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Outdoors

These Christmas stories are supposed to be short on words, as much for my own sake, as for yours. So I'll try.

When we moved to Montreal from the Gaspe peninsula 18 months ago a lot changed. I've chronicled many of those changes here on the blog.

Our life is all about raising teenagers now: socially, spiritually, academically, we are heavily invested in this phase of family life. And for us, that means we no longer have a one day a week practice. It's just not feasible for us at this stage of family life, with homeschool co-op, social engagements (the life of teenagers), and a commitment to and involvement in a church body (something our kids want as much as, if not more, than Damien and I).

I have mourned the loss of this part of our family life and history. We grew our kids up hiking in the woods, summiting mountains all over the east coast, in New England and Quebec. Family life evolves and life in the city is full of good things and bountiful opportunities but I miss this.

Skiing together is something we've managed to hold on to, though it too has evolved over the years.

We started out as backcountry skiers, with a hodge-podge of equipment designed for gentle slopes. The following year we got more serious about climbing mountains (on skis) and we decided to improve our skill and work on technique with a ski pass to our local hill, which we happened to live at. (Yes, we lived at a ski hill). That particular year we did a lot of skiing.

The winter preceding our thru-hike we trained for our hike by regularly climbing up the ski hill (on skis) and skiing down. The winter after our thru-hike we decided we'd stick to the ski resort skiing, a couple people in our family were tired of climbing mountains.

This is our second winter in Montreal. We're currently a crew of 2 snowboarders, 2 telemark skiers, and one alpine skier. We haven't been in the backcountry together as a family for a while. But we still make an effort to ski together. And we juggle homeschool co-op, work (someone has to earn the money to pay for all this), church commitments, and social engagements to make this possible.

This is our sixth year on skis as a family. Because we are self-employed homeschoolers we take advantage of the deeply discounted mid-week seasons pass at Bromont. (And this year we purchased the passes in October to make it even more affordable.)

Depending on Celine's plans for next year this may be the last year we are able to do this once a week, all together. (I don't want to talk about it.) It will be another evolution, another change. I'll face it when the time comes. This winter we're all still together in the outdoors, and hanging out in the ski lodge, one day a week.

Some days I wish I had a different art to communicate ideas; hope, joy, beauty, grief, loss and love.

More words, better words, more refined words, more poetic words. I feel at a loss.

I sometimes think that if I possessed a different means to share my heart and mind the excavating process would be easier. That somehow the artists with the abilities, and the discipline, to write a song, or a poem, to paint a picture or choreograph a dance, that they have an easier time of it.

My tools feel crude and blunt-edged. Words. Photos. But they are what I have. They are at hand, they are mine. And with them I dig and bring to the light that which is hidden. What I unearth feels like some precious artifact still caked in dirt, mud, and clay. I am frustrated because I am only able to partially excavate these artifacts, without breaking the whole thing apart. I want my words to shave off the excess soil, to be fine brushes that carefully remove the trivial, leaving the essence intact and exposed, burnished.

There are times, like this, where I feel practically illiterate to communicate those things most important to me.

We often think pain and fear are the most difficult experiences to explain, but equally difficult are the words for beauty and transcendence, connection; the Divine.

I feel unfit for the job of excavating the essence of an experience with words. I feel clumsy. Which is why I reach for my camera so often. Here. This is it. But that tool also is not precise enough. I am not skilled enough.

So I will be as a mother is to her child. Just do your best my dear.


I didn't know there would be a supermoon last night. I don't follow the phases of the moon very closely. I don't have one of these hanging in my home. I'm kind of clueless.

Which is maybe why it was so incredible on Sunday night, leaving Trader Joe's in South Burlington, to see the biggest moon I've probably ever seen rising low and luminous in the eastern sky.


pulled over in the Williston, VT rest stop
attempting to photograph the moon and only succeeding at capturing a hint of the spectacular sunset to the west

It was a privilege to be in a place with some open sky, open time, to bear witness to this phenomenon. If I had been at home, cooking supper in our apartment in Montreal, I probably would not have seen this moon. Except in my Instagram feed the following morning.

But for this moment I was here. I did bear witness. And I so desperately wanted to photograph this beauty, this marvel, that I did not even know had a name (we didn't find out we had seen a supermoon till Damien was scrolling through his RSS later that night).


moonlight at midnight, Vermont woods

It is no wonder to me that people throughout time have bowed down in worship to nature. Have stood in fear, trembling, and awe at the night sky.

I don't worship that which is created. I worship the Creator, but it is the creation that reveals the Creator. And I do look at the moon, and say You are Beautiful and I am speaking to both the object and the artist. And I long to be filled with that beauty.

I want to be filled with the moon. I don't know how else to say it. In my mind I see an artist's rendition of what this looks like, a luminous sphere in the center of my being, arms outspread, in hopes to grab more, to know more. An insatiable desire for the Creator, as revealed in part, by nature.

And so I beheld this light, wordless. Being filled with the glory of the moon. Experiencing a deep ache that I could not be filled with the moon itself. Experiencing the profound joy that I was witness to this beauty, full of awe and wonder and worship. In the passenger seat of the car, having just shopped for our supper in a busy market.

I tried to take pictures. We stopped the car. I didn't have the right tools for the job. I had only my heart, my eyes, my memory.


the summit of Mount Mansfield in the clouds

Earlier in the day we went for a hike up Mount Mansfield, Vermont's highest mountain. We never made it to the top. We didn't make it to the section of the Long Trail we hoped to hike along the ridge. The trail was too icy and we were not prepared.

When we were making our plans for this weekend getaway we had forgotten about ice and snow and New England mountains in November. And so we left our crampons at home, and were unable to summit the mountain as we hoped.

We didn't give a lot of thought and planning to the details of this trip. The efforts were directed towards extricating ourselves from the vortex which is our life with three teenagers, homeschool co-op, work, church commitments, grocery shopping and our malfunctioning fridge (going on four weeks now with three visits so far from the repairman).

It felt like it was all we could do to get out of the city, and remember to pack our passports. We didn't think too much about what we'd need to pack for a day-hike in the mountains and so we forgot our crampons.

There was a lot of ice on the trail, even below tree level, and I felt insecure without my poles, which I also left at home.

And I was frustrated with myself, how could I forget these essentials to November hiking? (I did remember to pack my bright-orange blaze. But in the relative safety of Underhill State Park amongst the company of many other hikers, some in blaze-orange toques and vests, we felt safe enough not to wear them.)

We forget things we know. And then there are the things we never knew and have yet to learn.

And the precious gift of drawing apart for a time, of making the (what feels like a) monumental effort to get away for a day, a weekend, is that you are given a chance to learn things you don't know and remember things you may have forgotten.

Before this weekend I never knew the amazingly mellow and sublime taste of black garlic miso soup, which can be found at Gaku Ramen on Church St. in downtown Burlington, VT. I didn't know what the sun looked like as it set in the west over Lake Champlain. Spectacular.

Before this weekend, I had forgotten for a time, in the busyness of raising our children together, that the longings of my husband's heart are as intense for him as my own heart's desire to find truth and craft the right words to express ideas.

I had forgotten what windblown ice and snow look like on stunted spruce above tree line and that you should pack crampons for hiking 4,000 footers in New England in November.

I am going home today to my apartment, my children, a city I love, a robust schedule and a malfunctioning fridge. How do I live so I don't forget the comforting belly-warmth of a bowl of black miso soup? So I don't forget the hidden contours of my beloved's heart. So I don't forget what the first snows of the season look like on a New England mountain peak. So I don't forget the most luminous moon I've ever seen.

How do we live, in our schedules, in our work, in our cities; and still pay attention, remember, and learn?

I've been working on a little project these days.

This year Damien completely re-built, re-designed, and re-purposed (you could say it was a recycling project) our old adventure blog Outsideways into a new online community for outdoor adventurers to share their experiences with family, friends, and the world. It's a social networking site and one day, hopefully, an app where people can easily post and share journals of their outdoor adventures.

I am helping build content for the site by publishing a trail journal from our AT adventure. What this means practically is that I'm finally editing my photos from that trip and choosing the best images to publish and share. And I'm re-reading and editing, for public consumption, the daily diary I kept while we were hiking the trail.

Someday I'll tell you more about this project. What it means for me to be re-reading and publishing my journals. And what Damien hopes to accomplish with this site. (If you're an outdoorsy person who has adventures and is looking for a social networking platform to share those adventures and connect with other adventurers, you need to check out Outsideways. Someday it's going to be the Facebook of the outdoors community.)

Once a week I work on my journal Beyond our Boundaries and publish my hiking diary and favorite photos from each day of our hike. I'm currently on Day 26.

Damien just programmed a new feature which allows members to embed their journal entries. So I'm posting that here today.

Each day on the trail brought new experiences and challenges but this particular day was stellar, so it's a good one to share. But don't worry, all the days are being shared in my trail journal, the good, the bad and the ugly.

If you're reading this post in email and don't see anything below this line, click over to the blog to read the post. I haven't done this before. I don't know how it will work.


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