Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I went for a walk out back and paused on a ridge overlooking a place we named ‘Treasure Island’. Two grasshoppers crossed my path so I bent over to observe them. The close one stayed perfectly still while the farther one hopped and stopped, hopped and stopped. Upon taking a step closer to understand what it was busy with, a white tail deer popped up from the grass and bolted off. What a gift – to be that close to a deer, to be that free to enjoy nature, to be fully alive on a warm, sunny day!
When I got back home, I checked the meaning of the animal totems online ( Grasshopper was about moving on hunches and taking the leap forward. This was what it said about the spirit of a deer:

Deer teaches us to use the power of gentleness

to touch the hearts and minds of

wounded beings who are in our lives.

Don't push towards change in others,
rather gently nudge them in the right direction

with the love that comes from a Deer totem.

When a Deer totem shows up in your life,

a new innocence and freshness is about to be awakened.

There is going to be a gentle lure of new adventures.

There will be an opportunity to express the gentle love
that will open new doors for you.

Filled with the beauty of motherhood, my summer provided an abundance of opportunities to experience gentle love. From the visits with my grandchildren, to the birth of the loons, to the mothering of the mothers and the songs of my classmates, my cup ranneth over and I was abuzz with love’s harmonies.

What a wonderful shift from the harshness I was more familiar with. Looking back, I realized I had perceived the world as a harsh place where gentle things occasionally happened. Now I truly knew the world as a gentle place where harshness sometimes occurred. This too was the way it was in nature, where the bees suckled from blossoms, the birds flitted from tree to tree, and the waters meandered through fens.

Watching my infant grandsons with their mothers was quite magical. When hair was pulled by an untamed hand or when a toy was abruptly taken, the mothers were firmly but tenderly there to coach and comfort them through the hurt. And when beds were unfamiliar and routines were broken, the mothers, and fathers too, were firmly but tenderly there to coach and comfort the young boys through the tension.

Coach and comfort, coach and comfort: there is a rhythm there that is curiously familiar. Coach and comfort, hop and stop, on and off, digital world, day and night, push and relax. Push and relax is the heart muscle’s song over and over and over again. Push and relax, push blood and relax: that pattern is everywhere.

Perhaps it’s not so surprising that mothers and hearts are so closely linked. They keep us alive, on so many different levels. At the heart of life, the rhythm is always there waiting patiently for us to join in. Too much push and there is exhaustion. Too much relax and there is apathy. How fortunate my grandchildren are to have parents with the patience to help them find and establish this rhythm.

Apparently this is where my opportunity lies as well: helping people become aware of the groove and then gently nudging them into it. When I teach creative writing this fall, the beats will be called complication and resolution. All stories are a series of ascending complications and resolutions about how characters face the fear in their lives.

We’re drawn to stories and music because they open doors to our inner world that we’re not usually aware of. That place beyond thinking that is simply knowing, knowing we are all part of one rhythm, one life. The myths and four part harmonies that gather us in so we can get past the words to the tone that brings us all together synchronize us to our true nature, to the one true nature of life itself: that gently whispering amen.

And when we fully relax, and leap into that gentle sound, what a gift!


I saw the cutest site last week and it stopped me in my tracks. I was boating to the car to go to a creative choral music course at Fleming’s School of the Arts, and half way down there was something I had never seen on this lake but so desperately yearned for. My heart opened and sighed when I saw it was true. We had two baby loons for the first time in a very, very long time. What made this so wonderfully remarkable was that for the last five or six years, we’d only had one loon on our lake. I’d get all excited when a possible mate would come and hang around for a bit then would be disappointed when it didn’t last. What a delight to see this family together with the two little ones riding on the mom’s back. I had of course seen this in photos and videos, but here? It was pure joy.

A few days later, my heart sunk when I realized there was only one chick left. It was so sad. It was so very sad, it choked me up.

Feeling feelings. This is rather new to me. I tried for a long time to avoid them because I didn’t know how to deal with them; they overwhelmed me. But then we read Townhouse by Trish Cohen in our book group and there was this character who was agoraphobic and got dizzy when he went outside. A young neighbour finally asked him, so what’s the worst that would happen if you got dizzy? He thought a while and then said he’d fall down. Was that so bad? I remembered that scene when I was feeling sad about something and decided to not turn it off but to actually just feel it anyway. What was the worst that could happen? I’d cry? I’d cry a lot? And so I did. I pulled the car into a parking lot and let out the suffering. I just let it out, and out, and out. And I survived. I can’t even remember now what the grief was, so I guess the tears washed it away.

As a young child, I learned to hold my emotions in. My father had a weak heart, and I believed he would die if I was too expressive, so I numbed my emotions with food. The concept of emotional intelligence was decades away from being understood as was the knowing that it was best to relate rather than react in difficult situations. Growing up, numbing and being physically active were the tools I had to cope.

As a result, I had learned to think in terms of black and white: people were either angels or demons. Things were either good or bad, up or down, hot or cold. In music, which was also an escape, songs were either in major or minor keys – happy or sad.

In the choral singing class, we were introduced to a number of songs and since it was level 1 and we only had a week together, they were kept fairly simple. Onawa’s Waltz, Honey Don’t Cry, and J’entends le Moulin were fun rounds in two to four parts that were entertaining, as were the songs with two parts each having different words. What I noticed though, when we sang harmonies, three groups singing the same words but different notes, there was a richness created that was transcendent. Somehow we were separate and together at the same time.

In the song Honey Don’t Cry, Beverley Glenn-Copeland wrote: Honey don’t cry, baby don’t cry we all get together in the by and by, that’s what the soul dreams of. Honey don’t dry, baby don’t cry, we all come together in the by and by, pulled to the heart of love. ‘Get together’ and ‘come together’: so subtly yet significantly different in meaning. Getting together was about all the individuals being in the same place, but coming together was about joining open hands and hearts. Emotions had to be free to express themselves for this to happen. Before my big cry in the parking lot, I could only get together. Now I could come together: relate, harmonize. Feeling pain wasn’t so bad; it brought me closer to those I held dear and made my back a comforting and reachable place.

Black or white: angels or demons. Maybe we’re more like the loons - both black and white – coming together as best we can to raise our families.


From May 2005 to April 2007 I wrote a column in this paper. At first it was titled Trundling Along the White Trail, then it became Scampering Along..., and then finally it was Dancing Along.... Three years of personal essays, I thought, was enough but apparently not. There’s a longing for reflective writing, both in me and the readership, so I am picking up where I left off, as best as I can.

The next transformation, I had predicted, was to be Flying Along the White Trail because it implied an achieved sense of freedom. But I didn’t feel quite there yet. Then last week, completely depleted of energy by bronchitis, I was reading something and the word ‘emptying’ stuck in my mind. I skimmed the next few lines then came to: Because we have let everything go, and are preparing to start very new with a very clean slate... This really struck home. Perhaps this cold was an opportunity to stop and look at what else needed to be emptied. In order to fly, one must lighten up, let go of all that no longer serves. If I truly wanted to fly, I had to give up any of those old emotions that kept me feeling separate or inadequate. I could no longer afford to look back at what could have been or should have been. Those thoughts were like chains, keeping me heavy, keeping me down and draining my energy.

The focus I now realized had to be on creating happiness. I now saw that creating happiness was the fuel for flight, and if I could keep my focus on it, I’d be soaring. Of course it wasn’t just about creating happiness for me alone, but rather taking on the persona of Sorceress of Happiness and generating it all around. (What a fine image, hahaha!)

With these thoughts in mind, I watched the comedian Dana Carvey do a monologue and in it he talked about ‘happy juice’, and I thought, wow! that’s a perfect way to describe the fuel. I taught Reiki and Chi Kung and tried to explain the Eastern concept of chi, ki or prana but nothing really captured the essence the way happy juice does. Picture walking down the street: those who have a good flow of happy juice are light on their feet and easy to smile, while those whose happy juice channels are blocked are heavy and dour and seem off in some parallel universe. Their souls seem to keep repeating the same old struggles and wrong-doings over and over again like a skipping record. They can’t get past the dreaded words or events that victimized them so are before us but not really there – no happy juice, no happiness.

Since the word emptying made its mark in my psyche a few days ago, I keep referring to it when unpleasantries occur. I don’t hold onto resentments or anger, with myself or others, I deal with them as quickly as possible so I can get the happy juice flowing again: empty grief, fill up with happy juice. If I am to fly, to be the Sorceress of Happiness, it is essential to forgive and accept. I must remember: “We’re all on a path, and each place on that path is honourable.”

I feel like I’m in sync with the world as I write this because as I sit on the dock on this gorgeous morning, birds of all kinds are coming to greet me. Blue heron swooped around, loon popped up and turkey hawk glided past. What a wonderful feeling. Hey maybe that’s why black fly and mosquito keep nibbling at me, they’re helping me shift my focus, reminding me to stop looking back and stay present. Create happiness now and the happy juice will flow. So here I am again, exploring life and writing about it. And this makes me happy.

This new title, White Trail, is simple and empty of embellishments. There are no limitations or expectations; there’s just a place to start from and return to. No baggage required.


There’s nothing like a carefree, spring day with nothing to do but go for a walk. Even though the windows need cleaning and the winter clothes had to be put away, I grabbed my camera, whistle and mini-knife and headed back into the bush anyway. Carpe diem!

The rain had just settled, and I longed to see once again the place I’d called Treasure Island. I hadn’t been back there since the snow had settled and thought that with the numerous wind storms we’d had, the trail would have been littered with fallen trees and branches that needed removal. All there was for me to do, however, was enjoy the scenery. The buds were bursting; the air was intoxicating; only beauty was around.

The rocky outcrop overlooking Treasure Island was the original place I’d come to when I needed to be alone to think. Back then I hardly ever had words to describe my emotions. It was only by walking through the woods and kneading the sentiments with my steps that understanding would arise.

As I relaxed and let myself blend in with my surroundings now, I could hear my heart telling me my thoughts needed some spring cleaning too. The new ways were ready to be unpacked; I just had to clear out more room so they could fully unfold.

Always there to help, Mother Earth took me into her bosom and lightened my load by filling my heart with song. The northern flickers, the grackles, the cowbirds and red-winged blackbirds all put on a show singing and flittering happily about. Before long, I was so captivated by their performance my troubles had lost their grip. I moved up close, grabbed a seat on a fallen tree and, with my two-toned whistle, joined along and became a part of the show.

With a little imagination, I could decipher all the characters in this musical romance: the love birds, played by the flickers; the fowl-mouthed villain, played by the grebe; the lovers’ gang, played by the flighty grackles and red-winged blackbirds; the villain’s gang, played by the assertive, clacking woodpeckers and honking geese; and then there were the grouse who must have been the girl’s parents because they were all ruffed up. For a B story, there were the flies baiting the frogs. Meanwhile, the three turkey vultures silently circled because this whole scene was beneath them. And I, of course, played the narrator.

Ah to be filled with light-hearted merriment. It’s amazing how therapeutic creativity can be in the midst of chaos. It seems to be able to reign in the absurdities and give them some kind of structure to make things all right. Music is an example of this. Twenty-five different instruments playing different notes can easily become a cacophony, but give them the structure of a song and they can stir the soul. When one has learned to step back and see the beauty in chaos, one has learned to see heaven on earth. There is a structure, a schema, behind it all which I’ve come to interpret as: struggle and emerge. But that’s not the end, as I once thought it was. The completed wisdom is: struggle and emerge so you can help others emerge.

What does that look like, what does that mean: emerge? I think I can sum it up best by paraphrasing an aphorism I came across at the end of a tea bag: If you can’t see beauty in all, you can’t see beauty at all. And so I am finished for now: looking for meaning, using words. Joseph Campbell, in The Power of Myth, said: People say that what we are all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think this is what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive. To me that means opening my eyes and appreciating the beauty that surrounds me and fills me in so many ways. There are many, many methods, besides words, to experience this and it is time for me to go and explore them.

I have been motivated through the years by these guiding words of the Japanese poet Basho: Seek not to follow the ways of the sages of old; seek instead what they sought. From what I’ve learned, what it was they sought was beauty: in all its expressions. So off I go; so here I am – heaven on earth – in and amongst the beauty – giving a hand to others so they too can join in in the rapture.

And to that I sign off by singing: A-a-men!


It was beautiful day after yet another snowstorm, so I got dressed, shouldered my camera, and headed to the trail in search of my next story. Not twelve steps out, however, I stopped in my tracks and thought about what I’d recently been contemplating: the difference between the Hero’s and the Heroine’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey is a story of mythic proportions whereby the protagonist sets out on an adventure to conquer his fears (his enemies). Although it’s called a Hero’s Journey both males and females, such as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, participate in it. The Heroine’s Journey on the other hand is not about going out to conquer, but rather going within to appreciate. This is what my book Neesa’s Backyard and the movie The Legend of Baggar Vance is about. Again, the Heroine’s Journey is not exclusive to women as the protagonist in The Legend of Baggar Vance is a male golfer.

As I recalled from The Da Vinci Code, masculine energy is represented by the spear and feminine energy is represented by the cup: symbols for going out and going within. Just as testosterone and estrogen are not exclusive to either men or women, neither are masculine and feminine energies. We each have both within us and must work at balancing the two. This concept is represented by two interlinking triangles known as the six-rayed star or the Star of David, and it is what Jet Li’s Fearless is about; a champion martial artist only becomes legendary after he has developed his feminine energy to be as powerful as his masculine energy.

So instead of going out to seek a story, I turned around and came back home where I found pathways and stairs that needed shovelling and a wood holder and birdfeeder that needed refilling. I’ve come to understand that what brings me happiness isn’t acquiring new things but having less and caring for and enjoying them more.

Caring, it seems, is a lost art. We put our elders in retirement homes, which some call orphanages for the old, and we call shopping a recreational activity. How does that make sense? In this consumer society we’ve generated, it’s cheaper to buy a new vacuum cleaner than it is to repair the old one...that is if you could find the parts. The thing is, when we throw things away, where is away? Just because it’s hidden from view in an empty mine shift or a landfill site across the border doesn’t mean it’s impotent. How is this indifference sustainable?

The way a society evolves is by letting go of what no longer works and leaping to what does. Old patterns are comfortable, however, and fear of the unknown leadens our feet. But we’ve now come to a point in history where if we don’t jump, we’ll die. If we don’t start caring and repairing instead of ignoring and acquiring, we’re doomed.

The winds of change are howling; go home and take care they say. Take care of what you have and nurture it so it is strong and resilient. Happiness can’t be bought, it must be patiently cultivated. This is the Heroine’s Journey: going within to connect not with our limited physical power but with the soul’s infinite power.

I’m not trying to imply that the feminine way is good and the masculine way is bad, but instead to remind that they need to walk together – two feet, two eyes, two hands–balanced, interdependent, making each other stronger.

What I love about being in nature, on the trail or in my backyard, is that it balances me so I can hear my inner voice. What it is saying to me these days is, don’t be afraid. Just let go – let go of aggression, let go of having to win, let go of the idea that you need more. You already are powerful, you already are happy, you already are loved, you already are alive: YOU ALREADY ARE WHO YOU WANT TO BE.

Beyond the realm of the dualities, of masculine and feminine, there is the harmonious blend of the two which is Mother Earth’s energy: the energy of beauty, peace and love. By increasing feminine energy to balance the masculine energy that surrounds us now, we could all affect the change that is necessary to create peace and sustain life. Yes, there is an energy crisis, but it’s not the one so often portrayed. If you are concerned about this planet, be aware and take care in all you do.

The Hero’s Journey is about going out to conquer in order to return and better society. The Heroine’s Journey shows us that more important than what we do is how we do it. When the what and how are aligned with the natural way, peace will be restored.