Thursday, 24 May 2012

mountains, animals, home.

"Hey slack bum. Your blog still has you in the rockies!" A text from my sister today reminded me to get back to the blog, and update things for the rest of the big trip. Dodgy internet in the hotel in Vancouver, and a late arrival home last nite after flying back to Toronto, meant I hadn't finished the story on the blog. I knew what happened, and Daniel knew what happened, but online we were still in Banff. So.

Here's what happened.

The rockies are absolutely stunning - again  find myself at a loss for words, gratefully grabbing at cliches to express what I mean - and the drive to Vancouver was long but beautiful. For me, the mountains reminded me of home because of the parts of the land in Aotearoa where huge mountains push their way out of valleys with rivers, flat land and now road snaking in between. For Daniel, the mountains reminded him of home because of the part of the land in Colorado which are similarly grand and snow-capped and impressive in their vastness. And yet, both of us agreed that while mountainous regions share something they also each have their own special beauty. And so it did.

But this blog post isn't going to be about the rockies as much as it's going to be about animals.


As we drove, we kept looking for moose, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bears and other things that go bump in the night. We'd finally seen a moose back in Ontario (well, we aw the back half of it as it lumbered back into bush at the side of the road) but it would have been nice to see a whole one. We'd seen elk the evening before but were keen to see more.  The other things would have been exciting, although I knew the chance of seeing a bear was particularly slim. I mean, we were driving the Transcanadian Highway at 90km/hr. Having a clear view of a bear was an unlikely prospect.

I was starting to tire of the whole looking game after a while - especially when it became apparent that Daniel's upbringing meant he saw elk hanging out behind a tree on my side of the road even though he was driving and watching the road and I was theoretically 100% engaged in looking for animals. Hmm. After seeing yet another sign warning of particular wildlife over the next short stretch, a sign with a picture of a sheep with thick curly horns, we drove for a short stretch past a wall which had been erected and I cynically said "well Daniel, I guess we won't be seeing one of those sheep out my window after all" - at which point the wall abruptly ended and a longhorn sheep stood there, at the side of the road, as if it had been photoshopped in from a National Geographic magazine at that moment just to disprove me!

We laughed, and I was thrilled to have seen a new genre of wildlife (moose and elk? so passe) and hurriedly txted home to get my sister to google these animals with my nephew. And then, in the manner of the elk incident the nite before, we turned the corner and saw a whole lot of bighorn sheep, just hanging out, sitting around with large bone-coloured horns twisted round their heads like a group of young people wearing oversized headphones.

These are not the only animals, though. There are more!

Over the course of our trip we saw: moose, elk, antelope, bighorn sheep, and praire dogs. (If, like me, you don't know what a praire dog is, google it - they're amazing! Like whistling meer cats!)

But we also saw other animals: BamBam and Raven. My inability to call anything or anyone by the same name for longer than five minutes without turning it into a nickname meant that poor old BamBam must still be scratching his head wondering which name to answer to: BamBam, FatDog (Fatty for short, which some strangers clearly thought was cruel rather than loving), Bamster the Hamster, and The Baminator. Raven got away with being called Raves, Raven, Ravey and 'That's So Raven' (quoting a line from a teen TV show). These dogs were kind of amazing: they sat in teh back of the car for the 6 days, not knowing where we were going or what we were doing.

Over the days, we developed some routines. Clicking them into their little doggie seatbelts (a short lead strung around the actual seatbelt), giving them walks, offering them water, scratching and patting them as they looked through from the backseat. I admit that I'm not a doggie person: I like dogs fine, but I didn't grow up with them, so I feel about dogs the same way some people feel about children. Give me any baby or kid and I know what to do with them; give me a dog and I'm at a bit of a loss. This trip was a good one for me, as I got to know these two dogs and also got to experience how 'doggie' people respond so warmly and enthusiastically to other dogs. People came and struck up all kinds of conversations with us as we walked the dogs - the conversations could start halfway through and were personal without being strangely intimate or nosey: "is that an English boxer?" "Can I pet the dog?" "What's the dog's name?" "How old is he?" "Are your dogs okay with kids? My daughter has been saying 'black dog' ever since we got out of the car and we saw you." It reminded me a bit of the way that smokers have a special social bond which involves chatting about things over a cigarette. "Dogs: the new smoking." Think it'll catch on?


We pulled into Vancouver and Daniel said "this is where I live now" and it was true. A last nite in a hotel on Monday night, and we had Chinese takeaways and unpacked and packed the car for the last time. The next morning, yesterday, we drove over to UBC and found the faculty housing, and a lovely man called Kevin came to let Daniel in and show him around. The dogs were a bit confused (we hadn't driven ten hours yet, and were already stopping and unpacking the car?) but happy to cruise around the new house; after we walked down to the nearest shops for a coffee Daniel went out to do a bit of shopping for basic supplies and I stayed home with the dogs.

The tiredness hit all four of us yesterday. The dogs and I had a little sleep on the carpet: BamBam has no shame at all and spreads himself out like a very lumpy blob of honey, and Raven neatly curls into a little curl. I didn't mean to fall asleep - I was lying down on my tummy and switched on this very laptop (no internet access, but I had some stuff to write) and the next thing I knew, I was waking up with a delicate woolly pattern impressed on my face.

Daniel, FatDog and Raven were finally home (my friend from the mountains, back in the mountains) but I was not. A car ride to the airport, a flight to Toronto, and taxi to Spadina and I was into bed and fast asleep.

For me, I'm home and yet not home. As we drove West over the course of six days, I found that my wairua was travelling towards the Pacific, towards my ocean, and as I flew here last nite - less than one hour of flight for each day on the road - I realised that I am ready to go. This is my last week in this apartment, and things have started to accumulate around boxes and bags and things yet to be sorted. I've got two conferences and will stay with friends after the 31st. Life has become a series of 'to do' lists. I'm back in Toronto for three weeks but I have left myself back on the other side of this amazing continent. My side. Pacific side. Home.

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