Very recently I led a spectacular hike with a group of teenage boys. The destination was a beautiful small lake at the top of high cliff in Killarney Provincial Park. The hike was entirely off trail, bushwacking through forest, boulder field and navigating a secret route up some precarious rock faces, culminating in a climb up a chimney-like crack in quartzite rocks leading to the very top. There the view over George Lake and Georgian Bay is breathtaking. If you look carefully you notice the lake just a hundred metres or so from the edge of the cliff, a little paradise in a place that relatively very few people have probably seen.
We sat by the lily pads and ate lunch and some of the boys went swimming under a sunny blue sky. I thought to myself that I’d managed this hike about a dozen times since I first was shown the route over forty years ago. It occurred to me that, while I’d likely be able to do the hike next year, realistically I couldn’t see myself doing it in ten years. It was hard enough this time. I realized that this could easily be my last visit to this special place. So I stopped to drink in the memories of the occasion and in the days between then and now I’ve been able to call them up and re-experience their warm glow. I’m blessed with a very good memory. I can do the same for most of my visits to this lake.
For most of my life I’ve had a strong feeling that if something were to happen and I were to find out I was going to die tomorrow, it would be with no regrets, knowing that I’ve lived my life to its fullest and used my time wisely. I’ve spent six months wandering through Europe and Africa. I’ve hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon about eight times. I’ve spent over 300 days camping in the wilderness and over 100 days canoeing the wonderful lakes of Ontario. I’ve passionately pursued my interests and shared them with other people. I’ve made memories that I can reflect on and smile.
I’m not trying to be morbid here. My friends out there need to know that there is no imminent demise on the horizon. I still plan to pursue a pretty full bucket list. This is more a reflection on quality of life than on any personal issue.
I’ve met many people who primarily go through the motions of life, people who count the days off the calendar rather than counting the days till the next adventure or highlight. (This is not to say that only big adventures can be highlights. There are many other ways to make significant memories, such as relationships and family. However these, like everything, can easily turn into “going through the motions as well.) Tom Brown Jr. once said in a class I attended that you should keep a journal that you write in every night. If you find you don’t have something to write about, then get the hell up and go out to do something.
When I think about two summers ago, there was no big trip or adventure that dominates. There was, however, one great day that I walked from Union Station to the C.N.E. along Harbourfront, exploring new places. The day culminated in a few hours at the CNE and a Blue Rodeo concert in the evening (allowing me to strike that off the bucket list). It was a day full of new discoveries and great photography. It stands out clearly compared to the rest of the summer, which was just kind of going through the motions. The days that I “got the hell up” and went out to do something are the days that stand out.
Somebody once said, “Don’t live your life like a lazy Sunday afternoon, where once it is over you ask, ‘Where did the time go?’” In the end will it make a difference? I think so. When I think back on fond memories, I feel good. When I think back on a week and say to myself, “Well, that slipped by too quickly”, then I don’t feel so good about it. In the end, that’s all we can probably really hope for.