Category Archives: Random Musing

Random Musing: The Plant Artist

I only know his name through others who have mentioned it in passing. However, in the 12 years I’ve lived here, I have often seen him wandering  the numerous trails surrounding our community (although increasingly less so as the area is developed and green space replaced with housing). His presence is  most often announced through the plume of sweet tobacco smoke that always accompanies him on his walks. Often you see him sitting in amongst the trees and plants, head set on, legs crossed, thin, quiet. He acknowledges you but I rarely got the sense he wanted to chat. So I would nod and move on.   Sometimes I would see him early in the morning  sitting on a log, lost in thought, headset on, taking in the view from the top of the hill that overlooks Indian Arm.  Wherever I found  him, either deep in the forest, often in  the company of a neighbour’s dog, or out front, sitting surrounded by the tall summer weeds, it felt to me that nature was necessary for him. That he needed to be a part of it.

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His property stood out from others for the extraordinary beauty of his garden. Large, wild, exotic, beautiful plants flourished under his care. I imagined that he spoke to them, urging them forward. Be bold, he would say to them. And they were.  His garden was so beautiful it was almost outrageous. How could that much wild beauty exist in one small place.  I often walked by his place feeling as though I was looking at a painting or a piece of art work.  And I imagined that all the time he spent meditating in the forests he was gathering strength and inspiration to images.jpegbreathe life into his own family of plants and flowers, his own creation.

I heard through the grapevine that he was sick. Already thin, he seemed to get thinner, smoke with a bit more fury. Still I would see him in all his favourite places and then I heard he had passed away.

I never really spoke with him, I barely knew him. I only benefited from his unique gifts as I think many of us here did.

I often think about how we all live in these neighbourhoods passing each other every day like ships in the night. And then suddenly you realize someone is gone. They’ve left.  I was inexplicably sad to hear that Randy had died. We had gone through multiple rotations of spring, summer, winter and fall together, cells mutating, bodies changing, anonymously passing each other.images-1.jpeg

I like to shout out the names of people who have died when I’m driving, or walking or thinking. To me it’s the only tangible thing we have of those who leave. Their names, out loud connect me to what they offered in beauty, laughs or love. Randy was an artist. That’s how I think of him. And when I say his name I’ll conjure the natural beauty he ushered forth year after year in the little space that he called home.

Thanks Randy.

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Random Musing: Spring

The first hint of spring often came at the tail end of winter. As a child growing up in Ontario my mother wrapped me in a snowsuit so thick I could only manage a waddle at best. Off I would go behind my sisters or brothers out into the snow. And then suddenly, that tiny sliver of spring would come sailing in on a breeze so sweet it still takes my breath away.Unknown.jpeg

Years later I remember driving and suddenly I saw my mom walking down Lakeshore Road in Port Credit. It was summer and the sun was out bright and hard. I could see her long legs from far away and that short curly hair. Although a grown woman with four children she walked like a kid. Her head was tilted back to the sun and if I didn’t know better I could see she was taking in the sweetness of the smell of summer grasses and the cool air as it came off the lake.

Like my mother I am a walker. Even as a kid I skipped the school bus and would walk miles to school on my own both there and back. Each section of the walk brought my senses alive in different ways.

images.jpegAs I crossed the bridge over the Credit river, I could catch the breeze that came from Lake Ontario and the river that winds its way up Mississauga, the name of a tribe whose home this once was. I would walk past the Library where I worked as a teen.

Even now I feel the walls of that library through the smells of books I shelved, ordered by the magical dewey decimal system.

images-1.jpegThen off to the GO Station and under the tunnel often wet and smelling of swamp although a swamp was nowhere near. Then past the old houses to the orchard sweet with apples. The orchard is gone now but I can still smell the fruit.  Today I’m still a big walker.

Every day at lunch I wander for an hour so I can catch those fragrant breezes, watch the trees and the houses age as years pass by. It’s my own personal calendar of the passing of time.

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Random Musing: Chance Encounters

One night after work this week I was going to meet my husband and mother-in-law for dinner. I was early and I decided to wander around my old neighbourhood to see how things had changed. I was happy to see that the old Cedar Cottage pub that Dave and I used to meet at when we first started dating was still there so I decided to pop in, say “hello” to the old girl and have a glass of wine by the fireplace. I was happy that the pub hadn’t changed much so I settled in by the fireplace thrilled to be listening to Lynerd Skynerd’s Free Bird  playing in the background.

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I was sitting next to the table where over 14 years before Dave and I sat exchanging stories about who we were, our lives, our old loves and heartbreaks. I loved how easy our conversation flowed and how he made me laugh. I remember being shocked at how he asked me questions and actually listened for the answer.

I sipped my wine and was happy to see a community of  pub travellers either sitting alone or with friends at tables, sipping beer, watching the game, chatting, and settling into the groove of  pub life, a place where people gather to feel at home away from their own four walls.

I paid my bill and left thinking how much I would love to come back to this place of almost feeling like home. I put on my woolly mittens and hat, and pulled my jacket close around me as I wandered back outside into the cold winter night to meet my family.

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I stopped at the crosswalk and waited for the light to change to green. When it changed I stepped into the intersection. Lost in thought I didn’t notice the speeding SUV as he careened down the road, his rear fishtailing against the icy the road. He managed to stop just before hitting me and the woman who had been standing right behind me.  My heart raced. My adrenalin started to run. This is how it all happens I thought. One second your life is one thing and the next it’s this and you never see it coming.

“He almost killed us.” she said crossing the road beside me.

“Ya I know. I guess it’s our lucky night.” I said. We walked together for a minute in communion, happy that fate was allowing us to continue on as planned and not have our  lives inextricably linked by tragedy.

“Have a good night.” I said.

” You too.” and off she wandered into the chilly night.

In my head I heard Free Bird…humming it as I walked along to the restaurant.  I was off to meet my family, and Dave the same guy from the pub all those years ago, who still makes me laugh, who still listens.

 

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Random Musing 2016: My Grateful Life

 

2016 has not been the best year, not really. Even though I have a theory that the world has always been crazy and always will be crazy…this year felt like a special kind of crazy like we’re all tilting towards a precipice and we’re all going over the edge no matter what.

My sister and I have a theory that 2016 went haywire because for the first time in her life she had no game plan for her birthday. THAT’s the cause of all this mayhem.  The lady who lives life big didn’t plan her annual monumental February birthday bash and now everything is gone to shit. EVERYWHERE. Not just here. EVERYWHERE. Now there’s no bright light, no guiding star to get us through this darkness. People, can we please start over and tilt the world backwards, the right way this time. Come on. Let’s just strike this set.

Still I can’t help but ask myself if everything is lost. I am a person who fights for elephants to have the right to walk on this planet unchained and unviolated. That seems like a pretty hopeless situation to me but somehow I keep going although some days I’m not sure why. I just know that if I stop, and everyone stops then there’s no chance whatsoever. So I guess somewhere in there I must be hopeful. I can thank my mother for that.  It looks like she tossed  her half glass full set of genes over to me. Or maybe I’m like a compulsive craftswoman weaving life’s terrible and breathtaking offerings into a big carpet of life. These are all the things I am going to remember. These are all the things I’m going to feel, these are all the things I will carry with me moving forward into this uncertain future. . This is my grand reduction.

I will not ever forget the extraordinary ordinariness  of a phone call that brought me to a hospital to find out that my sister has brain cancer.

I am in awe of extraordinary courage. Because you never really know how you’ll deal with this kind of thing.  And the girl who lives large, brings her extraordinary gifts to bear in dealing with the issues that confront her.   She lives big no matter what.

I will never forget how beautiful it is to laugh in spite of every fucking blow that is being dealt her way. That we still laugh. Everyday.

I will never forget that it’s okay to say nothing because sometimes there are no words. And the ladies who like to live large can sit in silence, something they never imagined before.

I will never forget trying to climb a big scary wall after being convinced to do Tough Mudder by my sister.  That if you don’t think of the big picture, if you just consider the first small step, and then the next small step, if you trust in the people around you, that you can and will make it over the top. Step by step. That feels like hope to me.

I will never forget the moments in between. Those moments when Dave sits me down and introduces me to music and shows me the extraordinary in the ordinary. Or leading me to John Mavin who led me to myself and my creative mind and desire to build castles with words.

And the moments in between of  doing nothing. The beauty of nothingness. Just being.

2016 feels like a knock down and then get back up and fight kind of year. I’m not sure the road feels clear. Sometimes I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. But I often think of that wall and I know that step by step you can climb enormous walls. Don’t look down, don’t look up. Keep focussed. Be full of hope. Full of joy. And step by step I think we can get there. I’m happy to say my sister has filled the entire month of February with birthday festivities. I think this means the world will be okay.

 

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Do I Really Want a Dog? Things to Consider Before Taking the Plunge

dsc_1384Years ago I adopted a dog on the fly. I went with a friend who was adopting a dog at a ‘farm’ and in a moment of irrational craziness I came home with the sibling of the dog my friend adopted. They were named Reuben and Loo-is before we even left the barn.

I had never been a parent to a dog and I had no idea what I was doing. Neither had I given any thought to where I was living (a studio apartment with no dogs allowed) or how I would cope (I was single at the time and working full time with an energetic sporting schedule). Everything felt poised for disaster and in the intervening days I felt something close to panic.

I have always been a believer in jumping off cliffs…taking big leaps and seeing where I land. In this case, however, I had a puppy in tow and for the first time I felt the burden of real responsibility. Reuben would look up at me with these beautiful dark eyes and from the get go would follow me around no matter where I went…a habit he kept for the 11 years he was with me.

It would be an understatement to say he changed my life. I ended up changing everything about my life in order to give him a life I thought he deserved…even though I wasn’t even sure what that was yet.

It turns out I really love animals and slowly but surely I figured out what I needed to do. But there was a steep learning curve along the way. So here are a few things to think about for anyone thinking of bringing a dog into their life:

  • Breed – I had no idea what kind of breed Reuben was. It turns out he was a black lab something…the something part made him gigantic possessed with an old soul. It turns out that was perfect for me. What wouldn’t have been perfect would have been a super aggressive dog, or a dog that would be dominant over me. In retrospect, doing some research over the type of dog that best suits your personality or family needs is an important thing to consider.
  • Lodging – As mentioned I adopted Reuben when I lived in a studio apartment. In the eleven years we had him he lived in a house that had a backyard, as well as in a condo. Some people say you can’t have a dog in a condo which I disagree with. You can have a big dog or any kind of dog in a condo. The key is exercise.  Wherever you live, in a house or a condo, your dog needs to be walked. Once in the morning, again in the afternoon and again in the evening. Most dogs need a good hour (or more) of exercise a day. If you can’t commit to this, then don’t get a dog. Owning a house is not a good excuse for never taking your dog out.  Most dogs won’t walk themselves in the back yard.
  •  Backyard dogs – People who get dogs who only want to keep them in the yard shouldn’t bother getting a dog.  If you have a yard where you can let your dog rip around for a bit every day that’s great. A yard is not a home.  A porch is not a home. A dog is a social, loving animal who wants to be a part of the family. They need to be walked and loved. That means having them be a full fledged member of the family inside the home.
  • Exercise – I mentioned this above but it bears mentioning again. Dogs, all dogs, big and small, need exercise. They need to be exercised every day, outside their yard. My guess is that a lot of behaviour issues could be solved by fulfilling this basic need. This means giving them exercise, every day rain or shine. Just going on shine days doesn’t work. You have to ask yourself if you’re the type of person willing to do this. If for whatever reason you can’t do this, there is a dog walker and they provide an essential service.  When I got Reuben I was armed with two big problems. One I was hugely fearful of all other dogs, and two I worked full time and needed to get him walked.  I dug into my entertainment budget, the one where I used to go out for dinner and drink vast quantities of wine and I re-directed it to his walking fund. It helped socialize him and he was given a much needed break during the day and I lost weight. Yes, dog walkers are expensive but it’s worth it.
  • Training your dog –  As mentioned Reub came into the world an old soul and really didn’t require a huge amount of training. He didn’t bark if I left him alone, he followed me everywhere so he always came when called, I could walk him off-leash due to his following me everywhere…so I had it easy and I admit that. He was an ABNORMAL puppy. But I have seen a lot of dogs who are a bit wilder or simply need to be trained to be good canine citizens. You want your dog to get along with other animals and to be reliable with people and to be manageable in all situations. It’s good for you and its imperative for them. This means spending time in the first year training your dog.  If you don’t have the time to spend doing this then I would think twice about getting a dog. So many animals end up in the shelter or being re-homed because they can’t be managed and the responsibility for this failure belongs entirely  to the dog parent.
  • Dogs are forever –Dogs are highly emotional, intelligent and loving sentient beings. They form strong attachments to people and families. Giving them up because you’re moving, you had children and now it’s too much, or worse they’re too old, isn’t good enough.  You need to see this through and that means a 10 to 15 year investment. Can you commit for that amount of time?
  • Families and Dogs – We had two sets of neighbours. Each was a young couple. Couple one had a dog before children…and then the children came along. This couple spent time training their dog before they had children and then spent time socializing their dog with their children. Every day you saw them out walking their dog with their kids. It worked. Couple two had a dog who I used to walk. I walked the dog because they never walked the dog. When they had children things went from bad to worse because now they didn’t have time for the dog, which they barely had before they had kids. Then guess what?  They couldn’t take the time to train their kids how to be with the dog and vice versa. Before long the dog was confined to a small space within the condo where I could hear her barking all day long. That’s when I started walking her every day (while my dog went with a dog walker). This is an example of a dog being given a good shift sideways by the family.
  • Cost – I found out quickly that dogs are expensive. My pup was sick from the get go and I spent the first year at the vet with ongoing problems throughout his life. Get insurance, it helps. Food adds up. I don’t like to cheap out so we buy good food and cook half of all of his (now her) meals. Shots, vets, food,….all these things cost money. Do you have the budget or can you make room in your budget for a canine family member?
  • Emotions: Dogs are emotional. Like people they come wired in different ways. Unlike people dogs are dogs and sometimes their behaviour means something different than you think.  What is universal is that dogs want and need to belong. They need to be loved, cared for, they need consistency and most of all they need people to follow through with their commitment to giving them a meaningful and safe life.
  • Sticks – Don’t ever let them eat sticks. We let Reuben do it and it almost killed him when he was five. We also spent close to a downpayment on a house to keep him alive. Seriously, if you can’t eat something, your dog shouldn’t be eating it either.
  •  Dogs don’t lie. Dogs don’t lie. If they’re behaving oddly them more than likely something is going on. They’re in pain, something hurts, or something happened. Take it seriously and go to the vet.

Dogs are work. They are a commitment.But the effort, the time and money spent are all well worth it. You won’t ever have the kind of unconditional love that this beautiful animal has to offer.

 

 

 

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Random Musing: Sisterly Laughcapades

 

My sister and I do this thing every morning. At exactly 8:00 am we phone each other. If I’m late calling she answers by saying “YOU ARE LATE. WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?”  Same goes for her. If I phone and she doesn’t pick up I say  “HOW DARE YOU NOT BE THERE?”

Saying goodbye is equally as perilous as not being there to pick up the phone. You always want to be the first one to exit. Those are the rules.Sometimes we trick each other into saying goodbye. I’ll lull her into a false sense of security by pretending to start another conversation and just at the right moment I say “GOTTA GO. I LUB YOU.” You have to hang up immediately after that or you lose.I suspect she has fast twitch muscles because she is like a pixie sprite and can be very fast, very determined little devil.

My sister can’t handle a lot of screaming but she seems to have a high tolerance for my loudness. I recently found myself talking in a circle of friends. But really I was screaming. In fact I was screaming so loudly my friend Christopher said my voice was reverberating in the valley of mountains. And when I paused I heard it so I know he wasn’t exaggerating.

It must be genetic which is most likely why my sister can stand me screaming in our daily calls. She screams too and I think we burn more calories talking to each other than most people do in an entire day of living. We are not half measure ladies.

Lately we have both been stressed.Her because she was diagnosed with brain cancer and me because she was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Recently she recommended the CALM app which truthfully has been a gift. Getting ready for sleep lately has involved a bottle of melatonin in one hand and a shot of vodka in the other. When I discovered the CALM app I was able to let go of both. Now I just have Tamara in the Calm App instructing me to breath in a beautiful calm voice and telling me I’m okay no matter what.

The Calm app is changing our lives. For example, today my sister said the session talking about being broken made her cry. By chance I listened to the same one and I was CALMLY able to say, you’re not broken, we’re perfect as we are. And she said  “Ya that’s right we are. ” And we are.

Then I told her that we have to be kind to ourselves because Tamara told us so. Then I told her that I had monkey brain this morning. My thoughts were everywhere and I was struggling to get through the meditation and all I wanted to do was check my facebook page to see if anyone had liked my elephant movie. So my monkey mind made me check my page. “SISTER she said  that is the ultimate crime!” But I was quickly able to say no I am accepting myself for all my imperfections and so are you. “TELL ME YOU LUB ME!” “I LUB YOU.”

Sisterhood has changed for me. While it has always been infused with love and friendship, cancer has made me want to draw a tight circle around us. Our circle is a rowboat. We have no idea where we’re going but we  fill this boat with a million laughs every day. “My stomach hurts.” she screams as we both laugh ourselves silly in the midst of this serious life. Sometimes she says she has only so many words for a day. I’m thrilled that I have so many of those words. I feel like the words we share are building a beautiful story of our lives, in this moment, in this serious and funny life.

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Elephant Nature Park – The House Lek Built

elie-scrumWhen my husband Dave and I decided to volunteer at Elephant Nature Park Elephant  (ENP)- a sanctuary for elephants in Northern Thailand, we wanted to support the work of  helping abused and misused elephants who are rescued from elephant riding camps, street begging, circuses and the logging trade.

Volunteering for 7 days with room and board would give us the experience of a working holiday and the proximity to being near elephants in as close to their natural state as a domesticated or broken elephant could be.

We had heard of Changduen “Lek” Chailert the founder and the driving force behind ENP through friends and social media. I was thrilled to find out that she would be giving a presentation on our second night there. When she walked in I was surprised at how tiny she was. This small, powerful woman, wore a graphic t-shirt that read “Ivory is Murder”.

The message on the t-shirt didn’t mince words and neither did she.

“What you’re going to hear and see tonight is going to make you sad.” she said. “It will make you cry. But to be the voice of the elephant you must understand their lives and their troubles.”

For the next hour and half she did a presentation that I’m sure she has done a million times. People say passion is the greatest driver of change, the creator of outstanding achievements over time. And the woman whom I believe is building a quiet revolution in Thailand’s elephant tourism industry, delivered a talk that came straight from the epi-centre of heartbreak with an equal amount of determination to do something about it.

She tells us the history of elephants in Thailand – how their labour, their servitude built the country. She unflinchingly shows us the ‘phajaan’ the process of ‘breaking elephants, a horrifying multi-day starvation, and abuse of baby elephants intended to break their will to prepare them for a life of servitude. I sat in the back and listened to their screams, their cries, the footage of elephants buckling in pain as they’re released, and hit and beaten again and again.

She shows us images of elephants working in logging camps, carrying impossibly heavy lumber, dragging them up steep inclines, their faces etched in pain, fatique and defeat. She shows us the trials of street elephants, babies taken from their mothers who live under bridges, and are fed amphetamines and junk, as they’re trotted out in front of ignorant adoring tourists.

It occurred to me that if tourists could stomach the presentation we were shown, there is little doubt that anyone would be eager to participate in a tourist economy based on this kind of systemic and horrific abuse.

Residents of ENP

On the walls of the lunch area there are pictures and stories of the elephant residents at ENP. There are now 72 elephants living here.

Here are the stories of two of its residents:

Medo

Medo was born in 1980 and rescued in July 2006.She is a survivor of the illegal logging industry where her right ankle was broken but never allowed to heal. She was placed in a forced breeding program where the large bull injured and attacked her. Despite never receiving medical treatment for a broken knee joint and a dislocated hip, Medo manages to get around quite well at the park. Her best friend is  Mae Lanna.

Mae Lanna was born around 1980 and was rescued from street begging in February 2007. She has also worked in logging. She is 60% blind most likely from a slingshot when working in logging. When she was working as a street beggar, a monk became concerned about her and she was rescued and brought to ENP.

More than just elephants – The House the Lek Built

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On 250 acres of land donated from a wealthy American family, ENP has grown to include 72 elephants, 500 rescue dogs, Cat Kingdom cat rescue, 50 water buffalo including Violet a baby water buffalo who was rescued and raised by people and considers herself human, birds, monkeys, wild boar, a single pig and I suspect many others I didn’t see.

We had no idea all these animals were being rescued here when we first arrived.  It feels like something much bigger and is a grand gesture of generosity towards all living things. It is the way Lek believes the world needs to work – the true way of moving forward on this planet together.

The vegan menu that is served three times a day during our stay, underpins this philosophy. Animals don’t need to get hurt to serve our needs. And the food is delicious by the way. I actually gained weight during our stay.

A quiet revolution can also be an economic driver

ENP is a bustling hive of activity. From the moment we arrived it felt like we were on a sanctuary swat team. There are minivans delivering people, trucks delivering food and goods, and a busy kitchen preparing food, beds to be cleaned, laundry, animals to be tended to, mahouts tending to elephants. Without having the daily receipts in front of me, I sense that this experiment in kindness is proving to be a successful business model.

Spreading the love

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In addition to running ENP, Lek works with local trekking camps to change their business from riding elephants to being with elephants. In return they have access to her vets and she promotes them through ENP. To date 15 have moved towards non-riding eco models.

Elephant Haven

We weren’t done when we left ENP so we went back to the Save the Elephant Foundation office in Chiangmai (where we met many friendly dogs, including one naughty little pug who lovingly dined on my skirt) and asked Ms. Patty what next. She pointed us to the direction of Elephant Haven, quickly helped us make the plans and off we went.

We spent 4 days at Elephant Haven  in Kanchanaburi about 1.5 hours outside of Bangkok. With only 12 elephants I imagine it is closer to what ENP was just a few short years ago.

We woke up to elephants outside our cabin window and spent the days making elephant food, cutting sugar cane, and wandering in the woods with elephants  sometimes only a few  even inches away from us.

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While it’s still many steps behind ENP it is encouraging to see and you can only hope that the word will grow like wildfire amongst tourists to support elephants in a more respectful and humane way.

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 The future of Asian elephants

Watching the elephants slowly amble their way through the landscape at ENP, stopping to scratch, moving with their families to fields in green pastures, I feel anxious for their future.

Asian elephants are an endangered species and part of the miasma of wildlife rapidly vanishing from our planet.

At the start of the 20th century there were 100,000 elephants in Thailand alone and today there are between 3,000 to 4,000 wild Asian elephants with a global population of fewer than 30,000. After the logging trade was closed in 1989 Thailand has a population of 2,700 domesticated elephants.

Conservationists also worry for the long-term outcome of these magnificent animals. The jungle, their natural home, is being taken away for land use. Population demands, deforestation and demand for ivory are their greatest threat.

As I walked with them in the jungle and watched them from afar, I marveled at how much these giant herbivores eat huge quantities of fruits and vegetables every day.

I witnessed first- hand their need to wander distances. I feel anxiety that these amazing creatures, these giants are meant for another world, another time.

But as I watch the hustle and bustle of trucks bringing in food, supplies, and the minivans bringing in hundreds of people every day, I feel a tiny ray of hope for the domesticated elephant anyway. This looks like economic development to me. Perhaps Thailand can become the leader in ethical tourism for one of its most revered and cherished symbols.

There’s a woman out there called Lek Chailert and she has built a sanctuary, a house of rescue, a revolutionary business model, a new way of helping elephants survive.

She has the magnificent heart of someone who does the tough work of rescue. Not just a part of it. All of it. I feel lifted by this thought and hope that I can be a small part of this revolution she is creating.

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