Day Four: Staying Put

It was my day to explore Port-aux-Basques. I started off in the dining room of St. Christopher’s Hotel, where I’m staying. The young woman serving me was emotionally flat. Rehearsed words seemed to be coming out of her mouth. I had to go looking for her to get a second cup of coffee. Negativity started bubbling up in me and then I took a step back. Here was a girl, maybe 20, no doubt dealing the same self-esteem issues that I faced back then. “Cut her some slack, Bruce.” So I did. Silently I wished her well as I left. It’s true that she was very different from the other newfies I’ve met … and that’s fine.

I walked down to the harbour and gazed past the tiny islands to the free water beyond. Such an immense feeling of space. Something caught my eye and I looked left. The huge ferry was leaving port. Way up on the promenade deck, where I had stood yesterday, about twenty-five souls stood looking towards the land. I waved madly and kept it up for probably a minute. Not a single person waved back, and I was sad. I so much yearn for true contact with other human beings, and in those moments it was not to be.

Off I strolled to the often steep streets of Port-aux-Basques. How do they get cars up some of those driveways? At the high points, I had other views of the ocean. I enjoyed the vistas. Still, it’s people who move me the most, not nature or architecture.

I saw little fishing boats. My favourite was “Eastern Comfort”. Marine Drive was an empty little road by the water, lined with industrial buildings and the occasional house. It was such a contrast to Marine Drive in Vancouver, British Columbia – a busy and speedy thoroughfare between lush greenery and opulent homes. But contrast is everywhere in life, I’d say.

My ankles had puffed up with the walking and I was sore. A tiger waffle cone at a convenience store helped immeasurably and so did my conversation with a young girl, about ten years old. She liked her summer adventures but was absolutely thrilled to be returning to school and being with some friends who were absent from her life for the past eight weeks. She talked to me as if I was a local. Cool.

I came upon a gaggle of teens in front of a grocery store. There was a yellow cylindrical cement post, about four feet tall, to keep cars from smashing into the building. A young man was standing on top of it. I couldn’t resist – the opportunity was too sweet. Crossing the street, I called out “Does everybody put you on a pedestal?” He smiled and replied “Pretty much.”

His friends seemed to be looking at me in wonder so I kept going: “I hope you’re not looking down on these fine folks!” Smiles all around. We talked for another couple of minutes and then I was off. They waved goodbye.

As the afternoon waned, I headed to the cluster of tiny pastel buildings which were near the music stage. It was time to sample Geraldine’s food. She gabbed gaily with me while her friend or sister was off to the side, peeling PEI potatoes for the fries. I succumbed to a cheeseburger and natural fries, and when Geraldine told me she’d gone home last night after the singing and baked chocolate chip cookies, I succumbed again.

At one point, I looked over to the orange kiosk across the way. It had a sign saying “Intuitive Tarot Readings”. I spied the young woman inside and asked Geraldine loudly “I wonder where I could get a Tarot card reading.” And there was a small smile from inside the orange place.

I went over to meet Justine, who kindly gave me the only chair in the place. She’d overheard my chattering over at Geraldine’s and concluded that I was “a happy person”. I am.

Her Tarot reading pointed to the image of an arrow flying off to a target. Wow! That’s so true. I experience myself as being launched towards an unknown future, one of beauty and contribution.

Justine and I talked of the spiritual life. She was slow in her soul and it felt like home. I told her of the book I wrote about my wife Jody and her eyes brightened some more. I’ll send her a copy when I get home.

I like people.

Day Three: The Ocean

I’m on a huge ferry, taking six hours to cross from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia to Newfoundland. Before boarding, I sat with a fellow from Newfoundland at a Tim Hortons in North Sydney. I had asked a friend of his if I could look at the sports section from his newspaper, and had received an enthusiastic “yes” in response. So I offered to put the gentleman into my will. He seemed pleased with the prospect, but soon toodled off to another table to woo a woman.

So now we were two. I asked my new friend how folks from Newfoundland feel about being called a “newfie”. He smiled and said “depends on the attitude.” As I struggled with his accent, I had no problem with his being. We chuckled together … and then said goodbye.

On the ship, I sat with a mom and daughter from Digby, Nova Scotia, off on an adventure together before the younger begins her university adventures. Taylor was the Prime Minister of Student Parliament in high school and seems to have a firm sense of what leadership is all about. I marvelled at her commitment to contribute and wished for a time machine to view the adult she’ll become.

Now I’m in the forward lounge, facing a straight line of water and sky. Not a ripple of land at the horizon. The simplicity is sweet. I want to be alone with my beer, on a break from human beings. A bit of yin, a bit of yang … and so we go.

Finally the land – Port aux Basques – pastel-coloured houses on a mass of rock. The beauty of the sea bounding the end of the world is stunning. Welcome to Newfoundland, Bruce.

My hotel is on a hill facing the ocean and I sit on a bright yellow chair, taking in the horizon. Way below me I hear music – guitars and accordion punctuated with voices cranking out newfie songs. I go down to investigate. A outdoor dance floor is surrounded by colourful bleachers, and a couple are strutting their stuff. She especially is smiling her way through the twirls.

Now the band moves into a tender one:

Put me in your pocket so I’ll be close to you
No more will I be lonesome and no more will I be blue

The dancers flow and the audience nods in approval. We’re down home together. Nice. I chat with a few folks and lean towards bed.

Goodnight.

The Rails Ahead

On Sunday at 7:30 am I get on a train in London, Ontario.  Two trains, two buses and one ferry later, I arrive in St. John’s, Newfoundland on Thursday.  The next day I get to greet the cyclists of the Tour du Canada as they end their cross-country journey.  So I’m on a journey of my own.

All told, I’m gone for ten days.  And I ask myself: “What can I create in that time?”  Seems like a odd question.  Am I not going simply to absorb all that the world of travel offers?  To consume the land, the food and the people I meet?  Well, yes, that’s part of it.  I want to draw experiences, conversations and scenes inside of me … so they may nourish me.  Yes, I want to be fed.  But if my life is all about eating, I fear that I’ll bloat – be so full of incoming energy that I don’t even give a thought to what I’m sending forth.

Very simply, I want to contribute to the lives of the folks I meet.  That starts with the attendant at the London train station, as I figure out how I’m going to make my luggage work for both the train travel and the return flight from St. John’s on September 4.

There may be a human being sitting beside me as the fields give way to the towers of Toronto.

There may be a hot dog vendor outside the Montreal station.

There’ll be a waiter or waitress as I get to eat three fancy meals in the dining car while we roll through Quebec.

There may be fellow travellers watching the world go by from the next table.

There may be a host or hostess orienting me to my sleeping berth.

And on and on.

Will I share my heart with the human beings I meet?  Yes, I will.  And if they turn their head away or move the topic to the fortunes of the Toronto Blue Jays, then I’ll gracefully follow their lead.  It may be, however, that some of my companions will be fellow explorers of consciousness … and we’ll fall together into the mysteries of living.

Will I make people laugh?  I’ll sure try.  The thing about meeting new folks is that they haven’t heard my repertoire of silly comments.  It’ll all be fresh to them.  Perfect.  And as for those who just stare when I sing them “a little number” (i.e. “3”) I’ll bless them as they retreat.

Maybe the coolest thing is that every day I’ll be blogging to you cyber inhabitants.  I bet there won’t be any shortage of material.  We human beings are good at being noteworthy.

See you on the train and boat and plane

Day Two: UBC and Beyond

I’m sitting in the sun on the University of British Columbia campus, waiting for the Bike Kitchen to open. Check that … I just moved to the shade, since I couldn’t see the darned screen. Made seven spelling mistakes in one sentence, which tends to diminish people’s confidence in my intelligence.

I’m about to impart words of wisdom from my bike mechanic to theirs. So I’m a conduit with very little bike tech knowledge. That’s okay. Surround myself with good people and life works.

I slept nine hours last night – just what my body needed. Headed for the shower to find out that hot water was in short supply. I jumped up and down a lot, probably good practice for the wide variety of campgrounds we’ll face.

I really feel that some mysterious force is drawing me towards my future summer. For instance, in checking my luggage this morning, I saw that I forgot my tiny daypack, which I was going to use for roaming on rest days. But then I realized that the Camelbak water carrier that I’ll wear on riding days will do just fine as a backpack. As for the daypack, I didn’t need it. Then I opened another sports bag to find that the hard plastic glass I was going to use for taking meds was smashed. (Sigh) Seconds later, the words “water bottle” burbled up. As for the glass, I didn’t need it.

After showering, I put my yoga mat under arm and scoured through the residence for somewhere to lay it down. And voilà … a lounge appeared. Eight large windows brought in the sun. At the base of one, a large flying bug was trying to get home. Way up top, a transom window winked at me. As I reached for the handle, Mr. or Mrs. Wide Wings climbed the bottom pane and met me at the opening. And away …

On the road to downtown Vancouver, I boarded a packed bus. Not a square inch available for another human. I said hi to a woman who was dressed in a melody of colours. She smiled widely in response and told me she recruits Asian students for UBC, spending most of the year in India. She’s had marvelous conversations with young people throughout Asia and seemed thoroughly happy with her life. She also thought my bike trip was an awesome way to spend the summer. I so agree. And then I was moving toward the door for my stop. “Goodbye,” we echoed.

Another bus, another woman. Ana and I were both moved when a handicapped passenger implored the driver to make room for a patron in a wheelchair, so she wouldn’t have to wait anymore on the sidewalk. The driver responded. I applauded the courageous woman.

Ana and I talked on the street later as we strolled to our destinations. She’s a coach for Israeli women and loves being a mentor. My story got her thinking how much she loves the bicycle and how she misses being on it. Ana committed to me that she’d ride again soon. And she wants to follow my cycling blog. I responded by offering to send her a copy of the book I wrote about Jody. She accepted.

Ah … the fine folks of the planet.

Dad

It’s a word that has never been sent my way.  Jody and I didn’t have any children.  That’s one of only two regrets I have in life:  Her early death at 54 is the other.

When I’m out there in the world, I often hear a kid call the man beside him or her “Dad”, and a little bit of me winces.  Oh, to sit on the couch with my son or daughter, watching TV, eating popcorn and chatting about the events of the day.  But it’s not to be (this time around anyway).

I love volunteering in the Grade 5/6 class and sometimes imagine that I’m dad (or more accurately grandpa).  I’ve had many fine conversations with kids, and I like to think that I’ve made an impact on many of them, but at the end of the day they go to their homes and I go to mine.  And that’s okay.  At least we get to talk some on the days when I show up at their school.

Yesterday, the class was on a field trip to a conservation area – a well-treed park surrounded by farmland.  We had fun, especially the geocaching experience, where we used our handheld GPS units to find spots in the woods where tiny treasures were hidden in Tupperware containers.  Our group found one about six feet above the ground in the crotch of a tree.

When it was time to get on the bus for the return trip to school, a Grade 5 kid asked me to sit with her.  I’ll call her Sarah.  We talked about the day we spent exploring both technology and nature.  We talked about the training I’m doing to get ready for my bicycle ride across Canada this summer.  Her assessment of the hours I spend on the elliptical at the gym?  “Crazy!”  Well, maybe I am, but I’m going to be fit enough to traverse my country, starting in June.

Sarah is a hockey player.  This winter, I’ve gone to a few games featuring kids from school, but I’d never seen her team play.  “Next year, I’ll come to a game of yours.”  She smiled.

Apparently, Jayne, the teacher, plays a game with the kids just before lunch every Friday.  Sarah asked me if I’d come to volunteer some Friday morning so I could play too.  I said yes, and was very pleased that she invited me.

Getting off the bus, Sarah wanted to know which car was mine.  “That red one over there – Scarlet.”  She seemed amused that I named my cars.  For me, it’s always felt like a natural thing to do.

These kids spend some time with me and then next year they’ll be off on new adventures.  Elementary school turns into high school turns into whatever’s next.  They’re building their lives, step by step.  Even though my time with them will be brief, I’m happy that I get to have moments like a simple bus ride back to school.

On last fall’s meditation retreat, one of the teachers said “When you’re in the presence of one of life’s wholesome moments … Don’t miss it!”  So true.  May we all be awake to the people who come our way, whether they’re 10 or 82.

 

A Tale Of Two Pubs

Last night, it was Babe’s Macaroni Grill and Bar in Utica, New York.  I had a burger and fries.  Tonight I tried Mingo’s Sports Bar and Grill in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  In the interest of consuming a wide variety of food, I had a burger and sweet potato fries.

Last night, I told my bartender friend Michelle about the silent meditation retreat I’ll begin on Wednesday.  She was fascinated about longterm meditation.  I told her about falling in love on my last long retreat (a mistake), about the peace I felt in the meditation hall, about the Dalai Lama telling an interviewer “My religion is kindness”, and my opinion that the truest realm of spirituality is in the real world when I’m one-to-one with another human being.

Michelle told me about the Grafton Peace Pagoda, erected in the 1990’s by a Buddhist monk as a monument to world peace.  And guess what?  Grafton, New York was on my route to the retreat.  This afternoon, I climbed the steps of the pagoda – a giant white dome shining in the sun, way out in the woods.  A large statue of the Buddha was inset in one wall.  Plus carvings depicted the demon Mara tempting the Buddha with power, glory and pleasure while he refused to abandon the peace that had enveloped him.  All this majesty spread before me on a sunny winter’s day.

Tonight my companions were sports fanatics.  That’s okay.  So am I.  “Go, Leafs, Go!”  (That’s the Toronto Maple Leafs in the National Hockey League.)  The bartender was waxing poetic about football’s Super Bowl.  Next Sunday, he’ll be experiencing spasms of delight or agony while I’ll remain blissfully unaware within the grounds of the Insight Meditation Society.

Next to me at the bar was a fellow watching a women’s basketball game between the Universities of South Carolina and Tennessee.  “Which team are you cheering for?” I asked.  “Neither.  I’m scouting South Carolina.  They play UConn in thirteen days.”  The gentleman has been a University of Connecticut basketball fan for thirty years.  They’re the top women’s basketball program in the nation.  I learned about their marvelous coach and the factors that have made UConn the best, such as conditioning and defense.  I marvelled at this man’s universe, about which I knew little.

Such different conversations one night to the next.  But just like the burgers, they were somehow the same.  Human beings reaching for the sun.

Dear Me

I woke up this morning with those two words on my lips.  I stretched and said it again.  Nothing odd about that.  But then I listened … to a voice:

“You are dear, Bruce.”

“Uh … yes.  But so is everyone else.”

“That’s true.  There are many flavours of dearness.  Yours is verging on unique.”

“No, no, no.  There are lots of people like me in the world.”

“Oh?”

“What do you mean, ‘oh’?  I’m not special.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that.  But you’re unusual, in a nice way.”

“I suppose that’s true.  But I’m not better than other people.”

“I agree.  You’re different, though.  You see connections that some folks don’t.  You’re silly.  You’re loving.  All in all, not a bad human.”

“Why thank you.  Can we stop talking about this stuff now?”

“As you wish.”

***

And yes, all of this went on in my head.  Perhaps I’m going loony tunes.  I sure hope not.  There’s a lot of living left to do.

And a particular flavour of that living starts tomorrow.  At 5:00 am, I head east on the road of life, otherwise known as Highway 3.  Many hours later, I’ll curl up under the covers in Utica, New York.  On Monday, it’s through the Berkshire Mountains to Williamstown, Massachusetts, where I’ll hunker down for two days.  I hope to visit art galleries, meditate in churches, and find the local coffee shop for good conversation.  On Wednesday afternoon, I show up at the Forest Refuge near Barre, Massachusetts where I’ll essentially be silent for a month.  Many quiet dear ones will sit near me but I’ll never meet them.  We won’t say hi.  We won’t make eye contact.  But I will love them anyway.  Hmm … I suppose that’s fairly unusual.

I’ll blog Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then it’ll be silencio until February 28.  Come see me then, if you wish.  I may have groovy things to say or perhaps my fingers will begin a vow of silence.  Who knows?  The mystery beckons.

Kids Again

Earlier today, I was sitting comfy-like in the Belmont Library, a happy ten minute walk from my condo.  How marvelous that I can walk to all these places – the Belmont Town Restaurant, the Dairystore convenience store, my massage therapist, Jody’s bench at the post office, the Belmont Diner, the gorgeous village park with pond and fountain, and the Barking Cat pub.  Wow!

But today was the library.  I wrote a blog post and was tickled pink to send it into the cyber universe.  As I revelled in my deed, a boy walked in, seeking a book on hold.  I looked at him.  I thought he was young enough to be going to South Dorchester Elementary School, where I’m hoping to volunteer.

Do I leave him alone or ask him the question?  Feeling fairly intrusive, I asked if he went to South Dorchester.  Yes.  “Do you like your school?”  Yes again.  And the conversation evolved.  Just him and me talking level – nothing about adult and child.  He told me there were no men at the school and that he hoped I’ll show up there.  Me too.

The young man communicated beautifully, and my love of conversation with kids flooded back.  He spoke with soul, so wondrous coming from a young person.  One of his comments, however, sounded like a stereotype and I mentioned that.  In response, he didn’t grump – he listened.  So fine.

I’m happy.  I get to be with kids again.  Maybe I can set up a floor hockey league.  Maybe I can help them with their reading and math.  But the content doesn’t matter.  The context does.

Be with

 

 

 

Day Twenty-Four … Just Us Guys

Late Wednesday evening, I was on the last leg of a very long day from Longview, Washington to Clark Fork, Idaho.  I was the only car on the secondary highway east of Sandpoint and it was dark.  I was pooped.  Then I heard the sound.  It seemed to come from inside me, and then all around me.  A low groan, not human.  It was a spaceship!  Momentarily I would be abducted into the bowels of the beast, where skinny little grey guys would start doing unspeakable experiments on my innocent body.  The noise got louder and then stabilized … to my right.  I looked over there and all I saw was black.  Suddenly, a string of lights rose up and a train blasted past me in the opposite direction.  Whew!  No internal organ inspection today.  The tracks had been way below the level of the highway and hidden by trees, but then they climbed up, revealing the terrors.  I got to the motel shaken but still in possession of all my limbs and digits.

I slept the sleep of the dead and knew that coffee would be the solution to my traumas.  The gentleman at the front desk said there was a café just down the street, so off I went.  I walked through the door of the Cabinet Mountain Bar and Grill wearing my “I’m The Crazy Uncle Everyone Warned You About” T-shirt and yellow short shorts.  Three guys in outdoor work clothes looked up from their table.  “So you’re an uncle.  Nice shirt.”  “Yeah, it’s pretty cool.  My sister-in-law and brother-in-law gave it to me.”  A little smile in return.  They returned to their conversation and I perused the menu.  I read about sports in Bonner County and news about kids who had entered 4H competitions.  One girl had raised a goat for meat and now it was hard to let him go.  I enjoyed the read, as well as my ham and eggs, hash browns and brown toast.

My friends across the way were engaging in topics of which I knew nothing.  “That offroad forklift handled the whole thing but geez it was expensive – 10000 bucks.”  And one fellow talked about how long it took to fill his swimming pool.  And then Person A at Table 1 started razzing Person D at Table 2.  D gave it back to A in spades.  And so the fun unfolded.  Our waitress bipped from table to table, smiling.  I had great fun.  Just normal people leading their lives.  The fact that I hadn’t had many of their experiences was irrelevant.  After my meal had mysteriously disappeared we all had a good talk, including how best to get from Clark Fork to Cranbrook, BC.  We blathered on about stereotypes.  I mentioned a trip I took through Southern Ontario and New York, where I assumed Canadian drivers would mosey along with me at the speed limit while as soon as I crossed into the States, Americans would tailgate me mercilessly.  So much for assumptions.  The reality proved to be just about the opposite.  I think the guys enjoyed my story.

Long later, after I had worked my way through Idaho, BC and Alberta, I was sitting in the kitchen of Ray Doram in Lethbridge.  Joy had gone to work.  Ray spun a tale about his dad Joe.  When Ray was 5 or so, he was looking up at the stars with dad.  “You know, son, the stars look even better when you see them through the sleeve of a coat.”  “Oh.”  “Let’s try it.”  And as young Ray gazed up through the tunnel of fabric at the silver dots, dear dad poured a pitcher of water down the hole!  Ray and I doubled over, him with a great memory, me with newbie astonishment.

So it was a day.  Plenty more to come.

Day Twelve … I Can’t Remember

Before I launch into Day Twelve, I’d like an appetizer – the evening of Day 11.   I was in McBride, BC and I was hungry.  The friendly front desk clerk pointed me to the Gigglin’ Grizzly Pub down the highway.  Inside, there was a huge painting of a bear over the bar.  He looked pretty hungry and I was hoping he was looking forward to nachos, not me.

My waitress was a blossom of energy, just so happy with all her customers.  I was hoping that she’d hang around me some so we could talk but she favoured the local fellows.  One guy sure looked like a cowboy to me – a rough white shirt, shiny belt buckle, jeans and a black ten-gallon hat.  Everybody was having fun.

I sat back from the bar so I could see SportsCentre on TSN – I love the plays of the day.  A mug of locally brewed beer and a Deerly Beloved pizza (ham and pineapple) and I was all set.  I sat at a huge wooden table in a cozy black leather chair.  Ahhh.

I left the pub around 11:00.  If I turned right out of the parking lot, I could have retraced my steps back to the motel, but that isn’t as much fun so I turned left.  I figured McBride was a small place so it wouldn’t be a problem.  I just followed street lights.  That would keep me in town.  It also took me into a cul-de-sac.  I laughed.  As the song says, “There’s a motel for me. Somewhere a motel for me.”  Okay, Bruce – no more singing.  Maybe twenty minutes later, I found my way home.

Now … really Day Twelve.  I was checking out when the front desk clerk and I started talking.  Andrew is a Buddhist.  Me too.  He’s been on silent meditation retreats.  Me too.  We chatted for half an hour.  And here I sit, trying to remember what he said.  I can’t.  What I do remember is telling myself during our conversation to make note of things so I could write you about it in the blog.  But that just takes me away from the here and now, so the heck with it.  Well, having said that, can I think of anything that Andrew said? … … Still no.  Here’s a quote that I love, and it fits:

People won’t remember what you say
They won’t remember what you do
But they’ll always remember how they felt when they were with you

I felt great.

Then it was a long and winding road from McBride to Kamloops, punctuated with a series of slowly climbing motor homes.  Since I had agreed to meet my old friend Lynne at 4:00 pm, I started getting nervous.  I like being on time.  As I continued on my journey at well below the speed limit, I gradually … let go.  A tremendous sense of peace washed over me.  “Bruce, you are free.”  Indeed.  I even let go of seeing Lynne, although I dearly wanted to.  It had been 29 years.  Lynne’s assistant had told me on the phone that she had a family gathering after seeing me, so maybe she would already be gone.  It’s okay.  All of life is okay, even my pains and illnesses.

As it turned out, I was well late but Lynne and I still had two hours to talk about old times and new times.  Precious moments all.  I can’t remember what we said.

My evening and overnight was spent in the home of Luana and Larry Chamness near Barriere, BC.  They live in a log cabin without running water.  And that wasn’t important.  Sitting with them in the backyard under their giant cedar trees was.  We talked and talked about life, family, Jody and the universe.  But I can’t remember the details.  All I knew was that I was home.

“Home is where the heart is.”  My heart is travelling these days and home keeps emerging around the next bend.