Sunday, 29 October 2017

A Tribute to Some Nameless Kick-Butt Women

I am currently in the midst of a long-overdue re-reading of the historical books of the Bible. It’s been a fascinating journey full of strange and entertaining characters. Sometimes they’re inspiring. Sometimes they’re infuriating. Sometimes they’re axe-crazy. I’m glad I do not live in ancient Israel.

Partly that’s because of the deep sexism of the culture. But while some biblical stories relating to women make me want to shriek and shake a bit of sense into the world, the backdrop of sexism ironically also provides for some of my favourite moments in the narrative.

Every now and again, the flow of man’s history will be interrupted and forced to change direction as some random woman abruptly pops into the story and leaves her mark. Sometimes, she is denied so much as a name in the telling, and yet the writers cannot ignore her and cannot write her out of the narrative. She shows up, changes the course of history – sometimes with only a verse or two – then disappears as suddenly as she arrived. Everyone goes along as best they can, trying to believe that only the men are consequential, but the nameless woman knows better.

I would like to remind you of three nameless kick-butt women from ancient Israel.

First: The nameless woman who killed just happened to be nearby when Abimelech died (Judges 9:50-54)

Abimelech, a depraved and blood-thirsty warlord wreaking havoc in pre-monarchy Israel, was running around trying to be king. He had a mercenary army and probably delusions of godhood. He murdered his seventy brothers, apparently all at once. He slaughtered the entire population of Shechem, the town that had first trusted him with the power to rule. He killed all the men, women, and even the babies, and sowed their land with salt.

Then he laid siege to the town of Thebez (the Bible doesn’t say why), which had a tower stronghold in the middle. He pressed the people so hard, that everyone in Thebez took part in its defense, including the women: while the men used bows and slings and spears to defend the keep, the women threw domestic implements over the wall.

Abimelech, who had survived the political machinations of Shechem; Abimelech, who had not been touched in numerous chaotic battles or by any of his seventy brothers; Abimelech, who the whole nation feared; Abimelech, who walked under the firing range of the wrong angry woman. She hucked an “upper millstone” at his head and that was the end of him.

Or almost. It was a clearly fatal wound, but not an immediate death, so Abimelech, realizing that it wouldn’t have been any man taking pot shots at him with kitchenware, made a desperate attempt to save his reputation. He told his armour bearer to run him through with his sword so that he wouldn’t be remembered as “that guy who got killed by a woman”.

His armour bearer obliged, but it didn’t matter. The woman’s actions ended the land’s immediate trials but also informed Israel’s future battle strategies. By the time of King David’s reign, every military commander knew not to get too close to the wall of the city you’re laying siege to. Not unless you wanted to end up like Abimelech, that schmuck who wasn’t truly suicided by his armour bearer. Abimelech, that schmuck who got too close to a woman with her millstone.
Second: The witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28)

Saul was duking things out with the Philistines, as he had spent most of his reign doing. He had a bad feeling about how this particular campaign was going to go, and his men advised him to seek out a local medium for a seance so that he could confer with the dead prophet Samuel. Despite having killed all the witches in the land earlier in his career, somehow this one had survived Saul's reach. And despite the general prohibition against witchcraft and the occult which we must hold to as Christians, we are also forced to admit that this woman’s interactions with King Saul are hilarious.

She was scared to help him, because she didn’t want to get killed, so he promised that he wouldn’t hurt her. She summoned up Samuel, as requested, and Samuel delivered some very bad news to Saul: he would be literally dead dog meat by the end of the coming battle. Saul was so distraught (as one might expect someone to be) to hear of his imminent death that he immediately fell face-first in the dirt, petrified. The witch, perhaps nervous about her own fate, given that bearers of bad news aren’t always looked upon kindly, told him what he should do about this horrible news.

He should eat his dinner.

When you’ve just learned that it is absolutely certain that you are going to, in very short order, meet your maker (who is very, very angry with you), it is always best to follow this up with a tasty meal.

“You’ll feel better,” she told him, and Saul’s men agreed. The witch cooked him up a fat young calf with all the fixings and served it to him. Saul ate it. He started to feel better. He left, not harming the witch in any way. He went to battle and got slaughtered with his sons.

Seriously. Perhaps she didn’t change history with her actions, but it does take a certain amount of guts to tell a condemned king to sit down and eat your supper. So though I disapprove of pagan practices and although I have no rights to this movie, allow me to offer up a certain scene from The Matrix as a toast to the witch of Endor:
Third: The nameless woman who nattered at Joab and solved a rebellion (2 Samuel 20:15-22)

The commander of David’s army, Joab, was a difficult man to control. Even David couldn’t do it. The most oft repeated thing that David has to say to Joab is “What is it with you, son of Zeruiah?!” Mostly he just seems to have been lucky that Joab didn’t betray him until he was a doddering old man and willing to abdicate, anyway.

As an aside, I am not aware of any other person in the Old Testament who is known primarily as the son of his mother, rather than of his father. Well, except for Joab’s brother, Abishai. (He also earns a few exclamations of “What is it with you, son of Zeruiah?!” from David.)

A man named Sheba had revolted against King David and Joab set off to track him down and kill him before the revolt grew out-of-control. David had recently deposed Joab as army commander and given the position to a different guy, so on the way to find Sheba, Joab murdered the new guy and took his position back. Then he traced Sheba to a town called Abel-Beth-Maacah. He began ripping apart the town’s walls (his hands probably still dripping with the blood of Amasa’s recent murder) to get inside.

Through the chaos, an unnamed woman popped out and demanded to talk to Joab. He identified himself (probably staying well back from the wall – he knew what had happened to Abimelech) and was met with a barrage of reprimands: “What the heck are you doing, man? This is a peaceful town! This is a wise town! People come to us for advice; we’re like everyone’s mother! What are you doing killing your mother?!”

There’s no note anywhere on any aspect of Zeruiah’s life or death, but apparently Joab was horrified by this charge. The NASB version of the Bible that I use is pretty clunky and doesn’t translate feeling very well. Yet nevertheless, in this instance, Joab uses exclamation marks and repetition to express his point.

“Far be it, far be it from me that I should swallow up or destroy!” protested the man who’d personally murdered at least three people (including his cousin) and slaughtered great numbers en masse in battle, “It’s just.... there’s this guy.... who’s trying to depose David.... please let me have him.”

I imagine him standing sheepishly, staring at his sandals, while the woman natters away at him. Joab, who can defy the king and kill with impunity, rendered helpless by the cross scolding of a random but unimpressed woman who makes him feel guilty and reminds him about his mother.

This fearless wise woman huffed. “I’ve got peeps inside the town. We’ll go deal with him. You wait here patiently.” Joab waited. The woman’s peeps tossed Sheba’s decapitated head over the town’s wall. Joab meekly went home.
“There was ‘nothing she could do’ but she did it anyway.” Bernard T. Adeney

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Buying Potatoes

I wrote this over a month ago, but didn’t want to post it because I thought posting it might make people worry about how I was adjusting. But I read it again just now, and it’s worth posting. So, I’ll post it. And, by the way, I wait in line at the grocery store now. 

September 12, 2017

I was at the supermarket today. I can’t even tell you which, because I can’t read the characters over the door. It wasn’t my first visit, and I’m starting to learn my way around, but today more than my previous visits, I started to flag. The newness is beginning to wear thin and my curiosity is lessening. I wanted to buy a few ingredients to make a simple meal back at my flat. I found the pasta alright, but there’s no such thing as pasta sauce. I found a rice cooker, but only the showcase on the shelf, not the one you can actually purchase. I couldn’t understand any of the food labels and I didn’t want to buy more ramen. I didn’t even have enough language to really ask for help. My frustration rising, I ended up buying a lot of sauces (not pasta sauce) so that the plain vegetables I intended to buy wouldn’t taste so plain.

In a Chinese supermarket, you put the produce you want into a bag, then hand it to an attendant at a special counter, who weighs your goods, puts a price sticker on it, and staples the bag shut. I had four potatoes in my bag. That’s all. When I arrived at the produce scale, there was a long line of several grocery carts. The older man who was currently monopolizing the attendant’s time had about ten thousand bags of produce still in his cart, waiting to be counted. The woman behind him looked to have a cart filled for a family of twenty.

Now, in China, cutting in line isn’t really considered rude like it is in the West. Half the time, there aren’t really lines to cut into, just crowds pressing in trying to get the staff’s attention. I was tired and impatient, and so I felt fully justified in trying to take advantage of the culture’s slackened line etiquette, despite the presence of a line in this instance. I planted myself near the attendant, grumpily holding my four potatoes.

The man with the ten thousand bags of greens put his hand out and stopped the attendant from grabbing his next bag, and then he gestured to me with a smile.

I warmed, and smiled, and felt a little less lonely. But the face of the attendant, as well, broke into a smile to witness his small kindness. She weighed my potatoes and handed them to me. I thanked her (and made eye contact!). She said no problem (in Chinese), still smiling, despite her mundane, tedious task.

I’m not saying that man’s a hero (though maybe he is, I don’t know anything about him), but his one simple, thoughtful gesture had a greater effect than just getting me through the line faster. Let’s all remember to be gracious, even to the impatient foreigner standing there like they hate the place.

*     *     *     *     *

“The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in.... I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do... This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.” David Foster Wallace

Monday, 23 October 2017

How Not to Sell a Car

In light of moving across the planet, I put my car up on Kijiji in mid August. It was a good little car and I was fond of it (manual transmission!) but it just wasn't going to cross the ocean with me, and it didn't seem wise to let it sit unused indefinitely.

Originally, I listed it at $3500, which may have been a bit on the pricey end, given Alberta's current recession, but far from a ridiculous price. And I was willing to negotiate.

Within a day or so, a guy came and gave it a test drive and said he was interested. He also said that he had previously lived in my soon-to-be home city (he was of Asian ethnicity), and warned me that its resident population would haggle for a dime all afternoon if I let them. He also said that the car was too expensive, showed me pictures of a "much better" car he was thinking of getting instead and then reiterated that he was interested in obtaining my vehicle and in giving me a little money to ease my transition to Asia (He did mean "a little"). Though entertained by his lowball tactics, I was neither impressed nor convinced and let him walk away.

Having listed it only a week or so before I flew out, it remained unsold by the time I left. I gave the documents and keys over to my father, and altered the contact number on the ad to my dad's cell (with his permission) to handle the sale in my absence.

Out of sight, out of mind. The distance combined with VPN issues meant that though I had already dropped the list price a few hundred bucks, I didn't monitor the sales situation or keep dropping the price incrementally as I should have. I got a few lowball offers (and, car buyers, please note: prefacing your lowball offers with “I don’t mean to lowball you, but...” is a lie), one of which I actually accepted. The guy didn’t follow up. The ad sat there, getting old, and so did the car. Canadian winter began rolling in. Dad messaged that he wanted the car dealt with soon. Further VPN issues made that impossible, so I had about a week of doing nothing about it but wishing the car had sold already.

With nobody we were connected to in apparent need of a car, I took drastic action next time I could get online.  If you ever sell a car in the future, please don't take drastic action while it's somebody else's cell phone number listed on the contact info.

Upon the ad going live, I immediately grabbed the phone and texted Dad to inform him that I had re-posted at the new and improved price of $1500 for a hopefully quick sale. It seemed like a good idea. See, I knew that was a lowball price, but I was beginning to believe that's all I could hope to get for it. If I'm going to get lowballed, at least let me lowball myself.

My text arrived shortly after Dad received a text from a potential buyer. Bear in mind, it wasn't yet seven in the morning. The guy called me, explained the circumstances resulting in his need of my car (I'm glad he didn't seem like a wheeler-dealer), and said he could arrange for a friend to drive him down from Red Deer so he could get the car, but he was concerned that he might make the trip only to find that I'd have sold it before he got there. I agreed to hold it for him if he showed up at my dad's earliest convenience, but didn’t foresee a problem on that count. Nobody seemed interested in my reliable little Honda.

I relayed the agreement to my dad then went off to have a shower. It's a good thing I didn't go off to bed.

After two months of near-silence on the customer front, I finally sold my car. To the man in need from Red Deer AND TO HALF THE CITY OF CALGARY. Apparently that’s what happens when you rocket yourself beyond the “good deal” line. Dad just about died under the frantic stampede trying to claim it! I returned from my shower after twenty minutes to see his pleas for help buzzing in to my phone:

 "Pull the ad!" "Arghhh!" "HELP!"

And see, my dad's not usually terribly emotive or expressive with his communications. But I guess he will start using exclamation marks when EVERY PERSON BROWSING CARS on Kijiji is simultaneously trying to contact him and to plead with him "Will you PLEASE take $2500 for it?! I’ll transfer you the money RIGHT NOW!" and it's not even nine in the morning yet. Of course, my VPN was down again, so poor Dad had to explain to his boss why his phone was incessantly vibrating. (She said she wanted to buy my car, too).

Eventually, I managed to log in and remove Dad's phone number from the ad, which immediately resulted in a string of desperate inquiry emails to my account, including one from a guy that offered me $1400 in the eventuality that nobody else wanted it. Dad kept fielding further texts and calls, presumably from people whose Kijiji pages hadn't yet refreshed. I killed the ad completely. Eventually, barely an hour-and-a-half after the post first going live, the frenzied dash for my Honda petered out.

So. At the end of the day, we made good on my word to hold the car for the first guy at the list price, which, while being honourable, wasn't exactly good business sense (the lack of which made my mom, who barters for 25 cent items at garage sales, have a fit, and also triggered my brother-in-law, Kirk, who first helped me ballpark the car's value). I didn’t quite make back the money I spent on it. But, uh, somebody in Red Deer has a car he needed, and next time I have to sell one, I'll do a few things differently.

In the meantime, I just remembered that I have to go cancel some insurance.

*     *     *     *     *

(From the Pink Panther)

Jacques Clouseau: What? What did you say?
Ponton: Nothing.
Jacques Clouseau: You mean, you didn't just say: “Stop the car, dear God, I beg of you? Stop the car?”

Friday, 22 September 2017

Where Hast I Gone?

The answer to that question, dear reader, is that I have wandered my way across the globe. From small-town Alberta, I now find myself in major-city Asia after having spent a brief stint in the Holy Land.

In summary, Canada is taking in immigrants at such a rate that we cannot fund them all as we have been doing up until this point. As a result, our government-funded ESL classes got slashed, leaving me in a position where going somewhere else to teach looked attractive. Some of my former classmates connected me with a reputable teaching organization, I utterly aced passed the interview (mostly by repeatedly asserting that my one friend once told me "Carla, do it your way; you're smart."), and next thing I knew, I was applying for a visa.

Now I'm in Asia. As I write this, I'm sitting in my little apartment, which sometimes smells like rotten eggs because I haven't been able to figure out what's wrong with the bathroom plumbing. I'm on the top floor of a building without a fire escape (and my shower has a ventilator fan plugged into an electrical socket), but if I look out the window into the night, I can see the city lights on the horizon glowing in a dozen colours and below, the fluffy darkness of the trees that give our residential complex its natural ambiance.

I'm told that over 30,000 people live in this complex. That's more than twice the number of people that lived in the town where I formerly resided. There are at least two other westerners among the population in this complex (I know because they're my colleagues), and on one occasion there was a random white guy going up the elevator of my building at the same time as me. He had headphones on, though, and seemed dead set of listening to his music, so I didn't interrupt him to say hello. But I discovered that I am developing a habit of gawking every time a white person or a black person walks by and I wonder what on earth brought them here and is their Chinese better than mine?

My many neighbours seem pleasant and try to make conversation whenever we're on the elevator together. Inevitably, the conversation begins with me saying in Chinese "Hello" and "Eighteen" (because that's where I get off the lift). This gives them false hope for my communicative ability and they begin plying me with questions. Eventually I say in heavily accented, tone-deaf Chinese, something like "Ting bu dong; wo shi Jianadaren," which means "I don't understand; I'm Canadian." This causes them to chuckle and repeat "Ting bu dong, ting bu dong," and then they point up to the nineteenth floor, where I live. On one occasion, the woman in the elevator with me happened to speak good English. She told me that she had "heard from the community" that I was there. Word on the street is that I'm a beautiful Canadian girl who lives on the nineteenth floor.

It's been about a month since I arrived. In that time, I have avoided being run down by the multitudinous scooters all zipping along the sidewalks and I haven't been eaten by the vast, labyrinthine metro transit system, or been kidnapped and sold for ransom by a wanton taxi driver.

I have survived an unexpected test of the city's air raid sirens, and oriented myself on the university campus where I will be doing most of my teaching. For the first time in my life, I find myself inexplicably starting to think in terms of the four cardinal directions instead of "left" and "right". This week marks the end of the first week teaching: I have just shy of 400 students. Most of the guys have named themselves "Eric" and most of the gals have named themselves "Sunny", with a few students here and there calling themselves things like "Zard" or "Cactus" or "Twinkling". Based on our first get-to-know-you lessons, they love pop stars and spicy food.

I intend to revive this blog somewhat in the coming months, but it's not always wise to be frank on social media when taking one's students, local and global politics, and the permanent publicity of the Internet into consideration. So please, be mindful of what I will and perhaps will not say, and in your own welcomed correspondence with me, please choose your comments carefully.

Who knows how long I'll be here? But for now, dao le!

At the risk of turning this beautiful quote cliche:

"It is a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

If At First You Don't Succeed....

It was English class, half an hour before home time. Six pairs of learners were poised with their pens, ready to bid points in our English review. The third question of the night pertained to a language point I had explained several times over the last few classes: the past tense of the word "drink" vs the state of inebriation.

My instructions were, "Write a sentence with the word 'drunk'."

They all knew exactly where the trick was. They had me repeat the word several times and discussed with their partner whether I was saying "drank" or "drunk", but all remained uncertain, so in the end I spelled it for them.


Each pair wrote a sentence on their paper and bid a hefty number of points to accompany it.

The number of scoring teams?


Everybody wrote something along the lines of "I drank water last night."

After erasing their points from the scoreboard, much to their horror, and amid their cries of "But, Teacher, you said "DRUNK"!" I confirmed that I had, indeed, said "drunk", and that they all used "drank" beautifully.

I put both words on the board, reviewed their respective pronunciations, and wrote:

DRUNK - too much alcohol
DRANK - past tense of "drink"

"Oh, yeah, yeah," they said approvingly, nodding their heads.

"Got it now?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah, yeah," they replied.

"The next question is.... Write a sentence with the word 'drunk'."

They looked at each other in confusion. I repeated my instructions. Eventually, someone timidly ventured, "Teacher... same question?"

"Yes," I said. "Nobody got it right the first time, so we're doing it again. Write a sentence with the word 'drunk'."

"Oh, yeah!" they exclaimed, happy for the second chance.

All the pairs wrote their second sentences and bid big points again, knowing this time they could make up for their former loss.

No good. Without fail, everybody wrote something along the lines of "Yesterday I drunk beer."

I'm not a monster. I didn't have the heart to majorly dock everyone a second time, so I declared it a non-scoring round.

Amid their protestations that they HAD fixed the problem, I reiterated that "drunk" is an adjective, and "drank" is a verb. I wrote example sentences on the board:


"Yeah, yeah, oh yeah," they all nodded with certainty. This was, after all, something we had gone over before.

I erased the example sentences. "Ready for the next question?" I asked.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," they chirped.

"Write a sentence with the word, 'drunk'," I said.

They looked at each other in confusion.

"Teacher... same question... again?" they inquired.

"Still, no one got it right, so yes, same question," I confirmed.

"Right, yeah," they replied, mildly less excited this time.

They all wrote their sentences, being less extravagant with their points.

Which is good. Because only two of the six teams scored. Everyone else wrote something like, "He was drunk wine."


Sometimes, you just have to move on.

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it." W.C. Fields

Thursday, 1 September 2016

With Respect to Respect

Yesterday I was at a professional development training session with a crowded room full of other teachers and school administrators. The facilitators had us moving around the room, switching seats and doing group activities. After one of these moves, the group I was in found itself one chair short. We didn't notice until one person was left standing.

She wasn't old, but clearly had at least a couple decades on me, probably nearing her sixties. The other people in the group ranged in age from around upper thirties to mid eighties, so I was clearly the youngest one there. Additionally, she was on the edge of the group, closest to my seat.

This woman showed no distress or dismay to be standing without a chair and assured us she wasn't bothered. To all appearances, she meant it and was not merely being polite. Nevertheless, I was a bit surprised that the other group members didn't make more of a fuss about finding her another chair, as usually tends to happen, but there was a lot going on and we were distracted.

This put me in an awkward spot. On the one hand, I felt she should be seated. Certainly, if one of us were to be standing, it should have been me, not her, as I was the youngest and should show her the courtesy of giving her my seat. This is a traditional gesture of respect for your elders. Additionally, the placement of our chairs meant that my seat was the most natural one to be offered, if anyone were to do it.

On the other hand, she genuinely didn't seem to mind standing, and I strongly suspected that if I offered her my seat, she would decline. This would be in keeping with the other, often more emphasized, value of equality running through our culture: she would feel disrespectful of me as a professional equal if she were to displace me. Or, if I persisted, she might feel that I was insinuating she looked feeble and wizened, like my dad sometimes feels when people on the C-train offer him their seat.

I felt that her refusal of my seat would not be an acceptable outcome for me. I suspected that her acceptance of my seat would not be an acceptable outcome for her, as we both wished to show respect and regard for the other.

So, when she finished saying, "Oh, it's fine," again, I said, "No. I don't like you standing while I'm sitting."

Either there was something in my voice or she's a true-blood Canadian, because her response was, "Oh. I'm sorry."

Sorry for putting me in an uncomfortable spot, I'm sure she meant, but as we both pushed through the crowd to collect one more chair, I mused on the strangeness of her apology. The irony is that she hadn't required me to do anything and she hadn't obliquely implied that I was socially inferior to her, and therefore she now felt that an apology was necessary! We both valued respect; the confusion was in how to demonstrate it. Happily, we were both savvy enough to negotiate the situation together and find a solution that worked for us both.

What a strange world when values collide with themselves like that.

"Our glasses are not the only glasses. By seeing that there is another way of seeing, we see our own way of seeing for the first time." Bernard T. Adeney

Friday, 19 August 2016

Cascade: Rescue Heroes

After we battled our way up the leagues and leagues of brutish uphill terrain, we came to the final ascent. I was pooped, but Dad kept up the encouraging talk. He was still remembering Justin's heroics on the rocky ledge a few minutes earlier.

"If something goes wrong, Justin is now the one more likely than me to save you," He said, sounding very proud. "Just think, your brother would do anything to save you."

"You hear that, Justin?" I shouted back. "You'd do ANYTHING to save me."

"Oh, uh, I'd try..." he replied.

"Would you murder someone to save her?" asked JP.


"Well, he would kill someone to save her," said Dad.

"Uh, how did we get to this conversation?" asked Justin.

"Suppose that someone is running at Carla with a knife to kill her, and she's tied up, so she can't move, but you're standing there with a loaded gun. Would you shoot him?" said Dad.

"But if you let Carla die, world hunger ends," added JP.

Justin declined to respond.

Though certainly uplifted by the thought of people trying to murder me, I nevertheless was hitting my limit. I seem to be susceptible to altitude sickness. It's strange to describe: I wasn't in pain, I wasn't breathing particularly hard, my muscles weren't straining, but I was just not up to exerting myself at all. I was slightly light-headed, but not seriously. As far as I could tell, nothing much was wrong, except that I felt on the brink of despair, ready to cry, and quite certain that I couldn't make the massive climb ahead. Try to summit a mountain without exerting yourself. It's extremely difficult.

Uncle Dale agreed with me. "I sure wouldn't do this alone," he huffed, "but now I have to do it since your dad is doing it."

Competition doesn't motivate me like it does him. "You can all go ahead of me," I said.

Everyone guffawed. "Don't be ridiculous," Dad exclaimed. "I am not going to leave you behind!"

"I'm not going to leave you behind!" Justin exclaimed.

"I might," said JP.

Very slowly, with many breaks, we continued up. JP gave me his dried cherries. I needed the sugar, but I didn't feel hungry.

"After you get to the top, all your misery will melt away. You won't even remember it anymore," Justin said for the thousandth time. "It'll all be worth it."

A random hiker passed us on his way back down. "Do I have to go to the summit?" I appealed to him with a whimper.

"Yes," he said without hesitation, "You have to."

You might think it was exciting to be on the final push. It wasn't. It was despair-inducing. Up until this point, the climb had at least been in the form of switchbacks, or longer, lesser angles than was strictly-speaking necessary. But partway to the summit, the path just gave up and made a beeline. Here is a map of our hike so you can understand my anguish. It's impressionistic and based on my navigationally-challenged memory. Do not use this map to plan your hike or you will probably die.

Click to enlarge
We climbed 1300 meters, almost a kilometer and a half, into the sky. And our lay estimate is that we covered about 14 kilometers of trail. It took us a stinking five hours to do this. 

But, after much ado, and despite the agony of the ascent, we did, in fact, all eventually crest the summit. I did not quite forget all my former misery, but the view, the rest, and lunch worked wonders for restoring my spirit.

Summit and Lake Minnewanka
Justin: "Pose like we're tough and cool and-- oh, uh, or that. That works, too."
Dad insists that he's paid good money for us, so he always gets to be in the middle.
Triumphantly sitting down
Uncle Dale catching a few z's on the summit
We ate, swatted flies, took pictures, decided against writing "HELP ME!!" in blood on a rock, and then began our descent. What took us about an hour to climb took about fifteen minutes to descend. Going down is always faster than going up... except when it's not, as you will soon see. Leanne, Clary, and Janet took off ahead of us and we lost sight of them. Though they waited for us (fruitlessly) at points, Janet was on a schedule, so in the end, they left us behind and we didn't encounter them again on the mountain.

Starting back down. Please notice the incline.
Go left, Justin! Left!! Don't take the path less traveled by!
The rest of us trooped along. The Justins, who were in the lead, passed by a lone young Japanese hiker, whom we had met briefly on the summit. She was struggling to climb back onto the false summit, so they helped her up. Some time later, I passed her sitting on a rock. She looked lonely, and it seemed that she wasn't making good progress. I stopped.

"Are you okay?" I asked. "Do you want to come with us?"

"Ah, please, go on," she said in heavily accented English, waving me by. I figured she probably hadn't understood me, so I tried again.

"You can come with us," I said, trying to wave her in front of me. She smiled and continued to wave me on, so I figured she was okay.

By the time Dad and Uncle Dale passed her, she was in obvious distress, descending so slowly through the rocks (backwards), that by comparison we looked like a sprint team. Uncle Dale didn't give her a choice. Hoping that he wasn't volunteering for a night's bivouac, he said, "I will stay with you."

Dad and Uncle Dale lent her some gloves and helped her pick her very slow way along. Her shoes were sadly inadequate for the task, and by the time they reconnected with us at the next major ledge, she was crying softly. Nevertheless, she was determined to be conversational with the group that had picked her up. As she pulled herself up with us, she sniffed, looked at Dad, then back at Uncle Dale, and asked, "Are you gay?"

It was such a non sequitur that the question didn't even compute. She received no answer.

At a later point she gestured to JP and asked me, "Cooorrrooor," (she had trouble with my name), "are you together?"

First I said, "Yes." Then I thought that it was so extraordinarily obvious that we were hiking together in the same group, that her ambiguous question must have meant something else. "He's my cousin," I specified. Hopefully she understood that I didn't mean I was dating my cousin. Then I pointed out the others. "This is my brother, this is our father, and this is our uncle."

Justin then stepped in and immediately threw it all into question again by trying to explain that Uncle Dale isn't really our uncle, but our dad's loooong-time, verrrrry good friend.


But whatever else she thought, she did tell me that my family was very friendly and that it was very good we were helping her because otherwise, she might have spent the night on the mountain and been eaten by a bear. She probably wasn't far off in assessing her near miss. We gently reprimanded her for her careless planning. Dad's psyche was slightly traumatized from always being in the back of the group, but he got over it.

Awesome sea fossils near the false summit!
When, hours later, we eventually neared the treeline, we celebrated, convinced that the trees had covered only the short, beginning segment of the hike (in fact, they covered about half). Unfortunately, JP's knee started to kill him. He did a fancy two-step skip down the trail for a while, but he was in a lot of pain. Eventually our new addition lent him her hiking poles. They seemed to help.

Yay! Treeline!
A long time later, we celebrated when Dad announced that we were only three kilometers from the bridge, thinking the bridge was almost the start of the hike (Dad knew it wasn't). Dad and Uncle Dale began to push us at this point, because the dimness of dusk was arriving, and we really didn't want to conga line behind Dad and his lone headlamp. I contemplated throwing myself to the ground and rolling the rest of the way to save time, but there was a lot of horse doo on the ground.

Eventually, we celebrated again when we stepped over some fallen logs, thinking we remembered those being near the trail head (yeah..... we were still feeling hopeful). Out of the encroaching dimness, a young couple suddenly emerged, coming down the path towards us. Justin, in front, said their faces lit up with sheer relief when they saw him.

"Oh, we are so glad to finally see someone real!" they exclaimed. "We're lost! Do you know where this trail goes?"

They were informed that they were currently traveling up the mountain, but that if they turned around, they'd one day soon hit the parking lot. They gave their heartfelt thanks and immediately turned a 180. So, that is how we bring the number of lives we saved that day up to 3. Champions.

Finally, finally, finally, we broke through the trees into the ski resort and we celebrated! (We forgot that the parking lot was over a kilometer beyond the chair lifts). I was just about dragging my body along the ground with my hands by this point, while ahead of us, the young couple walked holding hands.

Then I noticed that they had stopped walking and were looking at something shielded from view by a ski cabin. I didn't give the slightest thought as to what they could be looking at. However, when I was still a good stone's throw away, they turned back to me (somehow I was in front this time), and again they looked rather relieved.

"There's a bear!" they exclaimed, pointing.

"A bear?" I repeated. Sure enough, as I got closer, I caught a glimpse of the rear end of a black bear lumbering around behind the ski cabin maybe thirty yards away.

"It was coming at us!" they exclaimed.

"What?" I said, "Was it really?"

"Wait, don't scare it off!" chimed my brother, jogging up. "I want to see!"

The bear ambled into the foliage away from us.

"Yes, it was!" the couple said. "It was looking at us, and started to come towards us, but then it paused like it was confused about whether it wanted to charge or not. Oh, we're sure glad you guys came when you did! It turned around when it heard you all coming!"

So that's how we ended up saving their lives two times in less than an hour. Medal, please.

Rescue Op #3: Chasing off the bear (no bear in pic)
Apparently we were in bear central. Clary, Leanne, and Janet had given a ride back to a French family that had been growled at by a grizzly, and another hiking couple we encountered reported there had been bears in the parking lot earlier that day. We had passed by some pretty fresh bear poop and bear vomit on the trail, as well.

In any case, by the time we saw the actual chalet where we had parked the car, we didn't have much celebration left in us. It had taken us five hours to get up that mountain, and it took us five more hours to get down it again. It would have taken our Japanese friend a lot longer still, because she was planning to walk down to Banff, but we told her no and stuffed her into our vehicle. The young couple also asked us for a ride, but we already had six people in five seats, so someone else gave them a lift.

Uncle Dale took our final proof-of-completion "picture" (see below), making JP shift around on his maimed knee a while longer, and then we hopped into the car, got pizza for supper (at 9:30 pm) and drove our sorry selves home to the sound of Uncle Dale mumbling "Justin, you didn't borrow the clothes," in his sleep. As I write this, four days later, my muscles are still so taxed and sore that I can barely hobble down a set of stairs. And the newbies survived. We keep telling them that after this, any future hikes will seem like joyriding by comparison. So far, they appear to believe us.

Cascade: the excruciating mountain of poor decision-making. I don't know why I keep doing these things.


"Half the fun of camping in those days was looking forward to getting back home." Patrick McManus