The Freedom to Explore

As I bid summer goodbye and embrace autumn which has slowly seeped it’s way into my life like tea leaves in a cold glass of water, I think back over the summer gone by.  I try to remember it, but it is all hazy like a Hong Kong sky, the memory hidden in a cloak of time.  Summer did not implanted itself into my memory as strongly as past summers gone by. Work was so busy this year, we had no time to travel and explore someplace new like we usually do.   One work day turned into the next and I barely remember when summer started, or when it actually ended.  It made me miss the summers of my past where I had time to be free.  When days were long, nights were warm, and I spent hours and hours outside exploring.

I believe every child should have at least one summer where they are given a safe space to roam free, explore, and truly be a child.  For me that summer was between Grade 6 and 7.  It was the most exciting summer of my childhood.  It planted roots, a foundation for what was to become a huge part of my adult life.  It was an experience that lingered over the rest of my childhood, hovering lightly in the background, quietly reminding me never ever to forget.

I was on the verge of my 12th birthday, still a child, and nowhere near puberty.  My great aunt Yvonne decided to spend the summer in Quebec with her youngest sister, my great Aunt Shirley.  She didn’t want to take the trip alone, so it was decided I would go with her.    I jumped at the opportunity to be able to leave the confines of my small Western Canadian city and travel across Canada and meet my cousins who were close to my age.

With money being tight, Aunty Yvonne and I boarded a Greyhound bus with a ticket to Montreal.  For me, this was the best way to go, because it meant I would get to see the whole country, or at least the parts of it I could see from the Trans Canada highway. We travelled on that bus for 4 days and 3 nights there, and then again on the return trip back.  I saw the tall sharp Rocky mountains, the flat rolling plain-ness of the prairies that went on and on long after I grew bored.  In Ontario we hit low lying sharp craigy mountains and great lakes that seemed as big as oceans.  We drove through Ottawa, the capital of Canada where Auntie woke me up from my uncomfortable slumber to point out the Parliament buildings we were passing by.  In Quebec the land was filled with huge maple trees and a breath taking simple beauty in the moderatly flat landscape , a beauty not found anywhere else in Canada.  We met Auntie Shirley in Magog our final destination, a sleepy town not far from the US border.  I will never forget Magog.  It was the first time in my life I was in a place where I could not communicate as  I had yet to begin learning French in school.  I was completely and utterly mesmerized by the feeling of being somewhere new, somewhere different, somewhere foreign despite it still being Canada.

We drove by car to their cabin on Lake Memphremagog, a lake that is partly in Canada, partly in the US state of Vermont.  It was at this lake, over the course of the month that I had a summer like no other.  My cousin Leanne and I went swimming in the lake, exploring the water, exploring the shore.  We went wondering through the trees, and walked along dirt roads through the surrounding lands.  We played inside old covered bridges and sat in boats and paddled around.  We had campfires at neighbours cabins, roasting marshmallows and signing songs.  We lay on our backs on the dock at night and looked up at the millions of stars, scanning the night sky shooting stars.  I remember there were alot of stary streaks across the night sky that summer.  Each day was so long, the month I spent there seemed to go on forever.

At the end of the month we drove back to Montreal where we stayed in their grand brick house just off Rue St. Catherine.  I remember standing at the front of their tall brick house looking up awe struck.  There was no such thing as a brick house where I grew up.  Leanne and I took the subway into downtown Montreal on a rainy day.  I had never been in a subway before, or out and about in a city without an adult.  Montreal is so cold in winter, they have built underground passageways, shopping centres, which connects to the buildings above to save people from walking outside in the freezing cold.  It was the second big city I had ever been to, Vancouver being the first, and it was so incredibly different.

When I think back to that summer, what I remember most was the sense of wonder, foreignness, being so far from home in such a strange beautiful place,  learning about a new culture, being spoken to in a funny language, eating different foods, and for the first time in my life being free to explore it all in its entirety.    It was one of the most amazing summers and I knew then I had to experience it again sometime in my future.   It planted a seed which grew in my gut.

That little seed turned into an itch, which turned into a very strong desire, which led me to leave Canada at the age of 18 and plunk myself down in rural Japan for a year.  When I was 20 I backpacked through China over a summer, and travelled to Paris.  When even that became not enough, I left Canada for good at the age of 24.  I have never stopped exploring since then, and perhaps I never will.  But one thing is certain.  This world is a remarkable place.  There is so much to see, learn, and do, if only we open our hearts to it, and allow the experience to happen.  My summer on Lake Memphremagog taught me this, and I never forgot.

It is my wish that every child be allowed to be free to explore a totally new place at some point in their childhood, some place foreign and different, yet safe and allowing.   If every child is given this opportunity, how different would this world be?  How many more open and accepting people would there be on this planet?  How much more would we value our world, appreciate the differences, and strive to take care of this planet rather than destroy it.  This I do wonder.

This blog post was written for Free Write Friday and linked up on Kellie Elmore’s blog, Magic in the Backyard – the topic was “Your ONE Amazing Summer” 

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What we observe

I don’t know how many times I say to my partner Sam “Did you see….” or “Did you notice…”  The answer about 90% of the time is “What….?”

It has in the past frustrated me at times.  How could he not have noticed?  It was so obvious, everyone saw it! Or so I tell myself.

After what felt like the umpteenth time of Sam simply not noticing, I decide I would try and find out why.  But how do I do this?  It would be simple I realized, I would observe him!

Fast forward to yesterday.  We took Sam’s parents up to the Dandenong hills, about 1 hour drive east of Melbourne City.  I love these hills and dream of living there someday very very soon.  The hills are covered in thick ferny rainforest, with plenty of cockatoos, rosellas, kookaburra’s and many other birds.  Sometimes you can spot the occasional wallaby, or wombat too.

We found ourselves at Grant’s Park in Kallista, part of the Sherbrooke Forest. Grant’s Park attracts tourists from all over the world because of it’s birds.  There is a little souvenir shop at Grant’s Park, and inside you can buy birdseed. After you have paid $4.00 for your tray of bird seed, you can go into a slightly enclosed area where the cockatoos and rosellas land on your tray, on your shoulder or arm to nibble on your bird seed.

I find this fascinating as cockatoos and rosellas usually don’t land on you to eat while you are walking or sitting in any other park.  At least not that I have observed.

So we are in the bird feeding area and I decide to take this as an opportunity to observe Sam.  He is holding the tray of bird seed.  A rosella has landed on the tray and is contently eating.  Another Rosella lands on Sam’s shoulder.  He stands still for a very long time peacefully watching the bird eat with a calm focus.  He doesn’t move at all nor does he look away.  Sam stayed so focused on the task at hand, that I’ll admit I got bored.  It didn’t help that alot of people came and I found my eyes darting around at all the action happening all around me.  All the stories taking place right before my eyes.

There was a cute little German boy in a light blue t-shirt so determined to feed a bird that he would run at the bird the second he saw one and subsequently scare it away.  His mother kept trying to get him to slow down, but he was just too excited. His face lit up like firecrackers the second he saw a stationary bird.

There was an older Chinese man in a brown half suit who kept staying still so that the cockatoo would come closer and closer and then he would quickly reach out and try and touch it. All the while a Chinese woman who was with him kept saying “Ec-cuse me” as she tried to shoo people blocking the way of her camera aimed at the man attempting to touch a bird.

There was an Indian family that came in, a girl of about 7 in a pretty red dress and a boy of 5 in an action cartoon charactered t-shirt.  The boy had alot of aggressive energy in the way he moved and talked, and I wondered why.  I turned at one point and saw him trying to kick a bird, and that got me wondering about the boy for a good 5 minutes.

There was a tall man with a grey bushy beard and round glasses whose wife in a long plain baby blue dress was timid and stayed back as he stuck out his tray to some cockatoos.  When a rosella landed on her shoulder she went into quiet disbelieving shock while he fumbled to get out his camera.  In the process a cheeky cockatoo seized the opportunity to knock over the tray of food.

I could continue to enlighten you with all the many stories, but I will spare you the details.  🙂  I think you get my drift.  I’m an observer.  I see stories everywhere.

Back to Sam for a minute.  There he sat, watching the bird eat, that same rosella with the ruffled and faded red feathers on his head, as if he had a few run in’s with something hard.  Sam probably didn’t move for what felt like an hour, and neither did that bird.

When a tour bus of Mainland Chinese pulled up, I nudged Sam and his parents away.  The place was about to get very crowded.

Later I asked Sam if he noticed the boy who was kicking, or the man with the beard, or the older Chinese man, or the little boy running at birds.  He saw none of it.  In my frustration of wanting to share all the stories with him,  I asked him what did he actually see?  I had my sneaking suspicion after observing him that all he saw was the rosella on his tray and not much else,  He told me he just stood there watching and observing the Rosella on his tray eating and that was about it.  He was so focused on that bird that it soaked up all his attention.  I realized this is why it “feels” like I see everything and Sam sees so little, when in reality this is not the case.  Sam is the kind of person that focuses on what’s in front of him, and gives that his entire energy and attention.  I suppose this is why he can focus on a task for hours on end without stopping, without changing, whereas my attention loves to jump, especially when there are a few things happening.  Can you believe that after more than two years together I only really truly got that about him this weekend? And yet a part of me knew it all along.   Sometimes I think I’m so observant I miss what’s right in front of me.  Hee hee hee

As with all things I like to find a learning in my experiences as I believe this planet and all that occupies it has plenty to teach us.  I had some beautiful realizations with my little exercise and I’d like to share them with you.

I realized that so often we humans want so badly for another human, especially one that we love dearly to relate to us, to get us, to understand us, that when people can’t, or don’t, we get frustrated.  But there will never be the “perfect” human, the kind that sees everything we see, experiences everything we do thus being able to completely relate to us fully and completely.  We are all different, yet we all share fundamental similarities.  We each walk a path, but the steps and directions that we take are all different.  Paths cross, similarities and common occurrences can be found, but we can never truly walk in another person’s shoes for a day.

So what does all this mean for me?  This means first of all, I need to stop asking Sam “Did you see…?”  And start asking him what he observed, what he focused on, and stop assuming he just gets me (and as a result just saw that cool thing that I just saw).  But not just Sam, all humans.  For we all see the world differently, yet we all see the same world.  It’s our differences in observations, in perspectives, in opinions that makes this world so interesting, enticing, and keeps me distracted with all those wonderful stories.  We all have a story to tell, and yet we don’t always stop to hear each others.

Next time you can’t believe someone didn’t see what you just saw, ask them what they did see.  What were they feeling, experiencing in that moment as they observed?  You might learn that they saw something you completely missed.  🙂