Category Archives: Inspiration

Autumn Beauty In Leaves And People

Manning Park Resort in Autumn
Manning Park Resort in Autumn

I reserve all forms of the word “amaze” for only that which is truly extraordinary. For me, autumn colours have an impact on my psyche and senses that I consider amazing. In Manning Park a month ago, the yellow leaves were lighted brilliantly by the October sun. At various points along Highway 3 between Hedley and Hope, numerous splashes of yellow contrasted with the green forest that blankets the towering mountains. Standing on the bridge across 20 Mile Creek here in Hedley a few days later, I was awed by the spectacular wall of yellow alongside the creek. A grove of trees on a meadow on Nickel Plate Mountain provided an astounding array of red leaves.

For me, “amazing” is an appropriate word to describe the manner in which Mother Nature, like a quick change artist, suddenly strips the colour and beauty from the trees, leaving them bereft and stark, at times dripping with rain. The change tends to leave me feeling somewhat bereft myself, and a little mystified at how silently and surreptitiously this is accomplished.

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This autumn the falling of the leaves came quickly, coinciding with the passing of 3 valued friends. In each case, like the leaves, they departed too soon. As a university student Eric Robinson was for two summers a labourer/teacher with Frontier College. He later became principle of the college, received an honourary doctorate from the University of Calgary and was awarded the Order of Ontario. Although I had not seen Eric in years prior to his passing, I continue to miss his warmth and ability to speak about ideas. Another lost friend is Barry Berger of Keremeos. A physically large man with a self deprecating sense of humour, Barry worked with street people in Vancouver, sometimes in dangerous circumstances. Cousin Eddy, who I wrote about last week is another individual I will miss. Known as “Fast Eddy,” he was a highly skilled and respected truck driver. Each of these individuals exemplified qualities I enjoyed and respected.

Both fall leaves and human lives possess the capacity to create in me a sense of awe. Then all too quickly the beauty begins to recede and soon fades into oblivion. Just as we have a short time to observe and appreciate the grandeur of nature’s autumn colours, the opportunity to understand and appreciate the people in our lives is also relatively short.

Fortunately the colours of late fall can still impress, and so can the wisdom of people, especially those with white hair. I’ve concluded that if I stand still long enough to take note of the leaves, and take time to get to know the people around me, the sense of amazement can always be there.

Pacific Crest Trail

Jay and his magnificent beard
Jay and his magnificent beard

When Linda and I stopped for coffee at Manning Park yesterday, we met several individuals who had just completed hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. One of them was Jay, a young man probably a little upward of age 25. He sported a black beard a lot of men would envy. His lean physique reminded me of mountain men I’ve seen in movies. I asked if he had been hiking in the park.

“I’ve actually just come off the Pacific Crest Trail,” he said. “I started in Campo, California 175 days ago.” He looked down at his feet and said, “this I my seventh pair of runners. I wore out 6 pairs.

Pacific Crest Trail overview from Forest Service brochure
Pacific Crest Trail overview from Forest Service brochure

Most of those intrepid individuals who walk the entire trail begin at the southern terminus near the U.S. – Mexico border. In length it is 4,286 km. (2,663 miles) and reaches an elevation of 4,009 meters (13,153 ft.). The trail traverses California, Oregon and Washington, ending at Monument 78 at the U.S.- Canada border. This is on the edge of Manning Park.

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Adriana answered the phone at Manning Park Lodge when I called with a few questions. She estimated they see 40-60 of these long distance hikers at the park each year. “They begin arriving sometime in August,” she said. “By the end of October the last ones have straggled in. They’re always pretty thin.”

While I was talking with Jay, Linda approached another young man who had also just completed the trail.

“You appear very fit and lean,” she said.

“Yes,” he agreed. “Doing the trail, you lose all your body fat.”

A young woman standing nearby was listening intently, then broke in. “I’ve just come off the trail today,” she said. “I didn’t lose all my body fat. It doesn’t seem quite fair.”

It is believed that about 300 hikers challenge the trail each year. About 180 complete it. It is also common to attempt only a portion of the trail. Probably the most common reason for failure to complete the entire length is running out of funds. Some hikers have re-supply packages sent to themselves at postal outlets or general stores in communities along the way.

Planning and commitment are considered essential. It is a gruelling trek and there have been occasional deaths. A variety of health related issues can also develop. Jay, a software engineer in San Francisco suffered a broken foot along the way. “Probably a stress fracture from all the walking,” he said.

Jay’s enthusiasm for the adventure and also his trim body made me a little envious. Although I’m somewhat past my “best before” time in life, the spirit is still willing. I rather doubt I could persuade Linda, but the Pacific Crest Trail does appeal.

A Relationship Adventure With Dad

My Dad grew up on a remote, infertile Manitoba farm. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, his father had difficulty feeding and clothing a wife and 9 children. Their soul wrenching poverty didn’t encourage expressing thoughts such as “I love you.” When Dad fell at age 89 and broke a hip, he required the assistance available only in a longterm care facility. It was the beginning of a relationship adventure for him and me.

Dad on front-end loader - Copy

In my early years, Dad worked as a logger in the steep mountainous terrain back of Hope. Strong, skilled and rugged, he was away 2 weeks at a time and I didn’t get to know him well. Eventually he brought his big bulldozer back to the Fraser Valley. Then, in summer he took me along to his jobs and taught me to operate the dozer, front end loader and backhoe, use a chain saw and blow huge stumps out of the ground with dynamite. Although this wasn’t what I wanted for a career, it provided an opportunity to know and respect Dad.

He enjoyed music and played the violin. I was about 8 when he bought a 12 bass accordion for me, then later upgraded it to a 120 bass. He hoped I would make music with him. I didn’t share his enthusiasm for music though and when I moved out of the family home, I left the accordion and the music behind.

In mid-life, Dad bought a bass fiddle and joined a seniors’ orchestra. Years later, just prior to his life altering fall, he bought a cello and taught himself to play it.

When he fell, his head struck the floor hard and erased his memory of music. For two years my white haired Dad spent many hours, hunched over in his wheelchair, awkwardly grasping the instrument in a futile attempt to revive his skill. When I engaged a cello instructor to teach him, Dad devoted hours to practising. In his many sleepless nights, he mentally rehearsed musical scales.

Making music with his children was what Dad had dreamed of from the beginning. Now he needed someone to play with so I sat down at the piano in the common area and began to apply what I’d learned on the accordion. It wasn’t pretty, but I learned a few tunes. Each time I came in he’d say, “let’s go to the piano.”

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We learned old time songs like “You’re Cheatin’ Heart,” “You are my Sunshine,” and “The Tennessee Waltz.” He had a deep faith in God, as did some of the residents, so we included such numbers as “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Amazing Grace.” Some residents drew close to us in their wheelchairs. Others quietly sang or tapped fingers on a table. At the end they applauded with their frail aged hands.

We learned old time songs like “You’re Cheatin’ Heart,” “You are my Sunshine,” and “The Tennessee Waltz.” He had a deep faith in God, as did some of the residents, so we included such numbers as “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Amazing Grace.” Some residents drew close to us in their wheelchairs. Others quietly sang or tapped fingers on a table. At the end they applauded with their frail aged hands.

In time, holding the cello became difficult and Dad wearied more rapidly. His strong, rugged face could no longer hide the pain. Even when he grew too weak to hold the cello, he continued to say, “let’s go to the piano.”

Several nurses counselled me to tell Dad it’s ok to die. I did tell him if he chose to let go, the family would be ok. He fixed his clear blue eyes on me and said, “I still like to live.”

This reminded me of a time when I watched him on the big bulldozer, cutting in a road along the side of a steep ravine. A mistake would have sent him and his machine hurtling down. Now, white haired and no longer able to even get in or out of bed without assistance, this was just another difficult challenge. As long as he had music and his faith in God, his life had meaning.

When he was no longer strong enough to sit in his chair, I stood beside his bed, holding his hand. Sometimes, when the pain in his beleaguered body caused him to twitch and groan, I turned away, knowing my tears would trouble him.

One day, overcome by his helplessness and discomfort, I took his big hand and said, “I love you Dad.” He fixed those blue eyes on me and quietly said, “I love you too.”

One night, in his 95th year, the phone rang at 5:05 a.m. A nurse said, “your father has just passed away.” I was deeply saddened, but comforted by the thought that we had learned to say “I love you.”

Rollo Ceccon Is Still Enthusiastic

When Linda and I walked into the former business office of 87 year old Rollo Ceccon in Princeton, he greeted us enthusiastically. Then,

Rollo Ceccon Explaining His Photos
Rollo Ceccon Explaining His Photos

with the energy and passion characteristic of the deeply committed, he urged us to join him at a photo gallery on 3 walls. There were pictures of him with dump trucks and other equipment dating back to before the middle of the past century. I understood quickly this man grasps the value of preserving a record for future generations.

“I was born in Treviso, Italy,” he said when we had seated ourselves at his desk. “In 1930 my mother and I joined my father in Canada. As I was growing up, my father impressed on me how good we have it here. If I complained he’d say ‘you should go to another country and see how people live there.’” As a father himself, Rollo would later give a similar message to his son and daughter.

He attended the Edmonton campus of Chicago Vocational

Rollo Ceccon & Friends, With His First Car, 1945 Model T Ford
Rollo Ceccon & Friends, With His First Car, 1945 Model T Ford

School, learning diesel and automotive mechanics. Not happy with his first job and the big mosquitoes at Uranium City, he quit and was hired by Minneapolis Honeywell Thermostats. Being young and strong willed, he said to his boss one day, “if I don’t get more pay, I’ll quit.” The boss said “there’s the door.” Rollo laughed when he told us, “I never did that again.”

In 1950 he bought his first truck, a 1944 3 ton Ford, and started in business. He became a fan of Ford trucks. “The other models broke down,” he said. “The 6 cylinder engines couldn’t hold the trucks back going down the hill from Copper Mountain and Blackburn. I bought 8 cylinder Fords.”

A serious accident on Nov. 10, 1954 shaped his thinking to

Rollo's Father and the Crushed Truck
Rollo’s Father and the Crushed Truck

the present time. He was backing his dump truck to the edge of a 1,000 foot deep “glory hole.” The edge broke away. He and his truck tumbled down 250 feet. A rock outcropping prevented the truck from hurtling all the way to the bottom.

The man sent down to help rescue Rollo later told him, “I thought you were dead. Then blood spurting from your head wound hit me in the eye, so I knew your heart was pumping.” Three hours later the winch of a D6 Cat hoisted him to the surface. He had 6 broken vertebrae, several broken ribs and a broken leg. Wounds on his head required 120 stitches. He remained unconscious 2 weeks. “That day my father’s hair turned white in one hour.”

Rollo Ceccon Late Summer 1956, At Work & Still In A Walking Cast, On Crutches
Rollo Ceccon Late Summer 1956, At Work & Still In A Walking Cast, On Crutches

In the hospital he was placed in a body cast. After regaining consciousness the specialist said to him one day, “we’ve done all we can. The rest is up to you.” Rollo was determined to get out of the hospital. Now in a walking cast and using crutches, he signed himself out. Four months later, still in the cast and on crutches, he was back at work.

He leaned toward us from his side of the desk, as though about to say something of deep importance. “If I hadn’t had that accident,” he continued quietly, “I would never have understood how good I have it. People helped me a lot.”

Before the accident, he had started going into the Traveller’s Café. He became keenly interested in Blanche, a pretty young waitress. “It took a long time to persuade her to go to a movie,” he remembers.

Eventually she agreed to marry him and “we tied the knot on March 2, 1957. That day I threw away my crutches and started using a cane.”

Rollo’s business was flourishing. He bought dump trucks, a back hoe, a screening plant and other equipment. Blanche did the books.

When the Hope slide covered the # 3 Highway, his was the first company on the job. “One of my machines blew a line,” he said. “Phil Gaglardi, Minister of Highways, had just landed in a chopper. He told me to remove the line and he’d fly me to Chilliwack to get a new one.”

Rollo Ceccon, Still Enthusiastic About Life
Rollo Ceccon, Still Enthusiastic About Life

Until 2013 he still owned a front end loader. Without charge, he continued to clear snow for the Legion, firehall and arena. In 1973 the Princeton Chamber of Commerce named him “Citizen of the Year.” He was also honoured by the Lions Club for his “invaluable services and cooperation.”

Rollo’s last words to us were, “I’ve had a good life and it’s still good.”

Abbotsford Sundown Toastmasters

When Linda and I were still members of Abbotsford Sundown Toastmasters, I often said to visitors, “Other than obtaining a university degree, joining a Toastmasters club is the best career move you can make. For some people, it’s even better.”

Last Thursday evening Sundown celebrated 30 years as a club, and

Abbotsford Sundown Toastmasters Celebrates 30 Years
Abbotsford Sundown Toastmasters Celebrates 30 Years

we drove to the Coast for this. It was an opportunity to renew friendships and also marvel at the growth of members we have known for many years. Jack Sweeten, who joined during our time, is now Area Governor. Lois Boughton, another recruit during these years is Division Governor.

Sgt. At Arms, Phyllis Kotyk and President Dr. Caroline Cesar
Sgt. At Arms, Phyllis Kotyk and President Dr. Caroline Cesar

Phyllis Kotyk opened the meeting as Sergeant-at-Arms. She joined the club at about the same time as Linda and I. Her confident, welcoming voice and demeanour gave us a surge of joy. This wasn’t the timid Phyllis we knew in the early years. Caroline Cesar surprised us with vitality, wonderful vocal variety and an abundance of confidence. As President, she chaired the meeting.

David Hobson, my personal mentor for a number of years,

David Hobson, a Distinguished Toastmaster
David Hobson, a Distinguished Toastmaster

delivered the keynote address. He is a professional presenter, trainer and coach. Also the most committed Toastmaster I have known. He has given considerable thought to the subject of Evaluations, key to improving speaking skills. David shared specific, helpful insights to enable T.M.’s to provide substantive evaluations.

One of the great benefits of Toastmasters for virtually everyone who joins a club is a tremendous growth in confidence. This comes from performing a variety of roles in the club. Each role is evaluated, usually with an

James Njeru. A Toastmaster who could be in the movies.
James Njeru. A Toastmaster who could be in the movies.

observation as to what went well, and also a suggestion for improvement. The club provides a safety net for the terrified novice speaker. Even if a performance is considerably less than stellar, it will not be criticized. By being shown how to improve, the Toastmaster gains the courage to speak outside the club. It’s an encouraging environment.

Although there is no club within reasonable driving distance of Hedley, Linda and I continue to benefit from the encouragement and evaluation we received at Sundown. It gave Linda the confidence to accept the position of Vice President of the Hedley Historical Museum Society. As a columnist for two small town newspapers, I approach people virtually every week to request an interview. Whether they agree or not depends a lot on my initial, very brief “pitch.” Toastmasters taught me a well thought through, effectively presented request is more likely to produce a positive reception.

Linda and I are deeply grateful to the members of Sundown Toastmasters for many positive, often wise evaluations. With your help, we have been able to move on and accomplish more. We are delighted with the enthusiasm of the members and the strength of the club. It is definitely built to last.

The Allisons at Standing Rock

Henry and Barb Allison live on Reserve land directly across from the iconic Standing Rock on Highway #3 near Keremeos. From the IMG_0841outset of our 2 hour conversation with them in their immaculate log home, my wife Linda and I were impressed with their warmth and congeniality.

My interest in them stems in part from their status as Elders in the Lower Similkameen Indian Band. I was also curious about Standing Rock, a revered First Nations ceremonial site.

In response to my question about their home, Henry said, “I was a logger. I personally logged the trees for the house. I traded logs in exchange for the construction.”

I encouraged Henry to continue. “We weren’t going to build on this

Henry & Barb Allison with Standing Rock in the background
Henry & Barb Allison with Standing Rock in the background

site,” he said, “but Barb’s mom owned the land and she insisted we build here so we could protect Standing Rock.” They have been diligent in carrying out her wish, at times telling people not to deface the Rock with writing.

Henry was born in Princeton and lived in Hedley, attending school here to the end of grade 6. “It wasn’t easy,” he said. “The other kids teased us a lot because we were Indians. For a time we had to sit on a bench along the wall. The white kids had desks.” He completed grade 8 in Keremeos. In grade 9 his teacher said, “We don’t know how you’re doing it, but you must be cheating. You couldn’t be getting such high marks.” Frustrated by the racially inspired accusations, he quit school.

It was at the Keremeos School that he met Barb. They come from very different families. Barb’s parents were ranchers, living in Chopaka. “Dad was sent to a residential school,” she told us. “When the authorities came for us, he wouldn’t let them take us away.” She and her siblings rode horses across the Similkameen River to their school in Cawston. Like Henry, she and other Indian children had to initially sit on a bench against the wall.

Especially at that age, being Aboriginal was difficult. “One day some white boys told us they would wait for us at the railroad tracks,” she said. “They were going to beat us up. We waited at the school, hoping they would leave. Finally we went to meet them. When we put up our fists to defend ourselves, they ran away.”

Henry’s mom had been taken to a residential school at age 10 and wasn’t returned home until she was 18. “She didn’t see her mother all those years,” he said. “She never learned to be a mother and as an adult alcohol got a hold of her. Once, when I was 8, us kids were left with cousins in a cabin in the bush near Hope. We fished and picked berries to feed ourselves. We didn’t know if our parents would ever return. I felt abandoned.”

“I didn’t understand her life until I attended a workshop about residential school experience,” he said. “Then I was finally able to forgive her.”

Henry grew up to be physically robust, with a desire to leave his past behind. Working in the bush, he became a skilled logger, eventually owning 2 mills and his own logging show. He and Barb began dating and he gave her an engagement ring as a graduation gift.

“That really upset my mom,” Barb recalls. “She was completely against our engagement. She wanted me to go to university and become a lawyer.”

Barb and Henry met with her parents to talk. Finally her dad said,“ we better let them get married or they’ll run away.”

Henry was non-status at the time so when they got married, Barb lost her status.  Later she and a group of women travelled to Ottawa to plead for status and it was granted. “I had some trouble persuading them I was Indian,” she said. Possibly the bureaucrats in Ottawa didn’t understand that an Indian could be so intelligent and articulate.

After gaining some life experience, Barb was nominated for the position of band chief in 1994.  She won in spite of intense opposition.  Believing band accounting might be flawed, she submitted the books for a forensic audit in Kamloops. Irregularities came to light and some individuals lost their jobs and band funding. This was not an easy decision but she possessed the integrity and inner strength to do it.

We sensed the depth of their despair when they talked about the loss of one of their 3 children.  “Our son was 18,” Henry said, “He was my right hand man in our logging operation. One day when he was on the job the new pickup he was driving stalled on a hill and went over a steep bank. I was away with the logging truck at the time. When Barb arrived, she climbed down the bank and lay down beside him until he died.”  Now years later, both Barb and Henry still carry the grief of that loss.

When we left the Allisons and their comfortable house of blond logs, we felt we had become friends. The racism in their early years and also later hasn’t made them bitter. The tragic loss of their son has not robbed them of joy.

They have decided instead to focus on the wonderful blessing of having 2 children, 10 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. They have become resolute, people of integrity and strong character. Henry and Barb would indeed be good friends.

Embracing the Storms of Life

On a visit to Mountain Prison near Agassiz some years ago, I encountered a number of round faced men, clad in drab grey prison P2260031garb. They were sitting on hard wooden benches set against long metal huts. Except for occasionally inserting a cigarette between their lips, they sat still and lifeless as sand sculptures on a forgotten beach. I approached them and asked, “what are you all waiting for?”

An elderly man with a balding scalp roused himself and responded quite amicably, “we’re waiting for the ringing of the lunch bell. Then we can go in and eat.”

On subsequent visits, I saw the men there many times, often arriving long before the bell summoned them. For some, meals were the most significant events in their day. In time I understood that prison life had fostered a toxic lethargy in them and most had no realistic goals or vision for anything better. They seemed not to grasp they could be preparing for the rigours of life awaiting them beyond the high chain link fence around the prison. Inside the fence they were able to blame others for their plight. Outside they would need to deal with reality. They feared reality. Although they admitted it only rarely, some felt safe only within the fence. They reminded me of T.S. Eliot’s “Hollow Men.”

Seeing these men was a reminder to me that it is in the storms of life that we grow strong. I realized how true this is later when I was Art (far left) paddling on a Bowron Lakeworking for the One Way Adventure Foundation in Hedley. Each summer we took small groups of Young Offenders on a Bowron Lakes canoe expedition. The trip consists of portaging, canoeing on lakes and rivers, and camping in a pristine wilderness. Once on the lakes, we had no means of communicating with anyone outside our group. If a canoe began to leak, we had to deal with it.

On one trip our crew consisted of 3 leaders and 9 adolescent boys travelling in 6 sturdy, Frontiersman canoes. The youths came primarily from poorly functioning homes. They generally arrived at our campus with a distinctly uncooperative attitude, often with a swagger. They attempted to portray themselves as tough and street smart. Having no chain link fence to protect them from life’s harsh realities, they had donned a mask to hide their sense of insecurity.

We wanted to expose them to mosquitoes, horse flies, paddling or portaging all day, sometimes in incessant rain. We considered it important that they feel the discomfort of a canoe yoke digging into their shoulders on portages. The experience would plant a significant memory in their psyche. A memory of grappling with unaccustomed and unexpected challenges, and discovering they had the stamina to persevere to the end. They would see that we, the leaders, were also being ravaged by the insects and the elements. Masks would begin to slip as we all contended with a reality we could not ignore.

It was an overcast Thursday morning when our little contingent emerged from the fast flowing, dangerous waters of the Cariboo River onto Lanezi Lake. A powerful headwind was already whipping up waves. Spray blew into our faces and we could scarcely move. Our canoes bobbed like corks on the restless water. Because the towering mountains descended on either side to the edge of the lake, we could find no refuge there. Fear gripped the boys. They were city youths and had never paddled in turbulent water like this.

Fear in their voices concerned me. It was quickly eroding their inner strength. I needed to do something to give them confidence. I started singing, “row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.” Initially they looked at me as though doubting my sanity. Sensing my confidence, a couple of the older boys began singing with me. Their voices weren’t much better than mine but in the blowing wind, it didn’t matter.

“Row, row, row your boat.” Soon we were all singing and whooping and paddling like mad voyageurs. Suddenly, we were lusty and strong and free.

I looked at the 2 straining, sweating boys in the canoe closest to me and both of them grinned broadly. They were having too much fun to be scared. Three hours later, in the safety of our rustic camp, with tents set up, a camp fire warming us, and hot food in our bellies, we knew we had conquered our fears.

Now, with a new year dawning, this is a good time for all of us to decide we won’t be content to sit on a bench mindlessly waiting for our next meal. This is a good time to think about how we will respond to the storms of life that may descend on us in 2015.