Monday, May 30, 2011

Fetching Summer

Waking up to about a million birds outside my window this morning, singing the (6am!) praises of sun brought the realization that maybe, just maybe, it will be dry today.
Here is a Native Indian tale of a little boy for whom summer is a necessity and with whom I can completely relate!

Saq, saq, so long ago. The People are living in twenty wigwams, down below the mountain. Above them on the mountaintops, are the camps of the Bear Persons. Above them on the mountaintops are the camps of the Kukwesk Persons. But the People live down below.
They are working all the time. They hunt moose, they hunt deer and fox and all kinds of animals with furs. The People make canoes and moccasins and baskets, snowshoes and tools and the wooden cradles for carrying the babies. The People are working all the time.
And the people die. When they die, their kin-friends smoke their flesh and cover them with birch bark, all sewed up, so that not a hair can fall out, so that nothing can get in. Then they would bury them. Their kin-friends would put sticks of lamkisn foxfire, near them, so that they would have light in the dark.
Down below the mountain is a family of the People. The old man dies. The old woman dies. All that is left are the children: one daughter, three older boys, and a small baby boy. This little boy grows to be about four years old, and one evening he is talking to his sister. He is saying, "Where is our mother? Where is our father?"
And at last his sister tells him,"Our mother is dead. Our father is dead." She tells him about death, she tells him what happens when death comes to the People.
Now this little boy is getting very sad. He is lonely for his mother and his father, and he begins to cry. This little boy cries for two days without stopping. And at last his sister says to one of his older brothers, "You had better go up on the mountain, and fetch Muini'skw. Fetch one of those Old Bear Women. Tell her we need her to come down and make our little brother stop crying."
So the older boy climbs the mountain. He finds one of the Muini'skwaq, and he says to her, "Come down to help my sister. The baby will not stop crying about our mother and father."
"E'e," says Muini'skw, "I will come."
That Muini'skw comes down off the mountain. She leaves her own two little behind up there, and she comes to the wigwam where the human child is crying. She takes that child up in her lap and begins to rock him.
Muini'skw is singing, singing to the human child. She sings, "Pa pa pa, pa pa po."
And that little boy finally falls asleep. But int he morning, when he wakes up again, once more he begins to cry. It is the middle of winter, and all across the drifts of snow and the patches of ice around that camp of the People, everyone can hear that little boy crying.
"Make him a little bow," says Muini'skw to his older brothers. "Make him some little arrows to play with. Perhaps that will dry up his tears."
So they get wood and shape it. They smooth it and shape it. They make a tiny bow and string it with sinew. They make him some tiny little arrows. But still this child will not stop crying. Muini'skw is rocking him on her lap, and finally she says to him, "My little son, what would make you stop crying?"
"I want to be warm," he says to her. "I want it to be summer. If you made it be summer, with little birds and flowers, the I could stop crying."
Muini'skw calls his three older brothers. Tities, Blue Jay. Kwimu, Loon. Kiunik, Otter. She calls them, all three of them and tells them, "You must go and fetch Summer to your younger brother."
"How shall we do this thing?" they are asking her.
"I will tell you," says Muini'skw. Muini'skw has Power. "You must take three big hide bags. You must travel far to the west, to the place where the Sky is burning, where the air is hot. You must ask Sky to help you."
Those three brothers are journeying far to the west. It is getting hotter and hotter. The air is burning, the Sky is burning. These three brothers open their hide bags.
"Help us, O Sky," they call out. "Give us Summer. Give us Nipk to take home with us."
Now a Voice is speaking to them. It is Sky. Sky says, "Close your bags quickly. Tie them up tightly. Go to my wigwam over there, and take a few of the plants you see with you. Take a pair of birds of each kind. Take all these things home with you, and when you get there, open your bags again. All my hot air will come out. If you have snow, it will go. If you have ice, it will go. Where ever you are, there will be no snow. Kesik, Winter, it will be gone.
"After all the snow is gone," says Sky, "take out all the little plants and birds and spread them around. Then you will have summer."
These three boys have made a long journey, and now they have come home. They open the hide bags and all the warm air rushes out. The snow begins to melt. Soon it is gone. The ice is gone. Summer has come to the People in the camp below the mountain.
These three brothers make a nice garden, with all those plants and all those little birds, nice little summer birds. Pretty little flowers begin to bloom. And the child comes out of the wigwam and begins to smile.
Old Bear Woman, Muini'skw, she says, "Now I must go home. Your little brother is smiling; he forgets about his mother and father. He will not cry anymore."
That little boy learns to use his bow and his arrows. The People stay in that camp at the foot of the mountain. They go hunting everyday, and that little boy grows up.
That little boy grows up. He learns, he becomes a chief, he wears the shell medal. His People have canoes, they cross the ocean, they explore and see many things.

And now, maybe I can stop crying. Thank you to whomever finally fetched summer!

**This story was taken from a book called "Stories from the Six Worlds: Micmac Legends" by Ruth Holmes Whitehead**
**Drawing taken from "Little Thunder", a film from the National Film Board of Canada**

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Inner Jogging ..

I once lived in a house in Cabbagetown with two male roommates. I was in my graduating year at CCNM (The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine) working part time and grinding away at 12-hour school days. Inevitably, this reduced my schedule to absolute necessities: sleeping, coffee and brushing my teeth. More often than not, on those nights when I arrived home with my head hung low absolutely defeated by my life, I was lured to roommate #1's computer screen with the promise of something I "HAD TO SEE" on YouTube. In seconds, we would be in hysterics with laughter, much to (sleeping) roommate #2's dismay!
Laughing has been referred to as "Inner Jogging" because of the physiological process that accompanies it. Not only do your facial muscles contort but muscles throughout your entire body: your vocal cords, your diaphragm, your jaw and your accessory shoulder muscles, vibrate in preparation. Before your laugh is in full swing, a blast of air enters your trachea flinging any unassuming mucous against the walls of your windpipe. When your laugh finally erupts, it can be travelling as fast as 170 miles an hour, producing a strange, often disjointed, cackling sound. In the throws of a full-bodied laugh, your body bucks like a bull: you torso flexes, your arms flail - often to slap the table or your thighs - your lachrymal glands produce additional tears that let loose through the open ducts. You puff and wheeze like a marathon runner, your legs become wobbly and you eventually end up writhing on the floor or couch trying to both stop the experience but looking for any reason for it to continue: it's physiological pandemonium really!
The process includes an increase in metabolic rate, which leads to burning more calories; an increase in respiration, temperature and circulation, which leads to a toned cardiovascular system and an increase in cellular oxygen profusion (more oxygen circulating in the body) with an increase in carbon dioxide exhalation. The additional oxygen in the lungs discourages bacterial growth and the typical cough that often follows a laugh assists in clearing out any residual bacteria after the influx of oxygen. In addition, there is an increased secretion of adrenaline, which makes us feel good all over for up to two hours after our laughter has subsided! More immune modulators are produced when we laugh in conjunction with decreases in stress hormone production: these two together prevent us from getting sick!
Because laughing causes forced contraction of so many muscles of the thorax and abdomen, post-laugh muscles have achieved a more fatigued and relaxed state than they would have otherwise.
And for those individuals out there with digestive complaints, laughing can also stimulate the production of enzymes that act as natural laxatives (my apologies to those of you who are regular).
Doctors Ornstein and Sobel suggest that "most of us do not take laughing seriously enough" and that as hardworking, responsible adults (I am not sure that they are talking about me specifically), we often wrongly associate laughter with child's play. Perhaps what health care providers of all disciplines need to do is to incorporate a joke as part of their scripts! After all, considering all the health benefits of laughter, I might not be here right now if it hadn't have been for roommate #1 and YouTube!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Because I am a Girl ..

Congratulations to all the women who participated in the Women's 5km Race today in Markham to support "because I am a girl" (Plan Canada). Plan Canada organizes gifts of hope through ethical giving; "giving real dollars to real projects that change real lives". The "because I am a girl" event was started in 2010 on Mother's Day to celebrate the ability of women to come together and financially support the educational needs of future women in Africa. 2011 marks the second successful year of this event.

Because of the dangers of travelling the distance to school, only 5% of teenage girls in Tanzania actually make it to class! As little of $10 000 can build a school residence in Africa allowing teenage girls to access their right to education. After raising $20 000 at the first 5km event last year, event organizers Sara Sterling and her daughter Maddy continued the momentum. The proceeds to this years' event will work toward building a second school residency in Rwanda.

I was honoured to be involved in this event this year: a few of us from the clinic went over and volunteered by giving all the tired participants some post-race massage. It was wonderful to be involved with such a fantastic event and to be around a wonderful group of women and girls contributing their resources to support other women many miles away. All and all: a fantastic Mother's day!

For more information on Because I am a Girl, please go to:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Doing Vegas

Sometimes life is like a dream: from busting my butt at the clinic until 10pm finishing up paper work to waking up and finding myself in a plane that's landing at McCarran airport, it all seemed more than a little surreal.

Having thrown a few items into a carry-on by midnight, I closed my eyes for a 4-hour rest .. a 4:30am flat tire on route to the airport meant scrambling to reach my departure gate on time. Meeting my flight and connection with adrenaline intact seemed to be an appropriate way to land in Vegas.

I can't tell you much about my experience there - after all, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas but, instead of my usual rambling research, let's talk a bit about Vegas culture. Vegas is blatantly excessive: from the 80 ounce flasks of tequila-rich margaritas to the full-sized roller coasters that line the strip. From breast enhancement surgeries that have inevitably led many women to require weekly chiropractic adjustments to male dancers that have abs so defined that you would swear they were painted on, Vegas is a place where people live out fantasies, where people can pretend to be something they aren't in real life and where this is completely acceptable.

After a day of exploring, I began to question the evolution of Vegas: how did this desert town become a haven of debauchery?

Its gone something like this: Vegas has always been a city for nomads, beginning with Paleo-Indians who would often use the valley as a rest stop. In 1829, Vegas was officially "discovered" by a European scout named Rafael Rivera, who came upon the valley and praised its abundance, from the lush wild grasses to the plentiful water supply. In the late 1800's, minerals including precious metals were discovered in Las Vegas which led to the beginning of the mining industry and perhaps the perpetual association between Vegas and anything glitter! The completion of the railway sealed Vegas' fate: Vegas became a railway town between Salt Lake City and Southern California. Soon, Vegas was known to provide more than just potable water to passers through: divorce laws were liberalized in the state of Nevada making "quickie" divorces (after 6 weeks of residency) available. Men waiting on these divorces stayed at "dude" ranches which offered wonderful opportunities for (then) illegal gambling and premature romantic rebounds. The construction of the Hoover Damn brought even more money into Vegas which supported the development of debauchery .. however real debauchery didn't actually start until after the second world war. In 1945, Vegas became the largest tourism and entertainment employer in the US however, it wasn't until 1957 that Vegas had its first topless showgirls show.

Fast forward to 2011: Vegas remains the place where you can get married and divorced in a matter of hours, where you really can find your wildest fantasies and where you can start out a rogue and leave a millionaire (or vice-versa).

So why exactly was I there? Well my friends, some things in life must remain a mystery!