Walk Across Canada

Who would think that a 94-year-old woman could walk across Canada? Not only did she do it, but she’s on her way back.Of course it’s not as if she’s really out there on the Trans-Canada Highway in the elements and the traffic, but she did actually put the miles in, locally.

My mother-in-law, Myrtle, is living in the Berwick independent living retirement home in Comox. Berwick has an excellent recreation program which Myrtle just loves. They offer osteo-exercise classes and strength and balance classes and they encourage the residents to get out walking as much as possible. As we all know, the sedentary lifestyle is not good for our health.

In Berwick’s lobby is a map of Canada where participants’ names are pinned as they clock miles on their regular walks around the Comox neighbourhoods. The goal is to virtually walk across Canada. It is not a race, but an incentive to get out walking, and to have fun.

002a Myrtle loves to walk and always has. For her 94th birthday she got a pedometer so she could know exactly how far she walked each day. When she walked two miles, we told her not to overdo it, but she’s quite stubborn when she sets her mind to something, and the daily distance increased along with our fears that she would keel over one day, as she constantly tried to improve on her personal best. We’ve nagged her to slow down and she insists that she feels fine doing  sometimes five miles a day. We’ve given up now and will have to trust that she knows her own limits.

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For the “Walk Across Canada,” everyone starts in Comox, on Vancouver Island. Each day someone on the recreation staff at Berwick calculates the distance each participant has walked and marks their progress on the map. The red arrows show the direction of the walkers. Congratulations to Lorna, Ruth, Marg, and Bill who are almost there, on the east coast. Special congratulations to Myrtle who is already on her way back.

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My amazing mother-in-law.

 

 

 

 

Oh Canada!

Canada

“I love this country.”

I’ve said that many times and sometimes people ask me, “What do you mean? You love the country? The land? The government? What?”

“Everything!” I say. “It was a struggle to adjust at first, but I would never wish to live anywhere else.”

When I was six years old, my parents immigrated to Canada from Germany. I was just starting grade one. I was still pretty naive and thought everyone in the world spoke the same language, so at school, when I babbled away in German, the kids laughed and the teacher rolled her eyes discreetly. I tried again, but they didn’t understand me. I didn’t understand them either, so you’d think that made us even, but the thing is they understood each other. I had a few tough days ahead, but my parents were very supportive and encouraging.

I soon clued in that I had to figure out this new language. “Yes,” “no,” and “thank you,” became the first words I learned. I remember that in my first report card I had a “U” in Language. “U” stood for “unsatisfactory” in those days. My parents were not pleased but they were understanding. By June of that grade one year I had made my parents proud with an “O” for “outstanding.”  Kids learn quickly and much of it is learned on the playground.

I was so lucky to have had the opportunity to grow up in Canada. Germany has an excellent school system, but in Canada, it seems that the spirit of education is freer. “You can achieve whatever you put your mind to.” If I had stayed in Germany, I would have had an excellent education too, but the mindset would have been different. In those days it would have been more like, “This is what you are suited for, so this is what you should do.” Subtle differences, but the freedom to think and create and choose are fundamental here.

I love this country, not only for its nature that seems to be everywhere because of the vastness of the land and the relative sparseness of population, but for the kind of people who live here. When you live in a harsh environment such as Dawson Creek was with its clay gumbo mud and its bitter cold -40 winters, you are thankful for the help of neighbours, friends, and even strangers.

The first time our car got stuck in that deep gumbo, everyone got out and pushed, but it wasn’t enough. The next car that came along, stopped and the people jumped out to help push us out of the mud.  Most of us were splattered in mud, but everyone was smiling. After we thanked our rescuers, my mother said, “This would never have happened in Germany,” and she didn’t mean that they would have had the roads plastered instead of leaving them to get so muddy. “People would have driven past and not helped.” It’s not that German people are unkind or unsympathetic. Far from it. But in a small country with a large population, you become wary of strangers. She might just as well have said, “This would never have happened in New York, or Chicago, or LA.”  But in a pioneer situation, and in harsh conditions, people help each other.

I may not always agree with what our government is doing, but I love that freedom to disagree without persecution. It’s having the freedom to think and speak for myself (while abiding by the laws of the country) that makes this a wonderful place to live.

If I had one thing to say to young Canadians of today it would be, “Be proud of your country and grateful for the privilege of being a Canadian.”

Dog Days of Summer

We all know it is a hot and dry summer this year. My usually green backyard is yellow and brown. The grass breaks off as I walk on it and big patches of bare dirt are showing through. It will all come back in the fall with the first rains, but until then, there is no water to spare for an acre of grass. It’s more important to keep the trees, shrubs, and garden alive.

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Definitely the dogs days of summer.

This morning I looked out expecting yet another bluebird scorcher of a day to develop. Wow! I’ts foggy. Maybe we’ll get some rain at last! But then I saw the sun. It was blood red and easy to look at. I reminded myself not to do that, just as in an eclipse we shouldn’t look directly at the sun, lest we damage our vision. I tried to take a photo of the sun but the red colour wouldn’t come out right. Being an amateur photographer I still don’t know how to get the red  sky colours or the photos of eclipses to come out right. Here is the best I could do, but imagine the whole sun as red as the line around it.

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As it rose higher in the sky, it was just as red but that colour was even more difficult to capture with the camera.

005Then I realized that the last time I saw the sun looking like a red ball of fire was a few years ago when the smoke from a fire hundreds of miles north of us had covered our skies. Sure enough, I have learned that there are several large fires burning on Vancouver Island. Right now I feel as if I’m sitting on a bonfire ready to go up in flames at any time. I’m surrounded by tall trees that haven’t seen a drop of water for over two months and the dry grass around me is the best kindling you’ll ever find for starting a fire.

If I see a smoker walking through the nearby trails (and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve seen hikers going for a healthy walk while puffing on a cigarette),  I’m not sure how I’ll contain my fear and outrage.

The town of Port Hardy to the north of us is threatened by a wildfire as I write, while another fire is burning to the west of us near Port Alberni. It seems the whole province of British Columbia has fires burning. Saskatchewan has plenty of fires as well, and of course, we’ve been hearing of the fires in the States for weeks. It’s just too dry!

Yesterday, the view below was of bright blue sky and brighter blue sea with a few white caps puffed up from the breeze that brought us relief from the heat while, elsewhere, it fanned wildfire flames. Today everything is gray from the smoke of many fires.

007My garden has been getting water, but everything else, as you can see, is tinder dry.

008I’ve learned that “tinder” is a frightening word.