RiverRock Studio and creative getaways

I am writing this on Sunday to be posted on Monday, because starting this afternoon, I will be out of Internet service for the week.

I am off to an artist’s retreat/workshop at River Rock Studio — and I am excited.  (the link may not work — it is http://www.riverrockstudio.com )

Six days of communing with the muse. Six days to be present in the wonder and awe of creativity abounding all around. And six days to walk in the woods, savour the silence and breathe in nature.

How divine. How delicious. How wonderful.

And there’s no Internet.

So I’ll be offline for the week, though I will be writing, and painting and collaging and creating and immersing myself in the joy of being part of my creative essence expressing itself in every breath.

See you in a week.

Blessings on your journey. May you discover the essence of your being present and alive in every breath you take.


What a wonderful day to be alive.

I smile at him as he walks up to the stoplight where I am standing.

He smiles back.

I cross.

He crosses behind me and follows me down the stairs to the C-train platform.

It is rush hour but summer days have dwindled the traffic to a mere trickle of what it normally is.

The train arrives immediately and he gets on behind me.

It is one of the newer trains. The long bank of seats along each window face inwards, towards each other.

He sits two seats beyond me on the same side. He is dressed in a grey shirt, navy pants and vest. I think he works for Transit and he confirms it later when he turns to chat. “Worked for them 16 years,” he says. “It’s kind of my retirement job.” Four days a week driving a shuttle bus. No stress, he adds. Just a chance to talk to people.

Like he’s talking to me as he rides to work.

“How do you like having the C-train?” he asks me as soon as the train begins to pull out of the station.

“I love it,” I tell him.

He looks surprised. “People don’t usually say they love transit,” he says.

“It makes my life so much easier, and less stressful. I don’t have to worry about traffic driving home.”

“We had a family home on the lands that were expropriated,” he tells me.

“Was that hard?” I ask. “Having it expropriated?”

“It sure was for my mother,” he says. “She lived in that home for 53 years. It was her history.” And then he laughs. “But me and my brother, we made sure she got everything she could from the city so that she’s real comfortable now.”

And he goes on to tell me about the ‘battle’ as he called it. How the City didn’t give them all the information. How some older people were taken advantage of. Asked to sign documents that put them on the deficit side of the equation, without any consideration to their circumstances.

“Me and my brother, we got everybody we could whose lands were affected, together to tell them about what we’d found. I printed off every document the City issues on expropriation and found three lawyers who dealt in it specifically.”

But some of the older people, they couldn’t believe the City wouldn’t act in good faith, he told me. ” They thought the City was their friend.”

And he went on to tell me about one woman, in her 80s, who took the $18k the City offered as a ‘signing bonus’, not realizing that she could have received $30,000 in displacement fees if she’d waited. “She called me in tears wanting to know if there was anything she could do. I had to tell her there wasn’t. She’d already signed the documents, taken the cheque and cashed it.”

He paused and nodded his head up and down. This is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. “Sometimes people trust just because they think they should. I felt real bad for that lady but there was nothing I could do for her by then. Me and my brother, we knew the City wouldn’t look out for our mom.  So we did.”

And I laugh inside and the Universe laughs with me — you want to learn about trust?  Here. Let me deliver up opportunities to listen up, to hear, to learn.

“I hear you,” I tell the man as I get ready to exit the train at my stop. “Thanks for sharing your story.”

“Maybe we’ll run into each other again next week?” he says.

“Perhaps the week after,” I tell him. “I’m on holidays next week.”

And we say good-bye and I get off the train and walk towards my office. The sun beats down. The air is fresh after the rain that fell during the night.  City noises ripple all around. I smell the fresh aroma of the flowers hanging from the baskets that line the street. It is a beautiful summer’s day and my heart is light.

What a wonderful day to be alive.


On an island of grief

“You, yourself, are the eternal energy which appears as this Universe. You didn’t come into this world; you came out of it. Like a wave from the ocean.”

Alan Watts

I have not been feeling the energy these past few weeks. I have not been allowing it to flow through me just as I have not been allowing myself to tap into its eternal flow.

I have not been trusting the eternal energy of the Universe to carry me out of the depths and through the waves of my grief.

Instead of being one with the ocean, I have been searching for the wave to carry me out of deep water, rather than trusting the wave to find me simply because I am part of the wave.

Last night, a  dear friend called and we had a long chat about life and living and playing small/large/indifferently. My friend moved away a few years ago and since his leaving we have stayed in touch, more and more sporadically. It isn’t that we don’t still care about each other and cherish our friendship. Five minutes on the phone with my friend and my entire being revels in the free-flowing thinking, radical way of seeing a conversation with him always generates.

In a conversation with my eldest daughter a few days ago, she shared what someone had told her about grieving the loss of a family pet. Often, they said, our pets are the ones we share our deepest thoughts with, our secret sorrows. They love unconditionally yet, when they die, we tell ourselves we should get over it, they’re just a pet. In our culture, there is no room to simply grieve the loss of a pet without the guilt of feeling like we’re giving too much attention to their loss.

I have been trying to get over Ellie’s passing. I have not been allowing myself the grace to move through it by giving myself room to breathe and grieve without judging my process.

It wasn’t until I spoke with my friend last night and we spoke of Ellie and all she represented in my life, that I saw where my tiredness of the past few weeks has come from.

It isn’t just that I miss her. It is that in her being, she carried my secret sorrows, my hidden fears, my silent grief. In her being, she carried me and though I fed her and walked her and pet her and brushed her and loved all over her, she was the one keeping me safe from falling into the abyss of despair so long ago.

And I think that in her passing, I have been afraid to look into that abyss for fear I might fall in. And in my fear of falling in, I have created what I fear the most — feeling sad.

I don’t like feeling sad. For most of my life I remember my mother being sad. No matter what I did, how much I laughed, how hard I smiled or tried to please, my mother was always sad. Feeling helpless to ‘make her happy’, I moved into anger, resentment, disdain. In my teenage years I feared I would become sad like her and plastered on a smile that nothing and no one could displace. I was Happy, dammit and nobody could hurt me. At least, not that I would allow them to see even if they did.

My smile was my shield and I stomped through life smiling indiscriminately.

In the last year of Ellie’s life, I could feel her energy waning, feel sadness emanating from her body. What I didn’t realize until I hung up the phone last night and let myself sink, without judgment, into the sadness of  losing her, is that it wasn’t her sadness I was feeling, it was mine. In my fear of losing her, I wasn’t living in the moment of having her in my life, I was thinking about what it would be like when she was gone. And I was sad – but I wasn’t going to admit it, dammit.

What I fear I create.

I have seldom allowed myself to feel sad. At least not for any length of time. My fear was, to allow sadness would mean I would be just like my mother and having judged my mother as lacking in moral/emotional fibre for always being sad, I could not, would not allow myself to feel a natural out-pouring of grief over the loss of someone very, very dear to me.

Emotions are natural responses to circumstances. They change. They flow. They evolve. My mother’s sadness was not of her making, it was an expression of deeply felt sorrow she never knew how to express because there was no safe place for her to express it. And so, she held onto it for fear letting it go would leave her stranded on an island of grief.

In my subconsciously pushing down feelings of sadness, I have been just like my mother,  isolated in sadness, and forgetting the antidote is not to isolate, but rather to connect.

My mother is a beautiful, heartfelt woman. She is kind. Caring and loving. There is much of her character I would like to emulate. Perhaps its time I let myself off the judgement wagon and allowed myself to simply be all that I am meant to be when I let go of fearing emotions that simply flow in response to the world around me.

They are not mine to keep, to hold onto, to possess.

Now is not forever. This too shall pass and I will always have that which I need the most — LOVE.

May we all take care of our planet Earth

Film-maker, Louie Schwartzberg, has been filming time-lapse video of flowers for years. The work, he says in his powerful Ted Talk, The Hidden Beauty of Pollination, is something he will never grow tired of. “It fills me with wonder, and it opens my heart.”

To be filled with wonder. To walk through each moment with my heart wide open is my intent every morning when I awaken. In the summer, I walk into our garden and marvel at the colour, the beauty, and the wonder of it all. How from a tiny seed set in earth, such luscious beauty can grow never ceases to amaze me. How a bumblebee can buzz around a flower, sip its nectar and go off to create honey is a constant wonder to me. I love to watch the Hops grow and climb up the wall of the garage — they grow so quickly I swear I can see each leaf unfolding! I love to hear the splashing of the water in the fountain, the rustle of the breeze whispering in the branches of the crab apple tree, the birds twittering at the feeder.

Time in the garden opens my heart to awe and wonder.

Yesterday, my beautiful friend BA sent me a link to view just the video from Louie’s Ted Talk. I knew I had seen it before so went in search of the entire presentation.

I’m glad I did.

In his words and through the beauty and wonder of his video, I was reminded once again of the incredible gift of being alive on this planet. I was reminded of how precious each and every life and life form is and of how we are all inter-dependent upon one another. How we are all connected. All breathing in the same air. All walking on the same earth.

We live on a precious planet. We live in challenging times. As I read of a plane being downed by a missile, of human beings being killed by one another, of animals being harmed by humans, of pain and desolation, destruction, and more, I can sometimes lose hope. I can sometimes lose sight of the power of life itself and forget about how precious this life is and what a gift it is to be alive, in this time, in this place, in this moment.

There are so many things in this world I cannot change, cannot undo, cannot prevent. But there is always something I can do to make this moment better, to create beauty in the world around me, to send out ripples of peace and love and joy and harmony.

There is always something I can do.

This morning, that something is to share with you Louie Schwartzberg’s Ted Talk so that you too can hear his words and watch the video he created. May we all take Louie’s words to heart:

“When I heard about the vanishing bees, Colony Collapse Disorder, it motivated me to take action. We depend on pollinators for over a third of the fruits and vegetables we eat. And many scientists believe it’s the most serious issue facing mankind. It’s like the canary in the coalmine. If they disappear, so do we. It reminds us that we are a part of nature and we need to take care of it.

 I realized that nature had invented reproduction as a mechanism for life to move forward, as a life force that passes right through us and makes us a link in the evolution of life. Rarely seen by the naked eye, this intersection between the animal world and the plant world is truly a magic moment. It’s the mystical moment where life regenerates itself, over and over again.”

May we each know the wonder and awe of being connected to life all around us and to one another. May we all take care of our planet Earth.


I am a trusting woman

One of the core processes of the Choices week happens on Friday afternoon when the trainees stand in their small circles and explore the question, “What do I want more of in my life?” to come up with their Contract word.

A contract word is very different than an affirmation. It is not simply telling yourself over and over again about your brilliance. It is the way of being you need to remind yourself to live to have the more of what you want in life. It is the ‘how’ of creating what you want in the world — even when fear is rising and negative self-talk is triggering all sorts of self-defeating games.

Eight years ago when I went through Choices, I was pretty confident that I could ask myself tougher questions than anyone else in that circle. So, when it came to my turn to step into the light and explore the question, I was just a tad arrogant about my knowledge of the answer — and my Contract became, I am a passionate and fearless woman.

It was pretty evident the first time I coached that being passionate is not really a problem for me. I am passionate about living life awake and conscious. Thelma Box and I had a conversation about why I put the word ‘passionate’ into my contract statement, and I took it out. I was hiding behind it and using its presence in the statement to avoid being ‘fearless’.

Except… with several years of living awake and conscious, I realized last year that ‘fearless’ really wasn’t my issue. I am fearless and when I’m not, I’m fairly adept at identifying what it is I fear and allowing my courage to draw me out.

So I decided to change my contract, especially after an incident on the Coquahalla Highway where ‘Death’ reared its ugly face in front of me and I felt its seductive call pulling me from my path. I was on my way to The Haven for the Come Alive course and it was a wake-up call. I needed to face death and claim my right to be alive everyday.

So my contract became, I am an alive and radiant woman.

But here’s the thing. My contract word is not an affirmation of who I am in the world, it’s a statement of how I need to be to have the more of what I want in my life.

And I am not particularly trusting.

A couple of years ago I did a course with Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts. It was a 40 day pilgrimage into the spiritual desert using art, poetry and contemplation as our guides. It was an amazing course and one of the things I realized through it was that I do not trust easily — in fact, to hide the fact I do not trust easily, I will often trust indiscriminately, give it away as if it doesn’t matter to me to hide my fear. And in my lack of discrimination, I have accepted the unacceptable in my life. I have trusted the untrustworthy and not trusted myself enough to listen to my intuition, to hear my heart’s voice calling me to awaken.

Last week, in the coaches circle on Wednesday morning, I was listening to the conversation around me when my heart spoke loud and clear.  “Louise, you have been beating around the bush for long enough. It’s time to claim what you fear. You are a trusting woman.”

Don’t you love it when your heart knows and your mind tells it to shut up?

‘Cause that’s what my mind did in that moment. It said, “Don’t be ridiculous, chicken heart. You don’t know what’s best for Louise. Only I do. Shut up!”

Fortunately, in the safe and courageous space that is the Choices training room, my heart is fearless.

“I hear you,” it lovingly responded to my mind and without skipping a beat, its words came out of my mouth. “I am a trusting woman.”

I thought I might throw up.

Even just writing that scares me.

Seriously — be a trusting woman, even when I’m scared to death of being hurt? Of losing it all? Of not being enough? Or simply not knowing what to do?



Except. It’s true.

To have the more that I want in my life. To fearlessly live alive and awake, I must trust.

Trust in me. Trust in the world around me. Trust in the Universe. Trust that there is a purpose for my being here on earth. Trust that my presence here on earth makes a difference.

Trust that I am ok. Just the way I am.

It’s taken me many years to step into the circle of life where I am willing to acknowledge that the only thing I need to claim to be free and alive is the one thing I trust the least, myself.

I am a trusting woman.



Choices — a chance to catch my breath!

Kelly Clarkson’s song, Catch My Breath, is playing in my head this morning. I heard it over the weekend and it continues to resonate…

Catching my breath, letting it go,
Turning my cheek for the sake of the show
Now that you know, this is my life,
I won’t be told what’s supposed to be right

Catch my breath, no one can hold me back,
I ain’t got time for that
Catch my breath, won’t let them get me down,
It’s all so simple now….

This is my life.

And these past five days I got to spend it somewhere I love — in the Choices seminar room. What a gift.

This was the first time I didn’t have a small group to lead and instead, spent my time at the back table helping to keep the room flowing. It was a great opportunity to observe the room in action. To see how one process builds on the last, establishing the foundation for the next.

It is an incredibly intricate and deep foundation that, over the five days, moves each person from that place of walking into the room on the first day where the unknown is staring them in the eyes, to leaving on Sunday evening where all that surrounds and supports them as they stand looking into the eyes of their fellow travellers is Love.

It is one of the things I appreciate so much about the program. Each person in that room has gone through every single step of the journey as a trainee before asking someone else to take it. Every single person has experienced the fear and anxiety of awakening to the wonderment and the awe of coming alive to the truth of their own magnificence and capacity to live out loud.

In my staying involved in the program I believe I have given both my daughters one of the greatest gifts I could give them and me — My commitment to living my life awake and alive, in that place where Love is always the answer no matter the circumstance. And, in my staying involved, they have both stayed involved which means that my heart knows they have the tools and ability to live their lives out loud. My heart knows the choices they make in their lives are based on their strength of character, and not fear or anger of the past.

Mary Davis, who is the daughter of Choices founder, Thelma Box, and I were talking about how as my daughters and I healed from the trauma of the past, we have built a foundation where we are not constantly trying to deal with or run away from the pain of what happened in the ‘there and then’ but are instead, living in the ‘here and now’. In forgiving the past, shame and blame and anger and all the junk that hurt us has melted away leaving only Love to fill our hearts. In Love, I trust each of my daughters to live their own lives in grace. Knowing that each step they take is not founded on the fear of the past becoming the future, I know they have the courage, the strength and the self-love they need to take each step of their journey grounded in the truth of who they are, magnificence, incredible, amazing women of worth. In their truth, they have tools to handle lifes ups and down while staying true to their hearts.

It is a wonderful gift for my mother’s heart to trust and not fear. To love and not hide. To breathe and not be constantly running away from the truth to catch my breath.

the final good-bye

We gathered on the deck, sipped bubbly, laughed and shared stories of her exploits.

My summer 'do'.

Ellie the Wonder Pooch

Together, we travelled the few minutes to Ellie’s favourite park, walked down the hill to the river and cast her ashes onto the waters.

IMG_3200And the mosquitoes fed and the swallows swarmed and the river flowed and Ellie slipped away.

It was her favourite place to run, to swim, to sniff in the trees, to revel in the great outdoors — and to roll.

It was inevitable. Ellie would swim in the water, run back to shore, drop her body to the ground and roll. The sandier the better. it didn’t matter what you said or did, where she was, when she came out of the water, she rolled and squirmed and rubbed her back into the dirt.

A real treat when she got back to the car! The sand would collect in her coat and after she lay somewhere, would remain behind to remind you of where she’d been. She would eye me with such dismay when we got home and she would be forced to lie on a blanket by the door until her coat was dry. I mean, seriously? I have to stay here while you’re somewhere else in the house? Harrumph!

IMG_5557Last night, we walked along the shore, each of us looking for a heartrock. And when her ashes were gone, we stood in a cirlce, passing our heart rock from hand to hand until our original rock arrived back at its owner. And then, as one we threw our stones into the river, a final salute to the dog who lived the moral of a story I’d written the girls when they were young.

“Even a heart of stone can be warmed in loving hands.”

Ellie could melt anyone’s heart and warm them with her endless squirmy greetings.

Tamara had brought along two beautiful concrete hearts on which we wrote our farewells and then, hiked into the woods to hide in a shaded alcove for Ellie to rest forever more beneath the trees.

It was a loving farewell.

I am so blessed

I am so blessed

I feel so blessed and grateful. So many people whose lives she touched who came out to bid her adieu. Both my daughters and my step-daughter were there, C.C., Dejana who was with her when we first brought Ellie home. My friend Veronica who walked with Ellie and me down by the river, Laura, Erin, Caitlin and Tamara who Ellie was delighted to have living with us because it meant she got someone else to love on all day long and who she knew she could con into giving her more treats.

And when we got home, Al and Jane and Taylor and Tim arrived and we  planted the beautiful pottery dish Alexis and I had found just for her. In it, we placed a glass heart filled with her ashes, a poem and her tag.

What a wonderful send-off for a wonderful friend. And while I do not know who wrote the poem, I am grateful for their words.

Pawprints Left By You

You no longer greet me,
As I walk through the door.
You’re not there to make me smile,
To make me laugh anymore.

Life seems quiet without you,
You were far more than a pet.
You were a family member, a friend,
…a loving soul I’ll never forget.

It will take time to heal-
For the silence to go away.
I still listen for you,
And miss you every day.

You were such a great companion,
Constant, loyal and true.
My heart will always wear,
the pawprints left by you.

Good food. Good times. It’s all about family!

You knows those times when you wonder…  How can the weekend already be over? Where did it go?  Well… This weekend was one of them.

From a jam packed Friday evening at the Grandstand show at the Calgary Stampede, to a tour Saturday morning of Housing First facilities with Tom Mulcair, the leader of Canada’s NDP party, to dinner in the garden for 8 with my cousins from Paris, my step-daughter’s play, my eldest daughter flying in from Vancouver and late night drinks at a favourite restaurant with her and her sister and a couple of friends, to another night at the Stampede, the weekend flew by and it’s already Monday!

Where does time go when you’re having fun?

Can I just say it… whew!

It was fun. It was family. It was life and best of all, was having my daughter come home.

And… I am running late — which is okay. I have committed to giving myself space to be here, or not, this summer.

And in being here, I’m sharing a pictorial view of my weekend — family, laughter, good food, good times, sunshine and love. Who could ask for anything better?

Ellie's Lily

Ellie’s Lily

I planted the tiger lillies 3 years ago. This is the first season it’s bloomed.

AT The Madison with Tom Mulcair, Doug, George Stevens

AT The Madison with Tom Mulcair, Doug, George Stevens


Enjoying family before dinner

Enjoying family-time before dinner

Good food. Good wine. Good company - and speaking French!

Good food. Good wine. Good company – and speaking French!

The Fly-past.

The Fly-past.

Cowgirls and Cowboys

Cowgirls and Cowboys

A 96 year old woman taught me how to dance

The first thing she does when she sits down beside me is introduce herself and tell me that she is almost as old as the Stampede. “I’ll be 97 in September,” she says, her eyes twinkling brightly, her smile warm and inviting. “I’m only 5 years younger than the Stampede!” she adds with enthusiasm.

Her name is Riva. Petite. Energetic. Feisty. She doesn’t need a walker. She doesn’t need a cane. “I stay active,” she tells me when I ask her her secret to life.  “I’ve never met an opportunity to have fun I haven’t taken,”  and she claps her hands, laughs and adds, “And I always have fun at Stampede.”

For Reva, these are not just words. The day before, she was up at 5:30 am and out of the building at 6 to volunteer at Kids Day at the Stampede. “We served 32,000 people breakfast,” she tells me. “You should have seen all the excitement! It was such fun.”

“They’ve already booked me for next year,” she says and adds confidently, “I’ll be there.”

Last night, my mother’s senior’s centre held its annual Stampede bash. About 150 residents and family turn up for the event which includes not only the prerequisite beans and other Stampede fare, but also a band, which is why Riva is so excited. “I love to dance,” she says. “Always have. Even as a little girl.”

And dance she does. Her feet are tapping under the table the moment the band begins to play. “Would you like to dance?” I ask her and she doesn’t hesitate. She is up out of her chair and on the dance floor in a flash leaving my youngest daughter, who has joined my mother and me for the dinner, trailing behind her.

Reva is indefatigable. She keeps in step. She moves her feet, turns around, claps, laughs, shakes her hips, throwing her whole being into the dance. And in between songs, she doesn’t really sit down as much as simply walk to her seat, take a breath and a sip of water only to return to the dance floor for the very next song.

I look around the room where there is proof that women do outlive men by vast margins — the audience is mostly women. They sit in their chairs and all of them are smiling at Riva as they watch her dance. Their bodies are moving to the beat of the music. Their feet tapping under the tables, their hands tapping on the table tops. Country and rock merged together. Nothing too fast but all of it with a good beat to follow. I ask a couple of women to come up and dance but mostly they demur. Some of them tell me they used to dance. One woman shares she’s won 6 ballroom competitions. Another tells me about dancing with her husband at their wedding.

One woman, Zaza, gets up with her walker and takes a few spins on the dance floor. Her smile lights up the room.

But few get up to dance.

A couple of the men get up to ask someone to dance. One of them asks my daughter. When they finish, he comes and asks me. “I can’t believe you’re her mother. I thought you were sisters.” I laugh and we take a turn on the dance floor.

“I’m Claudio”* he says. “Are you Italian? French?”

“My mother is French,” I reply.

“Of course. I should have known,” he says with a big smile. “The most beautiful women in the world are all French.”

And then he asks me my name and how to spell it. Without missing a beat, he tells me the meaning of each letter of Louise.

“L is for Lovely. O is for Original. U is for unique and I is for Intelligent and Irresistible. S is for Sexy and the E is for Exceptional.”

“You’re quite the sweet talker,” I laugh in response.

And he laughs back and tells me of his journeys around the world where he worked in the oil patch and never ever wanted to settle down. “I married once,” he says. “But it didn’t last long. The world is filled with too many beautiful women and I couldn’t just stay with one.”

“And here I thought I was special,” I say with a laugh.

“You are!” he replies. “You’re a woman and every woman is special.”

Definitely a sweet talker.

It was an evening of big smiles, big hearts and big words too!

And through it all, I was enchanted by a 96 year old woman who reminded me that age is simply a number. That life doesn’t happen on the sidelines. It happens when we get out of our seats, and get moving. It happens when we throw ourselves into the dance and live it up for all we’re worth.

I think I might just sign up with Reva to volunteer for next year’s Kids Day breakfast too!

Move along pardner. It’s a Stampede!

It is Stampede time in the city. Cowboys and cowgirls strut along hay bale lined streets, ‘just out of the box’ pointy-toed boots shining, belt buckles gleaming amidst freshly pressed jeans and denim shirts. Smiles greet strangers, and visitors become your next best friend beneath the brim of white stetson’s and SmithBilts.

The wild west is alive on every street corner. Wrangler dudes stage shoot-outs. Rodeo ropin’ cowboys roam the streets eager to rope in their next conquest and square dancin’ couples jostle up against hungry patrons eager to chow down on pancakes and sausages being served up from the grill. Early each morning of this 10 day extravaganza, there’s a pancake breakfast in every quadrant, empty parking lot and back deck of the city. There are barbecues and corn roasts too. It’s a party and everyone’s invited. Yeehaw!

And amidst the flowing skirts and denim jackets, the pearly whites and firm handshakes, a homeless man shuffles through the crowd. His shirt is grimy. His jeans torn. A once white sock peeps out from a hole in the left toe of his scuffed up sneakers. “Got any spare change for a coffee?” he asks a stranger standing in line for breakfast. Before the patron can respond, a police officer walks up and takes the homeless man firmly by the shoulder. “Move along sir. Move along.”

It is the constant litany throughout the city during this time of high spirits and foot-stompin’ good times mixed with copious amounts of whisky and beer.

Move along sir. Move along.

There are watering holes in this city that will make 75% of their annual sales during the ten day drunk that Stampede brings to their giant tents and sawdust covered floors. Parties go late into the night. Revellers stumble, drunk and disorderly through the streets. For the police, it is not an easy time as civic intolerance for social disorder takes a back seat to the myth ‘it’s all in the name of having a good time’. Little business gets done during the Stampede’s wild 10 days though many unions happen outside the marriage beds when partners stumble, giving rise to divorce ‘Stampede style’ and a baby boom in April.

It is, in many ways, how I imagine the wild west once was. Lawlessness running wild on the dust-covered trails leading west into the long prairie grasses. Cattle grazing and cowboys ranging, rifles tucked into a saddle flap, tie-down ropes on the ready to bring in an errant calf. It was fight or die for subsistence in a harsh and unforgiving landscape. It was make it or break it in a city growing up in the shadow of the Rockies, where men scrambled for the next big rush and the women folk struggled to put down roots.

And everyone was after the same thing. A head of cattle or black gold gushing from the earth. Take your pick, it was hard, gruelling work and it was all there waiting to be captured for the man willing to bet his stake on a winner take all gamble to be the biggest cowboy on the range.

And at the end of the day, cowboys and cowgirls, oil men and their ‘women folk’ met under the stars, beneath the big tent, on the dusty floor of a barn and partied up like there was no tomorrow. Ever day was a no holds barred quest to survive against a harsh environment where there was no place for the down and out. ‘You make your way pardner. You pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you grab hold of that ring and hold on ’cause you’re in for a wild ride!’

In a city high on the excitement of staging “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”, there is no room for poverty amidst the prosperity eagerly strutting the heart of wild west for the over one million visitors who will take in the festivities over the ten days. This is Big Business and Big Business has little room for little brothers strugglin’ to make ends meet on the other side of the street. Down and outs are bad for business. We gotta move ’em along.

And the man moves along, only to return when the coast is clear. “Got any spare change for a coffee?” he asks before moving along, to the next and the next and the next.