Author Archives: arlenekeith

Oh Baby!

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It has been eight months since my last post! My life is the same and yet completely changed.  

Instead of traversing the Mexican mountains last winter I worked daily on a book that I am writing full of blueberry recipes and farm life stories. I hope to have it finished and published by next summer. My daughter Sabrina, who is a talented and accomplished writer and editor is editing it for me. We are super excited about it! More on that in a few months. 

My life is still full of blueberries, although this year not quite as full.  The late frost combined with gazillions of gross Gypsy moth caterpillars decimated my plants and blooms and, even with intervention, resulted in a 70% loss of berries. But we dealt with the disappointment and moved on. At least we had some good rain in July and are hoping for a stellar crop next year.  

What is new and life changing is the arrival of my first grandchild, Cadia. I even look at my house through a different lens – my big, old, rambling farmhouse now feels like a perfect grandmothers house. Due on my 60th birthday, she made her grand entrance a week and a half later on July 29th – and she is a beauty! My son Colin and his partner Sharlie are great parents and love her to pieces! As all parents know, having a baby changes your life and you experience a depth of emotion previously unknown. What I never would have guessed is that you love a grandchild as much as you love your own kids! Who knew! Well, I guess all grandparents knew…and now I do too.

I’m thrilled to introduce my granddaughter, Cadia.

Proud Gran
Beautiful new mama

Very happy daddy
Excited auntie Sabrina
Hesitant uncle Max
Sweet baby Cade

Winter update

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The week after I didn’t go to Mexico I decided to spend the winter on Vancouver Island. I packed up my little Honda fit with my sleeping bag, warmest clothes and enough food to last a month or so and set off. My plan was to take my time and hike my way across Canada and the West Coast. Three days out, more lockdowns kicked in, and B C was also talking about closing its border to tourists. I had to take a good hard look at what I was doing. I’m not in a financial position to winter in Canada without working unless I’m rough camping. And while that’s my thing, the way things were going, I could get stuck between hither and yon in the winter. In the end, I turned around and headed back home. Even so, I’m glad I went. I never really wanted to winter camp again but it certainly scratched my adventure inch, and I had some beautiful hikes in northern Ontario. But I have finally accepted, and made my peace with, what other people have long since accepted; this is not the year to travel.

So it will be a season of winter-land walking, cozy writing in front of the fire, and working. And feeling especially grateful for my wise and wonderful children who impress me every day.

Northern Ontario
Fit-camper

In a world gone mad…

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At the eleventh hour I have changed my plans. For the last little while I have struggled with conflicting emotions about my scheduled trip to Mexico, which was due to start tomorrow. I wasn’t particularly unsettled by a fear of going to Mexico itself, or of getting seriously sick. But the apprehension of family and friends, a feeling that I was taking off to do my thing against all guidance, and concerns about getting back into Canada were three factors that all played a part of my inner conflict. What finally tipped the scales was a letter from one of my children last night, which stating the worries and fears that they all felt.

And so, I will go on a different, as yet undetermined, adventure somewhere in Canada. It won’t be as warm as Mexico, and it may not be wildly exciting to the naked eye but I will keep you posted. Thank you for sticking by me!

Winter 2021

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I like New Years Eve. I always have. I like reflecting back on the past year, taking stock of where I am, setting new goals and looking to what’s ahead. 2020 has been a bit of a poopstorm and I feel incredibly grateful that me and mine have stayed afloat. Hopefully a comfortable normal will prevail in 2021 and the year will not be so wacky.

Traditional retirement is not in my stars. My retirement plan consists of my blueberry farm and the three winter months when I pack up my tent and sleeping bag and head for parts unknown. I need that time to recharge. It’s also, coincidentally, the time when my rambling old farmhouse is inhospitable to all living things except mice and squirrels. I swear it’s easier and cheaper to heat a cardboard box. 

I do not frequent hotels, restaurants, stores, bars or basically anywhere populated when I travel. I get groceries, but everyone needs to eat wherever they are. And so I have decided to continue with my plan to go to Mexico for the winter. I feel it is necessary for my mental health. I will either be solo hiking in the mountains, hunkered down in my tent on some quiet shore, or possibly even renting a little casa where I will spend my time writing. I am flying into Cancun on January 7th and finding a bus from the airport to Campeche. From there, I will start walking.

My mother was my age when she was diagnosed with an aggressive terminal brain tumour, which killed her ten months later. I knew that she was young but I didn’t realize how young. The impact on me of how, in the space of a breath life can be over, was absolute. My profound takeaway was don’t wait to live the life that nourishes you.  The following winter was the first time (but not the last) that I pulled my three kids out of school for an epic two-month adventure. 

My particular style of isolated wandering outside of first world countries requires the acceptance of a higher risk factor than conventional travel. The threat of disease ridden bug bites, spider bites, animal and venomous snake encounters, challenging weather, injury and illness is a reality. If I am in a town I  am ultra-aware of who and what is around me and where I am. Especially when I am alone. I am well versed in being constantly mindful of my safety. This year I will also be vigilant about distancing and masking for myself and for the safety of others. 

Yep, 2020 has been a year for the history books. I’m not one for burning books but even I’d be willing to throw a few recent pages in the fire. But for better or worse, we are making history and that’s something extraordinary.

My goals for 2021 are simple. I will stay kind in the face of judgement and try not to judge others. I will step outside of my own troubles and give more service to those around me. I will live true to who I am. I will forgive myself when I make mistakes. Wherever 2021 takes me and whatever it brings, I will try to move forward with an unwavering spirit and a peaceful heart. And I wish the same for you. Have a safe, happy holiday season.

Savour the Moments

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I have just returned from 12 days in Alberta visiting my daughter Sabrina and her husband Ben. Sabrina and I canoed down the stunning Maligne River, we hiked up glorious mountain trials and looked down on glaciers, we camped out, we slept in, we ate great food, and frequently laughed until we hurt. It was an amazing trip that I will cherish.

During the canoe trip we met a lady who very recently lost her mother suddenly and unexpectedly. By the campfire we listened to stories of adventures that she shared with her mother. I was painfully aware of how bittersweet it must have been for her to watch Sabrina and I. Wiping away tears, she implored us to savour every moment together. And I do. I really, truly do.

Build it and they will come

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With slipper weather nipping at our heels, the blueberry season has come and gone. It’s hard to believe. But what a season! 

After being cooped up, I think that everyone was searching for things to do that were local, outside, fun and safe.  When Sabrina posted on Balderson Blueberries Facebook that our opening day was July 26th, there were over 22,000 views. 22,000! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. 

The morning that I opened, the rising sun had barely touched the field.  I looked around and wondered what the day would bring. Everything was ready.  The plants were laden with beautiful, ripe berries, the grass was freshly mowed, the weigh station was set up at the field entrance. The Merry Blueberry cafe was restocked with baked goods and homemade blueberry ice cream. Jars of jams, syrups and butters lined the shelves and the smell of percolating blueberry coffee wafted in the air. I controlled my breathing to quell my nerves. I missed Sabrina’s physical presence but we had spoken at length and she was standing by to post updates as needed. Max and Nancy would be manning the shop again and that was reassuring. Last year they operated together like a well oiled machine and it was immensely comforting to know they had it covered.  

At exactly 9am the cars started rolling in and the season began. People came in droves but the afternoon 40 degree weather helped keep the volume at a manageable level. The day was frantic, rewarding, exhausting and successful. As the season progressed, it got busier and busier as word spread and people started coming earlier hoping to get some berries before we sold out. Our last day open to the public, the line up started at 8:07am and by the time we opened at 9am, Sabrina had to post that we were at capacity.  By 11:30am we were picked out.  Seeing the fields full and the community enjoying the experience so fully was the realization of my dream and I’m incredibly grateful to all who have supported me past, present, and future. The hardest part of the season for me was disappointing those who came and then couldn’t get in.  

The most common question I was asked this year was – will I be expanding? The short answer is, I already have. I’ve put 500 more plants in the ground since my initial planting in 2015  but they aren’t producing yet. People were surprised to find how costly and labor intensive the  process is, and also that it takes at least five years before a plant produces.  Will I keep expanding? My plan is to plant an additional 400 plants next year but after that, it’s anybody’s guess. I have always believed that if I could grow blueberries, I could sell them. But after this year  I know for sure that I can turn this little blueberry farm into whatever size I choose. But what I want my life to look like moving forward can be as changeable as the weather. It depends on the day and how I feel. 

What was my take away this season? I learned that my planned opening of four days a week is unrealistic. I sell out of every ripe berry in one day and it takes a week for enough berries to ripen again to sustain another picking day. I learned that a five person team is perfect. Two for the shop, one for the weigh station, one to take people out to the field, and one to direct parking. I learned that it’s impossible to please everyone and I need to be ok with that and not stress about it. My best is all that I can ask of myself. And I learned that no matter how many blueberries I eat, I never get sick of them. But honestly, I already knew that.

Home!

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I am home! When I arrived late last night I looked up to a familiar sky. The Big Dipper was there and the constellations were all right where they should be, but everything else was different. The streets were empty. Buildings that should have been alight and alive with people were dark and empty. My brother and sister-in-love, who picked us up from Montreal, had to drive two cars so we could then drive my car home without contact. We could have no welcoming hugs. I am incredibly happy to be home but I also feel discombobulated – like I returned to an alternate universe. It’s unsettling.

While we were waiting for our flight in Fiji, right up until we boarded, I didn’t know if we would actually be leaving the island. And then when we were in LA, again, until we actually boarded, I felt uncertain. Who knows how all of this will end, or where it will go. The only thing I know is that I am happy to face the uncertain times ahead on Canadian soil. And I will be diligent with my self isolation.

As always, thank you for reading and sharing this ride with me. See you on the flip side. Be well and stay safe.

Arlene.

The Adventure continues…

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After waiting in an apocalyptic-like airport in New Zealand, getting our temperatures checked at every turn, we were off to Fiji. The concerned messages we received from family and friends (and the government) basically telling us that we needed to get ourselves home convinced us. Everything is shutting down and while being stranded in Fiji sounds idilic, my blueberries need attention and my mortgage won’t pay itself. With airlines and carriers unavailable by phone (and hesitant to book anything online for fear of losing more money), the day after we arrived, we parked ourselves outside the Fiji airways office, along with the remainder of Fiji’s tourists (also trying to get home), and waited to speak to a live human. When we finally confirmed a fight out, we breathed sighs of relief. But we aren’t there yet.

Yesterday we went to the Sabeto mud pools in the mountains for a day of R&R. As we lathered our bodies with the black gooey mud, the continuous gentle rain metamorphosed into a torrential downpour. The sky opened and buckets of water poured out of it. Undeterred, we lowered ourselves into the hot springs. Shortly after, before our very eyes, the lush, tropical walkways and plants disappeared and gave way to an ever widening river. When the cold water overflowed into the hot pool where we were currently immersed, we clued in that we needed to get out. Within minutes, the whole area was flooded. The springs are positioned at the junction of six mountain streams and it was amazing how quickly it coalesced into a torrent. Apart from four Australians and the workers, we were the only people there. We clustered together watching and waiting for the water to recede, but the deluge continued and the road remained impassable. It was later in the day and we were a long way from the hotel. We decided, along with Stella (an awesome 81-year-old Fijian preacher lady who was there selling trinkets) that we better try to get out on foot. After the TA we are no strangers to river crossings, but Stella was understandably nervous. We waded in together, holding hands. Cars were stranded on sections of the dirt road but a few people on foot (and the odd horse) were walking through the waist deep water. Eventually we emerged and Stella was able to flag down a random police cruiser who picked us up, gunned through the last of the flood and drove us back to the hotel.

We have been in Fiji for three days and we are now at the airport waiting for our flight home via LA as I write. There are only four departures today and two of them are listed as canceled. Apparently we are on the second last flight leaving for the US (we were told that there is a 50-50 chance of our plane actually taking off) before the airport closes on Monday. We left early for the airport today as some roads here are also being closed. This trip has been quite a ride on many different levels and home is the best place to be right now. We aren’t there yet but I will be happy when we are on Canadian soil. I feel like we will slide in sideways. I’ll keep you posted.

A Walk in the Clouds

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I burrow deeper into my sleeping bag and wrap it around my head to create a pocket of warm air. Dawn is still far away but I know I am awake for the duration. We are high in the mountains and the air is cold. When light finally comes, I strip down and replace my merino warms with my hiking clothes, still damp with yesterday’s sweat, and emerge from the tent to a sloped world of frost on grandfather tussocks. I look around the panorama of remote, windswept alpine peaks that epitomize the rugged essence of the South Island, and I am awed that we have hiked across the entire range. The 64 kilometre section between Arrowhead and Wanaka includes the Motatapu Track which is listed (by the mutant bionic people) as “hard tramping”. But this is our last hurrah on the TA and we want to finish hard and strong (with jelly legs). Gord has a healthy respect for heights and the three vertical 1300 meter ascents and descents, combined with narrow trails on ridgelines that drop off on both sides has pushed him to his limit. This is the high country at its most raw and at some points we are moving forward on all fours. He says it is spectacular and terrifying and if it was any harder I might as well go ahead and push him off the edge.

We take down the tent, eat a breakfast of muesli and start walking. Immediately we go up. The last five days have been tough and our muscles quiver with fatigue, but I happily settle back into the rhythm of walking. My sore bits have mostly sorted themselves out. The sound of my poles clicking on the hard earth is soothing to me. The world sometimes spins too quickly for me and I need a long, isolating walk to recalibrate. When I am untethered from civilization, I feel my place in a world where I often feel misplaced.

We have tramped over 1000 kilometres and feel a heady pride. It’s not always easy, for many different reasons, and this trip is no exception. But it’s always an adventure!

Shortly we will fly to Fiji for our last two weeks before returning home. Now that we have been informed of the news, we realize that we won’t be returning to the same world that we left. It’s hard to take in after the timeless serenity of the mountains. We will self quarantine if that is what is appropriate. Next post from Fiji.