July 10

In two weeks it will be Walter’s and my 49th wedding anniversary. What better time to reflect on weddings and marriages and relationships than now.

SCENE I: The morning of the wedding

The weather was awful Saturday, July 10, 1971. Usually in Vanderhoof in July one can count on beautiful, hot, sunny days but not on this day. I woke up to rain and that rain continued the entire day and into the evening. My first and clearest memory of July 10, 1971 is seeing Walter sometime in the morning. I have no idea why I would have seen him because these were the days when young couples did not usually live together, openly, at least. This was a small town, I was a teacher, and everyone knew everyone else’s business and I knew teachers who had lost their jobs for sharing accommodations with someone to whom they were not married. But I did see him that morning. What was so distressing about that sight was that he was clean-shaven. The last time I had seen him, the evening before, he had sported a dark, well-established beard and here he was, sans facial hair.

“Oh my god,” I thought to myself in shock, “what am I doing? I don’t even know this guy and in just a few hours I’m going to marry him!” I thought about running away, I thought about calling it all off, but I knew that I couldn’t do either of those things, I just couldn’t. I couldn’t hurt him, I couldn’t disappoint my family, and there were all those presents set up on a table in another room. Besides, I had been brought up to make decisions and then follow through. So I pretended to my parents that all was okay, had my hair done, got dressed and ready for my wedding.

SCENE II: That afternoon, the church

It was still raining when we got to the church for the 2:00 service. The United Church in Vanderhoof is small and I remember arriving at the entrance with my dad and seeing Walter standing at the front waiting for me. The music started and my dad galloped me down that aisle so fast I’m sure the pianist wasn’t halfway through “Here Comes the Bride” when we made it to the alter.

Walter looked very young and handsome in the suit he’d bought for his graduation from vet school, even though his clean-shaven face still looked unfamiliar to me. What I hadn’t counted on was his smell, maybe I should say, his stench. It was an odour like no other I had even smelled before. Later, I found out that that very morning he had de-scented a skunk and in doing so, he had squeezed the gland a little too hard when exposing the duct, and sprayed himself with that noxious skunk odour. He then tried to neutralize the smell first by scrubbing himself with soap and water which didn’t work, then by washing with tomato juice which also didn’t work and, finally in desperation, trying to hide the stench with doggy cologne which just accentuated the aroma.

There are two things I remember extremely clearly of the wedding service. First, when the minister asked for the rings, Walter put his hand in his pocket to get my wedding ring, but brought out, instead, a vial of rabies vaccine. More about that later. And second, after we had recited our vows, the minister said, “You may kiss the bride, if you want to,” and Walter didn’t. Later, when I asked him why, he said, “You didn’t expect me to kiss you in front of all those people, did you?” (Several years later I found out that our daughter told all the kids in her kindergarten class that her mum and dad weren’t really married because we hadn’t kissed at our wedding.)

SCENE III: The reception

Our wedding was very small and our reception was held at my aunt and uncle’s house. It was still raining so all the wedding photographs had to be taken inside rather than outside in my aunt’s lovely garden which was a real disappointment to me. I was sure the photographer was drunk, but he probably wasn’t.

It really looks in this photo as if Walter and my mum were holding me firmly in place.

What I remember most clearly about our reception was that one of my cousins was going to be travelling to the U.S. and had asked Walter if he would give the family’s dog a rabies shot that afternoon. And why wouldn’t he vaccinate a dog in the middle of his own wedding reception?

SCENE IV: The wedding night

It didn’t seem right to spend our wedding night in Vanderhoof, so, as we were leaving on our honeymoon the next day, it made sense to spend the night in Prince George, an hour’s drive east. We got to the motel and I was starving because I don’t think I’d been able to eat a bite at our reception. Walter said that he would go out and get a pizza for us and off he went. And I waited and waited and waited in that room, dressed in my fancy blue peignoir set, until I was sure he wasn’t coming back. Even though I hadn’t thought I wanted to get married, I was definitely sure that I didn’t want to be abandoned on my wedding night. He did finally return after at least two hours, looking very frazzled and upset, pizza in hand. It had taken him so long, he said, because first he’d had to wait for the pizza and then, when it was ready and he was heading back, he got lost and ended up wandering all over down town Prince George trying to find our motel. I seem to remember Walter telling me later that night to please stop crying and go to sleep.

We were driving to Ontario on our honeymoon to visit Walter’s family who hadn’t come out for our wedding and we were also going to Detroit so that Walter could attend a veterinary convention. That would make our honeymoon tax deductible which was important in those very lean years. Walter says that I cried all the way across Canada but I didn’t; I cried until we got to Jasper and then I stopped because I figured that if things were this bad, they couldn’t possibly get any worse.

So, our wedding wasn’t one of those fairytale romantic occasions but it does make a good story. Walter just told me that he’d really like a chance to write his own recollections of that day.

REFLECTIONS ON 49 YEARS OF MARRIAGE: What I’ve learned

Without a doubt the most important lesson I’ve learned is that the key to a good relationship is open and honest communication which isn’t as easy as it sounds. I have to confess that we haven’t always been great at communicating with each other but we are definitely aware of its importance and we will keep trying.

Another extremely important thing to remember is that marriage or any long-term relationship is never static but is fluid. Like every event in life, situations change, there are ups and downs, highs and lows, good times and times that are not so good. It is so important to recognize, enjoy and revel in the highs and get through the lows as best you can. We have had some amazing highs and and we’ve experienced the opposite. I’ve likened those low times to being on a train and seeing a tunnel ahead with that little circle of light at the end of it and I have trusted that we would arrive at the end of the tunnel and emerge again into the light. And, so far, that is what has happened.

Through a half-century of living together I’ve leaned that Walter and I are two totally different people with very different thoughts, experiences, and ideas. Sure, we share a life and have done for a very long time, but because we live so closely together, it doesn’t mean we are always on the same wave length. I think that one of the basic mistakes I’ve made is that I’ve often assumed that we were and haven’t checked to find out. But I’ll try and improve on that, as well.

As I think back on these past 49 years, sure, there are things that I’d do differently if I had that opportunity but there is one thing I know for sure–I’m really glad that I didn’t run away that rainy day in July, 1971.

Rafting the Taku: Part II

I love the sound of the names of the rivers of the Taku watershed: Inklin, Nakina, Tulsequah, Sheslay, Nahlin, Samotua, Tatsatua. They remind me of Al Purdy’s poem, “Say the Names.” I even love the way they look as they are written and I particularly like to see them in their context on a map where I can trace the narrow winding blue lines that flow into the wider blue line of the Taku and follow it until it empties into the Pacific. What you see on a map, though, is nothing like what you see when you are physically within that watershed.

When I think back on those two trips so many memories and thoughts and impressions flick through my brain. Those trips offered us much more than an exciting wilderness adventure. The River League was a rafting company that prided itself on ecological mindfulness and everything that was done on the river followed accepted ecological practices. Each trip included as clients at least one expert in a field—wildlife experts, botanists, ornithologists, environmentalists, photographers, artists—and these people added so much to the river experience. David Suzuki, Robert Bateman, and Wade Davis are some of the experts Jamie was lucky enough to guide down the Taku. We practiced “no trace” camping and everything, and I mean absolutely everything, human waste included, was carried out. Which reminds me of a lovely detail: the camp biffy was always set up in a secluded location with the best view.

When we broke camp each morning our goal was to leave our camping area as close to how we found it as possible.

Our guides were knowledgeable in so many areas, not just in the physicality and practicality of getting us down the river. On our twelve days on-river we learned about the history of the area, first-hand from our two Tlingit guides, we learned about the flora and fauna of the land we were passing through and we learned about the wildlife. We didn’t spend all our time in the rafts on the water. We would usually break camp around 10 in the morning and spend the next 6 hours on the river until we arrived at our next campsite. The time from our arrival at camp until our supper was free and we had the choice of exploring the area close to our camp, resting or reading or taking photos or having a dip in the ice cold river, or participating in a hike (usually strenuous, including bushwhacking and big “ups”) lead by one of the guides.

On one of these hikes, I saw Jamie call our guide aside to have a private word with him. I heard him say to Dave, “Keep a close eye on my parents. My mum is really clumsy and my dad eats everything.” And, yes, on that hike, I did fall in the river and have to be helped ashore because the water was really fast.

The view for the Sheslay valley taken from the top of Goat Haunt Mountain.

A highlight of the river trip was a late night sauna and on our trip we enjoyed two of those. The guides would light a huge fire on the beach and put big rocks in the fire; while the rocks were heating, they would construct the sauna which was a big blue tarp held up by the rafting paddles. When the rocks were hot enough, the guides would carry them on shovels into the structure and pile them in the centre. Then, once we were inside and sitting around the walls of our makeshift sauna, they would ladle river water onto the rocks and soon we would be enveloped within hot steam and unable to see across the tent. When we’d had enough, we left the sauna, lept into the freezing water, splashed around for a very few minutes, then hit our tents. It felt so good on those nights to snuggle into a sleeping bag and feel so clean and sauna-sleepy.

The Sauna.

The meals were definitely a highlight of the trip. We were truly amazed at the culinary masterpieces those guides of many talents produced. We were served chicken a variety of ways, pork chops, fresh salmon from the river, sweet and sour pork, tortillas, grilled vegetables, salads and there was always dessert–brownies, cheesecake, upside down cake. All the meals were cooked over an open fire or in a dutch oven. I had no idea my son knew how to cook! We clients would help with prep and the cleanup.

Preparing supper.

The conditions on the river changed daily and sometimes hourly. We had long stretches of leisurely floating where we could relax in the raft and watch the banks of the river pass by and look out for wildlife. If the river picked up speed we were instructed by our guides how and when to paddle. There was one day of really interesting water and with that the adrenaline does kick in. We were well instructed by our guides of what to expect and they reviewed our safety instructions and explained how critical it was for us to listen to what they said about when and how to paddle. The first serious whitewater we rafted was called Box Canyon and was definitely a “yeehaw” ride.

Box Canyon

It was an exciting rollercoaster ride and we were exhilarated but also relieved when all three rafts exited Box Canyon and stopped a little further downriver. Then came Sheslay’s Demise, a different kind of whitewater, but just as exciting. The guides always scouted the stretches of fast water before we went through on the rafts because the river is ever changing and the clients’ safety is paramount. To that end, on this trip there was one such stretch and we clients led by one of the guides walked (or maybe I should say “bushwhacked”) that stretch while the other three guides ran the rapids with the loaded rafts.

Sheslay’s Demise. That’s me, left front, and Walter, right front and Jamie, our captain.

And wildlife. We did see several species and, if we didn’t see them up close, we did see the signs they left behind–prints on the beach, hair that was left behind where the bears had scratched themselves on trees, and, of course, scat. The people in the first raft were usually the luckiest at spotting the animals; they would signal to people in the following rafts where to look, but often by the time the rafts arrived at that spot, the animals had disappeared into the woods. Most notably we saw moose, black bears, grizzly bears, beavers, many eagles, and mountain goats. Almost every day the guides would document in the trip log the animal sightings and all the different types of wildflowers, shrubbery, and birds that had been seen that day.

For our last day of the excursion we were picked up in the morning at our campsite and taken back to Juneau on motorized river boats. By then we were on the Taku River and the scenery was spectacular and so different. The river was wide and shallow and slow and silty. We passed three glaciers, numerous waterfalls and the snowcapped mountains poking up out of the river mist were stunning. What an amazing twelve days.

For Walter and me, the best part of those two river trips was the chance to travel with our son and to see him in such a different light. On the river in his role as expedition leader, he was in charge, the one we listened to, learned from and turned to for answers. He had an awesome responsibility. His knowledge of the river, his competence in rafting, and his confidence as a leader were outstanding. His dad and I were so proud.

Dr. Bonnie Henry

I feel so incredibly lucky in these times, in the midst of the Corona virus pandemic, that my family and I live in British Columbia under the guidance of our amazing Medical Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Her name meant nothing to me until March 17, 2020 when I heard, for the first time, the daily update of the situation presented by her and our Provincial Health Minister, Adrian Dix. I think, also, that that was the first time I even realized there was a serious health situation. I had spent the previous weekend in Vancouver with a friend and we had been watching the coverage on tv and had been debating the issues of wearing or not wearing masks and what the effects on travel in the future would be. She and her husband had booked a trip to Hawaii in a couple of weeks and were anticipating a wonderful sunny getaway and she wondered if they should cancel that trip. It was my son and his husband who convinced us of the seriousness of our current times. Living in Vancouver, they were much more aware of what was going on with COVID-19 and how it might affect us. He was so concerned about what he considered our “ignorance” of the situation that he contacted his three siblings and said that they needed to monitor my husband’s and my behaviour to be sure that we did what we were supposed to do.

What impressed me the most about Dr. Henry on that first televised presentation was her sincere and deep-felt concern about the people in the long term care residences in the lower mainland who were first hit by the virus. I don’t remember how many deaths  she reported but I do remember that when she was talking about these victims she was quietly emotional and one could see that she was very close to tears and could hear the tremor in her voice. From that point on I listened to each of the almost daily reports she and Minister Dix made.

There are so many things I appreciate about Dr. Bonnie Henry. Her presentation of the facts and figures each day is delivered in such a way that they are clear, concise and understandable. When she shows slides and graphs she carefully explains each one. Most of all, she is not dictatorial; she lets us know in no uncertain terms exactly what we have to do in order to “flatten our curve,” and she does this in such a way that it makes me, and probably others, want to do what she says and heed her suggestions. I really don’t want to disappoint Dr. Henry. Each daily presentation follows a similar format—she first reports on the number of new cases in our province for the past 24 hours (which is what I particularly listen for) and then she goes on to give the numbers in each region of our province and explain where the major concerns lie, then she gives other pertinent information. She always finishes that part of her presentation with the numbers of deaths that have occurred in the past 24 hours and always, always expresses her condolences to the families, friends and care-givers of those people. She never fails to mention her appreciation of the difficult work of all the people in health care and she always mentions her appreciation of her own health care team. In the middle part of the presentation she gives any new information that has come to light or new instructions she has for us. She has spoken a great deal about physical distancing and adding people to our circles, and every single presentation ends with the words that have become her mantra: “be kind, be calm and stay safe.” Lately, as we are in the middle of the second phase of our reentry, a new saying has been added—“big spaces, few faces.” 

At the end of each presentation by Dr. Henry and Minister Dix there is time for questions by the press. I rarely listen to all of the questions but when I have, I’ve been impressed by the answers given by both presenters. I’ve never heard animosity or negativity from either Dr. Henry, Minister Dix or members of the press which leads me to believe that our health team is highly regarded by more than just the common public.

I was trying to analyze the reasons why Dr. Henry has had such positive impact, not only on our province, but also on Canada and, possibly the rest of the world. I think that now her name is known worldwide. Of course, I can only speak for myself but I think much of the feeling about Dr. Henry has to do with who she is and how she presents herself. She has an impressive medical background and is extremely knowledgeable about her subject. She is real; it seems she considers herself one of us and she is confident that what she has to say is the best information to report. 

What makes her seem real? One little thing that made her seem real to me was one afternoon when she touched her hair and said that she was hoping as much as anyone that the hairdressing salons would open soon. The little things matter, I think. Everyday, I wonder what she will be wearing and what different necklace she has chosen which will complement her outfit—it seems she has a necklace for every ensemble. She strikes me as approachable, unassuming and one who would listen to the thoughts, concerns and ideas of every citizen. It is obvious that others feel similarly. She has had songs written for her, she has had high end fashion shoes named for her and we may now order t-shirts that feature her face on the front of them. 

Dr. Henry is, to me, the epitome of a leader. 

Missing Travel

I hit the wall last week and it came out of the blue. I was scrolling through Instagram and came across a beautiful landscape photo and a comment from the person who posted it. That person was lamenting not being able to travel during this time of COVID-19. That comment hit me like a punch to the gut. I miss travel, too, and, as well, I miss the planning the travel. We have a trip booked in September to Eastern Europe which I’m pretty sure is not going to happen. Right now I should be reading about the places we would be visiting, looking at travel guides, and planning our itinerary; instead, I’m wondering if we’ll even be able to go and, if we don’t, will we get our money back?

I decided that the only way I’d get a travel fix during this time of the pandemic was to trip out on nostalgia and revisit the past.

During his summers while attending university our oldest son had a summer job as a rafting guide with The River League Rafting Company and Walter and I were lucky enough to participate in two of his expeditions on the Taku River in Northern British Columbia. The Taku watershed is an absolutely beautiful and almost pristine and remote area of the province abounding in spectacular scenery, flora and fauna.

RAFTING ON THE TAKU: Part 1 – Reaching the River

Our trip began in Juneau, Alaska, where we met up with the other members and a couple of the leaders of our expedition. From there we flew in 3 small planes for about 50 minutes to a gravel landing strip in northern BC. The scenery on that flight was truly amazing–we flew at 3000′ between mountain ranges that seemed close enough to touch and over glaciers that shimmered in the sunlight and rivers that snaked through blue-green valleys. Landing was exciting. The landing strip was short and from way up the plane spiralled down and down until it finally met the dirt and landed in a flury of dust and we bounced to a stop.

We were met by Jamie, our son and trip leader for the next 12 days, who arrived at the landing site in an ATV towing a trailer for our gear. It was the first time we had seen Jamie since he had passed through Vanderhoof with the rafting company a couple of months earlier on their way up to the Yukon, and it was so amazing to meet him in the wilderness, so obviously in his element. Before heading to the place where the rafts were waiting, he told us a fascinating story about our surroundings. We were very close to an octagonal log cabin which was built by a notorious character called “Shesley Free Mike,” who, in 1985 killed a trapper and was the subject of a manhunt by the RCMP. His story is featured in several online sites.

Led by Paul, our other guide, and Jerry, a young member of the Tlingit Nation who was apprenticing as a guide, we trekked through the brush and arrived at “Strawberry Fields,” our first destination where we had a picnic lunch in the warm early afternoon sun. We were charmed to find out that the members of the River League had given all the riverside campsites and stopping places along our route creative names.

After lunch we walked about a kilometre through the woods and met up with the rafts, all loaded and ready for our first foray on the river. While we were eating, the guides had rowed the rafts down the Hackett River to where it entered the Shesley. We were all ready for the major stage of our adventure.

COVID-19

I had fully intended NOT to write a post featuring this dastardly disease that is running rampant around our planet, but how can I not? Sadly, it is the focus of our days, hours, minutes. Every morning I listen to our Prime Minister standing outside Rideau Cottage speaking to the nation and, whatever one thinks of him and his politics, one has to empathize with the guy facing such an enormous challenge. Every afternoon I watch and listen to B.C.’s wonderful Dr. Bonnie Henry, our provincial health officer, hoping that the news she will impart will contain some positive points. I think she is truly amazing and have from the beginning when I heard her talk about the very first deaths that occurred in the first care home in BC to be struck by the virus. It was so evident in her voice and in her demeanour that she was holding back tears, and not very successfully. Her daily reports are great; she gives us the facts and numbers clearly and simply and she always attempts to find something positive to end her report with. And, on a rather frivolous note, I love to see what unique necklace she is wearing each day. She must be soooo tired. Adrian Dix, our Minister of Health, who speaks with her is doing a good job, as well, in my humble opinion. So many other reports on the media are filled with doom and gloom and negative projections. I’m not saying we all have to be a “Pollyanna” and continually play the “glad game,” but a little positive news and thoughts really go a long way.

Lines of poems and songs keep circling in my head. “In my hour of darkness, in my time of need….” and “The world is too much with us….”. I think a poem that is particularly appropriate at this time is Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach:”

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So vicious, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

That sounds like a downer and I didn’t really mean it that way. There is hope and we have to count on that and hang on to it and keep reminding ourselves that “this, too, shall pass.” And we have to keep thinking about the good and the positive and what we, as individuals, can do to make the best of a difficult situation.

Walter and I are being good and following the “rules.” We are keeping the correct distance from others, we aren’t travelling and are staying home, Walter is doing the grocery shopping once a week–Thursdays from 7 to 8 when our local grocery store is open to seniors. It’s tough not to spend time with our kids, grandkids and friends. One thing, though which has really surprised me, is that I am much more of an introvert than I ever thought I was; social isolating is okay (ask me how I feel in two months about that!) and I’m enjoying reading, knitting, sewing, texting friends and writing emails, binge-watching and not feeling all that guilty about it. We are walking each day, getting exercise, changing our scenery, and enjoying the fresh air.

We have bent the rules a little. We have had “deck” visits with each of our daughters and their kids, making sure we keep at least 2 metres apart, and we have come up to our cabin on Stuart Lake where we are this weekend. I have rationalized that’s okay and shouldn’t be considered “travelling,” because the cabin is only 45 minutes from home; we get into the car at our front door and get out at the door of the cabin, with no interaction with anyone in that time. And, we have no close neighbours here.

We are all feeling the the effects of COVID-19. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones or whose loved ones are suffering or who are suffering themselves. It is unimaginably difficult to not be able to be by the sides of sick family members or to not be able to have celebrations of life for those people who have died. I feel badly for those who have had to abandon anticipated plans of travel and for all of us, particularly this weekend, who can’t spend the Easter and all other special celebrations at this time, with close friends and family.

We have to be brave and to get through this time as best we can. Be safe, my friends.


Not to be Outdone, I Rode a Wild Cow in a Rodeo

The sponsor of our high school rodeo club arrived in the staff room one late spring morning looking extremely dejected. He slumped in a chair and when someone asked him what was wrong, he said, “The rodeo is this weekend and not one single girl has signed up to ride a wild cow.”

My brain was definitely not engaged when I piped up and said, “Don’t worry, put me down to ride a wild cow.” What on earth possessed me to say that, I will never know, but I did (do?) have a well-developed tendency to speak before thinking. The only thing I’d ridden at that point in my life was a very gentle old horse a few times on my cousins’ farm.

I didn’t think much more about that staff room exchange until I heard the noon hour announcements: “Come one, come all to the the high school rodeo this Saturday. Mrs. Wigmore is going to ride a wild cow!” All eyes in my English 9 class turned to me and the looks on the kids’ faces ranged from horror to amusement to outright disbelief and I’m sure the most horror-stricken face in that classroom was my own.

I thought about getting out of it but could think of no way that could happen without me losing face or disappointing that rodeo club sponsor. I knew without a doubt that he would make my life miserable if I backed out. So, that Saturday morning of the high school rodeo saw me posing outside our house wearing my cowboy gear, ready for my debut appearance of rodeo rider extraordinaire. I had on my precious cowboy boots, I had the appropriate hat and I was wearing one of Walter’s pearl-buttoned cowboy shirts. I looked the part and I was ready, sort of.

I don’t remember very much about my performance, just little snapshots in my mind. I remember seeing the area around the arena quite crowded with spectators, probably most of them being my own students. I remember being behind the chute and being helped onto my cow, I remember being instructed on how to hold on and what to expect. Then I heard the bell and the chute opened and off my cow and I went, off being the operative word!

I have no idea how long I lasted on the back of that cow but for sure it was only a very few seconds before I bit the dust. I do remember feeling her bucking and twisting under me and how uncomfortable it was, my bum bouncing on her bony back. My husband had given me a pad to wear inside my jeans but that did nothing to alleviate the pain of those bounces on my tailbone. I knew my cowboy hat went flying just before I did.

The outcome of that ridiculous debacle was that I chipped a bone in my pelvis and ended up spending the night in the hospital. As a side note, our hospital was full and the only bed for me was on the maternity ward. You can imagine the rumours that tore around the school when that fact was revealed.

I was okay and only spent the one night in the hospital and for the next couple of weeks I had to use crutches. I think the very best part of that experience was listening to Walter on the phone with my mother: “Oh no, Helen, rodeos aren’t dangerous. Judy was the only one who was hurt.”

We Should Have Named Him Pierre.

My husband, Walter, and I were total innocents when it came to travel when we ventured out on our very first really big trip. This was the era of travelling around Europe in a camper van and that’s what we were going to do. We had no clue about what to take, where exactly we were going, how to get there or anything else remotely involved with travel. We only knew that we had sold almost everything we owned, that we had made arrangements for our house and business for the time we were to be away, that we had a new VW Westfalia camper van awaiting our arrival at Tillbury, England, and that we were heading into the unknown for eight months.

We had booked berths on a Transatlantic passenger ship, the SS Alexander Pushkin, and I had illusions of grandeur. In my mind, I could see myself in my ball gown (ask me how many of those I owned!) elegantly descending the ship’s golden staircase to the ballroom. Well, reality certainly differed from my imaginings. The Alexander Pushkin was definitely not a luxury liner but was adequate especially for first-time travellers with nothing to compare the experience to.

What I remember of that shipboard experience:

  • that we could never find anything to eat on the ship. We had set times for our three meals but there was absolutely nothing available for any between meal snacks.
  • The food was not that great–when we started the voyage, we had roast beef; when the trip ended, we were eating hash. I did find out what profiteroles were, though, because they were the only dessert offered.
  • There may have been no snack places on board, but there was an incredible number of bars, at least one on every deck and sometimes two. I became quite taken with a cocktail called a Russian Special which varied in colour, strength and taste at every bar we tried.
  • The entertainment was pretty bad as it mostly consisted of passenger participation.
  • The terrific three-day Atlantic storm we went through which confined both Walter and me to our berths.

There were good things about the voyage:

  • We met really nice people that we stayed in touch with and visited later in our trip..
  • We took Russian language lessons and I can still say “thank you” in Russian.
  • The entire experience, good and not so good, was new and exciting.

We spent the first month of our trip touring the British Isles and then crossed from Dover to the mainland of Europe. September and October of 1972 saw us cruising around Holland, Germany and Switzerland. We experienced Oktoberfest in Munich–I can still see those barmaids slinging fistsful of beer steins onto tables inside the huge beer tents and taste the delicious curls of pretzel bread strung with ribbon that we wore around out necks. From Germany we travelled into France and spent several wonderful days in Paris at a campsite close to the Bois du Boulogne. And those patisseries! We always stopped at one particular one and bought a delicious goody on our walk back to our campsite.

After our last day in Paris, before we headed south into Spain, we decided to spend a few hours at Versailles and tour the palace. As I stated earlier, we had no idea of what to pack for this trip and we ended up taking way too much stuff, mostly clothes. We had packed up the extraneous stuff we realized we’d never need into a couple of suitcases and had securely strapped them to the top of our van. Being trusting Canadian neophyte travellers we didn’t give a second thought to parking our van in the public parking lot at Versailles and leaving it for the time we toured the palace. When we left the palace and returned to the parking lot, you guessed it, the top of the van had been totally cleaned off. The only things the thieves didn’t take were Walter’s cowboy boots!

We were devastated and felt so violated as one does when one has been robbed. We lost luggage, clothes, presents and souvenirs we’d bought but, by far the worst, we lost the entire photographic record of our trip. We had decided to wait until we got home to print our photographs so had stored the exposed film in one of the suitcases. We also lost 6 months supply of my birth control pills—Walter has always said we should have called our first child Pierre.

Icarus

A very long time ago my husband built a hang glider; this was before hang gliding was a popular or even a well known sport. He read an article in Popular Mechanics about a Rogalo, which was the very first hang gliding kite. There was a picture of it but no directions and he says he clearly remembers the sentence at the end of the article which stated, “Never fly higher than you are willing to fall.”

It was a warm fall day and business was quiet when he took himself down to our local Co-Op and bought his supplies: three 10′ by 1 1/2 inch dowels and one 6′ dowel, a 10 foot square piece of water barrier plastic and a length of 1/4″ rope. The kite in the magazine article was made with aluminum tubing and sailcloth fabric but Walter bought materials that were available in our store and what, probably more to the point, were affordable. When he got home, he began the assembly which didn’t take long. He tied the dowelling together with Boy Scout knots and stapled the plastic to the dowelling and, voila, one Rogalo constructed!

Now, I came into the picture. There was one steep hill with little traffic close to our house and the plan was that Walter would stand on top of our VW van and I would drive down the hill, he’d get liftoff and off he’d fly.

I drove slowly from our house to the top of the hill with Walter and his young helper, Darcy, sitting on top of the van holding the Rogalo. When we got to the top of the hill, Walter tied his broken horse-throwing rope to the centre of the Rogalo and sat in a loop that he had tied so that he could hold onto the crossbar of the Rogalo and steer it.

I started driving down the hill, and according to Walter, the kite had too much lift so he yelled, “Whoa!” I heard “Go!” and stepped on the gas. Apparently, on top of the van, as everything was lifting off, Walter told Darcy to let go, which he did. Meanwhile, in the van, I was happily barrelling down the hill, expecting, any second, to see Walter flying above me.

Once I got to the bottom of the hill, I could see no sign of Walter or the Rogalo, which was a little concerning. Looking back up the hill, I did see him–crawling out of the ditch, covered in dust, dragging his partially intact kite behind him.

Also, at the bottom of the hill, were two old guys strolling along. One of them said to the other, “What the hell was that?” and the other replied, “Oh, that was the local vet. He’s nuts.”

Never Stop Learning

In my paid working life I was an educator. I was really lucky in my career in that what and who I taught was extremely varied. I started out as a primary teacher and I taught Grade 1 in my first year; two years later, I taught most of the same kids in Grade 3 and was so thankful for the opportunity to right every wrong I had done as an inexperienced new teacher. At the end of my first year teaching I went back to university and took a fifth year so I could qualify to teach English in secondary school (English had been my major). I have always thought that if I could teach Lit. 12 to 6 year olds I would be totally happy. I think that age would love stories such as “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” “Beowulf,” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” On second thought, maybe not–some of them could be completely traumatized for the rest of their lives.

In my 30 years of teaching, I taught just about every age and grade group, and, as I was a school counsellor for many years, I also dealt on a different level with so many different kids. Close to the end of my career, I had the position of Faculty Associate for Simon Fraser University, so for 6 years I taught and supervised student teachers. I guess my career ran the gamut of the education system as I also participated on an English curriculum committee at the provincial level. For me, though, there was nothing as satisfying as the classroom experience.

I remember so many kids and experiences from those years of teaching, the great, the good and the not-so-good but I would way rather concentrate on the good. I had one student teacher who was amazing. It was easy to tell when I observed her first lesson that she was made for teaching but, with that, came the worry that she would put so much of herself into her teaching life, that she would be a prime candidate for burnout. One particular lesson that I observed is etched in my memory.

She was teaching a Grade 7 french class. it was almost the end of the last period on a Friday so it wasn’t the easiest time of day and the group she was dealing with were definitely not the easiest bunch of students. I sat in the back of the classroom in a desk with my notes in front of me, jotting down my observations. How many times she said “gonna,” whose hands she responded to, what was going on in the class behind her back. In this lesson, she was teaching french vocabulary associated with family and she had the students in groups of three working on collages. They were looking through magazines, cutting, pasting and labelling in french all the pictures they found which would illustrate family concepts. Directly in front of me sat a group of 3 boys having a hilarious time. Their work spaces and the floor around them were covered in paper and discarded pictures and magazines they had finished with. It was 5 minutes before the bell was to ring.

“Okay,” I said to myself, “this is going to be interesting. I wonder how she is going to deal with this situation.”

At that moment she was making her final rounds of the classroom, stopping here and there, encouraging students, chatting with them and looking at what the groups had produced. She made her way to the boys in front of me and I thought, “Ha, here it comes.”

She stopped, looked at the boys and said in a totally conversational tone of voice, “You guys have made quite a mess and I’m sure you’re not going to leave it for me to clean up,” and passed on to the next group. You should have seen them scramble to get everything cleaned up before the bell rang. I couldn’t help considering, as a teacher, how would I have dealt with that sort of situation. I’m afraid I would have reacted totally differently; I wouldn’t have so calmly and positively encouraged them to clean up, I would probably have ordered them to do it and, by the end of the day, they would have been mad at me and I would have been frustrated with them.

I realized that day that the most important lessons we learn are varied and come from all different experiences and we have to be open to them. I will never forget what I learned that day in that classroom. Thanks, Michelle.

Skiing at Stubai

I spent many years teaching English in high school and one thing I learned is that those literary terms I taught so often to so many kids were coined because they first described or illustrated something from real life. Anyone can give real life examples of foreshadowing as well as describe experiences of irony, chance and coincidence.

Several years ago I was working on a quilt, ironing fabric pieces, to be exact, and listening to a morning program on CBC. I was particularly intent on this program because it was an interview by Kathryn Gretsinger who I considered an extremely talented interviewer. She was speaking with Lynda MacPherson, a woman who was relating the tragic disappearance of her son, Duncan MacPherson, a professional hockey player. The interview was compelling both for the content and because both women were so articulate.

In 1988 Duncan MacPherson was released by the New York Islanders and a year later agreed to take a job as coach-player for a semi-professional hockey team in Dundee, Scotland. For the summer of 1989, before his job started in mid-August, Duncan travelled in Europe, sightseeing and visiting friends. All contact with him ended for his parents in early August which alarmed them because he’d phoned them once a week from the beginning of his trip. In this interview, Lynda MacPherson related how they had traced Duncan’s last known presence to a ski resort, Stubai, close to Innsbruck, Austria, and their subsequent frustrating search for their son.

At the close of the interview Kathryn Gretsinger said that a CBC TV show, The Fifth Estate, would be featuring the story of Duncan MacPherson on their program that evening. My interest was definitely piqued and later I settled down in front of our tv to watch. About halfway into the hour long program I had an unsettling thought—we had been in Austria that same summer with our four children and a friend of our oldest son’s. As a special treat we had also gone summer skiing in August on the Stubai Glacier, the place where Duncan MacPherson was seen. As soon as there was an break in the program, I searched for a record of that summer’s trip. I found the notebook I had used to make rough notes of our trip and, sure enough, on August 9, 1989, we had been skiing at Stubai Resort.

My record for that day:

  • got there (overcast–could hardly see mountains) about 9:00 & got gondola to the top–really nice ski shop & restaurant.
  • were outfitted & on the slopes by 10–bit of a schmozzle getting stuff–sort of self-serve.
  • conditions were pretty awful–mostly whiteout & slushy snow.

What I remember mostly about that occasion was how terrible the ski conditions were, how disorganized everything in the ski shop was, and the difficulty we had in getting everyone outfitted and on the hill. I’m positive that if it hadn’t cost us so much for the day, we would have given up our plans to ski.

I could hardly believe that we had been at the very place on the very day that Duncan MacPherson had been last seen. The next morning I sent an email to a contact person for The Fifth Estate program explaining what I had discovered. Very soon after I sent it, I received an answer saying that my email would be forwarded to Bob and Lynda MacPherson. Shortly after that, I received an email from Bob MacPherson who said that he and Lynda were really interested in what I had to say. In my reply I explained who I was and what I remembered about being on Stubai on August 9, 1989. It turned out that Bob and Lynda, who lived in Saskatoon, would be in Vancouver at the same time I would be there for work and we made arrangements to meet.

We met for coffee in a popular restaurant, Slickety Jim’s, on Main Street in Vancouver about a month later. I had photos that I had taken on the ski hill to show Bob and Lynda and they had brought maps and photos to show me. There was one photo that was really significant that I ended up giving them because it showed so clearly the conditions of the day and the main ski hill where Duncan had taken snowboard lessons and had been last seen. I had spoken to my oldest son and his friend who were both 15 about that day and they remembered meeting and chatting with a young Canadian man who could have very easily been Duncan MacPherson.

Bob and Lynda told me something so disturbing that they had found out about the ski resort that, had we known, we never would have taken 5 kids, one of them not our own, skiing on that glacier. Apparently, the weather had been much warmer that summer and the conditions on the ski hill were such that it should have been closed. The snow was slushy, as I had noted, but more critical, the entire hill was riddled with crevasses, some extremely deep and most covered with a skiff of snow so they were not evident. There was not a single cautionary sign posted anywhere! Nobody should have been skiing on that hill that day.

I think the fact that Bob and Lynda met someone who had been in the same place as their son on the last day he’d been seen brought them a tiny bit of comfort. As well, I had been able to give them a first-hand descriptions of the conditions of the day and show them the photos I’d taken.

Bob and Lynda MacPherson spent years and thousands of dollars trying to solve the mystery of their son’s disappearance but were met with frustration, denial and lies in their attempts. Finally, on July 22, 2003, nearly 14 years after he vanished, the mystery was solved.

You may be interested in watching this:

I have continued to be in touch with the MacPhersons through the years and their story is one that will stay with me.