I have a blog! It feels a little weird to be honest, but I finally caved to the peer pressure from my twitter buddies @Gingerheaddad, @ShawnDPhelps and @theekarenesq
One of the things I discussed with Shawn Phelps when she and I met in person were the reasons why I should blog and what I would blog about. I gave her an example of one of the stories I wanted to share and she told me that it should be my first blog post. So here we are – jump on board, I hope you find it an interesting ride.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a historian (yup, I was an itty bitty dork). I have a BA and MA in History and maybe one day I’ll do a PhD. Or maybe not. I mention this because one of the things you’ll likely pick up on from this blog is my interest in and need to connect with the past. This is true in a personal sense as much as an academic one. I periodically find myself reviewing memories of powerful events that occurred in my past. I remember how I felt, the insights (if any) I derived from the experience at the time and whether those insights have evolved since then. One of the reasons the idea of a blog was appealing to me is that it’s a way for me to record these memories, share with others what they meant to me at the time and what they mean to me now and find out if this touches a chord in anyone else. So, I’m interested to see how this experiment pans out… and please let me know what you think?
The first memory I’d like to share with you is from September 2002, one year after 9/11. I was travelling solo in the Southwest United States, meeting people along the way. Part of the trip was spent camping and hiking in Southern Utah with a small group of women, predominantly in Zion National Park. One of the day hikes we did was in the Narrows – a canyon cut through the rock by the Virgin River. The trail itself IS in fact the river so we spent an entire day hiking (bearing in mind I’m 5 ft tall) in mostly crotch-depth water (sometimes waist deep).
The trail is susceptible to flash flooding if it rains but the weather forecast was good and we didn’t run into any problems. We wore sticky, grippy water shoes and had walking sticks that were longer than I am tall.
The water was cold and the going was slow as the river bottom was rocky and slippy and we couldn’t actually see our feet. At the time I described it as “similar to skating on boulders, blind-folded”. We used our walking sticks to bump the bottom of the river in front of us in order to check for the best place to step next. The sticks were also useful for maintaining balance, especially on the parts of the trail where the water was deeper and faster moving (particularly vital for me given that I’m not the most co-ordinated person on the planet). Usually when you hike in a group there’s some chatting as you go, but not in this case – we spread out quite a bit as we each found our own pace. Everyone was always in shouting sight of each other but it felt like a very solitary hike. That was basically how we spent most of the day – bumping the river bottom and then taking a step; bump bump, step; bump bump, step.
When I tell people about this they often ask “why on earth would you do that hike?” It’s an understandable question given that it was wet, cold, there was a risk of flash flooding, there were no stunning vistas to see or peaks to surmount, and it was a mostly solitary experience. In all honesty though, in terms of feel-good factor, it was probably the best hike I’ve ever done. It was like meditation – intense focus on one thing (I.Will.Not.Fall.Over!), no talking, in fact the only sounds were the water and my breathing. I got into a rhythm (bump bump, step) and slowly, steadily just kept putting one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again. Those times when I took a break I’d see the light hitting the canyon walls and the warm colours were a beautiful contrast to the cold water. I felt completely blissful after that hike; it was a peaceful and transformative experience.
It’s a memory that I find popping into my head quite frequently of late, especially when people comment on how hard my life must be. I’m a single parent, I have no family here in Canada, I am the mother of 5 year-old twin boys who are both on the autism spectrum and I have to work hard – both to make ends meet and ensure my children’s considerable needs are taken care of. Just like that hike it can be tough going, it sometimes feels cold and solitary and most of the time I can’t see where the heck I’m stepping next. So yes, my life is a challenge. But also like that hike, it’s rewarding in a way I have never experienced before.
When people ask how I do it I say that there’s nothing complicated about what keeps me going and its a philosophy everyone is familiar with. It’s simple, powerful and often very hard to do. You hear it when Scarlett O’Hara says that tomorrow is another day at the end of “Gone With the Wind” and when Dory in “Finding Nemo” tells Marlin to “just keep swimming”. Sometimes I have wonderful days when I find my rhythm and I feel like I can go on forever. Other days my major achievement is getting out of bed. On those days I put my head down and single-mindedly focus on just putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again. Bump bump, step; bump bump, step. And eventually I catch a break and get to enjoy some sunshine.