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 Max Weber 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. 

Core Values

Almost five years ago, Transcend went through a process of establishing its core values. At the time, I actually didn't put much stock in the process. I have never been a fan of all the corporate mumbo jumbo that companies get excited about. I have little patience with CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives; don’t get me wrong, I am all a huge supporter of business being responsible and participating members of their communities, I just cringe at those efforts when they are dressed up marketing efforts. What I have learned in the ensuing years since we adopted ours, is that they must be CORE VALUES. This means that everyone in your organization needs to not only know what they are, but actually live them out. They need to essentially be the DNA of your organization which informs all decisions, who you hire, who you fire. They should define and nurture your culture. All of this, I have learned, takes time and a significant amount of intentionality and resources.

Recently, I have been thinking about my own personal core values. Brené Brown actually talks about this in her most recent book Dare to Lead. She encourages the self evaluation which ends up with identifying personal core values. While I am not sure I have nailed down my two core values yet, I definitely know that one of them is generosity. I am not sure when and where it was hardwired into my core, but along the way it has come to define me. I am not saying that I am always generous. For example, I am still learning how to be more generous in my assumptions towards others, shedding the cynicism which I became all too comfortable with these past years. Maybe another core value for me is community, I am not sure, perhaps transparency? Regardless, it is useful to work through the process of identifying the one or two things which drive most of your decisions and serve to motivate one’s actions.

Why am I writing about this today? Well in short, I received an email from my kid’s principal today where they announced the new branding for his school. As with most rebranding exercises, the logo changes are subtle, and to understand all of the nuances behind why one part is this colour or that is lost on almost everyone outside (and often within) of the organization. But what truly struck me and more accurately made me angry is the list of core values that accompanied the announcement of the new logo.

Learning should be rigorous and relevant

Teaching is learner centred

Students are complex, dynamic and capable

Effective instruction is engaging and empowering

Assessment clarifies goals, feedback and success

We are a positive and dedicated community

All means all

One of the fundamental aspects of core values is that everyone in the organization knows and lives by those core values. As I read through the list above, my instant reaction was that there is no way in hell that my kid knows these core values, let alone allows them to inform how he lives out each day at the school. I am not saying that there aren’t positive sentiments, even truth, represented in the values, but I am highly suspicious that all the students (probably not even all the teachers) allow these stated values to impact their lives in any meaningful way. And if what is said about is true, that teaching is “learner centred” shouldn’t the core values be about the students and not the teachers? Wouldn’t this make for a better learning environment? But alas, that educational model simply isn’t efficient, isn’t affordable, so we persist in antiquated models of assessment that have little if nothing to do with learning.

If you have read this far, I applaud your persistence and your generous offering of your time. I realize that this post has little to do with my journey, other than I felt compelled to write something after being pissed off. So maybe it does have something to do with my journey after all? Normally I would just quietly swear to myself and let my frustration sink inwards, which is probably why I became such a cynic! Maybe this writing will prevent another brick being laid in that wall that I am trying so desperately to knock down.

For the record here are the Core Values for Transcend Coffee

Celebrate Taste

Never Best only Better

Build and Foster Community

Never Stop Learning

Exceed Expectations

What is School For?

My kid sent me this video to watch this morning. As I watched it, I found tears streaming down my face, as I know why he sent it to me. You see, my kid is one of the really SMART kids, who doesn’t SCORE well at school. If it wasn’t for sports and shop class, I don’t think my kid would have any sense of value within the school system. On the whole, his experience at school has knocked him down and made him feel like he doesn't have what it takes to succeed. Truthfully I am at a loss to know where he should go to experience something positive in the next three years. Maybe INNOVATIONPLAYLIST.ORG is the spark to ignite some much needed change.

Which Book Changed Your Life?

I just finished reading Esi Edugyan’s amazing novel Washington Black. This book rocked my world. I spent over nineteen hours walking the ravine with my dog Charlie, getting to know a young boy, a slave, born in the Barbados. It is early in the 1800’s and for three weeks, I journeyed alongside this courageous boy, as he traveled and became a young man. I can’t recommend this novel with enough of the credit it deserves. I finished this book yesterday, and the ending shocked me, emotionally wounded me (in a good way). It even prompted me to write a poem about the journey, although it isn’t finished (and truthfully might never be)…..

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Now I am looking for something else to listen to as I walk my dog Charlie, and that is where you come in, hopefully. What book changed your world? I am not talking Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys here, but more Shogun, or Roots! If you would let me know what I should read next, I would be most appreciative.

On Being a Dad

One of the main motivators which precipitated this journey into the mess of my life was my son Andrew, who I have given over to referring to as The Boy. There are only a handful of people in my life (he, my wife, a few others) who have my heart fully (flawed as it is). In the process of reading Brené Brown’s books, I began to realize that I needed to figure out how to be fully human so that in part, I could model something better to my son, than I have done in the first fifteen years of his life.

For most that know me, even a little, I think it safe to assume that my affection for my son is self-evident. With that said, my tendency has been to express that deep affection via indulgence both in goods and time. Being the father of a single child enables this kind of attention, in ways that those with multiple children, probably can’t afford, on either of those fronts. When Andrew was eight years old, he expressed how distressing he found my many trips away buying coffee. The solution seemed simple to me, although not ideal; find someone else to buy green coffee for Transcend. While I have never loved the “getting somewhere” I have always loved the “being somewhere” and truthfully, although rarely spoken, that decision was a significant sacrifice for me. I was giving something up, that was not just critical to my business, but something that I found profound meaning in and had shaped me in ways, too many to count. It is however, a sacrifice that I count as a blessing, and would do it all over again.

I know that I spoil my kid. I know that many of his friends are likely jealous of him, and what he has, what he gets to do, just like I was jealous when I was young, and watched with envy from the sidelines as my friends rode new motorbikes, drove new cars, had better clothes. I know that my indulgent approach to affection emanates from my own experience. I am a gift-giver, it is my “love language” but truthfully it is just easy! I enjoy shopping, I enjoy finding something that I think others would appreciate and buying it for them. But I also know that this form of affection is in part, a copout. It is easy to give a gift, it is far harder to share deeply held emotions. It is even relatively easy to spend time with my son, when he and I share common interests (surprise surprise, I nurtured a love of golf and snow in him, and steered him away from hockey!). It isn’t much of a sacrifice to head to the mountains, and spend a couple of days on the slopes, even if all that I am now is a glorified camera man.

So in large part, this journey I am on, is about him, my warrior wife, and our family. I want to live differently during these last decades of my life, and I want to give him the gift of learning how to live fully, embracing the messy middle, embracing his emotions, embracing all that life has to offer up, so that he can reap the benefits of a life well lived before he turns fifty!

I am in the midst of writing a poem for him for Christmas. Yes he will get gifts too, but whether he appreciates it now, or not, I want to give him something from my core. That poem is proving difficult to write, and I am struggling to convey his story, which I find interesting. Unlike this poem, which I wrote while laying in bed last night, unable to sleep.

Tears of joy, tears of trepidation, announced with rasping cries, cracking like thunder, disruptive, rapturous first breaths.

A tsunami of possibility, decades flash across my vision, blinking then gone.

Crushing love spills from the jigger, a dash of hope, a twist of fear, shaken and poured, a cocktail of what might be.

I drink, parched cracked lips never satisfied. Dependant and now powerless to resist, forever blinded by your beauty.

Stammering now, years fleeing, hounds at bay, your innocence evaporates in the heat of my gaze. Too soon you are my rival. Too soon will my conversation fail to hold your ear.

Knees now creek with joy, your vigour relentless, all that I hoped. Now exhausted I lag behind, soon satisfied to only watch from a distance. 

A chair at the end of the lane now bears my weight, heavy eyelids straining to see a shadow on the horizon, beckoning your presence, craving a momentary embrace. Until then, memories will suffice! 

This poem is about me, about fatherhood, and I think that is why it was easier to pen. Hopefully it is also a bit representative of most fathers hopes and fears concerning their children. And my hope in this journey is that as I examine my own emotions, and begin to find ways (seemingly poetry) to express these feelings, I will be able to give The Boy a gift that will never fade, never wear out, and one that he will be able to give to his children, should he choose to be a father.

For now, I know that I am blessed, in the middle of this mess. I have The Boy, almost fifteen, who still enjoys my presence, who still wants to do things with me, beat me in pingpong, drive a ball further down the fairway. Looking back on where I was at his age, I know how lucky that I am. And I am beginning to hold out hope, that if nothing else, this journey might offer up the joy of having a continuous relationship with my son, throughout all of his years.

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A few Poems of late that I haven't yet put out there.

Poetry is an interesting form of writing. For me, at times, it comes easy, seemingly flowing out of my fingers into the keyboard. But then when I want to write about a specific subject matter, aka my son or a gathering, the words seem to falter. The two poems below are of the first type, where little thought about them occurred and I simply wrote what came to me. I like this form the most, although, the more deliberate form might work too, the jury is still out. Regardless, it has been a year of poetry for me. More than that, I have preformed most of them on my instagram feed. Who wudda thunk it!

Haggard Young Man

Haggard young man, alive, aware, full of regrets. Half a century at his back, a life walled up with stones of silence. Decades of duplicity, the jester, the priest, the duke of anywhere. Feigned recklessness and bravery adorn his armour, glistening, velvet cape draped round.

Knowledge for currency, stacked neatly in a vault. Riches beyond measure, burn brightly, fuelled with poverty poured out, drenched brands burn cold and blue with fury.

The drunk king demands more wine, the warrior’s sword shattered. A mage alone in the corner doubts visions now clouded in haze.

A whale not in the distance stalks the boat. The tempest rages, waves crash hard on oiled hewn boards, and still the sailers whisper, afraid to act. Alone, afraid the man awaits his due, black waters beckon, the path marked, bones, straws, signs, announce rejected instructions. 

His face set like flint against the task, trust just out of grasp. The night fades into orange, and dim light brings delusions, fragile dreams offered up, smouldering ash filled bowls.

Haggard young man, alive, aware, alone, without home. Half a century at his back, nowhere to call his own. His glass filled with soft tannins, brick red rimmed, once fresh, now fit for tired tongue.

Visions of a new journey, flit around the edges, gates open wide, a king and his subjects sit in ashes. A hot wind blows, pulling the plant up from the cracked ground. Refuge, anger, pain, alive in its shade. The haggard young man, for now, waits impatiently in uneasy rest.

Bullshit

Mutual affection, gazing in unison, fixated on common objects demanding attention.

Two or three gather, perhaps more, common presence declares a community, fellowship. Hearts laid bare, hopes and dreams foretold, revealed, caressed, dashed, restored.

BULLSHIT

Emotions reigned tight, hearts walled in stone. Words laid down carefully in manicured patios proudly for all to see. Polished patios constructed with words, carefully tended, ringed with high walls of busyness, self-made obligation. Polished patios carefully adorned with welcoming chairs of gleaming coals.

BULLSHIT

A bounty of nourishment, food, drink, conversation, prayer, and concern. Empathy, thick as onion paper flows freely, suffocating sympathy fills the room. Hearts laid bare, seized, too long only pumping air.

BULLSHIT

Deluded dreams, laced with angst and disdain. Bitter wine poured out in brimming goblets of hospitality. Ripe platters of loneliness distributed with cheerless smiles. Sisyphus holds court in the corner with yarns of adventure gone cold.

BULLSHIT

But did not our hearts burn, yearn, crave more? Buoyed hope carried upon inauthentic waves, shallow pools stretched wide with the promise of care and meaning.

BULLSHIT

Wanted dead or alive, but mostly dead!

This week, I met with Maddie, my newly appointed spiritual advisor. If I am sounding cavalier about this, it is unintended, in fact anything but that! I am astonished that she would actually sign up for the job, given the fact that she has a fair amount of previous unrelated experience with me. Our meetings are not complicated. Essentially I talk, she listens, asks a few timely questions, I fight back tears and emotions as I recall memories. It sounds simple, but in the midst of all of it, I know something profound is at work within me, and I have no words to express my deep gratitude towards this wise woman.

As I recounted much of my story this week (abridged version) one thing became clear to me. I am not a big fan of this guy.

PoulGrad.jpg

The picture is obviously a grad pic of me in 1987. What do they say, it was the best of times it was the worst of times!

I won’t bore you with the gory details, but nonetheless, my last year of high school was anything but a walk in the park. Graduating with a small handful of people most of whom you have spent your entire life with up to that point. That last year was filled with much upheaval. It culminated a journey spanning twelve years, where for the most part, I was ridiculed for those ears, those goggles and that “howdy doody” hair (just think, now I’d be called a Ginger).

What I am beginning to see is that a tendency of mine began that year. I established a pattern of running and hiding. I would always hide in plain site, but learned, or maybe more accurately, taught myself to adapt, to blend in, to become the person I thought the people around me wanted me to be. And perhaps most importantly, at least at this juncture in my life, I made an effort, albeit a subconscious one, to run from this tormented fellow. Shortly after the photo above was taken, I escaped to Denmark. There, I largely reinvented myself, dumping the cowboy persona, and adopting that of a pipe smoking, clog wearing, bearded hippy.

I will write more on that time later, for I have much to apologize for as a result of that journey, but that is not for today.

Thirty years later, I am find myself confronted with this guy. His awkwardness, his fears, his pain. I am being confronted with his many faults, his many failures, and in the midst of all of that, some amazing relationships too. Even as I write this post, I am confronted with the muted (the best I can do at this point) emotions from that time. While looking for that photo, I found many others, with many people who I rarely think of anymore. Needless to say, it wasn’t a cherry box to rummage through tonight. But it is my box, and it is my history. It is I am sure, like many, a very flawed history. There is laughter to be sure, but there is much loneliness, much confusion, much pain. I think it is probably why I embarked on my “adventure” abroad, and never looked back. I was running from all of that, and also running from the guy pictured above.

Maddie tells me that I need to figure out how to love that guy. I haven’t figured that out yet. Actually I am still (this week in fact) talking about killing that guy off for good. Maybe this isn’t all that odd, I actually don’t know how much of this is a common experience. What I do know is that a pattern began back then, where I developed my chameleon superpower, fuelled by shame, and insecurity. And now, thirty years later, I am realizing that far from discovering a superpower, I built for myself a super prison, walling in my emotions, and effectively (inadvertently) keeping out any beneficial emotions in the process.

So now I have begun to dismantle the immense dam I have spent a lifetime building, brick by brick, slowly, out of fear that dismantling it too fast will result in a full breach; the resulting spill creating chaos and destruction on the dry land downstream. With all of that said, standing on the wall above that dry valley, I think I can make out an old riverbed, longing to have water flowing through it once again. And maybe, just maybe, I can make out the guy above standing down there, smiling, waving, welcoming me home?

Bullshit and the middle of the Mess

I had a chance to catch up this week with a friend (and colleague) that I haven’t seen in a while. I enjoy these lunch dates. Rarely do I dine at “supper time” but I find the middle of the day a great time to connect and catch up.

Plug for the Marc and their Wednesday Burger, always a highlight!

During lunch, I expressed to my friend this growing need within me to pen a book. I have wanted to write a book for a long time, and have even had a working title and table of contents saved on my computer for years now. But, I just don’t know whether people want to read about my journey into the world of coffee?

Carolyn had what might be a brilliant idea for me though. She suggested that I write a book on Bullshit. She said my naturally “grumpy” disposition (she meant that as a compliment, I am sure) was perfect for the subject matter.

You may not be a humorist Poul, but you have sarcasm enough to make up for that!

The idea has stuck with me for the rest of the week. I have witnessed so much bullshit in the world of coffee, just as I know you have witnessed a ton of bullshit in your life. I think Bullshit is a common thread in all of our lives for that matter.

Everyday, I am confronted with bullshit advertising in coffee, bullshit claims about sustainability and ethics, bullshit corporate social responsibility, the list goes on and on. So perhaps there is a book in the middle of all of this mess.

I am beginning to realize that the mess is really where all of life happens. I am just starting to come to grips with how to reside in the middle of the mess and not succumb to the panicked emotions clambering for escape. To live in the middle of the mess where I am not desperately grasping for recognition and praise, affection, and affirmation. To live in the messy middle where I can be free with my emotions, but not controlled or enslaved by them. To revel in moments of anger, angst, and then in the next moment feel joy and hope without thinking that I am losing my mind. This journey of unravelling started with a vague notion that there was a destination at the end, somewhere to get off, an oasis of contentment. But as I continue down the path I am on, I am beginning to wonder if that oasis in the distance is just a mirage, and that I am destined to journey onward despite it all.

I am starting to get a glimpse that living in the middle of the mess, learning how to be content in the middle of the mess, learning how to revel in the mess, is perhaps the destination. To have the freedom to cry BULLSHIT when appropriate and then to raise a glass and shout CHEERS in celebration, all within the same day, the same moment, is not madness.

The writing of a book may not be in the cards, perhaps all I have in me are muddled thoughts on the screen of a mostly unread blog. But regardless, I am starting to understand, albeit slowly, that my journey will likely never lead me out of the middle of the mess.

_________________

wrote a couple of poems this week about some of this stuff….. this one is called Stirrings.

Unfamiliar stirrings, unwelcome, yet ironically full of promise, declared the spectators.

Dubious silent lament, accompany my journey, heavy upon my shoulders. A broken compass in one hand, a snuffed lantern in the other. 

Uneven the path extends before me, shrouded in fog and relentless chill. Stiff with uncertainty I move forward, possessed only with awkward trust.

Cruel memories of fellowship haunt me. Flashes of warm conversation and laughter weigh down my garments, as if heavy with rain.

Fleeting whispers of hope echo off the barren landscape, dragging me forward, ignoring parched lips. 

Far off, a dim light flickers just above the horizon, doubt floods in, is it only a mirage in this frozen desert? Taunts of something more emanate and beckon me forward on weary limbs. 

A crumpled and faded map leads me onward, a promised oasis of wisdom and contentment. Heavy footsteps crunch and break the silence beneath me. A gnawing pang drags me along, mocking the looming urge to succumb to the surrounding wilderness.

The Journey Continues

It’s hard to fathom that it has almost been a month since I last wrote. Time slips quietly through my fingers. We try so hard to grow up when we are young, and then as we age, we do everything we can to slow that process. Alas she tarries for no one.

Since last my fingers danced on the keyboard, it seems like much has happened. A trip to Victoria was made, where I spent some quality time with old friends, new friends, beaches, little mountains, inspiring some writing of poetry (which surprised even me). Came home from that trip with some Island Pinot, and a new painting by Terry Fenton called “Awakenings” (I kid you not!) which is the header of this post. Something about that sunrise over the prairies spoke to me, and it now hangs in our living room as a reminder of this journey that I am on.

In the last month, I have also had the chance to visit my psychologist a few more times. We have been doing some therapy called EMDR which has been interesting. To be honest, I am not sure what impact that this therapy is having on me? What I am learning in the process is that I am a very “cerebral” person, and have spent most of my life in my head. If nothing else, the EMDR therapy is forcing me to pay attention to the rest of my body, and get curious about what it is trying to communicate along the way.

Walking continues to be one of the most significant new things in my life. Spending time outside every day, walking Charlie, listening to books (mostly Brené Brown) but also a little fiction now too by Gene Wolfe which has been something of an awakening as well.

And (despite Brené’s numbing label) I am also on a drinking journey. I have been discovering all of these amazing new natural wines which has been a lot of fun. The drinking journey has been pretty selfish for the most part (I have shared a little with a few) which perhaps is how I like it when it comes to wine, most of the time.

So perchance, in all of this, I am becoming more human? Seems an odd question, but appropriate nonetheless. Still in all of this, I continue to journey into a place, unknown. Like Abraham, I am on a path towards a destination unknown, and frankly, an outcome that remains hidden to me. I am slowly starting to relish the notion of getting comfortable in my not belonging, but perhaps belonging everywhere? I am trying to do what Maya Angelou counsels

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.

I want to drink in more of what she writes, more of what so many others have written, and lived, and try and figure out how it can make me more human. And so I wrestle with my doubts, my anger, my aloneness, my wealth, my privilege, my poverty…

I think what I want more than anything is to be content, content with all of my frailty, all of my questions, all of my shortcomings, all of my strengths, content with me, content in my own skin. I want to be free of the impact of other’s expectations both real and perceived. I want to be free to laugh and cry, swear, and dance, none of which I am very good at right now (OK I am pretty good at swearing).

I am also slowly realizing that I have been trapped by my past. I am starting to see that my experience of community during my time at the U of L has in many ways, robbed me of an ability to truly enter into meaningful community in the present. My time in Lethbridge was a gift, but in a strange way it was a cruel gift, which created an expectation in my mind which has never since been replicated. And if I am honest with myself, it probably wasn’t as good as I remember it either, knowing now how unreliable our memories are, and how prone we as humans are to manufacturing our own personal history.

So while I have no idea where I am headed, or what I will look like when I get there, or whether I will ever get there, I know this. I want to live my life on purpose. I want there to be purpose in all that I do. I want to drink, eat, converse, walk, work, play, relate on purpose. And perhaps, if I can live in the knowledge and confidence that PURPOSE is at my core, then perhaps, I can finally settle into that place wherever it is, a place named content.

The Windhover

For reasons I can’t explain, this poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins has been bouncing around in my head. It has also led me to remember Paul Upton who despite a rocky start, inspired me in the realm of literature during my time at the U of L.

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king- dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing! Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier! No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear, Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

I don't care what people think... (no… actually I do)

Lately I have been combing my memories looking back at my childhood for instances that gave me cause to start putting on the armour that I wear. I saw a new therapist for the first time on Saturday, and Cheryl listened patiently to me ramble on, with no clarity of why I was really there, other than a sense that I need some help navigating the quagmire that I currently find myself in. It reminds me a lot of the scene in Lord of the Rings where Bilbo and Sam are trying to make their way through the swamp of the dead, and Gollum keeps telling them not to look down, and hurry up so they don't end up there forever. Right now, it kind of feels like my journey is stuck in that swamp, caught between what I am discovering, and the destination (at this point unknown).

For a long time, probaby as long as I can remember, I have been very insecure. I was an awkward kid, with Howdy Doody orange hair (adults commented and kids teased) glasses, and a head that hadn't grown big enough to fit my ears. I remember getting called "goggles piizano", "big ears", "carrot top" all of which seem pretty trivial to me now, but back then it was anything but. My therapist told me that children develop their sense of who they are between the ages of three and twelve, and I definitely would have internalized that I wasn't cool, wasn't good enough, wasn't a lot of things during those formative years. She also said that those years are when kids start to self protect, and I definitely did those things, namely started putting on the armour and the persona built around the act of "I don't care what anyone thinks".

My indifference was almost universal. While I knew I was smart, I also quickly came to an understanding that being too smart only invited ridicule from my peers as well, so I stopped trying, and started to coast, an unfortunate habit that has dogged me my entire life. Unless of course, someone could inspire me, and then I would go all in. I had a teacher in Grade Six, Mr. Norton, who found a way to inspire me, and frankly our whole class. He made us feel so smart, he told us we were smart, he tapped into something that made me want to try, to give it my all. I remember him teaching us about base 5 math - he told us that it was the math he was teaching to his university students. It was the only year during my primary eduction that I got honours. After Grade Six I went back to not caring. That pattern of not caring took me through eleven years of univsity culminating with a degree in Law. Sounds strange now, but looking back I see how much more I could have gleaned from my many years of attending school, if I had just allowed myself to care about the process a bit more.

Not caring was a great coat of armour, thick and strong enough to protect me from the hurt of rejection. Not fitting in was a pretty common theme of my life, and yet that is all I wanted to do. I tried so hard (too hard) and as a result came off desparate most of the time, which isn't a very endearing quality. I was always too intense, too talkative, too verbal. Even the seed of becoming a lawyer was planted early on, as I was always talking and arguing, and being told I would make a good lawyer when I grew up.

I retreated into books, I read voraciously as a kid, often staying up until three in the morning reading books (crazy big books) like Roots, Shogun, and all kinds of fantasy novels. What kind of twelve year-old reads Roots? Don't get me wrong, from the outside my life looked pretty normal, pretty average for a kid growing up in rural Alberta. I liked motobikes and horses, I was a cowboy in the making. But what I am beginning to realize now is that I wanted desperately to fit in, to be popular, to not be the kid that everyone mocked, to not be the kid that was laughed at.

The shame associated with those formative years, appears to be the thing I have to deal with now, at the age of forty-nine. My therapist told me, in a very matter-of-fact way that I am essentially emotionally paralyzed from the neck down. In other words, I just don't know how to relate on an emotional level, as I learned early on that living in my head hurts way less. And she is right. I have cultivated an identity over decades that is built around my brain. I am quick, combative, fearless, impulsive, intimidating, reckless, confident, brash, at times a bully, relentless (I have been called a Bull in a China shop more than once). All of which I have worn proudly, like the boy scout that I once was. Becoming an expert in coffee, wine, cooking (sort of) all of which gave me a sense of importance. Being perceived as fearless, an entrepreneur, someone unafraid to take risks is all part of the act too. I am beginning to see that a lot of it is just performance, and my body belies the act. While I may appear to be completely in charge, my body deals with the stress through intense perspiration, my armpits are like fountains whenever I am stressed, and lately it takes far less to stress me out.

So I am learning is that all of this has kept me from allowing the real me to see the light of day. The vulnerable, scared, insecure kid with bright orange hair and big ears, has been locked up all these years. I locked him up, because I was tired of the pain and the shame, and I opted instead to be the confident, dauntless Poul, that most people see today. Brene Brown talks about self compassion as a critical element of being wholehearted. I think that part of this journey will require me to look the awkward twelve year-old in the face and tell him that I like him, actually love him; although right now, I think I may still be embarrassed by him (obviously something that still needs work).

I have no idea where this is going to lead. While intellectually I understand what my therapist says when she tells me I am emotionally paralized, I have no idea what learning to use the rest of my emotional body looks like, let alone how to actuate it. The only time I cry now, is during movies, perhaps because it is dark, or it is safe, but it is the one place in my life where the emotions actually bubble to the surface. Sometimes so much so that even my son will notice it and ask "dad were you crying" with a quizacal look on his face. So I know that I have emotions, and occassionally they are allowed to surface. Truthfully the whole prospect scares me. I don't know what my life will look like without my armour. I don't know what my life will be like when I open the vault that keeps my emotions in check. What I do know is that I am tired of living the lie of "I don't care what people think" and look forward to retiring from my acting career, and settling into a place where I can just be myself. Until then, I will keep walking the dog and listening to thoughtful people. Turns out that my therapist lives in my neighbourhood and has a dog named Charlie too. Too bad I couldn’t just do sessions while walking the dog, it would be way cheaper, LOL.

Grief (A man unacquainted)

Grief is something I am not good at, never have been. Honestly, I don’t think I have allowed myself to experience grief very often; part of the bit of wearing my teflon suit of armour. It’s not that I haven’t had opportunity to experience grief - my cousin died tragically, numerous grandparents are now dead, my dad died… I have experienced plenty of death in my life. Yet in all of this, I remained relatively stoic, reigned in my emotions, was “tough” and '“strong” through it all.

I have been listening to Brené’s Rising Strong for a second time (needs time to percolate) so that it will sink in. At one point she refers to one of her favourite quotes from C.S. Lewis

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable. To love is to be vulnerable.

That protective way of life, has largely been the path that I have chosen, as I instinctively knew that it would result in less heartbreak. I am not for a moment suggesting that this was the better path, but it was definitely the less painful one. With that said, I now am beginning to realize that while that path is less painful, it is also far less real, and far less meaningful.

I am slowly learning that leaning into the hurt, leaning into the emotion of heartbreak is a required element of grief. And while we typically associate grief with the death of loved ones, we can experience grief in all types of circumstances. The death of a job, a dream, a community, a friendship, or frankly anything in our lives where we have significant expectations that are unmet.

I am just starting to come around to this, and starting to recognize in myself the hurt and pain associated with unmet expectations (mostly what Brown calls “stealth expectations”) largely uncommunicated. I am beginning to wonder whether in fact, these stealth expectations are harder to reckon with than those that are laid out in the open. The ones held close, seem to be stronger, more important, more linked to emotion, and as a result, more easily dashed.

Grief is the emotion, the process, the path into that hurt and heartbreak which must be taken, if we are to emerge on the other side more whole hearted. I am just learning to rumble with this. I am having many conversations in my head as I walk and listen and think, trying to work this out.

I am finally seeing a psychologist again for the first time on Saturday. I have no idea whether we will connect, but I am hopeful. I hope that there will be a fit so that I have a way to navigate these rough waters. Rough water is not always a bad thing! As a beginner kayaker, I prefer the calm water of the North Saskatchewan River, but as I improve in my technical skills, I know that like all things, I will go looking for something with more kick, more excitement, more danger. I will be on the hunt for rougher waters.

Until then, I will have to do the work of navigating the rough waters of my emotion, my unspoken expectations, my bottled up grief, and I actually think that this ride will be better than the real water counterpart could ever be. We shall see.

A Collection of Poems (I wrote this during 1987 - Grade 12)

I stumbled upon a collection of poems that I penned during what must have been my grade twelve year of high school. I think that they are significant only in that they give me insight into what was rumbling around in my head thirty-one years ago. Oddly enough, some of the same thoughts are still rumbling around in there…. testimony to the reality that age doesn’t in itself produce wisdom. In fact, reading these words with older eyes makes me wonder where some of the wisdom has gone.

These poems were never published in 1987, so I feel it only appropriate that they get published now.

ANTICIPATION

Silence

deep, unnerving

the birds all gone

the leaves all fallen,

and blown away.

The fields all barren

now stored:

grain or hay.

Silence

deep unnerving

waiting only,

for the first feathered flake.

UNCERTAINTY

Often confiding,

daring almost to share,

Often restless,

almost accepting support,

Often doubting,

almost accepting advice,

Often saddened,

accepting cheer, then no!

Often fearful,

nearly accepting comfort,

seldom a friend,

But gladly taken.

THE FARMER

The sky darkens with heavy dark clouds,

rain transcending to the ground.

The stalks heavy laden, ben lazily down.

Hail ten miles over; shells that which

is already on the ground.

Hope flutters like an autumn leaf drifiting

in a breeze.

He sits watching and waiting for a

sign up above.

Time crawls slowly across the plains.

Patience prevails and a new day brings a new

light and new warmth, he looks up

smiling as if greeting an old friend.

Migration near completed; off on cold north

winds.

The lands now silent.

What once was, is now only half.

Struggling on he thinks only of next year.

FRIEND

Caring,

yearning,

listening,

comforting,

loving always in a special way,

seeking,

thinking,

then dropping from view,

resting,

watching,

until needed again.

YEARNING

The sky cold and windy grey,

and as I sat there that day I pondered,

the events of that day,

perhaps is was only in my sight,

yet within it still grows,

to you probably,

always untold,

yet someday, who knows.

The man who sits here may someday seem more bold,

until that day,

I sit here and ponder,

hoping still a sunny day may come,

gazing at hidden stars up yonder,

wanting only for this day,

to finally be done.

THE BEAST (man)

I chanced one day upon a fawn,

a clear could morning early,

just before dawn.

No wind blew.

The grass swayed to the sound of the silence,

each blade shedding a single drop of dew.

I pondered then on man’s great achievements in science,

though never able to create the simplest form of life.

Yet I marvelled at the beauty of nature

before my eyes.

The pines awaiting the breath of day,

across the meadow up on a hill I spotted the doe,

watching me; seemingly with perfect trust.

Through the trees the sun now rose,'

and as I walked away, a shot shattered the silence.

My heart filled with rage, my mind with shame,

and I pondered once more,

Man’s Great Achievements In Science.

GRADUATION

For most

eighteen years do pass,

slowly at first,

then almost too fast,

hurts, wants, goals, failings, wins,

losses, friends, shadows,

all are now past.

For most,

parties,

some seldom not,

but one remains!

Anticipation arises,

childhood dreams now dying,

friends crying,

come what may,

yet always take the time to ponder the past,

yesterday,

life goes on

but memories always last.