Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Life Well Lived

Last Friday morning I received a phone call from the 2nd floor nursing station at St. Vincent’s Nursing Home to tell me that Mother was suffering some distress and that we should come in.  So we did, those of us who could, and held her hands and talked to her and met with the people in charge of her assessment and care and embarked together on the final phase of her long life.

From that point on someone was with her the whole time, either a son or a daughter-in-law, and we sat close to her, spoke to her, and watched over her.  On Saturday afternoon I came in to take over from Nick.  He told me about monitoring the rate of her breathing and using the spray if her mouth seemed too dry, and I began my vigil as he ended his. 

While I was there, a St. Vincent’s volunteer who had grown to love Mother dearly came in to see her and tell Mother her thoughts and prayers.  Then a tall, handsome man, her first ever boyfriend from way back in Bermuda, appeared in the room with a potted flower and a card.  He spoke to Mother and gave her a gentle kiss on her cheek.  I stayed at her bedside after he left and thought about the richness of her full and active life.

It was Peter who came in to take over from me and Peter who had been at Mother’s bedside in the hospital the Tuesday before when she asked him whether it was OK for her to stop trying.  He told her it was.  I showed Peter the card and plant, and he decided to read Mother the message in it even though she was not showing any signs of hearing what we said.  I am glad he did.

When Chris came at seven, he brought a copy of The Book of Common Prayer and decided to read to Mother the Supplications for the Dying.  So he did.  I imagine the kindness and comfort in his voice as he read.  And I know that when he read the last line, “God is waiting for you” Mother was listening as she let go of  her last breath and arrived at the ending of her life on this earth that she loved so well. 

I believe that she left this world knowing that the sons she had raised and loved so well were able to carry on without her and that she could have her final rest.  It was a life well lived and a life well ended, in quietness, in love, and in peace.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

There’s a bear in this picture (for JE)

This time there is a bear that you can actually see.  It was, like the one we saw the evening before, a black bear that was in its brown coloration, and we encountered it just before we reached Chief Mountain border crossing on our way to Glacier National Park in the U.S.  The reason the image is so blurry is that my hands were shaking as the bear looked right across the road at me with my open car window. 

It wasn’t as close as the one that sniffed around Jon Eben and the other tree planters nicely parboiled in their outdoor hot tub a few years ago, but, like that one, my bear also walked away, after crossing the road right in front of our car and starting to browse or forage (whatever it is bears do in roadsides) on the other side, where Lorraine had both a steadier hand and camera.

There were animals scouring our campsite for crumbs and morsels the next morning, but they were not any kind of threat (like bears, cougars, or wolves) and not much worried about our presence as we sat there drinking our tea.  They turned out to be Columbia ground squirrels.

It wasn’t until we got to the Conglomerate Cliffs in Centre Block of Cypress Hills Park in southern Saskatchewan that we encountered its cousin, the thirteen-striped ground squirrel.

On an evening walk at Writing on Stone Park back in Alberta we watched from up among the hoodoos as mule deer grazed on the flood meadows down by the Milk River.  When one doe crossed the river a young one came bouncing out of the bushes, reminding us why they are known as “jumping deer”.  We also saw quite a few individual males hanging out in fields at dusk as we drove on back roads between Eastend and Centre Block in southern Saskatchewan.

We saw pronghorn antelope a couple of times but didn’t get pictures so I thought that this one in the Eastend Museum might be the only image I’d have.

However, on our way back to camp from Leader a few days later we did catch some beside the road where the lead male was trying to get the rest of them to take cover.

We did see these bison at Waterton, but it was when we drove through their huge and beautiful paddock rather than out on the open plains where they used to roam.

We also saw these “wild” animals one day at the Medicine Hat Rodeo.

But at Esquimalt Lagoon this was a wild sea otter, just a young one, with its mother swimming along just off the shore and keeping a close eye on us all.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Our good friend H. has often told us that she loves camping.  So do we, but it’s been a while, so it took our trip out to Alberta and Saskatchewan to help me remember what I actually do love about camping.  We did camp in Greece and especially enjoyed the fact that some of the campgrounds we stayed in had cafes, and one even had a nice dining room overlooking the Aegean, but that was Greece and it was not Canadian camping.  Our daughter E., who has been a hard core serious hiker-camper in her day, has said that what we do is really “wussy camping”; by that she means that we load our gear in the car, drive to the campsite, and set up.  We don’t argue with her designation because, after all, that is what we tend to do.

The difference with this “wussy camping” trip is that we had to fly to Calgary to get started, so there was no throwing, or carefully stowing, our gear in the back of the Fit and driving somewhere; instead we had to pack according to Air Canada standards, which meant one suitcase for each of us, with neither weighing over 23 kg.  This was not, to my mind, an easy feat, but Lorraine took it as her assignment and accomplished it with both finesse and panache, neither of which is my strong suit in packing.  In that one camping suitcase she fit our Eureka Stormshield tent, two mummy bags, two small air mattresses, two thermarest-type mattresses, two Thermarest pillows, a wool blanket, our folding Coleman stove, a tarp, dishes and cutlery for two, our stacking cook set, and a piece of heavy duty plastic cut to fit under the tent and fly.  It was a seriously good job of packing and just enough under 25 kg to squeak through the baggage check.  There were things we needed once we landed, like the folding Canada chairs and a Styrofoam cooler, plus some odds and ends from Dollarama and the Goodwill, but then we loaded everything into our rented Versa and headed for Waterton for our first night of camping this summer.

If you read carefully you will have noted that there were two different kinds of mattresses packed into that one suitcase.  This is important.  If you don’t sleep well, then you can’t love camping, so Lorraine devised our two-tier sleeping system, with a firm thermarest-type mattress on the bottom to keep your hip and shoulder from touching the hard ground and a less firm air mattress on top to provide just enough give that the shoulder and hip mentioned above can nestle in the cushioning down as far as the thermarest.  Her key innovation was the terra cotta coloured cotton sleeves that she made to keep the two mattresses properly lined up and not sliding sideways in our tiny tent, which had little margin for sidesliding or error and seemed to be the smallest in any of the campsites we stayed in.

So one thing that I love about camping is going to sleep and waking up in a tent.  Snuggling into your sleeping bag, getting it zipped up around you, choosing which side to sleep on, and then drifting off in the mountain air is akin to bliss.  And waking up on a cool morning with sun lighting the tent, or even lying there listening to the rhythm of steady rainfall on the fly, is something wonderful that you can never experience in a house, or even an RV.

Another is the food.  I found myself (uncharacteristically) noting in my journal what we ate, in particular the evening meals.  On the one night we spent at Elkwater Lake, our supper consisted of bacon & onion omelette with tomato & cucumber salad and sourdough toast (plus a cold Kokanee that we sheltered from the Hutterite clan camped next door).  The only seasonings were salt and pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice (remember this is wussy camping), but the taste in the high clear air of the Cypress Hills was a real treat.

Lorraine said that she loves the systems you end up developing or organizing when you are camping, the small efficiencies that ensure that you can eat and sleep well, that there is dry firewood, that the tarp and chairs are well-placed, and that your site is clean enough to not attract critters.  I do too, and I also love the tallness of the trees, the bigness of the sky, the feel of the air, the way you sleep after being outside all day, and the simplicity and freedom of just being there.  And I love the glow of the tent when she has gone in to light the little LED chandelier to do a little reading before sleep while I’m sitting at the table catching up on another day in my journal and listening to the night.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Post #144: There are three bears in this picture

A couple of weeks ago we came home to our campsite at Crandell Mountain in Waterton Lakes National Park in southern Alberta.  On the way up to Crandell we stopped where many vehicles were parked and saw a bear that was feeding in a meadow just below the road, my first ever clear sighting of a bear in the wild.  Ten years ago on a small road on Manitoulin Island I did glimpse a large-ish dark shape that ran across the road ahead of us, which Lorraine told me was likely a bear, and one was spotted on Beattie’s lawn in Maitland years before that, but not by me, so this bear, a rich golden brown, was truly my first confirmed sighting.  I was excited, and even more so when the young women in their Parks uniforms, who informed us that it was in fact a black bear despite its coloration, said a mother with two cubs had been seen farther up the road.

So we watched this bear mosey around the clumps of bushes and then headed on up to camp to cook our supper.  I was boiling water for pasta on our little Coleman when the brilliant, hawk-eyed Lorraine, who as an Albertan has much more bear experience than this effete Easterner, pointed out bears, a mother and two cubs, on the slopes across the creek from us.  It was hard to believe that she had picked them out, this medium-sized dot that moved on the mountainside with two tiny dots that kind of bounced around behind her, but she did, and we watched as we waited for the water to boil.

All of the camp and picnic sites in Waterton had signs with strict instructions about wildlife proofing nailed to the picnic tables.  If you left anything – dishes, scraps of food, coolers, cookstoves – out on the site, you risked both attracting bears, cougars, or wolves and being evicted by Parks staff.  I recognized their seriousness and took it seriously, not wanting any of the above, and especially the bears, sniffing around our site and our tiny tent.  So I kept checking the progress of the bear family down the slope towards us, wondering what might happen after dark, and drained the pasta water very carefully, not wanting a single piece of macaroni left on the ground.

As we ate and as the light dropped, the bears disappeared into the woods at the left of the picture and, I hoped, headed up the little valley instead of down towards where we were, perhaps the closest campsite to them if they chose to follow the course of the creek our way.  I wondered about them as we crawled into our tent, after assiduously cleaning every speck of food remnant from the table and the site (and hoping the other campers were as careful), and hoped that they wanted to keep their distance from us as much as I wanted to keep mine from them.

We did survive, and I did have a great night’s sleep on Lorraine’s patented two-tier seniors’ sleeping system and woke up to another day when my bear experience would be increased incrementally by a much closer encounter; however, that will have to be the next instalment in our camping/exploring adventure in the great West.