Hips, Thighs, and the Nanaimo Factor

15380497_10154880210114515_1394830291038030524_nMany thanks to my good friend Jeff Buckman for introducing me to the sport of snowshoeing. Having spent most of my adult life in the Great White North, I shouldn’t have needed a guy from Pennsyltucky to perform this essential function. Nor should I need a guy from Michigan to introduce me to ice fishing, but my colleague Joe Stinson will be doing that this winter. But I digress.

This morning I took off down a narrow, frosted trail near the Ottawa River on my new Red Feather snowshoes. I’m an enthusiastic cross country skier, so I wondered how I would enjoy trudging along at a much slower pace, walking like a toddler with a load in his Huggies.

Neither scenario proved to be true. My gait was pretty much as it usually is, despite the additional width of the shoes–and I don’t walk anywhere slowly, either with or without snowshoes. I have to say, it was every bit the workout that skiing is–a very different movement, but with poles, a great way to get some much-needed exercise. In Jeff’s words, “It is fun–just another way to enjoy the snow.” Jeff is an avid downhill skier, so he should know. And now I know, too.

Whenever I use the words, “hips” and, “thighs” in the same sentence, I recall an incident that Donna and I still laughed about many years later. We were in the waiting room of our doctor’s office in Nova Scotia one time when a schoolgirl came by selling Girl Guide cookies. We bought some, but the lady next to us said to the girl, “My mouth says, ‘Yes,’ but my hips and thighs say, ‘No.'”  Donna borrowed that quip many times over the years.

Medical researchers and practitioners alike tell us that as we age, men and women collect our excess weight in different places. In men, fat goes to the gut; in women, it goes to the butt. Diagnostic imaging at Walmart will confirm this.  (If Donna were reading over my shoulder, she would have just slapped me lovingly on the back of the head and said with her delightful giggle, “Rob–delete that!” But she isn’t, so I won’t.)

So ladies, if you’re interested in firming your hips and thighs, etc., I highly recommend snowshoeing. (I know some of you will be, especially after all those holiday goodies. I call this the Nanaimo Factor. If you’re not Canadian, you won’t understand this medical jargon and will have to come up with your own factor.) That’s the region of my body where I really felt it today–far more so than when I ski. You’ll feel it there, too–of this I have no doubt. In fact, after shoeing a few kilometers, your hips and thighs may be on their knees begging you to go home.

Snowshoeing seems like a great family activity, as it can be mastered immediately by anyone who can walk. Poles help with equilibrium and lend an additional aerobic element to the motion. The sport can be enjoyed anywhere you find snow–no grooming is required, or even desirable. (I’m talking about the trail’s grooming, not yours. But wait until after your shower, which you will need.) It’s about blazing your own trail, exploring uncharted territory, and all that. A word of caution from a seasoned professional–don’t attempt using your snowshoes in a hard-packed, icy parking lot as you’re going back to your car. The teeth of the crampons may grab the ice and stop the shoes dead, resulting in serious injury to your face, your pride, or both.

One final comment about snowshoeing. Cross country skiing is a very enjoyable and therapeutic solo activity for me–especially at night, under a full moon. Somehow, snowshoeing seems different. It’s a little like drinking mate, the tea that is such an integral part of the South American cultures I so dearly love. It’s okay to do it alone, but I think it would be much more enjoyable with a partner.



On Dirt, Grass, and Human Stupidity


When we lived in Atlanta, a group of our Homeowners’ Association members rented an aerator one Saturday and went to town on our yards. As were were working, an Asian man–a newcomer to the USA–stopped by to watch for a few minutes.

“What are you doing?” he asked me in heavily accented English.

“We’re poking little holes in the ground so our grass will grow better,” I told him.

His mouth fell open in disbelief. “Why?” he asked.

“Sir,” I replied, “I have to tell you honestly I can’t give you a sensible answer.”

I still wouldn’t be able to.

I just spent a good bit of time and money trying to get grass to grow in my front yard. I’ll take another photo in two weeks to see it it looks any different. Here’s hopin’.

As I was tamping in the seed with my rake, I got to thinking about how ludicrous this job actually was. Talk about poor stewardship of the planet! In many other contexts, the tree would be gone, the front lawn would be a vegetable garden, and there would be a goat and a few chickens out back.

Think about it for a minute. We drive somewhere and actually buy dirt. Dirt! We spend a great deal of money and countless hours of our discretionary time growing a plant that is inedible. We spread toxic substances all over it (well, I don’t) to make it grow longer and thicker; then, we use expensive machines to cut it down so we can bag it and lug it to the curb on trash day.

And we’re an advanced culture.


Culture in Canuckistan: Shacking Up, Ontario Style

IMG_20150225_082749 This morning I spent an hour or so theogling on Trail 10, where I was also able to resurface the entire eastbound lane in one fell swoop (it was clearly not a government contract.)

When I reached the bank of the Ottawa River at Shirley’s Bay, I decided to satisfy my curiosity about ice fishing–a pastime which, despite our 24 years in Canada, I’ve never tried. (We lived in Nova Scotia for 19 years and I never learned to sail or went lobstering–the latter failure literally constituting a sin of omission.)

From the shore, it looked like this shack was occupied. But what appeared to be a Ski-Doo from 350 m away was actually the fisher’s discarded Christmas tree! So I skied three-quarters of a km extra and still don’t know how to ice fish.

Out in western Ontario, on Lake Nipigon, where our friends live and work, the commercial fishermen use jigger boards to shoot whitefish nets under the ice. Pretty ingenious, and very lucrative if you have a mind to commute 18 km each way out onto the lake every day…

The dots in the background of my photo are other shacks, none of which looked very inviting and all of which looked very far away.

I think everyone was home frying up yesterday’s yellow perch.

The Middle-Aged Man and the Bike

The forest is fragrant and still. Dappled with sunlight. Birds revel in the glory of the summer morning with chirping and singing. And with what seems to him like derisive laughter. Unseen they laugh, from high in the stout maples and towering pines.

The trail is steep. Rocky. The rocks are sharp. And hard, very hard. The mud, while not deep, is soft. And muddy.  The roots are everywhere, and made of wood. Gnarled, twisted, protruding, hard wood.

He rides on and on, until he falls off. He remounts, determined. Legs pumping, lungs heaving, heart racing, shins bleeding. He rides on and on, on and on, as the birds chirp and sing. And laugh. Derisively.

Please permit me to interrupt my morning of study with a tongue-in-cheek nod to Hemingway. I haven’t blogged in some months, a fact which I no doubt regret far more than you do. I want to say how much I enjoy living where I do. Within an 8-minute peddle from my house I can be on a winding country road with fat does jumping out of the woods in front of me as I ride.

And we live only a kilometre or so from the South March Highlands Conservation Area, an award-winning space right here in Ottawa that also sports a mountain biking facility operated by the Ottawa Mountain Bike Association.

March-Highlands-Map-894x500This is like a Six Flags for your bike, and the rides even have appealing names like “Rock Hopper”, “North Dogsled”, “Double Down”, “Ribcage”, “Twisted Sisters”, and “Dog’s Breakfast.” And no lines, no admission, no handy paramedics.

Earlier today I took my 20-year-old VeloSport (affectionately disignated, “The Beast”) for a ride on some of these trails, and afterward I thought it prudent to write several memos to myself and make them public for the sake of accountability. I have arranged them in three categories so I can recall them more easily. If you know me, please hold me to them.


  1. Place shirt in laundry.
  2. Realign brakes, which are now seriously caddywampus.
  3. Find out how to spell caddywampus.


  1. En route to the trail, your good friend Preston Martelly passed you in his car and offered to ride with you next time. Do not allow him to wriggle out of this.
  2. Check flyers for good deals on body armour.
  3. While checking, also check for good deals on bandages and other first-aid supplies.
  4. Pack bike tools.
  5. Rear brake is on right.
  6. Walk the Deer Bridge–for now, anyway.
  7. Print route map in colour.
  8. Find out if fishing is permitted in pond. If so, take waders and fly rod.
  9. Do not wear waders while riding bike.
  10. Get to know local helicopter pilot and put number on speed dial.
  11. Pay earnest heed to signs like those below. “Exclamation point” is actually an “i”. It stands for, “idiot” and is printed upside down for a reason.



  1. Place on personal Bucket List: “Complete one circuit of “INTERMEDIATE” trail while staying on both bike and trail for entire ride.”
  2. Do this before attempting “DIFFICULT” trail, at which time entire Bucket List may become suddenly irrelevant.

Weekly Photo Challenge: TODAY

This came on Friday, and the challenger insists that I provide a photo taken on that day. So here it is. Impressive, eh?

Not only is it irrelevant to you, it’s also out of focus. For me, however, it is a record of my progress on a little project I’m working on nearby. The photo I took today is far more important to me, and I’ll share that in a day or so along with the lesson it taught me. But for now, this shot should provide some incentive to look for a better photo somewhere else. You shouldn’t have to look long.

She batted those beautiful eyes at me, and I thought of the Kingdom.

This morning I savoured the confection that is winter in Canada.

The trees on Trail 10 were frosted with yesterday’s snow, twinkling in the early morning light. I’d let my beautiful bride sleep in, making sure she could find the coffee when she woke up. I was the only one in the woods, and the solitude was a gift. There was just enough new snow down to make the trail ski-able, but the ice underneath crunched under me and grabbed at my poles.

After about 3 km, I rounded a bend and there she was. I wasn’t alone, after all. A perfect white-tailed doe stood right in my path, plump and vigourous and appearing to enjoy the sugar-frosted forest as much as I. I stopped to stare, and we looked at each other in silence for thirty seconds.  She nosed the air and discovered nothing, as there was not a breath of wind. Curious, she cocked her head. Her tail twitched nervously, and she returned her gaze to me.

In those moments I rediscovered the phrase, “doe-eyed beauty.” Her eyes were deep, black pools–mirrors of  serenity and caution, curiosity and fear. Then she batted her long eyelashes at me, and I was smitten. (When my granddaughter does that, she can charm a dog off a meat truck.)

“Good morning, Beautiful,” I said softly.”Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.” For some reason I didn’t feel ridiculous talking to an animal. It seemed right somehow. Once, in Nicaragua, I had conducted an admittedly one-sided conversation in Spanish with a bewildered burro colt. When its owner had come around the corner of the casa and burst into derisive laughter, I’d felt foolish. But this morning was different.

Instead of bolting, she took several steps in my direction, tail twitching, ears erect. She stopped, and I spoke to her again. More steps toward me, until she was nearly within reach of my ski pole. (This had happened to me when I was a kid, only the deer was a buck with a full rack and we’d stared each other down at a salt lick behind a hunting camp. When he’d gotten so close I could almost touch him, I’d jumped into the air, thrashing my arms and screaming like a madman.)  My doe’s eyes were so expressive I could almost hear her saying, “I know you won’t hurt me, and I’d love to have you stroke my neck, but that ancient memo from The Creator tells me this would not be a good idea. And I’m not sure what those sticks are in your hands, so I think I’d better be going now.” She batted her lashes at me again and in three leisurely bounds she had disappeared into the forest.

And I thought of the Kingdom.

Having just finished John Vaillant’s incredible book, The Tiger I am more keenly aware of the symbiosis that sometimes exists between people and animals in the wild. The way hunters  and Amur tigers in far eastern Russia share their kills and seem to know and understand each other intimately hearkens back to Paradise, when people and animals apparently interacted on a completely different level than we currently understand.

The Scriptures indicate that when Jesus reigns during the Kingdom Age promised repeatedly in the biblical text, the animal kingdom will revert back to its Edenic state. Here is how the prophet Isaiah describes it:

“Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.  They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 11.5-9)

Old Testament scholars Keil and Delitzsch remark about this passage,

“There now reign among irrational creatures, from the greatest to the least, – even among such as are invisible, – fierce conflicts and bloodthirstiness of the most savage kind. But when the Son of David enters upon the full possession of His royal inheritance, the peace of paradise will be renewed, and all that is true in the popular legends of the golden age be realized and confirmed.” (Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 7, p. 285. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1980)

I’m a committed premillennialist. By that, I mean I believe the prophetic Scriptures about the Kingdom Age to be just that–not symbolic or allegorical, not some idealistic wish of a deluded preacher. In Romans, Paul writes of “the whole creation…groaning” (Rom 8.22) and “eagerly awaiting” this time.

My encounter on Trail 10 this morning made the Kingdom seem just a little closer.

Listen to Your Girdle

The other day I hit TRAIL 10, a cross-country ski trail that meanders through the woods to the bank of the Ottawa River. The snow was fast—not icy, but slick and granular, like trillions of minute, oil-drenched pearls. I am naturally a speed freak, so I decided to take advantage of the conditions and set a personal record for TRAIL 10.

I didn’t. Set my record, that is. I failed to pace myself.

I took off as fast as I could, exhilaration trumping judgment. For the first two kilometres, all the muscles around my pelvic girdle screamed, “Slow down, will ya?” For the last three kilometres, my lungs wheezed, “Told ya!” When I finally heaved myself into the driver’s seat to head for home, my body was trembling.

I began to think about Psalm 39. It’s a psalm about pacing, among other things. David writes,

“O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” (Psa 39.4, ESV)

Some context. David finds himself in the midst of wicked people who seem to have no sense of the eternal. They are simply heaping up wealth for no purpose, and David understands the futility of this worldview and desires to be spared “the scorn of a fool.” He asks God to forgive him for his own transgressions and to hear his cry, acknowledging the fleeting nature of life and the importance of living with the impetus of eternity.

How can we pace ourselves more effectively?

  1. By knowing our destination. People who feel their destination is a hole in the earth live one way; people who know they are headed for heaven live another way altogether. Those who have no idea where they’re headed live another way still. People who work only for weekends, or for wealth, or for retirement work one way; people who work to please their Saviour work a different way entirely.
  2. By knowing our capacities. I’m not a long distance runner. I’m not built for it and I never enjoyed it. But a 100-metre track or a soccer pitch was another matter entirely. Though I know my destination, I don’t know how far away it is. So I need to understand what I can do in the remaining days of my journey and not concern myself with things for which I have no capacity. I’m far more effective if I “play to my strengths”.
  3. By knowing our propensities. I have a tendency to overestimate my capabilities in terms of how much time I have to perform tasks. Throughout my life I have often taken on more than I could accomplish, and ended up frustrated and stressed. I’m a procrastinator, but I work well under pressure. I’m not a good multi-tasker. I become very easily distracted doing routine tasks, but given a window of time to devote to something I enjoy, I can be so focused I can skip meals and sleep (theoretically.) I love a challenge.

These natural traits, considered against the backdrop of a biblical worldview and an eternal perspective, should be reminders to me of how to approach my relationships, priorities, my work and my schedule.

They are like aching muscles and a heaving chest.