Ten years ago, today

Athabasca Glacier, outlet valley glacier of the Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park

When you live in the woods and away from the madding ( or is it maddening?) crowd, the connection with the rest of the team, as I like to think of all the other humans, is very much on an energy level.  I’m feeling that, today, 11 September, 2011, is a day when a very large number of humans are thinking about the same subject and remembering where they were ten years ago, today.

I was on a Canadian Rockies Tour, up early in Banff, anticipating the long, full day of information and sights, an amazing day to Jasper via Lake Louise and along The Icefields Parkway.  It was just before 0700 Mountain Time that I walked in to the lobby of our Banff motel, Bumpers, to check out the group and make sure everything, especially the luggage collection, was going smoothly.

There was a small TV on the counter that I glanced at, with the image of the first smoking tower.  I said,’What’s that?’and I got the reply that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Towers.  My first thought was that it was a small private plane but then, as we stood there, the second jet flew inexorably into the other tower and I knew the world had just changed for us all.

I said to the desk clerk, ‘You should turn that off.  There will be no knowing what that’s all about for now, you can’t help and it will just bum you out.’  I don’t think my advice was taken.  I’m sure most people, in that need-to-look-at-that-wreck compulsion found it impossible to turn away.

I did not have the luxury to watch that bit of world history unfold.  My job as Tour Director, was to facilitate the enjoyment of a long-anticipated and for many, once-in-a-lifetime trip.  This particular day was perhaps the most spectacular, set entirely in the mountains.  I needed to be upbeat and optimistic but not uncaring.  For that, I determined that I could not personally view any of the news coverage.  I didn’t want those images and stories to cloud my ability to present my world of Western Canada in a way that the group members could enjoy and remember with some measure of fondness.

My first words to the group as we drove out of Banff heading to Lake Louise were to deliver the news that two jets had crashed into the World Trade Towers.  I could see by the faces that some knew but for others this was the first they’d heard of it.  I said, that we would all hope for the best, that we could not do anything from our location in the mountains,  and there was no knowing at this point, anyway.  I said that our task today was to send good energy and be as best as we could of good cheer.

Naturally, that got us off to a leaden start.  I needed to turn the energy around and I got right into my talk about bears.  Bears, according to First Nations’ legends are our elder brothers, and the first people learned what to eat and how to be in the world, by observing the bears.  Like us they are omnivores and of all the members of the wildlife community perhaps the most interesting and for those not accustomed to bear country, frightening, as well.

Thinking back on that impulse, it seems now to have been an inspired idea to talk to the group about something frightening in their immediate locale and so divert them from thinking about something frightening farther away in the greater world.  Also, there are good bear jokes, some real groaners, that would help lighten the atmosphere.  I found out later that two other of my Tour Director colleagues had that same idea at that same time (we were all heading to Jasper in that ‘if it’s Tuesday, it must be Jasper’ way).

That summer there was a bear exhibit at The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies that did, in panels, much of what I always talked about, how to tell a black bear from a grizzly, what to do if you saw a bear, and especially what to do depending on whether the bear was a black or a grizzly.  For those of you who don’t know, all bears tend to avoid humans.  When confronted, most black bears will run, or swat and run, mostly.  If a black bear attacks, playing dead is not an option because that bear sees the person as food so fighting and being hard to eat is the best idea.

Grizzlies however, see us as rivals for food and territory and attack until that perceived threat has been eliminated.  So if a grizzly attacks, playing dead, lying on your stomach with elbows out and hands protecting your neck (so that you are hard to roll over), is the preferred survival technique.  That’s why it’s good to know the difference.  By this time in the talk I can usually see that they are all thinking about forgoing any walks in the woods until they get out of bear country.  I would then usually state that the wilderness they are driving through, in my mind, is safer than most cities, because bears react according to their nature but humans are much more unpredictable and so, more dangerous.

But that time, ten years ago, I referenced the exhibit at the Whyte Museum, and have every time since.  The penultimate panel  said, to play dead if a grizzly bear attacked.  Then the last panel stated, ‘If the bear begins to eat you, remain calm, and continue to play dead.’  (!!??!!)  I know, right?  The mind bogles and that alone was enough to turn things around so that the journey was not overwhelmed with funereal thoughts.  The motto of that tour became ‘Remain calm and continue to play dead’ and I found out later that my TD friends had the same experience.

We made it through that day and I got all my news second hand from others.  Members of the group worried that they wouldn’t be able to fly home at the end of the tour but I continued to remain calm and told them that was days away and I was sure it would all get sorted before we were done in Vancouver.  I was fortunate to be traveling with an all British group, intrepid travellers and the airways cleared and normal(ish) flights resumed in time for my group members to return home with no delays.

Writing this got me looking back through my journals to see what I wrote then.  Here are some selected excerpts:

11 Sept 01.  The world got very scary today………It’s impossible to understand evil.  How any sane person could think that any destruction of life is a good thing is beyond me.  ……..This seems to likely mean war ( Carmen was saying this as I was today and she chose the same bear stories to lighten the mood).  Especially scary is the sabre rattler in The White House.  I can’t/won’t watch the images because I must be a positive, lighthearted force in the world and the more we pay attention the more power we give the negative forces.  ……we must clean up this mess and ostracize any who act this way…….and otherwise turn our backs on the negative and embrace all that is good in the world.

13 Sept 01.  Long day (on the train, Rocky Mountaineer)…….. I’m lucky to be on the road (as opposed to in the office dealing with the logistics) AND with an all British group- they are intrepid and having fun-concerned about the world but not focused and obsessing on it- ………I am appalled at the hostilities directed at the muslims in Canada.  That is senseless and wrong.  The terrorists are fanatics and do not follow the teachings of Allah.  We must eradicate all intolerance in our world- if only all the peoples of the world could spend some time traveling and meeting/making friends from elsewhere.  If only everyone realized how much better life is when you are kind.  If only.

And now:

At the time, I said that our best response would be to live larger and with renewed greatness of spirit, laughing and joyful.  The hate-mongers would see us from afar and maybe realize that we were having way more fun with life than they were. And are.  But, alas, for the most part people succumbed to fear, the destroyer of enjoyment of the present moment.  More effort is required to stay out of that pit.  Personal freedoms have been curtailed and with all the increased ‘security’ precautions, I feel less secure.  But I for one will not let the cries of ‘shields up! Red alert!’ stop me from being fully engaged with life as long as I’m here.  I continue to believe that good things outweigh the bad, and in this ‘verse of free will I chose hope and optimism and kindness because that feels best.

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