of us is battling our own demons.  Each of us faces trials and crises at different times in our lives and, though on an enormous scale, the pandemic is really no different.  We need our coping skills to kick in and more importantly, need to know we’ve developed the necessary coping mechanisms. The very best you can do for your friends and family when they’re struggling is to make sure they know that, if they reach out, you’ll be there with a love that will see them through. Nothing more. Nothing less. That knowledge is everything.  Trust!

There is a corollary, of course, which is that you absolutely must follow through unreservedly, else your words are hollow. When you’re called upon – whether it’s to be a sounding board,  to be the much-needed distraction, to run errands, to sit vigil, to bring food, to drive, etc. – you must be there. With love. Please know that the request made of you was very costly in terms of self esteem and independence and probably painful into the bargain; our hard-wiring is to offer not ask. Please remember that detail.  

The knowledge that you’ve got family and friends who’ll be there, with a love that will see you through is the most precious of gifts.  Promise!

Please call on me.  I’ll be there!

‘Til next time, y’all…

Note:  I’m becoming ever so slightly captivated by (obsessed with?) the music and lyrics of the 1960s.

*Songwriters: Paul Vincent Collins, Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Edward Jr. Holland. This is the 1967 recording by Four Tops if you’d like to listen: Reach Out I’ll Be There

Full lyrics:

Reach Out I’ll Be There

Now if you feel that you can’t go on
Because all of your hope is gone,
And your life is filled with much confusion
Until happiness is just an illusion,
And your world around is crumblin’ down;
Darling, reach out (come on girl, reach on out for me)
Reach out (reach out for me.)
I’ll be there, with a love that will shelter you.
I’ll be there, with a love that will see you through.
I’ll be there to always see you through.
When you feel lost and about to give up
‘Cause your best just ain’t good enough
And you feel the world has grown cold,
And you’re drifting out all on your own,
And you need a hand to hold:
Darling, reach out (come on girl, reach out for me)
Reach out (reach out for me.)
I’ll be there, to love and comfort you,
And I’ll be there, to cherish and care for you.
I’ll be there to love and comfort you.
I can tell the way you hang your head,
You’re without love and now you’re afraid
And through your tears you look around,
But there’s no peace of mind to be found.
I know what you’re thinkin’,
You’re alone now, no love of your own,
But darling, reach out (come on girl, reach out for me)
Reach out (reach out for me.)
Just look over your shoulder
I’ll be there, to give you all the love you need,
And I’ll be there, you can always depend on me.

Performed by Four Tops: Levi Stubbs, Duke (Abdul) Fakir, Obie (Renaldo) Benson and Lawrence Payton.