This Is the Life: A Journey in Picture and Verse

Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.

A walk at dusk in Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland

I just returned from my 18-day journey in the United Kingdom. One weekend in London, one week traveling Scotland, and one week traveling Northern Ireland. My heart is still there and truth be told, it might always be. I kind of thought it was a myth that travel changes you, but it really does. Yesterday one of my coworkers said to me, “You look different. Did you meet someone on your trip?”

Yes, yes I did.

I met myself.

Taking a wee break to drink in some of Scotland's breathtaking beauty in the North Sea

I had intended to keep a daily record of everything we did and everything we saw but since we were on the go a lot of the time, writing everything down became an impossible feat. Instead, I did keep a little journal of thoughts and impressions and favourite memories that I’d love to share with you. Rather than an orderly, cohesive narrative, I’ve opted for pictures and abstract verses which, I believe, better reflect our meandering journey.

Chilling on the streets of London with Big Ben

London was a riot. Just kidding. We were well into our Scottish leg of the journey when all of that craziness happened in London and didn’t even know it had occurred until we were at the Glasgow Airport. To be honest, London was probably my least favourite part of our trip. Not that it wasn’t exciting to tour Buckingham Palace and see Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Fleet Street and the Strand (where Virginia Woolf went to buy a pencil) and see places you’ve read about in countless English novels … but it was overwhelming.

If I was to go back to London, I wouldn’t go back in the summer. The crowds, the people, the noise … let’s just say that after 3 days in London, we were all totally ready for the serene Scottish countryside.

A Sunday morning at the markets in Camden Town

And then there’s Scotland. The country that has stolen my heart. We started it off in Edinburgh, my favourite city.

My second trip to Scotland (the first was January 2004), began in Edinburgh, my favourite city

Edinburgh, magical Edinburgh, where I came alive, where I played. Where I climbed endless steps and peaked in countless alleyways and wandered and fled the rain. Where a group of us Canadian vagabonds met at a jazz bar and experienced live music so good it hurt (jazz/funk covers of Radiohead, Massive Attack, Snoop Dogg, The Clash, etc.). Where I tried haggis (I didn’t like it) and Scotch (I didn’t like that either!) and spent two days exploring the magic that is Old Edinburgh.

Oh, how I love Edinburgh's many mysterious alleys!

I woke up one morning on the top bunk in our hostel facing an open window with a view to kill of Edinburgh Castle. The sound of pouring rain and the memories of a musical, magical night. The distant wail of bagpipes and thrum of drums. It was cool and I snuggled deeper into my sheet pocket. God is in the rain. It was my favourite morning.

Our view of Edinburgh Castle from the hostel

The Stone of Destiny–taking back that which is rightfully yours.

In Scotland I was wild, in Scotland I was sexy, in Scotland I was free. I loved London but I’m not a city girl and I’m okay with that. In Scotland something was broken free in me and loosened and unfurled somewhere along a winding stretch of country road.

We drove (correction: Lynda and Rachael drove and I sat in the back seat because I was the baby and too afraid to test my driving on the other side of the road) from Edinburgh to Inverness through undulating paths. The beauty of Scotland’s countryside stretched and spilled open in front of us and all I could say was wow, over and over.

Lynda and I taking a pit stop to marvel at some beauty

Rolling through the countryside, we were serenaded by Peter Katz and the Curious, Phoenix, The Killers, and Scotland’s own Amy Macdonald. This is the life. There’s a reason why so much beautiful literature comes from this land. Inspiration flows like water and as we drove down Highland country roads I was filled to overflowing.

Urquhart Castle rests on the banks of Loch Ness and is featured on many a postcard

A moment at Urquhart Castle (from which we had to be escorted out because it was closing): I need to be here.

The wild and sexy Highland country

Lines of poetry rolled, hill after hill, wave after wave, onto each other.

I wrote in my journal: Scotland’s cast its spell. It wraps itself around my heart, a tree’s root hugging a rock–nature nurturing and returning to itself.

Scotland feels like home.

I felt cold sea air kiss my tired, travel-weary face. I danced with Highland Scottish farmers until the wee hours of the morning and belted out Radiohead lyrics with other Canadians whilst the best live band ever showed us how Edinburgh gets it done. I dreamed vividly and let inspiration cascade over me like a wave. I felt peace break the tight frightened coil that shelled me and I spilled open somewhere in the sea.

We took a ferry from Inverness to Stromness, on the Orkney Islands in very far north of Scotland. I spent the entire hour and a half-long ferry ride out on deck and this is where I began to come alive.

I could feel the peace of the Orkneys already on the water

The wind whipped around me and I thought, “I would’ve made a good pirate queen.” There’s no other place I feel quite so alive and split open and caressed and washed clean than on water. I could’ve laughed and cried at the same time because of all the things God was speaking to me and breaking off during a simple hour ferry ride. What cannot be expressed in language can best be expressed in how I felt–alive.

I like to think they come for what Orkney can truly give them: the dearest freshness deep down things — sign on the ferry to the Orkneys

I think we all loved Stromness the best–the slow place of life, the water, the stillness, the safety, the magic. Skara Brae, the Standing Stones of Stemness, Old Man of Hoy. A place of good energy, Lynda said.

Don't be fooled by my fierce Viking pose at Skara Brae--this is where I caught a nasty cold!

One of my favourite moments was walking in Stromness at twilight, tea in hand. Friendly neighbourhood cats came out to be stroked and followed me for bits of my walk. I walked through groups of men speaking Gaelic; when you pass they nod politely and say “Ello, love!”

A solitary walk in Stromness

On the walk, I experienced more profound moments of peace. Moments where it all comes together, where everything aligns itself and rights itself … the things that normally distract and worry you disappear with every step.

Tranquil Stromness at dusk

Stromness. Twilight. Pure beauty.

Later, Rachael and I stargazed on a wet hill (which is where I probably caught a cold). As we stretched out and took in the wide expanse of sky, she sighed, “This is the life.”

From Stromness we took the ferry back to Inverness where we spent another night. Then we drove back down through the Cairngorms National Park to Glasgow and caught a plane to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

At first I was reluctant to love Ireland as much as Scotland, but I also had a nasty cold which overtook my sinuses at this point so I was cold, damp, sneezy, and grumpy. We spent a few days at Lynda’s aunt’s cottage in Ballycastle and slipped into timelessness …

Heading out to sea in Ballycastle

I got rid of my cold here by going to bed at 9 p.m., taking lots of Lemsip, reading trashy British magazines, and multiple healthy doses of the magic that is the Irish countryside.

Loving life in Ireland

Giant's Causeway: a wonder to behold

Oh, the lyrical rolling hills of Ireland. I knew you’d affect me, I just didn’t know how much and to what extent.

Even prettier than it is in pictures

Two days in Belfast with a wicked cold, herring, cod, and mackerel, and Irish hospitality and then riding up the coast from Larne to Ballycastle (and many other Ballys in between!)

We went on a Black Taxi Tour of West Belfast. Murals, tensions, walls still dividing the Protestants and Catholics. A weird sick feeling on the Protestant side and the violent, anti-Catholic murals. Small boys playing with toy guns. Beef and Guinness pie at the Crown–the oldest bar in Belfast, followed by a pint of Guinness with a shamrock in the head. Intense talks about the Troubles at breakfast with the Belfast-born, Protestant-raised hostel owner.

Murals on the Catholic side of West Belfast

Sipping my first pint of Guinness at the Crown in Belfast

In Scotland I fell in love with the wild and sexy country; in Ireland I fell in love with the people. There are no words to describe how lovely, welcoming, friendly, and sweet the Irish people are. We were invited to Lynda’s cousin’s wedding and her family made me feel so welcome and part of the family straight away. I fell in love with one of the cousin’s three little girls (aged 12, 11, and eight) and bawled my eyes out when I had to say goodbye to them. I witnessed and took part of a beautiful Irish Catholic wedding ceremony and danced the night away with the wee girlies.

Lynda and I all dressed up at her cousin's wedding in Belfast

As happy as I was to come home, I do believe I left parts of my heart scattered across the Scottish and Irish countryside and in the sea, and in Belfast where I felt truly loved and (dare I say it) validated.

I don’t know if the emotions I’m feeling right now are post-vacation blues, jet-lag, or if I really belong in the United Kingdom. I’ve been waking up at 3 or 4 in the morning ready to start the day and not knowing where I am. When I wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes I panic and wonder where Lynda and Rachael are and why I’m sleeping alone.

In the meantime, I’m holding fast to everything I learned: peace in the Orkneys, self-love in Scotland, and community in Ireland.

I will be back …

My Favourite Things

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

In honour of my 26th birthday last week, and because on Thursday I’m leaving for my Funtastic UK trip and won’t be able to blog for the next couple of weeks, I’m taking a cue from my favourite blogger Jaclyn Rae and posting some of my favourite pictures from the Web.

Enjoy! I’ll be posting pictures and memories from my trip when I return in mid-August!

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

Spring Awakening?

This morning, I woke up to this:

“Where did spring go?” the watering can complained to the clothespins
half-buried gardening tools
not. amused.
my mom’s little porch space covered in the white stuff

Spring, the bride of seasons, has been dressed in white, and as I write this, it shows no signs of stopping.

Sigh.

I’m not impressed, to say the least, but I’ll save you the theatrics. Instead, I’ll attempt to boost your spirits and mine with some pictures of lovely things and promises to come …

 

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of google image search

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

pretty spring clothes! (photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com)

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

Civic Holiday Photo Sesh

 

As per Fabiola’s request, here are some of the pictures I took this weekend on a mini trip to the lake.  Sorry they’re so small; it’s either this size or super-duper large.

I love how you can see Toronto from the other side!

I love how you can see Toronto from the other side!

The view of the lake from the Elizabeth Street Pumphouse

The view of the lake from the Elizabeth Street Pumphouse

the shoreline of Lake Ontario, from Nelles Beach

the shoreline of Lake Ontario, from Nelles Beach

I submitted this photo to The Hamilton Spectator's Eye on the Area section

I submitted this photo to The Hamilton Spectator's Eye on the Area section

The swan I named Marilyn Monroe.  Isn't she beautiful?

The swan I named Marilyn Monroe. Isn't she beautiful?

God made this flower with a little bit of passion and a big burst of excitement

God made this flower with a little bit of passion and a big burst of excitement

Summer’s Here …

… and I’m riding on a crest of The Sundays and Chad Van Gaalen.  

hello summer

hello summer

After a rainy, dreary July, it’s nice to finally enjoy the sunshine and hot weather.  Even though my working Saturday didn’t go as planned and I got snubbed by local politicans’ cronies, paid $75 for a cab to take me from assignment to assignment (who, as it turned out, showed up 1 hour late because this is a small town and everyone drives and consequently, pollutes the planet), biked around the town looking for “people doing fun summery things on the holiday weekend” feeling like a creep and getting rejected, and had a nearly perfect driving lesson on Sunday (with one minor mistake which I’m trying to forgive myself for), today has shaped up much better.  It will be a promising August, I think.

It seems as though the anxiety and self-criticism has temporarily dissipated with the glorious sunlight.  I hopped back again on my bike this morning, camera in tow, hoping for more “people doing fun summery things on the holiday weekend.”  I went to the beach, found a cute 15 month-old boy and snapped away (with his mother’s permission, of course.)  I waded barefoot in the cool, clear water and felt my soul quieted and satisfied as I watched sailboats glide in the distance and my new home come August 28, Toronto, shimmer like a mirage across the lake.  I sat on a rock with the sand between my toes and watched an elderly golden retriever frolic like a young pup in the water, children skipping stones and a young couple stroll barefoot on the shore. 

When I was satisfied with the pictures I had taken, I biked down to the Pumphouse.  I attached my zoom lens to the camera and got some great shots of sailboats, fishing boats, motor boats and yachts that were all taking advantage of the beautiful day.  My zoom lens is so good that I could make out the figures in the boats themselves, rather than simply a speck of the boat on the horizon.  I spotted an assortment of Canadian geese, ducks and seagulls chillin’ near the shore and was pleasantly surprised to see a gorgeous white swan among them.  As I balanced carefully on the shoreline rocks and got out my camera, the swan seemed to follow the direction I was walking in and floated closer to me.  As I went snap-happy, loving the effect of water droplets glistening on her white feathers against the dark blue-green of the lake, she started to preen, stretching her graceful long neck, looking coyly over her shoulder and resting her head on her wings.  It was almost like she was posing for me and loving the camera!  Apparently it’s unusual for swans to be so friendly and approachable, but this one was workin’ it!

After hundreds of photos were taken, I came home, jumped in the pool, and spent the rest of the afternoon reading Away by Jane Urquhart, sipping a homemade iced chai latte and cuddling Sammy on my lap.  It was a much-needed one-day vacation and now I feel mostly rested and serene.

I’d love more summer days like this one, but I also can’t wait for fall (and my new life) to begin.  I just found out last week that I got the editorial internship at Quill and Quire: Canada’s magazine of book news and reviews.  Just a few months ago I was considering the area of journalism I’d most like to get into, and I decided that my perfect job would be to write about books and the publishing industry.  This is a dream come true, and to make matters even better, I’ll be living in Parkdale with my sister and taking a short streetcar to Queen Street East, where the office is located.  I’ve already started buying some new office-y clothes for the internship and am trying to figure out which books I’ll be able to take with me (not a lot … sad face). 

I’m really, really excited about the privilege of being at Q&Q, being near my sister, my boyfriend and the Big Beautiful City that awaits me.

Like Mary Tyler Moore, I’m going to make it after all!

Summer Solstice

When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes …

–“Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Miserables

 

Summer Solstice at Charles Daley Park, Jordan

Summer Solstice at Charles Daley Park, Jordan

Here’s a beautiful moment from my life:

On Sunday, after a busy, rainy day covering the Beamsville Strawberry Festival and many other community events that ended up being cancelled, I was sent on assignment to the West Beach of Charles Daley Park in Jordan to snap some photos.

In the South, the sky was cloudy and threatening to pour:

Jordan Harbour

Jordan Harbour

As we headed to the crowded beach, however, the sun was putting on a spectacular performance:

Summer Solstice 2009

Summer Solstice 2009

I watched from the sidelines as gray-haired seniors and tiny tots gathered on the sandy shores of Lake Ontario, some lounging in lawn-chairs, others dancing, some stretched in pre-Christian positions of worship, everyone pounding on a drum, sending down the sun with a tantalizing rhythm.

As the sun descended into the tropic of Cancer, the heartbeat rhythm grew faster and more frantic.  The sun was visibly setting into the horizon, and an appreciative group of drummers and dancers made sure it would be a passage marked by celebration.  I’ve heard that drum circles have a healing effect on the spirit; for me, the pounding pace echoed my heart pounding with vibrancy and excitement.

Whether celebrating Summer Solstice is a pagan or Christian ritual is of no substance.  Summertime marks a season of fertility, life, relaxation and adventure all wrapped in a sunny, sassy package.  When nature provides you with a reason to get your heart racing and your camera snapping, embrace it.

Skinny Love

This post is brought to you by the musical genius of Bon Iver.

A magic typewriter

A magic typewriter

There I stood, clutching a plastic wine cup, my Nikon heavy around my neck, my face Merlot red, sweating in places I didn’t know could sweat (now’s not the time to go into details or haul out the dictionary of anatomy), dizzy and overwhelmed by the prospect that I went from freelance and unpaid to employed and paid in less than a week.  In my field, nonetheless.  In a downtrodden economy.  In a world where the newspaper is supposedly dying. 

I cold-called on a Monday morning after being offered jobs at Tim Hortons and Subway for the summer.  I had to suck up my pride and feeling of entitlement: I got my diploma to do this?  I went in to the office of the local newspaper as soon as it opened, said: this is the degree I have.  This is the experience I have.  Please let me volunteer for you.  I can copy-edit and I can also write.  Turns out my timing was perfect.  I left with three story assignments to have done by 6 p.m. that night.  Was hired for a full-time summer job that Friday. As a reporter/photographer for the local paper (journo/photog if you’re hip).  And I haven’t even thrown my graduation cap in the air yet. 

What is happening? 

Back to the art gallery volunteer committee soiree, where I’m hopelessly out of place in my shirt that doesn’t want to stay on my shoulders, baring my awkward teethy smile, looking all of 18 in a place full of oldish artsy-ish ladies with faint English/Scottish/Welsh accents and eclectic jewelry they probably made themselves.  My high school friend’s mom, who is a Big Deal at the art gallery, tries to make me feel more comfortable, but when you’re naturally awkward and on your first “photo assignment,” you’re kind of beyond hope.  I snap a few pictures which are probably horrible and leave with the plastic cup of wine in my hands wondering how this all came together. 

I had been two months without a paycheque and was trying really hard to keep the anxiety and depression at bay.  I had a sweet internship at a TV show but I was feeling panicked about not having any money.  Or a job.  Any job.  Even though I applied to 27 McJobs in my town and over 50 journo jobs in Toronto.  I held on so tightly to hope and believed that God would work something out.  I repeated Romans 8:28 in my head like a mantra: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Somehow, everything came together in a way that has my head spinning.  My head has been anywhere but here this past week as I’ve done 9-5 every day between the brand-new job and the internship.  I feel confused and can’t quite shake this feeling that I’m forgetting to do something, that there’s something I’m not giving 100 per cent of my energy to.  I feel these random bursts of creativity and joie de vivre, like when I was tripping home after gulping down the local wine and throwing away the plastic goblet, taking pictures of old buildings and graffiti, finding a new passion, wanting to photograph the downtown denizens, young unsure girls in ridiculously short shorts, skin glistening in the evening sunlight. 

I barely have the energy to fully commit myself to these creative urges and words that flit in and out of my consciousness like multicoloured hummingbirds; I lie on my bed listening to Bon Iver when I’m feeling introverted, MGMT when I’m feeling extroverted.  Trying to wrap my mind around this new reality.  This new life I’m somehow living.

Welcome, my new and improved world.  I’m embracing you with shaking arms.