Wednesday, July 28, 2010

WK 16: I am NOT fit to live with this week!

Steps down onto Wilson Falls East Trail

Well we all have those weeks where we are out of sorts, have uncomfortable decisions to make and just want it all to go away. PUUUUUUUUUUULEASE! This week I needed to make a decision about whether to continue on with my cracker biz - or not - for the upcoming holidays. Usually the big decisions get made mid-January when I sit down and figure out what I want to accomplish work-wise for the year and what will be the best moves both creatively and economically. But every summer when the sales dry up like a hot, arid Arizona desert and the bills loom for the upcoming holiday season the decision about whether to ‘do’ the holiday season must be made anew. I get into quite a slump emotionally wondering how it is all going to happen yet again. Where on earth the money to buy the mountain of supplies (these fill my living room, dining room and front bedroom – to give you some idea!) is going to come from. How all the work is going to get done  when finances force me to leave the holiday start until way too late into the summer (those THREE ROOMS of supplies must be transformed into crackers ready to ship for USA and Canadian Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Solstice and New Year in the space of only a few weeks). And where will the creative energy come from to grow even more fun crackers for older customers and find even better ways to sell them to new customers. When all is said and done I am not fit to live with this week. I admit it.

I’d like to say that these times are good for me. That they make me stretch my abilities in answer to what feels like a bottomless chasm of work-related demands that are blocking my positive vision. But honestly I am just about 60 and I want to take it A BIT EASIER thank you all the same. At least I think I do. I never have been one to like doing the same old thing time and again. I enjoy creativity, learning new ways to do things, meeting challenges head on. But - and I think this is true for most of us – I prefer to choose the challenges I ‘meet’! And therein has been my dilemma: The degree of choice-factor in this big decision has seemed pretty measly because honestly after more than 25 years of doing the same type of work, I can’t imagine doing, or wanting to do, anything else.

So the decision was made, somewhat inevitably, in favour of ‘doing’ the holidays one more time – despite the financial headaches and workload challenges.

There is no neat bow to tie up this week’s blog. Sorry. It’s just one of those honest weeks where life is tough and it’s about to get tougher for the next 4 or 5 months or so. And that makes it all the more important to savour the NOW of life each day and week and month going forward, to continue somehow to find the time to enjoy the beautiful walks on the trails here in Muskoka, to love my friends who are so dear to me, to savour this town and its people that I have already – in only two short years - so grown to appreciate. It’s important to not live only by an economic measure of ‘success’ or worry that this might allude us or pass us by altogether as much as we may wish for the benefits and ease it provides. But instead to value other meaningful measurements we ourselves set especially as we age – a stillness of the spirit, a growing oneness with nature, a sense of ‘place’ and ‘time’ in life and to welcome into our hearts our own particular dance with life - no matter the tune that is played.

Thanks for walking along with me on my footpath this week.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Week 15: Life is like hiking the trails.

Well, I just finished bathing my poor mosquito bitten feet with my friend Rita’s handmade and natural artisanal soap.  As the old 50’s Alka-seltzer commercials went, ‘Oh what a relief it is’!  After several weeks of reduced mosquito squads, I was unprepared for yesterday’s relentless assaults out there on the trails.  Though I learned early on in my walking days to keep the bug cream supply topped up in my back pack, it was a full time effort yesterday to keep it on my skin and the mosquitoes off!  So today the feet and ankles and arms are sorely bitten and there is an ever-rising blackfly lump behind my ear.  But did I have fun yesterday?  Oh, YOU BET I DID!

The night before I had decided to try out both the ‘Covered Bridge’ and ‘South Monk’ Trails which lead into one another here in Bracebridge.  I was quite excited about preparing for this adventure. I printed out the town’s trail map and also a clear Google street map, recharged the camera battery, packed a snack and bought a big bottle of water.   I made sure there was a little bar of pure soap, some bandages, antibiotic cream, a rolled up wash cloth, alternate shoes and some clean socks! All packed into my lightweight cloth backpack (hand-sewn nearly 25 years ago) and ready to go by mid-afternoon.  Rain was in the forecast but this never deters me as there is no better place to be than on the trails under the kindly umbrellas of forest trees whenever the heavens decide to sprinkle.

From the very start I knew this was going to be an extra special hike. There were things to see and listen to and smell and photograph at every turn and early on I decided to pace the picture-taking as I feared the battery would run out well before the end of the hike which was nearly the case!  I won’t describe the specifics of these particular trails here (though there is a note and some cautions at the bottom of this week’s blog for anyone interested in hiking either trail and there are many pictures of the walk included on the (two) Week 15 Photo Pages).  What I would like to tell you or at least TRY to share with you this week is what it feels like when I go trail walking. I have been trying for many weeks now to figure out how to communicate to folks living in a city or who don’t walk in wooded nature, what it is like to be comfortingly wrapped all about in the green and brown and blue of the woods.  How does one communicate the mid-summer, contentedly-slow laziness of the late-evening bird-calls and the chattering of dozens of small animals and how those sounds echo bluntly between the trees and carry over the water.  Or the tinkling delicacy of a light breeze barely kissing the highest leaves of the treetops or the quickening vibrations of the wind skipping and rippling along the length of the river like some kind of blue quicksilver.  Or the distinctive PLOP of a beaver taking his just-before-dark dive.  Or more notably - the deafening stillness. 

Yes, the stillness - especially that – how does one share that with others?  There is always a point in every walk when I experience anew the absolute stillness and hush.  When the sounds of humanity disappear into some other hidden dimension and I feel keenly present in nature’s very private world teeming with life and counter-balance to 'civilization's' concrete jungles.  I can’t think what to name this.  It is a sensory experience and it is an extreme privilege.  Of that I’m certain.  As much as these walks bring pure joy to my soul, they also bring sadness. In the woods, it is possible to experience the planet earth unfettered of politics, of ‘me-ism’, greed and defacement.  Though animal politics, hierarchy, territorial agression surely do exist as does survival of the fittest, somehow it is based more on the understandable need for nature's survival rather than the greed and lust for domination we humans so often exhibit.  So I guess walking in the woods is a real retreat for me – it’s a way of getting away from news headlines and the CNN-reported mayhem of it all.  Yet, ultimately the contrast only further highlights the sad place the world can feel to be some days and for so many people.  Often in the end I am left feeling helpless and sad that not everyone has a little patch of their own where to walk, or the freedom to do so, enough food to eat for the energy to do so, enough physical security for the safety to do so, enough hope and will in life to feel the desire to do so.

Yet walking in the woods is a time also to dream a little.  And to enjoy an inner and truthful conversation.  There is no requirement for pretense in the woods or fa├žades or any of life’s everyday pretexts or armour.  It is a place to slow right down and enjoy vulnerability and experience our lives in sheer honesty and truth to the extent we can allow ourselves to do so, shedding all the unhappy layers of excess we have acquired.  And, we get better at this as time goes on and our confidence in doing so rises.  The total effect of all that on me is a deep relaxation that I just couldn’t get from any wine or drug I know.  Every walk into the woods I feel the world’s demands lessening their grip on my mind and soul and body a little more.  I can return to work and a busy life with greater balance and focus and have a keener sense of what life – at least my life – is and can be about and live it more fully in the present moment.  After all, what else do we really have but NOW?  I feel less responsible for keeping up with the insanely high-bar of commercialism and buying into the hype of advertising which tells me what I am supposed to ‘need’ in order to feel happy.  The less I listen to that and the more acquired layers I shed, the happier I feel and the less resentful I feel about NOT having what I am told I need and don’t possess and have discovered I don’t really want anyway!  Not sure that makes sense, but you surely get my drift!

Yes, walking does all that and means all that to me.  It is freedom on many levels.  Nature is a raw connection to the very essence of life present and past, to the history of life and all that went on before us, to the mighty dinosaurs long since gone and to the birth of the very universe itself and to the mightiness of its creator – IF we are still enough to listen and feel and imagine it all. Walking in a few short months has given me immeasurable new balance and confidence and repositioned me ‘in situ’ for the deeply meaningful passages of later life. And now, dear reader, I will state the truly obvious about trails and walking but which I have only just discovered: Life is like hiking the trails. In life, we need to be a little prepared and have at least some idea of where we are going.  A map of some kind helps.  So does a knapsack with a few useful provisions to keep us going but not so many that it is a burden to carry along the way or prevents us from progressing along.  We need to know that our map is JUST A GUIDE – we are not bound by it and in fact will miss out many adventures and meetings if we follow it too rigidly.  To know WHERE we are to go, we need to take the time to stop and figure out where we are and use all our senses to do so and be fully alive to the moment. We need to be clear on WHO we are about so that we can make, when called upon, the decisions at all the turns along the way more readily and with conviction. We need to know that like the trails, physical life has a beginning and definite end and we are, at any moment in time, on an uncertain continuum travelling somewhere in between.

Thanks for walking along with me on my footpath this week.
WEEK 15 :: 12 PHOTOS - PLUS!:  You'll find them HERE.
BBPP Weekly Health Check:
Mind:  Trying to relax INTO the summer heat… Walking every day now I am mentally enjoying summer so much more than other years.
Body:  After months of walking my legs are getting very strong and now carry me up hills and steep inclines if not ‘effortlessly’ certainly with LESS effort.  Ditto the hard-working heart.  Blood pressure continues to show gratifying losses. Weight loss: NOT SO MUCH ~ Girth loss: YES, DEFINITELY!!!
The Artist Soul:  The absolute best connection this week happened on the Wilson River.  While moving towards the river’s edge to catch the usual nightly sighting of my beaver friend there came instead an a-line of movement from an inquisitive family of 6 ducklings and their mom.  After catching  sight of me they rushed right across the river to say hello.  Two ducklings even struggled to clamber up the rocky section of riverbank.  Mom may or may not have approved; She kept an eye on me but didn’t seem overly worried or fussed.  What is not to love about such a ‘soul connection’

"The Duck Delegation"

NOTES & CAUTIONS for the ‘Covered Bridge’ & ‘South Monk’ Trails:

- Print out BOTH a trail map AND a clear street map covering the area.  Staple them together as you are WILL need them BOTH! If you would like answers to specific questions about these trails, click on the envelope icon below to send me an email.

- Be aware that although the map shows a ‘trail’, some of the walking connecting the wooded sections may be done on residential streets or through the transcanada pipelines property easement section.  If you aren’t in the woods at some points, it doesn’t mean you are lost.  Just try to interpret the map carefully and imaginatively!

- If you do not have a good sense of direction, then I recommend you pack a compass.  These trails are, for the greater part, magnificently maintained but sadly they as yet lack enough clarifying trail markers to help one to discern location and which of the many feeder trails to take.  It would definitely help if the all of the bridges were named or numbered and regularly spaced trail sections identified with corresponding markers on both the map and trail.  It IS very easy to get lost within some sections of this trail or to ‘feel’ lost even when one isn’t!  And, there is one brief section that needs to be completely remarked to improve hiker safety!  So we will keep asking our politicians for further upgrades to these wonderful trails.  AND volunteer ourselves to map and mark trails.
- If you are hiking alone or even in twos, do let someone know you WHERE you plan to go and give them a time WHEN they should expect to hear from you again with a plan to get HELP if they DON’T! 

- For the most part both the Covered Bridge and South Monk trails are easy to traverse.  The latter trail is slightly more challenging with one prolonged incline in particular.  If steep hills are a problem for you, then I suggest hiking the trail from north to south rather than the reverse so that your walking will be mostly downhill.
And generally for all longer hikes:

- Wear sturdy shoes and pay attention to where you are walking. Invariably I get so lost in the wonder of the sites that I trip over tree roots or stones.

- Do take your camera!  You just never know what wonders you will see.

- Cell phones are mixed blessings for sure but on longer hikes or on less-travelled trails, I am beginning to think they are a very good idea.  You don’t need to leave one turned on.  Keep it for emergencies or to arrange a ride at the end of your hike.

- Bug spray or cream or towelettes or citronella is a MUST if you don’t want the bugs to spoil your concentration on the beauty of your surroundings and your inner peace and quiet.  Don’t let them annoy you!

- Carry EXTRA water. If you do get bitten a lot, have a clean wash cloth and some water and a sliver of soap handy.  This refreshes your feet on those long 5 and 6 hour hikes and soothes out the itch of bug bites.  A small tube of cortisone cream, a couple of bandages, and some antibiotic ointment take up almost no knapsack room and can come in very useful.

- Most important of all?  Enjoy!  Open your soul and let the woods communicate with you.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Week 14: The 13th Month of the Year...

With aging comes the need for less sleep. Instead of eight hours, I now grab six. I started thinking about this last week and realized that sleeping less means I am awake 2 hours more a day... or 730 hours extra a year... or a whopping 30.4166666666666 extra DAYS every 12 months. This is tantamount to discovering a 13th month of the year! I feel like I have found the lost city of Atlantis or something.

Wow... what to do with all this extra time? Of course some of it is used up just by virtue of being older now - time used trying to remember things I forgot, retrieving words that are on the 'tip of my tongue' but wandering aimlessly about the brain til I can nab them again, finding the reading glasses, looking for things I have misplaced, getting out of chairs which seem to have sunken to deeper depths and definitely the garden takes longer to weed now. It alone could gobble up 1/2 a month. So, is this why we have been given this new-found time in our lives? Do we need it to get things done in older age or even just to get moving  as each new day dawns?

Still one extra month IS a LOT of extra time and I think it deserves some recognition. For instance maybe there should be a special seniors' calendar - one with 13 months in a year. Where would we position our extra month? Would you prefer spring or summer? And it would have to have a name of course - one with senior intent.  In answer to the month of 'March' we could follow up with the month of 'Meander' or in answer to the month of 'November' we could try 'Yesember' in true senior contrariness. 
No... well names have never been my long suit.

But think of it... There'd be a whole extra month before having to pay income taxes. A whole extra month before the snow would need shoveling. A whole extra month before the next medical check-up and that mammogram could just plain wait an  extra oh-so-grateful 30 days. Since this 13th month doesn’t show up on most anybody’s calendar so far but mine, I am not yet ‘penciled in’ to do a darn thing during those 30 days, be anywhere anytime particular, or pay even one single blessed bill. I could just fill up the (sugarless) lemonade pitcher, grab some books and lay out on the sundeck for 30 glorious days. Wanna join me? You can come IF you are over 50 and live by the elongated seniors' calendar too. I think Hallmark would warm to this idea, don't you? Think of how many more cards they could sell with a 13-month year. It could be a whole new occasion that lasts 30.416  days - longer even than Christmas.

Tongue-in-cheek aside, time definitely grows more precious with age. Focusing on this every day, helps us to recognize each moment for the real gift it is. I don't mean to sound all gushy about this. (Gosh I do so hate gush.) Recently though I have been hit with a lot of new things and they all seem to be about aging and time and what's been used up and in what way and how much time is left and wow every moment really is pretty wonderful after all, isn't it? Hmmmm. The trick is figuring out how to appreciate it all. So though I doubt we can get Hallmark to reform the Julian calendar to recognize our special month, maybe instead what we can do is find 2 hours worth of minutes every day of the year to concentrate on NOW. What we have NOW. What the birds sound like NOW. How the flowers and river and trees smell NOW. How our grandchildren's laughter carries on the wind NOW. How smoothly the beaver swims along the river's current NOW. For 120 minutes a day. Otherwise it is just a whole month every year completely and utterly wasted, unused and under-appreciated. It's like being given a brightly packaged, very generous gift and then refusing to open it. Whoops! I tore the wrapping paper!

Thanks for walking with me on my footpath this week.


TRAILS:  Bracebridge Trails Map Page. 
WEEK 14 :: 12 PHOTOS:  You'll find them HERE.

BBPP Weekly Health Check:
Mind:  As the holiday Christmas-cracker-producing season encroaches, the annual preoccupation with time resurfaces.  I always worry about getting everything done in the short holiday work period availalble.  Orders arrive with a jumble once the end of summer approaches and it seems the 18 hour - 7 day work week takes over. This year I have started the Christmas season a few weeks early with the hope of achieving more balance - time for the extra work load and time for LIFE and LIVING. We'll see...
Body:  After 4 1/2 months of mostly effortless dieting, I have hit a wall.  The past 3 weeks have been sheer challenge. All I can think about is FOOD.  A little physical activity - walking, swimming, whatever helps but last week's incredible heat and humidity made that a little tougher than usual.  Focused creativity also keeps the mind out of the fridge!
The Artist Soul:  Honestly, you'd laugh.  Every other evening I run down to the river about 8pm and start looking for the beavers.  Within minutes one or another of them  surfaces swimming along the river's edge and every night I try to take a better beaver picture. The photos are improving but the really 'good' one I know is going to come some day has still not been snapped.   Meanwhile in all this running up and down the river after them, I have come to really love these adorable and sometimes cranky creatures.  They are hard workers (I know, I know, they ate your young sapplings this spring. I'm sorry, really. I hear that a lot), exquisite swimmers and just generally smart, crafty little guys.  And what's not to love about those nifty tails of theirs? My artist soul has quite fallen for them.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Week 13: "Smart dogs KNOW ice cream is GOOD!"

OK, ask me how hard it was last night in this searing heat wave NOT to buy ice cream! There it was stacked high in the freezer case at Shopper's Drugmart. A premium dairy brand. In every flavour I LOVE. And half-price. GIVE ME A BREAK! How is one to keep losing pounds and building muscles during these dog days of summer when smart dogs everywhere KNOW that ice cream is good for you to eat.  Calories... do they care?

But, you'll be proud of me. I settled on 2 diet 7-ups (an emergency purchase and immediately consumed to fend off the heat exhaustion acquired en-route) and some very low-fat yogurt. Yes, you're right, my halo does pinch a wee bit this morning. Dieting is so very hard for me. I have always been a rather passionate individual inside. I guess it is part of the artisan's creative personality to be like this. Add to that a tendancy towards compulsive behaviour and it all spells trouble with a capital 'T'. One peanut or one small handful of peanuts just never quite does the trick. I forge on and on. It never augers well, I'm afraid.

Here's the thing. I LIKE being passionate! I LOVE grabbing at life greedily with both hands, feeling deeply, heart-on-sleeve, taking emotional risks with people, new situations and art alike, living out the daily drama to it's fullest extent. Not stopping til all the possibilities and opportunities have been explored. There is a directive written right into the 'Gillian genes' that says: 'Grow whenever, however, wherever you can'.  Unfortunately it is the 'wherever' part that screws things up as these genes don't discriminate before growing fat thighs. But what the hay, it is what 'feeds' the creative process - for me anyway. Is my waistline doomed for life? Ya think? I am NOT giving up. I have, as you know, been exercising and dieting now since Valentine's. 'Heart Day' seemed like the perfect occasion to begin a '3rd-trimester-of-life' plan. I am proceeding very slowly, losing the equivalent of only about 1 lb per week. So far 30 pounds have bit the dust. But this isn't a race to take off weight. It IS an exercise to find renewed health AND creativity AND a newly adjusted path to find my way through the coming years.

Passion and dieting are tough cookies to balance. I don't want at the end of my life NOT to have tried out all the stuff that I really wanted and had the opportunity to try. Not to have told everyone I met and liked that I loved them. Not to have gone places I really wanted to go. Not to have flown high in the planes for which I hold such terror. Not to have felt all that I could possibly feel about living and being alive. Not to have eaten ice cream during the long hot summers of life. And on birthdays. And anniversaries.  And Sundays and Thursdays!  Ah... you can see my predicament!  But, we can't give up our passion for the things we love in life or we are already doomed, I fear, to unhappiness and dreary days ahead, becoming needlessly, avoidably 'old' of spirit.

So part of this year's learning is not so much to become thin as it is to retain all the passioniate zest for life AND retain moderate weight levels. To live life full-extent AND acknowledge that it is only 6 months and 24 days until age SIXTY (oh boy) arrives. You notice the word 'AND'. Because I am certain we can learn to do both: keep passion alive AND cultivate moderation; keep the spirit and energy of youth AND grow into our older years. 

"How?" you ask. Don't know yet; I'm working on it. Sigh. The first step I think is to simply be concious of who we are, being honest about this and about how we operate inside and what we WANT and need to be 'us' going forward. I think it is about BALANCE too. Even when dieting, it IS ok to have ice cream when we passionately WANT some 'AND' when we can also BALANCE it with MORE exercise or a few MORE minutes of walking.

So it's not about LESS so much as about MORE. MORE ice cream and MORE walking. My particular Waterloo is food. Other folks get felled by emotions, relationships, affairs, gambling, under-acheivement, over-achievement, boredom, health, depression, work - whatever. To figure it out in ourselves, we need to make  a  little time to get to know ourselves as well and as honestly and with as much compassion, forgiveness and humour and love as we possibly can muster. Then we can figure out what we need MORE of to get where we WANT to go. Only then, rather than eliminating the things we love and want but which seem to get us into trouble can we add in the word 'AND' to the equation to get the 'MORE' we want with the kind of life BALANCE we need.

More ice cream 'AND' More walking = a passionately fulfilling 'AND' balanced hot summer day! I'll let you know how it all goes this summer. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Thank you for travelling with me along my foothpath this week.


My TRAILS MAPS: You'll find them HERE.
WEEK 13 :: 12 PHOTOS: You'll find them HERE.
BBPP Weekly Health Check:
 I am finding it important each week to take the time to write these blogs. Otherwise, work just takes over. For me this is already Christmas season and work on the Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah/Solstice/New Year's line has begun. But it is important - so important - to stop once a week to reflect on the here-and-now and where we are situated in the immediacy of this moment in time.
Body: Struggling SO hard. Just managing to hold on to the status quo. It doesn't help to be filling wedding orders and having boxes of Jelly Belly beans and Toblerone's and Italian Maple nougat hanging about on the cracker-making shelves. Until this heat wave is over and it is safe again to go on longer romps, I will accept just holding my own if that is all that is comfortably achievable this week.
The Artist Soul:
The word this week is GREEN. After spending a most happy day at Pine Lake with dear friends, I felt so filled up by the green there - of the lush vegetation and the white pines, and the red pines and the hemlocks and the immediately recognizable, sweet-smelling poplars. My soul filled right up with the green of it all. I will try making a collage of greens this week.