Saturday, September 13, 2014

Signs Everywhere

There is a story I love about an old, pious man who hears on the radio that a flood is coming.  His neighbours knock on his door and ask if he would like help getting to safety. “No thank you,” he replies.  “My God will save me.”  The waters begin to rise and spread across the street and the fire department offers to carry him out.  “No thank you,” he replies.  “My God will save me.”  The water continues to rise and young man rowing a boat sees him in the window and calls out to help him.  “No thank you,” he replies.  “My God will save me.”  This flood is worse than the one in Minden and the old man is forced out onto his roof.  An army helicopter drops a bucket down for him but the old, pious man again refuses the help.  The night comes, the stormy weather worsens and the man slips away.  When he opens his eyes he shockingly finds himself in heaven.  “What?!?” he demands of the angels.  “What am I doing here?  Where is God?  I have always followed the laws, given, and received, everything that’s been asked of me.”  He finds his Maker and asks:  God, why did you let me down?”  And God shakes his head and replies: “Let you down?  Are you kidding me?  I sent you a warning on the radio, had two of your neighbours, the fire department and the SWAT team come by and still you refused help.  What more did you expect?” 
One of the things I’ve learned on the White Trail is that signs are everywhere, so if I need help, I just have to look around for it.  I don’t fully know who or where they come from, but I do know when I relax my shoulders, release my jaw and slow my breathing, somehow a ‘popcorn trail’ appears.  A sprouting acorn will remind me about patience and renewal, a baby bird will remind me of our vulnerability and need to help each other out, and a pink elephant will make me laugh and lighten my mood.  Sometimes it feels like Mother Nature herself is nurturing me, and if I just open myself to receive help and encouragement it’s always there.

I began giving Nature a way to communicate with me through “Animal-Speak,” Ted Andrew’s book on animal totems.   He writes about the meaning of animals, birds and insects from his Native tradition and tells what it means if they show up in your life.  That book was a good education for my imagination because it hadn’t occurred to me this kind of intimacy was available.  In the beginning I referred to it every time I saw a rabbit, deer or turtle, but now I put myself in neutral, as R.D. Lawrence used to say, and ask the animal, flower or bug, etc., if it has a story for me.  Sometimes a word or idea comes and other times it’s just a feeling like appreciation or encouragement.  I don’t limit myself to communications only from nature either.  If I need help in making a decision I’ll ‘happen’ to turn on the radio and gets guidance from the lyrics of the song playing, or I’ll overhear a conversation in the checkout line at the store, or I’ll see an actual sign in a gift store with a phrase that speaks to the challenge.
I know this sounds odd, but all the great literature informs us that we are all One.  The way I try to make sense of this is to think of the world as a person and the organs and systems as different groups in the animal kingdom all with different function vital to the whole.  If something goes out of balance, one of the systems or organs will step up its job to return the body to homeostasis.  So, just as all the organisms in the body know what they need to regain health, so too do all the organisms on earth intuitively know how to help each other so we can all live in harmony.  Maybe this is what synchronicity is about.

There really are so many signs around us.  Sometimes they point to our heart’s desire, sometimes they whisper an answer, and sometimes in asking us “What more do you expect?” they remind us to just get on with things!

Sunday, August 3, 2014


To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature.  Most persons do not see the sun.  At least they have a very superficial seeing.  The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and heart of the child.  The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The night falls gently in the summer.  Stillness peacefully embraces the cottage, and our exhausted grandchildren lie motionless in their bunks.  My husband returns from a late paddle and heads to bed with a book. It’s just me now left to view the indigo sky slowly blend into the black, tree-lined horizon. 
And then the Lego Movie theme song earworm starts: “Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team,” and I smile because this is one of those occasions when I want time to stop so I can so fully bathe in the absolute joy of being a grandmother.
When I slow down and join in the softness and silliness that is childhood, the minute hand tumbles off and the hour becomes irrelevant.  Is it time for a snack or a meal? Only the clock really knows. Do I care?  With my feet lightly dancing around and over the boundary, I simultaneously read my audience and remember the pledge to return them safely.  Yes, I care.  I care their spirits are free to soar and express themselves in as many ways as they possibly can imagine.  “Nana, can we swim in our clothes?”  Would that be fun?  “Ya!!!”  Okay sure.   “Nana, can we get naked and play with the water blasters?”  Would that be fun?  “Ya!!!”  Okay sure.  “Nana, can we play marching band and go all the way up the hill and back?”  Okay, let’s! 
Although the six year-old boys are very busy and energetic, their vibration isn’t frenetic, instead it is enchanting.  Their vulnerability is so beautiful, and I cherish it because this to me is what beauty is – total openness.  Expectations, limitations, and shoulds are yet unwritten, and instead there is just a universe of possibility.
This sense of wonder and creativity is what gets me out of bed each day, and to have fellow explorers around just sets my heart to overflowing.
Not everyone can handle such aliveness.  Being spontaneous can be terrifying when one can’t hear their inner voice.  Accidents happen because warning signals aren’t noticed and lines are crossed.  But when one is fully alive and in the moment, yawns and slips are picked up and “one more minute” warnings are laid down and rarely fought. 
It’s taken me years to return to this child-like state of being, years of practice to reconnect my mind and heart.  One hard lesson was when my instincts were telling me to bring an address book to town, but since it made no sense, I didn’t.  Then I got there and remembered a birthday was coming up and I had planned on mailing a card – but now I didn’t have the address and it would be late.  On the other hand, I forgot where I put my sunglasses the other day and followed an unexplained urge for a glass of water.  Guess where the sunglasses were – beside the sink.
Being fully alive isn’t always easy. There are just so many distractions in this busy, digital age that make it easy to turn off and tune out.  However now I know I can easily return to that magical vibe by letting go into that state of vulnerability - child’s play.

There is nothing beyond the screen windows now but uniform darkness. Not even stars, and I love it because what I do see is endless possibility. 
My gaze turns to the right, and I see my reflection in a pane of glass.  With profound love I smile at the woman I have become…then wink to the girl I will always be. 

Everything is awesome!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Gift of the White Trail

From The Times, Minden, Ontario, Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Welcome and welcome back. My name is Marci Mandel and I wrote a similar column in the now-defunct Highlands Communicator. The previous one’s title changed through the years as did my state of mind: from Trundling Along the White Trail, to Scampering Along the White Trail, and finally to Dancing Along the White Trail.  Five years ago, I thought the ultimate title would be Flying Along the White Trail, but now I see things a little differently.

I live in the Queen Elizabeth Wildlands (QEW) Provincial Park at the south-west corner of the county. When my husband and I first bought here in 1992, we were out back exploring and found white paint slashes on the rocks and white tags in the trees.  Not knowing what they were, we forevermore called it The White Trail. It wasn’t until stopping in to the Hike Ontario office that I found this was actually the wilderness section of the vast Ganaraska Hiking Trail system that comes up from Lake Ontario at Port Hope then goes over to Glen Huron, just south of Georgian Bay.

I spent over eleven years walking Morgan, our Great Pyrenees, on, around and across the trails through all seasons and weather and gained an intimacy with the life force saturating it. I learned how to attune myself to Nature and connect with her in a profound way. (I capitalize Nature because I’ve come to know it as a distinct presence.)  When I can let go and relax into her loving arms, a whole new realm opens in which all I need is provided: wisdom, belonging, and adoration. Yes, adoration. Laying on the grass or standing under the stars, or floating on the water, I can feel a presence that’s telling me I too am a gift, I too belong in this infinitely magical universe.

So what’s this column about?  You may have figured that out already, but indulge me with a story. My five year-old grandson was up for the March break so I borrowed the Amazing Spiderman DVD from the library. He loved the movie and watched it over and over and over again. About the sixth time, I sat down and watched the ending with him and was surprisingly moved. 

It was the first day of college and Peter Parker entered a lecture hall.  He walked in late and saw his true love at a desk near the top.  She saw him.  He longingly looked at her.  She longingly looked at him.  Meanwhile in the background, the professor was introducing the literature course and said something like: it’s been said there are fundamentally only ten different plot lines- but really there is only one: Who am I?

This struck me because it’s what I have always written about: “Know thyself.”

So, who am I? To begin with, I am a woman in my mid-fifties, a wife, a step-mother, nana, writer, photographer, movie-maker, baker, swimmer, friend, sister, daughter, musician, adventurer, canoeist, and explorer of life. I am also so much more.

With this new column, my intention is to explore something new.  In the past I’ve written about how I have evolved in my understanding of life: learning about connection, energy and awareness. This time I will try to focus on and evolve in my appreciation of life and all it holds.  If life is a gift, is then not everything in it also a gift?  Is it possible that suffering and loss can be gifts?

Right now, as I am being swarmed by hungry and thirsty biters, I have to wonder about my theory.  But hey, that should make it interesting! 

Let’s see.