The air was crisp, just cool enough to bite at my hands and face as we headed up the mountain. It had rained the night before and the dirt road that had been dusty during the summer months was damp and glistened as the mud and sand absorbed the sounds of my tightly laced boot steps. It’s November here in the Kootenays, my favourite time of year; the country side held firmly in the grip of fall and all her colours, with animals and small town folk alike anxiously awaiting the first snowfall of the year.
The slope was steep as we began our ascent of an overgrown logging road made some forty years before. The hill side, once barren and torn by the heavy machinery was now fully recovered, boasting lush grasses, scattered with pine and fir trees growing young and strong along the steep hillsides. Old logs that had been cut and discarded after being deemed two small for industry use lay slowly rotting, returning back to the soil from which they came. They broke underfoot with a soggy, creaking strain that produced a soft perfume of damp wood that clung in the still air.
As we moved higher towards the tree line, where the mountain becomes too rocky and steep for vegetation to grow, my father stopped suddenly, frozen in mid-stride. My eyes searched eagerly through the thick timber to our right, ears straining to hear if I might catch the sound of soft falling of footsteps on the ridge above us. The air was so still and cool that my breath clung around my face and all I could hear was the thumping of my own heart beating. Slowly, a face emerged through a small cluster of young pines ten yards ahead of us. A female whitetail deer skillfully picked her way over the tangle of fallen boughs on the hillside. As the wind continued to blow cool gusts down the mountainside, her scent was carried down to us, a smell that I have known since childhood, the musk of the wild things that live in these rocky mountains. Her ears flicked attentively, her nose twitched and wiggled, searching for signs of danger as she moved further into the grassy hillside. I heard a snap of a branch from further down the ridge we had just climbed, and slowly turned my focus to search for further movement down below us. A small whitetail deer buck emerged from the timber and began to trot, unaware of our presence, up the hill to our left. It was in this moment that I realized how I define the term “home”.
I recently returned to my small hometown in Canada from living abroad in Paris, France, I have been feeling a heightened sense of being lost in the world. While I lived in one of the oldest, most cultural and exciting cities in the world, I found myself longing for home; yet now that I’m home, I long for the cramped and winding streets of Paris, to sit in a cafe and read and discuss art over wine with friends from all over the world. It is a tremendous gift to long for adventure, and to feel the thrill of setting out to new places, new cities, new countries, and discovering the beauty and magic in all of them. I have felt happy in every place I have been fortunate enough to live in, or visit and can say whole heartedly that I know I could live in any place in the world and build a life filled with wonder, love, and happiness. But with this gift comes a great curse as it has always left me with a feeling of “what else is out there” and “what’s next”. It’s true what they say that no place has everything and home comes from within, but what do you do if you feel at home but also like you’re missing home no matter where you go? How do you ever know where you truly belong? This has been a struggle for me as long as I can remember. I have been so fortunate to have been able to see so much of our beautiful planet, to experience so many different cultures, and meet people from so many walks of life that I have built up a thirst for the new and the unknown. But occasionally, as with most people, eventually I crave a taste of the familiar, and that intimate feeling that only comes from returning to the place where you were raised.
I read somewhere that a person should not let themselves be too easily defined. You are not your job, you are not your hobbies, you are not the clothes you wear or the car you drive… but then what are you? Who are you? Who am I? As I have grown older, and as my experiences, skills and interests have grown and varied so extremely, I find that question harder and harder to ask myself. I am a hockey player, a scuba Dive Master, a newly obsessed rock climber, an athlete, an artist, a writer, a traveler, a movie junky, a musician, a painter, a dog lover, an outdoors woman, a city girl, a model, a culture addict, a surfer, a fashion girl, a Parisienne, an Australian cattle wrangler, an ocean lover, an literature nerd, a horseback rider, a hunter, a country girl, a trapper’s daughter, a road-trip enthusiast… I am all of these things, and not one more than another. But perhaps the trait I feel most proud of and that most defines me and my values is that I am a Kootenay girl, and maybe that in itself allows me to experience the cage and the freedom to be everything and anything all at once.
There is a beautiful quote by Roman Payne that says “She was free in her wildness. She was a wanderess, a drop of free water. She belonged to no man and to no city” and I have always identified with it. The bigger I come to realize the world is, and how diverse and beautiful ways of life are, I know for certain that there is no one way to live. I do not belong to a person, to a city, to a country, I have left pieces of myself and built pieces back up from every experience I have been fortunate enough to have had. But how then do we feel that sense of belonging, of quiet calm that comes only from knowing that you have found your place in the world – that solid foundation on which to build the structure of your life, your dreams and to accomplish your goals?
As the doe wandered casually across the hill, we climbed higher up the mountainside. Using a thick stretch of timber to blend into, we decided to let the deer settle on the ridge while we explored the neighbouring slopes. Weaving through a tangle of six foot pines I often lost sight of my father ahead of me. I was in no rush. My favourite part of hunting these mountains is the slow, soft, quiet way in which you move through the brush. Every sound, every trill of a squirrel, every whistle of a bird has a purpose and unlike your average walk in the woods, you learn to read these signs to your advantage. Being a fully present and active participant in the ebb and flow of the natural order in these mountains brings me peace that I have never found in any other aspect of my life.
I could tell my father had stopped several yards ahead by the stillness of the air. The silence was so strong it left a ringing in my ears. I breathed deeply, examining the scents of the land I come from, that I love so much. A blend of wood and sap both fresh and sweet with rot, notes of pine and the sweet twinge of decomposing leaves mixed with the rain that was gently starting to fall around me. The aroma was scooped up and thickened by the slow mist that began dragging itself down from the peaks of the mountain above. I could smell the icy hint of snow and looked up to see the fresh snow line forming on the mountains across the valley. The needles of the pines that sheltered me from the curious eyes of any passing animals each carried individual beads of rain which began to freeze as I observed them. A raven flew over head and I could hear every beat of its wings, every rustle of its feathers as the air rushed over them.
As I looked out into the sea of rolling hills, building higher and higher into the skyline to form the mountain peaks, I knew that it wasn’t a city that I would ever call home, but this – this wild landscape, rugged and enormous, stretching out further than my eyes could see. The colours of steel blue that painted the higher mountains dotted with vibrant greens from the young pines, the bright oranges and yellows of the turning larch trees, mixed with the dark burgundies and greens, stone grey shale slopes and the white dusting of freshly fallen snow. And oh, that exquisite mountain air.
This is what heaven is, this is what home is, where my heart is. And although I may be caught in limbo, and I may spend the rest of my life searching for that place that allows me to live the life of both worlds, to love who I wish to love, and to do the work I long to do, I found a great comfort knowing that this is the place that I come from. This landscape has taught me morals, values, respect, integrity… an endless supply of lessons and confidences that I have carried with me all over this beautiful world. I have found great comfort in knowing now what it truly is when I think of home.