She found herself – alone, in Vietnam…

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I am leaving for Vietnam in 23 days. I’ll be travelling solo into an entirely new and different landscape, soundscape, smellscape.  I am excited and nervous and eager and anxious all at once. I want to strike a comfortable balance between seeing and experiencing as much as I can AND… relaxing, enjoying and taking in experiences as they present themselves to me.

I’m trying not to plan this trip. I know roughly what I’d really love to see and do but I am not booking or planning anything beyond my first two nights’ accommodations. I’m not sure if that is wise or pure folly but it feels right to me somehow. When I arrive in Hanoi, I’ll check into my gorgeous hotel and delight in the fact that my daughter was there last spring… I’ll love having that shared experience. I’m going to love knowing that my youngest daughter and I are in the same time zone, as she is travelling SE Asia on her own with her friend. We won’t meet up, but I’ll feel close… close-ish?

Travelling solo is something I had never really planned. I mean I’ve done solo trips to attend conferences and so on but not… travelling, alone. I’ll be carrying a backpack… like a kid. Me, my degenerative discs and a backpack full of Advil… ! I’m an absolute novice at this. I did travel through Mexico a few times as a young’un with the same kind of planning scheme; knowing where I’d stay the first and last nights, winging it the rest of the time, but that was (ahem) some time ago.

I’m kind of proud of myself…either that or I’m certain I’m foolhardy . My own sweetie states categorically that he wouldn’t do what I’m doing. I asked if he meant going to Vietnam or travelling alone… he said Yes.

But hey… it’s easy to be proud of myself ahead of the fact; booking a plane ticket takes no bionic cohones, after all. It’s the actual follow through that will be the test. It’s going to be me, a hotel reservation and a guidebook downloaded to my kindle app. I’ve got a few blog posts saved and the names of a few tour companies, cruise operators and trekking guides. I know of a few interesting places to visit in the middle part of the country… beaches & mud baths. I am sure I want to trek through the northern rice terraces and spend time on Catba island, spelunk a few caves and kayak up to a lady selling cold beer from a raft in a floating village beside the karsts in Halong Bay. But who knows. Worst case scenario? I get freaked out and hunker down in Hanoi or I get myself to a beach and stay there for 2 weeks. Not so bad…

Oy. What have I done?! I wish I could approach this with only exhilarated anticipation but there is an element of fear. Maybe that’s good. I made a list for myself of the things I wanted for 2016. It’s a list of challenges…more than any resolutions I’ve ever made, I want to keep these:

2016     Travel… OFTEN! Big trips, small trips, overnight escapes or camping  Do it. Just GO.   Purge… excess! Go through cupboards and closets and get rid of it. GET RID OF IT.  Minimize… expenses. Spend less to TRAVEL MORE!   Explore… my own limits. Try things I’ve never tried, go where I’ve never gone. Dare.  Laugh… A LOT! Relax and let go of how I think things should be and enjoy the comical, farcical nature of life as it is. Spend time with people who laugh…they lift me.  Nurture… FRIENDSHIPS, myself, those I care for. Take time to be with friends, make time for easy and challenging relationships. Make that time important.  Have Courage… FIND IT! Do what scares me. Be alone, travel alone, push my own boundaries, go places, say what I feel, own my shit.  

Life is short. Life is stupidly, terrifyingly short. Don’t waste it! GO!!

And so I’ve had my immunizations, I’ve borrowed a backpack and I’m getting myself ready in so many ways. In October I went rappelling… canyoneering in Zion National Park. I’d never done that before. I guess I should have been scared but somehow, it was what I’d been waiting for. I’m ready now, for this new adventure. Kind of. I’m kind of ready for this adventure.

I chose Vietnam, this trip, because it is so many miles outside my comfort zone you can’t even SEE my comfort zone. I’ll be out of my depth. I won’t have any familiar points of reference, anyone to lean on or anyone to blame. All. Me. Make or break, it’s going to be on me.

Here goes…!

Dear Friends who live in Cities

IMG_2143Dear friends who live in cities, in urban centres with concrete and towers and suburbs… how do you do it? How do you live without berries underfoot and hills to climb and rivers to dip your toes in? How do you pass your days without escape?

How do you make your way from 8:30 am Monday to 5pm Friday without a climb, a walk, a deep spruce tip infused breath? How do you navigate a week without air too big to gulp and skies too large to see?

I love your cities. I love the fast and the bright and plentiful, the rich and delicious. I love the available and the nearby and the best… but I long for dirt. I long for air and odour, unexpected fungus erupting from moist ground and moss.

My too long week is eased, aided, tempered by yellow leaves and spongy ground. My bad days are righted by rain on lichen and the snap of dead branches underfoot. My therapy is a walk alone in the woods.

Dear friends who live in cities, where do you go to breathe? How do you live without a berry patch?

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Pursuing Radical Silliness & Becoming Myself

IMG_5045 I think I’m getting closer to being who I am. I’m starting to listen to the voice inside more, letting myself do things I used to put off or talk myself out of that bring me joy. For reasons I don’t understand, I spent many years not really swimming much; I’d go in the lake if the kids did, but rarely just to please myself. Reading through previous blog posts I’ve come to realize that somehow, swimming and connection with water has become a kind of touchpoint for me. So this summer I guess it’s all about the water. Every opportunity I can find, I’m in. I’ve started travelling with my swimsuit and towel in the back of my car. If I forget to bring it and the opportunity presents itself? I guess I’m going commando.

Do women do this more than men? Hold ourselves back from what makes us happy because of some crazy inner voice or fear or sense of propriety? Maybe it’s just me… I recently read a fabulous quote by Anne Lamott and it grabbed me by the throat. I’ve had it on my fridge since the day I read it.

“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day and you’re 65 or 75 and you never got your memoir or novel written, or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy, or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”

I’m 48, soon to be 49. That gives me a bit of time between today and 65 or 75 but based on the last few decades, it’ll be here before I can say Huh?  My mother is 70, and she’s 21 years older than me. Doing the math left me a bit stunned when we celebrated her birthday. That means I’m only 21 years from 70. Holy…. To me, that means I’m on a mission now. I’ve got a lot of experiences that have been waiting around for someday. I want to go to the night market in Chiang Mai,  to Vietnam,  Positano, Provence… I MUST visit the Caves of Cappadocia in Turkey. I’ve always wanted to, in fact. Now it feels a bit urgent.

I know I may live another 40 years, happy and strong and sassy but I’d better get a move on. I’m not waiting… I’m not waiting to have the right person to travel with. Not waiting for a new partner, a best friend with the same travel style and vacation days and budget as me… I’m going to go. This summer I’ve camped on my own, swum on my own, gone hunting for cool new experiences on my own.

This fall, the universe willing, I’ll be travelling to South East Asia. On my own. That is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying… fingers crossed it’ll be one of the biggest adventures of my year. I’m not going to lay money that it’s going to be the biggest though; of the 365 days 2015 has to offer I’m hoping to create some pretty spectacular memories. I’ve already tucked a few into my “to be reviewed later” folder… can’t wait to add a few more. Wanna go for a swim? IMG_5073 FYI, these photos were taken a couple of years ago at the summit enroute to Skagway Alaska. That lake… it’s brisk. We’ll call it brisk. But it was glorious and I’ll be forever glad I jumped in.

Gratitude, Joy and Land Sickness

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Last weekend I swam naked in the inky sea at midnight under a billion stars. The sea was filled with the magic that makes phosphorescence… I became a glow stick. A giggling, swirling, giddy glow stick. If I raised my hand out of the water, a thousand stars trickled down my fingers and arm back into the glittery sparkly sea. It was magic. Pure magic.

I spent three days with friends who exist entirely outside of my normal life. They have never been to my home, never met my family, my husband. They’ve never seen me in my space, my comfort zone. They don’t know my work, my reputation, my art, nothing outside what I have told them. They know only the me that exists when I am away from my responsibilities and the weight of expectation.  They like me, and I like them. Interestingly, I have never seen them in their day to day either. They live in another city and we met through mutual friends. Every time we’ve visited it’s been an event outside of the ordinary, and that’s amazing and freeing.

I am not one to swim naked at midnight under any kind of sky, as a rule. I’m also not one to sit for three days on the bow of a sailboat imagining a life quite different from the one I have. I am rarely still…I am rarely aware enough to notice things like the wonder of phosphorescence… like the frequent passage of satellites overhead.

I want to be someone who swims naked. I want to be someone who lays back on the deck of a boat and gazes upward. I want more time to gaze…

As with anything else, if you want change, you’ve gotta step up and make change. It’s in the wind… change.

If you find phosphorescence in your life… anywhere, I recommend jumping in. Naked. And if you feel a bit land sick when you come ashore, well that’s a small price to pay, don’t you agree?

Beer from Heaven

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The wilderness of the Northwest Territories is an unusual honeymoon destination, but that’s where my new husband and I headed when we were married 21 years ago. Our courtship had included a wilderness river canoe trip on the Beaulieu River and we returned there after the wedding.  The 7 day trip was a major feat of planning, requiring a float plane to get us in and another to get us out. Packing required military discipline…nothing extraneous, nothing heavy. This was important as our first day had something like 13 portages (oh bliss).

Bug spray was the top of the list as far as liquids in our luggage; we carried a small flask of Grand Marnier and a 6 pack of beer to begin the trip. After it was gone, we were drinking river water. Period. Our wedding was early July, and even in Canada’s north the days get pretty hot… after those river chilled beer were emptied and the cans crushed and packed…. well, you can imagine how good they tasted in retrospect.

We were paddling down a fairly narrow stretch of river, about the width of a secondary highway.  In the middle of the river about a kilometre away was a small island, preceded by a few large rocks -each about the size of a small car, emerging from the water.  The nearest of these large rocks was taller than it was wide;  pointing up at the sky from the icy river  with a small, flat ledge on top.

And now, picture us for a moment… sun baked, about the 4th day of our trip, hot and paddling in our swimsuits.

As we approached the first rock…. we both blinked, shook our heads, looked at each other and back at the rock. Incredulous, eyes bugging in disbelief, a giggle bubbled out of first me, then him. Not a word of a lie… perched as if waiting for us atop the rock… a six pack of Labatts Blue. How the hell?! Was it a mirage? Were we hallucinating?  Was it beaver fever?! As we got closer we could see it was indeed a six pack of beer, and amazingly it still had the plastic rings holding it together. What?!!

We paddled a lot faster, suddenly… pulling up alongside this rock; Tim leaped from the canoe and scrambled up to the shimmering, gleaming prize balanced at its pinnacle. He looked at it and hollered OH MAN! The cans aren’t even OPENED!!!

This was heaven…this was manna from heaven! He reached out, grabbed the six pack and lifted it triumphantly overhead, letting out a loud bark of surprised laughter. I laughed along with him… even more when water started pouring from the thousands of tiny puncture holes all over each of the cans.

Unopened, they had obviously gone overboard when some previous paddlers dumped. Battered by the rocks their golden contents had long since been replaced by… river water.

Although  unsure who had placed the trophy on its perch to tempt and torment us, we were not about to mess with success.  When we stopped laughing, Tim carefully replaced the cans where he had found them, high above the water, ready to glint in the sunlight and play siren to the next paddlers to come down river.

I mean really…. wouldn’t you have done the same?

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Live from Yukon, Eagle’s nest web-camera, 24/7 (Updated link April 2014)

Live from Yukon, Eagle’s nest web-camera, 24/7

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Baby eagle # 1 hatched this morning; Mom was just feeding him/her a very first meal of meat. Amazing to watch! Thank you to Yukon Energy for erecting the nest alongside the beautiful Yukon River and for installing this webcam. We are so lucky to have a window on this eagle family’s development. So exciting!

Holy Crap – I’m FLYING!

wonder womanWhen was the last time you did something for the first time? I read that question in some magazine’s “finding personal satisfaction” or such quiz recently. It gave me pause; I don’t think they meant trying a new recipe or walking the dog on a different route. I think there’s a time in your life when you do LOADS of things for the first time, then the firsts kind of taper off as you get older and more experienced. And more nervous, and anxious, and self aware. Bungee jumping seems freakin’ awesome when you’re 19, young and single, but throw in a couple of mini-me’s and it’s downright irresponsible.

So… 3 kids, all teenagers now and getting ready to launch. And what have I done lately that I never did before? Not a lot, except use a more intense eye cream and get botox.

Mexico…zip lining. Yes. I drove an ATV, rode a whole bunch of really high ziplines, did a bit of rapelling and I FLEW LIKE FREAKIN’ WONDER WOMAN! That’s what I said. I rode 3/4 mile on a zipline in Puerto Vallarta that has you suspended on your belly, arms by your sides, flying through the tree tops at 60 miles per hour. Bam! Never did THAT before! That was pretty great, actually. Pretty damned great actually (at least aside from the Go-Pro camera strapped to my helmet, staring me in the face at alarmingly close range)!!

That was really scary… scary and exciting and new. And they were right, those quiz writing people. Doing things that are scary and exciting and new is a zap… a jolt.. a blast of power and a reminder that there’s a whole lotta living left to do.

I am 46 (shhh). I am young, strong, healthy and a tiny bit braver than I was 5 minutes before I flew like Superman. Now I just need a cape, and I’ll be unstoppable.