Sunday, January 27, 2013

Walking: The Right Thing To Do.

Toronto is the capital of the province of Ontario here in Canada.Toronto is a wonderful city to visit. It has Greek town and China town, it has theatre, museums and music. It has the CN Tower and is a great place to take in major league sports. It is also the seat of the Ontario provincial government. It is thus that I had democracy on my mind when I travelled to Toronto on Saturday to walk.
Buses on Jarvis street....only two out of hundreds.
We clambered off our buses, rows and rows of them lined Jarvis street. Immediately we caught sight of huge numbers of people making their way to Allan Gardens, a park where we were to congregate before starting our march for democratic rights.
My husband Steve flying his union banner.
The cause? Mainly that the Liberal government had stripped teachers, union members, of their right to collective bargaining. For the past few months teachers have participated in rotating strikes. Their lives and the lives of millions of children have been disrupted and uncertain.

Education is a right and in Canada we are fortunate to enjoy that right so when the government ups and unilaterally changes the rules that pertain to these rights, we the people get angry. And when we get anyone who follows this blog knows.....we walk.

The call to march came as union leaders took the stage. Flags billowed above our heads and placards bobbed up and down with our chants. We stamped and danced with the drums and whistles. It wasn't long before the cold started clawing at my toes so I stamped and danced harder.

Me walking.
Numerous organizations handed out hats from the backs of trucks, scarves from boxes on picnic tables, tickets for free coffee and hot chocolate and the socialist papers, hawked at every corner. We were organized and ready. Full of adrenaline, we moved.
Media and their camera's weaved in and out of the crowd. We followed the sounds of the drums. I looked up to follow the sound of a helicopter as it hovered, surveying us; a giant snake of people winding through the streets of Toronto.

We walked in groups but together in solidarity for not only teacher's rights but Aboriginal rights, women's rights, worker's rights, poverty, children and democratic rights.

We passed mounted police on horses and bicycles. We passed curious onlookers and we passed Liberal delegates who ran frantically for refuge as our wall of people descended on Maple Leaf Gardens, our destination which was the site of the Liberal leadership convention.
A line of police on bicycles watching our progress.
Closing in on them one delegate offered to pinch my butt. I offered to report him to the police woman who was standing in front of us. Another delegate elbowed me as he threw out expletives, demanding we (insert expletive here) off and leave him alone. I understood his frustration, but I didn't understand the blow to my arm as I was simply standing in silence holding my placard high above my head, the same placard that a minute later prompted a warning from another police woman ( I love that there were so many female law enforcers present!) to not poke her with it.
Can you spot the elephant in the room?!

There were close to 30,000 of us. As we closed in on our destination I found myself pushed up against the barricades that divided the rights of the Liberals to pass safely and the rights of we the people to protest safely. Police carefully monitored the border. A man fraught with dispassionate anger screamed at the police and swore at the elderly and incapacitated delegates simply because they were Liberal. He finally collapsed into convulsions that just so happened to block the path in front of the barricade.
It was rough, but at the end of the day there were no reports of serious injury (physical) or of any arrests.
Three hours of walking, of cold fresh air and of spirited energies made our walk back to the buses as happy one. We came, we walked, we made our point.

Walking. Sometimes it is the thing to do when we are angry, confused or sad. Sometimes it is what we do to find the simple beauty in life.

Sometimes, it is simply the right thing to do.

For more on the protest follow the link.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Walking:The Miraculous Places You Can Go.

By Walt Whitman

Why! who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach,
just in the edge of the
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love--or sleep in the bed at night with
any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with my mother,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds--or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down--or of stars shining so quiet
and bright,
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new moon in spring;
Or whether I go among those I like best, and that like me best--
mechanics, boatmen, farmers,
Or among the savans--or to the soiree--or to the opera,
Or stand a long while looking at the movements of machinery,
Or behold children at their sports,
Or the admirable sight of the perfect old man, or the perfect old
Or the sick in hospitals, or the dead carried to burial,
Or my own eyes and figure in the glass;
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring--yet each distinct, and in its place.

To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same;
Every spear of grass--the frames, limbs, organs, of men and women,
and all that concerns them,
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.

To me the sea is a continual miracle;
The fishes that swim--the rocks--the motion of the waves--the ships,
with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

I may never walk through Narnia or Neverland but I can walk the same paths that inspired their authors. Walking in their footsteps brings to life the world around me. The landscapes that became the setting for their stories are all the more richer for me as I touch the walls, smell the grass and watch the waves roll onto beaches that are immortalized in books.

Whitman memorial. Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada.

This past summer I sojourned into Bon Echo Provincial Park where Walt Whitman spent time writing and members of the Group of Seven found inspiration. It is an easy jaunt to this spot where I can take in the same sky, water and rocks that spoke to Whitman, the Seven as well as numerous other artists. Looking out from atop a rocky outcrop my eyes spanned the vista of clear sparkling water and tree tops lush and green. The world seemed quiet from this vantage point and I could see how such a view would put to Whitman's mind that idea of miracles.
I once walked through Lowell Massachusetts. The small town was just as I imagined it might be like when I read from Jack Kerouac's The Town and the City. Walking past the schools and industry that shaped his mind I thought that maybe in that one experience I was looking through his eyes.

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
Part of the fun of walking is knowing that your feet can take you where others have walked before. I might never really have the chance to walk through a Dr. Seuss book, but I have walked through Seussland at Universal Studios and it was a dream come true. All the colours of the whosists and whatsits came to life along with The Cat in the Hat who hugged me and my children with affection.

I have walked through Elmira, New York where Mark Twain spent time and I saw that piece of American culture that is apple pie and football. Great boulevards on which grand whitewashed wood planked houses stand with their picket fences calling to me to remember Tom Sawyer and his whitewashing adventure.

I am fortunate to live in an historic city where I can walk past the spot that Charles Dickens slept during a visit and past the houses where the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald penned his letters.
The corner of Clarence and King streets in Kingston, Canada where Dickens once walked.
Wander through ancient Greek or Roman ruins and you can almost hear the thoughts of great philosophers and lawmakers who set the precedence for our society today.
Step foot in Ann Frank's house in Amsterdam and soak in the sombre reality that a little girl truly did exist.
Meander through Greenwich Village in New York City and know that you are walking the same streets as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dylan Thomas and a whole host of other writers and artists.

What paths have you wandered that have brought to life a book or a piece of art?

Last fall I wandered down Mulberry Street in New York City. It was another dream come true because of all the sights and sounds that to think...I saw there...with my very own eyes.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Walking Away The Blues Under Grey Skies.

Look at this from one perspective and it is grey. Look again and see the colours.
Winter weather is a crap shoot in Canada. Living by the shores of the Great Lake Ontario we never know which weather systems are going to pass us to the North or will hit us with the exacerbation of the winds coming off the lake. Southeastern Ontario is prone to grey skies and lately a lot of rain. The atmosphere settles down on us like an army rationed wool blanket, pressing us into a winter funk. So many of us experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD as a result which is a depression related to a lack of sunshine and a shift in the weather.

Sinking into my bed last night I pulled the soft cotton sheets and my duvet up around my ears in order to drown out the sounds of the wind and of the cold rain spattering against my window. Hearing the same sounds in the morning makes it difficult to rise. On a bleary morning the room remains shrouded in a grey light of dawn despite the late hour and the only motivation I have is to crawl deeper under my bedcovers.
On a brighter day when I hear the birds singing, the morning splinters of sun curl around the sides of my blind, softly drawing me from my slumber and warming my room. I sit up slowly and rub my eyes and smile; for a smile mirrors the presence of the sun. I was surprised this day to find the sun filling the morning sky but according to the forecast I will awaken tomorrow to more sounds of rain pummelling my house and my spirit; threatening my smile.

Having a damp grey sky hang over you is like wearing a wet grey woolen dress. It is no fun. A sliver of cold slips into the marrow of your bones creating a chill that is impossible to shake. The day resembles twilight and tricks your mind into thinking that it is time for bed. The grey limestone and concrete cityscape are drab. Your spirit is encapsulated by the dreary landscape making you prone to frowning at the snowbanks which are dotted with the dirt brown water that splashes up from the salty streets.Then the snow turns to brown slush and the sidewalks are inundated with pools of brown runoff.

We are tired. So tired. You feel like you can't see straight when there is an absence of light. There is the perpetual feeling that the world is slowing down so why look forward to anything?
Every year I get sucked into this dreadful state of being but this year I intend to fight back; to look for the seams of silver thread that line the blanket of grey.
With this in mind I walked. I walked under the blue sky and I walked under the grey sky.

Good morning mister sunshine, You brighten up my day.....
                                                                            ~Bee Gees

           The view from my backyard on a sunny day.
The view from my backyard on a bleak day.                     

I get shivers looking at these two pictures. My mood shifts with my eyes, brightening when I look to the left and dimming when I look to the right.

                                        Oh mister sun, sun, mister golden sun,
                                        Please shine down on me.
                                       Oh mister sun, sun, mister golden sun,
                                       Hiding behind the tree.


  The picture on the left was taken during a walk on a sunny day. The picture on the left was taken on a grey day. 

My first walk was pleasant. The air was light and I could hear the trickle of water streaming from rooftops and alongside the roads as the sun melted the snow.

Note the glint of sunshine off of the barbecue.
The sun was blinding but it warmed my face and filled me with vitamin D. Enough to raise the serotonin levels in my brain which in turn gives me the power to raise my happiness level for a few days.  I recently read Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness in which he promotes the power of positive psychology. In basic layman's terms I translated his words to understand that I could find happiness by adjusting my attitude to my environment; work with what I have. What do I have? I have the firm belief that there is beauty in everything.

There is a certain clarity that the sun brings; light in the sky and light in the mind. It is easy to find happiness when there is a great luminescent body to light your way.
I thought, certainly there has to be beauty on the bleak days too. Knowing what I do about myself I decided to focus on the good that small things bring. I decided to find the beauty in a grey day.

How do you find beauty on a grey day?

It is ironic that to chase the blues away I was looking for colour.

One positive note about living amidst a grey pallet is that any colour that does exist tends to stand out. Walking under the pallor of a sombre sky I begin looking for anything to brighten my day. I was going to make it a pleasant day. I walked by Canadian Tire and noticed the red in their signs. The colour really stood out against the dreariness of the day. The flash of red, blue, green and silver cars driving by made the cityscape come alive. Red brick houses which fade under the summer sun now stood out.

At first glance the picture is drab but on closer inspection you will notice the mossy greens on the tree.
I then looked for colour in the natural world. From a different, more upbeat perspective the dirty snow becomes pepper speckled. What used to be dead brown leaves left hanging on half naked trees are now bright touches of colour against the drab landscape. Shades of green touch everything. The few birds left create colour in the sky as they fly by.
Look at the world as though it is a painting and you will find the hints of yellow, orange and blues that support the surface of the landscape. Once you train your mind to see the world in this way it becomes easier to embrace the blues and the greys.

If you choose to look on the bright side then there is hope. The winter blues become a synonym for shades of clean snow and clear ice on a frozen lake.

The skies will always be blue above the grey clouds. We just need to remind ourselves of that when we take the long walk through winter.

I leave you with a burst of colour to lighten you winter.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Walking In The Snow: One Canadian's Route to Culture.

Winter sun on a clear day.
The winter sun is shy this morning prefering to stretch out and yawn its way into the day. It makes shadows of the tree limbs before rising slowly to peek over the tips of tree tops. The rays fan out and the world begins to sparkle. Icicles dangle precipitiously from my rooftop and my yard shines brilliantly with millions of crystals that make up the snow. Yes. Snow has finally fallen and I must now face the prospect of walking in it.
Snow drifts reach the windows of a nearby school.

What is a Canadian winter without alternative methods of propelling ourselves forward? In the north they make regular use of sled dogs and snowmobiles. In the woods snowshoes are needed in order to pass over deep snow. I once used skates to get from point A to point B on a frozen Winnipeg street.
This week saw me meet winter head on, face first and butt down. I spent the week strapping my feet into four alternative methods of movement over the snow.

Adventure #1: Sleds and snowboards.

My first attempt at snowboarding.
The hill was small but the snow was packed in layers over the slumbering grasses. People of all ages were settling onto sleds and pushing away from the top of the hill in order to speed down.
There were whoops of joy and tears of pain as the sleds tossed bodies this way and that. The hill had lumps and bumps that bruised our bums but laughter and smiles soothed away the smarts.
My son and his friend were breaking in a new snowboard. The more I watched them the more I wanted to try. I grew up downhill skiing but had never tried snowboarding. My son grudgingly passed me his bright red Burton and watched with a wary eye my attempts to strap in. I managed, only falling over a couple of times. My husband was on call to help me up then I was on my way, staggering sideways along the hill rather than swooping gracefully in twists and turns. I was thrilled though. The wind was with me whipping fluries in circles around me as I fell and fell again until I finally reached the bottom of the hill. Hardly discouraged I laughed at myself and at the looks on my son and his friends faces, especially when I asked them to help me up.
Strapping two feet to a single board and flying down (or in my case down, then across, then down) the hillside was an adventure but I was ready for a rest. I gave myself a day then headed for the ski slopes.

Back on skiis after only fifteen years!

Adventure #2: Downhill Skiing

Getting back on skiis after fifteen years is easy; it is truly like riding a bike...downhill...on snow...with poles....ok, so it isn't anything like riding a bike, but it does come back to you pretty quickly!
We went to Calabogie Peaks located near Renfrew Ontario. This is the hill I grew up on. I took skiing lessons here from an early age and spent many weekends here on school ski trips and with family and friends.
 Again, I struggled with the equipment. Much has changed since I last skiied and I was using rentals this day. Ski boots are very different than snow boots. They are thick solid masses of plastic and metal designed to keep you strapped on to two skinny sticks that propel you down mountains. Downhill skiing can get you from one place to another quickly but the thrill is in flying past trees and around bends that threaten to end abrubtly until you turn the corner and realize that the path continues until you approach the homestretch at which point you let it all go and glide without hesitation to the grounds circling the lodges and ski lifts.
Unlike the snowboard I was able to make use of both legs but skiing is nothing like walking so my next adventure was to try snowshoes.

Adventure #3: Snowshoes

Couple Snowshoeing in Canada 1907. Picture is from the Government of Ontario Archives and is public domain.

A couple of days later I awoke to a sky that was an ominous grey colour.The drab clouds hung discordant against the backdrop of yellow and olive greens nestled into the makeup of the trees along the horizon.

Sallow colours of a swamp against the gray winter sky.
A chickadee peeks at me from his perch in a pine tree.
It took me a moment to figure out how to strap the oval shaped titanium framed shoes on to my boots but once I was past the wooden steps and out the door I was filled with the spirit of adventure. The frame of the shoe is shaped so as to distribute the weight of the walker so they do no sink into deep snow. The snowshoe facilitates walking in the winter so it is no wonder that once I hit the trail I fell in love! The day remained overcast and mild but precipitation held off. I walked with a friend. We tried walking fast, slow, on the path, off the path and into the woods. We took turns leading and following. I took my friend through a deep area of snow and up an embankment. We noted how our muscles felt and decided that snowshoeing was a great workout. It was also a pleasant walk in the woods. The trees were filled with chickadees who followed us along the trail. We stopped to look out at a pond and watched cattails bend with the wind. Snowshoes are efficient but slower paced and I relished the opportunity to once more be walking among the flora and fauna that nature shares with us.
Walking with snowshoes.

Adventure #4: Cross-Country Skiing.

A lesson in cross-country skiing saw me slide my feet into softer bootie like gear and prepare for gliding on sleek skiis over the countryside, which in this case was the trails at the Little Cataraqui Conservation Area.
Cross country skiing requires a completely different kind of boot.

Well, I was preparing but my adventure turned into something quite different than expected.
I was so excited to be wearing comfortable equipment. The sport has a graceful quality about it which makes it look easy to do but during my lesson at the end of my adventurous week I was to learn that I had left the most difficult experience for last.
I had joined a group of wide-eyed outdoor enthusiasts who all had experience downhill skiing, hiking and skating. We were ready to hit the trails thinking that it would only be a matter of getting a feel for the equipment. We were wrong.
We were led into a large warehouse of a garage where we were then directed to take off our outdoor clothes and to sit on the scattering of office chairs held together with duct tape and dust.
Our instructor was a kind, optimistic woman who immediately informed us that we would have a lot to learn before getting comfortable on the skiis. We went through quick lessons on the proper clothing (wear acrylic and no hat), how to fall (to the side), how to get up (roll to your front), how to hold the ski pole (hand up and inside the strap) and finally the parts of the equipment. I admit I started to get bored until I realized that every skill I was learning could come in handy on my walks. Maybe I should invest in a headband and goodness knows when I hit the hills of the Camino I will need to know how to best use my walking stick.
We finally got to test our knowledge outside in the snow. Sure enough I fell. Backwards. On my butt. Mistake number one. The next few times I fell I did so to the side and felt my pride redeemed. Somewhat.
We practiced double poleing, diagonal strides and the snowplow. We worked on form and technique until our hour and a half was up. Today my muscles ache and I am bruised despite not having even touched a tip to the trails! I will return however. I did start to get a feel for it and it is a graceful sport once you get going.

This week I was reminded that there are no obstacles, only opportunities.

At any point this week I could have quit. I could have used the snow as an excuse to stay indoors wrapped up in my Bay blanket drinking my Timmy's and wearing my woolen Roots pyjamas and socks and reading my Robert Service poems but instead I made the choice to put myself out there and embrace the Canadian winter and all of the opportunities it offers. I walked/travelled many paths but the best path of all led to the heart of my Canadian culture. Like the Canadians who came before me I felt this week to be of hearty stock. I will keep walking this winter, no matter how high or deep the snow gets.

What do you learn from your winter traditions and culture?