Adventures with Mother Nature

Every summer since 2002, starting when my son was 8 years old, my son and I have taken hiking excursions to the Canadian Rockies. Traditionally, we go with my brother-in-law and his two sons. Sometimes my brother and his son would join us as well as a friend and his two sons at the beginning. These excursions entail carrying 40-pound backpacks containing food and cooking equipment, sleeping gear and a tent. On some occasions we carried our 40-pound packs 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) before reaching our destination.

Most hikes were to the backcountry, a remote undeveloped rural area accessible only by hiking trails. We would hike to places such as Landslide Lake, Ribbon Lake, Lillian Lake, Utopia Creek, Glacier Lake, and Celestine Lake to name a few. I realize that these names likely don’t mean much to many of you but I can assure you that these settings are some of the most breath-taking, beautiful scenery in the world.

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Lillian Lake

We’ve had some adventures over the years. In what is called Kananaskis Country, we did a day hike to Ribbon Falls after a good night’s rest at the Ribbon Lake campground. To reach our destination, we had to maneuver down a vertical cliff. Thankfully, there were chains attached to help a person propel downward. By carefully finding footholds and hanging onto the chains we successfully got to the bottom part of the cliff. Being that I am afraid of heights, this was a terrifying experience for me. Climbing up the cliff was much easier.

After hiking the Galatea Creek Trail, also in Kananaskis Country, and arriving at our destination of Lillian Lake we put our backpacks down and went to scout out a site to set up our tents. Several minutes went by before we returned to collect our equipment to take to our chosen site. To our dismay, we discovered a chipmunk chewing its way through the top of my son’s brand new pack which I had just purchased for my son. In fact, this was his first trip with it. The chipmunk had chewed a hole into the top of the pack in an attempt to get at the trail mix inside. I was not happy with that animal and yelled some choice words at the creature. Thankfully the little beast was not successful in retrieving any of the trail mix.

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Geraldine Lake trail (boulder hoping)

One of the most difficult hikes we’ve done was to Geraldine Lakes in Jasper National Park. It involved a very steep climb beside the waterfalls between Lower and Upper Geraldine Lakes where you come to kilometres of boulder hopping across what is called talus field. To say it was exhausting hopping from boulder to boulder carrying a 40 pound backpack is an understatement. At one point I was feeling sorry for myself asking, “Why am I doing this?” Thinking that I was getting too old for this hiking business (I was in my 40s), we came upon a fellow hiker in his 70s. He told us that Geraldine Lakes was one of his favourite trails and that he had hiked the trail many times. I needed an attitude adjustment at that point and my outlook changed after talking to the senior hiker. If a 70-year-old man can hike that trail, I had nothing to complain about being I was 30 years younger than this man. It’s all about your mental attitude. Being in shape, of course, helps.

One of my favourite hiking experiences was our hike to Utopia Creek in Jasper National Park. There were eleven of us on that expedition. On the Saturday evening we decided to take a different trail back so that we could climb up to what is called the Sulphur Skyline, which has some of the most breathtaking panoramas in Jasper National Park. This meant hiking the Fiddle River 11 kilometre horse trail from our campsite, then going up a 700 metre (2300 feet)  elevation gain of about 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) to reach the skyline. The trailhead had a sign saying, “Trail not recommended,”  but this didn’t stop us. What we did not realize is that we had the cross the Fiddle River not once, not twice but six times.

On our first crossing we carefully hopped across the river from boulder to boulder with our backpacks on until the last bit whereby we took our packs off, tossed them a fair distance to another person on the riverbank and then hopped onto the bank ourselves. Thankfully no one fell into the water and our packs remained dry.

During the second crossing we decided to take our hiking boots off, put on our sandals and cross the river in our sandals. The current was strong and the glacier water literally made my feet hurt.

Now the third crossing was done in our bare feet. By this time the ritual of taking off our boots was becoming burdensome, so when we had to cross the river on the fourth, fifth and sixth occasion we just kept our boots on. The current was strong so there were times when I had to hang onto my son, age 12 at the time, to prevent him from being swept downstream by the current. We stopped at a trailhead leading to Mystery Lake to ring out our wet socks and dried our boots as best we could. We eventually made it to the Sulphur Skyline with one of the most spectacular views I have ever had the privilege to appreciate. The chipmunks on top of the skyline were brave creatures as they would come right up to your fingertips looking for food.

In 2009, nine of us spent three hours hiking the 7 kilometre (4.3 mile) trail to Celestine Lake in Jasper National Park. A friend of mine and I were the last to arrive at our campsite as the younger ones of the group were much quicker than us older ones. What made this adventure so memorable was the fact that when my friend and I arrived at the campsite, we were told that we had to go back as there was a forest fire nearby. Now we didn’t believe them, of course, until we saw the warden’s helicopter take off. Apparently, the park warden arrived in a chopper and called to my brother in law saying, “I have some bad news guys. You have to leave as there is a fire in the area.” So it turned out that we were told the truth. We had to spend the next three hours returning to our starting point.

2013-07-13 01.19.38Now I have been asked over the years why I would go into the back country where there is no contact with the outside world; where there are bears and cougars and it can sometimes get to below freezing at nights. Those are good questions. My first response to those questions is always that it is quality time with my son. But it is more than that. I do it for the adventures. There is nothing like being in nature and the experience of standing on top of mountain with the wind blowing through your hair. The beauty that Mother Nature has to offer is far-fetched until you see it, and even then it can be surreal. For me, being in the wilderness is a chance to touch the divine. It is during those times that I feel closest to God or the Universe.

According to the article, How Does Nature Impact our Wellbeing, put out by the University of Minnesota,

“Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality, according to scientists such as public health researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell.”

Maybe that’s why I do it. Without knowing why, it made me feel better. So, go out into nature and reduce your stress. Speaking from experience it works. It is so easy to get so wrapped up in our daily urban lives that we forget what nature has to offer. Visit Mother Nature to de-stress. When you do you will discover that she is worth protecting.

 

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Seek Some Awe

William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, once said, “Religious awe is the same organic thrill which we feel in a forest at twilight, or in a mountain gorge.” I totally understand what Mr. James is communicating. I have had many experiences of awe when out in nature. But first, we should understand what awe is.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines awe as a feeling of great respect sometimes mixed with fear or surprise. Now that word fear usually confuses me especially when talking about awe.  We typically think of fear as being afraid of something or someone. However, Dictonary.com says in addition to being afraid, fear is reverential awe, especially toward God. The Free Dictionary describes awe as a feeling of respect or reverence mixed with dread and wonder, often inspired by something majestic or powerful.

Dacher Keltner, Professor of psychology at the University of California, defines awe as the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world. So the way I understand awe is that awe are those moments when we experience something majestic or powerful; when we feel wonder. They are the times when we have an encounter with the divine. They are moments when we in some way experience God or the Source of all Being or something mystical. It’s when you are touched at a soul or spiritual level; when what we are witnessing or experiencing is beyond our understanding.

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17Many astronauts talk about their experiences of awe when looking at the planet earth from space. Alan Shepard, Apollo 14 astronaut said, “When I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the Moon, I cried.” Russell “Rusty” Schweikart, Apollo 9 astronaut said, “When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing. That makes a change … it comes through to you so powerfully that you’re the sensing element for Man.”

One of the best known for his experience of seeing Earth from space is Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell who said:

“That’s a powerful experience, to see Earth rise over the surface [of the Moon]. And I suddenly realized that the molecules in my body, and the molecules in the spacecraft and my partners had been prototyped, maybe even manufactured, in some ancient generation of stars. But instead of being an intellectual experience, it was a personal feeling… And that was accompanied by a sense of joy and ecstasy, which caused me to say ‘What is this?’ It was only after I came back that I did the research and found that the term in ancient Sanskrit was Samadhi.”

Oxford dictionary defines Samadhi as a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation. In Hindu yoga, this is regarded as the final stage at which union with the divine is reached. In essence what Mr. Mitchell is saying is he felt some sort of union with the divine.

Susan Santucci, a learning specialist and author says, “Watch for glimpses of the divine order.  Find those experiences, sights, and sounds, which fill you with awe.  Any experience met with awe can be spiritual:  a safari through an animal kingdom, taking in a sunset, a hike to an awesome mountaintop.”

P1030507editedI have hiked in the mountains with my son and friends and family for many years. I have to agree with Susan Santucci as every time I stand on top of a mountain, I feel that sense of awe. For me, it is a spiritual experience. It is an experience where I am overtaken with the beauty of the mountain landscape. I have this same experience when I am at the ocean. Standing on an ocean beach, looking at the vast amount of water in front of me sets me into a state of awe. Sunsets do the same. When my wife and I were in Europe a few months ago, we were blessed to see numerous sunsets and even sunrises. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful those magnificent colourful skies can be. Each sunrise we beheld on our trip was uniquely beautiful. I have a sense of awe or wonder every time I am lucky enough to see the northern lights or the aurora borealis. For me, each of these experiences were, as Dacher Keltner put it, a feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends ones understanding of the world.

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Yes, I understand some of the science behind how mountains are built with colliding tectonic plates. I comprehend that when the Sun appears lower and lower on the horizon, its light needs to pass through more of the atmosphere to reach our eyes, so as the sun drops towards the horizon, it progressively loses violets and blues, then greens and yellows, and finally even the oranges, leaving only the reds behind. It is mind-boggling to comprehend that 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean, and the deepest known area measures 11 kilometres (6 miles) deep.  I understand that the aurora borealis occurs when collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with its gases. As amazing as the science is, when I experience the above-mentioned things I experience something beyond my science understanding. My experience is met with awe and wonder. When I am experiencing these things I touch the divine.

I had another one of these experiences when my daughter showed me a video of Jeffrey Li, a 10-year-old boy from Canada, and Celine Tam, a 7-year-old girl from Hong Kong, performing a duet of the song “You Raise Me Up”. I was blown away. These two singers literally took my breath away. What I heard from these two young people touched me at a soul or spiritual level. It made me ask, “How can a seven and ten year old have singing voices like this?” The singing voice of these two “kids” was beyond my understanding. If you haven’t seen the video, check it out below.

Maybe it is time to seek out more of those awe experiences, whatever they may be for you. In fact, doing so just may make the world a better place. Articles such as High on Wonder: People Who Experience More Awe Are Nicer, Better People, and The Key to Fulfillment claim science is providing empirical evidence that awe is the emotion that motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. If we choose to get rid of the some of the distractions like cell phones and watching television in our lives and seek to put ourselves in new situations such as going to new places, and meeting new people, this may increase our chances of encountering awe. If it is true what the studies are saying, experiencing awe will make us better people. I implore you to seek out some awe and wonderment in your lives. You will be better for it!

There is Hope

Evo Morales, an Indigenous Bolivian who has served as President of Bolivia since 2006, is quoted as saying, “Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.”  Mr. Morales is right!  We cannot continue to abuse Mother Earth without dire consequences.

According to The Watchers, a daily news service that relays information on global events, world evolution and transformation, there are many environmental catastrophes taking place on our planet. Here are some that I noted.

A state of emergency was declared over a large natural gas leak pouring high quantities of methane and other gases into a Los Angeles neighbourhood on January 6, 2016. Numerous residents reported health issues and thousands of people have been forced to evacuate the area. The leak of natural gas was first observed October 23, 2015, and is now the largest natural gas leak ever reported.

A flow of toxic mining waste, which spilled into a main river in the city of Mariana, Brazil on November 5, 2015 has traveled at least 500 km (310 miles) through the Rio Doce since the event. The disaster has been proclaimed as the country’s worst environmental catastrophe in history. At least 11 people were confirmed dead, 15 went missing and hundreds of homes were devastated.

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Bellandur Lake, India (dogonews.com)

Bellandur Lake, the largest lake in the city of Bangalore, India, is extremely polluted by a high amount of ammonia and phosphate. From the air, the 36 km (22 miles) wide lake visually appears as if snow is covering a mountain. In reality what looks like snow is a large, white foam covering the water surface, an unnatural phenomenon resulting from extremely toxic, untreated, chemical accumulations. The froth has risen to a height of one meter.

A dam at a waste pond on Mount Polley Mine of British Columbia, Canada, full of toxic heavy metals burst on August 4, 2014, releasing 10 million cubic meters of wastewater and 5 million cubic meters of toxic slurry into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake.  Mining experts warn that the incident is the largest mining disaster in Canadian history, possibly even globally.

There are many, many more environmental catastrophes listed on the Watchers website, and I haven’t even mentioned the biggest one facing the planet, that is, climate change. Now it would be easy to get down and discouraged when reading this kind information, but as they say, “every cloud has a silver lining”. I still believe that the human spirit is strong and that we can correct our wrongs, even when it comes to the environment. So what is the silver lining you may wonder?

The silver lining is that we now have a tremendous opportunity  to develop new technologies, which in turn would create new industries and jobs as well as benefit our planet environmentally. So what might these technologies look like? The Greenbiz website lists 9 technologies to clean up the planet.   The livescience site lists 10 emerging environmental technologies. Some that caught my attention are:

We now have technologies to prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Some of these makes the CO2 into something else that can be sold as products. Skyonic Corporation is building a commercial CO2 capture plant scheduled to begin operating this year which is expected to reduce 300,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year through a combination of direct capture from a cement plant and the making of commercial products, such as baking soda. This is a technology that could help to curb global warming.

Nuclear reactors are becoming safer. The technology for nuclear power has become so efficient that they now use the byproducts of conventional nuclear power production as fuel. The travel wave reactors, backed by Bill Gates, look to use depleted uranium to generate electricity, rather than leaving it to be stored or used in other applications, such as ammunition. This technology makes nuclear power plants much safer and solves the problem of nuclear waste. This could very well be an alternative to the polluting coal burning power plants.

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From the Berkeley Blog

The United Nations have predicted that water supply shortages will affect billions of people by the middle of this century. Desalination, the removing the salt and minerals out of seawater, is one way to provide potable water in parts of the world where supplies are limited but it is expensive and uses a lot of energy. Scientists are working toward better processes where inexpensive fuels can heat and evaporate the water before running it through membranes with microscopic pores to increase efficiency. That gives hope for new fresh water sources as much of our fresh water supply in the form of glaciers is melting and ending up in our oceans.

Hydrogen fuel cell usage has been touted as a pollution-free alternative to using fossil fuels. These cells make water by combining hydrogen and oxygen and in the process they generate electricity. Most recently, scientists have come up with ways to power laptops and small devices with fuel cells, and some car companies are promising that soon we’ll be seeing cars that emit nothing but clean water. That is great news for our environment.

OTEC technologies convert the thermal energy contained in the oceans and turn it into electricity by using the temperature difference between the water’s surface, which is heated, and the cold of the ocean’s bottom. This difference in temperature can operate turbines that can drive generators. This would be a clean source of electricity therefore helping to reduce climate change by eliminating coal burning power plants.

Bioremediation uses microbes and plants to clean up contamination. Examples include the cleanup of nitrates in contaminated water with the help of microbes, and using plants to uptake arsenic from contaminated soil. There is an urgent need to clean up many of the contaminated sites on our planet such as the Deloro mine, a 202-hectare site that lies 65 kilometres east of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

I recently watched Disney’s movie, Tomorrowland.  This movie delivers a  message of hope for humanity. It is a call to use our human mental abilities and imagination to make changes that can repair the environmental damage that we humans have created. Just reading about some of the many new technologies being developed gives me hope for our planet. We humans are masters at screwing things up, such as our environment, but we are resilient and savvy enough to fix our mistakes. It just takes public awareness through education, a political will, and economic motivation. New technologies create new industries and new jobs. We can fix our environmental problems and still have a thriving economy.  Keeping things at the status quo is not an option.

There is a Cree Prophecy that says, “When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.” It’s time we put our health and our planet’s welfare ahead of profits. Our survival as a species depends upon it.

 

 

 

 

 

Judge Not!

Now that I have some time, I spend some time perusing the internet reading interesting articles.  I recently read an article titled, We’re all the Same.  Basically, the article says we as humans are quick to judge others.  It makes bold statements like:

  • Let’s face it. We all do it. We judge.
  • We like to label others and shove them into this box.
  • We don’t like ”undefined” people.
  • We assume we know who someone is based on our interactions and observations.
  • Judging makes us feel safe and comfortable.
  • It gives us a sense of control.
  • But despite our best efforts to judge, we all know deep down inside, we can’t and shouldn’t really judge another person.

Now my initial reaction was, “Not me!  I don’t judge people.”  But who am I kidding?  So I thought about it.  Do I judge others or not?  If I am honest with myself, the answer of course is “Yes”.

The year 2015 was a year of change for my wife and I.  I retired from teaching.  My eldest daughter moved to a different apartment which is closer to her work.  My youngest daughter returned to university, so she is moved back to the city after living in the rural community she grew up in.  And my son, who has been going to the local college, is moved to the city to continue his education at university.  My wife is the only stable one (in more ways than one) as she is continuing with the same job.

JudgeSo a few months ago, my wife and I were helping our eldest daughter find furniture for her new apartment.  She had been getting some used stuff off of Kijji, an online garage sale site.  She had looked at a media unit with an electric fire-place and decided to purchase it.  She gave the young man $40 to hold it, and arranged to pick it up when I could bring up the truck. On a Saturday morning we arrived at this person’s apartment complex at the agreed upon time only to find that he was not there.  My daughter texted him and called him only to discover his voice mail box was full. Being the Dad that I am, I immediately jumped to conclusions. As far as I was concerned this guy had ripped off my daughter.  My daughter and wife, on the other hand, kept reminding me that maybe he had a family emergency or something.  I, on the other hand, was convinced that he had swindled my daughter out of  $40.  After an hour of waiting and me “steaming” we left and continued with our day.

Now it turns out that this fine, young man did indeed have a family emergency. His explanation to my daughter alluded to perhaps a death in the family.  This man felt very bad about the incident and returned my daughter’s $40 to her.   I had totally misjudged the situation and the young man involved.  Now I am the one feeling bad and guilty that I had so little faith in people. This was not the only time recently that I had jumped to conclusions and misjudged a situation.

As I mentioned earlier, I just retired from teaching.  The school that I worked at submits a weekly newspaper column in the local papers.  Well, at the end of June, I was all “bent out of shape” because my school (so I thought) did not even care that I was leaving after 26 years of service. They didn’t even have the decency to acknowledge my exit in the school column.  I was feeling sorry for myself.  I had convinced myself that my colleagues didn’t even care that I was leaving.

The next week the local papers arrived at our house and I my wife pointed out that I, and the other colleagues that retired with me, were acknowledged in the school column.  Lesson learned (I hope); Do not be so quick to judge people and situations. Once again, I felt bad and guilty that I  had so little faith in my colleagues. I know I could just blame it on “human nature”, but that is still not an excuse.

As a former school teacher I can recall numerous occasions where I prejudged students based on hearsay around the staffroom, only to discover that my experiences with those students were different from the prejudgements. It is so important to resist judging.

So, what is wrong with judging? I’m sure someone is wondering. The late Earl Nightingale, an American radio personality, writer, speaker and author who dealt mostly on the subjects of human character, once said, “When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself.” That is so true! Judging others is about our need to feel safe and comfortable. When we judge others we feel better about ourselves because judging others occurs when we believe we are better than the people we’ve judged. Really, we have no right to judge anyone unless we know everything about that person, which is impossible. There is a native American proverb that says, Don’t judge any man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” As I learned from my experience with the young man who I believed conned by daughter out of $40, you never really know what is going on in that person’s life, so as in my case, most often our judgements are based on ignorance or misinformation.

So remember, things are not always what you perceive them to be or believe them to be.  Don’t be so quick to judge a situation. Michael J. Fox, best known for his role as Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movie trilogy, once said,  The least amount of judging we can do, the better off we are.” He is right! I am going to try to follow Fox’s advice from now on, or at least that is the goal.