catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 1 :: 2006.01.13 — 2006.01.26


Top Ten re: nature

This weekend, Rob and I will travel to the farm of some friends, 45 minutes or so north of Toronto. I?m looking for an excuse to wander around outdoors, in spite of the cold, and also to enjoy the contrast between woodstove heat and the view through a window. Did you know that many families in Iceland still put the baby in the carriage outdoors for an afternoon nap, no matter what the season? I long for this easy relationship with creation.

Though I envy the value other cultures around the world seem to place on being outdoors, thinking about my outdoor memory list has made me realize that I am probably about middle-upper class when it comes to the wealth of outdoor experiences; for that, I am grateful.

And so, culled from dozens of wonderful memories, here are ten of the top experiences and collections of experiences related to an outdoor place, in roughly chronological order.

  1. Napping in my back yard on Wicker Avenue: We used to call them ?sunsuits??those one piece cotton outfits with ties at the shoulders and elastic around the waist and legs. I had a green one with thin white stripes and dark pink cherries. Perhaps my mom made it. One afternoon, she sent me out into the backyard to play on my homemade swing set and in my turquoise sandbox, but I was tired and the cool grass of our shaded little yard was so inviting. I sprawled out in my sunsuit as sleep overcame the noise of the intersection and the gentle tickle of the grass.
  2. Gardening with my dad: I wouldn?t call my dad an avid gardener, but when we moved to the new house on Highland Avenue, he undertook creating space for a little vegetable garden. The first year, as we planted carrot seeds, I made furrows in the new bed with my bare feet. Did he know then that I?d remember this moment? Dad affirmed my little game and gave it value, excitedly encouraging me to continue my rudimentary toe-work to make perfect rows for the tiny seeds. I felt full with love for him and for the sunshine and for the promises of our garden.
  3. ?Growing up? on the Zandstra farm: My days on the Zandstra farm were enough to convince me that every child should have a farm to wander at some point in their young lives. Perhaps the farm was a very ordinary place to the girls and boys who grew up there, but to me it was a world of endless discovery. In the summer, we?d make mudslides and imaginary incantations in the onion fields. Then we?d scour the farm in a golf cart for the vegetables to make soup or build a house using abandoned wood pallets and mounds of grass clippings. In the fall, we?d hunt for bird bones in the junk pile or make drinking cups out of gourd shells. Winter was time for ice-skating on the pond. Unfortunately, my playground is now a megastore and a series of blank beige condos, but thankfully the wild places are still abundant, with the capacity to expand to fit any child?s imagination.
  4. Mountain biking with my family in Winter Park, Colorado: This trip was the last one my family took before I got married, undertaken for my cousin?s wedding in a beautiful mountain park. Indulgences such as this were unusual?it was more common for us to vacation for a weekend at my grandparents? cottage or a local Holidome. We rented a home for a couple of nights and set out from there to rent bikes and hit the trails. While we?re all generally fit, we?re not necessarily ?athletic?, but this family of six, ranging in age from eleven to forty-four, undertook one of the most difficult routes that was exhilarating with its steep downhill trails and Rocky Mountain views. I had a sense that, even though our day trip took us in a big loop, we were in a different place when we returned than we were when we started.
  5. Caring for Chi Chi?s Grandma?s yard: We called my great grandma Chi Chi?s Grandma on account of her ubiquitous Chihuahua who slept in a box in the dining room, but before I was born, Chi Chi?s Grandma also raised canaries. She?d haul their portable cages outside while she gardened. After Chi Chi?s Grandma died, my grandparents converted her house into three apartments. Growing up, mowing the crispy, sparse lawn was a dreaded activity, but when my husband and I became tenants of one of the apartments, we also inherited the care of the yard. Inevitably, pests like mulberry trees and tree-to-heavens had filled in, but the more I became intimate with the yard, the more I came to know Chi Chi?s Grandma. Crocuses, lily-of-the-valley, a magnolia tree and varieties of tulips I had never seen before announced spring, while the resurrection lilies, Rose of Sharon bush, Solomon?s Seal, and day lilies provided surprises throughout the summer, all beneath the generous shade of massive cottonwood trees. With supplies gleaned from the chicken-coop-turned-shed, I felt at home tending the fruits of Chi Chi?s Grandma?s ?frivolity.?
  6. Biking Inish Me?in in the Aran Islands: Imagine you?re holding a large, flat rock right on the surface of a lake. Now, in your mind, keep the left edge of the rock flush with the surface, but raise the right side so that the rock is tilted down toward the water. This is a picture in miniature of one of the Irish Aran Islands, which are all at sea level on one side, but rise toward the north side to create rock cliffs that soar hundreds of feet above the water. The island we stayed on was small enough to bike in a day and so we pedaled over paths that wound up gently through stone-walled cow enclosures to an edge dotted with remnants of civilizations over a thousand years old. Both the physical size and the size of the history were humbling, as we took in panoramic views of the entire island from an ancient fortified city.
  7. Visiting friends in Grand Marais, Minnesota: Though it had electricity, the cabin of our friends had no running water and so broke down the barrier immediately between indoors and out. We jumped off a cliff into a river pool, swam at the lazy mouth of the Brule, hiked up a creek over several waterfalls, ate dinner outdoors at a dockside restaurant and, in the evening, lounged on the beaches of Lake Superior to take in the sprawling shape of the Milky Way flecked with sparks from a birch bark fire. I imagine heaven will be a bit like Grand Marais
  8. Camping at the Middle Mountain Cabins in West Virginia: How did we ever find that place? In the summer of 2003, we gathered with *cino folks an hour?s drive off the paved road in the middle of the Appalachians. For a mere $35 a night, the group site was equipped with two old cabins, a muddy pond, lots of rain and a connection to a good hiking trail. Combined with the good company, beer and tasty camp food we dragged into the woods with us, it was a lovely weekend.
  9. Setting up camp on the forest floor at Lost Creek State Park in Montana: For a freewill donation, campers are welcome at the State Park, which lies on the edge of a valley near Anaconda, Montana. The leggy pine trees dwarfed our little car, while the sense of peacefulness dwarfed our everyday anxieties. We scanned the hills with our binoculars for mountain goats before going to sleep to the quiet bubbling of the creek, which wasn?t so lost after all.
  10. Hiking in Golden Ears Provincial Park near Vancouver, British Columbia: The unseasonable summer heat made the deep, blue glacial pool the perfect destination. Sunning on the rocks and then dipping into the icy water for a dive made me feel like some fortunate amphibian who has discovered a rare paradise. We were humbled by the massive stumps of cedar trees, cleared out many years before but maintaining their reputation as a lasting wood in memory of those that didn?t escape the saw.

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