Beautiful Tools

These beautiful tea towels were hand woven by a friend of mine. They are wonderful to the touch. The right tools always make the job so much more enjoyable, and I can honestly say I am looking forward to doing dishes tonight!

tea towels0


Geeking Out on Camino Gear



Note: I edited the initial list down slightly (note items crossed off) but am struggling to find anything else I can leave behind.

I head off to Spain and the Camino Portuguese in a week, so it’s time to organize my stuff. This post is for the Camino gear geeks among us, and for my own record keeping. It helps to able to look back and determine what was useful and what I could leave behind for a future walk.

This seems like a lot to me, but it is pretty much what I took last time, with a few additions. Items with asterisks are ones I did not have for my Camino Frances walk but wished I did.

1 pair hiking pants
1 hiking skirt
1 long sleeved Marino wool shirt
1 short sleeved Marino wool t-shirt
1 other quick drying t-shirt
1 pair silk weight long underwear bottoms (for wearing with my skirt on cold days, and for sleeping)
3 pairs of thin double lined hiking socks (I know lots of people love thick sock, but the thin ones work best for me)
3 undies
2 sleeveless tops with built in bras
1 fleece jacket
1 ultra light wind breaker
1 rain poncho
1 pair light hiking boots
1 pair hiking sandals to wear at the end of each day of walking*
1 pair shower flip flops
1 fleece hat, gloves for chilly mornings
1 wide brimmed sun hat
1 quick drying towel
First aid kit, strength tape*, knee brace (I had one bad knee during my last Camino)
Laundry kit – sink stopper, 8 large safety pins, and two long shoe laces tied together
Small bar of soap in a tin for body, hair and hand washing clothes
Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
Hair brush/elastics for hair
Moisturizer, lip balm, sun screen
Disposable razor
Nail clippers
Minimal make-up (mascara and lip stick)
Head lamp
Small sewing kit
Duct tape
Passport, tickets, bank and credit cards/pouch for said items
Guide book, journal, pen
Cell phone, charger, adapter for European plugs
Spork, collapsible cup*
Water bottle
Light weight sleeping bag, silk liner
Cloth shopping bag for groceries
Small padlock*- this is more for staying in the hostels in Frankfurt and Zurich on my way home. I never had issues on the Camino with theft.
Small Canadian flag patch* – I have never felt the need for this until November 2016. Enough said.
Scallop shell
Backpack small enough to take as carry-on (the one shown in the photo is the old one I used in 2010. It has since bit the dust and I am using my daughter’s beautiful Osprey bag that I love!)

Hiking poles
Lightweight down jacket – there were times during my last Camino when I had to wrap myself in my sleeping bag because I was so cold. I could do that again this time if necessary, but the jacket would be easier.

Buy there:
Swiss Army knife (can’t take mine on the airplane)
Pilgrim’s passport

Note that apart from my iPhone, which I am taking primarily because of its photo taking abilities, I won’t have any electronics with me. Please don’t expect daily updates. I promise to tell you all about it once I am back home.

The Legacy of November 1995

Jags Brown is a bit of a Renaissance man. He’s a photographer, runner, storyteller, and co-owner of the popular coffee shop and local hangout Jags Beanstalk in Skidegate, Haida Gwaii. He’s also a guide, working for the company that took us into Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.

At first Jags struck me as being rather quiet and reserved. But as time went along – especially once we arrived at Windy Bay on Lyell Island – stories started pouring out of him; stories that easily transported me back to the fall of 1995.

jags brown toronto star

Jags, photo courtesy of the Toronto Star.

It was in November of that year that a group of Haida formed a human chain across a major logging road, saying no to any further clear-cutting on the island. Jags, who took part in the stand-off, said it was a ‘line in the sand’ moment after more than a decade of frustrating negotiations, court cases, and land-use planning sessions that seemed to go nowhere.

Jags talked about the elders, who – dressed in their button blankets and regalia – took centre stage at the blockade. The younger folk begged them not to participate, but the elders insisted. They said they had been silent long enough. Those elders were among the first of 72 people arrested over the next couple of weeks by the local RCMP. As Jags talked, it brought back memories of the footage I had seen on The National.

Jags spoke of a young First Nations officer who was in tears after being forced to arrest his auntie and other relatives. Heartbreaking. Jags also showed us the long house that was built for the protesters. We had a chance to see the bunks where they slept and the large table where they ate and talked strategy. It felt like they had vacated the place just yesterday.

long house

Photo courtesy of Parks Canada

Support for the Haida’s actions came from more than 150 organizations who wanted to see South Morseby Island protected. David Suzuki, then host of The Nature of Things, aired a piece about South Moresby that apparently got more letters and calls than any other episode. Former NDP Member of Parliament Svend Robinson came to the blockade. He was the only non-Haida arrested.

In the end, the stand-off was a turning point both in terms of the preservation of the area, and the recognition of Haida rights to the water and land. It led to the formation of Gwaii Haanas Reserve, co-managed by the Haida and Parks Canada. The reserve is apparently the only place on earth that is protected from mountain top to sea floor.

Twenty five years after the event, a totem pole was raised to celebrate the Haida victory. Jags was there that day, helping to raise the pole. As he talked about it with us, his face shone with pride…as well it should. It was the first totem pole to be placed in that area in 130 years!

Thanks Jags for bringing history alive in such a powerful way. Haw’aa. Hawsan dang hl kingsang.


A Visit With The Ancients

Bouncing along the waters of Hecate Strait for five hours in an inflatable zodiac is not for the faint of heart. The water was rough, and every bone in my body had been rattled and rearranged by the time we arrived at our destination. I suppose this was appropriate, given that my soul was about to be shaken to the core too.

We were with Haida Style Expeditions, headed for the very southwestern tip of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. Specifically, we were going to SGang Gwaay, a tiny island and UNESCO World Heritage site that has some of the finest examples of Haida totem poles.

Upon reaching shore and walking up the short beach, the first thing I felt was ‘enveloped’…embraced with a light hug by the giant trees that surrounded me. “Come. Sit for awhile,” they were saying. “We have stories to tell.”


First though, we were to meet James, one of the Watchmen who spends part of his year on the island welcoming visitors, sharing stories, and ensuring the protection of the site. He took us to the totem poles, many of which – after 200 years – were in various stages of decay. As is the Haida way, once a pole is carved it is allowed to live out its natural life and return to the earth in its own time, without any kind of preservation.


There used to be a few hundred Haida living in this village. As a result of the smallpox epidemic that ravaged the West Coast in the late 1700s and 1800s, their numbers rapidly dwindled to a handful. Maybe five. James told us there is not one person alive today who can trace their ancestry back to SGang Gwaay. There is no one who carries the stories of these totems within them. So once the poles are gone, so is much of the last remaining evidence of that earlier life.


But the spirits will still be here, I am sure. And there are a great many of them. I felt them among the trees, along the shoreline, and sitting amidst the remnants of some of the long houses. I was overwhelmed with sadness. But then the trees spoke again. “It’s OK,” they said. “We are taking care of these ancients.” And I have to believe that they are.

I left SGang Gwaay feeling like my molecular structure had been rearranged. I can’t get the place out of my head…not that I want to. I must find my way back there.

The Man in the Middle


I am in love with this painting. It’s  called “Rockfall”, and it’s from a collection by Whitehorse artist Neil Graham named “Shaping Haida Gwaii”. It’s in large part because of this body of work that I travelled to Haida Gwaii this past summer.

For the last year or more, this painting has hung in my diningroom. The spirits in the rocks speak to me, some beckoning me to come play with them, others showing much more reserve, not at all sure they can trust me with their secrets.

My grandson Caleb is also drawn to the painting. He stayed with my husband and I for two weeks in January, and every day as we ate breakfast and dinner Caleb studied the painting, wanting to know about who he called the man in the middle. Who was he? Why was he sleeping on the rocks? Did he have a home? Did he like sleeping in the woods?


I think the man in the middle (see the centre of this detail for the head that’s resting on its left side) looks like Neil, so I made up a great many stories about him. He loves to ride motorcycles (this much I know to be true). When he’s not sleeping on the rocks he enjoys travelling to France (again, true). He loves hanging out with the bear spirits. In some of the more dramatic stories Neil is swallowed by sharks and must be rescued by Caleb.

We’ll be taking a bit of a hiatus from those stories though. Neil has an exhibit planned starting next month at the Haida Gwaii Museum in Skidegate and “Rockfall” is one of the pieces in the show. It is of course wonderful for Neil and for the people on the island who will get to see his work, but our dinner conversations won’t be nearly so interesting until the painting finds its way back to me in a few months.

If you are in the Skidegate area, be sure to take in the exhibit. And if you do go, look for the man in the middle.Tell him I say hi.

Who is this person?

Three weeks until Joe and I leave for Spain, and less than a month until I begin my next Camino in Portugal. I am rather amazed at my different mindset this time round. For months before my first Camino, I poured over books, sought out dozens of websites and forums, got in some good training walks, and packed and re-packed my bag at least half a dozen times.

This time I have hardly looked at the guidebook I ordered in the mail, and only last week-end decided I should perhaps get new hiking boots (I had thought I might just use my trail runners).

It’s not that I am not excited. I can’t wait. But having done a longer walk before, I know that everything will work out just fine without me overthinking or planning to the nth degree.

That being said, it would be most wise for me to get those new boots broken in!




Full of Hot Air

I had a lovely dream last night of floating above Whitehorse in a hot air balloon. It made me remember the two times in my life when I have experienced such a thing in my waking hours. The first time was a wonder; the second a huge disappointment.

I was introduced to hot air ballooning while visiting friends in San Francisco four years ago. They bought Joe and I balloon tickets as a gift. We got up before dawn, drove to a hotel where we had a tasty (and rather fancy) breakfast, and then we were up, up and away.

Floating above the Napa Valley was a zen like experience for me; so calming and such a beautiful way to see the area.



A year later when we visited Cappadocia, Turkey we decided to take a ride there, given how extraordinary the landscape was. Sadly, our experience was deflating. For whatever reason (wind conditions, number of people in the basket?) the balloon operators couldn’t get much height. We spent more time looking at the tops of trees than enjoying a sunrise over Cappadocia.



If you decide to take a balloon ride, wherever that might be, it’s important that you do your research. Make sure whichever company you choose has good safety standards and practices in place, and ask about the number of people they take up at a time. I found our group of 18 in Turkey was too large. If you can, pay the extra cost and go for a more intimate experience. It’s a wondrous way to see the countryside if done right.