Musings


552288_417112461663489_622665738_nWell, hello dear reader.  It’s been a little while.  I had all sorts of intentions during and following our travels.  I planned to blog profound thoughts about the magical journey of growth and discovery through Europe. I planned a photo-journal piece.  I planned to tell you all about my upcoming events for the New Year.  None of that came to pass.  The instant my feet touched back on Canadian soil, life took me by the scruff of the neck and shook me like an angry dog.  Nothing of what I expected happened when I arrived back home, and a whole lot else unexpected jolted me through the days.  The last three months have been a singularly painful series of awkward leaps from rock to rock, wobbling precariously while trying not to look at the chasm surrounding my feet. Poison darts of pain and sorrow, loss and tragedy, anguish and drama have peppered my hide.  Tonight, I am sitting with a glass of wine and a feeling of fragility, as though at the penetration of one more dart, I will fly apart into a thousand pieces.

My marriage of thirty years has ended.  There, I’ve said it publicly.  After a year and a half of anguish and pain and vague-booking, there comes a point where you just have to face up and fess up.  I don’t plan to go into revealing detail.  I do not seek sympathy.  The end of a deep, profound and lifelong relationship is never easy or painless and it’s been written about a million times.  That’s not my purpose for writing this post.  My focus has homed in on one particular consequence of my impending divorce that has driven me closer to heartbreak than any other.

In order to afford my home alone, I have to rent out a room.  My home contains three bedrooms:  mine, my daughter’s and my studio.  And so, with no palatable alternative choice than to sell my home, I took the only decision I could.  I must give up my studio to have a room to let out.

Ten years.  For ten blessed years, I have enjoyed my own creative space.  There has been a rending inside to give it up.  My steps have been slow, my actions listless and fragmented.  I have worked in fits and bursts to begin the transfer of my desk and some materials to a much reduced work area in my own bedroom, all the while my spirit screaming in protest.  I got a certain way and then ground to a halt.  My heart has been breaking to lose the sanctuary of that precious space, and I came to know in my deepest soul what it has meant to my creative development.

Working slowly through the process of clearing, understanding comes to me in fragments.  That a transformation is taking place.  That letting go of this physical space would be a leap of faith into the one I have built inside myself.  That I have to prepare for a different future. That I don’t know at all what the future beyond the next six months looks like, and how that scares me.  I continued to stall, trying to ready my spirit for the rending.  This womb-like, precious space upon which I can close the door has become as essential to me as breathing.  Even when I am not working in it, there is the knowledge of it, the comfort of that knowledge, held like a pearl against my heart.

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While this procrastination and processing went on, I turned my attention to other matters.  I stalled out on the work to move my creative space.  Nothing much happened for a week or two.

And then, a few days ago, the Universe stepped in to take the decision out of my hands.  A faulty sprinkler main on the third floor resulted in seven flooded units.  The flooding included my bedroom and studio, damaging or destroying half of my materials, boxes of documents and family photo albums, portfolios of artwork, handmade papers, leathers and old books.  Suddenly, the precious buffer I had built against the world lay in a sodden mess around me.  Something inside me seemed to break loose.

2016-01-13 16.38.24My first response was to weep.  Exhausted, overwhelmed and overloaded, I wept.  On the second day, as we worked to pull everything out, I wept again from exhaustion and heartbreak, from overload and embarrassment at the sheer volume.  I possess one drawing done by my artist brother, the most talented artist among the five children of my family, the brother who died in March.  Holding the wet, stained, torn drawing in my hands, again I wept.  And then I gathered myself up and I set to work.

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By the end of the second day, my sanctuary was an empty shell with ripped up carpet, about to lose drywall and ceiling.  The entire salvageable contents of my studio were stacked in the middle of my living room, awaiting insurance adjusters.  My home was strewn with books, artwork and papers drying on every available surface, the deck piled with the unsalvageable paper and materials.  I felt fragile.  I lay on the couch late into the night in the silence of the empty house, surrounded by the dark hulks of upended furniture and piled belongings, and wept out all the accumulated pain, all the anguish of the last eighteen months, far beyond the loss of my studio.  And then I slept.

2016-01-13 16.38.38On the third day, I woke into a feeling of grace and acceptance, my heart at peace with a certainty that an important course correction was taking place.  I needed to let go.  I needed to emerge from behind the barricading walls of a studio full of amulets and talismans and touchstones and anchors.  I needed to trust that the creative space I had built existed within me and was not dependent on location.  I needed to trust in the strength of that structure and prepare myself for a different way of working.  I needed to release the mountain of art materials and teaching supplies, of old artwork and product and memorabilia to concentrate on what I enjoyed and did well.  The Universe had known it, even if I hadn’t.  It stepped in to force my hand.

2016-01-15 20.39.32Suddenly, despite effort and loss adjusters and insurance claims and a home in chaos and plans thrown into disarray, there was a lift in my heart.  The act of emptying my studio had been forced upon me.  In doing so, in seeing the task done, I felt released.  The burden of the decision making was lifted from my shoulders, the choices and decisions of what to keep and what to discard reduced by half.  I had been able to step through that doorway.  I felt liberated and gifted with an opportunity to reset, to redesign and revision.  To prepare.

And there, in that moment, I let go.

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This is my Fifty-one-year-old-day-off-face selfie. Freshly scrubbed, no makeup or hairdo. Looking in those windows to see how I’m faring in this enormous life transition. A bit less tear-swollen, a little less haunted maybe. Still standing. Feeling love and empathy and caring and gratitude for my husband and my daughter as we help each other through each day with loving kindness. One more day.

2014 will bear a single word to mark its passage:  Transition

I have wrestled around with what the next blog post would be, with how on earth I would address the changes occurring in my life.  In my perspective.  In my learning.  In my family.  In the very fabric of my Self.  Then, today, I saw this quote from Ernest Hemingway:

about-what-hurts-670x321Today, I am deep in a pile of pillows and quilts, nursing aches and pains everywhere as the ubiquitous ‘flu virus burns its way through my body.  It is another day like so many there have been over the last four or five months, when I am alone in a silent and empty house, filled with the loudness of silence created by absence.  I read this quote and was immediately resolved to tell it how it is.  Not pretty.  Not easy.  Not sweet.  Life hurts like hell at this time in my life.  I’ve carried on with my work, my life, my service to my community, my caring for my home and family.  Behind it all, I am weeping.  Three months ago, my husband of nearly 30 years and I separated.  In the aftermath, all I ever thought I knew has crashed into brittle shards, and I am engulfed by silence, deafened by the blast wave.

The whys and hows are known to a few, and really aren’t the issue.  We continue every day to work as a family to help each of us through this time with loving kindness.  We are close.  We are working hard.  We will resolve, and we will move forward, one way or another.  Whatever the eventual outcome will be, we have been grieving the separation for three months now, with no ease yet coming to our divided life.  I turn to my studio, to the pages of my journal, to my tools and supplies and can find no expression of the revolution going on inside me.  The soul agony and grief cannot be denied, but there is some good to come from it too.  We have some distance, an ability to back up far enough to get the whole picture into the viewfinder; to see what is good and what is not good; to see what we treasure and refuse to lose.  It has been hard to speak brutal truths to myself, to be honest about my ways of doing things that helped bring us to where we are.  To find strength to learn and grow without sinking into self blame.

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Teaching at CREATE in both Dallas and Seattle this fall gave me a chance for distance and thought.  It was with deep sadness that I received the recent announcement that CREATE has come to an end.  I am so deeply grateful for the creativity, travel and kindred spirits my participation in CREATE brought me.  How much I will miss the opportunity to see all of you!  Among the other endings of my life, this news brought home the deep sense that life is going into a major transition.  The path before my creative feet is well illuminated, and I feel sure of the direction I should take while I wait to learn what comes next.  Change1

I have been overwhelmed by the gifts this year has also brought.  The growing opportunities, the open-hearted reception to my work when I have finally let these difficult stories be told and expressed. The work that has emerged from my hands over the last two or three years has all been about healing journeys.  In the next month, an editorial article will be published in Pages magazine featuring the body of work created around the loss of our children and the birth and life of our daughter.  The series is long from finished, and even in this, I believe the story is not over.  There is a new beginning in here somewhere.  I don’t know what it is yet, or whether it will be with my life partner’s hand in mine or alone.  But somewhere in amongst all the tears and the grief and the pain, there is a kernel of hope in the future.  The last few months have been all about endings.  An ending of one thing always heralds the beginning of something else.  I can feel its approach, even if I can’t yet make out its features in the gloom.  holding hands

 

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I have come back to my blog several times since my last post in May.  Customarily, I try to blog a couple of times a month every month.  Over this strange summer, I haven’t found myself able to do so.  Each time I came here, I spent time with a mental butterfly net, trying to capture something of all that was floating around inside me, and failing.    

I have certainly not been idle in these intervening months.  I have been travelling.  I have been teaching.  I have been spending long, unaccustomed periods alone.  And I have been working.  Indeed, I have been working.  None of it has been the pretty, appealing work I would ordinarily share on my Facebook page, or blog about here.  It has had nothing to do with articles or acquisitions or teaching.  All of it has been deep.  All of it has been drenched in pain and clarity and blood.  And all of it has taken place between the covers of my very private journal.

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A transformation began on our trip back to England in February this year.  In March, I followed with a course that took me deep into the darkest places of my soul and what I needed to face in my life.  The effect of that course was momentous. As we neared the end of that course, I received a commission.  The commission was to write an editorial about the body of work I have created to face and deal with the loss of my children and my parenthood.  Working together with other forces in my life, this sequence of events acted as the catalyst for a great process of change and release.

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Each time I have returned here, I have wondered what to say.  Each time I have returned, my ability to stick to every-day subjects has failed me, my tongue stilled to all words but the truthful ones I needed to speak.  And so, as my life has slowly melted to liquid around me, I have distilled it all into the pages of my journal and remained silent here.  

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I can’t maintain that silence.  I have CREATE retreats fast approaching and deadlines to meet and connections to forge.  I must re-emerge into the world.  In emerging, I have carried my truth forward with me, and needed to find some way to speak about the truth-telling that had transformed my inner landscape.  Some way that honoured my truth but kept the personal details of it private for those who need and deserve my love, protection and circumspection.  A re-emergence.  I had to make a decision.  And so, over these few months, I have worked and thought and worked and considered.  Finally, today, I made up my mind.

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As a result, I am here.  I have decided to take a step I have never taken before in my entire life, since I started a private journal at 12 years old.  I have decided to share some of the rich, anguished, fearful, decided work I have poured into my most private of journals.  This time of my life has been and remains transformational.  To be able to move forward, I simply cannot permit it to hide in invisibility.  I am changed.  My life is changing.  I am leaving the personal landscape that has been my own for nearly thirty years.  I am emerging.  My future looks quite different from what I thought it would be a year ago.  One life is moving toward its ending, another life is evolving toward a beginning.  I am softly occupying the quiet no-man’s-land between them.  Honouring.  Recognising.  Allowing.  I am looking back with love and tenderness.  I am looking forward with eagerness.  But I am standing right here in my shoes, feeling grateful, feeling ready, feeling open.  Feeling the pain.  This is now, and it is full of power.  Thank you for welcoming me back.

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I wrote last month about our impending return to England, ten years after we had left it to move to Canada.  I haven’t yet found words to express the range and depth of feeling that emerged from that time.  I can only visit in vignettes . . . powerful impressions and emotions and a great sense of homecoming.  Fresh in my heart today is a visit we made to a lovely old cottage hidden away in the pine forests surrounding Holkham Bay in north Norfolk.  It is a place that has always spoken to my heart’s dream and reminds me of an editorial piece I wrote about it many years ago . . . .

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From the Oxford English Dictionary

Elysium (ɪˈlɪzɪəm) n. 1. Also called Elysian Fields. Greek myth. the dwelling place of the blessed after death. 2. a state or place of perfect bliss [from Greek Elusion pedion, blessed fields].

What is your concept of paradise? To each one of us, it can be so different – a place, a person, a time, all of those things taken together to produce an idealised utopia. My own image of paradise may seem somewhat drab and bare by comparison to some, yet I can’t seem to let it go.

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You see, there is this little cottage. Only such a little thing. It stands on top of a high sand dune in the middle of a pine forest, its glass front facing bravely to the North Sea, it’s hand-clinked sandstone chimney turning the curve of its backbone to the sea’s gales.

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The clapboard exterior has been scoured silver by sand and salt-laden winds. Indeed, the whole cottage looks truly scrubbed within and without. Whenever I climb the steep steps to the little verandah, a little gypsy breeze greets me with its heady sweet pungence, all salt and sea-borne things, hot baked sand and marram grass, pollen and pine sap and cool green moss. Peeping through the wide windows, it is always empty. There is invariably a little pile of sand blown under the door, waiting for a loving hand to sweep it away. 

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It has all of three rooms. The little galley kitchen at the back is empty of all but a few candle stubs in jars. From the side window, you can just see into a narrow sleeping room of two bunks stacked on each other. Most of this scoured shell of a cottage is given over to the large front room facing out over the sea. Silvered floorboards are bare of furniture or rug. The room is empty but for the overwhelming glory of an enormous fireplace in the seaward corner. Above that fireplace, you see, is the mirror. Oh, such a mirror! So out of place it looks, as though it has been plucked from Neptune’s own palace and deposited to hang alone in that sand-scoured little cabin.

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Every inch of four feet high and as wide, the mirror is surrounded by a great, curving frame, deeply encrusted with seashells and barnacles. No, my friend, this is not of the souvenir-from-the-seaside variety. The shells have aged into the beauty of subtlest evening-sky hues, giving the thing an odd grace and grandeur. The enigma of that mirror intrigues me.

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This little cottage beckons me, speaks to me, belongs to me. And I belong to it. I long to sit with it on that dune. In my mind’s eye, I watch the sunset sea through the pines from its porch, return to its welcoming arms after a storm-tossed beach walk.

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I long to light a driftwood fire in the grate of that amazing fireplace. I would line those wide sills with treasures from the sea. I would sit and rock and watch the stars reflected in Neptune’s mirror. I would eat samphire from the shore cooked in that tiny kitchen. My soul and I could find each other there. I would paint and paint and paint, and when there was no colour left to the day, I would write, by the firelight, content and alone.

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 It will never, can never, be mine anywhere but in my heart. Yet we know we belong to each other, this little cottage and I. Maybe that is all the paradise I need.

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Bridgnorth, Shropshire, our former home.

When your past calls, don’t answer.  It has nothing new to say.

2014.  Ten years ago, we left the United Kingdom to make a new life in Canada, the land of my birth.  In this tenth anniversary year, my family and I will shortly make our first return visit to the land that I called home for 25 years of my life.  The impending trip has filled me with a longing for places left behind, filled me with memories of my years in England and Europe.  Today, my memories have wandered over my time working as a stewardess on a private yacht in the Mediterranean.  It was only a summer, but a summer that was long and filled with amazing experiences, travelling from city to city all along the Mediterranean coast, to Corsica and Sardinia, Elba and then across France, through Paris.  I had just finalised divorce from my first husband.  I had great prospects in the UK for school and love and a good life.  I took the job to get away, to be present and silent with my own thoughts, to decide what I wanted to do next.  My family were keen for me to return to the US, to take up the university direction that had been lost in the early marriage.  I had decisions to make.

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I am particularly remembering San Remo in northern Italy, not far over the Italian border from Monaco.  The ship spent awhile there undergoing some repairs. I had an opportunity to wander the city over several days.  I have three lasting memories from those days . . . the young men on every corner, each seeming more gorgeous than the last, who admired me openly, murmuring “Ciao, bella. . . .” in low bedroom voices; the strange absence of women – one or two beautiful, lively young women, and black-clad old women, with nothing visible in between; and the young man on the scooter who followed me everywhere, and who stationed himself by the end of the gangway for three full days, shouting “Bellissima, bellissima!” every time I appeared on deck.  🙂  But I am particularly remembering San Remo for a certain life turning-point, on a faint long-distance payphone call to tell my parents I was not returning to the US.   Sometimes, looking back, you can see those points so clearly, the moments of decision that change the course of your whole life.

I returned to the UK after my term in the Med was finished.  I enrolled in law school.  A year after my return from the Med, I remarried, to the man who remains my best friend and life partner today, 28 years after we met.  I went on to steep myself in the history and culture of Great Britain, made it my home, pushed my roots deep into that ancient soil.  Returned to visit the US for the first time ten years after I had moved to England. . . . Patterns repeating themselves . . . . As I recall feeling then, I have been feeling odd, mixed feelings about returning to the UK nearly ten years after we left.

College of Law, Guildford, Surrey

College of Law, Guildford, Surrey

After law school, I pursued a successful legal career for 15 years, achieving considerable success as a litigator, writer and teacher.  These were the same years over which we continued to try for a family, and over which I repeatedly miscarried.  Not long after my daughter was finally born, I achieved Associate Partnership with a firm 200 miles from our home, and the transformation of our lives that would lead to this place began.   Another one of those turning points so visible in hindsight.

A decade ago, I walked out on that professional career. I haven’t talked alot about why I left, or how I felt at that time. The truth is that I felt I was the loser – that the male bastion legal profession had succeeded in driving me out. My strengths and gifts as a woman were meaningless. My parenthood was a burden to them. I was judged on whether I could be more than any man, and still that wasn’t enough. I did not see my child awake all week, but still that wasn’t enough.  And so, after 15 years, I walked away.  We took the decision to start over, to make a life in Canada where I might escape my qualifications and have a hope of making a new career.  We sought a strong creative community where we could pursue our creative goals for the future and raise our child in a strong environment close to nature.  cropped-header-homepage.jpg

I and my family have gained enormously from that decision and live a life far beyond the modest dreams we held ten years ago. And ten years later, I know I was in the wrong career, that there was constant friction between my true self and a role that grated against my values more with every passing year. Intellectual challenge isn’t everything.  I have also learned that I do not have to use all my skills and talents in one place.  Today, I enjoy a career fulfilling the passion of my heart, as a book artist, writer and teacher.  My work is held in collections around the world, I am privileged to travel and teach, to write, to share my passion with others.  I have many opportunities to use my legal training and skills in other areas.  There is a natural flow to my work, my career and my life.  I am not fighting upstream or compromising my values and my goals.  I look at these images of myself ten years later and I see my true self. I look younger.  Fully occupying my life and my spirit. I see what is in the eyes. I have found my place.

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I return to England a very changed person, fully occupying a flourishing arts career and loving the life I live and share with my family.  I realise now how much of my old life was lived in fear.   Fear of failure . . . . fear of somehow being ‘found out’ to be not quite as brilliant as they thought I was . . . fear of losing everything.   I have finally learned that the only cure for fear is to face it.  And in facing my worst fears and taking control to make the change on my terms, I have reaped joy and the life I was meant to live.   This return visit will have joys and sorrows and alot of mixed feelings, I know.  But it all looks different to me from this vantage point.  I realise I am the winner after all. 

I wrote a few months ago about the creation of my artist’s book ‘withlostlongedfor’, and what it meant to me.  Though coming from a raw place far deeper than I usually share through this venue, your response to the piece has been universally positive and overwhelmingly kind.  I promised when I wrote about its creation that I would share the piece with you when it was done.  ‘withlostlongedfor’ is currently on display at the Sunny Raven Gallery here in the Bow Valley.

I created a scroll book out of stitched layers of stained silk.  This is a very personal piece for me, and one into which I put the voice of grief over the loss of my children.  This is not a story I have had the courage to tell up to now, and going into it, I felt fear and trepidation. I was not at all sure I would be able to complete the story, but I thought if I could, it would ultimately be very healing.

The Concept

The title of this book is derived from a poem I wrote many years ago, after one of the many miscarriages, and the text of which I included.  I have told the story of the events that transpired and that ultimately led to the creation of this book, so I won’t tell it again here.  However, to understand the meaning and power of the piece, you may wish to understand its source.  If so, I encourage you to read my original post, which I wrote as a part of my commitment to finally bringing this piece to life.

The Process

I have detailed the process through this picture diary, showing the steps I went through to create the scroll, and my thinking as I did so.

The Piece

I love this piece in the sort of mixed love/sadness you might expect.  It was indeed the release for me I believed it to be, and the response to it has been tremendous.  Thank you.

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I will never forget.  Elephants for remembrance and garnet beads to symbolise drops of blood.

I will never forget. Elephants for remembrance and garnet beads to symbolise drops of blood.

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I hand stitched a protective pouch from silk dupioni, labelled it

I hand stitched a protective pouch from silk dupioni, labelled it

The scroll.

The scroll.

Here, you can see the floating text, applied to different layers for it to fade in and out in appearance.  Segments of the crimson stitching bond the layers together loosely.

Here, you can see the floating text, applied to different layers for it to fade in and out in appearance. Segments of the crimson stitching bond the layers together loosely.

Here you see the old mill bobbins with their steel trim.

Here you see the old mill bobbins with their steel trim.

379604_10151702682052268_1592579976_nI have been pulled away from my usual weekly posts on this blog by a busy summer of teaching and travel.  My next post was to be a happy and thoughtful post about my adventures in California, teaching at CREATE Orange County and road-tripping up the Pacific Coast Highway for my 50th birthday.  However, returning home to Alberta in mid-June, the Great Mother had other ideas.  I find myself instead writing about what has quickly become known as the Great Alberta Flood of 2013.

After two weeks in southern California, I had returned still very much ‘away’ in my mind and spirit.  Reconnecting with my friends and family and the beauty of our Canadian Rockies home, I gradually came back into the Alberta headspace, left the California coast behind and began to re-inhabit my Alberta life.  It had rained quite alot while I was away and everything looked lush and green.  The rain kept up for part of each day.  One week after my return, the skies closed in and the rain settled in constant.  This is a pretty ordinary occurrence for June in the Rockies.  We all thought we were just in for the usual.  We talked pleasantly about rainy day activities and carried on as normal.

On Wednesday, 19 June, the rain turned torrential.  The creeks began to rise as they often do during spring run-off.  We’d had some flooding this time last year that had done some damage.  Repairs were needed and carried out.  Money was spent.  We started to wonder idly to each other whether the repairs would hold.

By Wednesday night, we were starting to get nervous.  Overnight, the torrential rain continued and the biggest creek through town, Cougar Creek, began to rage.   About 3am Thursday morning, members of the Fire Department began knocking on doors, warning nearby residents to prepare for evacuation.  After that, it all happened so fast: the creek broke its banks and quickly began to swallow ten, twenty, thirty feet of land from either bank.  Over Thursday morning, all attention was focused on Cougar Creek and the evacuation of residents from that side of town.  Back yards were eaten away, then swept away, trees, decks, hot tubs.  Then the waters began to churn against the foundations of the homes.  By this time, the usually dry creek was a 50-metre wide raging monster.  Heavy equipment operators battled from the creek bed to save the bridges.  School buses ran evacuees to the evacuation centre set up in town.   Other creek beds around town were raging too, heavy equipment shoring them up to save roadways, diverting waterflows as best they could.  The river began to rise.

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Stoneworks Creek’s new cut out of the mountainside, just beyond our home.

At 8:50am on Thursday, 20 June, my husband jumped in the car with me to drive me the three minute drive to work, leaving our 14-year-old daughter slowly waking up at home.  Some water was running along our road, but not too much, what you might expect for that level of rain fall.  At 8:55am, Stoneworks Creek in the mountainside above our home broke its banks and carved a brand new 20-30 foot deep cut out of the mountainside, straight down onto our road.  Our road was immediately turned into a rushing brown river, with us on one side and our daughter and neighbours on the other.  At 9:05, my husband tried to re-enter our road, but was turned back repeatedly.  The road was closed and an emergency evacuation had been ordered.  For another hour, my husband tried to get back home, and then to raise our daughter on the telephone.  The power was gone, and she wasn’t answering.  Terror and barely constrained panic rising in my throat, I ran from my work in the sandals and light jacket I had arrived in, hurrying on foot to try to reach our home and daughter.  Half an hour later, I was at the blockade.  The staff member manning the blockade shrugged – he didn’t know if I could get through on foot, but I was welcome to try.

At about 10:45am, I reached the edge of the flood waters.  By this time, barefoot and streaming with water, and with eyes fixed firmly on the police lights whirling outside my home, I forged through half a kilometer of rushing floodwater to my thighs, choking on the fear in my throat.  My eyes searched for sign of my daughter.  I could barely breathe as I ran and stumbled through those muddy waters in search of the blood of my heart.  Reaching the RCMP officers on the front doorstep of my building, they at first didn’t want to let me in.  I looked the wide-eyed young man in the eye and told him my child was in there, and asked him if he was prepared to try and stop me.  He gave me five minutes.  Shaking from head to foot, streaming water and mud, I ran the length of the corridor, hands fumbling with keys and burst into our dark home.  I ran, calling for my daughter, for the cat, stripping off my clothes as I went, grabbing anything dry I could find to put on, groping for shoes in the dark, my heart pounding in my throat.  There was nobody there.

Within the allotted five minutes, I ran out the front door in dry clothes, too distracted and fearful to remember either a jacket against the torrential rain, or the case of important papers in the hall closet I ran past.  I sat on the evacuation bus with my neighbours, my eyes searching for my daughter everywhere, waiting to be taken to the evacuation centre.  The bus forged through the deep and fast flood waters, choked with debris, taking the residents to safety.  Everyone taking pictures out the windows, hardly anyone talking, fearful eyes meeting fearful eyes.

The evacuation centre had been set up in the building where I work.  After registering, I ran into my work to be immediately greeted by two colleagues.  My daughter was safe, had been evacuated ahead of me and was with her dad in town.  My heart seemed to stop and my breath seized in my chest as I ran for the phone.  Much to my rather hysterical relief and pride, my daughter had been down in the parking garage helping neighbours move their belongings when we were trying to reach her.  With great presence of mind and resourcefulness, she had prepared herself for evacuation, organised the cat and a few belongings and got out safely in the few minutes she’d been given.  I was and am so proud of her.1017229_543691835678330_1845570344_n

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Image by Schovanek Photography

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Battling to save the bridge. Image by Ian Stibbe.

Overwhelmed by the many offers of places to stay, we were able to settle in a generous and absent friend’s house on the other side of the valley.  As with many families, we had been evacuated with no chance to pack any belongings or gather important medications or papers.  The situation got worse and worse in the valley, reports flying rapid-fire through Facebook as news was passed from friend to friend, important announcements and evacuation orders shared, the condition of the bridges and homes reported.  For the rest of Thursday, we ran storytimes and activities in the library to keep the children in the evacuation centre calm and busy.  Throughout the day, the community opened its hearts and its doors to absorb the displaced families.  As we moved through Thursday and into Friday, reports spread of devastation happening further afield in southern Alberta, of other communities equally devastated and in urgent need of assistance.   Thursday night, and again Friday night, we all lay awake long into the early hours, finally falling into fitful sleep to the crash of rock and the grind of heavy machinery battling to save the bridges all through the night.  Through all of this, the river rose and rose and rose, and we waited fearfully for it to crest.  Would the river break its banks too?  Or would the dykes hold?

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Leading an 18-truck convoy to a neighbouring community, packed with food, water and other relief supplies.

The torrential rain finally stopped Friday night, and Saturday dawned with blue and sunny skies.  The people of our town crept out under the incongruous sun to meet their friends and neighbours on the streets and trails, to look at the devastation and try to assimilate what had happened to our dear mountain town.  For the fourth day in a row, Town staff, volunteers and emergency crews worked on, grey faced with exhaustion, keeping the emergency plan and communication and evacuation centres going 24 hours a day and battling the raging waters.   Everyday heroes emerged, pulling together to support, provide aid, care and assist.  Our community flooded the relief centre with donations.  Convoys were taken to neighbouring communities.  People worked together to care for each other and their neighbours.  New friendships were forged through adversity.  And still the emergency and work crews battled.  The river dykes held.  The creek flows crested and gradually started to fall.  Heavy rain resumed late on Saturday, and again on Sunday before the sun finally started to emerge and help the drying out.

We finally re-entered our home on Tuesday, 25 June, after restoration of services and after the floodwaters had fallen.  Water was still running, the parking garage was earthed up and sandbagged, full of water and mud.  Belongings for many people in storage lockers were damaged, but for us it was just stuff.  Our family was safe, our home essentially unharmed.  We had turned our hands to volunteering, to help our friends and neighbours as many others did, and did not allow ourselves to stop and think.  There were so many who were much, much worse off than we were, and we were counting our blessings.  However, it took the legs out from under me at last to enter our home to find the pants I had been wearing during the evacuation hanging over the shower rail, muddy to the thighs.  943244_10151734459702268_1383060229_n

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Image by Schovanek Photography

As the days have passed and the waters have slowly receded, the river has slowly resumed its normal spring flow and our town starts to get back to business, we are confronted every day with the stories of our friends, of our neighbours, of our families devastated by the events.  Homes structurally damaged beyond safety or repair, families who have lost everything.  We have heard the stories of near escapes, of shock, of fear, of heroism, of love and a sense of community that goes bone-deep.  We see the aftershock in each other’s eyes.  We embrace with a tighter grip than before, hold each other a little bit longer, offer help and comfort, safe haven or willing hands or just a ready ear and an extra hug.   Through social media, we keep in contact with our friends in other devastated communities, share resources and information, send help and supplies and love.

For us and for many families, the events of the last ten days have made us re-evaluate many things.  Adversity is the maker or the breaker, for sure.  I have been so deeply humbled by the extreme love and caring that has surrounded me and my family, and poured out of us toward those who have become our extended family in this valley.  The brightness of the sun shone harsh light on the scars on our valley today and hurt my eyes and my heart, but we are prevailing, and we are closer because of it.  To the neighbours, to the Emergency crews, to the Town of Canmore staff and administration, to the RCMP and the Red Cross and the Army, to the local businesses who devoted labour and equipment and time to helping save this town, to the hundreds of tireless volunteers who continue to labour still in all these communities, thank you so much from one family.  We are honoured to be among you.

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