Category Archives: Lifestyle

Roots Part II: To grey, or not to grey

If you were to walk up to a group of women in their forties and fifties and say “Roots” out of context, the first thought of many, if not all, would be hair.

They wouldn’t think about tree roots snaking out through soil in search of nourishment, and they wouldn’t start pondering family ancestry. They’d wonder if they left it too long between dye jobs.

For the past year I have been transitioning from dyed hair to natural, and it has been an en-lightening (pun intended) process. For women, there is little middle ground on this topic. Most fall at one of two extreme opposite ends of a spectrum.

  • Abject Horror: “What? You’re going natural? (They step back as if it’s contagious.) Don’t do that! It will age you horribly. I am never going grey.”
  • Militant Support: “Good for you! (They thrust a victorious arm in the air.) I don’t understand why women ever colour their hair. Natural hair colour is an act of resistance against societal beauty norms for women. You will never regret this.”

Considering there are such extreme opinions on this, I myself was quite ambivalent. In the end though, I made my final decision instantaneously as a result of one story told to me by a friend.

She told me about a woman she knew who, on her deathbed, reached out to family to implore that they make sure she had no roots showing when she was laid out in her coffin.

I thought, “God, when I’m on my deathbed, the very last thing I want to be thinking about is my roots.”

And, we never really know when that deathbed might arrive, right? It might come sooner than I expect. And, even if it doesn’t, I’m 57, so statistically I’ve got 25 or 30 more years left. How much of that time do I want to spend thinking about my roots? Surely, there are more important and interesting things for me to think about than that.

“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”

from Desiderata

Don’t get me wrong. I grieve for my former dark hair. I have thick, wavy hair, and when it was my natural, lustrous dark brown, I loved it. I was vain about it, in fact. I have never wanted to be blonde, ever.

BUT, grief is no reason to avoid action. I decided to follow the advice of Desiderata and take kindly the counsel of the years and surrender gracefully the things of youth.

Arlene Somerton Smith
On my way to full silver and loving it

On my recent hiking trip I met many silver-haired women who were striding confidently on steep hiking paths, enjoying the spectacular views, and not spending one second of their time thinking about roots.

In the time I have left, however long that might be, I want to stride confidently on the steeps, enjoy the views, and let my mind whir and spin with how to make the world a better place.

This aging thing is a blessing, every day.

Arlene Somerton Smith silhouetted against glaciers and the sky on the Plain of Six Glaciers trail, Lake Louise, Alberta
Enjoying the view on the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

Work, rest, play, or all three at once

What did you do for work this summer?

For rest?

For play?

How often did you work, rest and play at the same time?

Those questions were the topics for discussion at my church recently, and we were surprised to discover how often we choose to spend our time doing things that feed us in more ways than one.

Rocky shoreline of Lake Huron
I spent some time this summer on the shores of Lake Huron.

Gardening, for example, is work for sure, but meditative and joy-filled too. We take days to prepare for camping trips and more days cleaning up after, but the time spent resting by the campfire or playing in the lake make it all worth while. A hike up a forest path accelerates our heart rate and strains the muscles, and then we get to enjoy the view and sleep really well at night.

When those questions were asked of me, writing came to mind.

Facing down the blank page is hard work.

Writing is hard work. Whether it’s paid work for my jobs or labouring over the second draft of my novel, I must give of myself mentally, physically and emotionally—sometimes painfully—to get words on the page.

I also play with the words, move them around, change them, and chew on them until they feel just right. I feel that jolt of joy when I know that I’ve captured some elusive idea exactly right.

I’m a writer because it’s something I need to do. When I have fulfilled that need, expended the energy and played with ideas, gratified rest follows. Even if I know a work is not complete or that I will need to revisit a paragraph or concept, I rest with the same sense of accomplishment that the hiker experiences at the top of the mountain. The rest serves my writing too. When I step away and then return, the time away gives me fresh perspective and I see ways to make the work even better.

What did you do this summer? Did it feel like nothing but work? Did you play? Have you rested?

The garden sanctuary I look at when I am working, playing and resting while writing in my back yard.

Happiness is . . .

Welcome mat reading "this is our happy place, at the bottom of a set of stairs.

This is the welcome mat below deck of the Pride of Baltimore II, a Baltimore Clipper tall ship, circa the War of 1812.

The crew of the Pride of Baltimore II find their joy on a craft that catches wind in mighty sails that carry them across the bounding main — and the Great Lakes. They rest easy on a ship that can anchor when needed, save them in peril, and fire up weapons to fend off foes.

Their happy place is nothing like mine — I prefer dry land, uncrowded sleeping space and luxurious showers — but I find joy in knowing that the crew of the awesome tall ship is in their happy place when skimming across glinting waters .

What is your happy place?

New and beautiful out of old and broken

Some days I feel ancient.

Some days it feels like so much of my life, so many people and events, lie on the path behind me, how much more can be ahead?

On those days, it’s helpful to stumble upon trees like these growing together on my friend’s property near Lake Huron.

A twig sprouting out of the sawed-off portion of a cedar trunk

A sprout of a completely different kind of tree is growing through the trunk of the sawed-off trunk of an old tree.

I searched from all sides and from high and low angles, and I could not find the root system for the younger twig. It is below ground, an integral part of the roots of the cedar.

The largest trunk on the original cedar was cut off—a loss that must have felt like the end. But no! Something unexpected was hiding there all along, intertwined with the roots, waiting to spring to life.

Temenos: Sanctuary

I am away for a short vacation at a place that looks very different from this, but is a sanctuary nonetheless.

Where is your Temenos?

Bless that which you want: Vacation

Four people making the letters of the world love with their bodies.

According to the ancient Polynesian wisdom of Ka Huna, shamans of Hawaii use the power of words and mind to build self-esteem to heal the self, others and situations.

The wisdom says: Bless that which you want.

If we are jealous of others who received something we desire, or if we declare ourselves unworthy of receiving it, that drives away the object of our desire.

It’s impossible to bless something and be negative at the same time.

Blessings expand positive and creative energy and reflect it back to us. Blessings increase the good in our lives.

I’m taking a short vacation. I bless the mental break, the time for reading, the visits with family and friends, the swimming and the sunshine. I bless that when I return I will be rejuvenated.  

What do you want? Take some time to bless it.

Two Muskoka chairs facing each other on a lake-side dock.