Returning to one of the most formative places that I ever lived in was always going to be interesting.
Twenty years ago, it was my big adventure. Leaving all my friends and family behind and heading to a country/place that I hardly knew for an unspecified amount of time. I knew nobody there. I knew nobody that had lived in or had even visited Canada. My new boss welcomed me by taking one look at my tennis racquet and informing me that I might as well throw it away as I would have no further use for it. Apparently I wouldn’t be able to go much further than the lab – a suggestion that did not have the desired effect on me. Anyway, it was inauspicious start to a relationship that was doomed to fail.
Despite my inability to uncover trail-blazing insights and shake up the world of green-heme proteins, I have a lot of happy memories of living in Vancouver as an impoverished post-doc. I remember the 18 months I spent there full of close friendships and new experiences. I learnt to love hiking and the feel of the great outdoors, especially the notion of the vast amount of almost deserted land to the North. I learnt to ski there (after a fashion). My friend and I used to play cheque-roulette with the local food stores in the lean few days before payday. I increased my confidence in playing tennis (after hiding the racquet from my boss). I learnt to be alone and independent. I even conquered the massive hill on my bike by each day incrementally increasing the distance pedaled up the 2:1 slope.
After twenty years absence I learnt that it is not possible to return to the same place. Life moves on and familiar neighborhoods and haunts become lost and strange. There were hints of the previous Kitsalano and Vancouver I knew – the tennis wall at the beach, a much-frequented hardware store, the bridges, Stanley Park cycle path, the smoothie and perogie stands at Granville Island – but these glimpses were few and far between. A 8-year old doesn’t get excited by his mother’s dusty 20-year-old rememberings. Instead I enthused inside my head.
So we created new memories. While I trundled happily round the Stanley Park bike path, the boy and Garnet raced in a private Tour de Sea Wall. Garnet rediscovered his batting style at the Brockton Oval. The boy and I had our habitual paddle in the sea and found a hidden flatfish which hung around long enough for us to have a good look at it’s awkward-looking eyes and for Garnet to suggest we caught it and ate it (we didn’t). We watched a hopeful seal and seagull watching the fishermen and had lunch at Granville Island. Happily we were able to get British-type treats that cannot be found in the US, such as sausage rolls. We found new places to eat – places where I never would have been able to afford even a glass of water 20 years ago. We failed to find satisfying rock pools and starfish at Lighthouse Park, but managed to see a Bald Eagle snatch a seagull out of the air instead.
One memorable day – and we all agreed it was the best day – we drove north on the amazingly, stunningly beautiful Sea-to-Sky highway. It really is the most scenic road – every inch of it made the photographer in me want to stop and try to do justice to this superlatively stunning part of the world. Unfortunately there are precious little places to stop and the prospect of a 5 hour hike at the end of the journey made me ignore my internal photographer by mentally sticking my fingers in my ears and humming loudly.
Fortunately the hike was amazing – three obscenely, bright jade glacial lakes to hike up to and explore. The hike was long and uphill and punctuated by marveling at the lakes and drinking the water from the fresh streams tumbling down the rocky sides of the trail. The boy, naturally got in one of the lakes at the first opportunity and confirmed it was as cold as I remembered. Spurred on by his bravery/foolhardiness I realized that I couldn’t be beaten by me from 20 years ago and took the plunge into the frigidly ice cold water. It was more than freezing – the type of cold that is always breath-catching and instantly numbing. I think I swam about 10 strokes before carefully picking my way out of the water. Afterwards, it felt exhilarating as every nerve in my body stood up and tingled as the blood gingerly ventured back to my skin. For about two minutes, Garnet stuck rigidly to his ‘not going to do this, and not going to regret it either’ stance. However, egged on by a muscled 20-year-old Belgian boy (‘C’mon Dad – you only live once’) and his two beautiful companions, he shed his t-shirt and bravely wobbled out onto the tree truck, half-slipping and half-diving into the icy water with just a shout of protest and shock at how cold it actually felt. I think that has to be the first time I have actually felt middle-aged. We redeemed ourselves slightly by running most of the way down the mountain, overtaking the beautiful, young people when we were almost at the bottom car park, panting only just a bit.
It was a great trip – I had always wanted to show Garnet the city and surrounding countryside I loved and is so much a part of who I am. The Pacific Northwest is always wonderful and beautiful.
More photos in the photo album.