The 48th Morning

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Greece

This morning I woke to the pleasant discovery that I was in my own bed, for the first time in almost seven weeks.  My travels over the past 47 days have taken me to three countries (Iceland, England, and Greece) and have filled me with inspiration from amazing new adventures. 

Although I did not manage to post here while travelling – I discovered that I need more time to process my thoughts about each place than life on the road allowed – you can be sure that my experiences will find their way into my writing here over the coming months.

Thank you for reading.

Photo: The view from Yialos, my favourite cafe and writing haunt in Kardamyli, Greece.

Summer Away

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I had three days in London last week, to wander around and remember the six months I spent living and working there in 1998. Here is a poem about that time.

My thanks to editor Anne Burke who published this poem in Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature in 2008.


Summer Away

After a week in London
I joke that my dream job
is to cut the grass
in Hyde Park, an oasis
in the grey jungle
of soot covered stone buildings,
the labyrinth of streets
that bears no resemblance
to maps in the A to Z.

Christina laughs
as we sit in the sun,
watch workers drive mowers
across the expanse of green,
says, you wouldn’t like it
when it rains.

So I give up the idea,
do what my friends do
and trudge each morning
to work, swallowed
by another dismal building
only to be spit back out
at five o’clock
to walk home through Hyde Park,
fresh clippings in my shoes.

Sabbatical Project #5: Travel

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“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

Hawai'i
View of the black sand beach at Pololu Valley on Hawai’i in February 2014.

I have divided my sabbatical year into three parts.

For the first part of the year, beginning in April, my only intention was to take the summer off.

Now I am getting ready to move onto the second part of my adventure. This week, I am packing my suitcase and making final travel arrangements.

During the next few months, there will be at least one post per week here – things that I have planned ahead of time. I am also hoping to occasionally post new writing from the road.

Hiking Burstall Pass and reading Paulette Dubé’s mountain poems

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Earlier this summer I discovered Shawna Lemay’s blog Calm Things and have enjoyed reading along as she weaves poetry and photography into her daily life. Today’s post takes its inspiration from her writing there, and also from Paulette Dubé’s poetry.

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Two weeks ago my sister and I hiked Burstall Pass near Kananaskis.

It was a beautiful hike on a beautiful day, one that rewarded us with a few unexpected pleasures beginning with the tiny, tart wild-strawberries that were ripe and ready to eat along the first part of the trail and culminating with this view:

Burstall Pass

Since then, I’ve been thinking about and rereading Paulette Dubé’s pair of poetry collections about the mountains around Jasper, First Mountain and Gaits (both published by Thistledown Press). I suspect it was these lines, half remembered as I walked that day, that drew me back to her work:

18

the trail thins then spits me out
into an alpine meadow warm with sunlight
wind full of poplar fluff big as sparrows
I acknowledge the suffering of change here
know that this, too, will pass

(Gaits, page 18)

We had that same experience, of being “spit out” by the trail, twice that day. The first was less than an hour in, when we crossed a small creek and found ourselves on the gravel flats. It was like being at the bottom of a bowl made of mountains. The surrounding peaks made for a gorgeous pot, which we admired as we navigated the rivulets of melt-water flowing down from the glacier, with the sound of gravel crunching beneath our boots.

The second was after a steep climb, just when I (the more out-of-shape sister) needed a break and we turned a corner into an alpine meadow in full bloom.

Burstall Pass

I admire the mountains, but I’ve never understood them. Having lived most of my life on the prairie or the edge of it, I struggle to understand why people love the mountains so much. Dubé’s writing has helped open the mountains up for me. Her spare, yet layered poems reveal secrets I would not have discovered on my own:

3.

this place teaches
how to think
takes a turn unexpected crocus
pair of hairy purple heads
heart of yellow turned to the sun
astringent as dandelion
and as necessary

(Gaits, page 10)

Dymphny Dronyk and I had the privilege of including some of Dubé’s poems in an anthology of Alberta poetry, Home and Away (House of Blue Skies, 2009). In her introduction to her own work, Dubé recalls that “in five years, I logged 5,000 km out on the trails in Jasper National Park. (I know it sounds incredible, but my husband did the math and I trust him.) I would walk for one or two hours, then I would come home and write for an hour” (54).

Her intimate knowledge of the landscape she writes about makes her a sensitive and lyrical guide, and I am so pleased to have found her work.

I’d like to share one more poem of Dubé’s, from First Mountain. This poem is selected for my sister, who is a geologist.

Burstall Pass

Fifty-sixth day:

the sound of creek spanking places cool and moss dark
there
the first stone found me
stone shaped like the right foot, foretells a journey to come

a heart of stone
a guardian watches over you

two left feet
journeys made

one swirled with a red smile
life is thus

(First Mountain, page 33)

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Postscript:

If you would like to read more of Paulette Dubé’s poems, click here and here.

Thank you for reading. I love it when people stop by to say hi in the comments. All kind and thoughtful comments are welcome.

Thoughts on being an Ordinary Tourist

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I love to travel.

For the past few years I have been fascinated by Chris Guillebeau’s blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. Last year, he met his goal of travelling to every country in the world in just ten years. Amazing. In addition, he’s turned his journey into an entire career that now focuses on helping people create unconventional lives and businesses.

The internet if full of travel blogs about people who are leaving everything behind to travel full time, and sites that tell you the best way to travel (for example, how to travel with just one carry on bag). An entire industry has grown around “travel hacking” that will help you navigate all the points systems and frequent flyer programs to travel for free, or as close to free as possible.

It is easy to get lost in all that advice and feel that, unless you are doing something very special, being a regular tourist is not as valuable as all the cool things people on the internet are doing.

I consider myself to be an ordinary tourist. I pick a place, and I go. Sometimes I manage to squeeze everything into carry on, and sometimes I check my suitcase (and when I do I don’t stress out about it or feel like a failure). I shop around for the best deal I can find, but I’ve never spent the time to figure out how to fly someplace for free on points. I often do all of the planning and book places to stay myself, because I like that part of travelling and it is part of the fun for me, although sometimes I take a tour or get a travel agency to help.

I am curious about the world, even if I’m not going to make travel the focus of my life. I enjoy going on vacation, and I like to come home too.

I am interested in exploring this perspective more. My premise is simple: I believe – and know from experience – that being an ordinary tourist can lead to extraordinary experiences, if you travel with curiosity and a sense of openness. I think you can have life altering experiences while travelling, even if you don’t want to quit your job and travel full time (and if you do, go for it!). I plan to explore this idea more during the coming months as I think about past trips and embark on new ones.

Until then, happy travels.

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P.S.
Thank you for reading! I love it when people stop by to say hi in the comments. All kind and thoughtful comments are welcome. Have a story about an extraordinary travel experience? I’d like to hear that too.
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