Is how my national anthem begins. One of them. The Star-Spangled Banner is the other.
I left Canada, where I was born (Vancouver) and raised (Toronto, Montreal) in 1988 to move to the U.S.
I’m back again for a few weeks, with no greater agenda than seeing old friends, attending a service at the island church where I was married last September, poking around antique stores.
Just being home.
I started my nine-hour drive by crossing the Hudson River, the Manhattan skyline ghostly in the distance, but the spires of the Empire State Building and new Freedom Tower clearly visible. The trip is easy, but wearying as I covered pretty much the entire length of New York State, a 5.5 hour journey just to reach the Canadian border.
I spent the drive listening to some of my favorite tunes from college — Hejira by Joni Mitchell and Talking Heads — but soon switched to Radio-Canada to listen to the news and weather en francais. I love speaking French and hearing it and miss that piece of my native culture terribly. Americans are furious when others refuse to speak English; we grow up in a country founded by two nations, French and English, and much of what we read and touch (cereal boxes, government signs, toothpaste) is labeled in both tongues.
Hejira is a great choice for a woman traveling alone by car — as Mitchell wrote it while on road trip from Maine to L.A., and she says it’s suffused with “the sweet loneliness of solitary travel.” Is it ever!
I loved “Refuge of the Road”, which I think might be my theme song.
Here’s the final verse:
In a highway service station
Over the month of June
Was a photograph of the earth
Taken coming back from the moon
And you couldn’t see a city
On that marbled bowling ball
Or a forest or a highway
Or me here least of all
You couldn’t see these cold water restrooms
Or this baggage overload
Westbound and rolling taking refuge in the roads
It’s a measure of the independence we both value in our marriage that two days after our anniversary, I left for a two-week trip by myself. I feel such a hunger to travel. Sometimes I really need to travel alone. And I always need to come back to Canada.
It’s such a different place from the U.S., even though both speak English and, to many eyes, look so alike.
Even basics like:
Metric measurements, a $2 coin and colored paper money. A wicked HST adding serious tax to everything — my $2 newspaper cost $2.26.
And the sort of rock-ribbed political liberalism that’s exceptionally rare in the U.S., certainly in the mass media, like this story in the Toronto Star, about an AWOL American female soldier living with her five kids (two born in Canada) in a one-bedroom apartment. Kimberly Rivera, the first female war resister here, was to be deported today.
I’m a little desperate right now to flee the ugliness and in(s)anity of the American Presidential election campaign, and the class warfare that is only getting worse and worse — the latest issue of Fortune magazine asking us not to hate the 1% but emulate them instead.
I miss my personal history, and re-visiting the places and light and landscape that shaped me; Jose deeply misses his New Mexico skies and mountains. He gets it.
And I always miss my oldest friends, people I’ve known since I was 16 or 22. I’ve found it very hard to make good friends in New York.
I like going to the drugstore and the grocery store and seeing brands and magazines only sold here, like Shreddies cereal and butter tarts.
In the small town where I’m staying lives a man, Farley Mowat, whose adventure stories I read growing up. For me, that’s like knowing Shakespeare is around the corner.
I miss knowing people who know who he is. So I’m glad, for a while, to be back in my (second/first?) home.
People tend to be more relaxed when they know (as they do here) they will never be bankrupted by a medical emergency, a pretty standard nightmare in the States.
I also like being reminded of the stiff-upper-lip thing and the we-hate-Americans thing and the no-we-can’t-do that thing, which remind me why I do not weep with longing for Canada but see it with more distant critical eyes as a longtime ex-pat.
If you haven’t seen this amazing video, check out it. It makes me laugh and it makes me hum.
A Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe — Pierre Berton
Well, kids, I don’t personally know if that’s true. But I do know how much I love being in a canoe.
I rented an aluminum one this week for a big $7 and paddled for 45 minutes on the very edge of Lake Champlain. It was a long way from the 3, 5 and seven-day canoe trips of my adolescence, at summer camp in northern Ontario.
I loved how, still today, it felt automatic and natural to pick up a paddle and carve it smoothly and cleanly into the water with that distinct, delicious gurgling noise of water being pushed behind me only by my own muscle power. The gentle slap of waves against the hull. There’s an intimacy with the water and the land you can’t get any other way.
The last time I canoed, also solo, was in Quebec, on Lake Massawippi, where I crept up on that most elusive and Canadian of sights — two beavers swimming by. (I solo, so far, because my husband Jose does not swim, nor paddle. But since he bought me a tent for my 55th. I see a canoe trip in his future!)
I learned to paddle in 65-pound red wood-and-canvas canoes, learning strokes like the J, feathering, the pry, running pry, C-stroke. We’d set off into Algonquin Provincial Park, (7,630 square kilometres), our packs laden, our eggs packed in oatmeal, our cookpans covered with thick soap to protect them from burns. We got to know these dark, deep, cold lakes as well as our streets at home — Cedar Lake, Biggar, North Tea. We’d start out at the Amable du Fond, which sounds really romantic but was a river winding through a marsh full of mosquitoes, a winding passage deceptively easy compared to what lay ahead.
At night we’d hear the haunting cry of loons. If something crashed a little too loudly in the woods, we pretended it didn’t. We skinny dipped in water lapping against ancient granite, carved millions of years ago by glaciers. The air smelled deliciously of dried pine needles.
We portaged across muddy, rocky paths. Portaging quickly separated the wussies from the trippers — it means carrying all your stuff across a piece of land, no matter how steep or slippery or mucky or thick with black flies. It means hoisting that bloody canoe yourself, up onto your shoulders, solo or with another paddler, while also carrying a heavy pack, no matter how sweaty or miserable you are.
We didn’t freak out when a diabetic camper once took the wrong path — it’s easy to do when all you can see are your own feet and a bit of path beneath the canoe on your weary shoulders. Someone just ran and got her.
This is what you learn on canoe trips — what you, and your companions, are made of. Who whines. Who lily-dips. Who’s willing to scrub out the grimiest pot. Who freaks out over nothing and how deeply annoying drama is.
We paddled in rain, in fog, on chilly mornings. When we were sore and tired and fed up, when the lake seemed endless and the next campsite unimaginably distant, we’d sing, loudly, sometimes in a round with choruses echoing across the waters, a song written by a woman in 1918:
My paddle’s keen and bright Flashing with silver Follow the wild goose flight Dip, dip and swing
Dip, dip and swing her back Flashing with silver Swift as the wild goose flies Dip, dip and swing
One of my favorite museums in the world is the Canadian Canoe Museum, in Peterborough, Ontario. If you are a lover of canoes and kayaks and the world they open up to you, it’s a must-see, with 600 beautiful examples of both.
As every Canadian knows (or should), the country was opened up by the coureurs de bois and voyageurs often led through the wilderness by Indians along their well-established routes. Only at the Canoe Museum did I finally understand the bravery and organization it took to load up one of these enormous vessels — usually 25 feet in length or 36 feet.
As some of you know, I could have crossed the width of Ireland three times in the time it took me to get from my Dad’s house in Canada to the house in Vermont where I’m now house-sitting til the 29th, responsible for a pool, a charming small dog and a huge garden.
I started at 8:45 a.m., dropping my Dad off at the car rental place to start his day. As it would turn out, I was driving in tandem with a convoy of tour buses filled with chattering, texting, flirting 13-year-olds…and every rest stop I made, they made as well.
The 401, which runs east-west in Ontario, might be one of the world’s most boring highways — a straight line of asphalt with farm fields on either side for hundreds of miles. (Kilometers, there.)
So, if you’re alone, as I was, tunes are key. My new radio wasn’t working (!?) so it was CDs that would keep me energized and awake for the next day.
Corelli. Martin Sexton. Some Indian instrumentals. That was enough to get me to the Quebec border, where a big blue flag said “Bienvenue” and I switched to the Indigo Girls.
Montreal traffic at 3pm was no pique-nique…especially when the first road sign telling me to look for Route 10 never re-appeared. Nope. Nowhere. And Montrealers, where I learned to drive in 1988, drive fast. At least I could read the road signs in French and knew which streets were which as the exits whizzed past.
Finally, I hit the Champlain Bridge…and was overpowered by a terrifying memory of a story I covered as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette. There is a lane on the bridge that’s a dedicated bus lane during rush hours, the same one I was now using to head south to Vermont. A car filled with young people had smashed head-on into a bus heading the other way…and I had taken (and passed) my driver’s test the following day.
The minute you cross the bridge, you’re in flat, green farming country, surrounded on both sides by barns, silos, cows. Enormous churches whose steeples gleam in the sunshine. I stopped for a breather and flopped into a deep bend to stretch out my back. I stood and caught the eye of a man in a purple polo shirt driving a flatbed carrying a tractor.
It’s fun to be out on the road alone, a redhead in a Subaru packed to the rafters.
The perfect music as I passed through towns whose names would take longer to pronounce than to drive through, like this one, St.-Pierre-de-Veronne-a-Pike-River, was Nick Drake’s album Pink Moon, (his third and final one, whose title track was used for a Volkswagen Cabriolet commercial.) I adore it — meditative, soft and quirky.
It’s barely a half-hour from Montreal to the U.S. border.
I offered my passport…which I had forgotten to sign after I got it two weeks ago. I showed my green card (which actually, now, is green, which allows me the legal right to work and live in the U.S.) in which I’m still a blond.
“Why do you have so much stuff in your car?” the officer asked. I stayed calm and perky and confident, the way Jose has taught me to be: “I’m away from home for a month.”
“Do you have receipts for all those things?”
I actually did. Even my auction goodies.
I figured for sure I was due for a complete shake-down, but was waved through.
It’s always an odd moment when I cross the border between my two homes, the one where I grew up to the age of 30 (Canada, and where my family still lives) and the U.S. (where I’ve married twice and re-built my career despite three recessions.) I treasure elements of both countries and find deeply irritating elements in both.
Toronto pals wonder why I’m “stuck there” and New York friends wonder about the appeal of that 10-hour drive north.
I end up trying to explain American political gridlock to my Canadian peeps and Canadian health-care to my bewildered American friends who desperately crave a better solution but many of whom loathe and distrust any solution involving government.
As I faced my final few miles, I turned the wrong direction and drove another half hour the wrong way, The Doors blasting loud to keep me awake.
I finally pulled into my friend’s driveway after nine hours, grateful for a huge glass of red wine and Chinese food for dinner.
What’s the longest drive you’ve ever done on your own?
My father moved from Toronto last year to an Ontario town that’s become popular with retirees, with elegant, early brick buildings, a river, a few good restaurants and three bookstores. Not bad for a place with 16,500 people.
— I visit one of the bookstores, buy a paperback and introduce myself to the manager. “You’re the second author we’ve had today,” he says. The first? Alice Munro. That’s like strolling into a music shop and being told that Beethoven stopped in a while before you did.
— There’s a line-up at the chips fan, selling Extreme Fries. Dad and I order the sweet potato ones and eat them, gooey with ketchup. A million calories, but so good.
— It’s dusk here at 9:30, so that’s when the drive-in starts its first show. It’s out, of course, on Theatre Rd., surrounded by fields. There’s a little booth at the entrance with a stern warning, “This is not a campground.”
We pay $20 for our two tickets, tune our car radio to 92.3 and pick a spot with a good view. Little kids in pajamas settle into the cars and trucks around us. We watch Men in Black III. Dad falls asleep. It starts to rain, so I have to use the windshield wipers to watch the movie.
— We walk to the corner deli for lunch. There are all my Canadian favorites — smoked meat and butter tarts and Smarties — for sale. Yay!
— His next-door neighbor keeps bringing us wonderful food: a cooked salmon, chocolate croissants, muffins. She’s 89 and a Buddhist.
— There are two sets of train tracks, one for the CP rail freight train and one for the VIA/CN line that carries passengers. The station, built in 1865, is brightly painted inside and lovingly restored to period condition. I take my husband Jose and we wait until the turquoise VIA train stops, pulls down its metal stairs, and he climbs up with all his bags. This sort of rail-side parting, the holidaying wife left behind, the husband heading back to his work in another country, feels somehow timeless.
The lady in her cap and uniform pulls up the stairs. I try not to cry and wave him off.
The freight train is miles long, laden with metal containers from all over the world. What’s in them? As it pulls past us, which seems to take a deliciously long time, I wave to the conductor. You have to wave to the conductor, no matter how old you are. (You can’t wave to a jet pilot mid-flight, after all.)
I wave to salute him and all the men (and women) across the centuries who’ve done this essential work. The train still brings us salamis and shoes and computers and new cars, chugging across the landscape from some distant port, from a ship that brought them to us from somewhere far across an ocean.
At night, the train whistles pierce the darkness, echoing through the trees.
When you lie in bed — seriously — and are blogging in your dreams, and writing the headline.
I’m in northern Ontario for the moment, staring as I write this out the window at pine trees overlooking a lake. Two grizzled black dogs snooze on their beds. The sweetie is snoozing in a chair by the woodstove and our host, my best friend from high school, is making ribs for dinner.
The sweetie planned to play golf but (really!) came home after running into snow squalls, only to discover all the carts were being put away for the season.
So it’s a blessed afternoon of eat/sleep/read/repeat. Pat dogs. Stare into fire. Admire the autumn colors.
My brain is frazzled and fried: finishing up the final revisions of my memoir; blogging for four sites; planning events for the book’s release next spring. Like a farmer’s field that needs to just lie farrow for a while to re-generate its fertility, this week is desperately needed downtime for my weary head.
Soon…within three or four days…I’ll be up and running again.
The 94-pound ornithopter flew on August 2, the invention of University of Toronto Phd Todd Reichert. (My alma mater!)
From the Montreal Gazette:
Todd Reichert, an engineering graduate student and PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, accomplished the feat when he flew the aircraft “Snowbird” for 19.3 seconds on Aug. 2 at the Great Lakes Gliding Club in Tottenham, Ont.
The 42-kg plane made from carbon fibre, balsa wood and foam, travelled 145 metres at an average speed of 25.6 km/h during the flight.
“Our original goal was to complete this sort of, original aeronautical dream, to fly like a bird,” said 28-year-old Reichert on Wednesday. “The idea was to fly under your own power by flapping your wings.”
The four-year project, a brainchild of Reichert and student Cameron Robertson, was worked on by 30 students, including some from France and the Netherlands.
The plane, with a wingspan of 32 metres, was powered by Reichert, who pedalled with his legs, pulling down the wings to flap. He had to endure a year-long exercise regime to bulk up on muscle and lose nearly 10-kg so he could fly the aircraft.
This is all so true. If you know anyone with a cottage — Canadians’ version of a country house — listen up!
From The Globe and Mail:
Back in my early 20s, I won the Canadian girlfriend lottery. That is, at the time, I was involved with a woman whose family owned a cottage on what is – or so they said – “the second clearest lake in Ontario.” It was at this rugged setting that I, a cottage newbie, got to know her parents and siblings.
If you’ve managed to land a girlfriend-with-cottage yourself, first of all I want to say, congratulations. Your summers will be infused with cool air, refreshing swims and an endless landscape of trees. Also, you’ll be forced – I mean, have the opportunity – to bond with your girlfriend’s family in an unnaturally intimate setting where they are seasoned natives and you are a visitor with no escape.
In my case, by the end of the first summer I had learned the ways of the North and was able to earn the family’s respect and approval. But there were mistakes made. So that you may learn from those who have trod this prickly path before, here are some things to avoid from myself and a couple other former cottage initiates.
His listof errors includes sucking up too much and misplaced machismo. I’d add, wondering aloud why there is no…anything citified…you miss. Wi-fi,say. Or television. Fresh croissants. Or walls not made of crumbling particle-board.
The Canadian tradition of the cottage, (not to be confused with the social competitiveness of scenes like the Hamptons), means happily and uncomplainingly settling into someone’s family’s long-held traditions, from food to dress. I’ve stayed at friends’ cottages, and loved it, but it does have its own brand of etiquette. Try to have sex, really quietly, in a house with very thin walls, some of which may not even reach the ceiling. (Thus the “bunkie”, a mini-cottage on the same property.)
You’ll need to know, or graciously learn, things like gunwhale-bobbing (pronounced gunnel), which means standing atop the end of a canoe, one foot on each side, and pumping your knees up and down to make it go — of course — quickly forward in a straight line. Or how to water-ski. How to not turn blue or let your teeth chatter audibly when the lake water is icy, but your hosts find it “refreshing.”
Cupping your hands to make an excellent loon’s call? Not bad. But can you drive a motorboat or land a canoe at the dock not with a thud but a graceful J-stroke?
There’s a whole magazine, and a really good one, to prime you, should you ever be lucky enough to get invited to someone’s cottage.
Williams, 46, was arrested on Sunday for the disappearance and death of 27-year-old Jessica Lloyd last heard from on January 28.
He was also charged in the murder of Corporal Marie-France Comeau who was under his command at the base in November, and in two home invasions in September in which two women were confined and sexually assaulted.
The daily Globe and Mail, citing unnamed sources, said Williams confessed to the crimes, and guided detectives to the body of his latest victim hidden in the woods near the base.
Williams, who is married, once piloted the jet used to ferry Canada’s Governor-General and prime minister, as well as the British royal family on a visit.
He commanded 437 Squadron in Trenton for more than a year, and previously was in charge of Canada’s secretive Camp Mirage in the Middle East, said to be located near Dubai.
The Trenton base is among the busiest in Canada, receiving the bodies of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan and sending daily aid flights to Haiti following last month’s devastating earthquake.
Anyone who charges a placement or recruitment fee to a caregiver to work in Ontario now faces fines of up to $50,000 and a year in jail.
The Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, which passed into law late Wednesday, also makes it an offence to confiscate passports or personal documents from caregivers, and empowers provincial Labour Ministry investigators to retrieve them.
“Respect for the dignity and worth of others is one of the core things of this bill,” Labour Minister Peter Fonseca said, adding the new law “seeks to protect those who protect and nurture others every day of their working lives.
“They care for our loved ones who cannot care for themselves.”
American law calls them B-1s, domestic servants but Google the terms “nanny protection” and you’ll find a dozen ways to protect your kids from a caregiver, not how that caregiver — who is most likely to be female, an immigrant and poorly paid — can and must protect her own rights.
In some measure, it’s a feminist issue pitting women of privilege against poorer, usually minority women who leave their own kids, often in another country, to care for others. Nannies are a key player in many affluent homes, allowing ambitious women to climb the corporate ladder and better their own economic lives — or enjoy a life of even greater leisure; some families have two or even three nannies, working 24/7.