Finding Home

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Since I first left Ontario for the Yukon in 2005, I have made my home in many places. Run-down trailers, bedrooms in shared homes, wall tents, apartments, and a log cabin in the woods. I’ve lived here in Dawson City, back in London, Ontario and in Quebec City. I have bounced around so much over the last 12 years and friends, I am tried of it.

I want my roots to reach down deep into the soil. I want to plant perennials in my garden and enjoy them the following summer. I want to unpack my suitcase. I want to put my damn suitcase in a closet somewhere and forget about it for awhile. I want the boys to have their own bedroom, with their own beds and dressers and secrets whispered under covers. I want to renovate my kitchen (except not really because there are a lot of decision to be made in renovating a kitchen).

We’ve been living in a rented house in town since November, and our time there is fast coming to an end. And if you’re not from Dawson then let me tell you that finding a family home to rent here is next to impossible. And buying a home here, while possible, would mean taking on another big load of debt for us. It seems reckless to do when we’ve got this lovely log home just sitting there waiting for us 40 kilometers out of town. Sure, there’s no indoor plumbing, and our closest neighbours are birds…but it’s ours. We own it and I planted perennials in the garden last year and I want to see if they come up or if I killed them. I want to step out of my door and walk the forest trail to the nearby pond. I want to sit down there and not think about getting up again for a few years, anyway. I want to put in a septic field and indoor plumbing and build a guest cabin and an outdoor sauna. I want to fill my green house with basil and tomatoes and nothing else.

We’ve decided to move back there at the end of March. We’ve decided to try and make this place work. Close friends and family will be worried right now. But I’m the one who has been pushing for this move. Maybe it’s the pragmatic Virgo in me, or maybe, at the other end of the scale, it’s me going off of my gut feelings. But this is what makes the most sense. And it feels right, too.

Truthfully, of all of the places I’ve landed in the last 12 years, this is the place that makes me feel home. Which is bizarre, because I’ve had such a difficult time there. But the children are that much older now, that much more independent, and I am that much further along in my own journey. I feel better able to meet the challenges of rural living. I know what I need to function, and I’m getting better at honouring those needs.

It will mean more driving. It will mean that sometimes I spend a night, alone, in town. For a little while, it will mean showers in town and laundry in town and pooping outside. I’m ready for it.

We’re making plans to finish the inside properly (no more plywood floor and insulation ceilings for us!) and over the summer we’ll look into a septic field and building an addition that includes a real bathroom, with a flushing toilet and everything. Dreamy.

I suppose this is an aspect of accepting where I am, and what I’ve got. Much of the suffering (I use that in the Buddhist sense, which is to say, the dissatisfaction) of my life comes from me pining for things I don’t have, for things that are not my reality. I won’t promise to love every moment of living out there, but I will promise not to let the rough spots take over. I will accept the bad with the good. I will stay present through all of it, so that when I’m cursing having to go to the outhouse in the cold, I might also look up and see the northern lights. Both of those things can co-exist.

It will be a challenge, yes. But one I feel much better equipped to handle.

 

Peace Begins at Home

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Even after all the lovely words I wrote yesterday and the beginnings of a shift in my home life, I lost my cool as I was trying to get the kids ready to go out in the afternoon. Admittedly, this is my least favourite time of day. I have a tendency to wait to get them out of the house until they are literally bouncing off the walls, and so you can imagine how wrangling the three of them, in that state, when my patience is at it’s limits, is my personal hell.

But I realized something else yesterday, and it lead me to do some deeper reflecting. Right before I lost it and yelled, I’d been reading the news. I’d just finished reading an article about Donald Trump’s plans to appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court.  I haven’t shed a tear in the last week over his election, but this really brought it home to me. This is happening. It’s not reversible and it’s going to have such far reaching effects that we can’t even begin to comprehend. My heart broke for my American sisters and their right to choose what happens to their bodies. That right has been under assault for as long as it’s been theirs, but there are those in the Supreme Court who defend it as best they can.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes that we must be mindful of the foods we ingest, and he includes not just actual foods but mental and spiritual foods. He writes that if we water the seeds of anger or hate or distress in our minds, then those are the seeds that will grow. Am I watering the seeds of anger by ingesting so many news stories and op-ed pieces, every day, that trigger my anger, my sadness, my feelings of hopelessness for the future? And where is the balance of looking at what is going on in the world, of bearing witness to it, and also protecting our hearts and minds? I recognize it is my privilege to even consider looking away, for a moment, from all of this. My right to an abortion isn’t under attack. My family isn’t being targeted by hate crime, isn’t under threat of deportation.

But if peace starts at home, then I need to do all that I can to water the seeds of love, peace, kindness and compassion within myself and my children. For now, I think I need to step back a bit from the big picture, the overwhelm of what is happening in the world, and focus down. Here is some of what I plan to do that:

  • read the Recommendations for report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • do what I can to ensure proportional representation is implemented here in Canada
  • read and write more poetry
  • meditation
  • talk about and model respect, empathy and kindness with my kids

I don’t want to stick my head in the sand. I don’t want to pretend like everything is okay. But I do think that it’s necessary in my life right now to pay close attention to what I take in, and how it’s affecting what I put out. Perhaps it’s time to focus on actions, my own and the actions of others. To seek out stories of hope and change. It’s an exercise of my privilege to completely avoid the news; I’m not sure I can do that. I think I have to continue to look, to hear what others are saying and bear witness to their experience. I need to find the balance, though, between looking and falling into despair.

Have you been feeling overwhelmed by the news lately? Has it been having an effect on your relationships? What actions for change do you plan to take?

Photo via Flickr user Kaveh F. Azad

Transitions

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As I went through his things this morning, writing his initials: A.M. on the tags of his coat, his hat, his mittens, his boots, his backpack, his blue plastic cup, it really hit me that this is who he is. He is A.M. Different from the other kids. Different from me. I am T.B. And today, his first day in Kindergarten, he begins moving away from me, from my sphere of control, from my ideas about who he is and who he should be. He begins to move into himself, begins to occupy his own life more fully. He’ll do things I know nothing about. He’ll learn things that I didn’t teach him. He’ll say his own name and ask the names of others. And this doesn’t scare me. I am so ready for this.

And here I am: T.B. Moving into my own life a little bit more, feeling more space opening up for myself, my dreams. More air for me to breathe. More silent moments for me to slip into. This writing today and the writing I’ve been doing each day this month, is a part of it, a part of moving forward. A part of my claiming, my reclaiming of what is mine and not-mine. The clouds reflect in the glass tabletop where I sit to write; the sky is lightening and, also, still grey. It is in transition as I am.

It strikes me that transition, this particular transition that has begun today or perhaps was begun weeks ago, is much like the quality of the days at this time of year, this far north. These shortened northern days are one long sunrise that fades into sunset a few hours later. It is a transition with blurred edges. No edges. It’s muted pinks and greys and mauves, it is always beginning and always ending, too. He has always been going to kindergarten and I have always been sitting at this table writing and writing. He has always been A.M. and I have always been T.B. and here we are, here we’ve always been in the indirect light of this winter day. He’s always been both mine and not-mine, always spinning closer and further away from me and I’ve always been doing the same, spinning closer and further from my self.

I sit here and write myself into the perpetual transition of the day, the dark morning fading to light fading to the dark night again. The sun rising and setting, so low on the horizon that soon we won’t see it over the hills that surround this river valley. He’ll go to school in the dark, he’ll come home from school in the almost-dark. I’ll write in the light, in the dark, in the dips and silences of the day. I’ll write my way closer as he explores further and further away. And then, before I know it, the other two will spin off on their own trajectories; are already spinning off on their own trajectories. We’ll all orbit one another and the light will rise and fall.

The Day After

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Last night I got up around 11. Bleary-eyed scroll through my Facebook feed. My stomach felt like it dropped out of my body. I stumbled back to bed, didn’t sleep well.

Up at 5 am. We’re out of oatmeal, so I have an overly sweet bowl of Cheerios, which the kids think is hilarious. I alternate between not being able to look at social media and not being able to look away. My tea goes cold without my drinking it.

I’d like to say I was love and peace embodied with my children, but that would be a lie. I was short with them. We were in survival mode. Max and Ruby while the baby napped, then a walk to the grocery store. Popcorn and apples for lunch. I stare out the window as the sun crests the hill, filling the kitchen with light.

“What’s that light, Mama?” Colm asks, pointing to a patch on the wall.

“It’s the sun, baby.”

P gets home from work. I pace like a caged animal; put my boots on, my parka, my hat. I walk alone by the river, up and down. The sun feels good. The slush ice shushes down the river. Open water is lit rose-gold in the sun that is always rising and setting at once now.

On my way home I stop in at the Tavern. Classic rock on the radio, blessed sports on the old t.v. A few guys play Yahtzee and drink beer at the bar. One of my favourite ladies, Yogi, sits at the bar, decked out in a red sweater, red silk scarf threaded with gold tied at her throat, red earrings. Here in the Yukon we’ve just had an election, and a local man, a Liberal, won. It was a victory for us: she’s wearing red to honour it. Red means something so very different today, though, for so many people. The map of the United States going red, red, red. I have a tea, buy her a beer. We talk about radio bingo, about her grandchildren, about curling, about addiction. When I finally stand to leave, I feel lighter. A young guy walks in with a huge pack on his back: paragliding gear. Yogi says she’s always wanted to do that: sail on air currents from the top of the Midnight Dome to the landing by the river on Front Street.

“Me, too,” I say. I shrug on my parka and we promise to do it together, next summer.

This election has exposed some ugly truths. And I don’t think for a minute that my country is immune to the racism, the xenophobia, the misogyny. But life goes on. We take it one step at a time. We get through today, and wait for what tomorrow brings.

Small

 

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Image via Flickr user Tamaki Sono

I came here to write about choosing gratitude. About how, even though things aren’t perfect, I am grateful to have a home in town to live in for the winter. I’m grateful for running water, friends within walking distance. I’m grateful that self-care will be a little bit easier now.

But scrolling through my Facebook feed and reading about First Nation’s people taking peaceful and powerful stands to protect their land, their rights, and their water, in North Dakota and, here in Canada, at Muskrat Falls, I feel like my little gratitudes are so meaningless. Talking about my small life, about walking to the grocery store or watching the ice form on the river, is so useless. There are people out there right now, mothers with their children in their arms, facing down cops in riot gear. Tear gas and sound cannons and military vehicles meant to intimidate. My triumphs and problems, though large in my life, are so insignificant in comparison.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed. I could expand my view to include all of the people fleeing their war-torn homes. All of the people who are being hit hardest by hurricanes, floods, droughts, record high temperatures. All of the people starving while we send perfectly edible food to landfills. Dead zones in the ocean. Mass extinction. I could go on, and on. And on. I could throw up my hands in despair because how could I or anyone else ever have any effect on all of this? It feels out of control, too big, unmanageable.

So I come back to the small. I come back to what I can do today. I can amplify the voices demanding change. I can add my voice to it. I can donate money and supplies. I can educate myself about the damage of colonialism, capitalism, misogyny, rape culture. I can challenge all of my own biases and privileges. I can raise my children to be aware of these things, too. I can raise them to ask uncomfortable questions, to call out wrongs when they see them, to be compassionate and generous and thoughtful human beings. I can hope.

If we all practice taking these small actions each day, if we all take them together, maybe they’ll add up to something greater than all of us. Maybe they’ll add up to the massive change we need, for the planet and for all of us living on it. My small gratitudes don’t seem quite so insignificant, when they go hand in hand with these actions. I am grateful to have my eyes open.