“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow”
– Helen Keller
When I was 11, we took a family road trip to the West Kootenays of BC, five of us camping in my mom’s friend’s camper trailer, venturing out during the day to seek out whatever activities were free or cheap. Which is why we ended up at the trail head for Kokanee Glacier.
“It’s only a half hour hike,” my Mom explained as my younger sister and I sat, arms crossed, sneakers untied. We hated hiking. In our minds it was the poor man’s alternative to amusement parks and shopping trips. What people without speed boats or ATVs did to pass the time. The only redeeming aspect of hiking was the fact that my Mom would stuff her fanny pack full of M&Ms and essentially leave a trail of them for us to follow as we walked along. And so, with a few sweet morsels, some reluctant photos, and a bit of Motherly encouragement, we walked. We walked for the full half hour with minimal complaint. When we stated that fact my mom, having the only watch of the bunch of us, checked the time and argued back “It’s only been twenty minutes!” She bribed, argued, yelled, and finally left us on the trail when we refused to go on. Finally after a rather dramatic foot stamping, dirt kicking, eye rolling episode, we followed, just far enough behind that we could still hear the singsong of her voice, but out of visual range so that she couldn’t actually see that we had followed. Maybe she’d worry.
20 kilometers and what felt like centuries later, we emerged from the dusk shadowed trail into the parking lot like a pack of rabid dogs. Ours was the only vehicle left. We’d run out of M&Ms. We’d run out of patience. My feet and back and arms and legs ached. My once-new Nike sneakers were scuffed and dirty. I was starting to shiver as my sweat soaked skin responded to the cooling effect of the setting sun. It was at that moment that I hated the outdoors as much as I ever have. I vowed to never again let my Mother lure me down a trail with promises of sweets and 30 minute walks. I promised myself that I’d never EVER let myself be excited, enthused, or entertained by something as mundane as walking in the woods. Never. Ever.
Just as a mother-daughter relationship transforms slowly and steadily into a sort of friendship, so too did my appreciation for nature. It started when I moved to Calgary in 2004. Suddenly, I couldn’t step out my back door and smell pine and grass and crisp autumn air. Aside from freakishly huge jackrabbits bounding around the university campus, there weren’t any other animals – no deer, no bears, just squawking crows and rabbits that seemed to multiply. Nature was a car ride or a bus ride away. And faster than I ever thought possible, I missed it.
These days, one of my favorite places to be is outside. Whether snowshoeing, skiing, camping, backpacking, or just walking, the putrid smell of mud and dung and the sight of a million mercilessly boring trees and rocks, has been replaced by gratitude. Whether my Mother knew it or not, when she pushed me up the mountains, across the meadows, through the rocks and dirt and mud, she was leading me towards a gift worth far more than anything money could buy. And so I find myself, many weekends in the summer and winter, exploring mountain vistas and rolling meadows of this beautiful country that is home, my pockets full of M&Ms.