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…

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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.

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Vivian eating supper on the cliff with her buddy Tyler

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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“sketching”

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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.

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at an old gold mine site

Beans, Wine, and the Real Vivi

“Mom, do we have to clean today?”

“Nope, no cleaning. I mean, no extra cleaning. We just have to tidy up after ourselves–like if we eat, we’ll clean those dishes,” I explain nonchalantly. It’s a bit of a lie, and by now all of us know it. Because somehow this cleaning up after ourselves seems to take most of the day. The summer is more than half over and I’m still mystified by how much work the four of us create. No sooner do we clear the couch of one load of laundry than the next fills the cracks between the cushions. Lunch dishes crowd out breakfast dishes that are nesting in last night’s supper pots. This kitchen was perfectly clean at five o’clock yesterday I’ve been known to say, hoping everyone else will realize the gravity of the situation and acknowledge the mess we make. But I don’t expect them to understand it because I certainly don’t. I’ve been looking after myself for at least 20 years now (running a household with children for the last eleven) and still don’t understand the math of household maintenance.

I do know green beans are part of the equation. Each time I pick them I feel incredibly grateful to be growing our own food. I also feel incredibly sweaty and itchy. The mosquitoes ascend like plumes of smoke, attacking my neck, wrists, and ankles as I swish through the plants. Swatting and blowing them out of my face I remind myself that this, too, is one of the benefits of gardening. It’s called appreciation. The next time I open up a plastic bag of store-bought beans and dump them into my pot I will be thankful. Instead of balking when the cashier tells me the total for my groceries I will wonder how such a great amount of energy can come so cheap.

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I love purple beans

It’s not just the beans. The ruby-red siren song of cherries, raspberries, strawberries, and tomatoes are factors in the formula we never seem to balance. For the last six weeks I’ve kept a stack of empty buckets at the back door so we can fill them at a moment’s notice. Which, of course, leads to other urgent jobs, like stomping cherries for wine. Another reason our days at home get hijacked by nagging and the tiresome task of looking after ourselves is because it’s hard to keep up while we’re at the beach. Which means I have no right to complain about anything.

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All three girls treading Shelly’s cherries with very clean feet. I promise.

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Garlic harvest!!!! The girls garlic did better than mine. I planted mine in a heavily composted bed; theirs was in poorer soil. Not sure if that was the reason?

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Belén skiing for the first time at the Whyte’s cabin

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Susanna after her ski. Thanks to Duane!

***

When babies reach their first birthday it’s cause to celebrate. According to me, all the hoopla should be for the parents; the ones who give up so much to ensure those helpless, seven-pound, naked creatures survive. In Vivian’s case, it wasn’t just her parent’s lives that were turned around. Her sisters’ world changed too. Which is why her birthday party was more about them than Vivian. They planned the games, bought prizes, and helped with the cake. It wasn’t baby-friendly either. No healthy rice cakes here to mark the occasion. No siree! We served New York style cheesecake with cherries—because that’s what we like. I didn’t get the obligatory picture of Vivi blowing out the candles, and I don’t even know if she tasted it. Did I mention this was more about us?

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The girls had games for both the moms and the dads. Here Stan is asking his Dad to answer one of the questions on the beach ball: “What is my favourite toy?”

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The moms’ game: be the first to find your crying child while blindfolded. Even the 40-year-old children had to cry so their moms could find them with the candy soother. (I’m looking for Susie in this picture.)

I’m not sure what I would’ve done without Belén and Susanna this past year. Susanna seems to have extra patience when mine runs out. Like her dad waiting for fish to bite, Susanna sits quietly by Vivi’s crib humming lullabies while Vivi tosses and turns, making sure she’s asleep before she tip-toes out of the room. Belén is the one who hates for her to cry, who hears Vivian screaming while I’m giving her a bath and appears at my side with graham crackers. While the tap water pours off Vivi’s head and body, Belén plies her with crackers and soothing words, anxious to stop her tears. And though it’s probably not best-practise to stuff your baby with treats while bathing, I don’t tell Belén to stop. It’s hard to argue when the baby is happy.

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The walker Stan rigged for Vivi works well. Maybe too well. She hasn’t really struck off on her own yet.

But, despite all this care, something has happened to Vivian lately. I think it has to do with becoming human–like she’s got a brain of her own or something. Imagine! Never mind that she can’t talk yet, she’s got opinions alright. She probably has political preferences too, we just don’t know them yet. We noticed all of this because of the way she throws her head back and cries now. It’s not a hungry baby cry, but more of a I-need-my-way wail. It’s the way her limbs turn to wet toilet paper when we want her to stand and the way she stiffens them like iron when we want her to sit. All of this makes me think she really is her own person. At first this was disheartening, realizing she won’t be perfect or even what we projected onto her infant-self, but I’m coming to terms with having another complex human around here. So much for sweet baby Vivi without personality. Here’s to the real Vivian. Happy birthday!

Tricia

PS. The math of household maintenance got a whole lot simpler with Stan’s parents around for the week. There are good reasons why three-generation households are common in many cultures.

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doughnuts

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We played a little game that landed us up at the ice cream shop. Can you tell who lost?

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Waterton

Two hours into our trip west the scenery changes. Poplar scrub and spruce trees give way to real prairie–the kind you can imagine teeming with bison. We scan the horizon for mule deer and pronghorn antelope while sweat trickles down our stomachs (the air conditioner doesn’t keep up with the sun) and inhale the smell of blooming canola. When the mountains finally appear we debate whether it’s really the Rockies or just low cloud accumulation. Forty miles outside of Waterton National Park they still look like a mirage; a cardboard scene from a children’s pop-up book. But after four days of camping, 30 km of hiking, a paddle, and a steady diet of mountain dirt (on Vivian’s part) it becomes a little more real.

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We set up two tents because we’re not sure we’ll all fit into one anymore. And even if we could, nobody but her mother is willing to sleep with Vivian. While I nurse her through each night I have plenty of time to remember how scared I’d been (and everybody else I talked to) about all the bears at Waterton. Now that we’re here, lying on the ground listening to the wind rush down the pass, it doesn’t seem nearly as frightening. Part of this is due to the bear documentaries I watched beforehand, the internet search showing the last fatal attack in the area had been 40 years prior, and that Stan is sleeping beside the hatchet in the next tent over. Mostly though, I think my sense of ease comes from just being here. The unknown is a fertile breeding ground for fear and simply seeing where we are, not imagining how it might be, allays my worry. Tucking our tent into the shadow of Crandell Mountain no longer seems like I’m offering my baby into the jaws of a hungry grizzly, but a perfectly rational vacation plan.

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I’m actually surprised we see any wildlife at all (two bears while hiking and several other from our vehicle) with the ruckus we make on the trails. Susanna is a live bear bell, emitting constant noise, whether it’s shrieks, chatter, or song. Medleys pour out in an unconscious stream and I hear I got my first real six string… then Amazing grace how sweet the sound and Para bailar la bamba one after the other. After an hour of Fill Up My Cup and experimental harmonies with her sister, we put a ban on singing. We decide the risk of running into a bear is less dangerous than subjecting parents to more music.

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campground entertainment with the firewood sacks

On Day 3, we’re about 25 meters from the Summit Lake trail head when a couple coming down the mountain approaches us.

“You guys heading up?” the man asks. We nod and he continues, “It’s six turns. Just count those switchbacks, they’re wicked.” Then he gives us an appraising look and adds, “You might be able to make it.”

Might?

His partner isn’t so sure. She groans and leans onto her climbing poles. “It’s bad… took us 4 hours… and my feet…” She seems to have forgotten she’s mid-conversation and whimpers, “Oh, my feet…”

Stan and I turn to look at each other. Our girls are pretty strong but what have we gotten into? Are we being totally irresponsible?

“I’ll turn back and buy more food; just go slow and I’ll catch up,” I say. Stan sets off with Vivian on his back and the other two trudge ahead, gearing up for what feels like the hike of their life. I reach the small concession and stuff twenty dollars worth of chips and chocolate bars into my pack before running back to catch them. We count turns, stop for breaks, and lumber onward under the weight of their warning. The climb is hard and long but it doesn’t take us four hours, not even three. Had we not run into the doomsayers at the beginning we would’ve surely made it in less time, but we were affected by their comments and the ominous unknown. Again, ignorance is not always bliss–unless you count the extra chocolate bars we got out of the deal.

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Vivi is into mimicking us now. At one point she started huffing and deep breathing from her seat in the backpack!

The last day we choose a hike we know nothing about, except that it’s 8 km and involves a waterfall. It turns out to be our favourite; the open meadows carpeting the edge of the mountain, old growth forest, rushing water, fireweed, bear grass and arnica all make it interesting. But not interesting enough. When our six-year-old friend William starts to tire, along with Belén and Susanna, the stories start. Shanon and I take turns leading the line of hikers onward with our words. They put one foot in front of the other because they want to hear what happens when you steal a 25 cent ring from the store or when you fall asleep during class in grade six. Soon everyone is taking turns telling stories about when they were little, or in other words, what happened last week. Each new storyteller moves to the front of the line, like a needle tugging thread, and pulls us down the mountain.

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Shanon, William, and our girls coming back from Lineham falls

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At the end of our long drive back home we stop at Cafe Francais and try to look more civilized than a bunch of tired, smokey campers. While tasting lattes and pastries we debrief about the trip: the horseback ride, Belén and Stan waking up at 5:30 to climb to a alpine lake, the filthy carpet at the cheap motel, the underground tunnels, the thick slices of bacon at the Puckett’s cabin, and the grizzlies we never saw. Knowing what we know now, I’d definitely go back–and worry less beforehand. But we would still take the hatchet.

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Stan and Belén at Cafe Francais

Thanks for reading along,

Tricia

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Be Curious

Everything, and nothing at all, happens in summer. Plants burst out of tidy rows and create a a canopy over black dirt. Songbirds in my yard perform like it’s the encore at their final concert, as if they know this gig won’t last for long. We pack for camp, for sleepovers with grandma, for the beach, and for a whole new round of firsts with Vivian. It’s hard to believe the sun won’t always shine while we get ready for bed or that our cooler won’t forever rotate from the kitchen to our car. The regular hum of life is a pitch higher as we try to squeeze every drop of life out of these nine weeks, but yet, it also seems quieter. There’s nothing new in my inbox. I haven’t checked facebook since last week. People are away. I have no schedule, no daily routine.
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The girls and their friends adopt a fledgling crow for a few hours, before they realize it isn’t hurt and their google search shows they should return it to where they found it.

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Retreating to the basement on a hot afternoon to sew doll clothes

This suits us all just fine for now. Especially Vivian. She thinks she has died and gone to a place where school buses never take big sisters away. It’s not a bad deal for me either. The other day I went to sleep after putting Vivian down for her nap and when I awoke I saw her crib was empty. No Vivian; she had disappeared. I looked around until I heard voices coming from the playroom. They were playing “house” and filled the necessary roles (mom, puppy, and baby) perfectly. So far, Vivi doesn’t seem to mind being typecasted.
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It’s not all bird-song and sunshine though. On the first day of summer holidays somebody jumped out of bed at 5:30 am. By 8:30 family relations had deteriorated significantly, and at 9:00 they were writing down rules, which I titled “Summer-long Slumber Party” in an effort to re-frame the concept. (I keep telling them this is their chance to be together and that in a few short years they will likely travel just to spend time with each other, like my sister and I do now, but I’m not sure it’s working.) I’ve also noticed a pattern with the strife; it’s exacerbated by any kind of cleaning or daily chores. On one hand it might be worth it to let them lounge around all summer, there would be less screaming and it might even be less tiring to do it all myself, but I have a feeling this is part of my job-description as a parent. Foster work ethic is right down there with scrub toilets according to me. Only worse. Which is why I suggested we think of it as “getting ready for our slumber party”. Is that corny? Yes. Was I desperate only 3 hours into the holidays? Definitely.
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Fortunately, fighting gives us an opportunity to learn about forgiveness. One evening, I climb up to Belén’s top bunk to say goodnight and she asks me a question.
“Mom, do you know how I pray sometimes?”
“No. Tell me.”
“I don’t just pray that God would forgive me but also the other people who have done bad things to me.”
Upon hearing this Susanna pipes up from below with a suggestion that may indicate a conflict of interest on her part. “Belén! Belén! I think you should be more specific in your prayers. Like I think you should say exactly who it is that has done mean things to you so God can forgive them.”
I wonder if she has anyone in mind.
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First canoe ride for Vivian; she was mostly mesmerized by the paddling, or asleep.

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my mom and dad

We’re also learning about how curiosity affects the way we relate to each other. Dave, a marriage and family counselor at our church, says it helps to look at your spouse the way you did when you were trying to get to know them. Then, it was easy to think of questions and things you wanted to more about. Tapping into that same curiosity during an argument can help change the dynamic. Why are they saying what they are saying? What makes them react that way? What do they need or want?

When I hear stomping or mimicking, see eye rolls or huffy faces, I have a new line now. “Be curious!” I command through gritted teeth. Perhaps Dave didn’t intend it to be a threat, but it’s novel enough that it thwarts the arguing. After a day when all of us run out of curiosity at one point or another Belén sums it up this way: Being curious is hard–it’s tiring and takes more time. We all agree.

Curiosity isn’t always onerous. Sometimes it’s exactly what we need, like opening the window and letting fresh air into the stuffy room of self-absorption. Pull back the curtains and watch her face when she talks to you. Throw up the blinds and ask him what he needs you to know!

Before leaving for book club one night I read this quote about another way to open the window: “There are two types of people – those who walk into a room and say: Here I am! and those who walk into a room and say: There you are.” Of course that’s how I want to be, but it’s easier to agree with than implement. You have to swing the heavy inner spotlight off self and pass on the microphone. You have to stop monitoring how you sound to hear what others are saying. I’ve got an advantage tonight because I haven’t read either of the suggested books so I can focus on “finding” who I am with.

We sit on lawn chairs around a fire. There is sangria and chips, marshmallows and snap peas. I see Sara* through the flames. She is laughing and slapping the plastic arm of her chair. She just tacked a one-liner on to someone’s story and now everyone else is laughing too; her mini-epilogues make people seem funnier than they are. There she is. The skin on Amanda’s chin tightens. She is wearing sunglasses but there must be tears in her eyes. She is telling us about post-traumatic stress and diagnoses and the fear of not knowing. She is the one I was intimidated by at first, but now I see her more clearly. There she is. I see Karen make fun of herself, vocalizing her inner dialogue with perfect expression and intonation; an actress Hollywood never found. There she is. Erin summarizes a book we read a while back–something about how the author humanizes the villain, and articulates exactly what I was trying to say. There she is. Christine recounts her last parenting battle and how she turned around (right in the ice cream shop!) and took her children home without treats. I am in awe. There she is.

I don’t sit back and study faces faces all night. I interrupt and interject like usual, but I come home happy. Happy for the chance to listen. Happy to have found the people I was with.

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Trying to stay curious,

Tricia

*names changed

Adapt, Capitalize, and Debrief

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I’m not very good at waiting around for things to happen; like babies, for example. On Wednesday, I call a small resort and ask if they have any cabins available for the upcoming weekend. I also ask if they have cell service, just in case I go into labour (they don’t), but I figure I could make the hour-and-a-half trip back to to the hospital in good time. (I bring along a clean sheet for a roadside delivery just in case.) On Friday morning we roll out the driveway, our canoe hunkered over our Mazda, ready to explore a new lake and a new way of vacationing by ourselves. Never before has our family chosen to stay in the “front-country” when striking out on our own. Over the years we’ve canoed and backpacked into many different wilderness campsites, but considering the circumstances, going into the back-country isn’t an option this time. And it turns out that hot water, cupboards stocked with dishes, and ready-made beds covered with quilts, aren’t such a bad idea after all.

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Happy to burrow my belly into the sand!

At the beach, while warming up after a swim, Susanna grabs an index card and a pencil and starts writing. After awhile she shares her work–a detailed outline of the stages of pregnancy, each with a summary of what a new mom should expect. My favourite line, in Stage 6, reads: You may notice that it will try to push itself out during labor. The “you may notice” bit sounds reassuring, like it’ll be so low-key I’ll have remind myself of what’s going on.

Inspired by her outline, I borrow her idea of “stages” and apply it to our family get-away. Like pregnancy, and most holidays, it seems to follow a pattern…

Stage 1: Adapt

This is the scratchiest part of the vacation–even if you’re at a five-star all-inclusive. Changing speeds and getting used to a new environment, especially if it’s in the woods and literally scratchy, takes a bit of time. During this phase expectations re-align with reality. Kind of like what happens when I see our cottage for the first time, nestled in a stand of mosquito-infested spruce and dressed with cobwebs. I guess I was expecting a little more charm, and a little less of the “made for a group of fishing buddies” feel. Susanna and Belén don’t seem to notice and head inside. They get busy adapting, collecting bouquets of reeds and grass for every room and deciding who will sleep where.

Later, when we launch our boat and I tentatively brush the surface of the water with my paddle, as if I’m painting rather than canoeing, Stan phrases his question carefully.

“So… I guess this is as fast as we’re going to go?”

“Yes,” I reply, even though the trout are at the other end of the lake, even though it’s a beautiful night, and even though we’ve made this canoe go much, much faster. “Yes, this is definitely as fast as we’re going to go.”

We don’t make it to the narrows that evening, where the lake trout stay safe from our hooks. And the rosemary sprigs from our garden, plucked with high hopes, never see the frying pan. Instead, I hand both girls a paddle and they take over my job from their post in the middle. They squabble, shout orders, and then congratulate each other when our vessel picks up speed and stays, relatively, on course. It would’ve been nice to reach the deep waters ahead, but we realize we need to stay within sight of our cabin, at least when I’m in the bow, and I can’t help but think it’s okay for the kids too. It’s good for children to feel the force of water against wood. To understand what happens when the paddle feathers the water away, or churns it towards the boat. To feel the thrill of managing natural elements, rather than a tiny arrow on a screen, or even the pages of a book.

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Belén, Susanna, and Stan, adapting to the compromised paddler in the bow.

Stage 2: Capitalize

On Saturday morning Belén and Stan slip away while Susanna and I are still in bed. They try again for lake trout–and reach the point we were heading for the night before–but get caught in a storm before they have any luck. Susanna and I strain to catch sight of a canoe heading for home but can’t see through the white sheet of rain quickly advancing. Feeling helpless, we start on a batch of these fluffy buttermilk pancakes (my new favourite recipe) and soon the soggy father-daughter team are dripping at the door. Alive. They didn’t even capsize or get struck by lightning and it seems silly I was so worried.

The wind howls and the clouds weep steadily for hours. It’s the kind of day that makes a nap after breakfast seem perfectly reasonable, especially after a hard paddle. Reading aloud, playing scrabble, and sketching are also on the agenda. I am thankful for the 625 square foot cabin and the blanket of slow that settles around us. There is no laundry to do, no computer to check, no work to be done, no garden to weed, and the supper is already prepped. We are steeped in rest and each other.

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When the rain stops we build a fire despite gale-force winds and study the trees around us, hoping they won’t fall victim to the wind and we, in turn, to them. Fortunately we are braver than the mosquitoes and enjoy some insect-free supper and s’mores, deciding a little breeze is better than a blood-hungry, buzzing plague.

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Yes, this is what capitalizing looks like.

Stage 3: Debrief

I love stage three, when the trip happens all over again; only this time, bathed in the nostalgic light of retrospect. We go out for dinner the day we come home (a tradition after back-country trips) and indulge in beverages and a meal, plus dessert. Like we need to reward ourselves for going on vacation or something. Between ordering and eating we discuss our favourite parts and how great everything turned out. The sun, the rain, the wind, the food, the cabin. Even mishaps, like the sharp pencil that lodged itself deep into buttock flesh when a certain family member sat on it, producing tears and flaring tempers, don’t seem as menacing in a restaurant booth.

We discuss our plans for next summer and agree on a few points. It’ll be a backpacking trip in a place without mosquitoes. Death Valley? Well, it fits the criteria. A snowy glacial peak? No mosquitoes there. Wherever we go, we’ll have to adapt–especially with a one-year-old on our backs, hopefully capitalize, and most certainly debrief.

Is this what your vacations look like, too?

Tricia

 

 

Breakfast recipe: Berry Nests

Stan likes to remind me we have about a week of summer where we live. Unlike him, I grew up in this climate so my definition of summer can include frost and heavy sweaters. It also includes a lot of water and berries…

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We have enough lakes around here that we don’t often pull out our sprinkler. Yesterday, though, I was too exhausted to think about getting to the beach so I lay my pile of belly in the shade and watched the girls play.

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Susanna and I picked wild saskatoons last night. While dropping each precious little berry into our buckets, I suggested we savour our harvest since we’d worked so hard for it. “These are a delicacy, you know. We’ll have to eat them one at a time, very slowly.”

“Oh no,” Susanna disagreed, “Let’s scoop them up in big handfuls and eat a whole bunch at once.”

And then I thought of one of my favourite short stories and realized she’s got a point. Sometimes it’s worth it to revel in abundance.

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Wild saskatoons. I think they are also known as “service berries” in the US.

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Victorious, with half a pail of saskatoons.

I decided I didn’t want to make pie with these berries; I think their intense flavour is best appreciated in their most natural state. I also decided adding some fat and protein to the berries would make for a hearty breakfast. It did. The kids didn’t ask for anything to eat for hours after this. In fact, we had to drape ourselves over our dining room chairs to recuperate after the meal.

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breakfast… the first serving, anyway

Nest of Berries

Roast raw almonds on a cookie sheet in a 350 oven for 15 minutes. (I burn mine 98% of the time, so keep a close eye on them.)  Whip heavy cream with vanilla and sugar to taste. Soften a good portion of cream cheese (be very generous) and whip in a separate bowl. Incorporate cream cheese into the whip cream until smooth. Make wreathes of the whip cream mixture and fill the centres with plenty of saskatoons. Stud the wreath with toasted almonds and serve. Keep extra berries handy to refill wreathes periodically. Be grateful for the calories and the bounty of it all.

Happy week of summer to you,

Tricia