Monthly Archives: July 2012

rollin’ on the river –

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such a great concept – a natural blend of exercise and relaxation in a beautiful setting –  

 one of my daughters and i were enjoying a vacation  together in northern michigan and decided it would be a great idea to take a day canoe trip. what better way to experience the local beauty than to actively immerse ourselves?

we imagined drifting down a sparkling, fresh water river, paddling when inspired, taking pictures, drinking and eating at our leisure, feeling the warm hug of the sun, listening to music, enjoying the thrill of occasional rapids, jumping in for a swim to cool off, soaking in the view, singing badly, and having some good conversation – pure and easy bliss. 

we looked through the local yellow pages and chose a local outfitter based upon their retro-looking cool logo and i gave them a call to see what time they opened in the morning. it was 4th of July week and we wanted to make sure we had a chance to get an early canoe. in response to my time query, the woman on the other end of the phone replied, ‘twenty to 11.‘  

judging by her answer i guessed this wasn’t a large corporate operation. their choice of selecting their own random hours, seemingly at their whim, was the first sign of their obvious lack of adherence to any of the usual standards of business. (in looking back, maybe their logo wasn’t ‘retro’ at all, but rather one that had never changed or been updated.) we laughed off this eccentric time quirk and overlooked the thought of anything possibly being amiss – we were so excited and determined to spend the next day fully enjoying the river. 

morning came and we drove to their location, far down a dirt road, quite literally in the middle of nowhere. pulling up at ‘twenty to 11’ as directed, we noticed there was only one other car in the lot and congratulated ourselves about being the first ones there. 

walking in, a woman looked up from behind the counter  and appeared surprised to see us. to say she was not welcoming or an assertive saleswoman is a bit of an understatement and judging by our conversation, she was clearly the same woman i’d spoken to the night before.  

when we inquired about renting a canoe, this is how the conversation went:  ‘so – you’re canoers?’, ‘today we are.’ no smile. ‘the canoe guy isn’t here yet.’ ‘okay.’ ‘what were you thinking of?’ ‘renting a canoe.’ ‘okay.’ 

we took a quick look at each other and then up at the sign above, offering the day trip options. it was apparent we needed to be our own advocates and that it would be pretty much up to us to set the whole thing up.

after a few minutes, we decided we’d take the trip with an ‘estimated duration’ of 4 to 5 hours/10 miles. we paid her in cash, as that was all they accepted, and she didn’t ask any of the usual time-killing questions such as our names, if we’d ever canoed before, or god forbid – if we had any questions for her. needless to say there were no disclaimers, forms or other paperwork of any kind. no record of our having come here, or even of our existence at all.   

again, this was probably another opportunity to question our choice of outfitters, but we were so happy just to have scored a canoe that we didn’t really question it. 

soon after, we heard a rough-sounding vehicle pull up and went outside to meet her brother/canoe-guy, (clearly a family operation), who would drop us and our canoe off at the river.  we still were the only customer car in the lot at this point so he muttered something about taking us right away and not making us wait for the others. he seemed very shy and kind of shuffled from foot to foot, stuttered a bit, and wouldn’t really look us in the eye. 

he handed us life vests that looked to be remnants from a former overseas conflict, (quite possibly WWI), and asked us if we wanted oars and seat cushions. (i didn’t really realize that oars were optional on a canoe trip), and we all climbed into the rusting, sputtering van with high hopes and canoes up top.   

after driving in silence at a rate of approximately 27 mph, we decided to break the ice by asking a few questions:

  1. ‘where are we going to be dropped off?’ – ‘at marker 55.’  
  2. ‘how is the river running?’  – ‘slow.’
  3. ‘why?’ – ‘they closed the dam and no rain.’
  4.   ‘does it get really busy on the river?’ – ‘it’s pretty slow during the week.’

as explained by our enthusiastic guide, we eventually arrived at marker 55. after turning onto a small dirt road, we made our way into the middle of a beautiful state forest.   

we climbed out, ready to begin the adventure, as he unloaded our canoe and dropped it into the water. again – no tips, no rules, no questions for us. we had just one more for him before beginning: ‘who sits where?’ – ‘the steerer sits in the back, but i put the canoe in backwards for some reason.’  with no further instructions, he turned and headed back to the van and sputtered off, back down the lonely gravel road. 

we looked at each other and realized we were really, really alone, in quite a beautiful and remote setting, deep in the midst of a forest, with no one having the slightest idea we were even out there. knowing it was early, and that more canoers would arrive as the day went on, we got over it and climbed into our backwards boat.  

my daughter took the seat in front, making her the ‘helms-woman’, and i took the backseat, now officially the ‘steerer’ of our boat. after taking some time to get the boat turned around, a couple of things became apparent:  the water was quite still without any sort of current, and the water level was extremely low, maybe 8-10 inches deep at best.  

after a bit of trial and error, we determined the only way we would be able to actually get moving in the river was to use our oars ‘gondolier-style’ – by putting our sticks in the water, scraping them along the bottom, and pushing/pulling ourselves along. 

this was just the beginning, and as more challenges came into play, our vision of a lazy river day quickly faded away. the realities were a bit different from what we had initially expected, and the trip played out with more unanticipated issues:

  • fallen trees filled most of the water, 
  • water was quite smelly and stagnant
  • the path through was only 2 feet wide in some spots
  • ongoing climbing out of the canoe to walk it/drag it over shallow puddles and rocks and huge trees where the river was meant to flow 
  • biting black flies and dragonflies swarming us
  • due to low water levels and no rain, flies were drawn to anything with moisture, including our eyeballs
  • no way to eat or drink, as it would draw more flies and we had to physically work constantly just to move on the  the river at all
  • total solitude, meaning there were no other humans to help, laugh with, or rescue us

as we continued on, i brought up the fact that we had signed up for a 4 to 6 hour trip, assuming the river was flowing, so this might be a longer day than anticipated and we should look at this as an adventure. 

at that point, my daughter got a horrible look on her face and said, ‘mom, i have a confession. i was trying to do something nice to surprise you and make this day even more special. after you walked out to talk to the canoe guy, i paid extra money to ‘upgrade’ our trip to the 8-10 hour/20 mile journey instead.’ we looked at each other and both sat in stunned silence for a moment, just as dead-still as our canoe sat in the water. 

we continued on, as there was on other choice or way to get back to civilization – with many hours of swearing, bitching, proclamations of ‘who was doing more work’, yelling out and slapping our skin when bitten, trying to make jokes that were ‘not funny!’, pulling flies out of our eyes, ears and mouths, hungry, dehydrated, zig-zagging our way from bank to bank and tree to tree, sunburned – as many trees were in the river rather than standing and protecting us from the sun, and a never-ending very physical workout –  and we came upon a wide river opening that was not a mirage! 

there, in the middle of the river two men were standing –  fishing and drinking and being silent. the water only came up to to their knees but apparently that fact did not deter them from being out there. we saw a remote shack there in the middle of nowhere, right along the bank of the river, where they must have come from. while we were happy to see other humans at last, a sudden feeling of foreboding and a bit of fear came over us as we whispered to each other, ‘deliverance!’

first of all, it was amazing there were any fish to be had and that they would be out there trying to find them. next, we were in a very remote location, with no record of us even having rented a canoe or existing, very alone, and ‘not at the top of our game’ to say the least.  they, on the other hand, were drinking beers and hanging out without much of anything to do and lots of idle time on their hands.  

we both had active imaginations and strong survival instincts, which inspired us to try to get through this part of the river as quickly and unscathed as possible. it wasn’t feasible not to make eye contact or draw attention to ourselves, apparently we were the only other people who had come this way in a long while, so we said hello as we scraped and dragged our way past them, in a style that would have made the venetian gondoliers proud. as you can imagine, this was the fastest we had moved on the river all day! they simply nodded and went back to sipping on their beers and enjoying their silence as we went by. in hindsight, i’m sure we probably looked much more frightening to them than they did to us – after all, who else but crazy freaks would be out trying to canoe on the river in these conditions?

after many, many hours, we actually made it back to our canoe outfitters’ place, as the sun began to get low, and running on empty. we never did see any other people canoeing on the river that day, no surprise – and as we came in, we were greeted by the sister and brother outfitters. 

this time they both appeared surprised to see us, as if it would have been more expected for us not to show up. as the brother pulled our canoe from the water, the sister said, as only she could have put it – ‘wow, that took a long time. you made it back.’

walking back to our car and ready to call it a day, we saw a couple pull in and get out of our car. we asked them if they planned on canoeing. their reply – ‘no way, we tried that last year and the river was a horrible mess and flies bit us all day! no, we’re just here to see about renting some tubes to take to our lake.’ ‘oh’, was all we could say. 

Rivers are roads which move, and which carry us whither we desire to go. ~ Pascal

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serendipity

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       when stopping by my favorite artist’s booth (kana handel), on the last day of the fair, to buy another of her beautiful creations, i shared with her a story of coincidence and connection, and to let her know that she was part of an equation that superseded the elements of both time and space.  as i told her my tale, her face showed surprise, and her eyes opened wide at first, but soon her eyes softened and began to tear, and her look turned to a quiet smile of understanding. 

       i told her about my ex-husband, who i had met when i was just four years old, and i knew instantly when meeting him, (and told him), that i would one day marry him.  he passed away on valentine’s day, 2 years past, while living in another state many miles away, and after years of no contact between us, and was a bittersweet experience. 

       it was a time filled with mixed emotions – sadness for what could have been, for all of the unrealized possibilities, and for things lost between himself and those he loved, now never to be resolved.  soon after, one of my daughters flew there to help settle and organize his things, and to gain some measure of final closure. once she began this task, she surprised me with an wonderful discovery.

      when cleaning off his desk, she found a business card that looked familiar, it was from an artist, whose work she had seen before, and she recognized it because she had seen her artwork on my walls and had seen the very same card on my desk here. 

       it seems that even though we had gone on to live very separate lives, and were many miles apart in every sense of the word, we still maintained a connection through the universe, unbeknownst to us. i was reminded  of how we were first drawn to each other,  and knew we were meant to meet for a wonderful reason – to create our legacy, our amazing daughters  – once again proving that art and beauty transcend all.

 Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. The word has been voted one of the ten English words hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company.

 

the fair along the way to the fair –

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       set out with music playing in my ears, headed off to the art fair.  as usual, walking along at street level, i was happily surprised by the small things i encountered on the journey. 

lemonade stand – came across a mother, with a baby in carrier strapped to her chest, along with her 3 other little ones running enthusiastically up and down the sidewalk in front of the stand.  i stopped to give them  some business and they would not accept my money, said it was ‘complimentary’ and that all they wanted in return is for me to smile and enjoy it. 

 

clothing sale – came across a large table in a front yard with clothing for sale. after looking around for the homeowner, i found her curled up on the porch, under a blanket, fast asleep. a box was left on the table for buyers to leave money in, if they chose to buy any of the clothing. 

 

parking, the great leveler – walked by the following  places, all offering parking spaces for $10. where else would you ever see all of these entities listed together, all engaged in singular activity, at the same time?

 

  • church
  • medical marijuana store
  • asian spa
  • car wash
  • student house 

       when one considers an event as huge as the annual art fair, you sometimes forget it is what happens on the periphery that is really the most interesting, memorable, and beautiful.

 

the kindergarten guide to fitness

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        if we were all to go through life with the same approach as the kinders of the world,, we’d never spend a minute of our day thinking about diet and exercise and stress, for there would be absolutely no need to. 

       during the school year, most of my waking hours are spent with these little people, where i learn from them daily, and i never cease to be amazed by their honest and natural way of doing things.  i’ve come to the conclusion that if adults were to go through their days in the same way, we would all be a lot happier and healthier.

 

following are the unwritten rules of the kinders’ approach:

1) never walk anywhere when you can skip, jump, scoot, or run to get there

2) when greeting someone you like and haven’t seen for at least ten minutes, feel free to jump on them and roll

3) eat small amounts of food, and eat often

4) if you’re eating something you like and you drop it, just pick it up and finish it, or give to it a pet if you want to

5) if you’re not able to sit still for very long when eating, see if you can take one last bite of it away with you in your mouth or hands, chances are it will fall out somewhere not too far away

6) drink water every 7 minutes, even if it comes from inside an old toy, the cat’s bowl, a snow pile, or a puddle

7) when asked to sit somewhere, sit in at least 3 other spots first, before moving there

8) run up the stairs whenever possible, to make sure you get to the top before everyone else

9) sleep when your body gets tired, napping most anywhere and anytime

10) laugh, cry, scream, or shriek whenever the mood strikes you

11) tell everyone around you when you are happy, sad, scared, or mad, without any filter

12) don’t worry about what anyone thinks

13) play with lots of people

14) ask as many questions as it takes, until you understand something

15) hug people or blankets or stuffed toys when you want to

16) if you are afraid or don’t want to do something, pretend you are allergic to it

17) move in slow motion or like a robot when going somewhere you don’t want to

18) don’t play with people who aren’t nice to you

19) gather around in a circle to see what happened when someone falls down

20) climb anything you can find, especially when playing the ‘don’t touch the floor game’ in your living room

21) try to catch butterflies, moths, flies and birds and chase them until your legs get tired

22) take a close look at stuff that you think is cool or beautiful 

23) ‘read’ and tell stories to your pet

23) wake up excited for every day

 

       

      

       

 

fly the friendly skies

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   it’s very early morning and i’m waiting in the airport, filling time and amusing myself by people watching  and had the following observations:

  • my pilot eating a massive bag of burgers and fries, all i could think was – please have a strong stomach…
  • pack of boy scouts, all in uniform, including the grown leaders, and overheard,  ‘what happens down there, stays down there….’ – i don’t really want to know and it’s not exactly the motto i remember anyway

  • bitter attendant storming around muttering to himself and anyone willing to listen, angry because my flight to nyc was going to be leaving before his was going to leave for boston.  apparently his flight had flown in this same order for the last couple of days and he took it as personally as a major league ball player who’d been moved lower on the batting roster. 

   finally boarded and flight attendants suggested they take my carry-on bag from me and tag it, as it probably wouldn’t fit into the the overhead bins. having flown many times before, and knowing i can jam my bag into most any space, i smiled, said no thank you, and moved ahead bag in hand.  they smiled back and said, “good luck, they are quite slim.” 

   i headed off down the aisle and thought how lucky i was, having arrived at the airport just before boarding and still snagging this choice seat – 6c. it was such a low number that i wondered if perhaps they had bumped me up to first class, but was quickly brought back down to earth when i realized there were only 12 rows on the entire plane.

   i found my little seat – indeed near the front, (and near the back as well), and went to pop open the bin. looking up, i realized why they’d offered to take my bag.  the ‘bins’, a series of large, overhead slots, were in fact so ‘slim’ that the only items i could imagine them accommodating would be a comb, a toothpick,  a lock of hair, and possibly a cd , (if it wasn’t in its case).

   turned and passed my bag back, bucket-brigade style, through the line of people behind me, and into the hands of the all-knowing flight attendants. the line seemed to have no problem helping with this, though i did catch a glimpse of the attendants smirking and nodding knowingly towards each other as they tagged my bag and sent it off to wherever it was they originally wanted to send it onto.

   once relieved of my luggage, i settled into my seat next to the window, on what was a freezing cold plane, and prepared to instantly fall asleep.  pilot announced, ‘don’t be alarmed by the smoke filling the cabin, just a bit of an air conditioning snafu….’ i was so tired that i decided to take my chances and sleep through whatever that really meant. 

   no sooner had i closed my eyes than i heard a big, friendly, southern voice saying, ‘ i sure hope you like to snuggle ‘cuz we are gonna be packed in here!’  looked up and saw a giant with a giant smile. he told me he was 6’8” and 257 pounds and i wondered how he was ever going to fit into his seat next to me, he did the best he could, squeezed in, using a technique any vegas contortionist would admire, and buckled in for the ride. we chatted a bit and soon both fell asleep. as far as i know it all went well, and assumed the reason i was so warm when we arrived was that we’d been unwittingly spooning for the duration of the flight. 

   once we got to the airport, he unfolded himself out of his seat, and after he carried my luggage to my connecting gate, i said goodbye to my ‘airplane husband’ – our brief and cozy relationship was over.   

   i went downstairs and found the super shuttle that was going to deliver me to my brother’s apartment in nyc. shared the shuttle with 8 other people and set off for the city. i heard lots of languages around me and wondered how they’d all manage to find their way around the city. as we got closer, i got a call from my brother to check my estimated arrival time, and i announced, ‘well, it should be soon, we’re heading into downtown now.’ there was an instant reaction throughout the shuttle, it was as if i had delivered a hilarious and shocking one-liner. the entire shuttle burst out laughing, people turned around to look at me, i heard someone repeating ‘downtown?’ driver flipped out and asked for my address again. somehow my gaffe had even managed to overcome all language barriers.  who knew that in new york, there is no ‘downtown,’ only midtown, uptown and on and on…. all this and i had not even begun the vacation yet, wondered what was yet to come –

lost is not always a four- letter word

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     many may consider a route that doesn’t follow ‘as the crow flies’ or as the map/gps/passenger ‘suggests’, to be inefficient or in other words – not the best way to go.  in my experience however, it is on those unknown avenues, that i find myself inevitably traveling most often, and on these journeys, i always end up where i planned to go, though i discover many places along the way that i never would have experienced otherwise. 

     i first noticed it when i was very young, and went riding my bike out of the garage, all smiles and with sparkly streamers flying from the handlebars, excited for what the day held, venturing into the safe confines of my own neighborhood.  once out on the street though, it was often a struggle to find my way around, and in and out of places. 

     frequency and familiarity made absolutely no difference – somehow between the time i left and the time i returned – the paths, the roads, the routes, all seemed to converge and made me wonder how i would arrive at my  destination, and upon eventually getting there, wondering how i would ever get back.

     over time, i learned to adapt and just worked things out, though i was reminded of this challenge as i grew up, began driving a car, and had places where i was actually expected to be at a particular time. 

     as a parent, and as my daughters became more aware of their surroundings, i heard comments from the backseat such as: ‘are you doing this on purpose mom?!’, ‘this is not where your company picnic is supposed to be, it looks like we’re going to the place where we went canoeing yesterday!,’  ‘haven’t you lived here forever?’, ‘is it legal to turn around here?’, and ‘are you trying to be funny?’

     over time, family and friends got used to u-turns at the emergency turn-arounds on the freeway, circling around a city, (even our own), calls and stops asking strangers how to get from one place to another, and of course, finding our way to places via other places we never even knew existed. 

 

they adapted as well, and knew when they got the call, ‘which way am i supposed to go?’ from me, not to ask which direction i was heading, but rather, ‘what do you see?’  landmarks make much more sense than cardinal directions do in my book, and it’s not as common after all, to be sitting at a light next to a giant paul bunyan statue, as it is to be ‘heading north on main street.’

     as an adult, i’ve only encountered two other people who have these same challenges – one of my sisters and one of my close friends. when trying to visit each other or even go places together, we often end up somewhere else first, and are understanding of the idea of having chosen the ‘more interesting route.’

     for some unexplained reason, when traveling far distances, such as australia, i seem to be able to navigate my way there. once i was lost walking around hong kong, with broken glasses and no command of the language. word soon spread like wildfire in the family, with texts going out – ‘mom is lost and blind in hong kong, hopefully she can find her way out’, (think mr. magoo), and i eventually did somehow. ironically, one of my first jobs was as a travel agent…

     recently, i began to look into this phenomenon and stumbled upon a reason, a scientific explanation for all of this – dyscalculia.  just five syllables to sum up what i’ve always wondered about. amazing there’s an actual term for this – think of it as ‘directional dyslexia’. it has to do with mental mapping abilities, directionality, mechanical steps, and conversion of 2d images to 3d. wow – had i known this a long time ago, i would have had a comeback when i was questioned by my daughters!

     the plus side of this, is that people who have this are generally, ‘highly intelligent and developed in other areas.’ okay, i’ll take it. on this research site, there were many who wrote to say, ‘i can’t believe i have found others like this!’, and ‘i feel redeemed at last!’, and ‘now i know when i come out of the restroom at the airport why i am lost in the terminal!’  one woman even had the ironic twist of fate of marrying a cartographer. it was an endless word-fest of ‘lost’ people celebrating the finding of others like them. 

     like them, i have found my people at last! i think it would be wonderful to get together and meet to discuss this in person, however, i don’t know how long it would take us all to find each other. until then, i’ll just try to make sure i don’t have my shirt on inside-out and i’ll keep my eyes open for the giant salmon, where i know i should turn to head towards the cottage.