The Navajo do not look for beauty; they normally find themselves engulfed in it. When it is disrupted, they restore it; when it is lost or diminished, they renew it; when it is present, they celebrate it.
-Erik Painter, 2017
Leaving Winnipeg, I feel pulled towards home with increasing intensity. At the same time, I want to be open to the rest of the journey that we have before us. I doubt that we will do any camping on this trip—it has just seemed like too much after driving for 7 hours or more to search for a campsite and set up our tent, so we continue to move from motel to motel, icing our cooler and trying to keep the cream fresh for our morning coffee, lovingly made in our French press in whatever room we happen to have found ourselves in. Sniff and stir has become the morning ritual.
We are both tired of driving and hungry for home, but in the meantime the road beckons and unfurls before us, and I find myself thinking of the Navajo concept of beauty, that it is everywhere and we are immersed in it and part of it. I reflect on the range of landscapes and people we’ve met on this trip, and on how beauty takes many forms…and there is more to come!
Regina is dry, hot and exhausting and we get our signals crossed trying to find a parking spot at what looks like a good coffee shop. By the time we get the car and our butts parked we are cranky and the fact that this is another “we don’t do dark roast” (featuring winy coffee) place, doesn’t help. We talk about how glad we are that even when we are cranky, we don’t blame each other, and then decide to push on to Swift Current so that tomorrow can be a shorter day. A few miles outside of Regina on the vast prairie we realize that the yellow low fuel warning light is on—we need gas.
After 22 anxious miles we make our way into Pense, a town of 500 or so residents. Canadian sculptor Joe Fafard lived here—I’m thinking there will be delightful sculptures of people and cows around the town. Apparently not—there is no one to be seen. There is a gas station that appears to be closed, the pumps barricaded with lawn furniture and plastic fencing to prevent cars driving around them. I wander into the Meat Up pub to ask for help…a vast, dark, totally empty room. Calling out, a sleepy looking man emerges from the shadowy depths and informs me that the gas station is next door. “Is it open?” I ask. He peers at me quizzically: “I have no idea”.
Back we go. I get out of the car and open the front door of the convenience store located behind the pumps. A small (Canadian Chinese?) woman with a big smile is sitting behind the counter. The place is crammed to the rafters with every kind of food stuff, hardware and household item you can imagine. I ask if she is open and she nods and smiles. I ask her which pump to use. She nods and smiles. “Pump one?” I ask—she stands up, nods and gestures towards the pumps and her smile widens. I go outside and Madeline parks the car beside the pumps while avoiding the lawn furniture and plastic fencing, negotiating the space with a new arrival, a man in a Winnipeg shirt, Ontario license plates and a huge truck. While I pump our gas, he goes into the store and comes out and asks me if the woman is crazy. I tell him she is just trying to manage the situation in her way, and a few minutes later she emerges and starts waving and directing him to get his truck to the pumps without kinking the hose.
Driving towards Swift Current, I tell Madeline that I wish she could have seen the inside of the store. It strikes me that this may have been the most excitement that the store owner had seen in a while—and far from being crazy she seemed enthused with her new customers, and besides, that huge, friendly smile never dimmed for a second.
We spend two days in Calgary. The first night we visit with our friends John and Jane with whom we are now family through marriage. We laugh and feast have a great break from driving and the following day we visit with Floyd, a long-time friend that I hadn’t seen for 25 years. More feasting, more laughter, more heart connections. As we ready for the final drive through the mountains, I feel warmed by these visits with friends old and new, and just grateful for the people in my life.
The beauty of northern Ontario is glorious, imperfect, substantial, with the Canadian Shield visible everywhere, and straggly corkscrew trees adorning mirrored lakes. The beauty of the prairies is gentle, rolling and welcoming (at least in summer) with skies that open before me like the hands of generosity.
The Rockies are another matter completely. Here nature struts her stuff like a runway model—the trees are perfect cones, the mountains are rock music, with sweeping curves and sawtooth edges that carve into the sky. The lakes are sapphire blue, fed by glaciers. This landscape is in your face, drop dead gorgeous, but I have to admit that part of me misses the wide prairie skies, and soon enough we are driving through the rolling sagebrush-adorned hills of Kamloops, and I am able to just be present with whatever is before me.
On the ferry, weaving through the Gulf Islands, I think, so many Beauties on this trip. The landscapes for sure, but just as much the people that we have met touch my heart. Everywhere, people have been friendly, kind and welcoming, and I realize that through this entire trip I have had the strongest sense of home, of belonging, of being immersed in beauty.
I added Halcyon the kingfisher to our shelf of RARE mascots beside the donkey, Falstaff the pig, and the sand dollar picture. I am so glad to be home with the kitties. Memories of the trip will continue to simmer in my mind and give birth to more stories and posts, I am certain. Thank you, Michael, for collaborating with me on the blog during our trip and for being a superb travel and life companion. And thank you dear readers for reading.