Vacation of slipping into the moment

Vacation of slipping into the moment

“The present moment holds the key to liberation,” says spiritual guru, Eckhart Tolle, in The Power of Now.

But you can’t find it, he adds, “as long as you are your mind.”

Tolle doesn’t suggest becoming brainless to achieve inner peace; only that we recharge ourselves occasionally by letting the incessant stream of chattering in our heads pass without engagement – thoughts like push-button pedestrian lights that should be in Maple Ridge already, shooting bears in parks where they belong, and the question of whether horse owners like Dave Speers should have to pick up poop because dog owners must.

I achieve liberation from a restless, analytical mind in my kayak on the Alouette River –where I came across a family of otters, looked eye-to-eye at a coyote on the shore – or pack a bag (one only) and head off to someplace I’ve never seen.

This summer it was north of Toronto for a lake-side holiday at the invitation of my mother-in-law’s niece, Pat, and her partner, Robert. My wife couldn’t make this trip – duties at home. I’d keep Mom company.

Pat has a modest cabin near Gravenhurst, gateway to the Moskoka Lake District –  steamships that delivered mail, farm markets, and million dollar cottages with boat houses worth more than my home.

National Geographic calls it the best place for a holiday in North America.  Remember the gnarly white pines struggling upward between smooth folds of blue-gray volcanic rock in Group of Seven paintings?

My peace of mind began when I met Pat’s aging terrier. The dog’s hind legs are non-functional, but she chases chipmunks with a passion, and fetches a ball when strapped into her wheelchair, a cart like the one I use to pull my kayak along beaches. I smiled as I watched this without feeling compelled to figure out what it all meant.

Something like this happened many times over the next seven days. I dove off a dock into water that was almost too warm, concentrating only on my breathing as I swam. There were long paddles in kayaks, a 50-kilometre bike ride with Robert, glasses of wine on the deck in the sunshine, and catching small mouth bass on a fly line until darkness descended or the mosquitoes became more than I could stand even with a fish on my line.

I read books again. The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson. My curiosity about this abnormal group began in the late ’70s, when I met two murderers while teaching in the B.C. Penitentiary. They were discussing the Romantic Period in English literature and asked me to join them. The book lists the characteristics of people who have no empathy for others, and asserts – correctly I think – that psychopaths are charming, and the highest percentage of them are CEOs in the business world.

Maus, A Survivor’s Tale, by Art Spiegelman, is a biography of the author’s father, a Polish Jew and holocaust survivor. It’s a graphic novel (comic strip format). Jews are depicted as mice, Germans as cats. Pat’s a psychologist. I should ask her why I fell asleep each night with these books in hand, slept like a log, and snored like Paul Bunyon and Babe in concert.

On the morning we left Moskoka we saw wild turkeys in a field. It was supposed to reach 37 degrees later at Pearson Airport – big trouble for Mom if we stayed. For eight days I hadn’t read a newspaper, watched TV, listened to radio, or gone on the internet.

It was cloudy in Vancouver, where it had rained all that week. But the next day, the sun came out in Maple Ridge. I paddled the Alouette with Bruce Hobbs, one of this river’s best friends ( In front of me the water suddenly erupted with white fish jumping to feed on mosquitoes. Once more, I slipped into the present moment. Moskoka’s beautiful, but this is the best place on Earth.

Opening my email, I found a dozen comments about my last column, which poked fun at people who use incorrect grammar. Most readers thought it was amusing, but caught me up for saying dog poop wreaked instead of reeked.

It’s true. I should be on my own Ridunkulist for that.

Kathy Wagner, a writer friend, forwarded a magazine cartoon. Two columnists compete for the most readers. One gets 93 responses by squeezing in comments about Ron Paul, the recession, and narwhales. The other gets 834 by putting a spelling error in the title.

“At least you know they’re reading it,” observed my wife.

Annette Code, another reader, wrote to say she also thinks people don’t spell as well as they should, and lamented her own failure to use commas appropriately. Thanks for that, Annette.

In your honor, I’m placing the following on this week’s Ridunkulist. A sign on the Lougheed Highway near Whonnock reads: chicken carrots.

Are these the carrots with the fleshy red combs on top of their heads instead of the usual greens, or the ones with  feathers that need to be plucked before steaming?

The two words just need a comma: chicken, carrots.

And that’s all, this week, from the grammar police, a noxious organization somebody else suggested I might be forming up.



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