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Friday, December 10, 2010

From Beaches to Backwoods, From Crete to Cree

From Beaches to Backwoods, From Crete to Cree

This last year has been interesting to say the least! Thousands of miles by air and rail, countless airports and a few places we'd choose never to over-night in again. Sub-tropic to sub-polar environments, walking in ruins of ancient civilizations to residing in ruined societies.

First hand we've seen the social progressions of man but also the degradation of a culture once proud of its roots. We've watched the same moon rise over prosperity and joy, but only months later to set upon a bleak and inhospitable forest of self decay. And the people we've met, those that will share all of the little they have, those that have much but are willing to share so little. Openness, care and respect. Disdain, apathy and arrogance.

Freedom 45

In January, only a few days after my 45th birthday I was packaged-out at work. The thirteen years of service amounted to enough to pay the bills for a while and dental coverage for a few months. It was a shock, a bit of a blow, but it was also a chance to try a few different things. Aimee was let go exactly a month later. But the Saturday before that, we found Lyndy, the best Valentine's ever!

As neither of us had really taken any time for ourselves in many years we both decided that we would enjoy this new found freedom, see a few things, maybe go a few places. We would not take jobs unless they offered a chance to explore, the world and ourselves. So we started exploring, and that lead to adventure!

We fished, we visited with friends. We cooked, ate and drank. And we laughed.

Early on we spent a week of our time at our friends’ Jeff and Lisa’s. We swam in their pool and lazed in their sauna as the snow fell and the freezing rain coated the outside world. Each night we dined and drank wine. Then, take-outs with Pam and Eric, returnees from the Southwest, were a weekly occurrence, whether from Johnny’s or Tim Horton’s.

Ice fishing wasn't a simple day outing. We slept on the ice. We fished through the night, watching the stars and the dark water. The silence only broken by the booms of cracking ice.

A day or two at the cottage would inevitably turn to a week.

We bird watched, we people watched. We watched the lake.

We collected stones. Shiny round ones that looked like beads. Faceted ones, beautiful ones. Any stone that caught our eye. Stones of every colour you can imagine. And I skipped a lot of stones.

Training a new dog, throwing stones and doing crosswords doesn’t really make for full-time employment. And none of these activities would pay the bills. So in March we attended a job fair in downtown Toronto. This lead to attending a seminar a month later. The North West Company seemed to be what we were looking for. Enough money to pay the bills, experiencing different cultures and the chance to see parts of the world otherwise out of reach. So on the first Tuesday of August we left for northern Ontario. But before going north, we went east.

Our Travels

On a Saturday morning in February we met two friends for coffee, it was in-fact the same day we picked up Lyndy. Faye and Spiro were to be married on the 25th of July. They had asked that I take their wedding photos. Over the next few months emails were exchanged and a number of conversations were held over the phone, but the next time we met face to face with them was in late July on the island of Crete.

Traditional Greek music and dancing, food and drink. The ceremony was beautiful, couldn't understand a word, but beautiful. And we were pleased beyond doubt with the photos we took!

Photos at the chapel, the receptions, after the ceremony and a gathering the night before. But the shots in the back alleys and later on the beach thrilled us all.

Our personal time was exciting and relaxing; swimming at the beach, walking the ancient town;

sampling the hospitality, the culture, architecture and of course the food.

Leaving was bittersweet. Leaving a place filled with history and myth, a foreign yet welcoming culture. Leaving warm sun and warmer beaches, fantastic scenery; a blend of an ancient people's impact on the land and the rough landscape still enduring.

But we were returning to see our families. Returning to our little dog. Returning to embark on our adventure north.

So on August 3rd we boarded a Via train north. With Lyndy safely secured in her crate aboard the baggage car, we settled into our berth. As we left the station we made our way to the observation car to be served Champagne and nibblies. The meals and service over the next day were superb. A train traveling north through the dark green forests of Ontario, commencing in the busiest hub in the country, seemed the ideal setting for the adventure we were embarking upon!

Twenty-two hours later we arrived in Nakina. We settled into our new apartment with the possessions we took with us on the train; clothing, photos, the kitchen gadgets we couldn’t live without, some affects that make a house a home. And of course, fishing gear! Our best friend Dave would travel north to see us the following week. He had kindly offered to take with him some other much needed goods. Specifically Aimee’s beads and my guns.


Now let me tell you a bit about Nakina. It’s a town of about three-hundred and fifty people. A few years ago its population was over seven-hundred. When the lumber mill shut down the town went south. For half the population it literally went south! It has a Post Office, an LCBO and a bank that’s open two days a week. It also has an airport which caters mainly to the First Nations reserves in the area and those investing in the hopeful prosperity of the Ring of Fire project. Those of you that know of Nakina probably do through outdoor publications and TV shows; Because Nakina has the best moose hunting and walleye fishing available in Ontario, maybe all of Canada.

There are no traffic lights in Nakina, only four-way stops. There are no sidewalks, no crosswalks. Rarely will you see someone speed. Everyone stops at the stop signs, well almost everyone, but that’s a story for another day... But Nakina is the friendliest town in all Ontario! Everyone waves to each other; friend or stranger. Within a few days we were invited to dinner. Within a week customers and neighbours alike knew our names. Within a couple of weeks we had been invited blueberry picking and speckled trout fishing. To quote Daryl Cronzy, “It’s Paradise!” If Aimee and I were ever to buy a place in Ontario, it will be in Nakina.

Further Afield

Our traveling though has not stopped. We even traveled while living in Nakina. On September the 23rd I flew from Nakina to Thunder Bay. Took a flight from there to Montreal, staying overnight. The following day I flew to Waskaganish on the Quebec side of James Bay.

Waskaganish is the Cree name for the community originally called Fort Rupert. In 1668 The Hudson Bay Company established its first outpost at the mouth of the Rupert River. The Northern

store there sits on the same parcel of land. So for a week I worked at the oldest retail establishment in the New World. Unfortunately that meant Aimee and I would not be able to spend her birthday together. I was scheduled to fly out the day after her birthday. We were to meet that evening in Thunder Bay and spend the night there.

I arrived at the Waskaganish airport just after two. At about the same time, Aimee started the 400km drive to Thunder Bay. My 3:45 flight was delayed by half an hour. The transfer in Val-d’Or was further delayed. By the time I had reached Montreal I had missed my connection to Toronto and subsequently the connecting flight to Thunder Bay.

Needless to say, Aimee spent the night alone in the Thunder Bay hotel room. I slept in the lounge at YYZ.

Over the next week we received more news of our further travels. A week in Kashechewan, together this time, and then a transfer to Sandy Lake.

The trip to Kashechewan was in some sense a blessing. It allowed us to travel on the train to Toronto to visit with family before flying to the Ontario side of James Bay. We had Thanksgiving dinner on the train; again excellent food and wonderful service. My Mum and Dad met us at Union station. We had coffee with them, a great morning. They later dropped us off at Aimee’s house in Whitby. We had a super time with friends and family, and the next morning flew north.

Kashechewan is almost a polar opposite to Nakina and in so many ways. And although the same culture as Waskaganish, and only just across the bay, so very different from there too. We were there a week. Five days too long. Travel home couldn’t come soon enough.

The trip out of Kashechewan was as interesting as the rest. From Kashechewan to Fort Albany. The shortest commercial flight in the world; the landing gear goes up and stays there for less time than it’s down. From there to Moosanee, and from there a connecting flight from Timmins to Toronto. Tom and Sharon picked us up at the airport, we were very grateful. Another day with family then back on the train.

Four days after our return to Nakina we left there again. But this time for good. We packed, said our goodbyes and were flying once more. From Nakina to Fort Hope, then a connection in Thunder Bay. From there to Sioux Lookout. The connection from there to Sandy Lake was delayed due to weather. After finding a dog-friendly hotel we spent the night.

The flight the next morning was another mini adventure. Lyndy was stuck in the baggage compartment for almost an hour before take-off. And the flight was another thing. Just enough visibility to fly. But as we rose above the clouds it was spectacular, as bright as one could imagine!

Descending through the clouds was like passing through nothing. But what we saw and experienced as we left them now seems a foreboding omen. What struck me first was brown and grey. The grey of the landscape overshadowed the green. The brown water of the vast lake blotched out the blue of the smaller surrounding lakes. Sandy Lake is aptly named. The lake truly is sandy! The water is the colour of bad chocolate milk! And the landing! We were all over the ice coated gravel runway. And as we exited the plane the cold hit us!

Getting out of the airport was worse than going through customs. Everything was searched. And what they queried was just mind boggling. Our guns were fine, but the collection of goat cheese and olives certainly seemed to raise some eyebrows. But they never found the bottle of bourbon! Looking back it’s almost too bad though, might have got us that BCR to get us out of here!

Life on the Reserve

Sandy Lake is a whole other world! Depressed, repressed and miserable, everything about it. I’ll not go into it. Those that would like to hear more should contact us and ask. But be prepared for some horror, some sadness and some maddening stories. It’s not a pleasant place!

We have our little house though. It’s affectionately been labeled the “Doll House”. A small two-bedroom; smaller in-fact than the apartment in Nakina. The view is pleasant; trees sloping down to the lake. It’s bright when the sun shines. We’ve hung photos, and personal items are throughout, making it seem like our own. But for how long, who knows?

I walk Lyndy a few times a day. On-leash all of the time though; for her it’s not really safe. We’ve blazed a trail through the woods to the west of the “compound”. Beautiful path, and now especially with the spruce and fir trees laden with snow.

This time of year, the days are short and the nights are long. The sun rises around eight and sets by four. But our workdays are long. Out at seven-thirty in the morning, not home until eight or nine in the evening; sometimes later.

We’re hoping to do some ice-fishing soon. Once the Christmas selling season is over there just might be some time to relax. But for now, our days off are spent regrouping and recovering our physical and emotional strength.

Lessons Learned

We asked for an adventure, and that’s what we got! So far, this year has been a great learning

experience for us. We have been taught much, as much about the world around us as we have of ourselves. We’ve seen how other people live and react to those around them. We’ve rediscovered how well we’ve been blessed; with reliable friends, good family and able bodies and minds!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Return to the Conundrum...

Those of you who are in contact with me by gmail or Facebook, or have been viewing my Flickr postings will know that I am now living in northern Ontario, in a small community called Nakina. It certainly has been an eye opener, a breath of fresh air, both literally and figuratively. It has also had a substantial impact upon my quest to define the Canadian character; and my desire for our community as a culture to better our lives, our surroundings and the hope we should be creating for future generations.

Last August I entitled a posting:

So many people, so little purpose!

...Oh, but that is God's conundrum!

I’d like to revisit this idea. I would like to reset the parameters of this project and maybe raise the odds a little.

I opened my posting with the following sentence:

What sense is there to our lives if we lack purpose? If we lack purpose, we live either foolishly or without consideration.

Although I implied that there are many people, there are far fewer where I am now, but there still seems to be too little purpose. Too few in our communities seem to have a commitment to bettering their environment or even their immediate surroundings. To do this, only small steps need be taken and little effort. But the hardest part may be a change in attitudes and priorities.

Here’s a short statement written by Lord Conrad Black in his August 28th posting:

What is needed is a reorientation of America away from consumerist hedonism and back to a sensible balance between production, consumption, discretionary spending, saving and investment;

Read more:

At first I thought that maybe we as Canadians should substitute Canada for America. Then I thought, why not strip it right back to the basics? I thought, not America or Canada, but FAMILIES, or households. If families, or households, were to curb their hedonist consumerism, consume and produce responsibly, and be discrete in their spending and savings habits, wouldn’t our communities and families become more balanced, become happier and more fulfilling places to live in?

In every thing that we do there should be some purpose. All our actions truly do create reaction. So if our actions have a negative impact on another maybe we should reconsider our actions?

What we do in consideration for those around us might be as little in thought as picking up a piece of garbage, a kind act or encouraging word. Or it might be standing up for a mistreated individual. Giving of our time to make life easier or happier for another. But any of these things gives our lives purpose and meaning. It makes us responsible individuals, responsible to our families, our communities and ultimately ourselves.

The conundrum should not be God’s, but our own.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


I have three pairs of sunglasses. They’re sort of like pocket knives and flashlights: you can never have too many. My last pair, and best pair to date, were free, compliments of a binocular distributor. But the other two were bought and paid for at one of my favorite sporting goods stores. A place where I have spent far too much time and money over the years (at least according to my last wife).

These first and second pairs are your typical gold wire framed amber glassed shooting type specs. They’re functional and practical protective eye wear, exactly the same as each other. They are by no means as “stylish” as the “free” pair. Because of this I at one time had refrained from wearing them: at least in the presence of my last wife.

So, why two pairs exactly alike? Well, it just so happens that the first pair went missing. I remember reaching for them on the drive home from the cottage one October a few years ago. They weren’t in their appropriate pocket, or any other for that matter. So, on a bright and crisp February morning the need arose to replace them. The need also arose to visit the previously mentioned sporting goods store. Maybe more an urge than a need.

Now this store is not a local establishment that one can simply drop into while grocery shopping. Weekly visits on one’s way home from work are also out of the question. But that’s OK because as a destination shopper I’ll go out of my way to browse its displays and fawn over the neat little trinkets that would be much better off housed in my tackle box/boat/hunting cabin.

Similar to most anglers and hunters I can be rather conservative in my actions, methods and deeds: some might call it miserly, both my first wife and second would agree with them on this. But if I can take care of two or three things at once, and be as little out of pocket as possible, then success is apparent. On this particular bright and crisp February morning I was given such an opportunity. My favorite destination shopping stop was only one or two minutes out of the way from my intended destination. My intended destination being a tiny, privately run summer camp. At that camp resided a long forgotten fiberglass canoe, much in need of a new home and paddler.

Not unlike the third pair of sunglasses, this is one of the best types of canoes. A free canoe. So, as you can imagine, this bright, crisp February morning was going to be quite the success! An outdoors-man's perfect day of destination shopping. A pair of sunglasses to replace those lost the weekend we closed the cottage and a free canoe to boot!

I bought my new pair of sunglasses. After of course checking the inventory levels and critiquing the store’s latest innovative equipment. I then continued upon my journey. By the end of the day I had a newly acquired canoe for the price of gas there and back, and a new pair of functional and practical sunglasses. Combine the two and you have the joy of paddling with no strain on the optic nerve.

Two months later my first pair of sunglasses were returned to me. David, angler and hunting partner through thick and thin passed them to me over a table of beer and wings. He’d found them the week before during the yearly ritual of opening the cottage. A ritual I was unable to attend that year.

The most arduous task in such a ritual is of course turning on the water. And it’s far more arduous for Dave than for me. Dave’s got sixty pounds on me and stands a few inches shorter. The crawl space beneath the cottage is dark, tight and all things scary. As I was unable to attend that spring, Dave did the tunnel rat task of cleaning out the pit and closing the valves.

Each year I promised myself “I’m not going in”. That past autumn gave me greater reason to never do it again. I’d crawled the eight feet that seems more like twenty-five to where the valve is. As I reached into the pit my hand passed through something I had not expected to be there. In my panic to finish the task at hand, convincing my gag-reflex it was working overtime, my thrashing about (don’t ask me how I thrashed in such a confined space) caused my sunglasses to work themselves from their appropriate pocket and find themselves in the possession of one very large, very dead, very decomposed raccoon!

Dave had very little trouble with the raccoon. It had been rendered mere bones by spring, and he knew it was there: at least that’s what I told myself. Well, Dave found my sunglasses right there in the pit. He removed them, as well as the remains of one long dead raccoon. I got my glasses back, the raccoon got disposed of.

The pit is now more accessible. It is no longer such a tight squeeze, and opening the valve in the autumn isn’t the perilous adventure it used to be. And I don’t think it is nearly as attractive to those creatures seeking out a place to expire!

I’ll no doubt purchase more sunglasses in the future, along with the odd flashlight; I my just need to light my way through other tight spots. But I don’t think I’ll be lending my sunglasses to any other forest creatures, especially raccoons, after all, they are supposed to be nocturnal!

The Playground

The second week of January brought me to the end of a 22-year career. I’ve now embarked on a new adventure with many different opportunities ahead of me. Before settling into a new career I’ve decided to take a few months to explore and maybe even indulge myself a little. One thing is a new dog. It’s been almost two years since Duffy died and this temporary time of unemployment has given me the opportunity to train a new dog. Her name’s Lyndy, a perfect little Brittany.

We have a bit of a routine happening. Up early and around the block. Breakfast, a few TV shows and the newspaper. Then it’s the leash-free zone at the bottom of the street; right on the lake. As you can imagine, it’s a very popular spot. As far as the dog world goes it’s quite cosmopolitan, diverse. For those of you unfamiliar with the dog world it’s like visiting the playground with a bunch of preschool kids in a multicultural, multiracial community.

On yesterday’s visit our little Brittany took up with a little Cocker Spaniel. A lot of chasing, bouncing off each other and back to the chase. They were then joined by a Husky. First it chased the little Cocker Spaniel, biting as it caught the smaller dog which then emitted a high pitched yelp. The Husky then proceeded to chase Lyndy. When catching her, she also emitted a high pitched yelp, obviously in pain. When I confronted the owner of the Husky I was met with a bit of an obtuse attitude. His dog had not hurt mine or the previous dog, it was simply playing, being a dog. I replied to him that if his dog continued to play in such a manner and hurt another dog that his dog would get hurt. Maybe not the most responsible reaction, but never the less, someone in the park needed to tell him that.

Years ago, as a parent, I witnessed such behavior on many occasions in the playground. Many years ago, as a child, I also witnessed this type of behavior, sometimes being the one getting hurt.

On a June morning in 2000 the lead news story in the GTA was that of a murder-suicide. It was both shocking and depressing. What was most depressing about the story though was that in reality it was not that shocking at all.

On the morning of June 20th, 2000, Ralph Hadley dragged his estranged wife from her home. She was naked and clutching their infant son. Neighbors managed to secure the child before Ralph, wielding a pistol, dragged her back into the house. Moments later there were two shots fired. Ralph had murdered Gillian and then turned the gun on himself.

A number of great tragedies occurred that morning: two people lost their lives and a small child lost his parents. But maybe the greatest tragedy of all was that Ralph’s actions might never have come to be had more attention been paid to his behavior on the playground.

I met Ralph when we were both ten years old. My first recollection of him was tearing around the monkey bars. He was fast and not afraid of much, not much except the bigger kids. That was the summer after grade four. Later we were in grade five together. We talked with each other and we played on occasion as school boys do. He was always friendly to me and polite, and on one occasion I recall that he introduced his dad to mine at a Boy Scouts’ father-son banquette.

But Ralph Hadley had a very short and very bad temper. Ralph Hadley picked on the little kids too. Ralph was a bully.

Teachers, students and parents alike were all well aware of Ralph’s behavior and mean streak, his short fuse. The little kids were especially aware that if things didn’t go Ralph’s way someone might get hurt.

Was Ralph’s behavior ever addressed? Probably. Was Ralph ever reprimanded for his bullying? I know he was, I witnessed it. But Ralph continued his bullying throughout junior school. The root to Ralph’s bullying though was never addressed, and the bullying was never addressed seriously. Had it been Ralph would never have shot Gillian in the head.

Sometimes when one parent brings to the attention of another their child’s aberrant behavior, well, sometimes that parent should listen. The sooner the child’s behavior is addressed, corrected and maybe even the cause treated, the sooner that child will become socially accepted by its peers and eventually grow up to be a contributing and responsible member of society.

When I heard the news that fateful June morning I was shocked at the violence but not necessarily the actual event. Deep in my mind Ralph was fully capable of the act and in some way it was predictable.

We as a society failed Ralph as a child. Had he been properly reprimanded for his behavior, had that behavior been fully addressed and the cause for it sought out, these tragedies might very well have been avoided.

Pay attention to your children’s actions, to the unsocial behaviors they will sometimes display. Quite often their peers will correct them in the way they react with each other. Sometimes though we as parents need to uncover the reasons our kids act in a certain way.

Sometimes dogs aren’t just being dogs, and sometimes boys are not just being boys.