The Last Time

I was out for an evening hike tonight and came to a pretty challenging hill. Some people love hills. Typically I am not one of those people. However tonight I decided to take a new approach, playing what I dubbed the ‘last time game’.

I imagined how I would feel if this were the last time I would ever have a chance to climb that hill. I thought about what it would be like if it were the last time I would see the spring buds bursting open; the last time I would see the wild crocuses; the last time I would feel the sand under my feet.

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All of a sudden everything became achingly beautiful and precious. It became a great honour to walk up that hill. In no time at all, I was at the top, feeling happy and grateful.

What a powerful tool it would be if I were to try to live my life like that, if only for a few minutes every day?

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Camino Withdrawal

I am suffering from a bad case of Camino withdrawal. All I want to do is walk, and walk, and walk. All my life allows me to do at the moment is steal a couple of hours after work or on week-ends to feed my obsession.

How do others deal with this feeling of restlessness and dissatisfaction that comes after being on the road for a time?

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Touring the Copper Belt

Funny how a person can live in a place for years and not see what is right in front of his or her nose.

Tonight I tagged along on a local tour organized by the Yukon Chamber of Mines and the Yukon Geological Survey. Its focus was the Copper Belt…an area that runs from the north end of Whitehorse to some 30 kilometres to the south. At one time there were as many as 20 small mining operations in this region, and you can still see remnants of some of them today.

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First, a science lesson. Limestone was deposited in the Whitehorse area more than 200 million years ago. Then, 90 million years later, magma from the mantle inside the earth started bubbling up. It mixed with the limestone to make granite. Hot fluid seeped from the granite as it was forming. This liquid was full of dissolved metals. The metals reacted with the limestone and voila…copper (and some other metals too).

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See how the veins swirled as they were cooling? Beautiful art!

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One of these things is not like the others…the round grey and white stone in the centre of this photo is a glacial erratic, carried here by a surging or receding glacier.

Remember “Sam McGee from Tennessee”, made famous in Robert Service’s poem? Actually, Sam McGee was from Armprior, Ontario. He was on his way to the Dawson Goldfields in 1899. He did some poking about while on a stopover in the Whitehorse area and ended up staking a claim at what was to become the War Eagle Copper Mine (now the city dump). If you know where to look (and now I do) you can find the remains of his operation.

McGee wasn’t the first to discover copper in these parts. That honour goes to Jack McIntyre, who staked the Copper King claim in 1898. Think about that the next time you are having a brew at the Copper King Tavern, or are skiing any of the Mount McIntyre ski trails.

Thank you to the Chamber of Mines and the Yukon Geological Survey for a great evening!

Discovering the Thrill of Geocaching

I know that geocaching has been around for a long time, but this week was the first time Joe and I gave it a try. It was great fun, and I can’t wait to introduce it to our grandkids.

Getting started is easy…just create an account at geocaching.com, and you’ll receive GPS coordinates for caches in your area. You can go old school like we did and use Joe’s 12 year old GPS, or you can use your smart phone.

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Along with the coordinates, you receive a clue as to where the cache might be hidden. On this occasion we were looking for a dead standing tree. This one seemed like a good candidate.

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Look what was at the base of that tree. It gave us both a little thrill to see the box. Who doesn’t like finding hidden treasure?

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We signed our names in the little notebook, each took a gift, and each left one behind.

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Here’s a view of the area where we found this cache, plus a picture of the beautiful wild crocuses we saw along the way. Treasure at every turn.

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Where’s our Pride, North America?

It was on a sweltering summer night in 2006 that my husband and I found ourselves in a little neighbourhood diner in Madrid. It was called Las Delicias del Jamon, suitably named given that there were Iberian hams hanging from just about every inch of the place. Those that weren’t curing were being thinly sliced and plated for appreciative customers like us.

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Photo from restaurant’s website.

Joe was/is mad for Spanish ham, and devised a plan to bring some home with him. He approached the restaurant owner about how to package it up, and what ensued was about an hour of rapid and lively discussion involving every patron in the place. Everyone had an opinion about how best to wrap this precious product so it would survive the flight to Canada.

What struck me then, and continues to impress me each time I return to Spain, is how much pride the Spanish take in their food.

During our last trip to Spain in March, we sought out – as we tend to do wherever we go – what we call ‘grandmothers’ cooking.’ It’s simple, usually inexpensive, but so, so good! And the people running these humble eateries are almost without exception the sweetest souls you can imagine.

Case in point – Sisco and Dolors, who run Can Vilaro in Barcelona with several of their children. Sisco inherited the restaurant from his parents, and he serves the same recipes they did. Pigs’ feet, tripe, breaded goats’ brains, and pork head with trotters and chick peas are all staples on the menu. This isn’t typical tourist fair of course, so when we returned for the second day in a row we were treated almost like family. Sisco beamed when we told him how much we liked his food and tawny house wine. There’s that pride again.

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Sisco and one of his daughters.
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First course: sardines on toast
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Second course: lambs’ brains

It’s not just in the restaurants that you see the care and attention given to all things edible. Food is displayed and handled in the markets as if it is more precious than any Crown Jewels (which it is in my mind).

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The egg lady. Who in North America would take the time to carefully display eggs this way?

In Galicia, there’s a whole festival devoted to celebrating the eel, including a community feast where we were served eel prepared just about every way you can imagine.

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Eel are dried on racks, just as First Nations people here in Yukon dry salmon.
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Plates of eel at the community feast in Muxia.

North America, why do we settle? Where is our pride in raising/growing, preparing, and savouring the foodstuff that sustains us? Have we forgotten what good food tastes like? How is it that processed and fast foods are ok with us? We can do better. Please raise a glass with me to grandmothers’ cooking and to making food sacred again!

 

Walking the Source of All Paths

I have written here earlier about how difficult I found it to walk on the cobblestones ever present along much of the Camino Portuguese. I have to say though that every one of those cobblestones was worth enduring given that this Camino also took me along the Variante Espiritual (Spiritual Route). It’s a roughly 75 kilometre path that runs from just north of Pontevedra to Padron.

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Here’s the back story: locals refer to this as ‘The Source of All Paths’ and the first ‘true Camino’. The legend goes that in 44 AD, followers of the apostle James brought his body here and were guided by an angel and a star up the estuary of Arousa to Padron. James’ remains eventually found their way to Santiago.

Whether you buy the story or not, there is no question about this being a spiritual place. It is hard to be here and not believe in some kind of a higher power.

From Monasterio de Armenteira to Pontearnelas we walked the Route of Stone and Water. There were many old water mills along side a beautiful river. That, coupled with towering trees and the happy chatter of birds, made this one of the most memorable parts of the Camino for me.

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Another unique part of this path is that on the final day, there is an opportunity to take a boat down the Rio Ulla to Padron, following the same route that James’ followers took. There are crosses all along the way…some with Jesus facing towards Santiago and Mary facing the opposite way. I have only seen these double crosses in Galicia.

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Once in Padron, you can walk a few kilometres to a Franciscan monastery in Herbon, where you can stay the night and be fed both dinner and breakfast all for a donation. We received such a warm welcome from Felix and Anna, who are volunteering there for several weeks. It turns out Anna and I were both celebrating our birthdays that day, and as a result we were treated to the most delicious cake for dessert!

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The fate of this monastery seems rather tenuous to me. There were only five elderly friars/monks living there when we visited, the oldest being 96. There was talk of turning the place into a luxury hotel (as has been the fate of some other monasteries in Spain) but recently the Spanish government granted it some kind of special designation, so hopefully it will be retained. The designation also comes with a small amount of money, the first allotment of which was used to refurbish the main altar. As we toured the place, it was evident that the monastery really needed a rather significant influx of cash for repairs and renovations.

To those pilgrims who choose to stay here, something I definitely would recommend, please be as generous as you can with your donation.

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The youngest of the monks, who gave us a tour of the facility. He was a beautiful soul who seemed to be carrying  a large burden. It is his job to care for the others here, some of whom have dementia.