“I found myself looking back and mourning the loss of Toronto. This, I think, is causing me to stay still when I should be moving forward.”
I’m walking on the path by the Bow River. This part was closed for days after the June flood. I miss coming here.
We recently bought a townhouse in West Hillhurst that now feels uncomfortably close to the water. Still, walking on the Bow River Path has become an important part of my daily routine. Our street didn’t flood, but I heard a loudspeaker telling people two streets over to evacuate. What if next time it’s us?
The river lifts my spirits. Two days before the flood, I walked along the path and crossed the Peace Bridge. I peered over it, marvelling at the clear water. The sound soothes me. Who knew the river had such rage? These walks helped me cope with a recent move from Toronto.
Now I’m back on the same bench overlooking the river. Winter is coming, I think, as I look at the few gold leaves rustling on the branches, the last remnants of a beautiful autumn. “But where are the red maple’s leaves?” I asked my husband one day.
I look at the trees that have washed up on the bank of the river. They are still there, but the water is clear again. Being here has put me in a reflective mood. I watch a magpie, with its cream breast and long, dark blue tail. It’s perched in a tree squawking. I look at the joggers and dog walkers coming down the path. A black squirrel scampers near the bench and stops and stares at me for a second as if to say “How did you get here?”
How did I end up in Calgary? I stare at the uprooted trees at the side of the bank and think about the move, a move that has left me feeling displaced and off centre.
How did I get here?
The short answer is work. My husband got a job. 30,000 people moved to Calgary last year. I have family in Alberta. They moved out for jobs as well. We’d lived in Toronto for sixteen years. Our roots went deep, I thought, staring at the dead trees. I am that uprooted tree.
When we moved out to Calgary, we stayed at my sister’s house. Then we found our new townhouse near this bench by the Bow River Path.
“So what now?” I asked myself. That was the key question. I stared at the river, willing it to reflect the answer back to me. “Shouldn’t I be taking yoga classes or signing up for a reading club at my new neighbourhood library?” Instead, I found myself looking back and mourning the loss of Toronto. This, I thought, is causing me to stay still when I should be moving forward.
In my mind, Toronto was the centre of the universe. Not only did I feel way off centre here, but I constantly worried that I was missing out on something.
I began recording places I wanted to visit or explore. The first thing on the list to try was snowshoeing in Lake Louise. I went to “Mozart” performed by the Alberta Ballet Company. Next, I went and had coffee and read the paper at an indoor atrium downtown that had just reopened.
“You know, when you first moved to Calgary all you talked about was how much you missed Toronto,” a friend who was visiting said. “And the last few months that’s stopped.”
It was true. I did feel more settled now. It happened slowly, I’d barely noticed the change, but I was becoming more comfortable here. “You’re just living your life like before,” she added.
I know where to go for the everyday things now: the Polish store for perogies; the Italian store for sausage and asiago cheese; and into Kensington for coffee. There was no denying it—I was getting over my mourning period.
“Now I’ve got a few places to take you,” I said to my friend. She came out last summer for the Stampede. I realize nowadays that I needed the summer to create new memories: buying cowboy hats with my husband (his black, mine white) at Lammlee’s, the store for all things western; drinks on the terrace with my sister on gorgeous summer evenings at the Riverside Inn in Kensington; lunches with my best friend at Cucina, a restaurant that is reminiscent of a cozy Italian farmhouse. My best friend and I browsed the Kensington boutiques; that’s when I bought my new winter coat.
“But it’s red,” I said to her. “It’s the right colour. It will make up for the lack of red maple leaves,” she said.
I’ve been there, I now tell myself when passing many of the restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and theatres in my neighbourhood. I’ve started to feel more of a connection. There are moments here that I really appreciate: catching a glimpse of the majestic grey-blue Rocky Mountains; the wide-open sky; the fresh air. I still don’t feel that I know the city that well yet, but I do know that it has the beautiful Bow River dividing it. Watching it now it’s hard to believe that it flooded. It was brown for a time, but it’s clear again. I also find it hard to believe I’m entering my second winter here. I’m hoping that it will be easier and less lonely than my first.
I get up from the bench and continue walking along the path. I think about how I’m looking forward to wearing my new red winter coat. It will protect me from the harsh winter here. I watch the ebb and flow of the current and think about how change happens – sometimes it’s fast and sometimes it’s slow.