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Posts Tagged ‘Canada’

If you know any Virgos, I’m sure you’re already aware that we tend to have very busy, restless minds.

Because of my busy-busy Virgo brain, and in spite of all my spiritual and philosophical training, I have finally given up on traditional empty-your-mind meditation. Now I just let the thoughts run, and pay attention only when the nattering gets interesting. (Nattering is one of my favorite British-isms, snogging being the other. Nattering is superficial chatter.)

I’ve found that the two pastimes which elicit the most fun and useful nattering are showering and long drives. The shower usually unearths great writing ideas; while I’m driving, my monkey mind latches on to whatever’s passing by and spins off from there, sometimes with pretty silly results.

This particular train of thought was jolted into consciousness the day we left Banff, British Columbia and my brain was looking for diverting but not dangerously absorbing things to tinker with as I drove. (In case you’re wondering, my daughter Julia, navigator, critter manager, advisor and heavy lifter, is unable to drive due to disabilities … so that’s my job).

What triggered the mental journey was a truly gorgeous deer crossing sign which showed up for a brief period somewhere in eastern British Columbia or western Alberta.

You see signs all over the US, wherever deer or elk present driving hazards, and until that day I’d never seen anything but the homogenized leaping stag pictured below that I supposed every state must buy from the same source.

The unique Canadian deer crossing sign I saw that day had all the power and iconic punch of a cave painting. It was spare, evocative rather than realistic, and I wished I could have stopped the car to take a photo for posterity. It truly was a work of art!

I later googled “deer crossing sign” and learned that there are some other styles, and hundreds of both athletic and overweight versions of the homogenous, ubiquitous stag, and even duck, goose, otter, squirrel, horse and rider and turkey crossing signs, but nothing to match the Canadian cave painting version, sorry to say.

This, of course, started me thinking about my habit of always checking out deer crossing signs, especially in remote areas, to see if someone had gone to the trouble to give the deer a Rudolph Red Nose. I typically judge an area’s cultural personality based on whether or not the deer have red noses.

If there are people living there who are willing to go to the local office supply store for a sheet of big red dots, and then travel around in the dead of night decorating deer crossing signs just to make travelers smile, then that’s a place I’d probably like. In Humboldt County, California, in Redwood country just south of the Oregon border, which I explored thoroughly over a 16-year period, I don’t recall ever seeing a red-nose-less deer. And I loved it there.

The cave-painting-esque deer sign appeared for only a short distance on our route, followed by signs identical to the ones in the states, and then followed, once we entered Saskatchewan, by an odd creature with deer antlers, a blobby, moose-like snout, and not a red nose in sight.

And then, back in the states, we returned to the homogenized leaping stags, and I resumed my traveling pastime of assessing locales based on the state of the deer’s noses.

Until we reached Maine, where the first thing we saw was a big sign – words only, no images – cautioning us to watch for moose on the highway … and I haven’t seen a deer/elk sign, with or without a red nose, since we arrived.

I’m sure there’s something profound to be made of this, beyond warning me that we’re not in Kansas any more, Toto … but I haven’t figured what yet. When I do, I’ll probably post it.

Anyone out there have a deer sign story to share?

Well, it’s time to start re-packing for our move-in Tuesday. Talk to you again soon!

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Okay, where were we when we were so rudely interrupted?

Or, more to the point, why were we so rudely interrupted?

Well, let me tell you!

First, my apologies. I promised a lot and haven’t delivered, and I hate it when that happens. But I have been taking lots of notes, and have several interesting stories to tell, so perhaps that will make up for the lack of news recently.

Now, as to the why …

While we were in Banff, because of the complicated logistics of traveling with two people with special diets, plus a large dog and 2 cats, I had to start planning the next stages of the journey right away. My daughter Julia and I were looking forward particularly to seeing the part of Canada surrounding the Great Lakes, places like Thunder Bay. But it was like beating my head against a wall.

There was a three day stretch of look-at-the-scenery driving where I simply could not find any pet friendly hotels or places to get the food we needed … and at that point I had literally run out of protein I could eat without uncomfortable backlash. And I wasn’t having any luck figuring out where to get it before Ottawa or Montreal.

Then, to cap it all off, we realized that my prescriptions (and our elderly dog’s) would run out in a little over a week.

And, finally, three mornings in a row, I was awakened with a phrase running through my head which seemed relevant … especially since most of the really important personal input I receive from my guidance comes that way.

What was the phrase?

Well, if you’ve read Tolkein’s The Hobbit, or seen a cartoon version, you probably remember that the wizard Gandalf showed up at Bilbo Baggins’ house one evening out of the blue with a bunch of rowdy dwarves intent on dragging Bilbo off on an adventure. When asked if he’d like to join them, Bilbo said something like:

“Oh, dear me, no! Adventures make one late for dinner.”

That’s the phrase that was waking me up at 3 am. To me it meant, essentially, that timing was getting important, and that it was time to quit fooling around and get where we were going, or we’d miss our “dinner.” It seemed to me that it meant that housing opportunities, and job opportunities, would be missed if we didn’t get our respective rear ends in gear. We’ll see if my interpretation is correct … I certainly am not up for anything like Bilbo’s adventure at this point in my life!

Yeah, yeah, I know Bilbo’s adventure rocked all of Middle Earth … but, when you think about it, things would have been easier -at least in the short term – if he had stayed home, though of course we would have missed out on one of the great stories of our time. Tough choice.

Anyway, I shifted planning gears … and, amazingly, as soon as I started looking at a route through the US to Maine, it was simple to find housing and the food we needed. Plus the journey would be a week shorter. So, okay, that door opened when the other stubbornly remained closed, so we headed for the US border with all speed.

(And crossing the border will be featured in a future post … “Being Different – the Good, the Bad & the Ugly.” A tale full of sound & fury, I promise!)

We raced at an angle from Banff through Alberta and western Saskatchewan, crossed into the US in North Dakota, and sped through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire in 9 days … and we finally arrived in Maine yesterday. A blur of cheesy hotels and occasional gorgeous scenery highlighted by periodic philosophical spinoffs, some worth telling (at least I think so!)

During that whole drive I kept wondering why I wasn’t excited. I mean, I was about to achieve a 40-year dream, so why was I feeling so grim? The grimness must have been the result of grinding through 8-hour driving days and marginal accommodations with reluctant pets … and because of lingering feelings about our border-crossing experience …

… because it lasted until about 5 minutes after we crossed the border into Maine, at which point I felt such a lift that I thought I might end up with permanent goosebumps, I was so flooded with energy and emotion. And the first couple of stops we made for prescriptions and other necessaries, when people found out I was from California, they said things like, “Huh! Well, you look like you belong here.” Music to my ears!!!

Julia isn’t quite as excited, because getting her settled is going to be far more complicated and time-consuming, and frankly she isn’t looking forward to the amount of hard work she has facing her to prepare for the GRE and start pitching herself to the research programs where she wants to study … but she’s rolling her sleeves up and getting to work tomorrow, right after we scope out currently available housing.

That brings you up to date. Next blog posts will be about some highlight experiences, and a couple of fun and silly philosophical rants about things like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. And a bit more about some things we really liked about Canada.

Thanks for bearing with me! I hope you’re well, and that your life is giving you clear signals.

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On Wednesday my daughter Julia and I left the cats snoozing in the condo, loaded the dog Sheba in the car and took a day-long trek through the Canadian Rockies, specifically the Banff and Jasper National Parks.

Once Sheba figured out that not only were we NOT going to the vet, but that she was also actually able to stick her nose out the window (didn’t have to worry about cats escaping) and revel in the aromas of the Rockies, she had a blast. We all three did, actually.

Since I expended my vocabulary describing my first encounter with these incredible mountains (see “Squandered Superlatives”), I’m going to let pictures do most of the telling … but first some geologic commentary.

Julia was able to add a lot of interest to this journey because of her degree in Environmental Science, and because she’s always loved geology. Since she doesn’t read the blog, she didn’t know about what I’d said about mountains shoving fists or elbows up from the earth, so when she quoted her favorite geology professor, saying that the mountains looked like the result of a “continental fender-bender,” and (after I stopped laughing), I felt more confident of my impressions.

The Great Divide scenic stop was a further hint, as was a déjà vu moment as we were headed up into glacier country. Looking back over our route from a pullout close to the top of the pass, I could see the river winding through steep mountains, everything telescoping down to tiny cars in the distance, and I remembered vaguely seeing something almost identical at Estes Park in Colorado. When we got home that evening I hauled out my map and confirmed that, indeed, as most of the world probably already knows, the Rockies extend at an angle along the continental divide from New Mexico through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta and British Columbia.

To me the Canadian Rockies look bolder, harder edged, more muscular, but it’s easy to see that they’re part of the same family as the Colorado Rockies.

And now, without further adieu, here is our quickie tour of a park that would undoubtedly richly reward years of exploration. Don’t forget to click on any photo you want to see clearly …

It isn’t hard to guess that this first amazing sight is called … Castle Mountain!

My friend Daina was really excited about my first glimpse of Lake Louise, and it was as incredible as she intimated.

And, a little further down the side of the lake, here’s Julia.

And here’s a hotel near the lake which has the riot of English cottage garden-style flowers which you find everywhere in Banff, Harvie Heights (where we’re staying) and Canmore (a great little town full of hotels and lovely shops also near Banff).

We were amazed at our first glacier – Crowfoot Glacier – spilling over the edge of the mountain at the speed of geologic time, but we soon found out we hadn’t seen nuttin’ yet!

Athabasca Glacier, at the southern end of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper Park, is so huge that the tour busses buzzing around the crevasses look like insects and you’d really have to squint at the enlarged version of this photo to see the people trekking up a winding dirt road to the glacier.

But, as awe-inspiring as the glacier was, for me the most unforgettable part of the day were the blue, blue lakes we saw on the way back. Somehow the brilliantly clear blue sky, the mountains and the lakes themselves combined with the angle of the sun to produce truly extraordinary colors.

Today we hiked around a fen (wetland) which coexists beautifully with downtown Banff, which I’ll report on next … and, I am aghast to realize that tomorrow is not only my birthday, it’s our last day here (sniff!). But there’s plenty more excitement to come, including a major change in plans for the journey, so stay tuned.

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