A sleepless night, onion paper walls defend my minds keep; while goblins, dragons, monsters untold, bash at the gate.
A ready footed guide wakes with first light, beckoning adventure.
Dolfins at play, dancing in unwanted anticipation, churn the sea of tranquility. Doubt filled breath, now wasted, evaporates in the cool morning breeze.
The giant, once slumbering stirs, it’s dented armour gleams with dawns first rays; dauntless we approach, feigning courage with each step.
An Intrepid duo embark, following upwards, quashed fear lies crumpled at the base, frayed into a messy pile. Strands of safety lead upward like webs in the beanstalk. Our guide lights our path, nimble like so many sheep watching from the crags.
Now Ascending, hold to hold, feet nervously, desperately, search for confidence. Pitch upon pitch, lofty goals now achieved, sharing sacred space with the eagles, father and son silently celebrate the triumph.
Exhausted and satisfied, sleep evades no longer, onion paper walls freshly torn, relent, welcome rest invades the keep. Another giant, silently, patiently awaits our approach.
For most of my adult life, I would consider myself a man with faith. The object of that faith however has not been constant, consistent, apparent, valued, or at times even defined. I have, like most people, I suspect, shifted on the “faith continuum” anywhere and everywhere between atheism and belief. Today, I think I would categorize myself in the camp of solid agnostic. A man filled with constant doubt, and uncertainty. Truthfully that space is one which I find it difficult to live in, but for the foreseeable future, I think that it is where I will remain; getting comfortable with mess, and doubt.
With all of that said, I have always found the mountains to be a sacred space. Whether I shared that sacred space with my late cousin Josh, or then after with my warrior wife, and now with my kid, mountains have always been, for me, a sacred space. Maybe it is the influence of the many First Nations people that I have known and been influenced by? It could also be a product of what Richard Rohr and many others call panentheism where you find the Divine in all things. I honestly don’t know what it is, but what I do know is that mountains evoke something in me, that very few other things do.
This weekend I spent 2 ½ days in the mountains with my amazing son, and an amazing friend. I have only known Tim for a couple of months, but every now and then, someone comes along in your life and you discover that your are kindred souls, something just clicks. Tim is one of those people. A side benefit is that he is an amazing alpine guide, and he sacrificed time away from his family to hang with Andrew and me and guide us up two multii-pitch climbs. His enthusiasm in imparting his vast body of alpine knowledge and experience is inspiring. But more than that, he and I share the same love for mountains, and this weekend we got to share time in that sacred space. In many ways I am envious of the fact that he lives in the mountains all the time. Andrew would love it if we packed up and moved out of Edmonton and to the mountains where he could pursue climbing and snowboarding full time. That move is not likely in the cards. But weekends like this past one, help fill the tank so to speak, and enable me to reconnect in ways that very few venues allow me to.
On Saturday we climbed Mother’s Day Butress on Cascade Mountain, a 400 metre ascent which was awe inspiring, but not all that difficult in terms of climbing. Don’t get me wrong, we were still attached to ropes and harnesses, but the level of difficulty (5.4 - 5.6 for climbing geeks) wasn’t up there. Our Sunday climb, our going to “church” climb was altogether different. Sunday offered up a 250 meter climb up the face of Tunnel Mountain on a route called Gooseberry. It was a cakewalk for our accomplished guide, but thankfully he gets his kicks out of teaching newbies like Andrew and I how to become proficient climbers as much or maybe even more than being personally challenged in terms of his own climbing career.
The climb today was probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life. I fell on a mountain and learned to trust not just my guide but my equipment. I navigated pitches where at first glance I had no idea how to ascend, and then through grit and determination, found a way. I watched my kid struggle and achieve the same milestones today (minus the falling) which was a profound gift in itself. Tim provoked and encouraged us, leading us up a challenging (at least for us) adventure, where we discovered that there is more in the well, just sitting there in reserve, at our disposal, if we just put ourselves in places where there is a legitimate need to draw from it. Add to that great conversations, meals shared, wine and great beer consumed and it was a profound few days, that I will never forget.
I write this post, exhausted, bruised, cut, swollen, muscles protesting, and more importantly, full of heart, a soul refreshed, I pride not only in my own accomplishment, but in my growing and amazing young man of a son. And I reflect on the growing friendship that is built on similar passions and a perspective that enables a sharing of something sacred, ill defined, messy, mysterious, and yet at the same time vastly profound.
I am not sure, without looking back, if I have talked about my “decade of adventure”. Turning fifty in April, was at the same time the culmination and beginning of something significant. Somewhere along the way in the few months before, I decided that the next ten years were going to offer me experiences that I hadn’t yet had in my first half century.
Last weekend was the first of what I hope to be many new adventures. In part, I am simply trying to keep up with my brave, strong, passionate, loving-life son of fifteen. But more than that, I want to live life, in a way that prevents me getting old. Trust me, my body is fighting me all the way. Aches, pains, stiffness, almost daily small doses of Advil, wine, and massage keep me mobile. But more important than that, age is a state of mind. This past decade has been one mostly filled with indulgence. I invested most of my energy into developing my palate, my mind, my understanding of coffee, flavour, food, that art of imbibing. I figured it was high time for my body to get some much needed attention, which I trust will in turn, reinvigorate my perspective on what it means to grow old, gracefully in wisdom.
Arguably, many would likely question my wisdom, perhaps even my sanity, for venturing up a rock face 250 meters above level ground. Many would question my parenting in regards to not only encouraging dangerous sports with my son, but actually facilitating them. And yet this is what we did. We spent a couple of days with six other men, talking, hiking, labouring, struggling, climbing, sharing, eating, drinking, together, encouraging one another to take one more step, no matter how much it hurt, or how much it seemed like folly.
Obviously I am proud of the fact that I persevered through the difficult approach hike in and out on Saturday, where we traversed thousands of fallen trees while walking eight kilometres and climbing 400 meters in elevation. I wanted to quit so many times. I would look down at my Apple Watch and see my heart rate cresting 170 bpm confirming what I already knew as I could feel my pulse pumping out my ears.
But more importantly, it was a weekend of fellowship. Men, most of whom I did not know at the beginning of the weekend, now friends and fellow sojourners who journeyed with me and my son, along challenging paths in an adventure that we will regale for decades to come (hopefully). It was a weekend where my fifteen year old son got to witness vulnerability among men, a rare thing in our society. It was a weekend where my son was embraced and considered an equal by men 20, 30 even 50 years older than him. It was a weekend where my son sat quietly in the circle around a fire, and listened and then privately told me later that he thought it was cool the way Tim and I were a lot alike and connected so easily. It was a weekend where I was proud to be a dad, of a kid who despite all of my failings as a father, demonstrated how much of a man he is becoming in his own right.
My whole world view is in turmoil right now. But in the midst of that, it is grounding to know that despite it all, I am still just a guy, who needs to be known, and wants to know others. Who delights in the fellowship of sojourners along the way, and who feels humbled at the sight of my progeny living so well at such a tender age.
Given the start of the adventure, I may have been too conservative. Perhaps my decade of adventure will need to extend into the next half-century!
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.
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.
My friend Christine Sandford is an amazing talent. She is the chef at Biera, and has taken this venture to a whole new level in terms of culinary inside a pub. Given the constraints of a beer venue she has created a menu that is local, sustainable, quality focused and most importantly tasty, within the confines of a pub environment. She has found a way to marry fine dining with beer which is no small task. This week she found out that Biera is on Air Canada;s enroute short list for top new restaurant, which is an amazing feat. I am very proud of her accomplishment, as she has stuck to her principles, and standards and produced and executed a menu which is unique to Edmonton, and often not appreciated by many. I predricted that she would make top ten last year, and I hope that I was right. Good luck my friend.