Meeting Charlie Russell – 53 of 100

Dan met Charlie Russell on a windy day in Waterton Lakes National Park. He and his friend, on a boys fishing trip, found themselves at the far end of the lake with a powerful wind blowing towards them, making a paddle back to the parking lot a difficult thing. As such, they decided to make themselves a shore lunch, have a beer and wait it out.

While a few attempted the paddle back, some getting stuck and some having to be saved, they saw one silver-haired man point his paddle in the air, use it as a sail and glide easily to their end of the lake, start casting lines, into the wind, and catch fish after fish.

Charlie Russell

The man slowly made his way over to them and they offered him a beer. He took them up on the offer and they started chatting.

Dan and Chris say they had a feeling about this man–a feeling that he was someone special. They talked about the parks and fishing and wildlife and bears and then the man sort of off-handedly mentioned that he once lived with bears in Siberia for a long time.

“Wait? What?” Dan asked him.

Yes, he had written a book about it. Grizzly Heart. Dan had the book before I even got home and as he told me little tid bits as he devoured it, I kept wanting to grab the book out of his hands and read it myself.

The barest smattering of details were intriguing enough: a couple, in their fifties, go to a remote wildlife preserve in Russia to live among grizzly bears. They want to prove that grizzlies are peaceful–not violent–creatures. He builds his own plane. They build their own cabin. They raise orphan grizzly cubs.

Yes, it’s all true. And when you read the story it’s

Here are a few things Charlie and Maureen came up against:

  • Canadians that didn’t want him to do his project.
  • Russians that didn’t want him to do his project.
  • Russian bureaucracy (I can’t even describe)
  • Coming up with the funding.
  • Extremely long unpleasant storms, during which the wind sent the smoke from their fire back into their chimneys – leaving them the choice to stand outside in the brutal storm or inside in their smoky cabin
  • More and more unpleasantness from the Russians
  • Possibly life threatening health issues

Among other things. If I came up against just one of these, I’d probably give up on it. But they never did. In fact, the truth is that if I ever came up with such a wildly controversial idea I’d probably think to myself, hmmm, maybe, and then never do anything about it.

But I did decide to pitch an article about Charlie Russell to Crowfoot Media. I drove up to meet Charlie Russell on  warm winter day. He had sent me directions to find his long driveway – of course, unmarked, because he lives on a whole lot of beautiful land around Waterton Lakes National Park. After one wrong turn, I found it and followed it up to his house – the Hawk’s Nest.

The little cabin is filled with game from his grandfather’s hunting days–a bighorn sheep, an eagle. A stone fireplace sits at the center and books are everywhere.

We sat on his porch for two hours looking out at Waterton together. The sun was so hot, I had to take my boots off. The snow melted. We saw a coyote dart across the field below. He pointed to the creek where hi s mother taught him to fish. It was so quiet. All you could hear were snow dripping and birds twittering.

Charlie RUssell's house

I’ll let the article speak for what we talked about in those two hours, but afterwards, his brother Gordon invited us in –he had made us a big salad. So Charlie and I ate salad and talked a little more. Here are a couple of things that I remember:

#1. He said, I never really like to call myself this or that. A writer. Or a grizzly bear activist. etc. Because it closes things off.

#2. He was telling me how he never really the learned the names of wildflowers. But in a way, he said, I’m glad, because I feel that I can just experience them for what they are, rather than run through a checklist of fancy names in my head. I told him it made me think of a short story I once read – about a man who decides to abandon language and how it frees him to experience everything in a new, exalted way. He discovers how language diminishes everything – breaks it all apart. I thought about how James, with no language, experiences the world that way. Just the way that it is.

Later, I sent him the story.

He wrote me back: “I thought that you did not get it.” and then he wrote that  quote I used for the piece.

“One cannot have lived as long as I have, alone in a wordless world that was as wonderful as I had with my bears, without struggling to be courteous in the human world where most people think…that we are superior to every living thing.”

Charlie kept telling me how difficult and unliked he is. And the truth is that he’s a little (a lot) fed up with humans.

But Charlie had an impact on me before I even met him. He had a really unpopular idea and he made just enough people believe in it – then he made a lot more people believe in it. And even if his work didn’t have the far-sweeping changes he thought it might, to quote Charles Jonkel, a biologist, from the Outside magazine article: “What Charlie does is not science. He knows that. It’s got value, though. Over the years he’s taught even the most diehard so-called experts to take another look at how we think about bears.”

I’m a little more optimistic than him. Maybe, as he suggested himself, I have to be. I have a son. I can’t believe we are doomed. But Charlie makes me want to stop thinking that I am this or that, to believe that I can be the many things that I am, he makes me want to stop asking for permission, he makes me want to seek out that wordless place–where everything is just what it is.


Whirlwind – 52 of 100

Well it’s been a while and I want to write.

Dan is out for drinks and James is sleeping – a rare moment of silence and solitude.

It’s funny, on maternity leave I felt lonely a lot. Now I’m never alone and I crave solitude. It’s hard to carve it out. Especially when there’s so much to do.

I thought I would be better about it – I thought I would go back to work and wake up at 6 and write until James woke up. I thought I would save Tuesday nights or Sunday nights or at least one night for writing. But it hasn’t happened. Not yet anyway.

It’s not like I don’t have time; I mean, I’ve watched a whole entire new season of House of Cards! (God that Claire Underwood. I love her hate her so much.)

What’s it like to be back? (Does anyone care?)

The truth is, (I keep telling everyone,) is that being at work all day is way easier than being at home with a baby all day. There are rational people making rational demands. Using my intellectual brain feels good. In a lot of ways, it’s great.

But then our day home lady told us James walked a little today and I almost started crying because I had to stay late for a meeting and I wouldn’t even see him again on this special day that he walked.

Every day feels like such a whirlwind: we are up, we are eating, getting ready, out the door to work, work work work, pick James up, play, feed him, bath, put him to sleep, make dinner, eat dinner, watch a show, go to sleep.

I guess there’s less room for that emotional brain work. To take stock.

It’s a little easy to get lost in this. This being Life, I guess. When people ask me how it’s going I usually say ‘Fine’ which I think it is – for the most part – but I also feel like I haven’t really processed this crazy transition from focusing on one clear objective: raising my child – to suddenly have all the complications of life slamming up against me : work, buying a house, taxes, what’s the five-year plan? Ten year plan? Are we doing all the right things to make those plans happen?

If I had a bigger readership, I could hear them now telling me how privileged I am, and I am. I get it.

Maybe all I’m looking for at this moment in time is what I have right now: A quiet room. A beer. A keyboard. Some time. Space enough for thoughts.

Anyway, I’ve missed you guys. Hi.

(There is no) End of the rope – 51 of 100

Having a sick child chips away at you. You are worried. No one is sleeping. And when no one is sleeping, everyone gets cranky. And when everyone is cranky, Mom starts to lose it.

You think: no more. If he gets up at 5 a.m. again, I’m not going. I’m going to burrow under the covers and let him scream.

When he doesn’t eat (again) you think, that’s it. I’m just going to leave him with one of those catfood dispenser things and he can feed himself.

When he screams bloody murder when you put his coat on, you think: FINE. I’ll put you in the bathroom, close the door and let you unroll toilet paper all day.

But of course you don’t do any of those things. Angry mom is a close companion of worried mom, who must try and do everything in her power to coddle, to try this and that and everything she can possibly think of to make him happy to find that one smile in that sick little body.

Then, last Saturday, he woke up at 4:30 a.m. I went in to feed him and put him back in the crib. But no. He cried and wailed and would not have it.Yes: I knew he had been sick. Yes: I knew something was probably wrong. But I was TIRED. And I was PISSED.

“I can’t!” I whined to Dan from under my pillow. “Your turn.” Dan went but given the  wails I knew that no one was going back to sleep.

By 5:30 we were playing. Oh joy. Dan and I could barely hold our heads up – literally. You know when you’re so tired your stomach eats itself? We took turns, playing with James and then dozing on the living room couch. It reminded me of the very early days, when it was all I could do to be alert enough to care for him. When I would wait in the darkness for 6 a.m. to wake Dan. When I was afraid I’d drop or hurt him out of sheer exhaustion. It was like living in pea-soup fog.

This is it, I kept thinking. The end of my rope. No more.

Finally, around 7, we got him back into bed and we collapsed into our own bed.

When he woke again, I took him for a walk to give Dan a break. We walked through the neighborhood, up a hill. Just me and James, like all the mornings that came before it this year.


He was just himself and I was just me, his mom. I unclipped him from the carrier and I pointed to the buildings: “Do you see the city?” I asked him. “And what about over there?” I pointed to our right. “Do you see the mountains?” The trees. The birds. An airplane. I pointed to them all. I held his hand and he waddled around and explored.

There’s no end, I thought. I’ve learned it again and again this year. I learned it in labor. I learned it every night when I thought I couldn’t go on. Every day. Motherhood stretches you, breaks you, pushes you past where you ever believed you could go. And you cannot turn your back. You must keep on. You must find your frayed threads and knit them up as best you can.

(It’s like those goddamn spinning classes. 10 minutes into it, I’m like: ok, done! Enough! I’m miserable! Fuck it! And yet somehow, there I am, sweating out of every pore, red as a boiled-alive lobster 40 minutes later.)

I am sure other people realize this in other, more profound and much more challenging ways.

But I’m a slow learner and I guess I have had a lucky life. I wish I could push myself so far in other aspects of my life.

And I guess I am sort of amazed that we always have more. That when we think we are out, when we feel like we can’t hold our heads up any longer, when we venture into that dark, lonely pea-soup fog–you think you will find weakness, but you must find strength. Your most deep, true, sacred heart.

To James on his first birthday – 50 of 100

My dear James,

You turned one last Monday. I thought I would have this message all written and ready but sometimes life just doesn’t go as planned.


It’s been quite a week. Last Thursday, I spilled a glass of water on my laptop while working on this blog and another paid writing gig for a print magazine. I’m telling you this for a few reasons.

#1. I’ve always been a little clumsy and careless. I’ve tried so so hard to change that about myself. But as the old saying goes: nobody’s perfect. That goes for me – and you. It’s hard when the things we hate most about ourselves rear their ugly heads. But try not to beat yourself up too much Baby.

#2. The thing about the laptop is: It was new(ish). I bought last fall, after I unexpectedly landed a copywriting job and made some extra money. We used it to buy the laptop so that I could be a portable writer. I’ve used it to write here – and I’ve also now written four published (or to-be-published) pieces. I guess what I’m saying is that those good things and bad things in our personality are with us always – side by side. Sometimes we’re kicking butt and sometimes we’re failing miserably. And sometimes, we just have to surrender.

#3. I knew dad would be pretty mad about the computer. Once, I briefly lost my wedding ring. I’ve never seen your dad so distraught. He could barely talk to me at breakfast. (It’s a really special ring.) But the thing was: my aunt and a high school friend were both sick with terminal cancer. I couldn’t stop thinking about them when I thought about the ring. Of course I valued the ring – I loved it as much as I had ever loved anything. But I also could not be heartbroken about it. It was a ring. A piece of metal. My husband that I loved was sitting across the table eating breakfast with me.

Dad was mad. But he let it go. I know it was a mistake, he texted me, as I drove to the Apple store. I guess what I’m saying is – Perspective. Keep it. Choose your fights. What really matters? Right now, my fizzled laptop is here beside me. You, my living breathing one-year-old son, are sleeping in your crib.

But enough about the dumb laptop.

Your Auntie Fiona and Uncle Kevin are visiting from Ontario. We spent the weekend with them in Canmore. On Sunday night, you woke up with vomit all over you, your sleeping bag, the crib. It was the night before your birthday. You cried and cried. Uncle Kevin took a bath with you (he’s crazy about you). We rocked you. Cleaned you up. You threw up again and again.

Finally, we got you back to sleep. The next day, we drove home and Dad and I frantically prepared for your party. You weren’t throwing up but you weren’t yourself. We got balloons. I baked a cake (carrot). We wrapped presents. We dressed you in your cute gray vest. Then your cousins and your aunts and uncles were here and even though you weren’t feeling very well, I think the chaos swept you away for a while.


I mean: It’s pretty great to be loved so much. Especially when everything else feels like crap.

On Tuesday, the day after your birthday, we went to get your shots. They said it as ok even though you’re not feeling the best. You were crying before the needles even came out. I pressed you hard against me and held down your arms and watched as your face twisted red in terror and pain. I’ve never heard you cry so loud and hard. You screamed in the waiting room while we waited the 15 minutes they make you wait. I thought I’d never forgive myself. Maybe we can hurt someone we love when we’re trying to protect them.

Dad came home with flowers for me. (James, your dad is the best. Take notes.)

I was supposed to go back to work on Wednesday. But I knew I couldn’t leave you with someone else, not after the last two days. You woke up screaming at 5:30 that morning. Dad and I couldn’t console you. You were so sad and uncomfortable and there was nothing we could do but be here and hold you.

It made me think about all the things I couldn’t protect you from. I tried not to get too overwhelmed by it, as I held you in our rocking chair, your warm tears streaming onto my chest, your blankey draped across your chest.

So I stayed home with you.

But you know what? Not one- but two friends stopped by to drop me a note and a treat to wish me well. I kept getting emails and texts from friends and family asking how I was doing at my first day back.

Like I said, James: It’s pretty great to be loved when everything is else feels like crap.

A few people suggested that you knew what was up – that I wouldn’t be spending every day with you anymore. But how? I wondered. Around a campfire last night, our friend Roger suggested that before they have language, babies just know things – their intuition is heightened. I think he’s right. It’s also true that I kept bursting into tears last week. While pushing the stroller in the street. While reading “Owl is dirty. Owl is clean. Owl is blue. Owl is green.” with you on my lap on living room floor.

I feel like it’s unfair to feel so sad about going back to work when we had 53 whole weeks together. But I’m sad. I’m sad for every minute I’ll miss this year.


We have this way of being together, you and me. You’re my son and my buddy. We communicate with no words. Our world, governed by heart.

On Thursday, I had to go back to work so Daddy stayed home with you. He was changing you when you got home and when you saw me you cried Mamma Mamma and reached for me and climbed up onto me like a little monkey – naked – too quick to let Daddy get a diaper back on you. Your head fell onto my shoulder and you melted into me.

I had this total freak out that maybe you wouldn’t need me in the same way now that I’m not going to be around as much. I know it’s irrational. But FUCK – welcome to motherhood. I just barely remember the definition of rational.

That night I had another good cry on the couch.

Sometimes I ask you: Do you know how much I love you?

You’ll never know, I answer.

And in some ways, that’s true. You’ll never know. On the other hand, it’s the first and only thing you’ve ever known. And someday, if you decide to have a little bean of your own, you will look down at their impossibly perfect face and then you will truly finally know how much your dad and I love you.


I want so many things for you in this life, James. I want you to have adventures, discover wonder and beauty in the world, find the things that light you up. I hope that you find happiness. But maybe the whole point of this long letter is that happiness isn’t what you think it is – because real happiness is feeling all the things. It’s crying while reading a board book about owls with your son’s hair tickling your nose. It’s being there to hold him while he throws up all over you. It’s heartache, sorrow, pain, forgiveness, failure, success, bliss. It’s this year – for me. Because this year–learning to being your mom–has been all the things.

Mostly, I want you to find love – all different kinds of love! Love grounds us. Gets us through the thick of life. (I think.)

Ours will always always be here for you.

Happy birthday sweet baby boy. I love you.



A year ago, I was thinking – 48 of 100

I found this in my saved drafts. It’s pretty sweet to see where my head was at a year ago. And think about those long, lazy Sunday mornings. I’m thinking in this next week, I’ll try to clean up a few of the pieces lingering in my drafts folder. Why not?

It is early-ish on a Sunday morning. Well it is exactly 7:47 a.m. but it feels SO early because it is still pitch dark out, as tends to be the case on winter mornings in the Great White North. The house is silent except for hum of the refrigerator and the heat kicking through the vents.

I don’t really have much to write about today but I wanted to sit down and try.


I am 35 weeks pregnant. Five weeks to go. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less. We’re at this funny moment where nothing is really happening in our life and yet everything is happening. Weekend mornings are devoted to coffee and long hours of reading. Eventually we’ll get the grocery store. Maybe take a walk.

Usually, I would go bonkers with this kind of quiet. We would be racing for the ski hill, driving to the mountains. But right now, it is like medicine.

I find myself looking around and studying this time, knowing that in one year, three years, 10 and 15 years, I will say, ‘remember when we used to wake up on Saturday mornings and read for hours on the couch and it was so quiet? Remember how good it was?’ Of course at that time we’ll be in throes of some other kind of good. Or maybe things will be hard. Or somewhere in between.

But right now is good.

The other week, I slipped into Dan’s arms and said, ‘Do you think we’ll always be this happy?’

He shook his head. ‘No. Not always.’

Of course he’s right. We can’t always be happy. Life can’t always be just right.

Sometimes, I can’t believe the person who will change our lives the most is growing right now inside my belly. That we haven’t met them yet. Perhaps it is knowing that we are about to embark on the greatest change, challenge, adventure that I am dwelling in calm right now. I am letting it swirl around and soothe me. Until this mysterious miraculous creature becomes the centre.

My friend Erica – 47 of 100

In an excellent episode of Dear Sugar, the Sugars talk to relationship therapist Esther Perel about infidelity. There are SO MANY great takeaways from this podcast (like you should go out into the world and do something that makes you feel sexy – like dance or hike or whatever and then bring that energy home to the bedroom), but one thing that stuck out in my mind is that many of us expect all things from our marriage: our partner is supposed to be the love of our life, our best friend, our co-parent, our business partner, etc, etc all while maintaining a fabulous sex life. Esther points out that its ridiculous to believe that one person can be all things – and it’s ridiculous that people expect this of their marriages. You need a village.

You need family. You need colleagues, creative partners, mentors, etc. And you need friends. (And you need the Sugars, because they are amazing.)

One of my weird life-long complexes is that I believe that people do not like to be around me. It began in middle school (where else?) with the crippling desire to be super duper popular while deep down wanting to hide under a rock and never be seen. If people saw me, they might see me for the boring/annoying/waste-of-time-to-be-around loser that I was.

It can be hard to make friends when you feel like you’re a mosquito. But the thing is: I have great friends. Inspiring and amazing people, for real. I think beer helped me in college. And sometimes the universe delivers an instant-friend, that requires almost no effort, someone that rides your same wavelength in life, you know?

Like my friend Erica.


I met Erica on the first day of my pre-natal yoga class. We got paired up for an exercise, chatted for that brief moment and realized our due dates were three days apart. She was  the only person I ever really talked to the whole five months or so that I took the class.

When our due dates grew near – our bellies so round – we exchanged numbers in the locker room after class. That was the last time we saw each other at yoga.

About a month after James was born, I got a text from her. Our littles – Lucy and James – were born on the same day. We saw each other soon after.

And now I don’t know what I would do without Erica. Every new Mom needs a friend like this: one who is going through exactly what you are going through, one with a similar parenting philosophy but would never judge anyway, whose child somehow naps at the same times (mostly) as yours so getting together is a breeze – and it turns out is just generally awesome and inspiring and you’d have been friends in life before babies too.

Erica and I have walked many miles (actually kilometres because we live in Canada) with the little ones. We have talked about baby sleep for hours on end. We have commiserated about how our (amazing) husbands sometimes just don’t get it.


Lucy and James – birthday twins

I think James may have finally sent my people-don’t-want-to-be-around-me complex packing. I don’t have the time or the energy for it. Moms (and dads) need each other. The experience is just too big to go at alone.

This year, a couple made a very long difficult flight with James tolerable…even memorable. A local toured me around Castle Mountain. Sometimes, I feel like James (or babies in general) is a magnet for goodwill. Just yesterday, a mom came up to me before she got off the train to say: He’s a beautiful baby.

It’s so easy to blur out the people around you. But James can bring things like that into focus. He’s brought down a wall. He’s opened me up.

Rituals – 46 of 100

This morning, I was thinking about rituals. Morning is full of them for us. James wakes us, I go to feed him, while Dan lingers in bed for a few more minutes and then gets up to make coffee. I change James, Dan fills a bowl with berries for J, mugs of coffee for us.

Dan used to feed James fruit because it was the only way to keep him still for a few morning snuggles. Now the two of them love their moment. So they sit in the lazy boy with their berries and I drink my coffee on the couch.

We play. We eat breakfast.

Our morning walk ritual began in Florida. Every morning, before his first nap, I’d load James into the Ergo Baby and we would walk along the ocean. I realized it was exactly what we both needed. James, not quite ready for sleep, but not bursting with energy either. Me, tired from playing/mothering for those first few hours. The walk served as quiet time for us to be together and look around the world.


Morning walk views in Florida

I vowed to keep it upon our return home. Winter be damned.

And we have. We get James into his fleece bear suit. Load him into the backpack. We walk Dan to the train station, kiss him goodbye and have a quiet walk around the neighborhood.


James after I unclip him from the carrier. This moment always cracks me up.

I’m busy thinking about all the things I’ll miss when I’m back at work. The morning walk is one of them.

I’m thinking about what I want to get done in these two weeks. I’m never going to finish 100 posts, but I’d like to get to 50. That feels like a solid number to me.

For his first birthday, I want to publish the birth story I wrote down way way back when but never finished. I have a writing assignment for the first print issue of Crowfoot Media (!)

I want to enjoy the pre-nap snuggles because I’m going to miss them like crazy.


Taken in Waterton: our morning walk set up.

I feel this clarity that I can’t quite explain. Maybe it’s more of an energy. I think sometimes we feel this way when change is imminent. When you know you MUST be where you are because soon life is going to sweep you right along – you’re circling an eddy in the river.

When I was on those morning walks in Florida along the ocean I would think: I could do this every day. Pulling off my shoes. Walking on the sand. Looking out out out at the wide ocean. The salty sea air. My son breathing at my back. My heart beating, my blood moving. The young morning sun.


Mmmhmmm. I could do this every day.

Maybe that’s what rituals are for. To clear the noise. To make space for ourselves. To find the center.

That feeling – when the past, present and future – who you are, your ideas, what you really want- the whole world – gather close – like a pulse. It’s when you could burst into tears at any moment, because: Life. You know? It’s what I wish I could write down here in words, but can’t.

It’s here now. I want to press it like a shell to my ear and listen.