Addiction.ca

I cannot remember the last Saturday morning when the first thing I did after pouring my coffee wasn’t looking at homes on Realtor.ca.

I like our house.

Sometimes I love it.

Our neighbourhood is fantastic – trails and a park – young families and retirees.  A genuine community.

And yet, Realtor.ca beckons.  Constantly.  Not just on Saturday mornings.  The app on my phone means constant checks throughout the week. 

Chasing the perfect home. An extra bathroom.  A magnificent view.  Something more walkable too – schools, stores, coffee-shops – ideally would be just a short stroll away.

The next best thing just around the corner.  Because the next home will make everything better.  Parenting, life, and work stress will disappear when we add another toilet.

It’s ridiculous of course.  Most of us grew up sharing bathrooms, in homes without walk-in closets and jacuzzi tubs.  We survived just fine.  We didn’t know any different.

I think of my grandparents.  Children of the First World War.  Young parents themselves during World War II.  They suffered.  Their infant daughter died soon after birth in the dark autumn of 1944 in occupied Holland.  War raged while they mourned and battled for survival, and struggled to raise their surviving daughter.  My mother.

Many decades later my grandparents retired to a small bungalow in very small-town Ontario.  One bedroom, one bathroom.  They took pride in that home.  My grandfather spent thousands of hours in his garden.  Sometimes I helped him.  Today, when I work in our backyard – a sun-drenched property with apple trees, pear trees, and garden boxes which overflow with tomatoes – I think of how much my grandfather would have loved this home.  I wish he was alive and bedside me.  And I feel guilty for ever thinking about leaving. 

Leaving a place my daughter loves, adding a hundred thousand dollars to our mortgage, and an hour a day to my commute, all for the sake of looking outside and seeing the ocean and the mountains.

The draw of that view is powerful.  The desire for an extra bathroom is real.  So is the reality that the things I want come at a cost. A cost that may not be worth paying. 

Still, it’s hard not to look. 

Addiction.ca

A Bear Out There

There’s a bear out there.  Not far from my home.  Somewhere.  Drinking from the creek that cuts through our neighbourhood.  Eating the berries along the trails that connect our community.  Foraging through bins on garbage day.

Signs at trailheads warn of recent sightings. It’s a black bear, not a grizzly.  While black bears are unlikely to attack humans there are no guarantees.  Google “Black Bear Attack – British Columbia” and you will get multiple hits – news stories that are weeks or months, but not years old.

It still feels very foreign to me, a relative newcomer to BC.  I grew up in Southern Ontario and the closest I came to a bear was at the Toronto Zoo.  A bear was as foreign and exotic as a hippo or elephant.

Not on Vancouver Island which has one of the densest populations of black bears in the world.  I step outside the house, scan the forests that surround our small town, and know that there is likely not one bear out there, but dozens.

That knowledge affects every trail run.  I do not obsess about it, but I am more than conscious that around every sharp corner, or in the deep brush beside me, a bear may lurk.  That invisible bear may not be poised to attack and is likely more scared of me, than I am of it.  However, more than once I have imagined rounding a bend and encountering a mother bear and her cubs.  Whenever that scenario plays out in my mind, it does not end well for me.

I take some precautions.  Or one precaution at least.  Jammed into the front pocket of my running vest is a large can of bear spray.  On most runs, I practice pulling it out so that doing so becomes as instinctive as a gunslinger sliding a pistol from his holster.  I visualize an encounter I hope never happens.  I startle a bear. We both freeze.  I hold my ground hoping it will just amble away.  It does not.  I yell, hoping to frighten it off. I fight my body’s instinct to turn and run.  I stare at the bear, continuing to yell.  The bear spray is in my hand now.  I back up slowly.  The bear is still.  Do I wait for it to pounce?  Or do I attack first, shooting a stream of thousands of distilled hot peppers into the bear’s face?  Causing it real agony to prevent my own potential agony?  What if I unload the cannister of spray at the bear – and miss – creating a very angry bear, and a very unarmed me?

Questions which I hope are never answered.  A scenario which I hope never plays out.

A chance I am willing to take every day I run in the woods.  Because of the beauty that surrounds me everywhere.  Mountains and forests.  Grueling inclines and distant vistas. Silence and serenity.

Something rustles in the underbrush.

Did I mention the cougars?

Cougar sign

When Inner Storms Swirl

I’m almost fifty years old and I still seek my parents’ advice.  Their wisdom rarely fails me.

Almost fifty.  Decisions matter more than ever.  When I was thirty, thirty-five, even forty I still felt time and life stretched forward far beyond what I could see.  Or imagine.

No longer.  Not when I’m just months away from half a century.  By the numbers I’m closer to the end than the beginning.  Closer to the end of my career.  Closer to the end of my life.  Fifty sneaks up on you.  But 50 is a number that does not lie.

Decisions are supposed to get easier as we age, drawing on maturity and life experience to guide us forward.

Fat chance.

Decisions get harder.  There’s more at stake.  Less time to play with.  Maximizing every moment matters more than ever.

But what does maximizing mean?

For a few days this week it means being by the ocean.  In a hotel with big windows and long views.  A hotel just a few steps from a sandy beach.   

A hotel with one bedroom, one bed, and a four-year-old tossing and turning all night.  Maximizing means me getting out of bed when I’m still tired, escaping to the living room, and reading and writing, well before 5 a.m. when it’s too dark to see the ocean, and too cold to be warmed by the fireplace.

And it’s quiet.  Quiet helps – helps with making decisions, helps with maximizing.

Quiet does not provide answers.  But quiet lets you listen to the inner-voice.  To the collected wisdom of friends and family.  To the doubts that eat your insides when the path forward isn’t clear.

And it rarely is.  Big decisions have big consequences and are rarely straightforward.  Big decisions are not a flashing red 99 on a scale of 1 to 100.  Big decisions are often 50 – 50.  There is no clear right answer.  There is no clear wrong answer.  When we agonize over these choices, we work to tip the scale – to get to 51.  Or higher.

Sometimes we are right.  Sometimes we are wrong.

And sometimes we realize that there is no right, and no wrong.  That 50-50 means that there is good and bad in whatever path we choose.  And those paths often flow from within.  Do we seek comfort and contentment – or strive for challenges where growth requires pain? 

Maybe the closer I get to 50, the more comfortable I am with 51.  With accepting that consequential decisions are made – must be made – when inner storms swirl.

No storms swirled around us this week.  The ocean and sky competed for the prize of bluest and most beautiful.  The sun warmed everything.  Inukshuks lined the shoreline.  Parks reverberated with children’s voices and laughter.  Ice cream sundaes were devoured.  Wine was savoured.  Life was relished.  Family was maximized.

I got a few days closer to 50.  And a lot closer to 51.

A Walk in the Cemetery

I had a few hours of free time this morning.  It’s rare for me to be alone, and away from home.

So I went to a cemetery.

A cemetery, near a forest by a church.  A beautiful church.  An old church. 

Smoke from the forest fires raging south of us obscured the sky. 

No one else was around.

It was like walking through a P.D. James novel.

Our world feels very obscured.  There is no clarity.

Cemeteries provide clarity.  Death provides clarity.  The on switch is flicked off.  1 becomes 0.  Light is dark.

The cemetery was quiet.  Peaceful. Tranquil.  Mostly grey with splashes of flowers.  Immense trees loomed overhead.  I saw an infant’s grave.  I saw many birth dates far to close to the birthdays of people I love who are still alive.  Loved ones I treasure beyond description.  The people I do not ever want to lose.

As I write this, our dog is hours away from being euthanized.  I’ve written about her in the past.  Not always glowingly.  But her absence will create a void in my life.  In my wife’s life.  In my daughter’s life. I will always remember the golden beauty who was with me when I was alone, and lonely, and a little bit scared of what the future held in store.  I’ll remember long walks along the beach, stones thrown into the ocean, and hot summer days laying by the water, a book in one hand, and my Maggie beside me.

I’ll remember this day.  Some glorious free time with something awful looming.  And yet I’m still enjoying myself.  A coffee in a café.  My laptop in front of me.  Nowhere I need to be for 90 whole minutes.

The where I need to be is my daughter’s pre-school.  To pick her up.  Earlier this week she was terrified before her first day.  My wife and I felt her fear.  Agonized over it.  Needlessly.  Because she came home and told us, “I love pre-school.”  She asked to go every day.  Kids grow up fast.

Today, when I dropped her off, she greeted her teacher with glee, overjoyed to tell her about the new doll her granny bought her.  Almost forgetting dad was beside her.  Maybe actually forgetting, because I had to ask for a hug and a kiss before she bounded into the classroom.  I was so proud of her.  And so conscious that my little girl is growing up. 

My days often feel very obscured.  The smoke of work, the smoke of stress, the smoke of life.  Who has time for clarity when life moves a million miles an hour, Covid keeps us from one another, and fires blacken the sky? 

Clarity might be unattainable.  Or maybe it is does exist, but it is precious because it is both fleeting and hazy.  Like a walk in a cemetery on a day filled with both life and death.

POSTCRIPT

Dad picked up his daughter and bought her a Happy Meal for lunch.

Maggie died peacefully, in her home, surrounded by love.

The Constants

I saw some pictures recently which jolted me back a decade. Back to where I was – both literally and figuratively. Photos from a fun and important weekend. Photos filled with people who aren’t in my life anymore.

Much has changed in those ten years. Big changes. A new family. A new home. A new life.

Some important things have not changed. Reading and running are constants.

Not just reading – but my favourite authors. Writers I have been reading for many years. Writers whose brilliance and insights add richness to my life. Writers whose words help make me who I am.

Those authors include David Mitchell and James Lee Burke. Each has a new novel out. Buying those books brought me joy comparable to the proverbial kid on Christmas morning. I wanted to dive into them.

Dive slowly. I hate the idea of ‘page-turners.’ The best books should be savoured, not raced through. Every page turned is sad, because it is one page closer to the end of something special. I take my time – underlining and starring my favourite passages – beautifully turned phrases, and insights into life.

David Mitchell creates worlds that remind me that life is mysterious and filled with connections both seen and unseen which bind us all.

James Lee Burke captures the horrors of my profession, the complexity of humanity and our spiritual nature.

I’ve never meet either man, but they are as much a part of my life as my best friends. Constants.

 

Like running. The routes have changed but the runs continue.

A decade-ago I ran along the ocean daily. No more. Now on my daily runs I hit the trails. Roots and rocks. Oceans of trees, streams of water.

I love it all the same. My favourite run now is just a few minutes from home. It’s quiet and calm. A challenging uphill that is neither too steep nor too long and rewards every repetition with beautiful vistas. It is the running place where I find the greatest beauty and the greatest fulfillment. Like my favourite novels, I never want those runs to end.

Today it ended very well. I descended from the hills through our neighbourhood. Coming towards me my wife was in the midst of her own run, pushing our daughter in her stroller. We met up, and switched up – she raced ahead while I ran with our daughter, who, minutes later, asked me to stop at a community book box – one of those ‘take a book – leave a book’ community libraries that make all our lives a little better.

I opened the box and my daughter’s, attention focused on colourful covers – with pinks and purples trumping all else. I pulled out the pinkest and purpliest for her – I Heart Vegas. Needless to say, it is not exactly a children’s book. But a book she wanted nonetheless, as a present for her mom. We hid it underneath the stroller and snuck it into the house where she placed it on my wife’s nightstand, so proud of the gift she was going to give. So proud of what she called, “the fanciest book I ever saw.”

Ten years. It seems like so long ago. It seems like yesterday.

Life changes. None of us knows what’s in store up the next hill or around the next corner.

The constants in our lives help us navigate those changes, enjoy the journey and prepare us for those unexpected moments. I’ll never read I Heart Vegas. But I’ll treasure it forever.

 

Vista

 

RavineLooking overA Private CathedralUtopia AvenueThe Fanciest Book Ever

The Best Thing Ever

Our dog Maggie is dying. Slowly. She’s in enough pain to require expensive medication, and the medication works so well we cannot put her down. Obsessed with food, she spends her waking hours stalking my wife, begging for snacks and sniffing the floors for non-existent crumbs. A dozen times a day she barks at the back door. We let her outside. A minute later, she yelps to get back in. I should feel charitable towards her. I should be cherishing my last weeks and final days with a loyal companion. But I’m not. I want her gone because life will be much less stressful without her. Her presence – her noise – grates on my nerves. Unceasingly.

My wife is kind, gentle and empathetic. Maggie entered her life when we met. She showered her with love and kindness. Maggie is more her dog than mine now. She has been for a long time. She loves Maggie more than I do. She’ll miss her more than I will. Where I see a dog hanging onto life by a string, she sees a beautiful old girl still desperate for a daily walk and tasty treats.

I’m not proud of how I feel about Maggie. But it is the truth.

Here’s another truth. Silence is rare and I crave it. We are blessed to have a vibrant, healthy, energetic daughter. She brings me joy every day. Not just joy. Pride. Wonder. Fulfillment. Meaning.

And exhaustion. Life is full-on from the moment she wakes up until the second her head hits the pillow. Talking, moving, dancing, playing, showing, asking, telling, smiling, teasing, laughing. And the opposite. Yelling and screaming. Sometimes throwing and hitting. She is only four. The world is opening to her. In all its wonder. And in all its reality. She knows Maggie will die soon. Last night she asked if the needle will hurt when the vet injects Maggie to put her to sleep. That’s a tough question to answer.

Like every parent, I am privileged to experience the world anew through her eyes. Like most dads with daughters, I get to experience a different kind of childhood than my own. Pinks and purples, princesses and unicorns. All those things colour my life.

As does watching her with other children as she learns to navigate relationships and personalities. Loud boys, silent girls. Loud girls, silent boys. The discovery that some kids are friends, most are acquaintances and a handful must be either avoided, or, as a last resort, confronted, because aggressiveness and cruelty already define them.

As I age – as I watch my daughter age – I’m more comfortable with what defines us both. I’m an introvert. Years ago, I would have balked at that description. Been embarrassed by it. Pretended it was not the case. Socialized when I would rather have been home. No more. It is who I am. It is what I am. It is why I need silence to recharge. I need to read. To write. To run. My website is readerwritterrunner.com for a reason.

I’m reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  It helps me better understand myself. Reinforces that it is okay for me to be me. And helps me understand my daughter. She responds to stimulus intensely. She always has. We saw it when she was a preemie, in an incubator in intensive care, constant movement when all the other infants lay still. It’s the same today – she feels deeply and reacts passionately to the good, the bad, and everything in between. The research suggests that, given her nature, she is almost certain to grow up to be an introvert herself.

Maybe a different kind of introvert than her dad. Quiet, stillness and serenity are not on her radar. Life is a maelstrom of activity and feelings.

I love that maelstrom. It is the best thing ever. And among the most challenging things ever. To remain myself in the commotion. And to recognize, that, even within the whirlwind of life there are always – always – moments where calm, silence and quiet prevail.

On a bench

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despair Soup

Big things crush small things.

Covid ravages nations.

A horrific death in Minnesota reverberates around the globe.

Really big things. Really bad things.

Overwhelming things.

It feels selfish to miss small things amidst so much death and suffering.

Too much death and suffering.

But I miss them. I miss them desperately. Baseball. My daughter’s dance class. Restaurants. The Tour de France – incredible athletes and stunning scenery. I gorge on the Tour for three weeks every July. But not this year.

It all makes for one giant recipe for despair. Despair Soup. Take one horrific virus – add a divided society – strip away the simple pleasures – simmer for months – await the explosion.

Maybe it will not explode. There might be a vaccine. We may all come together instead of pulling apart. But look south. To America. A country ripping itself apart. A country defined by left vs. right. Republican vs. Democrat. A global superpower coming apart at the seams.

Big things crush small things.

But not always. Sometimes small things win.

Running is a small thing.

Covid can cancel races but it can’t stop runners from running. That’s what we do. It’s our answer for everything. Feeling down? Go for a run. Feeling good? Great day to run. Body sore? Run to recover. Tired? Run to wake up. Can’t sleep? Run for exhaustion.

Overwhelmed by the world?  Run.

That’s what I did on a quiet morning when the sun made a rare appearance defying the dark clouds and rain which have settled over us for months.

I can’t say I was at peace when I began that run. Work stress. Life stress. World stress.

But I laced up a new pair of trail shoes and headed uphill. No music. No watch. Just a trail with roots and rocks and mud and horse manure. Switchbacks and inclines. Towering evergreens. Warning signs about bears in the area – because big bears crush scrawny runners.

But I didn’t see any bears. And not many people. Just me and my thoughts. And my no thoughts. Straining uphill. Testing my legs and my lungs. Then getting to the top and resting my legs and my lungs. Just enjoying the view. A beautiful view. A small moment of peace. A big view.

Big things crush small things. But sometimes small things win.

Picture B_20200628_090010

Watermelon in the Rain

It’s raining again. On Vancouver Island. Which as newsflashes go is right up there with “Trump Says Something Stupid.

On a walk this morning my daughter, cold, wet and shivering, asked when the rain would stop.

I answered honestly. “Never.”

She knew I was teasing.

So I told her the real truth. “In forty years.”

That’s how it feels anyway.

I have no right to complain. I choose to move here. To an island. With rainforests on it.

There are positives. Like between November and March it rarely snows. And you can count on seeing the sun. At least once a month.

We had a glorious April. Sun almost daily. Light and heat. At a time when the darkness of COVID was shattering the lives of so many people, we walked in magnificent forests with sunshine streaming through, creating a mosaic of sparkling shadows to rival anything the finest art gallery in the world could offer.

In April I ran in shorts and a t-shirt. I needed sunscreen.

Today we’re drinking hot chocolate. It’s drizzling between rainstorms and the clouds look like they’ve captured the sun and banished it forever on this Victoria Day long weekend. The unofficial start of summer.

Some people embrace this weather. Our neighbour loaded up his paddleboard and headed down to the ocean.

I’ve tried. But I can’t. Not when the grey and rain and blah seem to never go away. When the 7-day forecast on the nightly news shows: rain, showers, cloudy, rain, rain, showers, rain.

But when the sun does come, it is glorious. Like the best of everything distilled into golden rays. Everything is better in the sun. Running, sweating, cutting the lawn, flying kites. Working from home and looking out the window at a yellow world. Everything.

And just like everything is better in the sun, everything is worse when it rains. Stress weighs heavier, the blues are darker, injuries hurt even more.

But sometimes a little light bursts through. I started writing this post sitting on the couch. Alone.  Miserable.  Now sitting beside me are my girls. Eating watermelon. Watermelon! The quintessential summer fruit on a hot chocolate day.

I could learn a lot from my girls. Injecting a slice of summer into an entirely miserable day.

Although truth be told, instead of eating watermelon in the rain, I’d rather be drinking hot chocolate in the sun.

A Little Bit of Sunshine

Behind Yellow Tape

From a distance the park in our neighbourhood appears to be surrounded by police tape. Yellow plastic fluttering in the wind prohibiting children from swinging, climbing and sliding.

It’s a park we’re at frequently. Practically daily. Kids play, parents socialize, our community comes together.

Not anymore. You don’t. I don’t. We don’t.

Profound changes in our world affecting us all. For how long, none of us know. A virus that knows no borders has crossed all borders and injected itself into every moment of our lives.

Victims suffer. Their families grieve. Health care professionals risk their lives. First responders hold the line. Heroes work in grocery stores, pharmacies and in the utility companies that keep us warm, lit and connected.

The rest of us continue in a sort of limbo. Working from home, digging in our gardens, walking our dogs, avoiding strangers, standing six feet from friends.

For introverts this new world is familiar – introversion on steroids. For extroverts, it must be awful.

For the millions of newly unemployed it’s hell.

Where it all ends none of us knows. Hopefully well and soon. With shops and restaurants reopening and airlines flying and life returning to something like normalcy.

In uncertain times I embrace normalcy and routine. I ran on the trails near our home every day this week and savoured fresh air, pink blossoms and random beauty – a heron swooping down from the treetops towards the stream below. Another day, another run, I explored a different trail – darker and secluded – as the path ended I found a burnt chair surrounded by beer cans. A reminder that not all is right with our normal world. That some people seek out beauty and then desecrate it, dragging in their garbage and leaving their trash behind. The world we long for isn’t always that good.

Today, normalcy meant starting a quiet Sunday morning in the living room. Writing while my daughter sat beside me, crying real tears because her mom brought her peanut butter and jam and not peanut butter and honey. There is something very special about watching a 4-year old’s sadness that is so real and yet so fleeting.

Before the Strawberry Jam Incident my daughter had asked for the book and pen which were on the stand beside me. I always read with a pen in hand – constantly underlining passages. She has seen me do it a million times. And wanted to do the same. She took the book and the pen, and turned away, so I could not see what she was doing. As she drew she repeated over and over, “You’ll never guess what this looks like.”

This is what she drew.

Molly's Drawing

She was right. I couldn’t have guessed how beautiful her drawing would be.

“You’ll never guess what this looks like.”

Words that apply to our world right now.

A world living behind yellow tape.

 

 

In This Together

Wounded Rain PictureWe started in the rain. We finished in the rain.

Port Hardy to Victoria in eight days. Over 600 kilometers of running.

One cause. Support our Wounded Warriors. Honour the fallen. Support the living.

Eight intense days. Fast running. Slow jogging. Gruelling hills, treacherous declines, glorious flatness.

Eight humbling days. Meeting heroes in Legions up and down the island. Veterans of long ago wars. Veterans who still wake at night reliving those horrors.

Eight days of overwhelmingly gracious receptions. Men, women and children flooding those Legions, and community centers. Preparing meals for us, wrapping their arms around us, digging deep in their pockets and thrusting cash in our hands.

Money to support the injured – our veterans, first responders and their families. Injuries caused by the horrific things so many of them have had to see and do. Trauma after trauma, experienced over and over, and imprinted on their minds.

Our team barely knew one another at the start of the run. By the end we were a family. We loved one another. We watched each fight through tough miles. We shared stories, laughs, and bathrooms. No secrets. No egos. No attitudes.

We succeeded as runners because of the people around us. Warriors themselves. They organized this run, drove us, fed us, clothed us, housed us and cared for us. Unconditionally. One big family.

In This Together. That mantra inspired our run. We repeated it a hundred times that week.

In this together. Those words have taken on a new meaning these last few days.

Our world is experiencing a crisis unlike anything most of us have ever lived through.

Daily life continues, and grinds to a halt simultaneously.

Our run squeaked in under the wire. Before mass cancelations and social distancing. Before we had to stop hugging and high fiving. Before a gathering of hundreds became life-threatening.

Life. That’s all that matters. Life and everything that goes with it. Physical health. Mental health. Love. Family. Community.

For weeks, maybe months, all our lives will change.

We’ll get through it. As a team. In this together.

Cathedral Grove WW