Canada, Remembered

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Recently, my son turned four years old. As with most parents, I would guess, it was strange to sit back and consider where the time had gone. Sometimes, it feels like he was born only last week – and then I see the walking, talking, running, storytelling, joke-cracking silly little snuggler before me and I am forced to reckon with the passage of time.

So much has changed since he was born, and not just in him. Sure, he has grown; but we’ve also lost a pet, traveled far and wide and moved back to the United States from Canada in that time. So, it was on this latest birthday that I remembered where we were four years ago, and how life has changed since then.

Calgary Foothills Hospital is about as vintage-looking as a hospital can be while continuing to be operational. In fact, it would make a great backdrop for a TV series set in the 1960s or ‘70s. Out the windows though, the Canadian Rockies stand sentinel in the distance. It’s quite a sight to take in while holding a newborn in a hospital bed. Something actually majestic about the experience, that brand-newness coupled with the timelessness of the landscape.

It was those same mountains that became my son’s very first adventure. We drove up for the day several times in those first months, before passports had come in and we were all just getting to know each other as a family. We drove to Banff and Lake Louise. We drove to Moraine Lake with our one-week-old drowsing in a baby carrier, all of us sleepy, exhausted, newly-born as a family. Canada and Alberta, specifically, were our whole world.

That first summer passed in a blur. It was bright and warm and sunshine-filled one moment, and then suddenly it was October and already snowing. In Calgary, the green months are lush and vibrant but short – only ranging from June to the end of September before winter steals back in wearing thick, heavy boots, clomping back into the trees and freezing the roads.

I remember the cold. Cold unlike any cold I’ve ever felt. A Michigan winter is like springtime compared to that cold. Cold so deep that it settles like frost in your blood and ice in your bones. And always, the mountains. The Rocky Mountains and the impressive peaks, snow-covered, pine-covered, goat-covered. Calgary city is filled with enormous jackrabbits just hopping along the shopping street, actually terrifying to behold due to their size. Small bunnies, too, swell in the parks around the city 20-30 strong in a glance. Packs of Canadian geese converge near the downtown like rival gangs, honking loudly and menacing passers-by. They are generally unlikable and can be a nuisance if you need to pass a group of them, especially when pushing a baby buggy.

Calgary appears as a city that should not be, in the same way that Las Vegas shouldn’t exist – a city in the desert. Or Houston, a city in a swamp. But Calgary is a city in the mountains, surrounded by mountains, existing despite nature’s best wishes. It is cold, so uncompromisingly cold for much of the year, and yet it is so beautiful. Even for someone who prefers green pine forests and the Great Lakes, it is undoubtedly lovely, awe-inspiring, almost poetry.

So it is that Canada I am taken back to, four years after my son was born and two and a half since we moved back to the U.S. A place and a time that seems within grasp and yet is firmly relegated to the past. A week ago, four years ago, a lifetime ago, and yet it exists in my memory, just as it was.

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