Friday, May 11, 2012

Wanderlust runs through my family genes: a mom's day blog

I'm not the only one in my family to be bitten by the travel bug, apparently.

Mother's Day is upon us, and it's always a bit of a sad day for me, since my mom has been gone since 2007. In fact, the entire second quarter of the year is always a bit rough, since my mom's birthday is in April, her funeral services took place a few days after what would have been her 80th birthday, and that's followed by Mother's Day in May. It repeats in June, since my dad's birthday, Father's Day and his passing (on Father's Day Eve, 1992) all fall in that month.

Suffice to say, I'm really glad when the calendar hits July.

Last year, I chronicled some of my travels with my dad. I really didn't travel much with my mom, unless it was the three of us, together, as a family. Most early travel involved either going to a cottage we rented, or later on, camping in places like Sibald Point Provincial Park on Lake Simcoe or Outlet Beach Provincial Park on Lake Ontario.

However, we did make a big journey in July 1967, driving from Newmarket, Ontario (near Toronto) to Montreal to attend Expo '67 and visit some good friends who lived there.
For me, as a 10-year-old, Expo was of secondary interest; I was really keen on seeing Fort Henry in Kingston, followed by a trip to Upper Canada Village, located near the community of Morrisburg.

Dad and Mom - set to board our car
and head off to Montreal in 1967.
After that, my family's next big trip did not involve me; my mom and dad drove across Canada from Toronto to Victoria and back home again through the U.S. while I was working as a
junior forest ranger in the town of Gogama in northern Ontario. I didn't regret missing the trip, as 1973 proved to be one of the best summers of my life - still is, years later.

A few years later, I was off to UNB and higher education and the only traveling I did involved flying back and forth from Ontario to Fredericton, N.B. for school.

During that time frame, my parents divorced, my dad eventually remarried. Without me around, they both began to travel internationally much more as I finished university and became more of an independent adult, with my own life and my own travels to plan.

However, my mom travelled much more extensively to many more places than did my dad. Dad and his wife Carole often holidayed in Florida each spring. Their one big trip was to the Mediterranean, including stops in Greece and Turkey the year before his passing. He wasn't really fond of air travel, especially long distances which made him feel a bit claustrophobic.

Meanwhile, my mom - who never re-married - began taking regular trips to to Florida, and Hawaii. But in addition to those destinations, she also cruised the Caribbean and vacationed in Mexico as well as three South American countries (none of which I've visited!): Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. She often travelled with a girlfriend, or in a group of friends and family.

And she always brought me back something really neat, a special gift she thought I'd like from her trips. I still have Hawaiian bookends made from lava, a little wall plaque from Mexico, ball caps from Columbia and Venezuela. And while I treasured those mementos while she was alive, I treasure them even more now that she's gone.
Cool Aztec art - a present from my mom's
Mexican journey
Her last journey of any distance was to Newfoundland, and I remember her remarking about the moose she saw in Gros Morne National Park.

So you see, my true wanderlust really comes more from my mom than my dad.

The years I have spent without her have given me a new perspective about her - her experiences, her approach to life, and her sense of adventure.

Yes, "sense of adventure." That's not a phrase I often think of when I remember my mom. Memories are often painted on emotional pallets, colouring the facts with other perceptions. But when you actually look at the facts, she must have had quite the sense of adventure to go on all those journeys without a husband or boyfriend for companionship and protection. While you wouldn't find her paddling an outrigger canoe in Hawaii, or chasing after parrots in the jungles of South America, she certainly didn't shy away from travelling internationally to those places - and on more than one occasion.

But, of course, she was still my mother, I was still her only son - and when she was still alive and I began to travel internationally, her concern for me would manifest itself, sometimes in funny ways.

My first international trip took me to Belize and she sent me a funny going away card; however, when she found out I was going to Africa for more than a month, she became extremely worried something bad would happen to me. Her fears were based more on what she remembers from old Tarzan movies of the 1930's than modern-day concerns of terrorism and disease. I remember just about falling off my chair laughing when she said she was afraid that "guys with tomahawks" would "get me."

After I returned safely, she seemed less concerned about any future trips I took (to Ecuador in 2002, for example). And as her health declined after that year, her concerns were less about where I was going and more about just trying to cope with the daily struggles of what eventually was diagnosed as myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS, formerly known as pre-leukemia).

Mom and I shared more than a few hot dogs -
like this time in Fish Creek Park, Calgary -
but never shared a trip together as adults.
Looking back, I really regret not having ever travelled with her anywhere. We always did interesting and fun things when she visited me, wherever I lived out west, but during the last few years, she was not even well enough to do anything but come out to visit - the plane ride between Alberta/BC and Toronto was tough enough for her.

So we never really travelled anywhere together, as adults.

And of course, we never will.

So if your mother is still alive, treasure the time you have with her - and if her health allows it, plan an adventure, go travel with her. Even if it's just for a few days, take a trip. It doesn't have to be anything exotic or far away - just travel and spend some quality time with the person who brought you into this world.

That way, you'll build even more memories to sustain you on tough days like Mother's Day or her birthday, after she is gone and you can no longer spend time with her.

And whether she's still here, or gone, don't forget - never forget - to say those five words that mean so much to any mother.

I love you. Thanks, Mom.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Nouvelle cuisine, move over: old-style rules at King's Landing

I remember, doing the Time Warp...

Well, not really - but you need to cut me a bit of slack and forgive me if I sound a bit delusional, imagining I've gone back in time.

But it sure seemed like we'd been transported back a couple of hundred years or so, as our group got off the bus for our annual Travel Media Association of Canada 2012 conference's "Dine Around" event.
Riding shotgun, I really wanted to yell,
 "Cue the Budweiser theme!" - but didn't.
(The event sends groups of travel professionals to various eateries around the conference host city, without telling them beforehand where they'll be eating.)

As we got off our shuttle bus, we were greeted by a lady in a bonnet and a dress that probably went out of style the same time men's tricorn hats ceased to be considered fashionable.

After introducing herself, she led us to our waiting transportation - an old red wooden wagon with a pair of draft horses yoked to it.

However, this was not Busch Stadium in St. Louis, so I had to refrain from asking where the Budweiser was being chilled and try not to hum the organ music played there whenever the Cards are in a rally.

Our two-horsepower wagon took us on a tour around the village and finished up at the King's Head Tavern, where we were to eat our dinner.

By now, you may have figured out that although I may be delusional for other reasons, I was not imagining that we'd gone back in time; rather, we were guests at
Kings Landing, a re-created historical village on the banks of the St. John River.

However, we would not get our dinner for free - like troubadours of old, we had to play for our dinner, that is to say, we had to provide percussion on spoons and Bodhran (Irish) drums for Michelle and Don, the entertainment committee for King's Landing.

After trying our best not to mess up the duo's singing, guitar-playing and fiddling too badly with our less-than-rhythmic drumming and spooning, upstairs we went. 

Hmmm..mmm...they look a lot like that crazy lady and mad maestro...

That's when it got really crazy...

We're sitting waiting for our salads and drinks, when this really strange lady screams and runs into the room, sits on the floor and proceeds to tell us how she's lost her maestro, then lists off all the rules of etiquette she's broken.

She tears off into another room, and she must have found him, because in a few minutes, she's back, male in tow. The maestro looks almost as crazy as she does - his hair looks a little bit like one of the wacky scientists from the TV show Ancient Aliens. (If you've seen the show, you'll know who I mean; if you haven't, you won't want to look - it might hurt your eyes.)

Anyway, they kept reappearing and disappearing throughout the course of our evening, she begging to be his protege, he constantly refusing. In the end, she composed herself enough to trick him into marriage, and presumably they lived happily ever after.

Meanwhile, we were enjoying a wonderful comfort-food meal, cooked completely old-style: roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, green beans, carrots, salad and home-baked brown molasses bread. It was all washed down with red or white wine - or, if you prefer malt to grapes, a pint of Simeon Jones' ale, a specialty product made by the Fredericton-based Picaroon's.

"Where's my maestro?"
That was all capped off with coffee or tea, some warm gingerbread with whipped cream - and a tasty alternative to pumpkin pie: Maple brandy squash pie.

The food was excellent, but the entertainment really made the meal.

Michelle (minus the crazy) and Don (minus the weird hair) performed a few more rousing numbers for us, then it was time to click our heals together, repeat, "There's no place like TMAC" several times, and lo-and-behold! we found ourselves back in our own century, on our bus heading back to the City of Stately Elms.

Want to see some pictures from our meal? Go to my Facebook album, A Culinary Visit to the Past.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Losing my virginity on the Miramichi

You may have seen the movie Dances with Wolves...and perhaps you've heard of the "running with the bulls" that takes place in Pamplona, Spain, every year.

Well, now I'll share with you a new experience: snickered at by salmon.

There's nothing quite like it ... especially when you can almost swear they're sticking their tongues out at you as they jump all around your boat. But I'm getting ahead of myself, here.

So after learning to tie flies two days ago, then getting a lesson in fly-casting the next day, it was time to put all that learning to the ultimate test: it was time to try to catch fish with a fly rod.
My technique needs work ...

As I've mentioned previously, I've never fly-fished before, never even held a fly rod in my hand.

But today, I am no longer a fly-fishing virgin.

However, whether or not the loss of this virginity was a pleasant experience all depends on how you define "pleasant."

I was the last of our group to head out; the first two came back with no bites, but some good photos and videos of other anglers landing salmon. The next two both caught big fish (and have the pictures to prove it).

Then, it was my turn.

I headed out with Brian Peterson, my guide for the afternoon, and we zipped down the Miramichi River to our first pool of the day.

And once I began casting, it was obvious that my technique needed some work. I only tangled the line, oh, 10 or 12 times (the first 15 minutes) and missed my guide with every cast but one (hey, it was barely embedded into the back of his shell, and came out easily leaving just a pinprick of a hole - and like Brian said, "Couldn't have been that bad if I didn't feel it...")

The fish were there - they were jumping - they just weren't jumping to bite my fly.
Guide Brian Peterson steers us downriver

At one point, needing to take some pictures and videos of someone actually fishing, I traded places with Brian and he started casting.

That's when a salmon nailed the hook.

Brian said, "You want to play this one?" and so of course, I immediately exchanged my camera for the rod.

It was about a three to four pound fish I had on my line. Following Brian's exhortations, I kept the tip of my rod pointed up and and the line tight. The fish jumped - once, then twice - a beautiful flash of piscine silver splashing in and out of the water, as I worked to reel him in.

He got closer and closer ... Brian got the net ready to bring him into the boat ... and then the fish spit out the fly and was gone.

No, I don't have pictures or videos to prove it - other than the one featured here of Brian asking me if I want to play it - so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Lemmee at that fish!

And another thing: unless you're a New Brunswick resident, and unless the fish you catch is a grilse (a salmon that has returned to fresh water after a single winter at sea) the practice for all salmon fishing on the Miramichi is catch-and-release.

So as far as I'm concerned, I caught it - I just released it a bit earlier than is usual, that's all. And, hey - don't a lot of virgins have a problem with early release?

Anyway, they continued to jump, tease and at least metaphorically, if not literally, stick their tongues out at us. No more bites were forthcoming, even though my casting did improve a bit over the course of the 2-1/2 hours I spent on the river.

Still, it was a good day. I spent it on the river, and to modify that old maxim about fishing, a bad day spent on the river beats a good day doing pretty much anything else. And this was anything but a bad day.

And like another fly fishing guide, Bev Gaston, told us: "A day spent fishing the Miramichi doesn't count as a day of your life."

So I not only did my bit to prolong the lives of Miramichi salmon, I also added a day to mine.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Casting flies before...salmon?

So once we'd learned to tie flies, Sunday (and I use the term "learn" very loosely!) the next logical step in becoming a fly fisher is learning how to cast.
Learning about salmon

Like fly-tying, it can often be easier said than done.

Before we ventured out to the river in front of the Atlantic Salmon Museum , we took a tour of the museum.

If you're interested in salmon, fish or fishing in general, or just general conservation, it's definitely a "must-do" on your list.

It comes complete with dioramas, a hall of fame (including famous Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams - a long time regular and visiting angler in this area), video displays, 3D models, maps, a library collection devoted solely to fishing, and, of course, fish - including a life-sized replica of the largest Atlantic salmon ever caught: 72 lbs, 68-1/2 inches long. There is also an on-site aquarium.

It's a great place to get you excited about fly-fishing - even if you've never done it before.

Bev Gaston, a longtime guide on the Miramichi, was our group instructor. He kept things very simple and very positive. And lo and behold, it actually turned out to be a bit easier than tying flies. We all got the technique down pretty quickly  - at least, casting on dry land with no flies.

Bev Gaston shares some tips

But as our instructor explained, it becomes a lot different when you try it in a boat or even on land when you have to contend with a wind and the current of the river. We quickly discovered that when we tried casting into the river. And with a strong wind blowing.

Still, we were hopeful we might be able to actually do some real fishing. As to whether or not we'd actually catch anything... well, that remains to be seen.

The ins and outs of salmon
In my next blog post, I'll be reporting on how we made out.

Now of course, I'm hoping that I won't end up flapping my arms about like a parrot in a huff when we head out in the boat (not a canoe, we can't paddle this trip because of the high river) to actually try some real fishing, on the Miramichi River.

Here's hoping I can reel something in... (besides an old boot, of course!)

Be sure to tune in next post, same bat-time, same bat-channel.