MY SHEROES #1 : AUDREY SUTHERLAND

Adventure, Parenting

 

Once per week going forward I’m going to share one of my “SHEROES”. The wisdoms of women who have shaped my thinking and hoed the path ahead of me.

One of my absolute sheroes and a woman who has had a huge impact on my attitude in the outdoors is Audrey Sutherland. As a single mother of 4 she took up solo paddling in her 60s and paddled over 8,000 miles of the Alaskan and British Columbian wilds, crossing gentle paths with bears and wolves and foraging her food as she went. I could write many things about Audrey, but I would love to share a list she wrote for her children that offers an insight into her extraordinary leadership as a mother. 

“What Every Kid Should Be Able to Do by Age Sixteen”

  • Swim 400 yards easily
  • Do dishes in a strange house, and your own
  • Cook a simple meal
  • See work to be done and do it
  • Care for tools and always put them away after use
  • Splice or put a fixture on an electric cord
  • Know basic information about five careers that suit you
  • Volunteer to work for a month in each of those fields
  • Clean a paintbrush after use
  • Change a diaper, and a tire
  • Listen to an adult talk with interest and empathy
  • Take initiative and responsibility for school work and home chores
  • Dance with any age
  • Clean a fish and dress a chicken
  • Drive a car with skill and sanity
  • Know and take responsibility for sexual conception and protection when needed
  • Know the basic five of first aid: restore breathing and heartbeat, control bleeding, dilute poisons, immobilize fractures, treat for shock
  • Write a business letter
  • Spend the family income for all bills and necessities for two months
  • Know basic auto mechanics and simple repair
  • Find your way across a strange city using public transportation
  • Be happy and comfortable alone for ten days, ten miles from the nearest other person
  • Save someone drowning using available equipment
  • Find a paying job and hold it for a month
  • Read at a tenth grade level
  • Read a topographic map and a chart
  • Know the local drug scene for yourself
  • Handle a boat safely and competently (canoe, kayak, skiff, sailboat)
  • Operate a sewing machine and mend your own clothes
  • Operate a computer as needed
  • Do your own laundry

I highly recommend her books PADDLING HAWAII, PADDLING NORTH AND PADDLING MY OWN CANOE. Or for a quick fix, READ MORE ABOUT AUDREY on the Patagonia blog HERE

MY SONS

Childhood, curiosity, Manhood, Parenting, Philosophy

Be kind always, even in the face of fear, even if you feel repulsed. Prepare to be amazed and you will be. Be interested in your surroundings. When you are interested you can care. When you care you can find meaning. When you find meaning you can act. When you act, you actualise your purpose. When you actualise your purpose, you find secret tunnels to happiness.

Do the thing you think you cannot. Try the things you haven’t tried. Step beyond your comfort zone. Fear bows to experience. Experience creates confidence. Confidence gives you the power to follow through on your ideas. Bringing your ideas to fruition can help people. Helping people makes you humble. Humility makes you radiate love.

This will make me proud.

This will make you happy.

This is all I want.

These things I hope to teach you my sweet boys. Incrementally. In moments as otherwise meaningless, as holding a snake.

CEILINGS

Philosophy

There are no ceilings. Go outside. Look up. There’s nothing between you and the stars…

It might sound like a few throwaway lines, but most quotes are the finely tuned distillation of broad wisdoms and deep revelations. There were a few key pieces of advice that were said to me before I left that meant everything to me out on the river. In the humdrum of society they sound like cliches, in context, they’re life saving and defining creeds. This was a powerful one of my own I had out on the river, and is one of the messages I’m so passionate about sharing. I thought I’d share the backstory of it to give it some context within the everyday, so it can be similarly useful.

In 2015 when the idea for the paddle came to me, there was so much razor wire around my perception of possibility and what I thought I was capable of. I didn’t fully understand just how high and thick I’d erected those barriers, but once I started cutting them away in the wild and on the water, shedding that skin of conditioning and the robes of projections of others, I came alive in ways I couldn’t believe. Walls and obstacles came crashing down, as I suddenly realised how completely mind created they were. A fish doesn’t know it’s in water, and yet, the water influences the entire existence of the fish. Humans are the same. To live our best, most fulfilled, most passionate lives, to move toward self-actualisation, we need to know what the hell is in the water. What’s influencing and controlling us, because these forces are strong, and we can be completely oblivious to them, finding ourselves easily off course.

I wrote about night number nine of my expedition in my post Shadow of Stars, and the power that overcame me that night, but there’s a prequel to that post and it was three nights earlier on night six. In the tangle of motherhood I dreamed longingly of peace and quiet, of a fire built with my hands, lying beneath the diamond canopy of the night sky. On night six of my expedition I got it. Exactly the way I had dreamed. The nature of the previous six days had been serious navigating, with very little pause for enjoyment. Without realising I had completely slipped into that reptilian brain, that place of survival where instinct and intuition reign supreme, where senses are heightened, and the civilised mind falls silent. Mentally, I had barely come up for air as I fought my way through the thick tangle and gnarled wooden forests of the river.

This night, I had an apprehension of safety, and for what felt like the first time, I could look around and take in my surroundings for enjoyment and not purely survival. When I slowly raised my eyes to the stars, I gasped, dropped my head and immediately covered my eyes. I didn’t look back at the night sky until several nights later, night number nine. The magnanimity of the universe I lay within was too beautiful to take in without my loved ones. In that moment I realised that it is possible to be too wild. I became human again, and I was completely in love with it. In that moment I learnt the meaning of balance, and that regular pattern interrupts can negate radical change.

The following three days were probably the most challenging of the whole trip. Making it safely through to the lower gorge section, through its numerous pounding waterfalls, was euphoric and enormously relieving. That night was the night, after falling asleep at sundown every evening, except for the one night the stars were too beautiful to see, that I laid beneath the night sky unafraid. Worthy. Real. Until the sapphire of the dawn began to glow over the ridge. That was the night I earned the stars. That I let the universe press down upon me, and let every star fall into me. That was the night that I truly realised there are no ceilings.

We can always go outside and look up. No matter how overwhelmed or disempowered we feel, however young or old, however lost or found, there’s nothing between us and the stars. When the myopia of civilised life and the striving to maintain status quo causes us to become caught up and consumed, the magnanimity of the universe is always on hand to remind us that for all our fiascos, we are but a speck. And that even as a collective, when viewed from across space, we are little more than a twinkle among a billion other flickering spasms of glitter. This is precisely why, in a universe of synapse, dust, matter, atom, energy, particle, when the vacuum of insignificance and futility threatens to blackhole us into oblivion, we are as stars. Wondrous, limitless, exploding potentialities. If only we could be less blinded by our own light.

PERCEPTION

Adventure, Philosophy

“A young girl sits in a classroom, staring out at the river. The river gleams, twists, coursing past the boxed-in schools, the boxed-in minds. Trapped in her classroom, she sits, and stares, and pours all her isolation, all her resentment, into the river below her. Years later, the girl is Hayley Talbot, mother of two, and she is ready to meet the river again…”

[Lucy Stone for Travel Play Live Magazine, see the full article here]

I’m so passionate about challenging perceptions, especially in young minds (that tend to create their realities and accept them as gospel). We construct our truths with habits, values, and beliefs and one way or another, if we couple this with the auto-programming of society, we find ourselves trapped by our convictions. I was SO strong minded as a young teenager. Nothing could have crow-barred me out of the mental chains I shackled myself in, out of sheer will and contrarianism. But I’ve always loved a challenge. And if someone had have challenged my perceptions by causing me to see and think of things a different way, by doing something a little differently, by going at the same set of circumstances from a different angle, I’m sure it would have caused me to reassess my own views and my own comprehension of my capabilities. I hope that it would have caused me to try new things. To question. To seek my purpose. And to gain the confidence from accomplishing the things I set my mind to. To grow beyond those things and to try new ones. Bigger ones. This is what drives me now. Because on this river that I hated as a teenager, this stretch of water that I found so undulatingly boring, I had the adventure of a lifetime. And it was under my nose all along. This same body of water that remained manifestly unchanged taught me that perception is everything.

If you change the lens, you change your life.

FRAMED

Philosophy

Fear often gives way to a heightened sense of awareness or intuition in the moment. Just like nervousness can have the same symptoms as excitement. If we re-frame thoughts and feelings early, before they take off like wildfire to a place we can’t control, its possible to keep superfluous energies in check, or to re-channel them positively to be useful for the task at hand. I remember being a young singer sometimes nervous before going on stage. I would feel the feelings then smile and slightly bounce as I re-framed them as excitement to get on stage with my band and do the thing I love. If these monkey minds we have are going to take a stimulus and auto-produce a negative, we may as well consciously intercept and frame a positive.