Monday, September 3, 2007


Not all days start the same but none have ever begun like August 23 did this year.
My husband Alan was picked up at our dock at 7:30 a.m. by our neighbour Wayne and driven into town by his wife Linda where he was getting a house ready for his mom to move into. Next thing I knew, Wayne had rushed into our house and told me to call 911; Stu, another neighbour, had crashed his boat onto shore and was unconscious. I did as I was told then went down to help. On the way, I was in the state of shock not wanting to believe this. Stu was a good man and a very good friend, so I called upon Love to bring me back into focus. Calmed down, I took a quick survey of the scene, then hopped in the water and, with the help of two other neighbours, started CPR. Neither we, nor the paramedics, were successful in reviving him, and so I lost yet another wise, kind elder in my life.
Stewart Gillespie was like an uncle. We had some good laughs and most importantly, we looked out for each other. In fact I probably wouldn't be living on this boat-access lake without his companionship and guidance. We didn't need to speak everyday; it was just comforting knowing we each were there. It was especially comforting for my husband, for when he was away for work and I wasn't answering the phone, he'd call to check on me. "Hey Stu, do you see any lights on down there?"
Stu knew how to fix anything, and he used to joke about me taking a small engine repair course. I kept saying I was going to bring my old snowmobile up and have him show me how to fix it, but regrettably I didn't. He would have enjoyed teaching me as much as I would have enjoyed learning.
Stu, at 77 years-old, was from an era when men were as comfortable hunting and trapping as they were feeding the birds and caring for vegetable gardens. He showed me how to skin a beaver once and then teased me about practicing on squirrels.
He liked to laugh. Even more, he liked a good story. He could tell you about the horse trail and who was in at the various hunt camps on any given day. He knew where to take the metal detector and look for relics from old logging camps. He told me about the animal tracks and scat I found on the trail, and he always had a loving smile and story to tell about his grandchildren.
Stu could also be a little rough around the edges at times, but we always knew he'd give us the shirt off his back, and his pants too, if we ever needed them. Some of the sayings I learned from were: "The winds from the east are lazy winds. They don't go round ya, they go right through ya." "When the days get longer, the cold gets stronger." And my favourite was, and he liked to laugh at me when I forgot to follow it: "If you keep the top half of the gas tank full, you don't have to worry bout the bottom."
I have a lot of fond memories of Stu, but strangely no tears. My husband cried, and I began to think that I was an emotional cripple because I didn't. But then I came across a friend who reassured me that if I didn't think death was the end, then there was nothing to be sad about. One wasn't sad about a caterpillar that changed into a butterfly.
But I used this as a way to find fault with myself, and soon found lots of other things I wasn't good at either. Next thing I knew, I was withdrawing and blaming others for my state of being. Fortunately, the Swami's quote came back to mind: "Refuse to be seduced by what is past and over, and what cannot be changed. Remember, more important than what is behind you or what is ahead of you is what is in you." I realized I was worrying about what I wasn't instead of appreciating what I was. I'm not a lot of things, but I always am a source of love.
One sees what one chooses to see, and when I see Stewart Gillespie in my mind, I see happiness and love, and maybe that's why I haven't cried. All days may begin differently, but when the heart is open to loving whatever comes along, they all end with a smile.
I love you Stu. Take care. And I promise to feed your birds.

Further North

In grade school I was introduced to the vastness that is Northern Ontario through a series of National Film Board productions by Bill Mason, a canoeist and documentary filmmaker. I was inspired by the way he portrayed Lake Superior with its ruggedness, its voyageur history, and its wondrous beauty. There was an intangible as well that I couldn't comprehend at the time, and it crept into my bones where it patiently awaited the day my heart could understand it.
This summer, my husband and I packed up our car and headed off to see what the north was all about. Having heard Gordon Lightfoot's song about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, I was expecting Lake Superior to be blustery, with whitecaps on swells two meters high. But when we arrived, gazing out at the vastness was as soothing as watching a sleeping baby breathe. With protruding cliffs, sandy bays, and jack pined islands, the scenery was stunning.
Next day we packed a lunch and hiked the Orphan Lake trail. This was a route the old trappers used, and it led us down to an isolated beach with rocks so old they had been tumbled into egg-shapes. With the sun warm and the lake inviting, we stripped down and jumped in. On the way back, we passed two hikers at a waterfall but didn't see anyone else until much later. It was astounding how few people were around even though this was peak tourist season.
Further east along Superior's northern coast was the village of Rossport. The folks there – innkeepers, boaters and tourists – knew how to enjoy life. We picked up on their cues and rented a kayak to explore the old volcanic islands. When the sun scorched down, we found harbour in a lagoon and relaxed over lunch.
Signs for the Terry Fox Courage Highway appeared further east, and we found it hard to believe anyone could run a marathon a day in a place where hills were more plentiful than vehicles. The cyclist, and even the lumber trucks, struggled with these steep grades, and we couldn't help but wonder how this young man got as far as he did.
Connected to the west of Superior, by a series of rivers and lakes, is Quetico Provincial Park. We canoed in and made a small island our home for four days. From there we explored the ranger station, sacred pictograms and old logging sites. What captured my imagination most was the elasticity of time. On the one hand, the intricately water-carved rocky shoreline emphasised the eons that had passed. On the other, with no signs or outhouses, and only a small section of the park logged, we felt close to the original voyageurs and their experiences.
Flowing into Superior from its northern most point is the town, river and lake named Nipigon. "They say Nipigin" the lad at the Rossport kayak shop told us. "If you say Nipigone, they'll know you're not from around here." We followed the Trans-Canada highway east from there and lost our connection to Superior near Longlac, where the rivers began flowing north to James Bay.
In Cochrane, we took the Polar Bear Express up to Moosonee and Moose Factory, which are at the mouth of the Moose River. The Hudson's Bay Company had recruited workers from the north of Scotland to settle this outpost, so it shouldn't have been surprising that some of the Cree played the fiddle and danced the Highland jig…but it was.
On our way home, we stopped in Cobalt, and even though the earth had been raped and left to rot by the silver prospectors, reclamation by nature and the townspeople had begun.
The resources in this province are plentiful, but as those dependent on them know, bounties come and go. However there was another asset that I noticed, and it was more precious, ubiquitous, and enduring than any substance the earth could produce. This asset was displayed many times and in many forms throughout the trip and was strong enough to resist the winds that shredded, the waters that carved, the sun that scorched, and the barons that exploited.
What the wilderness of Northern Ontario was trying to tell me, but I couldn't verbalize as a child, was, there's a power underneath it all that keeps driving us, a power that transcends landscape and culture, a power that dispenses with time and place, and a power that endures obstacle after obstacle. This power comes from the inherent knowing that goodness and justice, no matter what, will always find its way back. To me, this power, this strength of heart, is the greatest and most important resource we human beings have.
My child's imagination had sensed this, but it took an adult mind to truly comprehend it.


A lot has happened in the last month. I took an Express Arts course about sound and movement and went through a tremendous transformation which I am still reverberating from.
I learned that sound is vibration, energy is vibration, and thought is vibration, and when old negative thoughts get stuck in the body they form blockages that cause imbalance. But like Joshua blowing his trumpet and crumbling the walls of Jericho and operatic voices exploding glass, blockages in the body too can be shattered by sound. This is what I experienced, and after expressing the accompanying grief, I was lifted to a place of clarity where only beauty, joy and love exist. For days I had a smile on my face that couldn't be wiped off, and a poem I had written came to mind:
To soar above
All rules and expectations,
To soar above.
That's truly how I felt.
When the bliss wore off, my body felt like waves on the lake when two rocks were dropped in: joy and sadness were bashing and crashing inside me. One minute I was feeling one emotion and then with the quickness of a thought, I was feeling the opposite. I wasn't used to this experience and it was unsettling.
While this was going on, I was also writing until 3:30 in the morning and understanding things in a new way. It was like the pages in the Book of Wisdom opened up and I had access to it all. I just had to ask a question and the answer was there.
When that surge subsided, I was left feeling exhausted and fragile. An email arrived saying that Angaangaq, an Eskimo-Kalaallit Elder, would be speaking in Haliburton, so I went hoping to be calmed and re-centred. But he had a different agenda, and I was even more agitated. I didn't want to hear anymore about despair, I wanted to hear about courage because that was what I wanted to write about. I was witnessing so much fear, and what annoyed me most was that people only talked about courage with respect to fear: "Don't be afraid." "The only thing to fear is fear itself." "Act in spite of your fear." I couldn't think of one comment about courage.
On the way home, I thought about love being the opposite of fear because love was about the free flowing of energy and fear was about the damming of that flow. Then I realized if love is the opposite of fear and courage is the opposite of fear, then courage must be the same as love. And somehow that just felt right and my body totally relaxed.
Writing about courage was the same as writing about love, and as Angaangaq, or Uncle as he called himself, said, to do both we just need to "put one foot in front of the other" and carry on. We can't allow those dams to build up; we have to be like love itself and keep moving through it all. This didn't mean we ignored what we were going through. It just meant that when sadness, or any other feeling, hit, we felt it fully then kept going.
Uncle also said: the greatest ill in the world is that we put each other down. He said the way to melt the ice in the human heart is to begin using our vast knowledge wisely. And he also said, the stronger the heartbeat, the healthier humankind will be.
The spiritual journey is a very bumpy path meant to shake loose and crumble that which no longer serves. Letting my old stuff go now is as hard as letting go of the yellow blanket I had as a child. Interesting, seeing it with that reference, I understand I must once and for all drop the old fear-based ways so I can move on and stay in the next - the lyrical - stage of life.
It's not easy. In fact it's very trying. Thankfully, however, it is simple: love, love, flowingly love.