Travel

What is it about travel that inspires the muse? Is it simply being in a country away from the familiar? Or is it seeing the familiar with different eyes?

 Goethe said that the highest goal humans can achieve is amazement. Can travel achieve this? Why limit oneself to a singular experience or repeat the familiar without cultivating others? Why settle with simply being a tourist?

Nowadays travellers often go on adventures that pit themselves against the elements or to test their own limitations. I did what more and more travellers are doing. Last February I chose to experience the foreignness of an unfamiliar country by signing on to travel with a local NGO who organizes exposure trips to educate participants in the work it does.

On the outskirts of the city of Panama I found Flor Eugenia, a slight woman with white hair who  took the time to welcome me and my fellow travellers to the community she founded in 1971. It is called Madres Maestras/Teachers Mothers. They care for children whose families have moved from rural areas. We met the children and their mothers. We did not meet their fathers, although there was some talk about what these strong women are doing to get the men involved. Their culture still lacks liberal practices. As a mother of two sons who can fix things around the house, garden, do the laundry, cook well, and care for children, I was struck by this disparity and would encounter it elsewhere in indigenous cultures.

It took years of dedication to keep this program going and make it work. In fact, it works so well the community school idea has spread across the country. Two visitors from the Philippines arrived while we were there. They are planning to open a Mothers Teachers school in their country. Weeks later, after I arrived home, I heard on the radio that local neighbourhoods want to create spaces where parents and children learn together. Touted as a progressive educational model, I thought this model will succeed if we can support and sustain it like the one I had visited.

After Panama our group continued to Costa Rica. We had the unique experience of crossing the border on foot with our luggage in tow leaving behind one bus and driver to board another. Awareness dawned. Millions cross borders on foot every day. They do not choose where to land. Unlike us, they are not tourists. Such privilege to be one or the other belongs to the likes of me and those of my fellow travellers who paid our way, a legitimate tour at a reasonable fare. Now on the bus I was full of memories of a Panama outside the familiar. Yes, I had visited the Panama Canal, Casio Viejo (Old Panama), and seen the new Panama of international riches including modern high rises and new bridges. Yet, what remained were the memories of warm ocean waves rolling into shore along a shallow stretch of a sandy beach in the province of Chiriqui and the brilliant expanse of stars positioned in a sky close to the equator. Companionship that brought warmth, sparks, laughter.

My reward for venturing off the beaten path came in the form of amazement on the south Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Where mostly locals visit sits the OSA Peninsula, home to the Bahia Ballena National Park, a vast protected marine and biological reserve. Now, I have travelled to the east coast of Canada and seen puffins and porpoises, to the west coast and seen eagles and whales, to the Galapagos and seen boobies and dolphins; but here, in Costa Rica, one boat excursion brought those sights and more. Breaching humpbacks so close we could reach out and almost touch them, colonies of birds across the water from howling monkeys, and a tidal formation in the shape of a whale’s fin, a fluke. Total amazement!

Costa Rica is known for its waterfalls. Our group visited them in both Costa Rica and Panama. Despite the description of a challenging trail, I was determined to get to Ngöbe-Buglé, our first visit to a waterfall. I joined the young students and seasoned hikers. To top off the challenge it was a windy day. At one turn a fierce gust slammed me against a rock and pulled my sunglasses off my head. When I reached for them an indigenous guide raised his palm indicating for me to stop. He nimbly retrieved them. That’s when I realized I had a following. A long line of locals wearing only flip flops giggled. I was grateful, if a little embarrassed. They were looking out for me, an old lady in hiking shoes unused to the steep terrain, rocky ground and narrow path. The effort of getting there was worth the plunge into the cold basin below the veil of falling water. Trips to other waterfalls were easier and always rewarding.

No surprise to learn that fish farms are catching on in Central America. Where I live there is a local trout farm that is gaining in popularity for being sustainable. The environmentally conscious consumer likes to eat at restaurants where these fish are served. In Costa Rica we visited a fish farm in Boruca which is an indigenous reserve. The family working this farm are basically squatters on their own land that was once occupied by non indigenous cattle farmers. The set up reminded me of many farm to table initiatives. Here water comes from a spring in the hills where there’s a waterfall. This irrigation system will also allow for building greenhouses and the establishment of vegetable patches in the future. So, goodbye cattle farmers. Hello sustainable production for local consumption. The main fish cultivated are tilapia and fresh water shrimp.

On our first day in the capitol city of San Jose I woke up early. Outside our hotel the street was busy with people heading off to work. I felt safe joining the throngs who were walking in sunshine. Only one block away I came across a plaza with installations that resembled the works of Henry Moore. Heidi, a mature student who was also with the tour, saw me and waved. We were both full of delight to find ourselves in this magical place where we discovered an extensive sculpture exhibit of Jiminez Deridia. All the bronze sculptures that lined the park had figures with spheres. Earlier on our trip we had been introduced to the phenomenon of stone spheres that litter the countryside in Costa Rica. There is much speculation about how they came to be. Were they carved by ancient people? Did they drop from the cosmos? Were they formed naturally? Later that day we visited the national museum and saw an exhibit in their central garden of varying sizes of stone spheres and an exhibit indoors on their origins. We would also saw more gigantic sculptures being erected outside the museum in Democracy Park. Before leaving the national site, we took a group photo in front of one of these impressive sculptures.

Early the next morning, our last before departing for the airport, I again left the hotel to take a walk. Outside our hotel I came across a work crew with more sculptures by J. D. that were loaded onto a flatbed truck. The workers were busy installing another large piece. Here was the evidence of a country that values the art of its citizens. Such effort, such cost, such attention, by both the creator and the citizens. I wished I could have stayed longer to delve deeper into the phenomenal work by this native sculptor. Yet I was content to go home having achieved my goal. I took away the warmth of the people of Central America. I experienced rural and urban lifestyles. My muse inspired I wrote broadly: poems, blogs, this piece.

NAMES

Sisters Donna and Dolores at the launch of What Shirley Missed at the local bookstore in Port Hope

The main character in this novel is Shirley Palmer. That is her married name. Women still have that choice. Her birth name is Shirley Anne Montgomery. This name recognizes a heroine in Canadian fiction. Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote about Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables. Why did I choose this name? Read on.

Donna at the Waterfront Festival in Cobourg

Nominative Determinism is an offshoot of a theory by Carl Jung and was known by the Romans as “nomen omen”. Thus the meaning of a name may play a significant role in the fate, talent and skill of its owner. So Mr. Baker makes bread and Mrs. Taylor sews dresses. You can see how enticing this theory is to writers choosing names for characters.

Donna gives a reading at Trent University in Peterborough

I came across the surname Rainbow when reading the obituaries in the newspaper. If I used this name in my writing the character would be optimistic and hopeful. Anne Shirley is known around the world as a fictional character. She is forever young. In my novel What Shirley Missed the main character misses out on many adventures including growing old.

Plant A Tree

A society grows great when old men plant trees, the shade of which they know they will never sit in.

These hemlocks were planted by such a man. They were chosen carefully. The Eastern or Canada hemlock is a coniferous tree native to Eastern North America. Their small needles lay flat and the top of the tree is weepy. Planting any old tree species won’t do. Being mindful of the choice of tree makes for a stronger forest. To paraphrase the quote above by the character Penelope Wilton played in Afterlife: Good happens when an old man plants trees knowing he won’t live long enough to sit under their shade.

Yet it takes more than just planting to make good happen. It also takes tending. Invasive species can crowd out native species. Pruning dead and fallen branches is a big part of managing a healthy forest.

Diana Beresford-Kroeger is a botanist and environmentalist who champions the value of trees. She is particularly adamant that we protect the boreal forest to reduce the harm done by carbon emissions and to reduce the effects of global warming. Science does not completely understand how the chemistry of this happens so cannot alone counter nay-sayers. Recognizing how to make all forests sacred will go a longer way to achieve this goal. She was the inspiration behind Heartwood, an anthology of poems by Canadian poets who love trees and recognize their importance. Here’s my verse written for the good man who planted trees for the benefit of your children:

Moon shadows on the garden, Song breaks a cricket chorus, World of tall pines and dwarf plants

Vanished Hour

When I heard sharp rain hitting the roof I lifted my head to read the time on the digital clock: 2 am, but with daylight saving time, 3 am. An hour lost, but the loss I felt wasn’t time. I was feeling the loss of snow in the forest. I was remembering the brilliance of sunshine glistening off powder snow. My whole body was remembering the perfect experience of x-country skiing in the best conditions this winter briefly offered. There’d been a window of opportunity between bouts of freezing rain, plunging temperatures, and gale force winds.

Every muscle in my body was awake. I was feeling the afterglow of total physical engagement. I recognized it as a sensation that comes only after I go x-country skiing. I yearned to experience it again but knew I wouldn’t. That promise disappeared just like the lost hour.

There have been many beautiful days in my life spent on ski trails. In bed I was in a reverie remembering the past 2 days. One day I’d gone with a friend to a forest where skiers break trails. The woods are so close you sometimes feel you are going to hug a tree. We skied for 2 hours. The next day I went on my own to another conservation area where the trails are groomed. It seems safer because the trails are wider. When I stopped to take a drink in the middle of the forest there was silence. I soaked up the quiet, the sun, the isolation. It is very restorative to feel such peace.

What is winter without snow? Many dislike winter so much they flee to warmer climes. Last month I went to Panama and Costa Rica where I was privileged to plunge into a warm ocean, tour the countryside under dry skies, and soak up the sunshine. Yet I always question why we can’t all embrace the beauty of winter? There is so much to enjoy. Snow has its own beauty. No snow is worse than too much. Our forests need snow. It is a gift to our environment we will regret losing.

NEWS

One morning the radio announcer ended the news broadcast with a “kicker”, a story about a kangaroo spotted in Austria, far away from its native home in Australia. No investigations at local zoos turned up a missing kangaroo. So where did this animal come from?

Decades ago I learned from my high school English teacher to listen to news broadcasts for the light pieces always delivered at the end. This happens without fail from CBC to BBC to ABC. I hoped this particular “kicker” would get resolved quickly.

When growing up my household received more than one newspaper. The comics section provided the lighthearted reading. I can still picture my father chuckling over those comic strips. My mother was in the habit of cutting out feature articles about my father’s sports career in lacrosse. She’d made a scrapbook which she kept that proved useful when I wrote a book about my father. I, too, am in the habit of cutting out articles, mostly about books or opinion pieces I find insightful.https://www.amazon.ca/Moon-Remembered-Lacrosse-Goalie-Wootton/dp/B003WHFKTO?keywords=Moon+Remembered&qid=1547647402&sr=8-11&ref=sr_1_11

Among my mother’s collection of loose newspaper articles I found a page about me. It showed a picture of fellow high school graduates from 1966. Although she had torn out the entire front page she hadn’t kept the rest of the article. Curious about what had been written back then I went to the local library. Fortunately the branch had a collection of early newspapers. I easily found the piece in the archives that were kept on microfiche. There I could read the whole article that named the graduates. Small town pride.

There was another interesting picture from that newspaper dated Monday, November 7, 1966. It showed a young man who was running for council. Although he had been a promising student, he had not gone on to higher learning like the graduates in the photo. Instead, he had settled down and started a family. I don’t know if he’d won a seat in council but I do know that his sister hadn’t graduated either and that she claimed to be in high school with me although she never was in my class. The record of that is in the year books which I kept. Remember them?

A Global Family

I belong to a global family. You may say you do too. You may assume I am speaking about the population of the whole world. You are correct about that assumption. We all belong to the global family, but I want to tell you about a very special global family. I belong to an international organization that behaves like a maternal family. There are some men who are members, but mostly we are women who dance together. The language of dance crosses all artificial boundaries. Therefore, if I travel to England or Japan, Australia or Sweden, Canada or Switzerland, I will dance the same moves as those members.

Continue reading A Global Family

Lloyd Wootton

mooncover
Donna Wootton, eldest daughter of ‘Moon’, wrote this book about her father. It is available through The Ginger Press in Owen Sound: www.gingerpress.com. In the Prologue Donna writes, “The story caught my imagination not simply because it was sensational, but also because it was well told, full of supporting detail and, more importantly, full of the love of life.” You can click on the cover to read more.

Lost Items

The geography of my mind holds many items no longer in my possession. The most memorable item I’ve lost is a peaked cap – not just any old peaked cap – mine had the logo of the Waterfront Trail.

final-logo

I like the simple design showing the three strata of the environment that the Waterfront Trail traverses around the Great Lakes: sky, earth, water. On the day I purchased the cap the sun was shining with pointillist light off Lake Ontario. When I lost the cap the sun was shining a pale light off the ocean below the cliffs of Dover.

Continue reading Lost Items

READING

IMG_1973 Reading the Globe & Mail on Saturday is a tradition in our household. It is the only newspaper we pay to have delivered. The edition published on the last Saturday in August was worth the price we pay. Here in the Travel section is an article on paddling the Dumoine River. It ranks number one.

IMG_1974This could be a picture of my husband and I canoeing that river, me in the bow and he in the stern. What wonderful memories reading that article brought back of taking the float plane into the wilderness and landing with our gear amid the solitude. We were adventurous.

There was much more to read like how Kitchener might take back its original name of Berlin. I found that particularly article interesting because my mother’s family came from Pennsylvania to farm in Ontario and experienced the trials and successes that move brought right down through the generations.

We live in a country where writers can write and readers can read freely.

Role Playing

IMG_1726No, this isn’t an idea from NUTTY blog site. Role playing brings out the child in the adult. I’m the fairy grandmother who will grant you a wish or three. Beside me are Tweedledum and Tweedledee. You remember them from Alice In Wonderland? Their names have become synonymous in popular western culture for any two people who look and act in identical ways. We’re at MMM summer school at Trent and it’s dress-up time. We’re not nutty but we’re a little crazy sometimes yet we trust each other enough to behave in this manner together.

Continue reading Role Playing

Donna M. Wootton – Canadian Author