The Story of Wonderscape 2016

I grip the steering wheel and force myself to take several deep breaths. We’re only a few miles away now from Riding Mountain National Park and my stomach feels pickled–as if I ate something too acidic–while my chest tightens with nerves. “As long as there’s enough room in the main cabin for the meals and all our sessions everything will be okay, ” I tell my friend Shalain, who is in the seat next to me. I’m speaking to Shalain, but mostly trying to talk myself out of worrying. I’ve spent months dreaming and planning for the retreat but now that it’s finally here I’m starting to panic.

Minutes later, when we turn the key to the main cabin, neither of us say a word. I survey the laminate wood floors, the plain kitchen, the stone fireplace and the cathedral ceilings.  There’s enough space but it doesn’t feel quite right. Both of us are calculating what we need to do next; the participants will be arriving in only a couple of hours.

“This corner needs something,” Shalain says. She strides past the couch to a table nestled against the log walls and french doors.

“And it’s too dark in here, ” I add, “but I think it’s gonna work.” We yank the curtains off all the windows. Shalain finds a glass pitcher and fills it with branches, to which green and amber leaves still cling. We turn up the heat. We re-arrange furniture. We jam beeswax candles into old glass bottles and set them on the mantel. We grind coffee. We light the fire log. And the afternoon light fades into the first evening of Wonderscape.

When I look at the 26 women, many of them strangers from all across western Canada,  gathered around me–some sitting on the floor by the fireplace, some on folding chairs, my childhood friend Bonnie beside my mom and clasping the hand of another childhood friend’s mom–I know exactly how I need to begin.

“Thank you,” I start. I am honoured; honoured these women have chosen to spend their time, their most precious resource, with us this weekend. I am amazed; amazed by the talent, experience and geography represented in our little gathering. I am also excited; excited to give birth to my “baby”, this idea of a creative wellness retreat I’ve carried for the last nine months. And I am still nervous.

But as the evening wears on I relax. The words and stories I rehearsed earlier seem to slip out naturally. I don’t look at my notes as often as I thought I would. It’s more fun than I’d expected. When we break up for discussion the room is loud, almost too loud, with animated voices and laughter. When we listen to Michelle share of music and vocation and love and death, the room is quiet, almost too quiet, as her vulnerability fills the space. By the time she plays the song she composed any pretense that might still be hanging in the room is shattered.

Part of the reason I designed Wonderscape as a multidisciplinary experience is for this purpose. It’s hard to be uppity or find a pecking order when there is so much diversity in craft and experience. If the attendees were all writers, or all painters, it might be more tempting to figure out who’s who; who’s more talented, more connected, or more successful. But what do singers know of crocheting roosters, painters of fiddling, or writers of embalming? (And these were only a few of the interests of the participants!)

On Saturday the group disperses. The night before I had urged people to do what they came here to do, whatever that might look like. Some people bike, some hike, some fiddle, some weave, some scrapbook, some swim in the chilly waters of Clear Lake, some photograph, some meditate, some knit, some sing, and some paint with Twila Napoleoni of Bara’ Academy of the Arts. I lead a Hike and Write workshop through a marsh where algae, sprinkled like confetti on the water, and cattails warming in the sun hear our pens scratch against paper.

“How are you feeling?” I ask the group after a period of silent writing. I wonder if they are bored, maybe frustrated with their task, or perhaps ready to move on. No one answers for a long moment and I realize they are still soaking in their words and thoughts. “Does anyone want to share?” I ask.

A woman reads what is in front of her, even as the fresh ink dries on the paper. Her risky offering is honoured. We listen. Tears fall. Another woman introduces the poem she just wrote with a good dose of self-deprecating humour but when she begins the first stanza no one is laughing. The words settle around the boardwalk, the reeds, the evergreens, and the blue sky as if from an old classic.

By supper time I am hungry. Mariana Brito and Madison Sutcliffe of The Backyard bend over their artwork using the pecorino cheese, tomatillo sauce, and sunflower petals from their palette. Partway through dinner, head chef Mariana explains the story behind each locally-sourced, organic ingredient like she does every meal. We listen with starry eyes and full stomachs. We are falling in love. In love with her ingredients, with her dreams, with her accent, with her global experience, with her leek roots fried in bacon fat, and with her passion.

Storyteller Jenny Gates and jazz singer Amber Epp are up next. I am not sure what to expect of either, but at this point–after Mariana’s food, I’m not concerned. Amber sings in English, Spanish, and Portugese. She rumbles low then sails high through her music, evocative one moment and making us laugh the next. Jenny stands in front of the group with no props other than her honesty and sense of humour. When they are done it’s my turn to wrap up the evening and I am almost without words. Almost, but not quite.

“I’m not sure I can do this again,” I say, “I mean, I want to plan another retreat, but how could it top this one?” On Sunday, after lunch and the final Artist Blessing someone suggests we repeat the whole thing next year; the same people have to come again, speak the same words, make the same connections, and do the exact same thing they did this time. Of course we know it’s impossible. We can’t repeat something we’ve already lived through, and if we tried, it would feel different.

But change has an allure of its own. The unknown and unexpected carries potential. The thrilling part of Wonderscape 2016 was that I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. I couldn’t have forecast the ways strangers would connect and participate, or imagined the unique presence each individual would bring to my project. And this gives me hope for what is ahead. I don’t know where Wonderscape will be next time. I don’t know if it will be a workshop or a day or a weekend retreat. I don’t know the artists with whom I will collaborate. I don’t know who will show up or how it will change us. I don’t know any of this but I can’t wait to find out.

During our first session together on Friday evening, while my own stomach was doing flip-flops I read the following excerpt:

“Nerves are God’s gift to you, reminding you that your life is not passing you by. Make friends with the butterflies. Welcome them when they come, revel in them, enjoy them, and if they go away do whatever it takes to put yourself in a position where they return. Better to have a stomach full of butterflies than to feel like your life is passing you by.” (Rob Bell, How to Be Here)

Wonderscape 2016 is over. The butterflies came and went away. Now it’s time to look for them again.



Me, speaking during the Artist Blessing session


Bonnie, looking at the magazines and books people brought for our weekend library


Mariana Brito and Madison Sutcliffe working their culinary magic


Arts educator Twila Napleoni leading a painting workshop


painting in the sunshine


Jenny Gates telling us why on earth she picked Winnipeg, MB over Sydney, Australia… and much more


After her show, Amber Epp shows Bonnie a few tricks on the piano


Here I am leading the Hike and Write workshop

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A poem for you

I read this poem last week and can’t get it out of my mind. I thought about it when I heard that Gabe is in a coma. I read it again after I talked to someone else dealing with a different trauma, her eyes red and chest heaving, who told me the prayers “didn’t help”. And I thought about it while I prayed my own scattered thoughts this morning. Here it is…

When Prayers Fall

When your prayer falls
weighted and dull
at your feet,
betraying all your
brave and fragile
hope,do you kick it
scuffed and dusty
to the tangled ditch
or do you kneel
beside it on
that sharp gravel,
breathe on it
the heartbroken
breath of a child
collecting, with
tenderness, the hollow
bones and feathers
of a dying bird?

By Kirsten Krymusa… You can find more of her work here.


On a more mundane note, HELLO! It’s nice to be back here after a long break. I  miss gathering the scraps of what happens in our life and folding them up into words and sentences that won’t come undone or get dirty again in three hours. Lately, all the time I have for myself is spent on Wonderscape, the creative wellness retreat that happens next weekend in Riding Mtn.!! I can’t wait to see who shows up, listen to their stories, hear their music, and have some time to go hiking in the woods. I’m sure you’ll hear more about it when I get back!

Sending you the all the brightness of this elm outside my window,




Canoe Tripping; Is it worth it?

Is it worth it?

The question rolls through my mind with every sleeping bag I stuff into dry sacks, every diaper, toothbrush, and toilet paper roll I zip into plastic baggies, and every dish, match, and knife I stow away. No extra article of clothing or edible slips in unaccounted; Shall I pack a sweatshirt or a long-sleeve shirt? Will we eat four bagels or five? All the little decisions I make add to my stress. When we go into the back-country with our three children it has to be this way, or else the sheer volume and weight of our so-called necessities stop us in our tracks. Literally. It sounds like a wonderful idea, to see how little we can get by on for a few days, but packing for it makes me feel anything but wonderful. After years of practise I’m getting better (I don’t pack cheese graters anymore, much to my husband’s relief) but it’s still overwhelming. Which is why the sentiment rears its head as I run up and down the basement stairs between our camping supplies and canoe trailer: This trip better be amazing or else…


After a seven-hour drive north, and after every survival item has been packed, then unpacked, and re-packed into our canoe, we are finally on the water. The sun is hot and I turn around to make sure Vivi’s hat is on tight. I check in with Susanna, whose main job is to look after Vivian, and ask her if she’s comfortable. Then I re-adjust the pool noodles stuck to the gunwales of the canoe so it’s softer against my knees. Suddenly I feel incredibly thirsty and I haven’t even paddled more than 30 strokes. Where’s my water? And does Vivian have her water? She’ll be getting hungry soon, too. I find my water bottle under my seat and after noting the edge in Stan’s voice decide I can hold off for at least one more kilometre. I won’t start looking for the snacks just yet.

Slowly we leave the marina, cottages, and beach full of sunbathers behind us. Soon all I see is the water ahead of my paddle, the 2 other boats in our party, and the next island on our path. When we reach the landmark we were aiming for we pick a new point and with every metre gained the nightmare of packing fades. Maybe it’s the simple act of only doing one thing at a time. Lift paddle. Thrust through the water. Repeat. Or maybe it’s the calming scenery. Water. Rock. Spruce. Poplar. Birch. Repeat. Whatever it is is part of the answer to the question I had while packing.



Vivian eating supper on the cliff with her buddy Tyler


After our first night at Echo Island our crew is divided. Some want to stay here forever, naming every rock and tree and cliff-jumping their life away. Others want to keep moving and explore new territory. After listening to everyone’s opinion (well, except Vivian’s–but she seems to be happy as long as we’re happy), we decide to keep going. The island is beautiful but too close to civilization–we’ve seen two party barges and a handful of motor boats during our short stay. Listening to everyone’s opinion takes time, much longer than if someone would make an executive decision, but if we have one thing out here it’s time. Time to fish, to swim, to make food, to eat, and to get to know each other.



The Reed and Walker children introducing Vivian to a traditional canoe trip dance


This is the second back-country trip we’ve done with the Walker family and it shows. We talk about things and act in ways we wouldn’t under normal circumstances back home. Surviving in the wilderness requires vulnerability and brings a new level of intimacy to relationships, even among our own family. This deeper intimacy isn’t always pleasant, sometimes the isolation exacerbates difficult dynamics until they seem unbearable.

On the third day Stan and I paddle back to our campsite after exploring an abandoned gold mine. I’m in the bow and all three girls are in the middle of the boat.

“What’s wrong?” Stan calls up to me. “Are you okay?”

The question may be one of concern but that’s not the way I hear it, and his next phrase confirms it for me.

“Let’s see you paddle like you mean it!”

Perhaps this was meant as light-hearted encouragement. Perhaps he is merely trying to motivate his lovely wife to do her best. Perhaps he is perfectly content and grateful for his canoeing partner. Unfortunately, none of this occurs to me in the moment. All I can think about is our incompatibilities. He loves to paddle hard, feel the power of wood against water, and reach our destination as fast as possible; I love to paddle like I’m not really paddling at all, to drag my toes in the water, and have meaningful conversations while doing it. Stan wants to cover as much distance as possible and see all there is to see; I prefer to swim as much as possible and close my eyes while I’m sunbathing on the rocks afterward. As I think about this out on the lake, in the middle of nowhere, it all seems dire. Anger warms my stomach. Not every woman would take her one-year old into the woods! Not every woman would be willing to set up and tear down their campsite each night! Now I’m really seething. He’s got no idea how good he’s got it!

But it’s hard to seethe for too long when you’re on 86,000 acres of water dotted by hundreds of pristine islands. It’s hard to seethe when your husband knows how to rig up a bear cache like nobody’s business, catches you fish for supper, and navigates your fleet when everyone else is lost. It’s hard to seethe when you know, deep down, even though you are both very different, you wouldn’t want to be in the wilderness with anyone else.


On the fourth day of our trip I wish we could extend our time away. Vivian seems unfazed by this strange way of life (for all she knows the canoe is her new napping place and the boreal forest her permanent home), and I don’t yet miss the convenience of internet connection or washing machines, even though Vivian has peed her pants multiple times–there’s always more water to wash them and a stick on which to dry them, but it’s time to head back.

For the first time in our family history, our 11 and 9-year-old will take turns in the bow to get us home. With 12 kilometres ahead of us, the wind in our faces, and steady rain, I’m not sure how either girl will perform and am worried about their morale. Sarah (the Walker’s daughter) and I are in the tandem kayak and gain ground faster than both canoes. We take shelter from the wind on the leeward side of a small island to wait for the rest of the group to catch us. When they arrive we check in with everyone, gain our bearings, and get moving again. This happens over and over, and each time our canoe pulls up beside us I expect crying and complaints from my three daughters. But it never happens. Vivi is tucked under bed rolls and sheltered from the rain with her wide-brimmed hat. Belén admits she is cold and can’t feel her fingers but she is still smiling. We keep going.

I watch as Belén puts her head down and digs into the water. I can tell Stan is impressed. Soon it will be Susie’s turn and she will prove to be as strong as her sister. There are many things we hope to teach our daughters and resiliency is one of them. If nothing else, trips like these help foster it, along with resourcefulness and stamina. So even if the sun isn’t hot, the fish don’t bite, the fire doesn’t blaze, and we don’t get any sleep (oh wait, that really did happen), not all is lost.





calm moment with no rain on the way home

After lunch Susanna takes over and the rain stops. The water calms and the distant islands look even more beautiful than before. Sarah’s brother, Tyler, is in the front seat of the kayak with me now and we race the Reed canoe on the final home stretch. Then just before we reach the docks the rain starts again, falling harder than ever. We’re already wet and all our gear is soaked so it doesn’t matter much. Tyler and I are in the lead and attempt to cut off their boat when Susie and Stan slip in between us and the dock and declare their victory.

We unload and then repack everything into our cars as fast as possible, which still seems to take forever. Nobody else is on the water or hanging around the marina. Nobody asks us how our trip was or if it was worth the hassle, so we don’t have to think about how we might answer. But on the drive home, in clean dry clothes and munching on left-over beef jerky and yoghurt-covered raisins, we’ll have already made up our minds.


at an old gold mine site

Not Just a Refugee

I wake up several times the night she is coming. I think about her and her small daughter leaving the refugee camp. Do they cry when they leave? To whom do they say goodbye  and what words of advice are they given? What are they carrying in their suitcases? Are they ready to exchange flip-flops and red dust for snow boots and ice? Do Almas* and Eliana* wonder if they’ll ever see African soil again or how many years will pass before they return? Perhaps Canada will make old women out of both of them and the image of white United Nations tents will seem like nothing more than a distant dream.

The next morning I check my Facebook account and look for pictures. Mara*, another women from our local sponsorship group, has made the 2-hour drive to the airport to pick them up and I’m hoping she’s already posted something. I scroll through my feed until I see a shot of blond curls next to black hair. Eagerly, I click to see more. There is another photo of Mara reaching for a smiling woman with corn-row braids. It must be her! Almas and Eliana are finally here! And they are real! This woman and her daughter, whose names we’ve been mispronouncing for months, for whom we’ve been planning, decorating an apartment, raising money, and praying, have finally arrived.

The first time we visit them in their new apartment Almas immediately hugs my girls and plants kisses all over their cheeks. The girls stiffen at the outpouring of wet affection but tolerate it without pulling away too quickly. Four-year-old Eliana keeps running her fingers through Belén’s straight hair while chattering in Amharic. Almas reminds her daughter that Belén can’t understand Amharic but it doesn’t seem to matter much to Eliana, she keeps trying to play with the flat-haired white girl who can’t talk properly, anyway.

I grab Eliana’s hand and pull her onto my lap. She is probably too old for cutesy baby rhymes, but I don’t know what else to do so I start bouncing my legs up and down and slowly chant, “Pace goes the lady, the lady, the lady…” Eliana doesn’t squirm off like I thought she might so I keep going. By the end she is giggling and trying to intone the rhyme along with me, experimenting with the weird English sounds she hears all around her.

Almas smiles. I smile. We laugh. And then it is silent again. There is so much to say but no way to say it. I have so many questions for her: How did she get chosen to come to Canada? What was it like to live in a refugee camp for years? How was the food? What hardships has she had to endure? Where are her parents, her siblings? What has she seen of war and violence? Of beauty and healing?

I will find out some of the answers later. Slowly over the next few months she will tell me about the food rations, about the dirt floors and tents, about carrying water, and about living with 3000 other people. Eventually I will hear snippets of her story and try to piece things together but for now all she can do is offer me tea.

Between sips of very sweet tea and polite smiles we forge ahead. I ask the same questions she’ll hear a million more times: “Do you like Canada? Is it too cold?” We figure out how old we all are by holding up fingers and then the conversation stalls. What I really want to communicate is the heart-swell inside me; how I admire her courage and resilience, how I recognize this move has changed her life forever, how I would love to know more about what she left behind and what she dreams for the future. I point to her and say her name. “Almas. You strong.”

She doesn’t respond. She is watching me and smiling but I can tell my message isn’t registering.

“You. Your heart.” I make a heart shape with my fingers in the air and wonder if I’m confusing her even further. Do Eritrean people refer to the heart as their emotional/spiritual centre? Maybe it’s their stomach? Or their intestines? I get the feeling she doesn’t understand so I finally bang on my chest with a flat hand and point quickly to her. “You. Your heart. Strong.” I yank on my sleeves, roll them up, and clench my fist to show my muscles. It all feels a little ridiculous but my throat is tight and there are tears warming my eyes. I look at her eyes and smile and know she knows. She understands.

“Yes, I understand,” she says. “I strong.”

Every day that passes both of them learn more and more. I show them how the washing machine works, how water runs cold or hot (you choose!) at the push of the button, and we lift up Eliana so she can feel the rushing water pour into the washer. When their very first load is done Almas inspects the bottom side of a pair of white socks, then holds them up disapprovingly so I can see too. As far as I can tell there is nothing wrong. They look like all of my children’s socks after they come out of the washer, but Almas is not impressed.

“No clean. I wash.” She mimes scrubbing the socks by hand and shakes her head.

I imagine her doing all her laundry in her bathtub with a scrub brush and quickly respond, “No, no no. It’s okay. In Canada socks can be little dirty.” I hold up my fore-finger and thumb to show what I mean. “A little dirty is okay. No wash socks by hand. Too hard. Canada LAZY.”

The socks go into the dryer to my relief.

The lessons continue over the next few weeks. Even though I don’t speak her language, I still feel like a translator when we are out in the community and she experiences, or hears, something new. I show her how to climb up the hill after we sled down it. (You have to dig your heels in and plant your feet like this.) She asks me about “homeschooling”. (This was a tough one–coming from a camp where thousands of kids ran wild with no opportunity for formal education she couldn’t grasp why parents would choose not to send their children school.) And I try to explain what my friends are talking about when they use words like “down-size” and the “forty bag challenge”. (When people have so much they can fill forty bags with stuff they don’t need.) Viewing our culture through her perspective is almost like being a newcomer myself and I realize how crazy life is here. But it’s not just with other people I notice things don’t make sense, it’s in my own home too.

When she sees Vivian’s (Almas and Eliana nick-name her Veh-vou) nursery for the first time she seems surprised.

“Vehvou sleep here? All alone?” Almas asks.

Then Eliana, wide-eyed and pointing to the crib, says, “Vehvou cry, cry, cry?”

I can tell Eliana isn’t fooled by the gingham curtains that match the change pad that match the rocker that match the wall-hanging; none of the cuteness masks the real problem. She’s thinking about our barbaric parenting practise of making our young sleep alone. In a wooden cage to boot.

“Wow. Verrry nice,” says Almas rolling her r’s. “Verrry nice. Vehvou room verry nice.”

I have a knot in my stomach as we survey my baby room. How can something I thought I needed, something I thought was so necessary that I deserved for my last child, suddenly seem luxurious, and even frivolous? I look around, with new eyes, at the space that could provide shelter for an entire family.

We don’t linger for long in the nursery though; when Almas is at my place she doesn’t waste time before grabbing a broom, or a cloth, or finding some laundry to fold. In fact I have never seen anyone deep clean with such speed and vigor. She wields her broom like a weapon and when I ask her to sit and have a drink she cannot be persuaded to quit cleaning. “You help me, I help you. Like sistah. You know? Like sistah!”

Now it’s my turn to say I understand.

“Yes, like a sister,” I repeat while shelving our unused coffee cups and picking up a cloth.

One weekend I take her to a women’s retreat at my church. While we are singing I steal a glance at her and see she is radiant. Her face is lifted upward and there are tears running down her cheeks but she is smiling. I move closer because I want to be nearer to her and the Spirit that is making her glow. A bit later we are supposed to work through a sheet of questions but there are too many complicated English terms so I ask about her experience with God instead, and am amazed at her story. Then she prays for me; never before have I been lifted up with such commitment and passion. As I listen to her consult with God in Amharic and hear her voice rumble low and steady, her words punctuated by inflections and strange clicks, I am convinced that if God’s gonna listen to anybody it’s going to be her.

After, while we visit with some of the other ladies one of them asks us how Almas and I met. I pause for a moment before explaining how I am part of a sponsorship team that brought Almas to Canada. As soon as I say it I know why my response feels uncomfortable and awkward. It’s true that only months ago we were separated by an ocean and the bulk of two continents, and it’s also true that Almas waited there for years in a refugee camp, but today we sit side-by-side, calling on Heaven together. No, Almas isn’t just a refugee; a better description for her would be “gift”.


Coffee time at Alma’s house–on the floor and five cups each!

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*Names changed for privacy


Special perks for email followers

Are you curious about the writing process? Do you ever wonder what goes through a writer’s mind while they are penning their first draft? Do you like to read stream-of-consciousness kind of writing? If so, consider clicking the follow button on the right-hand side of your screen. In fact, just a few hours ago some lucky email followers got a sneak peak at what is behind the average Experimenting As We Grow blog post; they got to read through a completely unedited first draft. It was the kind of draft some authors call the “vomit draft”, the purge-your-mind kind of writing where thoughts are spewed out in messy chunks.

It isn’t a habit of mine to publish this kind of writing. Today, when I realized I’d pushed the wrong key (the “publish” button instead of the “save” button) I yelped out loud, then collected myself and quickly deleted it from my blog. What I didn’t realize was that all the readers who receive email notification of my new posts now had my incoherent, pukey writing immortalized in their inboxes, beyond the reach of my delete key.

When my kind Auntie Erika notified me about this minutes ago, wondering if I wasn’t “ready for it to go live yet”, I started blushing as if a teacher had caught me writing notes about a cute boy in class. While my face flushed and burned Stan had a different reaction.

“Well,” he said matter-of-factly, “if people are wondering about your writing process they got lucky today.”

Yes. Yes indeed. Step right up folks! You, too, may have a behind-the-scenes look at my writing someday if you simply press the FOLLOW button on the sidebar of your screen. It’s that easy my friends. First drafts available here, but only for the lucky ones!

A Real Amateur

I’m on the phone with professional jazz singer Amber Epp, arranging for her to perform at Wonderscape, when she poses the question.

What do you do? What’s your thing?


We’d been taking about the other guest artists on the roster, (the editor/author/storyteller, the founder of an art academy, the artist and block-printer) but her casual question throws me off guard. What do I do? What is my thing anyway? Feeling as if I should respond quickly, I scroll through the options that come to mind. Painter? Nope. Even though our walls are covered with canvases we’ve painted ourselves I know next to nothing about technique; I definitely can’t claim that one. Musician? I used to sing in public about 20 years ago but I don’t think that counts. Crafter? Photographer? I don’t scrapbook, don’t like fussing around with glue-guns, and the photos I take are generally blurry. I realize I’m left with only one possibility.

After what feels like a long time I say, “I like to write.”

The answer must sound plausible enough because the conversation moves on but after the call I re-play our conversation. I wish I could have replied, “Oh me? I’m a writer,” without feeling like a phony. I wish I could have told Self-doubt to quiet down instead of listening to her cackle, “Who do you think you are? Why are you planning a creative retreat when you’re not even qualified to attend one! Look what you’ve got into now, Tricia. How are you going to explain yourself when everyone shows up and discovers who you really are!”


I also think about my friends who have expressed interest in Wonderscape but who aren’t sure they are the “right type”. The first time it happened in a conversation with a friend I brushed her off, “Are you crazy? Of course you’re creative!” I told her. Then it happened again with another person. And another person. And that’s when I realize the famous poet Maya Angelou wasn’t off her rocker when she confessed, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “* It’s comforting to realize I’m not the only one who feels like a phony when it comes to sharing creative endeavors.


A few days later the word amateur comes up in conversation and Stan asks the girls about it, like we do with every French-sounding word we come across. “It means someone who loves something, right?” he prods the girls. They agree quickly without looking up from their books, likely so they can get back to reading without having to engage in a conversation about etymology and Latin roots with their father, but I’m struck by the perfectness of the word. Amateur. A lover. Someone who does something because they love it. I decide to claim the word for myself. I am an amateur writer. No matter how much money many free magazines I make off my writing, I will always be a lover of words, of punctuation and pauses, of sentences that leave you wanting more. I am also an amateur wife. An amateur mother. An amateur paddler. An amateur cook. An amateur skier. An amateur swimmer. An amateur gardener. I do all these things not because of some external reward but because I love the process, the very act of doing them.


The next time someone tells me they would like to come to Wonderscape but aren’t sure they are artsy enough or talented enough or outdoorsy enough or unique enough or creative enough or anything enough, I will ask them one question. I will ask if they have a pulse. If they have a pulse it means two things; the first is confirmation of a beating heart and blood circulating through their body. The second implication is that they have a life-force within them, something that quickens during a good story, at the right chord played at just the right time, at a piece of wood or steel or wool or clay or food rendered into something beautiful. When the pulse quickens it is a signal to take note of the situation, to get ready for what comes next, to pay attention. And when you pay attention you can’t help but fall in love. And when you fall in love you become an amateur.

I know now what I should have said instead of giving Amber my feeble answer. Instead of saying, “I like writing” I could have come up with something more true, more courageous. I could have spoken like a real amateur and said, “I love writing.”

. . .

*from this NY Times article

**Belén and I went to one of Twila Napleoni’s painting parties recently and came home with a fall-ish looking painting; we decided to take it a step further and make a series.

Bonnie’s Ditch

“Come on, I have to show you something!” Bonnie grabs my arm and steers me down her driveway. My childhood friend has traveled Europe and sailed the Caribbean, she has lived in the tundra, prairies, and mountains. Now she is here; showing me around her scrubby acreage surrounded by huge tracts of farmland and swamp. I scan the property but can’t see anything promising. Maybe there’s a hidden gully nearby. Or perhaps a steep ravine with an icy brook?

We walk to the end of her lane, cross the highway, and reach the edge of the shoulder when she stops. I wait to see which direction she’ll take me next. Then she announces, “This is it!”

I look down the length of road in both directions and finally back at her. We are standing in a ditch, and not a very wide or especially deep one.

“You wouldn’t believe how many frogs and crayfish we find after the snow melts and how tall the grass grows in summer.” Bonnie takes a few steps toward the fenced pasture on the other side of the ditch and continues, “Just the other day I cross-country skied from here all the way to my neighbors.” She breathes deep and then asks, “Isn’t it great?”

I am not sure how to respond. I realize I was expecting something more; something not so, well, ditch-like.

“Yeah, your kids must love it,” I say, hoping I sound sincere.

“My kids?” She laughs. “I love it!”

Her enthusiasm baffles me at first. Alpine vistas and ocean shorelines are one thing, but a snowy ditch? Ditches are as banal as my back alley, yet she speaks like an explorer reporting on a thrilling discovery and the way she honours the ground we stand on, instead of pining for distant places, makes me wonder what I might discover in the margins of my own every-day environment. We turn around and head inside, but not before I glance back at Bonnie’s inspiration; a dip of land between pavement and frozen pasture.

*I wrote a longer essay, with the above story nested inside it, several years ago. Last fall, after reading a call for submissions for flash non-fiction pieces under 350 words, I slashed, chopped, and whittled away at my original essay until I found what I am sharing here. This flash non-fiction piece first appeared in Geez Magazine (41), Spring 2016, The Watershed Issue. Click here to find out more about Geez.

Issue 41


On a different note, look who is coming to Wonderscape!

Head chef of The Backyard, Mariana Brito hails from Tijuana, Mexico, where she attended the Escuela de Arte Culinario before training in Spain, New York, and South Carolina, under chefs of Michelin starred restaurants. Joining her global background with a passion for organic food and her strong relationships with local producers, Mariana centres the flavours of modern Mexican cuisine in the landscape of the Canadian prairie. Every ingredient is fresh, ethically sourced, and organic whenever possible.