The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly*
The challenges (and delights) of living parallel lives
This past week has been a fabulous reminder of just how great it is to live on the west coast of British Columbia. Tucked into a balmy corner of the nation, southern Vancouver Island enjoys a mild (if wet) climate in the winter and gloriously sunny (but generally not overly hot) summers.
The coast is a full season ahead of the cooler climes pretty much anywhere else in Canada. When I left Canmore in the Rocky Mountains 1,000 kilometers or so east, the first suggestion of pale green was beginning to tint the tips of the branches on the aspens outside our living room windows. When I arrived on the coast after a quick hour and a half in the air, it was full-on late spring/early summer.
Some of my favorite early season blooms (cherry, plum, and a particularly fragrant Azalea bush that always signified the change of season) were already long gone.
I had timed my visit to coincide with a sailing event on Pender Island and though the forecast had promised rain (see the comment above about the region’s propensity for lots of precipitation), we wound up worrying instead about sunburn. Being on the water again put me into a familiar state of bliss. I never sleep better than when I’m snoozing in a quarter-berth and I know that if I’m aboard my daughter’s boat, I’ll also enjoy exceptional dining.
My first family (my dad, my older daughter — D#1 — and her husband and, until recently, my youngest brother and his family) all live on the coast. Going back still feels like returning home and I never seem to have enough time to visit with everyone I plan to see. One of my publishers is on Vancouver Island, so there’s usually at least one lunch with editors or designers or someone professional while I’m in town. There’s also a huge network of writers and since I lived on the coast for a couple of decades, I count many among my friends. There are climbing friends and family friends and boating buddies — and inevitably, more remain on the ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have coffee’ list than those I am able to squeeze into what always winds up being a too-hectic schedule.
Coming back to the coast makes me appreciate this place all the more and I notice things with fresh eyes when I arrive here as a sort-of-visitor. One of the benefits of leaving is being able to come back and notice things I’d taken for granted when I was a full-time resident.
Being a visitor is also a major source of frustration. There are projects in the garden I’d love to tackle — the pond complex out back needs a major overhaul as the pond zone is completely overgrown at the moment. I miss being able to walk into the garden and pick fresh veggies (not so practical in the mountains where the weather is cool and hungry bears love snacking on ripening fruit… so much so I think there’s even a by-law prohibiting planting fruit trees in town).
Vacation Time Speeds up As Departure Nears
As with any vacation, time starts running out just as one is starting to feel settled and comfortable. Here on the island, there’s also the added pressure of knowing I’ll soon be leaving behind my father and D#1, which is never easy. Yes, we spend time together while I’m here, but it never seems long enough to get through our lengthy lists of things we want to talk about.
And, like any vacation, while it’s wonderful to be away, I find myself missing aspects of home. Spring in the mountains is short — and, intense. Almost overnight the snow is gone and everything that has been monochromatic and dormant all winter jolts awake. By the time I get back after only ten days away I suspect I will have missed most of it.
My writing groups are in Canmore, the theatre community, the mountains, the climbing, the cycling… There’s a lot going on outside my house, but inside our new, cozy home I have a terrific little office. It’s still new and fresh enough that I enjoy a small thrill every morning when I push open the door, set my mug of tea on my desk, and settle down to work.
I’m heading back in a couple of days and I know I will be happy to be back with my sweetheart and D#2. I have a seminar to attend the morning after my return and plans to pick up some bedding plants for pots up on the balcony. My speedy bike and I have a date to cycle the Legacy Trail along the Bow Valley to Banff (about 25 kilometers away) and, of course, the rock will be warm enough to get back to outdoor climbing.
At the same time, the texts, emails, and Facebook contact with the family on the coast won’t be quite the same as being in the same room, chatting and laughing.
I don’t know whether my two worlds will ever fully merge. The mountains and the sea, the family on the coast, the family in the Rockies. The one consistent element is the writing — that comes with me wherever I go.
I suspect that’s one of the reasons why it’s so important, such an essential part of who I am and how I function in the world.
There are challenges to be sure — the travel, the planning, the expense of shuttling back and forth between my two realities can be a pain —but I know how fortunate I am to be able to juggle both worlds relatively easily.
My mother’s family was divided by the aftermath of a war that killed uncles, fathers, and brothers and left a nation split down the middle. My parents left Europe for Australia long before email or Facebook made it relatively easy to keep track of those who headed off to distant lands.
The world is full of displaced people, refugees, travelers, and those who have lost homes and families permanently. To have the luxury of two places to call home, several branches of family where I know I am welcome to stay and missed when I am gone — wow. Knowing I belong in more than one place makes the sadness of leaving one of them behind bearable.
But it is a sadness, nevertheless, knowing that wherever I am I’m missing out on the small everyday happenings that make up a life, the other life, the one I’m not living.
The only antidote is to fully embrace and enjoy the life I am living today, here, right now.
It’s all too easy to succumb to the idea that the other option is better and that kind of thinking can only lead to a sense of perpetual dissatisfaction and incurable FOMO.
Instead, here I am, ironically neither here nor there, holed up in a hotel room with a good friend in no-man’s-land near Lonsdale Quay on the north shore of Vancouver. The city of Vancouver is just across the water, the Quay just outside.
A moment ago I stepped out onto the balcony and into the bright sunshine and took a deep breath, still recently arrived enough that the moist, dense air is noticeably different to the light, dry air of the mountains.
A float plane glides lazily down toward the water. A breeze ripples the surface of the bay. I step back inside the hotel room and settle down to write.
*Note: This title was inspired by a recent series of posts from my sister-in-law who is currently living aboard a sailboat in the BVI… My hope is that she will soon be posting here on Medium so you can all enjoy her (mis)adventures.