Any of you who have relocated far away from all you knew well, held dear, and loved with all your heart, will understand my next statement:
Dorothy had it right; there's no place like home.
As most readers of this blog know by now, about a year and a half ago my husband and I relocated clear across Canada to our current place of residence - Kitimat, British Columbia. After many long hugs, tearful goodbyes, and "one last times," we packed up our Jeep with Molly and the cats and set off on a long drive across Canada. Upon arrival in Kitimat, we resided temporarily in a local motel. Although the lodgings were comfortable and the staff friendly, nothing makes you feel more uprooted than living in a motel (and this was after 8 days of motels on the road). After about a week, we found a nice house. Two days later, our belongings arrived. Once we were unpacked, (about a week later) I decided it was time for me to head out alone and check out my new town.
Kitimat is a very pedestrian friendly town, with a network of pathways and green-spaces. However, on my Day of Bravery, I was still not familiar with any of these. Nonplussed, I headed out with my shopping bag and basically followed, on foot, the same route my husband had taken us on wheels (No, I don't drive.). I got myself to town all right, although I did head up a dirt road and got to see some very nice houses before I got myself turned around. (To the locals who are reading this, do not even ask! I've never been able to locate this dirt road again. I personally believe that Kitimat has it's own version of the Bermuda Triangle. And no, it wasn't Cran-, Blue-, or Strawberry Street.) Once in the "City Center" I was OK; I went for a coffee, visited the post office, and picked up a few items at the grocery store. Carrying the remainder of my Americano, I headed for home, feeling very much in control and enjoying the bright spring air.
This feeling did not last long.
I missed a turn. As I walked by the soccer fields I felt my first stirrings of doubt. Had I passed those before? I kept going. Hmmm. None of this looked familiar, and yet it did, as we had been taking a lot of drives around our new town. I walked on. Reasoning that I should just go strait (our town mainly consists of crescents and cul de sacs connected to main roadways), I plodded away, my Americano cold, my feet sore, and my spirits low, low, low. Finally, I reached the end of the road, and saw a place that I definitely remembered from my husband's list of "Do Not Go" locations. That was it.
I was lost. I was lost, and I didn't know anybody, and I was never, ever, going to find my way home again. In that moment, I hated my new town and wished desperately to be back in Sydney. Whimpering, I turned around and headed back the way I came. Desperate, I broke the first rule of being lost and left the "main trail" so to speak, and started roaming the crescents and cul de sacs. At this point I didn't know if I'd even recognize my new house.
Plum tuckered, I decided to sit down on a bench in a playground (we've got a lot of playgrounds, too.). As I crossed the grass, I looked up, and saw something I definitely recognized; the school that was across the street from our house! There was hope! Gathering what was left of my bearings, I headed back to the sidewalk, and, keeping one eye trained on the school, I slowly picked my way home. Once in my house (yes, I recognized it!) I collapsed on the sofa with Molly and decided I would never, ever leave the house alone again. At least not without a map.
Over the next few months, thanks to my husband and a few new friends, I learned the path system. It turns out, the entire time I was wandering around lost, I was never more than 5 minutes from my front doorstep. And the walk into town? What took me half an hour is actually a 10 minute stroll. With time and practice, I was soon zipping around town like I'd been here forever. I fell in love with our new town. The map got to stay home.
By Fall I thought I was foolproof. Last October I got my comeuppance when a some friends invited me to lunch at a local restaurant. They offered to pick me up but I said that I would walk to get my exercise. I headed out with plenty of time and enjoyed a brisk walk in the autumn air. I kept my ears open and jingled my keys a lot, as there had been several bear sightings over the past week. I reached the restaurant, sat down, and began to peruse the menu. My friends had not yet arrived, but then, I was early. Settling back in the booth, I glanced down at the table top. I noticed that the name of the restaurant was emblazoned on the tabletop...and it was not the name of the restaurant I was supposed to be sitting in.
Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no!!!! Mumbling an incoherent explanation to the hostess, I stumbled out of the restaurant and took off running. I checked my watch; I'd be late, but not too bad...if I took a certain path. The path that the bears had been spotted on.
I approached the path and got out my keys. Jingle jingle jingle. In truth, bears are nocturnal and are rarely seen during the day, but rarely wasn't good enough for me. I saw bears lurking behind cars and mailboxes, waving at me from windows, walking into stores. Jingle jingle jingle, all the while jogging and leaping over honest to goodness bear scat. Finally reaching the road the restaurant was on, my cell phone rang. It was my friends. I panted an explanation. Listening to their reply, I realized that this lunch was quickly becoming a comedy of errors; the restaurant was closed. They picked me up and we made our way back to the establishment I'd been at before my mad dash through the woods. I gave the server my sanest smile (I think she thought I was drunk).
This all came back to me this evening. I was out for a walk and I was zipping through the City Center. My feet were on the path but my eyes were on the clouds swirling around the mountain tops. I realized I'd reached a point where I didn't even need to think about the paths and roads. I knew where I was. It finally feels like home.
I've felt it other places, too. A few weeks ago my husband and I went to the local coffee shop for a snack. As we entered, he saw a group of people he knew, and I spotted a friend. Chatting with her, I glanced across the room at my husband laughing with his friends, and I realized that this was something that happened back East all the time. It was a familiarity of place that I had thought we might not experience again for a very long time.
There's other things, too. When we arrived, we watched Maritime news, read the Cape Breton paper, and checked the regional headlines for Nova Scotia on CBC's website. We knew little about BC politics and we really didn't care to. But at some point, it changed. Now, we wade into discussions about BC politics, events, and occurrences, and it's the "stuff" going on back East that we are less aware of (although we really do care to!).
At first, when I realized that we were identifying BC as home, I felt guilty. In time, I let the guilt go, realizing that to successfully relocate, you have to integrate. So yes, while Dorothy may be right in that there's no place like home, home is indeed where you make it. Confucius once said "Wherever you go, go with all your heart," and I think that's the trick. Go with all your heart, and be there with all your heart.