The weather in Ottawa is finally reflecting summer temperatures, and the mood is festive with preparations for Canada’s 150th birthday at a near- frenzy level here in the Capital. I’m feeling very reflective about this beautiful country of ours, and certainly the excitement around these celebrations feeds my reflection as well as my desire to hit the road.
If I’m honest, though, it’s not only festivity and excitement propelling me to travel. It’s part of it, and certainly it was wanderlust that planted the seed so many years ago. The longing for a shake-up, an adventure, a challenge. But now there is a bit more to it.
I’m realizing that although there are experiences I’m moving toward, there are also those I’m moving away from.
Canada is known for being a peaceful country. Strict gun laws, superfluous politeness, Mostly Safe Streets and Universal Health Care. But last weekend, I, and many other downtown residents woke at 3:00 am to gunshots in our neighbourhood. It’s not a regular thing, to hear gunshots here and likely a “first” for the vast majority of us. A week earlier, I moved someone off my front porch who had passed out there. On Easter weekend, I broke up a fight in front of my house, fearing someone would be seriously hurt.
Yesterday, while cleaning the van in the parking lot next to my apartment, a fight broke out in an apartment above. Threats were issued and a large glass ‘something’ was thrown over the balcony, crashing 20 feet from where I was going about my (until that moment) pleasant business. I took cover under the carport until the fighting moved indoors then called the police and scurried home, leaving this business to professionals. That was the third time I’d felt compelled to call police since November.
I’ve always been a bit of a country gal. Aside from a short period in downtown Toronto when I was in my late teens and a year in Ottawa in my early 30’s, I’ve spent most my life in rural settings. I grew up on a farm in Eastern Ontario and graduated from a small town high school in a nearby small town. In my early 20’s, I bought property with family on a Gulf Island on the coast in British Columbia, and lived in an Airstream trailer, building a cabin out of timber we milled ourselves. Later, as a single parent, I raised the kids in a village of 400 souls in Prince Edward County, where their right of passage was to jump from the bridge into the Mill Pond. Like me, the kids both graduated high school in a small town. I don’t regret a minute of the years of peace, or even the sleepy gossip that was a part of life there.
When I faced health-related crossroads in my life two years ago, I joined my kids here in Ottawa where they were both at university. It’s been wonderful to be close to them. I needed that. I needed them. I had been feeling quite isolated in small town Ontario without a vehicle. I needed medical help that was difficult to find there. So Ottawa brought great gifts. I had two awesome kids living within blocks of me. I received excellent health care. I enjoyed the vast sprawling bike and walking paths that followed canals and rivers. There is a great transit system. All of that to say, Ottawa has some really lovely bits that are not lost on me. I also reconnected with someone I had not seen in 15 years; rediscovering and reinventing a friendship that has been a true blessing. It’s a reconnection I can’t possibly see as accidental or coincidental. So, thank you Ottawa for these gifts.
I am, however, missing rural Canada. I miss quiet mornings. I miss lakes, oceans and the open fields of the countryside. I miss stepping outside at night to see a star-filled sky. I miss farm stands and horses at the side of the road. I miss barn dances and auction sales.
Despite the many exciting things going on in the Capital this Canada Day, I have decided to drive to Wellington, a little but vibrant hamlet where July 1st is a gentle, rolling celebration of all the rural aspects of being a citizen of amazing country. There will be a street dance and face painting and local music, and despite being away for many years, there will be people who remember me from the time I lived there.
I’m not dissing Ottawa, or city living at all. I’m not. I was a huge fan in my early 20’s, living in Toronto, and like I’ve said, Ottawa has given me many gifts this time around.
It occurs to me I am not only being pushed and pulled at the same time – toward adventure and away from city living – I am also travelling in large loopy life circles. Visiting and revisiting places and people and ways of being. Moving toward, away, and then toward again.
And like the writer T.S. Eliot expresses, perhaps the best gift of all is to see the familiar with new eyes. Perhaps this is the true spirit of adventure. I also suspect that after a 6 month period of exploration in rural Canada I will return to Ottawa, and see it once again, for the first time.