July 22

It's so tiring doing nothing at all but hiking and biking and eating that it's felt hard to sit down to type. This morning, based upon the premise that to hike with children one doesn't have to actually pick kid-friendly hikes, but rather hike in a kid-friendly fashion, we explored the beginning of a Canmore to Banff biking trail. This trail begins in a creek valley up near the Spray Lakes. We ambled along at an extraordinarily kid-friendly pace, weaving through wider patches of the creek saturated with moose prints, crossing over log bridges, and picking many wild strawberries. The children were delighted and our pace was so delightful. Sadly, only about a mile in we reached a crossroads and additional trailhead sign declaring that the trail was, from that point onward, closed. The wildlife needed more space to stretch out... and we were happy to allow them that space, even though it meant turning back. Our return hike was even slower, and we returned to the car with three mud-covered shoes, lots of bug bites, and red-stained lips.
This afternoon I hopped on my bike and took to the trails. I rode by myself for miles downriver following a bike trail that was well travelled but not crowded. The water was so clear and aqua and the sky so high and blue and I was so alone. The sun was so bright and I felt like my bike might just take flight and begin to circle like a hawk. The day was so warm but the air is so dry here that you don't ever get hot and sweaty, which makes you feel like you could exercise continuously without ever getting tired. Nevertheless, I did ultimately turn around and head back to town, where Greg and his cousins had taken all of our kids to a wonderful playground. We followed the romp with a trip to the local flatbread company where they laid out a beautiful table for 12 for us and our noise completely drowned out anything else that was happening in the restaurant. It was gorgeous.

I have to close with an anecdote of little Maeve, our stalwart hiker, who asks with great regularity to get down from her pack. She's quite good natured about staying in if the other little kids are up, but I do let her come down to hike if our pace is lazy. She putters along, picking up stones, intermittently running, gathering flowers and grasses, and sometimes grabbing my hand. And then, inevitably, after a few minutes, she stops and stands still. She says the same thing every time, and so do I.
I say, "Maeve, it's time to keep hiking. We have to walk."

And she says, "I'm looking at the woods".

I love that girl.


July 19th.

There was a rainbow tonight. Right now it is almost ten o'clock. The sky is a clear, bright blue, and sunlight bathes Ha Ling peak above our house. We have only just gotten the children into bed.
Today I brought the girls into Calgary to see my cousin and her three children. The drive seemed longer than it really was. We enjoyed our day thoroughly, but as soon as we were buckled into the car for the return trip, I was anxious to be back. The mountains on the horizon seemed to be calling me home.

The girls were content, somehow, looking out the window. We came up the road to Bragg Creek and cut across to the Trans-Canada. We passed only one canola field here in the foothills. Then we began to weave in, across the Morley Flats, past the Lac Des Arc and the washed-out Heart Trail, and on into Canmore. There is an old camper that sits in a pile of flood washout in the median strip of the highway just before we exit. It follows an old microwave.

We got back home and Greg jumped right into gear getting the girls into bed. It was only just past five, but they hadn't napped and company was arriving at half six. We had them tucked in by six, and I was then able to arrange myself on the deck in the sunshine with some tasty hors d'oeuvres and a glass of white wine.

There was no laundry. I did not cook a meal, or wash a dish. I didn't tidy one single thing up. The children were generally well-behaved and lovely. What a true vacation this is.

The light on the mountains is turning pink. It must be almost time for bed. Last night I woke up and saw the mountains at 3 AM. It was the first time I've seen darkness here. I love the light.

July 18

Photo caption: from the top of Ha Ling Peak, my index finger points directly at our house. On the right side of the photo, what looks like a superhighway coming down from the mountains is actually the washout from Cougar Creek in Canmore. If you are Canadian you know about this flooding, if not, you could check it out. There is currently no water at all in Cougar Creek. 

Although it had been light for three hours, it still seemed like the first breath of dawn when we parked the car at the trailhead this morning. There were four of us-- the two brothers and their wives-- and we had left the house with only two of the five children awake to see us off. As the bright morning rays began to creep over the mountaintops, we were off on the short drive up the mountainside to park at the base of the Ha Ling mountain trail.
Our ascent began in the most magnificent pine forest. The ground was covered with thick, green moss and the trees dripped with mint-green strings. It was so lush and alive and the dirt beneath our boots was dark and rich. We began to climb immediately-- the average grade on this hike being 30%.  It wasn’t long before the dirt changed over to hard rock and the trail began to switchback up the mountainside. The pine continued to shield most of our view, but in the snippets of vista we caught we could see a moose feeding in a small mountain pond below us. It was completely silent. We were the only ones on the mountain. 
Nearly two hours into the walk the trees left us completely. The last kilometer of our hike was scrabbling over the rocks up to what was truly, truly a peak. For a while only sky was silhouetted behind it, but then as I reached the top I tentatively peeked over the edge-- it was a sheer cliff on the other side-- and gasped at the view. What a beautiful thing it was to see the entire valley spread before us, the Rocky Mountain range, and down the Bow River all the way to Calgary. It was truly the most magnificent peak we had ever climbed. 
I missed Maeve on the way down. I had tip-toed out of the house before she’d awakened, and I felt strangely alone having not felt the wiggly warmth of her in my arms before my departure. Being away from her for five hours is a long time, and particularly after a long night’s rest, I knew I’d be grateful to hold her in my arms when we arrived home. When we arrived home she was grinning at me from the upper balcony, and she melted into my arms as I came up the stairs. It was a sweet end to a beautiful morning of adult time. 


July 14.

 A few photos from the past few days....

Moving Westward in the timezone is always so refreshing for me. I’m sleepy in the evening, despite the persistent daylight, and I wake up feeling rested at six or so. I try to ignore the voice that’s telling me it’s eight in New England, and rather attend to the reality that I’ve gotten myself up at a good, early hour. I was up before the girls today, which made me feel like a version of myself I haven’t seen in quite some time. 

We picked today’s hike last night, a short, but steep climb that began just a few miles from our house. We were at the trailhead by nine and it was immediately obvious that this hike was perfect for our first of the season. It climbed steeply and the views were just incredible. Liam and Aoife scrambled up the trail -- it was called the Grassi Lake trail-- like two little mountain goats. There were stone steps carved into the rocks, steep waterfalls, and breathtaking scenery. At the top of the loop were two pristine, crystal clear mountain pools. We stopped for some trail mix, swatting mosquitoes the whole time, and took in the view. 

I find that when I return to the Rockies it at once looks absolutely normal, just like the Rockies always look, but at the same time I never lose the appreciation for the  awesomeness of the craggy, tall peaks. While they’ve become familiar to me, they still always seem breathtaking and unreal. They clear my mind and make me relax immediately. I still feel like I have to pinch myself that we will be staying in this house for sixteen more days. 

Traveling with the girls hasn’t been too difficult. Even with the combination of the two of them, I feel constantly reminded that we really have left the baby days behind-- for better or for worse. Most routines we have can be flexible, most baby/toddler gear which is convenient at home is flexible. The girls have done fine switching time zones and houses and meal schedules. I feel proud of them and of us, and I am scheming already for more adventure. 

I am sitting on the deck now while they sleep. Nearly everyone else, it seems, is napping. Aoife is playing contentedly with an enormous five-gallon pail of Lego that we found in the house and Liam is playing cribbage with Grandma. The contrast to my life of four weeks ago, of seemlingly endless loads of laundry, a house full of mess to keep track of, van loads of children to shuttle from place to place, couldn’t be more stark. I am so grateful for this literal breath of fresh air. 


The Mountains

We've arrived in the mountains today. I am sitting on a deck surrounded with rugged, craggy peaks. This is a most peaceful place to write.

Yesterday was a roadtrip down memory lane. We drove north of Edmonton to a little town called Busby. There isn't much of a town there, but what's there are acres and acres of land that belong to Greg's parents, because they are the old homestead where Greg's mother was born. In the early part of the century, when his great-grandparents were clearing the land for their homestead, they lived there in an earthen dugout for their first winter while the house was being built. The land where the old farm still lies is overgrown now, and the house has fallen into disrepair as it hasn't been lived in for many decades. There are many little, old wooden buildings that once comprised a bustling family farm. The lot across the street where the little old Arvilla school once stood is now vacant. That is where Greg's grandmother attended school. It is all quite amazing. We visited the parcel across the street, where Greg's mother's cousin still farms. They had tiny kittens and newborn rabbits and the children were delighted. Then we got into the back of a pickup truck and drove through the pastures to inspect the calves. Greg's parents own cattle they keep there, and most had calved by now. It was calming and sweet to be out there.
On the way home we stopped at a dinosaur park with life sized, moving, roaring dinosaurs. From a system of boardwalks one can admire these excellent replications of real prehistoric creatures. The children were amazed and it was a fun thing to break up the drive home. When we arrived back we were treated to an amazing dinner by Greg's uncle Wayne. Out on the deck, with the sun still so high in the sky, the canola rolled for miles, shining bright yellow. For the third night in a row I went to bed with bright sunlight pouring in my bedroom window. I have not yet seen darkness in Alberta.

Today we drove south, passing from prairie to mountains. We will stay here for more than two weeks. I am so fortunate.

The Prairie

When we arrived here, I told Maeve and Fiona: Look out the window. The thing you will notice about the prairie is that the sky is very big.
Oh, the big, big sky. How I have grown to love this land here, with its rolling patchwork flatness and the big, vast sky above. At this time of year, in a wet July, the colors are striking and vibrant: the green, green fields of oats and barley and the gorgeous, bright yellow of the canola. The lines between the fields, and where the roads cross, are crisp and neat. In the distance one can see busy highways, with cars and trucks floating past, but here on this road it is quiet. I can see the skyline of Edmonton, its downtown not quite twenty miles from this place. 
We went running this morning, Greg and I. We ran out the road, the straight, straight road, breathing in the delightfully dry air. It rained lightly on us and the temperature was mild. It was such welcome relief from the humidity and terrible heat of the Northeast we’d just left. We passed the old farmstead where Greg’s mother grew up, where only the dairy barn remains of the original farm of her youth. We ran over railroad tracks and past a canola field that had been battered last week by a hailstorm. The plants lay sideways, flowers still a blinding yellow against the grayish, rainy sky. Everything here looks beautiful to me. 
I can imagine so easily, being here, how somebody who had lived here for a lifetime would find the heavy, green walls of forested New England incredibly claustrophobic. While I love the dense woodlands of my home, I am awed and freed by the incredible, sweeping beauty of the prairie. I feel grateful to have married into a family who calls this land home, so that I have had the opportunity to learn to love this place. 
There was a time in my life, before the arrival of children and the beautiful, beloved chaos of the life I now call mine, where I found coming here dull. I didn’t know what to do with the space: both the physical space, of being remote and removed, and the space that the was simply time: it was being away from a hustle and bustle of my daily life. I cherish this now. I can sit here, I can write, I can read a magazine, I can watch my children play cards, and read to themselves, and there is no hike to be hiked, no odd job to do, no chickens to feed. It’s just me and the big sky, and the peaceful air, and I am very content. 

July 10th

July 10th.

We have had two long days of travel, nine hours each. Yesterday Greg and I awoke to a dark, steamy morning just a few minutes before 4 AM. In preparation for our house sitter, who will stay in our home for the seven weeks we are away, we had cleaned everything up to a sparkling shine. Every surface was cleared of clutter, every picture straight on the wall, everything gleamed. The bedroom almost echoed with the pine floors devoid of everything-- no laundry baskets, no items of clothing tossed aside the night before. Everything was ready to go. As we crept outside in the pre-dawn, the yard was perfectly manicured. It looked like a park. I felt almost sorry to be leaving, everything looked so perfect. The river rushed quietly down the hill as we put the last few things-- our hot coffee and refrigerated lunch items-- into the car.
It was just after four when we fetched the sleeping children and transferred them to their car seats. Our children do not sleep in the car. They never have, and I imagine they never will. But leaving at 4 AM guarantees us at least two hours of absolute peace and quiet as we drive. So as we negotiated the quiet back roads and wove along the Massachusetts Turnpike through the Berkshires, all was quiet. 
Not an eye closed, and when the sun crept over the horizon at five-thirty the Froot Loop necklaces were out, books were being read, and the first round of coffee was finished. I love leaving so early in the morning. We passed the halfway mark of our travel (mile-wise) at 8:20 AM. With a revolving door of audio books, movies, novelty snacks, puzzles, and crayons we managed to make it through the 9 hours that it took us from door to door without much of a whine out of anybody. We stopped twice for short breaks and arrived a little after one o’clock at DeGrassi Point feeling ready for anything. 
The arrival at our ancestral land wiped out those nine minutes in the blink of an eyelash. We were staying at my cousin’s house, so at first the arrival confused Fiona: where were we? Where was the DeGrassi she remembered? I took her out to the end of Barb’s dock and there it was, just along the cove: the green and white boathouse, sandy beach, big dock, and landmark yellow and green slide in the water. Fiona looked up at me, her eyes glowing with joy. “There it is!” she squealed. “It’s the baby beach! I want to go there! I want to go swimming!”
The timing was impeccable. My cousin Caley was just about to put her 11 month old son, Lachlan, to bed, so clearing out the house seemed just the thing to do. As the kids scrambled down the dirt road in the direction of the commons, I grabbed the suits out of the car and brought up the rear with the little girls. 
Coming around the bend in the little path that connects the cove with the commons I felt the weight of a busy school year lift off my shoulders: there is was. The most familiar little dirt track in the world to me, the sagging shed-garage and green and white wood siding of the cottage my great-grandfather built in 1912. Even though we wouldn’t be staying the night in this “home”, the sight alone of it, and being able to walk past its deep gables and in the shade of the pines that grace its front lawn brought me a year’s worth of peace. The children had run ahead and were joyfully playing on the metal “swingset” that my cousins brought home from living abroad in Papua New Guinea in the early ’70’s. Only one swing remains but the ladder across the top is sturdy and fun, and it remains a focal point of play for all the children of the commons. Upon seeing me they jumped down and headed for the water. 
We spent the afternoon doing what we always do at DeGrassi: kids playing in the sand and water, adults playing alongside, swimming, assisting, and catching up on the dock. As always, it’s as if we’ve always been there and never left. We couldn’t have picked a better place to burn off steam and erase the travel than spending the afternoon there.
We returned to Auntie Barb’s cottage for a two-tiered spaghetti dinner, with the kids eating first and then swimming and playing some more before heading down for a six-kid big cousin sleepover in the basement. Fiona and Maeve were exhausted and managed to fall asleep in the same room for the first time ever without much intervention. Our supper happened after everyone was tucked in, the adults chatting and laughing with cozy candlelight on the porch, lulled by the lapping of the waves on the beach and seawall. 
The next morning we feasted on home made waffles and headed for the airport at just past 9. My dear cousin Briare, who is my age and has been among my closest friends for my whole life, had offered to keep our car at her house and give us transportation to the airport. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time to check in, take care of our bags, manage to rearrange our seats so that we would be together on the plane (in two sets of three), and grab some lunch. We boarded the plane and got settled for the 4 hour and 12 minute flight to Edmonton.
Bless my heart, I volunteered to take Maeve in my row for the flight. She was mostly fine. We had her in her car seat on the plane, as it’s been our experience that it’s easier for small children to understand the concept of remaining buckled in one’s seat if they are in a seat they are used to for travel. The down side of this travel arrangement is that their feet are lifted about 18 inches closer to the seat in front of them, which means lots of reprimands not to kick the nice lady sitting in front of us. But we managed to power through, with lots of snacks, stories, and even a (nurse assisted) nap on Mama’s lap. It seemed cruel to me when, moments after Maeve fell asleep, we hit turbulence and the seat belt sign came on. I could see the flight attendant coming through the cabin to check to see if everyone’s belt was fastened. Miraculously, I was able to set Maeve in her car seat and buckle her in with plenty of time to spare. She stayed asleep for almost half an hour-- a welcome break for me. 
We arrived in Edmonton at close to 3 o’clock local time. Greg’s parents were there to greet us and helped us get situated in a rental car that we will use for the duration of our time here. Back at Greg’s grandmother’s house the girls were delighted to find a bag of My Little Ponies that Greg’s mom had bought at a tag sale that morning. The three of them were sucked into dramatic play while Liam joyfully ran around the yard and burned off steam. A few games of cribbage later the girls were tucked into bed and the adults and big kids were at the table and Liam and Aoife hit a wall. After having eaten most of their lasagna, they both looked up, eyes heavy, and asked to go to bed. It had been a long few days. 
Greg and I weren’t long to follow. After dessert and coffee, we headed down to the cool, nearly sound-proof room in the basement for what we knew would be an amazing sleep.  I didn’t emerge for nearly twelve hours.