The Canadian Rockies are spectacular.
The bony plates along the spines of sleeping dragons, frozen in place under Jack Frost’s spell, curled head to tail in a pile of jagged peaks, the valleys formed by the space between their flanks. Dragon steam rising in the cold morning from the rivers made of their warm drool as they pull their snowy down blankets up over their shoulders and snuggle in to keep warm.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen snow, and even longer since we’ve spent any time in real snow. Skiing in New Zealand in July was a taste of the white stuff, but it’s hard to take it seriously when getting to the ski hill necessitates driving through a rain forest and past a chilly southern palm tree. That was snow pretending it was winter.
This, is real snow.
The kind of snow that falls in fat flakes and, when it lands, unpacks its carpet bags because it’s clearly here to stay. Snow that demoralizes a whole hillside of douglas firs, the poor fellows standing with drooping branches and a resigned look in their needles under what they know to be the beginning of the longest half of the year. Snow that turns to ice on the Trans-Canada highway and brings traffic to a crawl past a semi-truck that’s careened off of the bank and slid down part of the mountain. A tow truck is straining to haul the cab out. Winter grim-reapers stand about in neon vests holding “Slow” signs for the oncoming traffic which really translate to, “Watch out, you’re next!”
This is the snow that hangs heavy on clumps of red berries and brings to mind jingle bells. It’s the snow of Narnia: thick, lofty, whiter than white. I watch around bends in the mountains for Queen Jadis’ sledge driven by a sour faced elf. I wish for Turkish Delight. She manages to stay just out of sight. The Christmas lights we saw in Marlborough, Queensland didn’t look right. The ones outlining Golden, British Columbia, look perfect. The snow is the difference.
Ezra is begging for snow ice cream.
I haven’t had a chance to make it for him yet. Of course it’s best with a bowlful of fresh snow, preferably my Mom’s big metal bowl that we set outside when the first fat flakes begin to fall and watch fill all afternoon while we sip cocoa and play Scrabble. Any clean snow will do.
- Add a little milk
- Add some sugar
- Mexican vanilla is the best for flavouring, but use what you have
- An egg beaten in will make it richest, but not everyone is brave enough for that
- Chocolate sauce on top
- You’re aiming for the consistency of soft serve
Canadian children grow up on this. At least this one did.
My brother chided me gently for showing up without proper gear, as we cobbled together boots and rain gear for the children. It almost never snows on the coast where he lives, but the rain is ubiquitous and cold. It was the prime directive when we made it to Oliver, BC, to outfit the tribe.
We’ve been living in sandals and light jackets for most of the last couple of years. New Zealand necessitated winter coats, but only for about a month. Winter boots? What are those? Two weeks ago it was 35C and there was Hawaiian music playing in the background. Three weeks ago we were diving the blue waters of the Great Barrier Reef. The week before that we passed a sign, in the Outback, for the hottest recorded temperature in Australia. That day it almost topped 40C; nothing like the hottest day on record. This morning the thermometer says -24C.
I am cold.
As much as I appreciate the ability to hop in a plane and swap continents in a day, I don’t think we humans are really made for that sort of travel. My end of the gene pool hasn’t yet evolved defenses for it.
- The weather shift is a shock.
- The food shift is a shock.
- The people shift is a shock.
- The culture shift is a shock.
- We get sick, every time, even with preventative measures.
I am cold.
- Snow pants have been procured for children.
- Everyone has closed toed shoes now.
- Ezra has winter boots.
- Hats and mittens are on board.
We are geared up. Finally. Mostly. It’s only taken a week and a half.
The children laughed at me:
Bikini, underneath down coat, hotel towel wrapped around my waist and tall black boots jammed on my feet but flopping down around my ankles unzipped, as I streaked across the icy parking lot from our hotel room to the pool house, the siren song of a hot tub calling.
I am cold.
But, my heart is warm.
The Sztupovszky family looked a bit out of place this far from Thailand. Mike’s wearing a thick beard instead of a sarong. We ate hot pumpkin soup and apple pie instead of squid noodles. If we hadn’t lifted off for Asia we’d never have met these people: I can’t quite imagine that. Beginning our long push east with two days of laughter and late nights over a bottle of Goldschlager and apple juice with folks who, exactly one year ago, we were watching sunsets over the Andaman Sea with seemed a full-circle serendipity. Of course we made plans for “next time,” and perhaps a summer in Alaska.
Muywa gives the best hugs. My kids had to make me pack to leave. His boy was begging for us to stay. We didn’t even scratch the surface on the good stories. Our children laughed at the pictures of a 16 year old me pushing a 24 year old him around on a frozen pond and posing, unsympathetically, over his leggy figure sprawled out on the ice, unsuccessful. It was his first attempt at ice skating. I rolled my eyes over the cotton candy pink dress I wore in his wedding a year or so later. I reminded him that his surprise arrival at my wedding was, perhaps, the best gift I was given that day. I didn’t know he was there until I got halfway down the aisle and looked up to see he and Moji, and Boyega, resplendent in their celebratory Nigerian dress smiling at me over a sea of midwesterners. I nearly dropped my flowers. Besides my maid of honor, he was the only Canadian to make the thousand mile journey. He’s my brother.
I’m writing this in a petunia pink room that is “princessed up” the way only a room belonging to a girl sandwiched between five brothers can be. The princess is sleeping upstairs on a blue crocheted blanket. Just like her mother, she’s got a gift for loving people, and for hospitality. I sat on the edge of her bed while she carefully explained the giant pink lego village she’d built for me on the sideboard: “I found the Daddy figure in the oven, I’d been doing some surgery on him the other day and I forgot he was in there,” she giggled. “And, I’m sorry Nana, but this isn’t the real hair for the Mom, I couldn’t find it… see how you make cupcakes in the cafe?”
When we crawled into bed last night, there was her favourite doll, the one she’d been carrying around all day, carefully laid on my pillow. That, my friends, is love.
We’ve read stories, played games, felted soap, and the boys went sledding. Princess Bella has been teaching Hannah to play the piano (rather successfully, I might add) and the testosterone tribe has bounced between games and top wars, lego and the movies my kids have missed out on the past year and a half. Tony gave the little boys didgiridoo lessons that brought to mind the slow, painful death of an old, wrinkly elephant. Isaiah, 12, fell in love with needle felting and talked my ear off while we made plans for the dragon we’re going to felt next time. He did better than Nana, he pointed out, as he didn’t break a needle or jab his finger.
Jess and I have leaned on the kitchen counter and talked. And talked. And talked. We met in a Geography class in 1993. There is a lot of water under our bridge. She keeps “Wowing” at my kids, as it’s been 8 years since she laid eyes on them. I think Gabe is especially hard on her senses, as she was the first of our friends to scoop him into her arms at the hospital and squeeze his black haired fatness. Now he’s slinging her boys around the living room like nun-chucks. Tempus fugit.
This is my favourite thing about travel, and about coming home: the people.
The new ones, and the old ones. The adventurous ones, and the rooting down and snuggling into communities ones. The getting-to-know-you ones and the ones who know the whole story and will finish every, “Remember when…” sentence we throw out. This morning I’m missing the Rickards, still surfing the coastal highway of Australia without us. I wonder how the kids are doing and what Adeline’s new words are. I want to hear Curly say, “Zombie Bus! and Bangaroo!” one more time. I want to share a cup of tea with Jacqui. I’m also hearing the Montalvo Monkeys waking up and can’t imagine a better way to spend the day than right here in the middle of the frozen prairie, teetering on the edge of Alberta and Saskatchewan. At the same time I can’t wait to take off for the midwest tomorrow and scoop our two great grandmas into our arms again. The places are great. The people are better. No matter where we are we’re missing someone.
It’s good to be “home.”