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Illuminations and Lessons

I had an illumination this past week. A trip to northern Manitoba provided so many highs and lows, from late and cancelled flights that created a 16-hour travel day and 30-hours with maybe 3-hours of sleep offset by watching the northern lights move across the sky. In those highs and lows came a test of everything I am.

This is my journey of day 3 in Manitoba as written in my on-line journal (names taken out):

“I am on a flight to the Tundra. Fly – on a prop water plane. The first plane out got stuck on a rock and had to get a push from the boat – ours was okay. Brother sat in the co-pilot seat and I’m in the very back, sister-in-law in the middle. Flying over the lakes, a couple of observations. Flat. Trees. Then Trees only on the shoreline and bare ground. The Tundra is a moon scape of flat, low growth and rock.

Let’s talk about the plane; specifically let’s talk about getting in and out of the plane. No one has a problem, but here I come unsure of my ability, rocked with crappy and wonky (the new names for my knees) and have to have people help me all the time. Getting in was okay but scary, getting out - nuts. The landing isn’t on a pier, so you exit down the two “stairs” (four-inch steps from the door – rails, really) onto the plane’s floats. Then – step down to a floating pallet down a step to earth.

Caribou lined the top of a ridge, was too far to get a picture, and in fact we saw 2 running down a hill as we approached. They no doubt were watching us watch them. So on to the ‘short hike’.

OMG. I’m dying.

We go through low bushes on a barely visible path; over a stream, one rock as the safety zone, and more moss covered, spongy stuff. We go through bushes, through muck that sucks your shoes and wets your feet, then rocks again up. Finally, we’re at a bare patch hill – I guess some kind of esker thing. Oh, this is it, we can see caribou from here.

No. Freaking no.

On we go through more muck, more rock and then onto tundra which at least was solid. The tundra is flat and barren. No bushes only small rock, the hard ground with low lichen, moss and stuff. But we keep going. By this time even the people who said they were going to take their time and walk slowly with me are ahead of me. I am plodding, forcing one foot to go forward. Crappy and Wonky are howling, I’m sweating and panting. Is anyone else? No. Just me.

So, we get to the 60th parallel. I’m not sure of the significance of that but I guess that means we’re wicked north. Caribou. A few caribou near a little lake – way the freak out there. I have a 75-300mm telephoto and it’s not helping one bit. They are too far away and look like blobs. We take some “I made it” pictures, and then we see two Caribou walking near a closer lake. We wait and finally the two antlered one comes a little closer. He leaves, but the other, a juvenile with one antler is interested and comes closer too. And closer only means that with 300mm I can see them; I know I’ll have to do some serious cropping.

More pictures, group picture – and we start back. Holy Guacamole. Crappy and Wonky aren’t playing. They are screaming at me with every step wanting the SEALS to drop in and lift me to the main base cabin. But no, starting off in front I am soon the last one. In the wild I’d be wolf bait separated by the pack. My savior is my brother who waits and walks with me. I feel like the old crippled fat girl that needs her brother to take care of her. He could be with the others but feels obligated to take care of me. I know Dad is proud in heaven, but I feel like shit. We are way behind the others now and lose sight of them and their trail. Brother and a trip representative try to find a path with easy routes. Muck. Wet feet. Then rock, then down again to muck.

Yup – I lose my balance in a narrow place but luckily get saved by a mossy thing and didn’t completely fall. Brother and Rep help me get up and on we go. We can see that bare hill, and with unsure balance and footing, totally needing the walking stick to keep me upright we make it. It was there that I finally realized how bad I’ve become.

I used to be an athlete. I used to run, have no issues or doubts about myself but here I am being cared for by 2 people, the crippled fat girl. I’m fighting tears at this point. I feel low, I feel like an embarrassment to who and what I used to be. I’m the weak link. I’m the cripple now. And hate the way that makes me feel. We guide our moms because they’re unstable and I’m just like them. Useless. An Anchor. And I hate it. I hate that I can’t keep up with the herd.

As an animal I suppose I’d just wander off to sit and die. But no, I need lunch and it’s waiting down the hill. Down the hill and through more branches, moss, the muck and creek. A Turkey sandwich with mustard and mayo and cheddar never tasted so good.

Then we got back to boarding. Up the pallet to the plane’s floaters. One man on the dock and Brother on the floater. It was too high. I couldn’t do it and backed away. “I can’t do it.” Then one of the guys says ‘bring the plank.’ There’s a freaking plank/board that is a perfect ramp to get on the floater. Why they don’t use it normally is beyond me. So we go back and Crappy and Wonky are howling at me. Nurse sister-in-law ordered the perfect mix. I got a bag of ice from the kitchen, took a shower and laid on the love seat here with my feet and knees up. Iced Crappy then Wonky. Took 3 Aleve. An hour later I was better. Not great but better.”

What lesson did I get out of that? First, I made it. I was in excruciating pain that I later found out is severe arthritis in Crappy and moderate arthritis in Wonky. I didn’t know I had such bad knees, I figured oh, the walking stick will help. It did – but the challenge to just take a step was in my face. I hurt, I felt useless but had to move on.

Second, no one is going to save you but you. Brother and Rep helped me and I felt their caring (okay, at the time I felt more like I was an obligation), but in the end I had to overcome and save myself. No Navy SEALs, no Star Trek transporter – just grit your teeth and save yourself.

Third, I am stronger than my mind. I was screaming on the inside. I was crying oceans of tears on the inside. My mind said I was weak, hopeless, old and fat, and crippled. My body did not give up. My body overcame my mind. I learned that negative thoughts don’t help; listen to the positive, put on those big girl panties and deal.

And fourth, if I gave in to my self-limitations and only took away the negatives of this journey I would not have seen and experienced something so spectacular. Caribou. The big bucks on the hill and the smaller ones on

the flat tundra, the stillness of nature and the colors of a changing season for nature will be etched in my mind forever. I would never have experienced this if I gave in.

I learned to face fears and negativity; overcome and grit your teeth if you have to because you’ll miss life if you do.

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