North facing. That was the only thing I didn’t want our new apartment to be. I could bare a basement, live peaceably under our landlord’s feet, and I could care less about size. The sun is what I wanted. A winter of wet could be tolerated as long as I could see traces of a blotted out sun behind mostly cloudy skies through my kitchen window. The sometimes-sunny south side of any building in a province of rain, that was the major stipulation in my contract with happiness. I type this looking north out my new kitchen window into a dark and damp night. From just beyond the backyard fence I can hear the din of trucks trucking over the Trans Canada highway. I am not all that surprised, and generally not as unhappy as I thought I would be. I’m distracted by more pressing issues, like how to make rent every month and how to convince Noah into eating things that are green (telling him that green things give him Turtle Power seems to be working at the moment). I win some, I lose some and often I break even. The demands we sometimes make of life are amusing, much like children with crossed arms and stamping feet, ordering ice cream for breakfast. Life, like a tired parent, rolls her eyes and carries on doing the dishes.
August in America came and went, and then so did we. Furniture was given away to a starving-artist friend and we carted a few precious things to the lake cabin to be shoved into the farthest corners of the attic. We filled the car to capacity with the clothes worth wearing, toys most likely to be played with, whatever we felt we couldn’t leave behind. And then we left one home for another, left Minnesota and her many lakes behind us, and headed towards what Noah now calls our “New St. Paul’s”. The driving, once started, didn’t stop for a very long time. We rode through flat lands and became quick fans of Motel Super 8, because camping loses its flavor when you’ve been in a car all day with a toddler.
Everywhere we went there were trains. Long chains, longer than the corporate farmer’s fields they drove through, of cars filled with Walmart and Costco and the handiwork of China to be sure. But the oil outnumbered them all. Brand spanking new tankers, linked together like black blood sausages, creeping across the countryside toward someplace where they were going to make somebody rich and away from some other place that we try not to think about. Those trains haunted us as we blazed across the country in our guzzling pepper red Oldsmobile. Those trains made us feel dirty.
The mountains were a sight for prairie-sore eyes and we got our fill of them on both sides of the border. It’s dizzying to see something so massive looming over you, acknowledging how small and destructible you really are, like vertigo from the ground up. I like thinking about how old they might be or how they tectonically smashed their way into existence. But mostly they’re just beautiful to look at. We drove for days through the winding valleys of all of them; Banff, Glacier, Yoho, Kootenay and Jasper. It was hard to stop our mountain wandering, but was made easier the morning we woke up to rain and thunder in our small 3 man tent. It poured and didn’t let up for us as we tore down our site. Soaking wet we set off for 10 more hours of driving, long enough to dry our bones and to get into at least one argument. We arrived that evening at our New St. Pauls, tired and sufficiently over cross-country road trips. For now.
Noah was lucky. His room came with a bed. Ours came with a set of drawers, so we slept on the floor 3 nights before aching backs forced us across the toll bridge to Ikea where we grumbled over the pronunciation of Swedish named bedsheets and pillows. We wanted out of that labyrinth and settled quickly on a simple bed and cursed the toll once more on our way home. Two beds, some drawers and even a kitchen table; so much more than we’d arrived with. Every day the empty-apartment-echo that bounces from one wall to another is softened by a new bowl, or lamp or toy. Our lives are filling up, not just with stuff, but slowly with friend who give us their precious time and listening ears as we recount our somewhat ridiculous nomadic escapades. We are settling in, finding our routines, adjusting to the West Coast that is, rather than the West Coast we’d been imagining all this time.
So here we go again, a different place, but same story continued. True, a little less sunshine, but if I step outside and peek over my fence and look beyond the highway, there are mountains. For now, this will do.