August musings — moms, memorials and four decades of Whistler life 

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"All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better."

Philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was a proper send-off. Almost a Viking funeral. My mother would have loved it.

Picture it — a crispy hot day in the North Thompson Valley. Flowers and bushes droop in the 33 degree heat. Even the ancient cedars that dominate the forest here look parched. In the distance, fat cumuli spin lazily 'round the Trophy Mountain peaks... building and dissipating like the breath of a restless dragon.

You can already feel the electricity building in the air — it's virtually crackling with static. There'll be a thunderstorm in the valley later in the day... a light show of epic proportions. But it's calm now. Perfect for the ceremony about to unfold.

In the foreground, four men paddle a small boat up the Clearwater River. Their strokes are sure, powerful — there's an easy coordination to their movements that speaks of many hours on the water together. It's a rhythm that can't be taught. Only lived... like a language. And the brothers' craft makes swift progress upstream, their helmsman a master of the riffs and back-eddies along this stretch of the river.

Meanwhile, the brothers' spouses, their children, their cousins and allies and friends have begun to assemble on the north shore a few hundred metres downstream. A red-tailed hawk soars above the gaggle of humans — an avian witness to the unfolding pageant below. He dips his wings once, circles and then flies away.

The shore group is solemn. But not grave. Smiles shine through the smattering of tears and there are lots of hugs and kisses. There's also a sense of anticipation in the air. Everyone knows this is the last goodbye, a generational changing of the guard. The four sons and their spouses are now the family elders. And their children? Well, they're the adventurers now — the travellers and scholars and artists and athletes that their parents were before them.

Strange to think how unprepared we always seem to be for these moments... still, there it is. And there we are. Marking the occasion.

At a word from the helmsman, the paddlers increase their effort, one-two-three-four, and the boat surges into the main current — seeming to stand still for just a moment — before it spins around and starts to rumble downstream toward the assembled group.

The craft speeds up. Paddles are set aside. Each man takes a double handful of his mother's ashes from the proffered bag. As the boat nears the mourners, the four brothers sink their hands into the river. More tears are shed — and a final farewell is offered to the woman who bore them and fed them and suffered the slings and arrows that only a mom of four sons will ever know. A flood of gray/white particles follows the boat as the brothers slowly paddle to shore.

My mother, as I recounted a few weeks back, was quite the feisty character. Indeed, she was a bit of an acquired taste. You see, not everyone could handle her energy-bunny buzz. But Suzanne's generosity and big-heartedness were legendary... as the stories recounted by friends and family on the shores of the Clearwater River that day so amply indicated.

What really struck me about these tales, however, was the dominant role that the outdoors — and skiing in particular — played in her life. And just how much she infused her sons with that love of outdoor play.

Every story, it seemed, revolved around some kind of adventure that the speaker had shared with my mother. Whether touring the streets of Paris, or tackling the slopes of Aspen — cross country skiing on the trails behind the family home in St Ferreol-Les-Neiges or paddling the vast river system north of Georgian Bay — Suzanne, it turns out, had been both inspiration and prod to countless individuals in her vast and extended family.


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