There are times when life feels difficult. You may find yourself in a situation that turned out differently than you'd hoped. You have made a decision and then over time you change and grow and now have different values, beliefs or needs. There are times when you find yourself disappointed with your life. You wish you were living somewhere else or you had a different job or you feel disconnected from your friends. A pandemic has been declared and you haven't hugged your loved ones in 8 weeks. You feel hopeless with the state of the world and overwhelmed with the multitude of steps that would need to happen in order for anything to change. These are times where you may feel most alone. Where the overwhelm feels so big it turns into exhaustion.
Sound familiar? It has been for me in my life. When connection and peace feel fleeting. And the general sense of what decision I need to make or what direction I need to go in is so far out of reach even my next step feels elusive.
These times in my life, when I have felt most uncertain and afraid, are when my connection to the Earth and finding moments, just tiny moments, to sink into a place of stillness have brought me clarity even if it was just for a breath.
Living in the Shoulds
Long before I was counsellor, I worked in Forestry. Back in 2006, I had just graduated from Selkirk College and landed my first job as an RFT (Registered Forest Technician) in Kamloops BC. With the help of my mum, I'd driven my dark blue Ford Explorer loaded with all my stuff from Castlegar through Nakusp, across the Arrow Lakes to Kamloops, to move into a house with 3 women I didn't know and to finally become an adult and begin my career. I was 25 and thought that this is what I should be doing.
It was supposed to be a great start to my new life. Everyone told me how lucky I was to land a job in the southern part of the province. Most of my classmates were moving up to Prince George and beyond. I was still close enough to visit my friends in Vernon and my family in Victoria. The house was great and my rent affordable. I was making decent money. I was lucky to be close to the office and I was going to get great experience that summer for my brand new career!
I should have been grateful. I should have been happy.
The thing was, I didn't like Kamloops. My soul has never liked the incessant heat of the dry Kamloops desert, the rolling hills and sparse trees. It was June and it was already hot and something about the job... it just didn't feel right.
But I believed that things not feeling right was not a good enough reason to quit a job.
I was quite shy back then. I found it difficult to connect with people and these new colleagues were no different. I felt like a baby, brand new to forestry and uncertain about my forest legs. I felt uncomfortable and nervous and like I'd made a big mistake taking this job. I agonized over these thoughts. But how could it be a mistake, I was beginning my career! I should have felt incredibly grateful!
My work days would begin at 7am at the office. We would load our gear into a truck and drive through the dry steep hills of Kamloops littered with Ponderosa pine, west along the Coquihalla for about 50 km. The Ponderosa gradually turning into Lodgepole pine and Spruce trees as we climbed in elevation. Turning off Highway 1 at Savona, where Kamloops Lake merged back into the Thompson River, I sat in the back of the 4x4 truck feeling alone and depressed. As we drove up into the pine forests bumping along the unpaved gravel roads, I would will with all my might for the truck to break down, hit a pothole and get a flat or have some sudden reason we would have to go back into the city. It never worked.
The truck would drop me off, all by myself, beside a forest of pine. Straight sticks blowing in the hot breeze. I was handed a radio with a 2 km line of site frequency and was told I would be picked up at 3pm later that day. All I had on me was; my bright orange cruiser vest, my bear spray, a gps, my lunch, a knife, a water bottle, roles of flagging tape, cans of bright pink spray paint, and a radio that never crackled even once, once the truck was over the hill and out of my sight. Very grudgingly I would step off the gravel road and into the forest to begin my work day.
I was scared. I hated walking into the trees alone each morning. My stomach hurt, my shoulders were tense, I clenched my jaw. I was spooked all day long. The sound of cracking sticks made me jump, the trees shifting and creaking in the wind made my hair stand on end. I found a coyote den and would hear them calling and shrieking regularly. Now, logically, coyotes will not harm a human, the cracking sticks were most likely deer and the noise of the Lodgepole shifting and creaking in the wind is now one of my favourite sounds. But back then, it was the perfect cacophony of terror that kept my nervous system in the fight flight response for 7 hours every single day, 5 days a week.
This continued regularly for a couple weeks until one day, in my exhaustion of being on high alert all day long, I paused for a moment. I'd come across this opening in the pine forest. It was a slightly wetter area, a relief for this Coastal girl. The Lodgepole were interspersed with a few baby cedar, and alder. The sunlight shone a little more golden here, the air felt slightly cooler and the ground was covered with a few larger fallen trees. I sat down grateful for the rounder logs to perch on instead of the constant pick up sticks of downed pine.
In that stillness, the air shifted. And I noticed a ripple through the breeze. The stillness became even deeper and I felt something move above my head. A Whiskey Jack. At the sight of this gray and white silent bird, I breathed for the first time all day filling my lungs deep down into my belly. I ate my lunch as this slate bird hopped and swooped around me.
The rest of that day went just a little easier, with a little less fear and a little more breath.
Whiskey Jack Magic
From that day forward these perfect Whiskey Jack moments occured. The Whiskey Jack would arrive in it's quiet flight, turning down the sounds of fear. The forest became unusually quiet and the air shifted around me.
A stillness would settle and I breathed. The heat of the day lifted as the cool breeze was brought in on the stealth swooping of Whiskey Jack. The light changed as it filtered through the pine needles and I rested. My entire body relaxed in the tranquility of the Whiskey Jack.
Some days, 4 or 5 of these wise birds swooped silently around me. They were a quiet and inconspicuous sentry filled with magic song that could only be heard if you listened closely in the hushed air.
I felt safe.
Within moments of settling into a place of well-being with my silent sentinel around me, the chipmunks would appear playing and chattering among the trees. Running up and down the trunks and branches, gathering food and amusing themselves around me. Like hired circus performers, their acrobatics brought small smiles to my face as I settled back into my own body and my high alert nervous system turned down and grounded.
This meeting in the forest happened once a day for the next three weeks. During this time. I experienced an internal shift. My nervous system calmed down while I rested and connected with the birds and chipmunks. I was able to breathe, my shoulders relaxed, my jaw softened. I felt safe. And my mind calmed. In my days of aloneness, I found moments of connection and joy.
Clarity in the Pause
This did not mean that the fear and the dislike for the job and Kamloops went away. In fact what what happened was that I became very clear that living in Kamloops and the job were not right for me at all.
The visits from Whiskey Jack and Chipmunk gave me permission to dream. They brought possibility and magic into my life. They reminded me of the joy in the little things. That I need life to be light and joyful and fun and that it is extremely important for me to like my environment.
In fact what occurred was an experience of clarity around what was important for me in a job. That it was imperative that I felt safe when I went to work everyday. And I discovered a sense of empowerment that it was my right to make up my own mind about where I wanted to live.
As I stepped into embracing what was important for me in my career, I began looking for different work. Within two weeks; I got a job with a Forest Health Specialist, I quit the Kamloops job, I gave my notice at my home, moved in with my friend in Vernon and spent a wonderful summer working one on one with a very experienced, kind, and joyful woman who taught me valuable skills that I still use to this day. While I don't work in the forest industry anymore, that summer was the most memorable in my Forestry career.
Whiskey Jack Wisdom
Whiskey Jack reminded me in those deep times of fear, that when life feels difficult and like I have no choice, that there is always something that I am not seeing. That when I feel like there is no other option than the one that I am in, this is where it is absolutely imperative to pause, look a little longer and listen a little deeper. There is always magic and support and sometimes this magic and support can be as inconspicuous as a slate gray bird known for being fearless, curious and playful in it's interactions with humans.