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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

Hoodies and Happiness

Imagine you went for a hike with your dogs in a local Conservation Area. As you wander

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Part of the trail.

along the wood-chipped trail in the sunny weather, you hear voices up ahead. You can’t see anyone, but the voices you hear are deep, and there seems to be three separate voices, so you conclude perhaps there are 3 men ahead of you. As you wind your way through the bends of the trail, you can just make out the men up ahead, standing together near a small viewing bench.

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The Bench, from a distance.

There are actually 4 of them, and they are all large men, with one distinguishing characteristic: they are each wearing dark hoodies with the hoods up, hiding their faces. They are clustered together, lowering their voices and quietly laughing.

What is your first reaction?

Do you feel a bit of anxiety? Do you slow down? Do you want to turn in the other direction before they see you, or before your dogs see them and start to bark? What is the first thing you think about?

PAUSE for a moment…and consider what your own reaction might have been. 

That happened to me last week. It was one of those exquisitely lovely, sunny spring days and I was hiking along the Gorge Loop Trail at the Belfountain Conservation Area. That when I heard the voices. Roxy and Lucy were too busy sniffing to notice the men, and had I wanted to, I could have turned around and headed in another direction to avoid them. But I was not going to be intimidated by a few guys with hoodies on a sunny day! So on I forged, anxiety at bay, to firmly walk past the Bench and the hoodies.

And as I rounded the bend and the men could see me, the largest of them quickly pulled off his hoodie…and grinned at me! The other others did the same, and they all smiled and yelled out hello. I thought of all the things that had gone around in my head, and the first words out of my mouth were “You know, you 4 look like a bunch of thugs out here with your hoodies on!”

They all roared with laughter and the first young man said “I know! I didn’t want to scare you with my hood, but it is so windy that I waited till you came close”. His face was full of concern and humour, and before we knew it, we were all laughing so hard two of them had to sit down on the bench!

As I wiped my eyes, said my goodbyes and headed back on the trail, I realized I had actually made myself feel anxious about what might have happened. And yet, what actually happened – unplanned shared laughter – was wonderful. How often do I think something is going to happen, and then pre-empt my own activities to prevent something that MIGHT happen from happening?

I literally stopped walking to consider whether I do that in my personal life, and what the implications are. I know I sometimes imagine all sorts of crazy outcomes, but like the day on the trail, I tend to forge on and take the “risk” of the unknown. But when I consider my work life, I  am not certain that I am the same kind of risk taker with my business. I have been known to not look at the horizon for growth opportunities and instead, focus on the potential negative things that might happen. I envision the challenges rather than the benefits.

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Me, clearly envisioning the challenges.

Erika Anderson, writing in Harvard Business Review, talks about changing your inner narrative.  So rather than first being negative, be curious, and motivated to find the positive.This requires a willingness to experiment, to be confident and to trust…your business, yourself and others. I know I need to do more of this in my work life.

If I had turned around and walked the other way on the trail, I would have been fine. The dogs would have had a good walk, and I would have made it home safe and sound. But I was willing to be curious, and to risk just a little. The rewards of the risk – the laughter and the smiles, and the incredibly delightful change in my mood, was well worth it. I think about my business and I am determined to risk a bit more, and to not just be safe and sound.

I challenge you to do the same, in business and in personal life. You may find hoodies, but you’re also sure to find happiness!

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My girls, at the Bench, wondering why I even think about this kind of thing!

Thoughts on Community and The Outside Track

On Monday night, March 7th, something quite wonderful happened in the hamlet of Belfountain. The Outside Track, http://www.theoutsidetrack.com/, a Scots, Irish and Cape Breton fusion band, performed at The Higher Ground Coffee Company, 

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The Outside Track (though Ailie, the harpist, is hidden on the right).

 

The café seats about 25 people comfortably. We had close to 50, without counting the band, the baristas and people who arrived because they saw the Open sign lit up. It was an evening of tunes, dancing, singing and laughter. When I introduced the band, I looked out at a sea of incredibly happy and excited faces. I knew that the night was going to be special.

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Our amazing baristas!

The room was filled with people from all walks of life. A real estate agent, a project management specialist, a retired French teacher, a flamenco dancer, someone battling cancer….a panoply of personalities and experiences, squished together, cheek to jowl, anticipating the celebration of music.

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G, Janey and Brian…new friends to each other.

These people were from my community. Or rather, my communities. I knew them all, from living in Caledon East or Belfountain, from going to physiotherapy together, playing fiddle, taking our children to swimming lessons, walking dogs together. And as I reflected on the magic of the night, I wanted to write something about the power and connection of community, and remind us all that a community’s heart and soul is something that draws us all together and gives us energy, love and hope.

But, well, you know, life got in the way. I had another workshop to run, then two reports to prepare, a proposal to get to the courier, groceries, laundry….you know the drill. And now it’s March 23rd, and the incredible show seems so long ago. Who cares about community anyway?

I woke up yesterday morning to the radio blaring news of the tragedy in Brussels. I felt weighted down in my bed, feeling an overwhelming sadness at yet one more senseless and heart-wrenching chapter in the theatre of the world.  At least 30 people were killed in two explosions, one at the Brussels Airport and another at the Maalbeek Metro Station. This was close on the heels of the Paris attacks in November, where gunmen and suicide bombers hit a concert hall, a major stadium, restaurants and bars and left 130 dead and hundreds wounded. That followed the Boston Marathon bombings where two bombs went off near the finish line, killing 3 spectators and wounding more than 260 other people.

How could I write about community, about joy and music, when these tragedies keep hitting us in the face every time we look at the paper, or listen to the radio, or stare at our computer screens?

But how can I not?

In the Globe and Mail this morning, I read an article about the Brussels event. Phil Gurski, an author who worked for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and just finished a book entitled The Threat Within, was quoted. “For more than a decade now, European civilians have been killed in the streets, oftentimes by terrorists who grew up in the very cities that they hit”.

Imagine that, if you will.

That brought me squarely back to the night of March 7th, and The Outside Track. In one room, on one night, the communities that make up my life converged for one purpose – joy. Oh sure, we wanted to stamp our feet, sing along and get carried away with the fiddle and the accordion. But what was clear was the joy that infused the air and drew us all together. Nights like that won’t change the world. The people at the café that night may not have known one another previously, because they come from different communities. But for one night, we all shared something powerful and wonderful. We were all in the same community.

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Laura and I are in a cycling and business community!

My blogs usually end with a linkage to a piece of business advice, like: “Imagine the worst-case scenario and build from that”, or “Start your mornings dealing with the hard stuff, when your mind is clear and you can make progress”. But not today.

Today, I want you to think about yourself. Who are your communities? Where and how can you connect them? Don’t worry about your business environment or your financial success. Think about bringing joy, by connecting one concert and one community at a time, in your life and the lives of others. The Outside Track did it for 50 disparate people in Belfountain. I hope that we can all find ways to make that happen again and again and again.

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Some of my favourite community members!

One moment, one person = Gratitude

I was driving home from the hospital after visiting my mother in law the other night. I was weary, traffic was brutal, and all I could find were nasty cover versions of Christmas songs on the radio. As I pulled up to a set of lights, I saw a bus next to me in the right lane. I glanced over, and the young driver was wearing a Santa hat and a smile. He waved, and mouthed “Hello and Merry Christmas!”. Then he pretended to reach out and shake my hand.

I started to laugh out loud, and I did the same. We “shook” hands and grinned.

One moment in time was all it took to move me from close to tears to delight. One moment and one person. That’s it.

In our personal lives, and our business lives, it often only takes one moment or one person to make a substantive difference. When my workload seems overwhelming, I just have to hear Bart’s voice or Rochelle’s laugh, and I am back on track. When I am worried about my mother in law’s health (she pulled through the heart surgery brilliantly, by the way), the world is better when I hear my cell phone make the ringtone of my son, or get a voice mail that makes me laugh.

I am one of the lucky ones who can find immense joy in the most inconsequential things: a Santa hat and a smile. I have learned that it takes a bit of effort to become that way, and thinking and planning about it sometimes helps shape the spontaneity of future events. As I was reading the Globe and Mail business section on the weekend, I came across an article entitled “What will your personal theme be for 2015?” It recognizes that in the rush of the busy-ness of this season, it is easy to get swept away, and lose track of those little things. The author poses some questions that can help focus thinking and perhaps help each of us to recognize and celebrate all those inconsequential things that 2014 held, and that 2015 will bring. Here are a few of my answers. Please share yours with me…the more we share the positive things, the more positive there is to go around!

What went well?

  • Duh! I had a great bike tour with Rory, Sigrid and Bill. Just look at us here!

    Post ride selfies!

    Post ride selfies!

  • My NRCan change management training workshops were OUTSTANDING!
  • A new business relationship with my friend
    Janey and I at the Dancing Goat!

    Janey and me at the Dancing Goat!

    Barton

What changed for the better?

  • My relationship with my mother in law!
  • My Information Management (IM) understanding (I had NONE before I started working with NRCan)
  • My level of patience

What were the gifts of 2014? (this one is hard because every day is a gift…but if I had to choose…)

  • The positive participation of the Rep Prep participants in the change management workshops…each interaction with those folks was a gift of joy and learning.
  • My annual fly fishing adventure made even more wonderful by being with people I love.
  • Working with Bart and Gerarda in creating our new company, SHiFT.

What and whom are your most grateful for right now?

  • My new house – I LOVE IT!
  • My business partner(s) – Nicole, Barton, Guy, Gail, Tony…the list goes on!
  • My personal partner(s) – you know who you are.
  • My children – they continue to amaze me

What is your theme for the year ahead?

  • Gratitude – for so many little and so many big things.

It’s Christmas Eve Day, and a new year is just around the corner. I know that in Seeley’s Bay, Whitehorse, Bragg Creek, Palgrave, Pictou, and other places far and wide, there is someone thinking about me, and I am grateful for that. I know that a bus driver in Mississauga is most likely remembering a happy interaction he had with some crazy lady a few days ago, and I am grateful for that. If you are still at work, or if you are already happily eating shortbread cookies and defrosting a turkey, please be grateful.

Over the next few days, I will be on the look out for all those moments and all those people who make a difference in my life. I hope you do the same.IMG_3477
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Estimates of Expectations

I am a scientist. Let me qualify that…the letters behind my name herald the fact that I studied science in university. Biology. As my pal Kathy MacDonald is quick to point out, biologists are different from other scientists…we estimate.

Kath, estimating how much single malt is in the glass...another skill set of biologists!

Kath, estimating how much single malt is in the glass…another skill set of biologists!

I’ve been a runner for almost 40 years, and though I don’t keep detailed records of my runs[1], I have a general idea of how many miles I’ve covered in my lifetime…TONS!!! I run next to cars, trucks, tractors, combines and all sorts of vehicles as they pass me coming and going. I have learned to run on the edge of the shoulder so that I’m not a) splashed b)veered at or c)pushed off the road. Last year, in a personal running “research project”, I estimated (because that’s what biologists do) that:

  • approximately 70% of drivers do not slow down near runners (Imagine!)
  • the remaining 30%, drivers slow down and often wave or smile (especially if I make eye contact and smile at them).

(Needless to say, I made it my goal to get as many people driving near me to smile…and consequently slow down. Happier people, and definitely happier and safer Susan.)SusanCheerMarathon-1

I’ve recently moved to bustling community of Belfountain, home of the Salamander Festival, Lobsterfest and a lot of traffic! Upon moving here, I based my expectations about safety and running on my previous scholarly estimations – so I had to be über careful because more traffic meant no one was going to slow down or move over in this fast-paced community.

WRONGO!!!!

The first time I noticed something different was shortly after I moved in. I was running on a busy road, and there were 2 cars coming towards me. Lucy, my constant running buddy, and I moved close to the ditch, just in case. But to my surprise, the first car pulled over into the next lane, away from me. The second car slowed and then did the same thing.

Well now.

How unusual.

The next day, I was out on another road. An old BMW comes rumbling up behind me, slows down and then waves as it passes me by.[2]

This morning, I was on Main Street during rush hour (or Belfountain’s version of rush hour…more like rush moment). Not one, not two, but four separate vehicles pulled into the other lane to give me lots of room. By the time the last car passed by, I was grinning like a fool. And the passenger in that last car grinned right back and waved.

As a runner, I am delighted that I’ve found a place where people are considerate. As a simple human, I am once more struck with the knowledge that what I expected was not what happened. My assumptions, no matter how strongly grounded in science they were (or weren’t!), were not at all accurate.

Traffic struggles in Belfountain!

Traffic struggles in Belfountain!

I’m sure there are countless reasons why these drivers seem nicer than others. Perhaps they are used to runners. Perhaps the town just has nicer, kinder drivers! Then again, when I head out again, someone might aim at me while I’m running and blow my theories all to smithereens.

Despite assumptions and expectations, I have found, yet again, to expect the unexpected. In this world where we are deluged by stories about the horrors of Ebola, the tragedies in the Gaza, about the alarming unrest in the Ukraine…there are simple joys that manifest themselves all around us, if we are willing to take look for them; indeed, expect them. A driver pulling over for a runner isn’t really momentous occasion. But the frequency of its occurrence has made me happy. Which makes me smile. And if I smile when I run, people smile back and are happy. Which, in the bigger scheme of the world, Ebola and everything else not withstanding, is something we should all strive for and expect.

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[1] Unlike my friend Eleanor’s brother George Aitkin, who was recently featured in the July/August Canadian Running Magazine with all his journals of accurately measured distances!

[2] No, it wasn’t a LOLWBH (little old lady with blue hair); it was a young guy wearing a Jays cap and “wife beater” t shirt!