#8 – canoe/camp/portage in Algonquin Park, and important reflections

I’ve been hearing a lot, over the past few months, about the experiences of close friends who met and bonded at summer camp.  When I was younger, I spent a few summers at YMCA Camp Wanakita, conveniently located on the lake of my family’s cottage.  I remember anxiously looking forward to the day when I would be old enough to be a counselor there, but for some reason when that summer finally came, other things (saving up for university, for example) seemed more important, and so I spent the summer cleaning hotel rooms instead.  True story.  At the time, I was pleased with my decision.  I felt as though I was ready to move on to more adult things, and that summer camp was something I had outgrown.  Today, thinking back on that decision gives me pangs of regret.

I have had a decent amount of camping experience, and my share of weeks away at day camp, but still I feel jealous of the kind of bonds that are built over long, repeated summers with the same people – spending months at a time doing everything together, and then parting in August only to see each other again the following June.

In part, it was desire for that kind of bonding experience that motivated my desire to go camping in Algonquin this summer; though I couldn’t replicate the duration and repetition of those earlier experiences, at least I could hope to recreate the immersive aspect over the short-term.  Furthermore, though I’ve been camping many times, I’ve never been to Algonquin, and that seemed like a huge oversight.  After all, it seems like the kind of place that every legitimate camper should have visited at least once.  A group of my close friends and I tried to organize a big 6-person trip, but it became a big logistically problematic, especially given that many of them are very busy with comprehensive exams and other graduate school requirements, so the end of the summer was drawing near and it looked as though it wasn’t going to happen.

Realizing how disappointed I was, and sharing in my desire to go camping this summer, a close friend suggested we make the trek – just the two of us – to canoe and portage in Algonquin.  We planned a route, booked sites, and assembled our gear, before taking off for 4 days alone together in the wilderness.

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What follows will seem like a digression, but in fact touches upon the very heart of the purpose of this summer list – namely, personal growth.  I’ve drafted this post several times, and each time changed my mind about how to write it.  At first, it was going to be a description of our trip, complete with pictures, a GIF of the tent-building, our pack list & menu, etc.  Then it was going to be an explanation.

In the end, I’ve decided that it needs to be an apology.  I’ll explain.

Though I hate to admit it, I am still very much a child.  On better days, this childishness manifests itself in the form of emphatic wonder, profound awe, and carefree abandon.  On bad days, it bursts forth as obstinacy and cold, hard selfishness.  There are times when I’m upset (not angry – upset) when I can’t seem to will myself to feel better, to feel good, even if I know that the way I’m feeling is completely unreasonable and even hurtful to others.  At the worst times, this feeling of upset transforms into resentment – a deep-wounding, insidious feeling that tarnishes everything it touches, and that lingers far longer than any negative feeling should.

I was recently presented with an opportunity that called upon me to be caring, compassionate, and supportive.  Something unexpected arose on the first day of our camping trip, that required that we turn back and make big modifications to our plan (namely, that we abandon it).  Instead of being compassionate and understanding, my selfish-childishness took over and I said things that I didn’t mean, and announced plans I had no intention of completing.  I was reluctant to adapt, and I stubbornly and selfishly held fast to my desire to get my fill of camping, to experience the kind of summer trip of which I had heard so many wonderful anecdotes.  Instead of being warm and supportive, I was bitter, cold and closed-off.  As a result, I deeply hurt one of the people closest to me, who deserved nothing short of wholehearted love, compassion, and understanding.

I am writing this not with the intention of self-flagellation,  but rather in the hopes that confronting the thing that I’ve done, and trying to work through and understand my lived-experience of it will help me learn how to avoid repeating such unjustifiable behavior.  Vague though it is, the above is intended as one more incarnation of the apology that I continue to repeat – and endeavor to prevent having to make again – to the person I so terribly abandoned.

I would like to say that this was a singular event in an otherwise virtuous life, but that would obviously be a lie.  I’ve hurt people before, and I’m sure I’ll hurt people again.  Recognition of that sad fact does nothing to alter my genuine desire to live compassionately and generously; on the contrary, it reminds me of the pressing and perpetual need to be vigilant to ward off negative childish feelings and reactions before they take expressive root.  I need to remember to be humble, to be fair, to be just, to be caring, and to be considerate.

On that note, I would like to share two pieces that emphasize similar reminders.  The first is the convocation speech given by George Saunders at Syracuse University for the class of 2013 (with thanks to my friend H, from whom I first learned of it), and the second is a compassionate response to an angry letter that has recently been all over social media.  Both emphasize the need for reflection and compassion in all of our interpersonal relations.

I would also like to add, as a final thought, that the positive moments of that camping trip – which easily form the majority, for me – easily rank as my favourite camping memories ever; in the span of less than 24hrs, we canoed over 12km of distance, and carried gear over 2.25km of portage distance.  Brief though it may have been, we packed a lot into that trip, and easily carpe‘d the heck out of that diem.

on irrational attachment

A few months ago I made a big change and cut off 10 inches of my hair.  I had been growing it out with the intention of cutting off that much length, and it had taken me a while because I wanted to be sure to have hair left once it was cut…

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In any case, cut-day finally came, and I was feeling deeply, deeply ambivalent.  I vacillated a bit, and almost chickened out, but then I thought to myself: this is silly, it’s just hair.  Snip, snip – off it went!  It shouldn’t have been a big deal, but as soon as I walked out of the salon and touched the back of my head, I wanted to cry.

…and then, serendipitously, this song came on the radio on my drive home, and I was reminded to breathe and to smile and to relax and to enjoy taking it all in.

After all, being a short-haired person is fun too!

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(Still, it’s also reassuring to know that I’m not alone in having felt that way about my hair…)

Links:
song – “Infinitesimal” by Mother Mother
blog – “Hair” by Color Me Katie

summer playlist: the sound of a warm sunny day

I’ve been following Joy Deangdeelert Cho’s blog Oh Joy! for a few years now, and love so much about it: the lovely carefree feeling of her posts and pairings; the fun, upbeat tone; and especially her video series “Make Someone Happy.”

Today I was perusing past posts when I stumbled across this video from the aforementioned series and instantly fell in love with the music.

Following the trail of credits led me to discover a handful of new favourite songs, all by Fremont.

     
photo credit: Fremont

left-to-right: All That I Needed / Trees to Stone / I think I

To me, these songs do through sound what a hug, or a perfectly warm summer’s day, conveys through kinesthetic and aesthetic experience; they just feel soft, gentle, warm, and comforting.

What songs make you feel like summer?

#10 – ride a streetcar from one end of the line to the other

This was the item that started the list.

…and then, immediately after getting overwhelmingly excited about it, I got very worried that it would be terribly, terribly boring to actually complete – especially once N suggested that we choose the Queen streetcar, which goes all the way from Longbranch Station in Mississauga to Neville Park in the East Beaches.

Luckily, I was wrong.

We had planned to get up super early in the morning, and ride the streetcar while witnessing the world slowly waking up.  As usual, though, “the plan” quickly went out the window – this time in favour of sleeping in and enjoying a leisurely breakfast (an acceptable substitution).  We also took our time getting to the subway, since the sunlight was so beautiful and the sky was so clear that we wanted to try some double-exposure photography while conditions were ideal.

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(Each picture above contains at least 4 exposures… which is double what we had intended.)
(We double double-exposed them.)

For a first try, and considering our near-complete ignorance of photographic how-to, it was still a pretty neat experiment.  Though the pictures didn’t turn out, I now have a more concrete sense of the process, so it’s easier to understand how to adjust for next time.  Try and try again!  It’s also kind of fun to try to identify each layer of the photographs…

After some gallivanting in Christie Pitts, we trekked out to Long Branch station by subway and bus (so as not to dilute the experience of the long, singular streetcar trip), and stayed true to the mission by grabbing a quick snack at a nearby cafe – Fairgrounds Organic Cafe & Roastery.  I bought an iced americano, a hello dolly bar, and a half-pound of their Mystery Roast coffee beans to try, and N got a muffin.  Perfect fuel for the journey ahead!

We hopped on the streetcar, confirmed that it would take us all the way to the end of the line, and headed all the way to the back to grab some prime seating.

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We settled in, readied the cameras, and then pulled out the scavenger hunt list we had prepared for just this occasion.

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Only, I had forgotten it.  Life happens!  So we spent a few minutes making a new one.

We spotted:

  • a dog on the streetcar…

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  • …sticking his head out the window

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  • a graffiti artist working on a mural (and many more works of street art)

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  • people holding hands

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…and much, much more.

By the end of our adventure, the scavenger list looked like this:

  • an animal on the streetcar
  • a person carrying a plant
  • more than 2 children in a group
  • someone helping a stranger on or off the streetcar
  • the letter Q on a sign (remarkably easy to find on the Queen St. streetcar line…!)
  • someone wearing orange
  • someone carrying something odd
  • someone who gets on for only one stop
  • an animal that isn’t a cat, dog, or bird
  • the number 1009 (we missed both #1009 Queen West and #1009 Queen East)
  • a store or restaurant named after a person
  • people holding hands
  • 10 different graffiti murals
  • a convertible with the top down
  • the letter Z on a license plate
  • a dog with it’s head out the window of a vehicle
  • someone reading a book on the streetcar

It was much more difficult than I anticipated to spot someone carrying a plant!  I was sure that someone would be carrying flowers on such a lovely Sunday… It was also much easier than expected to find people wearing orange, for which I would like to congratulate the residents of this beautiful city on their bold and uninhibited summer palettes.  We saw so many people wearing orange, in fact, that we decided to make a game of it to see who could spot more.  (I won.)

Though N and I were both initially somewhat unsure about the value of the scavenger hunt, it made the whole trip feel like a mission, and also made it feel a bit like an urban road trip.  In fact, I kind of want to do it all over again with some of the other streetcar lines…  It was a really amazing way to see parts of the city that I’d never normally see, and I’ve since made a list of tons of places to revisit, including many in neighborhoods in which I wouldn’t normally find myself.

In the end, that’s really what the summer list is all about!

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