Honeymoons and Rear-View Mirrors

Well, lookie-lookie. Here’s something I found lurking in my files, an observational piece I never did anything with. I was newly-married, living in a cabin in the West Quebec woods, not far from the Wakefield General Store. It was 1995. Quebec’s second referendum on independence was coming. I was taking Stab One at being a writer, but in addition to being giddy with remarital joy, I had mononucleosis. It was a sleepy, lovely and thoroughly unproductive time, but here is something I scribbled between the birch trees.

Apr. 22/14 UPDATE: This post inspired an extended comment from a faithful reader, which has turned into a full-on guest column that responded to questions of identity and “Canadian-ness” mentioned below. Mr. Freeman’s meditation on home and heart is here.

From here, I look out upon a Wakefield morning. Just after  dawn, a bright sun  peered in our window from behind a curtain of colour. And thank goodness for our woodsy surroundings, because there aren’t any curtains on these huge panes; the trees have already seen enough of my naked dashes from bath to bed. Ouch! One enthusiastic but directionally‑challenged chirper just discovered that our living room is not a fly‑through zone. The day has now become quite grey, but in this splendid Quebecois setting, even grey has charms.

There have been some changes, haven’t there? In my little world, love and restlessness and an overwhelming desire to chain myself to a keyboard have landed me here, tapping merrily and watching the wind. I like where I am. Born near the centre of the universe — Leafs and Jays about  an hour of asphalt away¹ — my grand little rivertown home has been a good place to love and leave and return to, and now to leave again.    Mistress Quickly and I have left the Golden Horseshoe, which folks in the Niagara Falls‑Hamilton‑Oshawa axis like to call “the civilized world”. In this year of our Lord 1995 (non, M. Parizeau², I didn’t call you), we have set up housekeeping in the Gatineau Hills of Quebec, where the lakes are  gorgeous and accents are thick and Ottawa is a persistent rumour.

¹ The Raptors started hooping later that fall.

² Jacques Parizeau was the leader of the Parti Quebecois, and Premier of the province, when the failed bid for sovereignty-by-referendum occurred.

Last spring, I came to this part of Quebec for the first time, to visit my spousal‑ life‑partner‑household‑friend‑person (my “wife”, if you prefer). At that time, she was only a Dangerous Woman, who came to meet me along Ontario’s Highway 7, convinced  that I would wind up in upstate New York if she didn’t. The first thing I noticed about Quebec is that the sun sets in the east here. This seemed to be taking the “maitres chez  nous“³ idea too far. Apparently, though, I was just a bit more disoriented than usual; crossing the Otttawa River, one does indeed proceed north into Quebec, and at certain  points along L’Autoroute de la Gatineau it confused me mightily to be driving directly into the sunset. But then, I also lived a year in Windsor, Ontario, and never quite got used to travelling north to go to Detroit for my urban planning classes. (The foregoing  reference to scenic Detroit was a clever joke; no disrespect to Michiganders intended.) More surprises ensued. The Dangerous One had also craftily arranged for an absurdly scenic view of Lac Gauvreau to be placed right behind her cottage. Hills of green, the last hints of sun, silken waters and a mist‑shrouded moon, etc.; you know, the whole ball of wax. It became clear that La Belle Province really is,  and that it might not  be finished with me yet.

³ “Masters of our own house.”

Non: 50.6% Oui:  49.4% Quebec remains. Je me souviens.

Non: 50.6%
Oui: 49.4%
Quebec remains.
Je me souviens.

It wasn’t. After a few subtle adjustments of my professional, marital, and  geographic status, I have landed here in La Peche, one of those municipalities that nobody  willingly claims to live in. You may know the kind: miles and kilometres of cottage‑dotted,  farm‑speckled land occasionally punctuated by a village or a town. If I was a  homeowner, I would be paying La Peche taxes, but if anyone asks, I live in the village of Wakefield. No doubt the snow removal and road maintenance are more economical with these larger imaginary communities, but local pride and identity are hard to come by. It’s  the same where I grew up; there’s a place called the Town of Haldimand that municipal politics keeps in the news, but people there say they are from Cayuga or Hagersville or, if they’re truly blessed, from Caledonia. A banal observation, perhaps, but it comes to mind that maybe sovereigntists in Quebec have much the same feeling (okay, Jacques, maybe I do owe you an apology). Mind you, I can’t recall any talk in any of my small‑town homes about secession from the larger municipality.  I won’t even mention the global village and the maple leaf (forever?). It looks like a lot has to happen before  we feel like world citizens; many of us have trouble feeling like Canadians.

This business of identity and belonging is interesting, particularly when life’s accidents and purposes take us away from a place we have known as home. Though there are faces I long to see, this, too, is a good place. There was a wonderfully campy and nearly unknown film a few years back called The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai:  Across the Eighth Dimension. The hero of the piece was, yes, Buckaroo Banzai, a Buddhist poet‑philosopher‑singer‑surgeon‑scientist‑crimefighter‑inventor and really swell guy.  (Really, I am coming to the point.) When I’m feeling lost or disoriented, uncertain of who I am or why I’m here, I can turn with comfort to Buckaroo’s immortal words:  “No matter where you go, there you  are.”

And there you are.

And there I was, years before was even a twinkle in the eye of the Interweb storm. I could live in Wakefield again. Some of the best folk musicians in North America drop by the Black Sheep Inn there; Dar Williams was one.

It was that kind of place.

It was that kind of place.

Comment (1)

  1. Michael Freeman

    Editor’s Note: This comment has been drastically cut for length, as I am trying to persuade my friendly correspondent to either publish the whole thing himself, or let it appear as a guest post here. JH

    You wrote: “Many of us have trouble feeling like Canadians”….[Many seek to] impose their own conceptualization of ‘nationhood’…in the name of what?…

    But your vision of home is intriguing. There are many within Canada that do not call themselves Canadian. They were born here, they grew up here, they’ve lived here every second of every day of their lives, but they are not Canadian….[Like] me, a confused original to this land, fervently holding to a concept that is all but passed me by and some would argue, the world. Am I Aboriginal, or am I Canadian? Why do I feel like I have to choose? And if I choose “wrong”, who will be the one to chastise, and target me for that choice? BTW, there is no right answer….Identity and belonging? I am one whose identity is peeling away like the eroding shores of a river’s bend, who’s always felt like I fit everywhere, but have never belonged anywhere….

    (A genie grants a fellow three wishes. The genie is quite surprised when the first two wishes are not the usual selfish ones that he grants. He is eager to grant the final wish, but fears that the typical greed would shine through. The genie asks, and the man replies, “I wish that you not remember me.” As soon as the wish is granted, the genie sees the fellow for what seems to be the first time. The genie grants him three wishes…

    More of a ponderable than a joke, I guess! Wishes.)

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