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There are multiple routes to get from The PostCard to my workplace, in the extreme east end of Toronto. On the best driving day, with no construction, traffic volume issues, weather, detours or gas/coffee stops, it is one hour, 50 minutes. This, of course, depends on the route taken and I’ve discovered many “new” routes and, each time, I insist that the route is “shorter”.

Technically, this may be true. The new routes get “shorter” but the time to destination keeps getting longer. The “new” routes zig zag past farm land, rolling hills, small towns, villages, hamlets, french fry trucks, abandoned farm equipment, antique shops … a myriad of distractions. I find the “new” routes so much more interesting, especially during dramatic seasonal changes when the landscape seems to shift before my eyes.  Right now, we are changing gears from a coolish summer to a gorgeous fall and the colours, the angle of the light, can be breathtaking.

Of course, I find these views, and the act of driving through them, nostalgic as all heck. When you are raised out in the country and you are also an active young person, involved in lots of extra curricular activities, you spend a lot of time driving places to do the things you are interested in. My Mom drove me everywhere. I remember early morning band practices, with the mist rising off the fields and creeks in the semi-dark. I remember navigating countless snowstorms to get to hockey tournaments. Driving in to the city every other Saturday to visit Grandma. Being dropped off or picked up at the school for newspaper, theatre projects, or some event or other. Driving great distances to get to do something, and then driving home, was part of my “culture”, growing up. As soon as I got my license, I was in charge of driving myself, for the most part. Long drives through the night from the community almost an hour north where I taught guitar one night a week.  Driving with my buddies into the city for a movie night from time to time – a huge treat.

As a younger passenger, there might have been a book to read or a crossword puzzle but there were certainly no electronic pacifiers for these drives. There was looking out the window, noticing changes and commenting on them. Riding along was a time to think about things, to sort through whatever pre-teen or teen emotional angst was current. I remember sitting beside my mother, countless times, in my sullen mopey way, rolling  my eyes at some bit of wisdom or observation she may have had which was, from my perspective, clearly out of touch with reality and definitely NOT COOL. I remember feeling, as a driver, all grown up when I was able to safely get myself – and often my friends – from activity to activity. That certainly felt cool.

My brothers are both drivers of long distances as well. When my nieces and nephews were in school, 2.5 hours from the community where they were raised, it was nothing for my brother and sister-in-law to drop everything, drive down to them and take them out to dinner or something and drive back. My other brother will drive hours north to “his” jointly owned fishing lodge to do engine maintenance or to fix something. Two of my nieces decided to start a main street, touristy summer business in Grand Bend, a daily one hour one way drive for 12 hour shifts. We, in our family, drive a lot and don’t seem to mind it.

This week has been one of the harder ones to manage, schedule wise, but it has worked out okay. I wound up staying in NewMarket after my Tuesday night hockey game at a funny little motel I discovered at the north end. It is clean, feels safe and inexpensive (I think I’m getting a deal now), and has a free breakfast. So, I can get up very early, hit the road home for the last hour and 15 minutes and be in front of my computer screen by 9 a.m., ready to go. On Wednesday morning, I tried to avoid the mass exodus of people going south on the 404 and took Old Yonge St. north to Mount Albert Road. This took me on a narrow road though some picturesque valleys with the requisite mist softening the sunrise. It was really gorgeous.

I came home last night from a work/social event and arrived in pretty good time, about 10:20 p.m. Driving through the inky dark night, zig-zagging through the rural back roads of Ontario, having time to quietly process all that is current or pressing in my life, listening to an audio book or CBC … it doesn’t feel at all like a burden or waste of time. It feels normal and necessary. I’m glad to have some ability to negotiate the timing of the driving and I am often overcome with gratitude for the generous and welcoming friends who let me stay with them in Toronto on the nights when the drive isn’t negotiable.  But the drive itself? Sometimes … to me … it is one of the most magical parts of living out the city.

“Ah Hear That Storm A-Comin’ … “ 3 comments

The storm approacheth, a bit like a freight train.

For about 18 hours, our TV and radio stations have been warning us of a huge storm on its way, headed directly for us. Already, this morning, we are hearing of big snow falling to the west of us and down in the Niagara Region.

I don't understand. If we know it is coming and approximately when it will hit – this afternoon, apparently – why aren't we closing schools now as opposed to trying to send everyone home in a mad and dangerous scramble later today?

OK – I admit it. This question comes from the place in me that would like to not have to drive up to campus and teach this afternoon, knowing that I will have to drive home confronted by high winds, low visibility, and lunatics who appear to have never driven in winter conditions before in their lives.

A good winter blast is such a nostalgia trip for me. Time seems to change in the quality of its passage when we are restricted from normal activity and forced to sit home alone, with candles, fireplaces and perhaps a good book. When I was growing up, there would be one or more such storms each year. Our power would go out and all 12 of us would huddle around our huge wood stove, which was actually a cooking stove as much as a heating stove. Sometimes there would be more than 12 as some of our neighbours would, for one reason or another, not have some alternative source of heating. Mom had a few standard wood stove recipes that became so evocative of being snowed in: a meaty chili … stews … casseroles. Baked potatos.

I remember reading the entirety of my mother's copy of Swiss Family Robinson by kerosene lamp during one such storm.  The perfect winter storm book as a person slips a few emotional notches towards "survivalist" during such storms. I still have that ancient-looking, cloth-bound text, published early in the 20th Century. Maybe I'll get a chance to read it again in the next few days!

With the electricity off, our water pumps would no longer function. We would need to draw water from the well just outside our back door, using a primitive, jury-rigged system of ropes and pulleys. This was the coldest damn job ever as one would have to do it in the midst of blizzard conditions, often with gale force winds … and there is nothing colder than well water splashed onto woollen mittens in those circumstances. Our water was of terrific quality so you could drink it right from the well. I also learned, from a young age, the trick of flushing the toilet with a bucket of water. We didn't use well water for this. My brothers and I were recruited to fetch pails of snow to be brought inside and left to melt in the bathroom for this specific use.

Our house was once described as a "drafty old barn of a place". Yes, it was. This was not a modern R-2000 home. The chinks in the brick work were numerous and I knew just where they were and how to position my legs when sitting still so as to not be bothered by a draft. We had to be careful of pipes freezing when the wind would blow from certain directions. My bedroom was just above the legendary wood stove – lucky me! I got some heat for part of the night when it was on. Storm or no, I was used to waking up to a freezing cold bedroom and to having a tiny snowdrift in my window sill. I learned the trick of grabbing my clothes for the day and running down two sets of stairs to the basement, putting them in the dryer for 10 minutes to warm them up.

So, today I sit in my modern, non-drafty downtown condo and contemplate the approaching storm. Other than the driving problem, it lacks a certain fear factor. When asking for add-ons when the condo was built, I expressly asked for a gas stove and a gas fireplace. Yes, these are nice things to have at anytime but I've learned a bit about alternative heat sources in the winter. I may even fetch in a few buckets of snow and let them melt, just for old times sake. You'll rarely find me without a supply of water, canned goods and candles.  Or my copy of Swiss Family Robinson.

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