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Something From Everything  

Beautiful, terrible and fragile

The hike up to Gold Creek Falls is well worn, appropriately marked, family friendly, and safe.

In fact, the word hike hardly seems appropriate. The path to the falls is only a little over two kilometres and on any given weekend in the summer, you will find it crowded with tourists and locals..

The route can be easily traversed in inclement weather, with minimal preparation, and with any manner of footwear (both Crocs and thong sandals have made this trek).

The falls are in Golden Ears Provincial Park, just outside Maple Ridge, British Columbia. Sitting in the shadow of the Alouette and Golden Ears twin mountain ranges, the park is home to old-growth hemlock forests, ancient western red cedars and Douglas firs.

There’s a large campground where the tops of the trees create a patchy canopy, and young kids can be seen running with abandon, hiding among the gnarled and ancient roots, and building makeshift forts and lean-tos with the soft moss and fallen branches that litter the forest floor.

We have camped here a number of times, and each time we do, we walk the well worn path to the falls. On our most recent visit, our family diverged from the crowded path at the midway point, following the river to the base of the falls.

We splashed in shallow water running over smooth river stones, and leapt across large boulders scattered near the base of the falls.

We baked in the scorching July sun, and then plunged ourselves into the icy pools of runoff some 30 feet from the falls. We would return to the rocks to dry off, clinging like starfish to their surfaces and absorbing their heat, our lips purple, skin pale and teeth chattering.

Then we ventured closer to the mouth of the falls themselves.

The immediate basin of the falls was above us, and partially obstructed from where we were swimming and sun tanning. I led the way with my children, scrambling up nearby boulders and edging my way around the largest rock surface, until the basin was in front of me.

Only as you turn that final corner do you realize how powerful the falls really are. The same large rocks that had obstructed our view had also obscured the sound of it. A deafening tumult of sound, the force of the water pummelling down endlessly into the basin.

The temperature drops immediately, the mist and spray from the falls suddenly everywhere, making each surface surrounding it slick. The torrent creates its own private windstorm, the wind surrounding and encircling you.

I became terrified. It was suddenly unnerving how near the edge I was, and how my eldest child was only a few feet behind me, beginning to turn the corner toward the basin herself.

We were entirely too close to something great and terrible. I yelled for her and her brother to turn around, but my voice was nearly inaudible in that storm.

I pointed back the way we came, and held their hands as we edged back away from the falls, and returned to our on-looking family at the edge of the river.

As we returned to the security of the on-looking path, somebody screamed. Continued screaming. A small white dog had been playing with her owner at the top of the falls when it ventured too far and got carried away by the current and pulled over the edge.

The owner of the dog continued to scream as she hastily scrambled down the ledge. I returned to the basin I had just left and found her staring wildly and screaming at the roiling surface.

I grabbed the largest stick I could find nearby, at least five feet in length, and began prodding the water. I don’t know what I expected, but as I plunged the stick as deep as it could go, I met no resistance. I pushed the stick around the edge of the basin, and it was wider than I anticipated. There was a shelf of rock underneath and all around the edge of the pool.

The constant tumult had ebbed and eroded the smooth rock deeper than I could plumb, and wider than I could see from the surface.

We stayed at the edge of that basin for a long while, and eventually the screaming subsided, but we never found that dog. I don’t know if they ever did.

A quick online search reveals multiple stories of those who underestimated their proximity to danger.

As I write this, four people have died in as many years. I discover a story of a woman who fell over the falls trying to rescue a friend who had also been swept up by the current.

I read a story of a 24-year-old male who was presumed dead after falling over the falls, search and rescue teams being unable to ever locate his body.

The falls are beautiful, but they are not safe.

I have a picture of my kids and me near the edge of the basin that day. The photo was taken by my wife from a distance, before any of this occurred. It is a stunning picture, but to this day it makes me shudder. The scene appears still and serene, completely devoid of the awesome terror of standing at the edge of such brutal force.

That day, and the picture of it reminds me how beautiful and terrible and fragile everything was, without my awareness. All at once together, and inseparable.

It’s worth noting that you don’t need to go down to the mouth of the falls to appreciate them. Most do not.

  • You can see the entirety of the falls from atop the high lookout at the end of the well-worn path.
  • You can hear the muted sound of it, a low roar that blends seamlessly with the chatter of the onlookers.
  • You might even feel some of the light spray.

The lookout is a fine place to take in the beauty of the falls, but it might be easy to forget how powerful they are, or how fragile you are, from such a distance.

That forgetting might be the greatest danger of all.

Perhaps, sometimes, we need to be uncomfortably close to see things as they really are.

  • To shock us, to wake us up.
  • To remind us that some things look safe and predictable, only from a distance. That things may appear simple at first glance, and intricately complex up close.

Perhaps when we draw near, quite a few things will reveal themselves as beautiful and terrible and fragile. And worth a closer, trembling look.



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Going 'just' beyond

We made our maiden voyage last Sunday.

It was a perfect day for kayaking. Slightly overcast, not nearly as showy as the clear, blue skies and radiant sun of the days preceding.

It was noticeably cooler, with endless ribbons of pale clouds weaving across the sky. Through the clouds we could still see the sun and feel it’s warmth upon us, but it was muted.

My partner and I loaded the kayaks onto the roof racks, our old car creaking under the weight as we stood on the wheels and blindly passed the ratcheting straps back and forth.

Once loaded, we headed to Wood Lake, to a quiet pebble beach and our favourite kayak launching point.

Along the way, we passed an elderly lady, partially hunched over, carrying plastic plates to a backyard table covered by a bright-yellow plastic tablecloth. Table settings were spread around the makeshift dining table, and bright-pink-and-purple tulips sat in a tall vase in the middle.

Noticing our curious stares, she smiled and waved.

Farther down the road, we passed an old, steepled Catholic church with a line of cars curled around the building. At the front of the line stood a priest and nun, dressed in their full robes, with blue, disposable gloves on their hands, and their faces covered by a plastic face shield.

The priest was blessing and handing out the communion to participants in their cars, extending the bread and wine (or grape juice and wafers for all I know...) on a round silver tray that had been attached to a long, flat stick.

It might have looked ridiculous to some. It certainly would have in any year before 2020. I didn’t find it ridiculous at all. Only strange, and brave, and beautiful.

My eyes began to water, and I looked away, embarrassed at being so unexpectedly overcome. Then, turning toward the passenger seat, I watched my love wipe a finger along her own eye. We drove forward in silence.

We arrived at the beach and unloaded our kayaks. Wood and Kalamalka lakes are connected by a narrow channel,, the small stones clearly visible beneath our boats.

The channel is far too shallow for any, but the simplest fishing boats and kayaks. The spring run off will surely raise it i, and soon enough there will be a cue of boats waiting for their turn through the channel, which is only wide enough for one-way traffic at the slowest of speeds.

However, on this most precious of days, there are no boats upon the water.

We navigate through tall reeds, giving way easily as we glide among them. In time, these shallow coastal waters will be filled with lilies. We travel to the spot where we usually turn around, and I look up to find my partner moving away from the reeds and shore, a good 50 feet in front of me. Heading for who knows where.

I catch up and we continue along the shore. There is no development here, only nature and endless No Trespassing signs. It makes us want to trespass. Makes us wish we had a blanket and some food for an impromptu, illegal picnic. We continue on, “just a little further.”

We come across an eagle, perched at the top of a solitary pine, higher than all others. We take out our cell phones to attempt to capture her and fail miserably.

Our eyes, though not nearly as powerful or clear as hers, do a much better job of focusing on her, obscuring all other objects in our field of view that are not her, then our cameras do.

This is a wonder, even as we disappointingly return our phones to our pockets.

We come across a small cave covered in sprayed graffiti. Painted across the rocks are names of couples paired together or encased in hearts, graduation classes of numerous years, illegible words partially covered over, and a beautiful rendition of a raven and bear face to face, and a large smiley face painted over the front of them.

With each new sight and landmark, we discuss turning back. I’ve known for a while now where my wife is leading me. It’s long been her goal to kayak to Z-cliffs, and they have never been closer.

In the silent rhythm of watching the coastline and endlessly cutting through the water, I’ve been thinking about David Whyte’s poem,Just beyond yourself. On the surface, it’s a simple poem, about living beyond your comforts and familiarities, about extending your boundaries.

"Just beyond yourself.
It’s where you need to be.

Half a step into self-forgetting
and the rest restored by what you’ll meet.”

On that day, and most days since, I’ve been thinking about the word “just,” how crucial it is. Just beyond yourself. I think of how my sly wife knew where we were going all along, but kept heading to the next landmark. How she invites me to expand myself by degrees. That the only decision before us is the next, right movement beyond.

Now, the next landmark is Z-cliffs. It is hidden from sight as we approach it, guarded by Canadian geese camouflaged among the grey rock face, hidden and spread among the crevices.

It is a strange sight and one I’ve never encountered before, these iconic guardians, stationed and keeping watch. As we round the bend in the rock, the cliffs extend as high as we can crane our necks, the slightest rays of sun peaking through the openings at the very top.

The cameras come out again, and again fail to capture the immensity of it all. How small we feel in the face of it. But they are still glorious pictures.

At Z-cliffs, we finally turn around. We might have stretched the use of the word, just. We were on the water for 3 1/2 hours, and paddled more than 15 kilometres. Later, my sore right wrist would turn out to be tendonitis that would require a few weeks of anti-inflammatories, compression wraps and rest before returning to normal.

It’s a price I gladly pay for a day like that.

It occurs to me that this is what all of us are doing right now, or invited into. Going just beyond ourselves.

  • That’s what elderly woman was doing, setting tulips on a rickety backyard table.
  • That’s what the priest and nun were doing, extending sacraments on makeshift trays.
  • What each participant was doing, lining up and taking communion in their car.
  • It’s what we have been doing, with varying degrees of success or acknowledgement, for just over a year now.

We are beckoned further than ever before. The just is strained and difficult so often. We have been flexible, adaptable, exhausted, stretched and strained. All of it. But we are also expanded.

We are all going just beyond ourselves, and we will have to continue to do so. To go beyond where we have been before.

It is the only way forward for each and every one of us, and we will all be the greater for it.



You get to choose

“Who do you want to be?”

I ask myself this, as I’m staring out the window into a sky of endless grey. It’s early morning and uncharacteristically cold for April.

I’ve put on my sweatpants and running hoodie, stuffed my back pocket with a plastic grocery bag, and picked up the braided leash.

I’ve even laced up my worn Adidas, complete toes peeking through the torn mesh. My dog sees the cues and bolts down the stairs, bashing the wooden screen door open with his nose.

From the front yard, my dog looks back at me curiously, his head cocked slightly to the side. Why have I not come through the door? He requires no convincing. I require a little.

“Who do you want to be?” I ask myself again, this time pointedly.

I know the answer. I want to have a clearer head. I want to be stronger. I want to be a few pounds lighter.

(And I want to guiltlessly eat a donut of my choosing when I meet my friend at a downtown bakery that afternoon).

“Fine.”

The resistant me relents. The me that wants to sit on the couch, turn on the fireplace and drink coffee sulks a little, but he’ll get over it.

The me that wants to run has already started planning the route.

When I step out the door, I’m able to see my breath dissipate in front of me. My meagre running shirt does little to keep the cold at bay, but I know that will change soon enough.

I turn on my running app, cue up my music (that day the eternal voice of Gord Downie), and begin.

The start down the road from my house and soon turn off of concrete and down a muddy path where deep rivets have formed in the previous week’s warmer weather.

This morning they are frozen hard, and I have to watch my footing for risk of turning an ankle. It takes me a few minutes before I stop noticing the cold in my fingers. As long and regular as the initial strides are, it takes a while for them to feel natural.

Eventually, I settle into my body. Begin to be where I actually am.

  • Now I am passing a marshland near my child’s elementary school.
  • Now I am under tall and unwieldy aspen trees, their long white fingers reaching upward, backed by endless hues of grey.
  • Now I am running along a quiet road, passing under a falcon perched upon a power line. He tracks me as I pass beneath him before unfurling his wings and taking off.

The path I’ve chosen winds up into the nearby hills, and I’m already slowing to a walk to catch my breath. I set a point in the near distance.

“This far, then I start running again,” I tell myself, breathlessly. I do this a few times. It’s humbling as I continually tell myself that that was the last walking break, only to stop again a few heart pounding minutes later.

But I am still moving forward, upward.

Suddenly my running app announces my distance per minute speed. It is atrocious, but I am over halfway. The incline that I have been slowly and steadily climbing suddenly becomes a boon.

I turn around, and the slow, stunted steps of climbing become full, powerful strides once again. I begin to pick up speed.

By the time, I hit my next marker I am nearly sprinting. My heart is beating so hard I can feel it in my head, the music pulsing and obscured by each beat.

I finish my run next to the marsh where I started, and as I remove the earbuds, I am enveloped in birdsong, as quail scuttle for shelter in the bushes beside me, and red wing black birds flit between tree and cattail, their trill call and answer surrounding me.

Despite the running times, despite the grey, despite the cold. It is a sublime moment. A gift, or more precisely, a series of gifts. And for once, I’m grateful for each and every contribution that I am aware of. Grateful for it all.

I’m not often so grateful.

I would like to be. I know that I should be.

Gratitude can feel like a quaint thing these days. A luxury that living in a pandemic does not afford us.

“Sure, it’s good to be grateful, but have you seen these numbers? These variants? These restrictions?”

In the backdrop of the past year and a half, gratitude can appear a mindset for the privileged and ignorant.

Many of us have defaulted to scepticism. How could we not? How can we be assaulted daily with fear and not squint suspiciously at the coming days? Our arms folded tightly across our chest.

We become caught in the trap of vetting this world, weighing it, waiting to see if it is truly good, really worthy of our gratitude.

And in the meantime, we are missing out. Missing the gifts that are continually given, just beneath our notice.

Our cynicism and scepticism may be understandable, but they are not compatible with gratitude. You cannot hold both at the same time.

Go ahead, try it. Attempt to be grateful for someone or something you mistrust. I haven’t managed it yet. It’s a different internal posture.

A friend and writer I admire, Liz Adamshick, has a gratitude practice that she posts online, nearly every day. She writes how she is grateful for “the fresh cut orange next to my morning tea,” or “freeing some saplings of grapevines and blackberry stalks,” or “skillet fried potatoes with a light touch of Dijon mayo.”

Can you feel that? Taste and smell it? See how specific it is? My friend has discovered the same simple secret that the poet David Whyte was speaking of in his essay, Gratitude: that “gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention.”

The details matter. Now, more than ever. If it is hard to be grateful for the whole thing, focus on just being grateful for a part.

  • A specific part.
  • The slice of orange.
  • The skillet potatoes.
  • Your dog’s eager playfulness.
  • The voice of your child.
  • Even the grey mornings, worn out sneakers and each slowly drawn breath.

All of these are gifts, if we can receive them. For what is a gift, but something given, and something received?

Our world will continue to offer sunrise and sunset, aspen trees reaching out towards the sky, falcons taking off in flight above us. The glory of our world is that it just keeps offering, regardless of our responses.

We get to decide if these are gifts. With our eyes wide open to the particulars, we get to choose if we will be cynical, or grateful.

So who do you want to be?





Flawed exteriors, interiors

I have been spending hours fixing a single drawer.

It’s our Tupperware drawer, and it’s been broken for months. The drawer is composed of two components: the rectangular box that holds our Tupperware, and the drawer face, which at some point when closed too vigorously, ripped the particle board asunder, causing the damaged face of the drawer to clatter to the ground.

Some of my friends have drawers that you cannot slam. No matter how hard you push that drawer, no matter how quickly it initially begins to close, at the end, it slows down, nestling peacefully into its home.

I fantasize about those drawers all the time. Especially when my drawer breaks ... again.

You see, I have attempted to repair this broken drawer multiple times. I have attempted to fix it with different screws, then with wood glue, then with different adhesives.

Each time, when we forget to close the drawer delicately, it breaks again.

Eventually, I stopped attempting to repair it. For months, we’ve just lived with a broken Tupperware drawer.

Even discounting the drawer, our kitchen is in need of work. The table is consistently home to items carelessly dropped upon it. Clean and empty counter spaces are quickly filled with dishes and used cutting boards.

Crumbs, vegetable cuttings and coffee grinds find their way into corners. The floor becomes filthy mere minutes after it has been swept and washed.

On a bad day, everywhere I look in the kitchen, there is chaos. But other rooms tell similar stories.

  • Walls needing repainting.
  • Stair nosing that is splitting.
  • Clutter needing organization or removal.
  • Disrepair and entropy on display.

There is a short story by the author Sherman Alexie entitled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

In the story, there is a romantic couple that fought regularly. Epic and brutal altercations with the sharpest of words both whispered and yelled. And lamp throwing. Regularly the protagonist would pick up a lamp in the midst of their fights and drop it, or throw it against the wall.

After each fight they would pick up a new lamp to replace it. At first from fancy boutiques, then thrift stores and garage sales.

Eventually the couple stopped replacing the lamps. Their home was dark. They lived and fought in darkness.

The story illuminates the subtle and even unintentional ways that a person gives up. Our slow, unintentional descent into entropy. When we stop replacing that which is broken. When we simply accept and live in brokenness.

Now no one in our house is throwing lamps. But is a continually broken drawer really that different? Or a table consistently covered in clutter?

Of course, all of these things are just exteriors, right? Just decoration, just esthetics.

But what if they’re not?

In Alexie’s short story, the chaotic and destructive nature of the couple’s relationship is mirrored in the broken items, the unadorned areas, the darkened, lamp-less home. Perhaps in our story, our external environments mirror our internal states as well.

What if a cluttered desk really does reflect a cluttered mind? Or an usable table?

  • Of course, we’re busy.
  • Of course, we are tired.
  • Of course, I have fixed that drawer before.
  • Of course, we have cleared that table and those counters before, only to see them fall into disarray again.

Things seem to fall into chaos so easily some days. Cleaning up after three kids and a large dog can feel like our own personal sand mandala ritual.

Sometimes, you stop pushing back against the chaos. Sometimes, you let the dishes stay on the counter. Or let the drawer stay broken. Or stop replacing the lamps.

As the owner of spaces that are frequently cluttered, dirty or needing repair, I don’t always like what my exteriors would say about my interior life.

I would like my interiors and exteriors to be completely divided things, thank you very much.

But I know they’re not.

I know the joy of an open space and unobstructed view. How a made bed can make you feel more settled. How a clean sink and countertops can fill you with a simple pride. Even for just for a little while.

Conversely, when my focus and energy levels drop off, the house reflects it. Laundry piles up just a little more. The small acts of tidying up after myself (and others) gets neglected.

The truth is, our exteriors both reflect and affect our interior life.

This is great when it works in our favour. When we enter a space that calms us, such as a walk in nature, or a favourite sun soaked chair where we like to read. But it can also utterly undo us at times.

When I feel anxious, or scattered and distracted, a table full of clutter can feel like more than just an assortment of items to be put away.

It can feel like I’m failing at the very basics of life.

Once we see our exteriors as intertwined with our interior life, we can be left with a very long and important to do list.

You might be left feeling as if you are not merely repairing a broken item, but your very brokenness. Suddenly, the worn off paint, the overflowing cutlery drawer, the messy vehicle interior begin to feel like character flaws. That there is something very wrong with you.

And if, (hypothetically speaking), you find the prospect of repairing that one accursed drawer again overwhelming, the prospect of attempting to repair and structure your interior life may just make you want to lie down in the fetal position.

That to-do list is crushing. You may not even know where to start.

So start with both acceptance and gratitude.

We all arrive at this moment through different paths. Some of our interiors and exteriors are more cluttered than others. So be it.

This is your home, your interior and exterior, and no one else’s. Accept that a home comes with it all. Warm baths and leaking pipes. Delicious food around a table, and the dishes afterward. Projects completed and many projects yet to do.

Accept that a life’s work may just take a lifetime. It might be enough (for now) to simply see this. To see ourselves soberly, but without too much judgment.

Seeing is a gift, after all. Noticing that which we were too tired or overwhelmed to see before, is progress. To buy one more lamp, when you’ve smashed so many before, is courage.

There is no easy fix for the way we are. But it is still good. We can desire change without despising who we are.

So sweep away the new mess, clear off that table and counters once again. And break out the adhesives, and screws, and clamps, and attempt to fix that which is broken once more.

Clear those exteriors, and be kind to your interior life.

This is hard, good work, making a home.



More Something From Everything articles

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About the Author

 

Matthew Rigby is a grateful husband to one, and father to three. He works as a registered nurse in emergency care, and has spent more than 15 years in healthcare. 

Matt, an avid reader and podcast enthusiast, is committed to great questions and honest discovery.

You can find his podcast "Something From Everything" wherever you listen, and find all his writing at www.somethingfromeverything.com.



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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