One of the first things we heard about life in Yellowknife, even before we moved there, was that it is a wonderful place to live, and that it also a wonderful place to leave for a while every winter. Recognizing wisdom when we hear it, we decided to take our first winter vacation this February. We spent quite a bit of time trying to plan a warm weather holiday, until we admitted the obvious, that we aren’t beach people. Instead we opted for a ski trip to balmy BC. I wasn’t feeling the need to get away at all until about 2 days before we left, when I suddenly realized I hadn’t been outside in the cold weather for several days, and I was darned tired of the grinding cold. When we left home it was minus 30 something (honestly I’ve just stopped looking, its always cold or colder) and when we arrived in the Okanagan it was a balmy plus 6. We realized we hadn’t been in temperatures of above zero since September!
So now we are at the end of our three week trip and heading home tomorrow. It been a fantastic break, and after hearing all the birdsong in the Okanagan, I’m not all that thrilled to be heading back to another 2 months of winter, and another 3 months of ice. So far today we’ve seen two regal male pheasants in the back yard, a flock of starlings, magpies, northern flickers, bald eagles, and heard the trilling of blackbirds, and the infectiously happy chatter of chickadees. It will be a little hard to leave all this life for the cold land, although I look forward to the spring of the north, which I imagine is simply bursting with life, compacted as it is to a short season of renewal.
We take back with us some wonderful memories and interesting observations:
Week 1 – Nelson BC: A Big Shot of Love.
Going away from a place for a while allows you to see it with fresh eyes upon return. I realized, once again, what a beautiful town Nelson is. It’s a collection of moderately sized heritage homes in various states of repair, nestled together on the edge of Kootenay Lake, and surrounded by incredible mountains. Yes, it is an amazing place to live, probably one of the best in Canada, if you like small towns, but funnily enough, I don’t need to live there right now. My head tells me it’s the best place to be, but my heart is calling me north. Strange. Seeing how lovely Nelson is helps me to understand that it is not the outside of a community that makes it a wonderful place to be, it’s the inside. The people you meet and the friends you make. And this can happen anywhere, of course. You don’t have to live in a beautiful, interesting, cultured town to have a great life there. (This, for instance, is why some people are happy to live in Las Vegas.)
Being back amongst our friends was simply amazing. I felt like I received a big shot of love from them, love that will sustain me for a long time, although I’ll certainly need to go back for more. My friend Kim says it reminded her of when her son was learning to play soccer. All the little kids ran around the field in a huddle after the ball – there was no spreading out to pass the ball around. To her, our visit felt like that – our group of friends spent all week together in a huddle around us.
I remember one evening about 3 hours into a pot luck dinner at Con and Linda’s. We’d had an amazing meal, great wine, lots of laughs and teasing, good conversation, (including the perennial favorite conversational topic, for some people, of light weight bike wheels), and during the after dinner post espresso lull I looked around at this assorted group of wonderful people. The energy in the room was of relaxed contentment – the guys were lounging on the couch, feet up on foot stools, looking over maps of past and future trips, there were a cluster of women around the table looking at photos of Kim’s recent trip to India, and discussing food. I’d just come up from a long conversation with Nic about how to finally take a good photo of the northern lights. There was a heap of dirty dishes and empty bowls were strewn about the kitchen. I was struck by the sense of a Christmas holiday – those times when you are relaxed, happy and well fed, and just being. There we all were, just being. Just enjoying each others company, another ordinary day, another ordinary meal, one of many great pot lucks, but really, it was extraordinary. These times may never come again. You cannot cross the same river twice.
We also dropped into the diner for lunch. That is, The Main Street Diner, where I used to go with Con and Ross after every long and cold and wet mountain bike ride. We’d sit at our usual table in the back and enjoy a fantastic lamb burger or a tyropita with Nancy’s homemade jam. It’s like that song from Cheers – “Some times you want to go to a place where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came”. As we ate, Nancy, who runs the restaurant, came out of the back, poured herself a glass of wine, and sat down for a visit with us. Somewhere over the lunch she offered me one of her mink coats, to keep me warm all winter. Just imagine that! Laurence brought out several tasters of red wine for Martin to select his favorite, and he made me a great double latte. I complemented him on how good it was, and he replied “It was made with love”. And Laurence knows that he is loved too. When his apartment building burned down a couple of years ago, and he lost everything he owned, lots of customers from the Diner helped him out financially. It was a shame to think of his snappy wardrobe going up in smoke, let me tell you. How far do you need to go to find a beverage made with love? I think perhaps this should be a serious consideration when we are deciding where to live. I think we’d all be happier, and live longer, if each day we could walk to a place nearby and have a coffee made with love.
As we were all out cross country skiing one night, I tried to understand why it was that being with this particular group of people was so satisfying. They are all such lovely and kind people, but there are lots of lovely and kind people in the world who I don’t need to spend time with. As I’ve said before, they are all heaps of fun, and oh so funny. But what is it really about these people – Kim and Brent, Ross and Diana, Con and Linda, Gerry and Marja, amongst others – that makes them my people?
I realized that we have done many things together over years and years, and so we have a tremendous shared history, as well as a shared love of outdoor adventures. But it more than that. It is, I’ve decided, that I know them all well enough to know how each one will react in any given situation, like for example, what Ross would have to say about Martin not waiting for the rest of us on a group ski, a situation that has been repeated oh I don’t know, every time we’ve gone out for a ski for several years?!? But it isn’t so much the knowing what they are going to say and do in any situation that is so satisfying, it’s that it is still so darned funny every time. Something about the knowing, understanding each person and their unique view of the world, understanding so well that we can poke gentle fun at each other in constant but new ways, celebrate that view of the world, something in that is the essence of friendship itself. It’s the knowing I think, seeing people for who they really are, and in return being seen, but always filtered in the beautiful light of love and friendship, so that being seen is always being seen at one’s best.
As we drove around town, out to the cross country trails, up to the ski hill, and even as we drove the 200 km onto the adventure of week two (stay tuned), I realized something new, which is that I had ridden every inch of every road and trail that we covered that week, on my bike, and with my friends. Every road brought up a memory of riding on it, in rain, in hot sun, in mud or even snow, perhaps feeling strong, perhaps nearly numb with cold, perhaps in dire need of some food and drink, most likely with a really sore butt after miles in the saddle, but always, always, in the company of a good friend, and always always having fun.
I’ll leave you with the memorable words to live by, posted on the espresso machine in Oso Negro, Nelson’s favorite coffee shop:
I want to be in love, drink good coffee, and ride my bike.