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IMG_0417oSpending an evening with Dr. Jane Goodall…the… Dr. Jane Goodall is not something that I would have ever guessed that I would be doing. But really, at this stage in my life, I should stop trying to predict what amazing things may be included and just enjoy every moment.

I have a photographer friend, named Michelle, who with a group of her friends decided to sponsor a fund raising event for the Jane Goodall Institute as part of Dr. Jane’s current cross-Canada tour. It was in Ottawa last weekend.

I have another friend, Janis, who thought we should go. Now this friend is about to complete her pilot’s license so she really thought we should take her plane and just do it! Susan, her flight instructor, was game and we waited with great anticipation to see if the weather would cooperate.

It was off. We were driving. It was on. We were flying. And so it went all week long, until Saturday morning around noon when Susan called and said we would be leaving Stanhope Airport near Haliburton, Ontario at 14:30.

Janis and I were just pulling into this small cottage-country airport when Susan was taxiing to the house that poses as a terminal. Well, we were just planning an overnight in Ottawa but from the pile of luggage sitting on the tarmac waiting to be stowed,  it looked like we were expecting to be grounded by a late spring snowstorm.

JGo-shoot-2698-2Janis and Susan ran through the pre-takeoff drill while I found my seat belt and fiddled with my headset. Susan handled the take off on a short runway with a crosswind. I just gawked around as Canada spread itself out at my feet. Janis then took control. I reflected on the fact that learning to fly had once been on my radar too. I never made it happen but Janis is doing just that. Being a pilot is pretty cool!

JGo-shoot-2702At 1500, 2000, 3000 feet, one can see a lot! I had forgotten.  It was a bit gusty but we primarily had a tail wind or a wind off our starboard side for the uneventful but nevertheless thrilling hour flight to Carp.JGo-shoot-2885-ps-2 Janis and Susan kept up a steady stream of conversation. They identified lakes and highways as we moved along at about 120 nautical miles per hour. Since I was totally in trust mode, I spent my time photographing whatever came into view.

I live in such a magnificent country. I am always amazed. Lake after lake moved through my view. As it has been a rainy spring, in some places the still bare deciduous trees appeared to stand in mid-lake. JGo-shoot-2888-ps      As we neared Ottawa, traffic was light on Highway 417 and old log homesteads stood out in the farmland around Carp.JGo-shoot-2790

We started our descent into a country airport at Carp. To my untutored eye, the runway appeared longer than at Stanhope but a crosswind was still in play. We taxied to the gas dock. Janis and Susan completed the protocols, JGo-shoot-2825gased-up the plane and were in the process of choosing a site for tie-down when I returned from exploring the terminal area in search of a person, a taxi stand, a phone booth…anything….which would get us from Carp to our hotel on Terry Fox Drive.

In my wandering, I spoke with a gentleman who was sitting in his car waiting for friends to arrive. He became our “Sir Galahad” as he generously offered to take us into town. It was a lot further away than we had anticipated!

It restores my faith when I am the recipient of random acts of kindness. In the end this stranger’s generosity knew no bounds as we managed to forget an important item in the plane and he made yet another trip to retrieve it for us. How lucky could we be?

The reason/excuse for this journey to Ottawa was to see Dr. Jane Goodall. We had about an hour to munch snacks and change before heading to the farm where we would spend the evening in a family atmosphere with an amazing person.

The hosts were gracious, the home lovely, the silent and live auctions and book sales a huge success. But the greatest part was the opportunity… the opportunity to meet, talk with, listen to and ponder the life and accomplishments of this amazing primatologist and environmentalist. At seventy-nine, a fragile but confident Jane spoke eloquently and flawlessly of her life in Gombe, the observations of primate behaviour that won her worldwide acclaim, and her relationship with her beloved chimps. She spoke of the role of her mother who throughout her life encouraged her curiosity and without whom she would not have been able to go to Africa as a young girl. She generously shared her personal and professional life, painting the picture of a woman who followed her dream and never believed that it was not possible to achieve.

Her message was strong and she made certain that the four young people in the group, aged seven to eleven, understood how they could participate and contribute through her worldwide children’s program “Roots and Shoots”. It was clear. They are the future and  she wanted them to know that they could follow and achieve their own dreams.

“Every person has a role. Every person matters.  Never give up” is Dr. Jane’s mantra.

I examined the items for silent auction, drank wine and marvelled at how far this was from Gombe, Jane’s African home.

I bought her book “Reason for Hope”and stood in line to get it signed.  I knelt down beside her as she sat on a couch autographing her work.

I have never been much for intruding into the lives of famous people. I have always sort of studied them from afar realizing that meaningful relationships, at least for me, rarely evolve between strangers in this type of context, so why pretend. Nonetheless, not since my doctoral graduation ceremony when the Chancellor of the University of Toronto, spoke to me, personally and closely, amidst thousands, have I been touched by a person’s ability to communicate directly and sincerely. In an instant, communication was truthful and two way. As I reflect on that moment, in my mind’s eye, I can see images of Dr. Jane conversing with her chimps.  I wonder how much Dr. Jane learned from the chimps and how much they learned from her?

We took a cab back to the hotel on darkened country roads on yet another route at yet another price. It wasn’t late but we tumbled into bed and at least for me, visions of chimpanzees danced in my head.

We woke to a hazy but sunny Sunday and after a quick breakfast headed to the airport. Weather reports suggested that there would be stronger winds later in the day but we had time to get back to Stanhope under the wire.

The taxi driver left us at an empty terminal and we walked the tarmac to the tethered plane. In most of my experience, airports are busy places. This was like a shopping mall parking lot after hours.

With a mighty heave, Janis, Susan and I  pushed the Cessna onto the tarmac and climbed aboard. Janis took us up and we circled before heading out on our planned course to Stanhope. It was glorious.JGo-shoot-2820

The rivers and trees and lakes reached to the horizon. I tried to imagine what this view would be like to someone from an arid country. There is water everywhere.JGo-shoot-2719-2

Snow hugged the shorelines and in some cases great plates of ice lay suspended mid -water, waiting to sink. Evergreens fringed the lakes and the barren deciduous trees made the hills look like they had brush cuts.


More or less over Elephant Lake, the turbulence became uncomfortable and I discovered that passengers don’t get something to hold onto in this size of plane! The pilot and co-pilot didn’t seem to notice as they had a firm hold on the overhead struts. The notes on the back of the seat in front of me reminded me to have my table secure and in an upright position. There was no table!

Well, it may have just been me, the most inexperienced of our group, but really, I didn’t like the bumpy part! The positive way of looking at the last fifteen minutes of our flight would be to cherish my most unusual images of the interior of the plane and the blurry ones of the terrain that stayed below us!

We had left Ottawa at 8:40 and were back at Stanhope by 10:20. Susan brought us to the terminal, off loaded our stuff and took off for her home airport near Orillia. The adventure was over.JGo-shoot-2846

After coffee with Janis, I headed back to my home in Cobourg. It would take me twice as long to get the rest of the way home while covering just a third of the distance we had flown.

As I drove, I marveled at my lifetime of good fortunes and I thought about the inscription that Jane had but in my book. It says ”Brenda, Follow your heart,  – Jane Goodall”.

I am wondering where my heart will lead me.