Spring Ritual

Vivi swings the door open, wearing her rubber boats, with a snack in hand. We’re about to go on a walk but it’s not just any walk, it’s a hunt. We’re on a mission to find a robin. We’ve been desperate to see one ever since Scoops (the local ice-cream stand) opened this season. Desperate because, according to our family by-laws, no one is allowed out for ice-cream until the first robin sighting. And whoever sees the robin decides where we go for treats.

I’m beginning to feel like a lily-handed city girl as friends and neighbours report their own sightings. “We’ve had them around the farm for weeks,” says Violet. Krista tells me she saw five in her backyard and another neighbour can’t believe we haven’t seen any. “Now it’s our turn,” I announce to Vivi as she eats lunch in the stroller and we wheel onto our regular route.

About a 100 metres along I see movement on my left. Under the pine, behind a stand of red-osier dogwood appears potential. I steal away from the stroller, pacing the perimeter of the bushes, then drop to my knees to get a better look. Vivi tries to get out of the stroller just when a gust of wind sends both of them sailing. She yelps and I quickly put my finger to my lips–this is no time for screaming, not now when I’m just about to close in. All I need is a flash of the bird’s signature red breast.

I see Vivi squinting her eyes at me and grinning. I have a feeling the most exciting part, for her, has nothing to do with our avian search. Vivian is so used to seeing the back of my head while I drive the van; my rear end while I stand at the kitchen sink; my calves tangled around the stool while I sit in front of the laptop, that my current posture is curiously thrilling for her. She crouches beside me, both of us pressing knees and hands into muddy grass, craning for a better look.

“There it is! There it is! Do you see it, Vivi?”

Vivian turns to face me. “Boo Boo Bubble” she whispers loudly, confirming the sighting with her favourite ice-cream flavour. Mission accomplished.

Once we offer the robins sunflower seeds and other residual crumbs from the stroller, thanking them for returning north, we celebrate our victory. “We did it,” I cry, giving Vivian a high-five. “We’re the first ones to see a robin!”

That evening, the wind blows cold while we walk to Scoops. We wear long underwear, toques, mitts and winter parkas. (Belén urges me to please take off my fur-lined hood when we walk past the skate park.) No other customers are at the ice-cream stand when we arrive. Yesterday would have been more pleasant, and certainly the more sensible day for cold treats, but it simply wasn’t an option. Not according to the ritual.

Vivian does, indeed, order Boo Boo Bubble–most of it ending up on her jacket, the cement and the garbage can. I don’t order anything at all; I don’t even like ice cream. Sometimes the anticipation, the wait, the hype associated with a ritual is better than the ritual itself.

Happy Spring009

 

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What’s Your Geographical Skill-Set?

The shuttle bus lurches around a corner and we cling to the metal railing while exclaiming over the catci. “That a saguaro,” I point out to my daughters, “and there’s a bougainvillea!” We crane our necks, taking in as much possible during our first minutes on the ground in Arizona. Everything is so rocky and colourful, and so different than the winterscape we left behind.

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Grand Canyon

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We hiked down about 1.5 miles

A few days later, on our way to hike in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, we eye the scenery with the same awe. “We’ll have to lather on sunscreen as soon as we step out of the van,” I murmur nervously to no one in particular. “Did you all bring your hats?” Stan asks, looking in the rear-view mirror. We pull into the trail-head parking lot and brace ourselves before opening the doors of our air-conditioned vehicle. “It looks so… so…” Susanna hesitates for a bit, looking at the prickly vegetation surrounding us, “so hot!” I wonder if this is how our friends from Iran, Venezuela or Ethiopia feel when we invite them to go ice-fishing, skiing or sailing with us in Canada. Do they, too, steel themselves in the parking lot for what lies ahead?

 

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Later that night, we sit outside my parents’ trailer while the sun silhouettes palm-trees in their 55-plus park. We’re talking about which bio-region would’ve been easier on the first nations, settlers and explorers: central Canada or the South-West. “I’d take forest and streams any day of the week, ” I say, even if it means mosquitoes and brutal winters. My brother-in-law, Derek, makes a wise comment, “You need to build a certain kind of skill-set for wherever you live.

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Stan and my mom, tasting oil at an olive farm in AZ

Days later I’m reminded of that skill-set when we pass caravans of farm labourers on the highway to San Deigo. The first bus is packed and pulls a trailer with three faded porta-potties. I stare at the bus windows to get a glimpse of the people inside. Are these workers undocumented, underpaid or ill-treated? I’m shamefully curious. Who are the people who harvest the lettuce that makes it all the way to my fridge in mid-winter? Old men, young women and teenagers are dozing with their heads tilted back. Many look Latino, are wearing straw hats and some even have scarves around their necks and chins to shield themselves from the sun. As our own vehicle climbs out of the irrigated desert and into the rocky coastal range, I imagine what their lives must be like. I wonder at the skill-set these agricultural soldiers have honed for survival.

Our second day in San Diego we head to the touristy enclave of La Jolla. I’ve rented 2 kayks and envision my parents and family exploring caves, taking pictures of sea-lions and paddling in a calm cove. I am terribly mistaken. As soon as my parents see the waves crashing on shore they decide to use their kayak as a bench on the sand. I don’t blame them–the ocean looks wild. Nothing like I’d imagined while reserving the kayaks over the phone, watching snow fall gently outside my kitchen window. Stan and Belén stare at the froth for a few minutes, get in the kayak and then beat their way through the surf. The rest of us squint our eyes and try to keep track of them.

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Something must be distorted in this picture… it was way worse than it appears here:)

While Vivi chases seagulls and squishes wet sand between her fingers I start worrying. Why are they going so far out! What could happen if they tip? The swells are so big, will Belén ever make it back on the boat? Will the kayak get swept away? What about sharks? I’m not sure if it’s because I’m sick with the flu, or simply scared of the ocean, that everything suddenly seems ominous.

I interrupt a kayak guide who is admiring a freshly-caught fish, which is about the size of my eleven-year-old daughter. Under normal circumstances I might ask a few questions, congratulate the fisherman, or at least wait until they’re finished talking. But these are not normal circumstances. My husband and child are being tossed around in the open sea, likely about to drown or be eaten by sharks. I can already imagine identifying their bodies and returning to Canada as a widow.

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Some of us choose to stay on shore and eat chips instead

“What happens if someone who rents a kayak gets in trouble?” I ask urgently. The guide, with curly brown hair is laughing and doesn’t hear me. I try again. “My husband is out there with my daughter and they’re not with a tour group or anything, will they be okay?” What I want to know is when I should call 911 or a helicopter or some kind of SWAT team. He grins, asks a few questions and assures me that everything will be fine, even though it’s “a gnarly day out there”. He looks about 25. I think I must look about 75, with my huge sun-hat and worried eyes. “Thanks,” I say and try to smile. I also add something lame about being used to canoeing in flat-water.

An hour later Belén and Stan return, shooting through the surf onto the shore. They are whole, unscathed and breathing. Just as I predicted to my parents who have been worrying with me, both Stan and Belén are shocked I was concerned at all. It is imminently clear I have no skill-set for ocean-side living.

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Vivian is figuring it out (Thanks, James, for the photo)

Ten days after we step into the desert we land back in Regina. While Stan runs to get the car we pull our suitcases off the baggage carousel and root through our bags, pulling out jackets and toques. We wait and wait and wait for Stan to pick us up. It is now almost 2 am and all the other travelers are long gone. I ask a security guard eating a tuna sandwich if the airport stays open all night. And does he have any idea how far away the economy parking lot is? He radios another guard and asks about a man in a tee-shirt (Stan) who might be looking for his van. No news. Finally he radios again and we hear he is on his way. When he finally pulls up to the airport’s sliding doors I ask him what happened. Did he fall? Fight off an attacker? How come he took so long?

“The car was completely iced in. Must’ve melted while we were away and water froze around the wheels. It was totally stuck. Had to chip it out and push.” He closes the trunk and we shiver in our leather seats, waiting for the heater to warm the air.

A few days later I see Vivian’s plush baby-blanket on the floor of the van. It’s dirty and torn with a gaping hole in its middle. I hold it up and Vivi wails, “My blanket!”

“Oh” says Stan casually, “I put it under the wheels for some traction when I was trying to get out of the airport parking lot. Sorry Vivi.” She whimpers a little more, but I don’t feel too sympathetic. It’s not her favourite blankie, and besides, it served as an important tool in Stan’s skill-set for dealing with Saskatchewan.

What kind of skill-set do you need to live where you do? What do you wish you could tell newcomers about the skill-set they need to flourish? Have you ever been in a place where you didn’t possess the required skill-set? Please share!

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Skill-set for SK, includes knowing what do with snow, candles, toques and hot chocolate (March 2018)

 

 

Loppet

If I understood hashtags
or knew why I should use them
I would type out a whole slew:
#myfavouritemonth
#duckmountainloppet
#makethemostofit
#20kmandstillhappy
#crosscountryskilove
#swapyourbabyforakidwhoskis
And it would all be true
expect for the parts that
were left out.

Like when I lost Stan at the start and was left without wax or water or food
and teared up,
partly because I thought we were in this together–
but mostly because of the food.
And then, when I found the girls six kilometres later,
one of them had a breakdown and refused to move an inch farther
and yelled crazy things
and I yelled crazy things back
and smiley men in spandex swished past us, commenting on the
superb day,
while we feigned pleasantries.

But that’s not all that would be missing.
The catchy phrases wouldn’t describe
the wood smoke or braided rugs or sliced oranges
at the warm-up huts.
They wouldn’t ring like the laughter of the hut-host who invited us in for sausage
and gave my thirteen-year-old advice about boys.
Or capture Mary skip-hopping while she skate skis
like a forest nymph or Susanna’s flushed cheeks
or Belén whooping through birch and pine.

Hashtags would certainly be quicker and easier
but sometimes quick and easy isn’t as
satisfying as sore biceps and stiff hips and sweaty necks
and run-on sentences that
become
a poem.

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Nothing World Changing

I sit at our kitchen counter, wearing earmuffs and typing as fast as I can. I’m using industrial hearing protection to block out the constant chatter and humming all around me. Belén is painting a watercolour for her friend Keauna, Susanna is reading on the couch, Stan is sculpting clay and Vivi is looking for attention wherever she can get it.

Turning away from the monitor and sliding my muffs down to my neck I announce, “I’m just about there now! I’ve almost caught it!” Then I explain how writing is like galloping after a wild horse; with every sentence I strain forward in the saddle until I swing the lasso and capture the bucking idea.

Susanna ignores me, Stan keeps massaging the mud, Vivi doesn’t seem to care about my philosophy, and Belén just says, “I fall off the horse, before I get close enough, every time.”

The next day I send the blog draft to my sister with the subject: Can I post this? I also ask Stan to read what I wrote. I want to know if it’s too preachy, too offensive or condescending. Stan affirms that it is all of the above. Tara hesitates on the phone when she calls to give me feedback. She suggests publishing it where nobody I know will read it. Then she asks if I would be willing to say it in a face-to-face conversation with my readers. Now it’s my turn to hesitate.

Shucks.

The problem with the offensive blog piece is that I said exactly what I wanted to say and don’t feel like changing it. Not yet, anyway.

My Auntie Fritz recently asked me if I have a temper. “You write about it in your blog but I’ve never seen you frustrated,” she said. When I assured her that I do, indeed, get hopping mad and am not scared of a little conflict, she nodded her head. “That’s good,” she said, “then you can change the world.”

I liked that.

But how do you know when it’s a good time to change the world or write a blog post or get angry? That’s some tricky business I haven’t yet mastered. I have a feeling that heeding caution from my closest confidantes is a step in the right direction. So I’ll sit tight and let that wild horse of an idea run free a little longer. Changing the world will have to wait.

Instead, I’ll go after something more predictable and safe. Something like a photo-collage, the kind you might get in your mailbox from us if we did that sort of thing. A genteel Happy New Year from our house to yours.

Love Tricia, for the rest

Skating on the pond at Tim and Kristalyn’s with Grandpa

Christmas with my mom’s sisters and our adopted families from Ethiopia and Iran

Belén got henna for Christmas… tatoos all around…

Susie LOVES serving people with her new chocolate fountain

cousins…missing a few very important ones 🙂

Stan and his dad making a pottery wheel from scratch

B and Simon. We didn’t take boots to Indiana because we thought it would be warm and dry. We were wrong.

Auntie Annie and Susanna… so much to do together, so little time

first pottery lesson with Marea, the master

 

 

 

Wonderscape 2017

It’s drizzly and cold when we stop the car on the side of the road on our way to Wonderscape. Belén sprints across the highway, towards the bushes in the ditch, and I open the trunk to get the pruning shears. I’ve been worrying about the table centrepieces for months. Stories? I can tell them. Contracting artists? No problem. Booking a venue? Done. But centrepieces, oh the centrepieces, how I dread tackling this overwhelming problem. And so, I leave it for the very last minute. Until I am on the road, centrepiece-less, driving to the retreat I am about to facilitate. Which is when we see them waiting for us, perfect branches with leaves turning from papaya-orange to apple-red. I cut them down and stuff them into our car. Tell me, what else should I have done?*

It turns out my mom is the oldest person attending the retreat and my daughter Belén, the youngest. Last year, the first time I tried organizing a Wonderscape retreat, Belén begged to join us. “Please,” she said. “I’ll eat the crumbs that fall from your table,” she said. “You won’t notice me, I promise,” she said. Her pleas didn’t work then because I was too nervous and preoccupied, but this year I am more relaxed. She and her friend Ainsly don’t eat the crumbs off our table but they do sketch, read, collage, run, walk, write, and paint feverishly all weekend. I admit, I lowered the registration age to 13 just for them. Tell me, what else should I have done?

Lesley stokes the fire and lights the candles and I call everyone to gather for our first session. I’ve been looking forward to introducing the artists I’ve hired for a long time. Each one fascinates, impresses and inspires me and I can’t wait to present them to the group. But even more interesting is hearing everyone else introduce themselves. I want to know: Why are you here? Where are you from? How did you find out about this? What gifts are you bringing? I know there are painters, poets, story-tellers, community-builders, movers-and-shakers, photographers, potters, knitters, bee-keepers, musicians and more. It takes time for all 33 people to introduce themselves and I have to strike other things off my agenda to make room for it. Tell me, what else should I have done?

Chef Mariana Brito intructing a culinary workshop

Daisy – mixed media workshop instructor

On Saturday morning I wake up at 5 am. My mind is racing as I envision how the day will unfold. By 6 am I’m dressed and slip out of my room to the lounge. The fire is out and the coals are black. I slide past the books in our weekend library with a longing glance. So many good books, so little time. I head downstairs, past the gallery with Kate’s poetry, paintings and tee-shirts. I am almost past the “giving tree”–where we left offerings to encourage our fellow makers–when I stop to stare at the bounty. Between us all we have so much wealth to share.

I push out the doors and head to the beach to scope out a route for my Hike n’ Write workshop. Soon I am following a path that lines sloughs and field on one side, and the lake on the other. At the end of my walk I see the lights are on in the old church where Kate and Daisy are busy working. They show me the canvases textured with drywall mud and tell me about the next step of the process. How they’ll cover the mud with black paint, and how it’s a metaphor for grief and pain. How sponging off most of the dark paint transforms the painting into something deeper, like a relief map. How loss and sadness lessen but continue to shape our story. How adding paint to the contours gives us joy. I think of their own story of grief–losing a husband and father in a tragic accident–and others here who have lost their own husbands and dads. I wipe my eyes with my fleece gloves. I cannot speak. Tell me, what else should I have done?

When I first thought about planning a retreat such as this one, I expected I would literally “retreat”. I envisioned myself doing whatever I wanted and my schedule would look something like this: Walk, write, eat. Paddle, write, eat. Repeat. Of course, this is not what happens. I am realizing that my creative project is designing and executing the experience itself. I take pictures of Krista playing the ukulele while “Stand by Me” and laughter surround her. I catch snippets of conversations. About organizing Lawn Artz and harvesting sea buck-thorn berries, about publishing poetry and illustrating children’s books, about connecting first nations people from different continents and travelling abroad. I have no time for making anything except this thing that is happening right now. Tell me, what else should I have done?

Hike n’ Write

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Shannon Shakotko leading the vocal/ukulele workhsop

After a farm-to-table dinner we listen to Sweet Saturday begin their set with a Civil Wars cover. Their harmonies are perfectly-fitted puzzle pieces, they pause at all the right moments and I know it’s going to be a good night. At one point they perform an original tune they’d never rehearsed before–they want to show us how their creative process works instead of tell us about it. One plays the mandolin, the others focus on each other and try to find their harmonies. They stop, start and try again, laying bare the raw process of collaboration. When their concert is over we ask for an encore. Then another. The band glances at me for direction. One of the them laughs about not having any songs left. I hold up my index finger. We want more, I mouth. When they hesitate I announce, “I have 35 women to back me up.” Tell me, what else should I have done?

Sweet Saturday

Before our final meal on Sunday I tell the story of Babette’s Feast, the tale of the French refugee who flees to Norway to work for two spinster sisters. When the maid, Babette, wins the lottery she spends the entire sum on a decadent French feast for the sisters and their friends. She uses every cent to prepare a single meal, holding nothing back; no wine is too expensive, no delicacy out of reach for Babette. She is an artist, compelled to share her gift, if only for her own sake.

I have the notes from the story in my hand, but I hold them to my chest the whole time. I have no need for them. I almost forget I am in the room with the other woman and can nearly feel the snowflakes falling in the fjords of Norway. I take my time, savouring each image, and fall deeper into the story. When I feel the peak of the narrative coming, like a wave swelling in the distance, I begin to tremble. I catch Shannon’s eye. Even though she’s probably read this story a hundred times her eyes are shinning and I can tell it’s carrying her too. When I interrupt myself to explain the pause she keeps nodding and speaks for the rest of the audience, “I know… I know… I know…” Suddenly I can’t coax my voice out of my throat and there are tears in its place. Tell me, what else should I have done?

At the very end, just before we read the artist blessing I wrote for the group, I disclose that I cannot untangle my creativity from my spirituality. I explain that I am swept away by the story of Jesus and redemption and that it’s impossible for me to contain all the abundance of the Creator. I tell them that the more I write, the more ideas I get; the more I use and give away, the more inspiration floods and fills the cracks. I bear witness to my source of ideas, dreams, visions and seeds. Even so, when I hand out the words for the blessing I tell them to interpret it according to their own sensibilities and worldviews. Tell me, what else should I have done?

I write cheques out to artists, pay for the venue rental and mentally calculate what is left over. I haven’t tallied the hours spent making Facebook posts, researching locations, processing registrations, collecting materials and programming. It might be too discouraging and it’s clear that if I wanted to follow common sense I wouldn’t be blogging about Wonderscape right now. I wouldn’t have stayed up in the middle of the night, proposing the idea to friends a couple years ago. I wouldn’t have paid attention to a whim that would grow into a place where strangers gather from hundreds of kilometres away. But tell me… What else should I have done?

*If you know Mary Oliver, you’ll recognize the line from her poem “Summer Day” repeated throughout this post. I used the poem as a primer in the Hike n’ Write workshop and it seemed like it wanted to get in on this piece too.

**Follow Wonderscape Retreats on Facebook to see more pictures and updates on upcoming events.

**A huge thank you to the Saskatchewan Arts Board and Sask Culture for supporting Wonderscape 2017!

Forgotten Things: Our family canoe trip on the Churchill

Evan in front of Robertson Falls (Photo credit: Kevin or Carol Kohlert)

After paddling three kilometres from the boat launch in Missinipe I remember that I left our first night’s supper back in the van. Days earlier I had cut up chunks of pork, frozen them in a marinade and was intending to skewer them with veggies for the freshest–and most bulky–meal on our menu. (We dehydrated the rest of our meals ahead of time.) Instead, we split the following day’s lunch in half. Before eating our shishkabob-less supper we go swimming to wash off our paddling sweat. Everyone throws on their swimsuits except for Vivi, because she doesn’t have one. Her missing swimsuit is one more thing I had forgotten to pack and for the rest of the week she lounges bare-bummed on the bald granite. The next morning the sun rises and our tent is as bright as a glow-bowling ball. I roll my black toque down over my eyes to block out the 5 am sun. When I rally enough to get dressed I discover my third mistake. I cannot find my underwear. I pull out each counted and precious item from our dry bags and realize I had forgotten ALL my panties in a neat pile on my couch. Which is approximately 800 km due south. I have, of course, the pair I am wearing and I continue to wear it, wash it and roast it over the fire to dry, for the next seven days.

Launching! Everything we need for 7 days (minus the parents)

Strangely, these forgotten things don’t matter as much as I think. We catch plenty of walleye and end the trip with surplus food in in our plastic five-gallon buckets. We swim off private sites where it doesn’t matter who wears what, if anything at all. We wash our clothes almost daily. The details that seem terribly important in other contexts are almost inconsequential here. On the other hand, other things becomes paramount: finding a good potty spot to bury poop and toilet paper, picking up bannock crumbs to keep bears away, monitoring the wind (and celebrating the lack of it), and becoming adept at sealing 5 sleeping bags into a 55 litre dry bag.

Vivian definitely notices the change in priorities and ambiance. Although she seems happy enough with her lot in life, staying out of waterfalls and campfires, she has bouts of homesickness. While she doesn’t complain about the dearth of toys she expresses her disorientation daily. On the last morning she stands at the edge of our island campsite and asks again, “Mommy, where’s the road home?”

I listen to her three-year-old voice pitched against the sound of roaring rapids and tell her, “You’re looking at it, girl!”

The edge of the waterway we are standing on is part of the Churchill River System and has been used for centuries as a highway for First Nations, voyageurs, and now, recreational enthusiasts. Die-hard paddling addicts say it is one of the premier paddling places in the world, and our driver Heidi, who picks us up at the end of the trip, claims she would need more than 3 lifetimes to fully explore it.

Heidi, a guide with Churchill River Canoe Outfitters who has paddled for at least 30 years, has a tanned face and her strawberry-blond braid is interwoven with silver. While she shuttles us back to our vehicle I lean forward in my seat to learn all I can from this formidable woman. She tells us about raising her kids in a boat (solo tripping with a toddler and infant in the backcountry), dealing with bears (“I’ve never had any problems except for that one time in the NWT when a grizzly totally destroyed our canoe.”) and quick-dry underwear (which is of particular interest to me). When we ask about the risks of whitewater and for extra tips she is helpful and informative. At the end of our conversation she adds succinctly, “But, you know, if I’m always thinking about the risks I’d never leave my own living room.”

We meet other paddlers who have come to the same conclusion as Heidi and it’s clear that the northern waters are in their blood. They are smitten by this land–where life can be harsh and the margin for error slim–and its bounty. A place of unlikely generosity where spongy, soft moss grows a foot deep on hard granite, where fish hooks thrown into the foot of raucous falls pull out perfect walleyes, where reindeer lichen grow a few millimetres each year into edible sculptures more delicate than an artist’s dream, where saskatoons, blueberries, raspberries and bearberry provide a buffet for the forager, where pelicans and eagles criss-cross the sky, and where even the hum of mosquitoes rings with abundance.

Although we’ve canoe tripped in other places and provinces this is the farthest north we’ve paddled and it feels like we are on the brink of something new. We buy a thick book called Canoeing the Churchill at the outfitters office before we leave. At the same time we re-calibrate to our regular ways out of the bush. We change into clean clothes. Toilets become important again. We look in the mirror in gas station restrooms and rake our hands through our hair. We check the clock, count hours, and estimate a midnight arrival back home. Priorities change. Life on land with engines, schedules, and infrastructure dictates a rigour altogether different than the water and paddle. Still, we pass the canoeing guide around our rented 15-passenger van and read snippets aloud of legends, voyageurs and possible routes for next summer. We’ve had a small taste and are hungry for more of the wide river, where loons cry as if they know about our forgotten things, mourning as if everything matters.

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Photo credit: Kevin/Carol Kohlert

Bare-bones of the Trip

Put-in: Missinipi (5 hours north of Saskatoon, SK)

Take-out: Stanley Mission, SK

Total days on water: 7

Longest paddle day: 19 km

Number of boats: 4

Number of adults: 4

Number of children: 5 (ages 12, 10, 9 and 3)

Portages: 2

Number of days to pack/dehydrate food/gather gear: 3

Number of days to unload and clean up: 1

Supper meals: hot dogs, potatoes and veggies in tinfoil packets, tortilla soup (dehydrated powder base, cheese, sour cream and corn chips), fried fish, bannock, scalloped potatoes (from a box), dehydrated ground beef and gravy, dehydrated frozen veggies, mac n’ cheese, pizza (on naan bread), chili with dehydrated beef, popcorn, apple/berry crisp (dehydrated ingredients)

Breakfast Menu: porridge, dried fruit, pancakes, dehydrated sausage, refried beans, bannock, granola bars, nuts

All Business

Disclosure: The following post includes a recipe, an advertisement, a book recommendation, and more propaganda…

Nathanael crouches and drops bean seeds into the trench I made with my hoe. Vivian is there beside him and throws her handful into a pile and begins to cover them up, all lumped together. When I protest, Nathanael squints up at me and stares.

“Why are you wearing that?” He is looking at the huge hat I just put on to cover my huge head. “Are you a farmer?”

I straighten up and throw my shoulders back. I am pleased with this four-year-old’s question. “Yes,” I say, spreading my arms to point to the  budding raspberries, quivering garlic stalks, blooming cherry and plum, trailing strawberries and spiking asparagus. “This is my farm.”

Nathaneal isn’t convinced. “You can’t be a farmer because you don’t have a barn,” he concludes. I agree with him partly–barns and outbuildings are very useful things for farmers to have, and then we keep working.

After we finish planting the beans he helps me unload a few wheelbarrow loads of mulch and waters the emerging snap peas.  By the time his older brother gets off the bus he’s changed his mind about my title. Still holding the watering can, he waves it at his brother and shouts, “Look Josiah, she’s a farmer!”

Right now we’re harvesting asparagus, green onions, rhubarb, and dandelion roots on our “farm”. It is a pleasant sort of vindication to pull foot-long roots out of the earth, knowing they will become a smooth part of my spring morning ritual. Turning them into coffee is the best way to up-cycle these medicinal plants in my opinion. (And believe me, I’ve tried all manner of recipes.) In fact, if I was inclined to market goods I might actually sell this stuff, but instead I’ll try to sell you on this retreat…

There are a few spots left and early bird pricing lasts until next week. Come be a part of it! Watch this short interview on CTV News to get a better idea of what it’s about. (I come on at 13:25 minutes.)

This book.

Image result for annie dillard the writing life

I  have 3 hours to myself every week when Vivi goes to daycare. During these mornings alone I only do Very Important Things, which usually means walking, praying, and writing. Last week I used 30 precious minutes to copy passages from Annie Dillard’s book. Here is one of my favourites:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

And finally, one last advertisement.

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My nieces and nephews have started their own business, Three Huggers, creating sustainable beeswax wraps with the help of their parents. I love wrapping my children’s sandwiches in them; their fabric designs almost transform lunch prep into a festivity instead of a mad rush to throw some ham between two slices of bread. Here’s their FB page and Etsy account where you can flood them with orders 🙂

Have a wonderful weekend ahead!

Last wkd was mostly all backbreaking work except for Sunday afternoon, which was mostly all about water, fresh fish, fire, and friends.

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