What a year this has been. For so many in the world – one to forget.
My experience is the opposite. This year was full and rich – enough so that I’ve been inspired to dig through the pictures of the year and add some memories. I’m blessed to live with a woman who has made the study of her life into a valuable resource for others and some of her experience has rubbed off on me. If this year, on reflection, leaves me with an abiding sense of gratitude, then perhaps it’s worth looking closer to see what makes it so, and to use this as a basis for 2021.
What’s immediately strikes me is how long this year has been. As I looked through the photos, I thought, “Surely this happened last year”. But no, less than 12 months ago, bush fires raged through Australia. What happened between those times and the COVID-tinged present is what inspired me to honour the many moments of grace and beauty in my life this year.
The year started slowly, as tends to be the case when winter has its grip on you. Life is indoors, apart from the odd outdoor run. We compensated by trying out different restaurants and food genres – Japanese being a favourite shared by everyone in the family.
Jan was also the start of what turned into a failed attempt at a sub 3 hr marathon. Naively (at that time), I still thought that the world was going to be the same, and that I would be heading down to Boston to run in April, so the formal running training began on Dec 31 (close enough to 2020).
Winter was winter, and much of it was a bit brutal for a guy who considers himself a solar-powered runner (that’s me, in case you weren’t sure…) However, it was also the time that Piper and I flew out to Australia, because we were being forced to sell our house in Gembrook or risk having to pay an extra $150k in capital gains. There was a fair bit to do, clearing out all our stuff from the shed we had built to house it. Much of the stuff went through Samara’s garage and on to other people, and some was sold. Interesting to think that we’re a lot lighter in possessions now that we were at the start of the year.
We also went to a family wedding up in QLD, and much fun and chaos ensued. Unfortunately, my pictures of this time are a bit scattered (IE, lost in the ether).
And yes, the running was beautiful change – from -25C and snowy to a hot and humid 28C!
March saw Piper and I fly down to Melbourne, where we spent the time living out of Pippa and Poppa’s house. Was so good to be together with this crew – crazy people all in their own way!
Highlights from this time include spending time with friends all around town, cleaning up and selling/giving away far too much stuff. Lots and lots of running on some familiar trails in Melbourne, and some that were new to me. I enjoyed running in the hills around Gembrook, training runs on the 1000 steps, and seeing some of my clients.
Looking at the elevation profile of the first half of the year, you can tell which parts of the world are flat and which are not!
There was some drama around coming home. I was supposed to attend a citizenship ceremony, but with Covid starting to show its teeth, every second day brought another notification from immigration that the ceremony was being pared back. Finally, on the Sat morning before I was about to leave for Canada, the text came that the event was cancelled. I immediately called home, to see whether I should try to reschedule my flight and head out the next day. While I was negotiating this, my immigration officer rang and said that they were willing to hold a private ceremony for myself and one other woman from Germany – the other 998 people would have to wait. So – in a small office reminiscent more of a Vegas wedding than an official ceremony, the words were read, pledges pledged, and a dual citizen was I!
I remember coming home to -18C and a blizzard. Being jet-lagged, I thought I’d head out for a run at 3AM. I got all dressed up for the weather (ugh!) and opened the door. The wind blew the snow into my face, and I saw the snow highlighted by the street lamps. With a falling heart, I retreated into the warmth of the house…
April was circumstantially one of the harder months of the year. I arrived in Canada to cold, and a 14 day quarantine. Boston was cancelled, and with it went my motivation to train for much of anything. My work in Australia evaporated, leaving me without any income for some time. Our home sale in Gembrook wasn’t going anywhere, as the housing market was shut down by Covid. The government refused to budge on the deadline, so we were left to hope that something would come our way.
What do you know – something did. A couple from a town just up the road were willing to buy the house at a decent price without even going inside. That took a load off my mind.
Piper also invited a stray into our home, and he quickly became a surly (and sometimes crazy) part of the house. He inspired us to become an animal rescue foster home which is a new identity for me. (Not that we’ve really had any other animals come through!)
Other than that, spring dragged its heels and we lived with a lot of beige in the natural world before any green started to break through. The month wasn’t much for running – I ran less in Apr than I was doing in a typical week!
Spring finally broke through. Opportunities to pull the bikes out, to go float down the Roseau River, or simply to hang around outside in comfort. Fish were caught, fires were sat around, and on the odd occasion, long silly runs were done, simply because no one had ever run from the starting point to the finishing point. On this particular 50km run, there were a lot of very long straight stretches, and I ran the better part of 2.5 hours down an unending stony fire road. In itself, unremarkable. What made this memorable were the three other crazies shown in the picture – people would will show up again and again in significant moments throughout the year!
This year, Grace decided to head out for solo retreat on most of the dark moons of the year. Initially I wasn’t too sure on this arrangement, but it has turned out to be a great experience. She gets the quiet and pacing that is natural to her at that time, and the kids and I can (sometimes) descend into a bit of a socially manic phase with little planning or cohesion. Its another example of how change can result in good things!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!!
Sorry to all you winter loving, dark night dreaming folks – give me 16 hour days and gentle breezes any day of the year. In fact, that’s why I lived in Australia for all those years, cause winter here is just a little rough on my gentler bits!
By this time, it was pretty clear that all the runs people had signed up for were going to be cancelled, so the local running group decided to host a day to run a range of distances at Bird’s Hill Park. I set out to run the sub-3 marathon, and nearly made it! The moral of the story is – don’t trust your mental math in the final few kms of a marathon. I finished in 3:00:04.
Jasper and Grace were with me on the final lap of the course, and after it was over, Jasper officiated the burial.
If I were to show more pictures of June, it would be of green, and flowers, and growth everywhere. The smells are of warmed soil, without any hint of harvest.
Did I mention this is my favourite time of the year?
July turned into holiday month. We were hoping to get out West to the Canadian rockies this year, but those options closed down due to restrictions, so we decided to head up north and see some of Manitoba instead.
Prior to that, we went camping with some new friends, and they introduced us to simple climbing. Turns out from the pictures that I quite enjoyed myself! Also funny was that we met a few other people out climbing, and they just happened to hail from my hometown of Grunthal! (Where your family tree looks more like a wreath… but don’t tell them…)
The family trip (sans Piper, who rocked two jobs this summer and became the very responsible and respectable daughter) was mostly wonderful. It had rained a flood just prior to us leaving, so many places were very, very wet. This, in Canada, is what is known as a precursor to mosquito hell, and they didn’t disappoint. I got over my fear of chemical exposure and became the guy carrying a can of spray everywhere (OK, not quite, but there were some pretty intense moments.)
I’ll spare you on the details of 800+ images of family fun, but suffice it to say that this woodchuck had to cluck on the pile of logs we found dumped at most campsites up north.
Grace and I also hiked 12 kms of the trail to the east side of Caribou Lake and had our first overnight hiking experience. In general, this was pretty fabulous, though we did work out that our hiking paces are better matched if I run 20 kms before we hike together – I have a natural tendency to pick up the pace it seems… oh – and beware the photos below. One of them is NSFW. 🙂
Seems that August was busy – we also went out to the south-west corner of the province and stayed a few nights at Spruce Woods. The sand dunes (and rain) were quite a challenge over the weekend, but it meant that we had the place to ourselves on the final day, and our hike in the rain along the Trans-Canada trail was a memorable exploration.
The seasons begin to change in that distinctive, prairie Canadian way. This is the month that can be either crazy beautiful, or really let us know that winter is sharpening her claws and is just around the corner.
This was one of the crazy beautiful ones. The days continued to be warm and very enjoyable to be outdoors. The first fruits of harvest turned into a proper stream of food. (Once again, we’ve dug up our front yard and turned it into a garden!!)
This was also the month where my trail running joy spilled over. On Sept 12, I set out to traverse the entire Mantario trail. This was done as a fundraiser for CanU, an organization started by my former Navigator leader Roger Berrington. Each year, a group of students and others head out to run/walk the trail. Joining that group were 7 more runners from Steinbach. As a bonus, this was also the week that I needed to submit a time to Boston to ‘complete’ the marathon. I decided to do it on the trail, and set a time goal of < 6 hours to complete. What a wonderful day!! Details can be seen here, but suffice it to say that I’ll remember that day, and the beauty of the changing landscape, as long as memories remain.To top off the actual experience, the local paper was so starved for sports news that they ran a piece on our efforts.
September 21 is my birthday, and after having spent the whole year thinking that I was 46, I turned 46 again! I spent the day with my family looking over the ruins at Pinawa dam. Twas unseasonably warm, so the garter snakes were out in full force. After so many years living amongst the poisonous snakes of Australia, it’s hard not to jump a mile on seeing them…
The month ended off with Gary (my brother) and I hiking 30 kms of the Mantario – his first time on the trail, and a delightful way of spending a day together. One of the many benefits of being closer to family.
October was the beginning of the end of the running season. I was hoping to run one final 1/2 marathon. Given that I had PBed (personal bested) every other distance from 5km to 50km this summer, this one was still out there… however, it was the autumn of my running as well, and my legs didn’t feel the love, so I never went there.
I did, however, go with running friend and mentor Greg Penner, to see him crush the FKT (fastest known time) on the Mantario trail. I was quietly hoping for a best time as well… but if you want to read the quietly enjoyable disaster that the day was, you can read more here. (BTW – you have to expand the description on these Strava links to be able to read the story of the day there)
The weather continued to change, and with it comes the start of other things. Jasper into hockey (and gymnastics, and martial arts…) and the cat into bags of leaves…
And finally, one last hike with some new friends. I went into the water, and it gets colder with each passing week.
As the year begins to wind to a close, life starts to head indoors. The green grasses fade, and the bland whiteness that will dominate the next five months starts to set in. Generally, this is where I start getting grumpy and think of heading south somewhere, but with those options not available, it was time to look at my relationship with winter.
Hello winter my old friend (a patent lie)
You’ve come to haunt me once again… (true enough)
With cold wet snow that falls as I was sleeping
And a wind that howls all night till morning…
You get the drift (pun intended). Winter and I don’t get along, and its time to change that. Clearly winter wins – it is not about to change, and so I must. This involves a few things. Getting cross country skis is a part of that. Getting new winter gear to stay warm is another (after two winters here I still don’t have a pair of winter boots!). And finally, changing my attitude to accept that the daylight will be short, that fingers and cheeks will get cold, and that this is OK. I can get inside, and warm in the hot tub, and all will be well. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll grow to appreciate and even enjoy this season of winter.
Part of befriending winter is doing spontaneous stupid stuff. Exhibit A in this case is a quick decision to go ahead and run a 1/2 marathon in the city on slick icy roads… I even managed to convince my equally unhinged cousin that this was a good idea… he documents the effort to good effect.
While winter is a time to rest and hibernate, I can still plant seeds for the next year – in this example, my feet are in the best running shoes I’ve ever worn, and represent my commitment to running a sub-3 marathon next year. Nothing like an expensive pair of shoes to enforce commitment on this ol’ mennonite boy!
Another new experience was helping skin this deer with my dad. I went out hunting with him (another first after 30 years) and though I wasn’t there for the shooting, I came back for the skinning. A few days later, the kids and I, together with mom and dad, deboned the whole animal and ground it into hamburger for the freezer. Thank you dad for the steady hand and experience, and blessings to the animal in the afterlife!
December gifted me with my busiest work-load of the year as my Australian clients wound down their operations. The Christmas lights came on around town.
Highlights for the month included helping a friend Brent, who organizes an annual fundraiser called the Longest Nights Run. He was aiming for 100km overnight on Dec 21 in support of his dear friends. I was along for the ride, and while I totaled 82kms on the night, my highlight was simply staying in motion all night – another first for me – and watching his numbers climb to 107km. It was great to see other runners out during the night, all in support of one another and the Dueck family. I like how the dead hours of the night have a different quality to them, invite us to drop our guards and inhibitions, and tell really good stories!
Grandpa Wiebe (my mom’s dad) died in December, and his body was laid to rest in the cold earth on Dec 8. He would’ve been 95 that day.
He lived a good long life, and was ready to leave. What was most sad was that given the Covid restrictions, my mom and dad could not be together for the ceremony or the burial – the rules said five people only.
Grampa was a curious, kind-hearted, hard-working man.
Whenever we would visit him, he asked questions. Especially about our life in Australia – he would marvel over the pictures we showed him, and ask about details. He always thought my long-distance running was a little crazy. I would remind him that what I did was way easier than going into the bush to fell trees by hand.
I’ll remember grandpa’s quiet support and ongoing interest in the lives of his grandkids and great-grandkids.
This is the first year I’ve ever taken stock like this. I felt I wanted to document the beauty that was hidden in plain sight in a year that for so many has been dominated by a hidden enemy. I find myself thankful for what this year has brought out – the strengths and resilience of this family I’m a part of. The appreciation that we could keep our bodies healthy. Appreciation that when our lives shrink to just the nuclear family, they are a delight to be around.
In this next year, there are some running goals, but those are just the icing on the cake (OK – this one in July is some pretty sweet icing!!)
More important tho, are the interior goals. I’ve signed up for the Waking Up app – in order to settle into an ongoing meditation practice. I’ve also started an online course called The Journey with a friend and am discovering anew the joys of deeper self-discovery. I hope that this will form the core of a men’s group that can start in Winnipeg once we are allowed to meet in person once again.
I’m also hoping to become more active in initiating contact with friends. I want to have more interaction with people. Where this could lead I’m not sure. I do know that my YES to life in general is growing, and as I move into the second half of life, I feel I’m drawn to the unique and magical more than the status quo. After reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Bly, I’m drawn to do a significant walk on the Trans-Canada trail next year. This path intersected so many of our camping trips this year – and I’m feeling a desire to do some silent exploring. Another area of growth will be the welcoming and initiation of young men (and women) through the age-old practice of wilderness fasting. These rituals have added so much to my life, and I wish that they were a normal part of our growing up experience.
To any and all of you who are still reading, you must be amongst my friends, cause who else would read this far!!
Its you who add so much to my life, and you who have created so many of these memories. To all far and near, much love and best wishes for the year to come.
Dec 26, 2020