Two weeks have gone by since I returned from Churchill. Nearly every day since then, I’ve had someone ask me how my trip was.
This is one of the hardest questions I’ve ever had to answer.
It was much easier for me to answer Heath’s question of “So when do you want to do this [get married]?” after only knowing him for 4 days than it is for me to sum up the experiences of living in Churchill for 49 days.
With Heath, I knew the answer. We came into each other’s life at the exact moment we both needed each other the most. He made sense in my life and it was like we’d known each other forever.
That answer was easy.
Turns out the answer to what it is like to live among polar bears is not so easy.
During my time in Churchill, I experienced what co-existing with my favorite wild animals is really like.
It’s not like being at a zoo where I watch a bear be silly, put a bucket on their head, and belly flop into a swimming pool.
I learned about polar bear biology and habitat. I learned about polar bear conservation and management. I also learned about polar bear tourism and hunting (still legal in Canada, by the way).
The thing is, once you know this information, you can’t not know it.
Add this information to the emotions of a lifelong dream of seeing polar bears in the wild coming true, and you have a perfect storm for an existential crisis in the making.
That’s what I’m experiencing now, and that’s why I’m finding it so difficult to talk (and write) about my time in Churchill.
If I ever really loved polar bears, how selfish was it for me to intrude on their lives so I could see them?
Not to mention the enormous carbon footprint for me to get to Churchill in the first place.
So when people ask me how Churchill was, I’ve started saying, “Life changing.”
It’s still not clear to me what’s on the other side of my existential crisis. That’s a question I’m currently living. We’ll see how it plays out in the death meditation I plan on doing in the next few weeks in anticipation of how I want to spend my time in 2019.
In the meantime, I am doing what I do best: loving Heath, playing with dogs, walking in the woods, writing, and living with as much joy as possible.
Can you believe my time in Churchill is nearly up? I’ve been here for 41 days and I only have six more days to go.
I’ve now seen 11 polar bears. Some from a Tundra Buggy and some peaking inside the Churchill Northern Studies Centre’s (CNSC) windows.
Spotted while on a Tundra Buggy
Peaking at me through the window
As you can imagine, it’s been quite emotional for me to see my favorite animal in the wild. I’m still processing these emotions and how these experiences are changing my life (and, yes, they are). I’m not yet ready to write about them here.
Instead, let me tell you about something that happened in Churchill that took me by surprise. It wasn’t even on my radar for things that could happen here. Yet it happened and I couldn’t be happier.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am now the proud owner of a sweater. Two, in fact.
Back when I was an over-worked, stressed out college professor, I owned a bunch of sweaters. I also only weighed between 97-107 pounds at that time because I was so unhealthy. I outgrew many of those sweaters once I quit my job and returned to a healthier weight.
But as a minimalist, I’ve been rather reluctant to buy any new clothing.
I’ve written before about how one of my greatest ambitions is to have all of my belongings fit into one backpack. Sweaters are bulky and take up a lot of room.
As such, I never replaced the ones I outgrew. I managed to make it through two Connecticut winters without any.
Although let’s be honest – I spent these last two winters in Connecticut feeling rather cold. I had already made up my mind to get at least one sweater for this coming winter when I returned to Norfolk, so when I was given the opportunity to buy a sweater here in Churchill, I did so with open arms (haha, get it?).
Besides, it’s cold here, too. As I’m writing this blog post, it’s currently 10 degrees Fahrenheit, feels like -7. This is not the coldest I’ve ever been, which happened over a two-week time span in 2009 when windchills in the Chicago suburbs made it feel like -60 degrees Fahrenheit. But I do feel rather chilled.
Here’s the best part about my new sweaters – I bought them at the thrift store underneath St. Paul’s Anglican Church in town. They were each $1 Canadian, which is about 76 cents US.
You know what I also bought for $1 Canadian?
This awesome Columbia Omni Heat Winter Jacket, practically in brand new condition.
Oh, and this XRoads vest. Yes, also $1 Canadian. I get so overheated when I’m bundled up walking dogs in the wintertime, I thought this vest would be better than a coat.
This thrift store has quickly become one of my favorite places in Churchill. It’s only open every other Friday evening from 7 to 9pm.
Wow! Do they have bargains.
As a minimalist, I did experience some angst that I was adding so many “new” clothes to my wardrobe. Altogether, here’s what I bought at the thrift store:
one winter coat
one winter vest
one fleece top
one bamboo zip-up sweatshirt from the British Columbia SPCA
Winnipeg Jets NHL long-sleeved t-shirt
Irish Viking Hat to wear on Halloween (which I’ll be donating back to the thrift shop)
Striped sweater (for my roommate Rachel who couldn’t come to the thrift shop last time)
My grand total for everything – a whopping $6 Canadian! And I didn’t even pay for all of it myself.
The first week we went to the thrift store, Sarah, one of the cooks at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, treated me to my first sweater. Canadians really are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet!
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m also going to admit that before I even knew about the thrift store’s existence, I had already made two clothing purchases.
First, I bought a CNSC t-shirt that was on clearance. When I packed for this trip, I only brought two short-sleeved t-shirts. Working in the kitchen is kind of messy, especially for me, and after my first week I found two t-shirts woefully inadequate. Since this shirt is Kelly green (one of my favorite colors) and features a polar bear, I thought it would be a good addition to my wardrobe.
Second, I also bought a polar Buff, which features a cool design of the Northern Lights and the CSNC’s name and logo and is much less bulky than a scarf. A scarf was always necessary at the start of all my walks with Dodger last winter, but halfway through the woods I was always unraveling it and tying it around my arm when I became overheated. It then would fall off every so often, get tangled with Dodger’s leash, or drag along the forest floor.
My new Buff will now fit in my pocket, so yay for ease and compactability.
As if I’m now on some sort of clothing bender, I’m also going to cop to buying a t-shirt at one of the souvenir shops in Churchill.
I first saw this Made in the USA polar bear t-shirt way back on Friday, October 5th. I told myself if I was still thinking about the shirt towards the end of my trip, I would buy it since one of my favorite t-shirts, a Hogwarts Alumni one that my niece gave me as a wedding present back in May 2016, is pretty much on its last threads.
I bought the t-shirt last week since I’ve thought about it every single day since.
Oh, and did I mention that the Churchill Northern Studies Centre also gave each of the volunteers their choice of CNSC sweatshirt? And my other roommate Fiona gave me another Buff-like head wrap as she no longer wanted hers?
In the last seven weeks, I’ve increased my total wardrobe by an estimated 50%. It will be interesting to see what my actual clothing counts are when I return to Norfolk and take stock of all that I have.
Not all of my clothes survived our 11,500 mile road trip this summer, like my winter coat (reminder — it was still snowing when we left Montana in July). I also know I’ve worn through some other things, like the aforementioned Hogwarts Alumni t-shirt and one of my Carolina shirts that I’ve had at least six years (I gave that shirt to Dodger so he would remember me while I’m gone).
All my acquisitions on this trip has made me question just how committed to minimalism I am.
Then this morning I read a minimalism blog post from No Side Bar on lessons learned from the death of a parent and I found these words of wisdom especially useful:
Minimalism isn’t about having nothing, it’s about finding true value in what you do have and keeping only what meets your high standards.
And you know what? I’m tired of being cold during the winter. So, hello new high standard of warmth. It’s good to welcome you back into my life again.
I am a little worried about how I’m going to get all my “new” clothes back to Norfolk. I only brought with me my backpack and one of Heath’s duffel bags.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be coming back from Churchill with half of a new wardrobe. Yet, here I am.
We’ll see how many layers I can wear at once while on the plane. I’m thinking one pair of long underwear, one pair of yoga pants, snow pants, t-shirt, long underwear long-sleeved t-shirt, sweater, vest, winter coat, scarf, and hat. I suspect I’ll look a little something like this:
My first three weeks at Churchill have been exhausting and exhilarating! The exhausting includes the 6-hour shifts a day, 6 days a week. Shifts can start at 6:30am and some don’t end until 8:30pm. For someone with narcolepsy, the constant schedule changes can be a bit daunting and since I’m usually in bed by 9:00pm, a late night shift also has challenges.
Thankfully, the work itself isn’t hard. For example, the other day I washed dishes for about two hours and then dusted and mopped several rooms in the science center. The dusting also included the Aurora Dome, which seems to be one of the greatest challenges for us volunteers to clean. Although there are still streaks on the dome, at least it’s not dusty.
I followed up the housekeeping with 90 full minutes of peeling red potatoes. When in doubt of what to do, volunteers are always welcome to peel carrots and potatoes to help out the kitchen staff. There are currently three cooks who prepare three meals a day for all staff, volunteers, and visitors.
Peeling potatoes was a rather enjoyable experience, especially since the aroma of Oriental Glazed Chicken filled the air. The science center’s kitchen has some of the best smells on a daily basis, including, but not limited to: French Toast, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Pumpkin Pie Tarts, Cinnamon Rolls, Chocolate Cake, Banana Bread, and Berry Crumble.
The orientation packet wasn’t kidding when it stated, ”You will not lose weight while you are here.”
Another part of the exhausting is something I wasn’t prepared for at all: The Northern Lights.
Here in Churchill, the Northern Lights fill the night sky on a regular basis. They are stunning and awesome and I find myself in a constant fear of missing out when the Lights are doing. Thank goodness for cloudy days because then there’s no expectation whatsoever about seeing the lights in their full glory and I can get to bed at a decent time.
Also interesting to note, the Northern Lights are one of the greatest PR campaigns of the travel industry.
The colors that you see popping out in photographs, may or may not be visible to the naked eye. A lot of times, the greens, blues, and pinks can only be captured through a camera lens. These pictures look nothing like what we were actually viewing in the sky, which were shades of wispy white and grey, with just a light tinge of green every so often.
I have yet been able to capture any of the Northern Lights on my camera phone since a Pixel 2 doesn’t have a professional setting mode. Shout out to my fabulous roommate Rachael for sharing the above photos with me. Just for comparison purposes, here’s two of my Northern Lights photos:
Now, on to the exhilarating! Check out this sunrise.
And how about this sunset?
The town of Churchill is interesting in and of itself, and I am fascinated with how this town of about 900 people coexists with polar bears. For example, there is the 675-BEAR alert system that you call if you see a polar bear.
There are also places, like this boat, designed as safehouses for you to hide whenever you encounter a wandering bear in town.
If you’re wondering if I’ve seen any polar bears yet, the answer is YES! I’m saving that experience for my next blog post, but here’s a sneak peak in the meantime:
Now, it’s back to peeling more potatoes and dusting and mopping. Totally worth it!
End Note: Extra special shout-out of gratitude to all the people who have reached out to me in support, excitement, and encouragement over my subarctic travels. I’d especially like to thank Heath for taking on extra work with the pups and house while I’m gone. I miss everyone so much, but thank goodness for the Internet. Heath and I talk every day and he indulges me every time I ask to see what Smudge and/or Faith is doing. I love you all!
Yes, I know we just got back a few weeks ago from our 11,500 mile road trip. But remember back in December, when I did my most recent death meditation? One of the goals on my what-if-this-is-my-last-year-alive list was to see polar bears in the wild, so I applied to be a polar bear season volunteer at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in Manitoba.
That was back in July 2017. And guess what? My application finally came up!
I am on my way to Churchill, Manitoba as you read this post!
First flight from Hartford to Toronto.
Here are some of my goals while I’m in Churchill:
See polar bears!
Write. A lot. I’m working on a young adult novel, so I’d love to have a decent first draft by the time I head back to Norfolk on November 18th.
Marvel daily at how I am 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
Send postcards. ***
Find a sled dog to be Faith’s long-distance Internet boyfriend.
Isn’t she just the cutest?
Of course, there’s always a downside at the commencement of any adventure in that one must leave family and friends behind.
I certainly felt a break in my heart when we drove away from Norfolk back in May. And now that break is much deeper because I’m leaving Heath for the next 50 days.
When I asked if he wanted to come with me to Churchill Heath said heck yeah! When he found out the volunteer position is to mainly wash dishes for six hours, six days a week, he said, “Have fun! I’ll miss you, but no thank you.”
So, Heath is caring for Smudge and Faith, and I’m off to Churchill. I cried quite a bit yesterday in preparing to leave.
First, there was saying goodbye to the pups. I tried not to cry because dogs can be so intuitive and I didn’t want to upset them. Smudge, especially, knew something was up when he saw me pack a duffel bag.
Then, saying goodbye to Heath had me crying all over again. There’s going to be Wi-Fi in the science center I’m staying at, so it’s not like we won’t be able to video and phone chat.
It’s just that when you say goodbye there’s no guarantee there will be another hello.
I know that’s true regardless of whether the time apart is 50 seconds, 50 minutes, 50 hours, or 50 days. But when it is 50 days that amount of time becomes a huge neon-sign reminder of how wonderful life really is. I can’t help but appreciate how much I stand to lose by leaving in that moment.
So I said the things that needed to be said and I gave one last hug and kiss and then maybe just one or two or twelve more. Then I told myself to be brave. And I left.
I walked through the airport doors not knowing for certain what this next great adventure will bring. As if I couldn’t quite leave yet, I found myself walking directly to the windows so I could see Heath one more time as he drove off.
Of course, he was looking for me, too, and then we waved to each other as he finally drove away.
This trip is a dream come true for me. And to have a partner who has been nothing but enthusiastic and supportive is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.
Heath, I know you’re reading this post and I know we’ve probably already talked six times this morning, but I love you so much! Thank you for loving me in the very best ways possible. Thank you for being my best friend. And thank you for everything that you’re taking on in my absence.
You are an extraordinary man. I am so grateful to have you in my life.
***END NOTE: If you know of anyone who would love a surprise postcard from subarctic Canada, please reach out to me at genesis.potentia(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)gmail.com, and we’ll see what we can do 🙂
On July 21st, 2007, I read the above sentence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. One of the characters, Albus Dumbledore, had it inscribed on the gravestone of his sister and mother.
I know the date because I bought Deathly Hallows from The Regulator Bookshop (Durham, NC) when the book went on sale at midnight. Like millions of other readers, I finished the 784 page book by that afternoon.
There was so much to process with the last Harry Potter story, that I gave zero consideration to this final epithet that Dumbledore bestowed on his family.
Then a few years later I was sitting in church and heard JK Rowing’s very words read aloud from the lectern.
Turns out those words aren’t attributed to JK Rowling at all.
This mind blown feeling reminded me of my freshman year in college when I learned that Aslan the lion from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was really a metaphor for Jesus Christ.
Sometimes I wonder what, if anything, I learned in high school. Because whatever the teachers attempted to distill into my brain did not make it very far. Of course, I did have undiagnosed narcolepsy at the time so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.
After my visit to Gettysburg National Military Park a few weeks ago, I’m now thoroughly convinced that education is wasted on the young. But I’ll save that topic for another day.
Anyway, guess who else has borrowed from Luke 12:34 and Matthew 6:21?
I’ll give you a hint: it’s a book where I fall asleep nearly every single time my husband and I start listening to the audiobook version.
That’s right – Moby Dick!
I wonder how I would have reacted if I had never realized for where your treasure is came from the Bible and instead thought JK Rowling stole it from Herman Melville.
Guess we’ll never know.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this statement as of late, especially because Heath and I are back in Norfolk. My reunion with Smudge and Faith had me nearly in tears of joy, as did the first time I went over to see my friend Cecily and walk her dog, Dodger.
Cutie Pie Faith
As I walked through the woods with Dodger, I felt a profound sense of gratitude come over me. I am living my dreams – traveling with my husband, taking care of dogs, wandering in the woods, and writing nearly every single day.
How did I get so lucky?
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Luck has nothing, yet everything to do with my current life. I made the choiceto give up tenure and quit teaching. I knew where my heart was and it wasn’t with being a professor. If I hadn’t made the choiceto quit, I wouldn’t have been prepared for the right place/right time opportunities that came my way.
My choice is important for me to recognize because I had an encounter on my road trip where someone showed a lot of skepticism for the life Heath and I are currently leading. When this person asked how we were doing (financially) compared to when I was a professor, I said just fine.
Sure, you are, came this person’s response.
No, really. We are.
Uh-huh. Do you know what it means to be delusional?
I then told this person that maybe I wasn’t earning anything close to what my salary was as a professor. But what I have instead is more joy, happiness, and good health than I’ve ever had. Not to mention the abundant time and freedom to take an 11,500-mile road trip or walk in the woods with a dog nearly every day of my life.
So yes. I am doing just fine. Better than fine actually.
I wish I had also mentioned during this discussion that I haven’t had rent or utility payments in three years. And the houses I’ve lived in — I never could have afforded them on my salary, even as an associate professor. But I didn’t because … you know, emotions. I don’t always have my full wits about me at times like that.
If I thought the person who argued with me would be amenable, I would recommend they read Harry Potter. Or Moby Dick. Or The Bible. But I don’t think they are, so I’m not going to waste my time.
I don’t think they’ll ever realize it’s not about the money.
Instead, I’m going to keep on keepin’ on. And that’s just how I like it.
On August 15th, my husband and I hit 10,000 miles on our summer trip. Our car, which I’ve affectionately nicknamed The Great White Whale, is doing an outstanding job of keeping us going.
Credit also goes to my husband who understands car maintenance. He keeps impeccable service records, is capable of performing repairs, and has ears like a bat when it comes to car sounds.
Heath: Do you hear that?
Me: Hear what?
Heath: You can’t hear that?
The only time I did hear something on our road trip happened to be my fault. I put two Yeti water bottles on the passenger-side floorboard, which resulted in a scraping sound as if something was hanging down from the bottom of the car.
We didn’t know it was the water bottles until after we had pulled into a parking lot and Heath checked under the car, every tire, and even lifted the hood to investigate. Whoops. My mistake.
Regardless of this one instance, Heath is always taking care of The Great White Whale, whether it’s tightening hubcap rims, changing headlights, or insisting we vacuum every nook and cranny.
If it weren’t for Heath’s skills, knowledge, and attention to detail, I suspect our road trip wouldn’t have been quite so easy.
This past week our 10,000 miles had us driving east from Naperville, IL, to Harrisburg, PA.
During some of that driving, we’ve been listening to the audiobook of Moby Dick.
My husband has already read Moby Dick maybe 5 times. This fact amazes me because Moby Dick is 133 chapters, plus an epilogue. These aren’t short chapters, either. Depending on the edition and publisher, Moby Dick can be a whale of a book coming in at 585 pages.
We started listening back in May.
In 10,000 miles, we should have been able to listen to the whole book. The audiobook is only 23 hours long.
We’re still on chapter 34.
Did you know they talk about whales and sailing a lot in this book?
I’m not sure if it’s having narcolepsy or all the sea talk, but every time we listen to some chapters I doze off.
When we first started listening, I fell asleep for about twenty minutes. When I woke up, I asked my husband, “Is that guy STILL talking about sleeping next to that cannibal?”
Yes. Yes, he was.
And even after I woke up Ishmael still carried on for a bit about sharing a bed with Queegueg.
Moby Dick was published in 1851. Writing styles were different back then, as there was no television, movies, or Internet.
For that time, it made sense that Herman Melville would need to describe boarding houses, daily routines. whales, ships, knots, etc. in minute and excruciating detail. Not everyone would know this information or have seen pictures.
For my 21st century pre-existing knowledge and attention span, Melville carries on a bit much. Until he makes a point so profound and interesting all I can do is say, “Wait. Go back. I want to listen to it again.”
My favorite line so far is this little commentary Melville wrote during the aforementioned scene when Ishmael, a Presbyterian, is debating about having to share a room and bed with Queequeg, a cannibal. Ishmael comes to this conclusion:
Photo by Sergiu Vălenaș on Unsplash
How (sadly) relevant for the times in which we currently live.
While Heath and I were in Naperville, we happened upon a Stand On Every Corner rally. Karen Peck, a Naperville woman, has been standing at the Dandelion Fountain in downtown Naperville from 6-7pm every night for the last 40 days.
Photo courtesy of Karen Peck
According to the founder of this movement, Bryce Tache, this protest, “isn’t all about politics, it’s certainly not about left versus right, but it is [about] how do we all stand up about policies we believe are harmful, regardless of our political affiliations.”
Karen had several signs with her, such as:
Love Your Neighbor Love, Kindness, Justice for All Every Child Returned
Across the street, however, a different story was playing out.
For the first time in the 40 days that Karen had been standing in protest, a counter-protest showed up.
Photo courtesy of Karen Peck
They had very different signs: Secure Our Borders Build the Wall Keep America Great
When Karen asked us to stand with her for an hour, of course we said yes.
Photo courtesy of Karen Peck
You know what’s also one of my favorite lines in Moby Dick (so far)? Remember, we’re only up to Chapter 34 and I suspect I’m going to be adding to my list of favorites.
Photo by John Peters on Unsplash
I think I’ve heard that somewhere before…
Well, what do you know? Moby Dick isn’t just about whales after all.
This past week, my husband and I hit our seventh national park since June: Theodore Roosevelt in Medora, North Dakota. Unlike the other parks we’ve visited, this one wasn’t on our road-trip list of must-see places, nor was it recommended by anyone.
We didn’t even know it existed until I Googled “Map of National Parks,” to see if we could visit any on our drive back East. Our house-sitting job in Connecticut doesn’t start until after Labor Day, and I wanted to make the most of our time on the road.
My husband wasn’t sure he even wanted us to stop. We had just spent 8 very hot days in a not air-conditioned apartment in Dixon, Montana. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but trains also blew by multiple times throughout the day, blaring their horns. Every. Single. Time.
Including five in the morning.
We also knew that temperatures would be soaring close to 100 in Medora and instead of being concerned about bears infiltrating our camp site we would need to worry about rattlesnakes.
Apparently, they are everywhere in the prairies of Montana and the Dakotas.
But I had my heart set on visiting the park ever since the internet informed me that wild horses lived there.
I didn’t know wild horses lived anywhere in the United States other than the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague off the coast of Virginia. So, YES! I wanted to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Instead of camping, we decided to stay in a small hotel right outside the park entrance. It was worth every penny! Every morning we got up before the sun and hit the scenic loop in the south end of the park. There was wildlife everywhere.
Even More Bison!
I know I used a lot of exclamation points, but in my humble opinion six isn’t nearly enough to express how excited I got with each new animal sighting.
In addition to all the animals, another positive aspect of the park was lack of crowds. For every early morning we went out, Heath and I would be the only ones driving on the loop. We missed the sunrise the first morning by a few minutes (mostly my fault, as I wanted to stop and take pictures of horses and bison), but the second morning did not disappoint.
We also spent time learning about Theodore Roosevelt, the person, and Theodore Roosevelt, the president of the United States. His connection to Medora, ND, is tragic: At the age of 25, he went there to recover from the deaths of his wife and mother; they both died on the same day – February 14th, 1884.
The Visitor’s Center at the park features a Theodore Roosevelt museum, as well as the Maltese Cross Cabin, where Roosevelt spent his mourning period.
Historians believe that it was Roosevelt’s time in North Dakota that eventually lead him to become a great conservationist later in life. Earlier, however, he practiced the appalling hunting practices of the time, many of which were cruel and inhumane.
Considering the great work that Roosevelt did for animals and the environment later in his life, I can’t hold his earlier actions against him. I suspect he felt a significant amount of regret for the choices he made earlier, and who am I to judge?
We watched a movie on Roosevelt’s life while at the Visitor Center. Towards the end, the movie featured this Roosevelt quotation, which struck me as being relevant and profound for the world we currently live in:
“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”
Roosevelt said this on May 13, 1908, as part of his Conservation as a National Duty conference he held at the White House with governors and statemen from across the US. I find it ironic and thoroughly depressing that 100 years later many of the people in charge of our “lavish resources” don’t even seem to care about asking these questions any more, let alone trying to protect them.
Over the next week or so when you are out and about in nature or see a picture of a natural place that touches your heart or soul, please remember the above words of Theodore Roosevelt and ask yourself: What would I do if this place was gone?
Don’t give yourself a free pass by saying that would never happen. Because it could happen. It is happening to some places thanks to our current government.
Just think about the place not being there.
See how you feel.
And then take a moment to say thank you because right there and then, you are still able to appreciate the beauty of God’s green Earth while we still have it.
A few years ago, I read the book The Four Agreementsby don Miguel Ruiz. This book is based on wisdom teachings from the Toltecs, an indigenous population native to Mexico about 1000-ish years ago. Follow the four agreements and your life will become infinitely more joyful.
I’ve now given this book to three other people, if that’s any indication of the impact it’s had on me.
Here are the Four Agreements:
Be impeccable with your word.
Do not make assumptions.
Do not take things personally.
Always do your best.
Simple. Profound. Easy. Well, not quite easy.
I recently read a blog post on a minimalism website that provided an excellent reminder of the importance of the Four Agreements. Especially #2 and #3.
In that blog post, the author detailed how they were sitting in a restaurant with their family. At another table sat a family of four who were completely absorbed by their smartphones. They were together, but not really together at all. “How sad,” commented one of the author’s children.
How sad indeed … except, that’s quite an assumption to make.
The irony is that I’m writing this blog post because I took what that author said personally.
My husband and I have been doing the exact same thing as the family of four every time we’ve been in a restaurant in the past few weeks. Usually, that’s the only time where there’s great wi-fi and we have a few minutes of downtime on our 3.5-month road trip.
If the author of that blog post had been sitting next to us, they would have probably thought the same thing as their child: how sad.
What the author would have had no idea about is everything that my husband and I have been experiencing in these past few months when we’re not phlubbing (phone snubbing) each other at a restaurant. For example:
Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park
Driving through Jasper National Park
Valley of the Five Lakes
Elk Video from Pyramid Island
Mirette Hot Springs, Jasper National Park
Tea House Trail, Lake Louise, Banff National Park
Surprise birthday cake to celebrate my 41st Birthday at Bernice’s Bakery, Missoula, MT
National Bison Range, Dixon, MT
Also, since June 9th, my husband and I have not been apart for more than 20 hours (in my estimation). Not 20 hours consecutively, but 20 hours total out of the 1,368 hours that have elapsed since then.
We have literally been together for 99% of the time in nearly two months.
This road trip and summer has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Every moment of wonder and joy I experience is magnified by the fact that I get to share it with the person I love most in the world.
Valley of the Five Lakes, Jasper National Park
So why is it bothering me so much what that author wrote?
After reflecting on this question for a bit, I’ve concluded it’s because I have worried about people thinking exactly what the author wrote about – that my husband and I would be judged about who we are as a couple based on how we were behaving at our restaurant table.
Then the bigger question is – why should I even worry about something like that? One of my favorite quotes from author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer is that, “Your opinion of me is none of my business.”
I suppose having a PhD in psychology does come in handy every now and then, because I realized what I’m experiencing is a classic case of cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance occurs when there’s a disconnect between certain attitudes, thoughts, beliefs, etc., that you have and your corresponding behaviors.
As someone who regularly practices mindfulness, sitting at a restaurant table with my husband while having my phone out is not being present. So, in the case of the aforementioned author, there is something fair about what they’ve written.
This “truth” allows my brain to yell at me things like:
YOU ARE NOT REALLY A MINIMALIST!
SHAME ON YOU!
HOW DARE YOU HAVE YOUR PHONE OUT WHILE YOUR INCREDIBLY HANDSOME HUSBAND SITS AT A TABLE WITH YOU!
Funny how my brain is really quick to discount the 1,348 hours where I’m mindfully enjoying the good life and spending time with my husband.
I’ve begun reminding myself to let these thoughts go. I acknowledge them and then release the hold they have on me. Again, easier said then done. As long as I’m being mindful, though, I will keep fighting the good fight whenever my dissonant brain tries to overthrow my happiness.
Besides, there’s only one month left in our road trip. I simply do not want to waste any more time on a thought process that does not serve me.
I have a lot of the United States to see – with my husband. And I plan on doing my best!
End Note: If you are so inclined, please send thoughts of love to the family whose son died at Glacier National Park last week. It is an awful tragedy that no one should have to experience.
My husband and I noticed a trend when we were in Kalispell, MT. A lot of people asked us where we were going next. We would respond, Glacier National Park. They would respond, You really need to go to Banff.
So we added Banff National Park (Alberta, Canada) to our travel plans.
While in Glacier, we got the same question: Where are you going next? We responded, Banff. They would respond, Oh, you really need to go to Jasper.
So now we’re going to Jasper National Park (also Alberta), too.
We hit the road on July 3rd, leaving Kalispell behind. Soon, we crossed the Canadian border.
About 1km after that, we met this brown bear grazing by the road side.
I took it as a good sign that I’m going to love Canada!
We didn’t go Banff/Jasper directly. I felt like I needed a little stability in our 3.5 month road trip.
Thanks to the Internet, I found us a nice, short-term housesitting job in St. Albert, Alberta. St. Albert is a little north of Edmonton.
On the way to St. Albert, we stopped in Pincher Creek to stay at an Air BnB. This place has been my favorite Air BnB place thus far in all my Air BnB stays ever. Here’s a picture of the view from their couch:
This place has gorgeous views, spectacular natural light, and not a speck of dirt to be seen in our suite. Showering there was also a rather spiritual experience filled with abundant gratitude and joy. Being at Glacier, I had not bathed in five full days.
We also met two super sweet dogs, and a giant rooster with the most feathery pantaloons. My husband nicknamed him Bear Chicken, but his real name is Pretty Princess Bracelet (named by two little girls).
We then made our way to St. Albert, after a stop in Calgary. We didn’t have much time there, but we did have enough time to visit #REGRUB and share this milkshake.
What I’m enjoying most about the housesit in St. Albert is Stella the cat. Everything about her is adorable. She also does what I call The Flop when you scratch her butt. (video)
This housesit is the first time we’ve only been responsible for a cat and house. Add cleaners that came to the house on Tuesday, and you’ve got a rather easy experience. It was exactly what I needed.
True confession, though: I thought it was closer to Jasper so we could take day trips. It’s not.
Sometimes I wish I could go back in time just to see what really happened because I know I looked at St. Albert and Jasper on a Google Maps.
Ultimately, I don’t think it matters. My husband and I have spent our time catching up on activities we haven’t been able to do a lot of while camping. Writing for me and organizing/editing photographs for him.
Catching up means we haven’t taken full advantage of St. Albert or the area. I’m okay with that. We’ve been on the road since May 15th.
I’m considering this our summer staycation.
The few places we have gone are downtown St. Albert (Jack’s Burger Shack is 5 stars in my opinion), strolled along the walking/bike trails in the surrounding parks (we saw a beaver and a muskrat!), visited the West Edmonton Mall (largest mall in North America), and, my personal favorite, went to the St. Albert Farmer’s Market (the largest Farmer’s Market in Western Canada).
West Edmonton Mall Skating Rink
We’ve been here since July 5th. I think the truest testament to how much we haven’t been doing is that I haven’t befriended a single dog while I’ve been here.
I have patted a few here and there. But never long enough where I felt like I established enough rapport with the dog parents to ask details about the dog and if I could take a picture.
Thank goodness for Stella. She’s so adorable, I’ve had no choice but to take 304 photos of her so far. Seriously, I just counted. God bless the invention of digital photos and cloud storage.
I’m going to miss Stella and the consistency of being in one place. But I’m also ready for another adventure. I’m especially eager to sleep again in a tent.
Thanks, Canada! So far, you’ve been nothing but wonderful.
I, however, grew up in a family that considered a three-star hotel roughing it.
Nevertheless, I have changed a lot in my adult life. One of my favorite ways is that I’ve embraced the restorative and healing power of nature. Some of my greatest moments of joy in the last year have occurred simply by walking through the woods with a dog.
So, I approached camping with an open mind and an enthusiastic spirit.
My husband approached our first camping adventure together with some trepidation.
One of his biggest concerns was that sharing an air mattress would result in poor sleep for both of us. Ironically, he slept great and I slept okay. For someone with narcolepsy, okay sleep is actually quite good.
Case in point: for the first time in years, I averaged more than 8 hours of sleep a night. One night I even slept for a solid 12 hours!
Our trip to Glacier had been planned since December. But I’ve wanted to visit Glacier for years.
Overall, I found the park … meh. The Internet isn’t kidding when it says national parks get crowded in the summer time. More than a few times I had the thought that I was in a more open-air, natural version of Disney World.
If you do not get up early to secure a parking spot at any of the park’s trailheads, which we did not since we were too busy enjoying good sleep, then a good chunk of your day is spent searching for a parking space. Sometimes, you may even have to give up and go home. We heard quite a few people complaining about that in and around the park.
There are also people EVERYWHERE!
The experience reminded me of when I visited Machu Picchu in December 2015. At some points in MP, I literally stood in a line just to walk to the next observation point. That’s the first time I drew a parallel experience from Disney World to an outdoor experience.
Since most of my time prancing around nature in CT is people-less, I had gotten use to the tranquil solitude that comes with those experiences.
I had zero similar experiences in Glacier. That’s not to say there weren’t any moments of wonder or awe for me, because there were actually quite a few. Checkout these views:
At the same time, not everyone experiences awe the same way I do. Take our hike up Avalanche Trail, for example.
The first time we tried this hike, we got rained out. We went back the next day and trekked up the mountain. The scene at the top took my breath away.
Yet my moments of delight were interrupted by a 20-something year-old, maybe even a late teenager, who stripped down to his shorts and splashed around in the lake. His friends called him crazy, snapped pictures, hooped and hollered it up, and then turned their attention elsewhere after a few moments. This guy then proceeded to yell at them, “I’m peeing in the lake!” Cue giggles and shrieks from his friends.
I can’t really get mad at a kid for acting immature. If he’s been reinforced to act this way by family and friends, he may not know any better and at this point in his life he may not want to know any better. I can only send him a silent prayer of blessing, which I did, and turn my attention to myself. Which I also did.
I sat on a rock watching this chipmunk live his best life (video).
I threw rocks in the lake contemplating the profound nature of the ripple effect (also a video).
I watched my husband take photographs.
And then it started to downpour (it rained all week), so we headed back to the trail. On our way, we met a beautiful tanager.
My Glacier trip ended up being different than I wanted it to be. And that’s okay. Some of it exceeded expectations (YAY camping) and some of it fell below (BOO peeing in a lake). Then there’s the fact that it SNOWED in July. I didn’t even know that should be an expectation! (video)
What truly matters is I had new experiences, learned a few things about myself, spent time with the person I love most in this world, and met several new dogs.
I guess that means it was perfect.
For anyone so inclined, please send love and prayers to Diane and Fred, Tana’s mom and dad. They were our neighbors at the Apgar campground and we’ve stayed in touch. Tana had to be put down last week. Love to them and anyone who is missing a loyal animal companion.