Echoing Back

The wind has been blowing for a solid twelve hours, bringing in a new month and season. Suddenly it feels cold despite the sun shining. Donning a wool jacket, I sat outside to read and sip a summertime cocktail. Tonight, near freezing temperatures are forecast, and I feel the urge to snuggle into sweaters and let sandals give way to boots. So soon, so fast. And still a world living with Covid-19 and its continued uncertainties, wondering what this next season will bring to us all.

“We all lose our bearing from time to time.
Whether precipitated by a major event, or a gradual becoming lost, this is when the horizon you had been following disappears –
and in its place, a persistent anxiety searches
for the new direction of our lives.”

Toko-pa Turner

Feeling lost. Being lost. It’s a state I’ve felt more or less for months. Checked back and sure enough, I’d written about it in May, prompted by a lesson in The Soul of a Pilgrim course I’d been taking. A week ago, on a heavy, overcast day, not yet ready for the day to begin, I returned to bed and wrapped in the comforter, looking out into the trees, I gave myself over to that lostness.

What became apparent is that I needed a dose of alone time in Nature, I needed the peace of wild things to make peace with myself that I was no longer working; that the identity I’d had through work was no longer; that my feeling of belonging in community cultivated by that work, too, had now vanished. I needed to reframe my notion of retirement because like it or not, here I was, so soon, so fast. Though admittedly, it was a place of my own co-creation. I’d take a medicine walk on, yes, the Lost Lake trail in the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Park, thirty minutes east from home.

I packed my essentials and set out as I’d been taught in preparation for last year’s fasting quest. It was a beautiful morning, cool and quiet, though in the distance, I could still hear the faint drone of cars and the occasional train whistle. The trail was quite wet in spots, quickly soaking my trail runners (why didn’t I wear the waterproof ones?) and requiring some agile traversing on top of beaver dams (thankful I had my trekking pole). I carefully followed the trail map and signage as years ago, when cross country skiing, I zigged when I should have zagged and became lost on the same trail. I’ve walked it since, a year ago early spring and summer, but not enough to feel familiar and at home. And every season, every week even, it looks different with Life doing its work.

“So drop your maps and listen to your lostness like a sacred calling into presence. Here, where you may be tempted to take up false belonging, ask instead for an introduction to that which endures.
This place without a foothold is the province of grace.”

Toko-pa Turner

Arriving at the shelter, my half-way point, I briefly rested and watered, took my bearings and headed off to complete the circuit, or so I thought. A yellow tape and sign indicated the trail was closed, but there was another sign pointing the way, or so I thought. Walking further I encountered unfamiliar trail names, but confirmed I was still on the Lost Lake trail.

The sun, now high in the sky, was on my right, when I knew it needed to be to my back to be going the right way. I saw a marker for the Lost Lake shelter, and wondered, which one, as there are two on the map? Now I wondered, was I coming or going? All the while I noticed the trail had been freshly mowed, giving assurance I was on a well-travelled trail, and yet the sun was still not where it was supposed to be.

Then I arrived at small clearing, a three-way junction with a Lost Lake trail sign pointing down the trail, another pointing back up where I’d just walked, and the shelter sign and arrow pointing down the middle. Hmmmm…

I was lost.

I immediately recalled the wise words from David Wagoner’s wise poem Lost, “Stand still.”

So I did.

I took off my pack. I sat down. I retrieved my cell phone – thank god for service – and called one, then another emergency number. I gave my number and within minutes was called back by the local conservation officer who was in the area. In giving her my location, I turned over the map and found where I had made my mistake, taken my many mis-steps. And while I was pretty confident I could find my way back, I acknowledged I was tired, and so accepted her kind offer to get me, and followed her instruction to walk to and wait at the shelter.

“It is the questing field, most responsive to magic and fluent in myth. Here, where there is nothing left to lose, sing out of necessity that your ragged heart be heard. Send out your holy signal and listen for the echo back.”

Toko-pa Turner

Walking, stopping, resting, waiting. Echoed back to me was:

Hearing the clear and quiet acceptance of not returning to work as I have known it.

Remembering that I’d been in this place of uncertainty many, many times before and that it had always turned out OK.


Feeling the beginning stirrings of energy and seedlings of enthusiasm for something new.


Having the realization that I had manifested “out there” my own inner lostness, and in doing so had learned lessons and received gifts – the need for preparation, for knowing when to turn back, when to stand still and stay put, when to ask for help, and how to receive it.

Driving back with Karen, the conservation officer, she told me she’d been delayed because another woman called for assistance after she and her dogs were stalked by coyotes, a real concern because of this unusual display of persistent brazenness. She mentioned the resident though reclusive black bear, and, of course, moose, elk, deer, wolves, and beaver.

Hmmmmm…walking with a buddy would be a good medicine for next time.

With love and kindest regards, dear friends.

In the Family of Things

Mid August has come and gone and with it, most of summer. I used to say that August felt like one long Sunday night, especially for those of us in education. That mix of anticipation, apprehension, excitement and trepidation with September and the start of a new school year. All the stuff that can keep one awake, tossing and turning on a Sunday night, wondering what the new week will bring.

For the first time, this isn’t my felt sense. Maybe enough years out and away from the day to day. Too, knowing my work with schools has ceased, at least for the time being. Not wanting to be insensitive, I admit it’s hardly a year I’d want to be returning given so much continued uncertainty and real apprehension about the safety and well-being of staff and students as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise here and around the world with school resuming.

Despite another run this week of hot, sunny weather and cloudless skies (only the second this summer!) there are signs of what’s to come. Sitting by the local pond late last week I wrote:

The change in weather weighed heavy today. Every bone in my body ached.
My jaw clenched as my third eye pulsed.
Indelible and subtle, this signaling of the season to come.
Tell-tale morning chill.
Golden haze on aspen, ash and farmers’ fields.
Sun that sets earlier, rises later.

Geese gathered on the cat-tail bordered pond, leisurely swim in the same V formation as they fly.
And for a moment I hear in my head the opening lines to a favourite Mary Oliver poem, Wild Geese.
Try to speak aloud from memory. Give up but remember its essence,

remember the world announcing my place in the family of things.

Look up into that blue sky, heavy with lead bottomed clouds.
Beseech the wind who is my guardian,
“Where is it I’m meant to be?”

Like a squirrel gathering nuts, the geese and crows gathering to migrate south, I’m beginning to prepare myself for fall. Like its predecessors, spring and summer of 2020, I imagine it, too, will be the likes of which none of us has ever experienced. More pronounced again have been those waves of grief as I realize all too soon the ease with which we’ve been able to safely see friends will pass as colder temperatures and shorter days become the norm. And still, though curiously more acute, the sur-reality of living in this pandemic, every day continuing to learn more and more its impacts. Something I felt in the spring, but was able to hold lightly, off to the side during summer.

“… it is in those moments that we must remember the difference between despair and grief.
While despair traps us in the bog of despondency,

grief carries us into life.
Grief calls us into a deeper engagement with those things that we love. And even as we are losing them, grief wants to exalt their beauty.
If we let grief move us into expression, it will sing the blood into our songs, colour the vividness into our paintings,

and slip the poetry between our words.

Toko-pa Turner,
Facebook post, August 14, 2020

So thoroughly engaged in the first programs I took under their hosting this spring, in the pandemic’s novel, early days, I signed on to another self study with the Abbey of the Arts. Starting in September for twelve weeks, “Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist,” promises to be an equally deep, communal dive into creative expression. I’m lightly researching how and what I need to begin a project based on some mandala paintings I’ve made over the years, and today I signed on for a self-paced study in abstract creative painting. Lonely for community, I’ve decided to resume my weekly Saturday river valley walks with the local Camino group.

It’s a delicate balancing act, like the pattern I’ve noticed when I’ve been out and about a bit, around more people than usual. Without much conscious thought, I find myself laying low for the following several days, staying home, and only going out to walk Annie. I hear friends and family acknowledge their loneliness, while others live with the millstone of chronic illness and the deaths of their beloveds. My heart aches for my sister, recently moved to the States, where as the crow flies only fifteen minutes from her children, grandchildren and our parents, but with the border closed, now for another month, now an eternity away. I prudently expect more of our traditional celebrations – Thanksgiving, Hallowe’en, Christmas, New Year’s – will continue to be severely curtailed by Covid-19.

“Rumi says, ‘All medicine wants is pain to cure.’
And so we must cry out in our weakness, our ineptitude,
our beautiful inadequacy and make of it an invitation
that medicine might reach through and towards us.”

Toko-pa Turner,
Facebook post, August 14, 2020

Sitting by the pond, in response to my question, the wind whispers:

Right here, dear daughter.
Resting in the still warm sun. Breathing in the fresh northern air.
Your hair like the green rushes, swaying, dipping and dancing

in rhythm to my silent song.
Right here. Right now. This
.

With love and kindest regards, dear friends.

A Homemade, Handmade Life

Last night as we ate dinner my husband remarked that it was all homemade. Yes, I had cooked and composed while he grilled, but what he meant was that every ingredient, except the seasonings and Italian olive oil and parmesan cheese, was locally produced. From the Hutterite grown potatoes, boiled and smashed, then mottled pink with a sauté of chopped beet greens and garlic scapes from our bi-weekly CSA bag of freshly harvested vegetables, and topped with a grating of that Italian cheese; to the grilled “cowboy” thick-cut pork chops purchased from our local butcher and CSA drop-off, smeared with a piquant carrot-top chimichurri; to the salad of brilliant green leaf lettuce and dark wild arugula, topped with cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, dressed in a light vineagrette. Every mouthful bursting with colour, alive with freshness, deeply satisfying.

Several years ago I won the big prize of a basket of locally produced good for the night’s best tweet, “live local with love.” Since, it’s become my slogan and hashtag for supporting local producers, artists, entrepreneurs and efforts. During the pandemic, it’s become the basis for choices and decisions to spend our resources of time, energy and money on these local mainstays, hopefully to ensure their current and future livelihood.

Last week, when a member of the CSA Facebook community mentioned the smallness that week’s harvest, I took a moment to kindly reply:

Purchasing this CSA means helping “share” the risks that our producers take on for us. Bringing that risk to my doorstep, not having it anonymously “out there.” Sometimes that might mean abundance in the bag, other times it might mean fallow. Regardless, I am surprised, delighted, curious and appreciative. And I feel good knowing I am, in a very small way, doing what I can to say thank you, that what you (and other local producers we support) do matters a great deal. I notice your efforts. I care.

Yesterday, walking Annie, I enjoyed a spontaneous conversation with a couple walking their dog. From across the street he recognized Annie and asked if sometimes we rode her off a bicycle.  Yes, that’s my husband’s way of exercising both him and her, and that she, as have all our dogs, love the pull and rigor of it. One thing led to another and we started talking about life in these pandemic days, how we were coping, the gratitude for the companionship of our aging dogs, theirs, twelve years, ours ten. Then we talked food and the pleasure we take from its sourcing and preparation. Wine and meat, bagels and bread, cheese and fruit, we flitted on the surface, landing lightly on where to find, how to make, what to enjoy.

Bidding them a good day, I reveled in the sweetness of this brief encounter with strangers, who like me, love their dog, good food, and wine. I savored the knowing that cooking has been a main source of creative expression and consolation these many weeks. I felt the love for my Oma whose presence watches over me as I cook with utensils from her kitchen, shipped off to me years ago in her meticulously wrapped “care packages,” and with whom I pulled my first carrots from the warmth of her garden during cherieshed childhood summers spent at her home in New York state. And for a few moments, I welcomed back the grief of missing her, and of being unable to share a lovingly prepared homemade meal with friends, as now so much depends on weather to cooperate to be safe.

And in it all, choosing to hold up one of the things I mused on last time:

“When you learn to make things with your hands,
you begin to awaken an awareness of
the beauty and value of things in your life.
Handmaking teaches us about slowness:
the antidote to brevity and efficiency.
It shows us, through the patience of our own hands,
what goes into a thing.
When we put those long efforts into bringing beauty into the world,
we are honouring that which made us by creating
as we have been created.
We are taught to respect the slow, attentive piecing together

of the life we yearn for.”

Toko-pa Turner, Belonging, 2017

With much kindness and more love, dear friends.

So This is The Camino

I have dreamt of walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela for twenty years after reading Shirley MacLaine’s memoir. Never clutched to my heart, instead I held the dream soft and loose in the palm of possibility.

Several years ago, I heard about a local Camino group, one of many chapters across Canada, and beyond. I attended a few of their twice-yearly meetings to learn first-hand from people who had walked, and from those holding the dream. And then a few years later, after receiving regular emails from one of the members hosting Saturday morning preparation walks, I said YES. On an incredibly cold morning in an early January, donned in my red, full-length down coat and mitts, and black aviator’s quilted hat, with a friend, I walked the first of at least a hundred Saturday morning river valley walks. After that first year, in a Solstice-Christmas greeting to the gang, I wrote that saying that YES was the best YES I’d said that year, for meeting them and the friends I made, for edifying conversations or shared silences through the trees, for discovering our river valley trails and great local breakfast cafes.

It has been months since I last walked with them.  Last November, I think. Last summer I chose to play pickleball with the women at my club Saturday mornings – non-competitive, though we challenge each other to practice our serves and shots. Once or twice I did both – walked at 7 and then joined the game at 9:30, but by noon, I was pretty much kaput for the rest of the day. Then come late fall, I developed a wicked case of plantar fasciitis, aggravated by walking, and heeding my chiropractor’s advice, cut out both Saturday walks and pickleball to heal enough to walk unimpeded during our trip to Andalusia in February.

I miss those Saturday walks. I miss the camaraderie and conversations, even though many times I needed and asked for silence, solitude – that being alone together. I miss the medicine of the trees and the birds, of the sky and the weather. And being a self-named daughter of Niagara, I miss the river and its holy waters.

North Saskatchewan River, Perspectives with Panache, 2018

When newcomers would arrive on Saturdays, inevitably as part of the introduction would come the question “Have you walked the Camino?” I had a practiced response, “No, I’m an aspirant, and I’ve come to learn that I walk my Camino every day.”  Not meaning to be glib, I learned the potency and truth of this insight when walking along the hilltop trails in Italy’s Cinque Terre.

Early one sunny morning in April 2011, I met an American couple at the train station in Vernazza. We’d heard the trails were rained out in places but agreed to companion each other on the leg south to Corniglia, where we’d reassess.  As beautiful as purported by Rick Steves and every other visitor to the region, the hike above the ocean, through olive groves, down into the town was breath-taking, and hot. We parted ways after an espresso, they’d continue hiking, while I’d take the train to Manarola, walk the Via dell’Amore to Riomaggiore, and then ride in the open boat back to Vernazza. (In hindsight, it was the perfect way to experience the magnificence of the Cinque Terre, and just months before floods, rock and mudslides caused significant destruction to the area and closed the still closed Via dell’Amore.)

They were avid hikers who planned their vacations around well-known treks. The year before, they had walked the Camino Frances. Along the way, they encountered a nun who imparted what became their most important and memorable lesson – the Camino is what happens when you return home – you’ll be in the middle of your life and realize, ahhhhh, so this is the Camino.

Those words shimmered with truth for me and led me to saying I walk my Camino every day.

I’ve come to know that I may never actually walk the Camino de Santiago. But right now, in these days of growing unraveling and perplexing uncertainty, I believe that I, we, are walking the most significant Camino of our lives. For our lives. For Life. This, too, shimmers with truth for me.

Each day, we wake and put one foot in front of the other to finding our way on a terrain that changes from moment to moment. We are brought to our knees by a wave of grief with the magnitude of our country having suffered its worst mass shooting  a week ago, where, in our sweet east coast province of Nova Scotia, twenty-two lives were taken under unfathomable circumstances which we will never fully comprehend. We grieve that the summer as we know, that we count the days for, is not to be, as every event, festival and gathering has been cancelled. (This was the proverbial camel that broke me into sobs last week.) We want very much to know that our efforts, sacrifices even, are “flattening the curve” and making for the “re-opening of our economy.”  We yearn to hear the plan, see the charts, understand the long view. Make the meaning. Learn the lesson. Know it’s all been worth it. Sooner than later.

“Sometimes, an efficient inner force wants to step in and make something useful of it all, turn it into “fuel for transformation.”
But another, quieter voice urges us to stop.
Don’t commodify this loss. Don’t be so hasty to write a new story,
in which the events of heartbreak are made meaningful.
Not before the magnitude of what’s been destroyed can be
witnessed in its entirety.”

Toko-pa Turner, “Rushing to Redemption,” April 25, 2020

A few days ago, on a wee camino in my neighborhood, with camera in hand to practice the art of contemplative photography, several images came to me, and from them this reflection. The quieter voice was heard. The shimmer was seen.

With eyes of raven, crow or the ubiquitous prairie magpie
I always see the shiny when I walk.
A penny, a dime, a nickel, a dollar.
A piece of foil, a chrome chain.
A pretty pink crystal ring.
No effort, no intention to seek and find.
I walk, it appears, I see and sometimes retrieve
with fingers pinched like bird beak.

But how to see the shimmer?
That requires tuning to a different frequency.
An attention to the soft, the subtle, the nuanced
Or the sudden “pop” that’s hidden, different.

And while my photographer’s eye is always at play, 
I invite it to the sidelines, for something else to play.

Walking slower.
Breathing deeper.
Thinking about this world unraveling, breaking apart
perhaps to welcome, or to die further still into an unknown next,
that I’m not sleeping, 
that my body aches with anxiety, my head hurts for the piled up tears.

Asking for guidance,
Hearing, “You don’t need to know. It’s too soon to know.”
And suddenly sighing relieved.

Trusting I’ll see the shimmer as I see the shiny.