You never know where life is going to take you. (This is a cliché and I always tell my memoir writing workshop participants never to use these sayings but today it’s OK.) Four years ago I was given a Swiss flag in Whistler and a request to reunite it with its owner in Switzerland when I could. And it happened a few weeks ago.
In 2010 I had the job of a lifetime as part of the Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games. Posted in Whistler, B.C. as a Nordic sport writer for the Olympic News Service and Paralympic News Service, I met and worked with people from around the world. It was an interesting job, despite the long hours, and after my job was done for the day I hopped on a bus and headed for the swanky home I shared with five others.
Six women were packed into a condo near downtown Whistler. There was me, the Canadian, my roommate, the Norwegian, a Brit, another with dual Canadian and American citizenship, her American friend and a Swiss Ms. We all held different roles and therefore had different hours but somehow, we all became friends.
Flags from our representing countries were hung up around our living room (that was also one woman’s bedroom) during the opening ceremonies. There was a small party that night with other VANOC (Vancouver Organizing Committee) employees, each person cheering loudly as his or her country walked into the B.C. Place Stadium. This was the only time I would be allowed to clap for Canada; otherwise I had to be impartial.
At the end of the Olympics some workers were staying on for the Paralympics, like me, while others were returning home. The Swiss Ms, Cornelia, gave me her Swiss flag and told me I had to bring it back to her. I had been to Switzerland a few years before but hadn’t considered a future trip.
“I’ll try to return it to you,” I said. But in my mind I thought there was no way I was travelling to Europe in the next year or so. There were other priorities like finding another job and a place to live. So I packed the red and white flag away in my things and since then, have been moving it around and around with me. Each time I packed and unpacked, from Whistler to various apartments in Revelstoke and Calgary, I would uncover the flag and be reminded of my promise.
After getting married almost two years ago, my husband and I decided to have a delayed honeymoon so we could save up money. When we were discussing options we talked about going to the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland. Switzerland! I could finally return Cornelia’s flag – right before the 2014 Sochi Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games.
Cornelia and I made plans to meet in Zurich on the first day of 2014 and that’s when I passed over the flag. Not with much pomp or ceremony but we did take a photo to mark the moment. During these past holidays not only did I get to catch up with my Swiss friend but I also got a chance to meet up with two other Whistler roommates I hadn’t seen since 2010. One was in Alberta over the Christmas holidays and the other had us over to her house for a thoroughly delicious moose supper in Oslo, Norway (the second part of our honeymoon destination.) You never know where life is going to take you.
The countdown is on for the start of the Sochi Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games. I know several people who will be working behind the scenes in Russia. I was one of them four years ago as part of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games and will miss being part of the team this time.
Posted in Whistler as a Nordic sport writer for the Olympic News Service and Paralympic News Service, I met and worked with people from around the world. I was a cross-country ski and Nordic combined “expert.” My job was to write stories for the journalists waiting eagerly for copy. Some reporters were new to winter sports and needed help understanding who was on the podium, who wasn’t and why. I told them.
I liked my job and enjoyed the atmosphere of the Olympics/Paralympics even though I didn’t relish the relentless soup and sandwiches we had for lunch every day for a few months. I also didn’t care for the term we VANOC (Vancouver Organizing Committee) employees were given because of our blue uniforms – “Smurfs.” It wasn’t an endearing nickname although now I admit, it’s kind of funny.
The moments that stand out for me during my job at the Olympics/Paralympics aren’t ones involving the athletes and their gold finishes, it’s more the excitement of the Smurfs before the opening ceremonies. It’s about making new friends. It’s about Whistler being turned into a global village. It’s about being part of a legacy, even if the experience for me was brief.
Today’s blog piece isn’t so much a story as a look back for me. A reminiscence of a period and place that was truly invigorating and tiresome at the same time. Now it’s someone else’s job to watch every slip and slide and jump. To write the daily previews and reviews. To gather stories about athletes and coaches. Friday is the Olympic opening ceremonies so it’s time to pass the torch. Good luck.
Most couples after their wedding usually go on a honeymoon. My husband and I decided to delay our special trip a year and a half and go when we had saved up some money. This past Christmas holiday we took off for Switzerland and Norway, both snowy places, or so we thought. I’ll share some memories with you along with photos.
We enjoy winter and like to watch hockey so our first stop was the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland. I had been to Switzerland before and was happy to return with someone who had never been. We were headed for the Spengler Cup, the oldest invitational hockey tournament in the world. It’s been taking place in Davos since 1923. Canada won the cup last year in 2012 and we were hoping Canada would win it again with us watching in the stands. They did win the game against the Rochester Americans (the AHL team for the Buffalo Sabres, which has a roster full of Canadians) but Canada lost to Genève-Servette in the semi-finals.
The fans in the Vaillant Arena are fantastic – much better than NHL fans. The Davos arena is a small venue but the spectators make it seem large. They sing along to the pre-puck drop music, they do the wave around and around again, they whistle (instead of boo) when they don’t like a ref’s call. In short – the fans made a good experience – great.
Our home in Switzerland belonged to friends who were away. They live in the most unbelievable beautiful village called Fanas. The houses are built right into the mountain and when the bus dropped us off in the main square I thought I was going to fall off the side of the town. There was no snow in Fanas and it felt like spring most days. The birds sang their Swiss songs and there were goats bleating “guten tag” (hello) and the earth smelled so rich. Some people take a tram even higher up the mountain to paraglide and fly by the house. One guy was metres away and waved hello to us on the balcony.
The bus trip from Fanas to either the town of Grusch on one side, or Schiers on the other, was a bit scary. The roads are narrow and winding and there’s not a lot of room for both a car and the bus. There aren’t many guard rails either but after a couple of trips we got used to it.
Just a nice photo of a swan (are European swans bigger than Canadian swans?) on Lake Zürich (Zürichsee).
Off to Norway where I tried a new food every day. As a Maritimer it was my duty to check out the fish – for breakfast. Not bad, very salty just like the blueberry milk I also tasted another day.
Many afternoons were spent by the fire in Norway. A British senior talked with us one day and told us we made a great memory for her – the Canadian honeymooners sitting in the warm glow of the flames while the sky outside darkened. (It was dark a lot in Norway and only light from 9 a.m. to just after 3 p.m. Even in daylight the sky was dingy.) The funny thing was, the hotel put us in a room with twin beds.
Olso is a nice city and people are friendly. There was no snow here and it was an anomaly for Norway. We were told it’s been the warmest winter in over a century. Olso is on the same latitude as Yellowknife and yet, Oslo was above freezing when we were there. Unlike the Northwest Territories (and the rest of Canada) that was experiencing the “polar vortex”.
Found the harbour! I always gravitate towards water being a true Bluenoser (Nova Scotian).
Speaking of Nova Scotia, Akershus Fortress reminded me a little of the Halifax Citadel. The medieval Olso castle is near the harbour and was first used in battle in 1308 when besieged by a Swedish duke. (I was besieged by my stupid boots that I had to wear all the time since I didn’t bring any other pairs of shoes. Alas, who knew Norway wouldn’t have snow?)
Akershus Fortress is still a working military area and there is a changing of the guard that we managed to catch one afternoon. The procession moves to Kirkegaten to Karl Johans Gate and on to the Royal Palace. Click here for a poor video I shot of the changing.
We checked out the Viking Ship Museum. Wow, incredible. This is the Oseberg ship that was excavated in 1904. There are three ships that were found in burial mounds around Norway. Two are complete and look to be in fantastic shape. However, some of the wood is degrading from the inside out and the Norwegians are researching how to stop this from happening. Human bones are also on display and I wonder what kind of stories their souls would tell. If they could…
One afternoon we took the Oslo Tunnelbane (T-banen, the metro) to the outskirts of the city. A friend of a friend who lives in Olso said we must go for lunch at the Frognerseteren Restaurant. It’s a popular place to end a good day of cross-country skiing, when there is snow. We enjoyed our last meal out in the charming rustic Norwegian place. Tusen takk (thank you) for the great memories.
“[O]ur honeymoon will shine our life long: its beams will only fade over your grave or mine.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia is celebrating 175 years of education and innovation. It asked for alumnus to share stories from their Acadia days to mark the anniversary. Here is my contribution that was recently published in the Acadia Bulletin (on page 48: http://bit.ly/1cSLv7b.)
I don’t remember many of my classroom lessons at Acadia. Of course, the knowledge my professors imparted during my four years shaped my mind and gave me intellectual instruction for the future. However, most of my education at Acadia was the life experience kind of learning: the stuff that takes place outside the lecture hall.
My first week at Acadia is a memory that has stayed with me over the past 20 years. Moving my things into Seminary House alongside my high school friend and about-to-be roommate, I was taking a big step. Leaving my parents’ home for a co-ed dorm where I could start being independent – along with about 90 others. As a Sem frosh I was put right into the mix of silly activities and a getting-to-know-you game where I met a lifelong friend. (I was in his wedding party this September.) From that beginning I felt like I was part of something bigger than just going to school.
Classes are small at Acadia, which makes it easy to spot those sharing your schedule. After a couple of days of lectures, one woman introduced herself to me. She said we had three classes in common, intro to political science, English and one more that I can’t remember now. Ah si, it was Spanish.
We became instant friends and joined with four more girls to become the Posse (yes, we named ourselves). We talked, danced, laughed and cried over lots of boys. As frosh we felt so grown-up. But as each year passed we realized we had been so young.
At the end of our fourth year we knew the lay of the land – the campus from the Beveridge Arts Centre (BAC) to Eaton House. We knew 8:30 a.m. classes were hard to attend but so were 1:30 p.m. classes on Fridays. We knew which meals at McConnell Hall were the tastiest and which were not. We knew if your crush wasn’t at the Anvil, he’d be at the Axe. We knew university was hard work but reality was going to be harder. We knew that from that first day we had built a strong base of support through friendships and knowledge. Acadia taught us that we could do anything.
Finally. I finished the 598 page tome, The Worst Journey in the World, that I’ve been tackling in the evenings for at least a year now. It has taken me a while to read because often I had to put it down. Some passages were too much to take in right before I shut my eyes to go to sleep.
The Worst Journey in the World is a non-fiction book written by Apsley Cherry-Garrard about the race to the South Pole. Cherry-Garrard was part of a British expedition team in the early 1900s that planned to be the first to travel all the way to the pole before Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. (Amundsen did make it to the pole about five weeks ahead of British expedition captain Robert Falcon Scott and his party of four men.) Cherry-Garrard’s story was created from journals he had written, along with the memoirs of his other team members.
The Worst Journey is a horror story, a horror story not many of us can imagine today. It’s about extreme cold and ice and forcing your body into completing intense feats of endurance. It’s about frozen feet and hands and noses and snow blindness and scurvy and starvation. It’s about you and the elements and fighting for your life with no hope of a helicopter swopping in to save you.
Five explorers died on the 1,440 kilometre Antarctic mission. Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans perished on their way back from the pole. Evans went first after suffering a concussion by falling on ice. Oates was next – walking out of the tent into a blizzard in an apparent self-sacrifice. He’d been battling gangrene and frostbite and yet never complained once. How is this possible?
Scott, Wilson and Bowers were the last to go. They spent three days in their tent, unable to push their bodies onwards to the food cache only a few kilometres away. Their bodies were found by a search party, including Cherry-Garrard, months later. He referred to the scene as something that can never leave his memory.
The expedition leader Scott and teammate Wilson both left accounts of their travels and travails during their last days. Cherry-Garrard incorporated these diary entries into his book so readers have the full picture. Cherry-Garrard pointed out some factors where he thought the team went wrong but never played the blame game. He left that up to each of us to figure out. He did say this:
Exploration is the physical expression of the intellectual passion. And I tell you, if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore… If you are a brave man you will do nothing: if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards need to prove their bravery.
Excerpt: The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
To me, the British explorers were not cowards. Their mission
was a dangerous one and five men didn’t come back. They were explorers pushing the limits for science. They took risks at a time when there weren’t any satellite phones or GPS units. Who would do that today?
Tom Crean was part of Robert Falcon Scott’s 1911–13 South Pole expedition. Crean is a clear hero in Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World . As one of the supporting team members in Scott’s attempt to the South Pole, Scott decided to take only four men and told several others to turn around and go back to the base camp.
Heading back, Lieutenant Edward Evans (not to be confused with Edgar Evans) got gravely ill from scurvy. Evans couldn’t march any further and was on his death-bed. Crean walked 56 kilometres, alone, to get help. He had some food but nothing warm. He went literally through ice and snow, falling hard many times until at last, he found help. A team of men went out and saved Evans.
Crean was also on the search party for Scott and his four men. And if that wasn’t incredible enough, Crean went on to be a part of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition in 1914. Crean boarded the expedition’s ship, the Endurance, only to have it get stuck in ice and be crushed. Now stranded, he spent months on the ice with the men until Shackleton decided to strike out for help in a lifeboat.
Six men were chosen and Crean was one. They had a terrific journey through heavy snow squalls to a sparsely inhabited island, South Georgia. Unfortunately, they landed on the uninhabited side so Crean and two others hiked 48 kilometres to find help at a whaling station. What an amazing man. He died from a burst appendix when he was 61.
There is a present day Scott expedition going on right now. Click here for their blog: http://bit.ly/JrDETR
I submitted a story for Bloodlines a Canada Writes contest. It asks you to dig through the pages of your family’s past and share a compelling story from your bloodline. Well, I’m not sure if this is what they’re looking for but this is what I wrote: http://bit.ly/1bE3Vuq
It has been two years since I launched my corporate and personal legacy writing business in Calgary. These two years have been filled with successes, mistakes and a lot of learning. But my business has taken root and is managing to grow little by little.
Each day, month and year adds up — and each story I help write and preserve is an important legacy for a company or family. I’m happy continuing my work with Family Lines and Our Corporate History and doing what I love — shaping stories into words for you.
A “gotchi” is what I call a magpie. I hadn’t seen one before I went to South Korea a long time ago. Once there, I noticed tons of these black and white birds. Sometimes their feathers are so black they turn iridescent green in the sun.
“What is that bird called?” I asked a Korean friend.
“That’s a gotchi.”
This afternoon while I was walking near a downtown Calgary park, I saw a gotchi viciously attacking something on the ground. I looked at what the bird was dive bombing, its beak sharp and gleaming in the sun. It was another bird. A tiny bird.
The brown and beige creature was huddled against a brown and beige sandstone building. It was a sparrow trying its best to avoid the gotchi’s black sword. The sparrow cried out in defiance and pain every time it was speared by the magpie.
Usually I can let nature take her course. Let what happen, happen between animals. It’s not my place to sort them out. But I couldn’t just walk by the violent air raid. The sparrow’s squawks of bravery reverberated through my head and to my heart. I shooed the gotchi away from the bird that was smaller than the gotchi’s wing.
Letting the sparrow catch its breath, I started walking again. But the gotchi returned. It hadn’t gone far anyway but when it saw me leaving, it came back. Ready to be a bully. I waved the magpie off again and stood in my ground in the park in the sun.
I couldn’t be on gotchi guard all day. I looked at the brown bird, it was huffing and puffing, in and out, in and out went the breath in its small lungs. The magpie cackled like one of Shakespeare’s witches. The gotchi was sitting in the sun on a branch coated with yellow leaves. Yellow for caution.
There was no way I was letting the gotchi have its easy prey. The brown bird was coming with me. At least it can have a rest from the magpie. I reached down and picked up the sparrow in my black, velveteen gloves. The bird didn’t make a sound. Its eyes were shut from the exhausting and traumatic event. But when it wrapped its feet around my palms for stability, I felt strength. I felt life.
In the autumn sun and the chilling wind we started our trek along the city streets. Each step I made I was hoping I didn’t jostle or bump or injure my patient further. But as our journey together started, I realized I didn’t have a plan for what to do next.
Do I take you home? Do I take you to the vet’s? Do I call animal bylaw services?
We went home. I’m not sure if anyone noticed us, me walking gingerly like I was carrying a glass full of water that I didn’t want to spill. You, cupped in my hands with your tail sticking out of my gloves. I peeked at you a few times to make sure you were OK. Your eyes still shut you were far away but not upset about your ride. Until we crossed the street at a busy intersection. Then you struggled to stand up and look around.
You didn’t fly away. Only settled in again for the last few metres.
At the gate to my home there are some bushes. In one of the bushes there is a hole, a hole big enough to hide a bird. A space where the sun shines. A space that would protect a bird from gotchis. A hole that would let a sparrow rest before it takes flight. I put you in between the branches of the bushes, on a cushion of fallen leaves, green and yellow.
I prayed you would know what to do when I left.
Before I went, I got out my mobile to take a photo. The flash went off and then the phone went dead. Not an omen, I hoped. I said goodbye to you and then walked through the gate. In the entranceway there are mail boxes on the wall and stuck in the door of one of them was a letter. A letter in the sun addressed to M. Sparrow. Someone who had left the building years ago. Not another sign I hoped.
I thought about you when I was in my house. I was leaving for an appointment in two hours and that’s when I’d check on you. When the time came to go out again I dressed in warm layers, sweaters and a tuque, and went outside. The sun was no longer strong. Darkness was growing over the day.
You were gone. I searched around the pocket of bushes to see if you had fallen further into the vegetation. Or if there were feathers flying, from an encounter with a cat or dog or magpie. But there was nothing. Nothing to say you were ever there.