Post 101 – Gratitude – Winnie the Pooh

I am grateful for the wisdom of a bear, a very wise bear.

My father called me Winnie Pooh when I was little, dropping “the” so as not to be accused of violating copyright laws. I’m sure that was the reason. When I re-read the letters he wrote to me just before he died, letters I’ve read at least a hundred times, he started each letter with “Dear Pooh”, simplifying the name even more and willingly copying the habit of those referring to Winnie the Pooh. Though Pooh was considered by his creator and admirers to be “naïve and slow-witted”, I consider Winnie the Pooh to be the smartest bear I know, smarter in fact than most people I know, certainly smarter than me, but he helps me strive to see life as clearly and as simply as he. He has what few of us do, common sense.

Winnie the Pooh is a humble bear who takes on the problems of the day with a hum, a good strategy we should all adopt. Winnie the Pooh, like me, is aging, but unlike me, he is unchanging, connecting with children for the past ninety-two years, an honour that his creator had no idea of.

Canada plays an important role in the creation of Winnie the Pooh, more specifically a Canadian soldier, a veterinarian Harry Colebourn. Harry bought a black bear cub for twenty dollars at the train station in Eagle River on his way overseas to serve in World War I. The bear became the mascot of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade. When Harry was dispatched to France he loaned Winnie, named after his adopted hometown of Winnipeg, to the London Zoo where she became a beloved resident. A.A. Milne took his son Christopher to the zoo to visit Winnie the black bear and the rest, as they say, is history

A.A. Milne, Alan Alexander Milne, brought Winnie the Pooh to life for his son. Milne was born in London in 1882. He had one son whose name was none other than Christopher Robin, born in 1920. Christopher Robin lives on in the pages of A. A. Milne’s books, a timeless character for whom many feel great affection. Milne studied mathematics and then became a successful playwright before he started penning his tales with Winnie the Pooh, but his previous work was seriously overshadowed with the adventures of a bear and almost entirely forgotten and it is said he didn’t really want to be known as an author of children’s literature. But that’s where he’s wrong. I think the older we get the greater lessons we see that occurred in The Hundred Acre Wood.

Pooh shared the fact that a river knows this: there is no hurry. We shall get there one day. I grew up next to a river and knew exactly what Pooh meant; hurrying doesn’t change anything.

Perhaps his greatest wisdom is this:

What day is it, asked Pooh.

            It’s today, squeaked Piglet.

            My favourite day, said Pooh.  

I think I’ll go and read my dad’s letters over again. Just because today is the best sort of day to do such things.

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Post 100 – Gratitude – Full Moons

I am grateful for a full moon. It was a full moon on my birthday, April 29th.

My mother used to sing a song to Aimee, my eldest daughter, when Aimee was little. My mother may have adjusted the lyrics slightly, combined a couple of verses together, but this is how we remember it. And I doubt very much if Robert Meredith Willson would mind my mother taking artistic license with his song.

I see the moon, the moon sees me

Over the mountain, over the sea

Back where my heart is longing to be

Back to the one I love.

A full moon is thought to bring us awareness and clarity, but one must be in a calm state to reap the benefits of the moon. Meditating during a full moon, outside under its light can harness a calm and understanding that seems to go to our very cells, so I’ve read. A full moon is said to propel writers to have a deeper connection with his/her writing. One can only hope. The downside of a full moon, “experts” say, is our personality defects can be enhanced by a full moon, hence the unusual circumstances that bring people to the emergency rooms in great numbers when the moon’s light is full. The Fundy tides surge and swell during a full moon, often spilling over. The power of the moon is visible.

There are more theories and stories and myths about a full moon than one would want to bother counting, but I find a full moon calming, restorative. It makes any problems that I think I might have shrink and become hardly worth bothering about. I leave my blinds up on a full moon night and let the light wash into my bedroom and wake me, if I happen to be asleep, so I can go out on the deck, weather permitting, and soak up that glorious light.

The light from that magnificent moon can unite those separated by geography, as you both stare up in wonder and send your very best wishes and thoughts to float on those beams of light to find their way into the heart of the other. The next full moon is May 29th. Be ready.

Science says the sun is the past, the earth is the present and the moon is the future. Perhaps this is why we gaze at it, our breath halted as we bathe in its light and imagine all the possibilities that are yet to come. If we miss it, if the clouds obstruct our view, if the rain keeps us indoors, take comfort. Another is coming.

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Post 99 – Gratitude – Car Rides

I am grateful for car rides. Just the other day I was remembering Sunday drives from my childhood, the whole family piled into the car, only a brief argument about who got stuck in the middle. Me. The burden of being the youngest. Erma Bombeck said never have more children than you have car windows. She was right. Sometimes those drives would be quiet, everyone lost in their own thoughts, and other times the conversation was lively, stories spilling, one into another, everyone having a chance to be heard.

The car is a perfect place for conversation, for sharing. There are no interruptions aside of the driver keeping her eyes on the road and doing her best not to careen into the ditch. You can share the really big stuff in a car, the hard bits, the deep stories that take a few hundred miles to get at. With no eye contact, other than a few glances, you can really hear, listen to the words, the tone, to get to the guts of what you are talking about. It’s a captive audience, literally. No one is going to jump from a moving car to avoid a particular topic. There is an ease in road trip conversation with its inherent privacy and intimacy.

My sister and I did a road trip not so many years ago, from Kelowna, BC to Fort Frances. We laughed a lot, cried a little, and listened to each other’s take-away from childhood, differing in some perspectives and mirrored in others. Our sisterhood was refreshed with common stories and memories, our uniqueness springing from a shared starting place.

A car ride conversation is a bit like being in the psychiatrist’s office, lying on her couch, she sitting behind you, out of view, probably because she’s writing her grocery list or playing Sudoku, but you don’t know that. You have to trust she’s paying attention. She probably is. And I’m not sure it matters, because it’s all about getting the “stuff” from deep inside out to where you can see it.

Maybe we could solve some of the world’s problems if people went for a car ride. Trump and Kim Jong-un would have to drive around the planet several times before they stopped spitting at each other and got to the truth. Israel and Palestine could stand to do some listening, each taking a turn. A car ride might be perfect for that.

I don’t mean to make light of serious matters, but I’m not sure it should be so difficult to get along, to see another person’s perspective, even those at cross-purposes to our own. I watched a film not long ago about the difficulties between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, the centuries old siege pitting Catholics and Protestants against one another. The leaders of the opposing “teams” ended up in a car together due to weather and the premise was they would begin to understand the opposing side, which led to a calming of the conflict. Made perfect sense to me. You can’t hold a grudge for long in a car; not the way you can when you’re hiding behind walls and rhetoric.

I’d love a car ride today. I’d like to escape and have a conversation of the heart. William Butler Yeats said it right: “Come, Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame.” What he was really saying was, let’s go for a car ride.

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Post 98 – Gratitude – Community

For Will and his family:

I am grateful to be part of a community, a community who has known you since you were little, when they saw you on the street and were surprised at how you’d changed, how you’d grown, how you can ride a bike, drive a car, get a job.

I think when we are young we maybe take the idea of community for granted, feel the burden of the ordinary, wanting at some point to fly, fly alone and shed who we were to get a glimpse of who we might be. Community can know our stories before we do, putting their own spin on the facts at times.

A community at its best, wraps its collective arms around those who are hurting, those who feel the overwhelming life-sucking pain of loss. Community bakes casseroles and cakes. It sends notes and flowers, and it places hands on caved in shoulders and cheeks against tear-stained faces. It prays silently in the late hours and early morning light, prays for understanding and relief when there is none. A community knows when we have been knocked down, broken, and it puts out its hand to pull the wounded back up, to brace our back, and become a human crutch so we might walk upright even for a few moments, for two breaths, for a heartbeat, to remind us we will indeed walk upright again, not today, but some day. A community breathes for us when we can’t, fills and empties our lungs when we have no strength to do it ourselves.

A community helps us heal, knows that though we smile, though we return to work, though we do our banking and pick up our mail and go about the every day business of living, appearing as though we might still be alive, if only just, knows we are forever changed. We have been to the edge and are trying to find our way back. A community leaves the light on for us, the door unlocked, arms open to welcome us in upon our return.

A community reminds us of when we laughed, laughed easily and sincerely, when we were the best version of ourselves. And a community remembers when we have gone, when we left too early, before the story had its natural ending. A community raises a hand of farewell, especially when it wants us back.

For those of us whose geography has changed, our hearts join the team of “our once was home” community. We join the soldiers who guard the wall from a distance, who call out in the dark across the too many miles to say we wish this weren’t so, we wish it with all our hearts.

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Post 97 – Garnet Angeconeb

I am grateful for Garnet Angeconeb.

I was thinking of heroes the other day while I was walking in the snow. Mighty Mouse was important when I was little. He was a good guy, as most flying mice tend to be. He was always ready to save the day; he even said so in his theme song, if you remember. Tonto and The Lone Ranger qualified as heroes, if for no other reason than the fact that a horse was their preferred mode of transportation and I so desperately wanted a horse like Scout, Tonto’s horse. It goes without saying that Annie was always my hero and always will be, for an abundance of reasons.

We all have a list of people who inspired us, left their indelible mark, altered the trajectory of our life in a positive way, became an oasis, a resting place from which to start again, people whose contributions to our life is forever sealed within us, and all too often those individuals never know of their hero status.

I met a hero this past summer, a hero new to me, but certainly not a newcomer to heroism. His photo sits on my desk, a photo I look at each time I sit down to write, to inspire me, but more than that to draw strength from when I am filled with self-doubt, a writer’s constant companion, and to feel hopeful when despair is lurking. He is Garnet Angeconeb.

Garnet and I were born the same year. While I was attending Alberton Central School, Garnet was taken from his home at the age of seven and placed in Pelican Residential School, forty miles from his home, where he ceased being Shebagosh, his Anishnaabe name meaning “rebirth under the leaves”, and became instead Number 22.

Garnet and 150,000 children like him were forced into Residential Schools in this country between 1840 and 1996. These children were in greater risk of death (1 in 25: CBC News June 2015) than Canadians killed in World War II. It took us 150 years to come to our senses, but not before generations of families had been decimated, language and culture lost, childhoods forever interrupted.

I often hear Canadians from both sides of the story saying things such as get over it, it happened a long time ago. But how exactly does one “get over it”? How would any of us get over the loss of our childhood, the loss of family, the loss of the very essence of who we are. Most of us wouldn’t. Garnet Angeconeb did and like every wound that goes to the very core of us, he will continue to get over it as long as he is breathing.

The details of Garnet’s life can be found on his website in the form of a video memoir, a moving and thoughtful tribute to the truth of his life and how he continues to search for healing in his own life, as well as healing for those he encounters in his work, work that earned him a place with The Order of Canada, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, but most importantly has earned him the recognition of himself, that he has resilience, that he is proud to be Anishinaabe despite the years of a system that tried to educate those very qualities out of him.

Garnet is gentle, speaks quietly, with a laugh at the ready. He is kind. He welcomed me into his home to hear his story, an honour for me. The battle is long and wearying, it takes its toll but Garnet continues, not with a voice that flings blame, but rather one that points to the truth and says this is the way to reconciliation.

Garnet wonders at times if anyone is listening. I would say to him: Many are listening. I am listening. I am proud, so very proud to be his friend.

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December 27, 2017

I am departing Dawson City today. Like so many before me, we came in search of gold in its many forms. Many courageous and tenacious people set off to find adventure in Dawson City. In 1898, more than 100,000 set out in search of gold, with less than half able to complete the arduous journey and only a few found gold that year, and many didn’t even look. The Gold Rush was like a war, said Pierre Berton. “Those who survived it were ennobled.”

The precious find I made cannot be used to purchase things or restate the dollar value of my earthly wealth, but it certainly broadened my view, expanded my heart and sent me on my way home with the feeling of having been a Yukon-er, if even only temporarily.

I came away with a new perspective of Canadian history, fed by the wisdom and passion of Alex Somerville at the Dawson City Museum, a young man with Nova Scotia roots and with an immeasurable knowledge of all that played out to create the Dawson City that exists today, above the 64th parallel, along the Yukon River on its way to the Bering Sea, 279 kms (173 miles) from the Arctic Circle.

I have grown accustomed to the blue hue that everything is awash in from three in the afternoon until almost noon the next day, this time of year. The shortened day slows the heart rate it seems, calms the restlessness, pauses the urge to hurry. Yet the community is very much alive, serving up turkey dinners, organizing a boat parade with lights and sound and the purest of fun, the procession winding its way through town, faces pressed to the window as the armada passed. The Fire Truck complete with real-life fire fighters is delivering packages filled with cookies and treats and surprises to every senior in town, the list of community caring seemingly inexhaustible.

I will most definitely miss the face of Brenda Caley who opened her door to me, made space in her full life for a friendship that bettered me, and that I have no doubt will endure until my hopeful return one day or her pilgrimage East.

I will miss it all and I am so grateful to have had the privilege to come and sit at a desk in Pierre Berton’s childhood home, imagining the boy who played in the abandoned and forgotten buildings from the days of a short-lived gold rush, ignited by American George Washington Carmack and his Canadian brother-in-law Skookum Jim Mason who found the first nugget at Bonanza Creek in August of 1896, and cried out, “Gold!”

Thank you for coming along with me, for being there when I felt homesick and a bit alone. Gold indeed.

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November 10, 2017

I had the great privilege of attending the English class at Yukon School of Visual Art (SOVA) and facilitating a creative writing exercise in character development. I am always amazed by the elasticity of the youthful brain and where that imagination goes. Inspirational. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time and watching teacher Jeffrey Langille gently and skillfully guide his class. Jeffrey works with video and photography and captures what most of us miss.

“In his video work, Jeffrey Langille considers the capacity of cameras to register events differently from human perception and to convey the slow time of many occurrences. His work involves using landscape stillness as a theatre for the arrival of change, whether human, geologic, or atmospheric. Writing and research are an integral part of his working process, which includes video, film, and photography.” (

Another teacher at SOVA is Jeremy Herndl, a talented visual artist. I was able to have my own private gallery showing of one of Jeremy’s paintings. Though I am not certain of the exact dimensions of the painting, suffice to say it was very large and I couldn’t help wondering how an artist is able to provide such detail on a canvas of such a size. Check out his website to view some of his fine work.

2017 11 10 Jeremy painting

Another piece (below) by Jeremy

of his Wilderness collection

2017 11 10 Jeremy Wilderness

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