Rooted in duality

Alaska (panhandle), Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Illinois (Chicago), Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York (City), Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee (briefly). These are states that I’ve been in that are more than just an airport stop. Sadly, I’ve seen more of the US than I have Canada. One day, I will change that. I will also travel to more states because I am clearly missing out on quite a few. And since I was young, I always wanted to travel all over the United States. I remember having a colourful map on my wall that showed the entire country. I studied it and memorized shapes, locations, cities. I don’t know where this obsession came from. Maybe all the traveling my dad did for work, always bringing me back a souvenir fitting to the state he had been. For me, each of the fifty states held some treasure to discover. They still do.

What I never could have predicted was that I’d one-up my US travel plans by becoming a US citizen. A decade that included marriage and residence in Washington State led to that. And then, because life happens, we all parted ways and I moved back to Canada eventually. Obviously, the citizenship has stayed with me, along with good memories and special family members that decided to keep me on board even though divorce changed my official status. Family is who you choose. Each year I quietly mark my citizenship anniversary (14 years this year) and send gratitude to the life I experienced there. I’ve been home in Canada for nine years now. Of course I still go to the US quite a bit, but my ties are somewhat diminished.

 
Early morning Montana.

Early morning Montana.

 

During my time in the US, I allowed myself to become Americanized. Not that I was far from Canada, but Washington was my home and I wanted to make the most of it. I also didn’t have any local Canadian friends or know any ex-pats down there, so it was natural to become consumed by the American lifestyle. While people are people at the core, there are differences in us between states and provinces and countries. Wouldn’t it be boring if there weren’t?

While I have re-Canadianized over the years, I still find myself unable to shake some idiosyncrasies from my former home. I cross over with my spellings and measurements, I pronounce a few words the American way (it’s all about the vowels), I covet certain US grocery items and - to be honest - the selection in grocery stores, I understand that ‘Country’ is a lifestyle and not just…music, for better or worse I get US politics more so than Canadian, I’ve acquired a taste for spicy food and, even though Canada has improved so much, dark beer really is dark beer in the US (Rickard’s Red, that I was once offered, is not). I’ve managed to make it all work here in the glorious red and white, without the blue. And that’s the great thing about living in a country that has such a melting pot of nationalities - anything goes.

Though I’ve been feeling more and more like a visitor to the US, and not like it was once my home, something shifted on my last trip to Montana. I thank my dear friends, Tanya and Alistair, for repeatedly opening their home to me and for the initial introduction to life in little Seeley Lake. The state itself had me at the Welcome to Montana sign the first time I drove past it on I-90. What draws us to people or places or things is beyond me. Perhaps we really are souls living multiple lifetimes, and some attachments and experiences come with us into each reincarnation. All I know is that I’m caught in Montana’s pull like a trout on a fly-fishing hook in the Blackfoot River.

October colors (or colours)…

October colors (or colours)…

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I enjoy the increasing familiarity each time I travel to Montana. I know the points of interest and the good places to take a break (including where to get the ‘Best Huckleberry Milkshake’), stores I need to stop at in Missoula to stock up on favourite items, and that I’ll be mesmerized by the landscape during the drive to Seeley Lake. I look forward to all these moments. However, familiarity and a sense of ‘home’ are not the same thing. Not every town we live in is home. A house is not automatically a home. And home can be more than a place; it can be a person, pet, event, or activity. It’s a connection that is somewhere deep inside that just lets us know we belong. The beloved character Dory in Finding Nemo might have said it best when she told Marlin, “Because when I look at you, I can feel it. And I look at you and I'm home.” Yes, home is a feeling.

My visits to Seeley Lake are a mix of repeats and newness. There is a lot to explore and learn about the area and its residents. On this occasion I’d meet more people, see new places, and bond with new furry friends. I also would reconnect with those people, pets, and places I already knew. I had never been in Montana in autumn. It was spectacular and in fact my whole drive down was breathtaking, with Northern Idaho showing some of the best colours along the Pend Oreille River. On my first morning in Seeley, we woke to a skiff of snow. Seeing the surrounding mountains dressed in a fresh coat of white was a feast for the eyes. Tanya and I braved the frosty wind for a sight-seeing tour to Upsata Lake and the quaint town of Ovando. We detoured to Scotty Brown Bridge and found fly fishing on the Blackfoot a priority for some, even in freezing temperatures. Life in the 406 is big and bold and not a lot stops it, as I am finding out.

Upsata Lake on a chilly day.

Upsata Lake on a chilly day.

‘Downtown’ Ovando.

‘Downtown’ Ovando.

A well-preserved Hoosgow in Ovando, MT.

A well-preserved Hoosgow in Ovando, MT.

Fly fishing on the Blackfoot.

Fly fishing on the Blackfoot.

There was a girls night, with good company, food, drink, and Aloha hot tubbing (think tiki torches and Hawaiian tunes). Since my last visit, Tanya has delved into the world of real estate by becoming a realtor. I enjoyed tagging along to preview homes, because window shopping houses is fun for someone currently living the RV life. It’s not often I get to actually be with my friends on their birthdays anymore, and Tanya happened to be having hers. Dinner at Lindey’s was absolutely necessary. A photo shoot of the Bee Gees with their Special Guest, Fallon, was also a must. I learned that photographing ferrets is a lot more challenging than dogs (or maybe any other animal for that matter!). And, of course, all the other pets I got to snuggle and people I got to meet along the way were fantastic.

 
A photo shoot is not a photo shoot without the outtakes. Also, it’s important to re-hydrate after a modeling session.

A photo shoot is not a photo shoot without the outtakes. Also, it’s important to re-hydrate after a modeling session.

 

My stay wrapped up with a moment that pretty much brought everything together for me. It was Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and since Tanya and I are both Canadian naturalized US citizens (say that three times fast), we had to celebrate, Montana style. ‘Go big or go home’ is the saying, and Tanya may have cooked one of the biggest turkeys I’ve seen. Throw in all the other accompaniments, along with a contribution of homemade perogies, and it was quite the dinner. Oh, and let’s not forget the Nanaimo Bars made from a Laura Secord recipe. You Canadians will get this special touch. The best part was that this was shared with more new friends who have their own Canadian-American ties as well. This reminded me of the Canadian Thanksgivings I hosted while living in the US. I know my American friends loved it (is it possible to have too many turkey dinners in a year?) and it was a way of keeping my connection to my native country alive. So, this celebration of Canadiana in Americana was pretty special. It also proved that fitting in is not as important as being accepted as you, wherever you are, to create a feeling of belonging and, therefore, home.

Of course, there is no place like home home, and I always happily return to British Columbia with Montana memories tucked into my heart. I know how lucky I am for this experience and how grateful I am to have roots in two most amazing places.

 
More photos of  home . Taken by both Tanya and myself.

More photos of home. Taken by both Tanya and myself.

 

Good...byes

 
 
 

And if I weren't leavin',
Would I catch you dreamin'
And if I weren't gonna be gone now,
Could I take you home

And if I told you I love you,
Would it change what you see
And if I was staying,
Would you stay with me

~The Avett Brothers

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Endings aren’t always easy to take. But they are a part of our daily living, the most obvious being the end to each day. While we are continually finishing things and then starting again new, we don’t really take notice until we hit a more significant ending. Like the last days of summer, for instance. The inevitable changes of the seasons make us face saying goodbye on a bigger scale, one that perhaps we feel deeper because of our connection to nature.

Like it or not, summer is officially over in the northern hemisphere. The equinox will take place as it is universally scheduled to do so on an annual rotation. For me, reality hit last week when I took my BOGS boots out of hibernation and started turning the heat on in the mornings to take the chill out of the air. You can’t say summer doesn’t give us a fair warning that things are going to change. Are you ready?

Summer has a lovely beginning and end, but sometime in the middle it becomes a ‘hall pass’ kind of season. In other words, there are a lot of unconscious people wandering around, and some too far from home in my opinion. I personally stayed close to home this summer. Without the threat of a forest fire or the inconvenience of smoke this year (which we are all so clearly grateful for), tourist numbers seemed to be up. There is good and there is bad with an influx of people in a small town as you might imagine, and July and August have a bit of both. To prepare for tourist season, I created a sanctuary around my home; lots of plants on the deck to bring nature close, and a water fountain for soothing background noise. It seemed to work. I also had my usual view of the wooded lot next door which attracts quite a diverse amount of wildlife. Throw in early morning and late evening paddles on the lake to avoid boat traffic, and I managed to steer clear of much of the seasonal chaos.

One thing I do look forward to each summer are the whitetail deer fawns. I wait patiently for them to be born and then get old enough to start exploring. My camera is always on alert for when I see spotted babies emerging from the forest. Some fawns are single and some are twins. Deer are very prolific here. Yes, they will eat your garden and some of your plants if easily reachable. They are grazing animals, this is what they do. But they are curious, affectionate, and super playful. I happily watched them play chase with each other, mamas included, zooming at top speeds with what looked like pure bliss. Their agility is incredible. I love their presence in our community. While there used to be a lot of complaints and people calling them ‘pests,’ the negativity doesn’t seem as prevalent as it once was. I think humans are clearly starting to outshine wildlife in the problematic department, and perhaps we’re realizing the likelihood that we are at the top of the pest pyramid. Attitudes are changing for the better.

 

Deer and I go way back. Here I am (a LONG time ago) on assignment as a reporter with the Grand Forks Gazette. It’s one thing when a dog jumps up happy to see you, but when a deer does? This whitetail was becoming a legit problem for some residents, so the Conservation Officer was called in to help. This photo was taken pre-tranquilizing and relocating out of the area. I don’t think anyone deliberately tried to tame this deer, but this is what happens if we get too careless. I do remember my story was appropriately titled, ‘Oh deer.’

 
Still deer whispering in 2019. At a safe distance always.

Still deer whispering in 2019. At a safe distance always.

One thing that I’m sad to lose in this seasonal changeover is summer paddling. Kind of. Early fall paddles are by far my favourite, but there is something special about the lake in summer. The water is warm, the air is warm, and there is more daylight to enjoy. Knowing this, I took advantage of sunrises and sunsets on the lake when it was quiet and calm. After jumping in the water on the first day of summer, I kept the habit up almost every time I was out on my board. My mantra recently has been Because I Can, and when I was out on my last summer paddle yesterday, I had to jump in. According to someone I spoke to who was out fishing, the water was at 67 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just under 20 Celsius for those of you not bi-temperature-lingual (Google it, it’s probably not a word). It was crisp but I stayed in a while. It will only be getting colder. Though, I haven’t given up the possibility of another dip before the year is over. I’ll definitely be out paddling while the conditions are favourable. And then I’ll surely be out there when they are less than favourable, like in mid-winter…because I can.

June 21 dip to September 21 dip. An August sunset in between.

June 21 dip to September 21 dip. An August sunset in between.

This year’s rainy spring seemed to carry over into summer and I’m hoping summer will extend the favour by carrying some extra sun and warmth into fall, though it’s doubtful. When the switch happens it happens and there is nothing to do but go gracefully with it. Holding on only makes things harder. I am ready to let go, however, and this is my farewell to the season. Fall comes with a welcome breath of fresh air, quite literally. I don’t think I could trade the turning colours of the trees, the tingling sensation of skin warming after being outside in the cold, or even the wardrobe adjustment to toques and sweaters and boots, for a year-round summer. Change of seasons is something I instinctively feel and look forward to at this point in my life. And there are just too many special beginnings to experience throughout the year - first frost, first snowfall, first buttercup, and first swim in the lake. Luckily, all of nature is on annual rotation so we can experience these things. And what we love about one season will most likely be back next go-round (you pumpkin spice latte people freak me out a little, but I can appreciate your excitement). So until summer comes back again, we have a lot of beginnings and endings to attend to, giving us the opportunity to get good at goodbyes.