The magic of showing up – 29 of 100

Dan had a conference in Lake Louise this past weekend. James and I did two beautiful hikes. The weather has been uncharacteristcally warm and dry. I couldn’t believe our luck.

On Friday, we hiked up to Little Beehive from Lake Louise, then down by way of Lake Agnes.

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Up at Little Beehive

On Saturday, we drove into Yoho National Park and hiked to Paget lookout.

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From Paget Lookout

I suppose I’ve said this before, but I think it’s so important – vital, in fact – that new parents find ways to get out and do what they love. Oh the joy of putting James in his fleece bear suit, tucking him into the Ergo Baby, strapping on my backpack and wandering down a trail! He drifts off to sleep pretty quickly, and then it’s all quiet – except for my breath and his, sucking in the cool mountain air.

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The mountain views are nice, but looking down at this one is just as good.

When I was in Minnesota, a friend of my parents and I were talking about skiing. Both native Minnesotans, we now both live at the Rockies’ edge and can’t believe that skiing big mountains is something we can actually do on any given weekend.

“I love it,” she said. “And I love how everybody is just so happy out on the hill. It’s not like golf, where everybody is frustrated and cursing.” (This woman is an avid golfer.)

That is what I love about hiking and skiing. There’s no score, no real endgame, the idea is simply to be out there and use your body in a beautiful place. You win just by showing up.

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Lake Agnes

On our way back to Calgary, we stopped in Banff where I met Meghan Ward (the adventurous momma I once quoted here – who is busy starting a Rocky Mountain culture publishing house and print magazine and writing a book). We talked about getting our little ones outside and she said something along the lines of:

Even if they can’t remember the specifics of these early years, they will remember it in some elemental way. They’ll remember it in their bodies. 

I often marvel (and sometimes lament) that James will never remember this year. But I believe Meghan’s right.

To this day, when I lace up my boots and strap on my backpack, I think about my early memories of being outside. Of piling out of the car at our Northern Minnesota cabin, the smell of evergreens and the steady lap of Lake Superior in the air. The feel of the trails, soft with pine needles, skipping over the roots.

And Montana too – the leathery smell of the shed, manure and hay in the stables, the dry summer heat. Eating sandwiches up high, looking out over the Beartooth mountains.

Yes- those are all specific memories from later on in childhood. But they live somewhere deeper than my mind; they hum through my veins and prickle my skin whenever I’m on the trails.

Being outside – on an adventure – felt magic to me growing up; it still does.

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The panorama view from Paget Lookout

Sometimes, I feel pretty daunted by raising a child in the digital age. Screen time. Social media. Internet trolls. Not-yet-invented-technologies-that-require-discipline. Ugh. It already overwhelms me. I know I’m not going to be a perfect parent when it comes to all this. But even if I can’t shield my child from devices until they are 19 or so, I can commit to getting outside as a family – to showing up.

I know I’m going to love telling James stories about the adventures we have had with him this first summer – the thunderstorm in the tent, his bear suit, the way he slept so soundly as we scampered about the Rockies with him in tow.

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I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my heroes, Rachel Carson, on sharing the mystery and beauty of the natural world with her nephew, Roger (from her book, The Sense of Wonder):

We have let him join us in the dark living room before the big picture window to watch the full moon riding lower and lower toward the far shore of the bay, setting all the water ablaze with silver flames and finding a thousand diamonds in the rocks on the shore as the light strikes the flakes of mica embedded in them. I think we have felt that the memory of such a scene, photographed year after year by his child’s mind, would mean more to him in manhood than the sleep he was losing. He told me it would in his own way, when we had a full moon the night after his arrival last summer. He sat quietly on my lap for some time, watching the moon and the water and all the night sky, and then he whispered, 

“I’m glad we came.”

Goodbye Jetta, I’ll love you forever – 12 of 100

Well we did it – we sold the Jetta. Dan took the day off on Monday and was so incredibly productive, it made me feel a bit shameful for how little I do on the weekdays of my maternity leave (I mean, I feel like I’ve had a productive day when I do laundry AND empty the dishwasher AND take a shower…he sold a CAR among other things…)

A very nice girl who is starting medical school at U of C took her for a test drive and bought her on the spot. A few hours later, she came into the house to finalize the details. She has a dog. She is nervous about not knowing anyone here. She hopes that med school will be what she is looking for – life and career-wise.

“Did she have a name?” she asked. “No, we just called her the Jetta.”
“I’m thinking of naming her Daisy.”
“It’s such a good car. We’re going to miss it so much!”
“She’ll have a good home,” she assured us. “These things can have a good second life, you know?”

I know she’s right, but still.

I test drove the Jetta in the year of her birth – 2003. I loved her tight turns and the quick Turbo engine-it was like driving a car-sized golf cart. But mostly I loved the purple lights on the inside (22 year olds make such sound decisions, right?!). After I graduated from UVA, I drove her to Boston where we lived together for a year. Poor Jetta. She endured a crazy winter and had her tires slashed (my own experience that first year out of college wasn’t much better).

On my way back to Minnesota when Boston was finally over, I stopped at Madison to visit my brother Charlie and had a hoot – a harbinger of good times.

Jetta set up camp at 2765 Maplewood Circle East (where I grew up) while I traveled for a a couple of years – and then my ex-boyfriend and I drove it out to San Francisco.

But mostly, I associate the Jetta with Dan – our long distance courtship, days living in San Francisco, getting married in Red Lodge,MT, moving to Calgary and subsequent Canadian Rocky Mountain adventures.

When Dan used to visit from Vancouver, I really wanted him to fall in love with California and we’d drive up and down the coast looking for camp spots and adventures – to Mendocino County, Big Sur and everywhere in between. In fact, we got engaged on a secret blustery beach in Big Sur before we had even lived in the same city. Probably both the most foolish (I mean, we hardly knew each other!) and wisest (the heart knows, people) decision I’ve ever made.

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On our way to Big Sur to get engaged!

I drove up to Vancouver to surprise him a day early when he finally got a job in Berkeley. We packed the whole damn thing with his stuff and then got turned around at the border – so we made a quick decision to re-route to Vancouver Island. We ended up getting rejected at the border again, but in that week in between we attended the best/worst improv show in Port Alberni (at a historic Mill – talk about random!), camping on the kindest stranger’s lawn in Tofino where every campsite was full (who also invited us to their shop opening party and a local music performance) and flying kites with a good friend in Victoria. The border crap was devastating – but we rallied.

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Jetta packed with Dan’s belongings

When Dan finally made it to Cali, there was the long drive through dead heat and nothing Nevada and Yellowstone Park to our wedding. Down through Wyoming and Utah on the way home. And then there was the long drive up to Canada when we moved. We stopped at Crater Lake. Along the Dechutes River in Oregon – then Sand Point Idaho, Panorama BC and then finally Calgary. Somehow we lucked into great deals at cabins with woodburning fireplaces and the most ridiculous B&B I’ve ever seen in my life (our ‘room’ – which was the entire ground floor- had a home movie theatre in it).

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Packing up the Jetta in Sandpoint

That began Jetta’s life as our mountain vehicle. It has been all over – to Banff, to Jasper, to Yoho, to Panorama, to Lake Louise, Fernie, Mt Robson.

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Jetta in Yoho National Park

It’s hard to explain our affection and connection to this little car – but I know you know what I’m talking about. We have loaded her with camping gear, skiing gear, all of our earthly possessions for moves, furry sparkly Burning Man costumes and Christmas trees. She’s been with me for 116,000+ miles and 12 years. Twelve years!

But the thing that hit me the most, as I posed with James in front of her for one last shot (me in utter disbelief that James will never remember our sweet Jetta) – was that we brought our son home from the birth centre in this car. I remember strapping our tiny boy-impossibly small he seemed-into the car seat, bundled in this bear bag to keep him warm in the February night. It was three in the morning and I was both exhausted and exhilarated; I had just delivered a child who was now living and breathing in this world after all. I was too weak to carry the car seat; the midwifery student tied my shoes while Dan started the car to warm it up. Then he carried James to the car while I leaned on the student and she helped me hobble to the passenger seat – pushed forward nearly to the dash to accommodate our tiny babe in the back.IMG_1535 The drive was short – maybe five minutes – but probably the most important of all. We arrived as we had been – the two of us- and returned as parents…as the three of us. The Jetta carried us both ways. She was always there for us. We had the best damn luck wherever we went together. I sure am going to miss her.

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Bye Jetta 😦

Camping with baby – 8 of 100

Well, we did it. We went camping with our three month old. I feel like we cheated a little bit. I mean, we did cheat a little bit. Our friends Cindy and Roger just bought a very posh camper trailer and they let our family of three sleep in it for two nights. So I guess we dipped our toes into camping, which was the perfect way to start.

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Dan with the pimp trailer behind him.

As a new parent, I am still wrestling with how to continue doing the things we love while making sure that James gets what he needs (namely sleep) and is a happy baby. What this looks like so far is booking trips and camping adventures and crossing my fingers that things will fall into place. Right now, James needs a lot of naps. And by a lot I mean he needs to sleep almost every other hour. Which means I spend about half my day putting him down to sleep. Eventually, he’ll fall into a schedule, but until then, I have to watch for his little yawns and try and whisk him into the nursery before he devolves into a cranky crying mess. If I were to stick around to accommodate this napping routine, I would be able to leave the house for a few half hour spurts a day– which would in turn drive me completely nuts.

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James getting acquainted with camping.

So when Cindy and Roger invited us to camp, I felt apprehensive but I also knew we had to say yes. I made Dan promise that if it all went south on Friday night, we’d abandon ship and head home to recover on Saturday. But all did not go south on Friday. Yes, it took an hour of crying and rocking to get him down on Friday night, but then he slept pretty well (except for that time he was awake from 5 to 6 a.m., but it’s all a distant memory now).

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Exploring.

On Saturday, at 7 a.m., I zipped James into his soft white bear suit and brewed coffee while Dan built a fire. Then the three of us sat around the fire together. And of course everything I love about camping was all around me–the chilly mountain air, the smell of evergreen trees and campfire, a perfect cup of coffee, being outside at such an early hour. All of it. James seemed pretty happy about it too.

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The best.

Later, we hiked to Rawson Lake and James napped in the baby carrier while we tramped through some lingering snow. He woke for our lunch and then fell back asleep for the hike down. IMG_2139 Hikin.

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Red wine and kebabs on over the fire – what could be better?

That night, he fell right asleep at 7 and I drank a little too much wine around the fire because it was my birthday and why not? Did it suck waking up for his little 5-6 a.m. stint again? Yes. Was I utterly exhausted on Monday and still on Tuesday? Yes, yes I was. But you know what? We all came out ok and it was totally worth it and awesome! Honestly, the worst part of the whole thing was the drive, during which he wailed. But we survived that too and I think James has forgiven us. I mean, he hasn’t run away or anything like that. DSCF3378 Like the travel thing, I think you just have to go for it and see what happens. I’m still nervous about the camping trips we have planned for this summer. All my books are telling me that my baby is becoming less portable. That he will only sleep well in his own crib after four months of age. They tell me taking trips will ruin any and all of the sleep progress we make (which does not bode well for the three week trip we have planned in July). It’s not that I don’t believe them- but are we really supposed to stick around the house until he’s done napping at five years old or something? Maybe I will eat these words later. I might. But I want my son to see the world. I want him to have a sense of wonder and the wide world. I want him to sit under trees, beside lakes, beneath mountains and the sun. DSCF3387 I want him to be well rested and happy too. So maybe we can meet somewhere in the middle. We’ll see, my friends.

Iceland part III – the Eastfjords

Seyðisfjörður is a perfect town tucked between the towering east fjords with colourful houses, seaside views, artists and wool sweaters.

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There are trails everywhere. We just followed a road until it ended and found this one.

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I had been looking forward to the Eastfjords–our halfway mark and also the only place I booked a room for us to stay in– a restored farmhouse, 19 km outside of town. We were as far as we would ever be from home–in space and time. By now, every moment felt so close, so belonging to us.

The last four km was impassible for our campervan because of a rough road and river crossings. We walked in. DSCF2245

The place is called Skalanes Lodge and in addition to being a guest house, it is a nature reserve.

DSCF2246The owner bought it 11 years ago-when he was 25 years old- and has created so many lovely details.

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You must unwind whether you want to or not in this place. You must read on the couch, watch the sun set –

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And then amble to the cliffs in the morning-

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Eat the delicious homemade dinners of cod and lamb.

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…and set the alarm to see the northern lights. Which we did – and, wrapped in our sleeping bags, watched a ribbon of light dance across the sky.

 

Iceland Part II- Tröllaskagi (& Lake Mývatn and Dettifoss)

The Tröllaskagi peninsula was a bunch of unplanned wonders. For those of you going to Iceland heed my words: make space for the spontaneous and follow your whims- for therein lies the very best of Iceland.

Hofsós was our first stop- and after trying to eat the worst hamburger of all time we parked our van with an ocean view and waited for the pool to open. But this wasn’t just any old pool, my friends! It was infinity-like, heated to a perfect 30 degrees Celsius (86 F) (there was also a real hot tub for non-pregnant people to enjoy) overlooking this…

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The pools are central to Icelandic culture. There’s a little pool sign in nearly every populated place, no matter how small the town (Hofsós has a population of 200). We did not hit any of the big tourist hot pots, like the Blue Lagoon, but boy did we love the local ones.

Our morning coffee walk.

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Dan has become an avid fisherman and brought along his fly rod. Fishing, we had been warned, was not exactly easy or affordable in Iceland. People like Eric Clapton paid tens of thousands to fish the rivers! But just after we wrapped up this walk, we saw a sign with a little fish on it pointing down a gravel road. Why not? It lead us to a farm belonging to a man named Marcus with the cutest dog I have ever seen. For about $18 we secured the rights to fish his lake. What’s more, he gave us a bag of frozen trout – home smoked- ‘in case we didn’t catch anything’.

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So Dan cast a line and I walked up to take pictures, write in my journal, etc. We passed hours at this little lake. Him fishing. Me reading. It was pure peace. My view of Dan fishing below.

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I met these cows (they followed me all over the place- true story).

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And Dan caught our dinner.

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Then we drove and I remember why I miss living by the ocean so much.

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We landed in the small town of Dalvík where camped just outside of town. And the next day we went for those mindblowing hikes that you’ll never forget. For anyone going: it’s hike #3 on the hiking map you can pick up anywhere.

The hike begins at a farm (really, you park in their driveway) and follow a river up to…

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…you guessed it – a waterfall!

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Iceland hiking is steep. Switchbacks as far as we could tell do not exist, they just send you straight up.

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You follow the trail across the green hills, up these meadow terraces. Some horses followed us for a while.

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And finally, you come up to this little lake. Which is filled with fish. Filled.

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This one too.  DSCF2086

The clouds broke for us to get a view of the ocean on our way down.

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The way down.

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This hike was not in any guidebook; we saw only two other people just as we decided to go down. Northern Iceland was full of open space, unplanned adventures and beauty beyond belief.

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A note on fishing while we’re here: Dan had read numerous blogs about how highly regulated the fishing in Iceland is. You have to have your rod professionally sanitized, different permits required everywhere, uber-expensive guides and on. Every body of water is technically owned by the person who owns the land around it. On our way into the country, no one stopped Dan to check if his (highly visible) rod had been sanitized. These were Dan’s two great fishing days. We encountered a few people at the airport who stopped Dan when they saw his fishing rod. One had had absolutely no luck finding any fishing opportunities, the other had paid for one of the very expensive guides and had a horrible experience (not at all what they had been promised or paid for). We’re no experts and we tried to do everything right, but maybe the best tack really is to knock on farmers’ doors. That’s just what we did. Marcus was so warm and friendly and it was one of our best experiences. Anyway- good luck out there!

Below I offer a small gallery of the Lake Mývatn area and Dettifoss. This area is so well documented in every travel guide that I don’t feel the need to elaborate too much here. Mývatn is full of tourists as well as nasty little midges (black flies that come at you in swarms). After the quiet of Trollaskagi it was a bit much for us, but it’s for sure worth a stop to explore the surreal landscape. We walked up the Hverfell crater, down the other side through Dimmuborgir lava fields. Highly recommended, as you get off the beaten path away from the main parking areas. The only drawback is that you have to re-trace your steps to your car.

Dettifoss is well worth the detour off the ring road. There are a lot of waterfalls in Iceland but not so many that command fear and respect in the way this one does.

 

Iceland Part I – driving north and the West Fjords

Upon returning from a big trip- we we just did from Iceland- one is faced with many questions: how to share pictures? And how many is too many? Does anyone really care?

Here will live some tales and photographs of our Iceland jaunt. The basics: we rented a camper van from Lava Campers (more on the van later) and had no real plan for our two weeks. So we arrived on no sleep where the sweet Lava Camper man awaited us with our Helka and briefed us on the vehicle, Iceland and his upcoming Rally Car race. We picked up our first Skyr yogurt, a map of the island and headed north (“Big storm coming to the south” he warned).

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So we arrived weary to the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

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A storm shook our van all night and we decided to head further north to the West Fjords- we picked up a German hitchiker at some point and we made our way to Ísafjörður.

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I had grand designs to hike the famous five-day Hornstrandir route. A boat, it turned out would have been spendy for us to charter (the main season ends in August) and the very nice man at the Braedraborg cafe assured us that hiking around the mainland was just as remote and beautiful. So we packed up everything and headed up the high fjord, the tops of which were shrouded in fog.

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It was really beautiful for a while and then we were fully socked in. Then it started misting. Then raining. It was also very cold.

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A giant pass loomed up like a wall in front of me. I had a breakdown. Did I mention I’m four months pregnant? “There’s no shame in heading back to the camper van,” my very-patient husband assured me. So two hours later:

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It was right about here that I fully fell in love with the Lava Camper, which came to be known as Mama Bear. It was also here that I began to accept that the trip would be what it would be – there may or may not be long hiking days. There may or may not be sun. I couldn’t know yet. It all had to unfold as it would. So the next day we drove on.

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The drive from the West Fjords was one of our favorites- long and deserted and heartbreakingly beautiful. We listened to Sigur Ros as one must when they drive in Iceland. We counted an hour before we saw another car. We saw a lot of really adorable sheep.

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And once, when we pulled onto a back road for no real good reason, a double rainbow stretched across the sky while a horse galloped right past our car.DSCF1907DSCF1911

And as we drove we hmmed and hawed about where to spend the night and we finally pulled off the Ring Road onto the Tröllaskagi peninusula. Of which wonders I shall save for Part II.