Packing Procrastination

Nothing clears the mind quite like the realisation that you have a dwindling number of hours in which to cram everything you will need for two weeks into what once seemed to be a gigantic backpack. 

I bet there’s still room for a bottle of wine or three

The OE class’ year-end expedition is finally upon us, you see, and despite beginning preparations (ostensibly…) in September, it is abundantly clear that the last 24 hours before setting off is when the real work gets done.

Packing for any trip can be an illuminating experience. Sifting through your worldly belongings prior to departure, I submit, can be quite existential. In essence, you are finally forced to actually decide things (“ok, Mr. Chocolate Bar and Madam Toilet Paper: this bag’s only big enough for one of you…”). Gone is the time when you can idly plan and think in optimistic generalities; packing time is crunch time, and one must be ruthless in order to succeed.

But the ultimate question for philosophizing travellers, those who ponder every pound and consider every kilogram, is perhaps best summed up by the most basic of concerns, one that has dogged every restless nomad throughout the centuries…

“How many underwear do I bring?”

Too many and you will be mocked by your fellow travellers for being what my proudly-non-outdoorsy sister calls a “glamper,” too few and, well… I think everyone’s mother has warned them about that. Perhaps a bit cruelly, life has dictated that the precise situations in which one would have a paucity of underpants (namely, on an expedition of some sort) are exactly the times when one would be most likely to both soil them during some sort of traumatic event, and then subsequently be found by strangers who would no doubt judge you for your lack of basic hygiene.

But I digress.

Catch you in two weeks!

A month in 7 pictures (and 2 videos)

The unfortunate irony about a blog focused on adventures and travel is that the more these things occur, the less time I have to write about them! So, since it has been a busy month for adventuring (resulting in a quiet month for writing) here is a brief selection of some of the things I have been up to:

Finding romantic caves on Arthur’s Seat 

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Zen and the art of fairy hunting

Mysteries, legends, myths, and even the odd unabashedly made-up story are all important tools in an outdoor educator’s repertoire. I have long known the value of a good, ridiculous, story to maintain the attention of young people, to kill time, or to simply have some fun.

I swear I was making that stuff up about the monsters. Go to bed.

Indeed, last night while staying at an outdoor centre in Strathyre, and facing the prospect of two electronics-deprived teenagers with not even a pack of cards in sight, Stevie (the Mobex staff member) and I successfully fended off boredom for upwards of three hours using a variety of tried-and-true tricks and games that all involve attention to detail, careful storytelling, and a generous portion of flat-out deception.

I bet you guys didn’t know that Stevie and I have actually known each other since we were little kids,” I begin as I settle into the classic opening line of the game Black Magic. “In fact, we know each other sooo well that we can actually read each other’s minds…do you want to see?” And thus begin the lies.

Thou shalt not bear false witness… unless tricking a child.

Photo:Wikimedia Commons

But mystery and deception have a greater purpose than entertainment, I believe. One of the main reasons for our trip to Strathyre was to film a short movie that the kids, um, planned, about fairies.  Our set could not have been picked better by a Hollywood director, the famous land of the fairies featured in Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies on Doon Hill in Aberfoyle.

Creepiness: This way.

Before heading up, Stevie gave us the whole story about the fairies that live on the hill, including fun biographical details such as: how they like to murder people, and the purpose of the big tree on the top (to store souls). We were also warned that if we tripped on the way up, the fairies didn’t want us there, and if we tripped on the way down, the fairies didn’t want us to leave. With my senses (and imagination) fully engaged, I followed Stevie and the boys up the slippery path to the top of the hill. Not 100 metres from the start of the trail, I stepped on a slick stump and properly wiped out. This was no innocuous stumble over a fairy, this was the fairies constructing ramparts and trenches to keep me out.

Apparently I didn’t meet the dress code.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Not only did my trek up to the fairy hideout start out ominously, I was also tasked enthusiastically by the kids with the role of, and I quote “The guy who gets killed first.” As such, I had to steal something from the multitudes of offerings to the fairies and loudly proclaim my disbelief in their existence.

If the fairies don’t get me, the weirdos who put this stuff here surely will.

But as I walked back down the hill, clutching my ill-gotten prize and furtively glancing about in the bushes, I noticed that in addition to a) the afternoon flying by and b) being entertained for the better part of two hours, I was also paying much greater attention to my surroundings. Because of my heightened awareness, I found myself noticing small things and really seeing the beauty that was around me. So perhaps a bit of fantasy, mystery, and deception is all that’s needed to stay in the moment. Fairies or not, the real mystery is more to do with our own ability to notice the beauty in the mundane.

Not that fairies aren’t real, of course 😉

What helps you to stay in the moment? Where do you see beauty in the mundane?

“Will there be beer?” The meaning of wilderness in a crowded world

Photo: Dave Craig

A common question I’m asked is “why did you leave Canada for Scotland to study outdoor education?” Fair enough. Canada certainly has a well-deserved reputation for natural beauty and wild spaces. Not to mention it’s big.

Oh hi there, United Kingdom, I didn’t notice you there. Yeah that’s cool, you can just chill in Hudson’s Bay.       

This question, though, exposes some interesting assumptions we tend to make regarding the outdoors and wilderness. Before coming to Scotland, I didn’t realise how important my own concept of ‘wilderness’ was to my enjoyment of the outdoors. I very much took for granted the fact that there were relatively wild spaces nearby (even in Southern Ontario) and that to the north, there was essentially very little else but wilderness. Continue reading