I stopped posting during my year in Canada. In part, it was due to a big photo project that took over a lot of my time, and in part, I was simply having such a great time that I didn't need to post here to remind myself how wonderful life is. I kept meaning to, and for a while at least, I made notes to myself in a text file of the things I wanted to write about. These are some treasured moments from my year in Canada...
* The department Christmas party was initially cancelled due to a snowstorm at the last minute which meant that we had to evacuate the hill. When it finally happened, there was an amazing Christmas tree consisting of a pyramid of little fir trees in pots, which were given out after the party for us to take home. Taking Connie back on the bus, I got so many people saying what a cute little tree she was, and then I made little decorations out of beads and paper stars. The first time I had a Christmas tree of my own!
* The hill to work looks completely different depending on the weather. Walking up in the fog, the rock walls loom and skeletal trees are sharp through the mist. It reminds me of the Swamp of Despair in the Neverending Story.
* I like the middle-aged lady on the Number 83 bus who sings aloud without caring what anyone thinks.
* Some days, when the cloud and mist lies low over the landscape, we can look down from the hill to see a soft white blanket below. Hyejeon says that in Korea, this is called a cloud sea.
* I love collecting or photographing random objects, from the obvious things like a golf ball at the edge of the golf course, to the strange, like a headless wedding-cake topper of a groom on the path through the woods. Other things I saw included knickers on a tree, a glove carefully left on the fence for the owner to find, a parsnip in the surf at the edge of the sea, and an old orange plastic chair thoughtfully put at the bus stop.
* When it was snowing, I went down to the beach and paddled in the sea. There were delicate white edges to the waves, and the air was pale grey and misty with whirling snowflakes. It reminded me strongly of the Hokusai woodblock print.
* I had the strangest dream of android love poetry and washing spinach on a motorway bridge.
* When I stuck a needle hard into my finger when sewing, my first thought was, "don't lick it, photograph it!". The taste of blood always reminds me of the water from the Chalice Well in Glastonbury.
* While waiting for the bus, I saw a van with "Two small men with big hearts moving company" and a load of hearts painted on it. Awww.
* When the heavy snow came, I ran straight out onto my balcony. Heavy flakes were spiralling down, making haloes of the lights. I pulled on a jumper and shoes and walked outside. After 10 minutes or so, I realised how cold I was getting, I was shivering hard and my eyelashes were sticking together, so I turned round to go home. But in the subdivision, the houses all look the same, and I couldn't even tell where the roads were any more. I got thoroughly lost, and it took me three tries to find the right road, so I was very grateful to get home.
* When home for Christmas, mum made a scene of herself in a well-known scandanavian furniture warehouse, blowing through a straw into her fizzy apple juice. We were all laughing so hard.
* I love wax crayons, and always sniff them surreptitiously.
* I love the phrase "wide awake".
* Walking home from a swing dance class in -5 without a coat, with wind chill of -13. It was bitingly cold, but I felt so powerful as I held my head up and sang old songs like Greensleeves.
* The beach is so special in the winter. I get home from work, and walk straight out, to spend as long as I can walking in a daze by the water's edge, beachcombing for seaglass. I only go home when it's dark.
* I went to a skiing conference on Vancouver Island. It was amazing fun, even though I sucked at skiing, which I only tried once. What I did love was snowshoeing, which is like wearing ginormous flip-flops, and sounds like a herd of elephants stomping on cornflakes. We walked through beautiful pristine woods, and saw miniature waterfalls frozen into icicles, and incredible snow frozen into crystals that looked like diamonds. I also loved the snow-tubing, where you whoosh down a steep frozen slope in a huge inner tube. Absolutely terrifying and exhilerating. After a couple of gentle runs, I bravely asked for the run-up snowplough one: you stick your legs out straight, and start right up on the slope, above the person who pushes you off... when you get there, they grab your legs and whirl you round so you go whistling down the slope spinning crazily. I lost my hat!
* I got rickrolled! Fantastic.
* I did the 10k run, and though I was down as a "walker", I ran enough of it to get a time of under 75 minutes. I was very pleased with myself. Along the seafront, there was a whiff of sea in the air that made it so nice to run.
* Victoria looked so lovely in the spring, with the cherry blossoms out, and puddles on the ground.
* Bike to Work Week was tough on Gerda, but all the better for that. Even though I pushed her up the hills! I love the exercise I get - the walk up the hill each day, cycling the 10km into town on the Lochside trail at weekends, or walking the 10km loop around Beaver Lake, seeing the beautiful trees and the stripes of sunlight on the ground.
* Tofino is a truly special place. The temperate rainforest is breathtaking, the trees are like ents. We saw bears.
* I was nervous about my first bellydance performance in years. But the other girls in the tribal troupe were lovely, and did my makeup for me. It felt really nice to be part of a group.
* Sidney Spit is a little gem of perfection. A long strip of white sand, coarse seagrass blowing in the wind, old pilings, seabirds calling, and a picture-book red-and-white lighthouse.
* I got up for dawn on the solstice to see the sun rise over the sea. I cut my foot so badly on the rocks that I thought it would make a good sacrifice to any gods listening, but sadly, it was cloudy.
* Victoria Day was awesome. I wanted to take part in the Living Flag - but didn't get there early enough to get one of the official red or white t-shirts you needed. So I went to a shop and bought myself a cheap red t-shirt, and smiled nicely enough to one of the organisers that he let me crash it. We all got tiny Canadian flags, and got to wave and smile up at the crane where a bunch of reporters were taking our pictures. Later on, I watched the fireworks over the bay, chatting to an old guy who had learned woodcarving from First Nations people. He helped me fend off a drunk guy as I rescued my bike afterwards. I had meant to stick my bike on the bus to get home, but there was no chance - the buses were completely crammed. I had to cycle home in the dark, quite trickly along the unlit Lochside trail without a working front light.
* Tim and I cycled along Long Beach in Tofino, early in the day when it was deserted. That was incredible. The wind was strong, and the sand was white. The air smelled of salt, and the only sound was the waves.
* Luminara, the Victoria lantern festival, was sadly rained out. I persevered, seeing as much as I could in the pouring rain, with my trusty electric candle still flickering. Afterwards, I had to wait ages for a bus, soaked to the skin.
* I saw an otter on the beach - it ran right up, then noticed I was there and ran away again. And then it came back! Another time, I saw a raccoon in someone's driveway.
* I love seeing the rescue kittens in the window of the pet store in the mall. Timmy's doughnuts are sublime. And in the used book store, I found books I remembered from being a kid, but which are out of print, and I could never get. After finding the first two, I managed to find the third in the series on my next trip there.
* The bus from work went right past the Glendale gardens, so I could stop and walk there for an hour. There is an incredible amount of love lavished on that garden, and it shows. There is a broom in the roof of the Japanese hut, and a gong to chime. I loved the native garden, and the peacock made of painted wood, and the huge eucalyptus tree. I saw hummingbirds there.
* The bunnies in UVic are so tame... an hour after work with a bag of carrots or apple pieces is an hour well spent, especially in the early summer when there are cute baby buns.
* Rio de Janeiro is a scary place. My evidence for this comes in two pieces. First, on the street backing onto the Copacabana hotel I was staying in, there was a knife-sharpening stand. I doubt it was for kitchen implements. Second, my friend from Capetown said she was looking forward to going home because she felt safer there. Still, there are some incredible views from the mountains within and overlooking the city, and it is a city with a lot of heart. I wasn't too happy walking back from the metro alone at night, though.
* Getting up first thing in the morning to do a nude photoshoot on the beach, I surprised a few people. The guy with his dog managed to ignore me, but the couple collecting seaweed asked whether I wasn't cold.
* Seeing a sign in the window of the pizza shop "Pizza Pi" saying "3.14592654....", I knew immediately what I had to do. I made a Pi Avanger costume in which to go and correct it. It was such a cool costume that I spent the whole day in it... getting the bus, correcting the sign, walking round town, and grocery shopping (where of course I ran into someone I knew).
* I went to the Butchart Gardens to help out with an observing event there, organised by the brilliant amateur astronomy societies in Victoria, in which the public are invited to look through telescopes. I saw Jupiter's moons, something I'd never seen before, and which fired me up all over again. Later in the year, I saw the space station pass overhead.
* I completed the Grouse Grind, in pouring rain. I was very satisfied, even though it was not a quick time. Afterwards, I saw Dr Sun Yat-Sen's Chinese Garden.
* Seattle is such a friendly city. I went by seaplane - managing to swing the co-pilot's seat both ways! - definitely the best way to travel. As you see the city from the air, the Space Needle is visible from miles off, with the mountains in the background. I stayed in an art hostel - central, cheap, beautifully decorated, friendly staff, and free breakfast. The market is just incredible, all the sights and sounds and smells mix together. There was a shop selling old-looking tin robots. A guy out on the street was playing an amazing drum solo on a collection of old plastic cartons, and other odds and ends - he gave a little girl some sticks to play along with him. The Space Needle was super-awesome... I stayed up there for hours and hours, watching the sun set across the city and the lights come on. The Space Needle was designed to look like a flying saucer, riding on the top of an energy beam, and that is exactly what it looks like. I like seeing it best at night. I sat on the shoulder of the Fremont troll, who lurks under a bridge, clutching his Volkswagen beetle. In gasworks park, people ride bikes, have picnics, fly kites and dance, all in the shadow of the rusty old pipes and chambers of the old works. Next to the park, seaplanes land on the sparkling blue lake, and the Space Needle soars on the skyline. Other highlights were the underground tour, Washington uni grounds, and the library.
* Hyejeon came back the weekend before I left Victoria, and stayed with me. We had afternoon tea together at the White Heather tearoom, watched the seals in Oak Bay, and had a fire on the beach. Our matches didn't work so well, and we ran out... so I had to borrow some from the other people having a fire, some way away. We made s'mores, and watched as the sparks flew into the air. The smells and sounds of the fire and the sea blended together in a time of perfection.
* I loved the bell-pulls on the buses, and the way in which the street light opposite Thrifty's was broken for the whole year, so would come slooooowly on... then off. And sloooooooowly on... then off. I loved the swings in the park overlooking the beach, and the pirate flags outside one of the houses on the beachfront. I loved the huge washed-up logs which had drifted free of the hugs log-rafts which floated down the rivers. The enormous one at the end of the beach, I named Captain Watchtower, or The Watcher for short. I loved all the beautiful First Nations totems. I loved the crystal clear air. I loved the friendly, relaxed attitude of the people who live on the West Coast. I loved the little stand right outside work that sold enormous bunches of flowers for $3 with an honesty box. I loved the deer that roamed freely throughout the suburban neighbourhood, as well as in the wilder areas. I loved being able to walk to the beach, through a forest and up a small mountain, or round a lake, all right on my doorstep. I loved it when the lady on the bus told me about her chickens. I loved eating lunch outside at work, looking across to snowy Mount Washington in Seattle. I loved cycling to the farm markets out of town and returning with daffodils and cabbages in my bike basket. I loved the dollar store, and buying gummi bears from big bins in the supermarket, and raucous canada geese and "eh?".
* I was so sad to leave Canada, and left slowly... two buses, a ferry, another bus, followed by the transatlantic flight and the drive home, all with a huge suitcase, three rucksacks, sundry bags and my bike. Even as I left, it was brought home to me how much I liked Canada - people helped me with my bags onto the buses, and the bus driver stopped specially for me so I wouldn't have to carry my stuff across two roads. Still, it was nice to come home to friends and family.