The Subtle Shades
I used to be a thoroughly urban girl. I grew up in a city centre, in the very first high-rise condominium in Toronto. Now, it seems almost impossible to imagine that city (or any city) without clusters of condos of endless variety, but I am that old. I took the streetcar to grade school and later cycled to college. I lived within the confines of a few square miles, and felt nothing missing. And when I did, I travelled. I also spent summers at camp, learning to hike and build fires and sleep under the stars. Perhaps this is what sparked my connection to the outdoors and open spaces. Or perhaps I inherited some genetic memory and familiarity from my Ukrainian peasant ancestors. Whatever it was, I developed an easy and familiar relationship with the country and my 2-century home.
Now in all fairness, that didn’t come right away. I started cottaging when I began dating my husband nearly 10 years ago. (For my non-Canadian readers, cottaging is a legitimate Canadian verb for going to the cottage or cabin or camp or lake, usually on weekends and summer vacations. Not to be confused in any way with the British term.) We had a pristine view of the water and the forest across our spring-fed lake. The other side opposite us was Crown land (AKA public land) and therefore had no cottages. It was beautiful. Full of fish and fowl and fauna. When it was really still, loons would glide by with their babies close behind. Blue herons would fly low as they headed for the marshy areas around the corner. Raccoons and deer and mostly unseen black bears were our neighbours. Except that I didn’t really notice.
I would sit on the dock in a lounger with a cold beverage by my side - along with a laptop, cellphone, and landline (in case of bad cell reception). While I enjoyed the environment, I couldn’t really see it. Everything seemed the same. Green, and quiet, and lacking in stuff. I was so used to all the city stimulus that I was numb to the more subtle shades of nature. In the city, I was always in a reaction. With so much to filter, absorb, black out, let in, be taken by or protected from, I felt like Wonder Woman working her silver cuffs, deflecting bullets and trying to be a superhero. Pretending that I was tough, that I was cool, that I was only impacted by things I allowed. A question began to seep into my mind. Who would I be if I wasn’t in a reaction all the time? It was the emerging answer that had us sell our city house and move to the country.
It’s been 5 years now, and we’ve just renewed our mortgage. We love it here more today than when it was a brand new adventure. There is still so much to learn about life and the land and our relationship to nature, but I notice a lot more now. About my surroundings and about myself. When we arrived, I began to unwrap the person I hardly knew. Someone I hoped I was, but was too over-stimulated to let out and let breathe. I’m quite a bit calmer than I used to be. I let my sensitivity show more, I no longer feel in a race to get anywhere, and I actually think for myself. Ialso have the luxury of having lived on both sides of the urban divide, and that gives me perspective and compassion and understanding from different points of view. It also gives me choice.
I’ve been going into the city to do Christmas shopping and make a few appointments these last couple of weeks. I am still an urban girl when it comes to the finer things. But now I appreciate them more. I am dazzled by the sophistication of it all. The shops, the arts, the restaurants, the people. But I see it all like a kind of deep sea tourist, exploring a strange and complex underwater world of fascinating coral reefs and beautiful tropical fish. In my daily life, I no longer feel like I’m navigating dangerous waters, focused on survival. At home, I swim freely in my little pond, and I have a sense of place and who I am. I still find sharks beautiful and majestic, but for now, at least, I don’t want to swim with them.