Monday, March 14, 2011

Finding Adventure...

I write often about the disconnect that popular society has with nature and the world, especially because I believe that such a connection is a fundamental part of our being human, and that a lack thereof affects our ability to flourish. Coming back to Canada, the frustration sets in even further as I become more aware of the many options that are available to us to enjoy nature or simply just to find an adventure not far from home. That so many people are consumed by their material desires and their evening television shows when surrounding them is one of the most diverse and beautiful countries made up of an interesting mix of people and cultures, is a great tragedy. It is so easy to take off and find something new, even close by.

My need for an adventure set in quick upon returning to Toronto. The always epic battle between the winter and the spring leave the city wet and dreary, and make my suburban neighborhood seem sad and uninspiring. And so it was that I decided to take off to visit Montreal, a city just four hours away, yet a nation of its own. Getting on a bus was a great feeling that invoked nostalgia from my days in Latin America where I rode buses everywhere. Although I was just heading down the 401 highway, I was on the road again, traveling, and it felt good. I stared out the bus window for a long time as we sped along the wet highway, remembering my younger days when we would be driving down that same stretch, heading to a campground or a lake for an adventure with family and friends.

Arriving in Montreal one can immediately feel a different vibe altogether. The city seems more alive and more aware, the random smiles more prevalent. Everything is in French, a great challenge for someone like me who barely passed grade nine French class – one of my great childhood regrets. Ordering a bus ticket or asking for some sugar in my coffee suddenly becomes a nerve wrecking ordeal. I embrace the challenge though, knowing that such moments where I step out of my comfort zone and into the unknown I build character and become that much more connected. I’m reminded of the first time I was faced with such a challenge, it was about five years ago now, I was alone on my first trip anywhere outside of Canada, and I had just arrived in Bangkok, Thailand. The language, the culture, the people, everything was completely foreign to me, but I remember distinctly my first attempts at communication, and the amazing feeling that I had when I was finally understood. Now, here in Montreal, I’m amazed at the fact that anyone from my home city of Toronto can easily hop on a bus for four hours and throw themselves into such uncertainty. I wish more people would try it.

I met with an old friend who I knew through my days of human rights accompaniment work in Guatemala. We had a good long talk in Spanish about the interesting happenings of the world today. Speaking Spanish in Montreal at least made me feel somewhat more adequate – they are both Romance languages after all. I then met up with Tyler, Jesse, and Tasha Palov, an amazing family that just seem to get it when it comes to that connection with nature and the world that I write about so often. Tasha and I headed up to the Southern townships with a packed car, complete with Zoe the dog and Fiera the cat. We were intent on finding some silent time in the beautiful rolling countryside that is unique to South Eastern Canada. The snow and the rain were in a constant battle leaving the city of Montreal flooded and somewhat hectic, but as we crossed the great St. Lawrence river and headed out into the country, the cars and the people disappeared and the landscape opened itself up. We cruised along in the cool evening, catching up on the last six months to the hum of the engine and smell of Zoe’s panting breath from the backseat. We turned onto some back roads approaching the townships, the sides of the roads were lined with high piles of snow. Suddenly we had to slow as two large deer came climbing over the snow bank and trotted across the road in front of us. It was a reminder that I was home, back in Canada, and that spring was on its way.

It was a relaxing weekend in the country, with silent winter walks and warm chats beside the fireplace. Now here I am on a bus heading back to Toronto with another adventure under my belt and with a new sense of determination to explore more of this vast and magnificent country. I’ve headed west several times now, once by hitch-hiking across the entire country. Now my goal is to explore more of the east, and I anticipate many more adventures await me in the near future.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Six Months Later...

I guess nothing really has changed, but it all seems so different. It is me that has changed.
Through large windows pattered with rain drops, I am looking across the dark, cold and wet suburban sprawl of this city were I came of age. I am insulated in this building, protected completely from the stinging elements outside. It is a symbol of this North American society, sheltered from the struggles of the world around it, looking through a distorted lens. Every time I come back to Canada the contrast becomes ever more stark, and the flaws become ever more apparent in this perfection that we aim to seek. I think of it as a sterile society, both literally and figuratively. Everything is clean and often quite uniform, and even when it appears random, there is usually some method behind it. Here one can go to the grocery store and buy some lettuce and not worry about washing it before eating; one can walk down the street at night without worrying about a desperate fellow pulling a knife. This is what we have striven for, this perfection, this utopia. But really it amounts to a sterility that leaves much to desire. It is a sterility that perfects our society to the detriment of our characters and of our ability to evolve as humans, and to the detriment of our worldly perceptions. Perhaps we are better off having our heads up and our eyes open more often, perhaps the problem is that we rely too often on this sterility, and it is what breeds that political and worldly indifference that has become characteristic of our society.

I try to be positive when I am here, it is my home after all, and it is a beautiful land with well intentioned people. But I can't ignore the reality of things. I am not a better person than anyone reading this, but living abroad for a long time has undoubtedly expanded my perceptions of this world. The depth of analysis of issues and events becomes heightened when one can compare them on an international scale. To look upon Canada from the outside, especially from the perspective of the poor global South is to see a country much different than the one that I was raised to believe existed. Coming home it has become so much more apparent how little the masses know about what is happening not only in the world around them, but within their own country. There is much talk here in Canada, but the reality is that our actions fail to meet up to our words, and until we change our way of living, the future seems bleak.

Coming back to Canada is starting to become a vacation for me, like returning to a five star resort, where everything is served on a platter. The cold has been difficult to deal with after living an often shirtless life over the last six months. I thought I would enjoy a taste of the winter, but when I got on a plane at the Equator, and arrived the next day to record low temperatures in the Rocky Mountains of Canada, the shock was certainly unappealing. The one thing I am enjoying the most is the silence. Complete silence is the sound of winter and it is something that I missed dearly. Never in coastal Ecuador was it possible to find such natural silence. In Ecuador I could lock myself in an office and hope that the sound of car horns and music would be kept out, but here I can walk through a forest in the cold, dead of winter and hear absolutely nothing but perhaps the calm howl of the wind.

Indeed it is good to be back to see family and friends, to be reminded of why I built bonds with the people that I know here in the first place. I'm not sure how long I'll remain here in Toronto, but the desire to keep moving never abates. After four years of living abroad I have only just pierced the globe South of the equator, and most of the world still remains to be discovered.