Covid and Quebec

I ride a lot. I love my gravel bike, Gigi, and I adore my Cérvelo, Carmen. I have found that I actually enjoy riding more than running, though I’ve been a runner for over 45 years. But I get on a bike and things just fly by with little or no effort. (Except maybe Shaw’s Creek hill or the hills outside of Erin. Or hills in general.)

It was bikes that convinced me it was not a good idea to go see my friend Anne Nicholson in Quebec this weekend. I know, it’s hard to make the link between riding and visiting. But bear with me as I explain.

Like fly fishing (which, of course, is the best thing of all), I find my mind clears when I ride. When I say clears, I don’t mean allows me to ponder the things I “need” to think about, like work projects or even groceries. It simply becomes open. When I hit a hill or a rocky trail, I can commit all my focus to the obstacle without fear of anything else getting in the way. Like setting a fly.

Always has to be a fishing picture, of course!

Anne and I have been friends since we were in our 20s. We met when we were both working at the now defunct Leslie Frost Natural Resources Centre in Dorset, Ontario. Upon meeting, we quickly found that we had shared many joys – riding, skiing, paddling, breathing, laughing…ever so many things! And we did them all – we cycled together, paddled a racing canoe, skied and in, fact, we ran our first marathon together in Ottawa back in the early 80s.

Life takes twists and turns and we both twisted and turned with it. Anne left Dorset and went back home to Lake Catherine, Quebec. She and her husband took over her father’s maple syrup business, and celebrated many other things that made their world rich and wonderful. 2 children graced their lives, a few dogs, new and different work, and lots of skiing, hiking and riding.

Anne’s view on her hike!

Like Anne, I left Dorset, got married, had two amazing children, lots of dogs and skied, hiked and rode to my hearts delight. My work varied, from the Ministry of Natural Resources to building my own consulting business.

And time passed. Almost 30 years.

Somehow, through Facebook but definitely prompted by a need for social connection and re-connection forced on us by COVID, Anne and I found each other again this spring. It was as if not a year had passed, we hadn’t aged a moment, and we just laughed when we heard each other’s voices. We knew it was time to erase those 30 years and head out together with hiking boots, a canoe or even just a bottle of wine. Plans were made, and I was preparing a list what I had to bring this weekend so we could enjoy every moment.

But enter cycling. Last week, I saw a father and his two children riding in Belfountain. We are a small hamlet, but we get a lot of traffic on the weekends. There were cars racing by, motorcycles, road bikes and general chaos in front of the coffee shop. And there was this little family, out enjoying the sunshine on their bikes. The kids both wore helmets. The father did not. I admit, I hate seeing that. In the past, when I’ve asked adults why they don’t wear a helmet when they make their kids wear them, I get a variety of answers: legally they don’t need to; they are adults and they will be careful; their kids have to learn to ride their bikes with the same level of care…etc.

Yesterday morning, I was thinking about the increase in COVID in the province of Quebec, and how I was getting ready to travel there anyway. Then somehow, I thought about that father riding without a helmet. He figured he was safe. But his kids had to wear their helmets to be safe. I realized I was just like that father. It was okay for me to go to Quebec; I would be careful and stay safe, for sure. But I didn’t want anyone else going to Quebec because I wanted everyone else to be follow the rules, written or unwritten, and stay safe.

I called Annie and told her that I had been cogitating on my trip all day and morally, I couldn’t come visit. Big surprise, she agreed completely. I didn’t even have to give her my bike helmet spiel! We were both saddened, but agreed it made sense to wait.

This virus is a brutal one. Scientists from across the planet are in a war-like effort to develop a vaccine, to control its spread and to help humanity survive and thrive into the next century. It is a menace that depends entirely on human hosts. As humans, we are social creatures. But the more people continue to maintain our innate social habits, the more the virus can spread and the worse it becomes.

I don’t like it, but I made a choice to not be social this weekend. Anne and I have waited 30 years to get back together. We can wait a bit more, when the evidence-based science tells us that it’s okay to jump in the car with hiking boots, bike strapped on the back, fly rods at the ready and Isla inside, to head off to Lake Catherine.

Camping with Isla (and Anne) will happen in the future!

Resiliency – The Grinch, soccer and moving forward

It happens when I least expect it. It might be the lyrics to a song, or the way the sunshine lights up the clouds, or even just seeing my son or daughter’s phone number come up on my phone….any tiny thing can bring tears. It seems that so many times throughout the day, something triggers emotion and my eyes well up.

I’m not talking about sobbing or “snottin’ and ballin’”; but like the Grinch said, “I’m leaking”.  I’m caught between feeling overwhelmed at the tragedies we’re experiencing and inspired by the acts of bravery and love that are happening all over the world. I worry about my wonderful friend Olivia, a Naval Warfare Officer and Navigating Officer on board the HMCS Fredericton, but then when I send out a request for sheets and fabric, I get so much that I have to make 3 trips to deliver it to all the people sewing masks and gowns.

ME…being mentally healthy. And silly!

I consider myself to be (relatively) mentally healthy and resilient, capable of dealing with whatever life throws at me. It’s not that I am super-human, but more that I have such a strong support network all around me that getting through the tough times is manageable. I also normally work out of my home, so I am used to the quiet, the lack of social interaction and the only being that I get to interact with is lying on her bed moaning because we haven’t gone for a walk in at least 20 minutes.

“Seriously, when are we going for our walk???”

I worry about how people are going to feel when they go back to their normal workplace. I worry about them now, as they struggle to adjust and accept a new way of working. Whether you are working alone, in a small firm, a medium or even a large company with many people, investing in mental wellness and resiliency is something that needs to happen.

People with higher levels of resiliency are more likely to weather these challenging times than people with lower levels. And we also know that resiliency is not static — it’s dynamic. It requires intention and focus. It’s a trainable skill (who knew!) that anyone can learn to help them better manage the setbacks that we are presented by life and work. And we seem to be dealing with many of those lately.

Being aware and mindful and making simple choices about your behaviour – like deciding to take a walk each day, to smile broadly at people driving past, or to be kind to yourself – can help to reduce stress and struggles and increase our personal resiliency.

I would like to see all businesses take a pro-active approach to mental wellness and resiliency, to help us all learn to be more resilient. So that when we all return to the workforce, we will have the ability to push through challenges. We need to refocus, adapt and develop the personal tools to build up our resiliency reserves.

When Olivia was in Grade 8, my daughter Jaime and I would go to the soccer pitch and kick balls at her while she stood in the net. At first, most of the shots got past her. But she would refocus and adapt her behaviour so that she could stop the balls. Eventually, she could stop anything I kicked towards her. But Jaime’s kick was wayyyyyy harder than mine, so it took endless refocusing and adapting on Olivia’s part before she could make those saves. But she was resilient – when one ball would go past her, she would refocus and adapt. [1]It is how she lives her life now.

Lieutenant Clarke at work.

The one constant in our lives right now is change. We need to foster our resilience, our ability to adapt to stressful situations that seem to keep being thrown in our path. It’s okay if you find yourself with a tear in your eye now and then. That turned out okay for the Grinch.

As a country, our economy is stretched right now. Investing in mental wellness and resiliency will be critical to help us all return to where we want to be. If you’d like to make that first step, drop me a note. I work with an organization called WMA Wellness and I can help you to support your business by training in-house facilitators in mental fitness, resiliency and positive leadership practices. .

[1] From stopping balls at the Caledon East Public School, Lieutenant Olivia Clarke went on to represent Canada at the World Military Soccer Championships in France in 2016.

Music to soothe the soul

I am presuming, if you are reading this, you are at home….where we are all supposed to be right now. Unless you are an essential worker, and if you are, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are helping save our world. But I digress…

Look around the room where you are right now. Are there paintings or pictures on the wall? Photographs in picture frames with scenery or smiling faces? What do you hear? Is the radio on, or do you have a playlist going from Spotify or Apple Music? Or perhaps the TV is filling your head with pictures and news?

Now, imagine for a moment that everything related to art and music has vanished. The pictures of your kids or parents, the painting that your daughter did in grade school, the incredible tune by Catherine McClellan and Tara MacLean…  Or anything else you might see or hear that has its genesis in art. All gone.

What does it feel like? Empty? Vacant? It is as if the colour has been drained from your room, from your being, from your life. What do we have left if it is gone?

As a planet, we are experiencing trauma right now. As a country, our anxiety is compounded by the tragedy just experienced in my home province of Nova Scotia. It is like a giant rug burn on our souls and hearts, and each breath hurts just a wee bit.

Music, as a performance art, is healing. It is a form of communication. It tells a story and allows us to share experiences. It brings grace into our world and into our souls. And music makes us pause and listen. It is those healing pauses that we need now.

The Outside Track healing our souls.

I spend a lot of energy bringing wonderful musicians to Belfountain to play their instruments, sing their songs and to share their stories. I am not a social scientist, but I know this to be true: when I look into the faces of people who are listening to this music, they are happy, they are at peace and they are connected to the musicians and to one another. What a joy to help make all this happen!

They are all connected to the music!

But like many of us, musicians are currently out of work. The majority of many touring musicians’ livelihoods come from their performances. They get some of the ticket money, sell a bit of swag and CDs, and move on to the next performance. But that’s not happening now. And gatherings where our hearts can be lifted by their music will not take place for many, many months, meaning the summer tour season will leave them with no income.

I have been musing over how much money I am saving by not going to coffee shops, not spending much on gas, and not going out for any meals. I am certain that it is significant. And I am also spending my time watching incredible performances online with ever so many musicians – Dave Gunning, John Wort Hannam, Joe Crookston, J.P Cormier, Rose Cousins, Laura Cortese, Ailie Robertson. They set up a Paypal account and they are able to perform for us while splitting their proceeds with homeless shelters, Feed Nova Scotia and others who need funding as well.

Ryan Heerschap of I Book Shows with a developer to create a platform for artists to do live stream concerts at  It’s a pass-the-hat type show and a safe and easy way for you to make the donation. What a great idea. And there are more sites like this out there….check out other Facebook live shows.

Scott Duncan, John Wort Hannam and Jason Valleau

And think about contributing please. Take that coffee money and put it to good use. I bought a milk frother before this insanity all happened so I could have yummy coffee in the comfort of my own kitchen. So now I take $3.00 every day and put it in a jar – and then donate that money to a musician when I have saved up $20. It’s not much, but it’s something.

I want to support our musicians so their music can continue to heal us all.

Perhaps you could do the same.

I could be…

I could be anxious and pre-occupied with this constant insane hand washing. I could be totally consumed with listening to the CBC and having the %&%$ scared out of me on a regular basis. I could be paralyzed with dread, forced to sit in my house alone and not do a thing at all.

And in truth, I am all those things. Some of the time. But not all of the time.

In fact, not even most of the time. And it is because of the power of the human spirit that I am lifted out of the “blue” that this virus has put us all in, and I am celebrating things (well, trying my best) that I might have ignored a few weeks ago.

If you have read any of my (now rare) blog posts, you could reflect on January of 2015 where I wrote about the first time my daughter Jaime didn’t come “home” for Christmas. Her Dad went out to see her in Victoria, and she sent me home a small green leather journal as a gift. I have used that journal and subsequent others to record wonderful things. Each morning, I sit down with my coffee and reflect on the day before, capturing and writing down one or two things that made me smile and brought me joy, or made me pause and be grateful.

It seems like a good time to remind myself that, even in these strange and bizarre days that we are all experiencing, when I can’t go hug my 93 year old Dad, or hop on a plane to go see Jaime, or even go downtown to see Rory,

I constantly discover wonderful (but sometimes hidden) moments in each day.

Here’s just a few:

This morning, I got a call from Sigrid. A million years ago, I coached Sigrid’s daughter in soccer, so I knew her as one of the soccer moms. Then when I had to sell my house, I asked to help me because I knew she was a good, kind and successful real estate agent. From there, we went on occasional bike rides together, but then life just got in the way. But a few days ago, Sigrid called me, simply to reach out for a happy connection! Without Covid 19, I am sure we would have gone even more years without talking to each other. I am still smiling about that.

I have a new love in my life….Isla P! She’s a 7 ½ month old red heeler, and she makes me smile every day, when she’s not driving me crazy with her puppy antics. Friday, to burn off some energy, we went to the empty school playground and I let her loose. She found a soccer ball, and she clearly has inherited some of Jaime’s footy prowess! She LOVES playing with a soccer ball now, and she had me in stitches!

Sunday, I drove down to Burlington to drop off somebooks for my Dad at his senior’s residence. I can’t go in to visit, but Isla and I went around to the back of his building and looked in the windows at the dining room….where I saw him! I banged on the window, Isla and I danced around, and my Dad gave me the best smile he’s even given me!

And all the small things – Lib, giving me a dozen eggs! Or getting a note from my wonderful friend Julia with pictures of her most amazing kids. Or learning that Devonne made it safely back to Nova Scotia from Italy….that was a HUGE relief. I could go on and on and on…

It is so very, very easy to dwell on the problems, setbacks and tragedies…if you are reading this, I imagine you immediately think about some that touch your life directly. I ask you; no, I challenge you to stop for a moment every day and think of the good bits.

Live each day consciously searching for those good bits. Then think about them, dwell on them and revel in those moments of joy.

It could be something huge like a new contract or a way to work remotely that is incredibly successful. Or it could be something seemingly inconsequential, like answering the phone and finding your own Sigrid calling, just to connect. But whatever you do, take a deep breath and think about the good.

It will help to heal our collective souls.

Runway Lights and Workplaces – The Connection

There are two separate stories to share. One revolves around my 90 year old Dad. The other involves malfunctioning runway lights at the Fredericton Airport.

They intersect, I promise. Here we go…

Last June, Ontario took quite a turn, shifting from a Liberal to Conservative government. The Tories decided to make some sweeping changes in the way they govern, including the way that they administer contract work, and at the same time, ensuring a reduction in expenditures at the bureaucratic level.

(Translation: a serious abbreviation in my potential consulting contracts.)

Being proactive, I decided to post something on Linkedin to hasten potential opportunities for me. (

A few gracious individuals reached out, and one, in particular – Robert Laurie – invited me to explore a new business in which he was involved that provides positive workplace solutions by supporting wellness and mental resiliency.

My first reaction was “Are you kidding? I’m an environmental facilitator!”

Undertaking some outdoor facilitation. Or bird watching. One of the two.

But with Robert’s patient input, I realized that the work I do to facilitate involves getting people/teams/groups to work together in a positive and supportive fashion. Then they can work together “positively” for their task at hand. So yes, the skills I use as a facilitator can easily and effectively be used to help foster more positive and healthier workplaces.

Now, my Dad. Most Sundays, I am lucky enough to be able to share lunch with my most remarkable father.

Mr. President, and me!

He’s smart, well read, caring, compassionate and a great lunch date. He is also insightful and very, very aware of issues surrounding him – from political antics in the U.S. (he can quote line and verse from Bob Woodward’s FEAR) to what’s happening at his Senior’s Residence. He is, by the way, the President of the Resident’s Organization there.

He has some medical issues that require a PSW (personal support worker) to visit him each morning. Because of his grace and good cheer, he has endeared himself to them all, and they each try to be the one to visit “The Doctor” in the morning.

This Sunday, as we sat down at our favourite lunch spot,  Dad proceeds to tell me about his morning. The he reflects on the fact that lately, every time one of the PSW’s comes to his room, she or he starts by saying “We’re understaffed this morning”. Dad went on to explain that clearly, absenteeism is becoming rampant, and people are just not happy working there.

(Now, hold on before you think that this has impacted care at this residence. My father makes it clear that his care has not been compromised in any way. But he is certain that the care of staff is far from adequate, and ultimately, that will impact his own care. What to do???)

Oh, and lights on the runway? Last week, I made the plunge. I registered for a Workplace Framework – Mental Fitness and Resiliency Practices Training Workshop ( being held in Fredericton and was at Pearson Airport ready fly out. But alas, the wind had knocked the runway lights out, so no flights coming or going to Fredericton. Meaning, no training for Susan.

So how do these stories connect? In Canada today, we spend at least 1/3 of our lives at work. Our working environment can have a significant impact on our overall health and wellbeing. According to Statistics Canada, 1 in 4 working people have left a job due to stress, and in any week, 500,000 Canadians call in sick due to stress, anxiety and depression…like at Dad’s Senior’s Residence.

IMG_3596 2
My office colleague…hogging all the space on my chair!

Employers are increasingly recognizing the damage that stress can do in the workplace, including :

  • lost productivity due to staff absence;
  • increased workloads for workers who have to cover their colleagues’ work;
  • higher staff turnover.

Most of us work in constantly connected, always-on, highly demanding work cultures where stress and the risk of burnout are widespread. Since the pace and intensity of our work culture are not likely to change, it’s more important than ever to build mental fitness and resilience skills to navigate our work environments.

I do not mean through a single workshop for staff where you can tick off a box and say “Yup, Healthy Workplace Training, DONE!”.

No. This needs sustained and embedded positive efforts.

I’m going to go back to take the workshop as soon as possible, hopefully with fully functioning runway lights wherever I land. I will be able to help organizations who want to have strategies in place for promoting, embedding, and building capacity in positive workplace practices.  SO, I’ll ask you to consider what your workplace is like. What are the costs – on you and your colleagues – of a negative work environment?

If you would like to learn more about how simple it is to create a positive workplace culture, then get in touch with WMA Wellness. Or me. Or both! We can set you and your workplace on the path to positive!

My preferred positive, happy, healthy workplace!

“Drift” into this shop

I hate that feeling. If you’re a woman who enjoys doing activities that are often viewed as a man’s sport, you know the feeling I am talking about.

Take fly fishing. You walk into a fly shop and the “guys” are standing there, having a Tim’s and talking about their latest fishing adventures. When they see you, they stop talking. They turn.  And stare.

I suppose I would stare if I saw someone else standing in the water fly fishing, wearing a life jacket!

Then the fellow who actually works there approaches you with a curious smile. Often as not, he asks you if you’re there to get something for your husband/boyfriend/other half (who surely must be the one who fishes).

That used to happen to me. So I’d take a deep breath, stand tall and say something like “Nope, I’m out of leader material, I need some Hendricksons, Adams and maybe some Hare’s ears. And some new hemostats”.

That usually made the guys shake their heads and wonder how this woman knew their language. But it wasn’t comfortable. Or pleasant.

There are shops where I so feel comfortable, like The Tying Scotsman in the Margaree Valley.

Over the years, I’ve entered plenty of fly shops. I’ve often had that feeling, where I am something of an imposter trying to blend in. Even though I do know the language and can talk about casting for steelies in the winter, or nymphing or what it is like to hook a brookie on a dry, it still happens.

But thankfully, not all the time. It was about 2 years ago when I needed a 6-weight fly rod. I’d done my homework, narrowed it down to 2 different brands, and headed into Toronto to this new fly shop called Drift Outfitters ( My friends Alex and Sean both told me I’d like the shop, and a website check showed me they carried both brands. So, I ventured downtown with a bit of trepidation, a thick skin and a credit card.

(Now before this becomes an advertisement for Drift, please return to the original premise of this story – the feeling of entering somewhere and feeling out of place, on display or otherwise uncomfortable. Pause for a moment and think about that feeling. Put yourself there, so right now, so you’re feeling a bit off balance and delicate as you continue reading…)

I strode into the shop, prepared with a selection of retorts to throw at the “guys”.  There were two young men behind the counter and I metaphorically “braced” myself for that look and the question.

But to my complete surprise, Harry looked up, grinned and said, “Hey there, how can I help you today?” And the look on his face was welcoming and interested and ready to help. I was startled and delighted and blurted out “A 6-weight. I need a new 6-weight”. And before I knew it, Harry was out from behind the counter, drilling me with questions, and ready to show me a few different rods.

There truly are more women in the river in 2018!

Why was this shop different? Or why was Harry (and then Chris, and Alex and Rob, the owner) different?

I think it’s a combination of a few things.

  1. First, more women are fly fishing and so more women come into fly shops, and staff need to be prepared. There was a time when I’d be the only woman on the river, and now, I take great delight in seeing other women out there, casting and bringing in (and releasing) fish.
  2. Second, I think that many of us have done a great job with our children promoting gender equity. Jaime once told her Dad that she wanted to do a girls’ sport…she wanted to fish! These young men are Jaime’s generation, and they love everything about fishing and want to share that love. Couple that with their gender perspectives, and you get a reception that makes everyone feel welcome.
  3. Third, I believe that the owner sets the tone for the welcome. Rob has an unpretentious way of making each client feel like we are the most important person who’s walked into the store. Ever. And that makes all the difference.

In these days of #metoo that seem to colour the newspapers and air waves, it is so refreshing to walk into a shop and know you are both welcome and wanted.

So, yes, now that I think about it, this I actually this is a plug for Drift Outfitters! But  even more so, it is a plug for their families and the people who have influenced these young men to become the way they are. They have created a wonderful, welcoming store, and they give me hope that the generations of young people coming after me are ready to make a difference…starting with one fly fisher after another!

I do ocassionally catch a salmon!



To Sniff or Not to Sniff

My neighbour (and good friend) David Donaldson, and I kind of do similar work. David works for Tidal Shift as Director of Client Solutions (and Grand Poobah). More importantly, he and his wife love the same wine as I do, and we laugh a lot together.

Fuzzy Facilitators!

A few weeks ago, David asked me if I’d be an expert guest on a webinar he was doing for clients and students about facilitation. The idea was an interview format, where he spends a few minutes setting the stage, introduces me, throws some questions out, and we’d be off to the races as we both explore and answer the questions. All the while, people will be coming and going in and out of the webinar and participating as they see fit.

Of course, I’d love to!

David arranged the webinar so that neither of us had to go anywhere. He walked over to my house, set up the camera and computer, and we were ready to go.

His questions were designed to find out how I addressed challenges while facilitating: How do you deal with
• Disengagement
• Disruption
• Let me steer (those who like to take control)
• ‎Discussions going off track

As facilitators, we all have our own tips and tricks that work for us, but I tend to introduce some common ground rules that set the stage, encourage participation and define how we are going to carry out our discussions. I write them on a flip chart in the front of the room and refer to them throughout any session.

  • Show up – be present (this is a fancy way to encourage people to put down their cell phones!)
  • Listen first
  • This time together is precious
  • Trust and respect
  • Contribute (don’t dominate)
  • Let differences motivate you

Forestry workshop where the facilitator was listening first.

Now allow me to digress.

The other morning, as most mornings, I was out walking my two wonderful dogs. IMG_5901I knew I had a lot on my plate that day, and I was anxious to get the girls out, get them moving, then get them home so I could get to work. We went one of our normal routes, around the tennis courts, up the hill and then headed towards home. Lucy was preoccupied with sniffing. Apparently, EVERYTHING needed to be thoroughly sniffed and investigated, and this took a great deal of time. Time, according to me, that I did not have.

Grrrr. I could feel my anxiety rising. Every time she’d stop, I’d hear myself say “No, Lucy, come on, no, Lucy, no!” (repeat and repeat and repeat). Roxy, the older dog, just looked at me as if to say “But that’s Lucy, that’s what she does. Lighten up Susan.” (I’m sure she was thinking that anyway).

I finally stopped and listened to myself. Everything I was saying was negative. Don’t stop, don’t sniff, no, don’t walk there, don’t…, no….all uttered in an exasperated tone.

Time to pause.

If I were facilitating a meeting, I would never tell my clients/participants what not to do. I would focus on what to do. I would be positive, give ideas and options, and would not be demanding. So why am I doing this with my dog?

(I find so often that lessons from my personal life can be instrumental in my work life, but I sometimes forget that work lessons can help with the rest of my life, too.)

So, I paused. I became present. I listened to Lucy (for the record, she is quite a loud sniffer). I reminded myself that our morning time together is precious – she is 12 and Roxy is 15. In dog years, they are both seniors, and you know what that means. Lucy trusts me, I need to do the same for her. I won’t dominate, but I will lead her to where I want her to go (in this case, home!). And instead of telling her what NOT to do, I will tell her what I want her to do – heel!

And when she knew what I wanted, she walked next to me quite happily. Imagine that!

And so, going back to facilitation, when you have to deal with disengagement, disruption, people who like to take control of the discussions and discussions going off track, make sure you set your ground rules ahead of time. And consider those I’ve shared. Usually people, like my little Lucy, have their own agendas (for the record, sniffing is critically important, especially after it rains). But most people are also willing to take direction, if it is delivered in a positive fashion.

Follow your ground rules, and you’ll get home in plenty of time!

Ground rules followed and on our way home!




Notes from Under the Brim

I just got back from my week in Cape Breton, where I spend most waking hours standing in the Margaree River waving a fly rod. Sometimes I catch and release Atlantic Salmon. Most of the time, however, I enjoy the magic of the moment while making deals with the salmon gods to help me hook a fish!

Any self-respecting angler wears a hat. It protects us from the sun and rain, from the wind that grabs our flies and hits us in the head, and gives us something to hide under when our casting goes to hell-in-a-handbasket.  It means that we are usually looking out at the water under its brim. I’ve learned a lot while looking out from under the brim of my fishing hat. Here are some of my recent lessons.

Hat in place, I’m ready.

I arrived at Tent Pool on morning and there were 4 women there. I have never seen more than 2 other people there, let alone women. They were 4 of the most delightful, new-to-flyfishing women I’d ever met, who had hired a guide for the day. A guide, ostensibly, should “guide” clients – tie on flies, help them cast, position them in the river and help them fish. This guide stood on the shore, watching his clients flail away, stepping in only when they were so tied up that they needed help to escape their own line!

Two of the ladies in Tent Pool.

I spent time with each of them, talking about casting, about where the fish might be lying and tying flies back on. I wasn’t being paid, but it was worth it – I was fishing, guiding and spending time with wonderful new friends. My morning was outstanding. [1]

Lesson # 1 from Tent Pool: Don’t just do what you have to do. If you can, do more. Your friends/clients will benefit, and so will you.

I spent an afternoon at Swimming Hole Pool, a long pool that’s fun to fish. As I was pausing for a break, two men arrived. One asked if he could get in the pool, and the other, Steve, sat down and we began to chat. That’s one of the wonderful things about fishing – we all share stories. Steve told me all about fishing in Maine where he lived, and how much fun it was being up on the Margaree.

When Steve stood up to get in the river, he lifted a huge net. I mean huge…I could have fit inside it! On the Margaree, we “tail” our fish, meaning we carefully land them with our hands, protecting their gills, and then release them.

Steve shyly looked side to side, then asked me if anyone else uses a net. I said no, I didn’t know anyone who did. He looked a bit sheepish lugging it around, and then I posed the question he was clearly dreading: Why didn’t you ask someone before you came?

His response? “Ask? Well, um, I never thought about it”.

(Note: I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of the net or I’d put it here!)

Lesson #2 from Swimming Hole Pool: Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions!

The final lesson comes from Redbank Pool. It was windy and cold, but the sun peeked through the clouds now and then and made the water sparkle and shine.  I had my hat in lock position to keep it from blowing off my head, and I became quite contemplative as I began to cast. I knew a fellow had hooked a salmon in this pool near the apple tree a few nights ago, and I thought it would be a good place to finish my trip.

He had told me that he knew the fish was there, and he was just persistent and kept presenting flies to the fish until he hooked (and released) it. So, I did the same. I was persistent, and I presented the flies the way I thought would interest me if I were that salmon, lying near that overhanging apple tree.

And suddenly… boom! A salmon grabbed the fly and with a splash, blasted away from me! Heart pounding, after what seemed like hours, I slowly brought the fish in, carefully removed the fly, while trying NOT to a) break my fly rod, b) hurt the salmon or c) fall down.

As I watched him swim away, I realized that all the time I had spent not catching fish had allowed me to distill what it was that I needed to do to catch fish.

A shot of the pool where I released my salmon. And you’ll see my wee flask I used to toast the fish!

Lesson #3 from Redbank – Be persistent, whatever you are doing. Stop doing that which doesn’t work, and you’ll eventually land your fish/job/contract (fill in the right word here).

Fishing for Atlantic salmon is a wonderful, frustrating, exciting and humbling experience. It connects me to the Earth, reminding me that I am a part of it, not apart from it. Sometimes I leave the river reeling in the thrill of releasing a fish. And sometimes not. But I always leave it profoundly grateful that there are places like the Margaree River where I can keep learning about wild places, the creatures I share them with, and about myself.IMG_5348

[1] I also know that the most common characteristic found in successful guides is not their fishing skills, but rather their ability to connect with people. (This guide was dis-connecting!). Pretty sure his tip reflected that disconnect!

To cell phone, or not to cell phone…

A hot day means an early dog walk for Roxy, Lucy and myself. I had already gone for my morning run and now the three of us were just entering the Belfountain Conservation Area – aka the park – for a stroll next to the Credit River. Roxy’s 14, so our walks are a bit shorter and more subdued than they have been in the past, but she loves to sniff and bark, and there’s lots to sniffing and barking opportunities in the park.

The girls, cooling off in the water post-phone call.

As we approached the river, my phone rang, disturbing the lovely sense of quiet tranquility that had descended upon me. I keep it stowed inside my little bag that I use to carry those recyclable “dog poo bags”, so I yanked it out to look at it. I had decided if it wasn’t one of my children or my Dad, I wouldn’t answer it.

It wasn’t.  And I didn’t.

That got me thinking how bizarre it seems to me to have a phone “at the ready” for all times. Remember, if you are old enough, when phones were inside houses and offices, and when you walked out of the door, no one could reach you until you walked back inside? And that meant if you were in the car driving somewhere – up to the cottage, back to university, or anywhere at all – you had to pull over, find a gas station or restaurant with a pay phone to make a call if you wanted to be in touch with someone. Now, you can sit in the driver’s seat, speak into the interior of your car, and send a text, e mail or call whoever you want. (How crazy is that!)

When I was a little kid, we used to drive from Minnesota to Nova Scotia to visit our family, and we wouldn’t use a phone from the day we left until we arrived at my grandparent’s house. Now, I exit my door and there is nothing between me and any instant communication that I desire….whether I desire it or not!

I have found that access to my phone literally stops me from being able to be on my own. Having the phone in my dog poo bag/purse/briefcase/car means I am not always attuned to what is around me because I pay attention to it, or the possibility it brings, and not necessarily to the concrete, real life situation in front of me.

Two summers ago, Remy and I went to the Atlin Arts and Music Festival in Atlin, B.C We had been kayaking on Atlin Lake for a few days, came back into town to shower and get ready for the festival, and we saw the streets filled with festival goers – all walking around and talking to each other, and NO ONE WAS HOLDING A CELL PHONE! In the laundromat where we had showers, people waiting in line were talking to each other, and weren’t slumped over their cell phones. Why? Because there is no cell service in Atlin! None. You have to communicate old school. If you’re there visiting, you have to hope that your buddies remembered to save you a camping site, because you can’t text them and check to make sure. You can’t call ahead while on the road, because your phone won’t work. You just have to figure it out like you did when you were a kid.

Calling my Dad from Atlin.

It was truly fascinating to see all these people wandering around town, and no one was holding a phone. Pause and think about that, just for a moment. And in fact, Remy’s on his way down to Atlin today, and he might as well leave his cell phone at home because no one will be able to reach him there.

Who needs a cell phone? Water bottle, fly rod and flask. Pretty sweet! 


I think I am conditioned to using my cell phone for many things – the techno-literature calls it “technology mediated communications”. I have become attached to it, and it connects me to my larger social network. But while it connects me virtually, it detaches me to reality. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to give it up, but I do want to ensure that I maintain my connection to that which is immediately around me.

So this morning, after my phone rang, I turned it off and focused on what was around me – the sapsucker hammering its head into an ash tree (made me laugh out loud because it look liked Donald Trump!), the fishing bobber I saw stuck in a tree, and most importantly, my dogs. It was a great walk. I highly recommend you do the same. Either take a trip to Atlin (a mere 5,446 kms from my home of Belfountain), or just turn off your phone for a while, and enjoy!

Atlin Lake Paddle (photo courtesy of R. Rodden, taken using a cell phone!)


Belwood Step Dancing …or Brain Training on the Edge!

The Community Hall was packed with people – mothers, fathers, kids everywhere – and the judge sat front and centre, ready to assess the steps of each participant. We were numbers 205 and 206, and I was sooooooo nervous. I hoped that when the music started, my feet would just do what I have trained them to do, but I had no idea if they would.

What am I talking about? My step dancing competition from last week!

There’s lots of research that tells us that as we age, our brains get smaller. Nerves die off, losing their connections, and that leads to a thinned out network feeding our thinking functions. But brain shrinkage isn’t inevitable, and that research also tells us that picking up a challenging new hobby makes a huge difference. I’ve successfully managed to ignore this fact until my friend Marlene sprang into my kitchen after her first step dancing lesson, loudly announcing that I would be joining her from now on. (I actually don’t recall having any part in that decision, by the way.)

Marlene picked me up the following week, and dragged me to Chanda Leahy’s studio. Fast forward about 7 months, and you find the two of us in the Belwood Community Hall, ready to dance a reel at the Spring Rain Feis 2017, while Chanda’s son Xavier accompanied us on his fiddle.

I’m a musician, and I thought that learning the steps to some jigs and reels would be easy. NOPE! Despite having the most remarkable teacher in the world, it was quite a few months before I made the switch from looking like I was stomping cockroaches skittering across the hardwood floor to something vaguely resembling dancing.

Which brings me to last Saturday when Marlene and I got ready to perform. We were in the Pre-Beginner Category (seriously), and our “competition” ranged in age from 5 – 12 years old – we were the only adults!!! The kids took their performing seriously; they had clearly practiced more regularly that the two of us, who had those silly day jobs to keep us occupied.

Our competition…with Xavier accompanying them, and Chanda looking hopeful!

None of that mattered, of course. All that mattered was the certainty that my heart was about to explode in my chest while I waited to perform. There was anxious banter between the two of us and Xavier while he tuned his fiddle, and I wondered how I was ever going to remember all the steps. With mild panic setting in, I realized that I might crash and burn in front of all those parents and kids.

How may times do we, as adults, really experience that feeling of risk, of fear of failure? When was the last time you felt your heart jack hammering with uncertainty? Do you take risks? Are you prepared to try and fail? And what happens when you do?

I think many of us adults coast through our days doing things that are safe and secure. We don’t step to the edge of our comfort zones, because that’s un-comfortable. It takes extra effort that, in our busy, crazy and chaotic lives, we don’t want to expend. It’s easier (and safer) to just do the same old / same old. So we do.

Who knew step dancing was going to take me to the edge? But when Xavier started to play (at warp speed, I might add), my adrenaline-infused feet began to dance, and I was carried away with delight that I was actually doing this crazy thing!

And the risk was so worth it!IMG_4472 2

I’d love to tell you that we won our Pre-Beginner Category…but that is not the case. I can tell you that we grinned through the entire sequence, and by the time we were done, everyone in the audience was grinning with us. We got a huge round of applause and one little girl told me she thought we were very brave.

Our Saturday morning was a clear reminder to me that I need to make myself less comfortable now and then, and that a little risk – of failure, of embarrassment, of a mis-step – bring a sense of accomplishment and pride when it’s done. Just try it. I’ll be here, grinning and clapping for you!