Sunday, December 10, 2017

Memories, light the corners of my mind ... or do they ?

My friends Pat and Sandy visit me every year.  They each come for a week and we have wonderful times exploring beaches and having adventures.

Right now I cannot tell you what we did when last they visited.

If I try to remember what we did I get nothing.  But that makes sense because if I try to visualize Pat and Sandy's faces I get nada, zip, zilch, zippo.   My mind's eye is sightless.

Close your eyes and imagine an apple.   Can you see an apple ?   I cannot see an apple.

I cannot see my beloved mom and dad.

If my daughter disappeared I could not describe her.  I know her when I see her, but I cannot describe her even though I love her with all my heart, as my mind's eye is blank.

When I meet new people, since I cannot hold their image in my mind's eye I do not remember them.  I've taken to telling people I'm "face blind" as that seems to help them understand.  I'll ask the person not to be offended if when next we meet I act like I don't know them.  I ask them to remind me of their name and of our last meeting. 

I always assumed I wasn't paying attention and just was lousy with faces and names.

It was only after listening to a program on CBC Radio last spring that I learned my condition had a name; Aphantasia.   I never had thought about my lack of a "mind's eye".   I never realized that other people were seeing real pictures in their heads.  I could not understand why my friends would talk about their memories of things involving me and my parents that I could not.  I'd often ask "was I there?".

I have no internal visual images of my childhood and since memories are built on mental images you can see where I'm going here ...

Nope.  Nuthin'.  

I know those are my parents with my brother Darrell and I but I have no memories attached.

I know this is my mom and I.  I remember that she was going blind.  I know I loved her and dad passionately but I don't know where this photo was taken or what we did that day...or any other day.

I've always wondered why I take photos almost obsessively.  I now realize that it is my way of trying to create a memory for myself.  

Before Sandy and Pat next visit I will haul out my laptop and look for photos of their last visits so I'll know what we did.  Too many times I've said "Hey we should visit Scots Bay, you'll love it" and my patient friend has said "Yeah it's lovely we had a great time there last time".   Sigh ...

Looks like Pat and I went to Peggy's Cove

and visited Fjord horses on the Noel Shore,

'course we did these things on different visits but that's just a detail.  lol

On past visits Sandy and I have ... wait ... lemme see how to finish that sentence ...

apparently we've  been to a taping of "This hour has 22 minutes",  coz here is a photo to remind me.     

And remember that time she came in February and we went to Peggy's Cove for a nice lunch at the S'ou wester Restaurant ?

I remember it now because looking at this photo reminds me, but unless there are other pictures from the same day I cannot recall what else we did that day.


Through my first 66 years I did not know that other people could see REAL pictures in their minds eye.  I've spent a lot of time since last spring having my own internal pity party; jealous that my friends can visualize my parents when I cannot.

My blogging chum Kathy who writes "Lake Superior Spirit", also has Aphantasia (along with 2% of the population) , but figured out on her own many years ago that she lacked the ability to see in her head and has a more positive attitude toward what I see as a loss.  Here is her take on living with this condition: "Close your eyes and imagine your dead father's face".

After chatting on-line with Kathy I came to realize that some of the things about the way I see the world are different from how most folk see the world.

Once a week I cross the MacDonald Bridge over the Halifax Harbour to go to choir and each time I do I marvel at the view; the island out in the harbour, the cargo ships below and the ferries criss-crossing the harbour.  Though I know what this bridge and view are like, because I can't hold those images in my head I think that each time I cross it the experience is new and fresh.  Not exactly but almost like it's the first time.

Perhaps it's why I love walking in the woods.  So much to see with something akin to fresh eyes.

I often feel a fresh sense of wonder when I walk in the woods,
or on a beach where I spot amazing wonders.

I sometimes notice things that others seem to overlook.  Perhaps because I don't hold images in my head I see the world slightly differently never losing that child like sense of wonder ?

Perhaps this is another reason I like hanging out with Wendy and Sooki.  

I suspect that they live very much for the moment and share my joy at life's small wonders.

And though I wish things were different I am learning to be content with the way they are.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

December 6, 1917 at 9:04 a.m.

It's early in the morning of December 6, 1917 and a lot of your older friends are on the way to school and some are already there.  You're six years old and  you can see the Halifax Harbour from the big bay window in your dining room and wow, look at that -- two ships just hit each other and one is on fire !  Your mom and brother come to look out the window with you.  

This is exciting !

You put on your coat and run down the hill toward your friend's house so you can go watch the fire together.

Suddenly there is a BOOM !  You are soaked and tossed down and up and the next thing you know you are flying through the air.

You are Barbara Orr.   And you just survived the Halifax Explosion.

A panel from Laurie Swim's Halifax Explosion memorial quilt depicting Barbara tossed into the air.

What people rushing to windows to watch the burning ships did not realize, was that one of them was loaded with war time munitions.  At 9:04 that morning the Mont Blanc exploded with a man-made power only surpassed by the 1945 atomic bombs dropped on Japan.

A clock stopped at 9:04

The fireball height was 1.2 miles. The shock wave travelled across the land at 756 mph.  The tsunami radius was one to three miles. The iron hull of the 6,880,627 pound Mont Blanc was hurled 1,000 feet into the air !  A carbon saturated "black rain" fell for 10 minutes after the explosion. 

The force of the explosion created a shock wave followed by a tsunami that emptied the harbour of water.  The tidal wave enveloped bystanders sucking them back into the harbour.  

More than 2.5 sq km of the town was levelled either by the shock wave, the tsunami, or the structure fires caused when wooden buildings collapsed on lanterns, stoves and furnaces.

Out of a population of over 60,000 nearly 2,000 people died, 9,000 were maimed or blinded and more than 25,000 left without adequate shelter.  

Many children were killed on their walk to school that morning or blinded by flying glass. Many of those that survived stumbled home only to find their homes shattered and their parents dead or injured in the wreckage.

Many pregnant women went into premature labour.

The city was devastated and needed help.

The first rescue train left Truro (about 90 km away) around 10 am carrying medical personnel and supplies, and arrived in Halifax by noon and returned to Truro with wounded and homeless by 3 pm !

The first relief trains to arrive came from across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ottawa and Montreal in Canada.  From the United States help arrived from Maine, Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts bringing doctors, nurses and medical supplies as well as engineers, repairmen and equipment of all kinds, blankets, clothes and food.

Generous donations came in to meet the urgent need.

                                                             1917 dollars                      2008 dollars
Canadian Government$8,000,000$129.4 million
Great Britain$5,000,000$80.9 million
United States (Congress)$5,000,000$80.9 million
Australia$250,000$4.1 million
New Zealand$50,000$0.8 million

Did you know that the City of Halifax sends an enormous Christmas tree to the City of Boston every year.  It is done in thanks for the generous help of the Massachusetts-Halifax Relief committee that opened a warehouse where displaced families could find free household goods.  The relief committee worked with Halifax until 1924 to help survivors and improve health conditions in the city.
  • Canadian postage stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the explosion.

The day after the explosion brought tragedy to the City of Halifax, an unpredicted  nor' easter winter storm with blizzard conditions compounded the survivors misery.

It's hard to imagine what it was like for those people 100 years ago who rushed to windows to watch two ships burning in the harbour below and whose lives were forever changed at 9:04 am on December 6.


Follow the link to  learn more about the Halifax Explosion memorial quilt created by Laurie Swim

Read more about Barbara's story, "I was there" here   

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Forest bathing.

Have you heard about "Forest bathing" ?   

Forest bathing is the practice of taking a short, leisurely visit to a forest for health benefits.  The practice (according to Wikipedia) originated in Japan where it is called shinrin-yoku.  Studies in Japan have measured changes in immune markers and stress hormones in people who regularly walked in forests in Japan.

The idea is simple:just by visiting a natural area and walking in a relaxed way, there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved.

Forest therapy approaches such as Shinrin-yoku have roots in many cultures throughout the globe.  John Muir wrote, "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home.  Wilderness is a necessity."  

Without really thinking about it I have been forest bathing for a while and can attest to the psychological benefits of time in the woods.

There is a little known negative side effect of forest bathing known as "forest drowning" !

You'll be relieved to know that forest drowning doesn't really end in death; instead it involves that  panicked feeling when one is metaphorically over one's head.  

I thought my days of forest drowning were behind me. 

I was a good girl on my walk today.  I turned on my GPS tracker when I arrived,  then proceeded to wander aimlessly through the Jack Lake woods.   I was looking for that  mystery house I saw the other day and for *chaga for Kaitlyn.  

I didn't find the former but did find some of the latter.

If you're trying to find your way in the woods don't rely on random flags on trees; because they are just that -- RANDOM.

I'd follow a pink flag and then I'd see a blue flag.  Or how about a pink AND blue flag.

Worse than seeing different flags is when one sees none at all.  

But then I thought "Wait.  I'll just check my Geo Tracker app to see where I am and how to get back where I started."   So I opened it up and it said "location cannot be obtained".  Somehow it had "lost" permission to access my location on my phone.

As the saying goes, "It's deja vu all over again".

So I wandered for a bit and then recalled that the sun sets in the direction of the park entrance.  It shone weakly through the trees.

And here I am several hours later and you wanna know what I'm thinking ?  I'm thinking I can't wait for my next "bath".


*Chaga is a mushroom occasionally found on yellow and white birches.   

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Sometimes veering off the beaten path pays off

As you probably know by now, I have a tendency to wander off trail; and not always with positive results.

We had heavy rain last night and resulting in the Jack Lake Trails being very mucky today.

We headed onto a side trail that seemed a mite dryer.

The lichen-covered rocks looked like they were covered with drifts of snow.

The woods are dotted with some very high boulders.  I marveled at the resilience of a fern growing out of a crack in the rock and also that it is still fresh and green in late November.

I often come across the ruins of bike ladders and ramps in the forest.  

Once more I ended up blundering around in the woods.  Wendy was supposed to be helping me find trails but really would lead me to logs that she wanted to chew.  I relied much more on the GPS app on my phone to give me directions.

I was fumbling my way along when I thought I saw something.  A board ?  A hunter's blind ?

I walked toward it're not going to believe what I found.

 See it ?   Let's go closer ...

and closer.

It was an amazing structure towering over the forest floor.  There was even a room on the side with a wood stove.  A very steep staircase went up the side of the tree leading to the upper rooms.  

I met the young man who had been working on this structure for six years with a friend and asked if he lived there.   He laughed and said he didn't but it was a fun hangout.  

I'm not sure I could ever find it again and I hope that not too many other people do.  I'd hate to see it vandalized.

This place is far from roads or even noticeable trails.  How the heck did they cart the windows and lumber in !    It's clearly a labour of love. 

You never know what you're going to find off the beaten track in the woods and isn't that wonderful !

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Happy Birthday to me !

Today is my 12th birthday !    

Life for me started  as a fat bellied pup at the Peterborough Humane Society pound where I got adopted by mom.  I was one of the two remaining pups from a large litter of dogs that were alleged to be Lab / Shepard crosses;  something I dispute to this day.  Because they'd been inundated with pups the pound had taken out  ads in the local paper to find them all homes.    Because mom thought I was going to grow into very big dog she wanted to give me a gentle non-threatening name and that's how I got named Wendy.

Here I am with my pesky "sister", Sooki back when she was just a baby.

And here we are now.   I should never have let her think it was OK to lie on top of me.

I love stuffed toys !   I love seeing how quickly I can get to their soft centre and rip it out !


I'm told my face used to be all black and now I it's got lots of white fur but  I'm not sure why it matters.

I love to go camping but we don't do it enough.

I love balls !   I'm crazy about balls.  Sometimes when we go places and mom didn't bring a ball I find one; even if it's only half a ball.

I love to swim.  One time mom decided we were going to go over to Lawlor's Island and that I was going to swim the whole way.  She got me a life jacket.  Then she climbed into her kayak and set off.  I swam beside her for a bit but then I got scared.  I didn't want to swim all that way.  I tried to climb into the kayak.   Mom ended up having to give me a ride on the front of the kayak.

One time mom took me to the Pride parade and let me sit by myself.

I love exploring the woods,

and rolling; I really love rolling.

Sometimes I like to just sit and watch the kite surfers go by.

Other times I am so happy I can hardly contain myself.

All in all life is pretty good.

Can't wait to see what the next 12 years brings.