Perspective

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One of my oldest and best friends is visiting my family this week with her daughter. It has only been a few days since their arrival, but it has been terrific to see her. Although her trip was a bit rough, traveling alone with a sick child, I think she is enjoying her visit as much as I am. We don’t see each other much, in fact, the last time was probably over 3 years ago, but as is often the case with your oldest and best friends, you just carry on where you last left off and as if little time has passed at all. Wonderful!!

We’ve shared stories about our children, our daily lives, our beliefs, our mad and totally out-of-control obsession for blueberries, and reminisced about our childhood spent as neighbors. All of these stories have got me thinking about perspective. In a world where social media allows you to “edit” what you share about your life, it can often seem like everyone else has the “perfect” life. My life, though filled with lots of wonderful people, is far from perfect. I am far from perfect. My friendships are far from perfect. The past few days have made it even clearer to me how important it is to have actual in-person contact with your friends and the importance of sharing stories with them. It gives me a sense of perspective. For example, her children are a few years older than mine, so she’s been through a lot of what I’m going through now. Though I know that phases pass and my kids are growing up so quickly, it gives me some comfort to know that my relationship with my children will continue to develop and the things that might be frustrating to me (and them) now will no longer be an issue in just a few short years. I’m certain there will be other frustrations, but we will cross that road when we get to it!

Living in a city with friends that have only known me in my life here is really great, but it is also very nice to share stories from my younger years with someone who was also present during them. It’s really fun to see where her perspective on shared childhood events overlaps with mine and where it differs. I’ve learned how important our friendship was to both of us, but also how most of our memories of playing together (which was probably almost daily) took place outside on my parents’ farm and how this life outdoors influenced both of our beliefs and values as adults. We have looked back as adults at the games we used to play, the time we spent together, our relationships with each other and with our families mostly in delight but sometimes in horror – the mix of a childhood filled with magic, curiosity and imagination, yet also the unfiltered and brutal honesty that children call their own. My choices in life have brought me to where I am now, but I sometimes wonder if I (and my husband) succeed at passing along the magic of the trees and fields of our childhood to our children – these lovely children who are city-dwellers and will most definitely have a different experience and perspective than we did. I try to focus not on the experiences that they don’t have in the city, but on those that they do and have faith that this urban environment will provide them with just as much magic as our rural homes did for us.

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One of the stories my friend and I have shared was about some rock piles and tree formations in one of my father’s fields. This particular field is located directly behind my parents’ house. When I was a kid, my father always had about 20 head of cattle, usually located in one of 3 fields. These fields and the woods behind them were some of our favorite stomping grounds. Literally. We both remember stomping down squares of my dad’s lovely long grass (right before haying season even) in order to create “rooms” for the “houses” we imagined we were building to shelter us from the imagined tornadoes which might come and transport us to Oz. Great fun! Why we didn’t take shelter on the rock pile is a mystery to me now, though I do suspect it has something to do with my fear of snakes and my conviction that they all lived there in that pile. Still, we did play on the pile which was studded with birch trees, swinging around and rearranging rocks to our hearts content. A stone’s throw behind the rock pile was a longer island of trees – as long as a football field, full of trees and bushes and raised so we had to climb up onto it. I can remember taking refuge there on this “island” that we were stranded on, pretending to forage for our survival in the thick greenery and building small dwellings from fallen branches and sticks. My friend remembers the big island exactly as I do, but in the summer before last, my perspective on that island was changed forever.

That summer our family flew “home” to visit my parents. It was a nice treat because my husband’s parents flew from Ireland to join us on the Tug Hill Plateau for part of our stay. Though they don’t see each other often, living on opposite sides of the pond, our parents get along very well. Both of our fathers are farmers and so they spent most of their time together outside in and around the barnyard “hanging out with the cows” (my words, definitely not theirs). Our mothers spent time inside enjoying crafty pursuits, reading and commiserating on the life of a farmer’s wife. One morning, as is common on a farm, some situation of great urgency arose – this time it wasn’t animals in the road who had escaped the fence yet again, no, this time it was a first-time heifer that had calved in the night and the calf was missing. My motherly instincts kicked in and despite being clad in my pajamas, I grabbed my mother’s pink rubber boots which were two sizes too small and stuffed my bare feet into them, running out the door to look for the poor new calf, hoping I would find it alive and kicking and that it hadn’t fallen prey to the local band of coyotes. I volunteered to look through the woods and fields which I considered to be my old stomping grounds and once I climbed over the gate behind my brother’s house, I set off sweeping back and forth through the field, searching in the deep grass for the lost calf. Now, I haven’t lived around cattle in over 20 years and in those 20 years, my father has expanded his herd considerably. I knew that at the opposite end of the field, there were nearly 60 head of cattle roaming around that weren’t familiar with me, that are skittish and spook easily and, most importantly, that included a full-grown Red Angus bull. I realized as I entered the woods that I might have been out of my depth and so I started glancing over my shoulder with great regularity, praying I wouldn’t see a stampede of spooked cattle racing in my direction.

As I picked my way through the woods, I noticed that the trees had matured in the years I’d been gone and that the plethora of undergrowth that used to flourish there, including wild blueberries, had taken their leave, forced out by either lack of sunlight or by hooves that were no longer restricted to the fields as they had been in my youth. The forest seemed to be a smaller than I remembered and I covered the ground quickly in my nervous state. As I proceeded to curve around to the other side of the woods, I came out at the back of the field and the line of my father’s land. I hadn’t found the calf yet, but it dawned on me that, as I continued towards the back corner of the field, the herd of cattle was probably between me and my exit route. I started getting more and more nervous and I discovered that I also needed to avail of the facilities at my earliest convenience. As I paused between the trees at the edge of the field, I strategized about where I would run if a herd came running my way. My mind immediately went to the large tree island. I thought if I climbed up the slope, the running cattle would be deterred and I’d be safe. It was also on my way to the exit. Even better. As I made my way unrushed towards the island, there was still no sign of the herd, but I noticed that the “island” looked much smaller than I remembered, didn’t look very green or lush and that it definitely no longer boasted a slope to deter that imagined stampede. Surprised and a bit disappointed, I continued on towards the rock pile a little bit closer to the house and to my preferred exit. As I climbed onto the rocks to get a better vantage point to survey the situation, I looked up towards the gate next to the barn and the house. I saw my mother-in-law waving frantically that I could return to the house – they must have found the calf. Relief!

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As I picked my way down the rocks to make my way across the field, I looked up and noticed the herd heading leisurely towards that very same gate from the far front corner of the field. I guessed I could probably make it if I walked briskly and started off. I was about a third of the way to the gate and I stopped to re-access whether I could still make it before the herd arrived. My mother-in-law saw me hesitate and look at the herd and she hollered out that they’d found the calf and I could come back. Her shrill shout spooked the herd, which accelerated quickly in the direction I was going. Just as quickly, I turned around and ran back towards the stone pile. I took a brief break to catch my breath and decided that the far back corner was the safest option as it was farthest away from the frenzied herd. I took a deep breath and started walking away from the herd towards the fence line in the back corner, glancing over my shoulder every now and then. About a quarter of the way to the fence line, I realized that the herd, having seen me, had turned – likely out of curiosity, but I wasn’t going to stop and find out. I wasn’t sure if I could still do it, but nevertheless I decided to make a run for it. As a kid, the two-strand electrified fence was easy to squeeze between, but with a larger herd, my dad had updated it to a five-strand fence and a stronger fencer which is not so easy to navigate without getting a major shock. Still, the full jolt of adrenaline had kicked in and I decided to try. My legs and heart were pumping and my feet, cramped into those boots, took me as fast as they could to the small grove of trees at the edge of the fence. Without looking back, I approached the fence running, I swooped down, grabbed a stick from the ground and in what felt like one very fluid movement, I fell to the ground, using the stick push up the fence, and rolled through the poison ivy and brush out to the gravel on the shoulder of the road. Thankfully no vehicles were passing or my panicked actions might have caused an accident. I just laid there for a few minutes in the gravel trying to catch my breath. It took me another few minutes to get back onto my shaking legs. My pajamas now stuck to me as I slowly walked on wobbly knees and pinched feet along the roadside back to my parents’ house where I would finally get to use the facilities and wash off the ivy before a rash started. As I plodded along, I was suddenly struck by the fact that the refuge of my youth was one no longer. A bit saddened by its loss, after a few choked breathes, I took heart in memories of adventures on the high seas, being shipwrecked on that island of trees and learning the importance of imagination, lifelong friendship and perspective.

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The challenge of reconnecting to my story

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When I started this blog, I really believed that I would hit the ground running. I planned to post once or twice a week and cover a range of topics that I inspire me. I would find my inner joy and share it here, hopefully continuing to find inspiration in the act of blogging and maybe even providing some joy and inspiration to others. I quickly realized that whipping out a blog post was definitely not as easy as I had imagined (and hoped) it might be. Having said that, I discovered that I actually do enjoy the process of writing. I wasn’t sure if I would before I started. I sat down one afternoon and compiled a list of topics that could serve as food for thought and I even had the good fortune to inherit a laptop which would allow me to sneak into my studio where I might close my door and focus on writing with fewer interruptions from my youngsters. It seemed like a recipe for success…but after a few posts, I suddenly found that I was doubting myself. I thought my tone might be too academic, my interests might not be shared by others, humorous anecdotes about my family might somehow offend them, my photos might not provide enough visual interest, my efforts might just prove that I cannot really write and that blogging had proved to be a mistake. And so to stop the dark thoughts of doubt and fear, I stopped carving out time to sit down and write…and time passed and that was okay…until it wasn’t.

My memories of childhood are a jumble of playing outdoors with the neighboring kids, 4-H club meetings, playing games with family, and listening. I was always drawn by the conversations of adults around me, often boring to a young kid, but occasionally my patience was rewarded with getting to hear stories that they shared when the kids were elsewhere. Stories of family members, those living and gone, stories of adventures had in their youth, stories of winter storms that threatened prolonged isolation and by extension starvation, stories retold true or otherwise about the demise of those who lived in rougher times and etched out a harder life than the one I knew. I remember finding this all so very fascinating and exciting! A glimpse into another world, like a living book.

Now that I live in the city with my children, I find that I’m not nearly as connected to this tradition of telling stories as I once was. In December, I found myself sitting in a warm and crowded room in front of a fire with a glass of whiskey together my husband’s family. I sipped and listened to his father and uncles recall stories of men they knew in their (younger and) wilder years. After a pause in the storytelling, my father-in-law mentioned that I might share similar tales from my side of the pond. Surely I knew some, but at that moment, I panicked with something not unlike stage fright. How odd. I’d always loved to both listen and tell stories, but now that the opportunity presented itself, I froze. I couldn’t think of any stories to tell. I suddenly felt disconnected – from myself and my traditions. They, of course, took it all in stride and continued weaving their tales until the early hours, none the wiser to my disappointment that I couldn’t weave my own. That moment stuck with me. It made me realize that the art of telling a story is something that is important to me. It made me remember why I started to blog in the first place – to tell my story.

I am quite sure that before I had children, the speed at which my life passed was steadily increasing, but there is something about their presence that makes the days feel long and the months and years feel short. I do know that if I don’t stop and reflect on my life, it flows by like a stream, long days blurring a bit in the flow. Does this happen to you, too? Once an avid reader, at the end of the day, I now seem to lack the ability to concentrate on reading, but as a student of language and literature, I miss the words, the vernacular and the stories. I have been feeling the steady and increasing draw of words – to capture the story of a moment and, in its telling, to pause and to savor the moment, resisting the unrelenting flow of life just a little. I feel a renewed commitment to sharing my story here in the hope that it will resonate with others and connect us because isn’t it this connection that matters most after all?