… and, I’m back …

It has been almost 4 full years since last I posted on this site, and true to the quote that I chose to feature as my tagline, in the space of that 4 years, I find myself another, and yet the same …

Things that have changed: I have moved from a large metropolis to a small northern city, exchanging crowds and easy access to just about anything you can think of to (mostly) quiet streets and almost instant access to some 330 bodies of water and a wide expanse of bush and forest. Another huge change is that I have moved from permanent full-time to temporary part-time employment. My life has slowed down considerably, and I like that, though I will admit that at times I do miss some of the amenities and, sometimes, even the crowds. The past year has been a period of transition, to say the least.

When I began this blog, I had a vision in the back of my mind about a future where, once I was no longer having to report in to a daily job, I would adopt some largish hypo-allergenic dog, name him Buddy, acquire a Tiny House on wheels, and then ramble about for the next several decades. I would spend winters in the southern US and summers in Canada. I started preparing for this life by buying a folding bike, downsizing my possessions, whittling my wardrobe down, reducing my reliance on electric appliances, and engaging in discussion with myself and others about the benefits and disadvantages of compost toilets and living “off grid.”  But as I learned more, and started following blogs by tiny-house owners, I learned about some not so minor challenges about travelling with a tiny house. You need a large truck with which to haul the house. Large trucks are not cheap to buy nor to maintain. You need to be able to hook the house up to said truck, and, once arrived at wherever you plan to spend the night/week/month, you need to unhook house from truck, level it, attach all the necessary hoses and cords to ensure adequate heat, plumbing, running water, etc. With some alarm, I also learned about things that can go wrong, about the kinds of  engineering and mechanical problems that arise on the fly. Roofing tiles and sky lights get damaged by low-hanging trees. Trucks develop mechanical issues. Plumbing fails. Black water systems break down. Things fall apart.

And I realized that as companionable as Buddy was likely to be, he was not going to be much help with any of that. A tiny house seemed to come with some not so tiny challenges, and I didn’t feel equipped to deal with them solo. So then I began to dream of Buddy and I living out of a largish camping van, which is less likely to run into the kinds of problems that the average garage isn’t experienced with.  Our travel would be limited to climates that allowed us to live our lives largely out-of-doors (because, as friends and family hastily pointed out, Buddy would need room to wag his tale, and I would need to be able to stand upright on a regular basis). The van idea might have worked, but it appears that even hypo-allergenic dogs are no match for my heightened sensitivity to animal dander. Over the years, it’s become clear that no fur-bearing animal and I can co-habitate without my requiring some serious medications. My pulmonologist strenuously discourages any such co-habitations. And yet I could not imagine life on the road without some kind of companion. So, back to the tiny house plan I went, this time imagining a tiny house community. That’s a plan that by it’s very definition requires a community. That means more time to design, to plan, and more people to do all of that with. When my job ended (more on that some other time, maybe), I had an opportunity to think about how to achieve some piece of that dream.

I am not just back to this blog, I am also back in my home town. As it became clear to me that my tiny house/camper van travels could not materialize in quite the form I’d hoped, I thought about what might replace that dream. I thought about where I might be able to land, for a least a while, so I could figure out what this next phase of my life might look like. When I closed my eyes, what came to me was the sound of the wind in the pine trees and of lake water lapping. Those sounds hearken back to my earliest memories, my most comforting moments. And so I came home a year ago. Kinda like a slow boomerang. When I left some 19 years ago, I flew out in a wide arc from Sudbury to the Pacific Northwest for several years before looping back to Montreal before finally circling back to Sudbury. The views have been spectacular, the experiences many and varied. There is an old saw that claims you can never go back, but that’s not quite true. You can’t go back to what was, but you can go back to something different. And so I have. Sudbury, like me, has changed quite a bit in the 18 years I was gone, but in many ways it remains the same. Re-greening projects have changed the landscape, there are trails and pathways that facilitate cycling and walking, and a number of groups have established strong cultural roots in the city. Friends and family have come and gone and stayed and relationships amongst and between us all have changed. Even with all those changes, there are still familiar landmarks and faces.

Four years: my city of residence has changed. My employment status has changed. My closest companions have changed. My long-term dreams have changed. And yet I remain the same: still exploring and still searching, still figuring out what the heck my life is all about and how I can best go about living it. The last twelve months have been nothing if not interesting and rewarding. There have been challenges, and not all of them were anticipated or welcome, and some were real disappointments. Sometime I WAS the disappointment. But there have also been unexpected opportunities, kindness, encouragement, support, excitement, and growth. It’s been a ride, and it’s far from over.





there is a season…

Autumn never fails to put me in awe of what it means to be alive. Even in this most urban of settings, we are aware of the fall as the time of harvest. The signs are everywhere: pumpkin, squash, potatoes, pears, apples, falling leaves and cooling temperatures, early evenings…. This awareness of the life-giving bounty of the harvest juxtaposed with the browning of once-green plants and scurry of animals hurrying to stock up food for the coming winter … this is the season that, for me, most profoundly embodies the full spectrum of the cycle of life. I know. I am aware of the purple state of my prose, of the fact that all that I am feeling and am about to say has been felt and said before, but I cannot help it. This is what this season does to me. It makes me acutely aware of the passage of time on a broad scale and the passage of my own life on a very personal scale – that even as all things reach their prime, myself included, they – we, I – also begin the slow descent into oblivion.

But this is not a season of sadness, it is a time to celebrate passages and extremes — the warmth which gives way to cold, the slow transition from the light of long summer evenings to dusky afternoons, the way the vibrant green of plants trees waxes into the dusky browns, reds, and golds. In spring, when all things are new, our thoughts and our vision are forward looking. The world is newly formed, and the future and all the promise it holds is before us. In fall, the world around us begins fade and decay. Everything is shutting down, hibernating, going to sleep, dying. Our focus is not on the future, but rather on the cyclical nature of our world – the revolution of day and night, the cycle of the four seasons, the spinning of the earth on it’s axis, the yearly revolution of the earth around the sun, the spinning of our galaxy, the expansion of this universe, sparkling new galaxies and black holes, life and death …

This season brings to mind all the rhythms of the world, big and small – monthly tides, seasonal weather shifts, yearly squalls and storms. Shifts in our own work and life patterns in keeping with the shorter days and longer nights, the way the changing seasons reflect the human experience, how childhood gives way to youth and then adulthood, and finally old age, and the ways in which all our loves and desires and fears and hopes shape and are shaped by our experiences along the way.

It’s all so huge. I feel both humbled and inspired by it all. I am in one minute full of joy and wonder and in the next, astounded and in awe. I find myself in a moment of fullness and in a stillness that both terrifies and thrills me. It is a time of comfort and plenty. It is a time of endings. Every autumn. All my life. This season is my constant, my core, the quiet space between my beginning and my end, the breath between that moment when I am everything and I am nothing. It feels like home. And so I welcome it with open arms.

Oh Canada! (It’s all relative)

I’m documenting, right here and right now, the fact that on this day, July 12th 2010, I find the temperature of 23 degrees celcius (73.4 farenheit) to be refreshingly COOL, almost chilly, in fact. And the reason I’m documenting this is because I am quite certain that at some point this coming winter, I will be saying that I find -15 or even -23 degrees celcius to be downright BALMY!

This weather schizophrenia is what comes of living in a land of extreme hot and extreme cold.

Canada. What a country! What an experience!

Summertime, and the living is easy …

Reading: Around the World on a Bicycle by Thomas Stevens, written in 1885. (download it for free). This guy went around the world on his bike which meant there wasn’t always a road handy. He once had to take a railroad track for some 6 miles and at one point, perched on the edge of a cross-beam holding his bike over the edge into the precipice below…. quite the read!

Eating: gazpacho, and lots of it since it’s way too hot to cook.

Listening: catching up on old episodes of This America Life via an iPhone app that is truly fantastic – gives you access to all past and current episodes. Check it out!

Watching: just discovered this little Canadian Gem, The Republic of Doyle. It’s great fun. I’m all about Newfoundland these days! If you missed seeing it last fall and winter (as I did) you can buy it on iTunes.

Cycling: all over the Montreal Island. There are some truly beautiful paths in this city. I thought going car-less in the summer would be hard, but as it turns out, it’s a treat. I’m seeing more of the city this summer than I have in the previous 3 put together! some samples…

Lost of paths by the river and the canal, which I love since I really like being by the water. This photo was taken along the south-west end of the island. I could move to this area and be quite happy…

And there are also lots of paths that take you through pretty little wooded areas, like this one. The folk responsible for designing these paths really did a great job.

While going carless is turning out to be much easier than I thought, I did get to visit my old car when I went to Halifax recently. I couldn’t resist taking a quick picture as I followed it down the highway.

By the way, since I no longer have a car, I took a train to Halifax, which is a much more civilized way to travel! Instead of spending 14 hours hunched up behind the steering wheel, we did things like look at the scenery outside the observation deck…

and when we got tired, we curled up in the little flip-down beds and went to sleep. Much, much better than driving for 14 hours!

So, what are you up to this summer?

summer is for riding!

I haven’t been writing, because lately I’ve been riding. I joined Velo Québec shortly after arriving in Montreal some 4 years ago, but for a whole bunch of apparently unavoidable circumstances, I was not really able to join in any of the rides until this year. And in this past week, I have participated in 6 Velo Québec rides, and let me tell you — they are fabulous!

First one was the Metropolitan Challenge last Sunday, May 31. There were four routes: a 78 k, 102, 122, and 147. I chose the 78K route, which turned out to be quite enough, thank you very much, due to the amazingly strong (and persistent!) head wind. We worked HARD for each one of those km! And it was so amazing to be with that many cyclists… the start time began at 7 and ended at 10, which meant that the riders were all pretty much spread out. No jostling or traveling in packs, so that was cool.

The only time the actual number was apparent was at the lunch stop (we not only got a really well-marked route with emergency care all along the way, but we got a boxed lunch and lots of other goodies, including a free massage for those willing to stand in line…). I have never seen so many cyclists (3,500 took part in the event) at once, and it did my heart good to see bikes and riders everywhere. No one locked their bikes. Imagine. It was a community, and you just knew your property was safe. And it was!

Check out the scene…

That was the first event.

The second, the annual Tour la Nuit, took place Friday June 4. Some 15,000(!!!!) rode 20km of downtown streets, all blocked off to traffic. We sailed down main streets and through red lights — it was so much fun!!!

The increase in participants was quite evident: by the time we arrived, we joined a line that was several blocks from the starting line, and had to wait quite a while to start. We stood there for ages, watching the dusk grow deeper and deeper, hearing the cheers of people in the blocks ahead of us as they got to start, wondering when we would get to go …

It took a while, but eventually we got to go. Lots of different kinds of people take part in this event: lots of kids in trailers, sitting in bike seats on their parents bikes, and on their own bikes too. There were city bikes, mountain bikes, and road bikes. People came out of their houses to watch and cheer, many played drums, and at one point, there was an entire band! Montréal really knows how to party…

Then yesterday was the Tour d’île – 50 km through the city’s streets, starting at 9 a.m. Not quite a tour of the entire Island, but a good tour of the eastern end of it. And, it poured. Buckets. All day. It poured buckets as we stood in line waiting for the ride to start …

… and it was pouring when we reached the end (note the smiles… partly from the pure pleasure of having made it through the whole thing, partly giddiness at the thought of the warm baths and hot toddies that would soon be coming our way…).

Essentially, it alternated between freezing heavy downpours and freezing persistent drizzle the entire ride. I had puddles in my bike shoes. I wrung my gloves out several times before I finally gave up. And at one point I opened my little pack under my seat and discovered my iPhone was wet, so I unzipped my jacket to see if there was a dry spot on my shirt I could use to dry it off with and discovered I had no dry spots left anywhere!

One part of the route took us through a bit of dirt road which, of course, had turned into mud which meant that for the last third of the ride, we were all covered in a very fine spray of very fine muddy sand. It was amazing. I haven’t been that wet and that dirty in a very long time.

But I loved it. I loved that I was riding through Montreal without once worrying about traffic, that we were sailing through red lights, that there were all these other people loving it for the same reasons I was loving it! And despite the rain, people still came out of their houses to stand by the roadside and cheer us on.

I must mention the drummers at the 26 km pit stop… I truly appreciated those drummers who provided a beat that we were all able to bounce around to while we waited in line for one of the portapotties to free up – helped keep us a bit warm, or at least gave us something else to think about beside how wet and cold we were! I wish I’d gotten a picture of them, but my fingers were pretty much numb by that point… I also wish I’d gotten a picture of the unicycles, or the guys on stilts… I can’t wait for next year’s ride! Hope the sun comes out for that one. If the ride is this much fun in the rain, I can only imagine what it is like when the sun is shining!

NOTE: I have shamelessly stolen the Tour de l’Île photos from irishchick, without whom many of our adventures would go undocumented!

listening to the sounds of summer

I’m fighting off some stomach bug or other so I’m laying low today, just resting and letting my body take care of itself. And I must admit, I kinda don’t mind not being able to do much right now. The last two days were unusually hot and humid… temperatures were in the low 30s (celcius, that is) and the humidity was high enough that the weather people were telling us if really felt like 38 (and why they just don’t say it’s 38 instead of saying “it feels like” is a mystery to me!).

The temps finally dropped down to a more reasonable 26 today. Everyone is outside, and I am just loving the sounds of summer out my window…

1 Leaves rustling in the breeze

2 birdsong (probably singing to celebrate the passing of the heat wave!)

3 the spraying of a waterhose

4 hammering nails (someone is building something! a deck?)

4 kids playing

5 the whizzzzz of bikes flying by

6 neighbours greeting one another

7 someone somewhere is practicing scales on a piano

8 someone else is tuning a guitar

9 and yet another someone is playing a flute! I hope they all three start to play together!

10 and the occasional blast of music as someone drives by with volume turned waaayyyyy up!

It’s summer. And I love it!

More cool things about the bixi!

1. When you buy a pass (which is only $78/year, or $68 if you register, as I did, before May 15), you can log into the bixi site and see your number of trips so far, usage time, and distance as well as the reduction in green house gasses and amount of gas saved because of your usage. Cool, huh?

2. Also with the pass, the first 30 minutes of your ride are free, and since the service is intended to provide a means of transportation within the plateau and downtown areas, 30 minutes is ample time to get you where you want to be.

3. You can go online (using computer or iPhone) to see where the bixi stations are located, and which ones have bikes available (if you’re looking to pick one up) and where there’s a free parking spot (if you’re looking to drop one off).

How convenient is that!

my first bixi ride

You’d think that with one road bike and one city bike all my bicycling needs would be taken care of. But, as it turns out, there are times when I’d like to ride my bike to work, but I don’t because I know I’m going someplace after work where it’s too far to ride, or where it’s not convenient to lug around helmet and seat (because you know if you don’t take ’em with you after you park your bike, they’ll be gone when you get back!). And sometimes I don’t want to take my bike because I’ll be out too late and I don’t want to drive home tired (or after I’ve had a couple… a tipsy me does not a good bike rider make!).

On those days, I’ve left my bike and home and walked to work (or even taken the bus!) but … it’s just so much more enjoyable to ride, you know what I mean? I hate plodding along on foot when I could be flying down the streets and back alleyways!

So, last week I subscribed to Bixi, Montreal’s super cool self-serve public bike system. It’s only been around for a year, but it’s been a great success – so much so, that already several other cities have bought their own bixi bike systems (London, Boston, Minneapolis, Melbourne and more…). They’re great bikes. Check ’em out…

Today I finally got to ride one. I rode my city bike in this morning, even though I knew I had an event after work. I figured I’d just stay a short while and then head home, but I ended up staying until it was too late to go back for my bike (the building I park it in closes up at 6 p.m., and while I can get into the area where my office is, I cannot get into the area my bike is at. I have no idea why the security is arranged that way, but there you have it).

So, I walked to the nearest bixi stand, used my bixi key to release a bike, adjusted the seat to fit, and off I went! The bikes are heavy and there are only three speeds, but the whole bike has been very well designed because other than when I had to pull it out of the stand, the weight was not a factor at all. I pedalled my way up Avenue du Parc which has a fairly steep incline at the south end, and I got up the hill with no problems.

The chain is fully covered, so there’s no worry of any messes on your clothes (I do like that. I’m forever getting chain grease on something or other). The basket up front holds a lot more than I thought it would – I stuffed it full with a light jacket, a huge purse, and my lunch bag with no difficulty. The attached bungie cord held it all in nice and secure all the way home. It’s a great design. I’ve never driven a bike with basket up front before, and I must admit it’s not my favourite place to carry stuff. I find it makes steering just a titch awkward, but not so much that it’ll ever deter me from using the bixi.

And now, since my city bike is at work, I’ll get to go for another bixi ride in the morning! And I’m glad. These bikes are amazing, the service is amazing, and this city is amazing for putting so much effort and support into making this a bike-friendly city. The bixi is just such a smart idea! I love it.