‘Round the Salthill Prom

Once again, the only time I’ve found to write real posts is in transit — there’s not much else to do after a while when you’re only an hour in on a three-hour journey between one Irish city and the next.  We’re on our way to Dublin now, the last of five stops on our two-week journey through Sweden and Ireland.  I can’t believe how wonderful everything has been so far, and am excited to finally be in Dublin at the end of this adventure.

We’re leaving Galway today, and it was our longest stop in Ireland:  arriving on Friday afternoon, we then spent two full days in the small coastal city before boarding a bus this Monday morning at 10:30 to head onwards to the Republic’s capital. And what a lovely weekend it was, indeed.  Though we left Donegal in utterly miserable weather, it did clear up quite nicely by the time we got into Galway City on Friday afternoon and it lasted well into Saturday before the wind blew the clouds back in.  Sunday was full of blustery winds and clouds, although the rain didn’t come back until late last night.  So, weather-wise for the West Coast of Ireland, Galway was rather kind to us.

 

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Low tide below the Spanish Arches looking out onto Galway Bay.

If the Salthill looked anything like it did a couple of days ago when the girl from the song met the boy, I don’t blame him for falling madly in love with her right then and there.  I mean, look at it on a beautiful sunny morning:

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I do love Galway and am glad we took two full days in this small city.  Our B&B this time around did, naturally, include an Irish fry-up with black and white pudding — both of which proved that when done right, a breakfast pud can be quite tasty and highly enjoyable to eat. At any rate, we were always well-fed first thing in the morning and made ready for long hours of exploring.  And, for a city so small, there’s still lots to see and do.

This region is home to the world-famous Claddagh Ring — the heart, crown, and hands symbolizing love, loyalty, and friendship — and, as such, Galway City is full of souvenir shops selling this particular ware as well as numerous family-owned jewellery shops where the rings are still hand-crafted in small batches of each family’s distinct designs.  My travel partner got hers up at Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold  and I found mine down at Claddagh & Celtic.  Wherever you do decide to get yours, one of these is probably your best bet for a fair price for hand-crafted silver and gold; other stores ranging from tourist shops to high-end jewellers didn’t seem to have quite the same caliber of quality for the prices listed, and either shop we went to you’ll be treated to the more intimate experience of meeting the crafters who make it their business, literally, to keep a strong Galway tradition alive and authentic.

If bookshops of the world are your thing, Charlie Byrne’s is your best bet.  With stock ranging from antique (World Book 1865, full set) to hot bestsellers from last week’s New York Times, and covering every topic, genre, and area of interest you can imagine, Charlie Byrne’s offers bookworms from all over a haven from tourist traps and large crowds.  Floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall shelves groan with knowledge and wonder and endless hours of potential.  This is where I found a beautiful green leather-bound edition of the works of Tennyson for the princely sum of €4.  Given more time, money, and room in my luggage I would have bought more. Way more.

As with any tourist stop in Ireland, Galway is full of pubs and restaurants. We took two dinners at The Daíl Bar for our Ireland pub-grub-and-pint fix, and one dinner at Eastern Tandoori to break up Isles meat-and-stodge with the aromatic spices and tender meats of Indian cuisine.  Both are equally enjoyable (the seafood chowder at the Daíl is amazing and chock-full of sea-fresh fare, while classic dishes like balti and patala at Eastern Tandoori are flavourful masterpieces that serve as a lovely departure from pub f00d).  On a longer trip with a deeper pocketbook, there are many other places dubbed “foodie stops” for you to try, and so if you do go to Galway City I’d highly encourage you to look up the restaurants online and try a few new ones for yourself as well.

On Sunday after Mass at the Galway Cathedral I had “alone time” in the city, and I had vague romantic notions of going down to the Salthill and finding a large rock on the beach upon which to perch and write some postcards and more entries in my travel journal.  However, the wind literally blew all those fancies out of my head as soon as I hit the Salthill, and I made a valiant effort indeed in walking as far as I did on the beach before making a hasty retreat back into town towards hot tea — and, because bracing oneself against gales off the sea actually does use up a lot of energy, a nice lunch.

My travel companion has been to Galway before and already knew some of its delicious secrets — in the case of Cupán Tae, quite literally – and I’m happy that she was eager to share them with me. In the case of this cosy, shabby-chic tea house facing the bay, I was so enamoured after one round of hot tea and fruit scones that after coming back form the Salthill on Sunday afternoon I beelined straight for the shop to enjoy another full pot of tea, a scone sandwich, and a slice of carrot cake during a long, leisurely lunch. Heaven on Earth does exist if you look hard enough, and I’m rather convinced that a corner of it is to be found at Cupán Tae.

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A pot of Emerald Isle brew (black tea with notes of whiskey and cocoa, followed by a creamy vanilla finish) and fruit scones for round one at Cupán Tae.

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Ham-and-cheese sandwich served with greens, red onion, and tomato on a savoury rosemary scone — perfect for lunch with a pot of Dreamy Creamy Galway bend (black tea with roasted coffee beans and jasmine flowers, with a creamy-smooth and aromatic finish).

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What else do you do when you’ve finished your lunch but still have half a pot of tea left?  Indulging in a slice of homemade carrot cake was a perfect way to finish my solo experience at Cupán Tae.  It came highly recommended by one of the serves who hailed it as her favourite slice in the whole shop, and I’m inclined to agree with her.  www.cupantae.eu for more info and to order online, if you can’t wait to get there in person, and @cupantaegalway for social media.

All in all, Galway was good to us — so good, in fact, that it will definitely be a permanent stop on all future tours of the Emerald Isle I’ll be taking in the future.  As we head into Dublin for the final stretch of our journey, I’m leaving Galway with many fond memories and the added bonus of seeing this small city in the September sunshine.

 

Moonlight and memories

I wrote briefly the other day about what was on my mind leading up to Father’s Day 2016, and here I am again…tapping out another post on my phone, curled up on the bed of my childhood in the guest bedroom at my mother’s house as I reflect upon this evening. And yes, my dad is on my mind again, because without the example of his love for knowledge and for the pursuit thereof I probably wouldn’t be the such a dork.

Being a dork as a kid and as a teenager was tough, but as an adult it’s not so bad – especially when you find other people who share your interests to either the same or greater level. Now, I hop in and out of many different geekdoms but one thing that surprises people is that I’m really into outer space…and not just in a Star Wars kind of way.

Years and years ago, my favourite second brother got a simple telescope for his birthday. We used to aim it at the night sky outside my window in childish attempts to see it in greater detail. The Moon was obviously the easiest target, and even at its limited capacity the little telescope we had could bring out a few of the major details. I loved that telescope, because I already loved looking up at the night sky above our rural childhood home and seeing the Moon and stars in all their glowing glory…and that telescope brought at least the former a little bit closer.

Fast forward to just a few months ago, when I walked with a colleague from Job2 from the workplace to the bus stop and discovered a kindred spirit in astronomy – though clearly, he wins the dork competition here because he has his own telescope and recently made an astrolabe from scratch. And fast forward a little more to today, when a relatively clear night , his telescope, and his generosity with his time and knowledge allowed me to see the night sky in a whole new way with my own eyes.


I saw the Moon tonight in a waxing gibbous, its terminator line a jagged edge of greyscale craters against a black, black sky. I saw star clusters that we city folks can’t see with our naked eyes for all the light pollution our homes emit. I saw Jupiter and its four Galilean Moons. I saw Saturn with its rings accompanied by Titan just outside the bright circle of moonlight.

And in my mind’s eye I saw my father in a memory. He’s standing in the back doorway of my childhood home in his bathrobe and pyjamas, calling out from the back steps to a pair of tents pitched in the far corner of the lawn where five hyper children – my two brothers, two of my cousins, and I – have literally been howling at the stars and Moon. It’s now just after four in the morning and a rousing cacophony of these five voices singing different songs under this late-summer sky. He’s telling us to be quiet, and to try and go back to sleep; he doesn’t want to be dealing with disgruntled neighbours.

A few hours later, I’m the first to leave the tents and go inside to sit with my father at the breakfast table. He doesn’t scold me for the noise; instead he asks me, “What did you see?”

I saw the summer constellations and satellites zipping through them. I saw a shooting star and I saw the sky turn around Polaris. I saw just how small I was in the grander scheme of things and I saw just how much there was yet to learn and discover.

And at that breakfast table, I saw my father: calm, quiet, and attentive, slicing fruit for me as I told him about all these things I saw in the sky. I saw him beginning to stoop with the early onset of age brought on by illness, I saw the early tremors in his hands, and I saw the love in his eyes when he finally passed me a small plate with my helping of bananas, apples, and oranges.

He knew what to be angry about – and being woken at four in the morning by children shouting and singing at the dark grey sky was not one of those things. No, in this case my father’s wisdom held his temper in check, for he knew that there had to be some bigger reason behind our energy and excitement.

Yeah, maybe it was the fact that we kids were allowed to camp out in the backyard and that our cousins had been left behind on our whim to sleep over. Yeah, maybe it was the fact that my favourite first brother had brought out a book called Mysteries of the Unexplained and scared us all with accounts of the paranormal and supernatural. Yeah, maybe it was the sugar from the marshmallows and chocolate and graham crackers we’d stuffed into our faces.

But maybe, just maybe…maybe we were all just enchanted by the night sky. I know I was. That night and all its astronomical wonder has stayed with me all these years. And tonight, for the first time in a long, long time, I was utterly delighted and totally captivated by the heaven we can see on a clear, warm summer’s night.

In Pursuit of Happiness, #9: Long Coffees, Small Worlds, and Snowboarding

I’m late again, but at least this time it’s just a day late instead of half a week.  To make things more exciting this week I’m going to ask you, dear readers, to do something for me:  if you decide to hit “Like” on this one on FB and/or share this post on your social media, pretty-please-with-a-cherry-on-top share three things that have made you happy when you do so.  It’s just another way we can make the world a brighter place!

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Long Coffees: I don’t have a whole lot of free time, and even a rare weekday off both jobs doesn’t necessarily mean I have much more of it. Such was the case yesterday: a somewhat pressing need to catch up on appointments with the various health professionals in my life meant that a day off wasn’t spent lounging around my apartment in comfy pants and no bra.

However, in between those appointments I had a couple of hours to spare, and I spent them at a great café on the downtown campus of my alma mater in the company of a beautiful, creative soul and wonderful new friend. We met at Job2 and the original purpose of this java jive was to hash out the details of a collaborative project we’re embarking upon.

It was the first time we’d hung out together outside of work, and even at work we don’t get many chances to really talk – but coffee time with her wasn’t awkward at all. We sat down, sipped our coffee, and just talked – about our project, our shared love of animals, our experiences as awkward teenagers evolving into young women in the city, and our individual attempts to make meaningful art.

 

In one of the many BBC historical documentaries for which I have previously professed great affection an observation was made about the impact of coffee and the age of exploration on the intellectual state of Western Europe. Basically, once coffee replaced ale and beer as the daily drink of choice, coffeehouses replaced pubs as the gathering places of academics, philosophers, and dreamers. And because entire cities were no longer inebriated by midday, the literal clarity of the collective mind led to unexpected leaps and bounds in the technological advancements of the western world that had been lost with the fall of the Roman Empire.

 

Sitting in that cozy university coffee shop with my friend I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that the modern café still upholds this rich and meaningful heritage. The Swedish language has a great word for long coffees and great conversations with good friends – Fika – and I felt that this is exactly what I shared with my friend yesterday.

I walked out of that café feeling like not only had I finally started making some real progress in re-harnessing my creativity, but also like I had truly gained a new friend for life.

Small Worlds: I discovered that one of the recipients of a letter from my letter writing campaign – a resident of Belgium, nonetheless – knows my Big Sister’s best friend. I happened to meet him randomly on Instagram when he came across the original post where I proclaimed that I would send a letter to anyone in the world who wanted one, regardless of where they were.

 

I’m not going to deny that the world is a pretty big place when you look at it from certain perspectives, but the world can also be a very small place – especially when physical, emotional, spiritual, and ideological divides are bridged by building connections with other people.

Having been an outcast musician-nerd in my adolescence during the early days of internet discussion forums, I’ve made a lot of friends from all over the world in the last decade or so. From Scandinavia to the United Kingdom and Ireland to just a few stops down the line on the Montreal Metro, talking about common interests online have brought some wonderful people into my life and I’m incredibly happy that it continues to do so.

The world can be a big scary place, but that’s just perspective. If you choose to see instead that this big world can be full of adventure and mystery and wonder, you can start making it a smaller place by figuring out where you belong in it and meeting the people with whom you’re meant to see the world. Right now I’m still working on getting myself into a position where it’s financially intelligent and viable for me to travel, but in the meantime I am very happy and very grateful to be blessed with so many friends around the world who will make these future adventures even more precious and priceless.

Snowboarding: A few years ago, one of my best friends helped me fulfil a dream by teaching me how to snowboard. This weekend, we took a road trip two hours up to Val St-Come, where we spent a day and a half on the slopes in the fresh, crisp air of the northern Quebec. I’ve lost count by now of how many times we’ve gone down mountains together (and how many times I’ve gone down mountains with other snow-junkie friends), but every time we hit the slopes together I’m always reminded of how lucky and blessed I am to have a friend who’s patient and caring enough to slow down, keep an eye out for me on the mountainside, and tell me how I can improve my limited skills on my board.

 

I had the best time ever during this weekend trip to Val St-Come. Having booked an entire weekend off Job2 to do this trip, I am beyond utterly happy that it went so well. Swimming during alone-time on Saturday evening after snowboarding at night helped me relax and get into a fresh state of mind for the fresh powder, bright blue sky, and perfect sense of fearlessness and adventure that Sunday brought.

 

This weekend’s trip to Val St-Come really put into perspective all of the changes and transformations that I’ve experienced – physically, mentally, and emotionally – over the last year. Exactly one year ago on my last snowboarding trip of 2015, I came home feeling lonely, abandoned, and forgotten because it was another life experience I had to go through without the boyfriend I had at the time.

A year ago, I didn’t know how to live for myself because I was so wrapped up in living for another person who, in the end, made me feel like I wasn’t worth keeping promises for and made me feel taken for granted every time I talked to him.

Coming home this year from this weekend away and comparing this year to the last, I couldn’t recognize myself.  It wasn’t just the fact that I’ll definitely need new snowboarding pants next year because these ones are too big (as is the belt I’ve used to keep them up), or that for the first time in my adult life I wore a sporty two-piece swimsuit with utter confidence in a public place. It was the fact that I was truly joyful for a whole weekend – joyful at being able to take an entire weekend off work, joyful at being able to spend such wonderful quality time with my best friend, and joyful at finally being good enough at snowboarding to really enjoy the rush it actually is.

 

Ask me to close my eyes and picture freedom, and this is what I see: above me, nothing but a bright blue sky with a few wisps of white cloud and before me, a seemingly endless slope of fresh powder. It’s below zero, there’s a brisk wind working its way between the woolen strands of the scarf I’ve pulled over my face, and for once my body is about to move in exactly the way I want it to despite being swaddled in layers of warm clothes and being strapped to a board. After a lifetime of being told I was too big to move, let alone be good at any sport, and after strapping myself down to relationships that go nowhere, there is nothing else for me that can describe the feeling of being free better than the pure joy I feel when I’m flying down a mountainside on my snowboard.

In Pursuit of Happiness, #5: FlipFolding, Besties, and Instagram

FlipFolding: Okay, so for those of you who watch The Big Bang Theory, you’ll probably vaguely recall a very early episode in which Sheldon Cooper is folding his T-shirts using a handy-dandy device. Known outside of TV-land as a FlipFold, its makers claim to have tested this domestic tool on toddlers and husbands to ensure that it can be easily used by anyone to turn an Everest-sized mountain of laundry into neat piles of folded garments in minutes.

I am not a fan of laundry at any stage of its life cycle that doesn’t involve me wearing it, so of course as soon as I saw that episode years ago I had to have one. And after an equal number of years hinting about wanting one and whining about its absence from my life my best friend finally delivered this Christmas by giving me my very own bright yellow FlipFold!

I have already gone crazy with this thing. Pretty much as soon as I took it out of its packaging, I was already going to town on the swirling vortex that used to be my T-shirt drawer. Before retiring for the night I spent about ten minutes folding all my old work T-shirts into neatly uniform (haha, get it? Uniform…*cough*) piles that can now be easily packed away into storage boxes to make room for more T-shirts to go crazy with on FlipFolding. 

This weekend has essentially been all about gleefully exclaiming that I am the proud owner of a FlipFold and I am definitely not done singing this thing’s praises.

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Besties: Which brings me to the second thing that’s making me happy this week, which are my best friends. Of course, the one who gave me the FlipFold is totally winning this week (just kidding; I don’t keep score but if I did she’d definitely be leading the board right now!), but I’m very blessed and lucky to have a small handful of wonderful best friends as opposed to countless acquaintances.

From watching me flip out over a FlipFold to taking care of my fat cat over holidays to giving me lifts home after 10PM to being there when I’ve had a bad day and just need to vent, my best friends are true gems and I love them all dearly. They’re reasons that I get up in the morning and I treasure every moment of time I spend with them.

I’ve been fortunate to have enough time to go around each week for these wonderful people and I love that there’s always enough time to make significant, meaningful, and warm memories that I’ll cherish until we’re all old and grey. The mere fact that they all put up with my incessant request for “bestie selfies” already makes them significantly wonderful human beings.

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Instagram: Speaking of selfies, my Instagram feed is notorious for having a “#pointless #selfie” every couple of days. Keeping in tandem with my efforts to turn Tweets into meaningful connections (hello there, @MrsFridayNext and @LolaBlakes!) I’m trying to use Instagram to build similar connections to people who post more than just pointless selfies all day long.

So, yes, I’m not one of the billions who follow any permutation of Kardashians or their accompanying baggages. I’d rather spend my scrolling time on people who make social media worthwhile.

Enter @naturalhealthmomma, who I encountered on Instagram when I first began my journey towards wellness and wholeness in my life through working out, eating clean, and loving the little moments.

Known off-screen as Sara, she’s a wife and mother whose story of motherhood, clean living, and faith somehow brought her into my Instagram feed. I’m not questioning what the universe wants me to get out of reaching out to Sara, because so far all it’s brought me is inspiration for cleaner and healthier living, faith in what seems to be impossible, and joy in being given the opportunity to glimpse the ups and downs of her journey.

What began as a diagnosis for PCOS, coming off synthetic hormonal control (aka The Pill), and a long haul of medical procedures resulted in twin boys, Rocco and Maximus – and they became her inspiration to venture further away from the chemically saturated world of the 21st century and into a cleaner, more natural, and homegrown lifestyle.

Sara’s blog over at www.lovelifenaturally.org is full of recipes and ideas to help you get started on your own journey into the world of clean living, and her Instagram account offers you an intimate glimpse into the way she’s chosen to implement these concepts in her family’s daily life.  While we’re all aware that social media and Internet portrayals of our lives are the “best face” we present to the world, I honestly feel that Sara’s web-based documentation and presentation of her life encapsulates the genuine goodness that “living and loving life naturally” can offer.

Go check out her stuff and, until next week, don’t forget to find little bits and pieces of happiness in your own lives!

This, our hymn of grateful praise.

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, which entails most of what’s involved in American Thanksgiving, minus the crazed, murderous shopping spree that follows once the nation awakens from its food coma. There’s a long weekend during which we all flock to one nest or another to eat our way through mountains of food, raft down rapids of drink, and enjoy the bounty of our first-world lives.

Because my favourite first brother’s birthday is always around Canadian Thanksgiving, we never really celebrated the holiday proper until our family found itself scattered across the continent. (Alas, my favourite second sister and her family had to reprogram themselves to call this weekend “Columbus Day” and wait until late November to gorge upon the cornucopia.) We’ve never really been a family for turkey on this particular holiday, preferring to leave that magnificent fowl for Christmas and indulge upon other game instead in October. This year we’re roasting up two brace of Cornish game hens (we always take care to e-nun-ci-ate the name of this particular bird).

As for dessert during this autumn feast – well, we’ve never been a family for pumpkin pie, either; I myself am in adamant opposition to the craze of pumpkin spice. Just because it’s fall doesn’t mean the entire culinary world has to undergo a mass apocolocyntosis. But I digress – we are perfectly content with the other common fruit of fall, the humble apple.  Good thing we enjoy them immensely, too, for here in Quebec we’re blessed with a countryside bursting with a variety of the pomme, and we’re equally blessed to have the chance to pick them ourselves. Orchards in all directions off the Island open their weathered gates to eager harvesters every year – and this year, we walked among them.

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A beautiful view at Vergers et Cidrerie Denis Charbonneau (Mont-St-Gregoire, Quebec)

Having recently proven my own ability to host a “company meal” entirely on my own without setting anything on fire or making anyone sick, I was tasked with this year’s Thanksgiving dessert. This was probably also due to the fact that going apple picking was my idea, but in any case I spent my evening carefully prepping for a deep-dish apple pie for tomorrow’s lunch.  Yes, taste-testing was involved at several stages along the way.

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From peeling and coring these babies by hand to making the pastry from scratch, you can bet your bottom dollar that the apple pie will be freakin’ worth it!

Whilst preparing pie crust from scratch this evening, I was also watching a BBC documentary series wherein two British media personalities explore culinary history by eating historically-accurate dishes while living and dressing to period standards. It’s absolutely hilarious and brilliant, and it’s made me rather thankful to be living in this day and age.  But my gratitude goes beyond the fact that I’ve been spared from Baroque France’s aspic-and-vegetable recreations of architectural landmarks or Tudor England’s sheep and calves served a pedibus usque ad caput (warning: do not Google translate if you are weak of stomach, as this was literally how they consumed these animals).

I am much more grateful for more than just the fact that I live in a time when my diet can be balanced, varied, and wholesome.  More specifically —

“For the joy of human love:  
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above;
For all gentle thoughts and mild —
Lord of all, to You we raise
This, our hymn of grateful praise.”

          — Pierpoint, “For the Beauty of the Earth”

— for indeed, of all the things for which I am grateful, my family and my friends top my list, followed closely by my health, gainful employment, four walls and a roof over my head, clothes and shoes in my closet, and (because Canada is a week away from a federal election) the fact that I am a citizen of a country that allows all its age-of-majority citizens to vote.

I am thankful for the gifts of faith, hope, and love, as well as the opportunities I am given every day to develop them in my own life. I am thankful for the talents I have been given as well as having many ways by which I might share them with others. In turn, I am equally thankful for the talents of others, and the ways they choose to share those talents with me.

I am thankful for everyone I have met who has taught me something and I am thankful for everyone who has stood by me through thick and thin, supporting me through the worst to celebrate with me during the best.

As the nights grow longer, as the temperature gets colder, and as the pumpkin spice craze continues to sweep the nation, I raise a freshly picked apple (Cortland? Liberty? Sparta? I can’t remember what’s what in my giant bag anymore) to you all and toast everyone around the table:  may your hands, working and toiling in the lives of your loved ones, be blessed by the Hands that put us all here in the first place.

“Out of the womb of nature” in the middle of Kentucky

I’m currently in Ohio visiting my sister and her family on a short Labor Day Weekend vacation. Sure, Ohio might not be the most glamorous of States to visit, but I love coming here nonetheless. A visit to my sister’s West Chester home is everything a vacation should be: relaxing and refreshing, with good food and better company in abundance.

Yesterday we took a family road trip two hours south into central Kentucky, and on the way down we saw a wild turkey, some white-tailed deer, and a turtle crossing the I-75 (who we thankfully did not see lying belly up on the Interstate on the way home). We finally arrived at the Mammoth Cave National Park with an extra hour, having forgotten to take into account a one-hour time difference, and so had the opportunity to explore more than we’d anticipated.

Now, the surrounding countryside on the surface was a sight to see unto itself.  Being raised in the Fraser Valley gave me an appreciation for the great outdoors that I’ve carried with me into the concrete jungle where I’ve resided for the past seven years, and getting out of the city is always my favourite way to spend a long weekend.  It doesn’t happen nearly enough, but with landscapes like these all over North America, that could change soon…

The view from the trails above the caves.

The view from the trails above the caves.

After a quick picnic lunch and a ¾-mile nature hike, we piled into one of three buses alongside 130 other guests, drove four miles out into the wild, and descended 280 steps on a narrow metal staircase into the world’s biggest cave system.  Over 400 miles of cave systems have been explored underneath nearly 53 000 acres of densely-forested land, and as we walked ever lower into this “grand, gloomy, and peculiar place” on the “Domes and Dripstones” tour, I felt like we were entering a new world entirely separate from our own. Though adequate light sources few and far between – set up mainly to illuminate the more elaborate and interesting rock formations and features – we filed through the tunnels at an easy pace, congregating in three separate cave chambers to learn more about the caves and the park’s history from our fearless leaders, the amusing duo of Rangers Jason and Jeff.

This was probably the most amount of light we got down there.

This was probably the most amount of light we got down there…

...while the rest of it was more or like this.

…while the rest of it was more or less like this…

...and, more often than not, like this.

…and, more often than not, like this.

Even in these spacious caverns the lights were dim, and in one of them the Rangers turned the lights off entirely so we could experience the total stillness and utter darkness of the caves as they were before man came with firelight to illuminate their grandeur. According to the park’s lore, in the early days an explorer was left behind by accident in one of the chambers and was found nineteen hours later sitting on a boulder banging two rocks together. When praised for his clever thinking to use sound to guide his team back to him, he explained that it had been more for his benefit than anyone else’s: the total silence and darkness had been enough to drive him crazy.

I can believe it. What I’m still trying to wrap my head around is that some people were intrepid and daring enough to venture down into places like the Mammoth Caves with little more light than what’s afforded by a Zippo.  But nonetheless I’m glad they did, and the two-hour trip to the grand finale was well worth the careful stepping and occasional fumbling in near to total darkness.

The Frozen Niagara feature of stalactites and stalagmites at the end of the tour took my breath away. It’s one thing to see these formations in photos or in documentaries, but to experience them in real life is almost indescribably amazing and downright cool. There was so much to take in from that one section of the tour, and if we could have stayed down there longer it would not have been long enough for me to take in everything I could have. Alas, with the buses waiting at the surface to take us back to the visitors’ centre, I had to pull myself away from that underground display and ascend back into the light of the surface world.

Heading down into the

Heading down into the “Drapery Room” once we reached the Frozen Niagara formation.

Looking up from the bottom of the

Looking up from the bottom of the “Drapery Room.”

Just outside of the

Just outside of the “Drapery Room,” on the way back up to the surface.

It’s hard to imagine any degree of beauty or creation existing so far away from the surface where humans are best suited to life. But the wondrous subterranean landscapes of caves proves that beauty not only exists but truly thrives even in the dreariest, darkest places – and their surprising closeness to home reminds us that once you’re able to see beauty in the dark cold depths, you’re not as far as you think from the light and warmth of a beautiful day.