In the darkness of winter, my mind drifts west. I live in a harsh prairie city, the most northern capital city in Canada. Later tonight, with the wind, our temperature will fall to -36 C (or -32.8 F). We’ve only had 2 months of winter and the snow is so deep that this poor gentleman cannot even get out out of his house. The beeping and scraping of snow removal equipment regularly wakes us up at 4 am. Our city is marketing a For the Love of Winter Strategy, but I’m not buying it. I don’t ski, snowshoe or sled. Last year I tried to go for a walk and fell hard on an icy sidewalk. I hate feeling cold, my shoulders hunched up to my ears, counting my crunching footsteps until I can step into a warm building. I spend most of the winter wishing I was in my hot bathtub or a tropical beach, reading trashy magazines.
This is when the lament begins: why, oh why do we live here?
People who love the mountains live on the bare prairie plain. People who are rejuvenated by nature live in the middle of the concrete city. Those who crave the ocean live land-locked in the middle of Canada. People like me, who adore the green rolling hills, clear lakes and mild weather of wine country live in barren lands. We are all adults, capable of making rational decisions about where we live. Why here?
There are many factors involved with choosing somewhere to live. I’ve written before about our move from our expansive leafy university neighbourhood to the suburbs. But why this city? Why Edmonton?
I grew up in a satellite community just east of the city. When my eldest son was two, life and work took us to Winnipeg. Then, after my first husband and I separated, I took the kids to Norway (a long tale, best left to a future post). While we were gone, their dad moved back to Edmonton. I saw how much my children, then 8 and 5 years old, missed their dad when we were away. We returned to Edmonton so they could be close to their dad. I got a job. I met my (future) second husband. We had our love child, Aaron. This is how life goes.
Twelve years later, my eldest children have grown up. Still, we live here, and save our pennies for winter vacations as a reprieve from the wasteland outside. Our extended family has gradually drifted to west to British Columbia – a meteorologically and politically milder province in Canada.
Humour me, here. This is why we stay: work – as a small business owner, all our work comes from a network of connections – all relationship based – which took years and years to build; a community carefully crafted for our youngest son – as a boy with a disability, his connections do not come naturally at school – his friends are a patchwork of typical kids plus kids with various disabilities that we’ve purposely pieced together the past ten years; and a crackerjack children’s hospital for my boy (just in case). My eldest two kids are still here and show no sign of moving. My musician son informs me: the scene is good here, Mom, and my daughter has a beloved boyfriend and is firmly anchored here. Kids in Canada don’t go away to college – they often stick close to home, and attend their local universities (if they go to university at all).
These are all solid reasons to don my parka, slip on my Sorel boots and lean into the cold. Today, Aaron has a soccer practice at an indoor field, and he’s excited to see his friends after the holiday break. We will stop for pho for lunch at one of our many Vietnamese restaurants, and then pop by the butcher to get a roast chicken after we drop Aaron off at a play date with a friend. Tonight, we will stoke the fire and eat buttery popcorn as we watch re-runs of America’s Funniest Home videos. We will settle into our beds under our heavy duvets and fall asleep to the howling wind.
It is always about the people, isn’t it: relationships, communities, networks, friends. And spring is in 75 days. And counting.