Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on March 22, 2021.
Do you remember the first couple of months into the pandemic when social media was inundated with images of wild critters strolling through cities and other areas usually frequented by humans that were suddenly empty due to people staying home? Photoshop tricks notwithstanding, we were indeed witnessing a different level of interaction with mother nature and its wild children, albeit from a far.
Nature, it is safe to say, has since become the ultimate and absolute saviour of humanity as the COVID-19 crisis progressed to envelop us into a grip that has yet to lessen. We cannot travel the way we used to, but people took to nearby trails and when and where allowed, they went camping.
I had to look twice to make sure; OK, three times. It was
snowing. The wind had been blowing since yesterday when it was 18 degrees
Celsius in late afternoon. All degrees but four got scattered by bedtime. We
lost two more overnight.
Today at noon we got snowflakes. A first this time of the
year by everyone’s account. Dog and I took a walk in that swirling mad
snowflake dance and I realized this sad fact: first snow always had my heart
flutter with joy. Always. Today, this year, the flutter is missing and instead
I feel sad and worried. The world is changing and I do not care about making
yet another point about climate change (yes, it is real, and yes, I am shaking
my head knowing it is still debated; seriously!). But.
The air smells sweet and sticky; it smells of soapberries, though they are mere green blobs right now, so all I smell is a promise; I like it, it has a tinge of humbleness to it. On my right, as I walk the trail, the lake surface is coated in sunshine and parts of it look like liquid gold. White puffs of clouds are pinned to a perfect baby blue sky and their reflections are so clear you could almost scoop them out of the water. This is a gift; all of it.
Did you know that March 21st is the International Day of Forests? It was established back in 2012 by the United Nations General Assembly. Not many people know that because it is not highly publicized; social media is filled with reminders of international days of, cupcakes included, to the point of rendering us nauseated. Forests of all things should not be left aside. We exist because they exist. Coincidentally, March 21st is the first day of spring, so let’s hope the reminder sticks.
It is hard to try to change people’s minds even when the cause is more than worthy. Not when it comes to the material part though. There are marketing wizards out there designing strategies and using subtle tricks that make us act like puppets as we agree to buying things just because. Never mind what it takes to produce or manufacture a product, or the ultimate price for our lifestyle – pollution and destruction, sometimes not just of nature but human lives too. Our stores are filled to the brim and more is coming. That is not creating long-lasting happiness either; on the contrary.
It is often believed that major revelations come after periods of fasting, isolation from people, or self-imposed hardship of one kind or another, which is expected to bring out of their hiding our other senses – the ones that start with the sixth one. The senses that live like some forgotten tribe in the middle of the jungle; primal and yet capable of bringing a whole new definition of meaning to your daily existence that has been sustained up to that point, with relative success, you’d argue, by the five senses we all know, trust and would never doubt the existence of.
Mine started more like a sunrise of sorts, or a moonrise. The aster is not important, but the rising part. The part where you see the contour of what’s to come, but are still bracing for the surprise, because there will be one.
Two nights ago, Max and I walked the dog to the nearby school field for one last walk before bedtime. It was wet and foggy. Island weather, we joked, minus the island. When we got to the field, I noticed a man walking his dog and recognized our neighbour who has recently lost his wife of many years. Having heard of that a while ago, I was struggling with finding the most respectful, unimposing and inobtrusive way of expressing our condolences. I’ve been through the loss of a loved one many times and I know there’s no right way of doing it, more so when you barely met the people a few times. I also know what it feels like when people avoid getting in touch following a loved one’s death, because they don’t feel comfortable thinking about it.
So I walked right up to him, confessed my struggle and said we are sorry for his loss. I gave him a big hug and he hugged back; I was grateful for his acceptance of my words and hug. He was grateful I reached out, as people are reluctant to talk about death most of the time. We chatted about the preciousness of life, imminence of death included, while our dogs played. We laughed at their antics, and parted, him with an invite to stop by our place for coffee and chat, him with an offer of baby plants, if we are of the green thumb tribe. I said we are.
Max and I walked some more afterwards, the flavour of the meeting trailing behind us like a stray dog that was suddenly enamoured with us and unwilling to part. An unmistakable sense of peace washed over me knowing that we still have time. Or?…
Truth is, we have today. The rest is not even a promise, but a supposition. The rest is hope. Today is the only time that belongs to us fully. That was the lifeline phrase I hung onto after my parents passed away, processing the best I could their disappearance and the meaning of stringing up one today after another without losing hope as it all ends up one day anyway. We become finality’s happy sad apostles once death takes a loved one away from us, making us aware (more than once in my case,) that the only consolation takeaway we are left with is awareness. Bittersweet it may be, but it’s there. It’s a roller coaster, except that you’re not the observer from up above, or the rider, but the very machine that rattles as you go up and down the tracks, feeling as if you’ll come apart every time the track disappears in a down turn.
All of this came back to me as I plodded along my husband, our steps in sync, words and hearts, post-conversation with our neighbour. Time. So much and so little, so slippery. Fragmented; that is how it feels on most days, due to so many things clinging to be done, interruptions of one kind or another, notifications, the many requests to update our calendars, our social media feeds and the guilt that comes from not keeping on top of it all. Above all, and despite sharing time and space with my sons, I always long for more, as I strive to for remember more of what escapes the fragmentation.
A couple of days later I picked up a copy of When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon and writer whose life was cut short prematurely at the age of 37 by cancer. It’s the kind of book you read with awe and reverence, and do not just read, but cry and think about it long after you put it down. If you are so inclined. It’s the kind of book that invites to contemplation and reassessment; to gratefulness.
It’s a jolt of sorts. Masterfully written, though it was put together in a hurry, as time was not on his side, the book is not one of mourning and self-pity. On the contrary. It is the story of becoming a doctor, the description of the elaborate meanders of options and the clarity of choice through introspection, the re-evaluations once the terminal illness sets in, the contemplation of death from a safe (somewhat) distance as a doctor, and from up-close as a patient.
It is in this context that I make my decision to resist the fragmentation of my time by activities that do not further my contentment with making the most of it. Connection through social media has little meaning if any, if connection through other means is non-existent (face to face, phone, email). Therefore, I will set the unnecessary aside (Facebook and Instagram), and keep what allows me to share my writing, selectively choose my news and reach out, if needed, to like-minded professionals.
It will look like this (or what stays, what goes):
Facebook (goes): I will have a ‘hibernating’ profile which I need to perform my administrative responsibilities in my work and volunteer work respectively. That includes social media postings on various topics (sustainability, health, community.)
Instagram (goes): While I am fully charmed by so many awe-inspiring photographs that roll out daily through my feed, I am also aware of the daily trickle of time spent seeing the said photos and more. I know I can make better use of my time living it, rather than living vicariously through others. There are ways to follow people’s work – social and environmental, my two major interests – and I will.
Twitter (goes): I will maintain my profile for now, but dormant.
As I consciously engage on this path that enables me to make time my ally, I will continue on the journey of writing here, from what I foresee will become a richer perspective. Unfragmented, mindful presence enabled by all those who inspired me through their life, death, writing and presence. From informal mentions of books and ideas, to life bites that define a day, or a moment in a day, or leave an imprint of the kind worth sharing.
I thank you for joining me, if you will, on my new site and through my new blog at www.danielaginta.com. My promise is to make it meaningful. Through mindfulness, which was, after all, the goal behind reaching out of my shell in the first place.
It happened this morning that while I was walking along a snowy path battered by human steps and animal tracks, I heard the ping of a notification on my phone, barely audible through the crunch of my steps. I pulled my mitts off, got the phone out of my pocket and checked my messages. Without thinking twice, I penned a reply, retyping a couple of words (I do not believe in auto spellcheck) which got mangled by my cold fingers. I hit ‘send’ only to feel an irrepressible urge to look upwards to my left. At the top of the tallest spruce (?… mental note: learn to identify trees) the resident hawk was standing with its head turned towards me. This is the second time it happened; that it made my gaze peel from the most estranging of devices and look towards it. The closeness such an occurrence conjures cannot be put into words, nor can it be placed in the context of today when being hurried is synonymous with simply being.
Time itself is the keeper of such moments, so long as we do not fragment it. That is what I am after. Time, alone and with my loved ones; closeness to what matters. The hawk’s gaze.
To say that winter cannot make up its mind this year would be an understatement. It’s been a weather seesaw of sorts since it first snowed in early November. Cold, snowy, warm, cold, snowy; repeat, or not.
There’s lots of shoveling to be done, but beauty to delight in too. If you drive out of town for snowshoeing, skiing, or hiking, the rewards are more than worth the effort, more so on a sunny day when snow-clad trees push against a sky so blue it takes your breath away.
Every year in winter, our family aims for at least one overnight hike, where we each carry our sleeping bags and sleeping pads, and use a sled for all the other supplies. It’s a good workout plodding through snow, but most of all, it is yet another opportunity to learn about nature and why playing it safe always make fun better.
From deciding on the time we start on the trail to the estimated time of arrival (ideally before dark, so we have time to set up and get everyone warm,) to deciding how much stuff we take and whether we have what we need in case we get stuck somewhere, to letting people know that we’re heading into the wilderness, and assessing weather but knowing that it can change without notice, it’s all there.
When we go to one of the now frozen lakes around Kamloops, the questions revolve around that: could we fall in? How long till you get hypothermia? Then, there is the conversation about avalanches, which has been on the news lately, as it is every year.
There is a low likelihood of avalanches where we take the boys, but not knowing the way very well or hiking too late in the day could still get one in serious trouble. These conversations are never about inducing fear of exploring. On the contrary. Healthy fear encourages learning more and preparing better, and knowing when to hold back when necessary.
We live in a time when the access to information about backcountry is but a click away, and there are countless stores in town and online selling equipment. Unfortunately, that is not enough. Somehow, more people find themselves in dire straits in the great outdoors.
The stats from all the search and rescue organizations in British Columbia show a worrying trend. The number of calls has increased over the years, and most organizations had a record number of rescue missions. In 2017, the Kamloops Search and Rescue (KSAR) volunteers were called on 49 searches (a 32 percent increase from 2016) with over 3,500 hours they put in (more than double compared to previous year.)
Particularly worrisome is that this trend is seen all across the province. The increase from last year seems to hover at 30 to 40 percent. To note: the searches are all conducted by volunteers and the organizations rely on donations, but without soliciting by phone. That’s a lot of heart right there, and willingness to help, considering that sometimes the volunteers’ lives are at risk. Especially commendable is not losing faith after discovering yet again that some people carry very few or no items that can increase their chances of survival, such as extra clothing, matches, water or food.
While the admiration for the search and volunteers is boundless, the question remains: How come that more people, and not just in one area, but throughout BC (possibly other parts of Canada) are in need of assistance, at a time when there is enough knowledge to make one’s journey as safe as possible through supply, route, risk assessment and overall trip planning?
It is always sad to turn on the radio or read the news only to find out that someone was yet again caught in an avalanche while snowmobiling (which sometimes they caused,) or got lost during a hike, or went out of bounds while skiing, snowboarding. Sadder yet is to hear they lost their lives.
Can we possibly hope that in 2018, the news, warnings, and word-of-mouth will lower the numbers of people who access the backcountry unprepared, no matter the season? Or that people will think twice before putting at risk not just their own lives but also those of the search and rescue volunteers? I would like to believe so.
As for the boundless admiration for all the search and rescue volunteers… Feelings are great, always, but not nearly enough. Everyone should consider helping by donating to the local SAR team (https://www.ksar.ca/donate-help-us-out/) – more so because they do not even entertain the thought of charging people, thinking that some would avoid calling for help.
Another way to help is volunteering, if possible (https://www.ksar.ca/join/). It is on my list of potential volunteering options once the boys are all grown-up. Until then, my husband and I will keep safety as part of the must-haves when our family heads out for adventures in the great outdoors.