Tag Archives: Blog

Elk! (Day 9/365)

Elk IMG_3081.jpg

I was cycling home this afternoon, hurrying because the weather had changed for the worse in the hour or so that I’d been out, when I spotted these gals… The resident elk herd was enjoying the fresh grass right beside the main road leading into town.

 

american-elk-1845 John James Audobon

American Elk by John James Audubon, 1845

I only saw cows and youngsters, no bull with this group (I just learned that tidbit – the males are not bucks, as I would have thought…) who were eating and lounging and paying no attention to traffic or cyclists waving cameras in their direction.

For your edification, a few useless facts about elk:

  • There used to be 6 sub-species of elk in North America, but two are now extinct
  • Mature bulls can weigh more than 700 lbs (explaining why it’s such bad news when they are hit by cars on the highway)
  • To attract females, males urinate on themselves, soaking their hair and making sure they are nice and smelly (rather glad males of the human species don’t indulge in such delightful behaviour)
  • Utah has claimed the Rocky Mountain Elk as its state animal
  • An adult elk will eat about 20 lbs of vegetation in a day

 

Canmore Elk IMG_3080.jpg

I’m sure the local elk are enjoying those luscious, fresh green leaves as much as I am! Spring is springing!!

What’s your favourite local wildlife species?

 

 

O is for Opportunity, Outlines, Opening and Getting Organized

 

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Typewriter Eraser, Scale X  (collaboration with van Bruggen) by Claes Oldenburg (1999)
This is one of my favourite sculptures in Seattle. A huge typewriter eraser, it brings back memories of the bad old days when I had to retype whole pages when faced with more than two mistakes. Those erasers chewed holes in the page if you weren’t careful!

 

OK. Whether or not I get this post done will be in the hands of the blog gods… because, yeah – I’m not as organized as I probably should have been today. Both of my writing groups meet today – one in the afternoon and one in the evening and, of course, I’m scrambling to polish the opening of the assisted dying book to whip it into reasonable shape so I can get some feedback. That’s how it goes, sometimes. Often, if I’m honest. The deadline looms and suddenly I am a writing machine.

Which is not to say I haven’t been working on the book for the last… oh, I don’t know – 18 months or so. I have been steadily busy – reading, researching, making notes – organizing my thoughts, writing outlines, writing sections and then – making more notes, re-organizing everything, adding more stuff, finding better ways to express complicated ideas.

But there’s something about knowing the editor needs the manuscript on her desk on May 1 that sends terror into my heart, lights a fire under my backside, and sends words flying across the keyboard (or, fingers flying across the keyboard and words scrolling across the screen).

 

Edits Assisted Dying IMG_2282

Sometimes it’s a real challenge to follow my thoughts as they zig-zag all over the place during the revision process…  

 

It’s coming along. I will get the draft done on time. But wow – this has been a tough project to wrangle into shape. That said, when I had the opportunity to explore a topic as interesting and relevant as this one, there was no way I was going to let it slip away. In that way, I am a ‘yes’ person through and through. I’ve never been one to walk away from a challenge. That’s not to say I’ve always been successful with every project I’ve attempted: failures have taught me as much (more?) than my triumphs. But neither (successes or flops) would have been possible without trying.

 

Edouard Manet young-woman-with-a-book-1875

Edouard Manet: Young Woman With a Book (1875) It’s sooooo much more fun to relax and read a good book than it is to pull out your hair trying to write one… 

 

And that, my friends, is all I’ve got today. Here’s hoping things will be a bit better balanced tomorrow and I won’t be writing this with one eye on the clock and my heart beating just a bit too fast than is probably good for me.

 

 

D is for Dying (#atozchallenge2018)

 

Édouard_Manet_-_Toter_Uhu Death Owl

Édouard Manet’s Dead Eagle Owl, 1881  Transforming death into art… 

 

The theme of this month’s blogging challenge is Transitions, Travel and Transformation. Dying could be said to be all three.

This past year I’ve read more about death (more precisely, the process of dying) than I would have thought possible. And, no – I have not developed a morbid obsession with the subject and no, I am not ill and no, nobody in the family has been stricken with a terminal illness. But I am writing a book for a new Orca Books series about the subject of medically assisted dying. What a rich and complex topic this has turned out to be!

 

Paul_Cézanne,_Pyramid_of_Skulls,_c._1901

Pyramid of Skulls by Paul Cézanne, 1901

 

I remember my mother once telling me she had a terminal disease. I was, of course, horrified. She was quick to add, “well, so do you. So does everyone.” I was perhaps 11 and still didn’t quite get what point she was trying to make. Sensing my confusion she asked, “You do know what terminal means, don’t you?”

“You’re going to die?”

She nodded and laughed. “Aren’t you?”

The fact I still remember this exchange so many years later is indicative of how rattled I was at the time. I knew, in some theoretical way, that one day my parents would die. And, I suppose, I knew that we all have to go at some point, but it all seemed so removed from reality. So unlikely. I had not experienced death at that point. Had no idea what I was in for.

 

Paul_Cézanne_-_Young_Man_With_a_Skull

Paul Cezanne’s Young Man with a Skull

 

As a result of my reading and I research I asked my father (now in his early 80’s) if I could interview him for the book, you know, have a chat about death. He was a bit offended, I think, and replied that he wasn’t planning to go anywhere anytime soon.

 

Gustav_Klimt_-_Death_and_Life_-_Google_Art_Project

Gustav Klimt – Death and Life, 1915

 

This pair of conversations with my parents pretty much sums up our North American discomfort with the inevitable. Yes, we sort of know it’s coming – but later and to someone else first.

 

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The Three Ages of Man and Death by Hans Baldung – 1541-ish

 

As a result, few of us have had proper discussions with loved ones about our wishes for end of life care. Even when we’ve carefully written out medical directives, the system (medical, legal) doesn’t always know quite what to do with them. It’s very hard to write a directive that will cover all circumstances. And, when the time comes, people sometimes change their minds and families are notorious for not wanting to let go.

I’m writing this post in the airport while waiting for my flight back to Canada from France. Assuming nothing goes dreadfully wrong, I’ll be back at home in about 20 hours from now. Given all the thinking and reading and ruminating I’ve been doing about the subject over the past many months, getting my thoughts and intentions regarding what I do and don’t want done with my dying body has now moved up on my To-Do list.

 

George_Frederick_Watts_Found_Drowned

Found Drowned by George Frederick Watts, 1850

 

What about you? Do you have an end-of-life directive? Do your loved ones know what it is? Have you had a conversation (or several) with those who may have to make those decisions on your behalf when the time comes? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below… See you tomorrow on the other side of the pond!

You know, you don’t need to wait until you are dead to consider how best to share your wealth around… If you find yourself in a contemplative (and generous) mood, consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works. One of the things Patrons will find out about me in a private post is the location of my grave. I’m not in it yet, obviously, but we do have a family plot and I have staked my claim!

 

 

Dutch Power!

Dani and I were trucking along today and about the 6 kilometre mark after leaving our hostel in Salceda a couple of Dutch guys slowed down and insisted in taking a turn in pushing Dad. For a couple of kilometres they stuck with us, chatting away and helping us on all but the steepest of downhills.

Then, it was better for us to hook up our patented “D-brake” system, with Dani behind and connected to the wheelchair with the laundry line and me hanging on to the handles of the chair. As soon as we hit level ground again, though, the fellow from the Netherlands (I can’t believe that throughout the entire time we spent together nobody mentioned names!!!) took over again and kept pushing.

We made excellent time and found out about a documentary film called “I’ll Push You” https://youtu.be/W7gKD3q0-V0 about two friends, one in a wheelchair, who do the CAmino together. Turns out one of the Dutch brothers is a Camino-phile. This trip along the French Way is his fourth, his seventh Camino in total. In 2013 he happened to see the guys on their wheelchair trip, stopped and took a photo. Then, recently, he saw their documentary film and (I think) watched it with his brother. And, when the brothers saw us, they immediately wanted to stop and help.

It was pretty cool to hear their stories and share a bit of the journey with them. One of the things we have really missed in our journey so far was the camaraderie so many pilgrims speak of. Our Camino family has been limited to the three of us as moved so much slower than everyone else. Now, though, people don’t pass us nearly so quickly and when they do, it doesn’t throw them off schedule too much to walk with us for a short while and have a chat.

After a couple of kilometres it was time for us to stop for lunch, which was lovely in the warmth of a late autumn afternoon.

The Dutch brothersa continued on their way and then Dani, Dad and I finished up the day here in O Pedrouzo. As soon as I get somewhere where I can stream video, I’ll have to watch “I’ll Push You.” From the trailer, though, it makes our little jaunt look pretty cruisy!

The Kindness of Strangers

Albergue Camino Das Ocas

The common cold. A few days of feeling crummy, a runny nose, being irritated with the inconvenience of a cough. But really, it’s not that big a deal. Until you are past 80 and a cold is no longer a small thing to shrug off. A few days ago Dad started sniffling. Then the cough started. And now, several days in, this bug is hitting him hard. The past couple of days have been really tough going, so we had several conversations about what to do next. Send Dad ahead in a cab? Take an extra rest day and try to make time up later? Some combination of cab and walking where Dad went as far as he could and then we called a cab? That sounds reasonable, except a lot of the route is not on a road and given our limited Spanish, it could be tricky to describe which cow field near which hill we had chosen as a potential pickup point in the event Dad needed to be rescued en route.

Yesterday we visited a local hospital – nothing to do with the cold, but rather to get Dad a blood test. He takes blood thinners (post heart valve, he needs to keep things flowing smoothly) and he was due. While we were waiting to be seen, I noticed a couple of wheelchairs standing around in the waiting room and that made me think that perhaps we might be able to find one somewhere we could use to complete the journey.

We decided to see how last night was going to go and then make a decision this morning. At three in the morning I woke up to Dad’s coughing. Awful – persistent and grim-sounding. It didn’t sound like any walking was going to be on the cards. That’s when I really began to fret about where we were possibly going to find a wheelchair. It’s the weekend and Azura is not exactly a metropolis, though it is definitely bigger than many of the teeny one-farm villages we’ve stayed in. I wondered about the hospital and if, with my limited Spanish and Google translate I might be able to convince the to lend us a wheelchair. Then again, given how hard it had been to explain that we needed a common blood test, that seemed unlikely.

We had seen a couple of physiotherapy offices and I thought perhaps they might be able to help. Dani, too, tossed and turned all night and by morning, she was also formulating plans. Over breakfast we hatched a plot… Or first stop was to visit the helpful tourist info centre. The lovely woman on duty there did, indeed, offer suggestions – but because it was Saturday, they involved taking a bus to Santiago about 42 kms away. And, we were told, it was going to be tricky to find anyone open before Monday.

Back at the coffee shop where we had left Dad nursing a cafe con leche, we had a go at Google. We found a website called Accessible Spain Travel accessiblespaintravel.com with a phone number. I called and explained our situation and the very helpful guy at the other end said that he would see what he could find out for us.

Not long after, he texted that everything was closed that might be useful in Arzúa but that he had managed to reach Jose Manuel in Santiago who could meet us at his shop as long as we could get there before 11 am. Though the shop was shut, he was willing to come and meet us and fix us up with a wheelchair. Alas, there was no way to get to Santiago by bus in time, so we sprinted back to the Info Center to find out where we might be able to get a taxi.

Once we figured out where the cabs were, we grabbed Dad and all leaped into the taxi with Pepin, our driver, who not only took us to Santiago, but then waited patiently in the street with Dad while Dani and I waited for Jose Manuel to arrive, let us in in and give us a wheelchair. That process was crazy – no forms to fill out, Jose didn’t even ask for my name – would only take 30 Euros for ten days rental, and wished us well.

Meanwhile, the taxi driver then drove us all the way back to Arzua but then took less than half of what should have been the metered fare.

We were ravenous by the time we got back, so we had lunch and then set off. We experimented with all sorts of travelling variations – Dad pushing the wheelchair for a bit (which was ok on flat terrain and as long as the distances were short), Dani pushing, me pushing. Hills were an adventure. The going in places was steep and not exactly smooth. It took both of us pushing (Dani pushing the wheelchair and me pushing Dani) to get up some of the rough spots. Likewise, going down, it took two of us to slow things down – one of us leaning back against the handles and one pulling back on one of the walking poles we had attached to the back of the wheelchair.

By the time we finished our not-quite 5 kms, we were all bagged! A whole new set of muscles hurts! However, we made it!!! And it looks like we will get all the way to Santiago in one piece, as long as we keep going, don’t rush, and no further afflictions decide to sneak up on us.

One of the delights of the day was the contact we had with locals all along the way. A farmer (83) who walked with us for a bit after turning his cows out to pasture, a number of pilgrims who stopped to cheer us on (and take photos), the hostel-keeper who provided a great ground-floor, fully wheelchair accessible room for us, and a full-time pilgrim travelling with his donkey (worthy of a blog post all his own…)

Despite the physical challenges today (and, earlier, the stress of not knowing how on earth we were going to magically produce a wheelchair), today turned out to be a good day, in large part because of all the small kindnesses shown to us along the way.

That Way!

I am famous in my family for my ability to get lost. Spectacularly lost. Like, in Canmore (a cute town with half a dozen streets, town where I now live, town in which, yes, I still get lost). Before we set off on this trip there were quite a few jokes about how if anyone could get lost on the Camino it would be me.

Ha! I LOVE how incredibly well marked the route has been. Ever since we spotted our first arrow outside the albergue in Sarria we have never faltered. Occasionally there are a couple of options (a slightly more rural path versus following the road for a bit) but mostly every place where one could possibly get confused has a bright yellow arrow or a stylized shell or an official marker or all three…

Where the path crosses a road, motorists are warned to slow down.

Though we are tracking our progress closely using both google maps and the Nike+ Run app (Dani is using the latter to let her know exactly when she reaches each kilometre mark, at which point she snaps a photo – no people and within 10 steps of the km mark) there is really no need for technology when it comes to figuring out where to go.

Of course, the string of pilgrims stretching as far as the eye can see is another indicator we are heading in the right direction!

Now all I need is for the rest of the world to catch on to the idea of superb way-finding assistance… and maybe I need to figure out where in life I want to be going so the yellow arrows will start to appear whenever I need to see one!

Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step

The Chinese proverb sums up how we feel today after finally, finally setting off on our Camino adventure.

After several days of brilliant sun and hot temperatures, we were all relieved when it was cool and a bit foggy as we left the Albergue in Sarria. We were also pretty excited to spot our first yellow arrow and stylized shell indicating we were heading off in the correct direction. I have no idea how many arrows and other way markers we passed today – a lot – but each one is a small message of hope that we were a step closer to our destination.

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The cooler temperatures helped mitigate the horror we all felt as we stood at the bottom of the daunting set of stairs that lead up and out of Sarria.

Dad has been training for months, but always on more or less level terrain and never with his daypack.

Thank goodness Dani planned today to be a shortish day. The total distance travelled was only about 4km, but it was tough going in places.

The old part of Sarria felt like the perfect place to start our journey, steeped in history and full of albergues and small

restaurants and bars it was also full of pilgrims.

We stopped often so Dad could catch his breath but by the time we started up the final hill leading to the village of Barbadelo Dad was pretty bagged. Dani and I redistributed everything he was carrying between the two of us and insisted on a refuelling break along the way.

At one point as Dad was puffing on his inhaler and looking pained, I thought we had perhaps made a terrible mistake. Much of today’s path was through the woods (yay – shade!!) but that did mean it would have been pretty well impossible to have hailed an ambulance should we have needed one. Various passing pilgrims stopped to ask if all was well or if we needed assistance. Dad waved them off, but I wondered several times if perhaps we needed to reassess and perhaps procure a donkey for Dad to ride for the rest of our journey.

Eventually, the grade lessened and our wooded path opened out into an area of fields and small farms and the going was much easier. By the time we reached Barbadelo, Dad was full of smiles and shocked both Dani and me when he declared the day to have been a lot of fun!

We are not going to set any speed records, that’s for sure, but if we just concentrate on one step at a time, eventually we will make it to our final destination.