Thursday, October 29, 2015

Vancouver is haunted - and not just by Canucks' playoff failures

Terrifying trolley! (Photo by Vancouver Trolley Co.)
Was she a ghost? She looked like one, but I couldn't be sure...

That's a question you'll have to ask for yourself, if you go on the Vancouver Trolley Company's Haunted Trolley Ride.

In keeping with the spirit of the Halloween season, the company offers an annual "haunted ride" around Vancouver.

It's quite a trip.

When you first embark, you enter a bus full of skulls, spider webs, bats and other Halloween paraphernalia. Scary sounds echo over the sound system. And, of course, your guides look like they've stepped right off the screen from old reruns of the Addams Family or the Munsters.

Looking around, even some of your fellow passengers may look a bit scary...

Isn't that Ichabod Crane over there with the pumpkin head? And that looks like Dracula...albeit, a bit on the young side for a 300-year-old count. And is that really the Wolfman - or did that guy just run out of razor blades (about 2 months ago)?

It's all in good fun, of course.
Is that a faceless pumpkin? A bat-head? Or Ichabod Crane?
After everyone boards, the bus proceeds to make several stops around the city of Vancouver, places where there have been unsolved murders, inexplicable occurrences, and reported hauntings throughout the years.

Some of them look like they would make a good setting for movies like The Amityville Horror or Black Christmas. But other places, you'd never suspect...

For example, did you know there is (supposedly) a body buried under the intersection of 33rd Avenue and Fraser Street in Vancouver? That's what a local legend tells...

You'll learn more about that and other ghostly Vancouver sites during the tours.

Eventually, you do end up walking through a the dark...late at night...maybe under a full moon...

Be on the lookout for wandering wraiths. The one I think I saw, I caught out of the corner of my eye.

After traipsing through the graveyard, you'll have another Halloween treat: a stop at the Vancouver Police Museum. There you'll meet a rather unconventional M-E (certainly nothing like the ones on Castle or Hawaii Five-O) who will take you on a tour of the old city morgue.

After that, you might want to pop out for a cold one - or perhaps not.

The tours only run until Oct. 31 though, so you better hurry if you want to participate. That gives you two more days to get your ghost on, in Vancouver.

If you can't make it to a trolley tour, there are other spooky events you could could ride the Stanley Park Halloween Ghost Train, an eerily good time; or, stroll through the haunted halls of the Burnaby Haunted Village.

There are other "haunted houses" in the Greater Vancouver area, there's a list here.

Just be sure to keep the number for Ghost-Busters handy. Because if you get spooked, who else are you gonna call?

Ray Parker Jr. Ghostbusters by Celtiemama

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Where does your spirit wander on a journey?

Machu Picchu and the rising sun. (Photo © John Geary)
Swedish author and diplomat Dag Hammarskjold wrote,
"The longest journey
Is the journey inwards
Of him who has chosen his destiny."

The line is a comment about a spiritual journey.

All journeys are journeys of spirit, although how spiritual each one may be depends on where you're travelling, what you're doing, and what you frame of mind is at the time.

If you're visiting a spiritual site, it certainly helps. However, you don't have to be at a "spiritual site" to have an incredibly spiritual experience. I've had plenty of those just walking through a local park, or even sitting watching nature at play.

But I've also had some incredible spiritual experiences while travelling to other countries. And while visiting a spiritual site does not guarantee you'll be "spiritually enlightened," I challenge anyone to not feel some kind of awe or maybe feel just a little bit of "perhaps there's something bigger than me operating in the universe" when you stand at dawn, overlooking the temples and structures of Machu Picchu.

Aside from literally taking your breath away (it's a big of climb up from the parking lot to the site, in very thin air), watching the sun come over the mountains in the east and shining down upon the site will take away the breath of all but the most jaded viewers (who probably wouldn't be there in the first place.)

I was fortunate enough to experience this during a trip with Mountain Lodges of Peru several years ago. No matter what else I get to see in my lifetime, I have a hard time imagining it could be much greater than that (not to say I won't try, mind you!)

Exploring the site, looking far down into the valley below its precipitous sides, dodging one of the wild lamas that call it "home" really does force one to think about, well, everything.

That's a spiritual experience I've enjoyed high up among the clouds.

I've also enjoyed them below sea level.

During a visit to the Big Island of Hawaii, I swam with dolphins.
Spinner dolphin off the Kona Coast, Hawaii.
(Photo © John Geary)

This was not one of those aquarium experiences where tourists get in a pool with tame dolphins not even native to the area; this involved going out into the ocean on a small craft early in the morning, tracking a wild pod of spinner dolphins much like one would when going to see wild gorillas in the African rain forest.

There was a good chance we'd see them, but no guarantee. Our leader led the six of us in a group prayer as we cruised out into the bay.

And we did see them. Then we got into the water with snorkel gear and swam around, never approaching, never touching them, just letting them come to us, if they chose. One swam right up to me underwater, looked at me a bit, then swam away. We even got to see a mother with a newly born baby swimming along beside her. We could hear them communicating with their clicks, whistles, and chirps.

If that's not a spiritual experience, I don't know what is.

Many of my spiritual experiences have involved birds. Every time I see parrots in the wild, as I have in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and the Caribbean, it's a spiritual journey. Even seeing wild birds in a local park in B.C. is a spiritual experience for me.

Sandhill crane grooms near Delta, B.C. 

Ditto when I'm paddling. When I dip my paddle repetitively in calm waters while canoeing or kayaking, it becomes zen-like. Padding through the early morning fog of Alberta's Maligne Lake, canoeing in a misty rain and following an eagle in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan, seeing the biggest beaver ever during a desert paddling trip, kayaking down a river while hearing jungle sounds all around in Ecuador - they're all spiritual experiences.

And I cannot even begin to describe the feeling of seeing waterfalls like Mosi oa Tunya ("The Smoke that Thunders") or countless other small wilderness cascades.

Then there was the time I had a "weasel encounter" in Calgary's Fish Creek Provincial Park. Sitting there watching minnows swim around in a feeder stream, I got the distinct feeling something was there, looked over and five feet away sat a weasel, also mesmerized. I jumped a bit, it then jumped, and the spell was broken, but that encounter - and many more in the park I lived five minutes away from - was a great example of spiritual journeys taken close to home.
Ste Anne de Beaupre (Photo © John Geary)

While natural surroundings seem to help me connect spiritually, I've also experienced some moving moments in more urban areas. At the top of that list: the Basilica Ste Anne de Beaupre in Quebec. When I visited there, I could not help but look up in awe at this structure that was too large to capture in a photo, even with a wide angle lens unless I stood back so far as to make the photo unappealing.

Inside, it's not much different. I'm not a huge fan of architecture, but this place is really special. Allow yourself plenty of time to be awed if you visit there.

These are just a sampling of my own spiritual wanderings. There are so many places to visit, so many ways to take spiritual journeys, doing so really is a life-long adventure, an exploration of self and our relation to the Universe.

Let the journeys continue.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Like walking in the rain, writing can require overcoming intertia

Thoreau by the fire: why would I want to leave?
I stare out the window as the autumn rain pours down, washing yesterday's slate clean.

I am thankful for the needed rain.

However, the deluge is enough to discourage all but the most dedicated walker.

I love the rain; its sound always seems to comfort me. 

Further comfort arises from the crackling fireplace. I am in a cozy cocoon, from which I do not want to stir. 

Nevertheless, as I sit reading, like a larva whose time has come to metamorphose into a butterfly, I struggle against the boundaries of my unseen prison, unconsciously at first, then more attentively

I am reading Thoreau's "The Maine Woods," and more than once he tells of trekking in the rain. Finally I put the book down, my mind made up.

Why leave this...

...for this?

Rain or no rain, I will walk.

Motivating myself to walk in the rain is much like motivating myself to write. There is an inertia that chains me to my comfortable chair, preventing me from acting on my conscious thoughts. Yet, in either case, once I shed those chains, there is little that brings me greater pleasure.

As I pull out my rain pancho, I think this trek through the torrents will transcend a stroll in the sunshine. There will be fewer people in the park where I walk, so I may see more wildlife.

I am not disappointed. As the rain slackens, the wildlife stirs from its mid-day meditations. It seems I have the entire park to myself. I am Adam, alone in the world with no one but the animals for company. I spy a pair of deer, then a pair of ducks. Two geese wing their way overhead. I hear, then see, a downy woodpecker going about his business on a tree trunk.

Nature's magic is not limited to chance wildlife encounters. Each time I inhale, my senses revel in the fresh, clean scent of rain-covered forest.

Pecking away, despite the rain.
Half an hour into my jaunt, the rain ceases and I find myself missing the very element that kept me chair-bound earlier. The sun wakens from his mid-day slumber. 

As he wipes the vanishing clouds of sleep from his face, I awake also, to the fact others are walking the park's pathways. 

With that realization, twinges of regret begin to coalesce inside my rain-hungry soul. After hiding inside from it for much of the day, I now want the rain to return, and with it the solitude and serenity of a wet, wild world.
But I realize that for today, the winds of Aeolus have banished the rainclouds of Zeus from the skies.

I do not dwell on this realization for too long, for I know the rains will return. And that happy knowledge stays with me, adding a spring to my step as I wend my way home, ready to shatter those other chains, ready to sit down and write.

As I conquered the rain that kept me inside, so have I conquered the inertia that kept me from writing.