Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stranger in a Foreign Land

Here I find myself in the heat of France. Yes it is hot hot hot, and my route has been slightly altered so as to escape the afternoon melting fest!  By about 1030am, the tar on the road was beginning to get tacky and stick to the bottoms of my shoes, already by this time the sweat is dripping off my forehead...what happened to the breeze? But I am not here to write about the heat! 

I have completed my first week on the trail. WOOT!! And it has been incredible, little sleepy french villages, rolling hills; flowers and gardens galore. I actually feel like I am on a very long garden tour to be honest, passing through backyards...I think I now know four different ways to set up poles for beans, and one day when I have land and a garden I shall try them all out and what way I like best.  I set forth on the trail with vigour and determination, ready for big long days covering many miles. Little did I know that the trail had other plans, the trail is very much in charge, and does not hesitqte to offer challenges!  On my second day I encountered my greatest fear: a wild dog. Ok well first it wasn't wild, but it was certainly angry and was not hesitant to prove it had sharp teeth and would be very happy to sink them into my leg. Yikes! Luckily, my leg was not a morning snack and said dog eventually tired of me standing there like a trembling fool and sat in the shade, waching that I dared not advance. Not really having the resorces or experience to solve this problem right then and there, I do the next best thing I can think of: I find a male escort! Yes, how very damsel in distress of me, but I didn't much feel like waiting the day for someone to pass or the dog to go home. Regardless, my escort I am sure felt very special and also taught me that I could throw rocks which is apparently a good deterrant, though having not actually seen it in action am skeptical of the results. Fingers crossed I don't ever have to test this theory anytime soon.  Since then I have encountered many delightful tail wagging pups who have restored my faith in european dogs: they're not all bad! 
I would say the angry dog has been the most challenging aspect I have encountered thus far.  Days continue to go well while I establish my daily routine.  It has become oh-so-clear that the french don't know what the word stress is, as their lifestyle is incredibly relaxed in every way. This, however, makes it difficult for planning, in particular when it comes to food. Their hours are very mixed taking the afternoon off, and though there may be a sign in the window that says what time they open in the afternoon, it isnt surprising that the store remains closed the rest of the day. I have yet to understand the way the french operate! Lodging too has been interesting, I did not anticipate how expensive the gites would be in France, perhaps a good learning lesson to research more thoroughly.  I am still figuring out how it all works.  Somedays it is challenging to find lodgings, lately I have taken to campgrounds which are more easy to track down and generally fall under 10 Euros which is more in line with my budget.  Throughout my days,  I have found some of the kindest folks. Each curious about my journey, sharing tid bits of the local history and little windows into their own lives, always greeting with a kind, welcoming smile.  Last night due to it being monday and in villages shops aren't typically open on mondays, I found myself at my campground with no food.  A bit distressed, I went to the owners of the campground to ask if there was a shop in town where I could purchase some food.  The shook their heads the village was a small one and no shops would be open.  The wife, without a second thought said she would make me dinner and began pulling food out of her cupboard. She then scooted me out of the house, told me to rest and return at 6pm.  A lovely gift from strangers.  At 6, I returned to a large plate heaped with rice, tomatoes, eggs, cheese and black olives.  The couple sat with me while I at asking about my plans on the Camino, while I tumbled through my own questions about the region.  I am grateful for the little french I know, it has been very helpful, though I feel the strain of my limited vocabulary, each day improves as I am forced to practice it regularly, as in all these small places along the way, english is not something the locals practice!

The trail is very interesting; it is mostly old cart roads, winding through the countryside. Ive gone up a few steep mountainy hills where it seems like they go on forever and ever, and when I think i have reached a plateau, i turn a corner and up the trail goes, but the scramble is well worth it for there is always a captivating view of the valley waiting at the top and oftentimes a nice shady tree to stop and stretch my legs while catching my breath and enjoy a slice of camembert cheese. 

This is one highlight I have been greatly enjoying is eating french cheese every single day. It is one of the least expensive things; and I am quite certain that I have begun to sweat in the smell of stinky cheese, and now when I open my bag, I get a whaft of cheese...not sure if this is the most pleasant of things to be greeted with, but my belly is happy nonetheless! The food, it will be said, is good.  As a treat I went to a restaurant a few nights ago and had pizza.  At 6 Euros and with a belly grumbling, I began to get nervous it would be just a small little thing....but no.  The plate came out and I looked down at my dinner. There sat what I would call a large pizza staring back up at me. Bon Apetite!

Camping in France is very different from camping back home. French campers are very luxurious in comparison to home.  I have seen very few, if any tents. Instead, they have modest sized campers, adorned on the side of the camper is generally a large tent-like structure that now comes their back porch/ patio with cushioned chairs and of course flowers. However, what I have noticed is generally they do not often use their patio.  Instead  they prefer to take their plastic chairs and sit underneith a tree, rendering the whole tent portion useless.  There are never any campfires, nor grates for fires.  All food is either cooked inside the camper or they dine at restaurants. Not really ruffing it no? Alas, I am still getting used to the differences here!

In five days, I anticipate arriving in Le Puy, which will mark the completion of section 1 (of 3) along the trail. Looking ahead at the days to come, the landscape is about to change to mountains and less villages, hopefully also offerng more shade! A lot of the trail is in open areas, offering little in the way of a cool place to get out of the hot sun.  But when there is a tree or a cool stream, these small moments are cherished. 

For now, I shall wrap this up, as its time to go in search of a food store and maybe some ice cream!  Lots of love and happy thoughts....pictures soon to be posted and more adventures and stories to come!
until then happy trails and hugs!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yosemite the great, a circus and some sunshine

What more could a person ask for then a little time to play and explore? After a month of working and endless amounts of squats, I was ready to get out and pepper it up with some fun and sun.  First stop Midpines, where I had the wonderful opportunity to watch the inner-workings go on at another Outward Bound base. So many new and interesting people to meet, who's heart and passion lie in adventure and share a love for the Sierra's.  Since this is my first year being away from the OB community, it felt like quite a special treat to be around for the Midpines staff training. What a great reminder of the human spirit.  Last day of training to kick off the season ahead, was the Midpines staff auction, feat and dance party.  It's theme: Circus freaks and Carnies! These folks brought the night full of colour, creativity, dance moves and some hootin' n hollerin' good times! When not needed on base, and the nights festivities all wrapped up, most folks drive into the valley for days of climbing and exploration within the Yosemite National Park.
Having never ventured into the park myself, I was in for a treat.  What a magical place! Every which way the eye looks is this incredible sight....as if coming out of some pristine fantasy book. I have never seen anything like it before. Giant waterfalls, mountains and cliffs climbing up high into the sky, speckled with trees and flying birds swooping about gaily singing their songs. Let me just rest upon the trees here for a moment. Though I have been witness to giant cones in my fathers wood collection, to see a large cone in the wild, up close in personal is incredible. These were certainly not the largest cones out there, but of significant size to make me grateful that none decided to drop while I stood at the base of these giant pines gawking at their magnificence.  Think those were big, flash forward into another section of park where I got to stand, for the first time, in a sequoia grove. Hmm, where to even begin with this. I have never seen trees so big as these, and apparently they are considered small, which peaks my curiosity as I begin to figure out how and when I will come across the giants! I felt like a tiny any in comparison, but there is something so comforting and inviting about being surrounded by such large specimens. Days were filled with going off the beaten track, exploring areas that few to none would dare see. Second day into the park, we took to scrambling up a gully, parts of which had recently experienced a rock slide. The view just breathtaking. From where we stood, the road just disappeared, making the park seem uninhabited, wild and what it must have been like when the first explorers came into the valley.  Is this what John Muir experienced in his day?  Later along the hike, further up, I had my second go around of scrambling up snow, having to kick in small foot holds in order to make any upwards progress.  A great test of my comfort levels.  Let's just say for now that I am still getting used to my vertical legs....they are pretty wobbly, and unsure of what it is I am asking them to do! But that is all part of the adventure and learning process. If we never try, we never know what is out there, AND we never get any better. Other highlights of my time in the park include braving the giant swing.  Heights, never really being a subject of comfort, have been something of a challenge.  But from time to time I like to get up and test my levels and see how far I can push my little heart racer, expanding my horizons and perhaps, growing just a fraction of a hair more comfortable with dangling hundreds of feet above the ground held on only by a single rope. So, setting my mind to a new challenge, I scrambled up this rock that lead me to a rope which will swing you out into the valley for an incredible view. It's a little scary to be harnessed into a rope that seems to just drop from the sky but I put my 'need to know' feelings on the side and let the experience happen. It took awhile to make take off, but the swing out was smooth, in fact I rather enjoyed it.....the part that gave me the trouble was letting out the rope in order to get my feet back on ground, or rather rock. For a good 5 minutes or so, I dangled wondering if I ought to accept the fact that this may be my new home. Luckily, with some coaching, deep breaths and tapping into some stored inner courage, I slowly began my decent. Phew! Once landed, just for good measure, I went again.  Much smoother second time around.  Perhaps post-Camino, when I return to the valley, another venture on the swing will find its way into the itinerary, though with all there is to see and do...maybe the adventures will continue elsewhere!

The Tunnel 

A rainbow soaring across the sky

Sharing a moment with the Coyote

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Onwards with the travels, the beginning

Good greetings from Newark!
Here I sit, utilizing what I hope is a free computer in the hotel.  My flight a few short hours away, with a giant adventure about to begin the moment I step foot into the airport. 
Truthfully, the magnitude of this trip hasn't quite hit me yet.  Feeling more like a deer caught in the headlights, wondering how the heck I am in Newark, NJ and what is it that I am about to embark upon? Where'd the time go? I feel like I have already been on a world tour, and it just keeps on trucking! Leaving Montana 2 months ago feels like a world away.  I can't even remember what goodies I have tucked away in my storage unit now. When I return it will be like Christmas, discovering treasures now forgotten.  Canada happened in a flash, treeplanting, friends and family visits.  Alll a treat, my hands have almost fully recovered from the absuse of tucking little trees into the ground, yet my toes and thumb remain numb but don't worry this is a normal occurance with planters.  No concerns necessary. With all hopes, small little forests are beginning to grow in northern Alberta. My final american adventure took me into the park of Yosemite in CA.  Yet another first, and what a beautiful area. Huge trees, mountains and waterfalls greets the eyes every which way.  I got the chance to see up close and personal the oh-so-famous El Cap climbing site. In a word: woah! My mind is blown to how folks even begin to plan out their routes, the rock is smooth granite with minimal (at best) holds and grips. Not for me, but I sure did enjoy watching the different groups of climbers work their magic....INCREDIBLE. Though maybe not braving the El Cap, I did get to try another heart racing activity appropriately entitled: the Swing.  What is this?  A long rope set up into the rock, that you can harness into, then run off a rock and swing out into the valley. Holy smokes, I though I might lose my lunch the first go around, but alas, no.  Instead what I found, was a freeing moment, something similar to what birds must experience on a daily basis.  There is something terrifying and yet beautiful about hovering out above the treetops, maybe one day I will have the words to follow this experience.  In short, it was that much fun, I had to go a second time. Fear of heights? Pshh...you ain't got nothing on me now. (Mabye I will give a gander at skydiving afterall....) For the first time, I got to see giant sequoia trees. Apparently the ones I saw were only small.....looks like another trip is in store to check out the giants! 
Now, I have said goodbye to the wilds, and am changing gears for a different type of wilderness. First the city of London, and then to set forth from Geneva, Switzerland on the camino trail, where millions of feet have come before mine, crossing through farms, villages, towns and even some small cities. What lies ahead is a great unknown, but I am looking forward to each day, where the lessons of the trail and of its people will bring new wisdom and understanding, where language will not always be english, and who knows what will greet me along the way. All I can say is that I am ready. I have two bags which will contain my life for the next seventy days.  ONce in London, I will say goodbye to one of those bags and about 2/3's of what I am bringing. Two bounce boxes will be sent out, containing exciting snacks, a fresh pair of socks, a pair of shoes and any other small resupply things such as toothpaste, sunscreen and lotion.  
As I get ready to go, I think about each of you.  The adventures you are having, the summer ahead, filled with plans, sunshine, gatherings.  THe beauty of summer! I hope the months ahead are amazing, that your gardens grow richwith food and flowers, that each experience brings something valuable for you to cherish and hold onto. Make the day yours everyday!
Until the next installment, be well!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Changing gears, one last goodbye

The time has come for me to bid adieu to my time with the trees.
What a whirlwind, and yet, am happy to have had the opportunity to get back out there, put a tree or two into the ground while living and working under wide open skies. My last day proved to be a highlight. I always love finishing with a bang, as it creates good memories to reflect back upon.
Since moving camps up to Grand Prairie, my days have been spent planting alone. My crew boss Shawn giving me large pieces of land to work in, being able to set it up to my liking. Working alone has its perks as well as its lows.  Perks include, knowing where ones trees are at all times, and should I over plant an area it's my fault.  Less time dawdling at the cache. Being able to listen to music. But it gets lonely in the land. There are days that I talk to no one safe for Shawn on the rare occasion when he quads into my land to check in to see if I need more trees, or by breaking my own silence with a short personal comment or two slipping through my thoughts and out my mouth.
My final day on the block, things went a little differently. I got to plant with my new friend Blake. Perks about buddy planting: you get to have a conversation which oftentimes makes planting feel less like work. What a treat to have a buddy, who also works at the same pace!  We spent the morning filling up our land with trees while talking about bluegrass bands, superhero powers, books and art school. Planting along, Blake discovered a deer carcass in our land, everything had been picked to the bone minus the head and legs. There was still some hide attached. We mused for awhile the nature of its death.  Wolf? Bear? Natural? Who knows, but we let it rest and continued onwards.
In the afternoon, we were relocated to a new area, with clouds building up all around us.  Dark, dark clouds. Then the rumblings of thunder came. A few intense flashes of lightning. Because of my time working with Outward Bound, I cannot help but to count the pauses between flash to crash. The first count was three. Then one. Then less than one. Oh my! This storm was right above us. Should I have been working with students, we'd be sitting in the woods, upon PFD's waiting out the storm. Here, instead though perhaps a safety issue, most of us continued to work. Then the hail came.  First small, then coming down the size of peas. This warranted a short stop, as we dove beneath the cache tarp in hopes to wait it out.  One thing about pea-sized hail: it does not come down gently. It lasted about 5 minutes, covering the ground in ice, before more rain began to pour, creating giant mud puddles in every direction. The temperature, which was hot and sunny in the morning, dropped significantly. With teeth chattering away, and hands beginning to numb from cold, it was time to move.  Though a cold rain, I tend to love planting in this type of weather because moving keeps you warm. Focus becomes intensified, and you move swiftly through the land, more aware of where your planted trees are. The ground, moist from the rain, is easier to plant in as well (minus the dirt road, which becomes a muddy and sticky mess with boots getting stuck in big pockets of the stuff.  One thing I have come to love is the sound of sucking mud, squelching beneath my feet and on the rare occasion getting completely suctioned into a mud hole producing much laughter and struggle trying to escape!).  The day capped off with sun once again breaking through the clouds.  All of us little dirty planters, soaked through and through, but spirits remained high. My last trees planted along a creek bed.  How many trees in the past month will grow? Will these blocks of land return to looking like a forest?
Though the trees that once stood tall are now gone, life still continues to thrive and live. Little white throated sparrows, all this last week, would sit atop these large burn piles singing their merry tunes as we'd work, flying about.  Beautiful yellow wildflowers in full bloom, out to greet the sun, their colour so bright and cheerful, each time I would happen upon one, my heart was filled with gladness.  During moments where I would feel the frustrations of work creep up on me, I would stop and look around.  How many people can say that they spend their entire days outside, beneath open skies, with life surrounding them? Maybe the work is hard, monotonous, intense, lonely or whatever word you attach to it, but strip those feelings away, and you are in this incredible place. I watched a pair of herons meander through my land, before taking off to the sky. I cannot think of another place I would have chosen to spend my past month. At night, we gather together, all us weary planters, to celebrate our days with delicious meals, conversations and laughter.  I don't hate planting because I believe in what it is I am trying to do. I also find it a place where I can connect with something that is so significant to me: the great outdoors. We can choose to fight against the natural world, believing it can be tamed and controlled, or we can go out into it and learn from it. Understand its rhythms and patterns and become a part of it, returning to our roots. We are not just in the landscape, but we are a part of it.
Final treat of the day, was a long, bumpy, mud ride out on the quad. It makes me think of what it must be like to ride atop of an elephant...swaying side to side, almost falling off. A few times I did seem to slip nearly off the side of the quad, laughing so hard with joy that tears started to trickle out. What a ride, a day, an end.
Saying goodbye has never been easy for me.  The next morning I woke early, looked around my little camp home and felt heavy hearted that it was time to go.  New friends, a simple life, the wilds around me....already nostalgic, and wondering when next I shall return. Who shall I see again, and the hopes of crossing paths both in the land and in life. Hugs and long farewells were had before driving off into the sunrise, making my way back to Calgary. A final parting gift from the woods: turning off onto the highway, 250 feet in front of me ran a small wolf pack. Two large black wolves and one giant grey, my car the only one on the highway.  I have seen lone wolves travel, but to experience three, a pack, is one of the most phenomenal sights I have ever laid eyes upon. The take home, we may cut down trees, we may put in roads and alter the landscape for our benefits, but nature still prevails. It lives and continues to create magic, if we are lucky and slow down we can catch some of these beautiful moments, that nothing can take away from us. They live in our hearts, and is an endless reminder to continue to live life with heart, passion and open eyes.  The world around us is not scary, it is just unknown at times. Live in it, learn its language. Find that connection. It isn't lost.