Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Journey or a Trip?

I was overcome with a wave of nostalgia the other day as I drove into Calgary on the 1A highway from Cochrane. I remembered moving here in the mid 1970s when the stretch of highway between Calgary and Cochrane was just a country road devoid of the housing developments that now line much of its path. Thirty plus years ago there were just half a dozen houses west of Eamon’s motor court, a 50’s style motel that was looking a little tired even then but was still open for business. At least that’s the way I remember it.

Now suburban Calgary has moved out as far as 12 Mile Coulee Road and houses cling to the hillside like the pueblos of New Mexico. The only sign of the old roadway is the faded Eamon’s sign, surrounded by cars from a local dealership. Its buildings are gone but the sign stands – a lone beacon from the past.

That wave of nostalgia – memory tinged with sadness – got me thinking about whether my upcoming wanderings are a journey or a trip. Am I just taking a vacation trip to visit people and sites? Is the old hippie in me just fulfilling a desire to get a van and hit the road? Or is there something much deeper going on here?


I have just completed four years of theological study. Those four years were a journey into that which gives meaning to our lives, the “something more” human beings seek out to explain and illuminate our existence. It is a journey that, once started, never stops.

As I’ve pondered this trip vs. journey, I’ve come to realize that leaving the comfortable life I know and living simply as I travel is really as much about continuing the journey to look for meaning in the mundane, to recognize the essence of God in everything and everyone, as it is about visiting and sightseeing.

And the old hippie in me can’t resist saying, “This journey should be quite a trip!”

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I am humbled

May 20, 2008

This morning I ate strawberries; big, ripe, juicy strawberries. I ate them at the kitchen sink straight out of the strainer where I had left them to dry after I washed them last night. I ate them one-by-one, enjoying the splash of juice that filled my mouth after each bite. I stood there in my nightgown waiting for the kettle to boil water for my tea. Tea, first thing in the morning, has been my ritual for 50 years now.

In nine days I will leave my home most likely not to return for six months. The thought both delights me and leaves me with a twinge of sadness for the rich life I leave behind. Mine is a small adventure compared to some but it triggers emotions I seldom feel and I wonder if all adventurers start their journeys this way.

One of the wonderful by-products of setting out on this adventure is discovering just how rich my life is. I have been feted and gifted on several occasions and each time felt such love and affection that I am quite overwhelmed.

Myrna and Linda, fellow condo dwellers, went door-to-door to have people sign a card thanking me for all the work I do (I am the condo association president) – and came away with $650.00 “gas money”. Another cheque for $50.00 followed a few days later. I was truly overcome.

Sari held an open house, bon voyage party. People came and went as they could on a busy Saturday in May to give hugs and best wishes. Gail and Mary Pat traveled down from Edmonton for the occasion. A couple of people brought wine for my journey and when I opened all the cards later that night I found more gas money and a gift card from Shoppers for all those sundry items I’ll need on my trip.

Kim held a dinner party for my "dog people" friends, the friends I have made walking Holly. And super shopper Sue had been to Canadian Tire’s RV section to compile a bag of RV goodies: special toilet paper, a miniature drain tray, a toaster that folds flat.

Leslie and Todd have given me an envelope with a special monetary contribution to my trip.

I think part of this journey is about leaving: discovering – or learning for the first time – just how rich my life is and how much I am loved by so many people. It is truly humbling.

In the end, this may be the most important lesson I’ll learn on this journey: if I open up to what is here and now, I will find that all life’s riches are sitting on my doorstep.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bessie the Bus

Someone told me the other day that my Roadtrek needed a name. So today she got one: Bessie the Bus. Bessie is, of course, one of the diminutives for Elizabeth. My paternal grandmother Elizabeth was called Bess or Bessie.

I was reminded of this at breakfast this morning. I was visiting my eldest daughter in Banff and I met a writer friend of hers from St. John's. When I was introduced to him, he commented that his mother was Elizabeth and asked if I was called Bess or Bessie. I told him the nickname that I got was Betty not Bessie - but that got me thinking about Nana and, well, I just couldn't resist Bessie the Bus. After all I am driving to my grandmother's home province of New Brunswick and then on to Newfoundland. I figured the other two Bessie's could enjoy a posthumous adventure.

Last night Bessie and I spent our first night together. We hunkered down at the Tunnel Mountain campground after my daughter and I hiked to the paint pots on Storm Mountain just across the BC border. Actually it was more like a stroll and we didn't quite reach the real paint pots but our sojourn did take us into BC so when I reach Newfoundland I will have actually been in all ten provinces on this trip. Pretty amazing when you think about it.

Bessie was a wonderful sleeping companion although she was a bit chilly when I got up. (Never did like cold feet on my back.) I felt a bit guilty as I turned up the thermostat and climbed back into bed as furnace pumped out warm air and the two burner propane stove began to boil water for my tea. Gone are the days of tents and aching bones in the morning. And wonder of wonders, Bessie even comes with a marine toilet that flushes - a most delightful extravagance for the night time trips required by those who are middle aged or older. (Not that I'd really know anything about that!)

So here is the scoop on Bessie: she's got air conditioning and a furnace, a two-burner stove, hot water heater, toilet and shower, three-way fridge, and a generator to power everything if there is no hook up. She has a V8, 318, 5.2 litre Dodge engine and air ride suspension. When I bought her, she had 73,000 kms. and came complete with all service records. I was able to buy an extended warranty that covers both the chasis and the "house". I upgraded my AMA to AMA RV Plus so someone will come change those big Michelin truck tires or tow us to a garage. I also joined the Good Sam club, bought a book on solo Rving for women, bought a GPS, upgraded my cell phone plan - you get the picture. On our shake down trip from Calgary to Edmonton and back, Bessie got 17.5 miles per gallon (imperial gallon) - pretty good for a driving lady who started her journey in 1999.

So in just ten sleeps, Bessie and I will head back up to Edmonton to pick up my friend Dianne and begin the drive to New Brunswick. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Holly the Hero

I never thought I’d fall in love with a dog. But I did – I fell in love with Holly and her lovely, gentle dog spirit. I never thought I’d give her to someone else. But I did. And I never thought she’d save someone’s life. But she did.

I realized early on as I planned this trip, that traveling with a rambunctious, high-energy (and shedding) Golden Retriever in a small campervan just wouldn’t work. So I agonized about what to do. I called Shannon, Holly’s breeder, who had become a friend as well as dispenser of needed advice. I thought maybe I could find someone who would “dog share” with me. However, Shannon pointed out what I already knew somewhere deep down – that Holly would be better off if I just found another home for her – it would be too disruptive to have her attach to someone new and then be uprooted again. I said I would think about that.

A few months later, after much soul searching, I called Shannon back and asked her if she would help me find a new home for Holly. And a few days later Shannon called to say she had found a lovely couple in Edmonton. I sent off pictures of Holly - and Chris and Donna contacted me a few days later.

They arrived at my place on Saturday afternoon in January to meet Holly. I had warned them that they would be “checked out” by all of Holly’s family: my daughter Leslie and her husband Todd and my four grandchildren, Sarah, Emma, Kate and Wanyi and their dog (and Holly’s best friend) Charlie.

Holly was her usual sweet self, unruffled by the confusion swirling around her as we looked at the pictures of Chris and Donna’s departed Golden Retriever, Abby, and vistas around their home where Holly would play.

We immediately liked Chris and Donna – and they immediately liked Holly. They next day I took Holly for her morning walk, packed up her bed, her food and her favourite toys and she left for her new life in Edmonton.

I cried for days after she left. Chris and Donna would phone with daily reports only to be greeted by sobbing and tears at the other end of the phone. I finally had to phone and leave a voice mail message saying that I knew this would be hard – I just didn’t know how hard – but that I would make it through. And, no, I wouldn’t come and take Holly back.

As the weeks passed the calls became fewer although pictures would arrive in letters that Holly would write. We have, what Leanna (my Toronto daughter) calls, an open adoption. I like that concept.

One day Donna called with this amazing story.

On a lovely sunny day in mid-March, Donna set off for her regular Thursday afternoon walk with a group of her friends and their dogs. This Thursday afternoon they walked along the bank of the North Saskatchewan river - a quick moving river that, over the millennia, has carved a deep channel through the Canadian prairie.

Donna had two dogs with her that day, Holly and Jaeger a large Rottweiler cross who belonged to their daughter. As the women walked and talked, Donna noticed that Jaeger had spotted a gaggle geese and a flock of ducks that were sitting on the ice beside the newly opened channel in the middle of the river. Donna tried to distract the dogs and she shooed them along ahead of her. But Jaeger was not to be deterred – he resisted Donna’s attempts to move him along and he bolted down the steep bank and out on the ice to catch his prey. The rotted ice gave way - Jaeger was in the water.

As Donna watched, Jaeger frantically began clawing at the ice in a vain attempt to get out of the icy river and back to dry land. As she looked at the panic in his eyes she knew she couldn’t leave him there to die.

Her friends cautioned, “Don’t even think about it, Donna. We’ll call the fire department.” But just a year ago, Donna’s son lost his Labrador retriever in a similar accident and Donna knew that her family couldn’t bear another loss so soon. So she gave Holly a “stay” command and headed down the river bank determined to save her daughter’s dog.

Donna set out gingerly across the ice and then the unthinkable happened: just as she reached Jaeger the ice gave way beneath her and she joined Jaeger in the icy water. Donna managed to boost Jaeger up on the ice. Then, for the first time she realized that she was now the one in danger. She could feel the strong current trying to pull her under the ice. She realized that the shock of being immersed in ice water was sapping her strength. She realized that she couldn't get out….

Holly had been watching from the river bank and saw her new “pack leader” go through the ice and she, too, bolted down the river bank. Holly walked carefully to where Donna was clinging to the ice. She stopped short of the open water and stuck her head out to where Donna could reach her. Donna grabbed her collar and Holly began backing up, her hind legs digging furiously into the surface of the ice. Back and back she went, inching her way along the ice. Finally Donna was free.

Donna’s friends sprung into action. They grabbed blankets and jackets. They stripped the wet clothes from Donna’s body, wrapped her in the blankets and jackets, got her into a car and drove her home to a warm bath.

The next morning Donna called me to tell me that Holly had saved her life. The story moved me to tears, this time tears of joy and relief and peace. And I knew - somewhere in my bones - Holly was where she was meant to be.
Holly and Donna