Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Fear

At a certain point in our lives we become complacent. We become stagnant, and we make a decision to float along the river of life. Not paddling anymore, just riding the current. Our families are established, our careers are winding down the road, and we're just happy to spend the time we have with those we love and do the things that make us happy.

Then opportunity comes knocking. Or, as in my case, you force yourself to find the opportunity. That's where I find myself today. Sitting in my little apartment facing the prospect of my life completely changing at 49 years old. Not really any big deal if you consider my father was 49 when I was born, so his life changed radically at this age as well. I think my issue is that I'm slow to grab the paddle and change the course of the boat.

For the most part I like my life. I have a great degree of freedom, I'm not tied down, I have great friends and family, and I love the fact that I can do pretty much anything I want within reason. (and within my wallet). Don't get me wrong I do have responsibilities, but they don't control me the way they did when I spent 10 hours a day in a cubicle. Working for myself has several advantages and allows me the flexibility I have become accustomed to. But something is missing. Actually, a lot is missing.

I have three phone calls to make today. Phone calls that will change the course of the river and open new possibilities to me. But I'm afraid to make them. The phone sits in front of me as I type this, the numbers written on a small sheet of paper on the table. And I'm afraid to make the calls. Why? Am I too engrossed in this lifestyle I've become accustomed to? Am I afraid of change? Am I just lazy? I don't know. I do know that these three phone calls will each affect me, and the sum of those changes will add up to a completely new life for me if all pans out. 

This isn't the first time in my life I've stared at a phone. I've done many things in my life but at the end of the day there are things that remain constant; things that are a solid foundation of my existence. These phone calls will uproot those very foundations. I shouldn't be afraid of this, I should be exited. I should be eager to jump at new challenges and opportunities. 

The phone is still sitting there.

I know one thing that will come of these decisions is that someone close to me will not like them. Changes in my life will affect others, and of course that bothers me. But at the end of it all, this is my life. Nobody else can dictate to me what I do with it. Unless of course I decide on something ridiculous, then I'd expect the obvious intervention. That isn't the case here. I'm sure those affected will understand. Maybe that's another reason I haven't pulled the trigger? 

I'm not a jealous type. I see people doing what they want in life with lots of money and freedom, to that I say good for them. That being said, It does make me think there's no reason why anyone else can't do that as well, hence the phone calls. The phone calls I haven't made yet. I can do this, I just have to push past the self-imposed barriers and realize that I'm the one who will create this change. I'm the one who will initialize the butterfly affect. I'm the one who matters here.

Fear of the unknown is what keeps us from experiencing life to it's fullest. Many people thrive on this fear and embrace it. For the past few years I've evaded it. I think it's time to try again and just into the unknown waters.

I'm dialing now.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Parallel Epiphany

In the course of the past year and a half in this job I have met many interesting and unique people. Most of whom are just folks going about life in the best way they know, raising families, going to events, going out with friends, yadda yadda, standard issue people. Every once in a while though, someone comes across your path who makes you stop and take notice of life's intricacies and hard lessons. 

Tonight I met someone who was not only experiencing the things that test us in life, but completely paralleled my own experiences. The difference is she is just 45 days into that path, where I have almost six years under my belt. It was eerie to say the least.

I don't often write about this sort of thing but meeting her tonight sparked something in me. Something was strange and surreal about the whole experience. In the course of driving her home I met a younger female version of me. I didn't even get her name, and short of what I'm about to say here, I know nothing about her. I may not ever see her again, but she affected me. The tears she openly displayed let me see a window into her pain. 

She began by asking me questions about myself, as many customers do. Now I should preface this by admitting openly that I maintain pre-prepared lies, as many people ask me very personal questions I don't feel comfortable answering. Rather than 'none of your business', I make shit up. This started randomly enough but over the months I have almost invented a mirror life for the benefit of those who will (for the sake of alcohol) just keep asking anyway.

With this woman I kept the truths up front, as the questions were not unreasonable. What is my day job?  - Graphic Designer. Am I married? -Separated. Why do I do this? - I like meeting new people and I'm doing something positive and helpful. Standard fare. Likewise I always ask my customers standard questions; 'How was your night?' or, 'What kind of trouble were you guys causing this evening?' Most times the answers are positive and innocent, her response was one of pain and distress. Of course that changed the dynamic right there. 

This is when it got weird. In a good way weird. But weird.

She hates her job. She makes damn good money, been at it for 25 years, and hates it. She wants to leave. When she heard me talk about my leaving cubicle world six years ago and starting on my own she was almost jealous, I could hear her tone change, but I, as always remain positive about it. I don't see my departure from the work world as a bad thing, I'm doing what I want, when I want and that makes me happy. No clock, no meeting that should have been memos, no incompetent bosses, no broken down tech to deal with. Just me. Responsible for me and only me. 

This perked her up. 

More questions, about money, happiness, personal life, marriage. The more she inquired the more I could see the gears turning in her head, she wanted what I have, even at the expense of her income. 

"Are you happy with your decision?" I replied most certainly yes.
"No regrets?" I replied a few, but they were easily overcome in time. Of course, what is life without some manor of regret at some point. 
"Kids?" This is where I normally begin to lie. But not tonight. I told her I had two aged 17 and 22. 
"Married?" Separated after 21 years. 

Then she told me 45 days ago her husband left her after 21 years. And that her kids were aged 15 and 20. The more we talked on that short ride the more I could see she saw hope where none manifested before. She saw two things in me; first, our personal lives were almost a mirror, and secondly, I made the choice she is desperate to make. I pulled no punches with her, it wasn't easy, and still isn't. Everyday brings tough choices and decisions, everyday there is a certain degree of regret. Everyday is not like yesterday, that is a double edged sword, some days you don't want it to be, other days you long for the past.

There was a brief silence. She was still crying. She had spent the night at a friend's house trying to find answers to questions she hadn't asked. In the car with me she inadvertently asked all the right ones. When the ride was over and she was home, she got out of the car and grabbed me, insisting on a big hug. Again, I usually don't indulge that in my customers, but sometimes it's just the right thing to do.

I said good night and good luck, gave some obvious words of encouragement like, 'It's going to be tough, but the end result is well worth it', or something along that lines. I got into my partner's car and left. 

As we drove away I began thinking about her more, she said some things that were quite profound, but it was the parallels in our lives that strike me. She in embarking on a journey that I've already taken and I hope she succeeds. It was strange that I felt that way, after all she's just a customer, a first timer, and someone I may not ever encounter again, but her words and predicament resonated with me. I hope she came away from our talk with the same thoughts. 

She seemed genuinely uplifted by my own comments on the trip. On how I made such a drastic work-life change, on my own separation (at the same point I may add). She saw in me someone who had already experienced what she was going through and made it out the other side. I believe it gave her hope for a future, and that life changes, it evolves, and at some point in our lives we will take that road less travelled. The hug said it all. 

I hope I see her again so I can get an update. I'm curious how she fares. Lately I've seen many friends and family experience very difficult circumstances. My nice-guy mode kicks in and I want to help and I know in most cases I can't except to just be there for them to sound off. This woman tonight fits into that category but with one notable exception, I was a complete stranger telling her things that friends would share, and maybe that actually meant more to her. Even though I make a habit of telling my customers white lies, she got a massive dose of truth, and it really was hopeful. 

Many times we meet people in the course of our lives who pass through unnoticed, especially at work. Just people, just customers, just a path to a paycheque. Tonight I met someone who will resonate with me for a long time to come. Someone who made me realize that my own struggles in recent years have not been so unique at all, and that others go through this in their lives as well in their own ways. The similarities to our stories and hopes are striking, at least to me. 

Of all she asked one question stuck out - 'Are you happy'. And yes, I am. Life is worth living and enjoying. Shitty things will happen but we will get past them and in most cases move on. I hope I inspired her to see that. 

I hope I meet her again.

Cheers.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Summer's Swan Song

It's 80 degrees out. I can hear an ice cream truck in the distance, probably surrounded by children while parents dig for cash. People are cycling down the street lazily, just enjoying the sunshine, like I've done so many times this year. It's October 4th, and it's a beautiful summer day. 

It's the Swan Song for Summer 2017, and that makes me a little sad. You see, like any good Canadian, I hate winter. I absolutely abhore it. I hate shoveling snow, I hate getting stuck on unplowed roads, I hate the fact that the wind makes my face hurt. I hate having to put on three layers of clothes to check the mail. I hate everything about winter except for two things: Winter sports are cool, and the wasps are all fucking dead.

Short of that, nope.

It's time to start winterizing. We have to check our tires, put away the summer toys, check the furnace, pack up the hoses, all that crap. We have to prepare ourselves for the inevitability of hibernation. Or maybe that's just me. I'm not coming out til Spring if I can help it, but sadly I work outside, at night. So many of you love the season, enjoy it. I won't. 

This summer started off with grand plans as they usually do. I had a laundry list of things I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to get back into shape, travel, see a couple concerts, see some old friends, finish my house, (or at least make progress on unfinished projects), I wanted to learn more songs on the drums, buy a new bike, and actually ride it, and so much more.

Amazingly enough, I actually did most of these things this year. That's a first.

I bought my bike, and love riding it. I bought a canoe and through it in the water in Manitoulin Island a few times, I worked out more, I learned new songs, I worked on my house. For the first time in years I feel like I improved my life. Then other things happened. I met people, and I reconnected with others I've lost touch with. With all that happened this year, with all my forward motion this simple act of being a human being meant the most.

I had some very unexpected and happy times with some wonderful folks this summer. Funny as how I'd always imagined my mid-life years in complete solitude, like a monk in my basement with a drum kit. I hadn't counted on people bringing me such happiness. Long afternoons in the sunshine, cold drinks on a patio, walking on a beach barefoot, walking through the woods, all things I love but usually quite alone.

Camping happened a few times too. Soul food for me. There's nothing like the peace of a quiet night in the open air with a canopy of stars as my ceiling. When I get to that place all fear and anxiety leaves me. It's almost as if the air itself has cleansed me and fills me with hope, peace and pure happiness. Then of course I get into the beer and it goes fuzzy again.

I was awarded three new neighbours this summer. Three different homes in spitting distance changed hands, so this street was a flurry of moving vans and service trucks. They all seem nice enough people. One even insisted I keep a spare key to his new home. Trusting lad I think. When I heard my next door neighbour's home had been sold sight unseen by a Toronto family I was concerned, but they've turned out to be incredibly nice folks. But paying 1,300 a month in rent wasn't their game anymore.

My hope is that none of these new neighbours turn into the tinfoil hat-wearing lunatic that another neighbour has become. I've known her for half a dozen years now, and suddenly she's nuts. I feel for her, I know in her heart she's a good person, but wow, this was not her summer. I'm now finding myself heading the other direction when I see her coming.

Tragedy struck as well. This summer's flood directly affected one new friend, and it will be many months before she's out of the woods, I cried with her as we waded through the sludge that infested her home. Then she was injured in the midst of all that, she fell on a large scraper and needed many stitches in her butt. Kinda funny now writing it like that, but that night nobody was laughing. To the contrary there was a lot of tears wiped away. Progress has been made however, the wound is healing and the basement smells much better once the contractors were finished with it. 6,000 people in this city went through this mess, but I'm sure there was only one sutured posterior.

Like everyone else, she came through the trauma and I'm very happy I was there to help. The entire incident put a damper on an otherwise wonderful summer, but hey, shit happens. (that joke has been tossed around way too much since that day, sorry!)

When Spring comes we all become like bears emerging from their lairs, we peek outside and see if it's safe to come out. Then we dust off the summer toys, open our pools, pull out sandals and shorts and and put away the snow shovels. As the season winds down we find ourselves reversing the process. I'm trying to find my boots, and that just sucks.

Some love the season for all it brings, but my attitude toward it only get worse the older I get. Fuck winter. (except for Christmas). As I tuck my canoe in for the long cold months ahead I lament over what's to come. Til next year my friend; the water waits.

With all that summer's swan song brings, one thing it cannot take away from us, that's simply the friendships and memories that a wonderful season has created. Nothing takes those from us.

Cheers.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Manitoulin - Part 2

Edit note: Blogger for some reason will not allow me to upload pics to the post today. I may end up creating a photo blog of the trip when they get that fixed.

Travel tip: Always book passage. Up front. Don't be that guy that shows up at the dock and expects to get aboard, you know, like I did. So, now I know.

I was on the standby list to board the Chi Cheemaun, luckily first so I did get aboard. The ship has a set of moving decks that adjust depending on the height of vehicles below it. Basically, the more RVs board, the more the upper decks get squished. Less RVs=more deck height. I got lucky. Once on board I took the time to explore the ship and position myself for some cool photos. The trip across is one hour 45 minutes, the weather was calm and beautiful, the ship was crowded, and it had a bar. Perfect. As you're leaving Tobermory you're being passed by the glass bottom boats and speed boats tours to Flowerpot Island and the many shipwrecks that litter the area. You pass beautiful vistas and lighthouses that make up Fathom Five National Marine Reserve, and head to the open expanse of Lake Huron.

At no time on the crossing are you out of sight of land. The islands that dot the region separating Lake Huron and the Georgian Bay are numerous and quite large. Eventually the ship turns course to centre on the distant cell mast marking South Baymouth; the port of call for Manitoulin. When she docks, one striking fact emerges - the ship is about as long as the freakin' town itself. Welcome to Manitoulin Island, population 12,600.

Into the car in the belly of the ship, and eventually get spit out with the rest of them, I hit the highway north. The first part of the highway to Manitowaning is the same as the Bruce, large farms, lots of rocks, and a winding road. As you move farther into the island subtle differences in landscape become apparent, the hills roll a little more, the trees close in, civilization becomes sparse. Highway 6  has been recently rebuilt so its new blacktop makes you feel like you're anywhere else in Ontario. Then you turn off it.

The town of Manitowaning, (population 900) is my destination, about a 30 minute drive north. The town is cute. Really no other word for it. It has everything you'd expect, a bank, coffee shop, car garage, gun shop, LCBO, museum, book store and more. A couple motels offer refuge. It's located on Lake Manitou, one of the largest lakes on the island, so it also houses the SS Norisle, the previous incarnation of the Island's ferry. Currently under restoration in the harbour, where it has sat since it was taken out of service in 1974. 

Two minutes down the highway is Manitoulin Resort, my camp. Pulled in, checked in, found paradise, again.

I got to my site and began to set up camp, but one thing caught my eye; the sheer amount of rocks there. Everywhere. It was even hard to find a place to park the car without sitting on one that might puncture a tire. A few minutes of that and I had it figured out. My firewood was delivered in an ATV trailer a hour later, complete with kindling and old newspapers to get me started. Firewood delivery, that's classy. I wasn't lucky enough this time to get a waterside site, so my canoe was unloaded down by Lake Manitou, and safely stored against a tree. My city mindset kicked in, I almost locked it to the tree with my bike lock I brought along for just such a purpose, but I quickly realized where I was. Once I set up everything, I set out across the lake.

The water was just as incredible as the Bruce. Crystal clear, rocks visible all the way to the bottom, and masses of small mouth bass lazily floating by. I headed out to a small island in the lake; chosen as a first random target. On the way I took notice of a house on the lakeside, a couple of people sitting in Adirondack chairs on the lawn having an afternoon drink in the sun, in front of the house, lashed up to the dock was a small powerboat and his float plane. Yeah, he had a plane in front of his house. Welcome to Northern Ontario.

I arrived at my chosen target about a half hour later, I was really in no hurry, it was only a click or so away, but meh, I was on vacation, not in any hurry. I pulled the canoe up onto the rocks, sat down and stared out at what was one of the most beautiful vistas I'd ever seen. Peace and tranquility. The rocks were basically granite slabs that rose out of the lake to form this small island. Massive slabs gave way on both sides to small boulders, and on the landside, trees found root. What amazed me up here was that vegetation takes hold wherever it can and flourishes. Trees grow majestically out of what seems like solid rock. On the waterside, the boulders get continuously smaller until the fish take over. Again, they are plentiful and visible.

After a while in the sun it was time to head back. I paddled across leisurely, watching kids jumping off the campsite's diving platform and doing what kids do. One of them wanted me to give him a lift as I sailed by him. Sorry buddy, not today. I pulled the canoe onto shore and checked on a couple teenagers fishing, they reported catching 45 bass in a couple hours, one of which while he was telling me that. They through 41 of them back.

Dinner was steak and potatoes cooked over an open fire, with a beer. A roaring fire topped the day off. I settled back with a book and took advantage of the waning sunlight. Once the sun went down and the camp became quieter I took a walk back to the docks. There's something about a lake at night. I contemplated going out after dark as I did in Cape Croker, but this lake is enormous and unfamiliar. Something about that idea was uneasy to me.

So instead I looked up. 

The stars. Oh my Lord the stars.

The entire Milky Way in all her glory, right there in front of me, within the canopy of stars that you could almost reach out and touch. The sensation of seeing that was overwhelming. I'm a city boy, on a clear night if we see Venus and the Big Dipper it's a good night. Here, I couldn't pick either of those out for the vast expanse of constellations. I even saw a falling star. I laid down on the dock on my back, the water under me constantly moving it lazily. I laid there for a long time, maybe a half hour? Who knows, I wasn't watching a clock. Of all the memories I brought home with me seeing the Milky Way will stay with me longest. Of all the vistas I recorded on film, I wish I could have gotten that. But If you pull out any basic astronomy textbook and look at the Milky Way, you'll have seen what I had the chance to experience.

Back at camp my tent was calling. A long day, a good day. And I've got lots of Manitoulin left to experience before the week is out. Tomorrow it would be parts unknown.

Cheers.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Manitoulin - Part One

Last week I went to Manitoulin Island on vacation. I've never been, so why not. And as I went alone, I've found myself wanting to sing the island's praises to anyone who would listen. But like many vacation return experiences, most people were content to say, well that's nice, and turn me off. I can't say I blame them, I do it too. Frankly, who wants to listen to a long drawn out description of how great a time you had off in the wild blue yonder somewhere while you were stuck at work, sweating away in you cubicle, knowing full well your own vacation was months away. When I get subjected to that I suddenly want to drink heavily, not to mention find a way to shut down the person spinning such wonderful yarns about their trip.

So, instead, I'll write about it. Take that.

So without further adieu, here is the tale of Manitoulin, part one - The Bruce.

Paradise Found
I spent the couple weeks prior to leaving making sure I was well stocked for a camping trip in Northern Ontario. In digging out my old unused camping equipment I noticed a few things missing or just plain busted. So I did what anyone would do, I bought a canoe. That of course meant buying all the stuff to go with the canoe including the straps for the roof rack. And wheels. I'm old, I ain't portaging the damn thing anymore, so yeah, I bought canoe wheels.

I also bought camp fuel, tarps, food, beer, more beer, you know, important stuff to support my canoe. Having loaded everything in the car (and on it), I set off bright and early. A long uneventful ride later I landed in Cape Croker Indian Campground on the Bruce Peninsula. I managed to get a waterfront campsite and went to work building a temporary home. Which meant throwing up a tent, tossing the canoe in the water, and cracking a beer. I was home. Across the small bay which led out to Georgian Bay, one of the highest points of the Niagara Escarpment raised itself gracefully out of the treeline, a good 200 feet sheer cliff. The Bruce Trail wound away around the bay and through the trees just yards from my site. Calm water of the bay was my swimming pool for the next couple days. I was in my glory floating there, listening to the small crests lap at the hull, listening to birds, listening to campfires on the beach, and the sound of children playing in the water. Serenity and peace. It was truly a beautiful place.

Then reality set in. Cape Croker is on a native reservation. Yeah, you know, that pesky boil water advisory. I didn't know until I saw a sign in the washroom not to drink the water. My neighbours in the next site loaned me some bottled water to hold me over until I got back to Wiarton for more supplies. They seemed like nice people, very helpful and personable. A middle-aged couple on a short getaway from Windsor. 

Wait, WHAT?

Windsor? Stop following me people! I'm trying to get away from you!

Having passed the water test, as I really couldn't cook with beer, it was off to float more, and actually paddle somewhere to see where I really was. I headed off across the bay all the while realizing that the water was not getting deeper. Only two feet of crystal clear water. Rocks and fish were very visible the whole trip. So many fish I could have simply reached in and grabbed dinner with my hands. A half hour across the bay, water lilies and reeds sprang forth and slowed my advance. A cluster of marshes led to the opposite shore, and soon enough the campers of another park began to emerge from the trees. The escarpment now was in full view, a solid wall of rock rising from the narrow forest. From my vantage point I could see a large cave near it's base, I made a mental note to think about spelunking later. 

I turned back to the camp, and by now it was twilight. If you've never had the chance to canoe at night, you've missed out on the most peaceful serene experiences. As you glide silently across the water the stars begin to appear almost negating twilight itself. The moon lights the way home for you as its reflection casts itself in front of the bow. Nightlife begins, birds, fish, and even bugs create a symphony of nature that must be experienced from the most remote of places. Alone on the water is all you need to truly reflect on life.

I passed a beaver dam on the way back, big enough that I could have pulled the canoe up like an island and gone exploring. However I'm sure Mom and Pop Beaver wouldn't have appreciated me calling on them that late. I carried on, using the fires of the campsites alone the shore to home in on my own, and seeing my familiar car in the driveway, pulled in for the night. Another beer, a crackling fire, and copious quantities of bugspray later, I was in my happy place.

The next morning I headed out for water to replace what I had borrowed. Wiarton was about twenty minutes down the road. It was about that time I noticed my shoes were now shit, and falling apart. So that would have to be rectified. The drive to Wiarton is gorgeous. Past farm fields full of rock piles that were never cleared, down more laneways than highways. Unmarked roads with trees overhanging them, right to the edge, no shoulders. Occasionally I passed a mailbox. People lived out here, sporadically, and mostly alone, and nowhere could I see a house through the trees.

When I got to Wiarton I realized I'd have to keep going. No shoe stores. The next place to get anything was Wal-Mart in Owen Sound (shudder). As I drove back down the Bruce I assembled a shopping list so I wouldn't have to do this again. 45 minutes one way, ran in, bought a new air pump, water and shoes, and ran out. 45 minutes back to Cape Croker. 

It took me an hour and a half on the highway to buy shoes that didn't fit. 

You see, I'm the guy that never tries anything on. I know my size of shoe, I know my jean size, I know my shirt size. I grab and go. This time however, grabbing and going cost me. My mismarked size 9 shoes are still sitting here, waiting for a new home. Yeah. Slipping on my old shit shoes I made myself some dinner, cracked yet another beer, and found my campfire. I believe that night was spicy chicken breasts and garlic asparagus cooked on the coleman stove. 

The Bruce Trail. Notice the trail
marker on the tree. Sometimes,
trees fall down. The trail is 717kms
long, starting in Niagara and
ending in Tobermory.
More canoeing, more talking to neighbours, more bird watching, then I hit the Bruce Trail. I walked a few kilometres of the trail, with my trusty walking stick, and small pack with water, first aid kit, and my bush knife. Basics for this kind of trek, but of course, shitty shoes. I never did find the mouth of the cave. The Bruce Trail is well maintained and marked, but that doesn't mean you can't lose your way sometimes. Once off it, you're done. Backtrack or find another way. I found a road that eventually brought me to my site. Enough for the day. Sore feet, sore back, sore arms, happy heart. I was in my element once again.

The next day was ferry day. I packed up, paid up, thanked my hosts and my neighbours, tied down the canoe and headed up the Bruce. I took the scenic route of course, through tiny villages like Lion's Head and Dyers Bay, and Ferndale. Past lakeside cottages and fishing boats, past local coffee shops and picturesque parks. The Bruce ends in a trap called Tobermory. Sorry, I mean town. Not trap, that would denote pandering to tourists. Oh, wait. Okay, trap.

The saying goes the Bruce beckons. And it does. It's gorgeous. Wiarton is known as the basecamp for the Bruce, and the large billboard outside of town welcomes you to The Bruce Peninsula - A UNESCO World Heritage Biosphere. Simply put one must go here. At some point in your lives you must experience the beauty of this place. It's not my first time here and certainly won't be my last.

And I haven't even gotten on the ferry yet. 

More later.

Cheers.