One Life to Live: A Wish List

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

This post is a little off topic and not exactly related to gardening. Please indulge me as I go off on a completely decadent, shoe-gazing tangent for a moment. Ignoring is also an option. Please also note that I wrote the bulk of this before my birthday last week so the tense is a bit off. One of my goals way back when was to stop spreading myself around and to bring more into this site, even if it doesn’t always fit neatly into the “GARDENING” package. I do try to stay on topic most days.


It’s my birthday this week and it’s got me on the subject of how I want to spend the year until my next birthday rolls around. 37 is feeling like a big one for me. Like I am poised for a lot of change that I can’t yet determine. When I was younger, I imagined that 33 would be my best year, ever: an ideal age. I imagined that by 33 I would be, “…kicking so much ass!” What that said for the years after 33, I do not know. I only managed to get that far in my imaginings. Back then, my version of kicking ass meant feeling comfortable with myself, feeling accomplished in my work, and not putting up with or eating anymore shit. That is how Gayla at Age 33 looked to me. And then 33 rolled around and it was the year of the TV show that went wrong and other perceived failures, and I spent the remainder of the year carrying around a lot of anger and feeling generally AWKWARD. So 33 wasn’t all that to be sure.

Last year I turned 36. I suddenly felt OLD. It was like I had stepped over an invisible line and whoa, what the hell just happened there? I now have a prominent streak of grey hair on my left side, which I’m really not complaining about. I like it enough as far as grey hair goes. It’s just that sudden physical changes are a bit freaky. I lost a lot of friends at a young age so I became aware of the very real possibility of death and dying earlier than most. But last year I suddenly became more conscious of my mortality in a physical way. That said, I don’t mean for this to be a diatribe on growing older. For the most part I like getting older and look forward to what’s yet to come. I very much appreciate everything that experience has taught me, for better and for worse. I like the person I am now a hell of a lot more than the person I was at 25. Or 30. Or at 33, come to think of it.

I am much closer to achieving that ideal I imagined I’d reach at 33. But it’s a slightly shifted ideal, one that has changed as I have changed and my desires and expectations have matured. I enjoy things more. I find more joy in little details and in the work I do. I’m much less afraid and much more able to see what scares me and push against it effectively. Or still be kind of screwed up about certain things and be okay with that, knowing I’ll figure it out eventually. Or not. Because I’m also a bit more comfortable with my fallibility. I am more conscious of my needs and better able to say no to the things I need to say no to. And saying no doesn’t feel so much like I’m strapping on a pair of boots and going to war as a result. Because I’m also more comfortable with the fact that some people won’t like it when I do. I’m mostly okay with being perceived as a “bitch” sometimes. I hate the subtext behind that word. Being able to say no when I need to has also opened up the possibility for saying yes more often, too. At 36, going on 37 (now going on 38. yikes), I do feel more at ease with myself and accomplished. And I do believe that I am in fact eating far less shit.

All of this to say that my pal Karen recently celebrated a birthday. And on her blog she talks about making this the Year That She Becomes A Woman of a Certain Age. I was very inspired by the post and the way she has defined her goals for the year. Several years ago, when I kept a photoblog that was also more or less a journal, I wrote a list of “Things I Want to Do Before I Die”. It was a vague list as I did not expect that I would accomplish all of those things in my lifetime. It was more or less a guide post for what I might like to do and a kick in the pants to make some of them happen. Inspired by Karen (again), I thought I would resurrect that list and continue it here, the week of my 37th birthday. Some items from the old list have made it to this one and a few have even been accomplished. I did not include anything too personal, because I do believe in keeping some aspects of my life private, and I very much doubt you’d care to know regardless.

Not surprisingly, a good many of the items on my list have to do with travel, food, and PLANTS.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
  1. Take the train across Canada stopping in small towns to take pictures. I so want to see the grasslands.
  2. Visit the Prairies (and walk through some tall grass): This was inspired by the film Days of Heaven, one of my favourite films of all time.
  3. Visit Point Pelee: And see the cold hardy opuntia. I am weirdly obsessed with this.
  4. Road trip through West Texas: Another obsession is scrubby desert landscapes. This is in part a result of the landscapes seen in the film No Country for Old Men.
  5. Learn how to make a steel drum.
That’s me, standing at the Boiling Lake. Photo by Davin Risk

  1. Hike to the Boiling Lake But I’d love to do it again. The Valley of Desolation was the best place I have ever been, hands down.
  2. Go to the Arctic: I want to see Tundra plants and find out what a full day of light feels like. Do not want to do this during the winter and all-day night.
  3. Write a kid’s book.
  4. Meet & photograph Jamaica Kincaid in her garden.
  5. Meet & photograph Lynda Barry
  6. Meet & photograph Nigel Slater
  7. Meet & photograph bell hooks
  8. I’m now adding Dionne Brand to this list. Her book, “In Another Place, Not Here” is blowing my mind. But then I think, what will I say to these people whose work I admire? Who have changed my life by writing about theirs (even if it is fictionalized). A most likely scenario: I get teary and tongue tied, followed by embarrassment and ending in humiliation. Perhaps this is a nice fantasy more than anything.
  9. Drivers’ license: I’m part-way there! Of course, I wait until this little thing called Peak Oil… That said, I don’t plan to buy a car.
  10. A good pair of red boots to wear.
Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
The Ethnobotanic Garden in Oaxaca, Mexico.

  1. Go back to Oaxaca
  2. See a floating market in Vietnam. [Update: In 2011 I visited one in Thailand, but it was a sort of fake one built specifically for tourists.]
  3. Make a little cottage/outdoor work shed. This coming from someone who doesn’t even have a backyard. I have a backyard now and it came with a little shed so I don’t actually have to build one. Not right yet, anyway.
  4. See a leatherback sea turtle: When I was a kid I wanted to be a Marine Biologist specializing in this specific sea turtle. I decided long ago that it wasn’t for me, but I am still fascinated by the largest and most endangered sea turtle in the world.
  5. Eat fresh cacao
  6. Have my own cacao tree. And then I could make my own coco sticks. That would be awesome. This of course means I have to have a house and some land in the tropics. Oh dear.
  7. Get a food dehydrator. I did this, although it passed by in a rather uneventful way.
  8. Make a solar cooker. Been talking about doing this for years.
  9. Go on a botanical tour in another country. [Update: Thailand 2011.]
  10. Attend the Chelsea Garden Show. I don’t know though. Everyone speaks so highly of it but then I wonder if this is just what garden people are supposed to do. Is it for me? I guess I have no way to know…
  11. Give a garden tour (I have an idea in mind).
  12. Scuba dive.
  13. Make tamales.
  14. Grow a garden in another climate. I really want to have that experience.
  15. Live in another country for a time.
Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
Polaroids I took of the view from our bedroom window in Dominica.

  1. Live with an ocean view (I did this for 3 weeks in Dominica, but it doesn’t quite count). I could see the ocean from my porch but it wasn’t exactly accessible.
  2. Turkey! The country. If I told you where this obsession comes from, you’d laugh at me.
  3. House, fruits trees, chickens, garden. But then I think I’m not cut out for the country. Not permanently, anyways. I mean, I can’t even drive a car!
  4. Live in a home that has really good light.
  5. Write a memoir-type book.
  6. Make a cozy and inspiring workspace. [Update: The one I have now isn't too shabby.]
  7. I LOVE MARKETS! Visit markets/farmers’ markets/fish markets/roadside stands in 50 cities – So far: 1. Austin, Texas, USA 2. Oaxaca, Mexico 3. Puerto Escondido, Mexico 4. Toronto, Canada 5. Vancouver, BC, Canada 6. Columbus, Ohio, USA 7. Portland, Oregon, USA 8. Roseau, Dominica 9. Oistens, Barbados 10. Niagara (area), On, Canada… I think there have been others in smaller towns over the years. 11. Chiang Mai, Thailand 12. San Diego, USA
  8. More printmaking: I miss it.
  9. Make a photo book.
  10. Have another gallery show: It’s been too long.
  11. Find my biological father: This is a rather loaded and private topic (although I’ve said before that I come from a long line of “out children” and I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of it), but I put it in a public space in case he comes across it (and is still alive) and wants to make contact. He knows my name and that I exist, but I don’t know his. Have I just set myself up to receive email from a bunch of freaks claiming to be my “daddy”? Probably.
  12. Find my half sibling/s.
  13. Learn to play piano.
  14. Make my own garden pots on a pottery wheel.
Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
Goats in Cuba. The strange neck contraption is to keep it from taking off through a fence.

  1. Milk a goat.
  2. Take a month long trip WITHOUT email as a responsibility…. 2 weeks… 1 week… 3 days?! Okay, 1 day? GAH!
  3. Go on a RETREAT.
  4. I need more comrades to share work experiences with. My day-to-day working life is very solitary. (Working on it.) [People have emailed to ask about my work situation so am editing to add that the solitary is because I spend a great deal of time writing now and I need to do that in a pretty solitary way. I am easily distracted by noise and other people. It's more that I am seeking comrades to compare war stories, etc with... people with similarly strange careers.]
  5. Olives on a tree in Italy. Greece is cool too. Would be especially fun to harvest them.
  6. And then help make olive oil!
  7. Go on a flea market/thrift store road trip. Further proof that I really need to pass my driving test.
  8. Hug the Tule Tree.
  9. Design my own fabric.
  10. Ducks!
  11. Try 50 new cheeses – Admittedly I have tried at least this many in my life without documentation. One can never taste enough cheeses.
  12. Build an outdoor clothesline. with an old fashioned metal pulley. Man, I love those things.
  13. Fly to Las Vegas. Rent a car and drive through the Mohave Desert. More desert obsessing. More need for a driver’s license.
  14. Joshua Tree National Park.
  15. Explore a proper tidal pool in Northern California. [Update: Did this in San Diego in Jan 2012 so I am counting it.]
  16. Buy land.
  17. Visit Osaka.
  18. More mineral baths! – I visited 3 locations in Dominica and dipped just above my knees in St. Lucia. A nice way to end a day.
  19. Grape stomp. I grew up in the Niagara Region (wine and fruit) and yet I’ve never done this?
  20. Make dandelion wine. I think about this every single spring since I first heard of it as a kid.
  21. Visit 25 water falls: So far 1. Niagara Falls 2. Ball’s Falls, Ontario 3. Falls in Quebec when I was a kid 3. Emerald Pool, Dominica 4. Middleham Falls, Dominica. 5. Guama, Cuba
  22. Teach photography to kids.
  23. Spend Day of the Dead in Mexico. I have to admit that I am mostly eager to see the flowers.
  24. Eat sushi in Japan.
  25. Keep bees.
Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
  1. Did I mention chickens?!!!
  2. Jump really high on a trampoline. Possibly even flip.
  3. Keep a fish tank again.
  4. While we’re at it, it would be nice to build that pond I’ve wanted since I was a kid.
  5. Fireplace.
  6. Helicopter ride.
  7. Grow a vanilla bean. My friend David has done this! Hand-pollinated, fermented, the whole thing.
  8. Find out as much as I can about my lineage – Working on it.
  9. Participate in a Tales from the Green Valley type project I love this shit.
  10. Go east to PEI. – I have never been east of Quebec City. I am a terrible Canadian.
Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
  1. Go back to Cuba & catch up with some people. My trouble is once I’ve been to a place I form a bond with people or the place itself. And I want to go back again and again, yet I also want to see new places, too.
  2. Take a writing class with Lynda Barry. She conducted a class in Toronto when I was literally days from my manuscript deadline for the last book, and needless to say, I was not able to attend. Missed my chance and have regretted it since.
  3. Learn to play one song really well on the piano.
  4. Learn to speak a second language fluently. Probably Spanish since I seem to like it best.
With the half-sized travel guitar I got for my birthday. Plus a “Learn to Play Folk Guitar” book/dvd and Leonard Cohen songbook. My left middle finger is killing!

  1. Learn to play “Famous Blue Raincoat” on the guitar. This came on spontaneously, and so I got a small travel guitar for my birthday. Thanks to Davin and Chris! To me, it seemed like being able to play something, anything, on the guitar is a life skill I should have. Of course, I did not consider the whole callus thing…. playing guitar is painful! But on a serious note, it comes as no surprise that I mentioned music twice on this list. I always enjoyed singing and performing as a kid even though I am convinced that I am tone deaf or close to it. I’m not going to give you my life story, but to explain, I was discouraged enough to spend the rest of my life believing that I did not inherit any musical abilities and should focus on the visual only. Consequently, I’ve cut myself off from a little piece of me and something that I enjoyed. Who cares if I suck at it? Can’t a person simply take some pleasure in an activity regardless of their proficiency? I say yes.
  2. #84 has me thinking that I would like to see Leonard Cohen perform live. I missed my chance with Nina Simone and have regretted it since.
  3. Visit Baltimore. Yes the city. In America. Don’t ask me to explain.
  4. Taste Absinthe: The sad thing is, I once had enough wormwood growing to make my own. I bought a bottle of a brand called Taboo that is made in British Columbia. It was really tasty. I really like it, but wow, potent.
  5. Try the cat poo coffee. I am told you can order a cup at a restaurant in Toronto for fifty bucks. Totally crazy, but one day I’m gonna order a cup and split it with 4 friends. A friend bought me a small package for Christmas. Thanks Jen!
  6. More spaces reserved for…. I guess I’ll figure out what goes here next.
Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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26 thoughts on “One Life to Live: A Wish List

  1. I love lists and I love Karen even more. I feel you on 36 being a pivotal age. That is when I noticed I was “older”. Now at 38, I am going through some pretty major changes. Would not change an thing if it meant living a boring ass life. I also started a life list and really need to get on doing some of the things on it. May you have a grand adventure working on your list.

  2. Play that guitar, Gayla! The callouses come much more quickly than you expect, and music, whether you’re a virtuoso or a beginner, is good meditation.

  3. If you’re not developing callouses quickly enough, try putting a little super glue on your fingerpads. It helps until you build your own, I promise.

    If you ARE going to go to NorCal and see some tidepools, do some research, and DO IT SOON. I went to the coast last summer (Originally from San Francisco) and many of the tidepools I remember visiting as a child are now dead. A few snails, some barnacles, maybe plant life, mostly garbage. They’re dying fast, so go see them now!

  4. Courtney: That’s awful! It’s another thing I need more license to do. Not easy to get to those tide pools by bus. I tried a few years ago.

  5. Love your list. Maybe we could go and stalk Lynda Barry together on a road trip, kill two birds with one stone. Shes such a hero of mine too, would love to take her course.
    Fishtanks, ponds, fireplaces, I’m so there. Water and fire. Good things.
    I also endorse doing the music and singing whether you have “talent” or not. Humans were meant to do this, that is why I hate the American Idol culture that shames people for singing when they don’t have professional voices.
    Like the fact that your list is open and unfinished. Enjoyed getting to know a bit more of the non-garden side of you, Gayla.

  6. Bre: They are mostly fun to-do’s, although highway driving still has me shaking in my boots. You’ll notice I did not add things like “Work harder!”

    Sarah: I am for it. But you’ll have to drive until the Province gives me the legal thumbs up.

  7. Gayla, You will love being able to drive. Do it as much as possible and you won’t be afraid for long. Lots of items on your list could be on mine, especially the traveling to see plants ones. May you enjoy checking items off your list and adding new ones – and happy birthday a little late!

  8. Oh, Gayla! I love your list (may have to steal a few to add to my own list). Might I suggest adding Multnomah Falls in Oregon, USA and Angel Falls in Venezuela? I’m from Oregon so the first recommendation is totally biased and getting to Angel Falls is an adventure on its own, but totally worth it.

    I have my own “Life List” and have been thinking rather deeply about it these last few months. Most of the items on my list I find superficial and silly; thank you for the inspiration to add some items with more meaning. (Complete list is on the right column of my blog, if interested). I want to keep adding to it as things strike me.

    I’m 29 years old and only recently (like two weeks ago) obtained my driving license. Unfortunately, I now live in a city that is dependent upon car ownership, but it’s not a permanent gig. Best of luck to you!

  9. Matt: It’s more about the making than the eating. I’ve actually had a few different versions on various trips.

    Casey: I’ve never been to Moose Jaw!

  10. Wow, this post is timely for me. I’m consumed by the same thoughts, on important goals and mortality. I work in internet marketing and it’s so “gogogo” “nownownow” and so very “in the now” that I forgot about mortality. It was something I reflected on often, something that made me appreciate every little thing in life. For two years straight I forgot.

    It felt a little like heartbreak, which sounds stupid, but it felt a little like the first time you learn we die and that this beautiful thing called “life” doesn’t stretch on for eternity like a long summery dream. It really hurt. So now, I’m grounded again. Looking at REAL GOALS, not work goals, sales numbers, or lead numbers. I’m looking at the big picture of what to accomplish in life again. Maybe I’ll spread this wish list vibe to my own blog and reveal a goal list, too.

    I really appreciate you sharing your life list! Oh, and tamales are more fun to eat than to make! Now I’m so hungry for a tamale…

  11. Maybe it’s turning 37…I’m turning 37 in 10 days and I feel weird about it. I’ve always looked forward to my birthday and planned big back yard garden parties for myself. This year is different…but I can’t really explain it. Perhaps 37 sounds like I actually have to be a grown up, or maybe it’s because my doctor told me that a woman’s fertility drops again at 37 and I still haven’t had a child, or maybe it’s just the wierd weather we’re having. Hmmm…..

    How did you celebrate your Birthday Gayla? Any suggestions for me?

  12. I really enjoyed this post (and many of your previous ones.) I can relate to not having a driver’s licence – I don’t have one yet but really should get one.

    Regarding items 1 and 2 on your list: You would probably really enjoy reading “River in a dry land: A prairie passage.” by Trevor Herriot. He writes about the grasslands, the Qu’Appelle valley – it is a beautiful book

  13. Van: I don’t expect to achieve all of these things, and there are other things both personal and professional that I didn’t write here, but I found that it was good having that old list to look at every once and a while so a new one should be helpful too.

    Buttercup: I went out to the countryside to get away from work, get some quiet, and swim. Unfortunately it was too cold to swim. And OF COURSE it has been hot and humid since I returned! Ha!

    Lyse: Thanks for the book recommendations. Will add to my wishlist. I just purchased a ton of books new and used so I’m on a forced book diet until these are read!

  14. Belated Happy Birthday, Gayla.

    Yours is a life well lived with intention, creativity and meaning.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughtful reflections and this great list. I’m going to steal a few for my own wish list, including:
    -a botanical tour garden in another country…
    -a home with a good light and a clothesline…

    #84 – how wonderful for you to pursue this. I say YES, too.

    I hope you will continue to go off on tangents and take us with you. This has been fun.

  15. happy birthday & congratulations on the many things you have accomplished & the joy you bring to your readers–Sto Lat! (Polish wish: may you live 100 years !)

  16. I highly recommend the markets (mercado) in Lima, Peru. They are amazing and the produce is beautiful! Happy Birthday, I hope you smile more this year. :-)

  17. Love this website/blog. Long time lurker. I also have a very solitary job, and although I love the job, hate that my co workers are my Dad and his new wife. I work for my family’s winery in Missouri, Sainte Genevieve Winery. Maybe you should come stomp grapes, or we should take a photography class somewhere together. Call me crazy.

  18. Jennifer: Oh I’d love to go to Peru. Thanks so much!

    Tess: Now I can say I know a bit of Polish. This year I met a woman who was just about to celebrate her 100th birthday. And she did. Amazing!

  19. #86 – Visit Baltimore? I think that’s pretty cool. I live in the next county over and go there often. Although I will admit, I don’t see the allure. But I’ve been there so many times as well as Washington D.C., that I would be a little sick of it. But you know what? I bet there are a zillion great things about Baltimore that I just haven’t seen and don’t know are out there. …You’ve just inspired a light bulb..I’m going to do some research and try to uncover something I haven’t seen or experienced in Baltimore. I’ll add that to my life list that I keep in my head. People take so many things for granted and perhaps being so close to Baltimore is one I’ve taken for granted. Hmmm…the wheels are turning. :)

  20. wow, you canadian folks are worth much more than a trip way up north. My paternal gramma was named emma pease and she came from three rivers in Quebec. my dad used to spend summers way up there and he loved playing lacrosse and in winter down here he played ice hockey. He claimed that only canadians played real hockey. Now that a terrorist lurks around every corner I have to get a genuine passport to enter the real world. I’m 68 and disabled and down here the world is getting to be a bit of a very lousy dream…if you ain’t rich then you belong in a ditch or at a tea party.
    but I read about your age. when I was 26 a friend and co-worker turned 33. I was shocked. How could anybody get that old. but at 68 I have learned: keep on trucking. and really enjoy your thirties, forties, fifties but get ready for the slumping sixties. I once thought that sciatica, arthritis, lumbago which I think means a back out of whack. when one is 38 years of age one is a virtual spring chicken but with years of wisdom…don’t believe the silliness about age until you are really old.
    I really enjoy your gardening…every aspect of it; my gardening has been very much affected by illness but I keep filling my pots and keeping things going and growing. I am a king of weed growers and think its about time I try mulch; wonder if shredded newspapers (the be intermingled with straw. my compost piles result in stuff that is great…for certain weeds especially. and tho my roof is not flat and I can’t get up there, it is the perfect place to send a grandson or two up into the full sun and a virtual gardening paradise. thanks for this site and being canadian. john farrell

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