Tag Archives: Ottawa Valley

By canoe: A reminder to stop complaining

It’s the time of year for canoe trips.

Algonquin Provincial Park lies northwest of Ottawa, and several of my acquaintances have headed to Ontario’s oldest provincial park for pleasure jaunts to the wild solitude of its lakes and canyons.

They dip paddles in still waters. They drift slowly by moose munching shoreside water plants. They dive into the deep, cold waters of the Canadian Shield lakes.

Their trips remind me of John Shaw. I learned of him and his wife during a trip to the Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre. He was a miller from Inverness, Scotland, who travelled to the area in 1847 from what was then Bytown [now Ottawa]. He and his wife, Barbara Thompson, made the trip by canoe.

Today, people make the trip by car in less than two hours, but in 1847 it would have taken days and days by canoe. They would have paddled against the prevailing wind. They might have battled pouring rain while balancing cumbersome loads. They would have portaged around rapids, carrying the heavy canoe and all their worldly goods.

Renfrew Museum beside the Bonnechere River
The Renfrew Museum beside rapids along the Bonnechere River.
P199, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

What a hardship.

AND, they did it with two-year-old son in tow.

Toddlers in warm, safe homes are challenging enough. Imagine travelling by canoe for days with one. (Were there even life jackets in 1847?)

Those hardships put any of our petty little problems into perspective.

Whatever comes at me today, at least I’m not paddling a canoe in the rain with all my worldly goods and a two-year-old. 

Tip of a canoe on the glacial green waters of Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

The up and down journey through tasks

For this week’s post, I thumb my nose at a piece of writing advice. (Well, two pieces actually, since I just used a cliché.) Good writers, they say, opt for the word “said” during dialogue so as to avoid scenes like:

"Let's go to the movies," he posited. 
"I disagree," she demurred.

Herewith, consider my nose thumbed.

Task

“I want to climb that mountain,” she says.
   The foothill lures her spirit,
   Beckoning wide paths seduce her.
      Flooded with energy, she skips.  

“The path gets narrower,” she notices. 
   A switchback challenges her footsteps, 
   Scribbling tree roots trip her.
      Worried but still powerful, she continues. 

“Should I carry on?” she puffs.
   The incline steals her breath,
   Aching muscles betray her.
      Depleted of oxygen, she schlepps.

“I can’t do this,” she whines. 
   An obstacle blocks her progress, 
   Darkening skies shadow her. 
      Deprived of hope, she sleeps. 

“But . . . my goal is just there,” she awakens.
   The dawn illuminates her next steps,
   Daunting barriers dissolve before her. 
      Reinvigorated by inspiration, she climbs.

“What a view!” she cries.
   A summit reveals her success, 
   Haunting memories flee from her.   
      Satiated with completeness, she savours. 

“Now what?” she wonders.
   The downward path answers,
   Waning desire to remain prompts her.    
      Evolved for a new task, she descends.       

“If I go down, I can climb a higher mountain,” she says.  
      

Irish-ish and vaccinated

My family is so many generations deep in Canada that I don’t really feel Irish. A little Irish-ish, maybe.

Enough that tomorrow I will drink Irish beer and eat Guinness Stew sopped up with Irish Soda Bread.

I do it to honour my ancestors who immigrated and suffered—really suffered—so that I can sit in my warm house and eat plentiful food in good health. They lived in a remote log cabin. No plumbing. No furnace. No Mac’s Milk on the corner or butchery down the street.

It is especially fitting to do so this year, during a pandemic, because in 1866 my ancestors lost three children in one week to a diphtheria epidemic.

Children aged 13, 11 and 9 just . . . gone . . . in the space of a week.

Three children in one week lost to a disease that we never have to think about because WE HAVE VACCINES.

Time has made some people complacent. North Americans born after 1920 don’t know how death used to brush up close in daily life. Our generation has never seen with our own eyes an entire family wiped out in a week, because WE HAVE VACCINES.

Cheers and Éirinn go Brách!

And when it’s your turn, get the vaccine.

Shamrock cookies
Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

I am out of thyme! A Christmas lament with a happy ending

Empty spice bottle with Thyme label

Weeks ago we coordinated the schedules of six busy family members to find a day that worked for everyone to go to the Cedar Hill Christmas Tree Farm. We set the date for December 14 with visions of bright sun glinting off snow-covered fields and our boots crunching in and around rows of perfect trees. We’d picked the perfect fat tree, we’d return to a big dinner, and we’d make eggnog or mulled wine.

It would be perfect.

Then Saturday morning came along. The sun rose, but we couldn’t see it through heavy cloud.

Misty rain fell.

We’ve been renovating our front hall, so all morning my husband and our neighbour laboured at laying tile, grouting and fixing plumbing. All the clothing, and shoes, and boots, and umbrellas, and hats, and scarves, and toilet paper rolls, and surprising other things that normally reside in our bathroom and front hall closet were scattered all over our home. They mixed in with the boxes containing the new toilet and bathroom vanity in our living room.

Messy living room with a toilet in a box and paint rollers, etc.
Our living room: half Christmas, half renovations

We’re dog sitting, and he got loose and ran through the tile glue, leaving doggy glue prints on some of the new tiles.

dog prints on tile

While all that was going on, I set about making the marinade for the crown roast of pork I planned for dinner. The dry rub recipe called for, among other things, thyme. I opened my spice drawer and pulled out the bottle. Empty.

“I’m out of thyme!” I called out.

My husband, panicked, appeared at the kitchen door. “For what?”

I held up the empty bottle, and we both fell apart laughing.

Christmas tree farm in the rain
Not the weather we would have picked for our Christmas Tree excursion.

The six of us trooped through increasingly heavy rainfall. We found a tree that wasn’t quite as fat as we like, but was lovely nonetheless. We made the annual stop at the Pakenham General Store and enjoyed their amazing baked goods. (Date squares for me. A perfect ratio of oatmeal to date filling.) The crown roast was delicious—even without the thyme—and the boys made eggnog and played guitar, and all was well.

Not perfect, but well.

Thyme-less and well.

Pot with homemade egg
Homemade eggnog

Music that brings chills, or tears

What music makes you stop whatever you’re doing and listen? What songs make you cry?

I’d love to know. Leave me a comment at the end of the post.

One song that undoes me every time is “Silent Night” by candlelight on Christmas Eve. My family knows that I’m a puddle during that hymn, every time. It takes me back to childhood services in a small town church, and to the birth of my daughter on Christmas Eve, and to my father who died shortly before Christmas twenty years ago. The simple hymn ties everything together from my past and gives me hope for the future.

Some songs move us because they remind us of someone we love — a father, mother, grandparent, child or friend.

 “You’ve Got a Friend” James Taylor, written by Carole King

Songs that are haunting and sad and then optimistic and hopeful, acknowledge the lows and highs and tells us to look for the triumph after the despair.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” Simon and Garfunkel

“Nights in White Satin” The Moody Blues

The music of our youth can instantly transport us back to a certain time and place. Where were you when you were listening to The Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles . . .? This Loggins and Messina song takes me back to my days working for Wilderness Tours Whitewater Rafting.

“Watching the River Run” Loggins & Messina

A couple of friends of mine are opera fans. Listen to this selection from Dialogues des Carmélites and see if the metallic slice of the guillotine makes your hair stand on end.

Dialogues des Carmélites (final scene – Salve Regina)

Music moves us when it gives us something to believe in even if we don’t want to. Music connects us with something greater than ourselves. I’ll leave you with this combination of “Scotland the Brave” and “Amazing Grace.” It gives me chills AND brings me to tears.

“Scotland the Brave” and “Amazing Grace” at an Andre Rieu performance

Modern tree stumps

Pioneer woman in long dress moving a tree stump.

Meet my great-grandmother.

I’m told I have her chin.

There are many things to love about this picture—the long dress, the apron (!), the hat that looks like something Charlie Chaplin might have sat upon, the natural grass untouched by any lawn mower, and the corner of a barn that was probably raised on a good old-fashioned barn-raising day.

And, of course, the tree stump she’s wrestling into submission.

The thing I love the most is that she doesn’t look unhappy. There might even be the hint of a smile.

The woman is digging tree stumps in a long skirts and she doesn’t seem to mind.

In some ways her challenges were greater than mine. She probably sewed that dress that she had no choice but to wear. She had to clear the land where they grew the food they ate, she had to bake from scratch every single cookie and loaf of bread she consumed, and she had to can her green beans and tomatoes. She was driven to do those things because otherwise her family would go hungry. She worked hard—physically—from dawn to dusk.

In other ways her life was simple. She had food, faith and family. She never had to suffer the irritation of four-way stops, she never had to receive emails from hackers trying to scam her, and she never had anyone in the next cubicle eating curry for lunch.

The modern “tree stumps” I have to wrestle into submission are quite different, and I don’t have to do it while wearing a long dress. (Although I can if I choose.) My tree stumps challenge my mind, my emotions and my spiritual equilibrium more than my body, but they still challenge me from dawn to dusk.

But, from what I hear, I inherited another thing from my great-grandmother—the calm joy of moment.

No matter what’s happening—no matter what—there’s joy to be found, even if it’s the flip-side of sorrow.