Edgar walks by our house at the same time every single day. We met him a few years ago when I was still walking the girls to their bus stop. At first it was just a nod and a good morning, then slowly our 3-second exchanges became longer. We found out about his children, his wild-life photography, and his arthritis. At Christmas he drops off packages for the girls, the highlight of which is an enlarged photo, usually of a deer or a chickadee; this year’s envelope was addressed “For 2 Special Little Ladies”. Once he commented that Belén and Susanna were like his surrogate grandchildren. It seemed like an exaggeration, but then I thought about how he greets them every morning, let’s them know if they’ve missed the bus (again), and is literally watching them grow up.
After intersecting the girls at their bus stop, his route takes him past our home, and more importantly, our front window. Whether we’re all in pajamas eating Saturday morning pancakes, or I’m at the computer after the girls leave for school, Edgar sees it all. Even if we attempt to close our mangled, 1980’s blinds there’s always a few gaps left open for a visual exchange. This ritual peering-in and our reciprocating wave might seem like an invasion of privacy, but I don’t see it that way. It feels more like a connection to me.
I’ve been reading this book about how our physical communities affect us… and it’s all a little serendipitous. As you know, the winter here has been long. What you may not know is our family faces certain transition, possibly including a move. I haven’t written about it here because it’s been a source of angst, laced with touches of marital discord–all juicy material for blog posts, of course, but exacting a bit of decency I’m not willing to part with. And so, when a dear friend recently announced they were moving from the frigid prairies to Vancouver Island, I congratulated her, hung up the phone, and promptly typed mechanical engineer Vancouver Island in my Google search bar. I looked at house-listings with ocean views and websites featuring local “forest” schools. I imagined beach-combing, hiking and enjoying that aura of coastal coolness no prairie town can muster. It’s a hip earthiness hard to conjure up when surrounded by wheat fields and F150s, instead of rainforests and kayaks, no matter how much dirt is under your fingernails.
The strange thing about this is I’ve never really wanted to move to BC. The Yukon? Yes. Northern Ontario? Of course. Quebec? Maybe. But not the West Coast. Likely this is only an immature attempt at individuality–doesn’t everyone want to go West? But while reading about Montgomery’s travels and studies, I’m reminded of something we all know intuitively: communities that facilitate human interaction, getting around on our own 2 feet, sustainability, and engagement, are desirable places to live. The problem is we tend to think places like this have to look a certain way, are somewhere other than here, or are only accessible if we make the right move. But we don’t have to move to Copenhagen, where the streets thrum with cyclists, to get on our bikes. Neither is it necessary to join a commune, or move to Latin America, to initiate conversations with the strangers all around us. Shucks, we don’t even have to move to BC to support local businesses and use green spaces.
The author of Sausagetarian moved from Portland to Ohio and she compares both locations in an recent post. In response to a comment I made, she wrote: “I felt like our West Coast life exposed us to so much cultural richness and diversity, but it also isolated us from a certain Midwestern humility that’s both inspiring and heartbreaking.” So just because we bloom where we’re planted–walk to work, meet the neighbours, and become active citizens–doesn’t mean we won’t notice our cultural/physical environment and compare it to other places, like I did last week. It doesn’t mean I’ll never wish I could live at the foot of the sea and lush mountains. And I don’t believe that staying somewhere to “tough it out”, or because a prospective move is too daunting, is always the right choice either. But sometimes, instead of clicking my way through sites and pictures of what could be, I need to concentrate on what is. For me, that meant picking up the chalk, giving a few pieces to my girls, and celebrating what makes us happy where we are.
Edgar’s morning walk and our regular chit-chat isn’t something the local tourism bureau will ever advertise but I’m convinced it contributes to our quality of life. It’s one of the small, unexpected details that makes this place home. And that’s not insignificant.
Right here (for now),