Mournful thoughts

I am reading searching for sunday by Rachel Held Evans, recently and tragically departed. It seems strange to mourn the death of someone you never knew, grieving a friendship that didn’t exist apart from words on a page. Regardless it, along with the works of Pete Enns has spawned this somewhat angry poem, not directed at them in any way of course, but by elements of my own messy journey.

The world burns,

flames lick hungrily at barred doors, and still,

the bride cowers in stoic certainty, her attendants overwhelmed by deafening silence.

Defiant she braces against the tide, pugnacious, she feigns hospitality.

Self proclaimed heraldess of truth, she secretly harbours judgment and disdain for all those who dare question her.

All hail the word, lifted above the heads of the throng, to be worshipped above all else; idolatry tolerated.

The world burns,

flames lick hungrily at barred doors,

the wedding guests panic in the heat, their cries for sanctuary go unheeded.

Shameless and silent, she sits, confident, upon a crumbling throne.



Leaky bucket in a dry well.

Lately, it feels like I don’t have much to say. I actually wrote a post the other day about my hot tub and my kid and how much I like spending time talking to him in it, but square space glitched out, the post disappeared and I racked it up as an unpublished piece of writing (what else could I do, get mad?).

And on top of not having much to say, I have had lots to distract me. The Bluejays are back at it (Guerrero Jr.), NHL playoffs (go Columbus??), the Raptors, Tiger won his 15th Major, Billions, GOT, Avengers End Game, I turned 50, my wife has had 30 days of migraines, oh yah work!, a little golf, a provincial election, climbing training, walking the dog, listening to books, cooking, drinking wine, hosting gatherings, even legit reading a few books. Is that enough? I am not sure, actually. All of the writing gurus out there say that I am supposed to write every day, no matter what, oh yah and, carry around a moleskin notebook in which to document every thought and inspiration. Like I said before, I haven’t had much to say lately.

My kid and his grandpa built a climbing wall in our basement last week. I drilled over 250 holes and pounded fixed nuts into them to hold hand holds. It’s not that I am obsessed with mountain climbing, not at all, its that I am obsessed with supporting my kids dreams, as harebrained as they might be. Truth be told, I think climbing will make me a better human along the way.

Turning fifty has proven to be a bellwether birthday. I am not lamenting the event, or resenting it, but I have had opportunity to mark the occasion with more reflection than any other time in my life (and that is almost certainly an exaggeration). Regardless, I am very aware of the tumult in my life. I am keenly attuned to the fact that the horizon has shifted, perhaps not in a bad way, but shifted nonetheless.

Turning fifty for me has been very much akin to the act of driving in the last spike in the infamous Canadian railway line of old. A momentous occasion which hardly anyone, other than those present, payed any attention to when it happened. What is clear is that there was a lot of ground work which occurred prior to that last spike being hammered into the ground. So too, has it been with me this past year or so. I feel as though the ground has shifted (in a tectonic kind of way) under my feet, and that I am now on some other plain altogether. I will write more of this later (Upturned Applecart and all).

What I know to be true, is that nothing will ever be the same again. Turning fifty has marked a forever shift in my life, where I know that I can’t go back. I can’t go back spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally (although in this regard there is nothing I would want to go back to). I feel like (others have validated this) one of the pair of the Muppet’s Statler or Waldorf, either one will do. I relish the notion that I have graduated to the box of life where I can sit and hurl commentary down at the madness that I am watching take place in the arena of life in front of me. Now to write like that, unencumbered, free from the care of criticism, judgment, ridicule and scorn. Oh right, what you write on the internet stays on the internet forever.

For now, I will tend to my leaky bucket, and perhaps, even go in search of a watered well to commandere, I am too damn old to dig a new one for my self.

Lessons from The North Face

I have been attending a marketing conference in Banff the past couple of years. I know, the hardships I endure in business. Seriously Banff is such a spectacular venue to hold a conference. The marketing conference is dubbed “The Gathering” which honours and features brands that have achieved cult like followers. One of the sessions this year was hosted by Tom Herbst, Head of Global Marketing for The North Face. I was struck today by what he started the session with, a simple black slide which had the following statement written on it.

It is a very dramatic way to start a presentation. He then talked about taking the job at The North Face, looking forward to working on a brand that was about more than getting people simply to buy more stuff. He talked about promoting a brand that he thought could make a difference by how it engaged with the world. He talked about The North Face’s recent “Walls are meant for Climbing” campaign which stands in contrast to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and his attempt to build his wall on the border to Mexico. He also recognized that he was moving to a company that was by all accounts, a giant of a company, with ubiquitous products, scattered all around the market place. He posed the question how do you deal with a company this big, how do you differentiate it in the market place, then answering, you “make it a friendly giant”. I must admit, up until that point, I had never really considered The North Face to be about quality. I didn’t pay much attention to it. I had occasionally purchased products in the past, if they had been on sale, but I was definitely not a fan. I had no idea of the companies history, the birth of a clothing company grown from the climbing culture centred around Yosemite National Park. I had no idea that the curves beside the copy were there to represent the mountain Half Dome, on which climbers made the trek up its wall, the north face of Half Dome. It never ceases to fascinate me how much knowing the back story of someone or some company changes one’s perspective. You can think someone is aloof, a jerk, self-centred and then when you get to know them, all of those preconceptions fall away and you are left with something completely different.

I started writing this post back in February, and then let it sit in the draft folder until now. Maybe it was destined to be finished now, in the aftermath of Alberta’s recent election. We have, apparently joined the trend of ultra polarized politics in our neck of the woods, now too. Respectful Human Discourse be Damned! I was astounded this past couple of weeks at the ramped up rhetoric and fear mongering that we devolved into. Regardless of one’s political views, right, left, or centre, we are all fucking humans, and as such, deserve to dole out and receive mutual respect.

The North Face has adopted “never stop exploring” as their tag line. When you visit their homepage you are confronted with the following statement under a blur of slides exploring us to unplug, log off, turn off…

Exploration is a spirit within all of us.It's time to unplug from our always-on lives, turn on Explore Mode and connect in real life to the world, each other and ourselves. Never stop exploring.

I must admit that I have engaged with this brand in a new way. Watching the Oscar wining movie Free Solo didn’t hurt either. However I look at it, I am now a fan of the brand, and what they stand for. Of course they still want to sell me stuff, that much is clear, but they also want me to be a better fucking human, and that in and of itself is a bold corporate stance.

Having turned fifty this week, I think that The North Face has had an influence on me, along with the persistence of my fifteen year old son, who continues to treat me like a much younger version of myself. I have declared this next ten years of my life to be the decade of adventure, and I am going to do things I never thought I would do. Don’t panic, I am not going to be reckless, and start jumping out of airplanes or skiing down shear faces, but I am going to hike, climb, play, engage, unplug, and revel in the beauty all around me. I want to know more people for who they truly are, and see more of this amazing place I call home. Take deep breaths of Alberta, British Colombia, CANADA and find diverse and complex sojourners along the way. I want to be a better Fucking Human.

Fifty

It happened,

on a clear blue sky day, light spring breeze,

mostly green grass beneath crazy coloured spiked shoes.

Twain’s infamous walk interrupted, many times in fact, alongside progeny and comrades, welcoming me newly into the club, ubiquitous in its slack membership.

A day to remember, perhaps, although unremarkable, the rich brew landing familiar on my tongue,

eyes squinting into the light for the thousand time, habits long since learned, still remembered. 


An unusual midweek gathering of friends, embracing, mourning, celebrating a rich table, and those around it inclined.


Familiar and novel, a ribbon dangling in the middle, two sides pulling hard, with no apparent victor.

Evidence of change, in the air, carried along on well worn shoes.


A white cross on red, atop every pole in the little land, marks the occasion,

although not for me, but for her Majesty, I am just along for the ride.


Stepping over the threshold, adorned in all that is familiar, known, wrinkled and shaped with time,

the blue sky beckons, each day now shorter,

more precious in my mind.

The Bench

Bent sticks propel me beyond the crest.


Atop, the horizon in the distance. A well worn path snakes down the other side, back and forth, like a rope tossed from above, by some drunken architect.

To one side, a bench with a dissecting view, beckons me to linger. Creaky knees relinquish their burden. To my right the past, and the unknown over the other shoulder. 

An intersection in time. Glinting sun dogs obscure the view both ways, warping both memories and dreams. Unlike Jacob, there is no ladder; no opponent to wrestle, no wrenched hip for a souvenir.

And yet, there is blessing, found upon that bench. 

A tattered map unfolds before me, no clear direction indicated other than perspective. Perhaps enough.

Wooden slats gnaw at my back, protesting knees once again bare a familiar burden. Onwards I journey while there is still light.

A New Perspective - 25 years with an unwelcome friend

I have been in the company, on and off again, with an unwelcome friend for over twenty-five years. Truth be told, while I know this friend quite well at least from the outside, I have had very little idea of what this “friend” is truly like. It is only recently that I am starting to truly get to know this “friend” intimately, and not simply through association. Who is this crappy friend, you are thinking? Don’t worry it is most certainly none of you.

This unwelcome friend that I have had an acquaintance with is depression. For over a quarter century I have watched my warrior wife battle the company of this unwelcome friend, and any who know her would attest to her ability to wrestle and mostly triumph, despite it all. I have watched from the sidelines, at times cheering, but silent for a lot of those years, an onlooker, baffled and bewildered at how this “friend” could be so persistent, so unrelenting in its quest to control.

Until recently, I was merely a bystander, someone familiar with the unwelcome effects, the morose fog and invisible weight, but never intimate, never truly comprehending. That friendship was never really mine, it was alway vicarious. That unwelcome friendship has become something intimate these past few months. Thankfully not persistent, not debilitating, but far more real and unwanted than I ever imagined. I euphemistically have taken to calling these occurrences “one of those days” but they are more than that if I am going to be honest.

I am still getting to know this unwelcome friend, but what I dislike the most about him is the energy that he demands from me. Take yesterday for example. The day started like most, my routine in tact, breakfast, emails, typical Monday tasks. As the day progressed though, I found myself struggling more and more with this invisible weight, bearing down on me, trying to pin me to the ground. Just the thought of going out for a walk later in the afternoon seemed daunting. I ended up outside, thankfully, feeling somewhat relieved afterwards, but the effort to achieve that goal seemed disproportionate. I have no idea why this “friend” has decided to inflict himself upon me, now, after so many years of simply staring blankly at him. Regardless, I have a new perspective of the heroic efforts of my warrior wife all these past years (hopefully migraines aren’t next for me, sporting a headache as I write this post).

What I am not willing to do is let this friendship evolve in secret, in the dark corners of my world. I have no illusions that this friendship that I have recently discovered will be embraced, or understood, but I will let HIM be seen. I am not sure how long HE plans to hang around, how hard I will have to struggle against his whims, but I figure that writing about him, and pulling him out into the light might hopefully have some effect. It is now an unwelcome friendship for us both. One that I hope will end sooner rather than later. But until then, I am going to keep up with my walking, I think with a real backpack, perhaps even filled with some actual weights.

Speak truth to Bullshit

On the heels of Braving the Wilderness, I am officially adopting “speak truth to bullshit” as at least on of my mantras going forward. Today has been one of those days! I am functioning on three hours of sleep, the joys of visiting your in-laws and sleeping in a strange bed.

So despite the lack of wine as an excuse, it feels like I have had a day long hangover. Currently 9:15 and looking forward to the pillow, and hopefully some decent sleep.

With that said, a young man I know is currently in hospital in Edmonton with a brain bleed, and his dad is having a far worse day than I. How do you deal with the reality that your son, in his tender years, will likely not pull through? Fuck if I know? My friend Maddie (my spiritual director) texted me and asked me to petition on their behalf, knowing full well that I am very much conflicted about that simple request. In respect for her, and them, I had a very rude conversation (perhaps with myself) where I expressed my frustration and anger with how unfair their situation is, and how unfair this world can be at times (well if we are speaking truth to bullshit, all of the time).

I am very fortunate, I know this. And knowing it, and living it, is part of the problem. Life all seems so random, so unfair, so fucking unjust. So for now, all I can be, at least in this regard is thankful.

Given my lack of energy today, I have been a bit of a sports lump. I have watched golf, baseball, and hockey. While watching hockey today I couldn't help but notice the pride with which the NHL, and Hockey Night in Canada is touting its very first broadcast of a hockey game tomorrow night in Cree. Let me first say how much I think that this is a good thing. Hockey is something which indeed offers hope to some of the youth of the First Nations in this land. And offering a broadcast of a game in a traditional language is a small step in the right direction.

With all of that said, it is nothing close to enough. Our Prime Minister is fond of the idea that he is THE defender of First Nations in Canada. I used to work for someone like that. We called him the “Great White Father”, not an endearing monicker. While he loves to talk the talk, his walk is severely lacking. All we have to look at is the housing crises on reserves across this nation. The lack of potable water, the lack of adequate housing, the epidemic of black mold, just to name a few, is evidence of how far we still need to go. I have many friends who are committed to addressing the needs of those in third world countries, which while noble in terms of intensions, fails to acknowledge the myriad of issues rife for address here at home.

Canadians are so easily outraged at intolerance directed at minorities, but are largely happy to ignore the injustice in their own back yards when it comes to the plight of Canada’s First Nations. I doubt many, if any of you who read this blog, have actually visited a reserve. Truthfully it has been ten years since I have visited one. I spent a lot of time on reserves while I practiced law, and what I encountered there troubled me then. When I got into coffee and started visiting coffee producing countries, my world was then filled with the poverty and injustice of Africa and Central America. The simple truth is that the world is filled with poverty, and injustice. It is overwhelming. And yet, it should demand our attention. It should require more than a telecast of a hockey game in Cree. It should demand houses that are not Petri dishes for black mold. It should demand water supplies that provide safe drinking water, in a country in possession of more fresh water than any other nation on earth. It should result in a Federal Government that actually walks the talk, and deals with their fiduciary obligations of signing treaties (avoiding wars) decades ago. The poverty and injustice in our world requires more than lip service.

I have no illusion that a conservative government led by Andrew Sheer will solve these problems. In fact, they will probably make them worse. I am under no illusion that re-electing Rachel Notley’s NDP will make the lives of First Nations better in Alberta. And I very much doubt that Jason Kenny will lead the charge in terms of addressing injustice. But what I do know is that individual Albertans, Canadians, can solve this issue. If we demanded that our leaders finally addressed the century long injustices, we could perhaps see true reconciliation occur in our life time. A pipe dream perhaps. Albertans would be required to apply their outrage at intolerance upon themselves and look into the mirror, recognize their own prejudices and demand justice. A tall order, perhaps?

Enough ranting? Well I am almost fifty, and I figure I have very little to lose. Be offended if you must, but it is high time that I started speaking truth to bullshit.

Paradox in the Wilderness

The countdown continues. I now have an election filled birthday to look forward to; at least something will be happening that day.

The creek is running again, my first spring days in the river valley. Walking down the trail, to wafts of thawing equine manure reminds me of my youth. I haven’t spotted the beavers yet, but they must be excited with the onslaught of spring too. As much as I am enjoying walks with only a tee shirt on, I am still looking forward to a couple of more days riding on snow capped peaks. The boy and I are hitting White Fish Montana next week!

Having spent most of the winter immeshed in fiction (audio and Harry Potter) I decided recently to refresh with some Brené Brown, and have been listening to Braving the Wilderness again. The last two chapters more than once. It has been a good reminder of some insights that I think I have misplaced these past months.

I feel like this next decade needs to be lived on the back of “speak truth to bullshit”. I know I have remained silent on far too many occasions regarding bullshit in my life. Take a simple example that occurred at work today discussing new coffee bag labels. Currently we have a little symbol on the label for either espresso or drip. Both of these symbols are bullshit. Coffee can be brewed in a myriad of methods, and no method is technically superior. One roast is not better than another for espresso; at Transcend we brew espresso with almost all of our coffees. It is just that the market perpetuates a misunderstanding about espresso vs drip coffee which needs to be abandoned. Which is why I emphatically declared today that the symbols will be phasing out this year - speak truth to bullshit (I know a pretty minor example of this, but one nonetheless).

I also was reminded that I need to get to the place (not there yet, even after fifty years) where I am content with who I am. No more striving, no more hustling, no more trying to fit in. This quote which Brown frequently uses has become, for me too, a lightening rod.

You only are free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.

Maya Angelou

I am beginning to realize that I have always been an outlier. Yet truthfully, I have kicked against the goads in this regard. I have chaffed at this my whole life, trying to ignore and convince myself of some alternate reality. I am beginning to wonder whether this internal struggle is the root cause of so much of my angst. I say things, in ways that get me in trouble all of the time. I say things at home, at work, amongst friends which get me into trouble. Well, my wife says that it is not what I say but how I say it that gets me into trouble. She may very well be right in that, but to date, I still have a hard time separating, the message content from the tone or method of delivery. Obviously this is something I need to work on, albeit I might need to employ someone full-time to carry around a mirror, so I can figure out what the hell I am doing wrong.

Over the past couple of years I have become a creature of comfort. I like staying nice places, eating good things, drinking great wine. While all of this is not bad in and of itself, I wonder whether it is indicative of something more. My kid (now fifteen) is pushing me hard. I am rock climbing again, thirty years later. We are going to get our lead climbing certificate next week. He wants to go climb El Capitan, and he will, and perhaps I will join him. Even as I type this, I am afraid of the thought of being on a cliff three thousand feet above the ground. But I think I need to do it with him. I think I need to embrace the real wilderness, so that I can embrace the fact that I live and have almost always lived there.

I started Transcend thirteen years ago with a dream of building community. I have been chasing a ghost of community since 1992. My experience living at Legg Lodge in Lethbridge almost three decades ago, has tormented me in many ways. The need for belonging has been a harsh master for much of my life. But as Maya said recognizing that you belong no place, and every place is the real key to freedom. These next years, I hope, will be built on a foundation of belonging first to myself, something that has alluded me all these years. And with that, I know that I will belong in other places, hopefully allowing me to live in such a way that my mirror-steward will have to seek out another benefactor.

I know that I am a paradox. I have always been one. I have poked and prodded and pushed and challenged all my life. I have been the burr under many saddles. I am beginning to see with more clarity, that this is who I am. Yes I need to learn to be kinder to strangers, and maybe even my friends. But I also need to be kinder to myself and embrace the fact that I am that outlier, the guy who lives best in the wilderness. And yes the price is high, as I know all too well. Perhaps with a little luck, I might just figure out, sooner rather than later, how to enjoy the rewards.

In search of a retired sheep farmer

Rummaging through an old wooden box (that I incidentally built forty years ago) filled with memorabilia, I stumbled upon a small item which almost ended up in the trash. It was encased in an odd, cheap vinyl packet designed to hold a ring, I think. Just as I was about to toss it into the garbage, something stopped me. I opened it to find a small two-piece pin inside. One of the parts is a turquoise piece of glass set into a clasp with the words Kathyrn School etched around it. The ringless stone is attached to a delicate chain linked to another little pin with the word Honors engraved onto it. I was surprised to see this little item from my past, as I had no recollection of keeping it.

The year 1981 will forever stand out in my academic career as the only time I worked hard enough to achieve the fleeting distinction of honours. in hindsight, and to my own shame, I was definitely capable of achieving that award more than once, but never applied myself to that end. It is indictment on my self-discipline given that I attended primary school for another six years, and then spent eleven years in post secondary. My wife can attest to the fact that when it came to choosing between studying or doing something, almost anything else, the latter almost always won out.

So what was it about 1981? The answer is simple, actually, and I have reflected upon it more than once over my lifetime. The answer to Honors in grade six, was Mr. Norton. Granted, my memory is a bit sketchy given that his influence occurred over thirty-eight years ago. But what I do remember is that he inspired me, and not just me, most of our little ragtag class making the transition from elementary school to junior high in a small rural, oddly named (Kathyrn) school. I can remember him teaching us base five mathematics. He told us that university students were studying this. It made us feel smart. That knowledge made us want to learn more. Honestly, I can’t remember too many specifics about that year. I can remember having a massive tinfoil ball fight (after one of our monthly Peter’s hamburger days) and in the mayhem, our then Principal Mr. Minor got beaned in the forehead after stepping into the classroom. Our class missed out on the next couple of hamburger days.

Looking back, as I approach the fifty mark, I know this about Mr. Norton. More than any teacher in my past, he inspired me to reach beyond what was easy, and in so doing, he brought the best out of me. It has pained me to watch my kid struggle through school, in ways that I never had to. I never found school hard, but I rarely found it engaging either. My kid often finds school hard (unless it has to do with athletics or construction) but also has rarely found it engaging. Why is that? Why do we persist in trying to educate kids with the same dry, disengaging strategies, decades upon decades old. It doesn’t have to be that way. Countries like Finland and Denmark are making bold strides in changing the way they educate with dramatic results.

Mr. Norton found a way to challenge us, inspire us, in ways that drew us up, beyond what was acceptable and into a state of the exceptional. He created an environment that made us want to learn, want to work hard, want to impress him with our efforts. Despite my failing memories, I now have this little pin which serves as a milestone. It is a tangible reminder of what can be, when one is inspired to dream, create, and strive for one’s best. I know, this notion lives in tension, almost opposition to what I was writing about in the last post, in terms of embracing the idea of being ordinary. Perhaps that has something to do with why Mr. Norton quit teaching, not long after I finished grade six. He quit inspiring kids, and chose instead to raise sheep. I have no idea why he did this. Maybe our class was an anomaly? Maybe not everyone embraced the vision that he had for them. I have often wondered why he quit, why he chose sheep over kids? Maybe because on the balance, the sheep followed when called. I would like to ask him. I would like to thank him for that year. For giving me the gift of knowing what is possible in the midst of the ordinary.

ps. if anyone knows where Mr. Norton is today, please let me know. I sincerely would like to chat with him.

Time to Change the Failure Narrative

A recent conversation with a friend, about the future of Transcend ended with him saying these words to me:

Poul, you need to learn how to be kinder to yourself.

Over the past six months, this message has been rattling around my head, spoken by people like Brené Brown and others closer to home who have been speaking into this messy journey I am on. As I told him, I reiterate here, it is one thing to know that, and quite another to live it.

As I have been more reflective of late, I am beginning to discover long held habits and narratives that dominate my mindset, both consciously and subconsciously. One of those narratives which rarely pokes its head above the surface, but lingers beneath the surface, shaping my perspective is a powerful narrative that I am a failure. For many of you who know me, I am guessing that you would have a difficult time affirming that. Even I have a difficult time with that narrative. But despite those reservations, I have to acknowledge that it is a very powerful voice within my head.

One of the things that I have become more aware of is how fiercely independent I am. Jonice Webb labels it as counter-dependency. On the surface, counter dependence can look like a very positive thing, being confident, self-reliant, competent, all of these traits are valued by most in our society. They are indeed traits that prove extremely valuable in regards to being an entrepreneur. But as I am discovering, being counter-dependent is not a healthy state to live one’s life in. Aloofness, refusing to ask for help, emotional distance, short bouts of mysterious depression, are all indicators of counter-dependency, are all apt descriptions of a guy I getting to know.

So much of our personality as an adult is formed during our childhood years. Everything I am reading is illuminating the profound impact our growing up years have on us, regardless of whether we are aware it is happening. My childhood was complicated. It wasn’t bad, or abusive, or in any real way traumatic apart from what we might call growing up in a normal environment. But what I am learning is that as children, we respond to events, subconsciously, which have far reaching implications.

I was adopted. I knew that from very early on. It was never a problem for me, I freely talked about it, even as a young child. I have discounted the impact that being adopted has had on me almost up to this very day. While the jury is still out, I think there is a good chance that I am in denial regarding its impact on my life. I know that the constant teasing and bullying is a key part of the equation. Big ears, bright red hair, glasses, all impacted me in terms of how I grew to view myself. Subconsciously I shut down emotionally to protect myself, as I have learned, a necessary coping mechanism for kids, which now as an adult, has significant negative implications. I found it interesting recently, going through a memorabilia box and looking at all of my school pictures. I started wearing glasses in grade one. Interestingly, not one of my school photos has me wearing glasses. Perhaps an sign of being self conscious, LOL.

Fiercely independent, mentally tough, risk-adverse, reckless, passionate, stubborn, intimidating, domineering, indifferent, opinionated, pretentious are all words that have been said about me, and probably more importantly, by me. These are words that I use to describe me, it wasn’t a hard list to come up with, and it definitely isn’t complete. And then when you pull the curtain back, behind all of these forward facing words, is another one, which lurks in the shadows - failure. What?! How can you possibly think that, look at your life. Ah, but you don’t REALLY know me, do you? Don’t know the real story, don’t see how I have let so many people down, not lived up to the expectations, both real and projected. If people really knew me, they would see it clearly. What is the term bouncing around out there right now, Imposter Syndrome? I know, I know, we have a label for everything right now; modern day maladies are a dime-a-dozen. But, as the hard protective shell that I have lived in for most of my life, begins to crack, I can see now how much impact my narrative has had on me, and on those closest to me. My wife has endured twenty-seven years of my emotional paralyzation. My fifteen year-old kid, one of the best things in my life, has suffered from it, suffered from my harshness, my anger, my emotional distance. I am scrambling to right those wrongs, before he springs from the nest. It has had a huge impact on Transcend, on employees along the way. It has had a massive impact on me, reinforcing that negative narrative, resulting in my own avoidance tendencies and behaviour. It has impacted friends, family, and investors. The hard truth is that I am beginning to see how vast an impact that narrative has had, and see now how important it is to find the pause button, no more than that, the rewind and delete button (a reference to cassette recorders for those of you too far away from fifty). It is time to record a new narrative, one that is kinder, that is more generous. I know there is much to celebrate in the almost fifty years I have spent on this spinning orb. The challenge though remains, moving from a place of knowing something to a place of living something.

The other night, while sipping wine and conversing at some friend’s place, a wise man in the room said that we need to learn to embrace our ordinariness, give up our quest for significance. I challenged him as he spoke these sentiments, but upon reflection I think he is right, I did say he is wise. Striving, grasping at significance has caused me to perpetuate a myth. I am hoping as I crest the hill of fifty, that I can settle into a place where I can embrace being ordinary. Where I can celebrate and rest in the knowledge that where I find myself is where I am supposed to be, and that if I never move from here, that is fine, no more than fine, it is good.

You only are free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.

Maya Angelou

High School, Seriously

Sitting in the large gymnasium this evening at Scona High School, I was almost reduced to tears. No it wasn’t the school jazz group serenading us, although they were good, and it wasn’t the drama team’s opening act of Big Fish either. I found myself fighting back tears at the prospect of my son starting high school there in the Fall. How the hell can he already be old enough to go to high school? Scona did a fine job with their open house, and moved him from I doubt it, to a very strong maybe.

When the hell did I start grade ten, oh right, it was 1985. That was the year “We are the World” topped the charts, the first .com was registered, Coca Cola blundered with New Coke, you could go to a movie for under $3 and if I had the cash or the inkling, I could have bought my first house for $75,000. I was entering grade ten almost thirty-five years ago, and now I have a fifteen year old who is about to do the same. No wonder turning fifty is such a mind-fuck.

We were talking later this evening in the hot tub about what attending high school will be like for him and I remarked that no matter what, he will have a better experience than I did. My kid is the well liked, popular kind of kid, good looking, athletic, friendly, outgoing. Most of the things that I wasn’t in high school. For that I am thankful, and I told him as much. While he finds the academic aspects of school much more difficult than I did, he seems to have the social aspect down. I recounted my awkward years, bright red hair (not cool ginger as it is now) big ears, and glasses, not to mention I was geek before there was geek, and I was an average athlete in a school where there were barely enough people to field most teams. He slid over, after, put his arm around me, and said that he was sorry that I had to go through that. Another thing my kid has on me, EMPATHY; he must get it from his mother.

There are only forty days left for me to revel in my forties. I guess I am entering a twisted sort of personal lent (40 days before Easter) where I get to count down the days until fifty. Typically people give things up for lent, to prepare themselves for the coming of Easter. I don’t think that is the right thing to do in my case. I think my twisted personal lentish period should be filled with doing, noticing, embracing, remembering, reflecting, and maybe a little eating and drinking, but for sure, it should be a time full of “inging”. Then maybe, if I am lucky, I will be prepared to step over the threshold that my son stands pointing at, whether he wants to or not.

Confluence

The Oxford dictionary defines confluence as an act or process of merging; two rivers coming together to form a single confluence. Lately it seems as though my life has been impacted by several confluences.

Without any design, I have found myself in the midst of three interesting influences. Including my recent trip to the mountains, George Orwell’s novel 1984 and the Netflix series Black Earth Rising.

While driving home through Banff National Park, I muttered more to myself than anyone (I am prone to this behaviour) about how being in the mountains is good for the soul. My wife sitting next to me, overheard my muffled utterance and asked me why, and truthfully I was at a loss to explain my statement. Upon further reflection, I am still left with a bit of “je ne sais pas” but I also have, perhaps, a little bit to put my finger on. More than being awestruck by the scope of the peaks, or their snow capped beauty, it is in part their towering permanence towering over me. They have been where they are for eons, and I am but a blip, passing quickly by. Then there is the experience of standing on top of one of those peaks (Whitehorn) squinting in all directions from the summit, sunlight blinding. On Sunday, bluebird skies abruptly reaching upwards from sparkling white ridges, all I could utter was “fuck it is amazing up here”.

Sharing the day with my kid, who is far more brave than I, being challenged by him to ski down a run so steep that my heart and mind raced with anxiety and exhilaration. Seeing his joy, his excitement, the satisfaction of riding terrain that few would dare, filled me at the same time with trepidation and pride. I think all of this was at least in part, an answer to the why? There is something about mountains. There is something about granite uprisings that confound our understanding, our mortality, our reason, or at least mine. And then there is the cold, the snow, the ice, all of these, speak to me, convey something deep, too deep for me to comprehend. Maybe it has to do with the Scottish blood running through my veins? Who knows. We, my son and I are somehow bound together by the cold, the beauty and harshness of winter. It is a season I relish, long for, and likely will never despise, no matter how old I grow, or how loud my old bones protest.

Onto Orwell; more relevant today than ever, in the shadow of the puppet to the south. Freedom is slavery. Thought police seek to enslave, blue overalls rewrite history, eradicate it and mold it into a fabricated fiction. Truth is nothing but a mist burning up in the heat of the sun. How is it possible that a book penned seventy years ago can be more pertinent today, than it was when first conceived? Prophecy, prognostication, call it what you will, but as I read, I am challenged, caught off-guard by my present reality.

And then a story about Rwanda, the genocide of eight hundred thousand Tutsi slaughtered by their Hutu cousins. Oblivious to the holocaust at the time, caught up in being a president of students, occupied by trivial issues, budgets, Ralph Klein, a new library. How is it that a dramatization could strike so deep? How is it that two weeks in Burundi eight years hence could impact me so deeply. The divide between tribes, etched in my soul. The plight of Africa seared across my soul. Broken promises, poverty, hopelessness, chaos. A night of tears, torrents streaming down my cheeks, haunt me still.

Confluence. Different streams, past and present merge into a torrent of unrest; thoughts of jumbled poetry jostle themselves onto a page. And then to end it all, two nights of the Hobbit brought to life on a screen. The magic and genius of Tolkien adding to the mix. Parting words of my son, as he makes his way to bed…. How does he do it dad? Happiness and sadness at the same time, profound observations at fifteen, I think, almost fifty now. Thankfully he won’t have to wait as long as I, to unlock the mystery, he is already riding the path towards wisdom.

The Red Pill, Part 2

I grew up in the country. My family lived on twenty acres about seven miles west of a little village named Irricana. By 1909 the little establishment had a post office, a hotel and a general store. Its “creative” name was a conjunction of the two words irrigation and canal. There were a lot of irrigation projects in the area at the time the village was established. Talk about the creative work of a copy genius, LOL. Ironically, all of those unlined irrigation canals were abandoned by the time I grew up.

Despite all that you might hear to the contrary, most of the farmers I knew growing up were pretty well off. As a collective they liked to complain about how hard it was to be a farmer, long hours in the tractor, and combine, neglecting to talk about all the time at the hockey and curling rinks. In contrast, I grew up in the modest home of immigrants, who had come over across the pond from Denmark after WWII. My mom came with her family when she was eighteen and my dad in his twenties with his brother Bill. My mom followed the norm of the day, and worked in the home, and my dad in 1981 was still a crane operator for Stirling Cranes in Calgary. He would soon lose his job, and become the printing press operator for the local rag, the Five Village Weekly.

Almost all of my friends in 1981 had a motor bike. What self respecting, parent financed kid didn’t? I too wanted a motor bike in 1981, in fact, I had wanted a motor bike long before that summer. I had often ridden my friend Bill’s bike, and my cousin Gunnar’s bike, and I wanted nothing more at the age of twelve than my own powered steed. Unlike most of my friends, ? I was not self respecting, nor parent financed.

Selling my first 4H steer in the following Spring had yielded a tidy sum of cash, and I found myself with around $900 to spend. A more responsible youth, a more enterprising youth, would have saved a good portion of those funds and reinvested them into the next year’s 4H project, and maybe even bought a few more animals on the side. Many of my friends at the time already had small herds of their own cattle. I had no herds, nor a motor bike. But with what must have felt like a small fortune to me then, I could remedy at least one of those problems.

I don’t remember how much pestering it took to cajole my dad into taking me to Blackfoot Motorcycles. I remember the shop pretty well, it was a Honda dealership located just off of Blackfoot Trail in Calgary. It must have been a Saturday or Sunday when we visited the store looking for a used motor bike. I remember walking through the rows of all of the new models, wistfully dreaming of owning one of them. I used to go to the motor bike shows at the Stampede Grounds with my cousin Steve and uncle Mike as a kid, and as a result,I had become a die hard fan of the Honda brand.

It was my lucky day, in the back of the shop, amongst a number of used bikes, was a Honda XL100. It was, in my mind, the perfect bike. A four stroke engine, full suspension, and just the right size. Well, perhaps it was a little big, but I knew I could handle it. I knew at once it was the motor bike for me. Little did I know that as I was fawning over my soon to be dirt bike, my dad was busy eyeing another motor bike, a 1970 Honda ST90. This was a green street legal commuter with headlights, signal lights, a helmet lock, and a three speed automatic transmission. He thought that the ST90 was a much better option for me. I was mortified with his notion, and worked hard (probably a foreshadow of my legal training was at work that day) to convince him that the XL100 was the smart choice. We lived in the country, there was no need for little street bike, when all I was going to be riding was dirt and gravel roads, and launching myself over jumps. Besides, I was paying for this bike, so it ought to be my decision. After some haggling (I can’t remember how long it went on) we finalized the sale of the bike, and for some reason, I can’t actually remember why, we couldn’t take the bike home that day. Perhaps it needed a final check up and inspection before it left the shop. Who knows. It was arranged that my dad would pop over after work (Stirling Cranes was close by) early in the week to pick it up and bring it out to our acreage. I was ecstatic.

I remember counting down the minutes of the day my dad was bringing home my new to me motor bike. I was beside myself with excitement and anticipation (I see the same level of excitement in my son now in situations like these). Finally I saw the orange Chevy half ton truck turning into the driveway. I scrambled outside to greet him and my new motor bike. What I saw at that moment, shattered me. In the back of the box was not the red and black XL100 bike which I had bought, but the green ST90 in its place. I was heartbroken, I was furious, I was confused. My dad made the decision to exchange the bikes when he went to do the pick up. I think, although I wasn’t listening to any of the words coming out of his mouth at the time, that his rationale was that this was a safer bike, a better bike. I think in his mind he was making a wise decision for his kid. All I saw was an object of scorn strapped to the box of the truck. At some point I calmed down, and the bike was unloaded. I put on a geeky white helmet, stood on the kickstarter, rev’d the bike into life and silently drove around our little turnaround on my inaugural ride. Even now, I remember the vow I made riding down our back lane towards the white barn. I was going to destroy the green ST90, do everything I could to abuse it, and in the process prove to my dad how unsafe it was and how big a mistake he had made. Within days both back signal lights were broken. I rode that bike in ways it was never designed to be ridden, jumped it off features that even my daredevil kid would be proud of. If the Honda engineers had seen how much abuse that bike survived they would have been impressed. More importantly, something fundamentally broke inside of me that day. And a chasm was ripped open between me and my dad that never was repaired.

I think it was around that time we started to attend a little church on top of a hill not far from where we lived. The Irricana United church, was located almost halfway between Irricana and Airdrie. It was already a designated historical site at that time, as it was a community project founded in 1919. The story goes that people set out from Airdire and Irricana one Sunday morning in their horses and buggies; where-ever they met, they would build a church. My parents decided that it would be better if we went to church with people living in our community, including a number of kids I went to school with.

Remember the summer night late in August 1981 at the Billy Graham crusade? That night, under the lights, I had been moved. I am not sure if it was the words spoken by the Rev. Graham, or the movement of the spirit, or as the sociologist Emil Durkheim named it, the social effervescence of the crowd being serenaded by the Billy Graham crusade classic “just as I am”. But whatever it was, I found myself answering “the call” walking down the long flight of concrete stairs, making my way out on the playing surface of the Calgary Stampeders, to stand alone, despite the crowd around me, all at the age of twelve. I don’t remember if this event was a contributing factor in my parents decision to start attending the local church, but it may have been. As I said, 1981 was the beginning of significant transition for me. The trip down the rabbit hole didn’t get any easier, I had after all, taken the red pill.

The Red Pill, Part 1

You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Morpheus

On a warm summer evening in August 1981, sitting on a hard plastic folding seat in McMahon Stadium, I took the red pill; sort of. I was twelve years old, and my friend had invited me along to the Billy Graham crusade which was making its way across Canada that year. Then Premier Peter Lougheed welcomed the “President’s Preacher” to the province personally, in his address admonishing Albertan’s to take heed of Mr. Graham’s message of hope, regardless of whether they were content to stick with the blue pill. I had no idea what to expect, and thinking back (although the rear view mirror is a little hazy thirty-seven years later) I don’t think I had even heard of Billy Graham until that day.

Is there a God? That classic existential question that everyone has to deal with, at least at some point in their life, even if it is right before they check out for the last time. It wasn't the first time that I had been confronted with the question. I grew up going to Sunday school, like many kids living in Alberta in 1981. My family, almost weekly, made the fifty minute drive into Calgary to the Danish Lutheran Church. I had been baptized there as a baby (or at least that is what they tell me, and I guess there are pictures confirming the event as well). So the story goes, I grew up to be a royal pain in the ass for most of my ill-equipped tutors, starting as young as the age of six. Asking questions no one wanted to answer, pointing out inconsistencies, and poking at the chinks in the uncomfortable armour my religious tutors wore.

This journey that I have been on lately, as I transition from forty-nine to fifty has been an interesting one, to say the least. Along the way, I have discovered that there is a younger version of myself that I have at best ignored, and at worst left bleeding in a ditch somewhere outside of Irricana to die. Upon reflection, I am beginning to realize that the year 1981 was pretty significant. That night in Calgary, was just one of the events that year which I am beginning to realize has shaped and influenced my life still. 1981 was a year of major transition in my life, I had just finished grade six and was starting junior high in the fall. I was in that awkward gap year between being a kid and a legit teenager. I was exploring big questions, I was reading big books. I am pretty sure I was reading Stephen R. Donaldson’s first trilogy the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, which was exploring some pretty big existential issues. I think I actually need to reread those books, I discovered today that there are another seven books in the series now. And if memory serves, 1981 was also the year in which my relationship with my dad significantly changed.

Growing up, my dad and I were never very close. He had grown up in rural Denmark before WWII. A farming life in Europe in the thirties was not an easy life. He was born into a family of twelve siblings (I think this is right) some of whom died very young, as was the norm in those days. From what I have gleaned, his father was a severe man, hard and demanding and not one who provided what we would call a nurturing environment in which to grow up in. I never met him, although I am named after him, and there is a grave stone in a cemetery in Skarild, Jutland with my name on it. I thought that was weird, seeing it, when we visited it earlier that year. The grave yard also was home to a squadron of Allied fliers who crashed after being shot down by the occupying Germans. They were buried there too, beneath the twisted propellor of their fallen aircraft. Our family had been to Denmark earlier that summer and I took a picture of the grave stone pictured above, I know you were wondering, and I digress.

Skarild Kirke Allied Memorial

I never met my farfar (dad’s dad) although I did get to spend some time with my farmor (dad’s mom) six years earlier, and despite the language barrier, I remember her warmth and kindness. My dad was in many ways a lot like his father before him, as we as humans are prone to be, although not severe, he was not someone who was in tune with his emotions. I wonder where I get that trait from? He worked hard all his life, and as I was to discover in my early twenties, he was essentially illiterate. In Denmark he had only gone to school until grade six. He immigrated to Canada in the fifties and learned to speak English like most immigrants of the day, by osmosis. Thus he never learned to read or write English until much later in life, a product in and of itself of his determination.

But back to 1981. That Fall, I purchased my first 4H steer. I had given up being a Scout in order to put my hand towards the task of raising of cattle. I was a country boy after all. I had dreams of being a cowboy, maybe even a bull rider when I grew up. I even had a horse, named Suzy, trained in the riding style of Western Pleasure. I purchased my first 4H steer from my friend Charlie’s parents who ranched a large herd of pure bread Charolais. In the proceeding months I fed, tended, cursed and trained the damn thing to lead on a halter all by myself. As a member of the Irricana 4H beef club I was tasked to not only raise my animal, but also train it to follow me around like a puppy dog, and stand straight so that it could be judged at the year end beef show, before it was eventually auctioned off and sent for slaughter. That first year, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, and much to my dismay and embarrassment, I spent much of my time with that thousand-pound animal dragging me around the corral we had built for it. I was told in 4H that when you were training an animal that you were never supposed to let go of the attached lead, otherwise the damned animal would learn that you weren't the boss. So for months, I never let go, but I was never the boss. The problem with my training method was not my determination but my equipment. I had inherited, from someone in the club, a leather show harness, and I was trying to break my steer into submission with that. Which I subsequently learned, almost too late, was all wrong.

With only a few weeks left before the show I finally admitted defeat fearing the shame and disgrace I would suffer at our club show, and I finally admitted to some other members that I was an abject failure in the ways of subduing bovine. Thankfully, an older member of the club, Tracey Hanson, had mercy on me, and she volunteered to come over and lend me a hand. When she arrived, she realized that I was trying to break the animal with the wrong equipment and quickly introduced me to the rope halter. I quickly discovered that the rope halter worked much better. The show halter had a chain that fit under the chin of the animal which would go tight when you pulled, but loosen immediately when the tension was released. This is not how a rope halter works. The piece of rope under the chin with a rope halter doesn’t loosen up with diminished tension, and as such, the animal is in discomfort when it is tight. So when that off-white beast started dragging me around behind it, even my weight at the age of twelve was enough to pull that bottom rope tight and cause the steer to have second thoughts. Within a couple of hours it finally yielded. And within two weeks, I had that beast behaving like a well trained lab. It was a lesson in stubbornness for us both, I guess. I learned that asking for help, isn’t always a bad thing, ??and it learned that not pulling would avoid it pain. My animal didn’t win any prizes that year, in fact my animals never did win. But it did get sold, and I was a twelve year old kid who had $1000 to spend, and I knew exactly what I was going to buy….

One of those days...

This short story (I guess you would call it that) is what I have been working on the past couple of days. It is just over 3000 words long, so it isn’t the shortest of reads. First stab at writing some fiction like work. Would love to know what you think if you take the time to plough through it.


It was going to be one of those days, he could already tell. Despite cold bluebird skies, a dark cloud already hung over him, and if the past was any indication, it would almost certainly persist for the rest of the day. He didn’t have many of them, these days, but lately, they were occurring more frequently than he liked. If asked, he would admit his funk, denial wasn't his thing, but he would be at a loss to explain it. Shit, he couldn't explain his state of mind if he had wanted to; not even if someone had a 9mm rested upon his temple, hammer cocked. Emotional intelligence was overrated anyway, he muttered to himself, as he stepped out of bed already frustrated. His wife would say that was his favourite word. Frustrated, which when amplified could quickly shift into anger. Admittedly, he possessed very little else in the way of emotional awareness, and his long-suffering family would confirm this if asked.

The day, despite the impending gloom, followed an almost daily ritual. He filled the reservoir of the faithful Dutch made Moccamaster (over eleven years old now, and evident by its cloudy state) with three-quarters of a litre of filtered water. He still smiled when doing this. It had been a touch of genius, installing the pot filler into the renovated kitchen and hooking it up to a commercial water filter, perfect for brewing amazing coffee at home. Taking his scale from the cupboard, he measured forty-five grams of Santa Rosa Petite and dumped the lightly roasted tiny seeds into the Baratza Sete grinder. There wasn’t a hint of oil on any of the roasted coffee seeds, a testament to both the roast and the coffee’s freshness. He had made coffee like this so many times, he could have done it blindfolded with one hand tied behind his back. He slid a No. four filter out of its box and placed it in the black ribbed basket, rinsed the filter with hot water, and proceeded to dose the now freshly ground coffee into it. The hot water quickly sputtered out from the brew arm, wetting the grinds, and he stirred the slurry with a little-pointed silver teaspoon which had been his wife’s baby spoon. For whatever reason, it just felt right in his hand, a perfect stirring spoon, he thought; which he kept with the rest of his coffee paraphernalia, so he didn’t have to go hunting for it.

He turned his attention to the small fifty-year-old copper bottom pot, filled it with hot water, and set it on the burner, to boil. He used this pot for cooking eggs. Opening the fridge, he took out a large single white egg, placed it in a black plastic egg holding tool which he used to lower the orb into boiling water, so it didn’t crack. Reaching for an ebony handled cerated Cutco knife, he pulled it off of the wood covered knife magnet, sliced a half inch thick piece of potato bread, and placed it in the toaster oven. The water now boiling, he tapped the preset timer on his Apple watch for seven minutes, knowing at this elevation, that cooking time would yield a perfect soft boiled egg. It bothered him, when he set his mind to it, how ritualistic he had become with breakfast. He used to think that he was a free spirit, not given to rigid habits, and yet, this daily routine now spoke volumes; up until three years ago, he never even ate breakfast. Gathering the repast, he placed it all on the large wood top island, slumped onto the black pneumatic chair in front of his Mac and began scanning his emails. He did this most days, cherishing the time alone to ease into the day; reading, and responding as required, but mostly deleting emails. His inbox was mostly filled with junk, but lately, the ones from Medium or the Athletic feed had something worth a glance. Today, the gloom coloured the ritual, hung heavy, pressed against him, gnawed at the fact that he wasn’t writing.

Looking up, he wondered how it could already be 11:15? He opened the chrome handled drawer beside him and pushed the auto start button on a tiny remote; the truck needed to run for a bit, despite being parked in the garage. It was minus twenty-nine outside. He could see the headlights flash through the frosted pane of glass in the garage, and heard the engine roar to life…

There had been a short respite from his brooding, during lunch club. While it often seemed like an imposition, an interruption in his routine, the weekly gathering and conversations amongst colleagues almost always left him energized.

Then there was the visit to the wine store on the way home. Not that he needed more wine, his cellar was very well stocked, most would have said it required a good party, or three, to thin it out. Yet wandering the aisles, scanning labels for something new, had proven to be an adequate form of therapy. This store was a relatively new haunt for him. He had only been a regular for less than a year, give or take. Here too, the conversations energized him. Here too, he felt like he was part of a community, part of something beyond himself. It was strange, but places like these always made him feel like he belonged. Wine had been one of his dominant passions since law school. Frank Jones, his tax law professor, had inspired him, one night, after feeding his entire class. Just driving up to the century-old brownstone in Old Glenora had made a significant impression on him. After dinner, led by Prof Jones, he joined some others, and they made their way downstairs into what had initially been a boiler room, which Frank had made into a makeshift wine cellar. So many bottles, most covered in a fine layer of dust, stacked, row upon row, hundreds of them, captured his imagination.

His journey into wine had started innocently enough, and it had only taken one good bottle. He had told the story so many times, his friend Brian visiting him, 1977 Château Lafite Rothschild in tow. He had driven with it up from Calgary and wanted to share it with his old friend from university. That vintage in the Bordeau wasn't the best ever, but Brian said he had paid over six hundred dollars for the bottle. He could remember rolling his eyes in feigned disbelief at Brian’s all too common act of extravagance, while secretly, eagerly wanting to drink what was easily the most expensive bottle of wine he had ever seen. He could remember sitting down at the tiny kitchen table, white speckled arborite top, ringed with bevelled Chrome around the edges; a fitting, if not ironic setting to consume such a prodigious flask. Despite the quality which spilt out of the bottle into cheap wine glasses that chilly November evening over twenty years ago, the evening did not go as he anticipated. Rather than being amazed at the nuanced flavours and experience of such an expensive bottle, he felt ripped off. How could six hundred dollars taste so average? He was so perplexed, why couldn’t he taste the difference? For all he knew, he could have been drinking Yellow Tail. A bottle of that value must have an inherent quality, and he remembered making a decision to never drink another bottle like it until he could discern what made it so. The journey into the world of wine had begun.

Twenty-one years later, a WSET III Advanced certificate hanging on his office wall, he was now well practiced in the art of drinking wine. Far too well practiced his wife had said on many occasions. These days, his attention had been directed towards drinking natural wines. Many of his friends still mocked him for what they said was a passing fad, although he didn’t think so. He walked out of the wine store, a lightness to his step, two bottles packed into a brown paper bag under his arm, and climbed behind the wheel of the dirty but still white Toyota Tundra.

Pulling into the garage, he couldn't help but notice that his cloud of funk had followed him home. As he often did, he lingered there, parked inside of the garage, engine running. His truck had become a place of solace for him, although he was at a loss to understand why like so much else in his life. Sitting there, he could feel the tightness in his chest, feel his pulse vibrate outward. His former therapist had told him to pay attention to his body, learn to listen she had said. Ok, he was listening but still didn't have a fucking clue as to what his body was trying to say. Was it despair? Perhaps hopelessness? Hell, it might just be the lasagna he had eaten at lunch club.

As he opened the back door, he was enthusiastically greeted by the family dog. She was rescued, from the Onion Lake reserve, part mutt mixed with stray. She was a medium sized dog, weighing in at sixty-five pounds, mostly black with a brown teddy bear face, and a thick scruffy double winter coat, in need of grooming. Charlie would wag her tail so violently that it was more of a wagging of her whole body - maybe that is where the saying the tail wagging the dog had come from, he thought? Although the house was quiet, he knew he wasn't alone; but no one besides the optimistic dog noticed his presence. He was tempted to reacquaint himself with the chair at the island, but he spent too much time there, even on good days when he wasn't filled with brooding angst. No, on second thought, a walk would be better both for the dog and for him; maybe he could shake loose the cloud that was dogging him.

Getting ready to go for a walk had become a bit of a cat and mouse game with the dog. Charlie didn't rouse herself for much, food of course, but otherwise nothing much sparked her attention. Nothing that is, but the sound of him putting on a pair of boots. He could be as quiet as a church mouse, and still, Charlie would come bounding down the stairs from two stories above. It baffled him how she could hear and recognize the sound of him putting on boots from two floors up.

In spite of the frigid temperature outside (he secretly mocked most of the inhabitants of his city for their predisposition towards whining about the weather) he was going for a walk. Yes, a polar vortex had settled right on top of the city, yes it was minus thirty-five with the wind chill, but you could always put on more clothes. He had often quipped that if it was too hot, you could only take off so many clothes, and then there were none left to take off. People living in Arizona complained about the weather all the time to, running from air-conditioned houses to air-conditioned cars, to the air-conditioned mall. He much preferred the cold. Laying on a chair in his cold office was the base layer of teal coloured Ice Breaker calf length merino wool long Johns, which he now put on. Along with a non-descript grey merino wool shirt. Above this, he stepped into a pair of tan coloured Spyder bib ski pants, the ones with black knee patches. He had searched long and hard a few seasons back to find a pair, finally finding some that fit at Monods in Banff, and to his surprise, they had been on sale. Then came his boots.

The move last June to their new house (first move in twenty years) had brought the river valley to their doorstep. Since then, he had developed the beneficial ritual of going for a walk, almost daily, although it hadn't been so frequent this past couple of months. His new ritual of walking every day, afforded him the need for a good pair of hiking boots. With him, little was needed to justify an expenditure, he was happy in almost any circumstance to employ retail therapy, despite having the cognizant wear-with-all to understand its short-lived efficacy.

He slipped his right foot (he always started with his right) into the sleek two-toned grey Salomon Quest 4D II boot. He had spent time researching online which boot had the best rating and was delighted when he discovered that MEC had them in stock. He laced it tightly with the speed eyelets, pulling the bow of nylon rope laces tight, so he didn't have to tie a double knot. He hated tying double knots, always had. He mostly hated the effort it took to untie a double knot. Next, the left foot, as it underwent the same ritual, and then he was shod and ready for the short trip. Clicking his way up the wooden flight of stairs from the basement, his rubber and steel spiked ice grips announcing his arrival to the already panting dog at the top of the stairs. Clicking across the heated tile hallway floor, he made his way to the back door where his laid out gear awaited him. He slipped his 45 North face-mask on, tucking the ends under his collar. Next came the baby blue North Face Ventrix coat with a hood, which despite its light weight packed a serious punch in terms of warmth and wind protection. Only two items remained. He placed his Bose over the ear headphones over his already covered ears and dawned his 45 North heavy winter cycling gloves. Cursing now, at himself silently, he took them back off, realizing that he had neglected to put on the dog’s harness and hook the red leash to his waste. Finally, he looked down at his Apple Watch and tapped the Outdoor Walk button. Why he even bothered to track these damn walks was a mystery, even to himself, but something, some need to document his progress, albeit minuscule had been at play for months now.

Stepping outside into the cold, he was annoyed that just thirty-five minutes remained in his audio book, The Brothers K. This book had accompanied him now for over twenty-seven hours of walking. He had grown fond of the characters in the book and was partly dreading its conclusion, even though he expected it to end well, unlike his encounter with Washington Black. Walking south down the back alley, the ice picks on his boots gripping the compacted snow, he turned east towards the river valley, Charlie pretended to know how to heel. Lately, though, the dog had taken to walking behind him on the path down into the valley. It was narrow, hard packed, and apparently, she didn’t like walking in the deeper fresher snow out to the sides. He found this behaviour of hers rather amusing. It wasn’t until the two of them made a turn off the path towards the frozen creek bed that he stopped, and unclipped her leash.

Walking now on the frozen creek bed, Charlie running ahead, the cloud of funk began to dissipate slowly. He had half expected this. These past six months had demonstrated how effective walking had been in providing a more healthy outlook, both mentally and physically. He had walked for hundreds of hours now, listened to the same number of hours of audio books. Yet in many ways, the journey he had begun in the fall, seemed to have stalled. He wasn’t even sure some days what real impact all of his walking and thinking and writing had accomplished, was accomplishing. He had spent over two months with Brene Brown’s Texan drawl in his head and while that time had felt like progress, it now too, seemed distant. Maybe he needed to retake those walks with Brene? The snow crunched under his feet, making that odd squeaky noise, like someone playing with a styrofoam cup. Usually, that sound would have annoyed him, but out in the cold on the creek bed, it had a curiously calming effect. Pulling off a glove, the kind with freedom for two fingers, and a mitten for the rest, he pulled from his face fogged glasses (he was so sick of wearing glasses) and put them into the front pocket of his bibbed ski pants. He walked and listened, icicles began to form from the end of his eyelashes, like slowly growing bars in a prison cell in front of his eyes. As expected, but too soon, thirty minutes into his walk, the book ended, much as he had anticipated. Mixed emotions now flowed within his veins, but still, he was at a loss to interpret them, perhaps he was frustrated.

He slipped the silver noise cancelling headphones off of his ears and wore them around his neck for the rest of the way. As he crunched along, he thought, I am probably making quite the racket for the beavers underneath my feet, and that made him smile. Charlie had gotten quite far ahead but was sitting at the precise spot they usually climbed out of the creek bed together, waiting for him. As he ascended, feet slipping on the steep snowy bank, he could feel the wet of sweaty clothes against his skin. The walk up the path was somewhat laboured, he hadn’t been walking enough, and even with spikes on his boots, the poor traction required more effort. He let the dog pull him along, despite knowing it was a bad habit, for him and the dog. Twilight was setting, an eery light reflecting off of the snow. He stopped after reaching the top of the path, marking the faded pastel colours on the horizon, and then pulled his iPhone out of his pocket, took a selfie, so he could see what those icicles looked like growing on his face. The walk home now was short, Charlie impatient, almost certainly her paws were uncomfortably cold, she had stopped numerous times on the walk to chew ice balls out from between her nails. Stepping through the gate his boots clicked on the bare cold concrete. His steps felt lighter, and he noticed that the cloud hadn’t followed him home. He stepped into the warm house, unannounced. It was time to make dinner.

Ascending up from "Stove Land"

I think I have always wanted to write. Even as a kid, I think that desire was buried somewhere deep, but it was there. I read voraciously as a young person. I was reading heavy books too, Roots, Shogun, The Chronicles of Thomas R Covenant, just to name a few. Reading for me, unbeknownst to me at the time, was most likely a form of escape. The stories in those books were filled with places I could go to avoid pain. As I continue to dive deep into this journey that I am on, I am confronting the patterns of many others, and seeing similarities. Reading like I did as a youngster is definitely a common theme.

Despite the fact that I have often had a blog as an adult, I also know how much eleven years of university sucked the joy of reading and writing from my bones. It is only in the last year that I have even started to pick up a book, and the same can be said with writing. I attended a food and wine writing workshop in Kelowna in 2013, hosted by my friend Jennifer Cockrall-King, and truthfully I have often wondered why. That conference was a great experience in terms of the activities that we participated in, but the writing workshops almost had a negative effect on me, shutting down my desire to write. I think that I, like so many others, struggle with the basic notion of being a writer. What do I have to offer, what would I write that anyone would want to read?

I picked up Steven King’s “On Writing” this week and started in on it today. I started Margaret Atwood’s Master Class this week, and both offer up the sage advice that you aren’t a writer if you don’t write. So start writing! Like many who like to watch programs about cooking, but don’t cook, I think I adopted this perspective about myself in terms of writing.

I guess I had already decided a while ago that I was going to just write, regardless of what people thought about what I wrote. While this isn’t entirely true, I haven’t yet written with complete abandon, I have already let that horse out of the barn.

Back in December I asked people which book they thought changed their life.

I am indebted to my friend Dave Z for recommending “The Brothers K” by David James Duncan. It is a beast of a book! And to be honest, I have listened to this book via Audible, and not sat and read it (which probably would have been faster). I am almost finished, less than 30 minutes left in the over 28 hours of audio. I have spent a lot of time walking, and listening, getting to know the Chance family. The narrator of this book should get an Oscar (if they had one for reading audio books!). If you haven’t had a chance to read this book yet, I too, highly recommend it.

As someone who is emotionally stunted and emotionally illiterate, I am beginning to discover that books, or maybe more accurately, the accumulation of language is perhaps a key to unlocking the cage which has held all of my emotions locked up all these many years. Obviously writing about my journey in this blog has been therapy of sorts, but more than that, I am beginning to actually experience an emotional response as I listen to books like The Brothers K or Washington Black. Prior to this, I would say that it was only while watching movies that I felt any real emotions, and now that seems to have expanded to the realm of words.

The character Irwin who is emotionally damaged after his stint in Vietnam and a military mental asylum (electric shock therapy and all) begins to find his way back to being human by building wood stoves. It is his way of trying to climb back up from the nether regions of previous trauma. Irwin’s brother Peter names this intermediary emotional world as Stove Land. This idea of Stove Land resonated with me. The idea of climbing up from a world devoid of emotions, finding something to cling to, some common language to speak in the process. I am beginning to understand that perhaps writing is my Stove Land.

I know that one of the tasks at hand is to broaden, or more accurately develop, an emotional vocabulary. I don’t even have words for most of what I feel, which makes it hard to articulate those feelings with any precision. I recently finished reading “Running on Empty” by Dr. Jonice Webb and she has an appendix of words to describe one’s emotions. It is a very long list, I have a lot of words to learn.

I am also determined, perhaps not yet fully committed, to writing a book. I haven’t yet decided whether this book will be fiction, or not, whether it will be related to my life, or not, but I am going to write it. You may never get to read it. As Margaret Atwood says, the waste paper basket is God’s gift to the writer. Having said that, I will most likely eventually put it out there, with trepidation, but then as I am discovering, this is the plight of every writer. Until then, this blog and the Transcend blog will have to do.

Fu#cking Oilers! #@$*!

OK, so you didn’t like my last post filled with analogy!

Hell, I am not writing for likes or atta boys, not even views, but I thought that my desert analogy was at least moderately clever. Perhaps being clever isn’t what you want? Perhaps you are more attuned to the harsh bitter truth. Perhaps our world is more aligned with bullshit, ala Trump, and false promises. Perhaps we are more likely to respond to the drivel of Big Brother or sniveling politicians who promise us the moon and are so brash as to not even disguise the crossed fingers held up for all to see.

I attended the Oilers game tonight, with my good friend Richard and we had fun for two periods, the team was playing together (well at least not against each other). Then came the third period and all hell broke loose, the wheels fell off (or as my son commented the wagon done got blowed up!). How the hell does a team completely loose all modecome of dignity and simply pack it in? How does a professional hockey team simply decide that two periods (well if I am being honest, one and a half periods, they got lucky) is enough hockey to play. An arena full of rabid fans is not enough. A plethora of angry critics ready to pounce is not enough. Dignity and pride are not enough, obviously, as they were happy to simply collapse into a state of corporate dispondance and figuratively head for the exits, which Richard and I did with ten minutes to spare!

The problem with this game, this false pretense of hope is that it reminded me too much of my life. Take for example my dialogue with the executive director of Alberta Snow boarding last Tuesday wherein I queried whether the Slope Style competition would run, when the forecast for Calgary was -27 degrees before the wind chill. I was hoping to stave off unnecessary AirBnB charges and a trip to cowtown. I was assured that the hill (COP by Winsport) would stay open and the competition would happen no matter what. Surprise, surprise, Saturday afternoon came and we were informed by Andrew’s coarch Gerald that the Sunday event was being cancelled. Doesn’t commen sense factor into people’s lives? Isn’t a modern day forecast built around the polar vortex enough to dispel misguided hope? At least the Boy got some good practice in on Saturday, and I got a chance to visit my dear aunt and uncle whom I haven’t seen in far too long.

What is it about the human spirit which is so predisposed to deny the truth, cling to hope despite the fact that it is attached to a thin thread being cooked by a flame? Why can’t we just be realistic and acknowledge the fact that our world is doomed and headed to hell in a hand basket?

Why the hell must we be so damned hopeful, despite all the evidence?

To draw from the well of my previous analogy, hope is pretty much like the water we drink. By the way, did I neglec to articulate the frozen pipes we encoutered when we arrived back from the futile trip to cowtown? Yes it is true, my house was ill conceived by its designers, and is not built to withstand the frigid tempuratures of minus thirty-five. So I am forced to pull off kickplates, pull out the dishwasher and drag out a space heater to warm up frozen water lines. Thankfully nothing has burst but my patience!

Getting back to the damn Oilers, why do we continue to support them? Why do tens of thousands of people pay good money to plop their asses in seats, only to be disappointed? What is it about the notion of hope that we collectively cling to like a bear on a wire, desperate for a snack?

This isn’t rhetoric people! I don’t have a frickin clue as to why we persist to hope despite all evidence to the contrary. When speaking of the Oilers, perhaps it is collective sympathy for Connor McDavid? But when speaking of life in general, I am at a loss to understand why we as humans are predisposed to remain hopeful, despite the failings of systems, family, and the institutions we rely on.

Driving home tonight, all that I could think about is how the city of Edmonton transportation system has failed us Edmontonians by making a decision to not sand our roads and giving us up to navigating iceways without the benefit of skates. All I could think of was how elections have become reduced to vulgar popularity contests built on lies and false promises. All I could think of was how my wife has been subject to a broken system of health care which cares more about denial and self preservation than the hypocratic oath. The list could go on.

Why the hell do I care?

But despite it all, I do care. I am outraged because I see injustice, see inequality, see persistent sexism, racism, see the rich trample the poor, see those in power abuse their privilege to maintain their position and status…. and I see that I am now simply rambling, simply spewing diatribes, reliving the past trauma of my travels which exposed me to poverty and inhumanity which frankly have deeply scarred me.

So maybe that is why the Oiler’s inability to win a game is so troubling? Perhaps it is the analagous nature of a hockey game which forces me to examine my own life, and see it for what it truly is. Perhaps it is this internal conflict, this tightrope that I walk between hope and despair….

Analogy seemingly didn’t resonate, so now I offer up broken rambling fucking honesty.

How much water should you drink when hiking in Death Valley?

How many litres of water do you need to drink while out hiking in Death Valley? This isn’t likely a question you have been asked recently, or even pondered. I rarely drink enough water during any physical activity. I find that while I ride, or hike, or even work outside, that stopping to drink seems inconvenient, almost bothersome. But there comes a point in time, when despite the interruption, my body (now parched) screams for water, and it is at that point when drinking water rarely seems to quench my thirst.

I have been living along side chronic pain now for quite some time. Living with chronic pain is harder than living beside someone who suffers from it. I know this all too well. I am not the one who is confined to a bed with perpetual migraines, not the one pushing the limits on barely effective medications just to eke out a semblance of a human existence. The confines of chronic pain are immense, and the isolation that accompanies it is cruel.

Loading up with enough water for a hike is a relatively easy endeavour. While it might seem inconvenient and burdensome at the beginning of the excursion, the burden lessens as one progresses and more than that, the water sustains and enables the journey in and of itself. 

Hope is a lot like water. 

Venturing out into the desert without enough water will likely prove to be a fatal excursion. Venturing on the journey of life without hope, is not life threatening in the physical sense, but I think it is “life” threatening on a psychological and emotional level. People without hope tend to perish in one way or another.

Being prepared for a long hike in a hot climate isn’t too difficult. Light clothes, a good hat, perhaps sunscreen, some trail mix and of course plenty of water. Living with chronic pain is a lot like setting out for the anticipated hike, getting half way out, and discovering that the vessel that you used to carry your water has a leak. A leaky bottle is akin to hope dashed. Too many hikes into the hot sun with a leaky bottle results in the loss of hope. 

Hopelessness is lot like leaky water bottles.

What’s funny (not really) is that many people who never spend any time hiking in the desert, seem anxious to offer advice on how to do that successfully. It seems odd to me that people feel compelled to wade in with their advice, the snacks to bring, the kind of attire to wear, and especially how best to avoid leaky water bottles. Everyone seems to be an expert on how to avoid leaky water bottles! Even better is how many times people ask whether we have even packed any water for the perilous excursion? 

The reality though is that the average hiker can only handle so many excursions into the hot sun, where the hike started in a state of being fully prepared, only to discover that despite best efforts, you are out of water before the journey is half finished. Like a rat in a Skinner box, too many failed excursions (punishment) can result in a state where there is no longer even a desire to venture out.

Despite our learned aversion to excursions, our family recently geared up and ventured out into the desert once again. Like every time previously, we have begun this journey well prepared, even managing to scrounge up some new water bottles, after checking them all thoroughly for leaks. Time alone will reveal whether these vessels will endure until the end of this excursion. 

Hope is a lot like water.

2019 - So What!

SO WHAT!

IT’S JUST NOT THAT BIG A DEAL!

WHO THE HELL CARES?!

These are the questions ringing inside my head these days.

It is true, I was born in the year 1969, the year which witnessed 350,000 hippies dancing in the mud at Woodstock, astronaut Neil Armstrong making one giant leap for mankind, and also marked the Beatles last live concert in London. In 1969, the year my house was built (ironically), it probably was worth about $15,000 which was roughly double the amount that I might earn in that year (gotta love that math). And on April 16th, in the Calgary General Hospital, I was born to a young pair who weren’t yet ready to be parents and gave me up for adoption.

This past week my good friend David Legg, after a twenty-five year absence, moved back to Alberta to live out the dreams we talked so much about when we were twenty somethings. I had bright orange thick curly hair back then! As we caught up over cocktails and some hot wings, he quipped that I am likely the most intense person he has ever met. I think he meant it as a compliment, at least I took it that way - if nothing else, a backhanded one. Those of you who do know me, would likely agree with Mr. Legg in his characterization. Hell even I know it is true (what do they call me, oh right, a bull in a china shop). For the last forty-nine and three quarter years, I have found the intensity burning inside of me is at the same time a blessing and a curse. This past year was one of the most difficult years of my life thus far. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was nothing if not a disruptive twelve months. A year marked by my intensity breaching its containment shields and spilling out burning everything in its wake, but mostly just burning me. The year 2018 will go down in the history of Poul Mark as the year of deep self reflection. But more importantly it will be remembered, at least by me, as the year I first noticed that the path before me was shorter than the path a had already traveled. It will be remembered as the year that I seriously took note of my impending birthday.

I have much to be thankful for! I know that. If I am not one of the “one percent” I am at least one of the “three percent” on this planet. I live a blessed life. I have an amazing beautiful warrior wife and an awesome son. I am blessed with an education, relatively good health, and a career which I cherish and challenges me almost everyday. I have a diverse set of friends both near and far, and live essentially as did nobility in centuries past. In fact, I know that it is this blessed life that affords me the opportunity to spend time reflecting and writing; instead of simply toiling each day for my basic survival. Knowing all of this, what more could a man ask for?

And for almost fifty years I haven’t asked for much else. And yet, as I begin to crest that mid century hill, I also know that I have only half lived most of my previous years. I have lived incased a self made shell which has served to both protect me at times, but has mostly prevented me from truly entering into the joy, the pain, the emotions of many of those years. It is this forged suit of armour that I want to escape from; if not this coming year, then sooner rather than later. I get that many do not understand, do not see the effects of the armour that I wear. But nonetheless it is real, and my intensity is both the lock and the key to my emotional freedom.

This post, I realize is obtuse. My self assessment and reasoning, jumbled and likely flawed. But that is where I find myself on the eve of my impending mid century mark. I find myself in a state of inner turmoil, confounded with my many blessings, and at the same time, keenly aware of the many deficits I am in possession of. It is the beginning of a new year, and having never been a man to adopt a new year’s resolution, I won’t begin that fraught tradition now. However, I am committed, more than ever in my life before, to press in, and not fall back into the old habits of avoidance and deflection. I honestly don’t know how to unbuckle the armour I find myself incased in, but with the help of those in my life who love me, perhaps, this might yet be the year, that I finally can leave that gleaming pile of metal in a heap on the path behind me.

Unexpected Interruptions

On a bitterly cold winter day, fifteen years hence, my life was interrupted. It wasn’t a surprise, I knew the interruption was imminent, longed for, even delayed. I had been anxiously awaiting that moment for ten months, anticipating the birth of my child (didn’t know it was a boy) with unbridled excitement that was a cocktail of uncertainty, hope, pride, and a dash of healthy fear.

When the time finally came, we were ready. Well my part was easy - pace, support, and wait. Michelle, on the other hand, was in labour for over twenty-two hours. The baby was just so relaxed and calm, not in a rush to meet the world, comfortable inside his windowless carriage. Michelle was a warrior, as always! I think that giving birth was an initiation of sorts for her, going med free, intervention free, enduring almost an entire day of labour without a single cry. Despite the fact that she has a “heart big enough for two” and is one of the most empathetic people I know, she is tough as nails, and she didn’t even grow up on a farm! I marvel with each passing day, how she endures the mental and physical anguish she is confronted with.

But back to the interruption…..

When Andrew Allan Mark was born on January 2nd, 2004 he didn’t even cry. When I recently told him that, he was surprised too, asking aren’t all babies supposed to cry when they are born? Not when they are already breathing, said I. He was born ready to interrupt.

The Boy and his father

The Boy and his father

This past year has been somewhat monumental for me, as you probably already know, if you frequent this space on the internet. As I have reflected on the nearly fifty years of breath I have had on this fragile spec of a planet, I am starting to see an accumulation of unexpected interruptions. The first one (undocumented as of yet) when I was twelve, then seventeen, graduation, Denmark, a cheque for $500, the University of Lethbridge, Michelle, marriage, presidency, grad school, law school, getting fired, and then THE BOY! There have been many unexpected interruptions since the one on January 2nd, 2004 but none so life altering.

I penned a poem for Andrew this year, and gave it to him for Christmas. I knew that it would be hard for him to understand, the imagery isn’t immediately accessible. So I sat down with him one morning and walked him through the events described in the poem. It was an amazing experience, for both of us I think. When he first received the poem on Christmas Day, he spent time reading it, and was appreciative, but after we read it together and I explained the significance of the words, he was moved. It is probably one of the best things I have ever done as a dad. I am astounded almost daily how I got so lucky to have a kid like I do. He isn’t anything close to perfect, but he is an amazing kid. I would be far less human without him in my life, that much I know. When I finished walking him through the poem, he was quiet for a bit, and then looked at me, said “I love you dad” and gave me a hug. The relationship I have with my “teenager” amazes me. Yes we fight, and we both make each other rage at times, but on the whole, we are on a journey together, which I know is a blessing. We still share Michelle, snow, mountains, golf, travel, and a desire for adventure. It is more than I could have ever dreamt of.

My friend Greg Zeschuk was recently notified that he is to receive the Order of Canada. When I found out I was very proud of him, and I found myself a little envious. You see, we are almost the same age, he has four months on me. Upon self reflection, I found myself wondering what I had accomplished these past fifty years, definitely nothing which has had an impact on our nation like my dear friend. And not to diminish in any way the significance of the Order of Canada, I found that I only had to look at my son Andrew to exit that short lived state of funk.

I added the previously referred to quote by Maya Angelou to the header of my website today.

Open your eyes to the beauty around you, open your mind to the wonders of life, open your heart to those who love you, and always be true to yourself.

Today I will celebrate (with those who love us) the birth of my son Andrew who is fifteen years old. I don’t know how it is possible that he is already that old, but I do know how much I love this BOY. I know how much he has shaped my life, altered it, interrupted it, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Here is the poem that I wrote for Andrew this Christmas. I called it THE BOY. If you ever want me to walk you through the imagery I would be happy too.

Crisp azure sky, sun hovering above unbending horizon.

Ribbons of concrete stretch out long in both directions.

An unexpected call shatters the welcome silence, unrestrained news!

My watch stopped, unbroken, the wind holds fast at the intersection of time, yielding to my passing by.

Salty swollen eyes, gaze into the future. A child, a miracle. It was not meant to be, despite Abraham’s abundant seed!

Now we wait, anxious anticipation, fortnights, seven, strewn about, thirteen more cue up like soldiers ready for inspection.

Even then you traveled, warm inside your windowless carriage, destined to see the world. Wallace, Stirling, even a Saint in your name. Chasing Highland sheep, heather underfoot, land of scorched thistles, wilting in hot sun.

A Fall of uncertainty, stained with a father’s defiant shame. Faltering steps, tilting, bracing against the tide, not yet ready to be your OLD MAN.

Resting easy under a patchwork quilt sown of a mother’s love. Deaf to the doomed proclamation of a dragon, concerned more with her hoards of gold, you slept confidently, quietly, unconcerned with what lie ahead.

A new year breaks through frozen sheets of time. A winter etched in our hearts, brittle, and brimming with hope. Silent screams of welcome pain, time now bending its knee, as we wait.

Undeterred, you arrive in your time, unkempt, adorned in a chalky gown. Not a cry to announce your arrival, peace in hand, beauty in the other. A new Old Man weeps tears of joy, a mother’s tired eyes smile down at you.

The Boy, author of welcome interruption, snatching up my pen with pink hands, a predictable story disrupted, tossed aside, forever altered. A new story unfolds, adventure, challenge, a path of unbridled joy now visible. We march lockstep, brave into the unknown.