December 07, 2006

A Place Called Home

I saw a mountain the other day.
It was on tv.
It was in the corner of the living room and I was on the other side of the room…so it was pretty tiny, relatively speaking.
But it made me breathe in deeply. Like I was there. I relaxed. I grinned.
I love mountains.

Probably because I grew up on a flat part of the Canadian shield (which is kind of like a mountain, only lying down and squished as a glacier slid by – this was during a bona fide ice age, not to be confused with a Canadian winter).

Now Toronto is nice – it’s not mountainous – though our house is at the top of a pretty wicked hill.
I started thinking about how I don’t actually belong to this place…I belong to the people in this place.
I started thinking about place. Place and its role in us.

I respond to places or I don’t.
Steve said he doesn’t respond to places.
And if you subscribe to this philosophy, I think that makes us dog people, not cat people…don’t tell the cats.

Actually, I think we just haven’t found our home place yet…that’s what I think.

So I thought some more – what places have touched me? Here are some places where my spirit has danced –

Here’s a given. The heart of mountain land - Nepal – exotic yes. Friendly and open and warm hearted too. I can still close my eyes and imagine the sun rising on Machupuchre, the mountain they call fishtail. I can still see the open smile people greet you with. The kids who run up and pose for your camera. It’s one of the world’s poorest 48 nations. I can still see the Buddhist temples in Kathmandu that help you feel you’ve figured it all out – in fact it’s that communion with place I think. Nothing has ever come close to the spectacular scenery I’ve experienced there. And on my trek into the Annapurna Sanctuary I learned the value of appreciating a hot shower and a Mars bar.

Vancouver – aaah…mountains and ocean. Vancouver has been dubbed a supermodel of a city by my friends who call it home – they claim it’s very pretty, but not very deep. But my spirit dances here because this is where my Auntie Joan lives – so I find wherever she is, I feel at home. And I can get an excellent cup of tea…and she’ll probably have some cake in the cupboard. Maybe fruitcake. Maybe iced with mountains of marzipan.

If I’m in Vancouver I head over to Lighthouse Park. From there I can see Bowen Island and think of a brunch we had there at the Tuscany Restaurant with homemade croissants, including chocolate, and wondrous lemon ricotta pancakes with scrambled eggs and glorious coffee – it’s worth the ride in the boat…

Anyway, at Lighthouse Park I can stand in the trees, I can feel the mist (it does rain in Vancouver, I’ve heard), I can smell the cedar, I can watch the seals in the water…it is just what it is, the way it wants to be, and I am a speck in nature’s dust trail.

My literal home – I mean the place where I breathed first - England. My Aunt and Uncle’s ancient and simple farmer worker’s cottage in Essex – a county that suffers from a lot of ridicule (Brits treat Essexers like Canadians treat Newfoundlanders, and Americans treat Canadians) but it’s not so bad. Plus it’s where my other blood is, my tiny extended family. And since I came to Canada as a baby I only discovered my family at age 8 - after mine had imploded. I literally shared DNA with these people – which if you’re a regular reader you’d know is a fine blend of deoxyribonucleic acid and orange pekoe.

My Aunt would fill us with her trifles and mincemeat tarts and pies…oooh her pastry and for me…her bramley apple pies. If nothing else, that makes England a green and pleasant land.

London in particular. I remember visiting Paris a few years ago and then heading to London and getting the contrast instantly. I love Paris. I get excited just walking the streets and looking up…I didn’t have the heart to get on the Metro because I thought I’d miss something. So I walked everywhere. Paris is another in the supermodel category – beautiful, glamorous, definitely haute couture - and it knows it. London is more in the old cardigan category – not so full of itself in the same way – confident, but with more personality, a history to die for…as many did.

Killarney Provincial Park – Ontario…there is a slope of pink granite high above George Lake where you can take your coffee at the end of the day, behind the campsites, to a sheer pink wall that slides a 100 feet down into the water. You can sit up top at sunset, and watch the sun go down behind the white granite hills of the La Cloche mountains. If you’re familiar with the Group of Seven impressionist artists, this is the park where they often painted and the landscape that you’ll see in the windswept fir trees and dramatic skies. I’m always happy there, even if I hear a bear.

I still get that rush of excitement as I near the sea. I mean, the real thing. I’m surprised I don’t have piles of buckets and spades stored somewhere, ready at a moment’s notice, at the whiff of salt in the air. I remember heading to the sea for the day in England – cousins, grandmother, aunt, mum, buckets, spades, and Action Man in his very silver astronaut suit (my cousin went nowhere without him - that's him drying off at my feet). We’d sit in the sand, backs to the wind, eating our sandwiches out of plastic wrap (or fish and chips in this case) and our tea from a flask (thermos).

There is only one place that has awed me through to my core in terms of age – of ancientness…and I caught the feeling in a fleeting moment, through a car window. The land was flat, the sun was scorching, the earth was its reddish, goldish, brownish self and one lone acacia stood off in the distance with its canopy feeding a cooling shadow under the tree…it was Kenya. It was old. It was the one place that seeped up from the ground through me how old this part of the earth is – like an inaudible voice.


I love being on the move. I was just thinking about how excited I get when I’m going somewhere – I should clarify, on land.
Not a great flyer. I do get excited about meeting people at airports – I don’t get excited by flying.
But boats, ferries, trains, cars, buses (until one I was in fell down a hill in Nepal)…I like the feeling of being on my way somewhere. One day maybe I’ll find the excitement in stopping. I’ll get that rush from finding my actual place in my place. But I don’t think that’ll be for a while – there’s so much to do/see/hear/and, of course, taste.

Vancouver photo from
Acacia Tree from

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