Thursday, 29 January 2015

What's it Like to Live at Shekinah?

I have been asked this question a number of times in the last few months since my family and I moved in. As each new experience reveals itself I keep thinking how fortunate we are to be in a place like this. But what is it like? Many of you will know what it’s like to come and experience Shekinah, but living here is different. Before I answer that question let me give you a bit of context, let me tell you a bit about where I have lived before I came to Shekinah.

I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa which is a city of about 7 million people. A big, busy place with traffic that would put anything Saskatchewan could ever hope to offer to shame. I always knew that Johannesburg would not remain my home forever, I needed to be closer to the outdoors, to peace and quiet and to fishing. I left South Africa in 2006 and downsized my habitat to the quaint little city of Galway, Ireland. 60 000 neighbours seemed much more to my liking, and when you live along the coast and in one of the most beautiful countries in the world there isn’t too much to complain about. Except for the rain, oh the rain... I recall a report on the radio one morning that in County Galway (which you can drive across easily in about 45 minutes) it had rained every day for the last 111 days. It can rain there!

I met my wife in Galway, and she brought me to Rosthern. About 1500 people now and certainly now my habitat was becoming more to my liking. I arrived in July and couldn’t understand what people were talking about, the weather was wonderful and it wasn’t raining! I had heard about -40C, actually when I found out I panicked because I had already agreed to come to Saskatchewan. After deciding that it must be possible to survive because Saskatchewan does have a stable population I figured it would probably be OK. It was and it is OK. I will take -40C over the incessant rain and crazy traffic and stress any day! When we moved from Rosthern out to a farm a few years ago I truly began to appreciate the space and the beauty that we have here. The key to surviving winter here is to figure out how to enjoy it, how to embrace it and look forward to it. Winter here is too long to hate and this province is too beautiful not to enjoy it 12 months of the year.

So when my wife, my two boys and I moved here a couple months ago it truly felt like this was the place I had been looking for and moving towards. Every day we take in new things and appreciate what a beautiful area this is and what an incredible backyard we have. Being able to sip a morning coffee and look across the river valley or barbecuing while the sun sets and the light fades behind the trees really makes me happy. So far we have only really experienced winter here, but what a winter it has been! The temperatures have been great and it has allowed us to go out and explore.

Even through the colder periods I have already had my eyes opened to the abundance of life that is here. My oldest son, Alex came home from school one day with a pine cone that was covered in peanut butter and bird seed. We hung it outside the dining room window to see what would happen. I always knew that there are still birds around in winter, but we really aren’t used to seeing them. Now we have a family of chickadees that we feed outside our window. We have seen four at one time eating off the feeder and not just during the nice periods of weather but also on the coldest days.

Then there is Rabby. Alex named him and he is the rabbit that lives under our deck. He seems to be getting less skittish but it is great to spot him when we do. It makes for a great activity to try and see if we can see Rabby when we are going out or coming home from some activity. From our dining room table we have also seen deer and owls. From the deck we have heard wolves and coyotes, lots and lots of coyotes! We go for walks and see what tracks we can identify, we play, we explore and, as a family, we feel truly blessed and excited to be here and to be a part of Shekinah. 

Monday, 26 January 2015

Grouse vs. window

Hi Folks,
Curtis here. I am going to use this blog post to tell the story of the most interesting thing I have seen at Shekinah. It is a story that begins somewhere around the end of November...

It's Monday morning around 8:30. The sun hasn't really come up yet so it's still pretty dark. I make my way down to the Timber Lodge to check things out and put some stuff away that we had set out for a group of quilters who had occupied the Timber Lodge for the weekend. I go in through the back door and, as I look up to the end of the hallway, it looks as if those quilters had left glitter all over the floor of room 22. "How inconsiderate", I thought to myself. They could have at least asked for a vacuum to clean up. As I approached the room and turned on the light I realized that it was not glitter but broken glass all over the floor and there was a pretty good sized hole in the window on the opposite side of the room. Oh, great. Somebody threw a rock through the window. Should I call the police to come check it out? No, I will start by getting Katie down here to help clean up and we will figure out what to do. So I radio for Katie to come down and, 
in the meantime, I put my shoes on and go into the room. On the far side of the room from the broken window there lies................. a dead grouse. No feathers lying around so we can rule out any flapping around before death. This thing died instantly after crashing through the window. The triple pane window! And there is glass everywhere. On the floor to every corner of the room, on the bottom and top bunks, under the beds, out the door, and around the corner. This grouse obviously flew through the window with considerable force. Which leads us to our next question: how did a grouse, with its stubby little wings, build up enough speed to crash through a triple pane window 20 feet off the ground? That we may never know the answer to but I suspect it worked its way up the trees opposite the window using small flights and then dive-bombed the window from above. 

 However it accomplished the feat, it left a huge mess. Katie and I spent over an hour in there picking up pieces of glass and vacuuming. Then we took some pictures and closed up the window with cardboard. Later that day, Kristy (former executive director) and I went back and spent another 45 minutes or so cleaning up with a slightly more powerful vacuum and found glass that Katie and I had missed the first time around. It is really amazing how far that glass could go! Someone suggested to me that perhaps somebody just broke the window as a prank or by accident and placed a dead grouse in the room to cover up their actions. I like the creativity in the answer but there is no way that grouse didn't come flying through the window at breakneck speed. 

Fast forward to Jan. 23rd and our replacement glass finally arrives. And it is a good thing because the weather is nice for installation and that cardboard over the window was not great at holding back the cold over the weeks that it was required to do so. I believe it was very lucky that nobody was sleeping in that room at the time the grouse went through. I imagine that would cause quite a scare.


Friday, 23 January 2015

Happy Birthday Shekinah!!

Hello hello!
On the one hand, I feel extremely inadequate being the one to write a birthday blog post to Shekinah. But on the other hand, I don’t think there are a whole lot of people who love birthdays more than I! Birthdays are wonderful. They are happy days where, for some reason, it’s easier to see things with a positive light. And events always seem to have more meaning if they happen on your birthday. For example, if a stranger buys you a coffee (or tea, or chocolate milk) on any old day of the year, that’s great. But if a stranger buys your coffee, or tea, or chocolate milk on your birthday… It is a life event that will be remembered for years and all credit is given to the universe for recognizing your birthday. The same goes for if you hear your favorite song on the radio. At least that’s how I see birthdays.
With that in mind, maybe it’s no wonder you may not have known today is Shekinah’s birthday. I think, when most people visit us at camp (whether it be during summer camp, with your school, or on a retreat of some kind), you get the same kind of birthday feel: happy days, life feels lighter, and it’s easy to see God’s work in a positive perspective. As you leave, you will most definitely remember that day for years to come, giving credit to the bigger plan for bringing you here, and thinking “it was good”. Or maybe you won’t describe it quite as I have.
Regardless of how you describe your experience at Shekinah, there is no doubt in my mind that if you are reading this, there is a good chance you are now thinking fondly of Shekinah and wanting to tell her to have a happy birthday! Or wanting to catch up with Shekinah and reminisce about the good times had. Or wanting tell her just how happy you are that she’s been a part of your life. And here’s the part where I feel inadequate writing the happy birthday post, because I certainly wasn’t around for the early years of Shekinah’s life. This year Shekinah turns 36, which means there are roughly 20 plus years that I can’t reminisce about. And while I could spill out stories from the past 10 years, I feel as though I do that too often, and I want to give you an opportunity to remember and share your own stories. So whether you choose to celebrate Shekinah’s birthday by remembering and giving thanks in solitude, posting a story or message in the comments below, or coming out to spend time here (Shameless plug for Winter Fun Day: February 16th!!), know that all of us are wishing you a very happy Shekinah’s-Birthday!!
Take care for now,


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

So what do you do in winter?

Hi Folks,

Curtis here. I will be the third contributor to this blog. My official title at Shekinah is maintenance and school program director. The way I see it, this blog is a place to share stories of things that happen to us who are the Shekinah staff, as well as to keep the Shekinah community up to speed in terms of what is actually happening here. 

I get that question a lot: so what are you actually doing there right now? And I suppose it is a valid question. While it is pretty easy to picture what dentist, or mechanic, or accountant, or student might be doing on any given day, it is very difficult for people to wrap their heads around what a Shekinah staff member could possibly be doing full time for the entire winter! So, perhaps, as this blog unfolds, you will gain some insight into what we spend our time doing way out here as the seasons pass and groups come and go.

When it hasn’t snowed in a while and the driveway is in decent shape, I tend to focus my attention on other projects that could be considered improvements to Shekinah. As an example, late last week I took on the project of building a track setter for cross-country skiing. As you may or may not know, Shekinah purchased 15 new pairs of skis last year along with poles and boots of many sizes. This was a pretty exciting acquisition for us and I remember appreciating how significant this upgrade was from our aging fleet of mismatched skis and boots that had seen better days. The only thing that we were wanting for was a place to ski. Of course, Shekinah is criss-crossed with numerous trails but the prospect of breaking one’s own trail through the snow to go exploring seems daunting and potentially exhausting. And to keep up many trails this way would figure to be a massive effort on the part of the Shekinah staff. So last winter we managed to keep one trail with a nice track on it (thanks to Chris) by just skiing over it every time it snowed and it was indeed a nice ski along the creek and out to the far end of North Boundary trail. 

Near the end of the winter (still in 2014), I tracked down an excellent snowmobile aged about 20 years but in remarkably good condition that Shekinah ended up purchasing. And with it I planned on setting a nice ski track on any trail that was wide enough for me to drive down. Fast forward to January 2015 and the groomer I built is a fairly simple design built out of 1 sheet of ¾” plywood, some plastic puck board, a chain for towing, and 2 runners underneath made from scrap 2x4. The process of grooming involves loading a bunch of weight into the sled and then driving around the trails. I did a bit of a test track in the field last Friday and it appears to work pretty well although it turns out a lot of weight is needed to compress the snow properly. Right now, the areas I plan to set track are: a practice loop around the field, out to North Boundary trail (although turning around at the end could be tricky), Whitetail (for those who want to try a hill), and probably Wolf Willow trail. And I hope that guests of Shekinah can put the new skis to good use and take full advantage of God’s beautiful creation.

So that is an introduction to me although it really wasn’t very introductory so in closing I will foreshadow my future blog posts by telling you a bit more about my interests. My area of post-secondary study was applied plant ecology so I am really excited about conservation of native plants and ecosystems and my hope is that we at Shekinah can be responsible with the 287 acres of land that we have and maintain a high level of diversity for future generations to enjoy. In the summer, I try to get out canoeing when I get the chance and I enjoy taking people canoeing on the river at Shekinah. My first paying job at Shekinah was in the summer of 2010 as a camp counselor and I look forward to that time of year when the camp is filled with kids and delicious food is accompanied by good friends old and new, and songs of praise are enthusiastically lifted to God every morning and evening.