Tag Archives: Mayne Island

Talking the walking: one foot in front of the other & health

I guess I come by my love of walking honestly.

Infamously, I once took my father, who was in his 90th year at the time, on a walk around the Stanley Park seawall and we made it from my apartment at the bottom of Robson Street to a good chunk of the wall (about 6K) and finally dropping into our seats for lunch at the classic old Sylvia Hotel on English Bay.

After that day, every time I suggested he come downtown from Surrey for a visit, he’d immediately inquire with palpable consternation, “We’re not going to walk around the park, are we?” I may have traumatized him for life.  To set the record straight, I had given him more than one opportunity to do a shorter route, my concern present right from the start, but being the stubborn Scot he was, he had declined and past a certain point, there’s no turning back, no quick exit, no hailing a taxi.

Most of my father’s walking took place in the army during World War II and then later on, I gather, he did a lot of walking as part of his job as an electrician on the Rayonier site in New Westminster where, as an aside, in the 1960s, a huge fire broke out on August 20, 1966 in the grasses between the Scott Paper Company and Rayonier. That enormous blaze eventually ended up requiring the Mars Bomber to be deployed with that massive aircraft gathering tons of water from Sproat Lake near Port Alberni to drop on the fire in New West. I was five years old then, and I vaguely recall my brother and I being taken by my mother to watch the spectacle from a safe distance, awed by that huge aircraft flying so low overhead and dropping a veritable waterfall on the site.

In fact, it was my father’s good health and his Forrest Gump style of walks that eventually led to his decline. One day, he miscalculated the steepness of a hill, having taken a detour on some construction site, and ended up in Emergency thanks to whomever, some construction workers possibly, who found him.  In spite of his advanced age and having to stitch up gashes on his head, the ER folks never bothered to do a cat scan which then required, a second trip to Emergency later that day, a proper diagnosis of two hematomas and a six week hospital stay. This is a warning against walking down steep inclines, especially should you make it into your nineties. He was more fragile and cautious after his recovery, having to finally resort to using a dreaded walker on future outings.

Some of my favourite walks have taken place on B.C.’s Southern Gulf Islands. I loved my almost daily meandering jaunts down Walker Hook Road in the North End when I lived there. I’d leave the old cottage I’d rented off Hedger and take my time heading towards the Fernwood Dock admiring the view towards Trincomali Channel and the arbutus trees canvassing above the road, the wild flowers in the ditches. Surely, I thought, heaven must look and feel like the peace on that stretch of geography.

I’ve walked a fair amount on Mayne Island as well. From Miner’s Bay to the Lighthouse and back again and then down to Bennett Bay and I really believe that everyone should experience the absolute freedom and ability to be alone with their thoughts, as the breeze blows their hair, noting scents and scenes that would have been missed while riding in a car as their own two legs provide the only mobility.

I think about a long walk I did on the Isle of Mull in Scotland passing those hairy Highland cattle and inhaling the whiff of the salt off the Firth of Forth with Duart Castle being the daytrip’s destination.

I remember the beautiful city of Bath  and walking back to an Italianate mansion turned hostel on a hill through grassy fields that allowed an expansive view of the town and the weir below as the sun was setting.

Closer to home, my friend Dave Brent organized his friends to do some major walks and I recall the last steps of one of those that started near Value Village in Coquitlam, passed the Boulevard Casino, onto the area under the Port Mann Bridge, carrying on, and on the homestretch over the Pitt River Bridge where some cars had been parked to take the overheated back to the Gillnetter Pub on the Mary Hill Bypass because the pub at the end was always the point really. Two bridges in a single walk is one bridge too many for me.  He’s since ditched the walks for mega hikes all over the North Shore mountains and beyond.

When I saw this article posted by a friend on Facebook about an Irish neuroscientist named Shane O’ Mara, who has proven how good walking is, not just for the body but for the brain, he put into words, what every walker already knows and can now feel a little bit smug about.

Re-introducing yourself to yourself once a week

photo of Dale Chihuly sculpture, Seattle exhibit

The high point of my year so far has been an hour and a half on Sunday mornings at James Bay Community Centre. For the past five weeks I’ve been taking a course on reducing stress through yoga and learning about Ayurveda.

It’s taught by a lovely woman named Donna Miller, who lives on Mayne Island and comes over to Victoria to offer it. She teaches yoga, Ayurveda yoga and somatic movement and mindfulness.

There’s something so great about easing into Sunday by doing a little luxurious visit with yourself, your physical self especially, to check in on it and do a body scan which is how the class often starts.

She’s fantastic at talking the class through that moving from the toes to the crown and really tuning into to what’s going on. Is there pain? Where is it? Are there colours arising? What are you feeling at the belly, at the pit of the stomach? If you’re like me, too often scattered and overwhelmed by vatta in a pitta body, out of balance, not even paying attention to the physical body except when, it reminds you, through a pain in the knee or hips or ankle that your spirit has a container and lo and behold it’s aging and stiff.

I recently got an e-mail from a cousin who lives in downtown Toronto but does a lot better job of keeping in touch with me than vice versa and she said to me when she heard about my job that she hoped I was doing something for my spirit, my creative spirit, and it was a bit of a wake-up call. No. No actually. I’m bloody well not doing a single thing for that little amorphous creature and it’s showing. I’m feeling it. And winter is never my best time, mentally,  to begin with.

I was wondering the other day why it has always been so hard for me to maintain. Why five steps forward, 7 steps back? When I lived on Salt Spring it was pretty easy to live a life that felt in tune – with oneself, with nature, with other people who were part of a community that mattered and organically connected because of proximity and like-mindedness about the importance of connecting.

I look back at that time and think, wow, how far from that reality I’ve now strayed, again, which is what prompted the signing up to this class. And what I’ve noticed is that just taking that baby step, taking time to tune into the body, leads to all sorts of other thoughts about other changes one might make to counterbalance the inordinate amount of psychic energy required to go to a job five days a week.

Ideally, none of us would have to compartmentalize to that degree but too many of us have to and so we do, at least for periods of time.  Carving out time on the weekend, or whenever it works, is a bit of a spirit-saving necessity.