I grew up in a tiny neighbourhood of semi-detached homes. The area was swarming with kids my age, partly due to the elementary school in my backyard. It doesn’t seem to be like that anymore. Parenting styles were different too…matching a time that seemed more carefree and trusting. They didn’t live in fear like they do now; fear of kidnapping, rape, bullying, abuse. Our mothers used to wake us up, feed us breakfast and shove us out the door with a brown lunch bag telling us to be home at dusk. You could hear the vacuums starting as you begrudgingly trudged down the gravel driveway looking for company on your unplanned adventure. We had to think of things to do. Outside.
This, is where the quest for adventure began.
I had a friend that lived a kilometer away, up a very large hill, and back in the woods. At eight years old I used to fill my backpack with things for the day, put on my little canvas running shoes and hike up to her house. We weren’t your average Barbie doll girls. I would meet her at the front door and she would come out with her backpack and we would set of into the bush behind her house. We spent hours out there walking around, following the creek wherever it would take us, challenging each other to run through the giant culvert that emptied across the street from her house…just so we could say we made it. One winter day as we tried to cross the stream by balancing across a fallen tree, I slipped and fell in. I remember crying the whole way back to the house, alone, not because I was afraid of what had just happened but because I was cold and angry that had missed out on the rest of the fun.
These were elementary school days spent together with friends, riding our BMX bikes from dawn to dusk, playing in parks, swimming in dirty ponds, and living our lives in ways that were too big for our little bodies to hold on to. To let the joy out we had to scream, and giggle and laugh until our bellies hurt. These moments somehow got lost in the highschool and college years. At some point, I forgot what it felt like to live. These are the days I had longed to recreate for a while…I just didn’t know what was missing. That is, until a few years ago when I met someone who helped change the way I see the world around me.
I was in a bad way and had spiralled quickly into a place that left me feeling disconnected. I lacked the energy and ability to see the beauty in anything at all. There I was, sad and lost and unknowingly looking for a hand. He too was in a bad way. He was sad and lost and knowingly searching for a lifeline. We grabbed on tightly to one another and began a slow journey out of a time that was trying desperately to bury us. Day by day, we took another step away from that hideous place and into an adventure that changed my life.
This wasn’t a big cross-country road trip or a series of site-seeing vacations where some monumental thing or a-ha moment happened…rather a series of moments during our time together that all happened out in nature. The connection back to nature that I had been missing and longing for without knowing it. In these moments, the damage of the disconnect came to the surface and started to repair itself.
There was the time we sat on a bench at the waterfront and watched the sun setting over the water. The night we sat in the grass at the park at night, under it’s largest tree and got eaten alive by mosquitoes until the rain began to pour in sheets so thick we could barely find our way back to our cars. The night we bundled up in our parkas, drank coffee and walked in the bush while nickle-sized snowflakes melted on our warm cheeks. The day he told me to dress warm and picked me up during a thunderstorm. We stood in the bush along a stream and let the water soak us right through. We weren’t cold. We let the water stream down our faces and held our hands out until we could feel each individual drop hit our palms.
I began to come back to life. I asked him to meet me in the park at midnight. I took off my high heels and walked barefoot with my party dress blowing behind me. I didn’t feel the cold because I was warm with the energy of the moon and the moment. He took me to waterfalls and cliffs and pebble beaches. We hiked from day-to-night and I didn’t once complain because I felt at home out there. I begged him one night to let loose (imagine!) and join me in the bay in mid October when I had kicked off my shoes, rolled up my pants and waded in. He didn’t join me but he met me back on the shore where we sat on the damp, cool sand and stared at the most magnificent cluster of stars I had ever seen.
When I had gotten even braver I had started to venture out on my own. I would set off into the bush to fill my thirst for nature and to prove to myself that I was okay out in the world on my own two feet. That I was now in a place where I didn’t need a hand, but I really liked having his. I skied the trails at night alone, without my headlamp to show nature that I trusted her and myself to make it out should the light ever die on me mid-journey. I drove an hour to the beach just to stare at the water and listen to the sound of the waves. I took a drive up north to various Provincial Parks and sat on a bench in a cove staring at a mountain that I couldn’t pry my eyes away from. There is something about a mountain that reminds you how small you really are in the grand scheme of things…when you become so self-absorbed that you forget there is more to the world than your worries and pain.
So I started small with sand, and grass, and trees, and cliffs and I eventually graduated to mountains. I didn’t see the progression then but it is becoming clearer to me now. Things get better. I’m in the mountain phase. I know this because my instincts have been pulling me there for months. There is something more I have to do.
So to you, my friend who took hold of my limp hand and invited me to share your path, I thank you. I don’t know if I would be here if it wasn’t for you. Through the good and the bad, I have become stronger. I have reconnected with myself and I have reconnected with nature because she is part of who I am. She always was. I lost her and you helped me find her. I’m sorry that you aren’t here to share this journey anymore but I am thankful for our time. Thank you for guiding me back to myself. Thank you for guiding me home.