Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Third Canadian Autumn Begins

I’ve always found it remarkable how many people say that autumn is their favorite season. You would think that people would prefer the lazy doldrums of summer. Yet, ask any North American to name their favorite season, and you will invariably get a response indicating either fall or both summer and fall.

I think the explanation for this is that fall is a time of year when people often start something new—ironically, a season of death represents new beginnings for so many. Either it’s off to school, sending kids to school, the start of a new sports season, or even getting new clothes that provide a bit more protection from the elements than the summer tank tops and shorts. One of my friends and I were recently discussing how powerful seasons and holidays are in prompting memories and emotions—it’s the temperatures in the air, the thickness of the atmosphere, the decorations, the colors of the fields, the richness (or lack of) in the hues in the sky, and most of all the smells that cause us to get lost in reverie, depression, or excitement. Fall, in particular, is a bit drastic in these changes. While autumn slips in some flurries here and there just to get everyone mentally ready for the upcoming cold, winter moves to spring in a blustery and muddy but gradual way, and spring eases into summer with two-degrees forward/one-degree backwards type intervals, the fall of fall always seems to be more sudden. There is always a day each year when I walk out my back door and say, usually to no one in particular, “Well, fall is here.” I can’t recall ever having that same epiphany for other seasons.

While autumn has always been my favorite season, the changing from summer to fall has increased significance for me now as I remember that one of the biggest changes in my life happened in the late summer/early fall of 2008. That was when I moved away from the US. The 30th of August recently came and went, and the magnitude of the date did not escape me—it was my two year anniversary of moving to Canada.

I had some chance to contemplate how much my life had changed in two years, and in what ways the changes were so much different than I could have imagined. The following weekend was cold, rainy, and blustery, and I remember mentioning to no one in particular, “Well, fall is here.” Our friends Tony and Rick came from Michigan to visit us for the holiday weekend. This was their third annual Labor Day weekend visit. Their first visit to Canada on Labor Day weekend was when I moved to Canada. They arrived in Cambridge on the Friday night and stayed with Sarah so that they were there and able to help us unload the U-Haul when I arrived from Michigan the next day. In the mean time I was sleeping in a nearly empty house in Michigan with a U-Haul parked in the driveway. I got up the next morning and finished loading the final few items. My friend and neighbor Beth came over to say a tearful goodbye and to give me a bunch of Canadian coins that my soccer teammates had collected as a going away present.

As I needed to bring not only the U-Haul to Canada, but also my car, my friends Clare and Jason came over to make the trip with me. We had a nice little three-vehicle convoy—I was driving the giant U-Haul truck. Clare drove my car, and Jason drove his car so that he and Clare would have a way to get back to Michigan.

I’ll never forget those few split seconds when I pulled out of the driveway for what I knew would be the last time. I was full of fear and sadness. Sarah had made the same journey just six weeks earlier, and she said that the further she got from Grand Rapids, the more the fear and sadness started to transition into excitement and anticipation. Like her, I was driving all alone with only my iPod and my “moving to Canada” playlist to keep me company. More on that in a future post.

The U-Haul could only go so fast, and we had to stop for gas and food now and then. When we reached Detroit, we had to stop to export my car. Most encounters with United States federal government employees are a real treat, and this was no different. It took about an hour to complete something that should have taken ten minutes. Finally the car was exported, and we headed over the Ambassador Bridge. We didn’t get too far as the line to get into Canada extended almost the length of the bridge. I will never forget thinking about how during that whole time on the bridge, my car was a car without a country—exported from the US but not yet imported into Canada. I was kind of the same.

The import proceedings at the Canadian border took an additional hour, but were a much more pleasant experience, as the customs officers were very chatty and helpful. Then we were on our way again, driving the horrendous two hours of highway 401 nothingness between Windsor and London. Once we hit London, I knew we were only an hour away from my new home, and as Sarah predicted, my fear and sadness has changed to excitement—here I was in a new country, MY new country.

A journey that would typically take under six hours ended up taking ten hours. Our little convoy arrived at the house in Cambridge where we were joyfully greeted by Sarah, Tony, Rick, and our dogs Cody and Brit. The reunion with Sarah and the dogs was emotional enough, and the realization that four of my friends made the incredible journey with us just to help us out and help ease our anxiety was overwhelming. It was already getting dark when we arrived, so we opted to wait until the morning to unload the truck. Besides, Sarah, Tony, and Rick had made a trip to the Beer Store and stocked the fridge with over 72 bottles of new and exciting Canadian beers.

I woke up the next morning and opened my eyes and thought, “Wow, I’m in Canada. I’m in a different country!” (This internal morning ritual was repeated every morning for almost the next five months.) The rest of the weekend was filled with shopping, drinking, and unpacking. On Labor Day, all of our friends headed back to Michigan, and so we were left all alone in a new country where we didn’t know anyone. I had negotiated to start my job the following week, so I had one week all to myself to explore my surroundings. Sarah was working, so during the day, I rode my bike and walked around town, took drives through the countryside, and sat on the deck taking it all in. Autumn came early in 2008, and by the first week of September, the feeling was already in the air. The day before I started my new job, I was hanging out on the deck with the dogs. The sky was cool gray, the wind encouraged a few red-tinged maple leaves to surrender to gravity, and I buttoned my overcoat with a shiver. I mumbled to no one in particular, “Well, fall is here.”

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